This blog entry about the events of Saturday, June 04, 2011 was originally posted on June 06, 2011.
DAY 1: “Trinidad?” the passport officer asked me upon landing in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
“Yes,” I answered with a smile.
“First name, ‘Erik?’”
He looked me up and down with suspicion. I didn’t know what the hold up was; Corinne, my seatmate and fellow Brooklynite on the 9 1/2-hr flight went right through in fifteen seconds. We both had our Turkish visas in our passports, which we purchased on another line right before the passport one, so that couldn’t have been the issue. I suspected that perhaps it might have been something to do with the Israeli stamp I had on one of my pages, although I’d read that it shouldn’t be an issue.
“Erik,” the passport officer addressed me before trying to think of the English of what he wanted to tell me. “It means… strawberry in Turkish.”
“Yes,” he said with an awkward smile before letting me into his country.
”That’s what was taking you so long?” Corinne asked me when I met up with her on the way to baggage claim and recapped the story.
Later I had learned that ‘Erik’ was in fact the Turkish word for a fruit, but he must have been confused on which one; Erik is a small plum that is so unripe that it’s sour and green — which is apparently the way it’s intended to be eaten. They’re not half bad if you eat them without the expectation that they should be sweet like plums, and think of them as little granny smith apples.
“[SOMEONE SHOULD TELL THEM that they’re not ripe yet,]” said my friend and city guide Meg later that evening. She, along with her husband Alex, were playing host to me during my Istanbul stay, in the northern Osmanbey area of town away from the touristy part of the city. It was there that I met them at the Mado ice cream shop on the corner near their apartment. It was a scene not unlike one I might have met them in New York, only Meg was visibly pregnant with six weeks left to go. Oh, and things were in Turkish.
My initial impressions of Istanbul were positive, although it was pretty much everything I’d imagined — except for the posters I’d seen everywhere announcing the upcoming concerts for Bon Jovi. Formerly the city of Byzantium, Istanbul was once in Roman glory as Constantinople, but then overrun by the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century it became a mecca for travelers and trade; it was the final destination of the Orient Express, and the glorious “Paris of the East.” But it wasn’t until after WWI that Istanbul and the rest of the country started to take the form that it has today, under guidance of Mustafa Kemal, otherwise known as Ataturk, who founded the republic of Turkey — and became the country’s revered “George Washington.” Under his influence, Istanbul eventually turned into the modern cosmopolitan metropolis it is today, with people from around the world living there, good food, nice weather, and beautiful locals.
However, despite Istanbul having a history of trade, it wasn’t quite known for reasonable prices for certain goods, which is why I had a care package with me from the States to give to my hosts. Meg had shipped me stuff to bring over: a new digital camera, a new lens, crossword puzzles, and some accesories, but I added to the pile six bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (hey, she’s pregnant), two bottles of whiskey, and, at their request, lots of jerky. And not just beef jerky; I got them special pork jerky from NYC’s Chinatown — they miss pork products of any kind living in a Muslim country — plus, for the sake of a pun, Turkey Jerky from Trader Joe’s.
Food became the theme of the evening as they took me around the popular Taksim area, an area that every Turkish person I know back in in the USA recommended. “It’s a blend of locals, ex-pats, and tourists,” Meg told me as we left Taksim square, the meeting place for many a protest, and onto the busy pedestrian street of Istiklal Cad. Having lived in Istanbul, she was the perfect tour guide, and not just for the obvious stuff. “Monopoly is at Burger King here, [not McDonald’s],” she informed me. “[It blows my mind.]”
“You have to get the Islak burger,” Alex told me as we walked by one of many places to get one… or two. They’re like burger sliders, but smothered in tomato sauce. That was followed by other wonders of Istanbul street food: steamed mussels on the half shell stuff with rice and lemon juice (found everywhere and so irresistable), chestnuts, fried meat dumplings, and ice cream that stretches like taffy when its kneaded like dough by a guy wearing a traditional Turkish vest. The streets and alley ways in and around Istiklal Cad were bustling with people going to bars, eating, smoking hookah, playing backgammon (a Turkish pasttime), or for two, simply playing Playstation soccer outside in an alley between eating establishments. Alex, Meg, and I ate and drank (soft drinks for Meg of course), all spoiling our appetite for dinner later, when my friend Jeff would arrive from Munich.
After spending three hours in traffic trying to get into the city, Jeff eventually met up with us on Istiklal and eventually we found ourselves at a steakhouse for lamb chops, lamb steaks, and more importantly alcohol. “Three rakis!” Alex ordered for us.
“Happy Birthday!” we wished him.
We drank them with dinner and washed it down with another thing I’m apparently a namesake for, Erikli brand bottled water, found almost everywhere in the city. Soon it was revealed that while Jeff eats most things, he has a big aversion to anise, and switched from raki to beer.
Long story short, drinks lead to more drinks, and more street food and more drinks and in the end it was 4 a.m. and Alex and I were drinking duty-free Knob Creek on the couch I would sleep on, while Meg tried to help organize the following day for me — a plan she realized later should not have been done with drunk people at 4 a.m. who will forget everything anyway.
However, I didn’t forget my name; but who could with it everywhere on food and drinks?
My seatmate and fellow Brooklynite Corinne was meant to meet her boyfriend in Istanbul; he was coming in from Afghanistan (an ex-pat lawyer not a soldier), but from the looks of things, the only flight coming in from Kabul had a whopping seven hour delay. Confused, nervous, and excited at the same time, Corinne figured she’d just meet him at the apartment they reserved for their stay, but not without a really frantic time at the airport due to a lack of information she needed, which her boyfriend would have had if their plan to meet around the same time at the airport had worked. I helped her with the usual landing routine (for me), like getting cash and trying to make calls. “It’s not working,” she told me, clenching her phone.
“There’s a plus,” I pointed out on the number she had printed out from an email. “You hold the zero [on the keypad] to get the plus.” She dialed it correctly and it went through. Her phone’s screen simply showed the country she was calling.
“Oh look. You’re calling Turkey,” I pointed out to lighten the mood. Eventually we parted ways after our eleven hours together; I hopped on an airport tranport bus into town and she took a taxi. I never heard from her again, but hoped she sorted everything out.
Next entry: Teenager Talk On The Sexy Side Of The City
Previous entry: Turkey Sandwich
Sorry this is rushed; plus my apologies for some photos missing—my flash drive crashed, but has since been restored.
Posted by on 06/06 at 03:18 AM
Here’s how erik (the fruit) looks like.
Posted by on 06/06 at 09:33 AM
Erik - always happy to read any entry! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your travels
Posted by on 06/06 at 09:50 AM
Posted by on 06/06 at 11:24 AM
What are Meg & Alex doing in Istanbul?
I love this blog today. :D
Posted by on 06/06 at 12:07 PM
Oh, never mind… I wasn’t apparently paying attention. I know about Meg now.
Posted by on 06/06 at 12:23 PM
Probably won’t have time to write up next double entry for a day or two; taking notes though, so stay tuned!
Posted by on 06/06 at 04:47 PM
Teenager Talk On The Sexy Side Of The City
THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY
Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year.