Once we reached Beograd, the anticipation for Istanbul mounted, despite our self-admonitions to always be present and enjoy our current “home address”.
We board our half-full plane on Serbian carrier Jat Airlines, stretching out with an empty middle seat between us. We use up our final Serbo-Croatian please’s and thank you’s – molim’s and hvala’s – on the stewardess. The plane climbs and descends, final approach in under an hour.
The hazy sunset pushes its way though clouds as massive tankers and cargo ships anchor off Turkish coastline. Landing at Atatürk, the only familiar airlines nestled into the terminals are Emirates and Turkish Air.
A blog post had tipped me to the airport procedures. We get our visas first, €30 cash in hand ready, then passport control.
The private transport is waiting for us – no way did I want to take a random taxi into the city at night. The coordinator is jostling for position at the exit doors, “TYLER SUN” prominently displayed on her clipboard. Ali Sun loves that. We wait twenty minutes for a lovely Australian couple to arrive from Zagreb; we have booked studios in the same building with the same AirBNB host.
Fatih greets us, shows us our room. The five of us then walk to the Galata Tower, down steep cobblestone streets to the waterfront, pausing at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, ostensibly the most famous baklava house in the world and justifiably so.
After dessert, after our walk, Ali Sun and I get some dinner. A table full of mezes – eggplant, stuffed peppers, stuffed grape leaves, grilled vegetables.
I ask for the check, please – hesap, lütfen. It is 11:11pm. We have arrived in Istanbul, still surreal to us both.