My trials weren’t over when my long-distance bus stopped in Istanbul’s terminal. My 3 labors were:
- I had no Turkish money
- I had no idea where I will be sleeping tonight. (This will totally freak my father out, so thankfully, he’s not reading this.)
- I had no mobile internet
I remember reading that long-distance bus companies would provide shuttle service from the terminal to the city center. None of the signs on top of the buses said Sultanahmet which was where I planned to find a place to say.
Despite being a ‘fraidy cat when asking strangers questions, I asked one of the employees where the bus to Sultanahmet was. He pointed to an empty space, surrounded by other people waiting.
So I waited. The second bus that parked at the mysterious space was the bus I had to go.
Of course, I did not know where to stop. It wasn’t until the last stop when everyone got off the bus that I asked the driver, “Sultanahmet?”
The man who looked 40-years-old spoke a lot of Turkish loudly, throwing his hands in the air. I translated this as, “Stupid foreigner, why didn’t you get off when I asked about LOCATIONNAME?”
I had to put on my Stupid Tourist face the whole while and smiled brightly.
The driver continued driving and said something that had the word “Metro”. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to the bus company “Metro” or the metro system. I nod my head anyway. The driver looked pleased.
While he drove, he pointed to neighborhoods and said things in Turkish. I tried as hard as I can to decipher, getting it right some times.
I figured that a particular neighborhood was where rich people lived, since the driver said “doktor”. He also said that the lane was small, or narrow.
We amused ourselves with this guessing game. At one point, he stopped by the road, pointed to the clock and showed me 9 fingers. I nod.
He showed me mobile phone photos of his five-year-old. I smiled and nod my head. He rolled some dried grass into a square of paper and went out to smoke.
Just a minute before 9:00am, a call came. The driver had finished smoking and picked it up. It seems to be that the head office was asking where he was. He grumbled loudly and drove to a Metro branch to pick some people up.
He told the young lady who came in about the stupid tourist. I caught the word “Sultanhmet.”
When the bus reached the tram station, the driver stopped the vehicle and pointed to the metro. I thanked him and got off.
In search of an international ATM and SIM
Despite the driver’s helpfulness, I was still cashless. ATMs that accept withdrawal using foreign ATM cards were difficult to find.
It took me a damn long time, passing at least 6 ATMS, before I found one that had the CIRRUS sign. Turns out, it only accepted Cash Advance.
I moved to the other ATM nearby and successfully withdrew 300 Turkish lira (TL), thinking that it would be sufficient.
Just across the street, there was a Turkcell shop. I head in and waited a while before the other customers were done.
The lady in the shop, with bleached blond hair and heavy eyeliner, told me that it would cost 35TL for a SIM card and 25TL for 1GB internet.
35TL for a SIM was the most ridiculous price for SIM card. It was equivalent to about S$30, with 5TL credit.
I almost didn’t want to get the card but I knew that I would regret it. So I did pay 60TL in the end for the card and data connection.
I felt like one of my limbs had regrown as I searched for information using my mobile data. Now to find a place to stay!
Snow White and the Seven Grown Men
I chose a hotel that had dorm rooms, thinking that I needed to save since SIM cards ate up half of my daily budget.
Following Google Maps, I walked down slopes from the restaurant to the hotel. The staff was still cleaning up so I had to wait a while. I didn’t mind waiting since my bag was off my shoulder.
At last, I was shown the dorm room. Inside, about 7 beds were arranged messily. The hotel person pointed to the beds and said it was occupied by which nationality.
I decided to choose one of the beds but the hotel person asked, “Do you want to change rooms?”
Come to think of it, I don’t really want to stay in a room with 6 other men. Even if they were gentlemen, it’s just plain weird.
My budget was blown through when the hotel person showed me a double room with an attached bathroom. Oh well.
Later, after a half an hour nap, I was thankful for the private room and its air-conditioning.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose.
Post script: My 14-hour bus ride has sapped a lot of my energy away. It’s only 9:40pm now but I feel the need to get back into bed. Plus, I need to pick up mom from the airport tomorrow at 6:00am. See you tomorrow!