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Istanbul - Part One

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I ended up in Istanbul in March. Nice town. A lot quieter than I would have expected. In fact, my wife and I were kind of bored by about the third day. But it was a good excuse to relax and drink a lot of strange coffee and eat lots of super cheap food.

Also cheap is bottled water. A liter bottle runs about 20 American cents. That's because you can't drink the municipal water. 11 million people in the city, and you can't drink the water.

Still, it's the kind of place I think I could live for a while. Except that the government censors the internet. And you can be jailed for saying the wrong things. How exactly is Turkey supposed to become part of the E.U. again?

Highlights of the trip:

Young Muslims in love.


Fish stall at the neighborhood street market in a suburb on the Asian side.




Convenience store


Olive shop


Roman aqueduct


There are these cute little houses along the Bosphorous Strait called Yalis.



A fountain for washing your feet before you go into a mosque to pray. You can't swing a scimitar in Istanbul without hitting a mosque.


Iznik tiles. People are wild for them there. From the town of Iznik a couple of hundred miles to the south.


Phone booths. For some reason I always photograph phone booths.


More phone booths. I didn't need them because my iPhone roamed perfectly on Turkcell.


So... behind this door are a lot of unusual things. There's a guy who does that Muslim call to prayer thing that's broadcast from the minarets of the mosques. Except that he or one of his helpers does it 24 hours a day every day and it must never stop. Also inside are lots of artifacts belonging to Muhammad. Yes, that Muhammad. I expected to see his robes and his sword and some other things. I didn't expect to see locks of his beard , and I think there may have been teeth. Or maybe not. But definitely the hair. There are lots of religious artifacts in Istanbul for all the faiths to admire.


The Spice Bazaar. Like the world's largest flea market, except that all you can buy is spices from around the world, plus perfumes custom-mixed for you on the spot, and dried fruits and nuts. There are MANY, MANY scams being run in Istanbul all the time. One of the ones they pull in the Spice Bazaar goes like this -- After you pick out the item you want (spice, nuts, whatever) the shop keeper tells you that you don't want the stuff from the front -- he'll get you some FRESH stuff from the back. By the time you get bored and wander to the back to see what's going on, he's already vacuum sealing your purchase in thick plastic that you can't open until you get back to your hotel room. That's where you discover that instead of getting the big, juicy, tasty nuts that you sampled up front you were given a vacuum-sealed pack of small, crappy, old nuts from the back. Again, this is just one of probably a dozen scams I identified when I was there. Fortunately, it's the only one I fell for.





Oh, and Turkish Delight. They sell it by the metric ton there. And not just to tourists. I saw the locals eating lots of it, too.






The Ritz-Carlton is a hugely tall hotel. One of the tallest buildings in the city. But they put it in a valley, so it just peeks up over the Beyoglu district, which is a hip area of cobblestones, trolleys, embassies, and three Starbucks on one street. And soldiers in riot gear with water cannons and tanks roaming the streets. I didn't photograph them. I probably could have snuck one in from behind the glass at Srtarbucks, though. I probably should have.


Istanbul has more ways of getting around than any other city I've ever been to. This is one of them -- a brand new (completed in 2008) underground funicular railway that links Taksim Square (roughly analogous to Times Square) with Kabatas, which is just a working class district down by the Strait. Total transit time is 110 seconds.


They drink a lot of tea in Isanbul. Way more tea than coffee. And everywhere you go there are these kids (not all kids, they seem to range in age from 6 to about 30) running around the streets selling tea. And not crappy paper cup tea. Tea served in beautiful tulip-shaped glasses on little china plates. You're walking down the street and you decide you're thirsty. You flag down one of these kids running by (they're always running by, and you're never more than a hundred feet from one), and tell him you want some tea. He runs off and you continue your stoll. Eventually he catches up to you and gives you your scalding hot tea in the nice glass and china and takes your money (about 50 cents). He then runs away, makes change, and runs back to give you your change. The kids are honest. I have one the equivalent of a 50 dollar bill for a 50-cent tea, and be brought me correct change. When you're done drinking, you just put the cup and saucer down on the side of the road and the kid eventually picks it up. You see lots of plates and cups and saucers on the streets because some of the kids deliver food, too.

This is a picture of one of the places where the tea comes from. It's a makeshift tea shop set up in a park.


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