Monday, April 23, 2012

Hostile Cab Drivers,Helpful Locals and Mark Twain

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We all have stories to tell of hostile cab drivers whether NYC, Hong Kong or ISTANBUL.  My girlfriend and I decided to head directly to the Grand Bazaar and we asked the concierge how much a cab would cost from the hotel to the Bazaar.  He said pay no more than 20 Turkish lira (1.44 lira to the dollar).  We verify with our driver that it will be MAXIMUM 20 lira.  16 lira it cost.  After having fun getting lost in the maze of the Bazaar, we head outside to get a cab.  The first cab driver:  we got in the cab, asked to verify the price, 20 EURO!  When we said no, he backed up at lightening speed so as not to lose his place in line, and shooed us out.  Next cab driver:no.  Next: no.  Next: no.  Finally I see a policeman and ask for his help.  Would he really help?  He also verified that we should pay no more than 20 lira.  He asked 3 other cabs and they all said no.  He finally shouted to a cab driver driving in the opposite direction to take us.  He did at 16 lira.  We quickly learned to only get cabs at hotels or restaurants.  We had a great seafood meal at Sur Balik on the Bosporus. Yes, there are Starbucks but no commemorative Istanbul coffee mugs.  Drat!  Read more...

We are walking toward the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia trying to figure out which way to go.  A very well dressed man came along beside us and asked what we were trying to find.  We said the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (well, you can clearly see them but trying to find the entrances is another story).  He said he'd be happy to take us there and advised us to go to the Mosque first because it was getting ready to close for prayers.  He told us he was not a guide but was going to the Mosque for prayers.  He really was a very nice man and showed us the new carpeting on the floor which has a pattern on it to show you where your feet should be placed, where your knees should be as well as your elbows, hands and head.  He did a great job of telling us the Mosque's history.  We then asked him what he did for a living.  Ready?  He sold carpets and his store was, well, just around the corner.  It seems that the local merchants are using a lower key approach to soliciting tourists.  They troll for possible tourists, ask what you're looking for and take you there, all the while proclaiming they're not guides, which they truly aren't.  But their store just happens to be close by.  Would you like to look?

It had been 10 years or more since we had been to Istanbul.  Then, it was dirty and very run down.  This time the city was very clean, lots of construction going on with upscale condos.  But, you are still advised not to drink the water.  Even in the hotels. 

Now why do you bring up Mark Twain?  Well I still highly recommend reading Innocents Abroad, Twain's diary of his year long trip to Europe and the middle east.  I began to think of Twain when we were on the island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Twain and his fellow travellers weren't all that nice to their guides.  Once they found out that a guide would say anything to please, then Katy bar the door.  The guide was in for some sort of foolishness (the original ugly Americans).  Back to Delos.   The island is covered in Greek and Roman ruins.  Our guide wasn't the best.   We could tell that some of the things we were seeing were replicas.  But she wouldn't admit it but then she would and then she wouldn't.  So, we got to the point of about every so many minutes asking her if something was real or not.  She'd stammer and hem and ha and yes, no, yes, no.  Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say, it became funny. The thing I enjoyed about Delos was the beautiful wild flowers.  Absolutely stunning.   
And then it began to rain...

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