Switch gears. I’m going to Madrid for about 24 hours en route to Istanbul. That’s just long enough to relax a bit, get organized again, eat twice and spend time blogging. So in other words, just what I needed! I was sad to leave Morocco and so easing in to Istanbul by resting at the Holiday Inn Express in Madrid was a good thing. And besides, they had a restaurant in the lobby where I could eat a hamburger AND have a glass of wine! Sa-weet.
After arriving at the airport, I easily found my way to where I needed to be. Whilst waiting for my luggage on the carousel I met other American travelers who had been in Morocco. I pretended to not hear them and minded my business so I wouldn’t have to share any of my experiences, which I now considered sacred. And after listening to the experiences of one particular couple, I knew we didn’t have anything in common. They stayed at fancy hotels and spoke about extravagant dinners. After gathering the luggage, I spent the next hour or so walking around aimlessly trying to figure out the transportation situation to my hotel “close to the airport.” It was close-by but it was still a complicated deal to figure out where to go, especially since I was misinformed by a couple of taxi drivers along the way. Eventually I was directed to a transportation counter on the other end of the airport where I arranged a van to and from the hotel. Not to stereotype, but now I’m in a Latin country and…well…I’m stereotyping…but I was blatantly hit on numerous times whilst walking through the airport, including by a driver of a different car than the one I hired who did everything he could to become my driver (to no avail). In hindsight it was good practice for Turkey! (Although nothing could prepare me for Turkey! Nothing!)
I rode with a local girl who has traveled extensively, including to Morocco, Turkey, and the States, so we had a lot to talk about on the 20 minute van ride. It was fun to be with her. I think I would have gotten together with her had I been in town longer, so that was nice. Once at the hotel I got situated and did a little laundry since there was a breeze and I knew the stuff would dry by the next morning.
The next morning I headed to the airport after breakfast via the van I had arranged and without further ado, I was off to Istanbul. The flight was roughly 3 hours. Once in Turkey I realized I was on my own. No one directed me where to go and no one carried my luggage. And there were no signs along the way pointing me in to the line I needed to queue up in. So I went through the whole, long line for immigration only to be told I needed a visa to enter the country. I knew this but I never saw any signs pointing me in the right direction. I had seen other people weave their way back through the line and I wondered what had happened to them and quietly sympathized with them their plight of bucking the line by going in the opposite direction like that. Well, there I was doing the same thing. Once out of that line I went to the correct line for the visa. Realizing I didn’t have much cash, I asked the attendant if they took a credit card for the $19 fee. “Yes, yes!” she assured me. But once in line the guy behind the window wouldn’t allow it and practically yelled at me for even asking if they accepted cards. So I dug around and found a $20 US bill and paid without having to hunt down an ATM. So walking past those in line others were asking me if they needed cash. Since I had been told no cards I told them they needed cash so many people got out of line and began searching for ATMs. It wasn’t until later, at the hotel, that I asked someone who had also just arrived about the credit card situation. Turns out he paid with a credit card! What!? So I kind of feel bad that I apparently gave those other people the wrong information. Argh.
I was so lucky to get a good taxi driver to take me to my hotel because it was a confusing mess to figure out where I was staying. Although it’s in a centrally located area, it’s on a complicated one-way street that’s apparently nearly impossible to find (I would later realize this again and again). Once to the hotel I was pleasantly surprised! A very modern and cool place! I could live there, I liked it so much! The guys who ran the place, Emre and Hasan, were super cute and young. And very helpful. One of them, Hasan, directed me to a nearby place for dinner in the Taksim, the local square where everything happens and I enjoyed kabob, wine, bread, and grilled chilies outside on the street! I loved the ambience and was able to get a lot of blogging completed. It was very comfortable and just what I needed. And it was a nice walk to and from the place so I was able to get the lay of the land and some exercise. Tres bon.
After returning to the Faros Hotel later that night, I was met by Emre, the other guy at the hotel. He arranged a tour for me the next day and made all the arrangements. I ended up staying at a different hotel for a couple of the nights and Emre continued to help me with all my travel needs during those days, too. He made reservations for me, talked to taxi drivers when I couldn’t explain where the hotel was, and answered questions I had about the area. Very nice. In fact, he’s still speed-dialed into my cell!