Monday, July 19, 2010

Turkey- a slice of my experiences

I had done quite a bit of research on the net prior to my trip to Istanbul. I had even identified an Indian restaurant in Istanbul, since finding a restaurant for vegetarian food is quite a task while travelling anywhere outside India. I had informed myself about how the taxi drivers in Istanbul used a novel method to cheat the tourists. I had noted carefully how Turkish Lira had undergone three changes in the last 5 years. But the real life experiences do not exactly go the way one had prepared oneself for. Well, not all surprises are unpleasant !

Actually, Turkey is well-known for its Mediterranean cuisine. It has plenty of vegetables and fruits in it, besides olive oil. But Mediterranean cuisine is more common in places like Antalya than Istanbul. Nevertheless, I identified a Turkish vegetarian restaurant in Istiklal Caddessi area of Istanbul. I could have gone to the Indian Restaurant Musafir easily. But I was more interested in eating vegetarian food in an authentic Turkish Restaurant. And I did find one small joint after some enquiries in that area. I was not in for disappointment. What the restaurant called Vegetarian Plate had tomato soup, rice( a bit sticky ), brinjhal , some green salad, a loaf of bread and a sweet. Finally Turkish coffee. Very satisfactory evening. While in Antalya, I had it much easier. Every lunch or dinner I had in the hotel had plenty of green salad, cooked vegetables , nuts, fruits etc. Besides, of course delicious Turkish sweets.

But the taxi drivers proved more cunning than what the Internet had informed me. I had read on certain travel websites that the taxi drivers used to cheat the tourists, taking advantage of the similarity in appearances between the 5 lira currency note and the 50 lira one. When the passenger gives the driver a 50 lira note, the latter instead of giving the balance claims that the passenger had given only a 5 lira note and shows a 5 lira note. The 50 lira note very quickly had vanished into the driver's pocket and equally quickly a 5 lira note appears in its place in the driver's hand.The tourists try to argue but finally get tired enough to shell out the taxi fare once more. There are dozens of complaints of this nature in the said travel websites. But what happened to me was something entirely different. Tired after a visit to the museums in the far-away Sultanahmet area of Istanbul, I decided to hire a taxi to reach my hotel which was in the Taksim Square. The driver at the very outset made it clear that he would not be switching on the meter and would be charging 25 Lira since the traffic, according to him, was heavy that day. I agreed and got into the taxi. The driver appeared friendly and even identified me correctly as Indian. He kept chatting about the chaotic traffic in Istanbul; it was another matter that I did not find the traffic in Istanbul half as chaotic as in Mumbai. Finally when the taxi reached Taksim , I paid him the agreed 25 Lira. He got furious and said that what we had agreed was 35 lira. I heard it as 45 lira and asked him " 45? no, we agreed on 25". He replied " I am not asking for 45, but just 35." He was pronouncing 25, 35 and 45 in an identical way. I think that it was deliberate on his part. Then he showed the meter which he earlier had said he had no intention of switching on ; the meter showed 40. I had no choice. Heads or tails, the driver wins. I paid 35 lira and got out red-faced. So, the drivers in Istanbul can beat you in the game of taxi fare whatever be your preparation.

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