23rd March 2017

Istanbul, Turkey


I left the hostel in the morning.  The owner, along with two of his friends who’d arrived last night, was sitting outside in the garden terrace, smoking.  I asked him how much he wanted for my two nights.  I reckoned if it wasn’t for me reminding him, I could have just walked off without paying.

 

My bus to Istanbul left Burgas in the early afternoon.  The coach was quite luxurious; a screen in front of each passenger played movies on demand, and a steward offered complimentary coffee throughout the journey.  We drove out of Burgas to the south, winding our way into a region of froested hills, before settling down on the huge highways in the flat plains of the Balkan part of Turkey.  As we passed the Turkish passport control, we all disembarked and queued at a booth for individual inspection.  I was asked for my visa for the country.  I presented a screenshot on my phone, of the barcode for the e-Visa I’d bought yesterday.  The website had said this wouldn’t be necessary; that my name would be registered on the Turkish system.  Thankfully, after entering the codes from my phone into his computer, the guard let me pass.

 

The sun was setting as we entered Istanbul.  The absolute enormity of the city was obvious from the length of time it took to drive from the outskirts to the station near the centre.  For over an hour the bus drove on a highway past shiny hotels, upscale apartment blocks, and sprawling shopping complexes.  The bus dropped us in a huge station on the European side of the city, which itself took five minutes to drive through, about ten kilometers from the historic centre where my hostel was.  I took two metros to try to get closer to the centre, at which point I was still a half hour walk away.

 

I checked into Old City Hostel in the late evening.  The narrow, four-story house was nestled into a busy side-street in the heart of the city’s cafe and restaurant district.  After showing me to my dorm, the staff member warned me about the locals.

“If anybody comes up to you on the street, ignore them,” he said.  “They will act friendly, ask you where you’re from, invite you to a bar, and then take everything you have.  You’re not in Europe anymore.”