Quaseem, Fadeelah, and I left Cape Town, South Africa on Wednesday, 2 November 2016 for our long-awaited trip to Turkey to run the Istanbul Marathon, and make a fabulous holiday out of it while we’re at it. It was a long 9h30 flight to Doha, 8 hours in transit and then another 4 hour flight to Istanbul, making a full 24 hours of travel. We were lucky in that both flights were a little bit empty, and I used some handy travel tips I’ve picked up to make sure we were positioned to have the highest chance of having empty seats available next to us. On the first flight, I found myself an empty row of 4 seats and could lift the 3 handles, lie my very tall body across the 4 seats, and lie under the 4 blankets to have a very comfy trip with a few nice little naps. On the second flight, I also had a row of 3 seats to myself and took advantage of that too. During our transit in Doha while we were eating, CNN was on the public TVs and we saw the marches happening in South Africa. I was like wait… those are EFF’s red overalls over there on TV! LOL
We didn’t really know how we were going to get from Sabiha Gokcen airport (in Asia) to the old city of Sultahmet (in Europe). But we knew if all else failed there was the expensive option of a taxi. Istanbul is a unique city in that it stretches across 2 continents, Europe in the West and Asia on the East side of the city. We caught a Hava bus from the airport to Taksim Square and then a very dodgy taxi, who I am certain charged us double the going rate (I’m not going to bore you with that full story), to take us to our place of residence in Kumkapi. Kumkapi is a really cute little seafood restaurant suburb. The whole road we are staying in, and the 4 around it, are filled with seafood restaurants. In between the restaurants is a door that led up to our place, to the 2nd floor up flights of very steep steps.
The host of the apartments we are staying in was very gracious from the moment we arrived. His family has a restaurant downstairs from where we are staying, and is also our breakfast venue. And he told us that lunch and dinner is available there as well if we wish to buy food there. He had 2 friends over at the restaurant that had lived in Cape Town for a while, and they were very friendly. The one guy said he knows Afrikaans too. When I asked him to say something in Afrikaans, he answered with an emphatic and awkward Turkish-sounding Moenie kak praat nie. Hmmm, ok this guy needs nothing more to prove to us that he had been in SA before. LMAO!
Once we settled in to the apartment we decided to go and explore the town a bit and take a walk to the Sultanahmet precinct where the Blue Mosque is situated. But first we went down to have dinner at Doyuran. I don’t know if it was because we were so hungry, but that food was amazingly delicious. Goksen also came to us with his laptop to show us the pictures of his holiday in Cape Town. When we paid for the meal, they only charged us about 30% of what we calculated the meal should have cost according to the very reasonably priced menu. We felt a bit bad about it, and asked them if that was the full payment for 3 people or for 1 person. They said no it’s for all 3 of us… discount discount. Shu, that was SOME DISCOUNT!
On the way there we made sure we were all sorted with local sim cards and got the smallest data package available, which was 5 GB of data, and quite a bit of minutes and smses which we were sure we weren’t going to use, but could come in handy if we needed to call each other.
We visited the Blue Mosque, and some of the ancient artefacts in Sultanahmet Park, before it was time to go back home and rest. Fadeelah and I had a 8km run on our program that we planned to do the next morning, but only 5km. We were doing lots of walking and that would sure make up for the mileage!
======== So another thing that confused us, we weren’t sure at some points exactly what the time was. Turkey usually changes to daylight savings time on 1 November (going from GMT+2 to GMT+3). But this year they handed down a decree to opt out, which kind of wreaked havoc with flight schedules and some of our later domestic flights were rescheduled. But my Apple phone and Fadeelah’s Samsung phone, both of which automatically readjusts according to time-zone of your location, were showing different times. Hers (GMT+2) was an hour behind mine (GMT+3). Mine, however, was corresponding to all the public clocks everywhere. Half the time we didn’t know which time zone we were in. We now think that they reversed the decree to not do daylight savings and are therefore on GMT+3. ========
So anyway we wake up and at the time we were meant to run, it’s pouring with rain. We then went about an hour later when the rain stopped. In the meantime, we were confused as to why we couldn’t get into anything on our phones, even though the wifi was on. Even on just the 3G connection on our phones nothing was working. A few minutes later the 3G connection disappeared completely as well. Urgh, did those guys sell us dud sim cards? But we bought it at different places so it couldn’t be that they ripped us all off. Hmm, confusing. Maybe because of the military state of emergency the internet only works during certain hours, and doesn’t work at night? Strange, but hey anything was possible I guess. But…it’s time to run so let’s not worry about that for now.
We decided to run to Gulhame Park, which is past Topkapi Palace. We would run past Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and other sites in Sultanahmet for this. About a km in, it started raining again and we took shelter under a random porch.
We still wanted to at least get to Sultanahmet, so we ran to the Blue Mosque when the rain subsided. But when we got there it started up again. We ran home. So a 5km turned into a 3km. LOL
Getting back, we took showers and went down for breakfast. Musa, the old man at Doruyan, prepared a feast for us.
Also, while we were out running, Quaseem had done some investigations and found that there was an explosion of sorts in Ankara (the Turkish capital), and one of the opposition leaders was arrested, and that Turkey had subsequently shut down all social media channels in the country, including services like Whatsapp. We tried to figure out what is happening from the news but it’s all in Turkish, so no luck there. So no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…any type of information-sharing thing. Which effectively explained why none of the things we tried to do on our phones worked. Great, just great. Just a few hours after we spent that money on sim cards and now the stuff is useless. I guess we would be using those calls and smses after all. We also figured out that Viber wasn’t blocked like Whatsapp, so we could still make contact with that. But only while we were at “home” with the wifi. It would be useless to us outside because we didn’t have a connection. Great…just great! Oh, but Strava worked so I could at least upload our run. Yay 🙂
Gmail also worked, so Quaseem took the opportunity to email the family back home to let them know the situation and why we would be out of contact for we do not know how long. Later that day we got 3G back, but still all social media blocked. By the following day, it seemed that the block had been lifted, but my social media was still dodgy, and pictures would not go anywhere, not even through Whatsapp sometimes. That is when I decided to rather start blogging our trip instead of relying on Facebook to share things. No use stressing about things you have no control over, right?
So I hope you enjoy the posts. In my next one I will speak about some of the ancient artefacts on Sultanahmet Square and some information about the Grand Bazaar that we went to the next day.