Saturday, October 29, 2005

Problem Militair

OK, here's the deal. My mom reads this blog, so I'm going to temper my language a bit. If you want the original flavor, add the expletives of you choice throughout the post: minimum one per sentence, and bonus points for creativity.

I knew a bad day had to come. That's just life on the road. Blue skies don't last forever.

The trip to İstanbul wasn't so bad (thanks, ambien!). It was raining when the bus crossed the Bosphorus into Europe, but it wasn't into any Europe that I recognized. The city has a large, forested greenbelt around it, but inside the forest was a seemingly endless plain of five-story cement walk ups. Trouble started at the otogar, the vast bus station on the outskirts of the city. 300 bus companies are based here, and hell (oops) if I could find a pattern to the chaos. You could lose the plot here, mate by seat mate commented. The connecting service intot he city had been cancelled, so we were left to our own devices. After eleven hours by bus I wanted to take the easy way out and charter a minivan. I coralled some Aussies and Japanese from the same bus and tried to bargain a group rate for us. The opening bid: 50 lira, or ten lira each. All of 7.50 US dollars for door to door service. Ten Lira! the lead Japanese exclaimed. Absolutely not! Then she marched off ... and the group followed.

There is safety in numbers, I wanted to explain, but it was too late. They disappeared into the madness, and were gone. I was on my own. I got the single fare bid down to twenty lira, and was on my way - into the surliest traffic I have ever seen. People drove like Romans on crystal meth. There seemed to be no rules. We drove the wrong way down freeway exits, jumped curbs, and cut other cars off (and were cut off in turn), all the while everyone honking and shouting at each other. I found the tension overwhelming, and soon it had worked it's way into the very fiber of my being. I really missed our little old ladies driving with aloha. Hell, I missed yellow lines on the road.

But twenty minutes and I'll be safe in my hotel, I thought. Relax. As if it could be that easy. Many of the routes into the city were closed, blocked by police and military vehicles. Bayram'a problem militair var, the driver explained, cussing and throwing up his hands. There are problems with the military. I wasn't sure how to translate Bayram - he either meant the Bayrampaşa neighborhood (a peasant uprising?) or the Bayram holiday (a coup to mark the end of Ramazan?).

What an ugly day for a coup, I thought. İstanbul was muddy and grey and there were soldiers on the streets and men in dirty ghetto lanes burning trash for warmth. I've read that even in Byzantine times, during the glory days of Justinian, visitors to this city were shocked at how the poor lived. The aristocracy had their palaces gilded with gold; the poor had rivers of mud and filth flowing through their streets.

We finally found a way into the city proper, and as we passed through the stone walls of one of the fallen empires the world went from dull and grey to pretty and light. Suddenly there were tree lined boulevards and smart shops and white and yellow lines on the street that the cars actually followed. I started to see hope for my week in İstanbul.

The taxi let me off by the side of the road, telling me that the main road was closed and that all I had to do was go up the hill and there was my hotel. I believed him. Bad mistake. I paid him, he headed off, and I trudged a road that was more mud than road. See İstanbul Pic 1, and begin inserting two cuss words per sentence.

I was a kilometer from the hotel. It rudged up to İstiklal Cadessi, the main pedestrian thoroughfare, and worked my way through the mud to the Galata Tower. See Pic 2. It wasn't pretty. But at Galata I couldn't find the hotel. I asked directions, and got different responses each time. I went up hill and down hill and in and out of every alley in the neighborhood. I finally bagged it and hailed a taxi to take me the rest of the way.

You are all cussing with me, right? Just making sure. The taxi drove a loop around Beyoğlu, and I knew he was driving in a big circle to drive the meter up but what could I do? Thirteen lira later he drops me off around the corner from the hotel (the main street was closed).

Only the hotel wasn't around the corner, and I was even further away than from when I started. I asked a nice man with a machine gun for directions, and he pointed in the exact same direction I had just walked an hour before. I wanted to cry. I wondered what would happen if I just sat down in the mud, right there in the middle of the street, and gave up. I was wet, tired, and hungry, and far from comfort.

I trudged on. I got back tot he Galata Tower. I began asking for directions. And everyone was very nice and helpful and completely useless. They would take me by the hand, point down a street, and assure me the hotel was right there. Down the hill. Or up around the bend. Or just behind that building there. And it had now been hours that I'd been walking, and I knew I was close, and yet I could not find the address. Mind you, I did have the address - it's ust that no one recognized the street name.

Since the 'avenue' turned out to be about 10 meters long I can't blame them. I finally went into a bakery and asked to use the phone. They were kind, and said they knew right where the hotel was, but before they could send me over the river and through the woods I started begging: Dignity exit, stage left.

So they called, and the hotel sent a kid to find me and walk me the rest of the way. And I would have never found it from their directions (most guests come from the airport and are picked up by the hotel). I was feeling pretty pathetic by then, and all I wanted was a hug. I had talked to the manager a few times online, and I built up a delightful little scenario on how I would walk into the hotel and I would be greated like lost family. And it was a nice fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. I walked into the lobby, mud splattered and tired and probably with a slightly crazy look in my eye. Translation: no hug. I was lucky to get a handshake.

They did feed me though, and that made me feel better. I'm easy that way. I walked around a bit after, and this city might not be so bad afterall. The sun came out for a bit, folks are crowding the streets, and I can start to picture how a week here could be alright. First, though, I'm going to take a long nap and then start this day over.

Oh - and there was no problem militaire. They had blocked the streets for a parade. In the words of the hotel manager: the taxi drivers here are all full of sh*t.

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