Sunday, December 4, 2011

Postcards From Istanbul

After the LabourStart 2011 conference Geri joined me and we holidayed in Istanbul for 10 days.  What follows are vacation e-postcards to friends and family.

 Some of you all find this repetitive because you're 'friends' with my personal Facebook account. sorry. There won't be one of these every day.

I was late getting to our hotel from the post-conference LabourStart meetings but Geri had a chance to sleep-off her jet lag and was ready to go. We found a nice simple restaurant not too far from our hotel and had a great dinner. Our hotel is inside the old city walls, in Sultanahmet. Makes for a fun neighbourhood, but there is one down side: despite the room having all mod cons in it the sewers in the old city are a bit restrictive and so you can't flush paper. Quite a problem, overcoming 50+ years of training. :-)

Today we spent wandering around. All the major sites we wanted to see were closed on Mondays, but still it was fun to see the city from a quick bus tour and get a sense of how everything is oriented, how far we are from what we want to see etc. And at the Blue Mosque we ran into a small crowd from my conference, while on the way to Hagia Sofia we bumped into some more. A small world...

Just randomly walking we came across:

1. A street of shoemakers. In the dark, when it was quiet, we could hear dozens of cobblers tapping nails into shoes. Very cool.

2. Pomegranite juice may be my favourite drink, surpassing beer.

3. A restaurant serving a very nice lamb stew done in clay pots that are then, in high tourist fashion, tapped until the top pops off and it can be served. Ours went fine but another couple had a problem. Waiter-in-training hacked instead of tapping and the resulting explosion pretty impressive. No one hurt but much laughter and bits of lamb and pot all over.

4. Globalization: African footballer on TV flogging KFC in Turkish.

5. This place hops after dark. Most everything, including museums, open to midnight.

6. Chess set for sale: pieces are the players in the Gulf Wars and the 'War on Terror'. The Bushs, Blair et al on one side, Saddam, bin Laden et al on the other. Very well done too.

7. Very impressive transit system everywhere except the old city.

8. Old city also falls down sewage-wise. We can't flush paper, have a little bin instead. Otherwise hotel like the one I had for the conference: all mod cons but small.

9. The cult of Ataturk is alive and well.

10. There really are only 500 people in the world. Yesterday we twice ran into comrades from the conference. Some Egyptian folks at the Blue Mosque, some Taiwanese and a Canadian at the Hagia Sofia.

11. We could live here as long as we could eat in the restaurants. So far the worst was OK, the other very good and very, very cheap.

12. One out of town day booked: to Pamukkale (Google it). Looking at Cappadocia too.

13. Turkish bath/scrub (large hairy man beats you up with rough scrubs and towels, then steams you to mush) in a hamman tomorrow.

More to come, but internet connection unreliable and my mailer seems not to like the homemade batch uploader that sends photos to Flickr. But am trying to clear photos from camera regularly, so here is the link to the photos of this trip (post-conference, if you want the conference stuff for some reason let me know):

So today was a High Tourist Day. All that was missing a High Group Tour Guide and a sensor in which was burning a huge wad of cash.

Might as well just come out and say it: we bought a carpet. We like it, it is carry-able and it works with a space we have that has been dying for a rug other than the rag rug we have there now for a long while. So no apologies, no embarrassment, and does anyone want a cat prone to hairballs?

Second, I must have inadvertently stepped on some important and mobbed-up toes, because there I was this afternoon, recovering from having bought a carpet from a nice man whose brother is a close personal friend of Paul Martin's, enjoying a steam bath, when a very large bald hairy man wearing an odd plaid skirt came over to me and started whaling away on me.

Having reduced my legs to uselessness, he punched me repeatedly in the stomach, chopped at my upper body until I was pretty much paralyzed, then gave me two simultaneous 360-degree titty twisters, flipped me over, tried to stick each big toe in an ear to the tune of 'Cracking Spine', leaning on me with his considerable weight concentrated at the point of his elbows, and when I wouldn't (couldn't really, all I had on was a goofy plaid towel with tassels) pay up he threw me in a corner and tossed scalding water on me. Having peeled-off two layers of skin he then worked me over with a sheet of sandpaper before soaping all his fingerprints off my body (evidence doncha know) and sticking a thumb in each ear and doing his best to make them meet in the centre of my heard.

If you ever have a steam bath here I'd suggest that you learn the Turkish phrases for "I'll pay, I'l pay" and "what's the vig?"

OK, enough stupid. It was a Turkish bath and it was fun and the bath we went to has been in business for just over 600 years. And it was painful at the time but you can have a beer after and I am thinking I might just have one (massage, not beer...well, perhaps both) a day until we leave. And mebbe come back for one on a regular basis. And pay to get my assailant...errr...masseuse...a registration number as a RMT in Canada so I can claim the whole thing on my benefits plan. :-)

It was fabulous.

Bit of minor catch-up now that we're getting ready to pop out for dinner:

1. Burma has a 'right of return' citizenship law, meaning I can take out citizenship if I want to.

2. Geri had fun and you will soon be able to see the photographic proof of it, in the shoe district. $16USD for fab shoes.

3. Silver and pearls district right next to the shoe bit.

4. The grand bazaar fun but mostly touristy stuff or the equivalent of a dollar store The exception being the antiques section. Which was full of stuff from North africa and India. I should have said 'we think' as the thing is immense and we covered only a very small portion.

5. Most shopkeepers in the GT have a prett ydetailed knowledge of Canadian geography. impressive really. Probably better than most Canadians.

6. Only thing we bought was a scarf which Geri got down to 18 from 35 Lira. Much fun.

7. There is a corset shop in the GT for both genders. Frightening.

8. After we bought our carpet and I was carrying it I thought we'd be left alone by the touts, but not so: "Sir, that looks painful, you need another just like it to balance you out." :-) I like the touts here. They have a sense of humour about their work and don't take it too seriously, don't expect you to either.

Budget-wise, we found it fairly easy. We used points for the flights and the hotel we're in is 30 Euros (it's not as official as Cuba, but tourists are encouraged by merchants to pay in Euros though you can also use Turkish lira, in fact if you do there's a roughly 10% discount) a night. As you can hopefully tell from the photos it is small but comfortable and modern. I was in a smaller room for my conference in the modern part of the city and it was 6-7 times as much I think.

Getting around outside the old city is easy. The transit system is very modern though the subway needs to have about 100 more stations to fully cover the city. There is a tram line that crosses much of the European side of the city with trains coming very frequently. There are buses, some of which have dedicated lanes they don't have to share, even with taxis. And there are tonnes of taxis.

We're not finding walking a problem at all. Lots of hills but none huge. And the sidewalks become stairs where needed.

The only problem I could foresee would be in getting around the old city. It's not accessible and there's no public transport worth mentioning, nor could any fit on the surface. Walking or taxis are the way to go here. Or stay outside this area and take group bus tours into the area now and then (there's lots to see and do in the rest of the city).

Photos are being added as we go along.

Ours is a strange tribe. Secret signs and rituals, displaying our rank in dress. Today at breakfast each and every table had a bible on it (Lonely Planet I mean). German, English and French. The newbies in cargo pants and hiking boots and quick-dry hoodies. The rest, inevitably going to the same places and doing the same things, in grown-up clothes.

I think you all may get stuck with more of these missives than you bargained for. Feel free to ask to be taken off the list. Trouble is, we walk and we walk and we walk, then we have lunch and walk some more, but we don't seem to be hungry most days when dinner time rolls around. As with today when we decided to skip it, stay in and watch the rain, up load photos, deal with e-mail and, you guessed it, do postcards, digital and paper.

Hit the Little Hagia Sofia today. Along with the larger edition pretty much one of the five or ten oldest christian churches around, though the Littler is currently in use as a mosque. Very simple, very nice, well worth the 200m walk from our hotel. :-) Plus it still has its bazaar (churches and mosques were often endowed with a bazaar for income from shop rentals) intact and operating after 1500 years (assuming it was built with the church). Some nice little shops, the whole well out of the way. Wonder it's not more popular.

Spent most of today, about 6 hours, at the Topkapi Palace. Much fun, great architecture. Wildly expensive lunch, but it was cold and windy so... Great views from the restaurant. Best bits the jewels and such and the harem. Emeralds the size of baseballs Diamonds the size of ping pong balls. Some wonderfully worked gold (the Topkapi dagger spectacular but not the most so). Candlesticks each of 48kgs of 22 carat gold and covered with literally 1,000s of diamonds. Worker rock crystal that was so fine and so thin that you could mistake it for glass.

Harem fun too. Would love to see the sections closed-off. You can get a peek every now and then and they look fantastic, and well-maintained.

The other fun bit was the relic collection that the Sultans built up over the years. The walking stick Moses used. Probably when he parted the sea, almost certainly he had it under his arm when he was handed the tablets (tho I have always had a problem with the 10 Commandments story. No ratification vote...). The finger of John the Baptist. The Beard of Muhammed, his gold and jewel encrusted sword from a period when he and his followers didn't have a post to piss in. A piece of the cross JC was crucified on. Best of all, the sword David used to kill Golaith. All labeled as though they had just been carbon dated. :-) I guess if the Sultan paid a pile for it, it pretty much has to be genueine, no? Only if it was free or cheap could it be challenged I guess. Would you want to be the one to say "Err, excuse me, but I think Your Highness just dropped a bundle on some chicken bones, wood chips and barber shop sweepings."?

We're off to Pamukkale next Tuesday for the day. Flights were stupid cheap, compared with a 10 hour bus ride it was a no-brainer. One hour flight out about $60 all-in, back about twice that.

Most exciting news of all and every travellers Holy Grail: we found a ritzy hotel not far from ours which has a happy hour hors d'oeuvres buffet that is free. We'll make it a stop each day on our way home for a drink and a free dinner.

Which means I can send even more of these! :-)

We're close to the mid-point of the holiday portion of the trip and Geri's toe and back could use a break so we're taking a day to hang at the hotel and things nearby, enjoy a bit of sun on the terrace, read, and, yes, do postcards. Beautiful day. I am sitting here watching a steady stream of ships heading from the Med through to the Black Sea. Hardly any coming the other way, I wonder if there are timed traffic patterns? Morning traffic eastbound, afternoons west?

I've lost at least one prior e-postcard that I think was sent, but have also had some get stuck and not go anywhere as the CUPE mail server seems to occasionally decide I am a security risk while here. Apologies for any duplication, the last time it took days for the 'not sent' notification to get to me so I'm going to include some stuff that may have been in a previous message.

1. Love the transit system here. We used the tram (streetcar) yesterday several times and it is up there with Vienna's I think. Toronto's new streetcars should be so good. Under Ford of course it won't matter since they will be sharing what should be an exclusive right of way with cars. Which happens here only in the old part of the city where the streets are narrow. These lovely even down to the multi-lingual stop announcements. We also spent some time on and round Taksim Sq. and so took the funicular that connects the tram line down on the waterfront to the metro station up on the hill at the square. No tourist antiquity, it's a driverless high-tech thingee. Too bad it goes up in a tunnel instead of on the surface though. Nice view of the Bosphorous if it did. There are also commuter trains to the outer suburbs (this a city of 12 million I think). Also almost all very new looking. And electric.

2. I'm never going to develop the ability to speak more than a dozen standard phrases of Turkish. This language right up there with Czech and all the tonal languages as far as difficulty is concerned. But it can be fun to see the Arabic/Moor/Romance/Persian influences and realize that if you speak the word in Urdu or in Spanish or in Italian you suddenly know what it means. Maidan to Meydani for example or Cadde to Calle.

3. Stopped on the main high-end shopping drag, Istklal, for coffee. Facing the windows in comfortable little chairs and suddenly a weird gaggle of Japanese tourists all dressed in electric plastic walked by. Dayglow orange and green and red and whatever coloured plastic clothing and boots. Electric green coat with gold boots just about made me gag. A family/ A club? Street theatre? Then a few minutes later an elderly man came along, re-arranged the flower pots on our window sill to better suit him, smiled at us and walked off.

4. You realize just how clean the city is when in the modern bits. Way cleaner than Toronto for example. Lots of uniformed street cleaners everywhere. Old city has no litter, but is old. But the modern bits sparkle.

5. Nice man showed us how to buy transit tokens yesterday. Everyone like that. You can stop a shopkeeper or tout from trying to take you somewhere or sell you something by asking them directions or how to do something. The pitch stops, they help, everybody smiles, and you can walk off before they get back into sales mode. Very nice.

6. Street food here mostly Turkey's version of bagels, roast corn and roast chestnuts.

7. Just noticed a few days ago that our toilet, and most I have seen, has a nozzle/faucet built-in to the back rim I presume this is the mod con version of the bucket-and-cup substitute for toilet paper that I last ran into in India. Faucet knob on the wall. If pressure sufficient and faucet control fine enough, I could put on a puppet show for myself. Mebbe take photos. :-)

8. Had lunch at Altin Balik on Turnaci just off Istiklal. Wow. Best calamari we ever tasted with an very nice sauce they whipped-up and the local sea bass wonderful. Plus they bring a selection of fresh fish to your table, you pick the beastie you want and tell them how you want it prepared. One very fine meal.

9. Across the street from the second floor of the restaurant was a window either covered with sawdust or containing a room full of sawdust, and some homemade electrical connections worthy of Delhi. So come, eat at this place before it disappears in the fire to come.

10. A shop just off Istiklal sells nothing but booze and potato chips. Reasonable selection of both considering the shop is mebbe 10sm at most. Why go anywhere else?

11. Lots of 'subtle' sexism. As at a restaurant table when I get to taste the wine, I get the bigger pieces of everything and am clearly expected to order for Geri. But some of the complaints I heard at the conference from a young woman travelling outside Canada for the first time may be more about commercial harassment than sexual or gender.

12. Here on our hotel terrace I can see 30+ ships lined-up either for the Bosporus or for one of Istanbul's ports. To my left is Little Hagia Sofia (Little St. Sophia), a 1500 year-old church now a mosque. A little further left are the minarets of the Blue Mosque, and in between is an Ottoman palace on the Asian waterfront of the city. Some kids are playing football on the sports field/community centre across the road, and a nice man is pushing a cart down the street bellowing something that invites folks in the neighbourhood to give him recyclables that he then sells. I wouldn't need to win a whole lot to be able to live like this the rest of my life...

13. I'm keeping pretty much up to date with photo uploading. So if anyone is bothering to look, there are a bunch of new sets. I wish I could convince myself that the photos of buildings like the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi or especially the Hagia Sofia in any way convey how impressive the buildings are, but I can't. Sigh.

Had lunch in a ritzy restaurant under the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. Way out of our price range, but pretty good, plus it was raining, so...sitting there, watching fishing lines with a half dozen sardines each come up out of the water and disappear up above as the fishers on the roadway pulled in their catch. If it had been warm enough we would have been on the terrace out front, ducking the wriggling fish and the weights at the end of the lines. And there are LOTS of lines. Every metre of waterfront has at least 2 fishers. Later found a bar on the other side of the bridge, beer and a water pipe.

Good thing lunch was first as otherwise watching the fish 'flying' straight up while working the water pipe would have suggested something other than dried apples in it.

Just quickly (we're both awake in the middleof our night for some reason)...

It was about 8 hours from Toronto to Munich and then about 3 to Istanbul after a change to a Lufthansa flight. We came on points and so had exec class seats. Pods to Munich, the disappointing Lufthansa Business Class from there onwards.

The return flight is through Frankfurt. Unfortunately not ebough of a stop there to justify any time in the Star Alliance exec class lounge. Last time there the 'car wash' toilet seat feature made the extra travel time well worthwhile.

Never felt unsafe. Doesn't mean we weren't of course.

I think all I can say is that no one has shown any hostility in any way. Most actively friendly, and not just folks trying to sell us stuff, but people like the fellow who approached me on the tram platform yesterday when he noticed me taking photos of the New Mosque (new because only 600 years old).

Now that I'm awake, here are a few more answers:

1. Tipping in taxis is to just round up to the nearest lira. Otherwise a few coins, though at higher-end restaurants 10% is about right and sometimes included in the charge anyway.

2. Weather has been near-identical to Cobourg's. C o o l (s u n g l a s s e s)

3. Credit cards everywhere, and better than the US (where we were in September) becuase chip cards are standard here. In this as in many regards, you should expect what you would in any other European country.

4. Better to exchange money at a Cambio than a bank as the charges are less. Banking machines everywhere too

 Odd notes and such this time. Every time??? Geri has a bit of a cold so I am hoping we'll take it easy today and not venture too far from home. So some post-breakfast scribbling on the terrace would seem to be in order. Yesterday was a bit dismal and rained a bit on and off after a few hours of blue skies in the morning. Today the blue seems to be holding. The Sultanahmet area goes from looking washed-out and dingy to pretty in the sun.

1. Only once in all our rides on public transit was Geri not offered a seat by a youngish man. and this without her (mis?)using her cane. :-) But when she has used her cane as when we've had a flu day of hiking around, she has had repeated comments from everywhere from shopkeepers to museum staff about it. Cuban of course, and quite intricately carved.

2. Yesterday in the morning we took a cheap (unguided) cruise up the Bosphorus to the second bridge, not quite to the Black Sea, and back.

3. Fishers really are everywhere along the water. Christopher would fit right in.

4. There's an island not far from the first bridge which is entirely devoted to a couple of restaurants and a cafe. And right next to it is a floating doghouse. Photo to prove, complete with a bird on the doghouse.

5. After, we had lunch in a ritzy restaurant under the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. Way out of our price range, but pretty good, plus it was raining, so...sitting there, watching fishing lines with a half dozen sardines each come up out of the water and disappear up above as the fishers on the roadway pulled in their catch. If it had been warm enough we would have been on the terrace out front, ducking the wriggling fish and the weights at the end of the lines. And there are LOTS of lines. Every metre of waterfront has at least 2 fishers. Later found a bar on the other side of the bridge, beer and a water pipe. Good thing lunch was first as otherwise watching the fish 'flying' straight up while working the water pipe would have suggested something other than dried apples in it. We both quite liked the 'hubble-bubble'. Pleasant apple flavour.

6. We think the anti-smoking laws must be new. Yesterday we could hardly see the no-smoking sign in the bar for all the cigarette, cigar and water pipe smoke. :-)

7. The bar and restaurant (on opposite sides of the bridge but both on the lower level) had fab views of the ferry landings. Quite a show. Continuous and fast.

8. In the bar Swansea vs. A. Villa was on. Swansea getting more cheers. Perhaps out of sympathy: no matter what the game's outcome the team has to return to Swansea. :-)

9. Reading a bit of the local English language papers in our 'free hors d'oeuvres bar'. Parliament just enacted a Council of Europe convention on violence against women Wildly progressive in comparison with our laws. For example arranged marriages are now illegal. Parents can be charged and the marriage itself reversed. But I can't find a definition of 'economic violence' against women. In any case it is now a crime here.

10. Also in the process of amending their constitution. Have to say in many respects their current one, while it has some serious flaws (making the military a kind of constitutional court with the right to stage a coup being one small example), also has some enviable bits. Being secular and so for almost 90 years is one. I find it irksome that I live in a country where a large minority have some other religious belief or none at all but where we all, and our laws, are subject to compliance with the Christian god's rules and regs. Especially while we have a Prime Minister who thinks that The Flintstones was a documentary. It must also be nice to have a head of state who's not only elected but a citizen of the country s/he runs. Oh, and all the legislative bodies of government here are elected...and awake, as far as I can tell. Unlike a certain senate. :-)

11. Where was I before I got all preachy? Ah, yes, the Turkish Constitution. Anyway, the military bit, there since the War of Liberation, is going. And while it will remain secular (it looks like anyway), the current prohibition on any religious display or activity or dress while on public property looks to be going. There will be some provision supportive of religious freedom etc. It recently became possible in law for women to attend university while wearing islamic head scarfs, though not, I think, the full near-purdah clothing. But apparently this change was challenged and it's constitutionality is in doubt so something explicit is to appear in the Constitution.

12. Too bad recognition of minority ethnic rights not in the cards as far as I can tell. Kurds treated like shit here and Kurdish organizations of any kind all appear to be labelled as 'terrorist'. Ditto journos critical of the government. Turkey has more of them in jail than any other country I think. Glad I left my IFJ card at home. :-)

13. Taking photos here starts conversations. Mostly people just smile and say 'welcome'. Probably because that would the limit of their English. But sometimes, as yesterday at the Eminou tram stop, you come across someone with a fair bit of the language and you have a nice chat.

14. The Hippodrome, the Roman horse track, near the Blue Mosque, is closed to most traffic. At the entrances are remote-controlled stainless posts that sink into or rise up from the cobbles when a parking attendant presses a wireless remote button. Stupid I know, but I thought much fun. I used to be a parking lot attendant, bored it would be fun to see if the post motors are powerful enough to lift, oh, say, a garbage truck. A taxi? Or whether they are fast moving enough for a game of chicken with a tour bus. :-)

15. Huge wine industry here. Government can't ban alcohol (see secular constitution above) but does heavily tax all but beer. Some nice wines and some varietals that we have never heard of before. Local only?

16. From the water we got a chance to see the huge Rita-Carleton development in its entirety. Hotel and condos, as in Toronto I think. In the new part of the city's European side it completely dominates the skyline in an area not short of skyscrapers. Remarkably ugly.

Off to walk the area around the spice bazaar, supposed to be the last bit of the old city untouched since the 1950's tourism-wise at least, then our free food bar (the waiter deserves his own entry in one of these e-cards and will get it), then an early night as we're being picked-up around 0500 tomorrow to make our flight to Pamukkale.

Added a few new folks to the thread. Few of you just slipped through the cracks, another one or two we left off thinking a spouse would pass them along, but then you never know, so....

Getting towards the end of the trip (I can tell because we always through our restaurant budget to the wind and just go for a comfortable spot, regardless if there is a cheaper and possibly even better bit of street food available just outside). :-)

17:45 call to prayer just starting as I write this. Kinda nice, hits us from 3 or more mosques here Not that anybody except the tourists pays attention any more than everyone rushes off to church when the bells ring on Sunday at home.

1. Parks here have lots of clean benches. LOTS. And I think I have yet to see one without a kiddies play area and at least one muni worker sweeping or brushing or washing.

2. On a not-unrelated note, solid waste trucks have 3-man (always men) crews. Nice uniforms too. The Sultanahmet uniform is a nice bright green.

3. In the older parts of town fruit and veg carts are common. Vendor pushes it along, shouting out (I presume) what he has for sale).

4. Lots and lots and lots of cats. And everyone feeds them.

5. Has to be 20+ daily newspapers. Lively, despite the threat of imprisonment under the bizarre (almost as much so as the British) laws re. libel and the rather unique crime of 'insulting Turkishness'.

6. Got a peek at an empty tram car driver's compartment Very star Trek. when I grow up I want to be an Istanbul transit driver.

7. In the old city parking is a world-class sport. People park where and how they can, the city responds with various devices meant to keep cars off curbs and sidewalks etc. But the drivers are both skilled and creative (and on steep hills don't turn their wheels in as it causes the to take up more space). Can also lead to pedestrian traffic jams as tight spaces between parked cars and traffic combines with Turkish politeness ("No, after, after").

8. Stiff climb up to and then part way just up the Galata Tower. 70m or so. Nice view. Sitting inside with a window having tea I could pick out my fellow acrophobes as they slid along the wall and into the window niches when they got to them. Looking very stressed too I should say. I gave it a try but the open railing and narrow deck under my feet was too much. Would have been able to manage it if they had proper safety netting, air bags on the ground, safety harness and ropes, chicken wire wrapping the deck circling the tower, guards along the railing, their arms linked, and a helicopter circling over the waiting ambulances.

9. Only 2 full days here in Istanbul left as tomorrow is out trip to Pammukkale. . Thurs and Fri. The Chora Church's Byzantine mosaics supposed to be spectacular, but after 3 trips to Italy, churches kinda pale. More so after easy-on-the-aye mosques with their geometric decorative designs. The prospect of diabetes-inducing gilt and such not too enticing right now

10. Huge seagull hovering outside our window as we have lunch in the Tower cafe. Muzac system playing 'Three Times a Lady' and 'Can't Stop Loving You'.

11. Istanbul is where tulips came from. Netherlands just controlled the trade. This place in spring makes Ottawa look like a plain lawn.

12. Disappointment: no sufi shrines and all the dervish stuff is faked for tourists.

13. No skateboard or rollerblades seen. Nice!

14. Grand total of two beggars seen, one of them a kid who was rather well-dressed for what he was doing and so may just have been trying it on.

15. Next time we're here: summer, so we can spend more time on terraces. And we'll book cooking classes in advance.

Bye. We need to be up at 0400, so having an early night with the assistance of a couple of large Efes. Some Beyaz white in Geri's case.

This is likely the second-to-last postcard.

1. Monday night we found a nice little neighbourhood water pipe cafe that may never have seen a tourist before. No alcohol, just a couple of for items, lots of tea and a water pipe for every table. A very nice little cozy spot, if it served beer I'd move in. Server an awkward teenager in leggings who moved like a newborn horse, spoke excellent English. Her parents own the place. Goofy Turkish comedy films on the TV. Lovely spot just outside one of the entrances to the Little Hagia Sofia.

2. The flight out to Denezili went well. The Ataturk airport domestic terminal is dandy, lots of staff for everything and even though they have more security checks, you get through faster because there are more stations. And the security types aren't rent-a-cops, and are mostly women. :-) All spoke English, including the cafe staff.

3. My cold has migrated to Geri.

4. If your ticket and boarding pass say 'be at the gate 45 minutes before departure', do that. A lot of the gates just lead to a bus transfer. Miss the bus and...

5. Men, wear tightish pants when travelling through Ataturk as all belts must come off and a bit of slack can take your pants a long way.

6. Turkish Airlines uses a bunch of Manchester United stars for their safety video. Different.

7. Ataturk's a CAT III airport. Too bad Denezili isn't (see below).

8. We were on an early model A319. New seats and all but the spacing was a reminder of why the 'good old days' are the good old days There was so much knee room people could get the aisle to the window seat without anyone even standing up, let alone having to get out into the aisle and completely out of the way.

9. The flight was early morning. Landscape rugged, small mountains, barren because the wheat and corn harvest is done. Small villages in valleys. Not much water aside from a few large lakes. And some of the lakes appeared to have either salt pans or fish corrals. The former seems more likely to me for some reason.

10. Like most airports here, Denezili's is both civilian and military.

11. The area's big industries appear to be marble/stone works and textiles. Huge textile factories.

12. Our airport transfer took us to the Koray Hotel to wait for the tour start. I would avoid. By Cuban standards a 1.5 star I should think. Heating in the dining...well, really, the everything room...was provided by a wood stove with an over-long horizontal pipe leading to a homemade (and badly) hole in the wall. The hotel also has a door from the third floor bar that leads to nothing more than a three-floor drop. Look for the photo of the door swinging in the breeze.

13. Rural Turkey very, very, very clearly not nearly as prosperous as urban Turkey. Not just Istanbul: the cities and large towns we drove through showed this too.

14. Apartment buildings clearly take some time to complete in rural Turkey as buildings are occupied on the ground floors and up as the upper floors are still under construction.

15. In villages could still see large groups of women getting together to do things to crops to prepare them for eating or storage. All by hand. Regret: driver too fast, couldn't get decent photos

16. First stage of our tour: the Pamkkale necropolis. Cemetery going back to the Greek period. Through Roman, Byzantine periods to 1334 when an earthquake meant it was abandoned. Jewish section from the Roman period. Loved it, but not much to say. See the photos when I get them uploaded (hopefully later today).

17. Ditto the city itself.

18. Small spa-like centre in the national park where an agora (marketplace) sunk in an early earthquake and flooded with hot spring water. Now used as a pool, complete with fallen columns etc. from the Roman period at the bottom.

19. Quite a high-end little place. 25lira just to swim. Plus they have goofy but expensive things like 'doctor fish' treatments wherein you sit in a tank with a bunch of remora-like fish that nibble-off all your dead skin etc. It's the 'etc' that worries me.

20. Full of desiccated German women of a certain age, desiccated German men of a certain age who can be distinguished from the desiccated German women of a certain age only by the fact that they use carbon-fibre walking sticks to go anywhere and everywhere.

21.The calcium deposit cliffs and pools and the walk down the terraces is just amazing. See the photos, but know that they do nothing like justice to the experience. Plus by walking down you feel like the soles of your feet have been exfoliated. Which they have. And scaled by the ater rushing down at the top, frozen by that same water by the time you get to the bottom.

22. While there really was no way around doing a group tour unless we were prepared to spend at least one night out of Istanbul (but then again, see below), we were again reminded why we don't like group tours. There was a museum we would have spent time at if we were on our own, we got stuck in the obligatory visit to an 'onyx factory' which was a sales stop and nothing more, and got to live with other people's enthusiasm for delay.

23. Beer of the day was Efes Dark. Indulged while playing with the cats and watching them go to sleep on my jacket at the spa.

24. Geri's folding stool again proved it's worth. She could rest her back anytime, anywhere. Thing just hangs off my shoulder bag when not in use and folded. Can't weigh much more than and possibly less than 500g.

25. One nice thing about the group tour was meeting a Brit couple. Both a little off-centre. She recently got a free trip to Mexico by volunteering to be a test subject for a drug company with a cholera patch it hopes will replace the shot. I was mildly surprised to find that I am not interested in that kind of free travel. I amy be brighter than I think.

26. There is a town named Batman in Turkey.

27. The restaurant the tour took us to for the included lunch served something that I think can only be described as "dismal food".

24 Back at the Carpak/Denezili airport, which is new and vast and empty, we were told that fog had resulted in our flight being cancelled and we could either get a night in a hotel or a bus ride to an airport 4 hours away at Izmir(ly 4 hours drive away). We took the drive, tried to sleep, made friends with a young Indian couple and sisters from the US, survived, but collapsed into bed when we got to our Istanbul hotel having been up (some bus naps excepted) for something like 28 hours. Izmir airport older but very efficient Interesting, and I think this is true at Ataturk in Istanbul too, there's not much by way of a closed period for flights. Even though residences are visible from the runways.

25. Our second last day: perfect weather but we have low energy. And Geri's cold means she's leaning towards staying in and vegging with her iPad.

26. Red lights in some urban areas have a countdown the way pedestrian crossing lights at home do. A chance to get ready to stomp on it at the earliest opportunity. Not that everyone, including our bus driver on the road to Izmir last night, pays attention to red lights late at night. And drivers in rural areas don't pay a lot of attention to white lines, solid or not.

27. Bus played a Turkish potboiler soap the whole time. By the end I was kinda interested...

28. Turkish politics interesting. AKP religious and extremely right-wing, but really wants into the EU so tidying-up its human rights record. Also clearly plans on replacing the US as it withdraws from the region. Some goofy regional imperial ambitions. References to Cyprus (or the northern bit anyway) as 'our foster-land'.

Ta-ta. Will send on something else if any interesting happens (by my definition, obviously :-) ) before we leave, otherwise just look for a 'home safe and sound' message when we get there and can say that.

Now in Franfurt in the Lufthansa Biz Class lounge (they have an even ritzier First Class lounge). Nice, as always, and I do enjoy the 'mini car-wash' toilet seats. Been a couple of years since we were last here, good to see they haven't disppeared. Always a bit awkward taking photos though s h y /hearts / pink , so may have to rely on the old ones already on Flickr.

This lounge nothing on the Turkish Airlines lounge at Ataturk. Best we've ever seen. Grand piano (with player), pool table, lending library, cinema with mebbe 30 seats, architecturally interesting design...worth the flight on its own. :congratsthumsmiley:

I added photos of the Ataturk lounge to our Istanbul photo collection.

Anyway, I guess that's about it. Another couple of glasses of champers before we head to the gate. Geri's gagging for some toast, will have to see if they can rustle something up.

Hope somebody got something from all these. Remember most of the posts above were family/friend postcards, so if you can't figure something out or want some further info just ask.

Perhaps we'l look at planning three weeks on CSM in Feb/march over some champagne while we wait... C l a p p i n g