Blaring loudspeakers spruiking political messages and others blasting out Turkish music adds to the cacophony that greets us as we step off our ferry boat at Üsküdar on the Asian side of Istanbul.What are we doing here?
We are in the care of an unbriefed Turkish woman guide who was raised from her sleep at midnight by the guide who’d be contracted by the hotel to look after us but got a ‘better offer’?
It’s a long story, and one that I won’t be allowed to forget for a long time. And all I was trying to do was ‘save money’.
The day has been a comedy of errors. I hope the Turners and Saunders are laughing. Edmundo is not. He’s a grease ball and his clothes are creased, after walking down the steep hill and catching his arm in the tram door; being blown to bits sitting on the outside deck on the boat across the Bosphorus; and then having to squeeze in and out of the back seats of small taxis careering up hills and around corners with no care for life or limb.
“Where is the organisation? Where is the limousine? Has this Musgrave lost his mind?” I can sense Edmundo mumbling to himself.
Before leaving Australia, I canvassed my tried and true travelling companions (including Edmundo), and suggested we look at an ‘unusual’ side of Istanbul, to full agreement.
The hotel arranged for the guide. And in my wisdom I dispensed with the car at a saving of €40 a head. What would you have done? And in a city where traffic stands still most of the time? I opted for the walk, tram, taxi, ferry option.
Five others were depending on my usual perfection. You might imagine how I started quaking in my shoes researching the guidebooks in the library of the hotel and finding no real reference to the ‘Asian side’, and definitely no tours.
After meeting the last-minute substitute guide, Suzanna, off we go, gingerly down the steep hill with knees creaking. Dodging speeding traffic, we make it across to the vending machine to get tokens for the tram. Edmundo has already donned his darkest glasses as a protest, and lingers long enough to join us after the doors of the tram are closing. The tram is by far the easiest way to get around and we alight at Eminönü and walk to the ferry for a cruise across the Bosphorus to Üsküdar on the Asian side.
It’s wonderful to see Istanbul from the sea – from the old town with Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, and Topkapi Palace; the Golden Horn; and along the other shore with the waterfront Dolmabahce Palace and Cira’gan Palace. I even spot the Swissotel Bosphorus (now the Marmara) where I was taken hostage by Chechen terrorists in 2001. I feel no fear. The Boğaziçi Köprüsü suspension bridge stands magnificently connecting Europe with Asia (and framing many photos).
Husky Eartha Kitt is not singing her sex-kitten version of ‘Uska Dara’ as we get off in Üsküdar.. We scramble into the taxis for the horn-blowing, hair-raising ride up to Gamlica Hill and all the antennas with dear Suzanna, leaning back across the front seat giving us her rendition of ‘Uska Dara’. I can see that we won’t be there for long. Forget the stop for tea at that touristy restaurant, Suzanna.
Feeling somewhat isolated, I wonder if the spectacular view from the Marmara Sea, across to the old town, and the seven hills of Istanbul, to the big suspension bridge connecting east and west sufficient to save the day, and my skin? Edmundo thinks the Turners and Saunders are feigning politeness with their enthusiasm.
Back down the hill, our taxis are still waiting, and we career down the hill again to board a ferry across to Ortaköy on the other side for lunch at what I’ve touted as “a typical Turkish seafood restaurant on the seafront”. “Won’t this be terrific?” But no! Suzanne charges ahead to ‘arrange a discount’ (and I suppress my questioning as to how a discount can be pre-arranged in a nice place.) To my horror, she has started the negotiation with the owner of ‘Cheesecake’, yes ‘Cheesecake’ for our typical fish meal and she shows me a 49-page glossy menu with numbers against 249 items, including just 5 fish dishes. But my co-frères were nodding in apparent approval and moving on in.
I’m a dead man!
I don’t know that I can write any more. The day descends from there. Edmundo’s dark glasses stay affixed to his face as he pushes the food around the plate. (If he were carrying a shawl he may have disappeared from the experience altogether.)
Our local cheese that had been wrapped and wrung and stretched at the village of the owner, and the olives from his own tree in virginal organic olive oil were all fine. The tiny prawns with fresh tomatoes and peppers with a grilled cheese in the oven are ok, and Becks beer is always good.
Suzanna talks of “We Moslems” and proceeds to say “I’ll just have another glass of wine”. Then, Turkish coffee leads to a session of fortune-telling. Suzanna uses her sixth sense to read the dregs of the emptied cups for each one of us. And by then Pam and Lynda feel the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market calling from across the water.
Poor Edmundo! I can just imagine how he must have felt during “Michael’s Budget Tour of Istanbul”. I guess you won’t get the opportunity to do a repeat ‘gig’!
Dear cousin, don’t stop taking notes …. how else would the rest of us get to savour all those wonderful experiences and adventures you get up to. Take care, J.
Mick, I love it, and I laughed all the way through it. I think Edmundo probably enjoyed it all too.
I like this spontaneous writing style. I want to read more of your stories as you go along.
Poor Michael , only the perfect organizer had to miss it once and this was the place and time.
I never had blood poisoning in my life , except in Istanbul when visiting there during the 80’s , joined by my brother and sister in law.After our arrival and joined by the relatives from Nice, we checked at our hotel and when asked the hotel reception “”” where may we go for a nice oriental evening meal “””” we were taken by private transport to an open air restaurant ,looked excellent , wonderful service , and devoured everything that was ordered and recommended by a very stylish staff, well, I was the one who got hit , as Rico Alex and Simone were totally spared and amazed at my affliction , after 4 days of continuous black tea with lemon , I finally recovered and proceeded to the club Med in Antalya where the nurse there recommended , daily morning yoghourt breakfasts .
This is it , am sure the remaining part of your trip will be perfectissimo
Keep them coming I love it . Big hug MA
Funny report my BBM,
Just remind Edmundo that Constantinople is 3rd world in a way… , since we “lost it” to the Muslims,
forget rules and organized life…
it is a question of balance and trade off versus obsession! You should live for yourself and not for an “audience”.
If you enjoy it, do it. If you are tired of it, stop it.
Michael, do not stress yourself,
This crew, especially EPC, should be toasting you each night for the rich experiences you provide them dealing with the holy unwashed! Sounds wonderful, love the local transport.
Thank you, Michael. We now have vivid memories of a trip we haven’t made.
M & G
Dearest Pam & Ken,
We suggest you buy a leash and secure it firmly to Musgrave’s neck in order to constrict him from taking you to places that you may not exit from!!
Have a wonderful remainder of your vacation and keep the image of Australians in good stead as we follow you thru Turkey in 11 days.
And Love to Linda & Michael
Vic & Pat
That Marco Polo gene you have is a worry – just ask Edmundo!
It actually looked bloody interesting – well done.
By the way the photos are very professional indeed…
Take Care, and I mean it! – Cheers….
My dear Michael and Edmundo,
As usual, You have provided vast entertainment,with hugely intersting commentary with superp dialogue.
Thank you for keeping me abreast of all of your happenings.
Best wishes and enjoy your travels.
Greetings from the Ile de Batz where, after a sumptious repast of freshly cooked crab fished today from the Channel washed down with a perfectly chilled vin de Bourgogne, Rupert and I have just read your blog cover to cover paying particular attention to the photo at the very top of Uskudar where you are all looking particularly shifty (just a quick word of advice, better not to display anything like this so prominently in future), we feel you should all head back to Macleay Street and content yourselves with a coffee at Fratelli Paradiso.
I mean put yourselves in the poor old Turks’ shoes and imagine their shock to see you lot debarking from the ferry, they certainly wouldn’t buy a second hand car from any one of you. And having the gall to go on to Georgia. Didn’t you know it isn’t second hand cars they want but tractors, really old ones.
Please try to smarten up before you return to the Fatal Shore or you might all end up in Van D’s, sorry Villawood, mistaken for asylum seekers and we shall have to curtail our holiday to carry out a human rights campaign.
Hope this bit of advice will assist you enjoy the rest of your trip somewhat more than appears to be the case to date: there are some folk who should never leave home. Your well meaning friends, Rupert and Hilary
You enjoyed vin de Bourgogne on the Ile de Batz with your crab today while we had to be content with what was a very good vin de Georgia and Salad of Crab from the Caspian Sea with chopped walnuts on the balcony of a restaurant overlooking Old Tbilisi! Thanks for your comments. We are all still on a leaning curve in this blogosphere. I feel that the dialogue created by comments makes the blog more dynamic.
You all guys looks fabulous in pic from Uskadar. Everything is all good here and enjoy your trips.
Never tried further east across the Bosphorous than the ferry wharf and ate well enough there. Why not towards the Black Sea? You know that if you want to find the beginning of Asia you must go to the Eastern suburbs of Vienna.. Don’t lose too much weight in the meantime, or fall down a marble staircase as Barbara did. Cheers, Duncan.
I am hysterical reading your blog on your adventures in Istanbul. I will be there next month and am already anticipating a kidnapping in the Grand Bazaar, although it is probably 40 years too late and my virginity a long-gone distant memory! For all concerned in its demise!
Keep having fun, I leave next week for Rome, I wish I had your group – love Edmondo – I am with him!
Bill Bryson can;t hold a candle to your travel writing – get yourself a literary agent!
David Y xx
Michael you have to let Edmundo do all the planning next time. Check out my wife Lynn’s web site. Think you will enjoy her art work. All the best Ron
You have been a peripatetic bunny! What FABULIS adventures! Even with Poor Edmondo and his arm in the tram and wind blowing him about on ferries. Good grief. These are but the minor perils of adventure – not like your Chechen terrorists. Very intrigued at your return to see the scene of the crime. I’m not sure I would wish to return to the nightclub with all the gangsters and ‘Natashas’ in which I was briefly held captive in Istanbul in 2001. These are however as nothing compared with the true travelers of the medieval pilgrimage no? Now that was adventuring and taking Life in One’s Own Hands.