First Impressions of Turkey
Getting through the airport in Istanbul was quite a quick process. A USD$20 “tax” to get a 90 day visa is paid on arrival.
I’d panicked for a few days before flying into Turkey that immigration would have plenty of questions, or customs would want to strip-search me. But, any sort of border control was fairly non-existent. Looks like Turkey has an open door policy.
Beneath the airport is the Metro (subway) station. Before I left Perth I wrote down the address and phone number of the hotel for the Topdeck tour. The Atatürk Metro station (under the airport) is at the end of the line, so you can’t get lost. Most of the airport signs were also in English, but the Metro not so much. I just winged the ticketing system after watching some people for a few seconds. A token for a full-priced adult ticket was $1.70Lira, and gets you anywhere on the line, I think.
There was no information desk for help, just the odd security guard, and plenty of Turkish people using the subway. I was quite pleased with my ability to workout the subway in a foreign country, and travelled 14 stops to the hotel; which was walking distance, so no tram was necessary.
Turkish is definitely the prominent language. There was no English spoken on the train at all. But a lot of people travelling by train for a Sunday night. Made me wonder where they were all going?
There were lots of groups of Turkish men on the train. I was a little paranoid about my personal safety, turns out there was no problem, just paranoia of a first-time traveller to Turkey.
The subway was freezing cold. 12 degrees with wind. Not just the subway either. Geez, I hope the days are warmer.
Once I got into the hotel reception, I took out the tour itinerary and read it. I realised this was the wrong hotel, but had the same name as the hotel I was supposed to be at. This hotel looked 5 star, compared to the 3 star place I should have been at. There were lots of businessmen in suites, and suddenly a bunch of unmarked police cars and limo’s show up. A large group of people walk in, plenty of photographers, some important guy shaking hands and posing for photos. Looked like the location for a conference, with a politician as the keynote speaker. I was just speculating though, no idea who he really was. I looked out of place in this lobby with just jeans and a t-shirt, and an 80L backpack.
I went back to the Metro station and looked for information on getting to the correct hotel. Nothing. I went back to the wrong hotel, and asked at the desk, it took 5 people to figure out what I was trying to say, they told me I was in fact at the wrong place. I asked a Taksi (Taxi) if he could drive me to the other hotel by the same name, gave him the address. He couldn’t understand me, and just pointed at the 5 star hotel I came from.
I tried another cabbie, and he was better with English. He told me the 3 star hotel wasn’t too far away, and he could take me for $8TL. He talked on his phone the whole ride, and there were no seatbelts in the backseat, but we got to the right hotel. A busboy opened the door for me, I showed him the itinerary and address, he agreed I was at the right place.
The receptionist demanded my passport, and got me to cross my name off a tour guest list. I was handed the room key. He kept my passport. I was paranoid that I’d never see it again.
The room was nice. 3 single beds. 2 guys packs were already on beds, but no one was in the room. I was, after all, at least 4 hours late for the tour. I cleaned myself up after the long flights, and made my way down to the lobby to ask where everyone was. The guy at reception just said “at the bazaar”, and wasn’t a whole lot of help. I was assured by the tour organisers that they would leave directions to where I should meet the group, if I arrived late. No note, no directions.
Its 8:30pm on Sunday night, and I’m going walkabout on my own in Istanbul. Its cold out. The streets and buildings are multi-storey, tightly packed, and a little more run down than I expected. There were lots of people out in the street, all walking with purpose, somewhere.
Lots of clothing shops, and hawkers selling suitcases, shoes, and scarves. Kebabs, Pide, Gozleme street vendors everywhere. Kind of reminds me of Thailand. $2TL for a burger. Seemed good value, but I wasn’t hungry.
Lots of cobblestone streets and dimly lit alleyways. Lots of ‘hotels’, but not really any bars, at least not in this neighbourhood of the old town. No backpackers anywhere either.
I found a couple of bazaars. Nightlife districts. Many restaurants with lit-up street dining, and
Found my first mosque by 9:15pm. Prayer music started playing loudly. I already feel like an ignorant Westerner Tourist.
Lots of markets sell alcohol. Seems you can get liquor anywhere, and cheap. One “beer shop” was a smoke-filled commercial shop with no fittings, but many middle-aged Turkish men smoking and gambling. I couldn’t see any beer advertised, or being drank inside.
I walked back to the hotel and slept. My roommates came in drunk at 2am. We did introductions, talked about first impressions of Turkey, screw ups we’d all made, and what I missed the first night on the tour.