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By Al Kirkpatrick, CISO for Firestorm’s The Kirkpatrick Report
(Editor's Note: due to Hurricane Irene coverage and response, this post was delayed in publication)
August 21, 2011
So, I’m headed to Sarajevo after one hectic day playing tourist in Istanbul. Formerly known as Constantinople during Greek and Roman occupation, and then changed to Istanbul when the Ottoman Turks took over, this city has a strategic location as it surrounds the Bosporus straits which connects the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Its history goes back thousands of years, and yet the city is quite modern, clean and comfortable by any standards. After three weeks of heat, polluted and/or rainy skies, it has been a pleasure to enjoy mid-70’s temperature under clear Mediterranean blue skies.
After waiting in the incoming immigration line, the pleasant immigration officer examined my passport and asked where my Turkish visa was. Well, I thought I had checked that a visa is not required and so my heart basically stopped. But then he pointed me to a booth a few feet down and I soon learned that you purchase your Turkish visa for $20 USD (it’s a paste-in stamp) after arriving. So, I shoved my heart back down into my chest, started breathing again, paid the $20 and did not even have to stand in line again. Good grief, travel has its moments.
Learned a travel lesson today; I had a few hundred rupees left over from India and waited to exchange them in Istanbul. Turns out Indian rupees are not common enough to exchange in many places outside of India. The good news is that my few hundred Indian rupees is only about $10 USD, so I’ll give a hundred to each of the grandkids and they’ll think they’re rich!
Obviously I can’t share that much with only one non-business day here, but it is clearly on my list of top spots to come back to and invest reasonable time just to see and enjoy.
Turkey is not part of the European Union and has its own currency (Lira). I stayed in the suburbs close to the airport and took commuter rail into the city hub. Trains were clean (none of the graffiti that mars such in the U.S.), on time and relatively comfortable. Fare each way was about $1 USD. Neighborhoods were quite beautiful with tree-lined streets and residences over street-front shops.
Istanbul has a huge port and ships stay anchored in the bay waiting their turn at the docks.
Many of the “must see” sights are within walking distance within the city hub including several extraordinary mosques, a palace, the cistern (below-ground water supply 1400 years old) and the grand bazaar. If you are into shopping, the bazaar is simply astonishing. The tour books report that it contains 4,000 shops, but in reality that is the ancient bazaar under one roof, and immediately surrounding it is a labrynth of pedestrian streets that I imagine must hold another few thousand shops. Everything imaginable within a crush of people that defies imagination.
I also took a few minutes to visit the Museum of History of Science and Technology in Islam (once a geek…) and it’s impressive to see the advances in astrology, engineering (particularly for war) and other sciences made thousands of years ago. My favorite? A thousand year old liquor distiller, of course!
As luck would have it, I arrived in Istanbul for the first day of Ramadan - the Islamic holy celebration. It lasts for one month, and Muslims fast from sun-up to 8PM and then have celebratory meals in the evening. Interestingly, most of the women do not wear burqas or chadris in Istanbul – their dress is basically western.
The food here is Mediterranean with a Turkish twist and I found wonderful. Lamb, beef, chicken with lots of kebabs and vegetable dishes that I’m not sure what I ate, but tasted really good. Fruits at every meal – very fresh and ripe. Oh, and olives of every variety. Olives are one of the few foods that I just never got attached to, and for once I am sorry about that for I suspect that the varieties here are just spectacular. Turkish coffee, of course - - I tasted some and it was way over my strength meter. Tea is much more my style and, as in India, it’s fresh and delicious. In restaurants and even along the sidewalk you can order Turkish tobacco smoked in a water pipe. I’m not a smoker, so I can’t advise, but the water pipes are beautiful works of art.
While on the subject of food - - I am flying (right now) on Turkish Airlines which is rated among Europe’s finest. Even in economy class today for a 1-1/2 hour hop, lunch is on the house and delicious with a cold smoked salmon salad, a fresh cheese, tomato and cucumber sandwich and a moist and delicious cherry cake for desert. Why can’t our U.S. airlines provide such service? Also, the Ataturk Istanbul airport had a new twist on security that I think makes a lot of sense. As soon as I entered the terminal (before counter check-in) my luggage and carry-on items were scanned. Certainly lessens the chance that anything bad gets in the terminal anywhere. Not much of a wait, either.
So, that’s a quick note about Istanbul, and now it’s on to Sarajevo for my final day of business on Monday.
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