Hello Istanbul

Istanbul Metro Map

“It’s very simple. You take six stops and then you change and you take six more stops, and then you get off, and it’s around the corner”, the bloke at the metro station in Istanbul explained to me. “I’ll help you”, he said very genuinely.

When I’m travelling, I’m one of those travellers who likes to use the local public transport system of the place I’m visiting. As well as being quite a bit cheaper than catching taxis (especially from airports), I think it’s a really great way to get an insight into the city you’re visiting. You rub shoulders with the locals.

Despite my aforementioned shyness, I also like chatting to people in airport queues. As I waited in the queue at Arlanda (Stockholm) Airport today, I got chatting with the bloke standing next to me. Our conversation started with raised eyebrows as we shared a common moment of complaint at how slow the queue was progressing. I learned he was originally from Iraq and had been living in Sweden for about six years. I also learned he had a cousin in Sydney and was planning to visit Perth (Western Australia) next month, and so offered him some travel advice. “English is good, but you MUST know Swedish” he told me about living in Sweden. He also told me his cousin had mentioned Australia and Iraq had similar climates. “I’m not sure if I agree”, I told him, though noting Sydney had recently had its hottest temperature on record. “Summer is best in Sweden, with warm temperatures and long nights”, he told me, adding “But it’s hard during October.. November.. December.. January.. February.. March… most of the year really”.

The flight from Stockholm to Istanbul went reasonably quickly. It’s about four hours, I think. What impressed me most was the food on the flight. “This is like Surry Hills Turkish Food”, I thought to myself, as I enjoyed the chick pea entree followed by the beef. The food was seriously good, as was the service. Unlike a lot of flight attendants who seem quite grumpy, the flight attendants on Turkish Air were very friendly. I also LOVED their jingle… “We are Turkish Airlines. We are globally yours.” It’s a complete ear-worm, and I swear it’s gonna get stuck in your head for the next 24-hours.

It was a little more grim coming through customs. I’d read on-line the Visa Entry fee for Australians had recently been bumped up to 45 Euros which was confirmed, while our cousins across the ditch (NZ) have no fee to worry about. The woman sticking the confirmed Visa in my passport had the look of “I’d rather be somewhere else” in her eyes. And once again I found myself in the passport queue behind the dodgiest of the dodgy. Quite a few people gave up the queue and moved to the next one as the bloke was questioned endlessly about where he had been, and why he was there, yaddah yaddah. When a couple came back who had left the queue came back, I offered them my place. I thought it was good travel karma. They appreciated the sentiment. I think when they offered a “Thankyou for your help” in front the the bloke from customs that held in speedy movement through the queue.

And then it was time to work out how to get to my hotel. I’d actually asked for a hotel pick-up, but unfortunately there wasn’t a single person holding up a sign saying “O’Brien” and so that’s when I headed downstairs to the metro. But as I looked at the map, and as I looked at the ticket machine which was in Turkish, I quickly came to the conclusion it was all to hard. So I thanked the man for his help and headed upstairs to the taxi rank. “What a nice man to be so helpful”, I thought to myself as I wandered away.

My taxi driver was also very nice. Since I’m not a complete and naive travel dill, I asked him how much the cab would cost before we left (showing him a map of where I wanted to go to). In the end, it turned out to be a little cheaper than he thought, thanks to good traffic, and that he was a very fast driver. Oh my goodness, he was fast. Really fast. Along the way I learned a little about him, including that he has two grand-children and is planning to retire in five years time. He told me a little about the places we passed along the way, and even called the hotel I’m staying in, to tell them I was on my way.

Victory Hotel and Spa

Victory Hotel and Spa

When I arrived, I was also very charmed by the service I received at the counter, and in being shown my way to my room. Having recently experienced the apparent “coldness” of Swedish customer service, I was a little overwhelmed by the friendliness of the staff of the Victory Hotel & Spa in Istanbul. Like many others I’ve met on this trip, the staff told me they think of Australia as a long, long way away. Indeed it is, but as I told them, there are lots of people from Turkey living in Australia, including not far away from where I live back in Sydney.

I arrived far too late in the evening to even think about heading out for a look around town. But as I travelled in the taxi along the way I spotted some mosques, some big stretches of water, and an interesting contrast between the more modern parts of the city, and some of the older ones. So far, I’m likin’ it.

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