Adventures in Istanbul

My daily blog from my iPhone:

Well I just flew into Istanbul today so no wild adventures yet really. When I landed in Istanbul, and after waiting forever in immigration line, I finally made it up to the immigration officer. After perusing through my passport pages and looking at me with suspicion, comparing my photo to my real live face, skepticism covered the man’s face, which is usual these days given when my passport photo was taken a few years ago I was 30 pounds heavier and now my face looks much thinner. LOL.

After reluctantly moving on from the photo he asks, “where’s your visa?” I retorted, surprised, “I need a visa?”  I nearly shit my pants.  Luckily across the hall there was a separate immigration visa line, and after forking over $30, my passport now includes a 90 day Turkish re-entry visa.

I had no idea I needed a visa. One of the many problems with no planning or researching anything when I travel. I just wing it and see what happens. As Americans we get spoiled thinking we can go into any country with just our blue passport.

At the airport, I walked around a bit and thought, “Jesus, did I just walk into a really shitty convention show?” As I made my way through the main lobby of the airport it just reminded me of some cheesy trade-show booths. After standing outside for some time and killing time smoking, I met a young Turkish man who had just returned from a visit to New York and Boston for work. He helps university students who want to study abroad in America. He suggested we share a taxi since he lived very near my hotel.

During the long ride, I learned a lot about Turkish history, culture and places to visit. Literally, later this week I will drive across the bridge that connects the European and Asian continents together, all part of the massive metropolis of Istanbul.  Turkey truly is the place where East meets West, culturally and geographically.

After checking in to the hotel, I wandered around a bit to get a sense of the city.  It felt alive. Vibrant. Bustling with people everywhere, filling the narrow side streets, hanging out in cafes and restaurants and enjoying a perfect weather day. I was surprised to see the women didn’t wear burkas too often. Only a few women had on the traditional Muslim attire. Most were dressed modern western style. One wouldn’t even sense you were in a Muslim county.

In an international city like Istanbul, it can often be difficult to identify which people are locals and which are foreigners.  At first, I thought it was all just foreigners since I was in the city center where there are many tourists.  But usually when you speak with them for a bit it becomes quite obvious.

Istanbul is a massive city of nearly 18 million people. Far bigger than NYC but not as big as some of the truly mega city’s of Asia, like Tokyo or Shanghai. As I walked around and observed, it gave me a sense of a major Asian city like Tokyo but with a little more hometown flavor and friendliness to it, with different letters on building and faces. The architecture is obviously very different, but the narrow streets gave me a feeling of getting lost in the millions of tiny side streets in Tokyo.

I was pretty hungry, so I made my way into a restaurant to try some Turkish food. My new friend in the taxi told me I would love the food here if I liked spicy food, which I indicated I most certainly did. I ordered something like a Turkish gyro with beef wrap. It didn’t look anything like the gyros I had eaten in Berlin or any other European city. But I added some super hot chili peppers, which had me sweating beads within minutes. I loved it. It was like a free face shower on a warm summer day.

I had been chatting with the waiter at the restaurant throughout. He didn’t speak much English but we muddled through.  Very friendly young man.  After I finished, the restaurant waiter refused to let me pay for my meal! My first meal in Istanbul and it was 100% free. It was even more delicious now. I gave the Turkish man a manly hug and went on my way to walk some more. For some reason people buy me free drinks and give me free food all the time when I travel! Maybe I look wretched and homeless?

While I had been sitting at the restaurant, looking at the street pedestrian traffic and observing the locals working in various shops and cafes, this young girl kept looking at me from across the street. I smiled, as I always do in a friendly way. She blushed a bit and would periodically look at me again as I continued to eat. After some time she decides to run over across the street and hand me a bunch of pamphlets, just to say hello in Turkish.  The restaurant guy indicated it was political material, as the front had the photo of a serious man, the president of Turkey! She had been signing people up to vote or something like that. Obviously she knew I wasn’t Turkish. She was cute and adorable, dancing to the music on the street and greeting everyone that walked by with a friendly smile. She spoke no English so I used the translator to get an idea of what she was doing. It was a cute and innocent interaction.

Well tonight I will wander about until I find something interest or some trouble to get into :-))

If there’s no blog tomorrow, I either got mugged, killed, raped or just passed out drunk in some random park (jk, I’ve never done that), or am still at an after hours party.