Border Misunderstanding

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 11, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Edirne,
Tuesday, August 19, 2008


But first, a little background: a long, tedious lead-up. (Ok. Or, skip to the heading "At the Border.") Time was approaching for me to renew my 90-day Visitor's Visa to be in Turkey. In this case I needed to reapply a few days early because of an impending volunteer activity that was/is scheduled to take place during the actual visa expiration. This time, as I had been reading about the Ottoman Empire, during which, in a period of its some 600 year history, Edirne had been the capital and residence of the sultan, I decided to go to Edirne. Additionally, Edirne was the location of the Selimiye Camii (Mosque) said to be the Architect Sinan's supreme creation. Also, Edirne was  just a few kilometers from the Greek border, which I would have to cross into, and by returning to Turkey, obtain a new 90-day visa.

I was diverted on my way by a powerful invitation to visit G. in Ankara. To any who have been following the "soap opera," as I have called it, life goes on.

A couple of things of public note that took place in Ankara. The evening I got in I just had a desire to see a movie. This might be because I have no tv, so am understimulated by visual images. A short hike from the main Ankara otogar (ASTI) is a razzle-dazzle shopping mall called Armada.

I met G. there, and the only English language feature that remotely appealed to me was "Batman." God! Is this the state that Hollywood movie making has come to? Yea, yea, special effects and all those explosions and stuff is great. But the screenplay. What a piece of crap! I couldn't understand what the h was going on. And I speak English. Perhaps the Turkish subtitles boiled it down to comprehensibility. I'll never know, and I don't care.

One thing nice, though. It reminded me of the beautiful I.M. Pei skyscraper in Hong Kong, which I had seen a few years ago and thought sublime.

In the "soap opera" section of our story, I had to only one time play Alpha Dog to G.'s 17 year old son, I. He had, without asking permission, opened a small bag of my pistachio nuts, and had flipped some of the shells my way as I reentered the room. I wouldn't let that pass, and made gestures ('cause I don't know enough Turkish) for him to pick them up. He tried to leave the room, but saw that I wouldn't let him. Despite the fact that he's quite bigger than me now (quite), he still is physically intimidated by me. He got down on the floor and picked up the shells. When I reached to pat him on the shoulder, he cringed.

However, in a later scene, G. walked into the salon (living room) where I was watching some of the Olympics on tv, to find me and I. holding hands, and I. resting his head on my shoulder.
   At 7am on Monday I boarded a bus to Istanbul. We got in around noon. I asked the bus boy about going on to Edirne, and he took me next door, to another bus company, whose bus to Edirne was leaving in about an hour. That trip took 2 1/2 hours, and altogether (I know, the numbers don't match), I was in Edirne at about 5pm. As in Ankara and Istanbul, Edirne was really, really hot! 34c , which is 93.2F.

I was quite upset in that I had forgotten to bring along my Lonely Planet guidebook, and so had no map of the town, nor no guidance for accommodations. So, in the heat, I walked around to get oriented and discover. That wasn't fun. But, there was no great humidity burden, so that at least made it less not fun.

Eventually I found a street with a handful of hotels along it. (No, I don't ask. I just walk around.)  I came to one and went in. At 25YTL it was in my price range, but I was skeptical. I asked if there was a banyo. Yes. I  asked to see the room.  We passed the shared  banyo, and the shared a la turqa toilet, and to a room not much bigger than the bed (the sheets looked real clean, though), and with a small, high window. No, I don't think so. I'm often a wuss and cave. But not this time. I said no deal, and went on. On down the street were some more hotels,  and I looked them over . . . . and walked on. (The perhaps sole pleasure of being the miserable loaner I am, inflicting this torture upon myself, is: no nagging).

Finding no more elsewhere, I returned to the, I guess, only hotel street. I chose--I can't explain why--one called Tuna Hotel. (There was a play, I think, not too long ago, with tuna, or greater tuna [?] in the title, and maybe that played in my subconscious. In any case, for double, at 50YTL (US$42) it was your standard double bed, tv, nice bathroom with hot water, and Turkish standard breakfast included.

After a shower it was 8 to 9 or so. I finally had time to go out for something to eat. Just to fill in the details, I had kumpir. That is a baked potato, mashed with a little cheese, then topped with some vegetables and a few slices of balogna. It's a full meal in itself, and nutritious enough, I suppose.

On the tv I eventually found a movie that looked interesting. It was a Robert Altman film titled "Pied-a-Terre," if I remember right. It was in English and French, with Turkish subtitles. It looked like "my kind of film." Shot in Paris, it seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the fashion industry. It had an unbelievable large, big-name cast. In fact, I tuned in as a picture listing was scrolling the screen, and I thought it was an awards ceremony about to start. I can't remember all of the stars, but of those I do: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mostriani, Tim Robbins, Terri Gar, Tracey Ullman, Forest Whittaker, Lyle Lovett, probably Lilly  Tomlin, and, many, many more. If Tim Robbins was around, wouldn't Susan Sarandon be close by? But, I just couldn't hang in there. (And, back here in Bursa, I so far haven't been able to dig anything up on it via Google).

(Also, when I got back to Bursa and checked in with the left LP guide, the Tuna Hotel was at the top of the "budget" listings).

Anyway, the next day the first objective was a new Turkish visa. The only map available to find the way to Greece was on the hotel lobby wall. I more or less checked with the hotel desk clerk, then set off, hoping I would remember enough to get me on the right track.

After making a left out the hotel door, then a left at the end of the street a few blocks along; then a right at the next t-bone, after about a half mile of total walking, I guess, I saw a sign pointing to Yunanistan (Greece).

I crossed a couple of bridges; thinking: rivers are good signs of borders. After the bridges, and a little along the road a dolmuş approached and stopped at my request. When everyone else had gotten out I said to the bus boy (yes, even mini buses have bus boys: they collect the rent) that I wanted to go to Yunanistan. He nodded. And asked for another lira. The driver took me out into the country, and set me out at the Turkish border post.

At the Border

Well, there's no problem with leaving the country. The guy stamped me out, and I was on my way, walking past, first the nice Turkish soldier with a bayoneted automatic rifle; then a hundred yards along, or so, the nice Greek soldiers with their bayoneted guns. And on down a nice country road, with nothing but the sound of wind in the trees.

At the Greek control, about a half mile along, a few perfunctory questions in pretty good English. He knew what I was doing. Like, How long was I going to be in Greece. Oh, I said, I'll go on down into town, have a drink and come back. Ok.

And this I did. Well, I didn't have a drink since I didn't have euros. And I didn't even try Turkish money. But I did sit for a few minutes, then walked back along the clean Greek street (See picture. Exotic and exciting, isn't it?) The Greek guy checked me out, and I walked back to the Turkish post.

Oh, but I need a new visa at 15 euros! Well, you see, there is a matter of interpretation. The visa said "multiple entry." Last time I "renewed" it. They just had rubber stamped over the paper stamp I had purchased on my initial entry to Turkey last February. Why wouldn't these guys do the same?

Let me just say, there was no discussion, despite my attempts to do so. I mean, who would have thought one could not have a reasonable discussion with a border bureaucrat and a policeman? They had had enough of me. The guy was shutting the window in my face . . . . through which I was sticking my head. (I kept cool).

I had no alternative but to walk back to Greece. With thoughts of my pack back in the hotel. And, that in the Greek town, as far as I had penetrated, I had seen no bank.

Just before the Greek border post was a small duty-free store. I went in to seek an ATM machine. The guy said there was one next door at the gas station (on the other side of the fence). I crossed the street to the Greek post. The guy got it. Very sympathetic, very nice. I handed him my passport to him to hold, and I went over to the ATM and got the minimum 70 euros (US$104.20).

Back past the soldiers. And 15 euros(US$22.33) did the trick. THEN the guy explained to me that the other border station Ipsala had not properly followed procedure. True, I was then on an international bus, not a walking loner. They had issued visas en-mass, not calling me in as an exception. And, I went on to interpret "multiple entry visa" as it served my desire to believe. Altogether the little dust-up cost me much less than an hour, a couple of more walks along the nice country road.

One amusing--to me--thing happened. I chuckled to myself when the camouflage-painted Greek Army garbage truck passed. (I've got to get my humor where I can).

I got back into Edirne about as easy as I got to the border. Though it looked in the beginning like it might be a long walk (See picture). Nevermind the details.

The rest of my time in Edirne I spent in and around the Selimiye Camii, this masterwork by the Architect (Mimar) Sinan.

Outside Sulimiye, in an adjacent park I saw a mother setting her son up for a photograph prior to his sünnet (circumcision), event and party. Let me just quote Brosnahan on that.

   "For Muslims, it's (sunnet) a cause for great celebration similar to confirmation or first communion for Christians and bar mitzvah for Jews. Before the operation, the Muslim lad is dressed in a special fancy suit of white satin with red decorations and paraded around the town with all his friends and relatives to the strains of wild music often provided by a live band. After the operation, which only takes a few minutes, the proud parents host a big party for all their relatives and friends."

Well, judging from this crew of four (little sister, mother, and perhaps an aunt), this lad may have had a more modest prospect underway. I therefore assumed upon myself a little sadness for him, both for the impending discomfort--I can only guess (mine was pre-self-consciousness, thank you mom and dad)--and for the apparent less-than-Istanbul-like festivities that seemed in train.
   In any case, the mother readily, and seemingly proudly, agreed to my pantomimed request to also take a picture, maybe honored by my interest. The professional photographer, too, was (surprisingly) happy to let me in on his set-up.

I went on to admire the mosque. I usually don't take pictures of scenics and such, thinking those things can be found, if anyone is interested, in other sources. But in this case, I had to take some pictures. And, since I can't here print "stitched" photos, I resorted to a video recording of the mosque interior and it does afford some supporting volumetric by ambient sound.

I left Edirne at 2pm, and got back to my rented house in Bursa around 11pm, a two-bus trip that was somewhat extended due to a couple of road incidents which had traffic at times completely stalled, when not crawling.

One more thing

When I first went from Turkey to Greece in 1971, I had experienced some of the wonderful Turkish hospitality, which still continues. Greece at that time was under an unpopular military dictatorship. People weren't happy. The Greek way of discussion is, shall I say, animated. They looked like they were at each others' throats in the streets. I couldn't hitchhike to the northeast of Athens. Nobody would give me a ride. I heard a rumor that some German hitchhikers had murdered someone. I don't know. But all that gave me an unfavorable first impression of the Greeks.

Nor was Athens especially appealing in February, when I was on my way here. But I will say that my contacts since have been of the most pleasant nature in the recent past. I look forward to returning to Greece--though it's now euro-expensive for an American (see above)--and enjoying the tempting friendliness, and the neat cleanliness of the towns.

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A Mine of information you are!!!!!
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