It was supposed to be quick, and it was supposed to be easy.
Walk off the plane bleary-eyed after an 11-hour all-nighter Seattle flight to Istanbul’s new and massive airport. Go routinely through passport control. Hop on a taxi and settle in for a good night’s sleep in the historic Crown Plaza Old City hotel. Then off the next morning on an Old City group tour of the Hagia Sofia and other classic highlights. Yeah… the blog entry’s title predicts the next sentence. There were plenty of bumps in the road.
Let’s list the bumps, shall we?
Bump #1: No one ever told me that Americans – and I think ONLY Americans – need a visa to leave the airport. Cost? $30… to be paid ONLY in dollars. I hear about this peripherally on the plane for the first time, but the reality fully dawns only after waiting 20 minutes on the Passport Control line, reaching the control agent, and being told that I need to go back and get the darn visa.
Bump #2: Like the perfect analogy for the entire Erdogan transformation, Turkey has closed the more central Ataturk airport to passenger traffic, replaced it with a grander, modern version more than 30km from the city core, and required visitors to support the Turkish economy by paying for taxi service.
My taxi driver spoke virtually no English and was determined to – and effective at – resisting my charming efforts at polite conversation. When we arrived at the hotel, after an hour of wending our way through awful traffic – somehow both my credit and debit cards did not work on his machine. While I had sufficient US dollars to pay him in cash, my foreign journey had thus begun with the dangerous perception that either he had just somehow ripped me off, stolen my card identities, or my cards wouldn’t work at all. (Thankfully, I now believe none of that is true, but will await final word when I return to the States.)
Lobby of the Istanbul Crown Plaza – Old City
Bump # 3: Arriving finally at the hotel lobby – which was almost comically ornate for a middle-brow place to rest one’s head upon the pillows – I approached the concierge desk while waiting (for about 15 minutes) to check in.
“Hello, my name is Daniel Farber and I just want to confirm my reservation the next morning for the T-5 Old City Tour,” I say to a well-dressed gentleman standing in the small open office to the right of the hotel registry desk. The concierge, whom I later found out to be named Naseem, faced me with a polite but troubled look on his face.
“I’m sorry sir, but tomorrow is Tuesday, and the T-5 tour doesn’t occur on that date. Most of the sites are closed on Tuesday. Can we change that to Wednesday?”
“What? No, I’m leaving the city Wednesday early morning. Why didn’t Fatima – who had made the reservation for me – mention this?”
Naseem was calm and patient, and suggested that the T-9 tour would be lovely. I was tired, irritated and resistant. T-9 involved a boat trip, bus tour, and nothing in the Old City. I had no interest in plying the waters of the Bosporus and Golden Horn. But Naseem gently extolled the virtues of T-9 and I came to grips with the reality of my situation. I didn’t have any choices for the next day other than solo explorations in a country where I didn’t know the language – at all. Also, it hit me hard. What did I have to complain about? This country was in trauma with the enormous tragedy of a devasting earthquake. My disappointments were petty. So, I signed up for T-9.
It appeared that every third store in this tourist area featured Turkish Delight.
Bump #4: Before going to bed, I wanted to buy some Turkish Delight for my South African and Israeli hosts, and get a small bite to eat. I asked the front desk about places nearby and was given directions which befuddled me. So I took off on my own to find something simple. Two blocks down and around the corner was a street-side kabab place with a rustic back of the store sit-down eating area. Perfect. A cheap, authentic and tasty doner kabab where I appeared to be the only tourist in sight. Down it with Pepsi and I’m ready for a long night’s sleep.
A doner kabab and Pepsi hit the spot.
But then, there was the little matter of returning to the hotel. I decided to make a big loop back home and proceeded to get completely lost. Asked several folks “Crown Plaza Hotel” and in broken English after broken English – or no English – I kept being given different instructions. My vaunted sense of direction betrayed me. But exhausted, I finally did make it back to the hotel and quickly fell fast asleep.
Next Blog Entry: T-9
4 thoughts on “Traffic Jams and Winding Paths in the “Crossroads of the World”: Part 1”
As always, I LOVE your blogs. If all goes well, Debbie and I are off to Paris Saturday where we’ll have dinner with Ela and Justina. Are you still in South Africa? Please give a special hug to Sybil! Love, Shirley
Wowza! Am sitting at the edge of my seat, breathless, waiting for the next installment…. Carry on with your brilliant travelogue.
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Yes, Jean sensibly remained at home. Some trips are better as vicarious experiences…says I from my comfy couch.
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