Turkey: I Biked There (in a Sense)

I mean, I have biked while there.  Once.  For all of twenty miles.  Still, my two worn-down wheels met Turkish tarmac and got me where I needed to go.  I’m gonna go ahead and call that Country #15!   And my second continent, even!

Actually, though, the whole thing was a bit of an accident.  The plan had been to find some friendly airport official and sweet talk them into holding my bike for me while I spent a week in Istanbul with an old friend on my way back to the US of A from India.  Said plan failed miserably.  Nobody at any of the airlines was particularly interested in my plight, and the man manning the luggage holding room wanted $20 per day to keep my baby under lock and key.  $20 a day?  For a week?  Cue that old Fauxbo refrain: that kind of dough could buy me half a month on the road, uncle!  Not gonna happen.

There was also the fact that Gulf Air had mangled my bike box.  I had spent several hurried hours painstakingly packing it in Chennai the night before, playing with my disassembled bike frame as if with a jigsaw puzzle, deliberating over the placement of each  part, arranging everything so that it might stand a chance of withstanding the abuse of the baggage dudes.  Fat chance.  When I got to the baggage claim area in the Istanbul Atatürk Airport, my bike was already waiting for me.  I could see it because the box was torn open, enough so that it was no longer a container for its former contents.   More like a few sheets of cardboard separating them from the airport floor.  The security guy lent me a roll of tape, which I used to kind of put the box back together for as long as it would take me to drag it through customs and over to the arrivals hall.  I hauled it over to a nook between the elevator and the janitor’s closet and began reassembly.

Turkey is commonly said to be the meeting point of Occident and Orient.  Istanbul itself, bisected by the Bosporus Strait, straddles two continents, such that a fifty-cent ferry ride (a dollar if you want tea with that) will take you from Europe to Asia.   The smooth roads, orderly roundabouts, lack of obnoxious honking, stately stone buildings, and general cleanliness – even of the seaside park, filled with picnickers who actually picked up after themselves – made me feel that I had left the chaotic, bustling East behind.  At the same time, the preponderance of street vendors hawking sunflower seed-coated bagels, the percentage of women clad in hijabs, burqas, or grandma trenchcoats, and the sheer number of mosques and minarets and calls-to-prayer, all ensure that nothing feels too familiar.

One more example of how Turkey hits that sweet-and-sour, comfortable-yet-still-exotic spot just right:  Turkey is Eastern enough that no police came by to hassle me for spending two hours piecing my bike together the arrivals hall, but Western enough that nobody stood around pointing and gawking and watching me awkwardly.

That, along with the fact that they sell dried figs at the market for $1.50/lb, makes Turkey a strong candidate for future fauxbo follies.

I shall now commence with the eye-candy.


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Two Istanbul staples: a mosque (one of 3,000) with all those curvaceous domes and pointy spires, and a waterway.  Ferries constantly run back and forth across the Bosporous, as well as all over along the shoreline on both sides.  It’s a nice alternative to taking the bus, and you can even order a hot tea to take the edge off the chilly wind or some cookies to throw to the gulls.

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Out of the 3,000 mosques in town, this one, the Blue Mosque is probably the most famous, and draws the most tourists.   The line for the tourists to get in looked to be about two hours long, and the tickets were going to be a bit out of my price range (i.e. above $15), so we decided to just amble instead.


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I always feel like a little less of an intruder when I see the locals – at least, tourists more local than me – doing the same.


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This is the photo I would’ve taken had I had a ticket to get in, a kickass camera, and a jetpack.



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Surprise, tourists!  Istanbul’s major attractions (this here might be the Hagia Sophia, but I’m pretty terrible at that sort of stuff) were crawling with them.  I think I heard more Chinese than English spoken on the streets.


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I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the Hagia Sophia.


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Aforementioned Grandma Trenchcoat.  Oddly (and unfortunately) enough, it’s not only grandmas that wear them.  Women of all ages, including school-age girls, who belong to a certain branch of Islam have to wear them every day, sometimes even indoors and out.  Seriously, we went to a hot, sweaty punk show and saw a few girls who kept them on the whole time.

Girls whose families are less conservative can walk around in fishnet stockings, heavy makeup, and goth hairdos.

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Late April/ early May was prime tulip time.  They advertised this as the largest tulip carpet in the world, but I found that pretty hard to believe since it was hardly the size of a basketball court.


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We headed to a park for a tulip extravaganza.


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Eco-peeve!  A street vendor had set up these balloons in the water, and was charging people for the right to take a few shots at them with his BB gun.


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My host, guide, and dear old friend.  Who is this mysterious personage that I keep not mentioning?

I’ve waited this long to reveal her identity just to see whether she reads my posts all the way through.

(Do you?)

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It’s none other than the lovely Suzie B, employed as a belly dancer with there in Istanbul for nearly a year.  As the fates would have it, she had stopped working just before I got into town, meaning she was free to be a full-time Fauxbo with me for the duration of my stay.  What luck!

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She was there for the tulip thing.




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The tulip fest, like most everything else we did, was mostly something to stop by and take a peek at on the way from one meal to another.

This is going to be hard to manage from memory, but:

A) Cafeteria food, including Greens and an Egg, Some Humus-y thing, dumplings, Bulgur, Rice Pilaf, and mini baguettes.

B)  Deep-fried cheese puck topped with crushed pistachio.

C) Lunch at a miniature table in the sweetest kitchen/restaurant evert, this little kichen-in-a-nook, so tiny that my chair had two legs on the sidewalk.  The food was all laid out in a pyrex container counter buffet; mama cooked it in their apartment a few blocks away and then walked it down to the mini-storefront where the son served it.   A bowl of tsatziki yogurt dip, an artichoke smothered with cubed veggies, grape leaves wrapped around something, a Turkish version of Eggplant parmesan, and more…for probably about $10 total.


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Menu for “Turkish Breakfast,” available all day long.  Kind of like IHOP, minus the whipped cream and chocolate chips.


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If the Swedes hadn’t come up with the word “smorgasbord,” the Turks would’ve.  Here we’ve got a tomato-n-egg shakshuka, some pan-fried cheese, a plate of raw veggies, some olives, a plate each of honey and “clotted cream,” another plate of random cheese, some gyro thing possibly stuffed with spinach, and a basket of assorted breads just to make sure we each break the 2,000 calorie mark.


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My lord, I should’ve taken notes.  This one started with a “p.”  It’s a crepe, stuffed with your choice of yellow cheese, white cheese, or spinach.  We took it easy this time and only ordered one plate of raw veggies and one tub of cream soaked in honey to round out the meal.  The basked of assorted breads of different grains and leavened-ness goes without saying.

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Meal from a hole-in-the-wall Syrian restaurant run by three dudes with a two-burner gas range.  We’ve got Hummus, Pickles, Falafel, Pitas, and a verrrrry olive-oily fava bean dish.   The first time olive oil has ever actually tasted like olives to me; too bad I hate olives!  This may have been the only vegan meal we were able to manage while out on the town.

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We ate at yet another miniscule table, this time on the building’s front landing, with a view down the hill to the active Saturday market below.  When the bill came, it was for a ludicrously low $5. I tipped pretty heavily, firstly because the food was great, secondly because the price was absurd, and thirdly because the cooks and servers were good-natured foreigners who had made fun of Suzie for speaking to them in Turkish.  A minute later, halfway down the hill, one of them came running up behind us and stuffed the tip back into my hand!  I tried to insist he take it, that the food was worth far more, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

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Bakery.  A small one, at that.  Bagel-ish “Simits,” focaccia-ish flatbreads, and some loaves.


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Ohhoho, savory Turkish pastries!  This one might have been “Burek.”  Not the most appetizing name, but man – your choice of spinach, potatoes, cheese, or meat, inside a flaky phyllo-style dough.  Part carb, part fat, some veggies, kind of the perfect food for cyclists.  Or former cyclists.

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Which isn’t to say that this slimy, cheesy “water pastry” wasn’t also awesome.   I’m not sure English has the right words to capture the chewy, squishy richness of this one.  You’ll have to try it yourself.

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Most of the sweet shops were too hectic and overwhelming for me to photograph, but here’s one from an impromptu tea/snack stop at a chocolate shop we spotted.  Our server, the husband, had an endearing but slightly doofus-y appearance, so that I wasn’t totally surprised when he stumbled on the steps on the way up to our little brick landing.  He dropped the tray and lost the tea, though thankfully the chocolate itself didn’t sustain any damage.  Nonetheless, the wife, who seemed to be the brains of the operation, insisted both on giving us fresh chocolate from the case AND comping our bill, even though not so much as a drop of tea had gotten near us.

And yeah, in case you were wondering, the chocolate/raspberry sandwich there was pretty tasty.



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Bulk nuts, dried fruits, and snacks galore.  The markets were also rife with breads, cheeses, fresh fruit and veg (including avocados), pickles, honey, and deserts.  It was when I saw this that I knew I’d be back someday.


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Dried figs for $3/kg, people!  That’s like $1150/lb!  It may actually have been double that, but even so, what a deal!  I still have a few in the fridge.



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Other exciting events included a city-wide traffic ban and warnings not to visit Taksim Square on May Day, lest tensions between the police and protestors get out of hand.

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Meta-photo in the Tulip gardens.



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Mannequin shop.



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Good to know there are at least a few other people who feel this way.



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Aaaaaand my new best friend.  Something tells me he’ll still be there outside the Egpytian Bazaar/Spice Market on my next trip.  See you then, uncle!

Thanks for the good times, Suze.

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One Response to Turkey: I Biked There (in a Sense)

  1. Suze says:

    ‘ “clotted cream” ‘? Gah. You Americans. If I wasn’t here already this blog would make me hop on a plane and come here. So, passing through again on your way back?