Trip to Istanbul

To get to the Lviv airport, I had to catch a marshrutka at a stop about 15-20 minutes away on foot from Kate’s apartment. I got to walk on a major street that was basically closed off because the city is majorly overhauling it for new tram tracks down the middle. The marshrutka stopped about a 15-minute walk away from the airport. I did see a closer marshrutka stop as I approached, but I guess there aren’t any direct routes from Kate’s.

It was about lunch time when I got through check-in, security, and passport control. I wasn’t expecting to find a Veronica location there, but I was happy to see it. They had their familiar pizza, but I tried some unfamiliar items. One was a caramel cream ball (₴11 each) that grandmothers traditionally make for their grandchildren. I also tried the Lviv-style apple strudel (₴43 per 100g) and the salmon galette (₴65 for 100g). The galette was so good that I wish I’d gotten more, but it was enough. The caramel cream ball was nice, and the strudel was full of fruit surprises, like pineapples and golden raisins.

Grandma's dessert Carby lunch

After an uneventful flight (which you can read about in my review for AtlasGlobal), we arrived in Istanbul. When the crew announced that it was safe to use our cell phones again, I got really nervous because my phone wouldn’t connect to any providers. But everything was fine after we got into the airport.

Passport control was awful: I waited for 1.25 hours before reaching the front of the line. There was a sign at the start of the line that said people with eVisas should use counters 2-5, but only counter 5 was open. The bright spot was that once I reached the counter, everything went smoothly. Make sure to print out your eVisa: the Chinese couple behind me tried to show their eVisa from their phones, and the officer wasn’t having it.

Conveniently, there’s a metro station you can access directly from the airport. Before hopping on, I tried to buy an Istanbulkart from an automatic ticket machine, but the machine doesn’t let you use credit cards or choose a smaller amount than the bill you put in. I only had two ₺50 bills, and since I had no idea how much I’d use the transit card, I decided to buy it from the nearby kiosk. The woman working there only gave me ₺30 in change even though the card itself costs ₺6 and is loaded with ₺10. (This is the first time a Turk cheated me during my trip.)

I took the metro from the airport to the last stop (Yenikapi) to transfer to the Marmaray Metro. You have to exit the paid area of the metro to transfer to the Marmaray Metro, and you also have to confront metal detectors and security guards going through your bags. This was really annoying because the guards just did a perfunctory check, which didn’t make me feel any safer.

My next Couchsurfing host Mo lives really close to the Üsküdar Marmaray Metro Station, but it’s all uphill! It made me feel like I was back in San Francisco.

View from the top

He came downstairs after I notified him that I’d arrived in front of his building. He’s on the second floor in a 2-1 as the subletter from the primary renter, who’s away in Thailand for holiday. She teaches first graders during the school year, but she loves traveling solo. Mo was born and raised in Lebanon, and his parents are Palestinian. Because of his parents’ background, it’s hard for him to get visas. He’s waiting for a meeting on Friday to find out whether his company wants to send him to another office location to work in an area he’s excited about in railway engineering. He doesn’t really care where as long as it’s not in Istanbul. He’s tired of how Turkish people like to cheat and take advantage of people, especially foreigners. In fact, Mo advised me not to shop in mini-marts where prices are not listed. Instead, he recommended Migros, a Swiss supermarket. He recently was bitten by an unknown bug, and he must have been allergic to it because his whole ankle swelled up like crazy after a few hours. He was told to rest it for a few days, so he didn’t have a chance to tidy his house, and he had to wear sandals to work, which Turkish people oddly don’t like. He initially moved to Istanbul for his master’s degree, which he worked on for two years but stopped before he finished his thesis to start his job at this railway company. The company originally had 90,000 employees, but when GE bought the nuclear power portion of the company, only 30,000 remained who worked on the railways. But it’s good since they got capital from the sale and can focus on one thing.

I was starting to feel hungry around 19:00, so we took a bus to Kadikoy to get dinner at HD Iskender, a Turkish chain restaurant with a limited menu. The iskender with smoked eggplant (₺19.95) was huge and had hot butter poured on it after they brought it to our table, and the halloumi salad (₺12.95) came with tomatoes, almonds, corn, lettuce, olive oil, and pomegranate sauce. The servers didn’t seem to speak much English, but Mo’s Turkish is pretty good after three years of living here. He recommended that I go visit Lebanon since the people there really enjoy life, and the food is amazing. He also told me about how his ex-girlfriend suggested doing yoga to get rid of his asthma, and he was a skeptic before, but after doing yoga for the first time, he swore he’d never stop. Now he does it every morning for 15-20 minutes at home, and he developed his routine himself from watching YouTube videos. He doesn’t change the routine because he found something that works for him.

Mo and me sitting down to dinner Tasty halloumi Hot butta

By the time we had finished dinner, it was already past 21:00, and I had no motivation to go to the CS meeting. So we walked along the water instead, then sat around on some large rocks by the sea. We chatted about how his dream is to buy a boat and live in it, but in Lebanon, owning a boat is only for the privileged. And in Istanbul, there’s a lack of boat parking, so paying for parking is easily three times the cost of a boat.

We took a bus back to his place, but the fare was free because the government was encouraging citizens to gather for protests in public places. Sweet! I crashed around 01:30 on the couch.

The living room was way too warm.

Written on August 10, 2016