Arriving at the Frankfurt airport, Germany, was a relief, following my knee-wounded flight, though the German security officers proved to be the most stringent and unpleasant of all the airports on the trip.
We determined that for future European trips, we’d return to using London as a destination stop beyond the Atlantic Ocean rather than Germany.
For me, the arrival above Istanbul, Turkey, was exciting. As I looked down on the coastal city, split between the two continents of Europe and Asia, I also noticed sea creatures jumping to the top of the ocean waves in the Mediterranean Sea. Not sharks, they were dolphins. And the special greeting to Istanbul was definitely a good start to the great times to come and the city that would be a joy to visit.
Founded around 660 B.C.E., Istanbul’s earlier names were Byzantium and Constantinople. It became the capital city of the Roman Empire in the year 330. After experiencing many empire periods, Turkey became a republic in 1923.
We stayed at the Best Western President Hotel, on Tiyatro Avenue, and met a nice and helpful hotel employee named Tulay Akar who was interested in taking some online classes toward her business degree. My brother recommended online classes at the University of Wyoming and I recommended online classes at Missouri Valley College.
About every morning for breakfast, I ate olives, kumquats, apricots, figs, walnuts, and tomatoes. The food, throughout the day, was delicious.
Probably my most used Turkish phrase was “tesekkur ederim” which means “thank you.” I had known “merhaba” as hello. I learned some short words: “bir” means one; “incir” means fig, and others. The word on street “stop” signs is “dur.” To pronounce the occupation of journalist, you say “Ga-ze-te-jee-yeem” which sounds similar to “gazette.”
Several blocks from the hotel was the first mosque I would see in Istanbul near the bustling Grand Bazaar, a huge, historic center of tiny but jam-packed shops following the rules of selling only items made in Turkey and Greece. No “made in China” products are allowed. Small cafes are also there.
The artistry of ceramics, carpets, and jewelry was amazing. Like the famous Khan bazaar area in Cairo, Egypt, the Grand Bazaar held tons of items, all of which were open to the bargaining between shopkeeper and customer. It was so big, with cave-like walk-ways, twisting and turning, that I got lost once and, after that, tried to stay closer to a recognized entrance in an attempt to keep my sense of direction.
The shopkeepers knew at least enough English for conducting business or communication could consist of pointing and gestures. The currency in Turkey is the Turkish lira, one of which is worth about 63 cents. It is always a good practice to create a quick and easy money conversion chart card to carry in a shirt pocket for times of conducting business. My brother Phil had provided me with the conversion chart for the Turkish lira.
In the huge book section of the Grand Bazaar, I bought a Quran, in Turkish with the English translation, which, like the Bible, I hope to read in its entirety. I also purchased some bookmarks. And I purchased a Turkish version of the children’s book “Bambi.”
In Egypt, books follow the traditional Arabic form—you read them from what we would consider the back to the front. The books in Turkey read like Western books.
Turkey doesn’t consider itself an Arabic country and even dislikes being associated with Middle Eastern countries, many of which are dictatorships, have low tolerance of freedom and rights, and follow religious law. Turkey is a progressive, tolerant democracy. While the daily Islamic calls to prayer sound and the mosques are huge, there is a sense that religion isn’t controlling or oppressive. Most women dress in Western fashion, such as wearing jeans. If they chose a more religious look, the women wear scarves. Few women, mainly tourists from Middle Eastern countries, are covered totally except for the eyes. One Turkish citizen commented to me that he couldn’t imagine a society that prohibited men from seeing the beauty of women.
Cigarette-smoking is common and, at some restaurants, alcohol is available. I saw relatively few street beggars, and everyone, even children selling top-like toys or tissues at the Grand Bazaar or Fish Market, seemed to be engaged in work. I also got the sense that the society encourages jobs for workers. For example, there aren’t any self-service gas stations, as every station employs gas station attendants.
(In contrast, when I visited Egypt before the fall of the Mubarak regime, I got the sense of doom and gloom about the dictatorship there and I saw incredible poverty. It is good to see Egypt now trying to head toward democracy.)
Not far from the Grand Bazaar is Istanbul University. A sign noted that a New York Times blog reporter was an upcoming speaker.
The second full day of our stay in Istanbul, we were joined by Ramazan Hakki Oztan, who knew my brother Phil, a history professor at the University of Wyoming, as a graduate student in Laramie. Ramazan, who was born in Turkey, is currently a doctoral student at the University of Utah. It was great having Ramazan as a knowledgeable tour guide for the day. He showed us how to use the crowded city train and he took us to sites such as the Basilica Cistern, a large Byzantine water storage site built around the year of 532. Ramazan also led us through the streets of Istanbul and even to a creative ice cream cone vender, and accompanied us on a ferry ride along the Bosphorus, which is the water route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. After the ferry ride, Ramazan showed us the amazing Spice Market, which is filled with all kinds of spices as well as olives, pumpkin seeds, and fish.
The mosques are historic, beautiful, and huge. As I had been entered a mosque for the first time during my trip years ago to Egypt (the Mosque of Mohammad Ali—named for the prophet, not the American boxer), I wanted to also visit the Turkish mosques.
Ramazan took us to the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia museum-mosque (that at one time had been Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox) and inside the New Mosque. “New” is relative in terms of the ancient history of Istanbul. The construction of the New Mosque was completed in the mid 1600s. At the New Mosque, we respectfully took our shoes off and my sister-in-law donned a scarf in order to walk inside the mosque, where some Turkish residents were engaged in kneeling prayer. It was a serene, peaceful place.
For the other interesting days spent in Istanbul, I visited the Topkapi Palace, the beautiful walkway along the shoreline of the Sea of Marmara, and many other places. As I like to walk and look at daily life as well as historical and cultural sites, I enjoyed my time in Istanbul.