Istanbul, Turkey Two Y’s, a K, and a Z

There’s a Turkish man behind me who resembles a hairy lump of coal. He’s watching videos on his laptop of men with high-caliber machine guns shredding target dummies. He is chuckling with glee about this. He is as happy as a clam.

Why do all the flights around here leave in the middle of the night? 2:15am? What kind of a time is that? Who does that work for? If we were flying across the planet, sure, but I keep getting stuck on these restless little hops.

Got a row to myself in the back of the plane, though. Slept like the dead. I’ve had good luck with that on this trip.

I’ve got a 12 hour layover in Istanbul before my flight to Kyrgyzstan. I already got a good clip in Turkey a little over a year ago. It was the first one for this new video, a happy byproduct of a commercial for a Swedish travel agency. In any case, I don’t feel obligated to hunt down another one while I’m here. I’m content, instead, to catch up on sleep and email.

Both my arriving and departing flights are on Turkish Airlines, so they were nice enough to offer me a free hotel room during my layover. This gave me joy beyond words, until I was led past the airport hotel, out into a bus with 30 other men.

The bus took us out of the airport, into the city, right past the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, the Obelisk of Theodosius. I watched the Novotel go by, then the Hotel Ibis, the Holiday Inn, and a dozen other perfectly reasonable options. After a 45 minute ride, we wound up at the All Seasons Hotel.


The All Seasons seems very proud of its four star rating. I am left to wonder: four out of how many?

I did not need to see Turkey again. No offense, Turkey, but I was here in 2006 and again in 2007. I’m full of Turkey.

I am going Kyrgyzstan for a number of silly reasons. One is because I’ve never gotten an email from there. 25,000 messages and not a single one that I’m aware of from a Kyrgyz. I have a biological defect that draws me to such places.

Of course, I don’t get much email from any of the ‘stans, so why Kyrgyzstan? Well, there are seven ‘stans. Pakistan is high up on my list, but it just never seems like a good time to go.

Afghanistan? While I cultivate the appearance of intrepidity, I do have limits.

Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is an obvious punch line with some intriguing history to boot. I came close to putting it on the itinerary, but it requires a visa in advance and my short breaks between trips don’t allow much time to circulate a passport.

Of the four remaining ‘stans, I, like most of the world, am largely indifferent. Kyrgyzstan got a big boost for being the only one that furnishes visas on arrival without prior application. You might call it the friendly ‘stan. It also has an enormous Scrabble point value. So Kyrgyzstan it is.

After making this decision, I was disappointed to learn that Turkmenistan has a really nifty place called the Burning Gates. It’s basically an active volcanic sink hole that vividly resembles an entry point into hell. Oh, well.

The thought never occurred to me that Kyrgyzstan might be anything like Borat’s fictional version of neighboring Kazakhstan. On reading up a bit, I’m stunned by how EXACTLY it sounds like it.

The most popular traditional sport is called kok boru. It involves a bunch of men on horseback hurling a decapitated goat into a circle. You might recall Sylvester Stallone’s swift mastery of the Afghani version, buzkashi, in Rambo III.

The traditional way of courting brides, still popular in rural Kyrgyzstan, is through kidnapping. Modern suitors will approach bachelorettes on the street and shove them into waiting cars. The bride’s parents are expected to give their blessing if properly consulted…or so I’ve read.

From the budget accommodation section of Lonely Planet:

Sabyrbek’s B&B
Sabyrbek offers beds and meals in his ramshackle house. Everyone shares a single shower. The cat is called Nicole Kidman and the dog bites. Unfortunately Sabyrbek’s brothers like a drink — and they don’t do it alone. Look for an unmarked gate opposite the German embassy.

11 Responses to Istanbul, Turkey Two Y’s, a K, and a Z

  1. Tonio

    Wow, I never heard of this place, the burning gates!! It looks awesome, I guess I’ll someday visit it!

    This room really looks like a lot of service from an airline like Turkish Airlines. Did you have to pay some extra?

    Tonio from Hamburg, Germany




    Tiago Luiz de Lima

    Enviando muita paz e tranqüilidade no seu caminho!

  3. Maurizio Giuliano (Not my real name)

    Try to visit Suriname! (You’ll love it!)

    Maurizio Giuliano (according to the Guinness Book, through his work, he had travelled to every single sovereign country in the world (which totalled 193 according to the Guinness Book).

    On 20 February 2004, he visited Suriname, thereby completing his visit to all sovereign nations of the world. He held a press conference there on 24 February, where he stated that he had chosen Suriname to complete his record, as the country had always fascinated him due to its richness and variety in cultures and ethnicities.

    I dare you to go and dance with all those people…You’d be surprised!

  4. From Canada


    I just wanted to tell you I read a part of your journal and I found it hilarious! It was very funny. And I wanted to tell you that your very lucky to be traveling all around the world all expenses paid. It’s very exciting. I hope I’ll do that one day…

    Have a good day and keep it up :)

  5. Claudiu

    I just saw that you were in Istanbul in 10 April…I was there in the same period, but i left in 10 april, and afte 5 days i discovered your clips, and this website
    Coincidens :)
    Best regards

  6. Muradio

    Hey Matt,while reading your journals, found one single reference about my country – Turkmenistan! It is really makes me feel connected to your project. So hope you will come to the sacred land of Turkmens (sorry for creative impulse) someday! And actually Darvaza has nothing to do with volcans, it is fire of natural gas coming out of crashed production well. And it is not the only wonder you can find here. Our country literally has everything – lakes, rivers, sea, mountains, desert, bushes, waterfalls and so on and on. Or for instance so called Moon hills, where landscape is really looks like from outer space. Well, it is hard to retell everything, just come over! I will be glad to host you here.. in one year, currently I am getting masters in the US )))

  7. Mehmet (Türkiye)

    We love you. And we hope u love Türkiye (I know this Turkey but we -Türks- dislike it. Because We don’t want use a animal name for us.)

    I know my English very bad but I’m going to University next year (I’m ending High School). I’m going to learn English (perforce). I’m going to write next. As have good English. :))

    Have enjoy!! We waiting u again :))

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