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Fair Enough

The next morning Scott and I woke up at the crack of dawn.

We headed upstairs to enjoy another traditional Turkish breakfast, heavy on the olives, and then downstairs to hop the bicycles. Our destination? The Kazakh Embassy. We knew they would be open today, and we were damned well going to be there.

We wheeled straight down to the shores of the Sea of Marmara, where we picked up the same bike path that we’d ridden with Diane the day before. This time we took it in the opposite direction heading west toward the neighborhood of Florya, where the embassy was located.

The wheel was long and very fast. The path was mostly deserted, so early was it in the morning, and we just let the Speed TRs eat road. Meanwhile, as we pedaled along, hundreds, perhaps thousands of boats bobbed just offshore, moored there waiting to gain access to the port, or for their owners to row back out to them.

On we went, wheeling hard, as the sun began to burn the morning fog out of the atmosphere. At one point we took a wrong turn and ended up at a fully fenced off dead end, culminating in this sign, which we invite any Turkish speaking readers to translate in the comments.

Suddenly we realized that we were massively thirsty, likely due in no small part to the network effect of eating mostly salty olives for breakfast and then wheeling like maniacs for the last two hours. So we stopped at a small beach-side café, where a number of motorcycle cops were eating breakfast and purchased a few bottles of water.

A few tiny bottles of water each later, we climbed back on the Speed TRs and hit the road.

We kept on wheeling, finally reaching Florya. Now, we suddenly realized, we needed an ATM. The Kazakhs would certainly be charging us for these visas, and it was highly possible that the amount would be no chump change. We pulled over to a convenience store, but they were only offering to do some kind of expensive credit card forwarding maneuver, so we decided to move on to a real ATM. They were happy to give us directions, and even happier to pose for this portrait.

We decided then it might be most prudent to part ways, with Scott heading out to get in line and begin filling out any additional paperwork, while I headed out in search of money. The directions that the fellows from the convenience store gave us turned out to include taking a giant and terrifying highway, so I forsook that in favor of moving more intuitively. I began wheeling like a true maniac, very fast and sweating profusely, stopping from time to time to frantically ask pedestrians in sign language where I might find an ATM. Eventually, I began to zero in on a banking zone, as evidenced by a convergence in the responses to my sign language.

Next came a long, slow climb uphill and into the center of Florya. Finally, I began to see banks, and darted into the first one I saw with an ATM. I got out way more money that we could ever need, figuring we had plenty of time left in the land of the lira, and jumped back on the cycle, hoping I’d catch Scott before he had been asked to pay them.

When I arrived back at the embassy, positively drenched in perspiration, Scott was just getting to the front of the line. I strode up to the window and began talking with the fellow.

He began asking me all kinds of questions:

“What do you want to do in Kazakhstan?”  “How long will you stay?” “Who do you know in the country?” and many others. Once he was satisfied with my responses, he told me that I needed to write all the responses down on a piece of paper and address it to the consulate general. I explained that we actually already had a letter of intent, printed and signed, ready to go (you see, we had done our research).

This should give you, dear reader, an idea of the kind of back and forth, which continued on for a while between me and the fellow. The whole ordeal culminated in a somewhat reluctant acceptance of our documents. We were thrilled.

Then the documents were handed right back to us and our hearts fell. “That will be US$60.00 for both of you,” the popped pink collar said.  I reached for my wallet, which contained much more than that in lira and tried to hand the documents back to him. This was great, much cheaper than we had expected. “Can I pay you in cash?” I asked, grinning.

No you must go to this bank and deposit the balance in this account. He then wrote “Türkiye İş Bankası” on a piece of paper, and an account number, and then motioned toward the door. Bring the receipt back with you and we’ll consider your application.

Fair Enough. “We’ll ride there now,” I explained, “Will you be open when we return?”

“Maybe,” he replied. We close at noon.

And then we were off again, in a man vs. gravity race to get to the bank. We were raging on the cycles, just tearing back up that hill. We passed the bank I had taken money out of, then continued on past bank after bank. Where was this place?!

Then finally we saw it, at the end of the street, and Scott sprinted inside while I locked the bikes. He was already part way through the transaction by the time I came in to support him with capital.

While we were finishing the transaction, I convinced the security guard to refill my water bottle from their staff bubbler, and just as he returned with the bottle, Scott snatched the receipts and we were out of there.

Back on the road, we didn’t let up. We had only 20 minutes, but we could so this.

We arrived back at the embassy at 11:53 and ran up pouring sweat and panting to find the door closed. They’d knocked off early! In full knowledge that we were on our way back…

With grumbling proving useless, we climbed back on the cycles. They of course opened back up at 3:00, but by then we’d need to be on the other side of the city meeting with Red Bull.

We began to discuss other options as we rode back to the city. As we pedaled, we called Claudia, who was just waking up at Alps House. She spoke to me groggily, and I responded in a lighting fast stream of data, screaming it into the phone as I rode. She seemed overwhelmed. Fair enough. I hung up and we called Diane.

She was doing no better on the overwhelmed front, with the rental car issue still far from solved, and new confirmation just in that any car big enough for all of us and the cycles was actually illegal to rent in the country of Turkey. She had found a black market renter who was willing to rent us his friend’s car, but without insurance. Fair enough.

Part way through the wheel, we realized we were starving, but not wanting to waste time, as our meeting with Red Bull was already entering a zone of proximity in which we would almost certainly be late, we stopped at the quickest looking and nearest joint we could spot.

It was a place by the name of “park büfe.”  We had a meatball sandwich there that took me back to my experiences at Grinnell Middle School’s Cafeteria and then hit the road, riding hard and fast, back toward home. When we got there, Diane was in a state of nervous delirium over the lack of rental car. “You know we’re planning on leaving tomorrow, right? And we don’t have a car, right?” We nodded and I inadvertently looked at my watch. “This is not what I want to be doing! I’m on vacation!” Fair enough.

We tried to explain that it was okay, that we would take on this task, but just as soon as we’d met with Red Bull. Then we rushed out the door, hoping Diane would heed our advice and cease her work on the rental car front and enjoy herself until we’d returned to throw our efforts into the mix.

Then we were wheeling again, hard. And talking to our Red Bull contact, Bilgehan. He was cheerful, and seemed very forgiving of our admission that we would be tardy.

When we reached the ferry, we fumbled with the machine to produce two plastic tokens, and jumped on.

We then had about 15 minutes to relax, as the ferry made its way across the Marmara over to the “Asian” side of town.  The water was beautiful and blue, and we savored the moment of relative still in this frantic day.

We watched the city of Istanbul roll by outside the windows. Man oh man was this city beautiful. Then we reached the landing and it was time to split, and so we rolled the cycles off the ferry and headed over to the large line of cabs.

We told the cabby the neighborhood and then put Bilgehan on the phone with the man. Our cab driver was amazing, drove like a maniac, and listened to fantastic music, like this song about Facebook.

He also fielded a call from his wife while we were driving. When the phone rang, he turned down the stereo using the controls on the steering wheel, and picked up.

As their conversation continued, he began to perform all kinds of ridiculous pantomime, holding the phone away from him like it stunk, or reaching over and putting it to my ear, giving me a brief burst of Turkish, then whipping it back to his own to add something to the conversation. Quite a fellow we’d found.

Then we arrived at Red Bull’s Turkish HQ, and what a building it was! We knew we were at the right place when we saw some of the Red Bull sampling girls across the street getting the Red Bull Mini Coopers ready for a run around the city.

I’ll spare you the commentary our cab driver had concerning them.

After a bout of miscommunication with the security guard, Bilgehan showed up downstairs and helped us to check in. We stored the cycles behind the front desk, and turned over our passport photocopies to the woman running the show in exchange for ID badges.

Upstairs we met with Bilgehan, where we were introduced to the head of Red Bull Sports for Turkey, Cuneyt. Here too, there as a huge focus on motorsports, which they explained to us was what the culture here was interested in.  We toured their offices, and spent quite a while discussing Red Bull’s business in Turkey overlooking the warehouse district of Istanbul’s Asian side.

Speaking of motorsports, we headed, downstairs to grab the Red Bull we would need for the road trip through Turkey.  But before that Bilgehan wanted to take a ride on the Speed TR, and we were more than happy to oblige.

Then we grabbed the rest of our Red Bull, loaded it onto the back of the bikes, and headed back downhill toward the ferry terminal.

When we got to the ferry terminal, we realized we were starving again, and decided to purchase a couple of “toasts,” which is the way the Turkish refer to grilled cheese sandwiches.

It was definitely a middle school day for the AsiaWheeling diet.

We then prepared to wheel our Red-Bull-laden cycles onto the ferry. It was true they were ungainly, but we were able to slug them on board. From the safety of the passenger cabin, we radioed home letting the rest of the crew know we were inbound.

And Diane was on the other end with great news: She had solved the rental car problem, and we would have a Fiat Dobro ready to go the next morning, manifested through black magic. On our way out of the station, hopping onto the cycles, we noticed these fellows cooking up fish sandwiches and made a special note to revisit them for lunch on our way back through Istanbul before our flight to Uzbekistan.

We had been frantic that whole day, but Istanbul continued to be relaxed around us. As we struggled to ride our cycles laden down with 72 cans of energy drink each, businessmen had just gotten off work and were enjoying playing with their dogs.  Vendors by the water fried up delicious fish at bargain prices.

That evening we met up with our Turkey advisor, Mr. Asher Kohn. He took us to one of his favorite restaurants, a place called Abracadabra where we feasted on tiny fried fish, more chewy Turkish bread, a plate of roast lamb with yoghurt sauce, and a large salad.

After that he took us for a stroll around the neighborhood, pointing out bits and pieces of history or folklore. Then we went out for gelatto, a desert of which I am always skeptical.


  1. AJK | November 1st, 2010 | 5:12 pm

    In re: Sign with a soldier on it. It says “Secure Military Area, No Entrance.”

    Glad the visa bis got worked, I’m curious to see when this blog makes it to Kazakhstan.

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