Report No. 11. Day 18 and 19.

Day 18 of 22. Wednesday, October 4, 2000.

A FULL day in Istanbul.

It's 8:34 AM and Sharon's out on the balcony, watching the ships go by on the Bosphorus. By the way, the Turks call this the Istanbul Strait, not the Bosphorus. There are fishermen, trawlers and tankers.

I have screwed up my cassette tape's position. Last night or the night before, I rewound the tape to the beginning of the day. At this point, in the evening, I usually play it back, typing it up as I'm listening, then it winds up ready to begin the new day. But I was too tired, so I didn't transcribe it. The bad news was that I forgot to fast forward it to the end of the day after "deciding" not to transcribe. So I overlaid lots of yesterday's events before I realized what I had done. Anyway, I finally get it straightened out. Except that now I have to REMEMBER things that happened, rather than just playing back the cassette. No hope.

Sharon has gone to breakfast and brought me something to eat. She says they had Tang for orange juice. Cost saving move, huh? We are looking into the sun from our vantage point this morning. We are on the west, or European side, and are looking east. Sharon spots some swifts, and after checking the text, we ID them as more Alpine Swifts. They are common over Istanbul, it says, in spite of their name and what that implies. There is a Cormorant sitting on a post in the water, but it's not a Pygmy, which Sharon was hoping for. Long, thin bill.

We are riding along now, with Cihan driving and me riding shotgun. Tara and Sharon are in the back seat. I'm telling Cihan that I get a kick out of the dolmus (small, local buses). Sometimes there would be so many people in the back that they would actually be tilting, like the front end was about to rear up. Tara says that when old people get on (in front, at the entry), it's polite to give up your seat. So if you're in front, you give up your seat. As a result, when people get on the dolmus, they head straight for the back, so they can remain seated. This is undoubtedly why the little buses look like they are about to rear up.

Our first stop today is at the Topkapi Palace. We tour and it's really spectacular, in a museum sort of way. We pay extra to go on the Harem Tour, where the Sultan kept his harem, concubines, best wives, second best wives, etc. I don't know where the girlfriends slept. Maybe that category didn't exist then.

We tour the fantastic Treasury and see unbelievable jewels, gold, silver, and diamonds, including the famous Spoonmaker Diamond. Now all of these things are almost exclusively attached to something equally spectacular. Like an emerald-studded knife sheath, or a diamond-encrusted goblet. Stuff like that. I see a beautiful knife and sheath, with a huge emerald at the back of the knife handle. I think this was the object of attention in the movie Topkapi, but I'm not sure.

We tour the hall of relics also. OK, old bones, old hair, old footprints. This is to me what birdwatching is to the average normal person, I suppose. [Bones of John The Baptist! Pretty spectacular to me. -Sharon]

After Topkapi, we then tour the Sofia Museum (it used to be a Byzantine, meaning Christian, Cathedral and then was converted to a Mosque, and is now a museum), and I see what I've wondered about since my first domed cathedral in Italy in 1978. The question was always, "How do they do maintenance and repair on the ceiling of the dome?" Or in one of Johnny Carson's old bits, "How do dey do dat?" They are cleaning the dome ceiling, one quarter at a time. This is much more impressive to me than the dome itself. There is a scaffolding like you've never imagined before. I count 23 "floors" from where we stand, to the highest point of the dome. Each floor is 11 steps to the left, then 11 steps back to the right. So it's 46 flights. With my video camera, I can see people working way up there. To go to work, you must climb 23 floors. I guess you take your lunch with you and try not to drink too much coffee. Or maybe there's a porta-potty up there.

We finish up in the Sofia, then spot a carpet shop. Sharon wants to see how much money we "saved" by buying our long carpet in Isparta. She finds one similar to ours for about 3-4 times as much. She has decided that she can't take her sister Jeane back a display carpet that cost $6 when Jeane said it would be OK to spend up to $100, so we are looking for a better one.

I learn something new today. When you're shopping with Cihan, and he's talking with the proprietor of a carpet shop in Turkish, be sure to ask where the current haggling price is before you step in to make an offer. The picture is that I'm exhausted after all the stop and go of today's touring, and my back and feet are aching nicely. The good news is that I'm comfortably seated on a nice padded bench seat. I think that the current haggling price is still at $60 (the original asking price), and the proprietor won't come down in price. I decide to speed things up: "I'd like to offer fifty dollars," I say. "Bob, we're at $40 now," Cihan says. The proprietor gets up, laughs, and says, "You all decide whether you want to pay me $40 or $50," and heads into the other room. "I was tired!" I yell towards his retreat. "I don't know what I'm saying. I tried to say $30. What DID I say?" The guy laughs, and gives it to us for $40.

Next we go to the hat store where Cihan bought his cool Payne Stewart-style cap a couple of days ago. Tara helps remember where the store is. I try on several and Cihan starts negotiating on the one she wants as a gift. They finally agree on about $4 or something ridiculous like that.

Our friend Bora has told Cihan about this area of Istanbul that's just restaurants, and they specialize in fish. Cihan drives us there, parks the car, and we go wandering around this incredible, spectacular area. It's about a hundred fish restaurants, each with today's offerings in a refrigerated, iced display case with a glass door so you can examine the fish, and choose the ones you want. Only this is Turkey, so if you're Turkish, you negotiate the dinner price.

Cihan starts in on the first restaurant manager. He gets us about 40% off the list prices, but this is only to get us a base level from which to compare other restaurants' best prices. The entire area is lit up with lights strung overhead, and it's sort of like a carnival. But there aren't too many people eating yet. Cihan talks with about four different places, and Tara likes one particular smaller one. We go for that one, and choose our table. Each restaurant has about 70% of its tables outside, and 30% of them inside. We are sitting outside, and it's slightly cool, not uncomfortable at all. We have the most spectacular array of food that you can imagine. Wonderful bread, tomatoes and cucumbers (for me for a salad), elegant salads for the others.

Sharon gets five giant prawns that are so big, Cihan negotiates their individual price separately from the rest of the meal. Sharon later says they are the best she's ever had. She gives me one and Tara and Cihan one to share. I have to agree. They are really tasty, as my friend Dave Jones would say. I think we have french fries, and I don't remember what else. My Bluefish comes, and I'm hoping it's the same Bluefish that I love so much in New Jersey, on the coast. It's not, although it's pretty good.

Cihan has made great friends with the guy managing the restaurant, and this automatically makes us friends with him too. He's a young guy, a law student, doing this part time. He's good-looking and very personable. One time Cihan gets up to go to the rest room, and leaves his jacket. The manager picks up Cihan's jacket, which is about four sizes too big, and says that he wonders if Cihan would give it to him. Tara gets to talking with him, and in the course of the conversation, Tara tells him about her sister Maureen, who's in Scotland, getting ready for her first semester junior year of Santa Clara University in Edinburgh. I show him a couple of photos I have of her, and now he says Cihan can keep his jacket. He wants to meet Maureen. He gives Tara his email address to send to Maureen.

Our restaurant is called the Kalamar, and I can't remember when I had more fun eating a meal. And this is all thanks to Cihan. By the end of the evening, we're friends with all the waiters. One of them likes the LA Lakers, and especially Shaquille O'Neill ("Shaq," he calls him. Over and over. With a wink and a finger pointing at me). This is great.

All kind of tour groups are now starting to walk through the area, checking us out. This is apparently a famous area. Soon a man comes walking by with a 3-foot model of a sailing ship on his shoulders. He's trying to sell this monstrosity just by walking through, and waiting for people to ask him about it. I try to get a video, but he's gone too soon. A few minutes later, he's on his way back, and Cihan asks him to stop. He's pretty excited, and turns towards us. But when he sees that it's just for me to take his picture, he does this awful, hilarious shoulder-drop thing, as if to say, "Oh, no, just some more pictures." It's really funny, and we are all cracking up.

Finally, they give us each a free dessert. It's sort of banana cream pie dessert, but not exactly. It IS one of the best things I've ever had though. They finally present the bill, and it' $11 each after eating 2 1/2 hours. I tip $15 for our best Turkish meal/party/fun ever.

On our way out, we make one more stop. There is this weird stuff that they call ice cream that you might describe as extremely cold taffy, in appearance. A fellow with a long metal pole sticks the end of the pole into the cylindrical container which has the stuff. He twists it around and pulls out a big blob, about a foot in diameter. He then starts waving the end of the pole around in the air, and the blob starts elongating to a stretched shape that swings around in the air. He gets it so it's about 3 feet long, swirling through the air. He has several cowbells, and he keeps hitting them to attract attention to this show. He puts the stuff back into the can, and motions us to come over.

He's going to give Sharon a free sample, but it's a trick. Every time she tries to take the cone, which is stuck to the ice cream, which is attached to the metal rod, he rotates it around so she comes up with nothing in her hand. He does this in variations about six times, and it gets funnier and funnier till we're all out of breath from laughing. Finally he gives her a cone, and she takes a bite. She doesn't like it (it's not really ice cream. It's something else), and gives it to me. It's not nearly as good as ice cream, but it's famous over here. Cihan can't quite come up with the English word for its main ingredient. I eat it nevertheless, because it's not really BAD, although it's not really good either. Cihan, if you read this, look up the American word for this stuff, and if it's not awful, email it to me. Thanks.

We take off and Cihan wants to take us to the nightclub area. I am wiped out. He drives us there, but can't find parking, and I finally say, "Sharon and I would REALLY love it if we just went home." He agrees and takes us, but I tell you, he could have kept going. I think Tara is tired too. She hasn't been in the country that long and still has some jet lag going. They take the car again, and will pick us up for tomorrow's Bosphorus boat ride. We're back to the hotel at 12:30 AM or so, and I have slept all the way. Sharon claims I had a small conversation with her, but I think she just dreamed it.

New Life Birds: None. First day skunked, I think, though we did no active birding.

Life Bird Totals: Today 0. Trip still at 93.

Impressions of the Day: I am curious about something and ask Cihan. In Turkey, the cell phones are all digital, but in the European format, so a digital phone from the U.S. won't work here. Second, you only pay for calls you MAKE, not for incoming calls. This is true if you are anywhere in Turkey. When you leave the country, then things change, and you pay for both ways. Turkey is WAY ahead of America in this regard, and it's easy to see why everybody has a cell phone. If you initiate no calls, you just pay some basic monthly rate. The way the world SHOULD work.

Day 19 of 22. Thursday, October 5, 2000. Bosphorus Boat Trip.

Our alarm goes off at 6:50 AM, and I call Cihan and Tara, acting as their alarm clock.

I review our "Where to Find Birds in Turkey" book, and there a couple of more birds which we have a good shot at. Laughing Doves and Pallid Swifts. So we'll keep an eye out for them as we run around Istanbul.

Cihan gets us down to the marina on time, and leaves us by the ticket office while he parks the car. He arrives back about ten minutes before takeoff time, and we are on the boat. We look at the downstairs, mostly indoors but with a small open area in the back, and upstairs, about half open and half enclosed. Cihan says, "Come with me." We walk up some interior stairs, and follow Cihan onto the Captain's bridge. Cihan introduces himself to the Captain, and makes instant friends. He talks for about two minutes, then turns and says, "The Captain says we are his guests, and we can make ourselves at home over in that corner, in those seats," pointing to a corner of the bridge with a spectacular view of everything in front and on both sides of us. The Cihan Agacayak Touring Service.

The bridge has control consoles on both sides of the bridge. The Captain always runs his controls from the side of the boat nearest the land. The "off" side console is disabled, so friendly guests don't bump into it and activate some buttons. The second officer mans another console, also on both sides of the bridge. The Captain controls the speed and direction (forward, reverse) of both engines, and the second officer controls the rudder with a little joystick, just like on my computer at home! There is also a big wheel however, as the ultimate backup to the rudder control.

As we are riding on the north-bound leg, I occasionally see a flock of birds flying very close to the water. Sort of black and white, but I forget what they might be for a little while. Sharon remembers, though, because she just recently read about them in our book. They are YELKOUAN SHEARWATERS, not uncommon in the Black Sea and in the upper reaches of the Bosphorus Strait. Hey, another lifer. Would this be our last?

I take some wonderful photos and video on the way up. Near the end of the trip, we can see open water, and it's the Black Sea. The Captain pulls into a dock on the European side, and we get off. We'll be here for about three hours, then the boat will return, we'll rejoin, and ride back down to where we started. Cihan spots his officers' club (aka BOQ), and we all go over to have lunch there. We are treated like royalty, I must say, and the food is delicious, but we skip dessert, as Cihan wants us to try something special. We walk around the town a bit, and finally we're at the Tatli (dessert) shop.

We're still pretty stuffed from lunch, but Cihan wants us to try some of these special desserts. We want chocolate pudding, which we already know is great, but Cihan insists that we try these pudding things also. One is cream colored, and the other is the same with a kind of burnt umber color on the outside. The odd thing about this shop is that as we walked in, one of the workers brought a rack of roast chickens in and placed them sort of in the window, like a display. What's up with that? Anyway, we eat our chocolate pudding, but try Cihan's puddings also. They are OK, but nothing great, I think. Then he springs the big news. They each contain pounded, flattened, ground up chicken breast!!! Sharon later tells me that all pudding has some kind of gelatin and that's what makes pudding pudding. Incredible.

We return to the waterfront, and our boat pulls in and docks. The first mate (see how I casually go between first mate and second officer because I don't know his actual rank or title?) spots us from an open window on the bridge and waves. We wave back. Again, Cihan leads us up to the bridge, and we make the return voyage here also. I get more photos and video. It's been a partly cloudy day, and when the sun breaks through, shining on a castle or museum or waterfront or hilltop house, it's something special. The second officer makes us tea again, for the trip back.

When we dock, it's to another boat. And that boat is already docked to another boat, so we walk through two boats to get to the shore. We are going to Bora and Celin's (Cihan and Tara are staying with them) for dinner (we have requested to please, please, please only have something light), and Tara wants to pick up some things to bring them. Cihan parks us in the basement parking lot of a supermarket, and he and Tara go in to shop. Sharon and I stay in the car and, as I recall, take a little nap.

We finally get to Bora's, and Celin is busy preparing dinner. Oh, she forgot to keep it light. Dang. We meet their dog Taiko (though not spelled this way) and see their son Kaan for the first time since he was about a month old, in Monterey, California. What a great little guy. We enjoy conversation, music, the dog, the baby, the view and the evening. And finally we eat again. It's delicious. Celin has prepared us wonderful food, again with many choices.

Finally, Cihan drives Sherilee and me back to our hotel and lets us off. Tomorrow is checkout day, and we will transfer to Golcuk also, but we will have a big day of sightseeing first. Sharon and I collapse in our wonderful bed, although she packs first. I pack a little, but leave most of it for tomorrow morning. Then it's off to sleep.

New Life Birds: Yelkouan Shearwater

Life Bird Totals: Today 1. Trip 94.

Impressions of the Day: We gotta stop eating this way. Our last night in Istanbul. But not our last day. Tomorrow will be a big day, exploring the Covered Market or Bazaar before driving down to Golcuk. Got my Lira ready.

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