The return journey. We depart very early from Atatürk International Airport and review a wonderful week!
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Way too early in the morning our final wake-up call in Istanbul goes off. We grab our bags in the darkness, put on the clothes laid out and for the last time close the door of room № 501. We pay by creditcard at the reception—it is a good thing I remembered to memorise its security code before departing, and a taxi is called for us which arrives two minutes later to bring us to Atatürk Havalimanı.
The plane departs with a half-hour delay, unquestionably caused by the people at the exit to the shuttlebus who review each passport page by page as if they are about to call out
“Hah! A fine attempt, but this line on page sixteen is not of the right color! This is a forgery!”. Of course this does not happen and the shuttlebus eventually takes us to the waiting aircraft. Other than some light turbulence, we have a quiet flight and land at Schiphol Airport just after eleven in the morning. In the short journey from the airport to our house we see sunshine twice and hailstorms thrice, so the weather is giving us a typical Dutch welcome. Is it just a day ago, or a century, that we sat on a bench in the sun between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque?
Of course we have noticed a few things on vacation, so here is a list!
- If someone ever convinced you that the Turks are friendly, social and helpful, then that is absolutely true. it is small things: a complete stranger might suddenly point out to you on the street that there is construction work going on a bit further up and you might want to cross the street. You really do feel welcome as a guest.
- There is just so much life on the streets in Istanbul—walking around at night there are always people outside drinking tea, talking, carrying a huge bag of goods to their store or pushing a cart that is loaded with about three times as many boxes as you would think could fit on there, or people fixing up their storefronts. Of course the climate helps a lot; you don't go outside for fun on an October evening in the Netherlands, but as a city Istanbul is just so much more lively than for example Amsterdam.
- In Turkey, it is quite common for there to be pickles and fries in their breadrolls and dürüms. It is impossible to get any dish without a roasted tomato and pepper being included.
- Turks have magical powers with which to control pigeons. I base this on the fact that the squares filled with pigeons also tend to have stands that sell breadcrumbs (these two things are very probably related, although I do not know which of the two was first) which you can buy to feed the pigeons. So despite there being more than plenty food on display, I have not seen a single pigeon that dared to assault one of the stands, even though they were only manned by little old ladies who looked like they could be taken out by two or three organised pigeons. Hidden powers, I tell you.
- Where do all those stray cats come from? Wherever you are in Istanbul, pull a fish out of your pocket and within a minute you will be fully surrounded by a herd of professional four-legged beggars with whiskers. Not to mention what happens when you have a full plate of food on a terrace.
- How do all these shops continue to exist? Of course, Istanbul has like elven million inhabitants, but I estimate that out of those, ten million own a shop. And if there was as much variety between them as between the quality of the roads, that would be one thing. But they all have the same shops. Jeweler? There are three more in the same street. Phone shop? Six. Restaurant? The entire block consists of them. Trip over your shoelaces once and you land in front of three shoe stores at the same time. Amazing!
- Censoring cigarettes on TV? Seriously? First of all, everyone in Turkey already smokes (although no one seems to argue about the smoking ban in restaurants), and second of all, I am quite a lot less impressed when the Bad Guy on TV offs someone in cold blood and walks away from an exploding truck in slow motion while he has a little drawn flower dangling from the corner of his mouth all the while.
- In a small restaurant it is quite charming when the menu has been translated by someone with a less than perfect grasp of English and you have the choice between chicken or lamp, since you know that the translation was done by the neighbour’s nephew who knows some English. That your hotel features an engraved sign in the bathroom saying ‘Facet Water Not Drink’ is also still amusing, but not infrequently the signage at tourist hotspots displays the same quality of English. Even when the words are correct, the order still manages to frequently be off. Are there that little Turks who speak a high level of English? A career as a Turkish–English translator must lead to immeasurable riches when even the tourist office can not find one. I do have to say that we could make ourselves understood in English just fine, it is just the writing that was strange.
We have had an absolutely wonderful week, so Istanbul: thanks a lot and hopefully until we meet again!