I’m headed to Istanbul for work next week. My first time there. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has visited and not been bowled over by the place. Having travelled extensively in Europe and moderately in the Middle East and being a lover of nearly everything Mediterranean I am more than a little excited. I’m still trolling for tips on things to do. I’ll have an entire day to myself and I plan to make the most of it. For one, I’ll be searching for an authentic Turkish bath house — a task made a little easier because of some tips I received at the Turkish consulate today.
And there you have a key difference between the Turkish consulate and its Egyptian and Chinese counterparts. The Egyptian consulate (at least in Chicago) verily prints money from travellers with their bizarre fee structure and impersonal, single bank teller-like operation. The Chinese consulate, in contrast, is massive and patrolled (currently against Falun Gong protesters). Remarkably the Chinese have brought all the splendor of Maoist architecture to the interior of their Chicago offices. By the time you reach the window you’re ready to be collectivized. And do not mess with the schoolmarmish window attendant. I believe you will lose your pinky for doing so. (I wonder if consulates, like DC embassies, are technically on foreign soil and obey foreign laws?)
But the Turkish consulate was different. Open, airy, and not unlike a travel agent office. The clerk greeted me personally and led me to his office to fill out the paperwork. The detail so craved in other visa applications seemed secondary. I figured I would have to pay an expedite fee just to get my visa (and passport!) back on the day I left. But he asked if I would like it back at noon. Regular cost. Hey sure.
When I returned later in the day the clerk asked me to have a seat and tell me why I was going to Turkey. (I had no time, but I did anyway.) He was the nicest old guy, giving me tips and telling me that, unlike Chicago cops who love to ticket out-of-towners — he specifically said people from Wisconsin — Istanbul cops love foreigners. In retrospect I think he was either encouraging me to commit a crime in Turkey or testing to see if I was a criminal seeking asylum in his country. From this discussion came the Turkish bath recommendation. Not a tourist bath house, mind you, but where the locals go. No English spoken.
Perfect. Just what you want when surrounded by naked men.
Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?