28 Nov The Turkey Diaries: Day 1, Istanbullsh!t
After spending one month in Greece, I never thought I’d say it but I was happy to say goodbye to pristine beaches, seaside drinks and sandy bottoms… Ready to replace it all with big city life.
Next stop Istanbul, Turkey!
Arriving in Istanbul at 13:30pm
The airport was filled with people from all over the world, the smell was different, there was chaos, business, a noticeable change from the laid back little airports of the Greek islands. It was like a ‘mix bag’ of people in comparison to other airports of Europe. That morning, we had paid special attention to how we dressed, covering ourselves up as best as we could. I dressed in a white cropped sleeved-top, with a long stripy high waisted maxi skirt and Marta wore a black singlet top, a long black maxi skirt with a split up the right thigh… Look it’s as subtle as we could find in 40degree heat!
We arrived in Istanbul city centre, making sure that we called our Air Bnb/Hostel owner once we had arrived, on the way asking politely for directions at a 5 star hotel (yes we aim high) and they told us exactly where to go, and so, we began walking to what we thought was our hostel.
After spending 25 minutes running back and forward between the streets of Istanbul in 35 degree heat with 80% humidity and a 21kg bag, finally, we gave up and asked a taxi driver to take us to the room, he said no and spent 5 minutes Googling the address, trying to explain to me that I could walk there. He kindly wrote the name of the street again on a pink piece of paper, which made my life a whole lot easier. We left him and walked more, waving around a pink piece of paper with the address on it to anyone who looked useful.
At every Starbucks, Burger King and Mini Mart I saw, I pointed to the name of the street and asked “where?” shrugging my shoulders looking confused. Some street vendors would pretend they knew where it was, even though they didn’t and would umm and ahh for about 5 minutes until I said “Don’t worry about it” and walked off.
As we walked the bustling streets just off Taksim square, we led slowly closer and closer finally to find a dark alley way with scattered people drinking tea on the streets.
No one was there but the address was correct so I went into a jewellery store asking to use their phone to call the apartment owner. An easy question right? No. I went in and did every interpretive dance movement I knew, combined with my street knowledge of sign language to explain if I could borrow their phone errrm #languagebarrier.
They were very over protective with their phone and dialed the number whilst holding onto my phone (iPhone worth 3x the price of their flip phone but clearly something of value to them). No answer on the first number… Opps I said and pointed to another on the phone, while the shopman was trying hide my phone screen from him, “What the f*** is he doing” I thought. I grabbed it and pointed to the other number and said “Lets try the second?” The Turkish shop owners looked at me warily, staring me up and down judging how fast I could run with their precious mobile phone (did I mention it was a 2003 Sony Ericsson?), I battered my eyelashes in an innocent way and took their phone and spoke.
Turns out we were at the wrong address.
The apartment owner asked that he speak with the taxi driver before we leave so that he knew when we were on our way. So the search began again. We thanked the shop owners, I walked off saying “Thankk -Youu… Thank… YOU, you…!!” nodding my head, smiling and gesturing, hoping to awkwardly translate my words by saying them at snail speed, I guess he got the idea we were thankful – anyway.
We made it back up the hill with locals noticing us, asking if we need help (two lost young females in Istanbul, hurray!) we said no because we were going straight to a taxi and that was the end of the story.
So there we were waiting in the heat for a taxi when that faithful bright yellow sedan comes driving by, I hailed it getting ready to enter with my bag asking how much to here *points to phone*. He said maybe 5TL but depends on the metre. We said okay and if he didn’t mind could we please use his phone, he said sure.
Things were off to a good start, we were finally on our way! The taxi driver said he could make the call for us – to the guy at the apartment waiting for us and spoke with him. He was a young Turkish guy, seemed nice. Perfect!
As we started driving the taxi driver said “Your hotel, very bad area, not good, not good”.
So he decides to be our personal tour guide and drive us around showing us different areas of Istanbul, we insisted and said “No, please take us to this address”. He continued to nod his head and after 5 minutes of driving in circles and us repeating ourselves, with the metre trippling in price he arrives at an overpass and points down a shadey looking street under it saying “That you, I will not drive there… 30TL NOW!”
“Umm this doesnt look right,” we said. “First of all, drive us to the correct address and second, we are not paying that much when you said 5TL originally”.
He began to get angry and said okay 20TL! (He had originally quoted us 5TL and it was meant to be a 2 minute drive). We said no, we’re not paying.
He began to get angry and said, huffing and puffing, with the car pulled up on the side of the road. Finally he came to his senses and said “Fine I will give it to you for FREE and take you back to the tower (original pickup point).
We responded “Okay do that”. Seems like a good idea right? Uhhhh.
Angrily he put his foot to the floor and began speeding down the highway.
He missed the turn off and started cutting other cars off to get in front of them. Going about 150km/hour on a 90km highway, something didn’t seem right. It felt like time stopped for a moment, we were going speeding down the highway in an angry taxi drivers car and I knew all he had needed to do was turn the corner and we’d be back at the tower. I hoped he would turn around soon, so I asked him where we are going… he ignored me, then started saying it’s FREE! FREE!
Suddenly I started having vivid flash backs of the film Taken.
As we all know, nothing in life is free, so with nervousness I said “NO! TAKE US BACK TO THE APARTMENT NOW AND WE WILL PAY”, giving in to his silly tricks. He waited a moment to respond, and said “you pay yes?” Continuing down the highway, I affirmed that we would pay and for him to take us back to the first hotel we had asked for. All I know is that wherever we were going wasn’t going to end well, and money is only an object in the grand scheme of things.
Turns out the taxi driver faked the phone call to the guy waiting for us at the apartment. More than likely he called another hotel telling them if he takes us there he’ll get commission.
We ended up paying him to take us to the original dodgy hotel. After I did some research and found out this situation is not unique in Istanbul and is in fact a regular scam, I don’t know where he was taking us, but all I know is that it was some place far, far, away. We ended up asking our Turkish friend to report him, as we took a photo of his taxi number when we were getting out, so justice was served!
It is important to be aware of these situations, especially for young female travellers. Taxi’s in Istanbul are associated with a number of problems, so I would recommend only taking a taxi if you absolutely need to, and don’t get in if you don’t feel comfortable with the driver.
Have you had any horrible experiences with scamming or taxi drivers whilst travelling? Tell me about them in the comments below.