No, I did not party the night away in Taksim Square, I actually have not set my foot there yet. I got on a seven hour flight from Boston to Amsterdam the night of the November 23. During the three hour layover, I somewhat comfortably napped at the KPN internet station bench (the gate for my flight to Istanbul did not open until one hour pre-takeoff), I queued up to go through security check at the gate and safely landed in Istanbul by 5PM. I impressed the passport agent at the airport with my newly learned Turkish greetings and found my way to the metro station.
Prior to arriving, I had learned about the istanbulkart, abikil, and the token system for riding the metro. However, when it came time to purchase my fare, I furtively hovered near the istanbulkart machine trying to decipher the three options listed. A kind young Turkish man helped me understand that the first option is 10 TL for 3 rides and non-reloadable, and the third is 10TL with 4 TL ride credit that is reloadable. The ride costs 3TL with token, but with the istanbulkart, it’s reduced to 1.99TL. I figured if I could use it for 6 rides, I’d be able to break even the cost of the card.
(We’ll see if I’ve made it worthwhile:) Indeed, I’ve made a worthwhile purchased. I explored other parts of Istanbul outside of tourist central:)
The transfers on the Istanbul public transit is not free. I took the metro from Ataturk Airport and transferred to the tram to arrive at Sultanhamet station, and that cost another 1.99 TL. When I got off the station, a man claiming to be from the Airport tourism information desk offered to guide me to cheers hostel, but somehow convinced me to check out a tour company to buy a Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Efes 5 day package for $450 USD. He seemed kind and helpful, so I was hooked, lined, but soon they were so pushy trying to make the sale that I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I told them I have to think about it since I am a student on a budget, and finally escaped to my hostel.
I was checked in by Olga, a Russian girl who speaks nearly-fluent Turkish, and she offered helpful tips for Istanbul. I later went with her to a different travel company and booked a similar package with a couple of non-guided free days for $365. I also added a 130 Euro hot air balloon package. I’m not sure if I was too rash in my decision, if I should have bargained more, but that was what I did. (I ended up canceling that tour package, I did not enjoy the though of guided tours, I am in the process of requesting money back.)
Then, returning to the hostel, I went to dinner at Cheers Light House with a Canadian Teacher, a software designer frok Cyprus, another tech guy from London, a Disney employee from Miami, a Costa Rican NGO guy, and an Australian mining metallurgy guy. We most likely way overpaid for our dinner, but we had a great time.
We finished the night at Erenler Nargile with rosemint and apple-flavered hookas, and some Turkish coffee. I wouldn’t recommend the coffee, however, they made it too gritty there. I did attempt to read my own fortune, I definitely saw a huge happy face on the side of the cup, that must be a good sign:)
By an unfortunate combination of coffe, jetlag, and excitement, I had a really rough time falling asleep. By two a.m., I was desperate for some shuteye. By three a.m., I was getting really nervous. By 4 a.m., I started messaging my friends back home still unable to sleep, and by 5 a.m. I was composing this blog post.
I finally heard my first morning prayer, and after some time, I heard another, and I must have finally drifted off into slumberland.