2011
03.02

SYNOPSIS:

Culture shock.  People shock.  Climate shock.  Sticker shock.  Getting acclimated.

For a moment I panicked when there was just one person standing at the airport terminal holding up a sign to pick up somebody.  I had made my hotel reservation nearly two months ago, had arranged for a pickup, but I had not confirmed any of it…  This is one of the safety precautions I try to follow:  When I travel to or from the airport with all my stuff, all my money and alone, if at all possible, I take a taxi that can be traced.

But the lonely guy with his sign must have been for some VIP.  After I had passed customs, an entire army of people with signs was waiting at the lobby, and there was my name!  I felt double welcome to Turkey.  First, with a German passport I was from one of the few countries exempt from a visa and second, I felt greatly reassured about the reliability of my hotel.  My driver, Bora, came in a big, modern, luxury van with leather seats.  He was friendly and talkative.  He congratulated me on not smoking and shared a close call he had experienced three years ago, after smoking 5 packs of cigarettes for 26 years.  He had a heart attack which resulted in a bypass operation.  He was minutes from death.  That he was saved he attributes to his god of whom he spoke in glowing terms.

Turkey is cold, gray, and windy.  It’s winter here.  I sort of knew that, but experiencing it after all the sun in Egypt, needed a bit of adjustment.  The roads were paved, traffic lights were working at every intersection, traffic rules were observed, and there was no honking.  None!  On my way to the Cairo airport I had once again tried to count the driver’s honks and I got lost.  There were more than one per second, usually about five in a frantic row.  Now there were none, by nobody!

I looked out on a friendly, tree lined, if crowded, cosmopolitan city with interesting suburban architecture.  Wow!  This was much more westernized than I had expected.  When I asked what I owed, Bora told me that I would pay the hotel.  I wanted to tip him.  He saw me fishing for coins – I only had a couple mixed in with my Egyptian money, and he said:  “You don’t have to tip me, don’t worry.”  What?  Not only was there no solicitation for baksheesh, there was an outright refusal to take money.  The same happened a moment later when Rohad, the young receptionist carried my 25 kg heavy suitcase three floors up.  He wanted no money!  I am just here to help, he said.  I am shocked.

My room is ultra modern.  Keys are put in a special key hole and the minute you leave the room all appliances you might have forgotten to turn off are automatically shut off.  The toilet has two settings to flush which allows you to control the precise amount of water going down to save as much as possible.  Hallways are dark until you step out of your room which triggers the lights just for you.  The second you are out of the hall, the lights shut off.  There is a beautiful roof terrace and when I went up there.  I am looking down to the Bosphorus, a lighthouse and ships cruising back and forth on one side.  And right behind my hotel within about 200 meters there is the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia.  The Blue Mosque is at best 400 meters away from here.  I turned my head from one to the other in disbelief.  Goodness, this is wonderful!  I am in the heart of old Istanbul, minutes away from most anything I would want to see in the few days I have, and all within walking distance.

I strolled around for a while and there was the rude awakening:  Despite my three layers, I was shivering.  I guess, I have to put on 5-6 layers tomorrow.  And the neighborhood which is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops sports menus which are not a penny short of American prices:  A soup goes for $6 – where I have been having the most delicious soups for 60 cents for a month in Egypt.  These prices are fine if you are on vacation, but I can’t be sustained them on a four month trip.  Some readjustment is in order.  I found a grocery store and dinner is a tomato, a cucumber, cheese, bread and some olives.  And, a beer!  J  Even that was not cheap but it beats the restaurant prices.  My window looks down on a 500 year old little neighborhood mosque and as I am sitting on my bed enjoying wifi internet, I am watching the big ships sliding by.  I think I will like it here.

Good night.

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  1. When my husband was stationed in the army in Izmir, he says there was a bust of the founder of a local brand of Pilsner in one of the traffic circles. I hope the beer is delicious there. 🙂