After my last couple of trips to (what I felt was a) pushy city like Istanbul, I’ve arrived again with my friends Caitlin, Branden, and Kate. Today begins our two week long adventure in the Middle East – a few days in Istanbul (their idea, heh) followed by the rest in Jordan, where I’m a bit more comfortable with the language.
Branden was kind enough to drive us all to the airport, which we made with plenty of time. I’ve never driven all the way to O’Hare before; all these years I’ve only ever taken the bus or been dropped off. Help us remember, everyone; we’re in Lot G, parking sub-spot B10! The plane was a massive Boeing 777 and Turkish Air had even put fresh flowers in the bathrooms – single daisies and roses in test tubes, bolted to the wall. Our stewardess forgot my wine at dinnertime than told me “Oh my, I make apologize with this!” and then brought me back two airline mini-bottles instead. When I told her casually that it was Branden and Caitlin’s honeymoon, she came back within a few minutes with a plate decorated with melted nutella drizzled on it to spell “Love,” a couple of battery powered tea lights (tap your hand against them to turn them on and off; she told us to keep them as they were stolen from first class’s “romantic dinner” meal option accessories!) and a dual set of tiramisu and cupcakes. As their row-mate, they tried to offer some to me but I wouldn’t hear of it; I was too busy drinking wine. Kate, who is currently recovering from wisdom teeth removal, was napping in the row behind us but she had a free middle seat to share with an elderly Texan on the aisle seat.
Security has changed in Turkey since the last time I was there – instead of being able to buy your 20 USD visa at the airport, you need to order it from a commercial website ahead of time. Be sure to remember to put in your mi
ddle names even though it doesn’t mention it – both Branden and I ended up buying a second one because it wasn’t obvious until the end of the purchase process that they demanded exact replication of your name in your passport. Should have been obvious to us, but oh well. After waiting in a huge line at the Ataturk airport (filled with *cough* non-Americans cutting the line, literally ducking under and undoing the ropes to get ahead of everyone) we finally got outside and were able to quickly catch a taxi to our AirBnB. I wasn’t expecting it to be so dark when we finally got outside! Guess it’s winter here, too.
Numerous street cats were available to watch us cautiously, to Kate and Caitlin’s photographing delight (only a small percent assented to being petted, of course) and after checking into our “house” and getting the tour from Tansel, our host, we immediately set out to find dinner. Our first meal of the trip was the “mixed grill platter” with various meats, salad, and tea. Afterward, we sought out a few bars – alcohol and hookah – and relaxed and chatted. The young Turkish men tending bar teased us all playfully (pretending to borrow my passport – just for a minute – when I left it on the table, offering us moonlit vistas looking out over the Mediterranean from the rooftop hookah bar and “not even charging for the view!” – I can handle that a lot better than the pushy vendors on the street and in the Grand Covered Bazaar that I ran into last time.
Since we didn’t get in until relatively late today (6pm, Istanbul time) we didn’t have time to see anything “touristy” but that’s what the next few days are for. As it turned out, some Syrians sat down next to us in the hookah bar and we all got to talking when I heard them speaking Arabic with the staff. They also spoke fluent English, being businessmen working in Dubai, so Branden got some tips from them as to a good place to go for breakfast. Supposedly you can see the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque from the restaurant.