Thursday, May 16, 2013

Istanbul

So my original plans had me leaving Adana at 6pm and arriving in Istanbul around 8pm, spending the night, and flying home around 9 am Friday morning. But, based on how much I got done yesterday and that most of the tourist sights in Istanbul close by 7pm or so, I opted to try to get on a 1:40 pm flight out to Istanbul. I talked to some of the staff who talked to Turkish airlines on my behalf, and I found out that it wouldn't be a problem to change my flight...but I'd have to do it at the airport instead of online/over the phone. The staffer told me that I should probably aim to to get in the cab around 11 am to have enough time for all that stuff.

Well, best laid plans and all that...I didn't actually get into the cab until around 11:20. I still figured I had plenty of time, Adana's got a pretty small airport. the taxi delivered me to the terminal around 11:45, and promptly went to the ticket counter...after going through the metal detector set up at the terminal entrance. Anyways, the agent was able to change my ticket, but not to the 1:40 pm flight as planned. She put me on the 12:20 flight that was just about to board! I went through the second metal detector just before the gate and was on my flight less 3 hours after asking whether it could be changed. It also gave me six more hours in Istanbul, during daylight hours no less!

The flight over was uneventful, but I did get more cherry juice. I really have been pleased with my Turkish airlines experience, so if you get the chance to fly them, you should. After landing, I caught what might have been the strangest cab ride I've ever had. I mean, I've had several interesting ones (Southern England and Thailand come to mind), but this was just strange.

The cab was a legit cab from a cab stand at the airport (as opposed to the guy who solicits you around the baggage claim and then charges exorbitant fees for short distances), and everything was normal at first. Then we're driving along and the driver gets a phone call and seems to get a little upset/agitated at whoever was on the other end. But I don't speak Turkish, so I couldn't tell you if that's how the conversations normally sound. Anyways, the driver then asks me if it would be "okay to change cabs?". I'm thinking that there's something wrong with this one, or it's just taking him outside his usual radius and there's some territorial rule that exists between cabbies here. But I don't ask. I probably should have, because next thing I know, he's tail-gating another cab trying to get his attention before yelling something out the window. I can tell that the other cabbie wants nothing to do with this proposition. So we drive on, only to have the mystery caller ring the driver again. This time he asks if I'm "okay with a driver change." At this point, I'm curious to see how everything turns out, but I'm also a little concerned that driver number #2 isn't going to take me to my hotel.























So there we were, on an overpass somewhere around Istanbul when the driver pulls over, gets out and other guy gets in and starts driving. That's strange, right? I got to the hotel about 20 minutes after the check-in window opened at 3pm, and quickly went about getting my stuff upstairs and getting back out on the street to see the sights.

Based on a Istanbul walking tour blog post I read yesterday that said it took an hour to go two miles in a cab, I knew I had to be smart about getting into town with enough time to see stuff. So I hopped on the tram at Kabatas and rode it all the way in to Sultanahmet Square. The tram was packed tightly by the time I had to get out (of course the doors opened on the side opposite me and I had to climb over people to get out...just like a regular day's commute on the D.C. Metro).

I walked around taking pics of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, but since it was prayer time I didn't have the chance to go inside. While wandering, I received an occasional "Where are you from?" in English (and one or two in German). I'd respond with whatever language wasn't offered to throw them off a bit as I kept walking away. Rather than wait for prayer time to end, I followed the tram tracks west and then diverted up to the Grand Bazaar where I found a little bronze wolf for my travel trinkets and a little bronze genie lamp for my 3.5 year old daughter. I ended up getting totally disoriented at the bazaar, but I expected to from the beginning, so I didn't bother trying to keep oriented. The place is huge, and it all kinda blends together after a while.

After finding an exit from the Grand Bazaar, I had a chicken doner durum, my requisite local "meat in a carbohydrate food" option. I walked north to the Spice market, but the road intersection there is crazy due to the bridge and I was starting to wear out. While ascending the stairs, an old (80+ and hunched over so badly her back was horizontal) Turkish woman asked for help climbing the stairs. A random Turkish guy carried her two bags, and the woman held on to my wrist/forearm as we went up the stairs. That was my good deed for the day. The spice market has the same feeling as the Grand Bazaar, but it's only one corridor and full of spices instead.

I caught the tram from the the spice market back to the end of the line and walked back to my hotel. I had just enough energy left to visit the restaurant level to see the view before going back to my room to shower. Istanbul is a dirty city, but not in a bad way. It reminded me a little of Santiago, Chile at times. But I tell you what, that shower felt so refreshing. To help get me back on Eastern Timezone hours, I'm trying to stay up as late as I can writing this post. Unfortunately, my flight leaves just early enough that getting breakfast at the hotel required me to place an order for a continental breakfast delivered by room service.

But if you're thinking of visiting Istanbul, you really should plan on taking two full days to do it...and please don't wear shorts. There was a cruise ship in town and it was painfully obvious who those tourists were. Also, you can't get into the Blue Mosque in shorts, so plan accordingly.
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