Turkey day 24 - Worse drive of my life - Into Istanbul

Luke & I resting by Iznik Lake in the early morning.

This was the day which was supposed to have the easiest drive, about 3 hours. So I was really looking forward to spending the afternoon relaxing in Istanbul after dropping off the car and maybe heading out to the Grand Bazaar. Well that didn’t work - the gentle 3 hour drive became a very unpleasant 7 hour nightmare.

First up the route was through very windy roads though the countryside, which didn’t bother me too much but was hard on poor Julianne’s stomach – the countryside seemed very New Zealand actually.

About 100 km’s away from Istanbul when on the motorway the traffic came to a complete standstill. During the 15 minutes of just sitting there and getting very worried it started moving again, turns there was a crash just ahead which was suddenly cleared and we were moving again. From there until Istanbul the traffic was a complete nightmare, there were cars everywhere and Auckland drivers are bad for not letting anyone into their lanes, well Istanbul drivers are even worse.

Every on-ramp took what seemed forever to get past. Finally after several hours I was driving over a bridge from Asia to Europe and for a brief 5 minute period traffic was good but then I was off the motorway into the main traffic chaos that is Istanbul.

Approaching the bridge as I was about to leave Asia.

Asia on the left, and approaching Europe on the right.

I had decided that dropping off the luggage was the best option instead of trying to get all the bags from the airport to Coskun House, especially with all the shopping that has occurred over the last month but it turns out this choice created a huge amount of stress and extra hours of driving for me.

Driving into the centre of historical Istanbul was so completely clogged with cars it was amazing and then there are these one ways streets. The GPS tried to take me through the edge of the old Roman circus outside the Blue Mosque which was protected by bollards so I couldn’t get though. This first attempt took me within 1km of Coskun House but I was not able to get to it. So close but so far.

By now it was around 3pm and I was really quite frustrated with all this unexpected driving and I was so close and couldn’t get to where I was staying at Coskun House.

I tried again which meant driving back away about 5 km’s to be able to turn around and try and get back into the historical centre of Istanbul. The second attempt took about an hour to get within 1 km of Coskun House, and this time I just completely ignored the traffic rules - which is what I should have done the first time.

Also the last 500 meters took about 20 minutes which almost drove me nuts, but then finally I turned right where I was not allowed, just outside a police station which was of course guarded by several men with rifles which was nerve ranking. But no-one seemed to care and I stopped at the bottom of the street where of Coskun House is located and of course there were more bollards at the bottom the steep street. There was a rubbish truck which was just ahead of me which had done the same thing in ignoring the traffic rules and they lowered the bollards. The owner of Coskin House talked with them and they let me drive the car up the steep street to just outside the house so the car could be unloaded, which with all the bags which very helpful.

So by 4ish the car was unloaded and as we were in a hurry so the rubbish truck could put the bollard back up Julianne and I were back in the car heading to the airport. So no rest for me.

living in the middle of historical Istanbul is brilliant with easy access for doing all the tourist visiting stuff but getting a car into the middle of it is a complete nightmare.

I realised Avis had not told us where to return the car so Julianne had to go into the domestic terminal which of course involved going through a complete bag check process which is not quick before we found out were to go.

Once she returned I drove the car to the drop off point. As we had left in a hurry at Coskin House and I have been driving around Turkey for 3 weeks though snow, dust, mud, dirt and motorways plus we a baby in the back - the car was a mess. Grandma was concerned that we were going to be hit with a large cleaning bill but we had not time to do anything but they gave the car a quick 30 second look and all was fine so all was good.

I then went into the terminal to complain that I had not received the van I had booked, though the 4 wheel drive has proved great to drive and much better for the range of terrain I ended up going through. The challenge was putting all our stuff into it. If it was not for Julianne’s superpower of packing we would not have made it, the car was so completely full. Grandma compared Julianne’s packing to putting a puzzle together.

Avis took our details but I don’t expect any results.

It was then time for the train & tram ride back to the Coskin House with Julianne. I was very tired but relaxed in that the car was sorted. Didn’t get back to Coskin House until around 6pm – so much for an afternoon spent relaxing in Istanbul, but Julianne and I popped into a fantastic bookshop right beside the tram stop on the way home and spent lots of money on some really expensive but outstanding books, for me on Gallipoli from a Turkish perspective & Julianne on carpet patterns and history. Nothing more relaxing than buying very cool books.

It was then a nice meal in a restaurant just up the road and then a real Turkish experience, a visit to a Turkish spa. There is an old 500 year old spa straight opposite the Hoyia Sofia which has recently been fully refurbished so I booked myself in for 9pm to help get the boys ready for bed. The traditional Roman spa process from 2000 years ago has morphed over time through the Byzantine and then Ottoman Empire’s to what is available today and you can’t visit Turkey without a Turkish spa, plus I have had a hell of a day with the long drive, which was made worse because I simply was not ready for it. I expected a 3 hour drive and as the hours of driving just kept going and the traffic got worse and I was exhausted and a bit grumpy – so a relaxing spa is just what I needed. The experience is a morph between a modern relaxing spa and a shower, with lots of water mainly hot and was very relaxing and I felt much better for it.

Adam Weller