Arrival in Istanbul
The first day! We fly from Schiphol Airport to Atatürk Airport, find our hotel and explore Istanbul.
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An early morning at Schiphol Airport! Apart from several long queues for an Antalya flight, it is rather quiet. As our destination lies on Turkey’s opposite coast, that means no lines for us!
Flight and arrival
All is well aboard the aircraft. It is somewhat smaller than expected and accompanied by mostly Turks it takes us slightly over three hours to reach Atatürk Airport. It is rather nice to once again fly with a non-budget airline: drinks are brought, headphones are distributed (even though they only grant access to about a dozen channels of static noise) and breakfast is served. Although the cherry tomato looks more like a well aged cherry and my cup of fruit is lost to Vonne in less than three seconds—not that you will be hearing any complaints from me—the fried egg, the rösti potato and the breadroll go down very well. And then the stewardess makes her rounds along the aircraft to enquire whether we would like a cup of tea to go along with that meal. Ah, this is that luxurious feeling of flying: travelling to an exotic destination as you are sipping at a cup of tea and looking down upon the clouds. Quite a bit different from squeezing yourself into what amounts to a flying bus to hop across the Channel, if you ask me.
Once we arrive at the airport we have to purchase ourselves a visum, which will grant us the right to stay on Turkish soil for 90 days, provided we have no plans of doing any work. And in order to enjoy this privilege, we will have to provide the Turkish state with the mere sum of 20 dollars, or 15 euros. Ah, how it must be to be a respected citizen of Malta, whose presence is apparently so welcomed by the Turks that they are exempt from such a worldly donation! Every Canadian out there should share this sentiment, by the way—they have to pay thrice the sum that is required of us.
After we have paid our dues, a unique event occurs! Having grown up in what is a mostly unified Europe, where at best a customs official will throw a sideways glance at the document officially granted to me by the Dutch state and which is called a passport, I am now getting acquainted with a solemn moment. A Turkish official places a proper seal in my wine-red booklet and as a second official confirms this action with a ferm stamp placed on top, I realise we have officially been granted access into Turkey!
Having picked up our bags which somehow but inevitably have managed to be the last ones to arrive at luggage retrieval and having bought a refreshing drink with a rather ridiculously large banknote in order to get our hands onto change, we purchase four jetons—small plastic tokens—for the subway. Once our carriage breaks free from the confines of a tunnel, we are surrounded by the rolling hills and the minarets of Istanbul. Through the stations of Zeytinburnu en Beyazıt, we reach our destination. A minor mixup of two hotels on my part leads to an unplanned yet quickly rectified detour through the borough of Kumkapı, but we do make it to Hotel Grand Mark.
A friendly chap checks us in to the hotel, and judging by the papers from our booking agent, we are not an unexpected arrival. He checks our identities and a helpful employee takes our bags in the tiniest elevator you have ever seen to the fifth floor—to room № 501, our home for the coming week. Swayed by the less than subtle sounds of Turkish music drifting in through the open window, Vonne falls asleep on the bed and I take a first peek at our travel guide.
Walk and dinner
After a short break it is time to venture forth and set our first proper steps into Istanbul! We quickly decide that a serious case of proximity on behalf of the coastline requires us to check out the Sea of Marmara first. We have not yet left the first side street from our hotel, or we are already surrounded by a number of fish restaurants and a friendly Turkish gentleman is offering us a five Turkish Lira (TL) discount in his restaurant, and would we like to come back later perhaps, it would not be any problem and here is a business card. Just a few steps into the city and we already have a card and a discount, but no appetite yet.
We follow the scent of fish towards the coast and find that alongside a large number of minarets, Istanbul also has a very generous supply of cars honking their horns, strey cats and stray fishermen. Along the coast dozens of people are fishing, each fisherman surrounded by at least three cats who are making frequently successful attempts at grabbing their share of the catch. As we follow our course, we are more or less clearly asked whether we would like to rent a boat, buy nuts, buy Turkish coffee, wish to join the fishermen or shoot at balloons with a rather large rifle. Unfortunately we have not come for any of those things, so we carry on. Before long, I am finally able to utter the legendary words “Asia video” as I point across the water, since we are now looking out onto a different continent. Another bit of walking later, we discover what is the north side of the historical city center and decide that dinnertime has arrived.
Before long, I utter the legendary words Asia video.
At each restaurant we pass by and make the fatal mistake of looking at the menu, looking inside, looking in the general direction of the building or simply by virtue of having two legs and a head, we are immediately approached by someone who wants us to have a closer look at the menu, come inside and have tea.
At one particular place this happens again, but this time the elderly gentlemen asks us where we hail from. When he asks us where in Olanda, we decide not to bother him with the intricate socio-geographic division between Amstelveen and Amsterdam, and supply him with the name of our capital. In what can only be described as fluent Turkish-Dutch-English, he tells us how he loves Amsterdam and used to live there at the corner of the Middenweg and Kruislaan, always taking bus line 59 there. We decide that we cannot refuse the offer of a city-fellow like that, and soon we are looking at a Dutch menu while Anouk sounds through the speakers.
After the kebab and the steamed lamb, Vonne throws herself at a plate of baklava, while I keep a watchful eye, sipping from a cup of Turkish coffee. When we have finished, we decide to move on, the pleas of the owner to stay for another tea ‘on the house’ notwithstanding. It has grown dark and we wander about for a bit more when suddenly two minarets start shouting at one another. I am imagining that capitalist free market ideals have made their appearance in the religious world and that both mosques are now trying to outdo another in maximising their intake of souls for cleansing. We decide to follow the sound. Shortly after, we suddenly appear to be in a small park with a mosque on one side that is apparently blue, whereas the one on the other side is named Sophia. Strange folk, those Turks. We snap a few shots and then take the shortest detour back to the hotel, where the television censors cigarettes with flowers and I get a chance to display my already growing Turkish vocabulary. Good night!