November 9, 2009: When I paid my taxi driver the agreed rate at Amman airport the response was: “most Americans tip”. Rather than replying that I was also British, I pointed out that I didn’t tip when I had negotiated the rate rather than paying the metered fare. Then I put both my bags through X-ray at the entrance to the airport, only to have my big bag pulled for extra screening. Turned out that the checker was worried about my collapsible hiking stick. Fortunately his supervisor was happy with it going through in a checked bag – I don’t know what damage the first guy thought I could do with something stowed in the hold. I’ve taken the stick through enough airports by now that I’d forgotten it might cause a problem.
Amman airport continued to annoy me. First there was a gate change, and then security wouldn’t let us through to the gate even though the monitors were clearly showing that the plane was supposed to be boarding. But we left on time and the food was edible. At Istanbul airport the visa I had bought back in September was still valid and I cleared immigration quickly. Then I had to dig around to find the lira I had saved so I could rent a luggage cart for the long trek from baggage claim to the metro.
As I wrote back in August, I first visited Istanbul all the way back in 1974 (yes, I am getting old!) and the day before I was due to fly home, the Turks and Greeks went to war over Cyprus. With the airport closed, I eventually left, in great discomfort, on the Orient Express, but I didn’t regret the opportunity to spend extra time in a fascinating city. I still love Istanbul, but it has changed and grown so, so much since then, becoming a major tourist destination and losing, at least for me, some of its aura of the exotic. But I don’t regret the introduction of the metro and the trams.
For this three night visit I had seriously considered staying in Beyoglu, on
the northern side of the Golden Horn, but I couldn’t find a hotel or apartment in my price range that really appealed, so I wound up, as usual, in tourist central, Sultanahmet. At least I got to walk past the Blue Mosque (my absolute favorite sight in Istanbul) and Aya Sofya on the way to my hotel, the Empress Zoe (just down from the Four Seasons). While this is no place for people with mobility issues – I had to climb a narrow, metal, spiral staircase and two sets of marble steps – I loved my room: partial water view, high, wide bed tucked under one window, fridge and safe and plenty of hot water. Good breakfast, too.
Once I’d dropped my bags at the Empress Zoe I headed straight out again for the Cemberlitas Hamam and an afternoon of deep cleaning and pampering. After getting scrubbed down, and soaking happily in the hot pools, I wrapped myself in warm towels, settled in among the cushions on a bench seat and drank coffee. Luxury!
That evening I ate some quite good, if rather expensive, Indian food at Dubb. Once the sun went down it turned quite chilly, so I ate indoors instead of enjoying the view from the rooftop terrace, but I had trouble sleeping because I was too hot – thanks to the wretched duvet on my bed. Hate those things!