A visit to Istanbul

Today my Dad remembers a visit to Istanbul.


A strict dress code was the order of the day for any matelots going ashore, namely full whites. This was the only time when I was on the Ocean that full whites were demanded. So dig out the whites from the bottom of the kitbag where they had been for the last 10 months and get them pressed because before going ashore there was sure to be a keen scrutiny from to tip to toe that the ship’s pride should not be let down – although more of that later.

Leave would start each day at 1pm and as usual would be a journey by liberty boat (on of the ship’s motor boats) from ship to shore. If you missed the ship’s boat at 1pm then the next opportunity was the 5pm boat. Returning to the ship was by boat at 5pm or a succession of journeys were made in the late evening until all personnel were back on board. Different arrangements were made for officers from a different part of the ship.

As the boat approached the city was before us on the hill. It was dominated by the St Sophia mosque and the Blue Mosque, both of which were topped by huge domes and minarets on the four corners.

We were set down on the quay and groups of sailors were strolling up into the city. We three, Sam, Daisy and me like many another group simply walked round taking in the life of the city. It was hot and sunny an ideal day for exploring a city that has a real Eastern feel about it. Pavement stalls welling all sorts of goods with strange smells of spices and of cooking. The language barrier made any conversation difficult. In those days the ordinary Turkish people did not have any English.

After a while we were ready for a sit and a drink and so we dropped into the next café we saw. It was quite busy and as we found three seats the locals were looking at us curiously as we were them. We smiled and said “Hello” and they replied in what was the Turkish equivalent and that was the limit of conversation. One of us went to the counter and asked for coffees. They were shortly served in tiny cups, a bowl of sugar lumps but no milk. The coffee tasted quite bitter even after sugar was added but we made ourselves drink it.

Turkey was (and is) a Muslim country and therefore there was no alcohol available. We hadn’t a lot of money to spend and what we had would have gone on beer anyway. All we could do really was just wander around and there was not a lot to see. We kept meeting up with other matelots and they were are bored as we were. At least the sun was strong during the day.

The general impression was that Istanbul as far as I was concerned was going to be a magical and mysterious sort of Eastern city but it was more of a let down to me. The Turks that we saw seemed to be of the poorer class and there was no evidence of culture. But after all we were only common sailors.

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