Bulgaria & Turkey, November 2001 Travelogue
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Wednesday, Nov. 28th, 2001

Basilica Cistern, Galata Tower and Taksim Square.
On Wednesday I woke up with only a loose idea of what I wanted to do with the day. Istanbul has many sights, however, so I wasn't exactly running out of things.

First I visited the Basilica Cistern, or Yerebatan Saray. A cistern is an underground room for holding water. This one dates from the 4th Century & is huge, measuring 140 by 70 meters, and holding 80,000 cubic meters of water. That is about 1200 shipping containers worth of water.

Ok, the city's water supply is somewhere else now, so they drained this one and built a walkway around it. There are 336 columns, two of which have medusa-head bases, recycled from some other building simply for construction material.

Next I wandered into Yume Travel Agency in Istanbul & asked about a 10-day tour around Turkey in 3-star hotels. Mehmet Ustun worked up a couple of schedules for me and gave me a price of US$400. This seemed high to me, but I was used to getting a lot for my money in Turkey, so maybe I was overestimating. A lot depended on the condition of the hotels.

After some consideration, I decided to give it a shot. I was ready for a little luxury. The tour would begin Friday morning.

Next I took the city's perimeter train to tour the city walls, but I found the main, southern museum was closed for renovation. I took the train back to the center, intending to cross over the Golden Horn again, but got lazy and took a taxi instead.

Taking a taxi in Istanbul is funny, because you get in, buckle your seatbelt, and the next thing you know, the meter says 780,000. Just as your heart jumps, you realize that is only 50 cents, and a dollar-fifty later, you arrive at your destination. In this case, Taksim square.

The driver offered me a cigarette, which I declined, and a tangerine, which I accepted.
Taksim square is a nice open site in an otherwise crowded city. There is a little waterway flowing across most of it. Within a few minutes of wandering around the square getting oriented, I was approached by ANOTHER guy who just wanted to hang out with me and be my friend.
I was seriously uninterested, but he too assured me that he just wanted to work on his English. He pointed out a pair of transvestites crossing the square, asking what the English term for them was. Lo, it was the same as in Turkish! He walked with me to the beginning of the open mall, but soon left. He said I was the first American he had seen in months. He was nice enough, but he made me uncomfortable.

In Taksim there is a more modern street of shops like you would find in San Francisco, open only to pedestrians and select vehicles. I did a little fruitless shopping and a lot of walking. Someone had told me that this was a good place to hang out on a Saturday evening, and I could see how. Even on a Wednesday it was bustling with activity.

At the bottom of the hill, close to the water, I climbed Galata Tower, a solitary tower from 1348 with awesome views of the city and its waterways.

I took another taxi home & the spent the evening online with one of the world's cheapest and slowest internet connections.

This inverted medusa head would've been submerged

scarecrow in front of the city walls
This kept out the Crusaders for 6 centuries!

The tow-trucks can lift cars with this rig.
They make this sound, "Yoink!"

The memorial at Taksim

Uh, a gate in front of Galata Saray Lycee?

view from Galata Tower

more of the view from Galata

Thursday, Nov. 29th, 2001

Rahmi Koç Industrial Museum, Tour pickup & Jorge

On Thursday, I went to the post office near Topkapi Palace and mailed 10 postcards, mostly to people who had read my online request. As I write this, I have received about 10 more. Wait till you see all the zeros on the price of these stamps.

I picked up my tour package and looked over the itinerary. It started tomorrow morning at 6:30am, bound first for Galipoli. I'm not sure exactly how Gallipoli got put on the tour, but it seemed interesting, so I didn't balk.

As I left, he said goodbye on an ominous note, "Enjoy your tour of Turkey...alone."


After breakfast I spotted a cute woman who was being detained by a turkish guy trying to sell her an umbrella. It was raining, but she already HAD an umbrella. She turned out to be another American! She was touring around Istanbul for her International School in Indiana. Her mission was to get a first-hand idea of how easy or difficult it is for a single woman foreigner to get by in Turkey. It was her first day, so I talked with her and walked her to Topkapi gate. She would have been great company for the rest of the day, but she was hitting sites I had already seen. I was going to the somewhat more obscure and modern Raimi Koç Industrial Museum.

I didn't really know where it was, so I caught a taxi and told the driver "Hasköy". When we drove by the museum with the jet fighter displayed outside, I figured we were there.

This museum had a clever scheme regarding cameras. Above the price of the $2.50 admission, there was a $1 fee for a camera, and $2 for a video camera. Quite a good system!

The museum had some nice moving cut-away models of small and large engines, showing how they worked, including dustbusters, 2-stroke scooters, 4-stroke diesel, and marine steam engines. It was way too dark inside, however, although I resisted the temptation to ask for a flashlight.

They also had some hands-on examples of how levers, pulleys and hydraulic power-assist operate.

They had a nice collection of motorcycles, cars, skiffs, Tahoe boats, steam engines, telephones, radios and old fashioned science equipment, like orrerys and sextants.

Did I mention how damn dark it was in there? There were tiny halogen spotlights on the exhibits, but I was afraid I was going to trip over something. Why bother going to all the time and expense of opening up a V8 Diesel Engine if people can't SEE what's going on in there? I think this guy Raimi Koç was a vampire.

I was in there for almost 3 hours, nearly alone & looking at everything. It was raining so I was figured there was no hurry. I walked out with no real idea of where I was and traveled up a steep hill through this industrial/warehouse district.

I happened past a shop that had two large machines milling gears. One was milling a metal gear, and the other one was manned by a guy making plastic gears. I stopped to take a photo and he invited me inside for a few more. He was nice, asked me where I was from, but that was it for the conversation. As I went to take his hand, he offered his elbow instead, as his hand was covered in grease.

After about an hour of wandering around, the sunset call to prayer sounded & I decided it was time to find a taxi. I did with no problem & was quickly back home, where I met the last guy remaining in my room, Jorge, from Spain. He had a really bad-ass camera and lens in the room he was worried about. I showed him the laptop & eased his mind a little. Was it more or less dangerous to travel with valuables when tourism is so thin?

We exchanged Istanbul stories over his tangerines and agreed to grab dinner together later. He is a fire-juggler in Spain during the summer, and an art history student. His stories were better than mine.

After I got some typing done, we met up and found dinner, then hit the street festival & drank a bunch of tea.

We talked about Spain's terrorism problem, it's lack of nationalism, the change to the Euro monetary system unearthing black-market cash, fire-breathing & a few other things. He also showed me which arabic symbol stood for Allah, and which stood for Mohammad. I had already identified the symbol for "Sultan".

The next morning at 6:30am, my "package tour" of Turkey was scheduled to begin. There were signs in every bathroom of the hostel: "hot water available 6am-10:30am".

Don't worry mom, it is perfectly safe in Turkey

How a gas range works

The motorcycle of Laurence of Arabia

Motorcycle for the badass-abled

I found out later these were fake

At an old fashioned internet cafe

The ultimate 10-year-old's room

a real gear-grinding shop in Hasköy, Istanbul

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Read my other travelogues: Minneapolis 2001 | Burning Man 2001 | Europe 1999 | Costa Rica 2000

Back to main Cockeyed | Write to Rob@Cockeyed.com Last updated December 5th, 2001.
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