Travelling in Turkey on my own was a significant achievement due to the fact that I am extremely direction-challenged. This entry is not merely about the local transportation system but rather how you have to go beneath the ‘deceiving and tricky’ surface to fully enjoy the essence of this unique country. And I did just that.
Feeling ambitious, I had pre-booked a Bosphorus boat ride tour 4 hours after my arrival on 11 February, followed by cultural dinner with Belly Dancing too. That did not stop me from grabbing a late lunch at a CafÃ© near my hotel in between. It was easy to walk around Taksim and I was glad that I chose Madison Hotel to kick off my holiday. My first day schedule was tiring but a good decision nevertheless. It put me on local clock by the next morning.
I had also pre-arranged a full-day Old City Tour on the second day. After that, the local guide dropped me at Eminonu to buy a train ticket. I was frustrated to learn that Pamukkale Express was no longer in operation. I had to take a bus instead.
I was about to try riding the tram for the first time when the thought of going to a Hamam came into mind. It was only 5pm, too early to go back to the hotel. I hailed a cab in front of the station. “Cagaloglu.” I got the correct pronunciation from the guidebook. The driver repeated and without saying a word took me there in like 10 minutes. At first he stopped right behind the place. I had no clue where to go. I asked him several times and he pitied me and made 1 turn right to the front entrance of the Hamam. I noticed the meter moving and he charged according to it.
After the Hamam, I took a cab to Taksim square to purchase a bus ticket from Pamukkale back to Istanbul. The cab dropped me at the junction, it was close by but he didn’t point the right side of the road properly. After walking for 5 minutes, I stopped by an office and asked a few men there. They didn’t speak any English so they stopped a passerby to speak to me. They all insisted that I should turn back all the way and go to the Pamukkale travel agent. That didn’t sound right, the cab driver appeared confident. Halfway back, I saw it across the road. Names of cities were written in bright font on the glass wall. It was the bus ticketing office. I bought the bus ticket at 50TL, the journey would take 10 hours.
I took a cab back to my hotel. I didn’t bring my hotel address (in fact that was the only address I did not have with me as MAS did the booking). The driver didn’t know exactly where it was and he called somebody to ask. Then, I saw a familiar restaurant near my hotel and asked to be dropped there.
On the third day, I took off to the Cartoon Museum in Fatih on my own. The driver was not familiar with the place. So, he stopped and showed people the address in my Time Out Istanbul guidebook to seek direction, until we finally got there. Yeah, still no problem. I hailed another cab to Taksim Square. I agreed to meet Simah for lunch at Burger King but the driver didn’t know where it was. He dropped me at Pizza Hut instead. While waiting for Simah to find me, I saw a Turkish Airline ticketing office and entered. To my surprise, the air ticket from Denizli (a town near Pamukkale) to Istanbul cost 109TL. That was 1/5 of the amount I got from the internet when I checked while I was still in KL. The flight is 1-hour only, so I bought it.
After a fantastic lunch (which I’d share in a separate entry), Simah left me at Istiklal Kadessi, the modern major shopping area. I wanted to visit Homer, the biggest English book store there. I ended up visiting Robinson Crusoe and a few others too. I found several English short fictions by Turkish authors, exactly what I wanted. I also bought a pair of black leather gloves with dark pink fur trimmings. My legs were killing me by then. I wanted to stop at Gloria Jeans for Coffee but it was full. It started to rain again so I hailed a cab back.
And again I forgot my hotel address. I said Beyoglu and the driver took me to a different hotel. I refused to get down and he scolded me that my Madison was actually in Taksim. I would have to pay much extra (for 2 trips). He dropped me by at the side road next to the hotel, rather than in front. Things were already heaty by then. The fare was 18TL. I took out 20TL but he eyed the 50TL in my waist pouch and asked for that instead. He said he’d give me the balance of 35TL. It was weird so I insisted on handing him the 20TL. He said he wouldn’t give me the change of 2TL. I yelled at him, quickly got out and slammed the door.
It was somewhat unpleasant but the real problem only started on Day 4 when I moved to Naz Wooden Inn. It is located at Sultanahmet â€“ the old city and a busy tourist area. I was only staying there overnight before being picked up by Hassle Free Travel Agent for Canakkale. Haan, the bubbly receptionist was very helpful, giving me direction on how to get to the Grand Bazaar nearby. It would take a 15-minute walk and he specifically told me not to take a cab.
After turning a couple of lanes and walking pass the Arasta Bazaar, I found the blue mosque. But the tram line and the tram station were no where to be seen. I wasn’t a fan of walking. A cab was waiting nearby and the driver called me. I quickly got in, thinking it would solve my problem. Big mistake! I forgot to check and he did not switch on the meter. The old man even pretended to be nice, saying he didn’t speak much English and wishing me a happy holiday and all.
He took a long way and turn around, I thought the road was like that. Finally he dropped me at a busy shopping area and said the Grand Bazaar was a 3-minute walk away. The meter stated 3 so I took out 3TL to give him, thinking of how cheap it was. He argued that it was not the amount, only the distance. He insisted on 20TL. I opened the door and was about to flee. He got out of the cab and came after me. It was too much but he seemed dangerous so I threw 20TL at him.
After 25 minutes of walking and stopping to ask people 3 times, I finally reached the Grand Bazaar. It was a straight path but he actually dropped me even further than the spot he first picked me up. He charged me a bomb too. That was downright cruel. May he rot in hell.