On the way back into the city, on the toll-road, when we all fanned out to get in lines to pay, there were a bunch of guys hawking wares to the drivers right in the lanes: flowers, little snacks—these are the cinnamon and sesame seed bread circles, essentially big, soft, single-loop pretzels that you can get about every 15 feet in Turkey—

Closing More Loops

This loop was a much smaller loop than the big loop of 7,400 Kms. from Istanbul to Istanbul, but it had some odd, quirky, connections.

I headed into town both days all weekend, although it was pretty hot and I was tired, because I didn’t want to think, some time in the future, that I’d been a half-hour away from one of the great cities in the world, and hadn’t gone there.

I had a friend in college who pretty vigorously pursued women in much the same fashion, and explained his apparent lack of concern about their external attractiveness this way:

When I’m 87 years old, and drooling into my oatmeal an the home for the elderly helpless, I’ll never forgive myself if I thought there was a woman I could have gotten into bed but didn’t.

And you could probably make a pretty good case that we all felt exactly the same way, he just being more thoughtful and philosophical about it. . . .

Well, I guess I’m the same way but for other kinds of experiences. . . .

Closing the Turkish Loop—Part Two

The second loop that closed for me this last weekend was at Eminonu—where most of the little passenger ferries come in from the Asian side of Istanbul, where the old-city bus routes all begin and end, and there’s a tram stop, and (of course) lots of vendors in the plaza and also crowding the almost 40-foot-wide pedestrian walkway under the street and the tram tracks from where the boats land you to shops and little side streets— it’s a great space.

Almost all our Istanbul adventures began and ended there, and it was kind of the doorway to the city for Kim and me, and then just me.

It’s the plaza where the flag seller gave me the little Turkish flag patch that I had on my photo vest— and I’m going through the plaza on my way back through the Spice Market and there he was— my flag guy, and I went up to him and pointed at the flag, and we just had a really sweet, very special moment there between us.

And in the plaza, here’s one of about a dozen people (almost all the others are much older Muslim woman, selling bird seed to feed the pigeons.

And remember it’s about 90 out there, and no shade, and cement/stones all around him, and he has a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and a suit jacket on.

Of course, the Bedouins, who know something about heat, wear lots of clothes in the desert rather than a very few.

But no suit jackets.

After being here, and at St. Mark’s Square in Venice, I’ll just suggest that most major cities in the world would be improved with a few nesting pairs of Peregrine falcons. . . .

Special—Today Only—Seventeenth Century Medicine

Here’s a sign at a stall in the Spice Market— one of at least a half-dozen shops in a row—

And here’s a photo of The Professor, Dr. Suluk him (her? it? them?) self

Yes, friends, it’s leeches—the real thing.

Step right up— Who’ll be the first to buy today?

Closing the Turkish Loop—Part Three

Saturday was a sojourn into Istanbul, partly just to go there, as I explained, and partly to find an Arabic calligrapher to write some friends’ names (I had a list of about 10) on some special fancy-border card stock like the ones I got for my grandchildren in Granada, Spain, in the Moorish market three years ago.

I’d been trying to track someone down to do this all through the trip, and about all I heard was, “Istanbul, Sultanamet (the oldest neighborhood).”

So on Saturday I headed to Sultanahmet and went up to the Grand Bazaar, as there’s a booksellers’ souk up there and I figured that was a good place to start.

And I found a guy pretty quickly– seems he’s a famous Arabic calligrapher, and has a little school where he teaches Arabic calligraphy, and he also has this little stall where he sells old books.

And he asks me my name and gets a piece of printer paper and starts to work with an old, scratchy reed pen, and then he starts talking about the price— he wanted well over $30.00 each— and “special hand-made paper” and all, and then “only $30.00” each, and I’m still walking away, and he’s lowering the price to $26.00 each but I’m gone.

I mean the people on the list are all pretty important to me, but there are ten of them . . . . And on this trip, so far, what he wanted was about what I spent for lodging for most of a whole month . . . . .

So I just started walking back down the tram tracks toward the Blue Mosque (which Kim and I saw together on our first day in Istanbul a couple of months ago) and started asking “Neh ruh deh Arapcha ad yazarkin?” which is the (phoenetic) Turkish version of the question, “Where is there an Arabic calligrapher (literally, “name writer”)?”

Well, after most of an hour, and it’s pretty hot out—almost 30, so upper 80s at least, and after some interesting box canyons I was directed toward, including a hammam (Turkish bath joint) I’m walking past the very first place (here’s another loop closing) Kim and I went on our very first day in Turkey (the underground cisterns from “From Russia, with Love”), and there’s a guy sitting under a patio umbrella, right where we waited for the cisterns to open, with a sign that says, “Ottoman Calligraphy— Your name in 1 minute.”So I plop down and we haggle over the price (you can bet your very last cent that it was less than $26 each) and we agree and I give him the list and he starts and I go over to the nearby chai stand and get him some chai and sit back down and he’s working away and telling me about his father who was a famous Arabic calligrapher and who taught him, and he leans toward me and says, “I’m a retired policeman.”

The End of the Line, or

Woo woo for choo choos

Later, I walked through the park below Topkapi Palace, on the way to a place of pilgrimage for a very good friend in Portland— my bunkie on the Alaska cruise, John.

John is an extreme train aficionado (that’s a Spanish word, from which we get the word “fan,” that means “whack job”).

So I went to Sircikje train station and shot some pictures for him, and snagged him a couple of real souvenirs, because this is the station that was the eastern terminus for the old Orient Express run that started in Paris.

Here’s what the engineer saw in the last 100 yards of the almost two-thousand mile journey.

Here’s the exterior where the passengers entered

Here’s the waiting room

And here’s the picture I took as a subterfuge—

I got down on the actual track-bed at the very end of the run, made a big show of taking this picture, knelt down to do it, and grabbed a couple of rocks from the actual track-bed.

Now I don’t have any sense they were there during the great train runs of 80 or so years ago, but that doesn’t matter. They could be. Like the obsidian point that terrible wicked fiend snaffled at ?atel-Hoyuk— probably made by a grad student, but all the same, I’d love to have out-snagged her. . . .

They could have been there for that long, you never know, and they certainly come from the right place, and you didn’t get them at some souvenir stall.

Here are some shots from the museum inside the station.

And here’s the station-master’s desk.

And more from outside.

Sunday’s Meanderings


Fearless, but Premature (or Immature)

The third of the three big mosques here in Istanbul, Sulimanye, is closed for some pretty major repairs, there’s scaffolding all the way up three of the minarets— about 100 feet or more, I’d guess, so Kim and I hadn’t even gone up there two months ago: we hit the Blue Mosque and Aiya Sofia and that was about it for mosques.

But I had some time and didn’t want to go back to places I’d already seen, so I hoofed it on up there, and stumbled into something pretty good.

As I got close, I could see the big corrugated steel six-foot-high fence around it, but I snuck behind a bus shelter and clambered up a five-foot stone wall the construction fence was on top of, thinking I might be able to peek over the fence and see something.

Well, your fearless, intrepid explorer could see people walking around inside there, and if he’d made a more thorough survey of the street 50 yards past the bus stop he was sneaking around behind, he’d have seen the construction pipe-gate was open and the main doorway through the walls was open, and . . . .

I hit the cemetery first,and then bombed around the area some, got inside, talked to some people,had brunch (my 11:00 meal), and snaffled myself a piece of the place. It’s a construction site, right, and so there’s little piles of rubble here and there, and so I now have a piece of the Sulimanye mosque in the gym bag of loot I’m about to mail home.

Then I headed back to the tram line through another corner of the Grand Bazaar.

Speed Backgammon

I had downloaded the rules for backgammon, and even played a few games with a good friend in Portland before I come over here, thinking I could find some old codgers sitting in the shade on an afternoon and sidle up to them, and start to shoot them some, and then kind of know what to do if I got invited to play.


When Anne and I played the game, it took about 15-20 minutes per game, and I’m not sure we still had the general movement of the checker-doofers right—- but we did have the doofer placement just right, because it looked just like the diagram.

So the first games I saw being played, I kind of lit up, sidled over, and then slunk away.

First of all, there are as many different ways to play the game as there are people who play it.

And second, stopping to kind of figure out where to move how many doofers and which doofers and from and to which number of long triangles. . . . well, I’m sure you get the picture.

But to give you the clearest picture, I stumbled into a couple of guys playing on Sunday, and took some photos of them (finally solving the mystery of why the camera had been acting up) and they were blasting through games pretty quickly.

I timed the last game I watched and it took 130 seconds!

Two minutes and ten seconds.

Final Turkish Stuff

I saw this shot Sunday, and in some ways, if you only had one image to share that told a little story about Turkey, this one would certainly be a finalist.

The Turks are the friendliest people I have met as a group, and this is one of the great countries of the world.

There are a couple of things that I’d change about the place, and two seem pretty parallel.


Smoking is a huge problem; I don’t know anything about their health-care system, but I do know there aren’t many older people. I think I have already reported that only 7% of Turks are over 60, and I’d guess smoking is one of the big reasons for that. And not only do a lot of them smoke, they seem to smoke a lot, too.


And they not only lay waste to the insides of their bodies, but to their cities and country-side as well. Not the worst I’ve seen, but this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, and there’s way too much litter.

The government is working on these two issues— I’m seeing a few anti-smoking signs and posters in the big cities, but the Lonely Planet guide-book admits there isn’t a lot of impact yet.

I’ve also seen some recycling bins here and there, and so some big changes are on their horizon. It will take a while though, to create a generation of little Anti-Smoking and Anti-Littering Nazis (the school children) to start to nag the parents into a kind of sullen submission as we have done here.

And even at home, there’s an interesting shift I’ve experienced.

Fifteen years ago, when an MD asked if I’d smoked, I’d admit, “Yes— for about seven years, but I quit in 1964.” “Great, great, that’s wonderful—good for you” they’d say and I’d feel pretty good.

Then about 7 or 8 years ago, the response shifted. “Hmmmm. Seven years, eh?”

And now, when I say “Seven years,” I get this shake of the head and a “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

C’mon here! It was 45 years ago.

Gender Equality

The third issue, I think, is gender equality/equity, and it will be interesting as Turkey and the other eastern and south-eastern countries come into the EU as they deal with the social consciousness of the north-western Europeans.

This will be a huge conflict inside the country and inside families.

I’m not sure why Americans travel to Western and Central Europe pretty casually, then skip right over the Balkans like they didn’t exist, but land in Greece pretty easily.

Then they skip Turkey (only a half-million Americans travel here every year) and head to Israel.

And they are ignoring two of the great travel destinations—almost no MacDonald’s restaurants, Hilton hotels, etc., although there are lots of ATMs and wonderful, interesting places to see and some really terrific people to visit and get help from. . . .

So you go down this street and then turn right. . . . “

I’m at Eminonu after the nine-hour Sunday walk around Istanbul, heading back to the Asian side for the last night in Turkey, and here’s the woman ahead of me as we walk toward the boat ticket building.

And I don’t know what’s in the huge cardboard box; it can’t be terribly heavy, because it would break out of the box, but she’s partially stooped over struggling with the load whatever it is, and wearing ?alvars (shalvars), the almost-skirts I saw everywhere.

This is the last of the 5,881 images I took in Turkey, and it seems the right one to end with.

Originally written for Two Minutes in Turkey

posts by Robert