weeks ago my family set off to vacation in Turkey and Greece. We said goodbye
to cyberspace and hello to sightseeing mini-marathons, interrupted by glorious
relaxation at the beach. For me and my
daughter, Sarah, there was no cell phone service, no laptop, no ipad. We were
content (mostly) to let it all go. Of
course, my husband, Henry, had to maintain cell and internet connection with
his law office. Our newly graduated and
still unemployed son, Max, also needed to stay connected in case a potential
employer called and—if not—to commiserate and seek comfort from friends at
our first stop, was full of surprises.
Upon landing, we discovered that Turkey won’t accept payment in its own
currency-- even when applying for visas at the airport! Public restrooms were also an adventure. Behind some doors there were holes in the
floor over which to squat, while others featured toilets with no seats. (So you
have to squat either way.) Our hotel,
the Park Hyatt, was lovely, but I didn’t expect to walk through a metal
detector each time I entered the lobby. This precaution was a clear reminder of the
political protests and turmoil earlier in the summer.
At one of our dinners overlooking the
twinkling lights and the beauty of the Bosporus, the best dessert on the menu
(a chocolate torte) included the description “sprinkled with bird shit
powder.” No, I’m not kidding. We ordered it anyway and found it delicious.
touring, we had an excellent guide Tim, for a full, action-packed day in
Istanbul starting at 8:30AM. In the
morning we saw the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi
Palace and the Hippodrome. At the
entrance to the mosque, Sarah and I were required to wear a head scarf and long-sleeved
tunic over our shorts and tee-shirts, while Max and Henry were permitted to
enter in their shorts and tee shirts. The
message was loud and clear. Men were
free to dress (and do) as they pleased.
Women were restricted. What did I expect? After all, Turkey was 95% Muslim. Still, entering the mosque was my first
visceral experience of what it meant to be a Western woman in a country where
many of the women wear black burkas in 90 degree heat, covered from head to toe
with only their eyes (or eyeglasses) exposed.
Meanwhile their male companions were dressed just like Westerners. For a few sweaty moments, I imagined how
different my life would have been if I’d been born in Istanbul instead of New
As Sarah and I exited the mosque, we
encountered a man who was responsible for collecting the scarves and tunics
which had been distributed to the “over exposed” female tourists at the
entrance. Snatching our extra clothing he hissed his disapproval, hurling the
loaner garments into a basket as if he were touching spider webs.
the mosque, we visited the Grand Bazaar, where we were shown copies of Prada,
Louis Vuitton, Hermes and just about every wildly expensive designer on Madison
Avenue. These hand bags and wallets were
secreted into hidden closets that merchants eagerly exposed for our inspection,
swiveling them back just as quickly when
we said no thanks. It was easy to
resist these cheap copies, but we
couldn’t resist the photo op when Max stood grinning under a big sign advertising “Genuine Fake Watches.”
next stop for our family was a rug company.
Seated in a showroom, we were and
served “sweet tea” that tasted like hot
apple cider while our hosts attempted to sell us a variety of Turkish rugs—Persian, silk,
Kilim—in all sizes and prices. Some, our hosts insisted (and demonstrated)
could be folded and carried home on the airplane in shoulder bags which they would be happy to provide. The president and his assistants showed us
hand-woven silk rugs that changed color as they unfurled in different
directions. We were asked to observe greens turning to turquoise and burgundy
changing into apricot like a magic trick in the shifting light. Although we “oohed’ and “aahed” appreciatively,
Henry explained that we lived in a small New York City apartment and lacked the
palatial-size rooms these rugs deserved.
escaping the rug sellers, Tim escorted us to a leather store at Henry’s request. Here we received our own private fashion show
complete with runway, disco music, flashing lights, and strutting models, both
male and female. To Sarah’s delight, the
leather store staff invited her to model a blue motorcycle jacket at the end of
in a lot of trouble now,” Max whispered to Henry.
“I know.” But Henry was smiling. I’ve heard Turkish leather is supposed to
be really nice. I asked to come here because I was curious.”
the fashion show, we perused the full range of leather inventory, which was
displayed in a room the size of an entire floor at Bloomingdale’s. The owner was the personal shopper for the
whole family. While we tried on leather
and shearling in every imaginable color and style, our tour guide conversed
with the owner’s son in Turkish and sipped multiple espressos.
we don’t really have time to do this,” I told Henry. I don’t like to be rushed or pressured when I
checked with Tim, our guide, because we only had 8 hours of touring and didn’t
want to miss a major sight because we tried on too many coats.
“Take your time.” Tim smiled,
refilling his coffee and leaning back on the plush sofa where he was seated.
Obviously, he was in cahoots with
the store keeper and was anticipating a commission on whatever our family
bought. But that didn’t stop us from shopping for bargains.
About half an hour later, we bought
a leather jacket for Max and shearling coats for Sarah and me.
“I’m on the schneid once again,”
Henry commented with a smile. As
always, he was delighted with the discounts and with making his family
happy. The coats were beautiful and
practical and would not have to be put in storage like a rug.
Since Turkey is also known for its
jewelry, our last stop was a jewelry store.
“My credit is card is exhausted and
so are we,” Henry warned Tim. It was almost 6 PM, and we’d been up and running
since 7 AM.
“Just take a quick look,” Tim
encouraged us. Although Sarah loves to
shop, Max hates it. He sat in a chair,
reading War and Peace, while the rest of us politely, but briskly viewed 3
floors of jewelry. The store owner was
crestfallen as I shook my head at everything from an enormous sapphire ring to inexpensive
evil eye trinkets.
We skipped the spice market and arrived
back at our hotel at 7:30 PM with just enough time to get ready for dinner on
the Bosporus, a long cab ride away. Camp
Elisofon kept a rapid pace. The next day we would be up bright and early to
catch a 7:30 AM flight to Izmir for a full day at the ancient ruins of Ephesus
and would be returning to our hotel in Istanbul for another late dinner.
We asked for a 5:30 AM wake-up call
and collapsed in exhaustion.
“What will we do if our flight is
cancelled? And what happens if our tour guide doesn’t show up?” Henry worried aloud as I closed my eyes.
I worried about how Sarah would
stick to her meal replacement diet on the plane. Normally, she ate a lemon pudding for breakfast,
but finding a bowl would be impossible at the airport and on the short
flight. Even if I persuaded Sarah to
switch to a smoothie for breakfast and have her pudding for lunch—not so easy
with someone on the autistic spectrum who clings to routine—I’d still have the problem of
where to combine the powder with bottled water. If we tried to do it in the airport, security
might think we were making a bomb and cart us off to a Turkish prison. Mixing and shaking on the airplane was also out
of the question. My last thought before falling asleep was that Sarah would
have to be flexible AND patient—not to mention hungry—and pull out her blender
bottle after we’d landed, met our guide and were safely in the car on our way
to Ephesus. Somehow it would work out. Que
Labels: airport security, autism, fake designer goods, family travel, Greece, Hermes, jewelry, leather, Muslim culture, Prada, Turkey, Turkish rugs, vacation diets, Vuitton