How do you get to Istanbul?

Saturday, Sept. 18

Before I get into what we’ve already experience today, here’s a quick re-cap of our final night in Side. We went to a real Turkish dinner with a belly dancer – the food was amazing.

After dinner, the belly dancer pulled Matt up on the stage along with Pat (Rachel’s dad). It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. She blindfolded the three other men and got Matt to dance, pretending to be the belly dancer. He had to go around and dance in front of the men, with their hands on his hips. It was hilarious.

I had to go up after. Not as funny.

Anyway, Matt and I are currently relaxing on the rooftop of our hostel in Istanbul called Topdeck Hostel. We are sitting on comfy floral pillows in reds, blues and yellows, listening to the 8:30 p.m. prayer at the Blue Mosque.

The train just pulled up at the station behind us, letting off a melodic beep when it pulled away. There’s a nice breeze, helping to dry the lines of laundry below us.

This is the exact opposite of what we experienced today – total chaos.

Ok, chaos might be a huge exaggeration – today just sucked. We woke up at 6:30 a.m. – correction, Matt woke up at 6:30 a.m. It was even more difficult than normal to wake up so early for two reasons. One, we’ve been waking up at 9 a.m. or later for the past five days, and two, we played Landmines until about 3 a.m.

Anyway, long story short, we get to the airport, already sweating at only 9:30 a.m. Matt and I were a tad bit hung over, which lasted well after the one-hour flight.

(May I just add, the flight itself was very nice. The seats were comfy, the views were amazing and we received a very nice lunch. In addition, I never realized how many lakes and mountains were in Turkey. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the country is absolutely beautiful.)

After landing in Istanbul, we spent two hours wandering with 40 pounds on our backs. We then took a packed, smelly train for an hour. (I never thought I could physically swallow body odour – it’s amazing what your body is capable of.)

Once we got off the train we had to guess which direction to go because the hostel instructions were horrible. For an hour we stumbled over the broken cobblestone streets, dodged an elderly Turkish woman throwing sharp objects from her window, avoided stepping on numerous stray cats and shook off annoying taxi drivers who wanted our money.

We thought we had finally found the place – as the address on my paper matched the half legible address plaque beside the door – and it ended up being a derelict home with a handful of women sitting on the steps.

At that point, we thought we had been duped. But then this woman grabbed my paper, saw the address, and summoned these three random kids to take us there. It was by far the creepiest experience ever.

They took us down an even deeper back alley from the previous one, and Matt and I were freaking out. We thought for sure it was a scheme these old ladies had planned the moment they saw us coming with our big Canadian flag.

The kids were yelping and cheering – even more terrifying. Then this little girl took my hand and said, “Yes, yes, you go, this one.” She was pointing at another derelict building. I thought her dad or her uncle was going to appear and demand money.

Amazingly, the swarm of kids did not mug us. They led us out to another back alley, which was jam-packed. The first thing we saw was a group of about 30 sweaty men on a balcony, playing cards, backgammon and drinking tea.

I thought I was going to get mugged – again (in my head, I’ve been mugged about 45 times today).

By this point we didn’t care where we walked, we just kept going. Then some skinny little guy who saw us struggling came up to us, whipped out some device with a map and said he’d walk us to our hostel. At the same time about three other men offered their help as well.

But in the end, our skinny little friend (named either Piper or Uga Piper) took us to our hostel – which was literally about 5 doors down.

We checked in, ate a snickers bar and some candies (the best way to cure a hang over) and then headed over to the Blue Mosque. It was breathtaking.

We bought some beef and rice and sat on the grass between two mosques and a fountain, watching the sun set behind the towers.

Afterwards, I got a toffee candy stick (almost as beautiful as the mosque) and then wandered around. We made sure we got back to the hostel before dark.

It’s been weird having so many people offer their help out of genuine kindness. It makes you second guess yourself on everything. I’m still convinced that the locals have been waiting for us to arrive so they can dupe us. I just know it. Until then, we will try not to give ourselves away as tourists with our North Face, Crocs and Lulu Lemon gear.

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