World Tour

4/3/02 - 4/15/02

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Wow, where to start this story? In reality, it's more like 3 separate stories, so I think I'm going to break them up that way.

The first story is about my first landing in Istanbul, the second is about the rest of my time in Istanbul, and the third will be about my time in England.

So without further ado, I give you...


The Istanbul Police


"Marge, don't discourage the boy. Weaseling out of things is important to learn.

It's what sets us apart from the animals...

Except the Weasel."

-Homer Simpson


One day I called my father in Istanbul to say, "hi". He handed the phone to his next door neighbor's daughter, Idil Vural (A Turkish Actress and dancer currently starring on a Turkish TV show). She and I started talking, and after 2 months of talking on the phone a couple of times a week, we had become really good friends. When I decided to travel to Istanbul (to meet her, as well as to visit my father), we made plans to hang out and spend time together.

While talking and planning the trip, I decided to also stop off in England on the way home to see London and visit a friend named Harry Harris. He's the Premiere expert on Aliens props and costumes, and a hell of a nice guy.

So Idil and I planned on how we would find each other. I told her that I would be wearing a Purple shirt (check other pages that involve travel, and you'll see I almost always wear a purple shirt when I go somewhere.... for luck.... or so I thought), and she would be waiting for me with a single Rose. I asked what color, and she told me she would surprise me. I made sure she understood that red meant love, white meant friendship, black meant death, basically that every color had a different meaning when you gave it to someone. She said she understood, and would surprise me with the color she would choose. Though I was pretty sure what color it would be, she assured me that I would be surprised.

I brought a ton of stuff with me on vacation for everyone. A bunch of gifts for Idil (a bottle of Root Beer, a huge jar of Jelly Beans, 2 cartons of her brand of Cigarettes which are really hard to get in Turkey, perfume, body lotion, and a few other little gifts that I thought she would like or picked up in Duty Free), some things for Harry (a hat, a small prop, and one of the Marine helmets that I make as a thank you for his letting me stay with him while in England), and some things for my father (2 huge suitcases full of his stuff that I was to bring to him in Turkey!).

Needless to say, I had very little room left over for my things (clothes, etc.). But who cares, life is a journey!

When the taxi arrived, the cabbie and I tried to lift one of my dad's suitcases to put it into the trunk. As we got it up to where it would clear the trunk lip, the handle snapped, the suitcase fell, and the taxi's tail light shattered!

I finally arrive at the airport to check in, and it turns out that one of my dad's suitcases is over the weight limit. So the nice lady at the desk informed me that I had to head down to another desk and buy another suitcase so I can shift 30 pounds of stuff into it. Can you guess which suitcase was too heavy?

So I head downstairs and buy a $20 duffel bag for $50. Gotta love British Airways! I swapped a bunch of stuff into the duffel bag, and headed back upstairs to check in. First I have to pay $90 for the extra bag (which took forever to pay for and to then get my change), then I can finally check in. After the woman puts the luggage tag on the first bag, I notice that she's not putting it onto the little carousel like they're doing with everyone else's luggage. Instead, she hands it to a guy who then puts it onto a cart. She does this with all my bags, then tells me I have to go for a standard Security bag check.

Standard? How standard can it be? And how come no one else is doing it?

So he brings me to another area where they X-ray the bags. All the bags go in, and then the woman there points out the ones that she wants me to open. Guess which bag she didn't want to see? The one with my stuff in it. My dad's bags all had to be opened!

Now comes the problem. I don't know what's in them. And that's bad. For safety reasons, you're not supposed to transport luggage or other things if you don't know what's inside them.

So I open the first bag, and the woman tells me there's something round in it that she wants to see. Round thing? Great. I start digging around looking for this round thing, and finally find a round block of steel loaded with ball bearings. What is it? I have no idea, but it's my dad's. She checks it, and tells me to open the next bag.

In the next bag, my dad has speakers. She checks it, and tells me to open the last bag.

"There's some kind of animal in there." she tells me.

Animal? Now I'm freaking out. What kind of animal did my dad put in his bag???

But of course, I'm trying not to look freaked out, trying to make it seem like I know exactly what she's talking about.

"Oh, that." I answer, as I start to open the bag.

Inside I find these small animal statues that my dad used to have in his apartment in NY. They had little motion sensors on them, and whenever you passed in front of them, they would make noises. The ducks quacked, the chicks chirped, the roosters... roostered. Whatever.

I show them to the woman, and she says, "Nope, not those."

I dig deeper in the bag and find a huge steel cut out of a Coyote. This is a sculpture my dad made back in his sheet metal days. It's 3 feet tall, and easily 1/4" thick. Again, all steel. That explains why that damned bag was so heavy!

Finally, they take my suitcases and I head to Duty Free.

A small shopping spree later (gotta love Duty Free!!) and I'm in the airport bar. I start talking with the South African guy next to me, and then a South African girl comes up and talks to him (I guess she heard his accent). He leaves, and she and I start talking. About then I notice that I have 5 minutes until my plane leaves!!

I run towards the gate as a woman is running towards me asking if I'm me. Yes I am! She grabs me and runs me to the gate yelling into her radio, "I found him, put his suitcases back on the plane!"

Oops. My bad.

Uneventful flight to England, a 1 hour wait in Heathrow, and then it's off to Istanbul. We sat on the runway for an hour because our co-pilot got sick and we had to wait for a replacement to come from the other side of the airport. Fine. But an hour to get across Heathrow? C'mon! Finally we took off.

I started talking to the girl sitting next to me (after we had both taken a nap). I gave her some advice on Turkey, and when we landed I showed her where to get her Turkish Visa ($45!!) then went with her to Passport Control.

Here's where the story gets freaky. Or should I say, freakier.

I gave the guy my Passport, and after he typed the info into the computer, he started asking me about my father. His name, where he was from, etc. I told him everything I knew, but he didn't seem happy. I was getting worried that something bad had happened to him. Then he asked to see my Turkish ID card. I told him I didn't have one.

After about 10 minutes, another Police Officer arrived and closed the line I was on and moved everyone to another line. Then he and the Police Office I had been talking to took me to the Police Station in the Airport.

Now I was getting freaked out.

What I didn't know was that Idil had snuck her way into the baggage area, gathered up all my luggage and was waiting for me holding not one Rose, but 3 dozen red Roses waiting for me. I feel so bad!

Anyway, in the Police Station, they showed me a print out from the computer about me. It gave some info on me, but there was a lot that I couldn't read as my Turkish isn't that good. They asked me to sign some forms, but I refused because I didn't know what they said.

After an hour, I finally convinced them to find my father. They kept asking me about him, and I finally got them to understand that he was in the airport waiting for me. So they assigned an Officer to me, and he escorted me into the Airport to page him.

When he finally arrived, he was limping. I asked him what happened, and he told me that he had broken his toe two hours before.

They took us back to the Station and questioned us both. I took out my camera to try and get a picture in the Station, but they yelled at me and told me no pictures were allowed. My dad finally just took my camera to "look" at it, and "accidentally" snapped some pics.

A little while later a beautiful girl walked in carrying 3 dozen Roses, looked around, saw me in my purple shirt, and came over to talk to me. Idil and I finally met. I swear, that girl can talk her way into anywhere! How she got into the baggage area, I'll never know, but to get into the Station was just genius. I guess it's good to be famous. :)

She gave me the Roses and asked if I was surprised.

"Was having me arrested part of the surprise?" I asked.

I told her that I was sure they were going to be red, but was surprised that there were so many.

We talked a bit while my dad talked to the Cops, and we found out finally what was going on. I was on my way to the Turkish Army.

See, I'm a dual Citizen. Even though I was born in the US, since my father is a Turk, that makes me a Turk, and means that I'm also required to serve in the Turkish Army. I never had a problem before because the Turkish computer systems really weren't up to par. But now, I was finally snagged.

Two other Officers came in and escorted me out of the Airport to another Police Station with a holding facility. With one guy in front of me and the other behind, I was able to snap a few pics as we walked.

Yeah, they're a little blurry, it's not like my hands were shaking or anything!

Once in the Station, things got crazier. They wouldn't let me smoke, wouldn't let me get any water, and I was stuck in a room with Cops and other detainees (some of whom were in for the same thing I was). They kept getting me to sign forms, and I kept refusing. They finally let me call the American Embassy, but since it was so late (like 7 pm by now) they really couldn't do anything.

Whenever I asked what was going on, they would just tell me that in the morning I was going to be joining the Turkish Army. Literally, first thing tomorrow I was to go to the Army Recruitment Center, and from there be put on a plane to start my Basic Training.

Finally, my stepbrother, Alpay showed up. He spent the entire time on his cell phone calling anyone he knew in power, yelling at the Police in there, and just generally trying to save my ass. My dad arrived a little while later, and we relaxed in the waiting room.

Most of the other detainees were taken out to cells, and again I tried to take a picture only to be told I wasn't allowed to. So again, my dad grabbed the camera and got these:

I was finally informed of what was going to happen to me. Since the Army Recruitment Center was closed for the night, I was to stay here until morning when it opened. So they took me to another room to inventory my stuff while I waited.

I emptied my pockets, and in them the Police found an NYPD patch that I brought with me in the hopes of trading it with an Istanbul Police Officer. It's a common practice. Well, once they saw that and I told them that I used to work with the NYPD, they're whole attitude changed!

They brought me into the Police break room, let me smoke, brought me some tea, and let me take pictures!

Then the Cops gave me their home addresses and asked me to send them copies of the pics.

They let Idil in so we could see each other (many of the Cops recognized her from her show), and I'm sure they thought it odd that this draft dodging American is hanging out with a Turkish Actress, and Alpay returned with some Burger King for me because I hadn't eaten in a while and was ready to pass out. Hadn't actually slept in a while either!

She likes to ham it up for the cameras.

Alpay went up to the Police Captain and asked him what the chances were that I would be allowed to go home for the night, then return in the morning to be transported to the Army Base. The Captain informed him that not even if the Prime Minister of Turkey himself called, would I be allowed to leave. I think Alpay took that as a challenge, and started making more calls. About an hour later, the Governor of Istanbul called the Station and told the Captain that it was OK for me to go home, and assured him that I would return in the morning.

Needless to say, he was shocked. The Captain came up to me in the break room with a slip of paper for me to sign, and I told him once again that I would not be signing anything! My dad looked over the note, and told me it was OK for me to sign it. I did, and my dad told me to grab my stuff, we were leaving.

On the way out, all the Police Officers stopped me and asked where I thought I was going. I showed them the slip, their eyes popped out of their sockets, and we walked past them. Apparently, this is something that has never happened before.

Even the guard at the gate with the submachine gun was shocked. Well, at first he thought I was trying to escape!

We went home, had something to eat, and tried to relax. My dad fell asleep, so I had to get some pics of him and his toe!

Idil and I relaxed after dinner and talked for a while.

And then we went upstairs to my room to talk some more. I had brought a whole bunch of gifts to Turkey for her, and my plan was to give them to her a little at a time as we got to know each other better, but since I'm shipping off for my 18 month tour in the Turkish Army in the morning, I figured it best to give it all to her now.

So I opened up my bags (no real point in unpacking) and started handing her stuff. At one point, when my carry on bag was open, she looked in and saw what she thought to be candies. So she reached in and grabbed one. I looked up in time to see her just about to put it into her mouth, and I guess the look on my face scared her that maybe these were special candies, or ... well, I really don't know what, because she had a look on her face like she was being sneaky or devious.

Of course, the candies turned out to be foam ear plugs, so I stopped her from eating them! Lucky for her I'm a nice guy. I'm now kind of curious what would have happened if she had eaten them...

Idil had to go home, so she told me to call her tomorrow when I got out, gave me a kiss and left.

That night I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling wondering what the hell was going to happen the next day. So when we got the Police Station at 7 am the next morning I had now been awake for 40 hours with only a couple of 15 or 20 minute naps. I was pretty exhausted, but couldn't have slept if I wanted to.

These are the Istanbul SWAT Trucks outside the Station.

In the Police Station I saw the other people who had been there with me the night before, they had all slept in the Station the night before. Tee hee.

When we first got there, I headed for the waiting room that I had started out in the night before, but the Cops took me and led me down the hall. I thought they were bringing me to the break room, but we passed by that as well. They took me into their office, and gave me a seat.

It didn't occur to me until later, but in their eyes, here's this American/Turkish draft dodger who has a famous actress coming to visit him, and who has the Governor calling on his behalf. They probably spent all their time trying to figure out who the hell I was.

They brought me tea, and told me I could smoke, and then one of the Officers stood up from his desk, walked towards me, and took out his pistol. I was about 2 seconds from freaking out.

He then ejected the magazine, and gave me the gun to look at. He was so proud. What was I to do? I told him it was very nice. Then the other Officer did the same thing, and then the third.

So now I'm in a Police Station, surrounded by three Cops, and I have all their guns! Should I run? They can't shoot me. But then again, I don't really run that fast, or that far.

They were trying to impress me because in Turkey, the Police have to buy their own guns, so each one gets whatever gun they can afford. As a result, all the Police have different side arms. One had a Ruger, one had a Czeck gun, an the other had a Beretta.

I thanked them, gave them back their weapons and waited for whatever strangeness was coming next.

They assigned an Officer who speaks English to me, and he, I, and the other Draft Dodgers all headed out to the Army Base to start our tour of Duty.

Istanbul's Finest, 2 in Uniform, and the other 2 just going in to start their shifts.

Nice imposing sign outside the Army Center, huh? It was even nicer since a few feet to the left of the sign are 2 guys in Army gear holding AK-47's! I didn't want to risk trying to take a picture of them.

We entered the Army base, went through Security checkpoints, and headed upstairs to the main office. We signed in and took a seat.

I noticed over to the right is a window looking into a huge office with an Army Officer (who I later found out was a Colonel) sitting at his desk. On the other side of the desk talking to him was Alpay and my father.

While waiting there I started talking to the other Draft Dodgers. One was much further in the process than I was, and was literally waiting here to get on a plane to start his hitch. The other was a German fellow who it turned out was not a Turkish Citizen at all. He just had a Turkish name which happens to match the name of a Draft Dodger. Needless to say, he was pretty pissed off.

It turns out that in Turkey there is no such thing as a Social Security Number, or any other form of mass ID info. You're basically known (Your Full Name), son of (Your Father's First Name), who was born in (The City Where Your Father Was Born). That's why they kept asking me for that info at the airport. They wanted to confirm who I was. Had I said my father's name was Oogly Boogly, I probably would have been let go. Scary, huh?

In the main office area was three women working. One older woman, and two younger ones. They were all looking at me, and were trying to fill out my forms with me, but my lack of Turkish was kind of holding that up. By the way, I do speak a little Turkish, and understand quite a bit when it's being spoken around me. But I learned long ago, when it comes to Turkish Authorities, it's best to pretend not to speak one damn word. And that's what I was doing!

By about 9 am, the first Draftee left to board his plane. By 10, the German guy had sorted out that he wasn't the guy they were looking for, the Police and Army guys apologized and sent him on his way. So now there's just me.

My dad and Alpay came out a few times to let me know how things were going and by about 11 am they had gotten the Colonel to agree to give me a 3 month extension so I could go and prepare my things before joining. What a relief. They were going to let me go back to NY and coordinate with the Turkish Embassy when I would be starting my tour.

Now all the Army needed was proof that I was an American Citizen.

I reminded them that they had my American Passport, and I was told that a Passport is not sufficient proof. So I put in a call to the American Embassy in Istanbul and told them the situation. They understood and explained that a Passport can be revoked or suspended after issuance, so the Army just wants confirmation from the Embassy that I am an American in good standing as it were.

All he needs is for me to read off the information on my Passport. But I don't have my Passport, the Police took it when I was at Passport Control the day before.

So I go up to the desk and ask one of the women for my Passport, and she hands it to me from my file. I read off the info to the guy from the Embassy, and when I'm finished I skim through the Passport just to see what's in there. And what do you know? My entry was stamped. What does this mean? Well, this is what I was on line to get when they nabbed me yesterday. This is the stamp that says that I'm in Turkey legally. I was so tempted to just take it and run! Little did I know how futile that would have been.

Since no one was looking when I went back to the desk, I just slipped my Passport into my pocket and went back to sit down. I just felt a lot more comfortable with it on me.

The Embassy tells me that they'll look me up on the computer and fax over whatever they find. So everything seems taken care of. I know I have no warrants or anything out for me, so it's a done deal. But Alpay and my father went back into the Colonel's office and continued arguing with him in Turkish.

A little while later, noon rolled around (as it always does) and all of Istanbul closes for lunch. So we leave with my Police Escort and get something to eat.

Me and my shadow. Literally. Istanbul's Finest, Serdar. Really nice guy who kept giving me his Beretta to look at.

My other shadow and my hero, Alpay. Without him, I'd be in the Army right now!

After lunch we headed back to the Army Base, and Serdar went to the desk to chat with the girls behind the counter. They all kept looking over at me and giggling, and it was getting really annoying. I gave Serdar a look of "What?" and he gestured that he'd tell me later.

Alpay came up to me after getting off his cell phone (he was on it pretty much constantly every time I saw him) and asked if I had a copy of my College Diploma. Yeah, that's something I always carry with me. He then asks if I have proof that I work in New York. Again, not on me.

I ask if there's someplace to smoke in here, and Serdar brings me down to the Army Mess Hall. Over a smoke and some tea he asks me which of the two girls upstairs do I like. What?

He tells me to pick one, and he'll arrange or us to go to dinner tonight. They both like me, but I have to choose. Of course, neither of them speak English, and my mind isn't really in a dating mood right now. I'm in an Army Base Mess Hall having a smoke with my assigned Police Escort who is there to shoot me if I try and run.

I thank him, and tell him to inform the girls that I'm not really in a dating place at the moment.

We head back upstairs and a little while later everyone is back from lunch and back to work. The fax finally arrives, and the Colonel forwards it to Amasya (the actual Army Base that I will one day be reporting to). They are in charge of me, but since that base is 13 hours away by bus, the Istanbul Office is taking care of it.

In the meantime, I have to go and get my Army Physical. Serdar, Alpay and I take a taxi to the Dr.'s Office. It's a Municipal one, so there are lines of people and even Police waiting to be seen. Serdar walks me past the line and brings me up to the Doctor. He explains the situation, and the Doc asks Serdar something in Turkish. Serdar turns to me and asks, "Do you have anything wrong with you?"

I say no, and he tells the Doctor. The Doctor takes my paperwork, stamps it, signs it and hands it back. He never even looked up!

Then Serdar takes me to another Doctor in another part of the building. OK, so I'm figuring that was just the preliminary. Now comes the exam.

This new Doctor does the EXACT SAME THING! He never even looked at me. I mean, is it too much trouble to at least take my pulse? Just to confirm I'm even alive? So we jump back in the taxi and head back to the Army Base.

At about 3 pm Amasya finally replies asking for more info on me. They want my Diploma and proof that I work in the US. Alpay knew this was coming (he had already asked me), so we go back and forth with them trying to convince them to wait the three months for that info because it's not something I can get while in Turkey.

So everyone is in the office yelling at each other, yelling on the phones, yelling, yelling, yelling. It's about that time that I fell asleep in the chair. 48 hours is my limit on sleep deprivation. When I woke up, Alpay and my father were getting papers ready for me to sign that would ensure that I could leave the Country when the time came (yeah right!). They told me that basically, the Colonel finally called Amasya and told them that the papers from the Embassy were enough for him, and should be enough for them as well. They agreed and we finally left.

We got into the car and headed to Alpay's office. There I took another little nap while Alpay made more calls.

By about 6 pm Alpay and my father filled me in on what was going on. The average Turk goes into the Army for 18 months. A Turk with a University Degree goes for 12 months. A Turk with a Degree from a University outside of Turkey goes for 6 months. Alpay and my dad had gotten me a deal that requires me to stay in the Turkish Army for 28 days. It's like rehab!

That was a huge weight off my chest, let me tell you. Now all I have to do is when I get home, head to the Turkish Embassy and pick the 28 days I want to spend in the Army. I've also been assigned to the Army Base right outside of Antalya. If you've seen my pics of Bodrum from the other stories, you should know how nice it is on the South Shore of Turkey, well, Antalya is a little further East, and much nicer. Also, during those 28 days, I get weekends off. So it's really only 20 days. And during the weekends I can go party in Antalya!

Not such a bad deal.

Now, after 24 hours in Istanbul, I was finally on vaction in Turkey...

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This page is dedicated to the memory of my cousin Debbie, who passed away while I was in Istanbul. My family has since informed me that I am no longer allowed to go on vacation since on my last two trips, we lost family members. So, to Debbie, wherever you are, I'm sorry I went to Turkey.



If you have any questions, E-Mail me.