Six hours. This is the duration of the flight from Kigali International Airport, Rwanda, to Istanbul Atatürk Airport, Turkey. It all came as a surprise to me that I have to transit via Istanbul to reach my final destination: Mauritius. As an adventurous young man, the surprise was a pleasant one. While Turkish Airlines managed to impress me with the assorted and mouthwatering food they had to offer on board, I was absolutely mesmerized, minutes before landing, by the topography of Istanbul. The plane dived freely into the air space of Asia and Europe, and this was a scene worth dying for. I saw myriads of small boats sailing in the lap of Eurasia’s sea, and gigantic bridges connecting cities. I grew absorbed into my thoughts, nodding to the doleful fact that humans do not create only bridges and boats, but borders too.
Prior to exiting the airport, I made sure to convert some dollars to the local currency of Turkey: the Turkish Lira. As I exited the big and busy airport, I saw many taxis around but I was recommended by one airport officials, to only choose the yellow taxis as they are supposedly the most trustworthy ones. He was right. The driver was humble and respectful, and the taxi had legit meters.
I entered Istanbul carrying many questions in my eyes and the answers were contained in the unplanned meetings with strangers, in the sacred and breathtaking mosques, in the delicious local food, in the serene gardens and in the spirit of Istanbul. The modern infrastructure and exquisite architecture render the city vivid, colorful and contrasting.
I checked in at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, located in Bağcılar, which is around twenty minutes’ drive from the airport. The hotel was comfy, imposing in appearance and affordable.
After a hot shower, I headed to Bosphorus: a calm and posh area. It took me around thirty minutes from Bağcılar to Bosphorus by car. I walked for hours on the streets of Bosphorus: clicking pictures and meeting the locals. I checked in at one of the popular restaurants, called The Market, to have a delicious cup of Turkish coffee. It was love at first sip.
Sultanahmet, a historical district of Istanbul, was glorious and unique. I felt the divine call of its mosques and decided to travel there the next day. Bosphorus and Sultanahmet are separated by the sea. Many passenger boats were sailing back and forth from Bosphorus to Sultanahmet.
Istanbul welcomed me with smiles and coffee. I spent the first day to understand the culture of the place: from the greeting etiquettes to food habits. I reached the hotel in the evening and penned down the moments of the first day in my travel diary. One important lesson that I learned on this first day in Istanbul is that Istanbul never lies. It speaks of faith but it brings you to its doors too: the mosques. It takes pride in its local food and it offers you umpteen restaurants and cafes.
It is as it is.
It is an open book for travelers to read.