Well, I’m back. Sitting in the basement of my parents’ house, doing laundry, typin’ away.
Just a couple quick things in closing. I didn’t do too much my last days in Istanbul. The morning after I left you, I visited the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultanate and suitably adorned, including an 86 carat diamond. That afternoon I decided to hit the Grand Bazaar. Now, I had waited all the way through the Middle East to do my heavy duty shopping, waiting for the largest Bazaar in the world. I was so excited I was practically skipping down the narrow alley toward the entrance. I saw the sign, stepped under the bar and.... my heart stopped. Florescent lighting? Linoleum floors? AIR CONDITIONING? I was in the $&*#*ing MALL! I wandered around in disbelief. Where were the donkeys? The little old men and their bundles? The dirt? The pickpockets? It was so traumatizing I didn’t even buy anything during my first outing. (Never fear though, by the next morning I had recovered enough to drop $250 on a hand inlayed Turkish end table and $70 on a four foot green glass hookah pipe.)
The next day was spent shopping in the morning, and at the rug museum. (Everything in Istanbul is about selling rugs to tourists. Go in to a restaurant, rugs for sale. Museum, rugs. Baths, rug. Trying to seek sanctuary in the post office? Rug stamps. It gets to the point where “hello” from travelers has been replaced by “I don’t want to buy a rug. Now, can you tell me...”) That evening I was hanging out with some other travelers, drinking beer and playing backgammon, as I have been known to do on occasion. There was this Turkish guy that worked at the bar that was just beyond annoying. He leered at all the women and won’t let you play backgammon for a minute without butting in and moving your pieces. I HATE that. The other girls couldn’t stand him either. And he was obnoxious, “White people don’t know how to play. They move too slow. Turks invented backgammon. I am the best! Ha ha!” I don’t know what came over me (though a good bet is that the fact that I had been sitting around drinking beer all afternoon had something to do with it), but I challenged him. Truly threw down the gauntlet too. There would be no good winners in this match, only pathetic losers. As play started he got a little worried by the fact I could count and move my pieces as fast as he did. Yeah, buddy, well things are gonna get worse. I not only beat him, I not only GAMMONED him, but I BACKGAMMONED him. Given I got some lucky rolls, but the guy certainly wasn’t good enough to talk the talk. I tossed down the dice and said, “And I thought Turks were supposed to be good at this game.” Then walked off with the other travelers, who might not have thought me a complete god, but certainly a minor deity. And the bastard was too embarrassed to speak to any of us again. High point of Turkey.
Next day I took a boat cruise on the Bosphorus to the mouth of the Black Sea. Nice enough. I decided, in one of my moments of mental lapse, to take the local bus back to town. Yes, despite the fact I had no idea where I was, which direction to go, nor did I speak Turkish to ask anyone. [Insert comical musical interlude here, with me getting on and off various buses in various urban and rural landscapes, stopping being lost only long enough to eat a shwarma.] That took care of the rest of the day, except for the requisite stop to eat pudding in the joint from Midnight Express.
Next day I headed home. I checked my luggage and got into the airport with 2 hours until my boarding time. I was hungry, so I went to peruse the food court. What to my watering mouth should appear, but SUSHI! (I don’t care what stereotypes there are about Northeastern liberals, I LIKE the stuff!) I walked over cautiously to check the piece. There was a picture of a roll (6 pieces for non-sushi eaters) with a price of $3 below it. Reasonable! I ordered two rolls. I enjoyed my tuna roll. The California roll was a bit of an adventure. Normally it is made with crab and avocado, this one was made of shrimp salad and pickles. Right colors anyway. Then the bill came. $40. WHAT!?! The price was per piece, not per roll. I had no where near enough money to pay for that. And no way of getting more. Luckily the guy I was sitting next to and had been chatting me up paid for me. (He is an Israeli working in northern Iraq, but scolded me for being reckless because I went to a dangerous place like Syria, all without a trace of irony.)
Then, after a 20 hour layover in Zurich, home again. I will hang up my cargo pants with the pocket system of small change, entrance tickets, bus passes and room keys that would make Molloy’s head spin. The backpack gets a wash and goes on the wall. Shoes are retired.