BOB CORBETT'S TRAVEL JOURNAL -- 2006

Journal 9 -- May 23, 2006
Luxury bus -- The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul -- financial disaster averted

By Bob Corbett

Folks,

Itís Monday afternoon. On Saturday about 8 PM we left Kusadasi for Istanbul, an 11 hour bus ride. This was a comfortable luxury bus with an attendant who just constantly pampered us with coffee, tea, water and other treats. We did make a few stops at very lovely places with many fast food options as well. Some portion of the trip was even on a ferry, but we didnít leave our seats.

Nonetheless, an overnight on the bus was very trying and we didnít sleep much. Arriving in Istanbul at 7:30 AM we first took a metro into the center of town and then a cab to a hotel we had read about in Lonely Planet guide. But a room with a nice balcony was too high. They generously allowed us to leave our luggage as we hunted. We were in the very popular Sultanamhut section of Istanbul which is just honeycombed with hotels. We only tried about 6-7 but were getting a bit discouraged at things being more expensive than we had expected or wanted.

Then we came to Hotel Emre and struck gold at the end of a street of hotels. The man showed us an lovely small room on the fourth floor (walk up -- we were both huffing and puffing and we didnít even have the luggage) and there was a phenomenal balcony. It had a giant tree a few feet in front of us giving us complete privacy. If we look up the street we can see 2-3 blocks of fun activity and even the outdoor seating of one great restaurant. Look to the left and there is the Sea of Marmara and ships galore. It has a huge bathroom and 24 hour a day hot water. And this was just 45 Euros, same as we had been paying in both Kusadasi and on Mykonos. This is one wonderful room. We did well to search for a long time to find it.

After getting our bags from the other hotel and showering we both just crashed, sleeping until mid afternoon then up the block to the place we can see from our balcony. We had a major feast (and are headed back there as soon as I write this note), then picked up some wine and what we thought were cookies and went home. Another short nap, then a marvelous evening on the balcony talking, laughing, having some wine and ouzo and laughing over the crackers we thought were cookies.

This morning we walked up two more flights to the rooftop where a marvelous breakfast was served. Breakfast is included in the price of the room. Our rooftop balcony looks straight up at the incredible Blue Mosque, and the sea, just two blocks from us, had lots of dolphins feeding in the bay as we fed on the roof.

The first order of business today was a bank. We were in big trouble. Our credit cards and debit cards (we each have one of each) would not work in Turkey, nor in Kusadasi, but there we wrote it off as just a small town, but yesterday we had discovered they donít work in Istanbul either.

We had EXACTLY 5 Turkish lira when we left the hotel this morning, just about $3.50. We didnít bring cash or travelerís checks since we normally have no trouble with ATM machines and credit charges. None of these smaller hotels take credit cards, cash only, and we were living easily in Greece from the ATMs. Here they just didnít work.

Our landlord and later a kind carpet tout, directed us to a major bank -- but not until the carpet tout showed us his store. We arrived at the bank and were simply overjoyed when Sallyís Visa card worked on their machine. Turns out our other three cards are MasterCards and they do not work at all in Turkey, just as I found in Costa Rica last fall. In CR only the Scotia Bank accepted MasterCard. There, however I knew that ahead of time and had travelerís checks.

So we now have all the money needed to pay our hotel bills in cash until we leave and enough extra cash for a huge feast soon. Tomorrow (Sally had already exceeded her daily limit to get that money) weíll go back and get the rest of the cash we need to live for 10 more days in Turkey.

We are simply wild about Istanbul, and so utterly worn our with travel that we have decided to spent all 11 of our last days in Turkey here in Istanbul. We want to do so much, but since we do it at a snailís pace and relatively little in any given day, we wonít even scratch the surface of this awesome city in 11 days.

After the bank we walked down this ritzy street of banks and were amazed when at the end of it was an entrance to The Grand Bazaar. We had been rather anxious about the lack of money (and now we were flush!!!) and needed a break. We circled the block to just calm down and there was man selling fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. He had this huge hand-squeezing apparatus and the first glass took FOUR large grapefruit, filling the glass to the brim and then I had one too. The price was 2 lira for the two -- 66 cents apiece for that refreshing drink. We got a bottle of water, all of 33 cents, cold, and plunged into the Bazaar. Oh my is it fun. Like in the maze of Mykonos we got utterly and joyously lost, looked at a zillion things and purchased only two items -- a gift and some nuts and raisins for our balcony tonight. No ďstuffĒ for ourselves, only food!!! On the way back here we picked up wine for tonight as well.

After hours of that we came out a dark back exit and discovered we were in an all Muslim area of very strict folks with women in full black outfits with just a place for the nose and eyes to peek out. We were the only Westerners we saw. We came across a spectacular restaurant but when I inquired they had no outdoor seating and served no beer. We love our hours long feasts with a few beers so we passed, but one day we may well go back to experience that place, drinking a juice or water.

Then we came across a shoe shine man on the street and I had never had my shoes shined FOR ME in my entire life, so I stepped up and he did such a lovely job on my walking shoes that I overpaid a good deal. It was worth it.

The Bazaar is really fun, but the highlight of the day was sitting on a bench near a mosque just outside the Grand Bazaar and watching the people stroll by. The hordes of tourists, many with actual NUMBERS on their shirts and following guides, one using a childís toy windmill as his identifier. Turks of every sort, stylish women with headscarves (a strong political statement here) others, rather strict Shiía I would guess, in the full black outfits, others in jeans and short shirts with their belly buttons bare. What a mix. Men in dapper suits and lots and lots of older Turkish men wearing vests almost identical to my travel vest, and theirs even more jammed with stuff than mine. We just relished that shady bench (the walk was lined with dozens) and in the shade of a tree right next to us slept a very attractive little cat.

There are cats by the hundreds and wow, are they friendly and not afraid of people and treated so well by people. They get fed, and while we sat there a high school boy wandered by and stopped just a second to pet the little cat. Weíve seen other signs of the kindness to the these many many street cats. I really like that.

Then we got lost again -- hey thatís honestly a great part of the fun, and emerged several blocks out of our way down near the sea. On our way home (now just two blocks away -- at least to our restaurant) we passed this internet place so I thought Iíd update you folks.

Sally is writing on the next computer and I canít believe I am finished before her, that is truly a first.

Back soon. Oh my we have this awesome city ready for us -- but not until tomorrow. It will be the coming feast, home, some reading, maybe write a few postcards; as the sun goes down, repair to our balcony get out the wine, nuts and raisins and now we DO have cookies this time and a bit of ouzo and settle in for a long evening on the balcony watching the people below and waving to those who wave to us and watching the ships come in and out of the harbor.

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu