“Travels to a Different Time” : August 1970: On the Midnight Express to Istanbul: Custom’s Officers Get Fresh with Mom: Mom’s Rump Pinched by the Turks! The Bill on the Ground Scam

After seeing Oliver Stone’s film “Midnight Express” is heading to Istanbul wise? We had first class tickets but did not exactly know where to get to first class so I think we ended up in second class beside some barfy old lady. We were told by a conductor first class was ahead so off we went and munched on an exciting breakfast of salami sandwiches on our Thessaloniki to Istanbul run. This was a real milk run and the train looked like some sort of museum piece. Not only that it was an old coal powered train as after putting my noggin outside the window it was covered in soot. The snack car consisted of a Turk crouched over a burner making Turkish coffee in an empty box car. Not much to do but read and look out the window and travelling through thick green forests was so different than being on sparse Greek islands? Customs came and woke us up around 11 and these stupid Turkish customs officials kept on barging in all night. One even patted Mom’s leg in a suggestive way and I felt like socking him but Turkish hospitality in a jail with Billy Hays would not be something to look forward to. The slovenly custom’s officer had bad body odour and sat beside me and fell asleep with his mouth open and snoring. We arrived in a dirty train station in Istanbul and took a cab with Mom stopping at a bank to get some Turkish lira. The streets are crowded with animals and men carrying huge bundles on their back. Most of the men walk on the heels of their shoes. Perhaps they are not used to shoes in Turkey? And why are so many women wearing scarves over their head and raincoats on when it is so hot? We got our lira and headed to a nice hotel called the Yucell. We visited an underground cistern and visited a Turkish Bazaar where all the merchants had relatives in Canada or so they said. They wanted to be your friend and since you were their friend they had a special deal for you. Persistent, annoying and aggressive. The men leer like hungry jackals at Western women. Is it because their women are hidden behind scarves and raincoats? We did buy some huge peaches at a market which were even better than the delicious Greek peaches.

August 15, 1970: What a hassle today to buy a plane ticket to Athens. The next boat would be September 5th which is too late. It is set we leave here on August 21st. Our dinner was fried fish with roasted tomato and peppers wrapped in a newspaper which we ate on a park bench.

August 16, 1970: A jam packed day starting with a breakfast of bread and strawberry jam and we headed off to St. Sofia Museum (Hagia Sofia) which was huge with marble pillars. We freeloaded with an English tour group! On our way home through the park Mom found a 5 lira note on the ground and immediately a Turk came running after us claiming it was his and he would show us by the fact he wrote his name on the bill. Something did not feel right so we refused to give his money back and he started to shout and take a fit until a policeman started in our direction and off he hopped like a scared rabbit. We stopped next at The Blue Mosque full of beautiful mosaics. We had to take our shoes off hoping they wouldn’t get stolen. My trust of Turkish people is very low, You are an object to be hustled to squeeze money out of you. Like at the Blue Mosque some Turk said we had to buy and wear a special covering which was a lie. Ripped off again. We went to a restaurant and met a Turkish doctor who was dressed like a regular Canadian and was not walking around on the heels of his shoes. He explained the lost money hustle we survived. The hustle is to have you take out your wallet and when you do it will be knocked out of your hand and grabbed and the hustler flees with your cash. It was great to meet this doctor who said women were in raincoats and wearing scarves were peasants from the countryside who didn’t know anything more than an uneducated country life. I think he said the traditional Muslim covering had been outlawed years ago by Ataturk but the raincoat and scarf was reluctantly tolerated. The middle and upper classes scorned such ignorance and hoped Turkey would toss off its repressive past completely. We went to the Topkapi museum and saw a famous huge diamond on display. Mom had her rump pinched by a little boy and that’s not the first time this has happened to Western women here. What leech’s these Turkish men are. A man did it the night before and I chased him down the street but he escaped. If I had caught him would I have been knifed.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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