A One-Sided Affair

(3/11/13)

As you’ll have gathered from my (as-yet non-existent) post about my first time in Istanbul, I was not a fan.  That’s despite the fact that on this particular trip, I didn’t get tear-gassed (post about that here).  The constant hassling was just too much: every, single, guy, on the street.  I mean, Turkey gets European and Russian tourists: you think they’d get over it.  The way blonde women are presented to the non-Western world is as easy sluts, and honestly, it seemed like the Turkish guys thought that all they’d have to do was talk to me and I’d jump on them.  Anyway!

While I wasn’t looking forward to returning to the Hellmouth (aka Canberra, the place where souls go to die), at least it would only be for 5 months before my next escape, to Russia (and we all know how that worked out).  Either way, I was so keen to get out of Turkey that I wasn’t even dreading returning to the Real World as much as usual.  However, it seemed Istanbul had an unrequited love for me, and wasn’t quite ready to let me go.  At least, that’s how I’m interpreting it.

I miss a lot of flights.  Also buses, trains, ferries—I’m just a little too casual about it all.  So, given my transport-related history, I’d decided to be super-dooper early for my flight to Sydney: I was aiming to be at the airport four hours prior to my flight.  I figured that then, after taking ‘Laura time’ into account, I’d still be there at least an hour before check-in closed: a stress-free start sounded nice, and given that I was due back at work a couple of days later (for once, I’d given myself more than 12 hours between arriving from Europe/ish and being back at work), I was determined not to miss the flight.  Not that they weren’t used to my all-hours calls saying I was stuck in an airport somewhere and would be at work whenever I found a new plane..!

The night before the flight, I asked the guy at reception how to get to the airport, and how long it would take.  The next morning, I set my alarm for an hour earlier than it needed to be, just so that I could go to reception again and double-check everything.  I was dedicated, as you can see!  The morning guy confirmed what the evening guy had said: it would take around an hour and a half to get there, and all I had to do was catch the tram til the end of the line, then catch the airport train from there.  What could go wrong?

I, clutching my coat, thunked my bags down the stairs and set off for the tram line.  At this point I had my day-pack, full of my laptop and a fairly outrageous number of textbooks I’d needed for my CELTA in Prague; and my beloved suitcase (whose twin I now own), with winter clothing, all of my snowboard gear (for when I was in Italy), and stacks and stacks of books in Russian (as they’re just about impossible to find in Australia).  All up, it was around 45kg.  Haha thanks to my multiply-broken back, I actually can’t carry more than about 8kg without pain—fail.

I get to the tram line, purchase my ticket: everything’s fine.  I’ve studied the metro map over and over again, I know exactly which line I’m catching and exactly where the end of the line is; so I settle down to wait.  However, weirdly, the tram doesn’t go to the end of the line.  Rather, it reaches a stop called Zeytinburnu.  I ummed and ahhed, but both guys at the hostel had said the end of the line, so I waited and got on the next tram continuing up the tram line.

A seemingly endless amount of time later, I arrived at my destination.  I jumped out, looked around, and realised I was in the middle of approximately fucking nowhere.  A little concerned at this point, I walked up to two tram guards by the ticket booth, and with me in English+Russian (Англусский) and them in Turkish+Russian (Trukish?), I asked them where the train to the airport was.  I may or may not have mimed a plane taking off, to really make sure I got my point across.  They looked at each other with akin expressions of bafflement, then pointed at the tram I’d just jumped off.  “Hurry/быстро!!” they told me, helping me to jump the fence with my suitcase as they called out a station name, and I scrambled back aboard as the tram commenced its return journey.

Oh fuck.

So, there went my early start.  The guards had told me that it would take me around half an hour back to where I needed to catch the airport train (freaking Zeytinburnu), then twenty minutes by train (every ten minutes) to the terminal.  Which would put me there around twenty minutes after check-in had closed.  (If you’re doing the math here by the way, and can’t figure out why I was suddenly so late, you’ve not factored in LT: Laura Time).

After about five minutes of hyperventilating and wondering how much a last-minute flight to Sydney would set me back, I got on the phone.  Meanwhile, JFord, who’s not only my non-lesbian wife but also holds my power of attorney, was in the shower back in Australia.  She got out to see a couple of missed calls from me, and remarked to her flat-mate Clair that “oh, Laura must have missed her flight.”  She then called me back.  How ridiculous in a way: she was in her nice, air-conditioned apartment in Canberra, while I was standing on the cramped and crowded tram in the middle of Turkey, with everybody staring at me as the obvious foreigner.

“JFord!” I said.  “Fuck!!”

“Did you miss it yet?” she asked.

“No, but check-in’s about to close: could you log on as me and check me in?  Or maybe call them?!”

We hang up, and Jess is freaking miraculous: she’s got one hand on her laptop, trying to check me in, and she has her phone in the other, calling her aunt who works for Emirates to see if I can get onto a stand-by flight or something.  This is why.  The last time I’d called her from a foreign country needing a flight, I was in Queenstown (NZ) and in complete hysterics: and she got me out in under 24 hours for less than $200, while I spent the time snowboarding and partying.  Yup.  Haha she has sheets with all of my credit cards, IDs and flight reward programs written down.  She’s the absolute fucking best!

Anyway, enough faux-lesbian love, and back to Istanbul.  I get back to Zeytinburnu, triple-confirm that this is the right stop, and jump on out.  I don’t think I had any Turkish lira left, so I had to improvise my way through the gates and onto the train: something I accomplished just as the doors clicked closed.

Arriving at Atatürk airport, I started running.  With, yes, 45kg of stuff.  Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in my life as in the next few paragraphs: but I figured I’d never been paid $2k to run anywhere before (which is what I was figuring a new last-minute flight would set me back): so call me motivated.  Of course, it was then a little awkward when I came to the slowest escalator in the world: I had to stand there patiently with my Epic amounts of stuff, while people who’d seen me running passed me on the stairs, bemused.  Then to the top, and more running.  I reached security, ran straight to the front of the line, and started stripping—because was I practically dressed?  No.  No, I was not.  So it was coat off, belt off, boots off, things out of pocket, laptop out of bag, be scanned, get re-dressed, stuff my jigsaw-puzzle of a day-pack together, and start running again.  To another freaking security check.  Coat off, belt off, hopping around as I pull my laptop out of my bag and undo my boots at the same time, scan, repack, run.  Except now I didn’t know where I was running to: where the hell was departures?  (Then I wondered if thinking ‘where the hell’ was really advisable, when Allah was apparently already against me).

“Girl!” yelled a security guard, who’d obviously seen the kerfuffle that is me alternately running and stripping.  “Go!” and he waved toward an elevator.  “Thanks!” I called back, and ran for it.  I decided that rather than slow down in time (quite the feat with the momentum my suitcase had), I’d just smack into the wall: exactly what I did.  Happily, I managed to get the elevator button before bouncing off.  I was way too high on adrenalin at this point and was jumping on the spot as I waited for the elevator: then I was inside.  Cue soothing elevator music.

Finally, the departures hall, and more running.  Haha everybody in the world must have heard me running along in my boots, and I swear that staff at every check-in counter looked up at me anxiously, wondering if it was them I was heading for.  At last I saw the sign for Etihad, and skidded as I made an about-turn.

The gate was closed.

But do I take no for an answer?!  No.  So I ducked under the guides and walked up to a clerk who was still at her desk.  “I’d like to check in,” I said calmly, trying to pretend like I hadn’t just run a few kilometres.

The lady just looked at me.  Long pause.  Pursed lips.  “Passport, please,” she said.  Boo freaking yah.  Haha and not only did she let me check in, but she didn’t even charge me for excess baggage!  Love it.

And that is how I do airports.

(Btw, the ‘featured image’ from this post is one of several a group of Asian kids sent me: I’m in hundreds of vaguely uncomfortable photos with strangers from all over the world who’ve asked to pose with me, and sometimes they forward them.)

Next, it was back to Australia for a few months to earn some cashish before starting my next adventure, in ze motherland.

Source: http://www.candaceroserardon.com/2012/03/travel-disasters-thefts/

The probable incidence of larceny

I’ve just arrived back in Istanbul, in advance of the conference tomorrow.  And oh my goodness has it been an adventure!

My flight from Iraklio, Crete, was at 02:40 this morning.  I barely made it to the airport actually: in the process of hailing the last bus to the airport, I forgot how to walk, and ended up throwing myself down on the ground instead.  Painfully, with a lot of swearing, and out of sight of the bus.  I was frantic that I’d miss the thing, so jumped up and launched myself Quasimodo-style toward the bus.  Meanwhile, a guy who’d seen me eat pavement looked like he wanted to call an ambulance for me, so I made a speedy exit.  Well, as speedily as someone who’s walking like a particularly damaged zombie can exit, anyway.

I made it to the airport, and upon arriving overhead a conversation between a couple nearby.  They’d missed their flight, because they didn’t realise that after midnight, it’s a new day.  Thus they’d turned up a day late, thinking that 01:40 in the morning was clearly still part of Wednesday night, and 01:40 on Wednesday morning is part of Tuesday night.  Some real winners for the gene pool, there.

After waiting a few hours (during which I practised Spanish with myself and didn’t look even moderately crazy), I checked in my bags and went to passport control.  Where I thought it would be a great idea to ask whether my passport was flagged after I’d overstayed my Russian visa.  Because ‘I overstayed my visa’ is precisely what immigration officials want to hear!

It took me no less than five buckets to pass all of my stuff through the scanner, then I mooched into the lounge, looking forward to an hour’s nap.  And that absolutely would have happened, were there not a group of four Russians choreographing a dance to Beat It! by Michael Jackson.  I’m talking blaring repetition of the song, the four standing in formation and pulling out some very very cheesy moves.  I have no idea why 2am was a good time to do this.  Russians are always very considerate of those around them!  (Sarcasm?  Nooooo).

I had a little nap on the short flight, got to Istanbul, and walked to the metro entrance.  But it was still only 04:15, and the metro wasn’t actually open yet.  So I made a remarkably comfy bed from my suitcase and bag, and slept for an hour or so on the floor outside the station: I’m taking this ‘homeless traveller’ thing a little too seriously, I think!

Twenty minutes on the train, an hour on the tram (where a recorded voice-over warned of the inevitable larceny that takes place at all tram stops), and finally to the bus stop.  I needed to catch a bus to Taksim Square (where the riots are), in order to walk from there.  Then I couldn’t figure out how to buy a bus ticket, and the driver was not a very happy nor helpful man, so I walked to the taxi rank instead.  I asked how much it would cost to my hostel (I gave the guy the name, and showed him a map of the area around it), and he said 10 lira (~AU$5).  Great!  So I jumped on in.

We then spent the next loooooooooooong time (I’d say nearly an hour, but I’m pretty sleep deprived) driving around looking for the place.  We drove past Taksim, which is really quite a mess: holes in the road, trash everywhere, and hastily-erected home-made road-blocks.  Plus riot police vans.  The protesters themselves seemed very chilled however.

Anyway, every block or so, the driver would pull over and ask a taxi driver for directions.  Meanwhile, he was starting to insult and yell at me in Turkish—it’s not really my problem if he doesn’t know where he’s going despite directions and a map, though!

Finally, finally, we made it to the hostel.  I gave him the 10 lira and he said “no,” and now demanded 25 for his trouble.  Note: ‘his’ trouble.  I said no, I wasn’t going to pay that.  He then got absolutely furious and started waving his arms around and yelling in Turkish.  Unsurprisingly, I stuck to my guns and said that no, I would pay what we agreed.  (You can tell how much of a budget I’m on… also, after Russia, I’m not exactly going to take that nonsense!)  He then moved the car into a driveway and stopped the engine.  I’d unfortunately broken my own rule—always put baggage in the car, not in the boot, so I can grab and run if there’s any issues.  As it was, after a minute or so of us both just sitting there, I got my kindle out and started to read my book.  I’m quite difficult to extort.

After maybe five minutes, the taxi driver started the car again, and started driving aimlessly around the city: I don’t really know what he was trying to achieve!  He was ranting and raving and driving in circles (thank goodness for my insane memory—I’d already memorised the streets around the hostel on our first go around, so I knew I could find my way back if he dropped me somewhere random).  After maybe another ten minutes, I told him that I now considered myself kidnapped, and was calling the police.  And I did.  While I was on hold waiting for an English or Russian speaker, I asked him for his registration number, as it wasn’t displayed inside the cab.

Needless to say, when I then offered to pay him 15, he meekly accepted and drove me back to the hostel, and I disconnected the call with the police.

What has Russia done to me?!?!  (Also: never, ever, mess with a tired Laura).

Hostile

An excited Russian man came running over to me at the conference before.  “Лаура!” he said, “you’re from St Petersburg!”

“Well, not exactly,” I replied.  I don’t know exactly how he thought the name ‘Laura’ could be Russian, but apparently he was trying to find out if there was anyone else from Ze Motherland at the conference, and someone pointed me out.  I’m curious what brings him here actually—Russia seems to be entirely lacking in any kind of environmental movement.  I’ll have to ask him tomorrow.

The conference so far has been a bit blah, but I’m quite interested to hear Al Gore’s presentation tomorrow.  It’s rather disconcerting actually—the presenters and staff who’ve mentioned him so far have spoken of him with a tone of reverence, as though he were a god or something.  They continually laugh deprecatingly, saying that “well, I’m not Al Gore!”  I’m not sure they realise he’s just a dude, ex-US Vice President or no.

Turkey has continued to be rollercoaster-like.  After yesterday’s post, I went for a walk to buy some tops for the conference.  The area around Taksim is infinitely more likeable than that around Sultanhmet, where I stayed last year.  There people were constantly creeping on me, but here it’s much more European.  It’s actually quite cool.

After making my purchases (in the end, at a Russian chain store… of course..!), I decided to go and check out Taksim Square, site of the protests in Istanbul.  It was very interesting.  Most had gas masks of various calibre, which is totally reasonable as they’ve been gassed by the police several times by now.  There was a whole range of people, from seemingly all backgrounds and of all ages.  There were quite a few young people, but also some from older generations.  Mixed in were the normal homeless people.

The vibe was quite difficult to describe: it felt partly like a party, but with violent undertones.  I don’t think I’ve ever fully understood the word ‘thrilling’ before this.  Walking through the park, there were people everywhere: some chanting, some singing, some chilling in their tents, and others sitting around eating with friends.  As it got later, there were more and more grim-looking people filing in, and fewer people just investigating.  Camera crews were everywhere, of course.

 

People protest in the square by two Turkish flags and a huge image of the prime minister:


After visiting the square, I returned to the hostel for an early-ish night.  All was fine and well until 1:24am, when the lady who works at the hostel came to wake me up and tell me I needed to move rooms.  You can imagine how delightfully happy I was.  I had no choice, so got out of bed to start packing my stuff.  A minute or so later, as I was getting changed (chances of my walking around the hostel in my pjs are approximately zero), the cleaning lady walked in, leaving the door open for the world to see.  She then proceeded to sit down and watch me pack, which was a dangerous place to be.  When I left the room, she didn’t actually even change the bedding, despite the fact I’d slept in it all day—just left it for the guys who were moving in.

The hostel lady cornered a guy who was walking up the stairs to help with my luggage, and he said that was fine, but man did he bitch and moan.  My bag’s only just over 20kg, but you would have thought it weighed three times that.  As he was resting every few steps and complaining bitterly, I couldn’t help but think, ‘well, you’re certainly not Russian!’.

A few hours later I got back to sleep, then reluctantly woke to my alarm a couple of hours later again.  I’d decided to go and get my hair done before registration for the conference opened, as I’ve been feeling completely blah lately: I figured that maybe looking like ‘Australian’ Laura would help me start feeling like her again.  And that’s what credit cards are for, right..?  (In other news, I feel like I’ve figured out how people get into debt cycles: I’ve had so little money for so long now, that it’s become like an abstract concept.  I’m putting everything on credit and will deal with it later…. oh, healthy financial situation.)

Anyway, I got down to reception, at which point the lady told me in a rather aggressive manner that I was going to have to move rooms again.  “Are you fucking serious?!” I replied.  (You may be sensing a morning theme with me—don’t ever talk to me before at least 10am).  I told her I’d return to move my stuff after I’d had my hair done.

It seems that having my hair done is something I do when in Turkey, as I had it dyed last time too.  Happily, this time I didn’t end up as white-blonde, and he did a great job cutting it, too.  Who needs language, right?  Getting your hair cut in a country where you don’t speak the language is invariably interesting.

Time to do some study before bed!

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My hostel, Taksim Istanbul: Green House Hostel

A quick update from Istanbul

I’m not sure how much news is making it out, so figured I’d post my facebook/vk/twitter updates.   I was exposed to a little tear gas last night but am fine—I was lucky enough to make it back to my hostel before it all went crazy.  Here are a couple of photos I took from the hostel window:

A group of men chanting outside
A group of men chanting outside
2
The gas that chased them away. Quite a bit of tear gas was shot on the street outside at different times. It was fine to breathe in the room, but because the bathroom has a vent it was quite difficult at times.

It was going on for most of the night.

07.40 I can’t hear any protests or gas bombs being set off near my hostel now, but apparently violence continues and will do so throughout the day. The PM’s having his own rally of supporters today, which is likely to result in continuing protests. Thousands of police descended on the peaceful protesters (including very young children and the elderly) with gas and water cannons- and from our window we also saw them holding stones. Several hotels where people were avoiding the violence – eg the Hilton, next to my conference venue – have been stormed. One hotel, which had been converted into an infirmary (the Didan) was tear-gassed inside and doctors were arrested.
Transport has once more ground to a halt, while tv signals are rumoured to have been jammed like the internet, and journalists have not been permitted into the area. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has announced that anyone entering the area of the riots will be considered and treated as a terrorist. Further, Turkish officials have commented on how perfectly this situation has been handled.
For those who don’t know what these protests are about, it started here in Istanbul after a park was to be demolished, but has since turned into a protest against the government and moreover a demand for civil and social rights.
I’m not sure if we can leave our hostel or go to the conference at this point, but will update when I can! 

‘Governor Mutlu is holding a press meeting right now: “We have announced the intervention. Only some marginal groups were inside the park. We’re glad that the intervention was exceptionally proper.”‘
7 hours ago, from Occupy Gezi facebook page.

08.00 The conference organisers have said to go to the conference, so we’re all off.  More protests are expected to take off at around 4pm.

PS I was forced to join twitter for the conference: @explauramay

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My hostel, Taksim Istanbul: Green House Hostel

The romantic life

Last night, I was at dinner with the two girls I’ve been sharing a room with for the past week in Istanbul, when one of them suddenly said, “Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love.”  The other two of us waited to see where the sentence was going, but apparently that was it.  The other girl said that Istanbul is a very romantic city, that there’s something in the air here, and I’m inclined to agree.

Last time I was in Istanbul (March 2012), I absolutely hated it.  The city itself doesn’t call to me, the food’s bad, and the constant hassling from men was intolerable.  This time though, with friends, it’s much less offensive.  Granted, I’m spending 90% of the time in our hostel/hotel room, studying and working on projects (much-needed time!), but even our sojourns into the outside world have been quite nice.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Turkish men are generally very good-looking.

After the hecticness that was last Saturday night, I and the girls from my hostel room at that time turned up fairly late to the conference.  We weren’t sure if it was going ahead for the final day (and the organisers were more than lax in communicating with us), and plus, we had to navigate around the tear-gas which surrounded the conference centre.  At one point, I heard tear gas fired at least sixteen times in the same place, and you can see in this photo I took on my phone the remnants of the smoke:

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I wasn’t paying much attention to the conference that morning, and barely anyone turned up.  Some had been out all night in strangers’ houses, having been let in to escape the omnipresent tear gas; the rest of us were too excited by what was happening around us.  Others  were still trapped in different parts of the city.  Anyway, I headed to the social media centre to let people know I was alive, and saw a message from one of the girls in my room that they were going to leave the conference early and move from Taksim to the city, as the centre’s security guards had told them that they were worried about the conference centre being stormed and gassed by the police.  I decided to join them, and so before midday we were back in our hostel in Taksim (where I became friends with the girl who worked there, in the end!), packing our things to head to the city.  I’ve been here since, and will remain a few more days before returning to Athens, where the food is better!

At first in our room there were four of us—myself, a Colombian girl, an Argentinian and a Greek.  I’m surrounded by warm country people again!  The Colombian left after the first two days, and it’s just been the three of us since.  They’ve been a good influence on me already, even in such a short time—they’re both called Marina, but I’ve renamed one of them Sensei since she’s told me that every time I say something angry thanks to ‘Russian Syndrome’, I have to say something nice afterward.  Other Marina just now threatened me to make sure I said nice things in this blog post haha!

Before I forget to mention it, the conference itself was very mixed.  I made some good contacts and got a piece of paper to bolster my environmental accreditations, but it was all a bit blah.  The first day wasn’t very useful for those of us who’ve given presentations or delivered training before.   The second day started well, with Al Gore giving his presentation, but to be honest the presentation is very strong on proving climate change and almost entirely lacking in solutions (and completely lacking in ‘next steps’, or things that the individual consumer or business can do to minimise their impact).  Also, at the end of the day he became true to his ‘Al God’ persona, and went full evangelical climate minister: there were fake tears, there was whispering followed by shouting—he completely lost me, and a lot of the rest of the audience.  The third day, as I’ve said, most people were absent.  The organisers, meanwhile, were the only people with the complete list of attendees: and not only did they not acknowledge the fact that our building was surrounded by riot police and tear gas, but they didn’t even check that people were okay.  We didn’t even know if everyone was safe.

As I said, I’ve been mainly staying in the hostel/hotel room (it’s kind of a hostel, next to kind of a hotel, and we’ve moved rooms three times so it’s all a little muddled!), catching up on studies and work.  I’ve been using edX, the free online university program recently launched by Harvard/Berkeley/MIT etc, to do a course on ‘Global Human Health and Climate Change’, and it’s been absolutely fantastic.  I can’t recommend the programme enough—and more courses are being added every semester.

I’ve also finally paid my uni fees to London, given that the Australian dollar is absolutely tanking.  It’s lost ten cents on the green-back in the last few weeks, and due to lose another twenty by November.  Needless to say, my budget is screwed!  So that’s all official, and I’m committed.  Creeeeepy.  My eventual probably-plan is to upgrade the graduate diploma in geography & environment into a Masters of Public Policy (Climate Change).  Meanwhile, my dear friend Reda is trying to convince me to apply for that Masters at Cambridge, of all places!  I’m not so sure..!

I have also, finally, started writing.  I promised my Nan years ago that I’d write a book, and so I’ve started in on that.  I’m determined to finish it for her, and I have enough spare time in the next few months to make some serious headway.  I’ve also been teaching English via Skype to a guy in Moscow, at the request of my friend Alex.  He recently opened a language school in St Petersburg, and asked me to do it as a favour.  It’s a lot of work for little money, but it’s only for the four weeks until I go to Finland, and it’s money I’d not have had otherwise.  More to the point, he’s a decent guy, and it would be good if schools like his would succeed, while those run by much less nice people would fail.  Because apparently I’m vindictive like that!

On a lighter note, coming home from dinner last night, we stopped at a pudding shop to pick up some dessert.  The three of us were crowded around a menu, with one of the others reading out the items.  She got to profiteroles, read out ‘cream-filled balls’, looked at me, and started giggling.  The other Marina joined in, while I tried to control myself for the conservative crowd around us.  But then she just kept saying ‘cream-filled balls’, and finally simply ballsballsballsballsballs, and I gave in.  The three of us were standing there laughing uncontrollably for probably three minutes, while a Turkish waiter looked on like we were crazy people.  We finally stopped, and he looked at me and said, “yes, pistachios are funny, aren’t they!?”.  What could I do but nod?

Anyway, it’s dinner-time here in Turkey, so we’re off on the quest to find some cheap vegetarian food once more.  Пока пока :))

PS—the ‘featured image’ today is the view from where I’m writing 🙂

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My hostel, Taksim Istanbul: Green House Hostel.  The hostel in Sultanahmet, Istanbul: Yakamoz Guesthouse.