Monday, October 03, 2005

Traveling in Turkey with Children; Summer 2005.

Summer 2005 was one of the highlights of my family’s year. We took a 15 day trip to Turkey.

Traveling with children really changes the way you do things when you travel, in many good ways. The number one benefit is it really makes you slow down. No across-the-country and back in 3 days; no 165 Istanbul tourist traps in 24 hours (Thank God! That’s really not my style anyhow).

We spent a lot of time just hanging out. Children need space to run and play. They don’t do well getting dragged here and there constantly, which is a strange and bizarre vacation activity most American Tourons (Tourist+Moron) like to torture themselves doing. So, my husband and I reaped the benefits of letting our kids linger. We really got to know the country and it’s people this way. This system also really helped us to relax. We learned to enjoy ourselves and the moment.

We began each day with 2 hour breakfasts which consisted of a bottomless pot of Turkish Chai (that’s tea in English), Turkish olives, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, (lightly salted) Turkish feta cheese, baguettes, butter, Vishne jam (cherry), Vishne juice (cherry), and hard-boiled eggs. This is served everywhere in Turkey, thus the name, “Turkish Breakfast”.

We’d go back to the room for a potty break, then head out to sightsee. We walked a lot. Child #1, who is 5, walked all day alongside my husband and I, which really helped to wear out his innately hyperactive tendency. Child # 2, who is 2, was stroller-bound, (usually pushed by Baba, who is her favorite), and I pushed and sometimes wore in the sling child #3, who is still an infant.

Istanbul’s Sultanahmet area is extremely safe and geared for any type of Touron. Unfortunately, it’s pretty un-handicapped-accessible (I feel handicapped pushing a stroller), especially in the Mosques. The solution for us was to snag one of those annoying trinket-sellers outside of the Mosques to help me carry my stroller up the stairs (my husband “he-manned” his stroller up the stairs). These guys were always willing to help me, I think mostly because they are under the impression that if they help you, you’ll buy something. No can do, but you still get lots of points from Allah for the Good Deed. Thanks, Buddy!

By about noon every day we were hungry, so we’d grab some of Istanbul’s wonderfully kid-friendly Street Food. It’s cheap, portable (you can eat it with one hand), fresh, and always served with a genuine smile. We couldn’t get over how sincerely friendly the Turks are. There are sandwich stands all over the place. In Sultanahmet, it’s best to get away from the main drag right in front of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The restaurants there are ok, but overpriced. The atmosphere is great. I loved The Dervish Café. However, these places always were out of Lamb and that really was annoying.

I loved the Doner (Lamb) Kebab in Turkey. Beef was wonderful as well. Down at Eminonu, the Fishing Pier in Istanbul, are the most wonderful fried Fish sandwiches. They are served fresh, on a giant baguette, with fresh sandwich veggies. Check out the stuffed Clams there too. They are stuffed with clam meat, rice, and various spices (mint?) I think. My kids, even my 8-month-old infant, couldn’t eat enough of those clams!


Other parts of Istanbul, like the area around Taksim Square, are not-so-friendly. The gypsy pickpockets are oozing out of every corner other than in Sultanahmet, it seems. Geez, I must’ve really looked the role of a Touron, because they hit us up twice in one day! Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, we were robbed! Right before our very own eyes.

They prey upon people with small children, particularly with strollers. We were an easy catch. Four or more of them distracted us, by asking if we needed help with our stroller around a tight place on the sidewalk. They also made sure to make a big deal about how cute the baby was, etc. My husband let his guard down and turned his back on our digital camera hanging on the stroller while he helped them get me around the tight spot in the sidewalk. That’s when they hit us. Then, once they were finished “helping us,” they disappeared into the crowd, leaving us to discover that we were just looking into the eyes of thieves, not good citizens!

It’s really unfortunate the gypsies are playing this card, because most people in Turkey who talked with us were genuinely loving, kind, and interested in our children. It’s not uncommon to let people hold your baby, people that you’ve never met before, just standing in the street. The Turks are really wonderfully loving, and hospitable people. Everywhere we went, all across the country, we were invited into people’s homes for tea, food, conversation, and friendship.

The second band of thieves wasn’t so fortunate. One girl was offering my middle child, a toddler, some seeds to feed the pigeons, and something told me to turn to my right. I did, and Alhumdulillah! I caught this chick red-handed, with her hand down my purse on my wallet, and I started yelling “Harami! Police! Help!”…My husband came running, the girl broke away from my grasp, he chased her, and ended up catching her and her 2 partners with the help of some undercover police officers!

We escorted them to the jail, where they were sentenced to jail time and a beating. I have to admit it felt good to catch them!

Our time waiting in the jail was also one of the highlights of our trip, believe it or not. We had to wait for almost three hours for a translator to show up and write our report for us from English to Turkish. In those three hours, we were served tea several times by the police officers! They also hung out with my son, who was running wildly around the station (did I mention he has a tendency to be hyperactive?).

The whole time in the station, we were sitting one room away from the gypsy thieves. They were not under lock and key yet; they were sitting right there, in the next room with the door slightly ajar. I could see them, they could see me. I was fuming angry. One of them came out to go to the toilet, and I told the police officer on guard that if I saw her again I was going after her. Well, not 2 minutes later there she was again.

The show was fantastic. I was holding the baby, but for some reason that didn’t deter me from attempting to kick the @#$#^ out of this chick. Well, Allah likes to make a fool out of me when I am angry. Instead of the quick, strong kick I set out to make, my dress caught my leg and I ended up doing the most amazing Jackie Chan “Flying Drop Kick” ever recorded in the history of Kung Fu. My leg went up, I went completely horizontal to the floor for one second, and then violently bit it on the floor. Ouch. My left elbow took the entire weight of the blow. I think it will hurt forever. By the way, all of this happened while holding my baby. Alhumdulillah, she was totally fine. From that point on, the gypsies were terrified of me!

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