September 18th, 2007 – by: chrisrae
Yesterday was by far the worst day of my trip thus far. There was a vast difference between it and the day before when I was traveling with a guy. I spent the day dealing with constant stares from men (sometimes children), cat calls (hey baby/woman, kisses in the air, etc.), shouts from across the street about me being lost, offers to sell me carpets and other crap. I mean, everyone gets the latter, but basically I just had this feeling like I was in a fishbowl. It must be something like what celebrities go through - everyone watching every move you make, no matter how mundane and simple. I could not walk down the street without all eyes on me. Perhaps the day before gave me too much confidence as I headed out with my hair down uncovered, and from what I can tell, my blonde hair and blue eyes contribute to this response more so than if I were a brunette based on what I've heard from darker-haired, single female travelers.
Spice Market - lots of real Turkish delight for sale
In any event, it was rough, frustrating and downright uncomfortable.
To top it all off, I got screwed out of $100 by a travel agent. I was thinking about having someone arrange my buses and accomodations over the next three weeks and inquired with the travel agency at my hostel about it and then talked with others who had done similar. As was the case, I was walking down the sidewalk later in the day, not looking lost, just walking, and got flagged by this guy, just chatting, asking the usual where are you from. I tried to run off but got trapped in conversation. He encouraged me to stop into his cousin's travel agency nearby, which I did for a chat and ended up there a while working out a really good route over the next few weeks.
Basilica Cistern or Sinking Palace underground with 336 columns
He quoted me a price that seemed reasonable based on the per diem (similar to what others have been paying), so I agreed and paid a deposit as luckily I didn't have enough money transferred into checking to pay it out right. I set off with promises to pay the next day. I felt uneasy right away and was walking around thinking about that while dealing with the aforementioned calls out. After a series of unplanned events, I ended up in another tourist agency which happened to be run by two guys who used to work with the other guy I had met earlier. He explained how much a con he was and said he could do the same trip for $200 less! I immediately got angry and insisted I needed to be off to cancel the trip and get back my deposit. He looked at me and said, "Do you really think you'll get your deposit back?" It wasn't really a question.
Medusa head thought to be brought here in order to be used as column pedestals
He offered me tea to make me chill there for a bit and gave me some options to try to work this out. Basically I would not see the money back but maybe had a chance of getting a Bosphorous day trip in exchange for part of the money. I set off and negotiated that with some protests on both sides and disagreement about how much time he was worth and how much crap he was full of. Basically, I was out 100 still at the end of the day. I returned to thank the other travel agent and declined his tour. I am going at it alone. Forget the easy way, it's too damn hard.
After that ridiculously stressful day, I went back to the hostel for a beer on the roof. I met an Aussie couple and unloaded the story on them. It felt good to talk to them about it.
Upside down Medusa
..I guess I felt less stupid although I ignored all my internal alarms at the time. They also explained that this experience and Turkey generally were great preparation for Egypt which would prove to be ten times as worse. Great. In fact, they just had traveled my intended route for Africa, so I got some great information from them. I also realized I needed to just suck it up here and deal as it wasn't going to get any easier. I then had dinner with a group from the hostel and shared my day and many other stories from my trip so far. There was lots of laughter, so I figured, at least it's another story to add to the mix. I also learned that everything here is negotiable, including the price of beer at restaurants. So we had fun with that, taking advantage of the competition for our business.
This morning I got up pretty early to catch my Bosphorous tour. The Bosphorous separates the Europe side of Istanbul from the Asia side. It was calming and scenic. Tomorrow I'm leaving this city to see what other adventures await. Wish me luck!