Tuesday, 23 December 2008

In which I get lost in Istanbul for the very first time

As it was necessary to connect via Istanbul to fly from the UK to Dalaman (my sister's local airport) I decided that, rather than just spending a few hours in an airport, I would break the journey on my way home for a whistle-stop tour of Istanbul. I was due to arrive in Istanbul around Friday lunch time, and leave again on Monday so it was always going to be a quick whip around the highlights rather than an immersion into the life of the city, but I took the view that that was a good way to start- maybe I shall have the opportunity to come back again, for a longer visit, one day.

As with the holiday itself, the trip started with a few hiccoughs but it improved…

It began with my having to get up at 6 a.m. – not a major problem in ‘work mode’, but a bit of a shock to the system after a week of being on holiday. K&C nobley got up in sympathy in order to see me off, and their neighbour drove me to the airport. The drive was nice – the trip to the airport involved some roads with spectacular views from the mountainside down to the sea, and doing it as the sun came up was lovely. The airport was fine, too. There was only one flight leaving that morning, so I had no worries about finding the correct gate, and although all refreshments in the airport were grossly overpriced, even by airport standards, that didn’t matter as I didn’t require any.

The flight was packed, and although I did end up seated just in front of a small & frustrated child who spent the entire flight expressing its feelings by whining and kicking my seatback, the flight is only an hour.

The difficulty arose when I arrived at the airport to find no sign of the car from the hotel which was supposed to be meting me. I’m not sure that there is anything more dispiriting. I was loath to try to get a taxi instead, as one hears horror stories about horrendous overcharging, and I started to fret that if they had not sent the car, they had, perhaps forgotten me altogether and there would be no hotel room either – none of which would have been insurmountable, but not what one looks for when arriving, alone, in a foreign city. 1 hour and several phone calls later a car did turn up (Apparently the booking for the car had been overlooked, and then it was further delayed because it went to the international terminal instead of the domestic one . Kudos to the very nice lady at the airport information desk, who was very helpful explaining on my behalf to the hotel where I was, after their English and my 3 words of Turkish failed to bridge the communications gap!)

It was a relief to get to the hotel and to discover that it did, as promised, have a view of the Sultanhamet Camii (Blue Mosque) from the bedroom window, and that I was booked in (although as early December is low season, I’m sure I would have had no trouble even if my booking had been lost)

Pausing only to dump my suitcase and unearth a guidebook I set out to explore Istanbul.

It may be worth mentioning at this point that I have no sense of direction whatsoever. In fact, I have, if possible, a negative sense of direction, which allows me to get lost even in places I have been to before, and to have a certain amount of trouble simply retracing my steps to return to my starting point. The last few times I have been on holiday I have been with a friend who has a much better sense of direction than I do. (Not difficult. It would be quite an achievement to have a worse one) So I did set off with the very real sense of adventure that you get setting out into uncharted territory with no real certainty of ever finding your way back again. I had hoped that the Blue Mosque would prove a useful navigational aid, by sticking up and being obvious and easy to see from all around, but unfortunately it doesn’t and isn’t.

One of the advantages of having no sense of direction is that you quickly become inured to the feeling of being lost, or at least mildly misplaced. And then it (Mostly) stops being scary, and end up finding your way around, albeit usually but very circuitous routes and with a tendency to end up in the same place more than once.

And sometimes, via interesting places. . .

So, having wandered past the Hagia Sophia (of which more later) and the Blue Mosque (also, more later)

I went to the Yerebatan Saranici (Basilica Cisterns). These were built in the 5th Century by the Byzantines, who wanted a secure supply of fresh water. Now, the cistern is kept almost empty so that people can go in to see it. . . The Byzantines were very good at recycling – most of the pillars were re-used, including the famous Medusa head- there are, it appears, 2 schools of thought about this – one is that the head was put in upside down so that Medusa could no longer turn people to stone. The other is that the pillar just fitted better that way. . .

I like the first suggestion better.

1 comment:

Dragonsally said...

I rather like the idea of Medusa being upside down to prevent her turning more people to stone too.
"negative sense of direction", I am so going to borrow that phrase!