After a paper and presentation on Thursday for class, I know I’m not speaking for myself when I say that I was very ready to go on break. The shuttle picked us up at the apartment building at the ridiculously early time of 4:40 a.m. to take us on the 2-hour drive to Antalya, where the major airport is located.
Why hello there!
When our driver stopped for a smoke break, a cat snuck on to the bus with us. We almost left with it!
At 7 a.m., the airport was packed—all sorts of tour groups were trying to make their way through the two-step security process and I was glad I had plenty of extra time. After getting to the terminal, Mara and I had some time to kill so we ordered breakfast at the café.
Soon enough, I boarded my plane to Istanbul, excited to share with my parents the city with which I fell in love at the beginning of September. My flight was uneventful, though I was thrilled to get served a full meal (chicken sandwich, mint and yogurt sauce, and cherry cake) in the 80-minute flight. I only have good things to say about how marvelous it is that Turkish Airlines still gives you food on every flight. (And you get your first bag checked free! Take that, United.)
Once I got to Istanbul, I was determined to figure out how to take public transportation from the Ataturk Airport to Sultanahmet, the old part of the city where my parents were staying. I didn’t really have the chance to go out on my own while we were in Istanbul, and I also knew that it would save a lot of cash—6 TL versus 50-60 TL to hire a taksi. Armed with my printed map of the public transportation system, I struck out to follow the signs out of the airport to the metro.
I figured out how to buy these little plastic tokens from the jetonmatik, and easily boarded the train headed towards the center of the city. Then I had to transfer to the tram, squeezing into a crowded car packed with all sorts of people on their commute.
It was at that moment that I realized that, for the first time since I arrived in Turkey, I was truly surrounded by Turks. I was the only American around. There’s a certain amount of comfort and safety net that comes with a program like the one I’m on, where you take your classes with fellow American students and professors. But while this can be an excellent way to explore a country that might have otherwise been off limits for someone who doesn’t speak Turkish, it limits your opportunities to truly be immersed in a culture. Or to have uncomfortable moments where you have no idea what’s going on.
At some point on the tram ride, everyone got off the train and stood on the platform. I had no idea what was going on. I hadn’t heard any announcement, but everyone gave me strange looks when I was one of the last people staying in the car, so I also exited the tram. Some public transit employees walked through the car, and everyone boarded the next replacement train that came after 10 or so minutes. Luckily, since I was one of the last people to get off, I was one of the first back on. I was actually able to get a seat on the tram this time. Sometimes, ignorance pays off!
I got off the tram at Sultanahmet, and pulled out my Istanbul map to try finding out where my parents’ hotel was. It was then I realized that the map didn’t even have any street names on it. Yikes.
I wandered down the Hippodrome for a bit, lugging my duffel bag around as I tried to make sense of the landmarks around me. I knew that their hotel was somewhere near the Küçük Ayasofya, so I guessed which direction the water might be and headed through the maze of streets.
With a huge serving of luck, I was able to spot the minarets of the mosque, found the right road, and spotted the hotel. I got a key from the front desk and dropped off my stuff at my room. I didn’t have a way to contact my parents since they were on a tour, so I figured I would go back near the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque to pass some time.
I slowly wandered my way around the gardens of the Blue Mosque, circling around the monuments in the Hippodrome, and trying to seem like I was doing anything but wandering around by myself. After a half hour, I was ready to head back to the hotel to get out of the cold, but I just happened to spot my parents at the other end of the Hippodrome. At last!
I’m pretty sure my mom took this photo several minutes before I found them. Can you spot a lost looking 20-year-old in the distance?
It was fantastic to see them again, and I was so glad I was able to find them and join them for the end of their tour. We wandered around the Hippodrome, decided to hold off on the Blue Mosque since it had a ridiculous hour-long wait due to Friday prayers and cruise ships, and got lost once again in the Grand Bazaar.
After the end of the tour, we found a little traditional kahve next to this old Ottoman graveyard, where we had some tea as we had time to catch up on their time in Istanbul so far.
We then made it back to the hotel, where we arranged for dinner reservations at a fish restaurant under the Galata Bridge. Dinner was quite a treat!
The reactions from the table next to us are definitely what make this photo.
We ordered a gigantic seabass for the three of us, and the restaurant cooked it in this mound of salt before bringing it to the table and setting it on fire in this elaborate show. It was so cool!
After dinner, we walked over to Taksim Square and Istiklal Street. The area was bustling on a Friday night—it seemed like half the city was out roaming down Istiklal. We even stopped for tea and Turkish coffee at a café.
At Taksim Square!
Istiklal Street at night
And let’s be honest—after all the traveling and all the people I’ve met, nothing beats spending time with your family.