Greetings from Istanbul
With my attention focused mainly on the Democratic candidates during the American presidential primaries, I found myself vaguely intrigued by the fresh, almost non-political approach the ultra-wealthy Donald Trump brought to the political discussions, especially his expressions of concern for the economic welfare of ordinary hard working people. My impression of the guy led me to believe he understood the fundamental injustice of the continuing wide gap between the tiny minority of people who are astronomically wealthy and the vast majority who cannot even meet all of their basic needs despite conscientious hard work. Of the several Republican candidates, he seemed in my opinion closest to resonating with the most socially responsible Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders.
Frankly, based on his interactions with the media I didn't think Donald Trump had the intelligence to lead our country. He seemed crazy to me!
"Sure, he is crazy; crazy like a fox!" a good friend quipped. I couldn't help thinking of the old saying: "You don't want to put a fox in charge of guarding the hen house." Like the fox in the chicken coup, Trump now president, is demonstrating that he never intended to protect the hens and many of the chicken ranchers still haven't caught on! Read "Trumpís budget breaks campaign promises and further divides the nation," one analyst's thoughtful assessment of this confusing situation. View also this recent Bernie Sanders commentary on the subject. I find it difficult to understand why many among the hoodwinked electorate haven't asked more probing questions... and demanded answers!
That Donald Trump has been able to accumulate such a large loyal following by appealing to the unwavering prejudices of his support base does not speak well of the intellectual integrity of the American electorate right now! Why do people adopt and cling to unfounded conspiracy theories with such religious fervor? Have some of our brains simply evolved to crave the kind of certainty only available in a religious context? Does facing evidence that conflicts with currently held beliefs cause painfully intolerable cognitive dissonance in some of us?
While I have the soapbox out, I might as well reintroduce another concern which I and other scientifically trained individuals actually may be able to do something about. Climate change is still a contentious issue and should not be. Those of us with academic training in logical/scientific thinking are in a favored position to help friends find their way through all the conflicting arguments floating around.
To bolster our credibility, we do need to refresh our knowledge of the most recent facts and arguments being advanced by both sides. With fresh awareness of the scientific realities we can then speak with informed authority in a way that can be appreciated by the nontechnical. To start the review, take a look at this excellent collection of sources. I have done this repeatedly and always find myself reaching the same conclusions as a near unanimous majority of professional climate scientists: the earth and all life on it is in BIG trouble, if not in our lifetime, then in that of our grandchildren! That makes it my problem... and yours. Climate conspiracies do not deserve equal time in the media! Short term economic costs of action now also becomes irrelevant in the face of an eventual existential crises, president Trump's short sighted priorities not withstanding.
I left Bangkok just after midnight of 13 May using my accumulated American Airlines frequent flyer miles. The plane stopped four hours in Amman Jordan before continuing on to Istanbul. Total travel time including the layover was about 17 hours getting us into Istanbul early afternoon. As I had processed an e-visa online, check in proceeded quickly after paying the $20 visa fee in cash US dollars. Transportation is very convenient as there is a Metro station right at the airport. After one transfer I arrived at the Sultanahmet stop not far from the Hagia Sophia complex and the Valide Sultan Konagi Hotel I'd booked a short distance down the hill behind it. The unique boutique hotel is fine for a few nights and from its hillside perch offers spectacular views of the nearby Hagia Sophia Museum on one side and the busy shipping traffic over the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus on the other. Breakfast is always a celebration, more like party snacks than the more usual "ham and eggs" hotel fare.
The compact sleeping rooms are adequate for a night or two, but do not offer enough work space for a writer wanting to spend endless hours at a keyboard. To make matters worse, the hotel climate control already assumed hot weather air conditioning... no heat and the room remained chilly my entire stay. I had planned to spend only two nights before moving over to the more appropriate Best Western President Hotel also used in previous visits. However, the President had no rooms available until Friday the 19th, three days later. So, I enjoyed the Valide top floor breakfast dining room for a total of five nights, exploring the interesting surrounding neighborhoods and delighting in the colorful hotel staff who never missed a chance to offer me another glass of tea upon return from my frequent walks. I got plenty of exercise, but could not stick to a low carbohydrate diet as baklava is available in every other store along the hilly paths I walked.
On three occasions I received rude treatment in American franchise restaurants: twice in Mac Donald's and once in a Burger King. It actually felt like ethnic discrimination. The carpet touts are thicker than ants around spilled sugar. Opportunistic impromptu guides are persistent and impolite at every tourist attraction, insisting only they can assure the visitor a worthwhile experience.
As soon as a room became available in the Best Western Plus President Hotel I eagerly made the switch... pretty much ignoring all the hectic shipping turmoil on the streets and sidewalks around the hotel, reasoning the porter congestion obstacles presented dolly dodging issues only while infrequently entering or leaving the hotel.
Countless small manufacturing shops populate the buildings in this district and product shipping is an endless activity seven days a week. Porters dash madly about, obviously pressed to meet urgent deadlines. Some carry special "back racks" to accommodate the huge plastic encased bundles of goods being shipped, but others simply hustle about with the bulging bags on their shoulders. The majority use two or four wheel dollies which routinely challenge any hapless pedestrian getting in their way. Several near misses prompted me to a high state of alert when anywhere around the hotel garment district. On the plus side, store fronts in the area display samples of gorgeous shoes, handbags, travel bags, gowns, etc. This would be an ideal place for a women to arrive in her bathing suit and then spend the first few days acquiring a new fashionable wardrobe at bargain prices.
Mindful of the lavish breakfast food selections served on the sixth floor with its glorious panoramic views of the Sea of Marmara and calming background music selections, I booked my room (#137 with a rare walk-in shower stall) in the President four days at a time. A long term negotiated nightly rate of 50 Euros makes this an extraordinary value. I ended up staying a total of 35 nights while searching different areas of the city for other interesting, great value hotels. Many looked promising, but none prompted me to make a switch until I discovered the comparably priced Nidya Hotel Galataport on the Taksim side of the Golden Horn waterway.
Prices for everything are now listed in Euros as well as US Dollars and Turkish Lira. That is a noticeable change from my previous visit a few years ago, no doubt a consequence of the ongoing debate over Turkey's desire to join the European Union.
Riding the trams and buses is a delight for this white haired octogenarian as young people fight for the honor of relinquishing their seat for the decrepit one. On occasion I have protested there is no need to get me off my feet, but always to no avail. Most offers come from teens and young adults of both genders.
This is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (called Ramazan in Turkey) during which the devout observe daylight hours fasting, but I see hoards of Muslims enjoying daytime meals in cafes all over town. Asked about this apparent deviation from prescribed religious observance, I'm told many Turkish Muslims consider the practice optional. However, shortly after sundown one day I stumbled on a group of five men settling into their breaking-the-fast meal on the grass next to the sidewalk as I meandered along an early evening stroll. With great fanfare they enthusiastically urged me to join their celebration! That is something I have seen in other Muslim countries, but almost never here in Turkey. I assume the vacillating desire to join the European Union might have something to do with the more casual attitudes toward religious observances.
After three weeks in the excellent Best Western President Hotel with the porter congested sidewalks, I finally moved over to the Nidya Hotel not far from Taksim, another major tourist center in Istanbul. Half of the rooms offer ever changing views of the nautical traffic on the Bosphorus. That could change as a huge high rise building is currently under construction across the street between the hotel and the water way. Built in 2013, the guest rooms reflect intelligent design choices and are very comfortable. With great views, my room is nearly perfect, though I soon encountered periodic problems with the WiFi (mostly due to Turkish government censorship!).
The included breakfast in the Nidya ground floor restaurant is mediocre. Early during my six night stay I experienced limited attention to guest needs by some serving staff. Fake fruit juices, fresh fruit limited to a bowl of mixed cut up pieces, no egg station and improperly prepared hard boiled eggs (hard to peel) all contrasted with the excellent physical plant, the cordial reception and meticulous housekeeping staffs. Fresh orange juice or an omelet would would cost an extra $3 I learned! No one starves, but dish selections and culinary finesse will receive few rave reviews and do not reflect the hotel's high star rating. Still, this $40 ($57 with sea view) four star house is among the best values I have discovered in Istanbul. Only four years old, it already would benefit from a serious management review, however. After just six nights I scurried back over to the comfortable President where I discovered my earlier mention to the staff that I preferred decaffeinated coffee must have prompted someone to add a jar of instant Nescafe Gold to the tea and coffee selections. Hooray! What a place.
Early in June I began having trouble with Internet access to Google Search and Gmail. It began to look like sending out postcards from Turkey might not be possible! More patience and some research calmed my anxiety and eventually windows of opportunity opened periodically with brief periods of full access! I remain optimistic. Having grown accustom to using Google advanced search, I explored Yahoo advanced search as an emergency alternative and found it tolerable... when absolutely necessary.
The ninety day Turkish visa I received on entering the country means I can take my time with onward itinerary planning. That's a good thing because I've discovered hotel rates everywhere in Europe are now astronomically high... especially compared to Turkey.
I'm still thinking of heading to Iceland, possibly by way of Ireland before returning to Los Vegas. However, as I'm in no hurry to leave Turkey, I'm now planning a detour up to some of the coastal towns on the southern shores of the Black Sea. An agent in the government tourist office suggested Amasra. Nearby seaside Amasra is the historically important town of Safranbolu, a World Heritage site about 50 miles inland to the southeast.
Several people here in Turkey have now confirmed that western tourists have been avoiding Turkey since the terrorists attacks. One tour operator claimed their packaged tour traffic is down 80% from just before the attacks a few years ago and that most of their clients are now Arabs with little interest in their predominantly cultural tours! I'm thinking this might be a good time to explore areas in northern Turkey missed during previous visits. More when something noteworthy happens.
Fred L Bellomy
Following the lead of China, early this month Turkey
increased the frequency of blocking
Google applications including
Gmail and the Google search engine. That is a huge
disruption of my Internet activities adding one more
impediment to staying in touch with everyone... not that
I needed any more excuses. Three years ago the Turkish
Twitter and more surprisingly
Wikipedia! The stepped up Google blocking is a
recent development and is still being evaluated by
This is Ramazon Ililing, front
office manager whom I met while investigating the
Nidya Hotel. His excellent English and engaging personality made it
easy for me to linger a while in order to appreciate some less obvious
features of this recently constructed hotel on the Bosphorus.