The first Turkish person I came into contact with on this trip was the woman at the airline ticket counter in Boston. She was wearing a head scarf and the biggest smile I’ve seen in years. Then, a first in the history of air travel: this lovely agent noticed that Heather didn’t have her frequent flyer number in the system, and offered to put it in. She did. I fainted.
We boarded the big jet for the 9-1/2 hour flight . Immediately I realized this was not going to be a typical high altitude suffer-fest. There were chefs, in actual chefs hats, welcoming us aboard, along with the flight attendants. I swear one of them had a whisk in his hand.
The Turkish Airlines plane was spotless. The seats all had beautiful patterned turquoise covers (derived from the work Turk, as the color is prominent in Turkey). We had seats in coach, but the legroom was generous, and the seat could be adjusted several ways. Seatback video screens. Free movies. But the big surprise was the food.
Turkish delight may sound cliche, but this little snack was perfectly prepared and distributed throughout the plane by the smiling attendants. A warm, wet hand towel followed. This is coach class, remind you. Then we were handed menus. I was so shocked by this level of service that I didn’t notice we had taken off. A choice of chicken or fish entree’s was presented, along with fresh appetizers and salad. And a sour cherry cake. A small but excellent list of Turkish wines, I had a dry, tasty red. There were fresh flowers and several lotions placed in the bathroom. I’m not kidding about any of this. While smelling the roses, I heard a thump. We had landed.
The airport here in Istanbul reminded me a little bit of JFK in New York, but bigger. Flights arriving with ours included those from Dubai, Paris, Kabul, Houston, Rio. It was orderly. We had arranged for a driver to take us to the AirBnB apartment we had rented, thank God. Because the combination of the traffic and the narrow streets was impressive. We passed ruins, mosques, giant billboards, lots of concrete housing. There are lots of Turkish flags flying, I sense some Nationalism. Groups of men sitting on the grass in roadside parks. Families with smoking hibachis. Wind. Minarets on the skyline.
The narrowest of the alleys was lined with antique shops, and at the end of the narrowest part, we came to an antique marble shop and finally came to a halt. Seyhun, the apartment owner, met us and quickly whisked our bags up the 213748973489 steps to the rooftop. The view is amazing. As he was explaining how to work the A/C, shower, etc, the power went out. Huh, this is just like Tortola!
We hit the town. We are in the Beyoglu district: totally trendy, filled with cafe’s and little shops of all kinds. Women in full burkas are walking past women in bras and mini skirts. Quiet groups of men are drinking tea. Louder mixed groups are drinking beer and wine and smoking cigarettes. The architecture here is not unlike that of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico or the side streets of Paris. Four story colonial style, iron balconies, big wood doors. Bricks and concrete. Some adornment. My kinda thing.
For the most part, people in the service industry in Istanbul speak English. We had no trouble communicating in the restaurants or the small grocery, and they even let us practice our Turkish on them. You can get any kind of food here, it’s hard to pin down Turkish cuisine. Our meals were served street-side, absolutely delicious lamb, vegetable and pastry concoctions. Tomorrow we get a guided tour of the City from a private tour guide that was recommended to us.
This place is pulling me in.