Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Istanbul, Bodrum and Kos

(That title sounds like a Turkish law firm)

The flight from Singapore to Istanbul left around midnight. Too wired to sleep wtih the thought of finally getting to Europe and seeing a brand new city (for me), I stayed up all night. A silent asian girl sat next to me so I read and movie-surfed until we reached Dubai to refuel and let off some passengers. The Asian girl left, letting me strike up a conversation with the older guy in the next seat, who turned out to be Captain Hiko, a Turkish charter boat skipper who lived near Bodrum, where I was going after Istanbul. He really tried to be helpful and gave me all kinds of advice.
Istanbul: Upon arrival I heard pages for "David Benazai", and at first thought it might be Jen (my friend from Virginia) coming early to surprise me (she was due to meet me in a week), but it was a chauffer with a ride to the hotel that I forgot I had booked months earlier. And what a location! I had no idea it was practically in between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, AND steps away from the walls of Topkapi Palace! You should see the incredible views from the roof! The top picture is one. You can see how close I was to the Blue Mosque. Also, remember "Midnight Express", that movie of an American stuck in a horrible Turkish prison? It too was just steps away, but incredibly renovated into a beautiful Four Seasons hotel with no room under $600 a night (pictured here). I took a wander inside, and now I can say, why yes, actually, I HAVE been in a Turkish prison.
Of course I did my usual arrival walk after dumping my bags. While trying to decide which mosque to go into first, a young Turkish Andy Garcia look-alike (I think named Ali) told me the Blue Mosque closed first, so I should go there. Oh, and it just happened that he owned a carpet shop in the mini-bazaar behind it! The Mosque was incredible inside, but outside, for the rest of the day, it was a battle of wills between me and every carpet salesman in Istanbul (so it seemed) trying to lure me into their stores. One actually charmed me into stepping inside to see some, even though I told him repeatedly I had no intention of buying anything. There wasn't much pressure and it was kind of interesting to see the different types of weaves, etc. There are also a few establishments with imperfectly translated names, leading to sometimes humorous results, like the restaurant called the "Meat House", or the little store called the "World Cheapen Market".
Obviously I was pretty tired by the afternoon (as it was my night) having skipped a night of sleep, so I went to bed early and slept about 12 hours. Refreshed the next day after breakfast served by a grumpy waiter who refused to give me juice or water, just tea, I felt up to the challenge of the Grand Bazaar. It had its interesting moments, but all in all it was like a gigantic shopping mall without the ritz and glitz. Hundreds or perhaps even thousands of shops within a walled and roofed section of the city, selling a dazzling array of things. I took a picture of an outrageously ornate telephone for Dad.

But a pattern quickly started to develop: one whole area was jewelry, antoher rugs, another antiques. For a suburban boy raised in the land of shopping malls, only the odd store selling unusual items held any real interest. The book section didn't hold a single english-language tome, but one book dealer had a bunch of cats hanging around, so of course I liked that!
A back gate led to the Istanbul University, and along the way back a square held little old women in rags selling birdseed, just like in "Mary Poppins", but without the cockney accent.
I explored more areas but skipped the Aya Sofia and Topkapi, saving them for when Jen comes. The next day I took a short flight down to Bodrum, (where the flight attendants flirted with a young passenger), a small harbor town on the Mediterranean. It's a fairly nice port with an interesting castle next to the harbor, and I found my hotel easily enough-- Captain Hiko had recommended the Hotel Grup. Not a promising name, but the Captain said it was good. Too bad I trusted him; I was overcharged for a room with no blanket, no towels but a fantastic view (pictured here)... which was noisy that night--especially after Turkey won some soccer game and the whole town went crazy, chanting and honking horns...right outside my window! And the "balcony" was a skinny strip of slippery marble with a rail only about two feet high... so that kinda took the fun out of using it.
One downer: so far the whole time in Turkey it was cold & rainy. Even the next morning waiting for the ferry it rained, but it finally got sunny as the ferry approached the Greek island of Kos--perhaps a good omen.
Kos: I got off the boat not knowing where the 2 hotels were that the book recommended, but a guy stitting on a scooter asked if I wanted to see his hotel. He seemed like an honest sort (I'm getting an instinct for reading people) so I got on his scooter, luggage and all, and we made a mad dash past people on the harbor to his hotel, which turned out to be really quite nice, and only 30 euros a night. The guy, Halil (whose name sound more Turkish than Greek but I didn't want to risk insulting him by asking about it) is really friendly and anxious to please. And if the truth be told, he's quite the Greek Gary Cooper, so I took a picture of "Hal", as I call him, for you ladies... now you can fantasize about summer trips to Mediterranean islands and handsome Greek men!

As usual I dropped off my bags and hit the streets. As I was walking it started to rain, so I ducked into a cafe and found cheese pies. How could I have forgotten them? I got a big round one and it was great! It's funny how even things like rain can have unexpected good consequences. By the time I was done the sun came out, so I continued down until I found (by accident) the Plane tree of Hippocrates. Long story, but it was cool to just happen on it, like turning the corner in Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower in front of you for the first time. Well, maybe not that special, but you know what I mean!
Now guess what movie's on? "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", what else?
The weather the rest of the stay was beautiful, and it was a real pleasure to just stroll around the town, snooping in little shops, some with some beautiful Greek plates that I just had to shoot, and occasionally checking out some ruins now & then. The Romans must have liked this place; every other block is fenced off around some ruins, including the smallest little ampitheater I think I've ever seen. Most you can just walk down into if you like; all are free. There's also a large castle on the harbor (Just like in Bodrum) that I explored today. Inside it's pretty overgrown, and in a clump of grass I spotted a clutch of newborn kittens. I left some food for Mama. In fact I've been feeding cats all over town; they're everywhere and usually hungry. I finally met the mysterious other person who leaves them food: surprisingly, it turned out to be an old Greek man-- he was leaving all kinds of old-looking fish, and even filling some water bowls with bottles. Unfortunatly he didn't speak a word of English, so I couldn't ask him about it.
I had a final stroll through town this evening to see how pretty it looked with the tavernas all lit up and full of tourists, and the harbor was pretty nice too. I had a final Greek salad and those giant beans, and headed back to "Hal's Place". Today, my last day here, I rented a bike and wore myself out biking way outside of town just to see more of the island. You really need a car to explore the entire thing, but I got a good look at the countryside, which was typical quiet Greek island stuff, except the shore facing Turkey which is still littered with old abandoned bunkers left over from their little "cold war" with their now-fellow EU members. Hopefully the old animosity will be ancient history soon.
Next: back to Istanbul.

1 comment:

MozzarElla said...

Oh, all those Greek kitties. Don't you wish you had the resources to spay/neuter even just Kos Kitties?

Many thanks for the nice entry-- posting the great pics (Yasou, Halil!) and stirring up memories of Greece!

Enjoy the trip back to Turkey and touring it more with Jen!