Offline in Istanbul

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Based on content extracted from my travelblog (www.travelblog.org) between 14/08/14 – 24/08/14.

I know much has been written about this incredible city. As my travel guide says in the preface ‘if ever there was a happening city is has to be Istanbul.’ Ok, I’m sure that could be said of a few other great metropolitans but Istanbul is, I can confirm, a very, very busy place. I won’t say too much because I’m rather exhausted. You see I have spent most of the day trying to change a flight ticket and it has been very, very frustrating. The crux of the issue is that I have not been technologically agile enough to negotiate the change in dates and attendant fee differences. Ataturk airport has NO INTERNET TERMINALS people. It has plenty of wi-fi but without a gadget you are hamstrung, as I was today. If you are new to the internet/cybercafe scene in Turkey you are in for some more brain-taxing puzzle solving as you find yourself confronted by a keyboard with an extended alphabet: ç,ş,ğ & ü are on the right of the qwerty adjacent to the return key and the regular ‘i’ on the English keyboard has exchanged places with its Turkish cousin ‘ı’ without the dot (hence the fact that my text is a binary creature – not every ‘i’ has been dotted). Other characters like @ and $ are activated via an Alt Gr key so touch-typing proves difficult.

If ever there was a happening city is has to be Istanbul

Anyway, I have soldiered on at various ‘I’ cafes, at the Otogar (coach station) and near Aksaray, yet it has been as if I have been beating my head against a brick wall. The real culprit I have to confess is not the cryptic keyboard but Skyscanner.com, that great all-seeing oracle through whom the world’s many air terminals are connected. It failed me badly today. It promised me flight bookings only to find that, after being redirected to airline or broker websites, it was all a lie. No tickets! What a mad month August is. I must try and unwind now and hope that my travel agent in the Netherlands can find me an amended fare in the morning. I’m shattered….

So the moral of the story is… try get your bookings done in advance and if there is a chance you are going to make or change a booking on the run so to speak, make sure you have the right tech in hand. Mostly though I am the idiot. Travelling without a gadget these days is a bit like having a passport without any pages. You are going to find yourself in difficulties at some point, particularly if you are dependent on the technology for blogging, travel bookings, flight changes etc on the go. Lesson learnt.

Stepping back from practical considerations, flight oversights and worries... but still nursing a hangover.

Stepping back from practical considerations, flight oversights and worries… but still nursing a hangover.

Travelling without a gadget these days is a bit like having a passport without any pages.

As I mentioned it is a year down the line and here I am back in Europe’s largest city, or the Middle East’s depending on your definition of the geographic boundaries. What has changed? If anything it seems more frenetic this time around. I checked into a hostel last Thursday near Taksim and have used it as a base to explore the city. I came without any sort of sightseeing agenda, having done a fair bit of that stuff last year. Primarily I wanted to escape the confines of my life in the UK, however fleeting it may be. To this end I have really enjoyed meeting new faces and engaging with young vibrant young travellers from all over. I hadn’t really realised how lonely life can be in the West without a community. Whereas there I am a visitor amongst residents (extended family included), here I am amongst a community of visitors. We are reliant on each other in so many ways the community back in England is not. The flip side of the coin is that I have somehow regressed since last year to become a stereotypical, naïve turista.

Just this morning I got taken for a ride on a batch of laundry, paying well above the going rate because I was essentially bullied by an overbearing, rude man in a dry-cleaners cum launderette. The recommended place was only a 100 yards up the road as I discovered too late and am 25 TL poorer as a result. Yesterday I fell for an old trick: ‘I give you gift’ turned out to be ‘I give you a free chain and tag but charge you through the nose when I write your name on it.’ I know it is the same the world over but I feel I should be little wiser for my travels.

Yesterday I fell for an old trick: ‘I give you gift’ turned out to be ‘I give you a free chain and tag but charge you through the nose when I write your name on it.’

The Stray Cat HostelI guess what I am saying is that there are many sharks out there and if you visit Istanbul try to take some local advice from those who do not stand to profit from your naïvety. The guys and gals who work in the hostel are great for instance. They can be relied on for some solid advice. Perhaps due to my lack of awareness more than anything I have felt a little indifferent toward the inhabitants of Istanbul this time around. Anyway, a little more on the hostel and the characters therein. I have met quite a few, some stereotypes, others quite their own persons.

From Aussie, Tim, a madcap Aussie who was all go after a few drinks. He landed up losing Dave and I and going off to a Turkish house-party at 4 in the morning with 3 girls we had only met a few hours before.

Firstly, Hannah, a lovely Canadian girl who majored in philosophy and English and with whom conversation has been food for my soul. Also from that side of the Atlantic, Brett, a fairly conservative American soldier who loved clubbing and Turkish women (his words) but was loath to spend money on public services (frustrating companion). Oh yeah, he also told everyone who asked that he flew UAV’s for the US Army (definitely the sort of information to keep to one’s self). Next, Dave, a softly spoken and exceptionally intelligent American from Boulder who had worked for NASA and was now working for a company building a weather satellite. A lovely guy and a dead-ringer for a young Bob Dylan. Sharing my dorm for several nights was Jake, a rather intense Chinese-Canadian, a bit older at 40 years, with whom I never really broke the ice. From Aussie, Tim, a madcap Aussie who was all go after a few drinks. He landed up losing Dave and I and going off to a Turkish house-party at 4 in the morning with 3 girls we had only met a few hours before. Also sharing my dorm was an Aussie, Colin, an Asian-Australian who has been tracking all across Europe by train.

From L to R: Dave, Tim, Ayse (resident friend), Brett, Me (yellow shirt)

From L to R: Dave, Tim, Ayse (resident friend), Brett, Me (yellow shirt)

I even met a South African guy from Port Shepstone who now lives in Ankara with his mum. He was a student of architecture travelling with his Turkish girlfriend and some other students mates. He confirmed what I had heard from so many other young white South Africans: I don’t feel like there is a place for me in the country today. Much like my home country, Zimbabwe, the nationalist pendulum has swung back to the right, except that it was a black élite now and not a white, that was benefitting. He was making a new life for himself in Turkey which I applaud. Screw nationalism and politics of race – Honestly. Once upon a time I embraced affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment and whatever other acronyms or synonyms exist for essentially the same thing – discriminatory practices given a veneer of legality – because I had this quaint notion that two wrongs really could make a right. It doesn’t work that way.

So I have just discovered, as an aside and rather embarrassingly at this juncture, that the keyboard can be adapted to an English language configuration by clicking on the language button near the date and time at bottom right. As I said before, I am as green as the next tourist. Take it easy folks: the Thessalonian Walls await me!

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