Istanbul – Conquering Fears of Traveling Alone Part 1

 

Istanbul - Fairly safe for women traveling alone.

Istanbul carpet weaver at her loom.

 

“Where are you going so early?”

It was only 7:30 in the morning and I hadn’t eaten breakfast or had any coffee yet. It was also my first day in Istanbul and I was still jet lagged after arriving at my hotel around 1 a.m. But I was too excited to sleep.

So needless to say, I was a bit surprised to be addressed directly, and in perfect English.

I looked over to see an Istanbuli man hosing down the sidewalk in front of his restaurant.

“I’m going to the Haghia Sophia,” I said.

“But it is not open yet. Nothing is open yet, it’s too early. You should go after ten.”

I thanked him, and we continued to chat, while I kept wondering where he learned to speak English so fluently.  Finding out that so many Istanbul residents are actually very fluent in English and a number of other languages wasn’t my first pleasant surprise.

My first pleasant surprise occurred the night before, when I realized my hotel did not send the van to pick me up from the airport. Ok…maybe that wasn’t really a surprise, and maybe it wasn’t so pleasant either. And though I tried calling the hotel, no one was answering the front desk phone after midnight.

All I could do was walk outside and ask a taxi driver how much it would cost to get to my hotel in Sultanahmet—or Old Istanbul. He quoted me a price of 26 Turkish lira. I jumped in the cab, and off we went.

 

Old Istanbul - The Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet District

Blue Mosque in the morning, in Old Istanbul.

 

I tried paying attention to where we were going, but it was impossible. And I was amazed by how many people I saw lounging around having picnics in the parks by candlelight.

After about 30 minutes of driving around and getting mentally lost I figured if I hadn’t been kidnapped by then, I wasn’t going to be. So I settled back and let the man drive. He hadn’t said a word since we started off.

Finally, we wound up in a very different part of the city. You could tell by how narrow the roads got, and we were suddenly making steeper climbs here and there, with a few hairpin turns thrown in for good measure. There were a lot of old stone buildings too – the first signs that we were now in Old Istanbul.

My driver stopped to converse in Turkish, with a man on the street. I get a little neurotic when I’m sleep deprived, and so thoughts of Ottoman prisons entered my head, as I imagined the conversation, “Hey how much you want for this white girl? She’s American.”

Then he turned to me and asked for the address of the hotel again. I nearly jumped out of my seat. But it turns out he was just lost—and the streets in Old Istanbul are not clearly marked. Twice more he asked for direction, and eventually we arrived.

So what did this little drive into Old Istanbul cost me? There was no meter in the cab, another thing that was vaguely worrying me during the ride. So I handed the man 30 TYL, thinking a 4 lira tip would be sufficient. He handed me some change, which I tried to refuse, telling him I wanted to tip him. But he insisted I take the money. When I counted it later, he had actually returned 7 TYL which meant he only charged 23 – making him the most honest cab driver without a pay meter I had ever encountered!

Good things were going to happen in Turkey…I could tell. I considered yelling at the front desk clerk about the “no show” shuttle service when I checked in, but who am I kidding? I’m not that confrontational.

Tip: Not much is open before 9 a.m. in Sultanahmet. But those who want pictures of the city without crowds of people in them should definitely take advantage of those early hours.

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