The last full day of my trip to Istanbul last month, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, started out like the other days, following the itinerary my fellow traveler had set for us. She was a wonderful tour guide, and since there was so much to see and do and since I am accustomed to taking orders, following her plan without question worked out well for both of us. That day, our first stop was the Ecumenical (Greek Orthodox) Patriarchate and Church of St. George. We took a “taksi” from our hotel (point A on the map below) and asked the driver to take us to the church by pointing to the address (point B on the map) in our guide-book. After the short taksi ride, we stopped in front of a rather austere collection of buildings, paid the driver, and started walking around, looking for our church. After wandering aimlessly for about 15 minutes, and being led astray by far-off glimpses of what was probably the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, we came upon a young man named Tahir who said he knew the place we were going and could easily take us there. After walking with Tahir for about five minutes, we were shocked and amazed (not really) to learn that the taksi driver had, in fact, dropped us off right in front of the Church of St. George, we just hadn’t recognized it. Tahir then asked if he might be rewarded for his services with, say, five Turkish lira (TL), but instead we gave him two dollars (actually one dollar and four quarters). At the time, the exchange rate was $1.86 to one TL, and most places in Istanbul accept dollars, euros and TL. I asked Tahir if he would mind taking a photo with me, and we all parted company on good terms.
After spending some time at the Church of St. George (which was so difficult to recognize from the outside because it is both small and does not have a dome), it was time to move on to our next destination, the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos, otherwise known as the Fethiye Mosque (point C on the map). This was easily (or so we thought) within walking distance, so we started heading in a general Pammakaristosian direction, when who should we see but, you guessed it, Tahir! This time, he had a friend with him named Uruk. The walk was much longer, so we got to know Tahir a bit better. Apparently he’s 12, in the 6th grade, and hopes to be a math teacher when he grows up. Even though Uruk was older (15), taller and much, much bigger, Tahir was obviously the leader of this dynamic duo. As we were walking, Tahir pointed out where his mother worked, and eventually we got to a point beyond which he said his mother would not allow him to walk. He gave us some additional instructions, asked for another modest stipend (slyly trying to negotiate an additional amount for Uruk at the same time, but we explained as best we could that Uruk was a subcontractor and Tahir would have to pay him out of his own wage), and wished us luck. After asking for directions a few more times from friendly-looking strangers (again, by pointing to the address in the guide-book), we finally managed to find our destination.
From there, we headed to the waterfront (point D on the map), again by taksi. Upon arriving, there seemed to be something very exciting happening on the Golden Horn given the number of people standing on the bridge, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be fishermen.
Our original plan had been to take a ferry ride on the Bosphorus, but when we arrived there was a small private boat offering cruises for only 10 TL and we were hoping to make it to the Military Museum before 3 p.m., so we hopped aboard. Our journey took us up the European side to the first bridge, then down the Asian side and back to our starting point. It was during this trip that we decided to have lunch (which turned out to be dinner) in Asia. Oh, what a fateful decision, but more on that later. On the whole four-day trip this is the only picture I managed to get with my ersatz tour guide (we were always taking pictures of each other):
After the cruise, we headed to the Turkish Military Museum, once again by taksi. The museum itself is not so highly rated, but the Mehter concert, which occurs daily at 3 p.m., was highly recommended. I did, however, quite enjoy the display of cannon outside the museum, especially the piece-de-resistance:
As I said, the attraction isn’t the content of the Military Museum, which is not very well curated (although they did have some very fine examples of Chinese weapons captured from the North Koreans), it is the daily Mehter concert. The video below is not mine and was not recorded in Istanbul, but it is the same performers who can be seen daily at the museum:
After the concert, at around 4 p.m., we jumped in yet another taksi (for those of you keeping track this is number four) and said “take us to Asia!”. Then we pointed to the restaurant in our guide-book that we were interested in. In his best English head nod, our driver whisked us away. 15 minutes later, having not crossed a bridge, he indicated that we had arrived. Clearly something had been lost in translation. He flagged down the first passerby who spoke enough English to help, and determined that we oh-my-gosh wanted to go to oh-my-goodness the other side of the Bosphorus. And away we went. We wended our way through town and eventually got to what promisingly looked like a bridge when this happened:
No, our driver was not kidnapped. He didn’t walk away in frustration. He wasn’t even raptured. We came to the toll at the Asian end of the bridge over the Bosphorus and his card didn’t work. The driver behind us wouldn’t accept cash to allow us to use his card, but was willing to back up to let us out of line to pull over. Unfortunately, the machine inside was out-of-order so he couldn’t get a new card, or put more value on his card. Finally he managed to broker a deal with another driver who was willing to take cash in exchange for allowing him to use their card. We had visions of him abandoning his taksi and taking the ferry home, or else calling his wife and telling her he just couldn’t make it back and was starting a new life in Asia.
Now that we had made it across the Bosphorus, we thought surely things had turned around for us. Sadly this was not the case. Our driver clearly had no idea where he was going. After stopping to ask for the third time, he finally found someone who spoke enough English that they simply said “he would like you to get out of his car and find a local driver to take you to your destination.” I didn’t get his name, but if you hop in this guy’s cab in Istanbul, do him a favor and don’t ask him to take you to Asia:
Our translator, who was working at a hamburger shop, turned out to be Oğuzhan Metinoğlu. Rather than putting us in another taksi, he turned us over to his neighbor at the liquor store, who told us we could easily walk to our destination, the Çiya restaurant (point F on the map). We attempted to follow his directions for about 30 minutes, finally stopping at a hotel to ask directions. They were kind enough to print out a map of the local area, with the restaurant prominently identified. We walked around for another 20 minutes or so, then stopped at another hotel, asking again for directions. Apparently our map wasn’t so good, or else the first hotel had called ahead and told the second hotel to have a little fun with us, because we spent the next two hours or so wandering around looking for the restaurant. We even tried getting in two different taksis, who refused to take us to the restaurant. We were confounded, hungry and about to give up, when we turned a corner and were greeted by a gentleman named Ali who we had apparently asked directions from some time in the past two hours. “Ah, you are here! So glad you have finally made it! You are looking for Çiya, yes? It is only 150 meters or so down that direction. I would invite you to come eat with me, but I know you have been searching so long for Çiya!” It was surreal. I felt like someone had been filming us for the last four hours (yes, it had been four hours since we had gotten in the taksi at the Military Museum). But we had finally made it, and the food was definitely worth it.
At this point you’re probably thinking we couldn’t possibly get lost again. You couldn’t be more wrong. A taksi was definitely not the way to get back to our hotel (point F to point A on the map), so we decided to walk down to the waterfront and take the ferry for the lofty sum of two TL each. Once arriving back on the European side, it seemed like an easy enough task to walk from the ferry landing to our hotel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the ferry landing was bustling, even at that time of night, the streets just a few blocks away were completely deserted. It was like being on the back lot of a movie studio. There weren’t even any cars parked along the streets. At one point we thought we knew where we were, but after four turns we ended up back at the same point we had thought we knew where we were the first time. Then, as if by magic, a young couple appeared. They spoke no English. We spoke no Turkish. We showed them on our tourist map where we were trying to go. They gestured that it was too far to walk and they would drive us. Turkish hospitality truly knows no bounds. Like our taksi driver, they weren’t quite sure where they were going, but they pulled over and asked a hotel doorman and we were soon on our way. Levan and Gultan got us home safely, and made a wonderful day of getting lost, and found, in Istanbul even more memorable:
Adventures in Istanbul: