Our visit to the Asian part of Istanbul was not a disappointment. Our regular guide was on top form again and, as our Irish friends would say, the crack was great. We did the normal touristy visit to a grand palace but the thing that sticks in my mind most was the drive back when someone asked him about the terrible slum area we were driving through.
He said that at one time people were allowed to build on waste ground, live in the property for 5 years and then claim legal title. Catch! It had to be erected in 24 hours! Hence, hovels were thrown up overnight and then added to later, creating “hovel dwellings” that are odd shapes and literally glued and pasted together.
OK, that’s interesting, but the real interesting bit was when he started talking about his time working as a researcher for a politician. (I knew there was more to him than being a simple tour guide!). He discovered that an opposition candidate was living in an illegal dwelling (he didn’t explain the exact circumstances), but he recommended to his boss that they should publicise this fact and go heavy with it, which they did. Unfortunately they hadn’t thought it through because 30% of the population lives in illegal dwellings. Goodbye politics, hello tour guiding. Pity, he would have made a great politician. He very nearly had me signed up to Islam - only kidding!
So – Asia, been there, done that, now to join the train. We were met at the station entrance by Orient Express staff and escorted through onto the platform. As we appeared on the platform a Turkish band struck up. It was overwhelming because we hadn’t expected an official send off. A red carpet had been rolled out and the Orient Express cabin and restaurant staff, all suited and booted, were standing to attention beside the carriages.
After we had dried our eyes and stopped being awe struck we slowly started trickling along the red carpet toward our allocated carriage to be welcomed by our cabin steward. When we had recovered from the shock of admiring the beautifully preserved and renovated train we then wondered how we would survive in the diddy cabins that would be our home for the next 6 days.
So - off we went to the cheers and waves of the crowds. When we finally got underway it was a bit of an anti-climax. Now what would we do? Much like Christmas, OK we’ve opened the presents, now what do we do for kicks? We sat in our cabins with the communicating door open just looking at each other, very uncomfortable with the whole situation. Finally we decided to organise ourselves and think what we would wear to dinner that evening. After all, we have to dress up in suitable attire or, the literature warns us, we will be asked to take our dinner in our cabins. The shame of that would be too much to bear!
In the midst of getting ourselves organised we had “the visit” from our smiley Carribean cabin steward, who explained how everything worked and then stated that he would "knock us up" for breakfast. The first time he said this I ignored it, but when he repeated it I felt I had to say something. "Were do you come from?", "wellllll' I have a very mixed background...", "no, I mean where have you been living, France?". This puzzled him "noooooo, I live in England, why?", "do you tell everyone you will knock them up", now he is really puzzled "yes, why", "do you realise that it's slang for getting a girl pregnant?". He lept back in shock and threw his hands in the air "Oh my Lord, are you sure?", "yes, do you say it to all you passengers", "yes I do, I have been saying it for three years, you can't see that I'm going red, but I am". He screamed with laughter, "oh my god, I don't believe I have been doing that, why has no-one told me before?", "because this is the Orient Express and probably everyone is too polite to say anything to you". Now everytime we meet we have uncontrolable giggling fits as I ask him to "knock me up again".
Finally, to the dinner. We duly dressed up and were, thankfully, not asked to return to our cabin. First hurdle overcome. Our dinner companions were the two retired ladies that had led us astray in Istanbul. The menu was:-
Steamed turbot cutlet and melted leeks. Saffron sauce.
Tender Turkish lamb fillet and creamed black olives. Eggplant, tomato, succhini, pepper and sweet onions au gratin, road potatoes.
Choice of fine cheeses
Dark chocolate, mint and quince dessert
Or if that did not suite a full A la carte menu!
I don’t eat fish and asked to miss the 1st course. “No, madam, we will bring you an alternative, would you like asparagus?”. Great, I love asparagus.
And so to bed. Our day cabin had been transformed into a bedroom in our absence and fed, tired and happy we hurtled through the night to our next destination, Bucharest.