May 11 – Customs Day

I was up early (too early) and sat atop the hotel roof with the early morning sunrise over Sultanahmet and the modern Istanbul over on the Asia side of the river.  Perched above the upcoming chaos is the best place for me; I’ve always liked cities from afar, but have never been crazy about being in down in the mix. Unfortunately this is where I was headed after a quick tea.

I was heading out to the customs office to meet up with my freight forwarding representative, who is going to help me get through the process.  The company has an extremely nice website with a fleet of new jets, cargo ships, etc.  Very impressive and I anticipate it going very smooth.  I took a 45 minute subway/tram ride with multiple connections to its termination, where I switched over to the bus for the last 30 min of my trip. I walked the last mile or two to Delta Cargo Logistics (not associated with Delta Airlines). Upon arrival to my gps point, I determined I must have the wrong address because I was in an alley where certainly no self respecting business would operate business.

I happened to find a small sign (about 8” x 12”) on the side of a hallway leading up a trash filled stairway. On my way up I passed a couple of offices that by the look had been deserted in the not so distant past. On the top floor was Delta Cargo. It all came clear when I walked through the door and found a company in a warehouse style space that looked like it had just moved in. It was wicked hot with minimal lights, no floor covering and a few old metal desks scattered throughout. I now understand these companies to be a shell of a business, that special in seemingly noting more than good web marketing and some experience on the ground knowing others in the business.

After a brief introduction, I hopped in a busted up minivan with a non English speaking gentlemen that took me to the customs department where I was to meet another non English speaking gentlemen who would help me thorough the process of securing my cargo.

This photo doesn’t do it justice, but somewhere amongst these chain smoking, close talking Turkish men, was my freight forwarder specialist.

20150511-IMG_0434

We spent a good 6 hours going from one run down Soviet era building to another, getting sometimes a signature, sometimes a stamp, and mostly a wave if the hand, which was clearly the universal sign for “get the hell out of here”. We finally made it to a modern warehouse that was too large to comprehend – finally, I was sure my motorcycle was in the mix of the well-organized rows of storage racks. We picked up one more stamp and left the building to a taxi station. I assumed something went wrong – of course I didn’t know this, because my logistics specialist spoke as much English as I did Turkish (none).

We took a 20 min taxi ride somewhere, where we ended at another cargo warehouse; certainly not modern and nice like the last facility. I sat around for another hour or so watching men on their break play backgammon and drink tea. This may have been the highlight of the day; I’ve honestly never seen backgammon played at such a high rate of precision and speed.

At some point, I saw a forklift come around the corner with my crate. We quickly unpacked it and all gathered around admiring the magnificent KTM. We were almost done; one more stop upstairs to get the final papers in order and I’d be on my way. NOT. The customs agent went through all of my paperwork and continually denied my documents. These situations are kind of funny, because luckily anyone who can speak some form of English gathers around to help. I believe we ended getting all documents approved with the exception of a Turkish ID card, which I’ve never heard of being required. That’s apparently it, without a word (not even a Turkish goodbye) I watched my liaison walk out the door and jump in taxi. I guess I’m on my own again.   It’s a taxi, a bus, a subway, a tram, back to the hotel and my laptop to do a little research.

So….tomorrow I’m headed about an hour and a half into the city to find a government building that may issue me a Turkish identification card. Then a tram, a subway, a bus, a taxi back to the chain smoking, close talking Turkish men.   Gotta love it and to give credit where its due – i certainly appreciate all the help i received today.  The guys certainly knew there way around and   provided a monumental help.  To be continued.

I finished off my day on top of the 7 Hills bar/restaurant, eating drinking and watching the sun set on St. Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

20150511-IMG_0446

20150511-IMG_0466

May 10 – Sultan Ahmed Mosque – The Blue Mosque

A welcome and random beginning of the trip started with a chance introduction to a young Muslim couple on holiday in Turkey. I met Shahid and Nawlaa at the Ataturk airport while waiting for a shuttle to Sultanahmet, the old town center of Istanbul. I’m not sure what drew them to me, but they expressed an interest in sticking together as we headed into the city – for “safety in numbers” as they said.  With hesitation I welcomed their company.

We spent the evening drinking Raki (actually I was drinking alone) and smoking Turkish tobacco from the narghile.  After too many puff’s from the water pipe and way too many glasses of the milkish white alcohol, I turned in for the night sometime around 3am.

I slept off as much of the evening as I could, and headed out with my new friends to explore some of the Mosques around the Old City. What a treat to walk about town with two devout Muslims who can both speak a Pakistani dialect as well as read/write Arabic script. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Blue Mosque. Not being of set religion, I had no idea the impact I would feel standing in the center of the Mosque – I must say, I’ve never been in a more peaceful, comforting place.  It was quite a spiritual experience that I can’t begin to describe. The history of the building, the background noise of chanting prayers – I was truly moved.

I wish I had a photo of the Mosque that would capture the significance of the building, but unfortunately I can’t believe one would exist .  Instead, look up “The Obelisk of Theodosius”, another great structure that gives some insight to the history of Istanbul and the Mosque.  The Obelisk is situated just outside the walls of the Mosque on the Hippodrome.

Istanbul is an amazing city with a surreal past – I look forward to a little more sightseeing during my brief stay here.  Tomorrow – I hope to get the KTM out of customs and finalize prep for the ensuing trip. If all goes well, I’ll be working my way up to Sinop and the Black Sea on Tuesday.

20150510-IMG_0395

20150510-IMG_0425 20150510-IMG_0399 20150510-IMG_0398