I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey at around 11a.m., bleary eyed, almost a zombie as I went through Immigration and Customs. Thankfully, the flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Istanbul via Doha, Qatar went smoothly, without any flight problems or delays. However, I did leave Kathmandu at mid-night and with a 5 hour layover in Doha, I didn’t get too many hours of sleep on the 2 flight legs or in the Doha airport. Yeah, I was seriously tired and wasn’t looking forward to hauling a large back pack and day pack through the airport, while looking for an ATM, then metro bus or train.
Thank God I reviewed my WikiSherpa Application I downloaded about Istanbul or I might still be at the airport dazed and confused. It had valuable information about GOING to the Visa window first before getting in a long line at the Passport window. So, I paid the $20 Visa fee, then proceeded to the Passport window. Whew! This ap also provided information about avoiding the taxis (a big rip off according to WikiSherpa) and taking the bus instead. However, that’s easier said than done. I had no idea where the bus was or where it stopped at the airport. More important, if I did catch a bus, I had no idea where I was supposed to get off. Sure, I had an address for my hotel, but my experience dealing with Turkish people thus far, indicated that very few spoke English. So, after getting a couple of hundred dollars worth of Turkish Lira, I ventured outside to the numerous islands for taxi, mini-bus, shuttle bus, and, and, and, and, and, WTF is the city bus stop? I had no idea.
However, my answer was found in the form of a very nice Iraq man, named Onur. In halting English, he assisted me in finding the correct bus to get on. He told me he was going to be on the same bus and would stay with me until I got to my hotel. Wow! An Iraq angel! Who knew?
Apparently, he was meeting his brother, Okan on Istiklal Avenue, the same street that my hotel was near. I guess I should mention that this avenue is the grand or main boulevard in Istanbul. It means Independence in English. Regardless of how famous it is, it still would have taken me a couple of hours to figure it out without Onur and Okan’s help. The bus stopped at a main “end of the line” station and after we got off the bus, Okan was waiting to greet his brother, Onur. After introductions were made, we crossed a street and came to the grand avenue that was Istiklal.
What an amazing, happening place. It essentially was a pedestrian walkway, with a trolley rail car that passed through the approximately 3 kilometer length. Boutiques, book stores, night clubs, restaurants, movie theaters, several embassies, cafes, pubs, hotels, retail clothes stores, music stores, and food kiosks filled every inch of space. The place was bustling with thousands of people.
As we walked down the avenue, Okan kept wandering off, going into stores, then coming back, speaking Arabic. Finally, Onur explained to me what Okan was doing – He was asking store owners where my hotel was. Ahh ha! After about 10 minutes of walking, we found the side street where my hotel was located and finally, the hotel itself. I invited them in and they watched as I checked in. After I checked into my hotel, I asked them if I could buy them lunch. However, they insisted that it wasn’t necessary. Despite telling them that I wanted to do this, they said no, it was their pleasure to assist and they didn’t want anything in return. Besides they said, apparently Onur was only going to be in town for a couple of days and they already had plans for the afternoon and evening. I thanked them for their assistance, we exchanged email addresses and then I bid both of them good bye. I wont ever forget the kindness and graciousness they both showed me. 🙂
I was a bit pumped with adrenalin, so after dropping off my back pack in my room, I ventured out for a bit and walked the length of Istiklal Avenue. When I returned to my room 4 hours later, I took a shower, glanced at the clock, which said 7:00p.m. and was asleep in 5 minutes. I didn’t wake up until 6:30am the next day.