Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Istanbul, Turkey – Delhi, India, Day 243-255, 7-19 December, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey – Delhi, India

7-19 December, 2008

Day 243-255

 

Soundtrack:

‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ – Edmundo Ros, The Residents, They Might Be Giants, Jimmy Kennedy/Simon Nat

‘Ringing My Phone (Straight Outta Istanbul) – Jason Moran (the American one)

‘Telephone Call From Istanbul’ – Tom Waits

‘Istanbul’ – Paris Combo

‘57 Channels and Nothing On’ – Bruce Springsteen

‘I Bought a Headache’ – The Replacements

‘Dr Martin’s Boots’ – Alexi Sayle

‘Meeting of the Waters’ – Mike Nock Project

‘Under the Bridge’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

DB: Our apartment in Istanbul was newly renovated, bright and cheerful. Our host Ali, and his family, made us feel most welcome and was very helpful. But above all we relished the opportunity to live in one space for a while where we could be self-sufficient. Fresh grilled fish and salad in different restaurants is nice and all, but what the children really pined for was some soul food.

Even though we arrived at the apartment after dark, Ali and his daughter were there to meet us and show us around the neighbourhood. After pointing out the local fish and vegetable market and a supermarket, we were able to stock up on the makings of a pasta dinner (pasta!) and breakfast requisites. We took great delight in undertaking usually mundane domestic chores – chopping onions, setting the table, doing the dishes, putting a load of washing on. Indeed, there was a veritable buzz in the air in that little apartment, and a spring in our step.

In the days to come we would indulge in simple meals that made our tummies and hearts feel good – pastas, soups and even roasts. I even had a go at NRC – ‘Nana’s Roast Chicken’ which the kids enjoyed and which filled the apartment with aromas of home.

During the past eight months we have often reflected on the notion of ‘home’ – what it means physically, emotionally and even spiritually. We have had some interesting discussions about the differences between where we are as opposed to with whom we are with, and what a sense of ‘ownership’ of a space does to one’s feelings of comfort. For us, at least, the nesting instinct is strong.

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(Pic: Towards Istanbul on the train)

In no time we had very much taken over the entire space. We had metaphorically lifted our canine leg around the entire apartment and declared the place our own, with shoes, clothing, bags, books, newspapers, souvenirs and assorted items of food and drink scattered liberally around. To others it may have looked like a natural disaster – to us it was home.

Being centrally located we were in no time immersing ourselves in the contradictions and splendour that is Istanbul. We began visiting significant landmarks interspersed with wandering around streets and alleys and taking up where we left off in many other cities we have visited – sitting, snacking and watching the world go by.

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(Pic: A good place to watch the world go by)

Something I had never seen before caught my eye. In recent times I had seen countless variations of street vendors and door-to-door salesmen plying their wares. Particularly in Turkey men, and sometimes women, would set up a small stall on the footpath or go into shops and cafés looking for buyers for their wares: souvenirs, books, maps, clothes, shoes, pens, knives, cigarettes, lighters, postcards, ties, shoelaces, weight measurement (with a ramshackle set of scales)…the list is endless. Yet never had I seen anyone approach people and ask if they needed their blood pressure taken. His pitch was that it was important for one’s health to know what their blood pressure was like. The pitch was usually delivered through the fug of cigarette smoke, but was taken up by a few punters. In the middle of a café he would apply a sphygmomanometer (I think) and then provide the reading, for a small fee. I wonder if his intervention made any difference.

Istanbul is both a physical and conceptual confluence of Europe and Asia. The crumbling grandeur of Istanbul’s architecture gives rise to the grand old days of European influence – colonnades, flying buttresses and intricate masonry loom large in much of the central district. Yet, at the same time, glimpses of such splendour fade before your eyes. Rather than repair and maintain such edifices, large steel mesh awnings are installed to prevent the fragmenting stone from coming into contact with unsuspecting passers-by. And where once grand constructions proudly stood, newer, almost square and inherently plain, if not ugly buildings now occupy the site.

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(Pic: The crumbling grandeur of Istanbul)

Litter is also ever-present, and while we have become rather used to the site of people resolutely, and perhaps proudly, throwing garbage onto the street, into gutters and into waterways, it is still disturbing. It is often impossible to find a public bin anywhere, and the city seems resigned to attempting to clear up other people’s muck – an attempt that does not really succeed, save for feeding the city’s army of stray cats and dogs.

We, were, however, in awe of the physical meeting of Europe and Asia, and spent much time around, at and on the fabled Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. When we drove along the Dardenelles we wondered about the sheer volume of traffic along this stretch of water, and in Istanbul we became even more aware of the importance of the Bosphorus in linking eastern Europe and central Asia to the rest of the world. Standing on the Galata Bridge we would watch the waters of these most strategic and striking waterways be churned by hundreds of ferries, fishing vessels and cargo ships.

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(Pic: Across the waters, Istanbul)

We were also fascinated by the hundreds of men who would line the bridge and fish with large rods. The bridge has two levels – the top occupied by cars, trams and fishermen, and the bottom by a lengthy chain of restaurants guarded by slick touts in brash suits. “Yes sir, you are welcome, fish, kebap, tea, coffee, where are you from?” We needed to slalom around their open arms as they tried ushering us into their premises, all the while ensuring we weren’t being hooked by rogue fishing lines from above. The fishermen upstairs don’t cast their lines in the normal fashion for fear of hooking someone behind them. So, instead, they would let a short length of line out and swing it below them, under their level of the bridge, building enough momentum to send the line, led by a heavy sinker, out into the water below. These sinkers and hooks would come perilously close to the heads of those wandering below. And, while sitting outside one of the restaurants for coffee and tea, we were entertained by the small, silver fish being raised from the depths by the fine fishing lines above. Upstairs, many of the fishermen kept the fish in water-filled containers and offered them for sale to passers-by.

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(Pic: Fishing from the Galata Bridge)

It was also in Istanbul that our baby daughter, Maddy, turned a whopping eleven-years-old. For the second time in two weeks a child crawled into our bed early in the morning (well, early for Maddy) and was showered with gifts, emails, phone calls and Skype calls. The day was officially declared Maddy Day and a significant amount of sweeties were consumed in her honour.

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(Pic: Happy Birthday Maddy!)

Not long after arriving in Istanbul I received an email from my cousin, Nomi, wanting to know if we were coming to visit her in Jerusalem on our way east. Unfortunately our budget just didn’t allow for it, and we wanted to ensure we had adequate time to experience at least a small part of India. So incensed was she that she and her partner, Freddy, booked themselves on the first flight out to give us a serious talking to. I was worried about getting a spanking, but all was well. Nomi and Freddy booked in to an apartment upstairs from us and we spent four great days with them, walking through the Grand Bazaar and markets, taking a cruise on the Bosphorus and generally hanging out. Maddy and Raffy were nothing short of ecstatic that there were two people other than their boring parents with whom to spend time.

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(Pic: “Not too hard!” Danny and cousin Nomi after her surprise visit)

We spent one entire morning visiting the Australian and Indian embassies to organise our visas to India. The Indian embassy not only required an official letter of introduction from the Australian government, but our visas had to be paid for in US dollars. Cash. No credit cards, no traveller’s cheques, not even local currency. Nice work if you can get it.

To top it off, our own Australian embassy charged us a small fortune for the privilege of providing pro forma letters of introduction. And I thought I already contributed by paying tax. Who woulda thunk it.

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(Pic: Galata Bridge – fishing, trams and traffic upstairs, restaurants and cafes downstairs)

The rest of the time we simply didn’t do much at all. We became friendly with a fishmonger and greengrocers, and one shopkeeper who only sold pickled vegetables in various forms. Matched with some Raki after a hard day’s touring was bliss. We found it satisfying for the soul to shop for food that was incredibly fresh, very local and without packaging.

SK: We visited a few museums and significant sights, interspersed with shopping, homework, cooking and reading. The sights we did visit included Istanbul Modern Art Museum (hard to find on foot, but worth it for the fabulous contemporary installations); the Jewish Museum (ditto about finding) which presented an intriguing and generous view of Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire for those Jews who had fled the persecutions of the Inquisition. We spent hours with Nomi and Freddy in the Grand Bazaar (mostly a tourist haunt now but still very grand); the beautiful Haigha Sophia – built, then conquered and the mosaics of Christian iconography rendered over and replaced with Islamic inscriptions, then ‘secularised’ (sic) by the Turkish republic, with the resultant archaeological work unveiling both traditions – very Turkey, very beautiful.  We marvelled at the Basilica Cistern, a huge underground reservoir beneath the city. An elegant and efficient Byzantine construction, one of many originally built as water storage to meet the needs of the growing population. Its columns, rising from the fish-filled water, loom up in the semi-darkness to support an elaborate arched ceiling. An urban planning wonder that adequately catered to the needs of the city – take note, Mr Brumby. Raffy and I also visited the magnificent Sultan Ahmet Camii (also known as the Blue Mosque), built to rival Haigha Sophia, but now sharing with it the tourist glut of Sultanahmet.

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(Pic: The Basilica Cistern)

DB: Ali, our host, also helped us out in tracking down a local Nissan dealership so I could restock into our spare parts container a fan belt that had been replaced, and drove Raffy and I out there to organise it all – we were most fortunate to have Ali help us out as language was such a barrier when trying to discuss something as specific as a spare part.

Another highlight was finding a couple of small clubs, hidden away from the throng of Istiklal Caddesi, where we drank tea and Raki and listened to some live, traditional Turkish music, and where I became fascinated with the Baglama – a lute-shaped stringed instrument that has quite a mesmerising resonance. I was tempted to buy one but then thought of transporting it, and thought better of it.

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(Pic: Some boys drum up a storm outside the Galata Tower)

Another intriguing yet now all but forgotten aspect of Turkey’s recent past is, at least for Australians, the humorously named Anadol motorcar. While this brand may have given its owners a headache or three in its time, once in a while it can be spotted on Turkish streets, in amongst the apparently indestructible Renault 12s that have served the populace so well, from private runabout to official police and government transport, and the Tofas Murat 124, which was a Turkish built Fiat 124. Car buffs would know that a standard ‘Fix It Again Tony’ 124 required coaxing to remain on the road; the Tofas version seems to have given up wanting to be a car even before it rolled off the production line.

I was reliably informed that the fibreglass Anadol, named after the Turkish word for Anatolia, was initially even more unloved than later models as, due to its exceedingly lightweight, it would get blown off bridges in high winds. Not an attribute of a modern motorcar you’d want featured in a brochure. But then again, being fibreglass, it was an easy fix, not unlike a surfboard. After adding some weight they were built for a couple of decades until they became uncompetitive compared to some European and Asian runabouts. Ugly, yes, but dull, no.

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(Pic: Anadol power)

I was also interested that the majority of Turks do not speak any other language. While this did not prove to be a major hindrance in getting around, we did wonder about other places, such as Croatia, where many people speak a variety of languages, and much popular culture is available in its original form, while in places like Turkey, everything seems to be dubbed into the local lingo. We wondered if this potentially prevented Turks from engaging more freely with travellers, or abroad, and perhaps if this restricts their access to information about the outside world.

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(Pic: The small streets and alleys of Istanbul’s old city are bursting with life)

And speaking of pop culture, our cable TV in our apartment provided a whopping 785 stations, with – ta-dah – nothing to watch. Lots of talking heads, game shows, shopping shows and a decent smattering of the highly salacious, ooh er, vicar. It is worthy of note that it seemed all the cable channels aimed at men and featuring women cavorting while wearing not much at all and pouting at the screen emanate from some of the strictest Muslim countries in the world. Perhaps a case of ‘do as we say, not as we do.’

SK: As the song says, it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. The city is definitively a new, modern metropolis, with a firm appreciation of it’s own heritage. In some circumstances, old meets new in a slightly ironic way. Remains of the magnificent Bozdogan-Valens Aqueduct, built in 368 AD, by Constantine 1 which transported water from nineteen kilometres away into the city’s underground cisterns, now straddles the six lane Ataturk Bulvari, with the traffic fitting neatly through the ancient arches.

Istanbul encapsulated our trip to Turkey in its mix of the contemporary urbane with the resoundingly historical and the diversity of its cultures and people. The call to prayer, our favourite morning sound, was outdone two hours later by the raucous ringing of the nearby church bells. Women walked around in funky, just-off-the-catwalk, gear as well as burquas. My favourite example of the culture clash was the late teen girl in full goth make up, with her black hijab swirling about her Doc Martened feet.

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(Pic: The Haigha Sophia)

We celebrated our birthday trifecta (usually a quadrella, but down to three in my Mum’s absence) with my birthday. I also was showered with emails, calls, skypes and gifts, forty to be precise, (not sure where that number came from) collected by Raffy, Maddy and Danny from places that we have traveled to so far (a wonderful assortment of kitsch, edible, historical, souvenir-y and beautiful).

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(Pic: Happy Birthday Sandy!)

After dragging our “not another museum” children (it has been eight months of fairly relentless culture overload, poor dears) to Istanbul Modern, I was suitably gratified to see them engrossed in some of the video installations and photography exhibitions to the extent that they were reluctant to leave. And they weren’t just behaving like that for my birthday.

It was also a real treat to have Nomi and Freddy with us, to share home cooked meals, to provide an extended family experience for our kids, and to spend time with people we see so rarely.

After waiting for five days for our Indian visas, we finally had our passports back in our hands, and were able to book our tickets to India. Leaving Turkey, a country that had felt so welcoming and had given us such pleasure, was hard. Leaving Europe was a major milestone.

Next stop, Delhi.

DB: This should be fun…

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(Pic: Maddy was a bit chili..)

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6 Comments»

  Hilary wrote @

“We needed to slalom around their open arms” – of many attractive turns of phrase encountered on your journeys so far, this is my current fave.
happy birthday sandy! may the next 40 continue to be enriched with learning and experiences to keep your mind alive.
hilary

  David Taylor wrote @

Hi there Guy’s, A bit late reading this, but as usual. fascinating. Glad to hear you are all well & happy, & still liking each other. I’ve been a bit busy, with Christmas, Etc., Etc.

No more news for now,
Take care, keep safe, Luv & peace,
David.

  Mikki I wrote @

Must try Istanbul next time!
Been to Turkey and have always thought I might one day get to Istanbul, now you have inspired me, but then again maybe it was the Israeli connection that made you feel so welcomed!

  jack wrote @

hello!

How are you all!? I can’t believe you are STILL traipsing on! AND with such awesome stories that just keep coming. Will it be a relief or sad when it all stops and rythm of everyday life starts again?

And good to see Raffy pulling a quick one on the oldies back in turkey (was it?)… Best way to get what you want is to ‘accidentally’ almost get lost forever.

Looking forward to hearing how you are finding northern south-east asia. and what are your plans between here and home?

Thoughts are with you all!!!!!!

Jack

  Axel Blankenship wrote @

I really enjoyed finding this blog – thanks for the share!!

  Istanbul Tours wrote @

Thank you, very nice..


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