Our flight from Casablanca landed about 50 km from Istanbul in the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. It’s not nearly as convenient as Ataturk Airport but it services a lot of discount airlines such as Air Arabia. While not a huge airport, it does have a lot of domestic and international flights coming in and going out.
Since we hadn’t checked any bags, I was hoping we could get through customs quickly and be among the first one’s there. Of course, it didn’t work out like that because I forgot to stop and buy the $20 tourist visa required of Americans. Hanane got through and when it was my turn the immigration agent sent me back down the hall to the visa agent. Where I got one of Turkey’s new visa stamps. It turns out they don’t like foreigners to work there for 90 days, take a ferry to Greece, and then come back so they’ve started a new policy that allows a multiple entry 90 day visa which says clearly that the visitor is not allowed to work. After it runs out you can renew for 45 days, but then you can’t renew for 180 days. It’s an attractive stamp in my passport.
Once through customs, we went straight outside so I could smoke since we didn’t see the transport I’d arranged waiting for us with a sign that was supposed to say Vago and Hanane. Once outside, it took us a while to figure out how to get back in. It was about 2 am and our driver was a no show.
I’d arranged transport through Istanbul Airport Shuttle and even when I called them twice and they assured me they were on the way, no one came. We waited about an hour and a half. Later I went to their office and found that they’d gotten the date wrong and sent someone the day before since our flight left on the 23rd and arrived on the 24th.
Hanane was a little freaked out and so I hired a freelancer to get us to the Hotel Ayasofya in Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet region. Shuttles at that time of the night average at 30 Euros per person. A taxi is 85 Euros. The one I’d arranged was supposed to be 10 Euros each. I hired the freelancer for 20 Euros each which sent Hanane into a rage since that meant 400 dirham for a 45 minute shuttle ride. She harangued the guy into 30 Euros which caused me to be slightly insulted since I’d already struck the bargain.
I ended up giving him the 30 Euros plus an addition 10 Euros as a tip because I was pissed. The thief took advantage of our freshness with Turkish Lira and gave me change for my 50 Euro note with a 10 lira note, thus taking an extra 5 Euros for himself. He was driving for Yume Travel Agency and so of course, I don’t recommend them at all. If you see their van, please give them a Bronx cheer for me.
The drive into Istanbul from the Asian side to the European side was spectacular. As we crossed the Bosporus by the beautifully neon purple Bosporus Bridge, we were both thrilled to see the lights of the Aya Sophia (Hagia Sophia), the Blue Mosque, Suleyman Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace. Given the time of the morning and the state of exhaustion we were in, it was surreal, but I suspect that any first sighting of Istanbul is just as surreal.
If you arrive at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport during normal hours you can take the HAVAS airport bus for 10 lira to Taksim and then take a taxi for less than 10 lira or tyhe funicular or tram for 1.5 Turkish Lira to Sultan Ahmet.
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