After long flights and equally long transit at Dubai, we finally reached the Ataturk International Airport at Istanbul. That was my second visit to Turkey, but the first for my wife Hana. We were greeted by my friend Hikmet with a big smile. We settled at ITU Maçka Sosyal Tesisleri (Istanbul Technical University Social facility) which was a hotel equipped with other facilities located on campus, run by the university for their staff, alumni and guests. The place was quiet, adjacent to an upmarket residential area, about 15 minute walk to Kabatas tram station and 20 minute walk to Osmanbey metro station. So, when I was not in meetings, we explore the city.
Istanbul is indeed a magnificent city with long and colorful traditions from the Ottoman Caliphate, Byzantium Empire and even ages before that. As such, there are too many places worth visiting, and it is best that you have prior reading on Istanbul, so that schedule can be prioritized, especially if you have limited time. The city connects Asia and Europe by two bridges and ferry services. An underground tunnel that was recently completed is scheduled to be opened for use, while another is planned to be built in a near future.
Across the city, a good network of public transportation with excellent connectivity is available. The cost is standardized at 1.75 Turkish Lira (RM3.15) for a single journey regardless of the distance, or the type of transportation (Tram, Metro Subway, train, Ferry). This includes the metro service from the Attaturk Airport which connects to other rail lines. In short, public transport is excellent.
Most of the time we took the tram, as it provided smooth rides across most of the historical places, plus the fact that I enjoyed watching the sharing of streets among cars, buses and trams, the way taxis and cars giving ways to the trams, and the sight that looked as if they were chasing one another. The yellow cabs were also available everywhere – just take it easy with their driving style. Some people said jokingly that taxi drivers have the highest authority on the road. Anyway, it was not that bad, as I’ve seen situations much worst somewhere else.
Istanbul is tourist friendly, with plenty of hotels at different rates to suit your budget. The food was great and suited me perfectly. Don’t worry about diet as the calories would be burnt constantly through miles of walking exploring the city, if you are like me. The menus revolved around bread, cheese, olive, tomato and meat. Rice was also available, but was buttery and a bit sticky (I called it Turkish Nasi Dagang, or sometimes nasi minyak), served as a side order. Fish was a bit expensive, and was popular at restaurants by the sea.
Of all the good things that we can find in Istanbul, I treasure their hospitality most. During my last two trips, I had learned that Turks are generally hospitable. They would be mostly occupied with whatever they were doing but once asked, they’ll always be very helpful. One day, when we were searching for the place to make ablution at a mosque, we asked a middle age lady about a place for “abdes”, and she took Hana all the way to the place with full enthusiasm and smile, and Hana was really touched. There were many other incidences, which I hope will continue to be part of their culture despite the changes and modernization that is very rapidly happening. So, just ask, even with sign language and you’ll find some helps.
On one of the day, I accompanied Hikmet to Istanbul Sanaya Odasi (Istanbul Chamber of Industry) where he delivered a 3 hour lecture to a group of participants from the industry on disaster management. He was electric and the audience was bounded under his spell, deeply engaged to his lecture. I was seated at the back listening three hours of Turkish lesson. In the meantime, Hana was accompanied by Ilknur and her daughter Begum having their ladies day out. The day ended with a home-made Turkish dinner at their home. To Hikmet and Ilknur, tesekkur ederiz, Allah kabul etsin.
As I hugged Hikmet to say good-bye at the airport, there was a touch of sadness running through my heart. Istanbul – the city, the people and especially my friend and his family, we’ll miss them all. But God-willing, we’ll be back some day. The trip had many important objectives to realize and almost all had been successfully accomplished.
There’s a lot that I can write about this fascinating city, but I can summarize it all in a short phrase: “Visit Istanbul, you’ll never regret it”.
Some of the places of interest