Playing Chicken in Turkey
by Steve Rudd


It wasn’t the best welcome to Turkey. It was the dead of night, we’d just crossed the border, yet there I was, beside a Mancunian called Liam, being frog-marched back to the tiny hut that issued visas. Upon crossing the border, us English lads had been issued the correct visa, but the official had inexplicably neglected to stamp the visas with our entry date.His mistake had been noticed by another official who’d stepped on to our bus for one last check. Feeling like we’d committed a crime, we sheepishly followed the man the best part of a kilometre as a pack of stray dogs howled their grievances.
We were glad to get back on the bus. I was sat beside a Turkish girl who was returning to Istanbul for the weekend from Sofia in Bulgaria where she studied medicine. We rolled into Istanbul at seven in the morning and were promptly deposited at the colossal otogar some ten kilometers from the Sultanahmet area of the city where we wanted to be.We’d heard that free shuttle buses could be taken from the bus station into the city centre, but everybody we asked at the station sent us scurrying in wildly different directions. We spent an hour attempting to find a shuttle bus to deliver us from such evil.
Exhausted both physically and mentally, we eventually gave in to a taxi driver when he offered to take us direct to a guesthouse that Liam had earmarked in his guidebook. For twenty euros the ride was ours. Mindful that his fare seemed relatively expensive, we nonetheless flung our gear into his car boot and settled into the backseat.True to his word, he drove us into Sultanahmet, pulling to a halt beside the beautiful Blue Mosque.

‘But where is the guesthouse?’ I asked. Lost for the appropriate English, he shrugged his shoulders: the universal language of ignorant indifference.

Left to our own devices, we stumbled around the district for thirty minutes before we spotted the place down a side street. We couldn’t check-in until midday so we sought a nearby cafe for some breakfast.Having not eaten since leaving Plovdiv the previous evening, we were both famished, lunging into an appetizing plate of adirne.
In terms of drinks, we were spoilt for choice, surprised to see such an abundance of beer available, yet settling for a tumbler of infamous Turkish coffee each. Its brute strength was almost too much to stomach, but at least it woke us up. It was certainly a hearty introduction to authentic Turkish food and drink.
After checking-in at the guesthouse, I walked the few blocks necessary to gain access to the Bosphorous River, a waterway that has long been regarded as the theoretical line of demarcation between Europe and Asia, even if many people regard Turkey and its eastern neighbour, Iran, as component parts of The Middle East. Upriver, the single-span Bosphorous Bridge hastened to remind me of home: its design has much in common with The Humber Bridge.One of the world’s busiest waterways, the boisterous Bosphorous consistently boasts a staggering number of vessels making waves between The Black Sea to the north and The Sea of Marmara to the south. At its ripples, I couldn’t stop staring.
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  1. I’m pretty sure you and I came across the same border official, mate, as I too had to do the walk back through the pack of stray dogs at that border a few months back. No lie! Either that, or they all do it, just to entertain themselves…