I arrived at Ataturk at 11 PM and got through visa processing fairly quickly. My luggage even showed up although I honestly did not expect it to. The luggage carousel was convenient to the Lost and Found desk, where I turned in a Diners Club credit card that I found on the floor near the visa desks. I took minor comfort in the fact that someone's day was worse than mine...
The hotel had arranged for a driver, who met me shortly after I retrieved my luggage. He ushered me into a van with six seats, facing each other in pairs. The radio is the first cultural exclamation point. Even in Germany the muzak was American rock. That would definitely not be the soundtrack here.
We drove along what I would later learn is Yedikule Zindanlar, an extensive fortification running along the Sea of Marmara. After about 45 minutes we enter the Sultanahmet, Istanbul's Old Town. Imagine Venice, but with cars. I think I'm going to be even more lost here than I was during my last few days in Florence...
The Hotel Han is even more vibrant than the website indicated, with its hot pink neon sign and facade. This restored Ottoman home stands on top of the Basilica Cistern in the heart of the Sultanahmet, within walking distance of many of the sites I wanted to see.
I check in with the hotelier, an older gentleman who explains that breakfast is served between 8 - 11AM. It's going to take awhile for my ears to adjust to his broken English and thick accent.
Hotel Han Yerebatan Caddesi
No. 19 Sultanahmet, Istanbul Turkey
Tel: 90 212 511 03 61
My room is two floors up a tight spiral staircase, and although I try to carry my own bag, the old hotelier won't hear of it. I apologize all the way up the stairs because my suitcase is full of books. He unlocks the door and ushers me in.
When they describe this as a single room, they are Not Kidding! There's a cozy bed tucked into an alcove, an ultra efficient private bath, and a mini fridge. The ceiling is lacquered tongue-and -groove, the walls stenciled with floral patterns that remind me of henna tattoos. The window is covered with beautiful lace curtains with sequins in the lace edging that would shimmer the next morning when the sun hit them. I can see a minaret from the lower corner of my window. There is no safe or TV, but there are more electrical outlets in this room than there were on the entire floor of the San Frediano Mansion in Florence. Full toiletries in the bathroom are a pleasant surprise. "It Is Perfect!" ... a phrase I would hear frequently this week.
I want to take a shower but it's after 1 AM and I don't want to wake the other guests. I fall into bed with expectations of being awakened in the morning by calls to prayer...