Right now, Turkish air is my favorite to fly. Nice staff, decent meals, free drinks. Unfortunately, the Istanbul airport is my current least favorite. So far every trip through has involved long, long waits in line for unnecessary things that take too long. I thought different this time, got here early, quick through the first checkpoint and then… sorry. We’re fully staffed and everything but your boarding pass can’t be issued until that desk opens in two hours. Should make my plane, if the line isn’t too long. Still, it rankles to be waiting around to stand in line.
Rules for travel (some stuff I didn’t do this time):
1) Either plan or don’t. I’ve visited places after doing extensive research and gone to places completely blind. Both have been great. The types of fun are a little different. And don’t be afraid of getting lost. That’s where the cool stuff is.
2) Be nice to people. How hard is that? Just like at home, listen more than you talk. Fortunately, I saw no ugly Americans on this trip… but did watch a nice Turkish businessman try to defuse an Australian temper-tantrum and heard a very nice English gentleman say, “You people are ignorant and you worship evil, but that’s your right and it works for you. Don’t change.” I really hope his interlocutor didn’t understand.
3) Stay a while. This is one that we always screw up. Sometimes my darling wife and I confuse distance with experience and traveling with relaxing. Traveling isn’t relaxing. Stopping is. Next time, instead of driving every day to spend a night in a new place, long single-day drives that end in a place we want to wander for a while. Like Cong.
4) Sarcasm requires an excellent translator. Otherwise, it’s not worth explaining.
If you are in a museum and start to hear a rumble that reminds you of an avalanche approaching or a medieval battle re-enactment, they just let in the grade school tour group.
This is how to get a free translator and tour guide for a day in Istanbul: go to any of the major exhibits in the early morning. Someone will step up and say that he wants to practice his English. He will say that he doesn’t want to be paid and has his own museum card and he’s not selling anything so he hopes you don’t mind if he tags along. The hair will stand up on the back of your neck because it screams, “scam.”
It is… sort of. After the (for me) Haya Sophia and/or the Grand Mosque he will ask if you would like to step into his family shop for tea. You will have a nice tea and a nice conversation with a ‘relative’ who speaks even better English as other relatives spread out rugs and explain the history, manufacture… It’s a great class in rug making and there are no hard feelings when you say “No.” If it works, the family sells a rug or more (at some incredible prices) and if not, you may remember them when you are older and richer and visiting Turkey again and decide to stop in and see how Hakim is doing.
Customer service was extraordinary. I wasn’t just remembered by waiters the next day, but remembered by people at places I passed by. Hand in hand with that, the salesman are very aggressive (see above, with the tour guide) and it got kind of wearing when I wanted to be alone or just explore.
A still picture can’t project how huge the domes of the Haya Sophia and the Blue Mosque are from the inside.
When you see a street of goldsmiths and silversmiths and a bowl (talking party punch bowl) full of emeralds… Smaug’s treasure wasn’t all that impressive.
Very screwed up that the two areas at Topkapi Palace where photography was forbidden were the weapons and the treasury.
It probably means something- when I said ‘the weapons’ above, the displays included a bunch of religious relics, like Moses’ walking stick and John the Baptist’s jewel-encrusted skull and Mohammed’s beard… but I really only paid attention to the weapons.
You can get sunburned in Ireland.
Castles make for better sex than B&Bs for some reason.
Untapped tourist market- why can’t you shoot longbows at straw invaders from some of the towers? Or practice throwing Viking axes at some of the famous battle sites. Seriously folks, I’d pay just to say I did it.
The Pacific NorthWest needs some castles. Seriously, the castles, ruins and graveyards were the biggest differences between Ireland and the Willamette Valley. Oregon even has better beer. A nice fortress would look very natural on the Columbia River Gorge and some of the islands could use a ruined abbey.