a unique perspective on this crazy world

let’s get lost…

Firdevs suggested I do that my first day in Istanbul but I decided I would wait a couple of days to take Chet Baker’s advice…

In case you are starting to feel like you are on Contiki tour bus doing the Europe in 10 days tour, I will provide a little geographical grounding.  I am actually in Paris as I type this.  I have been collecting thoughts, writing notes and scribbling little bits of various blog posts over the past few days in various locales so I am now going to try and finish some of the posts and send them out into the world wide web.

So we are finished with Berlin.  This will be the last post for Istanbul.  A lot more happened on my first two days in Paris than I expected so we still have to catch up on Paris v1.0 and then move on to the present, Paris v2.0.  But right now we are back in Istanbul on my final day there…

I was pretty sure I knew the way to Galata now from my neighborhood so I just wandered off without a map, seeing if I would need to use one.  The Galata Tower is, if I remember correctly, the oldest structure of its kind, the CN Tower of the ancient world.  Of course, in the ancient world, there weren’t a lot of people so the stone stairs are narrow, it is very crowded at the top and I would not recommend it if you are scared of heights.  But it provides a sweeping view of the entire city.  Unfortunately it was pretty smoggy and sunny and getting a great photo proved difficult but I saw it and it was spectacular.  If YOU want to see it, you will have to go to Istanbul 🙂

I figured the Galata Bridge shouldn’t be too far away and I might be able to find it just by wandering in the general direction.  It worked!  We will now time travel to the thoughts I scribbled in a notebook in the moment…

“I found the Galata Bridge so I am now sitting on a tiny stool with a bunch of single men waiting for the mystery fish that I ordered.  Had I thought it through a little better, I would have paid more attention to the fish names in the market while I was snapping their portraits.  Luckily I like fish and have eaten fish all over the world.  Fish – unlike Coca Cola – is very local so you are forced to be adventurous.  Sitting here on my precarious perch surrounded by people speaking Turkish and no other tourists in the vicinity, I feel like an adventuress.

Having a sense of adventure can get you in tiny bits of trouble but I have good instincts and have never come to harm anywhere.

It has arrived!  A giant fish complete with eyeballs staring at me.  Luckily my mom is not here with me.  Once upon a time in one of Honest Ed’s fancy restaurants in Toronto, she was served a piece of fish that had not been filleted.  She couldn’t even just cut the head off.  It had to be removed by someone else and then placed UNDER the table so it couldn’t watch her eating it.  I fished it out from under the table before we left so the server wouldn’t have to wait for the smell to find it…

I have no idea what this fish IS but it is excellent.   So I guess I would just encourage you to find the fish market near the Galata Bridge and just order something…  You can benefit from my experience and choose some fish that looks promising and note its name in Turkish before you sit down to eat :)”

OK, so now back to talking about the past in the present…

Emboldened by my fish market adventure, I decided to see if I could do a Bosphorous tour.  I’d been a little worried about getting on a boat and being taken somewhere and not knowing where I was and not speaking a world of Turkish, having trouble getting home.  But one has to take some small adventures if you want to have the great stories in the nursing home so I wandered over to the dock and saw a sign that suggested I could pay 12 Turkish lira and get on a boat that would take me on a one hour Bosphorous cruise.

Well, the 12 lira part was accurate.  And I did get on a boat.  A lot of hand gestures and false starts ensued before I actually found a boat that would take me.  And then the suggestion was that it was the wrong boat but I could get on anyway.  That always feels comforting when you can’t speak the language and you are now on a boat going somewhere…

Luckily we were only going across the water.  But then the guy who had let me and a couple of others on came and rounded us up and kicked us off.  Where we were supposed to go next was really unclear but I thought he had said the number 3 and he seemed to be OK when I finally tried to get on the third boat in the line after we docked.  I’d first tried the one next door but the hand gestures suggested no.  The guy on the third boat actually took my ticket so it seemed promising.  Of course, I now had no idea where I was going – or where I was supposed to get off.

Despite the slight trauma involved in the experience, seeing the Bosphorous from the water was one of the best things that I did while I was in Istanbul.  And I was really happy Manuel had really pushed me to get on the water.  The palaces, villas and yachts parked in front that you see from the water are amazing.  And I got to try some Turkish tea!  Which was incredibly bitter.  I am not much for sweets but I used both packets of sugar just to make it palatable.

While the cruise part was wonderful, I still had to deal with the mystery of departure.  I gathered there was going to be a few different options so I just disembarked when the vast majority of other people did.  It seemed the safest option.

It was, of course, not where I had started my cruise… so I looked around vacantly trying to figure out where I was on the map.  Luckily I realized after a few minutes the dock name I couldn’t find on my map wasn’t a dock name at all – but the name of the ship line.  I looked around a bit and decided I was likely next to the Galata Bridge – but on the other side.

So… if I just walked over the bridge, I would be back where I had started from – and where I knew my way.  It worked!  People fish off the Galata Bridge.  There are fish restaurants everywhere.  So walking back allowed me to absorb the atmosphere and take a few photos.

I then attempted to get killed trying to cross the street.  I even followed locals but not all of them had made the right choice.  I later learned that there was likely an underground passageway I was supposed to be using instead of playing in traffic.  But once upon a time I had to cross a busy road in Pompeii all by myself in order to not miss the bus back to Rome and once you have done that, traffic doesn’t scare you anymore 😉

I got back to the hotel without a map and the rest of the evening seemed a little wimpy by comparison 🙂  I did go and say good-bye to my bartenders and got to see more bombs on the news in Turkish.  It was a little disconcerting.  One of the bars I frequently had a TV but the news was in Turkish of course so I would see stuff that looked kind of scary but not really be sure where it was happening…

While I was in Istanbul, I finished “Three Cups of Tea.”  I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.  About a guy named Greg Mortenson building schools – mostly for girls – in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I had started reading it in Vancouver but never had time to finish so put it in my luggage for the trip.  Reading it in Turkey was definitely more poignant.

I finished Istanbul with dinner at Mikla.  Mikla is one of the most famous and expensive restaurants in Istanbul.  It is on the 18th floor of the Marmara Pera with a sweeping 360 degree view of Istanbul lit up at night.  The view was stunning and worth paying for the dinner.

Unfortunately for Mikla I have eaten all over the world.  I have even turned my small town mother into the kind of protégé who says snobby stuff like, “yes, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s was OK but the One at the Balmoral in Edinburgh was a true gourmet paradise.”  And, “yeah, I enjoyed Daniel but it was no Eleven Madison Park.”  Needless to say, impressing me isn’t easy…

In general Mikla was underwhelming.   It seemed to be trying a little too hard to be hip – and that is never cool.   So, if you go to Istanbul, go there for the view – but a drink in the bar likely a cheaper way to do that.  Go to Auf for the food.

I learned some new information in Istanbul.  But mostly what I came away with was a confirmation of my travel strategy that seems to work everywhere…  Get a map and a guidebook and use them for general advice but don’t be afraid to make your own choices too.  Engage the locals and take some chances – get a little lost, try an obscure restaurant, take a ferry to somewhere…  If you don’t come home without at least one story someone else is willing to listen to, you are just a tourist… not yet a real traveller 😉

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