Escape from Istanbul


Enjoying Tajikistan but on Monday morning early it was time to take a break for the holidays.  I knew there had been big snows in Europe and the US, but figured Istanbul would be spared..  That was true, no snow in Istanbul, but the snow that closed JFK prevented my flight from leaving.  I sensed problems early when the transit desk had an endless line that other travellers were doing everything to avoid.  I managed to get to the Delta check-in for my flight and saw the bad news:  “Flight 73 to JFK:  Cancelled”.  After a long wait, I presented my ticket and was told that nothing could be done now and to call a number later in the day.  Not very reassuring, but camping out in the airport was not appealing so I headed into the city.

Istanbul is a great city to explore, and of all the places to be stuck this has to be one of the better ones. Staying in Sultanahmet (the old city close to Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque), it was easy to walk out and find just about anything – shops, food, Turkish baths.  But yesterday morning I wanted to get away from the places people always see and headed for Pierre Lotti Hill, a few miles up the “Golden Horn”, the river that flows into the Bosphorus.  The hill was so steep that my taxi spun its wheels and gave up while attempting to reach the top.  Impressive view down to the city that spreads far over the ridges on both sides of the Horn – noticed skyscrapers now being built on the opposite hills, far from what I think of as the “center” of Istanbul.  In Eyup, the town at the base of Pierre Lotti I was interviewed by the daily English-language newspaper as I paused to check out an exhibit on the conflict in Gaza a year ago.  Christmas in Muslim Turkey is the low season, but I did come across an eclectic collection of travelers: Slovenes, Colombians, a Malaysian and a New Zealander (who like many New Zealanders/Kiwis, was traveling for months from his base in London).

Back in the heart of the old city, I joined the locals and ate fish from the rolling barques that line the Bosphorus, and checked out the Museum of Archaeology –  impressed by the amount of sculpture in the collection, from the 7th century BC to the end of the Roman era about 400 AD, and from as far away as Bulgaria, Egypt and Syria.  Later I heated myself in one of the baths – the hot marble tiles and domed roves of the Sultanahmet Baths are distinctly Turkish, and a good way to forget the penetrating cold of Tajikistan.

Was great to have a day in Istanbul, but today was ready to finish the trip and make it to the US before Christmas.  Had been told I was confirmed, so being put in the standby group at the airport was not what I wanted to hear.  After an hour’s wait, was informed I had one of the last seats on the plane, and I think everyone who had waited was relieved when we left the ground.

Wherever you are, enjoy the holidays!


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