Thursday evening, July 22: I arrive at around 6 p.m. on July 22. The currency exchange windows at Ataturk airport don’t want my Korean won, of which I have brought 380,000, for any amount. This frustrates me beyond belief; I was told by my Korean friends that Korea and Turkey are best of friends because of Turkey’s participation in the Korean War in 1950.
Also, in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea, Turkey and Korea had a friendly soccer match; though Turkey beat Korea in the third place match 3-2, apparently there was a great show of respect by the Turkish team for the Koreans. The Koreans have not forgotten this… have the Turkish people? Or is the Korean won really that worthless? Isn’t Korea, after all, the 13th largest economy in the world now? Oh well, for the rest of my trip, I am forced to carry around my worthless 380,000 won and use my U.S. debit card (because despite Nongyhup Bank’s assurance I would be able to use my Korean debit card ~ with its Cirrus logo ~ in Turkey, no ATM machine would accept it!). Thank God I went to Cargo Terminal A at Incheon to pick up my package from home with my new U.S. debit card!!
This is the first time in my life I am met at the airport by someone holding up a placard with my name on it! I feel so special!! Haha… actually I had arranged with the Big Apple Hostel to have a pickup from the airport. The ride to Sultanahmet is lovely, along the Bosphorus, with views of the heavy cargo ship traffic. I love immediately the colorful homes, all terra-cottas, greens, corals, yellows.
In the Sultanahmet area, we drive over bumpy cobblestones and I am all agape, looking at the stores and the beautiful things in the windows and on the streets. Colorful lamps, handbags with Ottoman and Byzantine designs, Turkish carpets. Ceramic tiles and plates. The ubiquitous evil eyes.
Up and down steep hills and finally I am dropped at the Big Apple Hostel, where I am to stay for 3 nights. I check in and go to my room on the 2nd floor, a room with 3 bunk beds, for 6 people. Luckily there is no one there, so I am able to shower and lie down for a bit in peace. But eventually 2 sisters come in from Canada. They are shocked to see me, I can tell; taken aback by my age and maybe worried about sharing a room with me. I try to put them at ease, chit-chat. I ask them about Istanbul, about where they’re from, tell them where I’m from. Then three more girls from Tunisia, Egypt and Austria come in; they are attending an Anatolia Congress for Leadership and Entrepreneurship.
I put on my knit dress that feels like a nightgown(!) and go out to explore.
I walk uphill to the beautiful park between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The amazing thing I discover is that nights are cool in Istanbul. It is hot and humid and miserable during the day, but the nights are absolutely lovely. I wander around in the park, watch the people, soak in the view, take some pictures. I’m not hungry but I stop in a cafe for an orange Fanta and check out people smoking water pipes, watch the whirling dervish and listen to the musicians.
I am so tired then, I go back to the Big Apple and sleep. I don’t even notice when my 5 roommates come in!