My trek to the other side of the world got off to a somewhat rocky start.
Between flight time and downtime in between flights, it was going to take somewhere around 30 hours to get from Las Vegas to Istanbul. I was meeting my cousin Keith in Chicago, but had a layover in Dallas first. From the Windy City, we would then take a long transatlantic flight to Frankfurt, Germany (the apparent pit stop of Europe), and finally end with a direct flight from there to Istanbul.
Presumably, the long flight “across the pond” was my chance get some sleep during this prolonged journey, but instead, I was reminded that such plans don’t always work so well. While I was certainly tired by then, I was never able to get comfortable enough to actually fall asleep during that flight.
To make matters worse, my insides started acting up midway through the flight, and I hadn’t thought to bring an appropriate remedy along with me. It was going to be a very long and uncomfortable several hours en route to Frankfurt. Thankfully, though, Keith had planned for such occurrences and provided me a pill to settle my insides down. I had known that I’d be relying upon his expertise in world travel during this trip, but didn’t realize I’d need such help well before ever landing on foreign soil.
We arrived in Frankfurt during the wee hours of the morning in local time, and after walking through what seemed like the entirety of the airport terminal, we reached our next gate and awaited the connecting flight. As it turned out, the final flight was blissfully empty, allowing me to lay down across all three of the seats in my aisle. At long last, I had achieved a comfortable enough position to drift into a long-overdue nap, if only for a couple hours.
I awoke shortly before the flight touched down, still groggy but at least somewhat refreshed. Both of us were very much looking forward to checking into our hotel and getting some more sleep before really beginning our exploration of the city, but we knew that wasn’t going to happen quite yet. We’d still need to pass through customs, exchange currencies, find the correct metro train, ride it a good distance from the airport to the vicinity of where we were staying, and then check into the hotel and settle into the room a bit.
All of these things would need to be done while lugging a stuffed duffel bag and a filled laptop case. The duffel bag was filled with as many clothing items, toiletries, and other supplies as possible, while still qualifying as an acceptable piece of carry-on luggage. Considering the sheer number of flights involved in the trip, bringing along any checked bags seemed like a nightmare waiting to happen. Carrying everything on my shoulders in a duffel bag, however uncomfortable it might prove to be at times, felt like a far better option.
On the ground, the first step was to board a shuttle that would take us to customs and then proceed through its line. It was here that I would finally receive the first ever destination stamp on my passport: Turkey. Continuing on through the airport, we quickly realized that there were numerous banks offering currency exchanges, such that we were able to shop around to look for one with a better rate. Done. Next, we’d find a vending machine from which to purchase metro fare, which turned out to be a surprising source of amusement upon seeing the tokens used. We might have expected some sort of metal coin, but instead received some red plastic tokens that seemed more suitable for use in a video arcade. A bit odd for a major city’s main method of public transportation.
Thus it was time to leave Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and head out on the metro toward our hotel. It was a long and rather crowded ride, and needless to say, we didn’t quite blend in perfectly with the crowd of people riding the train, though somehow, we didn’t seem to attract much attention either. Anyone observing could’ve correctly pegged us as tourists just by looking at us, even before taking notice of all the gear we were toting along. But the pleasant surprise was that no one seemed to care. Perhaps I’d been expecting to receive at least a few unwelcoming glares from the locals suggesting that I didn’t belong there, but there would be nothing of that sort.
In fact, between navigating our way through the airport and riding the metro toward our hotel room, what truly shocked me the most was how incredibly…ordinary everything was. Sure, neither of us spoke Turkish, but we really didn’t have any difficulty using signage to lead us, nor did we feel like fish out of water or foreigners in hostile territory. Within about the first two hours of being there, in fact, things felt shockingly normal–almost as though I’d traveled to say, Philadelphia, as opposed to the far more distant destination where we actually were. Maybe the single biggest reminder that we were actually in a foreign place was simply the amount of time it took us to get there.
But there was still one more item of business left, which turned out to be the most challenging part of the arrival–reaching our hotel room. Since we didn’t figure to spend much of our time in the room anyway, we chose to go the college student travel route and stay in a hostel. We’d still have our own private room, but would be using a shared bathroom with the rest of the floor. It was a small sacrifice that we were more than willing to accept given both the price and convenient location of the place–once we could find it, that is.
We had taken great precaution to make sure we departed the train at the correct metro stop, but from there, the directions were a bit muddled. GPS suggested that we were close, but after walking around a good chunk of the area, we still couldn’t find our hostel. This wouldn’t be such a terrible thing normally, but we were already tired from the long trek, and our bags were only getting heavier with each extra step.
Our directions had suggested taking a side street that was, as it turned out, completely torn up and closed down under construction. We had initially bypassed the street, thinking there had to be some sort of mistake in the directions, but eventually found our way back to it. This time, we tried trudging through the torn-up road for a block or so, and finally found the little street we needed, with our hostel just a short walk away. It was hidden away quite nicely from the main street–a little too well, really–but that no longer mattered. We had found it, once and for all.
True to form, we checked in, lugged our stuff upstairs to the room, and passed out on the bed shortly thereafter. Istanbul was ready and waiting to be discovered, and we were nearly ready to begin our exploration…but not before one peaceful nap that would officially end one journey and begin the next.