Not long ago, I was in Turkey and I loved it. However, having just seen Taken 2, I feel like a few of the Istanbul locals may have gotten a bit of a bad rap.* But here’s the thing: two of the kindest strangers I’ve ever met call Istanbul home.
I’ve previously alluded to the fact that my arrival in Istanbul didn’t quite go as planned. It was only with the help of two strangers that I arrived at my eventual destination and able to commence what was an absolutely amazing trip.
Upon arrival, I caught a taxi from the airport to meet my friends at our well located apartment near the (Sultanahmet) Blue Mosque. My driver only spoke Turkish, but nodded when I showed him my destination and drove off in the direction of the city. After around 10 or 20 minutes, my driver made a call, spoke briefly to his friend and then handed his phone to me. Confused, I accepted it and raised it to my ear.
The friend explained in English what my driver couldn’t: There had been a major accident on the bridge into Istanbul from the airport, meaning that if we took a taxi the whole way to my apartment, I may be in the taxi for several hours (which would also cost me several hundred dollars). Instead, my driver wanted to recommend I take the ferry, saving me considerable money and time. It might not seem like much, but as an English speaking tourist in a foreign country travelling alone, I was a prime target to be taken advantage of. The driver could have just kept going and left me with the fare and hours wasted. He chose not to and I thank him for that.
Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, my driver didn’t just dump me at the curb. He took me all the way to the terminal carrying my backpack, showing me where to go and how to buy a ticket. As an added bonus, there were some fairly fabulous views on the ferry.
The ferry ride went well and upon reaching the other side there were numerous taxis lined up to take me to my apartment. So the problem? No one would take me.
I asked almost 20 drivers to take me to my apartment. The responses I received ranged from “too close” to “I don’t know it”. I even offered to pay extra money on top of the fare to those that stated my destination was too close, but to no avail. All of them pointed me in the right direction – up a steep hill. I wasn’t keen but as I had no choice, off I set:
- Without a map;
- In 35 degree celsius weather;
- With 15 kilograms on my back; and
- Wearing clothes suitable for a Copenhagen summer and an overnight flight (read: jeans and a jumper).
I asked for help along the way, but it was fruitless. However, after approximately 45 minutes of walking around looking for my street, I saw a man standing outside a hotel. He was young and smiled at me as I approached. He probably thought I was a guest at his new hotel; I wasn’t. But it didn’t matter, he treated me like one.
By this stage, it is fair to say that I was in a bit of state. Upon explaining my predicament, the man told me that while he didn’t know where my apartment was, we could use the hotel’s computer (and google maps) to find it. Inside the hotel, he sat me down (in air-conditioning: Best. Ever.) and asked someone to bring me some tea. He then looked up my apartment and gave me instructions to give my friend who he insisted come and collect me (thank you, Anurag). Beyond nice and this kind stranger wouldn’t even accept a tip.
The cynic in you might think that my cab driver just had somewhere better to be and that my friend from the hotel just wanted a good review on trip advisor, but I choose to believe in the good in people. Yes, I could have been better organised, prepared for the weather and the walk, but the kindness of strangers saved me on this trip (and that ridiculous walk totally counted as my exercise for the day). I am so grateful for that!
We all need to be cautious when travelling, but sometimes you’ve got to have a little faith too. Who are the nicest strangers you’ve met when travelling?
The Healthy Globetrotter
P.s. In case you’re wondering: Time taken from my flight landing until my arrival at the apartment? Over five hours. Without water. On zero sleep. Yup, it was an ordeal. The take away? It didn’t ruin my trip. Remains up there with the best of them.
*Ok, so obviously the Albanians got a worse rap than the few Istanbul locals who were helping the Albanians, but i’m yet to travel to Albania. When I do visit, i’m sure i’ll meet some kind strangers there too and i’ll be sure to tell you all about it.