Atatürk International Airport is clean, if not particularly inspiring. Airports always tread the line between being sanitised to prevent an MRSA outbreak among travellers on the one hand, and being cathedrals to consumerism on the other hand. If the watchmen had their way, airports would strictly be the former. The problem with airports is that people only pass through them, they're not like bus or train terminals, where people gather and meet. It might be they're that way by virtue of being out of town, or by convention.
My flight was due to leave at 7.50 in the morning, which left me with about 9hours to kill in Istanbul. 8hours is plenty of time. I've had "affairs" that lasted less than that. I had contemplated sleeping in the airport, waking, and leaving first thing in the morning. But my street cred would suffer badly. I'd never be able to really say that I'd been to Turkey, it'd just be a sly crossed fingers addition to my list of visited countries. Istanbul is famed for its East meets West culture, a city that straddles the border between Europe and Asia, a seamless bridge where here and there become one, become (t)here.
When one travels, one tends to meet three kinds of people: shysters, kind strangers, and a third kind of person, who is a combination of the two. People who sell tourism tend to be one part shyster, one part Good Samaritan. And I guess those are the people I encountered at the airport. They sold me a hotel for my few hours in the heart of Istanbul, and transport to and from the airport. It might be 1am, but I’ll walk around, take pictures, and go back to bed. Whistle-stop trip to Istanbul.
As the car races between Atatürk International Airport and Sultanahmet, one can only ask what objection Europe has to Turkey's prospective EU membership. In fact, the chief opponent of Turkey’s EU membership - fiercely secular France - probably has more in common with religiously secular Turkey, than it does with openly Catholic Poland.
The route is lined with trees, driving is slightly erratic, a cool breeze sweeps across the Bosporus, a wonderfully symbolic body of water. On the way back to the airport in the morning, the sea is dotted with anchored ships, their lights glistening in the distance. Sultan Ahmet Mosque, or the Blue Mosque as it’s popularly known in the West, almost hovers over Istanbul. It’s on a higher plane to most the city, and because of the trees around the city, you can only see its full glory up close. From a distance, all one can see is a giant hovering Islamic spaceship, waiting to abduct all comers and lift off into the foreign galaxies.
Hali Hotel is on Klodfarer street, a mere two minutes walk from the Blue Mosque. It’s 1am. I do what any battle hardened traveller would, I take stroll to the mosque, eyeing the McDonald’s “restaurant” on the right side of the road. On the opposite side is a Starbucks. Further down are tram stops. Mercedes E-class cars cruise by with musica Americana blaring through rolled down windows. I might as well be in Frankfurt, or Brussels.
Couples sit among many rows of benches under the gaze of the mosque, killing time. Some wear headscarves, some don’t. Some have wedding bands, some don’t. I try to imagine couples sitting by St Paul’s Cathedral in London. I can’t. In one corner is a vendor, selling roast corn. There’s always been a competition to find the European nationals most similar to Nigerians. Italians always make it because they gesticulate a lot. Greeks are always there or thereabouts. With roast corn on the side of the road, Turkey has got to be Nigeria. And with a corn cob in my mouth, I walked back to Hali Hotel, slept, and got ready for Jerusalem.
I'll put pictures up when I can.