Top up your travel tales with this one,
written and recommended to you
by Brian Gehrisch,
with extra vocabulary exercises I selected
especially for you
The following events took place in December 2007 and January 2008
[P1] I have been told on many occasions that once I visit Turkey I will never leave. Istanbul in particular has been described as the “most beautiful city in the world” and is rumored to have a fascinating blend of Eastern and Western cultures, as half of the city is in Europe and half is in Asia. My friend Eve called me up and asked if I wanted to get together for the holidays, so we rang in the New Year in Turkey! In fact, we celebrated New Years by watching fireworks from our friends’ apartment while sipping imported Croatian moonshine upon return from a party on the Asian side where we exchanged intentionally ugly gifts like plastic dog poop and squeezable rats. I don’t think I ever expected to have a New Years quite like that, but I can dig it!
[P2] One of my first impressions of Istanbul was that it is expensive as shit for tourists!! Just as an example, when I went to the Palace, a popular tourist attraction, I was charged $10 for access to the royal courtyard. There is nothing at all to see in the courtyard, but it provides you with access to the real exhibits in the palace, like the Harem or the Treasury, each of which cost ANOTHER $10 to enter. Basically, you have to buy the privilege of paying admission before you can actually pay that admission. The treasury contains such historic gems as a collection of hairs from the Prophet Mohammed’s beard, some of his teeth, and John the Baptist’s arm and skull. Bully! Luckily, we went on a day when the Treasury was free. We only had to pay for the courtyard access and the Harem, which despite being quite cool, was completely empty. Surely they could have found some dummies to dress up as concubines to lounge around eternally in the once elaborately decorated chambers. Instead I had to use my imagination. I hate when that happens!
[P3] The Asian side of the city is far less expensive, and you get a lot more for your money. The downside is that most of the city’s action (and jobs) are on the European side, so people have to commute across the Bosphorus. There is a ferryboat that runs regularly throughout the day, but it stops running at 9:30pm and it is not at all convenient to go back and forth after that. There are always taxis, but that gets really expensive really fast, and if you have your own car to drive across the bridge you have to pay a hefty toll each time. Even so, I think it would be worth it to live in Asia, as the apartments are so much bigger, nicer and cheaper.
[P4] Something that I found highly amusing is the super tight security setup in Metros, malls, and museums. They have metal detectors, X-ray machines, and a sea of uniformed officials armed with wands to check every bag. It definitely holds up traffic every time you want to go into a building or jump on the Metro as everyone funnels through the bottleneck that the checkpoint creates. You would think that they were really on top of everything. When you actually get through the line though, you see that they’re doing nothing more than running through the motions. Lights blink like Christmas decorations, buzzers scream like fire alarms, and everyone just gets waved on through! Most of the time the uniformed officials just stand in a line chatting and staring blankly at the passing crowd without any attempt to stop them or check their bags. That must be an incredibly stress free job – just talk to you buddies and look official. With a wand! No actual work involved, just chilling. They must have one hell of a good union! The one time that one of them actually made an attempt to do his job, he insisted on checking my bag. That was really strange though, because I didn’t have a bag. I just had my coat pockets stuffed with my hat, scarf, gloves, and a bottle of water. He was convinced that I had a bag tucked under my coat, so I unzipped it and showed him that there was nothing hidden underneath. Suddenly the corners of his mouth turned up as if he had just figured out an age old mystery. He patted his stomach with gusto and proclaimed, “Ohhh! Eat! Eat!” He was quite pleased, because he didn’t think I was hiding a bag anymore. Now he just thought I was really pudgy! Thanks Mr. Security Dude. Everyone likes having strangers call them fat! The only way he could have topped that is by asking the dumpy woman behind us when she was expecting her baby. Luckily I’m thick skinned, so I could laugh my ass off instead of getting offended. Eat! Eat!
[P5] Despite Turkey being a Muslim country, Istanbul didn’t feel particularly religious. The only place I saw any women in burkas was in the airport, and they must have been from somewhere else. Istanbul is actually quite metropolitan in terms of the people and ther religions. The only real in-your-face reminder that it’s a Muslim country is the extensive smattering of mosques dotting the cityscape like Chicken Pox. All of them have a great big dome and four or more giant stiletto towers piercing the sky. Each tower is armed with a P.A. system that blasts a call to prayer across the city several times a day, which I found to be horribly intrusive to my daily life. I can only imagine that everyone living in the city has simply grown accustomed to the audio commotion, because despite the excessive publicness of the holy noise pollution no one in the city seems to pay the least bit of attention to it. I never once saw anyone throw down a prayer rug, turn towards Mecca, or even pause their conversation to recognize the prayer-time alarm clock. The prayer that blares from each individual mosque blends with the prayers from the hundred neighboring mosques. The result is an endless droning echo that bounces between the hills and through the streets until it becomes indistinguishable from the sorrowful wail of a mother moose mourning her dying child, with an irregular waiver in the pitch as though someone were to shake the melancholic beast mid-moan. If a small child were to make the same noise several times a day (as I’m sure they do) they would be immediately silenced by their irritated parents, because it is so incredibly grating on your nerves. But hey, I guess faith is just like that, right?
[P6] As an experienced traveler I know that the greatest staple of the budget diet is a delicious meaty kebab. They’re readily available all over the world, and they never fail to make me smile. This culinary masterpiece is the brainchild of the Turks, so I couldn’t wait to let the sheer ecstasy wash over me as I savored the most authentic of Turkish kebabs. Much to my dismay, however, I soon found that I was in for a horrible surprise. Kebabs in Istanbul sucked something fierce! There was very little meat, the taste was bland, and they wouldn’t dream of adding French fries or the ever-popular white sauce (or any other sauce for that matter) that make kebabs so good all over the rest of the world. It was truly heartbreaking to have them fall so far short of my expectations. I died a little bit with each Turkish kebab that I choked down. A travesty, to say the least.
[P7] With regard to the locals, I found the Turkish people to be EXTREMELY pleasant and friendly. I understand that the culture of hospitality and generosity in Muslim countries is supposed to be something to behold, and I really did find that to be true. However, you have to distinguish between those who are being genuinely polite and those who are buttering you up. You can safely assume that if you are in a touristy area, or anywhere within a mile or two of a store of any kind, you are being buttered, basted and prepped to be cooked! Everyone on the street wants to have a polite conversation with you. They all start out with someone who innocently asks, “Hey, where are you from?” Inevitably they have a close relative in that area, and they probably have some kind of accurate and detailed local knowledge to back up their story and lend some credibility. Then before you know it you’re being emphatically invited to see their showroom of handmade rugs. “No obligation! Just have a look!” It’s amazing that you can insist quite clearly that you’re not going to buy anything and say, “No thanks. I don’t even want a rug” 12 billion times, and they still seem somehow surprised when you walk out without buying one. At least they offer you delicious hot apple tea to entice you to come inside, so it’s not a total waste of time. In fact, my friend Eve thought one of the salesmen was cute and flirted her way into not only free tea, but an invitation for the two of us to go back to their other shop for a homemade lunch! It doesn’t get better than free food, but I still wasn’t going to buy a rug. They must make a fortune on the rugs though. Even when you go into the store with the intention to BUY something else, they completely ignore questions like “how much does this lamp cost, because I want to buy it” and they try to push their rugs on you instead. One sale at a time, boys. One sale at a time.
[P8] In addition to kebabs, Turkey is famous for its Turkish baths. One of our hosts told me that he enjoys the Turkish baths, and that he never feels cleaner or lighter than after he visits because so many dead skin cells are washed away. He highly recommended that I give it a shot. I thought that it was going to be similar to the thermal baths in Budapest, which are like giant natural hot tubs. Maybe I was going to be in for a real spa experience with a budget price tag?
[P9] A Turkish bath is, in fact, a bath. Well, sort of… You’re actually bathed by another person. How awkward. First they take a scrubbing glove and remove most of your skin. It’s amazing that there’s any flesh left on your body when they’re done, because you can see a frightening amount being scraped off and washed down the drain. Then you lay on a marble slab for a “massage” which is much more like a severe beating than a therapeutic experience. When I went in I was fairly relaxed, but when I walked out I was cramped, bruised, practically immobilized, and in excruciating pain that lasted for days.
[P10] The general process goes something like this:
1) Go into a private changing lounge to change into a bathing suit or a little towel that they provide (I opted for the swimming suit)
2) Hit the sauna to relax while you wait for your “therapist”
3) Sit down next to a sink while they splash scalding hot water all over you
4) Painful skin graft as described above
5) Move to the marble slab for a lathering session with a Brillo pad
6) Cruel and unusual corporal punishment that in no way resembles a massage despite the misleading title
7) Back to the sink for shampooing, with blinding, drowning, and scalding attempts at no additional cost
8) The therapist leaves you alone at the sink to weep and finish rinsing off to your own satisfaction
9) Return to the little changing room to get dressed, take a nap if you want, drink some apple tea, and generally lick your wounds after battle
It’s a solid evening of awkward situations and inhumane torture for only $20!
[P11] Despite the high price of admission, Eve and I went to visit the Agia Sophia Mosque. It started out as a giant church, built in the 300’s AD. Then it burned down. So they rebuilt it, changed it to a mosque, and it burned down again. Then it was rebuilt a third time as a massive architecturally and artistically beautiful mosque to attract tourists to visit. They are in the process of restoration and preservation now, so there is so much scaffolding inside that services couldn’t possibly be conducted there. As soon as I climbed the stairs I noticed that the air was really thick with dust from the renovation work. 2,000-year-old dust!! Apparently my body didn’t like it much, because my neck started to itch really bad. Then my face. Then my legs, arms, and stomach. I pulled up my sleeves to examine my wrists which were driving me particularly nuts, and I saw that they were covered in bright red and white hives. I have never had hives in my entire life, as far as I can remember, and suddenly my body was completely covered by this maddeningly itchy outbreak. My wrists and ankles looked like raw ground beef. My face looked like I had firmly lodged my head inside a beehive à la Winnie-The-Pooh and waved the thing around violently while the angry swarm attacked every inch of my helpless countenance with reckless sadistic abandon. When I got on the tram to go home I expected small children to scream in fear of the hideous beast and hide behind their parents. In a matter of minutes the Agia Sophia had turned me into Quasimodo of the Mosque!!
[P12] Overall, I found Istanbul to be very interesting, but I’m definitely not planning to make it my new home. After I earn a lot more money I would like to explore more of Turkey, but I think I have seen enough of this city to satisfy my curiosity for the time being.
Do you know what these words and sentences from the text refer to? Indicate other ways of expressing the same ideas and your efforts will be rewarded with global appreciation and worthy pluses – if you are in one of my student groups at JCJ.
[P1] 1. moonshine
2. I can dig it!
[P2] 3. Bully!
4. to pay a hefty toll
[P3] 5. everyone funnels through the bottleneck that the checkpoint creates
6. on top of everything
7. get through the line
8. running through the motions
9. staring blankly at…
10. look official
11. … just chilling
12. one hell of a good union
13. He patted his stomach (with gusto)
16. thick skinned
17. (I could) laugh my ass off (instead of getting offended.)
[P5] 18. burkas
19. metropolitan in terms of the people and ther religions
20. The only real in-your-face reminder that it’s a Muslim country is the extensive smattering of mosques dotting the cityscape like Chicken Pox.
21. stiletto towers
22. blasts a call to prayer
23. intrusive to…
24. the audio commotion
26. grating on your nerves
[P6] 27. the greatest staple of the budget diet
28. they never fail to make me smile
29. This culinary masterpiece is the brainchild of the Turks
30. let the sheer ecstasy wash over me
31. I was in for a (horrible) surprise
32. (Kebabs in Istanbul) sucked something fierce!
33. to fall so far short of (my) expectations
34. A travesty!
[P7] 35. the culture of hospitality and generosity
36. something to behold
37. you have to distinguish between those who are being genuinely polite and those who are buttering you up
38. buttered, basted and prepped to be cooked
39. to back up their story and lend some credibility
40. flirted her way into…
41. It doesn’t get better than free food…
42. they try to push (their rugs) on you
[P8] 43. give it a shot
[P9] 44. scraped off and washed down the drain
[P10] 45. scalding hot water
46. a lathering session with a Brillo pad
47. (rinsing off) to your own satisfaction
[P11] 49. scaffolding
50. this maddeningly itchy outbreak
On behalf of Brian, I would like to thank you all
attention to detail!
I will add two extra links for your delight as travellers:
You might like to read about:
Six Travel Types You Love to Loathe
or even submit your own travel article to
Best of luck and happy trails!!!
Filed under: ■ Travel