Turkey - not just a bird
Since October 10th 2013: 141 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
I was here 7 years ago
This is not my first adventure to Turkey. In 2010 a good friend of mine and I decided to buy 2 motorcycles in Chennai (India) and drive them from Asia to Europe. It was Cam’s idea. A stranger from Australia who turned friend long ago. I’ll get back to this later in this entry.
Last week I left you as I had just reached Istanbul from Bulgaria. It was a long journey from Bulgaria but only because I lacked proper sleep. A few hours of sleep in a Turkish park didn’t help much either. Lars Oestergaard Nielsen, who is the managing director for the Eastern Mediterranean Cluster at Maersk Line, happened to have all of his management assembled for a work seminar at the Renaissance Istanbul Polat Bosporus Hotel - and invited me to make a presentation of the Saga. I gladly accepted and arrived to meet a large group of motivated employees along with several familiar faces which I had already met across several Balkan countries. After the presentation we had lunch together and I was offered 2 nights complimentary at the 5 star hotel!! Wow! Thank you!
Maersk Line management :) www.maerskline.com
Peculiarly I find that now, this deep into the Saga, I might have spent more nights at 5 star hotels than on the ground. Especially if you do not count the times I put up the hammock. Imagine the change from sleeping a few hours in a bus and catching some shut eye in a park, to suddenly sinking into a luxury bed, smelling nice from rich soaps and oils from the hotel bath. Just a few hours earlier I was shaving in a park... While at the hotel I received a message from fellow Viking Gunnar Garfors. Gunnar just so happened to be in town for a couple of conferences and me naturally had to get together as soon as possible. I first met Gunnar earlier this year while in Tunisia (www.garfors.com)
He’s an author, world record holder, traveler, public speaker and one of the few who made it to every country in the world. Gunnar somehow got it into his mind that he owed me dinner and I didn’t spend much energy argue with my Norwegian friend. He also found it ideal if I was up for speaking at a travelers conference organized by Perçin who’ve I’d never met before? I definitely wanted to but had already said yes to joining Lars (Maersk Line) and some of his friends for lunch and a boat trip on the Bosporus. That night Gunnar and I headed into the night of Istanbul, a city with at least 15 million people. 1,000 years before us the Vikings had already arrived naming the great city Miklagaard in their Norse language. It was therefore only fitting that Gunnar offered me dinner at a fine restaurant called Mikla. Afterwards we went to a “library” and didn’t get much reading done...
Gunnar and I studying at the Library.
I struggled getting out of bed the following day but had to check out of my luxury environment and meet with Lars just outside of Istanbul further up the Bosporus strait which divides Europe from Asia. Or is it the other way around? I had a solid breakfast and a lot of water before leaving the hotel. And hour later I met Lars who picked me up with a big smile on his face. Lars has had an interesting career and has built up work experience from all across the world during his 25 years with Maersk. He just so happened to have a bunch of good friends over from Denmark and once I walked through the door I was introduced to his lovely wife Malou and 3 visiting friends: Kim, Tue and Thomas. With a lot of hesitation I declined a glass of champagne as the night before was still deeply rooted within me and it had been confirmed that I would be speaking in front of a group of travel enthusiasts in the evening. I found that water might had been the safer choice for me. However when I discovered that it was the “James Bond champagne” I simply couldn’t resists. We had a great afternoon. Lars, Malou, Kim, Tue and Thomas go way back and share many great memories. After lunch the 6 of us got into 2 taxis and continued down to the wharf were a rented Yacht was waiting for us. Onboard we were served strawberries, snacks, coffee, tea and more champagne. It was an absolute stellar experience for me and a great way to see Istanbul from the water. It was very easy to get along with everyone and we managed some interesting conversations somewhere between the champagne and strawberries.
Great company! Thank you all! :)
Lars instructed the captain to let me off somewhere near the central part of Istanbul’s coastline. I waved goodbye and made my way inland towards the speaking engagement. What a first few days this had already been?! A taxi and a metro got me to where I needed to be. It was raining but I didn’t mind. After navigating a few narrow streets I made it to the venue and met with Perçin for the second time. On the night I met Gunnar I briefly had a chance to meet Perçin and agree to speak. Perçin is amazing and had arranged the entire event himself. He is a trainer, author, entrepreneur and traveler who has made it to 60 countries so far!! No small accomplishment! The night went well as the 6 speakers (including me) performed. Gunnar and I were the only 2 speaking in English and Perçin stepped in to translate on both occasions. Afterwards we went out for a bit before I followed Perçin home. He had invited me to stay as his guest and offered me a couch. Perfect!
Guess which one of us is currently traveling? ;)
Perçin has a modern apartment near Istanbul’s metro line and it made for a great location for me to explore. He also has a cat called Pisimamasi which means cat food in Turkish. That’s a long story. Pisisuyu either cuddles or attacks! Dr Jekyl and Mr Hide all in one cat. I got to see both sides and the many scratches on my hands and arms prove it :) I managed to arrange for a meeting with the Turkish Red Crescent who are in fact responsible for the Red Crescent emblem. When the Red Cross was founded back in 1863 the Red Cross was the only emblem. However the Turks were not happy to use a “cross” as an emblem for humanitarian aid no matter how neutral its meaning was. Especially as the Turks were battling the Russians at the time and the “Red Cross emblem” appeared offensive to some Muslim soldiers. Keep in mind that the Red Cross, Red Crescent and now also the Red Crystal are all emblems of the same organization and are completely neutral in every way. However...there are 3 different looking emblems anyway. The Red Crescent was inspired by the Ottoman flag and is used in around 33 countries in the world. That’s just a little bit on that. What I really wanted to express was how amazing I have found the Türk Kizilayi (as they call themselves) to be! I was invited to visit a community center on the Asian side of the Bosporus. It was incredibly well organized as seen through my logistical trained eyes. Children draw pictures and play, adults learn skills (sawing, cutting hair etc) and languages, some are briefed in various forms of bureaucracy and in their rights, there are doctors and nurses, there are places to relax and breathe...it’s really well done and the energy there was good. Many of the beneficiaries are coming across the border from neighboring Syria so I got to say a few greetings in Arabic. I’m very much looking forward to visiting the Middle East soon. The list of activities within the Turkish Red Crescent are endless. However you can check them out here: http://www.kizilay.org.tr/
You will I'll never understand the necessity of the Red Cross Red Crescent - and I can't describe it.
One day I got a message from Luna who wanted to meet up. It turned out that Luna is a half Turkish half Turkish musician with a lot more talent than what I find reasonable. We met and had tea and she brought along another musician called Ray. Ray is half Venezuelan and half French. I’m half Danish and half Finish so the 3 of us represented 6 nationalities on 3 chairs. How about that?! ;) They were both unreasonably talented and I wouldn’t be surprised if their careers suddenly took off! When Luna first sang for me I shed a tear which ran down my right cheek. I hand recorded their 3rd performance for me which I uploaded to YouTube and it will give you some idea: https://youtu.be/n1PakQnmshw
Ray Riveros and Luna Ersahin. You'll hear more about them later. Luna performs with her band www.aysay.dk
I’ve got a mother, a father and 2 younger sisters. Since the Saga began in October 2013 I have been privileged to see all of them in various countries. All of them except for 1 of my sisters who had not been able to visit...not until now that is!! My sister Trine landed in Istanbul and we saw each other for the first time in over 4 years. Spectacular!! And now they’ve all been out to see me :) My family is a fairly well traveled one and I can’t keep track on who’s been where over the years. However it turned out that Trine had never before been to Turkey so I decided on a few “must sees” for her. Naturally we went to see the Hagia Sophia Cathedral/Mosque/Museum which is 1,480 years old, we went inside the unimaginable Blue Mosque so we could marble beneath its beauty, we visited the Basilica Cistern which was something I always wanted to do, we strolled through the gardens and buildings of the Topkapi palace, walked through the Grand Bazaar, visited the Archeology museum and went on the ferry from the European side to the Asian side just to get the view of the sun setting behind one of the worlds greatest cities.
My viking sister :)
Hagia Sophia by night.
The exceptional "Basilica Cistern".
The entrance to Topkapi Palace.
Turkey is the keeper of a ridiculous amount of interesting sites and ancient history. Italy may have more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country...but Turkey has at least 150 historical excavation sites each year and there are massive finds which can hardly be explained. Castles, underground cities, massive heads carved from stone, fortifications...you name it and Turkey has probably got it! The area of Turkey has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period by various ancient Anatolian civilizations, as well as Assyrians, Greeks, Thracians, Phrygians, Urartians and Armenians. After Alexander the Great's conquest, the area was Hellenized, a process that continued under the Roman Empire and its transition into the Byzantine Empire. The Seljuk Turks began migrating into the area followed by the Mongol invasion and the Ottoman Empire, WWI and WWII. All of that is just a fraction of Turkeys history but it does give you an idea about how many great and influential empires came across these beautiful lands.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this isn’t my first visit to Turkey. Back in 2010 I reached Erzurum in the east of Turkey after nearly 4 months of motorcycling across Asia. My Aussie friend Cam and I were both exited to have reached Turkey. After nearly 4 months together we decided to split up for a few weeks and meet in Istanbul. He would take the train and I would get myself a new ride in Erzurum as we had to sell our bikes in Iran just a week before. Erzurum was 1,225 km (761 mi) away from Istanbul and I only had a few options:
- A barely functioning scooter
- A very old motocross bike
- A bran new Lifan Discovery
I was foolish enough to buy a bright orange, bran new, Chinese made 250cc Lifan Discovery. Not my brightest idea but for some odd reason I thought I might be able to get a good price for it in Istanbul? Just out of Erzurum I was fined for speeding. My only speeding ticket throughout the entire 4 month motorcycle adventure? I managed to visit Van, Diyarbakir (passing Batman), Kayseri, Aksaray, Ankara, Izmir and Gallipoli before reaching Istanbul for the first time in my life.
2010: my Lifan Discovery 125cc
In Istanbul I found it impossible to sell the bike without loosing a fortune. It was (through great difficulty in Erzurum) registered to me. All the dealers turned me away or gave me offers which were ridiculous. I was in a hurry as I needed to fly to The Hague (Netherlands) for a job. My situation seemed hopeless. I was sitting at Gülhane Sur Cafe while contemplating what to do?!? Drive the bike into the Bosporus? Set it on fire? I was getting desperate after 4 full days of failure trying to sell it. With my head dragging between my knees I walked up to pay at the counter.
My home in Turkey: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293974-d6160752-Reviews-Gulhane_Sur_Cafe-Istanbul.html
As I paid I mumbled to the host: “do you know anyone who might be interested in a motorcycle?” The guy replied: “Yes! Me!” I couldn’t believe it?!? His name was Kamal and he was taking care of the family business. He called his father who arrived shortly after that. His father was Murat and together the 3 of us walked around my bright orange problem a few times. Then we made a price and agreed to work on the paperwork the following day! Neither Murat nor I ever dreamt of how hard it would be, to go through all the red tape of getting my registration cancelled and sell it to them!! It was a 3 day long bureaucratic marathon through every single office in all of Istanbul!! At least that is how I remembered it. I got to know Murat quite well as we drove through Istanbul’s charming streets. I was riding the bike and Murat was on the back. In the afternoon on the 3rd day we were on our way to a notary office. It would be the final signature and stamp before I could finally leave the motorcycle to Kamal and Murat. I was very relaxed on the motorcycle as we headed down a road. Some guy listening to music walked out right in front of us and I had to brake HARD!! Only: I didn’t have my foot on the brake so I only had the handbrake available!! I squeezed it hard but it wasn’t good enough!!! I had to try to steer around - but with the handbrake tightly clutched we crashed!! It wasn’t too dramatic but we were both on the ground. Murat had torn his pants and we had a few bruises. The bike was leaking petrol and the gear shifter was bent into the wheel blocking it from turning. We had to get up quickly and carry the bike off the road. I instantly gave Murat a discount on the price we had agreed. Then we fixed the bike well enough to continue to the notary office. We signed the final document and the deal was done. We then proceeded to have some tea at Gülhane Sur Cafe before I flew off to The Hague. What an ending to an otherwise epic bike ride!!
I used this picture for the Throwback. It was fantastic to see them again! :)
Well guess what? My sister and I were able to track down Gülhane Sur Cafe a few days ago. Guess who was serving? It was Kamal - only; a man now 7 years later! Kamal called his father and the next thing I knew was that Murat was also there! We’ve been talking about “the good old days” and Kamal is now onto his 4th bike which he built himself. Murat is close to opening a restaurant under the same name as the cafe. I don’t know what you read into this experience but the reunion was definitely very special to me! :)
The tourist areas naturally include a lot of: "special price for you" and "how many camels do you want for your sister". Kamuran is among these charming businessmen and you can find his family business at Sultanahmet: www.elrincondefehmi.com
Just a few final notes for you as I round out this entry. Istanbul is definitely amazing but it’s not the capital of Turkey. Turkeys capital city is Ankara which I visited in 2010. Another great city but not nearly in the same way as Istanbul. A lot has changed in Turkey since I first visited 7 years ago. I have felt safe wherever I went and I have been treated with a lot of curiosity and kindness. If I were you I wouldn’t hesitate for a second before ordering a ticket to come to Turkey. It has been absolutely wonderful to have my sister along side for a few days and while she can take care of herself I still had no need to worry for her in any way.
Finally I’ll leave you with this: A turkey (bird) is not called "turkey" in Turkey, but "hindi" because the bird originates from the (West) Indies. The bird resembles the African guinea fowl, which was introduced to Europe through Turkey and the "West Indian" bird became known as "Turkish hen/turkey" ;)
And get ready for the crowdfunding campaign which is nearly ready now!! :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - nearly out of Europe
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga