I go down to get my laundry, and there’s a post-it note on dryer. It asks if I want to go get some coffee sometime. I’m skeptical at first, because this sort of thing only happens in movies starring Jennifer Aniston and Hugh whatever-his-name-is-the-one-that-picked-up-all-those-transvestite-hookers-that-time. Anyway, I leave a post it note that says “okay” and yesterday we go for coffee. I walk her to her door, because it’s the one next door to mine. She gets a funny look on her face, says “well, you certainly look good on paper” and she’s gone. I know what she means. “A tall handsome doctor, eh? Because, I’ve heard you lying on the floor singing the tendercrisp bacon cheddar ranch song before.”
Walking down the street on the way to the Topkapi palace, seat of the Ottoman kings. We pass a doorway, and peeking into it, we see it’s a gift shop. I would grow to hate gift shops in Bulgaria – for some reason, every church is entered via the tchotchke stand. There’s a big bold sign that says this shop is exit only, though. I was curious, but such is the way of the Sakulich people: I was on my way to the palace, so I was going to go to the palace. No time for such diversions. But I was travelling with a seasoned adventurer, an explorer of the highest order, and she suggested we find out to what was this gift shop connected. We found a sign that said ENTRANCE FORTY METERS with an arrow going up the street. We went to the corner, and there was a guard with an MP5 and a scowl, certainly a deterrent to the sightseeing types. There’s a concrete blockhouse, a fine example of, shall we say, Berlin 1938 construction, across the street.
“Maybe that’s the attraction.” Says my comrade. But it’s across the street, at ground level – and the gift shop is on this side of the street, at ground level. How could they connect? I mild wave of irritation sloshes over me. We have palaces to see, after all. We go across the street, and find there’s a 5 Turkish Lira entrance fee. It’s for something called a cistern.
We descend a flight of stone stairs and enter into a cavernous space. Hundreds of columns rise and are lost in the darkness, illuminated by orange-red lights at their base. There’s a rickety wooden walkway that winds between the stone columns. Below, there’s neck deep water. Apparently, this is where the Romans kept their drinking supply back in the day. It’s 20 degrees cooler down here, which is good, because it’s 100 degrees outside. Centigrade. The place is huge. You can’t see the ceiling, and from the center of it, you’d think the entire universe was an underground cavern. They’re playing some sort of wooga oooga ambient music that I’m sure Scott would approve of. They knew what they were doing.
In the back corner, there are two columns standing a hideous carved stone faces. The brochure says they were taken from a pagan temple in Syria, and brought to this location by the Romans. I suspect that, in face, they were taken from my darkest nightmares, and brought to that location by a team of imps on a chariot hitched to a stallion made of flames.
I exited through the gift shop, refreshed by the temperature, and numbed by the experience. Had it been up to me, I never would have known it was there. Since so much was up to me over there, what was there that I’ll never know about. So much to see. So much to learn. So much to do.
Oh! I forgot to add the following tidbit about my time in Istanbul. Over the course of my life, I’ve met a handful of people that served during the Vietnam War. I met another one in Istanbul. He was a Navy SEAL.
Of the handful of guys I’ve met, every single one of them was a SEAL, a sniper, or some sort of other top secret spy commando. Is that all we sent over there? Where are all the clerks? Where are all the cooks? How is it that I’ve met a dozen SEALs and not a single mechanic? Unless…
So, I’m back from vacation. Essentially, I went to Philadelphia to walk in my official graduation ceremony, and since I was already there, I flew to Turkey to visit my friend Amanda. We spent four days in Istanbul and four days in Bulgaria, including a tiny town called Veliko Turnovo, home to an enormous ruined fortress of staggering beauty. Anyway, I am exhausted, so here are some short notes to whet your appetites for more ridiculous stories later:
- In Bulgaria, no one can hear you scream. Well, they can, but it’s World Cup season, so they just stand around smoking cigarettes and assuming you’re celebrating a goal, as opposed to you’re freaked out by that spider.
- If the bartender at the hostel you’re staying at in Istanbul accidentally puts Kurdish music on the rooftop bar’s music system, the police will show up. They will be armed, and they will be praying you want to argue about it.
- Australians drink like they don’t want to live. Bulgarians drink like they don’t want YOU to live. That having been said, Raki is the most delicious liquor to ever touch my lips. And that’s saying something.
- Paris’ main airport is called Charles de Gaulle airport. I am not real good at history, but I assume he was an enemy of the state, or a serial killer or traitor or something, because no one would name such a crap shoot after anyone they liked. To get from one terminal to another instead of walking, as one would do at an airport in a civilized country designed by professionals, you take a bus to a bus station and a bus to the terminal. Whoever designed PDG can go screwez les-selves.
- During this trip Delta Airlines had the decency to send me not only on the worst flight I’ve ever been on, but the top two worst flights I’ve ever been on. If I ever have a say about it ever again, I will not fly on Delta airlines. On an unrelated note, people that take their shoes off on airplanes and walk around barefoot should be taken to the back of the plane and shot. It’s public transport, not a farm, you godless yokels.