From the SAW airport in Istanbul, Turkey, I called for an Uber yellow taxi to Fatih. Travel Tip: do not pay out-of-pocket when taking an Uber taxi - no matter (in any language) what your driver says.
As we're driving, the driver, using his phone translator, says, "there is traffic" and points to a traffic map he's pulled up on his phone. "If we go that way," his translator is saying, as he points to where there's obviously a lot of backed up traffic, "it'll be 1 hour and 45 minutes." "If we go this way," she says, as he points to a a route that looks beautifully calm, "it will be one hour." He explains (through his translator) that "this way" (he points to stress) "will be 900 TL (Turkish lyra)." "This way," (he points to serenity) "will be 1200 TL." I quickly estimate that 900 TL is approximately $45 USD and 1200 TL is approximately $60 USD. (It's impressive that I can do this, no?!) I look at the path of serenity on his phone (considering the $15 difference) and say, "1 hour please."
He takes the route to serenity. Then he tells me, via his phone translator app, that "there are tolls. "You will pay me extra with cash" he says. "Uber doesn't pay extra," he explains. When I hesitate he adds, "If you don't pay extra it will harm me." I get out my phone translator. I tell him, "I only pay through Uber." My credit card is set up on the Uber app. There's no exchange of cash. It's clean. I like it. That's why I use Uber. Again, he types in his phone (this is all while driving on the highway), "It will harm me." I sit in the back seat silently while he seems to brood in the front. After going through the second toll, I hand him my credit card.
When I got to my Airbnb building, I couldn't get onto the Airbnb app on my phone to read the directions my host had sent. I learned that, in order to open the Airbnb app, Airbnb sends a code that you must plug in. They ask you to choose how you would like to receive the code: by phone, text, or email. I chose the box for text. The code did not show up in my texts. I tried again. This time, I chose the phone option. I did not receive a call. I tried again. This time, I chose the email option. The code did show up in my email. The problem now was that I could not seem to get from my email back to the Airbnb app in time, before they timed me out. I went through this process, just as unsuccessfully, a few more times. After a while, I'm not sure exactly how many attempts later, Airbnb locked me out. I guess multiple attempts looks like suspicious behavior. Airbnb's message said, "Try back in an hour." Travel Tip: When you get directions, codes, phone numbers... any pertinent information about your upcoming Airbnb stay, write it on a piece of paper and keep it handy.
There I stood, at whatever the f-k time it was, next to my too many too heavy bags, struck down, once again, by Murphy's Law. Again, I was tired, hungry, frustrated... with painted stinky Clark clogs that I could smell from 5' 7" away.
There was a booth inside a locked gate, straight across the single-laned narrow street from where my bags now stood. It looked to me like my newest savior. I left my too many too heavy bags and walked across the lane. I stood in front of the locked gate, waiting like a faithful dog, until someone, I hoped, appeared. Someone did appear. I used the translator app on my phone to ask, "will you please help me?"
Let me take a moment here to say that I am grateful to the powers that be that the translator app on my phone worked. I bow my head to small favors that feel like life savers, like life saviors.
The man in the booth behind the locked gate was more than willing to help. He came out of the booth, out of the locked gate, walked across the single-laned narrow street, and called the host of my Airbnb building. I wonder how many times he had done this. Regardless, angels are among us. He was my newest savior.
The Airbnb host, speaking to me from my savior's phone, said, "use this code, go in, go up stairs to the left, through a door, go to Block F, go up stairs, go right, at the end of the hall there's a room on the left, use this code, your key will be inside the lock box, that's your room."
These directions sounded to me like a lot to remember. In my mind, I repeated "Block F. Go up. Code." My kind angel watched me mouthing something to myself. He seemed to know what to do. Maybe he'd seen this behavior before? He plugged in the first code and opened the first door for me. The Airbnb host-in-a-phone went away, I lugged my too many too heavy bags through the door, my angel said "Ok" and closed the door, and I was alone, inside an open courtyard. Somehow I remembered to move (me and my bags) forward, up the stairs, and through the door on the left. On the other side of the door was another open courtyard. There were stairs going up to a roof top outdoor common room. There was a building with a sign on it that looked like Block B. There was another building with a sign on it: Block A. There was a dead end space around the corner of Building A. That's it. There was nowhere else to go. There was no signage: Block F. I walked up, down, around, and did it again, a few times. I felt like I was in a very bad comedy. Finally, a woman appeared and said, "It's block B. They say block F but it's block B."
Come to find out, she and her husband had arrived not long before I did. They had also looked for Block F. Through trial and error, they figured out the riddle.
I left my too many too heavy bags in the courtyard, opened the door to Building B, walked through a room, took a left, and saw a metal spiral staircase going up to where my room would eventually appear. "You've got to be kidding," I said right out loud.
The husband, obviously hearing me, most likely understanding this state of mind and feeling compassion for me, said "I'll carry your bags up." Now, he had just carried their bags up. I knew this because their bags were still outside their door, up two flights of stairs, to the left, at the end of the hall to the right. My door was up two flights of stairs, to the right, at the end of the hall to the left. We both carried my bags up.
When my bags and I got to my door, I'm proud to report that I did remember my code. I must be honest, though, and admit that it took me a minute, standing, looking at the lockbox, to remember that I had to open the box, to retrieve the key, that opened the door to my bedroom. After I opened my door, I walked back down the hall to my neighbor's door to say "thank you." It was then that the husband said, "We got scammed by the Uber yellow taxi on the way here." Come to find out, they had also come from the SAW airport. Their driver relayed the same story about the traffic, the tolls... even about being harmed. Later, talking with my son about this, I learned that, if you feel an Uber driver charged you too much, you can contest it through Uber and they will, without hesitation, reimburse you. Only if you paid through Uber. If you paid out-of-pocket, there's no way to prover it, and you're out of luck. My son also said that the Uber driver can add extra charges for tolls, etc. through Uber. So... yes, I was scammed. Ok, my friends, you have been warned.
When me and my bags were inside my room, and I closed the door, guess what I did? Yes, I got naked. I took off the newest pile of stinky clothes, including my clogs. Oh. My. Goddess. They smelled SO bad. I brought them to the bathroom sink and used toilet paper to wipe them with liquid hand soap. Twice. Three times. And then I left them, on their own, outside, on the lovely terrace. It was, I thought, a brilliant idea. "Why," I thought, "didn't I do this at the Ibis Hotel?" Maybe the handsome man would not have turned around. Maybe we would've had dinner together in Istanbul tonight. "Maybe," I realized, "the degree of stink had not reached this height before now." I stuffed my dirty clothes in my now full dirty laundry bag section of my rolling backpack, and took another long, hot, revival shower.
Maybe because I was in Istanbul, and Istanbul was familiar, I don't know... but somehow, I knew, right then, that I had had my last encounter with Murphy's Law. Even if life would continue to throw curve balls, the quicksand suddenly dissipated, and I was back on solid ground. I breathed this knowing in, and felt my true sense of Self stepping out.
I stepped out of the shower and into clean clothes, out the door, onto the cobbled streets of Fatih, past cats, past cars driving in the most bizarre ways, past women who said "merhaba" to me and children who giggled their English "hello" at me. I ate olives and traditional Turkish Meza with not one but two of the most delicious eggplant dishes I'd eaten since I'd been in Istanbul for my first time (in May)... at the New Balat Cafe restaurant, which was, I learned, run by the exact same young and old men who ran the Old Balat Cafe restaurant, that was literally next door, with the identically same menu. I said, "teşekkürler" and touched my heart with my hand in greeting, as did others to me.
That night, walking back "home," I felt a ting of sadness, knowing I'd be leaving all this in the morning. "Ah," I thought, "just one night in Istanbul."