Travel Diaries: The Adventures of Turkey Continue
It’s like stepping back to 1950 and being a small boy again.
Another submission from Vernon (Vern) and Pattie Leming who are blogging from Turkey
August 6, 2013 Eskişehir
Today we headed out towards the Osmangazi University – the end of one of the tram lines. This is a huge place, consisting of massive buildings scattered within a park-like open space. The terrain is slightly rolling, but flat enough to make bicycling easy. In fact all of Eskişehir would be good for bicycling, provided one had good knees and felt immortal enough to face Turkish traffic.
Turkey has up-to-date medical facilities, although one has to be careful in choosing. In fact, Turkey is developing a “medical tourism” industry for Europeans that want to escape their own socialized and rationed systems. As an example, I read that some 30 face replacement surgeries were performed in Turkey last year. This is something new even in the USA.
Before this trip I had researched Eskişehir as thoroughly as one can in English from America. Eskişehir is home to two large universities, Osmangazi being especially recognized. It includes a massive teaching hospital that stands out as one of the best in Turkey. We decided to walk through part of it.
The hospital is gigantic, with all the facilities and specialties you would expect in a major hospital. And it is spotlessly clean and well appointed. If it has a deficiency, it is that it does not have paper towels or drying machines in the pubic restrooms – not uncommon in Turkey.
When we get to Turkey, Pattie buys a cheap purse to use, in which she carries some paper towels and toilet paper. We picked up one for about $3.60; her plan is to have it wear out at about the time we fly home. Incidentally, the one she bought last year did not wear out – she still uses it at home.
We also wandered through another building, where we were stopped by a security guard. He took us to a professor, Ramazan Eroağ (who was born during Ramazan and thus so named). Professor Eroağ specializes in international affairs and such, and will be visiting George Washington University in the USA in 2014, where he will do research on (among other things) conflict resolution.
Professor Eroağ asked us, in particular, what Americans thought of the Gezi Park demonstrations. I had to confess that very little was shown on American television and that most Americans knew nothing of them, nor did they seem to much care. I had to apologize and explain that Americans pay little attention to foreign events unless they directly affect America.
After a pleasant visit, we wandered about the university some more, before heading back to the tram, thence “home” for a nap.
For dinner we had one of our most favorite traveling meals: Bread and a rotisserie chicken. Along with a bottle of soda pop apiece we get a great, easy, and inexpensive meal. A rotisserie chicken costs 8 to 10 Turkish lira – about $4 to $5 US.
I should point out that the Turkish lira (TL) is worth about $0.52 right now. It has lost about $0.13 since last year. This is not so much that the dollar has gained value. In fact, both the dollar and the Euro have lost real value, but they have been careful to keep the relative decline of both currencies balanced, to keep up appearances.
The TL has declined more rapidly, for a variety or reasons. The most important is that Turkey has relied quite heavily on foreign investment, which is declining. In addition, the latest political turmoil has not helped.
At any rate, since prices have not risen that much, our dollars are going farther. What is manure to one is fertilizer to the other!
August 7, 2013 Eskişehir
One of the unusual things that a westerner observes in Turkey and never adjusts to is the dogs. They lay wherever they like – in the street, on the sidewalk, on the steps, you name it and some dog someplace has it staked out. Mark Twain, visiting in the late 1800s remarked on them. Nothing has changed.
Household pet dogs are not, of course, loose on the street. We seldom see them, and then only on a leash. We have no idea how the “tame” dogs sleep. The street dogs, however, are impervious to anything. You are expected to step over them or around them; they normally don’t even open their eyes, much less move. And since they also sleep in the roads, you are expected to drive around them. Last night, someone drove over one near our apartment.
A while back the İstanbul city government decided to collect all the street dogs and place them on a little island in the Sea Marmara, relying on nature to take its course. Imagine hundreds of thousands of dogs! The population had a hissy-fit, so the plan was (thankfully) dropped. Meanwhile, these mangy street dogs seem to get by somehow.
For today’s journey we took the tram the short distance to its end at what is called Opera. This is not pronounced as in the place where fat ladies sing. It is pronounced “oh-PEH-ra”. It’s a working class neighbor hood left over from when Eskişehir was a much smaller place; it still has the character of a small Turkish town. For example, the shops on the back streets are organized as in olden times, or even today in the rural bazaars. Tailors will be clustered together, as will other trades. You find a very eclectic assortment of goods, very often at an extremely reasonable price.
For example, I once bought a canvas vest for the equivalent of $3.75. It was in a pile and it had started raining. The owner was trying to cover them for protection and not prepared to dicker. Now, Turkish small businessmen are the greatest hagglers in the world. They enjoy it and seem to be disappointed if you don’t engage. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a famous trader in Oklahoma, known as “Skinner White”. I got his genes.
Turkish cities seem to divide themselves into these little neighborhoods, each with its own personality. Since very few of the lower class have access to automobiles, they congregate around the local shops and hangouts. Of course they have access to the large shopping centers by tram or bus, but the center of their life seems to be the neighborhood.
As an engineer cum land planner, I have developed (or, rather, adapted) what I call the barbershop theory. Nowadays, we take our children across town to a big barbershop where they have a different barber every time. When we had a neighborhood barbershop every few blocks, the barber became a family friend. Gossip was shared and friendships made. This was true of local markets, hair salons, etc.
We have largely lost the sense of neighborhood. Perhaps this is why we enjoy Turkey so much, or at least one of the reasons. It’s like stepping back to 1950 and being a small boy again. And, additionally, I am just as ignorant in a Turkish environment as when I was six years old!
We had planned to go to a nearby Chinese restaurant for dinner. We have been to 45 countries and have found that Chinese food is the most consistently clean with good food, especially if operated by ethnic Chinese. We will never know about this one, however. It was too upscale for our tastes and way too expensive for our budget.
Instead, we went back to the mall with a KFC. We had promised the manager we would return; besides, I have some questions that require my informant to speak some English. I got a KFC two-piece meal anyway, while Pattie went to a neighboring outlet for a dörner, a kind of flour tortilla wrapped around just about anything, usually with lamb or chicken. Like Mexican tacos, they vary from cook to cook and from region to region. Pattie’s had some sliced lamb (she thinks), along with cucumber, lettuce, and tomato.
Two doors down from our building is a pistol range, with compressed air pellet guns. We each took our turn, with not-so-great results. I shot a replica 1911 model 45 ACP. At 15 yards I can cloverleaf the rounds shooting relatively fast using real ammo. With the pellet pistol my spread was the size of a dinner plate at 10 yards. Anyway, we both had fun. I just wish that this computer had a picture of me in my cowboy action shooting duds, holding my 1897 Winchester shotgun and my 1873 Winchester rifle, and having my two 45 single actions strapped to my hips!