Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Silk Route Trip 2005 - Istanbul

4/27/05 Wed Malkara, Turkey Great riding weather
I tried to say good bye to the proprietor in New Kapala but nobody was around when I left the Hotel at 8 am. Breakfast was on the road and consisted of Nescafe and cookies. I thought I would find a nice coffee shop and have a slow leisurely Breakfast but no such luck. That helped my timing and I got to the border around noon and had to buy a visa for Turkey. Turkey demanded ($20.--) payable in U.S. Dollars. Dollars? Why Dollars? I had Turkish money but no, they demanded Dollars. Then they checked my ‘Green Card’ and I found Stefan had Turkey crossed off. Back I go, to get a Turkish Green Card for 13 Euro. Stefan charged $ 50 good for only a month; Turkish Green Card is valid for a full year. Go figure. I was glad or lucky to have all these currencies on me. I needed Dollars, Euro and TRL just to cross one border. .
On the Turkish side of the border I met an Australian couple in their late 20th on a Honda bike that came by way of India, Pakistan and Iran. They were on their way to London. I would have talked more with them but he wanted ‘free’ stuff and I did not like his ‘begging’. From Greece to Turkey it’s an economic down hill. People are very friendly. Right away, when entering Turkey I noticed and saw minarets. This is the first time I am in an Islamic country and I am curious. What is this religion all about, are the people different? I did not want to just ride toward Istanbul; I wanted to see Turkey my way in a smaller town, the way I like to see a country. On the map the town of Malkara looked good and I took the exit for this town. Not that small of a town and after some looking I found a small hotel in a neighborhood I liked. It’s a Turkish hotel, not an International Hotel. When I entered the place I rang a bell sitting on the counter. I had to ring again and finally a young man arrived in his PJ’s looking sleepy. He spoke some English. He is the only one that runs the place along with his mom and normally people don’t come that early to check in. So he sleeps because he is up all night running the hotel. Sorry about his PJ’s etc, and yes, he has a room. After he gave me the keys he pointed to the stairs. I walked up the stairs and ended up in the kitchen above the Reception. An elderly woman looked at me a bit scared while looking at my riding outfit and shook her head.
No, Sir, not these stairs, the other stairs, please!
I heard the young men yell from downstairs. Whew, I thought I had to sleep in the Kitchen again. I left the woman with a smile and finally found my room on the 4th floor. This hotel is a walk up, but just fine with me. It is a local place. The bathroom is clean, it has hot water in the shower and the bed linens are washed. What else do I need? After this check in I just walked around the neighborhood looking around.
I sat at a fountain and a guy came by and said his name is Sharif and bought me a ‘chai’ (Tea) after which he just left. I will never see him again. Just because I was a foreigner (guest) in his town, I guess.
The town Malkara is not too large. About he size of Paterson, NJ? It is comprehensible for me as the first Turkish city. There are a lot of minarets in this city. At 5 pm the Muezzin called and the stores emptied out. Not fast mind you but I noticed it. I had chai (tea) and it costs 400 lira ($-.30). The chai is served in a small glass cup with 2 lumps of sugar. It is nice to just sit, have tea and people watch. Closer to dinner time I walked the town looking for a place to eat but I settled for Doenner until I can figure out how eating works in Turkey. By the way, the hotel “Torkey’ costs 20 TRL ($15). After my exploration walk, my tea, my dinner and some sight seeing on my own I went back to the room on the 4th floor and since it’s a walk up it showed me clearly I am out of shape. Still have difficulty figuring out the currency but I believe it’s”
New money Old money
$1 = 1.35 TRL $1=1350 TRL when is it old, when is it new money?

This county is so new to me, the system and idiosyncrasies so different that I have to really learn a lot. I remember that Turkey was the center of the Ottoman Empire and that this empire lasted for over 600 years. Was all this due to a different religion or are the people different? Lot’s to learn. I fall asleep with those thoughts going thru my head.

4/28/05 Thu Istanbul rain, cool
Turkey is building a new Highway towards the Greek border. The old road, while the new one is being built, is neglected. Holes are just fixed, worn areas just patched. The road is, in some places, difficult to ride and not easy especially on a motor cycle. It reminds me again of Russian roads. I just plod on towards Istanbul, careful, steady, watching the road, looking for and avoiding obstacles. After a while the road got easier and I followed the waypoint 011 on the GPS. It did lead me to a motorcycle shop but not…… to BMW. The shop I found sold Suzuki and Vespas and had no repair facility. I thought I could have my bike fixed here, get rid of that annoying ABS situation and also to get new tires, have them check why my bike stalls sometimes, etc. But now, what do I do? Where do I go from here? This place can not fix my bike.
I programmed the GPS for the hotel called the “Blue House” and the GPS lead me right to it. It’s a nice Hotel but for $ 90 a night it should be. The hotel looks nice, friendly colors in the lobby, situated perfectly in the center of activities but without parking facilities. Where do I park my bike? They tell me I can park in front of the door but this place looks way to busy for me to park my bike. Is there no other way? I rode around the block looking for an alternative when Jim, a carpet guy, talks to me. He asked if I needed help and I was suspicious. I almost drove away because why would he want to help? But he pointed me to a hotel near by that might have room for me and my bike and would be cheaper. Well, it was full, sold out, but I found a Turkish Hotel just 2 blocks away for 20 TRL ($15) a night. I can eat and park my bike for the difference between the cost of the Blue House Hotel and my new place the ‘Pansiyon Ilknur”. The location of either Hotel is right in the center of the tourist activity. It’s a pleasant place to be, with parks, benches and lots and lots of people. Every shoe shine boy, card seller, water man or carpet seller, etc. wants to sell you something. They all speak English well enough and want to pull you into their store. I leaned later that that was the objective of Jim, the carpet guy, who sent me to the less expensive hotel, too. I noticed in general that the prices have increased 4 fold. I am glad I stopped in Malkara to see Turkish life without the tourists. I wonder if the sellers get tired of hustling the people or if they believe that it’s the only way to make a living. To me it’s a turn off. The “hotel” Iknor is run by an old Turkish couple. His English is pretty good; I don’t know where he learned it. The street in front of the house is being paved with pavers. During the day it’s noisy but the workers quit at 7 pm so it is quiet at night. And since work starts at 8 am I have no problem with the noise level. Basically it’s quiet and a good choice if all you want is to sleep in a place like I do. Just overlook the Turkish bathroom and some of the dirt on the carpet and the general dilapidated condition of the building, just overlook it and all is just fine. What do you want from a place for $15. - A night! The bathroom is used by all the people in the Pansiyon. If you want to take a shower you have to ask the owner of the place to put on the hot water heater, first. Then you can use the hand held shower to spray your body (water flying everywhere) and please do not worry if anything gets wet, like the toilet, the sink or even the toilet paper. It will dry. It is NOT dirty, mind you; just so patched together and arranged in such crazy detail that it defies description. The caulking is thick and pure white around the old cream colored door. The tiles are green, the fixtures chrome and the accessories any color of the rainbow. NO color co-ordination at all, just whatever was cheapest is being used. Paint is peeling but it adds character, right? The toilet is clean but the handle for the flush is a string that you have to pull. There is a plastic bucket next to it with water in it. Is that bucket of water used to add to the toilet to flush better? Or is it for emergency use, in case the water does not replenish? Or is it to wash one’s hand (the left hand) after one used the bathroom? I have no idea, but it looks important and is being used by others, but since I have no idea I just look at it and think about it. The place I am in reminds me of places I slept in when I was a teenager and the other guests are younger and travel with just a nap sack in the way the old hippies used to travel. I am not alone here, yet the place is not crowded. My room has 3 beds in it, clean linens but the linen has holes here and there. I sleep just fine, holes or not. I have a key for the room and I am expected to make my own bed and keep it tidy. No problem.
I found a parking place for the bike but still have to go in the morning and arrange for the rate for 5 days. How do I talk to people about rates if they only speak Turkish and nothing else? Yet it is expected to ‘Handel’ about a price, that much I learned already. To just buy and pay is no fun anyhow unless it is for a cup of tea or some bread. The call from the minaret can be heard at 9.45 pm and it is time to go to sleep.

4/29/05 Fri Istanbul Heavy rain
I woke up at 5 am because the caller from the minaret called for prayer. But I went back to sleep until 7.30 am. It rained! What to do on a Fri (Islamic Sun) when it rains? I put on my rain gear and walked down to the Bospherous. People were taking the ferries up and down and across. I had tea with “Lueftie”, the Parking Garage attendant. I paid him for 5 days. I paid 10 TRL a day. He said he could not do better. My bike is there 24 hours a day I can not get a cheaper price. It’s ok, people come for 6 hours and he charges them 10 TRL, so I can see his reasoning. I try to teach him a few words in English. He tries but he has no talent. Because of the rain I went to the museum. There are lots of Statues, tone vases, knick-knacks from as early as 3000 years ago. One has to be a scholar to be interested. The layout of the museum is the old, classical one. Rooms full of collected stuff. Even excavations from Troy, yet it seems useless ‘stuff’ to me. A good day to be inside and the museum is heated and it’s dry. In the afternoon I met Jay at the Blue House. He is on the road since 2/27/05 and traveled alone so far to circumnavigate the globe in the Northern Hemisphere. We had dinner at Doh-Doy (food-food) and talked the night away. No, not really, 9.30Pm, when the crier from the minaret called, was when I stopped into the pension ‘Ilknur”.

4/30/05 Sat Istanbul cloudy but no rain
I had breakfast with Lueftie, Emra and another guy and taught Lueftie to say:” Good Morning, Sir.” As exchange I had a cup of tea and some bread. I also learned the following: Bir Elma Chai, Lueffen (one apple tea, please)
And if you want the bill in a restaurant you yell: “Hetchup, lueffen”
I think I learn more then Lueftie and every bit I learn help’s me in Turkey.
At 9.30 am Jay and I took our bike and waited for Kaz (Kasim). He was 30 minutes late and we left at 10.30 to see Kasim’s friend Olkan, who can repair bikes, change tires, oils, adjust valves, fix normal stuff.
Olkan Sezdin
Bastan Sok. No-14
0212-229-4081 Cell: GSM 053 233 240 85
I marked his location on the GPS as N 41 07.221 E 029 02.771
Kasim, our guide, took Jay and me to BMW to see the place and BMW had a free lunch but not just for us. After coming back to the Blue House Hotel Jay learned that Dean and Gerissa French had arrived, too. We had dinner with them at Doh-Doy’s, a good place.
Words in Turkish I learned to so far: (spelling might not be correct)
Elma=Apple, Lampa=Light, Kapala=closed, Lastic=tire, Jawash=slow

5/1/05 Sun Istanbul Rain
Bought 3 breads but Luetfues was not there. What to do with 3 breads? I ate 2 breads by noon and gave the other to the proprietor. At 10 am met more people at the Blue House. Rick, Laura, John and David Ow had arrived. We sat around the breakfast table and I listened mostly to their chatter. The wind of importance blew across our table. I left at 11.30 am to bet some fresh air. Walked, walked, walked and just watched Turkish life. I observed “Modern” girls with their boyfriends and ‘traditional’ girls looking shyly at those couples, wishing they were the modern girl. The traditional girls reminded me of Jewish, Orthodox girls. Long, over the knee, even down to their ankle dresses. They were covered up as much as possible. Their scarves covered all, only revealing just their faces, which sometimes had a long nose and pimply skin showing. Nothing more showed. A modern girl could cover up her blemishes with Make up and Hairstyle but these plain girls? It is a real challenge for them to look attractive to the modern mind. Dinner was at Doy-Doy again, this time with 8 people. I need to change Restaurants, Kebab is getting to me. Everybody talked about how beaten up their bodies felt. Time lag is severe. I feel for the people that will arrive tomorrow and then get right into the rhythm of the program. I fell into the rhythm of Turkish life. Up at 7.30 am or 8 am, bread and cheese for breakfast, light lunch and bigger dinner. I did not loose weight even so I walk a lot. Hopefully build up stamina because of all this walking. I noticed birds flying around the minarets at night, white birds circling around and around the mosque. The birds are lit up from below and show up as pure white from the lights covering the buildings.

5/2/05 Mon Istanbul Sunny
The plan today is to pick up my bike at 3 pm today. Well the bike is fixed and runs much better. No more stalling, No more ABS failure. Glad this was done.
The shop was small but the guy knew what he was doing and I feel much better now.
Traffic in Istanbul is very dense and every inch is fought for. The 41 Liter bags are too wide. Jay behind me said I had only fractions of an inch sometimes between the cars and my bike. I must be very careful in dense traffic and in lane splitting and riding between objects. Found the Hotel again, thanks to GPS. GPS is really a great invention. Most of the day was spend with getting the bike, watching them fix it, etc. Dinner was in a fancy Seafood place. Good but the bill was 55 TRL ($45). Way too much for a meal. I did not have lunch today and since my Restaurant/Accommodations budget is in the black I am ok with spending the money. John LaChapelle found the Restaurant. Good place, just too expensive for my travel needs. Repair bill for Olkan’s work 500 TRL ($325). All oils were changed, new spark plugs, oil filter, air filter, gas filter, mounting of tires, adjusting valves, fixing ABS, new alternator belt. It was a complete service.
In addition I paid Kasm $ 326 for new Tourance tires (front and rear tire)
This is an expensive day in Istanbul.

5/3/05 Istanbul sunny day
Today was spent waiting for all to arrive. Everybody is here! Sure, some forgot important papers, keys etc, but that is normal in a group. While most just chatted, I walked the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar started in 1461 and is still very much alive. Huge, clean and very old; a must see for anybody. Nice place to visit.
Last night I became a movie star. Films were made in the carpet store of ONUR on Mimar Mehmet Aga Cod. No 13/15. Gerissa French bought a silk carpet for $ 3620. - A really nice carpet and the best one in the store. Starting price was $ 4800. - A great example in carpet making and color and style. This silk carpet was hand-woven and hand-stitched. If she would not have bought it I was tempted to buy it myself.
At the Great Bazaar I almost bought 2 old prayer rugs. Starting price was $1050. - I got it down to $ 600. - But……. all of a sudden I got this creepy feeling and I left. I still think I did the right thing by just walking away. Was the carpet seller upset? Sure! But it was my money.
I noticed that group living is very different from solo existence, time for me to start learning again.

5/4/05 Istanbul clear, nice day
I had breakfast again with Lueftie. Emra could not eat; he needed a blood test today.
Today is bike pick up day. Jay and I did not have to do this I just had to find my block # on my bike for the Chinese paper work.
The block # is: 1 ZZ EB 0502 6095
Since all the men were picking up their bikes I chaperoned Gerissa French. We walked to the Fish Market, thru old Istanbul and she went into every store there is. Curious and inquisitive she learned a lot and asks many questions. We had tea in a backyard established in Byzantine times. A young carpet merchant taught us about the ins and outs of old carpets, how they are made and from which area they come, etc. It made us realize that even the buying of carpets is an art and that buying carpets and selling them is a ‘knowing’ game.
All bikes came thru customs just fine. Even the Rohberg’s, who forgot their title, got their machines. They had a color photocopy, both sides, which looked ‘real’. They told me they did not have to use it and that it was fairly easy to get the bikes thru customs. We all had dinner at the same expensive Fish Restaurant I talked about a few days ago. I have the feeling that our group is too large. I went to bed at 11 pm.

5/5/05 Istanbul clear, sunny day
I called Ronnie this morning, she is ok. Of course she misses me and I miss having her around but we are ok. The plan for today is ½ day of tours, then the rest of the day on our own. The tour this morning gave us an insight into Turkey, Islam and her people. The blue mosque is not blue and is an active mosque. Since Turks are mostly Sunni, but not that religious, we have access to the mosque. Kazim taught us the 5 pillars of Islam.

1 Allah is God and Mohammed is the prophet
2 5 prayers a day
3 keep Ramadan
4 once in your lifetime do the Hajj to Mecca
5 give alms to the poor (1/4% of your income)

2 or more minarets mean it’s a royal mosque. We saw the Haga Sofia (Sofia means wisdom in Greek) So Haga Sofia means ‘Divine Wisdom”
The name has nothing to do with a woman. Built in 523 to 527 AD and then again in 1436 it turned from a church to a mosque. Today it is a museum, not a mosque. Muslims many years ago obliterated the Byzantine pictures by just white washing over them. In doing so they preserved the underlying art and now one can go back and see how the decoration of the inside was 1500 years ago. The building has a huge inner space; 184 feet in height. Amazing for the time in which it was build.
I would say that by today’s standards the interior is way too much gold. Taste changes in time. In the afternoon I visited the old underground cistern. A left over from the old Sultan times and the walled city of Constantinople. One column has the upside down head of a medusa as a support. Even in old times trash was used to build and things were used where ever they could be used. The cistern was for emergency use only and held up to 6 months of water for a city of 250,000 at that time. A big space and it holds a lot of water. Today fish swim in the cistern and I am not sure if it is used as a water supply for Istanbul or not. It certainly could be, the water is very clean and usable. Since I am on my own and we are leaving Istanbul soon I took a look at the old Sultan Palace. The Ottoman Empire was great and around for a long time. The palace gives only a hint of the splendor in which the Royals lived. The Topkapi Sarayi (Palace) holds the Turkish Treasury. 84 carat, pear shaped diamond (the stone was found by a beggar in a trash pile who sold it for 2 spoons), gold, silver, pearls on every conceivable object. Spoons, mirrors, swords, candle sticks, everything. Almost every object used in a house or home, every utensil was covered in jewels and gold. So much so that it looks almost unreal. When one has so much money that even gold and pearls become ‘common’ is when you are wealthy.
In one section of the palace are relics of Mohammed, the prophet.
His tooth, some hair and his foot print. People came and were in awe.

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