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Turkish Trots
By Eric Anderson
Margaret and I snapped our gaze to the right. A sentry had jerked a machine gun up to his shoulder and was leaning forward to fire

The 1958 Plymouth wheezed its way up the cobbled night time streets of Istanbul as our guide told us about his city.

He was a tall, suave, old-world gentleman who spoke almost perfect English. With his blazer and flannels and cravat at the neck, he reminded me somewhat of Reginald Gardiner, the movie actor still caught sometimes on late night television portraying the perfect butler or the debonair man about town.

In contrast, the driver, a short little fellow hunched up over the wheel with only the top of his head showing, seemed more like Peter Lorre. Not speaking any English he contributed nothing to the conversation. Our guide, in the front seat, leaning awkwardly against the dash to face us in the rear for his running commentary, would every so often break off from his English to make a comment to the driver in Turkish, usually when Peter Lorre missed a gear change-and that was often.

We drove on towards the Topkapi Palace.

After our tiring flight from Izmir, I should have contented myself with the ride to our airport hotel, especially since Margaret, my late wife, had barely recovered from our bout of turista but the guide's offer to show us the city by night was too enticing for an obsessional photographer who had both a tripod and unused film in his bag.

"I'm not sure if the Palace is floodlit," said Reginald Gardiner, "I've not been this way at night for some months, but we'll be there soon."

As if he'd understood, the driver suddenly stood on the brakes hard and hanging an awkward right tore into a one-way street-the wrong way. We flew up the cobbles, gears crunching, springs groaning and tires squealing protest. In the back, we looked dubiously at each other but Reginald reassured us with the cryptic remark, "True, yes, one way, but at night it doesn't matter."

He continued to chat amiably as if to practice his English while I peered out into the night. Clearly it had been a mistake to ask for this. I didn't need photographs. I'd shot the Palace by day on a previous visit. This was crazy. The city was in pitch darkness as was the Palace now ahead of us. Not even the sentry box was illuminated. Time to go home.

Peter Lorre will turn in the car park, I thought, and we'll soon back to our hotel.

As if to prove his independence, the driver floored the accelerator and we shot through the iron gates like buddies in the Cannonball Run: Lorre over the wheel, Margaret clutching her stomach, me tapping my tripod and Gardiner, still facing backwards as he urbanely practiced his English.

He glanced nonchalantly over his left shoulder then abruptly stiffened, turned his petrified ashen face to us and shouted, "My God! He's going to shoot."

Margaret and I snapped our gaze to the right. A sentry had jerked a machine gun up to his shoulder and was leaning forward to fire.

"My God. Stop!" shouted our guide-in English.

Peter Lorre drove on.

"God. Stop!" shouted the guide striking the driver across his shoulders. He suddenly understood, stood on the brakes and the car skidded to a stop.

We were twenty feet beyond the sentry but even at that distance and in the dark I could see his hands were trembling on the weapon. He crouched forward more and swung the gun up and down the length of our car. The soldier shouted at our driver and gestured to him to turn around. Instead of reversing right there, Peter Lorre, unbelievably, started to drive farther into the palace grounds to find a convenient turning point. Our guide uttered an oath and struck the driver again, this time on the head. Finally our Plymouth reversed and returned slowly to the sentry.

The next few minutes remain a blur of groveling explanations and babbling apologies from a now-perspiring Reginald Gardiner punctuated by stern motions with the gun through our now-open windows, my wife who was sitting on the right side at the back, and still clutching her stomach, ducking every time the barrel came her way. Finally the sentry kicked the vehicle. He snarled something at our completely overwhelmed guide and gestured curtly that we could leave.

We drove slowly and cautiously away and didn't stop until we reached a lighted cafe area. The flickering blue light of the cafe's neon sign illuminated the strained face of our Reginald Gardiner, no longer debonair. He plucked the scarlet handkerchief from his blazer breast pocket and wiped his sweating face.

"I, I was going to, to take you back to your hotel," he stammered, "but I'm going to get an omnibus here that will take me, take me past my, my home. The driver will take you to, to your hotel. It has indeed, indeed been a, a pleasure meeting you. Good night."

He bowed and immediately disappeared.

We drove back in silence still shaking.

"At the airport he originally intended just to take us to the hotel, didn't he? Right?" Margaret hissed at me.

I nodded weakly.

"And you, damn you, had the priceless idea of driving around Istanbul in the dark at a time when the country is under martial law? And when you knew I was desperate for a toilet. Right?"

I shrugged foolishly.

"And I was on the side that the bullets would have come from?" she continued. I gave her a silly grin.

"You know what I was thinking when we thought he was going to fire?" my wife of 25 years said, punching my shoulder.

I rubbed my shoulder and shook my head.

"I was thinking that I'd get the bullets but you'd survive," she said. "And our kids would fix you, Buster. They'd give you Hell for the rest of your life."

She leaned back in her seat and started to laugh hysterically.

"You know," she said, "It would almost have been worth it."

Ed Boitano's travel blog/review
Three Musical Pilgrimages: Mozart, Grieg and Hendrix

Troldhaugen Villa in Bergen, Norway
Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) could read and compose music, plus play the violin and piano, when he was five years old. Born into a musical family in Salzburg, Austria (then the Holy Roman Empire), he had a unique ability for imitating music, which first became evident when he recited a musical piece by simply observing his father conducting a lesson to his older sister. This led to a childhood on the road, where the young prodigy performed before many of the royal courts of Europe.

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Tom Weber's travel blog/review
Treasures of Ireland: The Irish Goodbye (Dispatch #20)

Irish sunset

The Palladian Traveler brings to a close his 20-part series on the Emerald Isle from an upscale restaurant in downtown Dublin where he files his final dispatch and then quietly slips away.

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John Clayton's travel blog/review
Two "MUST SEE" Truly Spectacular Places in Europe. Here's Why.

Culzean Castle, Scotland
The Han Grotto and Culzean Castle. As the name of my Traveling Boy feature is "Travel With a Difference," it's important to me to always bring you offbeat and unusual tourist places around the world you may not know about. These two fit that category to a T, and they're absolutely worth a visit. One's in Scotland and one's in Belgium. Culzean (pronounced CULLANE) Castle is located near Maybole, Carrick, on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland.

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Ringo Boitano's travel blog/review
Highway 49 Revisited: Exploring California's Gold Country

aurora borealis lights up the night sky near Fairbanks
In the 1840s, the population of California was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived from all over the world – and they came for one reason: gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.

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Eric Anderson's travel blog/review
Lake Charles’ Family-Size Low-Key Mardi Gras

dressed-up for the Mardi Gras
The Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, the second largest in Louisiana, does not need parents there to avert their children’s eyes. This is family entertainment and children are very much part of it. The main office of the Lake Charles CVB has costumes from last year’s Mardi Gras but it also has figures to fascinate little ones from country boys fishing for their dinner to alligators who have already fed and are rubbing their stomachs.

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Fyllis Hockman's travel blog/review
Puerto Vallarta: Magic and Mayhem on the Malecon

Cedar Hill, Washington DC
So I heard that you could spend from dawn to dusk on the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and never get bored and I thought, "Okay, I'm up for that challenge." Well, maybe not the dawn part – I'm not a morning person – so I had no problem leaving those early hours to the joggers and those seeking an early start to catch their red snapper for dinner.

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Greg Aragon's travel blog/review
Relaxing at The Inn at Laguna Beach

Greg at Huntington Beach

There is nothing like sleeping in an ocean-front room and awakening to the sounds of waves crashing against the sand. It is one of the finer things in life. And it is exactly what I experienced recently on a memorable getaway to The Inn at Laguna Beach. The adventure began when a friend I pulled off the 5 Freeway in Orange County and took SR 133 south nine miles through winding lush hills and wilderness areas to the ocean.

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Bev Cohn's travel blog
Tim Robbins On His Road To Stardom

Tim Robbins

Award-winning Tim Robbins began his career on episodic television. Robbins' film work, however, is what catapulted him into becoming a major movie star including "Bull Durham" and "Mystic River" for which he won multiple awards. Equally at home behind the camera, he directed the riveting "Dead Man Walking." He is Founder and Artistic Director of The Actors' Gang, which he formed thirty-five years ago and has directed multiple provocative productions.

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Corinna Lothar's travel blog/review
NOLA: New Orleans, Louisiana

19th century building, Stuttgart, Germany
Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, the Garden District, the streetcar (now a bus) to Desire, the jazz clubs, the beignets at the Café du Monde and breakfast at Brennan’s come to mind when you think of New Orleans. But that’s not all there is to this unique American city, filled with treasures both culinary and cultural.

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Jim Friend's travel blog/review
Japan: Bullet Trains, Monkey Shows and Whale Steaks

Nikko Temple gate
Last month, I went to Japan for three things... Ok, let me back up a little bit already. The #1 reason I went to Japan was to visit my girlfriend, Yuki, and she will kill me if I don't say that, so there it is. Hi Yuki! Anyway, so after that, reasons number 2, 3, and 4 were the following: I wanted to ride a bullet train, go to a monkey show, and eat a whale steak. That's right. That's right.

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