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  • Writer's pictureJim Clarahan

Istanbul - where Europe and Asia Kiss!

"Istanbul" ('to the city' - the literal meaning of 'Istanbul'), the locals cried-out when referring to their city when it was called 'Constantinople'. Today over 17 million people inhabit the area making Istanbul the 15th largest metropolitan area in the world. Originally named 'Byzantium', it was renamed Constantinople in 330CE by Roman emperor Constantine and remained so for the next sixteen centuries, before taking on its current name, Istanbul, in 1930.

A SUPER BIG SHOUT OUT and THANK YOU to RSM Turkiye, Cihat Kumusoglu, Vedat Kumusoglu, and Tugce Serter. My six days exploring Turkiye are filled with beautiful memories, thanks to your generous and gracious welcome. And a special thank you to Onur Basmakci, my companion, driver, guide and new friend, who made sure I was safe and well taken care of throughout my visit.

The Bosporus Strait does double duty, a natural divide for the metro area of Istanbul East and West and the two continents of Europe and Asia. Roughly 17 miles long, less than .5 miles wide at its narrowest point and no wider than 1.9 miles at the northern opening to the Black Sea. This slim and short waterway has been the nexus for trade, commerce and aggression between Europe and Asia throughout recorded history.

And thanks to Tugce's connections, we had a very special visit with Koc University Hospital (KUH) children's oncology department, and two different NGO's - KACUV (kanserli cocuklara umut vakfi) and Mothers of Oncology (Onkoloji Anneleri). The visit included a special balloon release for Dray and all of the children fighting cancer, a 4th of July birthday cake, a private tour of the oncology department, meeting with patients and their families and a golden handprint on the tree of hope. And introducing "Oncobikes"! Designed and created by the oncology team at KUH, Oncobikes are a novel treatment approach for the kids - providing a fun diversion from the boredom that often occurs during prolonged treatments. RSM Turkiye has committed to fund more Oncobikes. Together we are recruiting other organizations to help fund the making of larger models of Oncobikes for older/bigger kids. And a tribute and thank you to Athos. Athos is a six-year-old boy undergoing treatment at KUH. He drew a special picture of Dray riding Papa's Harley-Davidson, and added a special note to acknowledge his sister who is coincidentally named - "Istanbul". The framed picture is now in Peoria with Dray.

So, Papa, what else did you do in Turkiye? How did you get there? What was it like? The answers are best told with a few short stories.

A 4 am arrival to the little island city of Chios, was my final stop in Greece before crossing the 30-mile strip of sea to Cesme, Turkiye. As I waited for the morning sun, I called home to talk to my son Seth. Seth was at his firehouse waiting for the next emergency call. As we talked, a bar fight at the local disco behind me spilled out into the parking lot. We had a good laugh as I described the brawl. Free entertainment watching the belligerents trying to sneak away to avoid arrest as the local police arrived. While I could not understand what the police were yelling, I am certain one of them said something like - "hey punk, go ahead, make my day!" My boat to Cesme couldn't leave soon enough. The San Nicolas ferry, had enough room for about 7 motorbikes, two cars and about 30+ passengers.

The one-hour boat ride to Cesme helped prepare me for the crazy paced and amazing culture of Turkiye. A "no hurry, what's the rush daily" attitude, coupled with a "let's go extra fast, no speed limit, 'oh, was that a stoplight?' driving style"...Crazy! Border-control took 3+ hours as I was unaware of the need to purchase a Turkish visa. Once thru, I had my first encounter with Onur, my guide, driver and soon to be new friend, who was patiently waiting on the other side of border control. Onur spoke no English and I spoke no Turkish, which made the 55 mile, 90 minute ride to Izmir, me following on my Harley, extra interesting. Google Translate came to the rescue the rest of the week. It was great fun teaching each other a few quips and phrases in our native language. The hotel's rooftop pool was the perfect place for R&R before having my first Turkish dining experience. And then closing out a very long day with one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever experienced.

The next day we ventured back in time. First stop Ephesus. Built in the 10th century BC, it was originally famous for being the site of the Temple of Artemis (550 BC), before coming under Roman control in last century BC. Ephesus is also one of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and is believed to be where the Book of John was penned. Then onto nearby ancient mountain village of Şirince for traditional Turkish lunch. It is believed that it was originally settled by Greek slaves who named it "Çirkince", meaning "ugly" in Turkish, to deter others from following them. There are alternative theories that it is named after old tribes from the Ottoman era. The village's name was changed to "Şirince", meaning "pleasant", in the 1920's by the governor of Izmir. We then finished with a seaside break at Kuşadası Kalesi "castle", (the ancient castle protecting the seaside village of the same name). Surreal, dreamlike encounter with antiquity, to the era of Greek gods, and the beginnings of Christianity and Islam. A breathtaking day!

Then my introduction to Beşiktaş, and "The Big Three of Istanbul" - "Üç Büyükler". Another unforgettable highlight. The big 3 futbol clubs of Turkiye that is. Beşiktaş (the oldest founded in 1903), Fenerbahçe (the baby founded in 1907), and Galatasaray (the middle child founded in 1905). All three are legendary in their own right with great history and very loyal fans. Reminiscent of the fanatical hysteria that supports the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears and the original NFL teams back home in the USA. My friend, Cihat Kumusoglu, managing partner of RSM Turkiye, arranged a private behind-the-scenes tour of Beşiktaş stadium with Onur. What a special treat. Even in the off-season, the energy and pride were palpably evident from walking around the facilities. Keeping my fingers crossed that I can catch a match during my next visit to Istanbul.

My final day in Istanbul included a tour of a few sites of old town with Onur, and a send-off dinner with my newest friends - Cihat, Vedat and Tugce! Thank YOU!

Over the next few months more pictures, videos and memories from the rest of my journey through Europe will be added to the Ride 4 Dray blog site. The next two will recap my weekend "Ride on Bulgaria" with Istanbul East Harley Owners Group, and my amazing tour through The Balkans - Bulgaria, Romania, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia. Stay tuned as the recap of my journey continues...

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