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Trip Report Who’s in charge of continents?

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On the plane, the tourists are decidedly older. Turkey is not the first country for Americans to visit. At least on this day, at this time of year, on this flight, there are more liver spots than backpacks

The cell phone towers and the minarets pierce the rain clouds as we drive from Ataturk Airport to the Asian side of Istanbul. Although I am sure other cities have an equal number of churches or synagogues, the minarets that announce the prayers also announce each grand dome of a mosque. With the open space that often surrounds the mosque, the people seem more religious here than in other cities.

We chose this hotel because we are taking an early flight the following morning from a different airport. After a 45 minute drive the cab driver cannot find the hotel although we provided him with instructions in Google Turkish and a map. He stops other taxis, truck drivers, and vans asking them where it might be. He almost knocks over a middle-aged woman. Pedestrians seem to be a common annoyance, like scampering roaches, and aiming for them an accepted sport. And although this is the Asian side of Istanbul, this area has a distinctly European look. It is basically a working class neighborhood on the Sea of Marmara that could be found in Spain.

We are greeted at the hotel by a very amiable young woman and the Turkish room clerk from Fawlty Tours. We are immediately plied with apricot juice and sweets. We drink and sample the food to indicate we are gracious guests. My credit cards do not work, even though I called them and told them we would be out of the country. AMEX has a new policy where they say it is not necessary to inform them of such movement. Andrea’s credit card works for some reason. The male accompanies us to the room to demonstrate how use the remote to turn on the A/C and heat but turns on the TV.

The hotel is new and modern. The bathroom is separated from the sleeping area by a wall that contains a Venetian blind between two pieces of glass. This interesting design is thwarted by an inoperable switch which is supposed to close the blind but has left the blinds in the open position. Yes, you can see what is going on and if you do not close the shades on the windows so can everyone else.

As we walk back to the front office, the owner stops us and we tell him how our credit cards did not work and the people were very kind about the situation. He becomes our new best friend and when I am on the phone with AMEX and MC, he pours some expensive cognac which I pretend it is more apricot juice since I do not drink but I cannot refuse his overture. I have not really slept in a day due to the 10 hour flight and now my knees are wobbly, at least my throat is warm. Hotel Park 156 is a compilation of amusing contradictions. We would recommend it save for the disabled or older seniors. Everything is on a hill and there are some steps as well.

The young woman tells Andrea that a drink is the answer to many of the owner’s problems. We tell him if ever comes to NY we will show him around. He says he has all personal information and knows where to find us. We walk around this working class neighborhood and head for the sea. We are an oddity, it is like tourists visiting anyone’s neighborhoods where there is no particular attraction. There are a score of ships riding high in the harbor and one that is listing. There are fresh fish markets where the mongers try to sell us fish, even though it is clear we are tourists. What would we do, fry them in our pockets? The mongers love posing with their fish.

We randomly choose a restaurant; the main criterion is that is crowded. We order two dishes that are variations on spiced lamb with a brown rice tinted by tomatoes, Turkish bread, a plate filled with tastes of four distinct salads, and extraordinarily hot roasted green peppers. Everything is very satisfying, fresh, and tasty, what for them are every day dishes. All for $14 and a tip. A little girl come to our table and stares at me. Maybe she has seen what Dick Cheney and an aged Richard Dreyfus on TV. Her mother whisks her away.

Speaking of other continents. You would think continents would be separated by great bodies of water, impassable mountain ranges, or some distinguishable characteristic? Something more than a speed bump or some bridge. It is the only major city in the world on two continents. Oh, are you staying on the Left Bank or North America? Are you staying in Manhattan or New Jersey? Maybe, that is not a good analogy. Who decides where continents begin and end? The same people who invented the continental breakfast? The place seems to be gerrymandered by politicians, but it is unclear to a new visitor who is the beneficiary.

Everyone knows that Istanbul was once called Byzantium (Byzantion to the Greeks) and Constantinople and that Thrace ends at the European border of the city. They changed the names when it was cheaper to do so. They did not need to issue new business cards and letterhead and people did not have to write in their annual Christmas letter of an address change. I hope they do not change the name again in the next two weeks when we return for a longer stay in Istanbul. We have reservations and I would hate to have trouble finding a hotel again.

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