How to get lost in (and find your way out of) Istanbul without really trying

            Not much interesting has happened to me lately, but here's a story from a few years ago.  It happened when I was traveling in Europe and went on a cruise of Greece and Turkey. I had a lot of fun, but I ran into a little trouble in Istanbul (Not Midnight Run trouble, but still a bit unnerving). We had spent the day sightseeing in a huge group and at the end of the day we went to a Turkish bath. It was very strange, but definitely something to try if you ever go to Turkey.

Anyway, as we came out of the Turkish bath, we looked around desperately for a taxi. The guys had finished earlier and had presumably returned to the ship without us.   Because we had been lazy, it was now a mere 45 minutes until the ship was due to depart leaving us stranded in Istanbul. We quickly examined our options. We could call a taxi, but that might take too long and there were too many of us for one taxi. So there we were 8 women lost in Istanbul and less than an hour away from being stranded there.

        The girl who had taken the lead earlier in the day seemed to have lost her sense of direction, and the situation was going nowhere fast. Glancing up I saw two minarets that I remembered from my midnight walk the night before. They each belonged to a different mosque and were on opposite sides of the road that immediately after turned into the bridge that would take us to the port and our ship.

          This is when I did something that in retrospect could have ended badly, I told the others I knew where I was going and with me leading the way, we headed toward the minarets. About 5 minutes later we ran into a bit of trouble. The road we were following led almost immediately into the Grand Bazaar. Now Istanbul’s grand bazaar is huge. It's an endless maze of streets that would eventually I swore (and silently hoped) would lead us to the port. Unfortunately, the buildings were so high we could only see sky above us and no longer had a view of the landmarks.

        Since it was Sunday, the streets of the Bazaar where empty for the first few blocks. Every time we hit an intersection I would say something like 'we need to go this way' and strike out in a random direction. Thinking I had a clue everyone followed me.

Things were going okay if you ignored the fact that I was lost, when all of a sudden we saw straight ahead a massive wave of people. And when I say people I mean men. I guess women don't freely roam the streets as much in Istanbul or maybe because it was Sunday they stayed home.

          So here we were. A group of girls, half of us were blond, in western clothes in the middle of a Turkish bazaar. I point out our clothes, because they really made us stand out. Plus this was a massive group of people. Someone from the back of the group said which way do we go now? One of the other girls and I looked at each other and said ‘Uh turn right’. It was not so much as a directional choice as an avoidance tactic.

           Unfortunately it didn't work for long. A couple hundred yards after we turned we suddenly found ourselves engulfed in masses of people. Apparently on Sunday there was a huge flea market held in the streets of the grand bazaar. In an attempt to stay together, we walked single file holding on to each other. The crowed filled in until it felt like the whole population of Istanbul was pushing us in every direction at once. I lost a few people behind me and I stopped to find them. I found them, but had lost the people ahead. Still we kept on pushing forward. We caught up to the other girls and there ahead of me I saw the most beautiful sight in the world, the bridge that would lead us to the ship. I said something to the others and we started trying to run. All we managed was a fast walk. It seemed to take us forever to get across the bridge, and then we went through the dock area and climbed the gangway of the boat.

          My friend and I headed straight for our cabin and as we were unlocking the door, I heard the ships horn blow signaling the ship's departure. I was very grateful to be hearing that from on the ship rather than from the dock. I guess you could say I was saved from my own stupidity by dumb luck.


The moral of the story is that if I ever say I know the way – don’t believe me.


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