Istanbul Diaries: Dec. 11

A quick trip to Izmir (formerly known as Smyrna) reminded me how easy it is to get around on public transportation in Turkey…easy and cheap.

The outward bound trip was a combination of ferry and train. The return trip was by plane. It ended up costing us about the same…and not because the ferry and train were super expensive, but because the flight was super cheap. $34 for an hour-long flight. We bought the ticket at the last minute too.

The airlines in the U.S. could learn a thing or two from airlines in other parts.

Anyhoo, we managed to get around Izmir pretty easily and out to Ephesus without any trouble at all. The public transportation in and around Istanbul is the same.

Whether trains, planes, ferries, metro, or dolmuş, getting around is easy in Turkey.

Whether trains, planes, ferries, metro, or dolmuş, getting around is easy in Turkey.

For the ferries, buses and metro you carry a card that you swipe to get on. It’s like a gift card, but you just keep refilling it as you use up the credit.

Pretty handy.

The dolmuş, however, is old school. It’s a smaller vehicle. Some are kind of like a mini-bus, with a few seats and lots of room to crowd in. On the dolmuş, you actually have to pay the driver, so he’s making change while weaving in and out of traffic. It’s great.

Another interesting thing about the dolmuş is that when people get on in the back they just send their money up with the passengers between them and the driver so it passes through sometimes seven or eight hands with accompanying stop information so the driver knows if change is required or not. He then makes change while dodging cars and pedestrians who decide to cross the road at that moment and while watching for anyone along the side of the road who might flag him down as he approaches. That change is passed back to the appropriate passenger.

Now put three non-Turkish speaking Americans who aren’t familiar with the stops at the end of that chain right before the driver. More specifically, put me at the end of that chain right before the driver after two other non-Turkish speaking Americans…and you have a recipe for disaster.

It was like playing that game “teléfono discompuesto” (I forget what it’s called in English) where you send a whispered message down a line and see what you come up with at the end. The final version is often pretty comical.

I ended up just repeating exactly what my friends told me while handing the money to the driver. I had no idea what I was saying. Sometimes I got change to send back. Sometimes I didn’t. If the Turks who were handing the money up only knew how weak the last three links in the chain were, they’d probably send us to the back, but  somehow it worked out. And I didn’t hear any complaints, but I probably wouldn’t understand them if I had.

Anyway, it probably wasn’t as critical as our situation on our flight home last night. We happened to be seated in the row with the emergency door. The steward came by and spoke with us for about a minute. Not a word in English. At the end of it, I nodded my consent. He was satisfied.

I’m pretty sure I agreed that I was willing and able to open the hatch beside me in the event of an emergency, either that or he was making sure we were comfortable and letting us know there was a nice view from the window.

I decided I better look over the instructions in pictures just to be on the safe side.

Istanbul Diaries: Dec. 4

This is what they do here. And apparently fishing is good this time of year.

This is what they do here. And apparently fishing is good this time of year.

Looks like fishing is the same everywhere...just another excuse for the men to get together.

Looks like fishing is the same everywhere…just another excuse for the men to get together.

The fishing is above the bridge. The fish restaurants are below.

The fishing is above the bridge. The fish restaurants are below.

A ship en route to the Black Sea.

A ship en route to the Black Sea.

Istanbul Diaries: Dec. 3

Just thought I’d post a couple of photos to put it in perspective for my American friends who think the malls are crowded this time of year…

Istiklal Street, Istanbul is one happening place.

Istiklal Street, Istanbul is one happening place.

Not only is a place called "Pazar," but a whole day of the week is called "Pazar." Guess what people do on Pazar Day.

Not only is a place called “Pazar,” but a whole day of the week is called “Pazar.” Guess what people do on Pazar Day.

Istanbul Diaries: Nov. 3

Note to reader: If you’re actually from Istanbul, have mercy on my touristishness in these posts.

I’m inventing a term for that obvious lack of understanding of a place by which one feels compelled to go on and on about things that are quite commonplace for the locals.

In Mexico, when I overhear English-speaking outsiders try to make sense out of and talk authoritatively about the whys and wherefores of local Mexican customs, or when they write on and on about, say, chickens on buses…or traffic, I get a little impatient. The way Mexico does things is a mystifying world to them and I want to tell them that the way the U.S. or Canada or even England does things is a mystifying world to nearly everyone else on the globe.

But here I am in Istanbul and I’m about to do what a foreigner does. We write about what’s unusual to us, what we don’t understand and what embarrassing predicaments result.

So far I haven’t landed myself in too many cultural faux pas. Sure I wore my shoes into someone’s house instead of taking them off at the door, but they were also foreigners and looked kindly if not pityingly on my mistake. I also managed not to butcher a two-cheek-kiss greeting instead of the one-cheek I’m accustomed to in Mexico, but I’m pretty sure I made too much contact on the second cheek. I’m not quite sure what went wrong. I was just trying to do the basic air kiss, but maybe my distance or timing was off for having to carry on from the right side. I don’t know, but I smacked her good and proper. I’ll have to work on my left-side kiss. It’s kind of clumsy.

Then there’s the language. I’m sorry to say I’m just mostly throwing out English because my Turkish is “yok,” which according to my dictionary app could mean “there is not,” or “absent,” or “unavailable” or the one I like the best, just “nope.” That pretty much defines how much Turkish I have at the moment: nope!

Maybe in a month I’ll be able to ask for what I really want at the restaurant or even talk to my host family. Meanwhile, I’ll just point and be happy with whatever the waiter brings me and smile a lot to my family.

Beware of the touristishness to follow…