"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalks again; we had longer ways to go.
But no matter, the road is life." -
Jack Kerouac


Just say NO to rugs! (Istanbul, Turkey)

Istanbul was a stitch. Pardon the pun after the rug joke in the title.

The flight from Athens to Istanbul on 1/26 was uneventful, except for the fact that Olympic Airlines served us a full meal on a 1 and half hour flight! Anybody flown United lately and had them try and sell you their $5 SNACK PACK? Assholes... Anyway, we made our way into the center of a city of 16 million at about 10pm and found our hostel, with the help of 3 different maps, 2 differeent street addresses provided to us, and some luck (a lot of luck).

The next morning, we bought fresh-squeezed orange juice from a street vendor across from the hostel, and than went into a 5 seat (maybe 6 if you squeezed) cafe a little further away. A really nice, English-speaking Turk guy around our age was behind the counter. He talked to us a bit, gave us some advice, and most important, seemed really happy to chat with us and share his mother's pastries! This became our new breakfast spot in Istanbul. We went to the Blue Mosque, famous because of it's huge size and it's blue tiles lining the inside of the building. Next up was Aya Sofya, a church that for a long time was the largest Christian church in the world. At some point, the Ottoman empire converted it into a mosque and plastered over all the 15th century frescos painted on the walls and ceilings. In the late 1800's (I think), someone knocked the plaster off and realized that all these beautiful frescoes had been preserved. Walking away from the church in the very touristy district of Sultanahmet, we were confronted by about 100 people selling, amongst a few other things, rugs. We talked to a kid who wanted to practice his English, and then brought us into his store to give us his card (I know, hindsight is 20/20). Upon entering the store, we both had hot apple tea in our hands and had been "dropped" to speak to an older relation of his. He was very personable and asked us lots of questions about where we were from and what we do, but he managed to interject carpet buying back into everything! (Colleen, he even suggested I ship you one as it's a gift that lasts a long time!) After 10 minutes or so, he asked "So, if you are given the chance to buy a high quality rug for a very reasonable price, you won't even consider it," and us answering "No,", he said "then I'm going to sell you a leather coat!" and ran off to the coat racks. We set the tea down and got out before our backpacks became heavier and our wallets lighter. We stumbled upon a small soccer match after we found out that the nearby Topkapi Palace wasn't open much longer. At the match, we found it odd that there were almost as many policeman as there were fans, and that we were the only tourists, and that Emily was certainly the only woman. When the cops broke out the riot shields and helmets, and started patting down everyone coming to watch, we got out.

The next morning, our new-found cafe counter friend told us that Turkish soccer is serious business, with soccer hooligans galour. Back to the Topkapi Palace, we saw a lot of interesting history from the 4 centuries that this palace was the seat of the Turkish Sultan's government. There was an 86 carat diamond, surrounded by littler diamonds, and enough gold and jewels to make a pirate nauseas. The real treat was the Holy Relics of Islam exhibit. They did a fantastic job of explaining the beginnings of all 3 of the monotheistic religions, and the splitting of Islam from Christianity. There, they had the staff that Moses used to part the Red Sea, the gold-encased arm and skull of St. John the Baptist, the turban of the Prophet Joseph, and a tooth and multiple chunks of beard hair, and the cloak, of the Prophet Mohammed. Next we went to the Grand Bazaar, an indoor shopping market with 22 entrances and 4,500 stores! Needless to say, they sold everything, and we got lost plenty. After that, the most harrowing experience in Istanbul: the Turkish Bath. This link is the closest example I can think of to what I experienced. For those who don't know, it is from a British TV show called "Long Way Round", featuring Ewan and Charley Boorman travelling on motorcylces from London to New York City the long way, through Russia and Alaska. Great series if you can find it somewhere and are interested in wild travels.

At the bath, we payed about $30 each and went our separate ways (boys and girls are segragated). I was told to change into nothing but a towel, then went into the bath room. It featured a large, circular marble heated stone in the center and small basins with hot and cold spigots around the stone. After bathing myself with a small metal pan (like a dog bowl), I was told to lay on the rock by my male masseuse. For the record, he was hairier than the guys in the video and also wore a towel instead of a speedo. He scrubbed me with a loofah until I felt like it was a metal file, rubbed his fingers into my scalp until I nearly cried, and surprised me (because my eyes were full of soap and I wasn't supposed to move my hands to wipe it out) with intermittent splashes from a 1-gallon pail of nearly boiling water or nearly frozen water! I might be exaggerating a bit, but it was seriously scary. After the massage, I lay on the hot rock in my towel trying to figure out if I had just experienced something I would ever pay for again, while thinking that it was one of the wildest experiences of the trip! Emily said that her's was a bit gentler and sounded almost like fun. That night, we found a hookah cafe. The hookah, for those who don't know, is a water-pipe frequently used in the middle east and elsewhere to smoke flavored tobacco. We sat and drank our Turkish tea (these people drink a whole lot of tea) and smoked our apple-flavored hookah for over an hour, and then retired.

The next day we took a ferry up the Bosphorus River (the river that divides Europe from Asia and divides Istanbul as well). It was pretty, but there was a bit of snow falling outside and a biting wind, so we stayed inside the covered area except for a few quick picture-takings from the top. That evening, we found a local cafe where the waiter messed up about 3 items of our dinner and we drank Raki (a Turkish spirit, it's like Ouzo but with a punch in the face). Back to a different hookah cafe (I think that Em's hooked) where we played some chess and tried a chocolate flavor.

The next day, we went to the airport to fly to Bangkok, Thailand. We had a 6 hour layover in Doha, Qatar, but we just sat and people-watched, waiting for a 1 am flight. For the record, Qatar airlines is probably the nicest airline I've ever flown on. Full meal with a 1/4 bottle of Chilean red wine, in the headrest TV screens with on-demand movies, TV shows, music and video games, all in Coach Class!

Pictures to come later.


  1. Mike,
    Your latest entry was hilarious. I LOL. I can't believe you didn't buy a carpet for me. Was it free shipping!
    The Turkish bath sounded interesting. I watched the video link. Funny.
    I've heard of smoking the hookah. It gives me an idea for a gift for Em!
    Can't believe our airlines suck so bad. I remember crying on a United flight, was sitting by a stewardess and had to ask for a kleenex. She seemed put out.
    Dave and Vern just got back. Beautiful Sat.
    Have fun.

  2. So Em it's nice to hear that your massage was nicer than Mike's. I hope you guys are having a blast. Also my mom wants you guys to fly down once you get back so we can hear all your tales. Love ya Em and miss you!


  3. Mike, that's funniest damn story I ever heard. I am laughing so hard my ribs hurt. I can just visualize it.

    How was miss Emily' experience?

    Bt the way, Giants won.


  4. Don't worry Mikey, Levan and I shared the same experience in a Hamam in Morocco. I would have warned you...but i think it's important for anyone visiting that part of the world to treat themselves to one. If you guys have time, try and make it out to Jordan and see Petra!

  5. "I lay on the hot rock in my towel trying to figure out if I had just experienced something I would ever pay for again"

    That's one of the funniest things I've ever read.

    Look forward to the pictures


  6. I'm glad that my misery brought everyone such delight. Now I know how a sad clown must feel...

    Jackattack, when did you go to Morocco? We were bummed when we had to cut it, we'd been wanting to make it to Tangier at least.

  7. Thanks Jenn, we will try to make it down there again. My massage was a lot nicer but there was a lot more nudity. The women were flaunting it all. I don't know that I would pay to be scrubbed down by someone else again but the laying on the hot rock was great. It was warm like laying in the sun, only the warmth is coming from underneath instead of above.
    Dad, we are trying to take more pics of food for you!

  8. Hey! what's going on? dang It! I know they have wireless their. WHAZ UP?


    PS There is 20 feet of the white stuff at Alta. I actually was up to my chin in fresh powder; STANDING still. Couldn't see anything when I was actually skiing! Cliff, What cliff?"


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.