Day three of my Istanbul adventure was a prime example of why, as a solo traveller, you should be prepared to deal with things going wrong. Well, not ‘wrong’ exactly, just not exactly as planned. So, you know, it’s about being able to deal with that and not have an almighty melt-down because you’re on your own in a foreign country and the one big thing that you’d pinned a lot of your holiday aspirations on just doesn’t happen.
Now, I don’t want to put anyone off contacting and signing up for the tour known as ‘The Other Tour’, and I’ve included their website link below. It sounds marvellous, and their assertions that it could be ‘life changing’ appeared to be something other than hyperbole, judging by the encouraging reviews from past tourists. (You apparently get to see the other side to the city, away from the tourist areas and even have lunch made by one of the guide’s mums!) However, if you don’t actually show up or (presumably) don’t make a big effort to find your tourist (who is waiting for you), then it doesn’t really amount to much. I was that tourist! However, in their defence, there was an explanation, which I’ll tell you about in a later entry.
So, I was up and out of bed at 7:30 am, and after ordering a taxi through the kind people at Hostelworld Istanbul, I arrived at Dolmabache Palace at 8:30am, well in time to meet my tour guides at 9am, as arranged. To put the palace into context, it was easily an hour walk from the hostel and the Beyoglu district. As I was hungry I bought myself a tasty, if rather chewy, Simit bread loop from a vendor near the Palace entrance. These type of mobile vendors can be found all over Istanbul, serving Turkish bread of various kinds and other more sweet treats. They’re really cheap too, so if you want something like a quick breakfast on a budget, they’re just the thing. Expect to pay no more than two Turkish Lira for a Simit bread or similar.
Anyway, it was at this point that I was getting worried. I’d had my bag scanned by security to get through the main gate (but not the main entrance) to Dolmabache Palace, which was just damn annoying. All I could see on the wide gravel paths were Japanese tourists. Everywhere. Now, you can judge me on being presumptuous, but I was pretty certain that my tour guide or guides were Turkish and unlikely to look Oriental. And I couldn’t see them anywhere. Speaking of appearances, I was the lofty white skinned guy with a ginger-ish beard, in amongst a sea of jet-black hair and olive skin. Surely someone could have spotted me! It got to twenty past and I muttered some annoyed expletives under my breath and thought of the positives:
a) I’ve just saved myself £160/200 Euros/whatever that is in Turkish Lira.
b) I’m really hungry and that river side cafe looks more than wonderful and tempting.
c) A cute ginger girl, who looked my way, has just gone in there. (C’mon, don’t roll your eyes at me! I’ve been single again for a while, and I’m not a monk!)
d) Due to points b and c, I went in the cafe/restaurant. Due to point a, I didn’t feel bad about the tour not turning up!
I had a really satisfying salad breakfast with orange juice, coffee and a sneaky cigarette (I know, I know…but those Turkish are seriously huge smokers. It’s all around, and the temptation was strong. I’m working on that, ok?) Besides that, sitting in the glorious sunshine, watching the Bosphorus ebb and flow, really calmed me down. After that I settled the bill and paid to go in Dolmabache Palace, which was a gorgeous, sumptuous experience. Built by (or at least for) Sultan Abdul Mecit in 1856, this gorgeous former sultan residence even includes a crystal glass staircase and one of the biggest, heaviest chandeliers you will ever see. Even if you didn’t go in, the gardens are absolutely gorgeous. My photograph will tell you more than my words can:
I got back to the Hotel early afternoon, where I met a new addition to Room 1 dormitory (where I was staying). Sam was from Colorado, and after a really friendly introductory chat we went downstairs for a coffee (Rob the Australian was also present, but seemed more intent on surfing the net on his laptop). Adjacent to Hostelworld is a slightly rustic cool cafe with wooden floorboards and a really chic ambience. The front is opened up, so you can sit on sandbags outside and watch the crowds mill by on the narrow cobbled street. At that point I also met Nathan from Oklahoma, and a few women I can’t remember the names of. I don’t want to generalise, but every time I meet an American they’re very friendly and instantly put me at ease. And most times they’re utterly fascinated by Britain and my accent. We had wide ranging discussion about gun laws, mountain ranges in Britain and how high they are and the culture shock of Istanbul (to an American who’s never been outside the US before). After all that, and a finished iced coffee, we decided to go for a beer at a cool bistro cafe I’d discovered down a side street, slap bang near Galata Tower, just off the main square. It’s called Ritiro Galata, and well worth a visit. The food isn’t bad either. Sam was a great drinking buddy, and we had a great afternoon in the sun, with really animated fun conversation. What a nice guy! This is the thing about hostels and solo travel: you really get opportunities to meet people. But, as I’ve learned, you can’t force that, or you’d just come across as desperate and weird, but it gives you the opportunity to at least put your friendly intent out there and like-minded individuals respond, in my experience.
That particular night the hostel were hosting a night out on the town, following a warm-up bonding session in the downstairs lounge area (where breakfast is had). It’s there that I met lots of faces, including Nathan again, Rachel and Stephen from London (a young brother and sister doing a European city tour) and Bree (probably spent wrong), who was also from London, but was originally from Yellowknife in Canada. She seemed impressed that I even knew where Yellowknife was, and that their (perhaps only) famous export was actress Margot Kidder!
A night ensued, complete with belly dancing (from a professional belly dancer that is, not from me), and a massive walk down the neon lit Istiklal Caddessi, a long street of shops and bars, which stretches up to the main retail district around the huge Taksim Square. Some time before you’d reach the square, our sizeable group had gone down numerous back streets to find a cool club with a roof top dancefloor and bar, where we danced (badly) the night away until the early hours. At one point the bar was even set on fire (deliberately) while the bartender poured shots. By this evidence, Turks know how to party.
So, at this point, I was able to be very pragmatic and reason that if I’d done the ‘Other Tour’, which I’m sure would have been great, I wouldn’t have met all these wonderful people and had the brilliant day I did. Sometimes, a huge disappointment is just a temporary set-back and can enable something better to come along; a lesson 2014 is constantly reaffirming for me.