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Friday, October 31, 2014

Istanbul - day one

Our first day dawned clear and I looked out over the Golden Horn where little fishing boats circulated back and forth and rows of guys fished from the shore.

These fishermen seem to be a fixture here, probably thousands of them lining every available space on the shore and bridges all around the Golden Horn and Bospherous.

Being a lovely day, we decided to do a ferry cruise up the Bospherous, one of the obligatory activities in Istanbul. After a typical Turkish breakfast of pita, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, peppers (not hot sadly), feta, grapes, and, of course tea we walked along the waterfront, the Golden Horn and new city on one side, the old city with huge, beautiful mosques everywhere, minarets spiking the horizon.

We're not in Kansas anymore.
Istanbul is totally overtaken by motordom, hardly any facilities for pedestrians, like may countries. Apparently there was a tiny bike sharing system at one time and I noticed the defunct stations along the waterfront. Bare wires dangling. Suffice it to say that, once the waterfront path ended, things got chaotic and negotiating street crossings was perilous. No crosswalks, or, if there were, they were ignored, so you just have wait for a break in traffic and dash across. Sidewalks are equally chaotic, ending suddenly leaving you prey to the motorists. Before the cruise we went in search of an Istanbulkart, a pass that you put money on that works for all of the public transit, buses, trams, subways, ferries and, I discovered, some of the pay bathrooms. It wasn't easy to find a place that sells them and we asked around. Many big tour buses were parked along the street there and we asked one of the drivers. He said, yes, he could help us and set off down the street in a stately manner, occasionally talking on his cell phone, us trailing behind, for block after block, him occasionally asking others where to get the card. Finally we found a kiosk where they sold the passes and we were on our way (never saw the kiosk selling them across the street from where we found him). We reached the tour boat pier and bought tickets for the hour and a half voyage. And a lovely voyage it was, cruising first along the European side, huge, elegant castles, some that have been converted to hotels, mosques, opulent homes and the vast city skyline and sweeping views over the Bospherous. Then across to the Asian side with more of the same.

Returning back to the dock we went for fish sandwiches, another of the must dos in Istanbul and another chaotic scene. I guess the fish are those that all those fisherman are trying to catch, bony, rather tasteless little things in a crusty bun.

Kids roam around handing out packets of wet wipes and I thought, what a nice touch. Naive me. When you get up to leave, there they are asking for money and our kid tried to scam us further, charging 5 lira each, about $2. I said, no way and he became argumentative until some other kids came over and said, no, 1 lira was the price. He got pissed off, I got pissed off and demanded my change, cursed him and we went our way back to the airbnb. As we were walking along, a shoeshine guy passed us and dropped a brush. I yelled after him and returned it to him. You would have thought I'd just rescued him from certain death. He almost prostrated himself on the ground and kissed my hand. Then he insisted on polishing my shoes. Naively I let him and he insisted on polishing Sam's runners. When he was part way through, he said, 19 liras please. That was it! Not a dime for you buddy. We'd let our guard down but after that it would no more mister nice guys. We spent the afternoon and evening on the new city side starting at Taksim Square, site of the big student protests some months ago. There is a big pedestrian mall off the square with all the favourites: Starbucks, Burger King, Levis, KFC, jewelry, clothes, cell phones, the usual, wall to wall people.

Sam bought some new clothes at the Levi's store, we went for a drink and chatted for a while then went in search of dinner. We had found a place in Lonely Planet that had good reviews but, for the life of us, couldn't find it so settled on a vegetarian place, also in Lonely Planet. Turned out to be another mistake; cold, tasteless food but at least it was expensive. Unsatisfied, we went and found a place Sam had seen featured on an Anthony Bordain show, just a little place full of locals where they made great dürüm, like a döner in a wrap.

This was the start of a trend where Sam became the dining choice expert. Never steered us wrong. I'm happy to have a foodie grandson.

Thus ended day one.

















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