Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Istanbul, long term travel, Travel, Turkey

Istanbul…It has begun


I’m only days into my travels, and already I feel like I’ve ended up in the right spot. Any earlier anxieties and second guessing about leaving the States is far from my mind. I left Atlanta and took an overnight flight to London, where I spent a 7-hour layover visiting family. I had time for a quick shower too, so it was a better layover than most. It was then a short flight from London to Istanbul, and I arrived around 11:15 at night.

Let the airport pickup charade begin. I have booked in for 4 nights at Cheers Hostel right in the heart of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s historic area. I also arranged an airport pickup seeing as I was arriving so late in the evening. I get my bags, say a quick thank you to the bag fairy who oversaw my backpack at LHR during the layover, and head for the arrival area. I see the sign for Cheers and I’m handed off a couple of times to different drivers, then told to sit and wait. After about 20 minutes, I am en route to the hostel with Samir and Yousef, who speak next to no English. The conversation goes a bit like this.
Them: “We are speed drivers.”
Me: “Oh good, we’ll get there fast then.”
Them: “What’s your name?”
Me: “Eleanor.”
Them: “I Love You, Eleanor.”
Me: “Oh? Can you speed drive faster?.”
We play the usual game of charades. They point to my finger and ask if I’m married. Glad I read somewhere to always say yes in order to be left alone. They tell me Turkish coffee is good, but Efes, the national beer, is better. They blast Arabic techno, which is either surprisingly good, or I’m just really tired. They deliver me safely to Cheers, and I’m thankful for the in-van entertainment.
I’m soon checked into an 8-bed dorm, laying down but realizing I’m nowhere close to tired. I’m in a new city, at the beginning of a new adventure, good friends are arriving in 2 days. I could get up and go for a run, not tuck in for a night’s sleep. I listen to the chorus of snores around me, dig out earplugs and will myself to sleep.
I wake up around 10 the following morning, wondering what to do. I have a day to kill before Marisa and Jody arrive, so I don’t want to do too much that they will want to do too. I feel a bit out of place. I have to adjust to nomadic life again, get used to the hostel scene, traveling alone, not knowing a soul, being in a foreign place, with foreign customs…wait, all these things that I love and that inspire me, but why do I feel out of my element?
I venture downstairs for breakfast, and Tarik offers me a coffee and says, “We will talk money later.” (For what I owe for the room.) Breakfast consists of a hardboiled egg, cucumber slices, tomato, cured olives, and bread with jam. It’s free, so I don’t bat an eye. Tarik brings a second cup of coffee and sits down to tell me a bit about the area, some watchouts, etc.
I send a couple emails to let people know I’m alive and still have no plan for the day. I stroll outside and get chatting to Abbhaya and Jo who invite me to lunch at a veggie restaurant in Taksim. So we venture out and the day takes shape from there, as it usually does.
We take the tram across the Bosphorous and board the funicular. Istanbul is a sprawling city. The gray and white skyline is dotted with mosques and the blue water looks so bright next to the aging buildings. Turkish flags dot buildings on street corners and shop owners, touts, tourists, commuters, students and workers flood the roads. It’s not a strolling city, there’s a pace to be kept up with here.
We have lunch at Parsifal and share our condensed life histories, mainly bringing us to the point of how we got to Istanbul, why we are here, and what we might be doing next. Abbhaya is a sound engineer who, while doing his PhD part time, travels as a tennis umpire on The Open Circuit. He has just designed a 3-D microphone and is working on selling it to a major US broadcasting station for use during NFL games!! Joanna, or Jo for short, is on a 2-week holiday from London. She recently finished school and is doing charity work, but she’s got the travel bug and wants to throw it all in and plan her around-the-world trip.
After lunch, we head to the spice bazaar to sample some Turkish delight. Abbhaya heads to the airport to catch his flight to Bangalore, and Jo and I head back to Sultanahmet. It’s close to 6:00 so I do a quick loop of the area, soaking in views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, looking at what’s in store for us tomorrow. I grab a kebap for dinner. I’m really impressed with Istanbul. I can only imagine how much fun I will have discovering this city with Marisa and Jody. I can’t wait. One more night’s sleep.
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