Friday, November 17, 2017

Istanbul again

So, lemme tell you about Turkey. Or, to be more accurate, I want to tell you about my recent weekend in Istanbul. It’s a city I already knew fairly well, and I went only because Belavia offered a super sale price and a friend there offered to show me some parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet. But a couple of days before departure, my friend told me that she was crazy-busy at work and the only time she could spare me would be dinner on Friday evening.

I nearly didn’t go at all. I’d just had a great week in Athens and didn’t trust my luck with solo travel. What if I found myself stuck and bored? Why pay hotel and restaurant bills when I could just hang out in Minsk? I’m not sure what factors finally led me to go. I’m just glad I did.

In the first place, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t just lucky traveling in Greece. I like solo travel. It’s easy. You meet people. You do what you want. You have to ask a local when you want advice. You get nowhere to hide.

I arrived on a Thursday morning and paid too much to have a taxi driver take me to my hotel the long way. I got my revenge for this by taking public transit to the airport on my way home. In fact, I didn’t take another taxi ride at all. By Friday, when I told my friend that I’d walked from Beşiktaş to Galata Tower the previous day, she didn’t believe it. It seemed impossibly far to a Turk, but any Belarusian will tell you that no distance is too far to walk. I didn’t actually plan to do that, but it sneaked up on me. I’d started by walking to Dolmabahçe Palace, which was closed, so I continued to Taksim Square after visiting the palace cafe. At Taksim, I found a Lebanese falafel place which may have raised the bar for the best falafel I’ve ever eaten. The only thing that could possibly follow that would be the best baklava in Istanbul, for which I had to go to Karaköy Güllüoğlu. I walked, of course. There, I ate a prodigious amount of baklava, overwhelming any urge to bring any more back to Minsk. That’s fine. I like to travel light. That was basically my Thursday.

I had intended that day to take a boat tour up the Golden Horn, but just missed a tour boat, sat down to lunch, just missed another boat, and took the long walk instead. On Friday, then, I went directly back to Dolmabahçe Palace because it looked so great from the outside. I loved it and the associated museums, and spent the whole day there. Finally, I left in time to change my clothes and take public transit to Galata Tower, where I would meet Gaye for dinner. Walking back from the palace toward the hotel, I saw a couple of Turkish students taking pictures at the clock tower. They’d found a great photo spot, so I waited and asked them to take a picture of me, too. We started to chat, and found each other interesting for a variety of reasons. Conversation flowed easily and naturally all the way to the bus stop, where we exchanged Facebook contacts and talked about doing something together the next day.

Beside the tower, Gaye showed me the Anemon Galata Hotel. Their rooftop restaurant has a wonderful view both of the tower itself and of the city as one might otherwise see from the tower. The food was fine, but you go there for the view. It’s spectacular.

The next morning I texted my student friends Gulim and Öznur to see if they wanted to go for a ride with me on the commuter boats. Because of rain, my commercial tour had been canceled, but the commuter boats looked promising. I’m sorry they weren’t able to come along, but I had a really great time. I bought an Istanbulkart and put enough money onto it to take a lot of little rides. Looking at the map, I’d imagined I’d have to pay for many segments individually, but it turns out that most of what I wanted to do was one long ride with many stops. I rode up the Golden Horn until I noticed the Rahmi M. Koç Museum at one of the docks. The concierge at my hotel had assured me that I’d like this museum, so I got off the boat. Guys. The museum deserves its own blog post. Mr. Koç got rich making things like tractors and he collected a whole lot of things that go. I didn’t even manage to see the whole thing, but had a really great time trying.

Wanting to continue my boat ride up the Golden Horn before the sun set, I left the museum late afternoon and returned to the dock. Although rain sometimes blew in under the canvas roof, I stayed on the upper deck and enjoyed fabulous views and the company of a few other intrepid travelers.

On Sunday morning, I awoke to clear skies and thought about my over-filled Istanbulkart. I could use public transit liberally that day, so I asked the concierge where he thought I should go. He suggested Kadıköy. This is another interesting district of Istanbul, with a blend of homes, cafes, little shops and restaurants, and lots of character. I had a great time walking around, and bought some kaymak to bring home with me.

Finally, I headed off to the airport. As I said, I took public transit, which wasn’t perfectly easy for me this time because it wasn’t obvious where to go to find the Metrobus at the first connection. But it was easy enough, because I showed the map on my phone to a fellow commuter. She recognized what I wanted to accomplish and took me right to the transfer point. I’d had a similar experience the day before, when I got stuck at a pier because I had an old tourist map that showed a discontinued boat route. Some guy with very little English took me down the road to another pier where I could wait for a private boat (which still cost less than a dollar) back to the Golden Horn line. The private boat was small and smelly, and the only other passenger spoke no English at all, but we had a great ride together and took a selfie.

I had a great time. If you want to see pictures, click here.

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