After five nights in London, where I spent a lot of my time learning about World War II and enjoying the sunshine in the churchyard at St Paul’s cathedral, it was time to begin the next leg of the trip by flying to Istanbul to meet up with Alicia, a friend from home.
British Airways Strikes Again
Before I left home, I didn’t book very much in advance, just flights up until mid-July. When choosing my flight from London to Istanbul, I decided to fly with British Airways, assuming they would be less likely to be delayed or cancelled than a budget carrier like EasyJet.
Not so! Naturally my flight was one of those cancelled due to industrial strike action, so I spent one frantic morning in London arranging a refund and rebooking myself onto a Turkish Airways flight for an extra $100.
It all worked out in the end, of course, and I arrived in Istanbul on an overcast evening. The public transport system from the main airport couldn’t have been easier, and I was met by Alicia at the Sultanahmet tram stop, in the heart of the old city and Istanbul’s answer to Khao San Rd.
Having already been in the city for almost a week attempting to sort out a passport debacle, Alicia was an expert on public transport, tea drinking and Turkish men, so for a couple of days I let her lead me around the city’s main sites.
For the three days we were in town, it didn’t stop raining. The ceiling in our hostel room started leaking (and when we asked for buckets, we were given towels) and the cobbled streets of Sultanahmet began to flood.
When they weren’t sweeping excess water off the footpath and onto the road, local shopkeepers stood around under awnings, watching the rain and the crazy tourists (us) walking around in it without umbrellas (us).
Our last night in town, we had dinner at the Pudding Shop, a throwback from the hippy trail of the 1960s and 70s. It has lost all its charm and is now mostly indistinguishable from the other kebab shops around it. The food was mediocre but the service was friendly – so friendly, in fact, that they tried to convince us to stay in the restaurant until the rain had stopped.
Assuming it was a ploy for us to spend more money on tea, we laughed and protested that it had been raining for three days – it wasn’t going to stop! As we walked back to the hostel, we realised that they had just been trying to do us a favour.
The downpour was the worst it had been, and in seconds the parts of us that weren’t covered in waterproof Goretex were drenched.
We laughed the whole way back to the hostel, waving aside the opportunistic umbrella salesmen, wrung out our wet clothes, had warm showers and went to bed, happy in the knowledge the following day we’d be leaving the sodden city for warmer climates.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.