Istanbul: Transit and Day 1

Grace and I just got back from Istanbul, so obviously I'm already a little bit behind. I'll do my best to keep it at that, though.

Our flight left from Dhaka at 6:00 AM. Combined with needing to arrive early for checking bags and international travel, this meant leaving the house at 3:30 AM, which in turn meant waking up at 2:45 AM. Yuck. Worse still, travel generally stresses me out (what if I forget something? what if our checked bags get lost, stolen, destroyed, disapparated?) and I was particularly stressed since the last time we left home for more than a day trip we returned to a flooded apartment. All this meant that I couldn't fall asleep until 1:45 AM. So I got all of a single hour of sleep. Boo.

Checking in at the airport was actually relatively painless. We definitely didn't need to arrive quite so early. That was about the only painless part of the trip, though. The flight was delayed (because it's Dhaka), but not as much as it could have been (the same flight is regularly delayed 6+ hours because, again, it's Dhaka). It also featured a very high proportion of young children and one with apparent developmental disabilities. Now kids are great, and I wholly appreciate (well, no, I probably don't, but I can at least try to imagine) the trials of raising one with disabilities, particularly in a country like Bangladesh where resources, understanding, and sympathy for those such afflicted are close to non-existent, but it still makes for a pretty unpleasant flying experience. For the whipped cream and cherry on top, there were no exit row, bulkhead, or similarly space-advantaged seats available for this space-disadvantaged author, and none of the in-flight entertainment was functional. First world problems, sure, but still the least pleasant flight I can remember taking. Then again, we didn't disappear into some Southeast Asian sea, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much.

Arrival in Istanbul was also a bit of a hassle. To start with, Turkey is the first place we've traveled so far where language was really a barrier. English is not very commonly spoken, and neither Grace nor I have a clue how to say anything in Turkish. We managed to get a SIM card, which was surprisingly expensive (prepaid SIMs are pretty cheap in a lot places, but apparently not in Turkey). Unfortunately, activation was not instant but took several hours. Smartphone-dependent as we are, this was a bit crippling. We couldn't call the manager of our rental (AirBnB-style place), couldn't show the taxi driver how to get there on GPS, etc. We tried to use a payphone with our credit card, but instructions were only in Turkish. We then tried our luck with a phone card purchased in another corner of the airport. Not sure what made the difference: the phone card or punching numbers randomly into the machine, but we eventually were able to call the manager of our rental who instructed us to just have our taxi driver call him for instructions. We did this, and finally made it to our apartment about 30 minutes or so later.

The manager of the rental met us when we arrived and was very friendly and helpful. I was a bit anxious about not going with a more traditional hotel, but it ended up working out quite well. It was definitely nice having the extra space and amenities (kitchenette, clothes washer and dryer, etc.) for a week-long stay.

After unpacking, the first order of business was getting a couple plug adapters (see aforementioned technology dependency). I went on this adventure alone, seeing as, for whatever reason, I can survive on one hour of sleep but Grace definitely cannot. I walked up to the nearby İstiklâl Caddesi, a long stretch of pedestrian-only street (well, except for the tram) flanked by all manner of shops that runs from Galata Tower to Taksim Square. Finding an electronics store wasn't difficult, although the prices were comically high. After spending around $15 on a pair of adapters of very dubious quality, I killed some time walking up to Taksim Square and wandering around a bit. Enjoyable, but maybe not too exciting to write about.

I rendezvoused with Grace and we repeated the walk I had just done, more or less, before getting some delicious mezze for dinner.

I'll close this post with a few initial impressions of Istanbul. The city is, to an American, insanely old. It seems like every other street has a few buildings that predate our country and every tenth or so has one that predates the discovery (by Europeans) of our continent. It also has enough history that it's somewhat taken for granted - brand new shops crowd up against beautiful ancient mosques. And there are a lot of beautiful ancient mosques - so many that the classic tourist destinations only comprise a small subset. The food is great (most every post will contain some discussion of food). For the most part, though, it feels very old-world European - relatively narrow streets, usually one-way and paved with cobblestones. Lots of hills, twists, and turns. Small, independent shops everywhere - barely any chains (barring a few Western ones).

A few pictures from our initial foray follow.