In the movie “Trains, Planes and Automobiles,” John Candy and Steve Martin try to cross the country (U.S.) any way possible to get home. That was how I felt when I left Kocaeli University to go to Istanbul on Wednesday.
I got on the bus in Kocaeli with my driver (whose name I never learned) and he asked in Turkish if anyone spoke English. A young guy from the front row raised his hand and said could help me with my objective: get to Harem port to take a ferry to the European side where my hotel was.
We arrived at Harem, got off the bus, got on another one, realized we were going the wrong way, got off that bus and got on another one and finally made it to the ferry docks. My improvising guide took me to the ferry, paid for my ticket, refused any money and told me this was all an example of Turkish hospitality.
Ok, no problem, I made it to the other side, very grateful for the generosity of the Turkish people. Now I had to get on the tram and get off near Topkapi Palace. This Ohio boy lived in Alcalá de Henares a few years and learned how to get around Madrid pretty well. I’ll just get on this tram, it’ll take me to my hotel and I can get some rest, right? Wrong.
To make a long, embarrassing story short, I got off at the wrong stop, got back on the tram to go back two stops where I went into a bar to ask for a beer and some help. When I opened that door, the music stopped, the people stopped talking and everyone turned to look at me. Feeling a little intimidated I asked for an Efes beer and got some information, not very useful, from a young guy at the bar.
It was late afternoon and I still had no idea where my hotel was. I called the hotel and they told me which stop I had to get off at, although I misspelled it, which didn’t help. I called Onur, a former USJ Erasmus student and asked him what he thought about all of this, and all he could say is: “why didn’t you call me to come and pick you up?” I was wondering the same thing.
After another call to the hotel, I made it to my destination and could finally relax and get ready for Thursday’s adventure with Onur.
While I was finishing part I of Erasmus in Turkey in the hotel lobby, Onur showed up; what a sight for sore eyes. He told me he wasn’t feeling well, but he’d be glad to show me the sights. So we set off for our adventure, Sancho Panza and Don Quijote; one with a limp (I sprained my ankle walking (falling) down some stairs in Kocaeli) and the other with a fever.
You read about these things and see pictures on the Internet, but you can’t appreciate their enormity and beauty until you are in front of them: the Blue Mosque, Santa Sofia and Topkapi Palace among others. We even had time to see Melike, another former USJ Erasmus student and take a walk around the Istanbul University campus. We finished our intensive day by visiting the Grand Bazaar, what the locals call the first mall in the world. The place is huge and is a labyrinth not fit for those suffering from claustrophobia.
After a nice apple tea, Melike, Onur and I parted ways and set on a time to meet the following day.
Friday began with a Turkish bath; I’ve never felt so clean and so flexible. I’m not a big fan of spas and massages, but I might have to change my mind about that after a little masseuse pulled and pushed on every muscle in my body, making me feel like I was ten years younger.
Unfortunately it rained most of Friday morning so we had to hang out in bars and cafés drinking teas and coffees and trying to keep warm and dry. We got a great view of the Bosphorus bridge that connects Europe to Asia and then experienced an authentic Istanbul traffic jam on our way to Taksim Square.
Melike joined us for dinner and fun: belly dancing. We had a blast, listening to traditional Turkish music, enjoying a great meal and laughing out loud while the belly dancer tried to get tips from the male customers. I was very fortunate to have had such an authentic experience in Istanbul with two great guides.
I got on the tram, feeling quite confident after two days of using it and returned to the hotel, looking forward to my last day in Turkey before going back to Zaragoza on Sunday. But before we could get started, Onur sent me a message saying he had had a terrible night with high fever and wouldn’t be able to show me around on the last day.
So it’s been a quiet, solitary day today. “Trains, Planes and Automobiles,” that’s what I have under my hotel window at the moment. There’s a beautiful view of the Bosphorus Strait from my window, only interrupted by the honking of car horns, train whistles and loud police sirens.
I´m going to miss this place.
Written by Joe McMahon