All the stars seemed to have lined up perfectly for me. IÕm sitting on a balcony overlooking the Bospherous and bridge that connects East and West. Asia to Europe. IÕm on the European side, but just barely.
The view is stunning. Ships are coming in and out of the harbor. Ferries are carrying people back and forth; there are four making their shuttle right now. There is also a gigantic Cruise ship sitting just center in the river. The passengers are getting a fantastic view of the D*** Palace and fascinating buildings right along the coast. Almost unnoticeable in contrast are small fishing boats and a couple sailboats way off.
There is a bit of a fog over the city, so my view cuts out just after the bridge, but I can still make out tiny white buildings on the horizon.. From not far away the melodic loudspeaker voice sings out the call to prayer.
It wouldnÕt be surprising to know that IÕm smiling as I sit here in a robe on the balcony. Istanbul is an incredible city!
Getting here, as always was quite a journey. After getting past the border I went as fast as I possibly could, much faster than I probably should to Tekirdag. I had made contact with a Judge there who was going to host me for a night before I pressed on the next day. I was eager to get to Istanbul because there I was to meet Yaz, long time friend of the Drapers, and attend a beauty pageant he was going to host. Wahoo!
Still, it was after 9 before I finally got into town. As always I really had no idea where to go, just the name of a hotel and a number to call. ShouldnÕt be too hard. The sign said the population was only 135,000 people.
There were several big hotels close to the entrance to the city. My first impression of it was that it was a pretty nice, European style town. There were lots of streetlights, the roads were well paved and clean, and there were hotels and restaurants on the sides of the streets. When I got about halfway through town, I jumped off my bike and went over to a couple of guys who looked about my age that I hoped would speak English and asked them if they knew where the Ulkursham** hotel was. To my surprise they did on both accounts and told me to go straight down the street and go to the University which I would recognize by the large Maxi sign across the street Great!
Well it was easy to find the Maxi sign and the University, and I pulled into a gated driveway where two beautiful girls waited as guards. Why didnÕt we have such fine looking Guards at JMU? Probably because I would have broke a lot more rules trying to get caught haha.
They didnÕt speak any English, but I was very entertained by the first sound of Turkish. It was quite different than the Greek, it was much longer and seemed to flow more with lots of SH or CH kind of a sound. Pantomime turned out to be the best way to get directions and they seemed simple enough – down the road and to the left. I asked them to show me several times.
Well, I went down the road and to the left but the building I found was clearly a dormitory not a hotel. I thought that the guy I was staying with must be a teacher of some sort, though he had said he worked at a court. Two more girls, also who didnÕt speak English tried to point out the error that I had made and send me back on the right way. We tried for a bit, but the directions seemed a bit too complicated. Eventually they decided it would be easier to just walk me there, but then one of the guards showed up laughing that I and shaking her head.
I laughed and shrugged and pointed to my bike. She gasped, but then hopped on with a giggle. We road the short distance back down the street, to the left, and then up to the hotel. I nodded and said OK though my helmet and then wheeled my bike around in a tight circle and took her back to the ranger station. She held on tight the whole way back but when she got off I could tell she enjoyed her short ride. The other guard came out, and she laughed at her friend.
I went back to the hotel and waited called the number. The reply came quick ŌIÕll meet you in 10 minutesÕ but when 25 minutes had passed I began to think I must be in the wrong spot. I sent him another message, praying that I would have enough credit on my phone to make an international call describing the University and asking if this was truly the meet up. Well just as youÕd expect from my luck it turns out there are two hotels with the same name in town. I got directions to the other and after another round of calls eventually found my host Ahmet.
He was all smiles and girns and suggested that I must be hungry and that we should head to a fish restaurant. OK! Having him as a passanger was much more cramped, and not quite so much fun as the pretty guard, but we managed to drive back to his place.
It was a really nice, big apartment with several extra rooms, and a large kitchen and 2 balconies. Fantastic! Its always a real pleasant surprise when you fiind out that your host has such a comfortable place. DonÕt get me wrong, Ive stayed on floors in dorm rooms plenty – actually thatÕs just the place I was coming from, but its still kinda nice when you have your own room and a comfie bed!
After I had dropped my stuff and taken off all my leathers another Ahmet showed up with a car. My host, Ahmet, asked if I could drive, because both he and his friend were not very good at it. I said it would be fun, and wondered what crazy stay this was going to end up being.
The first resturant we drove to – way out of the town was closed so we came back and found another more in the center of town which still had several parties eating. I was asked what I wanted just told them that I was just over the border and didnÕt know much about the cuisine so I would be happy with anything they had. It was then that I got my first introduction to Turkish (and to a degree Eastern in general) hospitality.
The food came out in masses. First soup, then cold salads, then an incredible shrimp and pepper sort of gumbo which just was fantastic, and THEN we got to our main course – a nice fresh fish which was in season this time of the year. I ate until I could eat no more, which though pushing it I found was way beyond where I should have stopped. As we drove back I felt my stomach bulging from the shear volume of food that it was unused to.
Ahmet left when we returned, but that did not mean that the night was over. Oh no! My host had arranged for the Sauna to be prepared for us, and it was just ready by the time we had changed into our suits and headed down. First we showered in hot water to get used to the heat then we dove into the sweat box.
Holy hell it was hot! There was a thermometer on the wall stood as a laughing indicator of how much pain we were enduring. 240 degrees. Fucking hot! It was damn difficult to stay the whole fifteen minutes. And that was before we poured water over the hot rocks. Almost unbarable! By the end I was dizzy and my head was swimming. I stumbled out the room. The sweat that was flowing out of me sundenly became cool as a rush of fresh air hit me like a wave. Oh it felt so good to be able to breath without my nostrils burning! I paced in circles trying to get as much of this nice clean fresh air as I could. Ahmet told next I would take a cold shower which I was more than willing to accept. It felt SO GOOD. It was as if the blood was rushing back to my brain and I was regaining conscience again.
But the relief was brief because just about 7 minutes or so later we jumped back into the sauna. We tried to have a conversation to forget about how hot it was, but I just couldnÕt carry it. I kept staring at the sand trickling so extremely slowly down down the hourglass, praying for an end.
By the end of the next fifteen minutes I was half asleep. I had become a monster again, capable of slow stumbled movements and no else. I staggered towards the door. As soon as it opened though I was struck again by the wall of sweet, beautiful, fresh air. Oh relief, sweet sweet relief!
After my second shower I felt even better. My muscles and skin tingled, relaxed and happy for the forced release of all the tensions of the road. We went back to his apartment, upstairs, and drank lots of water and juice and talked about the geography and people of Turkey. It wasnÕt a very easy conversation because his English was not very developed, and my Turkish nonexistent. By a bit past 2 in the morning I finally had to surrender and made my way to my room. I had no idea what was going to happen or what I was going to do the next day, but I couldnÕt be bothered to care. All I wanted was sleep. It seems the hardest, longest days are always the days I arrive to a new place.
The next morning I woke up late, but well rested. I could have easily laid down for another hour, but I felt the sun streaming into the window promising a beautiful day so I got up. Ahmet was already up, and wanted to know what I would like for breakfest. I again told him that I was easily satisfied, some bread and honey perhaps. He smiled and said that he needed to go to the store for some things. I asked if I could use his computer, very eager to get online and figure out how I was going to meet Yaz later that day in Istanbul. He set me up but as I was soon to find, he didnÕt really have any internet at home.
I fooled around with it a bit, going to different parts of the house and holding it to get some reception. I eventually found enough just to get into my gmail and see that Yaz had written me, and at another spot I was able to open the letter. It wasnÕt good news.
He was coming back into Istanbul late late at night, and wouldnÕt be able to meet up with me Sunday for sure, and hinted that there might be some problems Tuesday as well. Rats. I had been looking forward to the beauty pageant, but more importantly this meant that I didnÕt have a place to stay for the night.
When Ahmet got back we cooked up a fantastic breakfast spread with all sorts of good things. As we ate, I explained my predicament. Ahmet eased all my fears though by readily inviting me to stay for another day or two, as long as I liked. Really an extremely hospitable and generous person.
That day we did some simple errands for me – I got money and a sim card – Turkcell (090533 853 30 83) and we walked around town. Tekirdag, as I learned, was not a very important city, but it did have an old Hungarian king who after failing in his attempt at a war of independence from the Austrians, spent his last few years. But the city still has a nice charm. I was just excited to be walking around the more narrow, windy streets more common in non Western countries. But these still had more of the typical European feel than any of the streets in Morocco or Egypt that I had been through. It was clear that I was not yet completely into Asia.
We went to R‡k—cziÕs old house (the Hungarian), and then had some tea in a nice central cafˇ. In the afternoon we went way out to Kumbag (truly the name of the town) which was a nice beach village not far away. The waves were coming in from way off shore, and it was