A great fare to a great city and we were off to Istanbul for the weekend. On the plane from EWR to IST we even ran into a group of like-minded travelers who had also picked up on the fare. The excitement was high.
The last place we thought we would end up on our day in this magical city was in a dark alley in a narrow cobblestone corridor deep in the heart of the city…at night. By our side would be a burly taxi driver and a hotel manager we met less than a half hour ago. What was waiting for us down that cobblestone path was anyone’s guess.
The day began kind of like it progressed…disturbingly. A case of diarrhea while walking to the Grand Bazaar caused me to beg a men’s bathroom attendant to let me in. “Please, it is an emergency; I will pay you when I’m done.” “Come around,” he tells me, and escorts me to a large bathroom with a few men in it doing what men do in a bathroom. Fortunately for me, there was a closed door option. My friend came looking for me thinking I went into the ladies room and I was nowhere to be found. She had her own issues, however, being left alone to deal with a group of teenage street vendors trying to sell her perfume and they weren’t taking no for an answer.
All was resolved with some loss of dignity and a bottle of newly purchased Armani perfume, conveniently offered in a 3.4 ounce bottle ready for the plane. As my friend said, “I made two Turkish people happy today: the guy who sold me the perfume and the maid at our hotel who will ultimately end up with it.” Istanbul has distractions and delights around every corner; I never get enough of it. The crazy street elements just seem necessary for the contrast.
Crossing the Galata Bridge and climbing up to the Galata tower we discover scores of fascinating shops, listened to musicians, watched fresh pomegranate juice being squeezed, window shopped for things we didn’t know existed, and ate our favorite varieties of Turkish delight in the streets. Turkish delight always tastes best when the cold air is entering your mouth at the same time you crunch down on the pistachios. I think it was about this time when my friend who was taking photographs, suddenly tripped and went tumbling down a flight of cement steps! Head over feet I watched her fall in slow motion. The good news was that she was not hurt, just shook up, and the better news was that young Turkish men came running out of the woodwork to assist her.
Our day continued with exploring the mosques and markets of Istanbul, walking endless miles for god sakes to find that one special mosque that I determined looked much like all of the other mosques. Oh well, it is the journey they say. We decided to split up, she going on to take photographs of more mosques and I making my way back to the hotel. She returned a couple hours later with disturbing news…she had lost her phone! Upset but not resolved that it was lost for good, she checks her email and hallelujah there is an email saying someone had found her phone and the person had called her daughter in the United States. Then the message came through that said something like, “would you like to meet?” Relieved and anxious to get her phone back, she arranges a meeting at the Grand Bazaar and rushes out to meet up with this person and retrieve her phone. We have the person’s name, Matilda, and everything looks like it is going to be fine.
Not so. The person at the Grand Bazaar turns out to be a guy she met on the plane and he has no knowledge of her phone. Nice guy but it is a dead end and now we are back to square one. Determined to find the phone, my friend has the front desk call her cell and Matilda answers. Matilda is difficult to understand but wants to meet near the French Palace, gives us a phone number for a hotel near the Palace and we agree to meet. We have both our hotel and the taxi driver call the meeting place just to be sure it exists and is reasonably safe. We hire a taxi driver to take us and it is far away, down narrow streets and across to the other side of the city. At this point, I have to admit things were not looking real promising and quite frankly they were feeling a little creepy. But I couldn’t let her go out into the night alone, we were in this together. The place is difficult to find, traffic is backed up in the tight passages and we end up abandoning the taxi and setting out on foot, with the taxi driver. We find the hotel and as we enter, the manager tells us he does not know who Matilda is and she is not a guest. Our taxi driver is not amused. We persuade the hotel manager to call my friend’s cell phone; Matilda answers and in her broken English assures us she will come. We wait, and wait, and wait. No one shows. We call again and are then asked to come to the French Palace.
By now, the hotel manager was intrigued, the taxi driver had invested his whole evening in this adventure, my friend wanted her phone back, and I had never been to a French Palace so we were all very determined to see this through. The four of us set off onto the dark street to find the French Palace. I have to admit, I was at the rear of the group and from the back it looked like a scene from a movie, maybe Die Hard 9, all of us strutting down the sparsely lit street like we meant business but none of us having a clue as to what was going to happen next. We found the Palace and just stood there. There we were, the four of us, staring at the huge ornate gate of the French Palace. Then, creaking loudly, the gate starts to open slowly. There is a palace guard and a beautiful tall young woman standing there. “Are you Matilda?” my friend asked. “Yes, you must be Karyn,” she replied. Then Matilda handed the phone to Karyn and the angels sang in the sky. A reward was in order, some high fives, and a long trip back to our hotel. Oh and probably a nice little phone bill for my friend who lost her phone in the Blue Mosque. At least that is a particularly beautiful mosque in which to lose your phone.
Istanbul: the city of mysteries, mosques, and very helpful people.
Christine Krzyszton lives in Northern Michigan and has been writing about her weekend adventures for over five years for weekly newsletters, a baby boomer blog and a regional men’s magazine. She is the author of How to see the World in a Weekend, available in print and KINDLE on Amazon.com. Christine currently has top status with three major airlines (AA, UA, and DL) and is working on a fourth (A3).