Istanbul: Our Arrival

After our visit to Barcelona, we boarded another Turkish Airlines flight back to Istanbul, where we were scheduled to spend three nights and nearly two and a half days before flying home. It was our first visit, other than having spent three or four hours in the Ataturk airport on our way in. We were excited.

Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey

We arrived in the late afternoon and stood in line to pay for our entry visas, then in another line to get our passports stamped, then in another line after picking up our luggage to file out past customs into the airport terminal. We found the bank of Taksis outside the terminal and were quickly ushered into one. I showed the elderly driver the name and address of the hotel, repeating the same as well as I knew how in Turkish (i.e., in what surely was an atrocious accent): “Hotel Ag-an. Ebussuut Caddesi! Topkapi!?” Blank look. I pulled out my tablet and showed the a map of Istanbul with name of the hotel and the name of the street (caddesi) it was on. I pointed out the nearby Topkapi Palace and the Aya Sophya in the neighboring Sultanahmet area. I pointed again the to corner on which our hotel was supposed to be situated, just a couple of blocks away. Surely he could figure it out? Ahhh…the driver suddenly started nodding. “Tamam [okay]?” I asked him. He smiled and bobbed his head, “Tamam! Tamam! Okey!”

We popped into the taxi and, after assuring the the taksimetre was really running, barreled out of the airport and into the traffic to the sound of ululating Turkish music coming from the car radio. At this point, having felt that I had actually been able to communicate with the driver, I decided to go a bit further in my linguistic explorations and asked him, “Kennedy Caddesi?” This, supposedly, meant Kennedy street, which, according to trusty Google Maps, was the best and most direct route to take from the airport to the old town area in which we were to stay. He looked back at me in a bit of confusion, and I repeated the name, showing him quickly at a stoplight the route that followed the shores of the Sea of Marmara on my tablet. Again his face brightened, and he said, correcting my accent, “Kennedy JAH-te-si! JAH-te-si!”

The Bosphorous, Istanbul
The Bosphorous, Istanbul: gateway between worlds.

So follow Kennedy Street we did, all along the edges of the famed Sea of Marmara, which was being plied by numerous tankers and freighters, as I had noticed when we were coming in over the water for a landing.

We wove in and out of traffic. The driver was adept at negotiating the lateral access streets to avoid the almost non-moving traffic in the inner lanes. Finally, we went by what I knew must be the Topkapi Palace, just because of its placement and size, and entered a maze of small streets running up and down hills in the old part of town. The streets were mostly the width of alleyways, and we squeezed narrowly past parked cars and pedestrians, sometimes with barely enough room to edge around corners and tighter curves.

We drove around and around, I recognizing that we couldn’t be too far from our destination, but still the driver could not find the exact street. I assumed that it was selective taksi-driver memory at play. Finally–I suspect when our taksimetre registered a high-enough price–the driver stopped and asked a passerby if he knew which street was Ebussuud Caddesi. Yes! Lo and behold, it was only a couple of blocks away, and I think it actually was a street we’d already been on, but hey, we found our hotel, installed ourselves, and prepared for our Istanbul explorations.

Relaxing on Turkish carpets
Workers relaxing on Turkish carpets spread out on the grass of the park near the Blue Mosque.
Istanbul streets and tram
Istanbul streets and tramway near our hotel.
Outside Hotel Agan, Istanbul
Outside Agan Hotel, the streets were lined with restaurants and cafes decorated with colorful rugs and cushions.

We were very pleased with our hotel room: it wasn’t roomy, but the bathroom was, which was a huge plus. You could actually turn around freely in the shower with your elbows crooked out while shampooing your head! The beds were comfortable. There was a TV that had only Turkish channels and not one shred of English or Spanish, but we weren’t here to watch TV, anyway. The hotel had an elevator, too, even though it barely fit two people. Once settled, we headed out into the streets for our first evening of adventure.

In my next post, there’ll be more photos of Istanbul streets, and more commentaries on our explorations.

Minarets and modernity
Minarets and modernity: the contrasts of many ages in Istanbul