Saturday, September 26, 2020

Murphy’s Law in Istanbul

View of Istanbul from the rooftop terrace of our apartment.  The apartment was outfitted with emergency lights and filtered water. PHOTOS BY VICKIE KELBER

View of Istanbul from the rooftop terrace of our apartment. The apartment was outfitted with emergency lights and filtered water. PHOTOS BY VICKIE KELBER

SPEAKING OF TRAVEL
Vickie Kelber

Three years ago, I wrote a column in which I revealed my six rules for travel. Rule No. 4 was “Prepare for the unexpected.” As we “mature,” it seems more and more of the unexpected can occur, although situations arise no matter what our age.

On my first “grand tour” of Europe four decades ago, I and my three traveling companions picnicked on a lovely bridge in Switzerland. One of them, drinking from a bottle of Pepita grapefruit soda, a Swiss favorite, aspirated some of the liquid into his lungs. I stood there frozen, watching him choke and wondering how difficult it would be to ship the body home. Fortunately, another one of us was prepared, knew what to do, administered the Heimlich maneuver, and all was fine for the rest of our trip.

I try to anticipate and plan for the unexpected. Preparing for a recent trip to Istanbul, I researched possible needs. It was reported that power outages are frequent, so I made certain that the flashlight I always carry when traveling was fully charged. As it turned out, we had no outages, and even if we had, our apartment was equipped with an emergency light.

Every guidebook I read cautioned not to drink the water in Istanbul. I filled our luggage with Pepto Bismal and Immodium tablets, and, just to be on the safe side, added Cipro to my increasingly growing stash of emergency precautions. Fortunately, none of these antidotes were needed as our apartment had filtered water and restaurant food was not an issue.

Istanbul has an extensive system of webcams, and I checked them frequently before packing so that I knew what types of clothing we might need.

Our apartment was in the “modern” European side of the city. Gezi Park and Taksim square, the site of protests leading to police use of tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets to disperse crowds in May 2013, were within walking distance. Daily, I read an online Turkish newspaper for news of any planned actions. We registered with the Smart Traveler Enrollment

The Austrian Krankenaus in which my husband received treatment.

The Austrian Krankenaus in which my husband received treatment.

Program (STEP) of the U.S. Department of State so that we would receive email updates about any planned demonstrations or other incidents that might affect us.

As it turned out, we arrived the day after a tragedy in which more than 300 miners were killed, and there were demonstrations. We learned that the police are quick to disperse even small groups of protestors. As we walked along Istiklal Caddesi, the popular pedestrian shopping street that leads to Taksim Square, flanks of fully-equipped riot police and large tank-like vehicles that featured water cannons were stationed at various intervals. At one point, distant tear gas wafted down the avenue, causing some coughing, choking and our quickly turning back. During the night, we heard at least three volleys of rubber bullets being utilized.

Yes, we were prepared for all that. What we weren’t prepared for was my husband’s Achilles tendon and its reaction to the uneven cobblestones and steep streets in our neighborhood. Near the end of the first week, he developed significant heel pain to the point of being unable to walk. At first, I thought he was malingering in reaction to all the walking that I love to do when traveling. Soon, it became clear that this was more than pretense.

We learned that there was an Austrian hospital, a Krankenhaus, just around two corners from our apartment and made our way there. The lovely nun at reception who helped us spoke only Turkish and German. With my knowledge of some German and limited Turkish vocabulary, we let our needs be known, registered with the hospital, paid our bill of $56 for a visit with the orthopedic trauma specialist whom the nun assured us spoke “perfect English.”

The doctor’s “perfect” English was more than adequate, and after an examination, he diagnosed Achilles tendonitis, prescribed both oral and topical anti inflammatories, and recommended some heel lifts that could be purchased at a special orthopedic outlet. Fortunately, there was a pharmacy, eczane, on the way back to our apartment, and the nearest branch of the orthopedic store was on Istiklal

One of the many carts selling simits, a popular sesame seed bread in Istanbul.

One of the many carts selling simits, a popular sesame seed bread in Istanbul.

Caddesi, giving me another excuse to head back there for shopping.

After two days bed rest with constant icing, we hoped my husband’s condition would improve enough so that we could make a planned overnight trip to Cappadocia, an historical region in Central Turkey where we would stay in a cave hotel while exploring the unique landscape. When we woke on the day of our trip to await the 5:30 AM taxi to take us to the airport, my husband was unable to put any weight on his foot, and we knew that Cappadocia was not to be.

Since he seemed to be worse, it was back to the krankenhaus for us. The nun’s face lit up in welcome when she saw us. We were already registered with the hospital, so she sent us immediately to the doctor. He suggested an X-ray to rule out any calcifications. A return to reception to pay the $56.50 for the x-ray, then the test, then back to meeting with the doctor. There was no additional charge for this second visit; only for the x-ray. The film was negative, the diagnosis the same, so back my husband went for more bed rest and icing.

The manager of our apartment building contacted a physician friend of hers who put us in touch with another orthopedic surgeon, and I discussed my husband’s case with him. At that point, he recommended an MRI, and I knew that it was time to think about going home. After two weeks in Turkey, we had planned to follow the route of the tulip bulb and spend two more weeks in Holland. Alas, that also was not to be.

Because we had booked our flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam and then our flight home from Amsterdam separately, the airline would issue a new ticket (for $300 each) back to the states but not a rerouting. So, we had to fly to Amsterdam early one morning, stay over in an airport hotel, and then fly out the next day to Miami.

While my husband languished in bed, I spent the

Police and gas masked journalist prepare for demonstrations on Istiklal Caddesi.

Police and gas masked journalist prepare for demonstrations on Istiklal Caddesi.

time seeing sites further afield and making runs to the grocery store and my favorite neighborhood restaurant where the staff did not speak English but knew I was there for paket, take out food.

I felt badly for my husband for I knew he would have loved the city and places I went. As I set out on my last full day there, I felt the city was “mine” as I stopped first for my fresh squeezed orange juice (more about that in a later column) and walked along with confidence while munching on a simit, a sesame seed circular bread sold at carts all over the city. I negotiated the underground passage where a maze of exits leads to trams, trolleys, ferries, avenues and a bridge, passed through the turnstile to the ferry with my Istanbul Card transit pass, and knowing exactly where I wanted to sit, took the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. I had no map and no plan, but felt sure that it would work out. Yet, I knew that I was still a tourist as I couldn’t help myself from taking more shots of the amazing skyline of Istanbul with the Topkapi palace, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in the background.

I loved Istanbul and look forward to sharing some of it with you in future columns.

sure that it would work out. Yet, I knew that I was still a tourist as I couldn’t help myself from taking more shots of the amazing skyline of Istanbul with the Topkapi palace, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in the background.

I loved Istanbul and look forward to sharing some of it with you in future columns.

 

Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.

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