We landed about 12:35pm Istanbul time and it took quite some time for us to arrive at the gate. We offloaded pretty quickly and headed towards passport control. Foreigners have to buy a visa “sticker” which costs $20 before you can go through the passport control. So I headed to the visa area and saw a kind of long line, and decided to go to the bathroom first. A few minutes later the line had more than doubled, as another flight had also just arrived. I got in line and waited. I think there were a fair number of people from non-queuing countries, because up until it was no longer possible, people just kept walking up to the middle of the line and joining in front of everyone else (by this time, the line had grown really long).
I finally paid the tourist tax and got my sticker and headed to the passport control line for foreigners. At the entrance to the line there was a man and a woman sitting in front of a monitor. The woman had a surgical mask on, something I had seen several people wearing during my travels. I looked at the monitor though, and realized that it was a thermal imaging scanner. I guess they were checking for people infected with the flu. Make me wonder what they would do with you if you did have the flu.
After passport control, I took my bags through customs, which was just some guy sitting and playing with his phone. I was almost home free. I passed the doors into the public arrow and there were many people holding up signs. There was one that was very difficult to read because it was written in pencil, but the man holding it seemed to recognize me and he looked a lot like the pictures I had seen of Mustafa’s father-in-law, Haldun. I greeted him and held up his finger to indicate I should wait. He called a friend who appeared a few minutes later and greeted me in English. They asked me where I was staying and I showed them on a map where the hotel was, but told him that I would just take the light rail by my self. There was no way that this was going to happen, as my translator indicated. Haldun was going to take me to my hotel and then by me dinner. I couldn’t refuse this hospitality so we set off together with our two bags to ride the Light Rail (Hafif). We needed to make a connection with a tram at about the half way point. On the first leg of the trip, we sat across from a man who knew more English, so I chatted with him about my trip and where he was from. His parents had moved to Turkey when he was only 2 years old from Aden and actually spoke Arabic, in addition to Turkish and English.
We made the connection at the tram station in Zeytinburnu, and slowly made our way to Sultenahmet. We got off at the stop and began asking directions to the hotel. During the walk, we walked between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Haldun kept asking each block or so, and we eventually arrived at the place. We went in to check in and the receptionist helped translate a bit to indicate that I would only be staying the night, but that I would not need help getting to my next destination. After unloading my bags, we headed out to a little restaurant on the street where the tram let us off. The food was really good and included kafta with some kind of spicy sauce as well as a salad and yogurt drink. We tried to talk a little through one of the waiters who knew a bit of English, but it was really challenging. At one point, the waiter asked if I wanted more, and I tried to say no thanks, but he brought 3 more pieces as well as a dessert. All of the food was really great and I was stuffed by the time we left.
We headed up the street to find a mobile phone store so I could get a Turkish SIM card for my phone. We got the card, which Haldun very generously paid for and then headed to the Grand Bazaar. Along the way, we passed by a candy store and Haldun bought some as a gift for me and some more for Mustafa. The bazaar was closed and I was getting tired, so we headed back to the hotel. I tried my best to thank him profusely for all he had done and gave him a small gift.
I then headed up to my room to Skype with Shanna. The kids seemed to be doing pretty well, but Shanna was clearly not quite feeling well still. It was 5:30 pm Istanbul time at that point, but only 10:30 am in North Carolina. After the long trip it was really hard to believe the time difference. I am really pooped and going to go to bed early so I can go explore a bit before meeting up with Jeff.
Here is the view out my window onto the Bosphorous.