August 4th, 2013

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Turkey 2013 Part 1 - United Adventures

   So I suppose it's about time I updated on last month's trip to good ole Turkey hey?



June 18th
   So one Tuesday in June I decided going to Turkey sounded like a lark, so I bought a ticket for four days later, like ya do.

June 21st
   Naturally, I stayed up half the night before my flight so I could be fittingly comotose on the airplane. After the two hour commute to LAX that Friday, I had successfully navigated the airport and boarded the United flight. We proceeded to not leave the gate for unusually long. The captain made a few announcements about "some of the gauges are making strange readings, its probably just a gauge malfunction, engineering is checking it out," and "...still checking it out." Until finally he gave us the remarkably ominous "okay we have determined that we can legally and, uh, safely get underway," in which "safely" sounded suspiciously like an afterthought.
   So we started taxi-ing down the runway and had driven halfway across the airport when he came on again with "so, engineering has continued to look at the data and determined that we probably should return to the terminal and cancel this flight." ...which brings up the alarming thought that they cleared us for takeoff before they finished analyzing the data and ruling out potentially serious problems????

   So then ALL of us got to stand in a long line at customer service that slowly slowly inched forward. An airline employee actually walked down the line though and handed out pieces of paper with the customer service number so we could call and try to get sorted out before we reached the end of the line. I called and some obstinate lady insisted that my only option was to wait until 11pm (some 15 hours after I had originally entered the airport!) to ride an overnight flight to Washington DC, to fly from there to Newark after a few hours layover, to fly to Istanbul after a seven hour layover THERE! .... airport hell!
   So I opted to wait until I reached the customer service people at the end of the line so I could shoot lasers at them with my eyes for a hopefully better result. It took more than an hour to get to the front of the line. When I got there, fortunately the person right in front of me was already arguing with the agent next to mine about how to get to Istanbul in a timely manner. This 24 hour delay was going to make him miss the entire reason of his trip, a wedding he intended to attend. Similarly, another couple next to me in line was also bound to miss the purpose of their trip -- being in the audience while their daughter was on a game show in Norway. In conclusion, don't depend on United to get you somewhere you absolutely need to be on the day you need to be there!!
   I just couldn't believe United could not find any way at all to get me to Istanbul any sooner than 24 hours after the original flight, even using other airlines. And this would be frustrating enough, but recall I had intentionally rendered myself exhausted (hmm not seeming like such a good idea now!)! I was able to inform them their cockamamie overnight to Washington plan would not fly, and they eventually admitted they could get me on that same Newark-Istanbul flight without the unnecessary stopover in DC -- they'd put me up in a hotel near LAX for the night and the next morning I'd start on another 10:00 United flight (as my original had been).
   Me dad, who works not far from LAX, met me for dinner when he got off work, which was nice.

June 22nd
   As to the flight itself, in general, I'm pretty thoroughly disappointed in United. On flights across the United States they don't even give you free bags of pretzels any more. I think they provided an in flight meal in the transatlantic portion of the flight but it was of far poorer quality than anything I've had on any other airline in recent memory. And every other airline I've flown on transatlantic segments has complimentary wine, which makes it easier to try to remain comatose. And having had nothing better to do than sleep in a hotel the night before, I was unfortunately well rested!



Arrival in Turkey - June 23rd
   For persons from America and a number of other nationalities, one can buy a Turkish visa in the airport. It costs $20 and takes about 30 seconds. This was my third Turkish visa stamp in my passport (:
   My delightful Turkish associate Asli (whom you may recall from the Egypt adventures) met me as I exited the baggage claim area. As long as I'm dwelling on air travel in this entry I'll take a moment here to note that in most places in the world this part of the airport is kind of nice -- in the US (at least JFK and Newark airports), as an international arrival you finally get out of the baggage area (after being harassed by customs one last time) and are dumped into an area that looks like a smelly back alley crossed with a parking garage.

   The first time I'd been in Turkey, in 2009, we'd foolishly taken the taxi from the airport into the town center. This time my trusted native directed me to the light rail system, which connects the airport directly to the town center. After a transfer in the city center we then boarded a ferry across the Bosporus strait to Uskudar (a part of the continuation of the Istanbul urban area on the eastern "Asian" side of the strait). A short walk up some quaint narrow streets, sometimes cobbled, and we came to Asli's apartment.


(not to be confused with the almost identical picture from Egypt)

   Well that's an entry-worth just on getting there! And I think I'll stop there tonight and try to continue in the morning. I'm suddenly in a bit of a rush to get this trip blogged, since its only about 48 hours until my next one!!

Photos
Mini-set of the trip boiled down to 12 pictures.
The whole set of photos (98).

Part II

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Turkey 2013 Part 2 - Joshing Around in Istanbul

Continuing the adventure:



Monday, June 24th
   The Asli had to go to the maritime academy in the morning until the afternoon (I think for something important like official negotiations between the academy and a shipping company), so I went into old town with her brother and his girlfriend. Her brother Josh is also a merchant marine officer, and was living with her at the time -- he has subsequently gone on board.

   Frankly, on review of the pictures, I think I got a lot of better ones to showcase the beauty of old town when I was there in 2009. Didn't go into the Hagia Sophia this time, or the Topkapi Palace, but did go through at least the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, and visited the cool Basilica Cisterns again. I'd forgotten Medusa lives down there -- or at least there's two big sculptures of her head at the base of columns, and its kind of mysterious because none of the other dozens of columns have carvings, and one head is depicted sideways, and the other upside down, for completely unknown reasons.



   Went through a nice park just north of Topkapi Palace that I had somehow missed when I was here before. Above is myself looking like I don't have a soul, and Josh looking fairly cheerful. There's a subsequent funny picture of me stealing his girlfriend, which later led to Asli saying "such sauce" with a cute Turkish accent, mission accomplished!
   Also in this park, I find a cool sailing ship mural, get bitten by a lion statue, and get bitten by a giant squirrel statue.

   From there we headed down to the ferry landing to meet the Asli. While waiting, Josh got me this cup of warm pickle brine with pickles and cabbage in it:



   It was really strange! It was being sold by a guy in a little cart that sold only that, the way you'd see someone selling hot dogs in NY. If I hadn't seen the guy seriously selling it and someone just plopped it in front of me I'd have been sure I was being pranked! (like the time on April Fools day 1999 my host-family in Sweden tried to convince me this soup of nothing but fish broth was a traditional Swedish meal! Hey sounds plausible, I mean they had dozen different kinds of pickled herring on the table for Christmas, but I digress)

   Asli met up with us and then we all proceeded across the Bosporus to Kadıköy, which is just south of Üsküdar (Where Asli and her brother live). There we ate at a fairly nice restaurant that specialized in chicken. And there was an item on the menu that just said "NO NAME" and it was written like that everywhere it occurred in both the English and Turkish version of the menu?? I'd like to say I got this and it was a wild adventure but there was a picture of it and it looked fairly mundane.



   I discovered that there are other beer options in Turkey other than "Efes Pilsner" ... there's also "Efes Dark" and "Efes Dark Brown!" ED is a black lager I believe and I think EDB is the same but brewed with coffee or some such mischief to give it more of a sweet coffee flavor. I rather liked both the dark Efes offerings.
   Josh snapped several pictures of Asli and I tasting the beer and being silly. Note she has anchors on her shirt, anchor earrings, and an anchor necklace. (:
   When choosing where to eat earlier, our options had been limited by the fact that many of Asli's favorite places are in Taksim, where there was (and still is!) unrest. So we ended up going to this place, which she said was one of her favorite places anyway, and it was very good ... but two hours after we got back to her place she showed me a picture on her phone that had just been posted of the square outside THAT restaurant and it was full of protesters and unrest even there!!


Tuesday, June 25th
   That morning, after a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits and breads like usual, Josh and I went down to the waterfront (Asli was at the maritime academy again), where we sat at a table just beside the water by the Maiden Tower, had Turkish coffee, and played backgammon for a few hours.



   As you can see, the Maiden Tower is out in the channel, and old town Istanbul is directly on the other side of it. The Maiden Tower is also the official southern start of the Bosporus, the south of it being the Sea of Marmara. Those not familiar with the local geography, and not bothering to follow links to maps ;) will be interested to learn that, while you hopefully know that Istanbul is on a narrow river-like strait called the Bosporus that leads to the Black Sea, you might know that there's a large body of water there in between the Aegaean and the Black Sea called the Sea of Marmara, separated by another narrow strait to the south called the Dardanelles. And to give you a preview of coming adventures, the route indicated in that map shows where I'd go in the following week or two -- to Bursa and then Canakkale (Troy!) -- though we took a ferry across the gulf of Izmit, didn't drive around it. And while I'm playing with maps, here's where I roamed in Turkey in 2009!
   Anyway, back to Tuesday morning at the Maiden Tower, you can see people were swimming about in the sea there, it was quite hot out. Also, Josh kept letting me win at backgammon! Next time we need a revenge round at chess!

   Then Josh and I proceeded across the Bosporus to somewhere around here, not terribly far from the infamous Taksim Square, epicenter of the protests. It was in this area hat I saw busloads of riot police and the water cannon trucks (lots of them):



   One thing I found kind of interesting, is that. while on tv you see these black clad riot police battling protestors through clouds of tear-gas, advancing in transparent shield-walls like some kind of medieval warfare, and they seem like an army of sinister storm troopers -- by day they're by and large young guys in their early 20s who just walk through the crowd like normal people, sit around playing backgammon like everyone else, and generally act like nothing's going on. I don't know, it's like how sometimes someone edits a picture of storm troopers from Star Wars to make it look like they're hanging out in a bar and its automatically funny -- partly because they obviously can't drink in those helmets, but also you just don't think of an army of faceless henchmen hanging out being normal people. Its like at 8pm everyone looks at their watches and says "well look at the time!" and the two sides go punch in their time cards and then form opposing lines and start throwing tear gas at eachother.

   Josh's girlfriend once again joined us, we all had some Efes, and then the three of us walked back down the seaside and caught a ferry back across to Üsküdar (you know, just bouncing back and forth between Europe and Asia, like ya do). I think Asli didn't get home until fairly later, being busy with shipping company stuff.

Wednesday, June 26th
   Wednesday we just stuck around Üsküdar. I don't appear to have any good pictures for this day. I'm sure it was delightful though!

Thursday, June 27th
   Thursday morning Asli and I caught the bus to Bursa! More on that in the next installment!



The Gelato Galata Tower!

Photos
Mini-set of the trip boiled down to 12 pictures.
The whole set of photos (98).