Tag Archives: Istanbul

Istanbul Fed Ex Customs Office – a Cautionary Tale

2/2 – This is a story that started about a month ago. Jim had been trying to buy new boots and a warmer down jacket, but having no luck here in Turkey, as he is taller than average with extra large feet. After striking out in Istanbul, Kas and Antalya (stores only stock shoes up to size 45, and Jim needs 48wide, and extra large jacket with a 37 inch sleeve), he gave up and ordered what he needed from Amazon in the US. He had everything delivered to son Peter’s house, and Peter graciously agreed to ship the stuff to us.

After researching, the cheapest way to ship to Turkey was Fed Ex, at about $300.00 for a single box, with four day delivery. The cost to ship was twice the cost of what was in the box! After swallowing hard, Jim told Peter to go ahead and ship, because he really needed the new boots. These would be the most expensive boots ever! During this discussion, I asked Peter to put a new mobile phone in the box also, as mine has been acting erratically, and I didn’t want to be without a phone, which we use to navigate our way around using Google Maps.

So, Peter shipped the box to the hotel we planned to stay at in Konya, and we called ahead to make sure they would hold it for us until we arrived. On the fourth day, Fed Ex called Peter and said there were customs forms that needed to be filled out and duties and taxes to be paid now that the box was in Turkey. More money?? Peter gave them our info and asked them to email the forms to us. When we didn’t receive anything, we called Fed Ex International in Atlanta, and they gave us a number to call in Istanbul.

The Istanbul office had a lady who spoke English, thank goodness. She asked us to itemize what was in the box. We told her clothing and a phone. That brought the conversation to a screeching halt, as it is not permitted under any circumstances to ship a phone to Turkey.


Who knew? We asked for our options, and were told we could either abandon the box, or pay another $300.00 to have the box shipped back to the US. It could not be delivered. No! Jim needed those boots! We asked if they could remove the phone and ship the rest. No. We had to disposition the whole box. We went around several times, and then she told us that we could come to the Fed Ex Customs office in Istanbul and have the box opened and the phone removed. We had to be there in person. Okay!

So, on the day we returned to Istanbul for our flight to Israel, we spent three hours on buses, metro and taxi to get to the customs office.


We arrived triumphant at 3pm, only to be told it was too late in the afternoon to inspect the box (their hours were 9am to 5:30pm) , and to return in the morning. We threw ourselves on their mercy, describing our three hour ride. We were leaving for Israel early the next morning, and would not be able to return for two weeks. Fine, we were told, the box would be held until we returned.

So, sadly, we reversed the trip back to the Asian side of Istanbul, which took 5 hours due to evening traffic, so we would be on time for our morning flight. We were exhausted, and Jim was going hiking with bad boots. We figured the day’s transportation had cost us another $50.00. We were demoralized and disgusted. Jim decided to just abandon the box, and we agreed to never speak about the whole incident again.

Then we went hiking in Israel, and every day was a misery for Jim’s feet. He changed his mind. When we get back to Istanbul, he said, let’s try again to get that box.

Our plane landed on the Asian side of Istanbul on Friday, and we took the three hour ride back to the European side, this time getting a room right near the European airport. We cooled our heels over the weekend, then got up early Monday morning so we would be there when the Customs office opened, and took a taxi there.

The girl in the office remembered us, looked up our package and arranged to have it inspected. We walked back to the warehouse and waited while they located the box. The inspector opened it, examined the boots, jacket and phone, and put everything back in the box. He asked to see Jim’s passport and looked at the date of our stamp for entering Turkey. He explained to the men surrounding him (everything is done here by committee) that we had a ninety day visa, and were citizens for that period of time. He wrote out a form and stamped it, and told us to take it to the airport (6 miles away), show it to Customs there, and come back with another document, at which time we could retrieve the package.

We got an address from the office lady, and the name of a person to ask for at the airport cargo terminal. We asked for another taxi, but as we were waiting, a Fed Ex 18 wheeler was leaving the facility, and the security guy asked him to give us a ride. Nice Person of Turkey!

Unfortunately, the truck was not going to the cargo terminal, so the driver dropped us off on the highway in the rain, telling us with hand signs and no English that it wasn’t too far to walk.

It turns out there are LOTS of cargo terminals at the airport, and we trudged from building to building in the rain, showing our piece of paper and asking for help. image

We finally got to the right building and found Meryam, who added more documents and more stamps to the papers we carried. She sent us to yet another building to have three photocopies made of all the forms and Jim’s passport with the all-important date stamp. Then she did some magic stapling and stamping, and told us we were ready to go back to the Customs office.

We walked back out of the airport and onto the main road where we could hail a taxi. Back we went the 6 miles to the Fed Ex office. This taxi driver tried to rip us off for twice what the ride should cost, but we were sufficiently bedraggled, pissed off and surly that we argued and refused to pay his price, giving him a fair amount and walking off with him yelling and waving his fist. We went back in the office and…. It was noon. Everyone had gone to lunch and the warehouse was locked until 1pm. Luckily, anticipating a grueling ordeal, Jim had packed us some sandwiches, so we sat on a bench, ate and waited.

At 1pm, the warehouse reopened, our forms were inspected and approved, and we were sent upstairs for yet another stamp. Then we were walked to a building we hadn’t been to yet. There we waited outside a locked door until the next man-with-a-stamp returned from lunch. Then we were ushered into a queue, where we thought we were waiting for our box. When we got to the front of the line, we were presented an invoice for $103.00 in storage charges for the box! Jim really lost it at this point, but, having come this far, what else were we to do? He reluctantly forked over the cash, muttering about bureaucracies in third world countries, and at 2pm, we were finally handed our box.

What should have felt like a triumph, felt instead like a particularly painful screwing. We decided not to add up all the costs again, but to enjoy the boots, the jacket and the phone and consider this a lesson learned. Why they let us have the phone after all the hoopty-do about it not being permitted, we will never know.

We took yet another taxi to the nearest metro station, and rode three hours back to the Asian side, so we’d be in position to get to the train station in the morning. Now I’ve told the story, and we agreed to never talk about the incident again!image Jim’s new boots, size 13W.

Tel Aviv to Istanbul

1/30 – Up early this morning for the cab ride to Ben Gurion Airport. Security is very tight here, and we were interviewed about our travel plans before we were allowed to check in. It should be noted that, although we had to go through a security scanner, we did not have to take off our shoes, nor were we asked to give up our water bottles.

Two hours later, we touched down in Istanbul, at the airport on the Asian side. We spent the rest of the afternoon on two buses to get us back to the European side, where we have to see a man about a box on Monday. Istanbul is a huge city!

Jim had reserved a small apartment through Bookings.com. When we got there, it was not an apartment at all, but a dumpy room with an electric kettle and a fridge that needed cleaning. Without the ability to cook, there is no reason to pay extra for an apartment, so we trooped back downstairs to speak to the manager. After some wrangling over the phone, he gave us our cash back, and we got into another cab for a place we quickly found online. It’s really amazing that in all our travels so far, this is the first time we had to leave a hotel. We read the comments and ratings carefully before we book, and most places present themselves honestly.

Half an hour later, we were tucked in to a lovely modern apartment with all facilities, a washing machine, and even a crib, in case we decide to have a baby! There was a supermarket down the street, and Jim bought the makings of a delicious supper, and had it on the table in an hour. Home sweet home!

1/31 – you may not believe this, but I stayed in bed all day, getting up only for meals. Traveling is hard work, and sometimes we need a day off from our vacation!

2/1 – Super Bowl Sunday! Jim’s trying to figure out how to watch the game, which will start about 3am tomorrow, our time…

We ventured out to check out the neighborhood and buy more groceries. We are in the southern part of Istanbul, right on the Sea of Marmara. We decided to stroll down to the harbor. When we got there, the wind was blowing fiercely, and the streets were flooded.


It was like being in a hurricane, without the rain!


Some of the boats looked swamped.


The chestnut vendor didn’t budge from his spot, and the Sunday strollers braved the headwinds to continue their strolls.


One block inland, life was normal, and the winds were gone. Very strange!

Was awoken at 4am to the sound of football -Jim figured out how to watch the Super Bowl after all. Glad the Pats won, because it would have made my brother happy.

Istanbul to Selçuk

12/6 – With heavy hearts, we packed up this morning for our last day in Istanbul. We ate one final lunch at our favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and bade farewell to our pension hosts. We gazed at the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia one more time, on our way north to the ferry terminal. When we step onto the ferry at Eminönü, we will officially be leaving Europe. IMG_5094

The ferry took just 15 minutes to cross the Bosphorus, and when we stepped off the gangplank in Kadikoy, we were in Asia. It was still Istanbul, but it is the start of the next chapter in our journey.IMG_5110

It took us a little while to find the 16D bus that would take us to the Pendik station 25 Kms east of Istanbul. We had originally planned to take the Metro until the end, then a short bus ride to the train station, but two Information Desk folks suggested that this one bus would get us all the way there.

This info was correct, but it was a two and a half hour ordeal in a double decker local bus that stopped on every corner, and tested human ability to squeeze together in tight spaces. I was trying to see the names of the bus stops, a futile effort, so we would know where to get off. Eventually, I asked a young girl if she would let us know when we reached the right stop. Although she had no English, and my Turkish is not improving, she understood and agreed.

We reached Pendik around dusk and went in search of food. A chicken donar sandwich that cost 5 tl in Istanbul only costs 2 tl here, and comes with a complimentary container of Ayran, the salty yogurt drink so popular here. I’m slowly developing a taste for Ayran… We ate and bought fruit and snacks for tomorrow.

The Pendik to Eskisehir train was a new, high speed deal that only made a few stops. We left at 19:20 and arrived at 21:50. We waited on the platform for our next train, which was due at 22:25. We met an American couple from Maine and their lovely 9 year old daughter Florence, who were visiting Turkey for six weeks.

This sleeper train was a real step up – the compartment was just for the two of us, and contained a table, a sink, real towels, and a fridge with water, sour cherry juice, pretzels and chocolate bars. Our upper and lower bunks (Jim took the upper) were already made up and ready. We gratefully collapsed into bed and got a pretty good night’s sleep.

After our fruit and chocolate breakfast, we reached Izmir at 10am. We then took a local train to the Havalimani Airport stop, where we bought a ticket for the 11:45 Dinizili train that will take us to Selçuk. That train took about an hour, and was another testament to people’s ability to squeeze together. We had to stand cheek to jowl the whole way, and fight our way off the train.

But we made it! So, after 24 hours of traveling, we are here, a stone’s throw from the ruins of Ephesus, some dating back to fourteen centuries BCE. The temperature is back in the 60s, and citrus and olive trees grow on the Main Street. Life is good!imageimageimage

Istanbul – Trains and Whirling Dervishes

12/4 – We have only a few more days in Istanbul. Friday we will pick up our passports from the Chinese Consulate, and Saturday we head south to see other parts of Türkiye. We walked north today to get our train tickets to Izmir, which will get us close to Selçuk and the ruins at Ephesus. On the way, we passed a restaurant advertising a Whirling Dervish demonstration, not too far from our pension. Jim said, “I think this is something you would like to see.” So, we are going tonight!

When we arrived at the train station, the ticket seller had no English, and seemed to be telling us there was no train to where we wanted to go. I had spent a lot of time researching on line, and knew we had to take a ferry to a Metro to a bus to catch the train 20 miles east of Istanbul (there are no trains running directly into or out of Istanbul until their rail upgrade is completed sometime next year). We had one more travel day on our EuRail pass, and this would be our last chance to use it.

We went next door to Tourist Information, and asked again. No, the man said firmly, we would have to take a bus. Remembering our nightmare entry into the country, we allowed that this might be true. He directed us to a travel agency two blocks away. This didn’t feel right… We’ve always dealt directly with the train company, not a private agency. The travel agent said we could take a 10 hour bus ride, but why not fly and get there in an hour? And why not hire a shuttle to and from the airport? And better also arrange a tour, as people can’t get from Selçuk to the ruins of Ephesus on their own. Jim thanked the man for the information, and marched us out of there. It was too slick, and smelled fishy.

Back we went to the train station. This time we got another agent, and determined that there WAS a train after all, just like I had researched. Whew! 20 minutes later we had our tickets for the train from Pendik to Eskisehir, and the overnight sleeper to Izmir. We walked next door to the ferry terminal to make sure that wasn’t going to be any sort of a problem. Looks like our Metro Card will get us across the Bosphorus for 2 lira. Yay! We’re back in business.

While we were in the city, I wanted to see if I could get a refill on my allergy prescription. Unlike other countries we’ve visited, it is not clear what a pharmacy looks like here. We went into a likely looking shop that had a vitamin display in the window, and found a guy in a white coat behind the counter – a good sign. I showed the package to the pharmacist, and he brought out the exact same name brand med, no prescription needed, and charged $7 for a bottle that costs $120 back in the US of A. Don’t know what to say about that, except I’m glad to have my medicine. Maybe I should stock up?

After supper we walked to the restaurant to see the Mevlevi, or Whirling Dervishes. The restaurant folks were disappointed that we were not eating in their establishment, but we figured the $40 cover charge was all they were going to get from us tonight. Lighting was provided by a very-80s disco ball, which gave the whole place a colorful, pulsating and surreal quality.

Followers of the poet Rumi, the Sufi whirl in ecstatic joy. First came three musicians – one playing a stringed instrument that sounded like a viola, one playing mandolin, and the third playing a bamboo flute, who was also the vocalist. image

After a while the three dervishes came out in black robes, bowed and knelt for a period of meditation while the music played.IMG_5011.JPGIMG_5012.JPG

Then the three cast off their black robes to reveal white costumes with wide skirts. One by one, they bowed, then started to whirl, arms raised, eyes closed, skirts creating a breeze like room full of ceiling fans. They rotated, and also revolved around the room. They were graceful and looked serene, never faltering, losing step or appearing dizzy. They whirled for a long time.





Jim introduced me to the poetry of Rumi years ago, and I can understand that whirling is another way that he and his followers expressed their joy. Here is a Rumi poem:

The Secret Turning

A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning.

Istanbul – Topkapi Palace

12/3 – today dawned sunny and warm (63!), so we decided to take advantage of the nice weather by visiting the Topkapi Palace Museum and gardens, home of rich sultans and their harems since 1459. image

The entrance fee was steep, and after we paid the price, we were informed that no picture-taking was permitted in any of the display rooms. Drat! How’s a person to blog with no pix? I wasn’t the only one disappointed, and we tourists kept the guards hopping in each room as they ran to stick their hands in front of our lenses, yelling, “No photo, Madame!” Some rooms showed old china and silverware, and I snapped a few shots just because…

The item on the right is a sherbet dispenser, which I thought was kind of neat…

Other rooms held jewel-encrusted clothing, artifacts and weaponry:

The bottom pic is borrowed from the Internet.

The final rooms held religious relics, and I didn’t dare try to get a picture there, but what an inventory! Not only did they display many relics of The Prophet, including his beard, a tooth, his footprint, his sword and bow, but they also had:

  • The Saucepan of Abraham
  • The Staff of Moses
  • The Sword of David
  • The Turban of Joseph
  • The Hand of John
  • …and I thought Catholics cornered the market on relics!

    Photography was permitted in the outer buildings, including the Circumcision Room.

    The grounds were lovely, although probably more so when the roses bloom in summer.

    The Palace is on the shore of the Bospherus, with some great (albeit slightly smoggy) views:image






    An excellent day!

    Sunday in Istanbul – the Basilica Cistern

    11/30 – you’ve seen the Basilica Cistern in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love, and you’ve read about it in Dan Brown’s Inferno.

    The Emperor Justinian used 7000 slaves to dig the cistern in the 6th century, to provide filtered water for the palace gardens. It consists of 336 marble columns, holding up the roof. If full, it would contain 100,000 tons of water.IMG_4823.JPG



    Carp swim in the shallow water below.


    The columns are presumed to have been scavenged from older buildings, and are a mishmash of styles. One has a hole that people stick their thumbs in for good luck.




    This column’s decorations are said to represent the tears of the slaves who died constructing the cistern.


    The highlight of the Cistern is the two heads of Medusa. Scavenged from an older Greek building, one was placed upside down, and the other on its side. Why? No one knows…



    Our neighborhood had no electricity this morning, so we had to walk to find a restaurant for lunch where the lights were on. We returned to my favorite lunch place, filled with locals. There are no menus, you just walk up to the counter and point at what you want – half a dozen bubbling stews that change daily. I picked chicken and green peppers, but Jim got the tastiest – eggplant and beef with vegetables. You sit at a table with a big basket of bread, thinking, “who could eat this much bread?”, but once you start eating, you keep reaching for another hunk of bread to sop up every bit of sauce on your plate. Food heaven. We try to determine what is in each dish in the hope that we can reproduce these flavors at home. Maybe we’ll just stay here instead!

    Saturday in Istanbul – Pope Francis!

    11/29 – How often do you get a chance to see the Pope? When we were in Rome, we didn’t catch a glimpse of him, so when we heard we was going to be at the Blue Mosque here in Istanbul this morning, we thought we’d better take advantage of the opportunity.

    There was a police cordon all around the mosque, of course, with policemen stationed every three feet or so, but the crowd was small, and we had no trouble walking right up to the barricade. His modest car was waiting, with the headlights on and motor running. Overhead there was a news helicopter and a drone, presumably taking photographs. We were interviewed by a Reuters reporter, who took down our names and where we were from. Perhaps we will become famous!

    And then we saw him emerging from the mosque! I zoomed in as far as my poor camera would allow, with these very grainy results. Here he is coming down the steps:(white figure in the center)


    Approaching the car:


    Chatting with the Mufti (Pope on left, Mufti on the right): image


    And getting into the car for the short ride to Hagia Sophia: image

    We waved and cheered, as others applauded politely. I hope he appreciated our enthusiasm!

    Thursday in Istanbul – the Hagia Sophia

    11/27 – Happy Thanksgiving to all! We especially miss our family today, but are thankful for their health and happiness. If we can’t be eating turkey, we’re happy to be in Turkey! We tried to describe a turkey to our Malaysian friends at breakfast…

    Today we visited the Hagia Sophia, which started out as Emperor Constantine’s church in the 300s, was burned down and rebuilt by Justinian in the 500s, then was converted to a mosque in the 1400s, was closed when it began to seriously deteriorate, and was reopened as a museum in the 1930s as part of the secularization and westernization of Turkey under Attaturk. It shares a square with the Blue Mosque.


    There’s a golden library on the main floor:

    There’s also a Wishing Column, where people stick their thumb in a hole and try to rotate their hand all the way around to make their wish come true:image

    In the process of restoration, some of the original Christian frescoes were uncovered. It’s so neat to see the juxtaposition of two cultures.image




    Here you can see where the cross images were covered over with abstract patterns.image

    The view from the upper gallery was magnificent.image



    Just loved this place!

    Wednesday in Istanbul – the Blue Mosque

    11/26 – No rain this morning, and a double rainbow! It’s going to be a good day!image

    Up early and back to the Metro for another run to the Chinese Consulate. This time, the office was open, and, after standing in line and going through two metal detectors, we got into the visa office. Although the room was full of people waiting, some with newborn babies, we walked right up to the window, slid our paperwork under the glass, and asked for tourist visas. The young woman behind the glass spoke some English – hallelujah! She looked over our applications. Where is your invitation from a Chinese official? Where is your proof that you are not a criminal? Where is your plane reservation and detailed itinerary? Where is your proof that you are a resident of Turkey? We had none of those things. We explained that we were traveling overland and that train reservations can only be made 20 days in advance, and you must have a visa to make a reservation. We explained that we were not criminals, and that Americans have no form to prove that this is so. Our Turkish visa says we are residents for 90 days. She took our passports, photos, Turkish visas, and four page applications to a room behind a door.

    We sat and waited. She came back after a while with more questions. If you are retired, what income do you have per year? Who will pay for your travel? How much money do you have in the bank? We were prepared for these questions and provided financial statements. Sounded like we were getting close!

    We sat some more. Finally, she came back with all our stuff. Without a plane or train reservation and a detailed itinerary of where we plan to spend each day in China, and extra copies of our passports, we were not getting visas. We reminded her about the train reservations – would a hotel reservation suffice? She allowed that it might, if it was all we could get. We sadly took our pile of papers and retreated home to fabricate an itinerary and get a (cancelable) random hotel reservation from booking.com. On Friday, we will try again.

    To cheer ourselves up, we had a delicious lunch, and went to see the Blue Mosque. image The first thing you will notice is that the outside is not blue, but grey. Why did I think it would be blue?

    Like the Suleiman, this is an active mosque, and we take off our shoes, and I cover my head, before entering. Tourists are only allowed in a small area, to enable the faithful to pray in peace.

    The inside has some blue windows and tiles – I guess that’s why it’s called Blue? The carpet is definitely orange-red… The official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, and the whole area where we live is called Sultanahmet.

    Of course, I notice that the women’s praying area is all the way in the back, behind where the tourists put their shoes.






    Although we always endeavor to show reverence in holy places, there are so many people taking selfies, including a man in the prayer area who is taking a pic of himself prostrated in prayer, that we figured, what the heck? Here is our Blue Mosque selfie:image

    How do I know this is true?

    From Jim…



    We visit Suleymaniye Mosque, largest in Istanbul, Turkey. It was built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566. Suleiman spent 10 years fighting in 17 military campaigns. He conquered Belgrade, most of Hungary, and laid siege to Vienna in 1529. His era was considered the Ottoman empire’s high point, the farthest extent of its domain. The Vienna siege failed due to heavy rains, over-extended supply lines, shortage of heavy artillery, and Viennese skillful use of arquebuses (early firearms), long pikes, and defensive positions.

    We approach the mosque courtyard in front of the main entrance.

    Inside, we view the low-hung lamps, which, in olden-times required refilling with oil. Islamic belief focuses on one God, with the thought that images distract from this idea. As a result, mosques display calligraphy but no human images.


    We see a poster explaining Islam to visitors. It portrays the…

    View original post 717 more words