Plans for conquering Istanbul
On the 18th of February 2015 it finally happened: Ollo and Mia began the second leg of their “Around the World” trip. The plan was to start in Istanbul and cycle for fourteen months through countries like Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, China, Laos, Cambodia all the way down to Singapore. And after that, who knows … maybe Australia. In 2011, Ollo and Mia rode from Passau to Istanbul on their Around the World ’11 trip — I’m sure Ollo will tell about it on the blog someday (Ollo: Yes he will). One day the idea to accompany them to Istanbul and bid them farewell came to our minds. Thus we all – that is Ollo, Mia, Etti (the king of bad jokes, already known from earlier articles), Jani, Boris, and I (Malte) – set out for the airport this Wednesday morning. It would become a memorable trip and now that Ollo and Mia have begun their world tour, Ollo proposed that I write a guest article to tell about the beginning of the journey.
A difficult startOllo, Mia, Etti and I met at Saarbrücken station early in the morning to take a train to Cologne airport. Jani and Boris would fly to Istanbul from Berlin. When I met the others, Ollo and Mia appeared to be slightly stressed out, which wasn’t very surprising, given the fact that they had to remove all the stuff from Ollo’s room in his former shared flat, paint the walls and ceiling, disassemble the bikes and finally put them into cardboard boxes, along with all the other gadgets you need for a long world cycle tour. They said they had slept for only half an hour. But the first beer on the train lightened our spirits.
After we had arrived at the airport we received a message from Berlin. Boris and Jani said their flight had been cancelled – there was a blizzard and heavy snowstorms in Istanbul and they couldn’t land safely at Atatürk airport. In Berlin the passengers formed long queues to find out how things would proceed from here. So we went to the check-in desk with a queasy feeling in our stomachs. But they checked us in normally and it seemed we would fly today. Shortly before boarding they announced that the flight would be delayed by one hour.
We entered a pub in the security area and had some more hop-flower-tea. An our later the next announcement revealed that our flight wad been delayed until further notice. We left the security area and decided to have some more booz…err…bread in front of the airport. Team Berlin informed us that they had to wait until Thursday but, as reimbursement, had been promoted to Business Class. A little later we were told that our flight was delayed for another four hours but they assured us that we would fly today. As a matter of fact, we did board the plane at 6 p.m. Flight time was about three hours and there is a time difference of one hour between Turkey and Germany, so when we finally arrived at Sabiha Gökçen airport it was already 10 p.m. Five hours later than intended. It was cold outside, snow covered the whole city and the roads were slippery. The orinigal plan had Ollo and Mia assemble their bikes at the airport and then ride them to the hostel while Etti and I would take the shuttle bus. But given the current conditions they both decided to also take the bus and assemble the bikes in the hostel. Fortunately these busses were capable of taking heavy luggage. When we finally arrived in Istanbul proper there was one last problem to overcome. We had to move the heavy cardboard boxes with the bicycles and all the other jumble inside them to the hostel. Preferably without putting them down on the wet ground so they wouldn’t soak and scatter their contents all over the place. A taxi driver approached us and tried to convince us that he was capable of fitting the two bike boxes, the four of us plus our travel luggage into his standard Turkish taxi.
Even if only to see how he would achieve this formidable feat of packing, we let him do as he liked. He actually managed to stuff both boxes in his boot and we all sat in the car with our luggage on our legs. At high speed and through heavy traffic we plowed along the narrow, skippery and snow-covered alleys. In the end we indeed arrived at the correct hostel. For about three kilometers by taxi we had to stump up only 60 Lira (around 20 Euros) – a special offer as the driver had originally asked for 70 Lira (25 Euros). But we wouldn’t let this rip off-price dampen our mood: we could finally relax and recover from today’s exertions in the cozy lounge of the Chillout Hostel in the heart of Beyoğlu district with a cold beer and half a bottle of vodka from the Duty Free Shop in our hands.
Balık Ekmek akbar
Istanbul straddles the gap between Europe and Asia. Situated on the flanks of the Bosporus, a strait that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and eventually the Mediterranean, it has a European and an Asian part. The Golden Horn, a drawn-out bay of the Bosporus, splits the European half into a northern and a southern half. Our hostel was in Beyoğlu, north of the Golden Horn, while the area sporting most of the city’s touristic places lies in Eminönü, the southern part. One of the bridges that spans the Golden Horn is the Galata Bridge. It connects the two busiest parts of Istanbul.Our destination on this Thursday morning was said Galata Bridge. You can buy incredibly fresh fish sandwiches there (Balık Ekmek), directly from the Bosporus onto the grill. This tasty specialty is what we had in mind this morning. Sure, we had smartphones with GPS and OpenStreetMap but why look at the map when we can rely on Ollo’s infallible sense of orientation. It had started to snow once more and we set off through the white streets towards the Golden Horn. Along the way we asked for the way to the bridge several times but one hour later we had found neither bridge nor did we get the slightest glimpse of water. This is astounding, given the fact that our hostel is supposed to be no more than a 10 minutes walk from the bridge. Instead a group of children ambushed us from behind a wall and started a heavy snowball bombardment. We held our position in this fierce battle for as long as we could but in the end the children got the better of us from their elevated vantage point. We relinquished and a few minutes later finally found the Golden Horn. In the distance we glimpsed the silhouette of a bridge. We strode on in order to get to the bridge as quickly as possible and finally indulge in Balık Ekmek. But when we arrived at the bridge it turned out to be a highway bridge and we had ended up in some ugly industrial area.
When took a look at the map we realised that we were at a different bridge called Haliç Bridge, a whole lot further east than we intended to be. We gave in to the fact that we had to stomp back through the snow for the entire five kilometers to Galata Bridge with an increasing anxiety for Balık Ekmek in our bellies. The new plan now was to eat two fish sandwiches. In this very moment a bus stopped right in front of us and our incisive wit told us to grasp the opportunity and ask if it went to Galata Bridge. It did. Then the driver asked if we had an Istanbul Card. No, we hadn’t. Oh well, so get in and ride for free, said the driver. Amazing. It really pays off to not have an Istanbul Card.In the blink of an eye we had reached the bridge and immediately entered the fish market right next to it on the banks of the Bosporus. At 4 p.m. we finally found the fish sandwich we had yearned for all day. A telegraph from Berlin reached us, saying that Jani’s and Boris’s flight for this afternoon had been delayed until late in the evening and they would arrive in the middle of the night. We decided to not do any sightseeing without them and instead wait for them in the hostel while celebrating Ollo’s birthday. But before we returned, we crossed the bridge towards the picturesque ‘other side’, passing dozens of fishermen along the way. We sauntered through the markets of Eminönü for a while and stocked up on cheese, Sucuk and honey.
We eventually returned to the hostel, complemented the two bottles finest Russian Standard Platinum vodka from the Duty Free Shop with some barley juice and made ourselves at home in the common room of the Chillout hostel. Thus began the birthday party. We set off drinking at a remarkable pace and my memories of this evening are rather blurry. I remember that we drank a lot and got to know several people. I tried to convince a Dutch girl to find some weed for us. Etti had disappeared for a while and when he eventually came back he reported that he had just been ripped off. While walking around, a local guy invited him into an ominous Table Dance-Bar for a beer. A Table Dance-Bar in which no one was actually dancing. They both had a beer and Etti asked for the bill: over 1200 Lira, ie. more than 400 Euro. Etti sure as hell protested and told them to call the police but they seemed to be well atuned to each other. Ettis putative friend pretended to support him and offered to share the cost, saying: “Look, I’m helping you out!” When Etti still refused to pay the proprietors became aggressive with him and wanted to see his wallet. In the end he managed to pay “only” 100 Euro and leave. I don’t remember anything about Ollo’s birthday at midnight or Jani’s and Boris’s arrival at 3 a.m.
Please, don’t shit in my kitchen
I woke up in our room on Friday morning. I was lying in Etti’s bed, Boris was lying in mine – and Etti slept in the yet unused bed (we had two 3-bed dorms). Everything was somewhat confusing. I wasn’t really hung over – thanks to excellent quality vodka – but my memories of yesterday’s evening had been erased. Before anything else, I took a shower and went to Ollo’s and Mia’s – and now also Jani’s – room. Boris and Etti were already there having breakfast. Etti had puked into his bed this night and Mia had just asked if anyone else had puked. The unanimous reply was: No. In the meantime I had a tasty bite from a fresh Sucuk bread roll. Suddenly I felt sick and rushed to the toilet where I gave the bowl a cordial hug. Back in the room I greeted my friends with a friendly: “OK, now I have puked.”We continued our relaxed breakfast and tried to reconstruct what had happened yesterday. There was not much left. When Jani and Boris arrived that night, they found Mia sleeping on one of the benches in the common room while Ollo and I were snoring in our respective rooms. They tried to wake us but it was just impossible. They somehow took Mia and Etti to their beds, had some beer themselves and also went to sleep. I was sure that, in the course of the day, they had indulged in an odd beer or two in the Business Lounge of Tegel airport themselves.
On our way back from the common room, Etti, Boris and I realised that we had locked ourselves out of our room. Etti went down to the reception to fetch help. When he returned with the receptionist, the guy looked at me with terrified eyes and said: “You’re the crazy German from last night, aren’t you?” Nobody knew what he was referring to but we found out that yesterday evening, while heavily intoxicated, I had tried to take a dump in the common kitchen of the hostel. Unfortunately the kitchen is right in the field of vision of the receptionist, which is why I supposedly tried to wittingly use the dustbin as privacy shield while behaving as casual as possible. Nevertheless, the reception-guy stopped me short in my proceedings with the friendly words: “Please, don’t shit in my kitchen!” A few moments later Ollo came back from the top floor where he smoked some herbs with a rastaman from Iran and took me to my bed. As I mentioned before, I don’t remember any of this.
Fortunately, albeit much to the regret of my friends, the surveillance camera video of my mishap had already been deleted from the hostel’s computer because they only keep them for a few hours due to scarce hard disk space. One has to add that escapades like this are rather atypical of myself and I still find it hard to believe. But, well. C’est la vie.
What happened in the days to follow, now with the recently arrived Boris and Jani—of confused tourist trips, ferry rides and mysterious rice drinks—I will tell in the next article.