Istanbul, Turkey

A Sitting Turkey.

Turkey has been on my travel list for some years now, but then, so has nearly every where! My intention had always been to travel from Cairo to Istanbul, overloading around Egypt, up through Jordan, Syria and Turkey. A trip which is supposed to be amazeballs. Obviously that tour is on hold for now with both Syria and Egypt offering as much stability as a drunk elephant on a uni-cycle. Thankfully I made it to Turkey before it too falls into oblivion!

It wasn’t looking too hopeful at one point. Shortly after booking the flights, some dumb ass terrorists attacked the airport I was flying to and, two weeks before I was due to land, some dumb ass thought it was a good idea to try and overthrow the Turkish government. The president alas, managed to keep control trough the use of an iPhone, tv camera and calling the public onto the streets to resist the army coup. The following days saw the president arrest and/or sack anyone he thought was involved with the coup. Some would say the coup worked remarkably conveniently for the president and I would tend to agree. You know when a country isn’t quite right when it insists on draping it’s national flag over everything. America does it, as does Turkey. By creating a great sense of national pride a government has far greater power to manipulate their people through that pride and, through the fear of anyone attacking it. This is why England struggles with national pride (probably!), it is not forced on us as we are as close to a democracy as one can get and, the population is far more open to what’s going on around it at home and abroad. Turkey is traditionally a multicultural country, literally a meeting point for the East and West but, it is changing. An Islamic government which looks increasingly intent on ruling by faith as opposed to, well, common sense. I may be being pessimistic but, not so many years ago Syria was a multicultural, exciting country, full of culture and history. Turkey is a buffer between Syria and Europe. What happens is Turkey falls into civil war???

On a slightly lighter note, as ever my dear father hated me for daring to go to any country that doesn’t have English as it’s national language. The recent troubles in Turkey meant i would obviously die instantly once I entered Turkish airspace. As I enjoyed my holiday I was informed that my Dad had managed to roll his off-road farming buggy and trapped himself inside. I do believe he was relatively unharmed but I managed to leave Turkey without any incident. The irony still makes me chuckle!

Due to my job I have begun flying with British Airways more and more and I have started to accept them for what they are and as a result I am enjoying their hospitality. BA is typically very British, the cabin crew are not allowed to be young and beautiful but they can be everything else with, a good coating of politeness. This makes for a very pleasant experience. On touching down in Istanbul I was amused in two ways. Firstly, people clapped for what was a very routine landing! Secondly, and I’m assuming the same people(!) decided they were going to get up and begin leaving the plane before it had even got off the runway. The cabin crew made three announcements telling people to sit down. On the fourth, this was broadcast; ‘Once again could you please sit down until the plane has reached the terminal. Unless you are Houdini, you will not be able to get to the terminal before the plane does!’. Five stars to BA, honestly, I was dying with laughter. Although, the laughter was soon halted once I joined the queue for passport control which took no less than one hour to get through!

My reason for visiting Istanbul was because I was invited there by a real life Turkish person who immediately introduced me to some real life Turkish food and drink. I had been told I was going to be treated to ‘fish raki’ which I assumed to be some fish dish. As it happens it is! But, Raki is in fact a very alcoholic drink, a bit like vodka but with a hint of aniseed. Imagine vodka mixed with Pernod. So out came a super dish of salmon, fresh salad, bread and, a small bottle of Raki. The choice was a large or small bottle, not by the glass. It was all very tasty and the walk up three flights of stairs so as to get an open air seat overlooking the Bosphorus Straight was well worth the effort.

The following day we headed on a river cruise on the Bosphorus Straight. It was an epic piece of tourism. A man stood next to the ferry terminal with an old flyer advertising tours. When we announced our interest he immediately provided two tickets in exchange for a bit of cash and told us to get into a crowded minibus. Not quite what we were expecting bearing in mind there were a heap of ferry boats right beside us. Anyhow I have learnt not to ask questions in these situations and to just go with the flow. Five minutes later we arrived at a different ‘boatpark’ and was ushered off the minibus, to the boat, by a man who resembled captain birdseye who, I was hugely hoping would be driving the boat. He wasn’t. Essentially we doodled up along one side of the Bosphorus for one hour and then doodled back down the other side. The engine was on tick over, there was no information about the sights we were seeing but, there was plenty of tea and ice cream on offer so, there really wasn’t anything to complain about. I thought it was great, chilled out with lots to see.

One thing that you will see many of in Istanbul are mosques. They are every where and just in case they should become short, they are constructing a huge one on a hill just outside of the city. I know this because, it could be seen from everywhere. To put it into perspective, Istanbul is home to 14 million people and has over 3000 mosques. Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia and the home of Islam is home to 7 million and has 2000 mosques. Granted the population is smaller but, Saudi is governed by Islamic law and you cannot be a citizen unless you are Muslim. Basically, Istanbul loves a mosque! It is quite strange however, walking through the streets at night with the call to prayer bellowing away yet, people are drinking away in bars and every now and then a man in drag will pass by! I am yet to see either in Riyadh!

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