Thursday 29th May 8pm Turkey time
Long story short, safe arrival into Istanbul. I think I’ve been awake for about 45 hours and I’m putting my sleep count at about four. Flying Emirates, my Melbourne to KL leg was great, I had a whole row of three seats to myself and that’s where I got my sleep. Short stop off in KL and I encounter my first cultural challenge in the form of a public long drop. Flushing long drop. Really just a toilet at ground level. I went into the first cubicle and was so affronted thinking there must be some mistake and quickly went into the next one. There was no mistake. Recalling the ‘no squatting’ signs in the touristy areas of Melbourne I remembered that that’s how they rolled around here. No instructions on the toilet door though and I really had no idea which way I was supposed to mount the thing, and did it flush automatically and should I be disturbed that there was a hose on hand?
The next leg to Dubai was about the same time, but no such luck with the seating arrangements. Needless to say there was zero sleep to be had. Dubai to Istanbul was another four hours, also sleepless. Arriving in Istanbul, the queue to get through immigration was nearly an hour. I feel extremely exhausted, very hot and a bit pathetic. I am wearing a jumper over a singlet and not being totally across the appropriate conventions, and being mindful of all the Turkish women wearing headscarves around me, I’m unsure if it’s legit to take it off. I have a few day mares about approaching the counter, something not being right with my passport/visa stuff and angry Turkish men dragging me back to the plane shouting about ignorant western women defying their cultural beliefs with their brazen skin exposure. So I swelter as I shuffle, my day mares changing to me fainting and no one caring. As I fan myself with my passport I study everyone around me. Isn’t hard to with awkward eye contact to be had every few minutes as we all shuffle the zig zag queue. There is a beautiful woman about the same age as me that looked like a Turkish Lorde. Her look oozes wealth as does that of her father (or partner?). I can’t discern the relationship behind his Ray Bans.
Finally I make it through only to be encountered with about five million luggage carousels. By this stage emotions are running high and tears are threatening. I find airports just emotional in general. I give myself a reality check and ask a man that I know was on the same flight for some direction. Baggage collected and now I’m in the taxi queue. I end up sharing a taxi with two safe looking fellows also on the flight from Melbourne. Meet 50 something’s Mario and Basil. Could you get a cooler name combination?
Well they are just lovely. Although I can’t concentrate on much more other than that our driver seems to be practising for the formula 1, we swap travel info and Turkish phrases. And when I say swap I mean they tell me ‘hello’, ‘how much?’, ‘thank you’, ‘how can I find…?’ And I tell them ‘beer’, ‘boobies’ and ‘penis’.
I get to Istanbul Hostel around 8.30pm. Although I’m exhausted I want to explore, and besides there are no signs of sleeping in my 13 bed mixed dorm, only four youngsters speaking not-English and not overly keen to invite me to their group.
The narrow streets are a light grey brick and they are lined with salesmen calling out invitations for me to view the wares and eat their food or for just for attention in general. Here are my favourite ‘greetings’ I have heard so far: “do you know my cousin?”, “are you from Canada?”, “you dropped something,” and my absolute favourite, “Lady! You want socks?”.
I’m new, tired and don’t want to be rude. I smile and politely decline all offers for socks, sex and all things in between.
Turkey is well known for its textiles, leather and blue topaz, and probably a number of other things. I wander through some quiet markets admiring beautiful jewels and the Aztec-like patterns on the rugs and cushions that I loved well before I arrived. I find myself at a quiet restaurant and ask if they do takeaway. As I’m staying in a touristy part of town, most proprietors speak understandable English at the very least. I’m sold a chicken wrap for 12 lira (about AU $7) and asked to take a seat. Some hot brown liquid is brought to me in a small glass pear shaped glass. I’m not a consumer of hot beverages and ask what it is (also, am I paying for this?). Turns out it’s tea, but it just tastes like boiling apple juice. Extremely sweet and rather nice, but then again I like chai lattes (no judgement thank you). The Turks are tea-crazy, but not for this stuff though. I’ve been served “Tourist Tea”, not the more traditional variety that gets drunk on EVERY occasion. Like EVERY occasion. Get up, have some tea. Have breakfast, and some tea. Go to the toilet, have some tea. Anyways, I don’t have to pay extra and I stash the wrap in my backpack and eat it on my bed back in the hostel. I’m fast asleep before I meet any of my other room mates.