May 4-5

Getting Started in Istanbul

This trip began with two days of hard labor. The Byzantines certainly know their bureaucracy, and provided two days of Customs clearing paperwork and runaround just to get our motorcycles into the city. Have to hand it to them, the bureaucrats have upgraded and automated their processes. The software glitch was finally solved by a high level Byzantine-looking bureaucrat conducting high level bureaucracy for which the Byzantines are known.

When our family lived here in the early 50's, the population was the same as Cleveland had then. Istanbul has 15 million people, some of the most expensive real estate in the world, stores like you would find on 5th Avenue, ornate mosques - an absolutely fabulous city. The people are educated and, as a rule, have a great sense of humor. The Bosphorus is teaming with big ocean-going ships, tankers, and sprinkled with hundreds of ferries, small power boats and row boats. It is an enormous commercial hub. There is construction on every block – cranes everywhere. There does not seem to be any end to the city's growth.

But 15 million people make for some serious traffic. We have all known people that get a little too close when talking to you and violate your space. From the standpoint of a motorcycle rider in Istanbul, the space violation is catastrophic. Instead of giving you perhaps 2' to spare around your motorcycle as we have in Cleveland, they basically give you 2", and constantly pushing for even less space. Twice during the acclimating ride back from Customs, people cut in front of me leaving no more than 2" to spare. But now after driving about 20 miles around Istanbul, I have developed the same aggressive habits (when in Rome...).

Turkish Politics

I arrived in Istanbul on the double-witching day of Turkish politics. May Day was in progress and Taksim Square was filled with soldiers, snipers on the roofs, armored personnel carriers with water cannons, hundreds of police, and the smell of tear gas. The Government was being compromised. The Islamists wanted to elect a President to replace the current one (who has been a pain to them and whose eight-year term has come to an end). The Court (dominated by the other party based on the ideals of the father of Turkey) instead ruled that the Islamists could not elect a President, but that a new government had to be formed. The Islamists got into power with only 35% of the popular vote because of a rule that allows only parties with at least 10% of the popular vote to be represented in Parliament – a very peculiar structure, but apparently one that made sense 20 years ago when the military government made the modification. Understanding the Turkish Government is very difficult. The constitution has approximately 160 provisions in it, and no one understands them completely (must make for better bureaucracy). In any case, some sort of new government will be coming on soon. It will probably mean a more middle-of-the-road president and court system. But the military will still be there to stabilize any sudden move away from secularism; the Islamists will still be there with their strong growth oriented capitalist bent; and the country will continue to prosper and be the bright star in the Islamic world.

In the period that the Islamists have controlled Parliament, Turkey has prospered more than any time in history. Direct foreign investment (like building factories) in the last five years has been greater than in the last 20 years. However, there are some very strong feelings among men and women that the Islamists need to have their ears pinned back. There will be more on Turkish politics in blogs to come.

The Motorcycle Group

There are twenty of us, and it is turning out to be a fascinating group of people. There is a self selection process – who can spend two months to travel on a motorcycle over more than one-third of the world? I do not know anyone in the group and neither do most of the others, but they are all very experienced riders.

The group leader is a Norwegian named Helge, who is more-or-less the father of adventure motorcycling, which is what this is called. Our second leader is an amputee who lost a leg in a previous trip, but drives a side car with unparalleled zeal and skill. The tour guide for the Turkish part of the trip is Kaz – I have ridden with him before. He is a Turk who is a phenomenal rider, riding on the highways at rarely less than 100 mph, and has been invaluable in teaching us everything about Istanbul.

I do not know much about the other riders, but one of them, Dennis, just had twins six weeks ago. His wife had no problem with him going on this trip. He explained that the gestation period for a motorcycle trip such as this is nearly two years, whereas the gestation period of the twins was only nine months. He is a terrific guy, and clearly has a terrific wife. Another rider has brought along his girlfriend. He told the group amid tears how much these trips have changed his life and how happy he is to have his girlfriend with him on this one.

We left Istanbul the morning of May 4th, driving to Bursa.

Further blogs will have more about the people and more about the aspirations of the young citizens in the countries through which we travel. We will also include some photographs when I become more email literate.

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