Saturday, June 19, 2010

Turkey: Istanbul

June 6-8, 2010

It's been nine years since Mary and I were last to Istanbul. In 2001, we stayed in the Eminonu district in the oldest part of Istanbul within easy walking distance of the most popular tourist sites. This time we stayed in the Taksim area across the bay, called the Golden Horn, from Eminonu. Taksim can best be described as the hot, never sleep, shopping, restaurant, nightclub area of Istanbul. A tram and funicular now enable one to travel easily between the two areas. Our Taksim hotel was picked by our traveling companion and 28 year old Venezuelan exchange student, Adriana. She also visited Turkey in 2007.

Istanbul is immense. It is the fourth largest city proper in the world, with a history and heritage too vast for me to describe or comprehend. It is a clean place and the people are friendly. The mix between the traditional Moslem world with a modern Europe is apparent everywhere. Overriding it all is a growing sense of nationalism and the self realization of Turkey's role in the world.

Of course all of this is important, but when traveling what impressions you walk away with aren't necessarily written in The Lonely Planet, but are the ones you remember.

Our first lesson, and first meal, was at a cute sidewalk restaurant not far from our Taksim hotel. What to order while hungry, avoiding getting when under the canopy, and suffering from the eight hour jet lag? How about a fish sampler the waiter suggests, showing us a huge platter of half the ocean's fish population? The price on the menu was blank. No problem for surely the price varies depending on the the type of fish available and the number of people served. What we got was the whole platter of fish cooked up, more than enough to feed 20 people and a trade imbalance between our two countries. My favorite food was the bread-like pretzels you bought from street vendors.

The weather? Rained all the time we were in Istanbul. Fortunately, the showers brought out the umbrella sales people who hawked their wares where ever you turned. They cost about $3.00 US made of clear plastic, really nice for avoiding the normal street bedlam.

Hotel rooms are important, especially when traveling with a Venezuelan lady. Room size matters almost as much as showers to me. She selected a hotel with a huge room and even more interesting shower.

The shower/Jacuzzi with its two snake-like shower heads, six high intensity jets, and Jacuzzi nozzles, required us to call the desk on getting operating instructions. It was like being in a car wash. Absolutely fantastic. Then I noticed what appeared to be a window at the end of the shower on the common wall between the shower and the sleeping area. It was when I opened the doors of what I thought to be a closet did I discover what appeared to be a large window, was indeed a large window. You could lay in bed, open the closet doors, and watch. When I mentioned this to the desk clerk, he remarked that our room was one of their most popular.

What I thought to be fascinating, my two female travel mates, thought to be rather gross. Even though there was only a slight crack between the two closet doors, their modesty required an elaborate towel barrier to prevent even the most remote chance of voyeurism, as if they thought I might be. So much for trust.

The other major issue was mass transit body odor. It seemed that when you pack a tram car with people, there is a possibility you may encounter a few riders who use water sparingly. I didn't notice any unusual odors. But one wonders what we may smell like with the overpowering scent of lavender when not in season?

Mary trying her best on a bad hair day.

Adriana at the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet.

Taksim Square. from an internet cafe. Our hotel across the way.

The Basilica Cisterns. The water storage area for old Istanbul/Constantinople.
We thought a rare tourist find.

Our Metropark Hotel shower.
Bedroom view of shower with closet doors closed.
With closet doors open.

Anti-voyeur protection. devised by the female room occupants.

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