ISTANBUL: BEYOND IMAGINATION
By: Neneng Tarigan
Part I: Traveling.
Traveling around the globe for some, especially the rich is like a life style, but for most people especially the have not, or those with limited budget like me, is actually a dream and a desire. Nonetheless, for all people in this universe I believe traveling makes us all, as we were all living in heaven on earth. I did say that because, my late father would happily spent 70% of his income for the food, the education and the domestic traveling experiences for his 7 beloved naughty children. As I grew older, because of my education and work, I then was able to travel to more than 40 countries in the world and would do that again till my last breath taken me away from this world. I will work hard, save and spend my income especially for traveling.
Traveling makes me stronger as a Christian believer. I love to see places, to admire what God has created to the world and to the human beings. I presumed other religion shared the same views in their own ways.
Part II: Missperception.
Istanbul is always one of my dream places to visit and see. I heard and watch many beautiful stories about this historical city from friends, TVs and internets. However, before I departed to Istanbul on 9 February 2011, my friends shared the unpleasant experiences they had with the taxi drivers, the hypnotists and the lost of their precious things in the lift or while they were among crowds in Istanbul and Ankara. Aghast, few months before my traveling, 3 Turkish consisted of a lady and two men were caught by CCTV, hypnotizing sales girls and stole some money and goods in one of the supermarkets in Indonesia. So, this bad impression embeded in my head before I departed to Istanbul.
Arriving at Ata Turk International Airport of Istanbul I was so horribly shock, because my baggage seemed so very much changed, no plastic cover or first priority tag embeded in the bag, but the small lock still hang as it was untouched at all, so I presumed the Dutch security or KLM was applying a new rule that no plastic cover allowed on board of KLM. I didn't have any guts to open and check my luggage that time, not only because there were only few people left at the baggage claim counter since my luggage was one among the latest that came out from the rolling rail, but I also I was so frantic that if I open and check my luggage, I might be hypnotized by some strangers around. Traveling alone make me always full in control and have a very high alert of what is happening around me. So I calmed down myself, went to the toilet for call of nature.
Out of the baggage claim, I looked for the taxi to take me to the hotel I booked. I had been fully informed by the internet, that distance between Kent Hotel Beyazit and the airport is 20 minutes drive. Then, I went to the taxi counter and asked how much would it be from the airport to the Hotel; the man in the counter said: “US$60.-” I said: “Why is that so expensive, it is not so far away?” “Well”: he said: “I give you US$100.- for return ticket.” I said: “Why should I take a return ticket, I don't have any plan to return to this airport today?” “Well, that is the price I can give”: he said. I didn't respond to what he said and just walked out from the airport lobby and saw so many people waited for the taxi. Actually there were many taxi queing around, but seemed, nobody take the taxi. A policeman came and approaching me and said “ You need a taxi mam?” “Yes I do”: I said. Then he said: “Take this one.” “Well, how much is it”: I said. “Fifty dolar”: He said. “ No way, I don't want to pay that much, I need a taxi meter” :I said. Then he said to me politely: “This is a taxi meter mam, you pay may be only 30 Turkish Lira (Note US$1.- = 1.59 TL)” and then he ordered the taxi driver to take me to Kent Hotel and use the agrometer. The policeman spoke to me very convincingly:”Don't worry mam, you are in a good hand”
Entering the taxi, I said to the driver:”Assalamualaikum” He was rather surprised and answered me:”Walaikumsalam, are you Muslim” “No”: I said:”I am Christian, but it is accustom in my country Indonesia to greet people that way” “Ooo...”: he said:”No program, Christian, Muslim the same” I understand what he meant with “No program is no problem” Ice breaking and we became very friendly. On the way to the hotel, I took a lot of picture with my cell phone, he seemed a little bit panic, maybe he tought I was taking his picture, but actually I was not and I would never do that without permission. He said: “What a very beautiful cell phone, can I see?” I show him the phone without suspicion and he gave it back nicely to me.
Along the way to Kent Hotel, I was totally overwhelmed by the beauty of Istanbul. So many open spaces and public facilities along the Golden Horn river and the Bosphorus strait. “Oh my God” : I said to the driver: “I knew that Istanbul is beautiful, but this is really beyond my imagination.”
The city is so clean and beatiful; the remnants of the historical buildings, the mosques, the fortresses, the parks, the cemeteries, the boats, the trams, the buses, the views, every single thing is so fantastically beautiful.....I must say...Istanbul is heaven on earth!!! I didn't exagerate this. I have been to Cancun and Los Cabos Mexico, they are beautiful too, but this one is so special, so exotic, so warmth though the temprature that time was only 10 Celsius Centigrade Degree.
Arriving at the hotel, I paid the taxi for Tl 40.- though the meter says only TL 32.- “Take the change”: I said:” I like you, because you are a good guy” He seemed so happy and with smile he said:”Alhamdulilah mam, may Allah bless you more than what you gave to me” “I pray for you and your family too, Chentin! (It was his name); thank you so much for taking me here safely”. We said good bye and that was the first pleasant memory I had in Istanbul!
In the hotel entrance, I was welcomed by the bell boy and the receptionist. They served me with a little cup of aromatic delicious Turkish tea. They check my booking and said:”Yes mam, everything is settled, you paid us already, this is your key, this is your wi-fi code and my colleague will take you to your room” Gee ...I said in my heart, how very polite.
The standard room of this four star hotel is comfortable. Free wi-fi, beautiful shower room, LCD TV, king bed, hair dryer, deposit box, well of course I can't compare it with Marriott Hotel where I am a member, because Marriott is five star hotel chain and I am only able to stay in that kind of hotel during promotion period, but this hotel room is quite clean, this is the first thing I need in a hotel.
I had no small change to give to the bell boy. I can't give him US10.-; US 5.- may be, but not US$10.- I am not rich, so I just say thanks to him. That handsome bell boy smile politely and noded. Another pleasant experience I had with Turkish people.
Part III: The Joy of Shopping and the Lost of Precious Thing.
Kent Hotel, beyazit, Istanbul, is a four star hotel, located in one of the main street plus touristic area where tram, public buses, taxi, shopping centre, grand bazaar, old mosques, univercities, museums, leather goods, textiles, carpets, jewelries, handycrafts etc are located and all reachable by walking distance. The vendors and the retailers are all very helpful and polite. They bargain, but they don't force us to buy. I went to the Grand Bazar, walking alone and I felt so safe, people were very friendly, no hypnotists at all. They asked me: “Hey are you Philippinas or are you Malaysian” I said:”No, I am Indonesian” So...you are Muslim?” “Nope, I am Christian: I said” and they were smile and answered me back:”No...program or no problem...the same...” I smile..I love these friendly peoples... I felt as if I stayed among friends....how very fortunate I was.
First day in Istanbul, after shopping, I fall in a very deep sleep. The next day I went for another shopping, I realize that people here are highly fashionable, they have high quality products, of course the goods are quite expensive at least to me as Indonesian where, food, textiles and almost everything in my country relatively much cheaper than in Turkey. However, I can't help my self of not buying, the goods were all too good to be left avoided, so I just shopped and shopped till my legs and hands got tired and cramped...Geee....I love shopping in this place...though I know I will regret later for these excessive and incontrollable spendings.
The second day then I realized that I lost the laptop and it wires from my luggage. “Come on Neneng”: I said to myself after analyzing and looked at the luggage. I probably lost it already in my own airport in Jakarta, because, they were the one who did screen my bag there and they knew what the contents were. It was also my mistake of putting the laptop inside the baggage, instead of carrying it in the cabin bag. But I regret why KLM did not pay attention to their passangers bags and why there were still a very weak control towards the handlings system including the way they handle their passangers bags in the airport. I really feel unsecured because there were many important office files inside the laptop which I have not erase yet after my retirement in 1 November last year. Of course the Hewlet Pacard laptop was locked and need a password to open it, but thieves are more skillfull, so I could only wish these criminals will get cought one day!
Part IV: The Historical Istanbul and The Most Professional Travel Agency Ever.
The third day in Istanbul I went to a Full day tour with Turista Travel Agency which I booked from my country via the internet. I got mad first because they did not pick me up till 3 phone calls I made to remind them about my schedule. With lot of apologize they fetched me at my hotel and brought me to the tour. Mustafa, our young tour guide welcome me and waited at the Spice Bazaar where the tour begun. There were only 7 people in the tour; a couple from the Philippines, Randa a young man from Srilanka, Laila and her mom from Switzerland, Gloria from Peru and I. They were all busy shopping in the spice store recommended by Mustafa when I met them. After taken some pictures and grabbed some pistaches and tea boxes to bring home, I went out from the bazaar. For me, taken pictures of the historical buildings around was the most important.
Spice Bazaar is the second oldest bazaar in Istanbul and built between 1597 and 1664. Like Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar is also very clean and they are not only selling spices, but also, gold, jewelries, silver, carpets, clothes etc.
Side by side with Spice Bazaar, we can find several mosques in the square and the largest around this corner is Rustem Pasha Mosque a roman style mosque built in 1560 for Rustem Pasha, son in law and the grand vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent. As usual some vendors will approach us and offer us to buy some stuff such as perfumeries, watches, handicrafts etc. Don't worry, they would never force us to buy although they are very persuasive and active. To me, they are people, with full spirit to survive and I really admired their spirit.
After Spice Bazaar we went for a cruising along the Bosphorus Strait. Hundreds of boats big and small busily cruising along this beautiful strait.
The Bosphorus strait connects the sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and separates Europe and Asia, making Istanbul one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the only one city built astride two continents (according to our local guide Mustafa, there is another small town in Turkey lies astride two continent like Istanbul that they called ...., but they just mentioned Istanbul since Istanbul is one of the most attractive cities in Turkey for foreign tourists). According to Mustafa, 9 million people live in the Asian side of Istanbul that is used more as residential area and 6 million live in the European side that is more as commercial centre of Istanbul. This cruise along the Bosphorus will allow us to admire the Dolmabahce Palace, the Beylerbeyi Palace, the Ciragan Palace, the Rumeli Fortress, ancient wooden villas and bridges and all the wonderful and unige maritime landscapes along the strait or in the hill as you can see in the following slides.
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After cruising, we went up to Camlica Hill by bus for lunch. I chose beef kebab as my main meal and some of us prefered chicken kebab (we only have two kind of meals). The taste of the kebab was fantastic and I really enjoy the view and the food they served us there. Camlica Hill, is the highest point in Istanbul, exposing a panoramic view of Istanbul city and Bosphorus from the best point of view. Unfortunately I run out of batery, but I was able to ask the freelance photographer to take some pics of me as you can see in this page.
Feeling full, we continued our journey to pass by Ortakoy or Taksim area. Ortaköy, is a cosmopolitan area, bordering waters of the Bosphorus with communites of Turk, Greeks, Armenians and Jews. The neighbourhood hosts many different religions. We can see synagouge, orthodox church, and mosques stand side by side in this area showing the multiculture of Turkish communities. Ortakoy or Taksim is also a popular spot for locals and tourists who love with art galleries, night clubs, restaurants, and various other entertainments.
Our last tour destination that day was visiting Dolmabache Palace. Dolmabahce Palace, was the first European style palace built by Ottoman Sultans between 1843 and 1846.This is the last residence for Ottoman Sultans with 365 rooms, 22 saloons and 68 bath rooms, but hey ... tourists are not allowed to use any bath rooms for pee, we have to get out and take public toilets for nature calls. Dolmabache Palace is also famous with its great collections of European antiquities, furnitures and 4.5 tons chandelier (Wow...that was the first time in life I saw big chandelier like that). According to Mustafa, in order to rule, sometimes the brother of the sultans or even their son had to killed each other to succeed the previous sultans and if they got caught, they will be prisoned at Princes Islands whih is located accross the Istanbul city. Atatürk (The Great Mustafa Kemal Ataturk/ The Father and the first president of Turkey) lived the final part of his life in the residential part of the palace and died there. Ataturk is respected and admired by all Turkish as the father of that nation since he was the one who introduced the Modern Turkey, not only by replacing the Arabic character into latin character, but to make peace among religions of his people! Ataturk born on 12 March 1881 in Thessaloniki with military background and died on 10th November 1938; we can see his pictures hanging on the city wall between Taksim and Dolmabache Palace. But I think, that most Turkish also pride of, is the Otoman Empire that ruled Turkey between 1299-1922. The Otoman Empire of Turkey ruled up to Egypt, Roman (Italy), Greece and the neigbouring countries.
Before taking us to our hotels, Mustafa brought us to carpets factory and jewelries shop for shopping and that was the first time I learn how to distinct hand made carpets and machine one. I bought a wool carpet as my bed cover. That was extreemely expensive and cost me US$ 400.- whereas I only pay 50 Euros for the tour and US$ 15.- for the tip. The 50 Euros includes; Lunch, Transportation, Guide, Boat Cruise, Museums and Entrance Fees. It was really a very professional tour I did enjoy with Turista Travel Agency!
The fourth day in Istanbul on 14th February 2011, I went for a Half Day Golden Horn Tour also with Turista Travel Agency and paid only 25 Euros via internet. Surprisingly, I was the only one in the tour and in the big bus, but Mustafa and Sarkan the driver treated me not less than what they supposed to serve their guests as written in their website. (My God...that was the first time in life I dealt with so highly professional travel agency like Turista!!!!). They picked me punctually at 08.00 in the morning then we went to the Golden Hor Area, to see the 22.2 km old city wall, the castle of seven tower, the Topkapi Gate, the Chora Church and the Piere Loti Hill.
The Walls of Constantinople area, are consisted of series of stone walls that protected the city of Constantinople (Constantinopolis in Greek and Istanbul in Turkish) since its founding as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire by Constantine the Great in 1204. According to Mustafa, the city wall was built weaker than the fortress that had built in the hill side by Constantine, because Constantine had never expected the enemy would attack Turkey from the sea side, considering their difficulties in carrying canons, guns and all of military equipments and soldiers at that time. Surprisingly however, it was the way the enemy entered and attacked Turkey from the ocean. We can see the remnants of the city wall and the Topkapi gate until now. The Turkish government perfectly maintained these historical buildings, I really admire them and I think Indonesian government and the people could pave the way Turkish maintain their history.
The Castle of Seven Tower was used as prison all the time during both Byzantine (Constantine) and the Ottoman Empire period. In each tower we can see the dungeon where they kept prisoners or food in the old time. The Castle of Seven Tower used to have a golden gate that connected the castle by elevated wood bridge to the river. This gate was used to welcome the honorary guests of the emperor or to block the enemy from entering the castle. Although rather high, I dared myself to climbed up to the tower, because I didn't want to miss the view that I can see from the tower, and Mustafa patiently guided me and told me the history of the castle. During summer they always hold the concert here and that would be crowded by tourists.
After the castle, we continued our tour to two churches. One was the Chora Church and the other was a greek Catholic church made of wood covered with gold paint and with 12 column representing 12 apostles of Jesus Christ and with the picture of Jesus in the midle of the ceiling. The Chora Church itself was originally built in 13th century outside the walls of Constantinople, to the south of the Golden Horn. Literally translated, the church's full name was the Church of the Holy Savior. In 16th century this church was converted into a mosque by one of the Otoman rezime, and it was turned into a secularic museum by Ata Turk in 1948 and up to now we can witness one of the most beautiful mozaic ever made during the Byzantine era.
Our last destination that day was to ride on the cable lift to the Piere Loti Hill. That hill named after a famous French Novelist, Piere Loti, who married to a beautiful Turkish lady and who always spent their time in the coffe shop at the hill. One day during his visit in France he heard that the lady (his wife) was ill, but arriving home, he found that the lady have already passed away and buried. In sadness he wrote a lot of story about Istanbul and the people; and his stories became a free promotion for Istanbul that time. That was why the Turkish government and the people named the hill after him as a respect and thanks as well as commemoration toward the great love he shared with the Turkish lady and his dedication to Istanbul.
Part V: Istanbul: My Dream Comes True.
Mustafa and Sarkan brought me back to Kent Hotel at 12.00 that noon. I didn't know how to thanks them for their loyalty to serve their customers. Although I gave them tips bigger than the price of that half day tour itself, but it was nothing to compare with their friendly gesture, let alone considering the expensive live living in a big city like Istanbul. Most importantly, how can we pay for a friendship? A true friendship not for sale. I also find out that they immediately return the souvenir I left in the bus to Kent Hotel.
My sweet experience with Chentin the taxi driver who brought me from the air port to the hotel, with Mustafa, Sarkan, all of the hotel staff and Huseyn the Turkish Kurd taxi driver who brought me to the air port on the way back to Indonesia are all nicely embeded in my memory.
Although I was only able to have seen and know ten percent of Istanbul, but those persons I mentioned, had perfectly represented the Istanbul people in general. To me, if people can keep their city that clean, they could also keep and maintain their hearts clean. Yes there are many bad people as well as good one in every corner of this world, but Istanbul is all beyond my imagination.
I knew from the begining how beautiful the city is and the mistycal people who are most popular with hypnotist, but seeing is really believing. The beauty of Istanbul is esquisitely beyond my imagination and their friendliness and professionalism are all beyond my expectation. I feel really safe walking around alone in Istanbul. People are helpful and always try to make friends with others. Really a good combination of Asian and European. I believe, even witout joining the European Union this country would survive the competition.
The last day I stay in Kent Hotel, I tried their steak and sea bass fish meal. I can only say this is damn delicious. The breakfast was good, lunch was delicious! Well, I am not a person who loves to say yes for what I feel against. To me, visiting Istanbul is one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. Istanbul is worth seeing and money can't buy happiness as I finished this great trip in Istanbul. Thank u all friends.....
These are some words I learned from Sarkan the bus driver:
nacecen = how are you?
Iep = find.
Saol = thanks.
Gunaeden = good morning
e aks sham lar = good night.
Gusel = excellent
Chop gusel = really good
ged = come
git = go
git delim = lets go
hebat = great or good.