This post is a little different than my recent ones. In it, I share the misadventures of my second full day in Istanbul. I didn't take many pictures—you'll understand why as you read. I hope you enjoy.
The Aggressive Salesman.
After leaving the Grand Bazaar on my second day in Istanbul, my guide gone, I again decided to do some exploring before heading back to my Airbnb. Alas, this time I was not so fortunate as to blend in with the crowd. As I walked towards the Bosphorus, a young man spotted me and attempted to engage me in conversation. Have you been to the Blue Mosque? Hagia Sophia? Basilica Cisterns? Spice Market? The Grand Bazaar? When I answered "yes" to all of the above, he acted impressed.
"How long have you been in town?"
"Since Monday night."
"Wow! You have seen a lot in little time."
"I have a good guide."
"Ahh, so you have a guide." I nodded and kept walking. He chased after me.
"My family has a store nearby. We sell beautiful rugs at very good prices. Would you like to see?"
"No thank you."
"Are you sure?" He pulled out brochure and proceeded to tell me his family's history and about their stores and hotels. He said if I ever came back I must stay at one of their locations...
At one point I managed to break free, but he caught me again and harassed me until I agreed to follow him to his family's store. That was a mistake. The store was lovely—don't get me wrong—but I did not need or want a rug, no matter how much tea his uncle gave me. I finally left rather abruptly and breathed a sigh of relief when the man didn't follow me.
West to East, or Not.
I was annoyed, however. I had lost a lot of daylight thanks to him, and I'd gotten the bright idea earlier that I wanted to take the metro to the Asian side of Istanbul that evening. The Marmaray Line runs from Kazlıçeşme on the European side to Ayrılık Çeşmesi on the Asian side, with a 0.9 mile (1.4 km) stretch under the Bosphorus. (At its lowest point, the tunnel descends up to 200 feet below sea level, making it the world’s deepest immersed tunnel.)
It would be fun, I thought. What could go wrong?
After walking along the Bosphorus like I had the previous day, I finally found the Marmaray station and boarded the train—going the wrong direction. I didn't figure this out, of course, until I got off two stations later. Grrr. I tried again. But it was difficult to tell in which direction I was going. Unlike the MRT and MTR systems in Taipei and Hong Kong, this railway didn't have flashing lights that showed you the next station, or any other useful information, for that matter.
When I got off the second time, I realized in despair that I was further from both the Asian side and my Airbnb than when I'd started. I was, in fact, about a six-mile (10 km) walk from "home." It was also getting dark, and I was not in the best part of town. What should I do? I didn't trust myself to attempt the metro system again.
Better get walking.
And so I did. With my backpack on my back and my phone's GPS as my guide, I walked in the dark along busy roads, through confusing intersections, past block upon block of storefronts topped by apartment homes, over and around piles of trash, under bridges...
At one point, there was a commotion in the street. A man who was either drunk or high started yelling and pounding his fists on the windows of a moving bus. Evidently he'd been kicked off (or not allowed on), and he was pissed. Everyone nearby stopped whatever they were doing and stared—it felt like a scene in a movie. I ducked my head and kept walking.
Trust Your Heart.
Finally, I made it to a more touristy part of town. I stumbled across Istanbul University, which was impressive in the dark. I stopped to adjust my backpack near the entrance, and while I did, a man approached me. He was selling books. I had about had it at that point, though, and barked, "Not interested!" He looked like a hurt puppy with his tail between his legs as he walked away. I almost felt bad, but I still had three miles to go.
Earlier that evening, as I was walking along the Bosphorus, I'd seen a large cargo ship named "Wisdom Line." I'd almost cried as I followed it. Part of the reason for my trip was to find myself, and to find clarity about a difficult situation I was facing. I'd prayed for wisdom, then, and it is somewhat ironic now to think back on the misadventures that followed.
And yet, as trying as this evening was, and as unnecessary—a normal person would just go back to their hotel and chill, or eat good food, or go shopping after a long day of sightseeing—I am grateful it happened. It taught me that I am resourceful and resilient, and to trust my heart and myself. I can get through anything if I try...
And so can we all.
Even if it means walking six miles at the end of a long day in the dark, if we trust our hearts, we can—and we will—find our way to the light.