Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I am back. I was in Turkey, and after that for a few days in Paris.

Turkey was very interesting, beautiful, and damn cold.

The Evil Muslim Conspiracy didn't do anything highly evil, but they conspired to keep me covered and in the Muslim prayer position. The evil-doers arranged for the weather to be so cold that men and women, both Muslim and infidel, not only had to keep themselves covered but were all dreaming of long underwear. Visits to mosques required a hijab or some other hair covering (no, you are not getting to see a picture of me in that), and the WLAN modems in both hotels were so bad that the only way you could use the Internet was in the Muslim prayer position, at the door of your room in the direction of the modem. I think that from now on I will forever think of Mecca as a huge malfunctioning WLAN modem.

The population of Istanbul and Izmir doesn't seem to be particularly religious, and is mostly dressed like anywhere in southern Europe. There are some ferocious-looking bearded guys, but fewer than in London. There are also some women in shiny hijabs, and they are a lot more common than the ferocious guys. We were told that some of them are religious and some are just rural; the religious ones have the hijabs on tighly, so that you can't see a single hair; the others just have it any which way. Very few women were wearing something like a huge black sack pinned in front so that you could only see the eyes. Poor woman's burqa, I guess.

I must say that whatever the position of hijab- or sack-clad women is in the family, they didn't seem to yell at their husbands any less than anyone else, maybe more.

There are mosques everywhere, all over the place. The pretty ones in Istanbul are full of tourists. The really popular ones hand out scarves to visitors, for the others you have to bring your own.

Five times a day there is a call to prayer, the first one being at 5 am. The howling is very loud and most horrible, probably scaring the few faithful away from the mosques. Tourists are not supposed to visit during those times, and judging from the number of the people coming out of there the faithful don't either.

On Friday, however, there was some obvious attendance, with a lot of guys praying outside of mosques. Their average age was about 50; there were a few ferocious-looking young ones, but mostly the young guys looked like their parents brought them there, and instead of praying for heavenly maidens in paradise checked out the butts of the living ones in the street in a rather obvious way.

Statues of Atatürk are all over the place in a way that reminded me of Lenin. After a few days seeing a statue that did not feature Atatürk gave me a feeling that something is wrong. Also, baklava is all over the place, and is very good. The third thing that was all over the place was raki, a horrible anis liquor.

People are quite friendly. When they see tourists that look lost, at least on a quiet street, they immediately ask what they are looking for, or point to the nearest tourist attraction or toilet.

In general there is quite a lot of toilets, and almost all of of them have paper and a proper toilet bowl.

In all our time there nobody tried to cheat us, the restaurant bills were never more than they should be, and the street vendors have corrected me when I misunderstood them (my Turkish is quite bad) and handed them more money than they were asking for. Czech people should learn from this good example, and some Hungarians and Italians too.

People in Istanbul and Izmir speak of the population of the east of Turkey much like white Americans in Western movies speak of Indians. Or rather, much like white Americans in Western movie would speak of Indians if Indians had the right to vote and constituted half of the nation at the time. They also don't seem to be delighted about the eastern people moving into their cities.

Turkey must be the whitest country in the world. Every black or Asian person that I've seen there was an obvious tourist.

Turkey has the best cappuccino in the world, or at least the parts of the world that I've seen. Even Italy cannot compare.

Police is everywhere. Also, they search people and their bags in all the museums, public attractions and airport terminals (that's when you enter the terminal for any reason; when you are about to board a plane there is another search).

Turkish Airlines has big comfortable seats and great food. It also has, surprisingly, a Turkish name: Türk Hava Yollari.

The traffic is crazy, and people do unspeakable things, such as driving two ways on roads that can hardly fit even one car, coming face-to-face with somebody going the other way, and then having one of the cars back up until it can get away somewhere. They don't, however, do it very fast, and they seem to consider trams holy: as soon as a tram appears, all the cars performing unnatural acts on the tram tracks get out of the way.

Food is decent but generally unimpressive, apart from the baklava. Supermarket food is even less impressive (unlike, say, in Italy, where restaurant food is unimpressive but supermarkets have delicious goodies). Wine gives a rather negative impression; they say there are good ones, but we didn't find them. The beer was surprisingly good, though: Efes Dark was quite decent and coffee-flavored Efes was a very positive surprise.

Tea and coffee is everywhere in great quantity and quality.

Istanbul's public transportation is good, clean and runs often. In general Turkey is very clean.

The tap water was quite fit for washing fruit and brushing teeth, but not for drinking. It was so heavily chlorinated that probably tastes bad even after you boil it. We didn't try.

More later...

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