I arrived in Istanbul yesterday and had the chance to see a few sights plus one of the famous fish sandwiches sold from boats on the water. All my electronics were dead but there were two big upsides to this. One, borrowing a great professional-looking photo is a welcome change from my dismal photography and two, my roommates and I in a six-bed dorm managed to actually get along great despite sharing one power plug for all of us. Quite the feat, really.
Today is hot at 30 C but I am laying low in the best library that I’ve even been to. It’s called SALT and is the former location of the Ottoman Bank in the 19th Century. I am doing a catch up day for this neglected blog and travel logistics so have yet to explored, but what I do know it that is has air conditioning, the fastest WiFi I have seen in a month, conformable chairs, marble everywhere and for some reason there are loads of books in English. And the vintage bank vault is awesome. More details are at this great blog which is also the source of the two following photos.
Coming into Istanbul I left behind the tattered Lonely Planet guidebook that I picked up on the road. One of it’s European top experiences is “get lost”, per below. Challenge accepted.
My top 3 experiences in getting lost have to be the following:
1) Winding up in Harlem by accident. Twice.
In New York I was excited to see Tom’s Restaurant of Seinfeld fame. It’s pretty close to Harlem and I ended up there en route to Central Park. It seemed like a nice place.
Later, in Amsterdam, I was staying a fair bit out of downtown. There was a train station nearby (with a Starbucks that did refills for €0.50 — something I hope is never adopted in Canada I’d be far too caffeinated… or would switch to decaf.) Gary Larson’s thoughts on too much caffeine are immortalized on my favorite mug.
I hopped a train and the scenery was getting more and more rural. This seemed rather unfitting of a big cty. It was not a long trip but suddenly I was in an entirely different place: Haarlem. It seemed like a nice place so it’s too bad that I didn’t stick around to explore. It also alludes to NYC’s Dutch heritage.
2) Transit Scofflaw Part I: Belgium
I got lost a lot in Brussels. When I arrived and it managed to take 2.5 hours to get from the train station to the hostel, but that’s called taking the scenic route. Yet, when I got off at the correct metro stop I knew I was finally making progress. Somewhere in my euphoria I lost my ticket stub. I should have known to keep it as the exits were turnstiled in London too but it slipped my mind. I was confronted with this exit situation: the gates were about 5′ tall.
It was a nearly abandoned station and there were no transit employees in the station. I used an intercom to get some advice.
“Buy another ticket!”
Not high on my list of things to do, but a valid
tax on stupidity learning experience. I roamed the station for a ticket dispenser… but finally realized that they were all outside the gates.
I sized up the gates. It would have been tricky to scale with my 30-some kilos of gear and I had not packed my bags to withstand any impacts from being dropped, let alone from nearly 5′ up. Plus, I needed to be subtle because Belgium seemed to be very orderly and such antisocial behavior would be frowned upon. Clambering over the top seemed to be a lousy way to earn a ticket to a Belgian jail and was a bad idea all around.
The solution: I went in the handicapped exit and pushed a bunch of buttons and shook the gate. Freedom at least!
3) Transit Scofflaw Part II: Prague
I did a great walking tour of Prague that started at 2:00 pm. There were a lot of great sights to be had. The Franz Kafka statue made me want to read Kafka, so when it ended 3.5 hours later it was off to the Starbucks to find an e-book afterwards.
Later, reading done, I was back to roaming the city. It was getting dark but Prague’s sights seem to be very well lit-up.
It was about 9pm when I decided to walk back to my hostel. I had a map but those seem to take a backseat to intuition. Things weren’t too terribly familiar but it was a great walk because even the graffiti (very rare) complimented the art on the streets.
It was all very inspiring so I decided to buy a beer at a corner store and relax and brainstorm ideas for anything/everything. It was great to just relax and watch the world go by.
By about 11pm I set off for home. A half an hour later I realized that I was in the completely wrong part of town. I recognized the tram number as one stopping near my hostel though, so I hopped on for my first Czech transit experience. In Amsterdam they let you pay on board and I’d hoped to see that as well but there were no people or ticket dispensers. It turned out they sell them in little dispensers for 10 Czech Koruna (40-some cents). Within two minutes so guy was trying to politely get my attention. I gave the ‘get out of here’ hand wave and ignored him. He persisted and showed me his badge: transit police. Oh. Perhaps I ought to have used a map after all. The ticket sounds grim at 800 Koruna fine but it’s barely 1/3 of a Canadian speeding ticket. In retrospect I could have spent less time reading Kafka and more time reading a guidebook (my used LP book had the Czech chapter torn out*) to have avoided this
tax on stupidity learning experience, but it’s part of the travel fun. I’m just lucky that I had it in bills because I don’t have a credit card or bank card with me on a day-to-day basis. While this left me with an empty wallet and nothing but coins, but it’s a much better outcome than coming up short. Who knows, maybe the old Soviet-era batons are a pillar of the transit policing policy.
*I remember doing this to my 1048 page South America guidebook trying to trim down bulk a few years ago. It’s not a very clever strategy — it’s time consuming, wrecks the book and does little to knock-down the bulk.