Off to Istanbul - Our First Stop
Updated: Feb 6
Despite COVID-19 and all the other craziness of 2020, we were going to travel and work for a year, and we made Istanbul, Turkey the first stop overseas.
We’d talked about it for years, and now we were finally doing it - heading out on a year’s travels. All the planning and waiting were now rolling into action.
A Less than Auspicious Start
Naturally, things had to start off with a little stress. After a night in New York City, we had late flights out of JFK direct to Istanbul.
After the standard hoop jumping of checking in for an international flight and getting through post-9/11 airport security, we made it to our gates. Surely, the questions were over, right?
As the gate agent scanned our tickets and let us through to the jetbridge, we turned a corner to be met by an absolute gauntlet of guys with badges - the no-uniform, federal-something-or-other type. Jenna breezed right by, while Chipp, not so much.
Angry bald guy with badge: “Where are you going?”
Chipp: “Because I want to travel.”
Angry: “For how long?”
Chipp: “A year-ish.”
Angry: “Say again.”
Chipp: “I’m planning on travelling with my wife for a year.”
Angry (starting to raise his voice): “How much money do you have on you!?”
Chipp: “I don’t know, about 50 bucks.”
Angry (exasperated): “Get on the flight.”
Despite Chipp’s thinly-veiled contempt for authority figures (result of nine years in the Marines), Angry eventually decided he wasn’t a threat to jump the Syrian border and join ISIS...
9 ½ Hours in Masks - and Definitely Not Doctors
Alright, this one’s definitely a non-problem, and it has to be chalked up to, yep, life’s pretty good.
Despite that caveat, 9 ½ hours wearing masks on the flight from New York to Turkey is not too comfortable. But, we pushed this complaint to the side with two conclusions:
We were, in fact, on our way to travel for a year - pretty awesome.
Doctors, especially nowadays, put up with masks (and full PPE) for far longer, with far more dire consequences.
So yeah, not a problem. But it’s still not comfortable.
The 2nd Level - No, the Other 2nd level
We landed in Turkey mid-day Turkish time at the country’s new Istanbul Airport (the old international hub, Ataturk International, transferred operations to the new facility 30ish miles outside of the city in 2019).
Standard post-flight activities: A) wake up, as inevitably the only time you sleep on an overnight flight is the last 15 minutes as planes taxiing to the gate; B) go through visa control (NOTE: make sure you buy a Turkish travel visa online before you arrive - far easier than waiting in line to purchase one at the airport); C) grab your bags; D) get some local cash (Turkish lira); and E) figure out how to actually leave the airport.
Leaving, as always, became an adventure.
Definitely a leg up from the “old days” of an internet cafe here or there, we actually had Google Fi sim cards with international cell service, so we were banking on getting an Uber at the airport. That we did, but the link-up with the driver was more challenging than anticipated.
A friendly airport employee pointed us in the direction of ride-share pick-ups with a “it’s on the 2nd level by door 9.” At door 9, we saw a big “2” painted on the wall, plus, there were a bunch of taxis outside. Perfect - just need to find the car.
After some back-and-forth texting with our Uber driver (something along the lines of - “I’m here.” “So are we.” “No you’re not.” “Yes we are - 2nd level, gate 9.” “You’re not on the 2nd level…”
Yeah, apparently that big “2” was for elevator 2 - we were on the 1st level. Sheepishly, we rode the elevator up and, quite apologetically, joined our driver.
Close Your Eyes and Hope for the Best
The rolling hills and winding roads outside of Istanbul Airport are beautiful - they’re just better viewed while not driving a million miles per hour.
Oh man, you really put your life in the driver’s hands on Turkish roads. As we gradually moved from the airport’s rural surroundings into the far-more-cars-on-the-road outskirts of Istanbul, all we could do was put our heads down.
Claim stoicism all you want, but it’s near impossible to not go crazy watching the road in front of you. Being in Turkey, all we could do was think, “we’ll make it to the apartment safely, inshallah.”
Exhausted at Our Apartment, but the View’s Worth It
We did, in fact, make it to the apartment (but not without some skyrocketing heart rates).
Exhausted after being up for the past 24 hours, we knew we had to try to stay awake until somewhat close to 9pm local time if we would have any shot of quickly acclimating to the seven-hour difference (we arrived at our place around 5:30pm).
Jenna did the research and found a really cool-looking place with a balcony on AirBnB, but you never actually know how it’s going to be until you get there.
Turns out, the picture online tremendously undersold how awesome the view is. Absolutely incredible. Sitting out here, especially at night as the lights of the old city come on, it’s hard to imagine a better first stop for our travels.
A Long Night’s Sleep and the Muezzin
After crushing some coffee on the balcony and grabbing some kebob from a great corner restaurant, we finally made it to 9pm and passed out.
Fast forward, we finally peeled ourselves out of bed at 11am the next day (with only minor interruption). Our apartment certainly had a beautiful view on one side, but about 20 feet outside of the other side’s window? The neighborhood mosque’s minaret.
The Muslim call to prayer, sung from the minarets of mosques throughout the Islamic world, echoes out five times a day, with the first one kicking off at sunrise. Between the lingering effects of NyQuil (a chemical cheat to ensure a full night’s sleep) and the fact that our bodies still thought it was 10:30pm New York time, the dawn call to prayer almost sent us through the ceiling with shock.
When in Rome.