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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

Our recent trip to Istanbul, Athens and Santorini started in LAX at the Tom Bradley International Terminal when I spilled coffee on my new travel pants from REI, voted best travel pants of all time.

I thought the coffee would bounce off my travel pants like Kryptonite. I was wrong.

Traveling is full of "Am I stupid?" moments.

There is no way to travel with your pride intact. Humility is a better approach, and if it isn't your approach, be prepared to spend time in the Valley of the Shadow of Humble.

Language is important. Every guidebook you read suggests making an effort. Learn how to say in the language of the country you're visiting, "good morning," "good evening," "hello." Anything.

Why couldn't I remember the Turkish phrase for "thank you" -- teşekkürler, te-shek-kewr-lehr -- no matter how many times I practiced it? I repeated it over and over and every time I looked at the Bosphorus or drooled over another stack of Turkish Delights, the delicious jelly candies, te-shek-kewr-lehr would slip away into the Turkish sunlight.

I would be poised after the waiter brought dinner, a friendly Turk gave directions, or a shopkeeper offered apple tea, to burst into song with te-shek-kewr-lehr, and I would choke.

"Just say merci ," said a well-dressed Turkish lady at the Assk Kahve Cafe in Kurucesme, when she heard me stumbling while trying to thank our waiter.

Why didn't I bring a rolling suitcase? I loved my new brown L.L. Bean duffel bag, expandable for all the Turkish Delights and beautiful bolts of Turkish cloth that I planned to bring home. But why didn't I take into account that I was going to walk 30 miles in an airport, coupled with five flights of stairs to the apartment in Istanbul?

Don't you think wheels might have come in handy in lieu of a shoulder strap that was sawing off my collar bone, similar to the way the butchers at Wood-Dale attack a pork shoulder?

Why can't I put a map back together after unfurling it? You want the cover page on front. I can unfold the map but returning the cover page -- Istanbul -- to the outside proved hit and miss, especially when Sue was staring at me wondering who the moron was she had married.

Why couldn't I open the window at Hotel Plaka in Athens? Are Greek windows different from American windows? A window is a window. There's glass, a window pane, people outside you want to wave to and air that you would like to breathe.

Why couldn't I get the keys to work in our apartment in Istanbul? There is a universal keyhole and a key that could have come from Snider's. I've used keys before. Today, for instance, I successfully let myself in through the front door. This is a skill akin to tying your shoes.

Why couldn't I turn on the coffee pot in our apartment in Istanbul? Does Turkish electricity run backwards and you have to plug the coffee pot into your ear?

One day in Istanbul, we visited the Eyup Mosque. We had had lunch, walked along the Bosphorus and a nice cool mosque would be educational as well as a place to rest our weary souls. After wrapping our shoes in plastic baggies and depositing them in the shoe rack at the front door, we entered a full mosque in the midst of prayer.

Mosques have beautiful ceilings, so I lay back in order to appreciate it. Suddenly I felt a foot nudge my ribs. The foot belonged to a man in his 30s who was wagging his finger at me.

After doing a stomach crunch and coming up to the sitting position, I rethought by approach to lying down in the mosque. I don't think they lie down in mosques in Turkey. I might as well have entered the mosque with ear buds while wearing a giraffe hat made of balloons.

Why wasn't I smart enough to have been born in Santorini? It's heaven. Other people have figured how to live there. Why not me?

During the first Call to Prayer in Istanbul, which happens five times a day, I bolted upright in bed and walked out to our fifth-story balcony in my underwear. It was the first thing in the morning and they were nice underwear, and prayer in your underwear rhymes.

"You know, I asked you not to be disrespectful," Sue said.

It wasn't disrespectful; I was so moved by the prayer that I had rushed from bed and forgot that I only had on my snug boxer briefs.

I guess I should have been glad they didn't throw me into the Golden Horn with my Turkish Delights.