Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"We Went To Turkey - Part Two"

Due to the mandated arrangements for our legroom-necessitated upgrade, we arrived in Istanbul five days before the official beginning of our tour.  For this early portion of our trip, we had booked a different hotel than the one included in the tour package.

The Bosphorus Straight divides the city of Istanbul (population over 14 million) into a European section and a less populous Asian section.  Almost every religious, cultural and historical point of interest is located on the European section of Istanbul.  The hotel we booked was in the Asian section.

I cannot fully explain it, but the question “Why?” seems to come up concerning virtually all of our traveling decisions.  Why Turkey?  Why two layovers (Toronto and London) flying American rather than flying Turkish Airlines direct?  Why, when almost every point of Istanbul interest was on the European side did we book a hotel on the Asian side?

What can I tell you?  It is simply the way we are.

As Dr. M explained, concerning the third “Why?”

“We wanted to be is Asia.”

We did.  I mean, you’re that close and you are unlikely to get back that soon…

Dip your toe into Asia. 


What this meant practically was that every morning, we would get up, enjoy the comfortable but unfrilly Sumahan’s Hotel’s complimentary breakfast, and show up at the appointed time at the dock, from which the hotel’s motor launch transported interested guests across the Bosphorus to visit the European side of the city. 

A twenty-five minute boat ride to get to where we would already have been had we stayed in a European-side hotel. 

Stupid?  Perhaps.  But also exhilarating. 

Heck, man!   It’s the Bosphorus!  

(An Interluding Geographical Tidbit You May Or May Not Be Interested In:

We were later informed by our super-knowledgeable tour guide Serhan – which he insisted we pronounce Sarhan, probably because that’s how it is actually pronounced – that Turkey is the only horizontal peninsula on the planet (in contrast, for example, to the vertically positioned Scandinavian countries, Italy, and Greece.)  Reminder:  A peninsula is a land mass almost totally surrounded by water.  

On the northern edge of Turkey the Black Sea empties into the Bosphorus which connects via the Sea of Marmara to the Dardanelles which itself empties into the Aegean (the part of Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece.)  No man-made canals.  You can boat westward on natural waterways from Russia to all points west.  But as with “Go” in Monopoly, you must first pass Turkey, thus explaining that nation’s historical strategic and economic significance.  End of Geographical Tidbit.  And a promise to keep them to a minimum.  So as not to bore you.  And to avoid less than educated mistakes.)

Our “drop-off” point on the European side coincided with the beginning (or the terminus if you were traveling in the other direction) of Istanbul’s indispensible tram line.  We rode the trams everywhere.  Tram travel was convenient, comfortable (though claustrophobics should assiduously avoid “Rush Hour”) and easy.  Except for buying the tokens to get on it.  That exercise was hit and miss.  

You’d slide a bill into the machine, and pretty much fifty-fifty, the machine slid it back out.  While we struggled with the machine, we could hear the sighs of exasperation from the tram travelers behind us.  Finally we figured it out.  So hopefully not too many of them were late for work.

Our intention was to visit places that interested us – we had “Hi-lited” them before the trip – avoiding the attractions that would be included on the “Official Tour.” 

It was then that we discovered a certifiably effective weight-losing technique.

Call it the “We Have No Idea Where We’re Going Diet.”  You are looking for, say, Istanbul’s “Science and Technology Museum.”  You think it’s just past the Blue Mosque, but it isn’t.  You are certain it is just up and to the right.  It’s not.   You walk, you turn around, you go back.  You continue on in this fashion for, like, five miles, and you still haven’t found it.

But in the interim, and cumulatively over days of getting lost going in exactly the wrong direction…

You lose a tremendous amount of weight!

With comparatively little effort – less than an hour’s floundering – we visited the Istanbul Modern Art Gallery (recommended by Canadian buddies), which was quite wonderful, the eye-catching artwork combining eastern sensibilities with European techniques.  We then blundered into nearby magnificent Suleiman's Mosque, built by Turkey’s genius sixteenth century architect Sinan.  The coup de gras however in going the wrong way and shedding numerous pounds in the process was the aforementioned “Science and Technology Museum”, which we finally located after numerous hours of fruitless wandering.

And it wasn’t worth it. 

We had been inspired to check out the “Science and Technology Museum” museum after a memorable visit a year-and-a-half earlier to the Arts and Metiers museum in Paris, which featured everything from fifteenth century navigational equipment to vehicles that were driven on the moon. 

Istanbul’s counterpart seemed to specialize in artifactual reproductions, the originals, we were informed, being housed elsewhere, most prominently in a museum in Berlin.  After a while, I felt like I was taking in less an exhibit of historical innovations than a museum full of some gifted Istanbul High School kids’ science projects.  I don’t think I’d have been impressed if we had found the place right away.

Most disappointing, it must be reported, was the museum’s bathroom – which was a drain on the floor you were expected to squat over.  

Talk about the anal thermometer of toilets!  I mean, hey!  It’s the “Science and Technology Museum.  How about a “Bathroom of the Future!”  (NOTE:  Disproportionally, Istanbul provided the porcelanity we are used to.  But that museum, I don’t know, maybe it was an exhibit.  A representative replica of “Medieval Toiletry”, the original of which was in a museum in Germany.) 

I could talk about the “street food” which varied from tasty to unbelievable wherever we arbitrarily plopped ourselves down.  Equally delicious was the street vendors’ fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice that made Pom Wonderful taste like Pom Not As Good As It Thinks It Is. 

Always on the horizon, however, would be the inevitable bathroom requirements.

As I slipped a coin into the slot to avail myself of the facilities…

I just never knew what I was going to find. 
Remember Remembrance Day.  November Eleventh marked the finish of World War I.  Gallipoli, in Turkey, was a battle in that war.  It was a mess.  But what battle isn't?

Wear a poppie for me, will ya?


Gene Stevens said...

Enjoying your travelogue and looking forward to the next installment.

And a salute to all fellow vets, especially those surviving river rats and raiders of the MRF.

Anonymous said...

I can't tell if your 'coup de gras' was an honest mistake (the correct locution is 'coup de grĂ¢ce') or a genuine genius pun concerning weight loss. For the non-French saavy, 'gras' actually means 'fat'.

Jim Russell said...

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is horizontal.

JED said...

Cape Cod is horizontal, too. For a while. When it gets to Orleans, it realizes its mistake and tries to fit in with those other peninsulas.