This is the first post in a new series called “the time I went to…”, in which I will FINALLY get around to sharing about my travels pre-Australia. I wrote about them on a super old blog that only my parents and friends Dennis, Evan, and Gunther read (thanks guys!). I want to revisit these places and maybe you’ll enjoy joining me.
Several friends have found themselves in Istanbul over the last few months, and reading their posts takes me back to 2008 and the one week I spent in the city. After spending two weeks in Barcelona with Nicole, I ventured to Istanbul for what would become my first true solo trip.
Who is Vito Gomes?
I don’t know who Vito is, but his shuttle bus driver was waiting for him at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport at 2:30am. Vito never came, and neither did my pre-arranged shuttle bus driver, so I would have been more than happy to snag his.
I was silly nervous about flying into a city in the middle of the night alone. Public transport wouldn’t open until 6am, so I had scheduled a shuttle to take me from the airport to the hostel. By the time I found another company willing to take me into the city, I was beyond tired.
The driver was a little confused when we got to the streets of the old city near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. After driving in circles, he almost decided to drop me off before we found my hostel.
In my frugal traveler ways, I had decided against paying for a room that night. The man at the front desk said I could hang out on the terrace until morning. I curled up on a metal bench that was way too small for me and shivered in the cold night air. It didn’t take long for me to wonder what in the world I was doing in a new place in the middle of the night all alone. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how nervous I felt, but I suppose I hadn’t developed enough confidence in my abilities to navigate solo travel.
Soon enough I found a perfect view of the Blue Mosque from the hostel. I listened to the call of dozens of birds before the call to prayer began sounding from mosques across the city. And I started to fall in love with Istanbul.
Try some Turkish Delight!
By morning I was ready to explore the city with a new friend from Melbourne. We visited the Spice Market before heading to the Grand Bazaar, where one stall owner invited us to have coffee with her as I contemplated purchases. We found scarves to wear when visiting the mosques. A few male stall owners shamelessly chatted us up in hopes of selling some “love tea” or “Turkish Viagra”.
That evening I witnessed first-hand the saying that Turkish men fall hard and fast. I was on my way to find something for dinner when a voice called out to me with travel tips. I allowed the conversation to continue, and before I knew it, we were still talking and having dinner six hours later (following two apple teas and a trip to his family’s carpet business). At every step he assured me he was just introducing me to the city. Once we got to his family’s store front, I knew he just wanted me to buy a carpet. During dinner he shared that it felt like we had known each other forever. He complimented me more than almost any man ever had. He wasn’t shy about asking me to join him for the rest of the night. When I declined, he said I was too closed off. Then with a twinkle in his eye he said, “You should really have some Turkish Delight this week — even if it’s not me.”
“You are not Turkish, but he is Turkish…that is so nice.”
Thanks to HospitalityClub.org, I’d made a couple of Turkish friends online before arriving in Istanbul.
Emin, in the photo above, was an absolute rock star. Whenever he wasn’t busy working, we’d get together for tea, dinner, a walk around the city, or something touristy. One day as we were walking by a lane of restaurants on the water, a tout called out to me, “You are not Turkish, but he is Turkish…that is so nice.” We got an approving look. Ha!
I was also very fortunate to meet Arda on Hospitality Club.
We met in Taksim for raki and hours of conversation. Later, when the cab driver didn’t understand how to get me back to the hostel, Arda translated for us before finding his own taxi.
Later this week — or quite possibly next week knowing me — I’ll share part two of my fantastic week in Istanbul.