Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting to Istanbul

We are lucky to have a low-cost regional-international airline (the farthest away they fly is Kiev) based at the Sharjah airport, about ten minutes from our house. The airline is Air Arabia, and we flew on them for the first time back in February when we went to Qatar. It's like Southwest Airlines, only not as nice. US-based low-cost carriers may brag about having no frills, but Air Arabia is the real thing, and the fares are dirt cheap.

I've never been on a plane ride like the one from Sharjah to Istanbul. The passengers were as motley a crew as you could imagine, with lots of interesting varieties of BO on offer (sorry, it's true). There was one very extended Egyptian family in the mix and they took over the entire public and some of the private space on the plane once the four-hour flight got started. Parents fell asleep, kids were running up and down the aisles. Then the parents woke up and carried out lengthy conversations over half a dozen rows at such a volume that I could not hear what Jeremy was trying to say to me from the row in front of me. It was madness in the sky.
The best part about Air Arabia was that they have a strict policy against complimentary food and drinks, even water. That wouldn't be so bad, perhaps, except that one oddity of airports in Arabia is that the no-liquids checkpoint comes immediately before you board the airplane, with no chance to replenish a water bottle in the interim. So it was a thirsty four hours for us, and we found ourselves deciding it was worth paying $1 each for a few tiny bottles of water to avoid dehydration.

Also, you know how the airlines that charge for simple snacks at least take the effort to package them attractively to give the illusion that they are special? Not so on Air Arabia. We broke down and bought a cup of ramen. Not a special brand of ramen, or a regular brand of ramen re-packaged to be special. An actual, honest-to-goodness Indomie-chan cup of noodles that I could have bought for 2 dirhams at the grocery store. It cost 10 dirhams on the plane.

Anyway, once we were in Istanbul and ready to get from the airport to our hotel, we figured out it would cost at least $75 to take a direct taxi. We decided to have a go at it on public transportation. First we took an express bus to some intermediate point on the way to Sultanahmet.

Sorry I can't describe it more specifically - it literally stopped and dropped us off in a nondescript side alley. From there, we took a taxi to the ferry terminal.

Then we took a ferry to the European side of Istanbul (Magdalena: "This boat doesn't have a fairy on it!").

Then we took a tram to Sultanahmet.

Then we walked. And walked. And walked.

There came a point when we were just lost. We'd already asked for directions a couple of times but somehow, we never seemed to get closer to our destination. Just as we were looking around for someone to ask (again), a man approached us and asked us what hotel we were looking for. I guess the foreigners lugging two carry-ons tipped him off to our situation, right? We said the name of the hotel and lo and behold, we were standing right in front of it, by accident, AND he was one of the proprietors. It was our lucky day.

It was public transportation FTW as we ended up spending a slight fraction of the hypothetical $75 taxi fare to reach our destination, even considering that we had to pay double fare on all modes of transport (the girls were free).

One unexpected casualty of our initial journey to the hotel was our unbeloved green Egyptian stroller. Man, that thing was a PIECE. It had been through a lot. But we brought it to Istanbul thinking it would be nice for the girls to take turns riding in since we'd be walking so much, even if it was a little rickety. Too bad it was too far gone to be of any use. We hauled it all the way to the hotel and then never touched it again except to throw it in the dumpster on our way out of town. RIP, I guess.

Stroller or not, we were ready to go out on the town...


Melody said...

I'm taking a world history class right now, and the lesson I am currently studying is about Ancient Rome. A couple of days ago, I read about the construction of Constantinople, and upon reading that it is in Turkey and is now called Istanbul I thought to myself, "Hmmm.. I wonder if Bridget went there on her travels in Turkey?"

Thanks for writing about it. Maybe one day I'll get to go see it for myself.

Liz Johnson said...

I love public transportation in strange countries. It is one of the best ways to get the feel of the place.


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