Day 1 Istanbul
As I landed in Istabul airport, I heard my name being announced on the speakers to come to Information Desk- that was really nice and reassured me. I was walked over to a hotel shuttle and did not realize then that I would get a grand tour of the city too! As the airport is west of the European side of Istanbul, we headed east on the highway next to the Marmara Sea. I was impressed with the number of parks along the shore, including open-air gym equipment. I saw men and women biking, walking, even ellipticals in the open air watching the seascape beyond. What a neat way to work out I thought! As we approached the City Center, Eminomu, where all the famous sights are, the van driver negotiated the hilly, curvy and narrow alleys skillfully, while we passengers worried he may hit a bike, person or even a wall or window-that’s how close it felt. As we climbed up the alleys that lead to Sultan Ahmed Mosque, my favourite one, we saw one boutique hotel after another, and suddenly he parked in front of Obelisk Hotel, where Sonia, Sheema and I stayed last year! I remember how we could hear the azan of the Blue Mosque at namaz time. As we moved closer to the Grand Bazaar area, a very busy area with tons of people, trams, cars, restaurants, and of course mosques everywhere, it also looked very familiar as we had stayed in t his area with Mona/Reza. As we went up and down and around the alleys I was smiling thinking back to our visits before and enjoying the scenes again: men playing cards in card rooms, vendors selling their wares, women dressed in head scarves shopping for dinner, and of course tourists of all kinds, especially Europeans and Americans. Even at the airport, I had noticed a mix of both business men – the tall, suavely dressed, confident Germans impressed me the most – and tourists from all over the world. Of course, German was heard a lot, as Germans love Turkey. You could easily tell the Americans apart – they were so friendly and approached total strangers for everything, while the Europeans just looked on with raised eyebrows! I even saw a Burger King scooter delivery man!
As we approached the Bosphorus, I saw the ferry terminals and remembered our cruise up the Bosphorus to see an old castle with Sonia/Sheema, and the ferry to Karakoy, which is the Asian Side. We passed through the Taksim area, full of life – people everywhere, tourists, office people, students, etc. and of course the best shopping area. I wanted to get off the van, and grab a fresh doner kebab! I noticed that all the big posh hotels were near the Taqsim area, such as Hyatt, Diwan, Point, Nippon, Elite World, whereas the smaller boutique hotels were in the European side near the sights. Also, there are more nightclubs and fancier restaurants on this side, as well as the ubiquitious Starbucks. We passed the Istanbul Modern- the amazingly modern museum- which Sonia/Sheema and I enjoyed so much, and where I hope to take Sabah after the conference. As we left Taksim, we were now in the real Istanbul where all the Turks live, and I began to see older homes and apartment buildings, some being renovated. Clothes were hanging to dry between buildings across narrow alleys – I guess neighbours share clotheslines and take turns? And slowly as we went deeper into the Asia Side of Istanbul, it got quieter until we reached the Marriott, which is highly secured with gates, checkpoints and even guests have to have all luggage screened. There is a giant Carrefour (the French equivalent of Walmart) nearby and other industrial complexes, but no historical sights as on the European side. To go to the sights, we have to take taxis back across the Bosphorus, which will have to wait until the conference.