9 Hours in Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia, built in 360 A.D.

Maybe it’s an extrovert thing, but I hate flying alone. I’d estimate that over half the flights I’ve ever taken have been by myself, and I always dread it. Waiting in lines with no one to make comments to, the awkward 8 hours of sharing an armrest with a stranger, and of course, the embarrassing moment of realizing I laughed out loud at the inflight movie.

So. You may not know, but the week before Christmas I went to the middle east with Luke to meet up with our brother Mark who was studying abroad in Jordan. Because we booked our flights at different times, Luke was traveling by way of London and Paris and I was traveling via Istanbul. As we said Goodbye in the airport in NYC, we created a scavenger hunt to amuse ourselves over the 30 hour journey. Items to find: Weirdest picture. Candy bar from country of layover. Postcard from country of layover. Roll of toilet paper*. Paraphernalia from the airline. The signature of a new friend.

Although I was alone, I had a 9 hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey and I was determined to make the best of it. As I boarded the flight, I realized my seat was next to a young Indian man. While we were settling in, the occupant of the remaining seat appeared: a young Indian girl. Sandwiched between the two, I awkwardly offered gum and began making small talk (I hate small talk, but that’s a story for another day). Over the next 8 hours, we talked about life in North America, friends and family in India, culture shock and, just for fun, I busted out my mediocre Hindi. That’s always a fun one to try on unsuspecting Indian friends. By the end of the flight, we had decided to make a day of it: we’d split a cab and see the sights while waiting for our flights to our final destinations.

To leave Turkey, we had to buy an exit visa. For me, this was simple and quick. For my Indian friends, it involved several long lines, much questioning and some shady looks. The guard tried waving me through when he saw my passport. I smiled and said, “I’m with them”. He raised his eyebrows and gave me a snarky smirk. I laughed to myself thinking, “If only he knew I’m married to an Indian”. Oh well. As we stood on line we gained another Indian friend and headed out to the city.

Without boring you to tears, I’ll tell you my top 5 impressions of Turkey.

5. Astounded by how few people speak English. There’s that (North) American arrogance again.

4. Felt so welcomed by the friendly and kind Turkish people we met.

3. Gorgeous sites, beautiful streets and fabulous weather.

2. Delicious food!

1. Amazing and exotic combination of Europe and Asia. Literally!

The interior of the Hagia Sophia

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, built in 1609

Anoop, Me and Amee

Fresh pomegranate juice on the streets of Istanbul

Back at the airport, I was beaming at having enjoyed a  day in a foreign country with strangers-turned-friends. And guess what: On my flight from Istanbul to Amman, Jordan, I made more friends! This was a big accomplishment for someone who normally hides from airplane seatmates.



 Stay tuned this week for pictures and stories from my trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine!

(Also, in case you’re wondering I won the scavenger hunt. Not officially, mind you. But I did.)


*Re: toilet paper: we wanted an emergency stash in case the middle east didn’t have it available. We forgot TP. And they didn’t have much available.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sara
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 21:26:48

    Hehehe…such a fun post!


  2. Beth
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 22:27:37

    this is a fantastic story. mega proud of your friend-making :)


  3. Lindsay
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:13:41

    Wow, what a great story. I’m sure your layover was much more enjoyable with some friendly people to spend it with!
    Imagine if you hadn’t made small talk – you might not have had so much fun!


  4. Jill
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 21:25:38

    Fun! I recently discovered a good “pide” (Turkish pizza) place on the Danforth in Toronto if you’re ever in the mood for it. :)


  5. Team Oyeniyi
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 00:49:51

    Love, love, love it! Great photos too!

    Oh, the horror of being married to an Indian! How could you! :wink:


  6. Trackback: Whirlwind Tour of Jordan « ESL Marriage

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