Why your husband leave so beautiful lady? The Istanbul cab driver was unabashedly flirting with me. Of course, it was 40+ years ago, but I didn’t bother to make that clarification.
68! You look so young? I am 55. I look old?
Ah, no, you look your age.
Of course this entire conversation was taking place through a smartphone, after the initial comment about my beauty. He would hold it to his mouth, utter something incomprehensible (to me) and then show me the phone and, presto, there is an English translation, sometimes quite good, sometimes not so good. Then I would do the same, and he’d get the translation in Turkish. He somehow managed to do this all with one hand as we careened over the bridge into Old Town in Istanbul. I wasn’t sure how much his attention was actually on the road, but we got to our destination in one piece.
In truth, he was a grizzled older man, with gray-white hair sticking up in all directions from his head. His skin suggested that he had had a hard life. He looked to be at least in his 60’s. But he was much more pleased with my answer than he would have been with the truth, I imagine.
But he clearly fancied me and wanted to look after me, which under the circumstances was nice….
So you, my intrepid readers might now well ask….
Why was I speeding my way into Istanbul’s old town instead of circling Dushanbe in Tajikistan where, according to my original ticket, I was supposed to be?
The trip started off very well indeed, so well that I think I became complacent.
I have two extra bags that I have to pay for, I announced upon arriving at the British Airways ticket counter in DC. Then I have to pay again in Istanbul. The clerk wrinkled his brow in disbelief that I would have to pay twice.
The computer did not charge you for your extra bags, he said smiling and waving the three baggage tags that the machine had produced at no cost. Nice man that he was, he did NOT find his supervisor and report the problem, he just handed me the baggage tags and off my 69 kilos of luggage went off for free.
My good fortune did not stop there. Contrary to what I was told in the U.S., my bags were whisked off to Turkish airlines in Istanbul without my having to do a thing except show them the baggage tags. They didn’t charge me the for the 39 kilos that I was over their weight limit, which was different from that of British Airways. Amazing!
The final stroke of good luck was when I asked if there were any bulkhead seats left. I had learned upon leaving Kathmandu the last time, that some of these seats which are blocked when I choose a seat get unblocked at the last minute.
Wonder of wonders, I got one!! I was on traveler’s cloud 9.
But I had underestimated how truly tired and spaced out I was after two flights and no sleep. I misread the 24-hour time on the table at the terminal and thought I was leaving two hours later than I actually was. Now, under ordinary circumstances, I would have probably figured out the err of my ways long before the flight actually left. But somewhere, somehow, I had left my sweater (which I didn’t care about) and a cute floppy jacket (which I did care about and normally didn’t take overseas so I wouldn’t lose it) in the vast terminal. I thought it must be in one of the disabled toilets into which I had gone with my hand luggage cart in tow. But which one? I was stunned that I hadn’t missed them before, wondered how long I hadn’t had them.
This is simply not my usual airport behavior. Usually I am double-checking that I have everything with me and my flight time. What happened? My mind screamed.
I had no idea which toilet was holding them for me in the hopes that I might return. And there were many many of them. The new Istanbul airport is HUGE. So there I was running back-and-forth all to no avail and, of course, NOT double-checking the departure timetable. I think I checked them all, but never found the one that had the funny buttons to lock it that I remembers.
I tried to find the lost and found. Very few people who work in the terminal speak English, so each person I found with a terminal badge around his or her neck would wave me off in another direction. None of them knew where the Lost and Found was. One person finally announced
It is the customs office on the lower level.
The customs office?
Yes, it is also the lost and found but there is no sign.
No, we are not the lost and found I was informed when I finally reached my destination.
I never found my sweater and jacket. By the time I gave up and looked at the departure timetable again to check the gate so I could go and sit and lick my wounded pride in thinking that I had the whole international travel scene completely under control (I was very proud of myself for working out how to get a bulkhead seat, for example), and believing that I still had two hours to go, my flight was no longer on it at all! It was 8:55 pm on my watch, I had managed to change it to the correct hour. But my flight was scheduled to leave at 20:55 which was, of course 8:55. So it was gone…
Why isn’t it on the timetable?
It took me a minute to realize what had happened.
I missed the flight??
It took me another trek around the airport, asking for help to find a Turkish Airlines transfer desk inside the airport. By this time, my feet were killing me and, of course, I was in even more of a panic than I had been when I realized I was missing my jacket and sweater.
My father is going to transfer the money to you, a young African woman was holding her phone and trying to buy a ticket using money that was on some other part of the planet, perhaps in Africa, in the hands of her father. The man at the TA transfer desk had a I don’t believe this is happening look in his eye, but he appeared to only be mildly exasperated. As he waited for whatever was going to show up on his screen to confirm that the money had been received, we all stood around and waiting, the gal he was helping and the next woman after her who was, the last hurdle between me and the promised land of finding out just exactly how much my mistake was going to cost me. It was hard to know what was happening, he was doing something on his computer, she was holding her phone. We waited. Her friend, with a young child in tow, whether it was hers or her friend’s I could not tell, was standing behind her encouraging her to keep going with what struck me as a truly bizarre transaction. But I am still not a graduate of Smartphone University. I am still in the first or second grade as far as using my phone for anything but making the occasional phone call or, yes now I can text… slowly.
How is it that she is inside the departure terminal without a ticket? I had to show mine in order to get in…. I wondered.
I don’t know if the money ever arrived, but, in the meantime, the clerk informed her that her father also had to send a picture of her.
My dad is not answering his phone now, she wailed. And the clerk moved on to the next person, leaving her and her friend standing there to wait until her father would, once again, answer his phone.
The next woman’s predicament would have been equally entertaining had I not been so tired and had I known that the rebooking fee would only be $273. But I was impatient. Yes, the money I would have spent on baggage was going somewhere else but, at that point in time, while waiting through two very lengthy transactions, my mind was spinning out all sorts of worst-case scenarios. Visions of $1000+ were flashing across my now completely hysterical mind and making me even more anxious, as if that were even possible.
The next woman’s situation was that her husband had bought her two tickets in Jordan, going to what destination, I do not know. She had the boarding passes for those. But she wanted a Turkish Airlines flight.
These tickets are from Jordan Air, you have to go to them to change them. I cannot change them here.
I don’t want to change them, in which case I wondered why she was flashing them around because that is what appeared to be confusing the man at the counter.
I want to buy new tickets from Turkish Airlines.
You have to go to Jordan Airlines, I cannot do that here, and the cycle started again.
I finally chimed in, she wants to buy NEW TA tickets.
And that ended the second roadblock to me finding out how much I was going to have to fork over to get re-booked. She paid for her tickets and left.
Of course, in the meantime, I had an even more disturbing problem than getting my new ticket — I had no way to tell the people who were going to meet me at 3:35 AM in Dushanbe that I had missed my flight. While the young woman was wondering about how to reach dad and the older woman how to buy tickets that were with different airlines. I had been trying to no avail to reach my contact in Dushanbe, fully aware that even if I could get a text out, she was likely to be in bed. After all, it was the middle of the night. But neither my phone nor my computer, which I had hauled out of its case to see if it would work, would connect to the terminal’s WiFi.
Could things get any worse? Well, of course they could, but they didn’t.
I envisioned the plane whizzing through the dark of night, all the while getting closer and closer to its destination. People – the landlord at the apartment where I was going to stay, and the driver from the U.S. Embassy – would undoubtedly be getting up soon in order to receive me and where was I? I thought if I could get out of the airport and into a hotel, I might be able to get WiFi.
Why did you miss your flight?
I misread the schedule.
Ah, that happens. Apparently, I am not the only one who can’t read the time table correctly. I already felt reassured. Stupid, yes, but not any more so than those “other” people who had made the same mistake on their trips to wherever they were going on this planet. It really is amazing how we all move hither and thither with relative ease using air travel these days…Well, usually we do.
There are no flights tomorrow, so you will have to go the next day. And the flight is not open for getting your new boarding pass until tomorrow so you will have to come back either tomorrow or the day of your flight to get your boarding pass.
I handed over my credit card without flinching, accepting the hard truth that not only was I going to be spending the money I had saved on the baggage but I was also going to have to fork something over for a hotel. Under normal circumstances, this would not have bothered me too much; I have learned that there are always unexpected expenses when I travel, and I budget for them. But after spending more than $30,000 on mold remediation, my personal coffers were on empty (yes, that was the money I had set aside to live on before social security and my annuity start up) and and extra $700-$800 were not in my plan, in addition to the extra $300 I had had to pay for a hotel in DC because I was told that it would take four days to get the visa when, in actuality, it had taken 24 hours.
For the last two months, I have felt I was hemorrhaging cash, which I was, and the flood of expenses which had not been in my revised budget for the year, after the brief respite when I checked my baggage in in DC, had resumed its destructive path through my bank account, not unlike Dorian was churning up Bahamas and heading towards the home, for which I had already forked over more than I could afford just to clean the interior, as a category five hurricane. Yes, lost clothing and a missed booking fee paled in comparison to what could happen to my home in Florida, just after I had emptied my bank account to save it from a mold attack. It was difficult for me not to be a complete basket case.
Clutching the paper documenting my new flight, I ask about how to find a hotel.
There is a Yotel in the terminal. You cannot go outside the terminal without a visa. And this airport is very far from town anyway, it would be better to stay the Yotel.
And spend another 48 hours roaming the duty free area? I wasn’t so sure that this was such a great idea.
I have a visa, how do I find a hotel in town?
We do not find hotels for you unless your delay is our fault.
I don’t want you to get me a hotel, I just want to know how to find one myself?
You take a shuttle.
Where are they? She waved her hand vaguely off into the air.
Do the shuttles take you to hotels? I didn’t want to be dumped at a bus terminal with no place to go. But she had already dismissed me as unworthy of her attention. I asked more people who had airport tags around their necks. I went to the information booth. No one seemed to know anything about the shuttles but that they were there – somewhere – and you could take them to town and that, there, you would find hotels.
Finally, I gave up and being as tired as I was, I decided to check out the hotel in the terminal sounded pretty good.
Then maybe I could look for my lost clothing some more?
So then, dragging my hand luggage behind me I followed the signs, I had already lost the little cart I had purchased which was, after all the guilty party in this whole charade since it didn’t work properly and I had had to drag it behind me, which I why I think I didn’t realized I had left my clothing somewhere because it had laid neatly on top before the loss.
The signs pointed me one way and then, suddenly, there were no more arrows and no hotel. I asked someone and he dragged me all the way back from whence I had come. The signage the the airport is definitely NOT user-friendly.
You should go stay in Old Town since you are here for two days. It is much nicer, the clerk informed me after I gasped at the $165 price tag.
Can you suggest a hotel in Old Town? He didn’t know but his colleague knew of one – the Doubletree. By then, it was already 10 or 11 in Istanbul, I had no idea what time it was for me. I had long ago lost track.
I took a seat in the lobby and got my computer out and went to booking.com, my go-to hotel booking website since I was in Rwanda. I have had very good luck with them, although sometimes I simply use them to search possibilities and read reviews and then I book with the hotel directly if their rate is lower than on booking.com. A hotel called the Sultanahat Palace popped up just below the Radisson Blue, where I had stayed with the puppies. It looked very nice indeed, with a lovely garden in front. The price was higher than I would have liked, but it had great reviews.
We are sorry to inform you that only our Turkish customers can book on our site at this time. We are working to resolve the issue… my computer screen informed me in bright red italics.
Wouldn’t you know it?
So I couldn’t book something on my own. I decided to try one night at the Yotel and then figure out what to do. I paid the fee and went upstairs. The hotel was new. The carpets were outgassing and I was gasping for air by the time I reached my room, which was not much more than a white closet.
I turned around and went back to the front desk.
I am allergic to the chemicals in your new rugs. I cannot stay here.
How can I find a hotel? Can you call this hotel for me?
Finally, a voice came over my shoulder…
Once you leave the airport, you will find a whole row of tourist booths who will book you a hotel and provide transportation.
Now why couldn’t any of the other various people with whom I had consulted told me this?
I was not looking forward to pushing my way through the onslaught of people wanting my business that I had encountered with the puppies, but I obviously had no choice. Unbeknownst to me, the new airport had different regulations – everyone had to stay behind the counter of their stall. The most the could do was wave and shout at you from afar. I chose a counter where the man was not trying to grab my attention and where it said in bright red letters FREE AIRPORT TRANSFER. Since everyone had informed me that the new airport was not a long way from town, a free transfer sounded pretty good.
Of course, the transfer was not free, it was included in the price of the hotel package. But, to be fair, the price I paid for the hotel and the transfer at the airport, was more-or-less what I would have paid had I booked with the hotel directly for both the room and the transfer, if the prices at the front desk were correctly. Of course, it might have been less on booking.com but, there I was, this was not allowed so I was stuck between a rock and a hard place at 11 PM Istanbul and god knows what time it was for my body which had been running on adrenaline now already for the better part of 3 hours.
I made a mental note: book the hotel for the one night I have to stay in Istanbul on the way home from outside of Turkey.
I unloaded my computer and showed them the picture of the Sultanahat Palace Hotel.
A good hotel, I was informed. A good area. And the man picked up the phone.
They do not have any more standard rooms but you can have a room with a view of the ocean, or with a view of the Blue Mosque for $167.
Definitely the sea, I was headed once again to another land-locked country, and I didn’t know what the Blue Mosque was anyway. I obviously should have gotten a tour book for Istanbul when I bought one for Tajkistan. Also, given the late hour, and the fact that I was running on empty, propelled forward only by the flood of adrenaline that had been running like electricity through me ever since I lost my coat, increasing when I realized I had missed my flight, topped off by the frustration of no one being able to tell me how to find a hotel, I really didn’t have the time or energy to negotiate. The pics looked good, the reviews were fabulous, so once again I slapped my credit card down.
You should give me a $10 tip the man at the counter said, after giving me the receipt for my room and round-trip.
I had no idea if this was a custom or just an attempt to extort more cash from me. But I thought that $412 was sufficient for two nights at a good hotel and the 50+ kilometer hike into town and back. I am sure that I would have paid less had I been Turkish.
Another mental note: Ask Piyale (my Turkish friend of many years) what the deal is when people ASK you for tips.
The view of Istanbul from the bridge crossing, I think, the strait of Bosphorous which splits the city in half, was breath-taking. The high dome and minarets of a huge Turkish bath, my guide informed me after I asked what it was, rose up over the city, its light bathing the building in a soft yellow glow.
Definitely better than the Yotel.
The Sultanahat Sarayi Hotel is a nice little hotel tucked next to the Blue Mosque in Sultanahat. It is a 20” walk from the Grand Bazaar, a huge indoor bazaar, with high domed ceilings, and shops lining various walkways that meander through the bazaar in every direction. Getting in is easy, finding your way out the way you came is another matter. Unlike the bazaars in Nepal, or the markets in Rwanda, prices are high; Istanbul is, after all, a modern European city.
I enjoyed walking through the bazaar knowing that I was not going to be tempted to buy a thing since I couldn’t carry anything else. Most of the items were things that did not interest me, Turkish carpets, expensive clothing, all sorts of glittering shops that could have been on Fifth avenue. Although….. I must admit that the hand-painted glass pottery, which I had first seen in a little shop owned by a Turkish man in Brattleboro, VT, was tempting. But certainly not for my outbound trip, possibly one platter when I head home might be nice. With painted high-domed ceilings overhead, and well-lit shops lining cobblestone walkways stretching out in various ways to form a veritable shopping maze for visitors, the Grand Bazaar is truly amazing.
Without a guidebook, I really didn’t know the historical significance of what I was seeing when I walked along the promenade in front of the Blue Mosque, another architectural wonder, with a huge blue dome situated in the middle of four minarets, one forming each corner of the space which it occupies. I have since learned the following about it online, apparently the name “Blue Mosque” is a nickname:
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historic mosque located in Istanbul, Turkey. It remains a functioning mosque, while also attracting large numbers of tourist visitors. It was constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Its Külliye contains Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah and a hospice. It’s amazing that it as old as it is although, at the moment, it is showing its age and scaffolding had been placed around two of its towers, marring somewhat its ability to overwhelm you with its magnificence.
I also spent a time peering at the Arabic engravings that covered the small building located in front of Topkapi Palace, once the residence of great sultans of the Ottoman Empire. I had no Turkish money to pay for the entrance fee to the Hagi Sophia museum, situated next to the palace, or the palace itself and I knew I was really too tired to do much more than sit in the sun on the little balcony I had outside my window at the hotel and gaze out over the Bosphorus Strait so I didn’t try to visit it while I was there.
I made a mental note: Now that I know how to get here, I’ll come back in June, better rested, and visit the museum and the palace.
Since then I have learned the following about it online:
Hagia Sophia is the former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Built in AD 537 at the beginning of the Middle Ages, it was famous in particular for its massive dome.
Anyway, the whole area around the mosque, the museum and the palace was crawling with tourists. I don’t know if it will be any different in June when I have a 20 hour layover, but I have already booked the hotel and know where to go after I drop my bags off when I get there in the morning. Hopefully, a full day will be enough time to see the museum and the palace. With any luck, this time I won’t have been in such a panic for so long prior to my arrival.
It was a lovely two-day interlude. The streets are spotless, no piles of trash. The contrast to Kathmandu is remarkable. The roads of the Old Town are paved in stone brick, outdoor cafés abound and, yes, there are a lot of tourists. The hotel is directly across from a smaller bazaar, which is much less overwhelming than the Grand Bazaar, and I spent time gazing at the neatly organized rows upon rows of spices and different types of Turkish candy rolls – aka Turkish delight – which I learned upon being offered a taste of several different flavors, is not that sweet when made by hand. Still, the real stuff is not cheap, like the Turkish delight I had purchased at the airport during my last transit here and taken to people in Nepal, so I tasted my samples and moved along without purchasing anything.
Maybe next June, on my way home, I will buy some, I said.
The shop will not be here then, we will move to another place in a few months. Whether or not this is true will only be revealed next year.
Since Turkey is mostly Muslim, like Zanzibar, most of the stray animals are cats. At dusk, the streets of Old Town appeared to be littered with them, presumably looking for food from the various restaurants and cafés that line the streets. I was able to get in a few pets here and there. I only saw a few stray dogs up at Topkapi Palace. All the animals look to be in relatively good health, although some are on the thin side. I could have easily picked up and taken with me a handful of cats and, of course, wished that I could. No stray cows…
My trip back to the airport after two relaxing days at the hotel was uneventful. In fact the same driver came back to get me, presumably so he could flirt some more. But it was nice being met by someone whom I felt like I knew although, in hindsight, I don’t think I ever even got his name. Two strangers passing in the night, for just a moment, lighting one another’s paths through life.
I had spent my last morning sitting and sipping freshly made orange just in the roof restaurant at the hotel, and gazing wistfully at the deep blue of the Mediterranean sky above the gently waving waters of the Bosphorus Strait wondering if there was any way I could come to stay in Istanbul for awhile. I soaked up the view; it is the only view of ocean waters that I will have for the next ten months.
I don’t want to waste a minute of it.
As the taxi flew towards the airport, I laid my head back (no more flirting for me) and let the image of the cool blue Mediterranean waters soothe my spirit as it readied itself for yet another months’ long cross-cultural encounter.