Who would ever have imagined that in order to get to the USA from South Africa, via the Netherlands, would take us on a totally unplanned and rather exotic adventure to Turkey?!
Once again the powers that be, in the political realm, issue proclamations and protocols that are more confusing than logical and so it came about that in order to be granted entry to the USA, we had to find refuge outside of a Schengen state for fourteen days first.
Much googling, by my dear friend’s young and tech savvy daughter, Sarah, and head scratching, by me, had us almost boarding the train in Den Haag Central station bound for Zagreb, Croatia.
Croatia, not being a Schengen country and not requiring a visa for a South African passport holder, was appealing in its proximity to The Netherlands and in it’s cost of living for fourteen days. In the nick of time, we realized that the USA would not even permit a transit flight through a Schengen country, thus eliminating our Croatian plan since all flights from Zagreb either transit through Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam!
Plan D/E/F… through searching airlines that fly directly into Chicago, from outside the Schengen zone, led us to Turkish Airlines, after trying Emirates and Qatar, both countries are not easily accessible to South Africans without appropriate visas.
Turkey beckoned with the easiest, fastest online e-visa, the cheapest flight out of Amsterdam, affordably accommodation and the best value for money living for fourteen days. All this, along with the best terms for tourists being free to roam after their local curfew of 19:00 during the holy month of Ramadan.
Turkey’s budget airline, Pegasus, has a strict ONE bag per person policy – no matter the weight, it must be the required cabin sized bag ONLY. No hand bag, no laptop bag permitted, unless you’d like to pay for an additional piece of luggage.
Airport check in floors have seen more personal luggage items strewn across it than the average bedroom floor, as we got down to repacking our tiny carry-on bags with the additional items from our handbags, that had been filled with the other “extras”… and then still squeeze said hand/laptop bags into the bulging carry-on bag – it was a sweat and I applaud the manufacturers of those zippers!
We eventually boarded without any delays nor dramas, apart from the usual eye roll around the completely illogical and impractical “covid restrictions” (I have already blogged about these frustrations, irritations and annoyances in the weeks gone by so will spare the repetition!)
Disembarked in Istanbul to try and figure a means of getting to our airbnb accommodation with zero Turkish language skills – the bus proved to be the most affordable option, along with the most crowded (refer to those crazy covid protocols). From bus stop to apartment we were thankfully accompanied by an angel, aptly named Christina, and her lovely husband, who walked us most of the way. Her English, strongly accented by her Serbian mother tongue, was a lot more eloquent than our lack of Turkish! Our airbnb host kindly came to our midnight rescue as the maps app took us on something of a detour.
Suffice to say that each culture has its own description and perception of levels of comfort and cleanliness, airbnb is no stranger to this “lost in translation” element of our cultural differences.
As my dear Dad would have said: “As long as the sheets are clean and the water hot, you don’t need much else”. Well, thanks Dad, that is true but a few home comfort niceties are always much appreciated!
We explored the old city of Istanbul through a few recommendations, long ago heard/read about tales and the assistance of an old university friend, recently found on social media to be living in the capital city! A mind boggling walk back in time through many a majestic mosque, cobbled street, beautiful, though fairly unkempt, gardens and marvellous markets, teeming with haggling hawkers. A riot of colour, sound and smell!
“In for a penny, in for a pound” they say, so we opted for a car hire and took off across the country to find a haven for a few days on the Mediterreanean!
Most reviews around the driving on Turkish roads were a little cautionary, to say the least. I guess that coming from South Africa where taking to the roads midst some of the worst minibus taxi drivers in the world, is like running the proverbial gauntlet. These Turk motorists are fairly mild by comparison and not in the least aggressive which is quite remarkable since city driving here is hair-raising, to say the least: lanes become non-existent during rush hour as do normal bumper distances!
What bliss awaited us on the sun-drenched coast where the temperatures were mild as to be comfortable but warm enough for a tan whilst working on the smooth pebbled beaches from our laptops. The people were friendly, the food was delicious and the peace sublime.
All too soon we were headed back to the capital to wait out the balance of our quarintein time. A couple of detours past ancient cities and ruins from centuries past, had us agog with awe and wonder, especially the visit to the basilica of St John in Ephesus where the saint lies buried after founding one of the first churches. I now know that God has a sense of humour as this unplanned adventure more than met our expectations, on every level.
Returning to the bustle of city life and hysterical traffic we immediately questioned our decision to leave the Med! Checking into our “four star boutique hotel” in the middle of the old city, had us scratching our heads once again at the descriptions of the “bumper discount deal” that we had bought into – more lost in translation, I guess?
A few tweaks, requests and juggles later, we made peace with our location and enjoyed the proximity to all things uniquely Istanbul: the Grand Bazaar, the multitude of mosques and the food, the food, the food! Tea and temptations of the sweet variety are plentiful and girth-gaining, to say the least! Baklava, Turkish delight, pastries, bread and honey, fruit and ice cream have to leave space for olives, aubergines, yoghurt, herbs and spices that accompany stews and vegetable dishes, all washed down with freshly pressed orange or pomegranate juice – simply delicious and most affordable, especially on the ZARand.
My lasting impressions of Turkey: Tulips may be their national flower but the Dutch do it better. However, what the Dutch lack in culinary excitement, the Turks take the prize. Street cats and dogs live charmed lives, being fed and cared for by the community (they have equal rights to humans). Smoking is without doubt the national pastime, along with drinking tea, sitting in the sun and shooting the breeze between the Imam’s call to prayer. Thanks Turkey, you’ve been a delightful detour!