Istanbul - Sunday, December 21, 2003

Having only been here in Istanbul for a short 24 hours, Turkey has left a great first impression. The food, ancient sights, and engaging people won us over quickly. Today we got a feel for the city and its beauty by riding a bus and tram around for a few hours.

The only official siteseeing accomplished today was a visit to the underground Basilica Cistern. This underground water storage system was built during the 6th Century linked by an aqueduct system to a water source 20km North of the city. It held up to 9800 sq. meters of water! It was damp and a bit spooky down there...Huge goldfish and carp were swimming around the 1ft deep water. Two of the 336 marble columns had the face of Medusa etched on their bases - one sideways, the other upside-down. Archaeologists have NO idea why!

The food is much different than Italy! We have been drinking Turkish coffee and apple tea all day..mmmm... STRONG. The food is an interesting mix of the Orient, Mediterranean, and Middle East. For lunch we had Pide, "Turkish Pizza." Pide is a long thin banana shaped bread, covered with the topping of your choice, and placed into a large, solid oven for about 10 minutes. The resulting pide is sliced up and served piping hot. We opted for the lightly spiced mince lamb and tomato topping but could have chosen from egg with a little cheese, sausage, or minced beef with onions...It was SO good.

Dinner was rather interesting. A man eating a bowl of soup struck up a conversation with us and invited us over to share his small bowl of soup. We changed tables glad to chat with a friendly Turk. From reading our guidebook, we recalled the Turkish rituals for sharing food: To turn down a request, you put your hand across your chest and politely refuse two times. If the gesture is genuine, accept on their 3rd offer or firmly refuse in the same manner. So, we did not offend the man, bought him a beer, and awaited our food.

After learning about his family, career, and military service in the 70s for a half hour, he started asking us pointed questions about American politics. We get into these types of interesting conversations with locals regularly and the majority of folks are genuinely interested in our perspective. This guy was more interested in talking about Americans' excessive living (he has a point!), reasons for invading Iraq (oil), and restrictive Visa policies. While the man had some good points, the conversation quickly became one sided as he told us to 'eat our food' anytime we tried to converse with him. It was starting to get weird. So, we are eating our dinner quietly at this point when the man suddenly screamed. It scared the hell out of us! We were very polite and enjoyed chatting with him for quite some time before his behavior started going south. We had NO IDEA what had set him off.

A man from another table immediately came over, said something in Turkish to our tablemate which resulted in his quick exit from the building. The owner of the restaurant, Azziza, came over and explained everything. It turns out that our dinner companion was a bit mentally unbalanced but not dangerous. He worked as a tailor in the neighborhood for many years before his mental health took a turn for the worse. Many restaurants in the area give him free meals occasionally. Apparently this has happened a few times before, but the restaurant owners still help this troubled man out. His outburst gave us quite a start, we are glad to have chatted with both he and the locals we met after his outburst.

Are we being stalked? We saw our buddy again at lunch the next day, not sure if he saw us? He did give a yell for the whole restaurant before being asked to leave! Poor guy...

We are off to the strange land of Cappadocia this evening on an overnight bus (yuk!) and hope to fill in the last month of back issues from Italy and Israel before leaving Turkey at the end of the month!

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