The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

More on TRAVELLING (2)

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

Istanbul, Turkey

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)

14. pudgy

15. dumpy

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

25. mid-moan

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

for your

attention to detail!

I will add two extra links for your delight as travellers:

Hostel Management

You might like to read about:

Six Travel Types You Love to Loathe

or even submit your own travel article to

BootsnAll Travel Network

Best of luck and happy trails!!!


Filed under: ■ Travel

45 Responses

  1. Magdalena G. says:

    ‘Moonshine’ = illegally made alcohol (especially vodka).

  2. Łukasz G. says:

    4. to pay a hefty toll = to pay a lot of money for passing over a bridge or highway

  3. Rafał G. says:

    Hello, this text seems very interesting to me. Today Poles go to Istanbul as tourists, but in the late 80’s many Polish people went to Turkey to buy clothes (especially sweaters and jeans) to sell them in Poland.
    What is also worth remembering is the fact that the name “Istanbul” comes from Greek. When the Turks asked the Greek citizens of Constantinople, where they were going, they answered: “εἰς τὴν πόλιν” (eis ten polin), which means “to the city”.

  4. Magda says:

    15. dumpy means a fat and short; a squat.
    16. person who is thick-skinned does not appear to be easily hurt by criticism.

    • atma says:

      i thought dumpy was an egg that fell off of a wall…he needed to do more squats(leg exercises) he would not have hurt himself quite as badly…hehe

      • Alina Alens says:

        Hey, all, say hello to Humpty Dumpty, Alice’s friend, when you go to see Tim Burton’s great latest movie!
        Humpty Dumpty was dumpy indeed, so no squats for him, just rolling around, fencing or running. Quite funny!

    • atma says:

      …not easily hurt by criticism…or falls from walls.

  5. Aga P. says:

    18. Burkas – are worn by some Muslim women (especially in orthodox Muslim countries like Afghanistan). Burka is a piece of material that covers the entire body and the head. Sometimes there are small holes for the eyes, but not always. Quite uncomfortable;)

  6. Ania J. says:

    21. stiletto towers. In this context towers are similar in appearance to stiletto – a small dagger with a slender, tapering blade There are probably high and sharp-pointed. 🙂

  7. Chrisco says:

    Hi! How are you doing?
    A pretty interesting story. About number 37 – my friends went to Turkey on their honey moon. They did say that you have to be careful when you’re shopping in malls and city markets because local traders can easily cheat you. They can be kind and helpful at the beginning, they can even talk to you in your own language and flatter you all the time, but then they will tell you the price from the moon… You have to negotiate. If you won’t – they will simply sell you down the river…
    In such situations you have to learn how to distinguish between those who are being genuinely polite (the good ones) and those who are buttering you up (the bad boys or girls) 😛

    • atma says:

      hey i’m excited to find out what the weather is like right now on the moon (thinking about a weekend getaway). which market vendor is it that’s going there? (to tell those poor honeymooners the price) and btw, i was down the river on my own honeymoon… not so bad (and the hotels are quite cheap too)

  8. Agnieszka Kow. says:

    To start with, maybe the text is interesting, but I highly disagree with some things written there.
    For example, the author doesn’t understand the specific culture of sale in Turkey. You have to tear with the salesman. If you don’t it is very impolite. It’s a kind of game.
    He is also wrong writing that Turkey is a Muslim country. The religion is absolutely divided from the state.
    Or the thing about the kebab – the kebab is not only meat in a bun, as we see it in other countries. There are many types of kebabs, so maybe he should try some more.
    I also have to defend the hamam – the Turkish bath. I think it is the most relaxing experience you can have in Turkey. Personally I felt purified, and I lost all the tension I had in my body.

    28. they always make me smile
    37. you have to distinguish between people who are really nice and people who only pretend to be so to get what they want later
    46. I read somewhere (but I’m not sure if I remember it the right way) that Brillo pads where invented in ’60 or ’70 and they were so strong that they could damage the car body ;P

  9. Alexander says:

    43. give it a shot – try it, check it out, give it a chance

  10. Chrisco says:

    Gnarls Barkley “Crazy”

    Here are some phrases which refer to being crazy according to Gnarls’ song:

    1.”I remember when (…) I lost my mind
    There was something so pleasant about that phase.
    Even your emotions had an echo
    In so much space…” (no comment needed :P)

    2.”Yeah, I was out of touch” (with “the head” in clouds)

    “Ha ha ha bless your soul” – often used as an ironic expression to show that something a person thinks or believes is not true or plainly ridiculous; and that it is silly to believe in it.
    “You really think you’re in control” (but actually you’re not! ;))

    4.”My heroes had the heart to lose their lives OUT ON A LIMB. And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them…” (they risked a lot during their lives or were in a dangerous or compromising situation)

    5.Ever since I was little, (…) it looked like fun (that phase seemed to be natural to the character from the very beginning, not at all weird)

    And it’s no coincidence I’ve come (there are no accidents in our lives)

    Hope you like it. Take care! 😛

    • Alina Alens says:

      Yes, we do – I, aunt Mary and uncle John 🙂

    • atma says:

      yes those are awesome lyrics, and they remind me of a dangerous situation that i was in recently. it was an accidental coincidence, i went out on a limb because i was out of touch. i looked down and felt my butt in the clouds…wow that was high up! a passer by said in a loud voice “hahaha, well bless your soul” that comment made me feel more in control and echoed through my emotions loudly…what a sweetie.

  11. Szymon Harabasz says:

    Personally I stare blankly at something from time to time. It’s when I look at something but I don’t get any information from what I see and don’t think about it. I think about something totally different. Or don’t think at all, if possible. Anyway, to others I look like someone who is not thinking about anything in particular.

  12. swistak says:

    Scaffolding (49) is of course the structure used at a construction or renovation site. In addition to this, it is also a programming technique used by architects in their computer projects (I heard about this during the enlargement of my house, some years ago).

    I actually want to ask you what you think about the fundamentals of the access of Turkey into the EU. Turkey is separated from Europe in culture, religion, and history. The economy doesn’t seem to be a good reason either. Do you think the situation “Turkey in the EU” has any sense?

    • Alina Alens says:

      Cultural diversity is a blessing which we should embrace, regardless of culture, history or religion.
      I am not in the position to judge whether or not Turkey should join the EU.

  13. KasiaU2 says:

    14. pudgy – short and fat

  14. KasiaU2 says:

    34. a travesty – a parody

  15. Tomek B says:

    I think you shouldn’t regret that the Harem was empty. If it hadn’t been, 10$ wouldn’t have been enough 🙂

  16. Iza says:

    3. Bully! = great, excellent
    23. intrusive to = affecting someone’s private life or interrupting them in an unwanted and annoying way
    45. scalding hot water = extremely hot water

  17. Chrisco says:

    If you’re not aware ”bully” in american English describes a pimp…or a good fellow…:P

    • Alina Alens says:

      Not in Earth American English I’m afraid.
      Iza’s definition is accurate. Chrisco’s wrong, that is planet Earth wrong.
      From what I heard “goodfellows” are Mafia henchmen. Pimps may in fact bully their “girls,” but “bully” and “pimp” are NOT synonyms.

  18. Chrisco says:

    Here is an original expression:
    38. ”buttered, basted (spit or sprinkle with some spices) and prepped (short of preparation) to be cooked” – it’s very funny, because this means to gain a customer and convince him/her to buy something and at the same time it refers to preparing a chicken to eat… 😛

    • Alina Alens says:

      * In terms of grammar, “spit or sprinkle” should be “spat or sprinkled.” However, a better choice could be “spattered and sprinkled” (as “spit” comes from the mouth, and could be offensive).
      * Being “short of” means not having enough of, lacking in.
      * “Prepped,” on the other hand, is short for “prepared.”

  19. Chrisco says:

    2. to dig it – to have fun with sth; to be keen on sth; to be nuts about sth. 😛

  20. Matylda says:

    6. on the top of everything – to know everything, for example, if someone is an expert.

  21. Matylda says:

    7. get through the line – to reach the target

  22. Matylda says:

    8. running through the motions – to consider options (suggestion)

  23. Matylda says:

    9. staring blankly at… – to look without an expression

  24. Matylda says:

    10. look official- be formal

  25. Matylda says:

    12. one hell of a good union – an excellent union

  26. Matylda says:

    26. grating on your nerves – to be annoying

  27. Matylda says:

    34. A travesty! – to make a travesty on, turn (a serious work or subject) to ridicule by burlesquing

  28. Matylda says:

    43. give it a shot-to try, to attempt to do something.For instance: I’ve never danced salsa before but I’ll give it a shot.

  29. swistak says:

    (25) mid-moan – to yield a silent cry of despair or pain (but I’m not sure of the meaning in context)

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