Antwerp - Istanbulthe real end, part II

The following events in and around Istanbul in December 2019 were unforeseen, uninvited and they changed my view of travel in the 21st century forever. An equally big surprise, however, was an encounter with someone I had been avoiding for far too long: myself.

- by Ward Hulselmans

- Sunday 1 December 2019

All the effort and money to get here was washed away with the sewage that flowed down the gutters of the bazaar in the Bosphorus.The Toyota left me in the saddest place on earth. Istanbul. A chilly wind cut across the square at the edge of the bazaar, at the bus station nearby one after the other motorcars with Turkish day-trippers were leaving and along the quay traffic raged across four lanes.

After an aimless walk, I just managed to take a picture of the mosque at Yeni Cami, after which it became mercilessly dark.This was the pearl of the Near East, this was the glorious Constantinople, crossroads of religion and history, and all I saw were day-trippers scurrying about and rows of eateries and souvenir stalls closing one by one.

The Instagram bridge over the Bosphorus, with one restaurant next to the other below it, was nothing like the Rue des Bouchers: one tourist trap next to the other, the same menus everywhere. And over all this a grey drizzle descended.What was I doing here?

Why had I thrown away so much money on this?

I got hungry and returned to the bazaar with its maze of dark streets that looked more and more deserted and sad. Finally, I found a little restaurant where the patron let out a neat Turkish family with children, always a good sign.I ordered shish kebabs with fresh vegetables and red wine. The patron looked reticent. The wine turned out to be an objection. His face spoke volumes. Officially, Turkey was still a lay state, but the government made it increasingly difficult for restaurants to serve drinks. In the name of Islam all sorts of rules and prohibitions were introduced and so intolerance crept into Turkish society via the catering industry.

Outside, the bazaar continued to empty. Almost all the passers-by were dressed in black, men and women.I sat in the furthest corner and when the last customers left the shop and the patron brought me my lamb skewers, I made a second attempt and asked for wine again. We were alone now and that made a difference."One moment," he said.

He called a boy from the street and whispered something to him, whereupon the boy ran into the next alley and returned two minutes later with a brown paper bag containing a bottle of red wine. With his back to the street, the patron poured the drink into a stone tea mug.The wine was ice cold, but I hardly noticed. It was the tastiest shashlik ever and luckily there was an ATM next door.

"I am close by. I see you" said the driver of the Toyota half an hour later over the phone. The car was on one of the bus lanes and I wondered if the driver or someone else had not been watching me the whole time. It didn't matter. I wanted to get out of here as soon as possible. He got his fifty dollars and for an hour we drove silently towards the harbour.

The Turkish agent was waiting at the military checkpoint.

It was approaching eleven. When I asked for my passport back, he pointed with his thumb to the ship behind his back:"At the watchman's, as I said. My fifty dollars?"I pointed with my thumb behind me:"With the driver, as told."He growled a curse, strode to the Toyota and began an unfriendly conversation with the driver.

My ship was waiting a few hundred metres further down the quay. In the white light of floodlights, the loading and unloading continued, but it sounded different now; the night muffled the noise. The stubby bow of the ship stuck out like a fist in the air.

The ship seemed bigger and more reliable than ever.

The gangway rocked as I began the long climb. Right now, I should be lying in a warm hotel bed in Istanbul, secure in the knowledge of a quick return flight to Brussels.

In fact, I climbed higher and higher along the ship's side that shimmered with drizzle. Under my hand, the stair rail felt cool. I carried no luggage and felt light and free from worry.


- THE REAL END30 November & 1 December 2019

part 1

- The real end1 & 2 December 2019

part 3