For some reason, and very uncharacteristically, I was nervous about going to Istanbul. I don’t know why – maybe I’d gotten used to being cosseted at the Ada Hotel in Bodrum (http://www.kiwicollection.com/hotel-detail/ada-hotel).  For the previous ten days, I’d been staying at five-star hotels as a guest of the marketing departments, and my temporary VIP status had meant that I never even had to think about my needs, let alone fulfil them.

But I was going to Istanbul as a regular tourist, not as a known travel writer. I would have to not only pay for things like hotels and meals but also arrange them. Although the chivalrous driver from the Ada Hotel dropped me off at the Bodrum airport and man-handled my luggage to the last possible point, I worried about how I’d get to my next hotel from the Istanbul airport (which was named Ataturk, a word which made me think of Attila the Hun saying, “Attaboy!” to early jihadists). No one would be meeting my flight (horrors!), and I’d read alarming reports of taxi drivers at Ataturk Airport –muggings and kidnappings were not unheard of, and obscene overcharging was standard practice.

Earlier in the week, I’d wasted four hours trying to book accommodation through a hopeless site that promised to include an airport pick-up with any reservation, but I hadn’t been able to make a booking for love nor money nor via phone calls from the indignant and determined manager of the Ada. She, a tourism expert of about 26 years and a wiry, low-voiced Amazon who summoned drivers, bellmen, and minor heads of state with a terse nod, had spoken to the hapless Russians who occasionally answered the phone at the booking service as if they had deliberately ruined tourism in Turkey. Even though I couldn’t tell what she was saying, I was scared by her tone.

Despite her efforts, though – speeches and demands that certainly would have galvanized me into any form of action had I been on the receiving end of her phone calls — the Russian guides to Istanbul refused to book anything. When I tried to reserve a room/ride online, I’d get no results at all. And when the Ada manager, on my behalf, rang the offices (which were answered by a young girl saying, “Hello” in Turkish with a Russian accent) we’d get vague promises about call-backs and advice to try again online later.

So, less than 24 hours before I would actually need the place to sleep, I’d booked the lovely-looking Park City Hotel on the recommendation of Neriman (senior manager of the Ada, who took me around Bodrum and became my best friend for the week). My El-Cheapo Airlines flight to Istanbul was due to arrive very late, and I didn’t know how I’d get to Park City. I worried that I’d miss the last Havos bus and would be subject to the greedy whims of a ruthless cabbie who’d lock my bags in the trunk and then pretend not to be able to find the Park City Hotel, even though it was in Taksim Square, essentially the middle of the world, according to the hotel’s website.

It didn’t help that my flight was delayed – and it was the ONLY one to be late out of Bodrum that night. Sitting at the gate, I worried that the delay was due to mechanical problems which would result, in the plane’s next flight, in a dreadful crash in which all passengers and crew were tragically lost. Maybe I was tired. Probably I was very tired, from 10 days of sight-seeing and fine dining. But whatever the reason, I still felt nervous about arriving at midnight in a large, unknown city, with only 25 Turkish lire and non-functioning American credit card to get me where I was to sleep.

After landing at Ataturk, however, I did make it onto the correct Havos bus. It, the last bus, departed at midnight, and I had an hour and a half ride to worry, before arriving in the famous Taksim Square, about how I’d get from the bus stop in the square to my hotel, wherever it was. Ece said it was only a ten-minute walk from the bus stop to my hotel, and she’d kindly drawn me a small, crude map, but she hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that I would have a) a painful and inflamed knee and b) heavy and awkward luggage and c) the innate Kendall sense of direction.

As we reached the huge outskirts of the city, initially I was not impressed. In the dark, the tallish buildings and blank streets could have been the edges of Trenton or San Jose. But then we passed a street sign saying WELCOME TO EUROPE, and I felt better. I’d never thought that I’d drive across a border between continents.

However, being in Europe didn’t mean that suddenly the bus was full of charming fluent-English speakers eager to welcome a visitor. I’d asked two or three people sitting near me for assistance, and all had said (in perfectly inflected English) that they did not speak English, sorry. Well, I was sorry, and as we reached the bus stop I was even sorrier for myself as it became clear that Taksim Square was like a combination of Times Square, the Cretan Labyrinth, and Dubai Airport.

One of the last to leave the clean, well-lighted bus, I asked a blonde woman reaching for her luggage if she spoke English. No, she was sorry; she didn’t. On the curb, I tried to attract the attention of the bus driver, but he was engaged in unloading luggage and anyway, I knew already that he didn’t speak English; he was sorry. In a few moments I was going to be immobile and lost with my dreadful black bag with malfunctioning wheels, my overstuffed red daypack, and my nearly illegible map. A horde of taxis glinted ominously under the yellow streetlight, and inside them, American-hating thieves stroked their hairy beards and rubbed their nicotine-stained hands, calculating my net worth.

As my non-English-speaking bus-mates wheeled their functional suitcases away from the bus, or hailed taxis in no-nonsense Turkish, I looked around for help. Walking towards me were about 25 people, most of them young and well dressed, obviously out for dinner and drinks and dancing and tourist-baiting. I stopped a couple walking towards me and pathetically asked if they spoke English.

The man shook his head, saying, “No, sorry,” and the woman said, “Sorry, no, but yes! Put!” She turned and ran back in the direction she’d come, shouting something. She was calling a name, and in between shouts she told me “My friend, he speak English. He can help.” We trotted along for a block or so, her skipping in her high heels, her escort gliding alongside, and me, hobbling under my heavy daypack and lugging the dreadful round gym-bag-on-bad-wheels, trying to keep up.

“He,” the friend, was a swish-looking, very pretty young woman in a short dress and big earrings, with long dangling curls and a cute boyfriend, who was just disappearing up the top of a flight of stairs that led to another street. She swung around, smiling, when she heard her friend calling, and almost danced back down the steps, greeting her friends to whom she’d just said goodbye. I had the impression that she didn’t want the party to be over and was glad of an excuse not to go home.

She assured me that she spoke English and was happy to help me. “We want to stay out,” she said of herself and her friend, “But the boys won’t take us!” It was about 1 a.m. by then and I imagined that the boys were ready for bed, for one reason or another, but she sounded as if she’d been locked up in a cell all evening with nothing but bread and water and FoxTel.

I explained that I needed someone to point me towards the street of the Park City hotel, and showed her the address. She shared the information with her boyfriend, her girlfriend, and the girlfriend’s boyfriend, and they all spoke excitedly in Turkish for some time. They all pointed in the same direction, and I said, “Great, thank you so much,” and headed towards what I hoped was the right intersection, but I was not allowed to go. For one thing, there was a steady onslaught of cars, buses, and taxis streaming across the street in my way, and for another thing the pretty girl took my arm and told me, “Just put.” As if we’d just met at a party, she told me that she was not from Istanbul, but was Spanish, and that her two friends were also not from Istanbul, but were visiting from another part of Turkey.

“Hablo un pocito de Espanol,” (I speak a little bit Spanish) I said, glad to indicate that I was not entirely monolingual, and she seemed delighted. We chatted about Spain or something, and it began to seem as if we should all go out for a drink together. Meanwhile, the original girl’s boyfriend was using his phone, calling another friend. (Was it a bloke for me?) The curly-haired girl said he was calling a taxi driver friend for directions to the hotel, for which I was grateful.

A few seconds after that, a black taxi stopped in front of us, and the driver got out and embraced the man who’d been on the phone. The phone-man handed him a ten-lire note, and all of my new friends urged me to get into the taxi. One of the men put my bags in the back seat. “But what will it cost?” I asked, remembering what I’d read about the essentially evil nature of Istanbul’s taxi drivers.

“No cost!” my new friend said. “My friend’s husband has taken care!” She wagged a finger towards the driver, now back in his seat, and said, “We will call the hotel in a few minutes to make sure you arrive and there is no problems. Goodbye! Welcome to Istanbul!”  We all kissed each other on both cheeks, as befitted our new closeness, and I waved goodbye to the gang as my taxi driver drove me the block and a half to Park City Hotel.