What led to one day in Istanbul

When I flew to Nepal in September last year (Happy New Year!) via Turkish airlines, I had made a mistake of not noting something important which I wouldn’t know about until the flight day.

I had booked the flight to Nepal with my boyfriend via a Polish travel website, because it was on discount. The price was pretty good for Berlin to Kathmandu connection with only one stop in Istanbul. I received an email about flight date change after a month or so of booking. The return date had changed. I sent reply that we comply with the change. A few days later, there was another email, which I didn’t check properly because 1. I thought they sent the same date change from few days ago, twice. 2. It was in Polish, so the details didn’t catch my eyes as fast and I shockingly just scanned it once with my eyes and ignored it.

When we reached Berlin airport after a 6 hour overnight bus ride from Lodz, I found the attitude of the ground staff of Turkish Airlines very off-putting. First, the man at the counter who was dealing with my boyfriend didn’t ask him anything, and apparently didn’t notice that we were flying to Kathmandu via Istanbul and not just to Istanbul. He sent his luggage only to Istanbul. The lady at my counter was being rude for the fact that I didn’t tell her where I was going and for how long I had to stop in Istanbul, without her asking anything of course. She was also blaming my boyfriend for not telling her colleague that the final destination was Kathmandu, and hence he had to collect his luggage in Istanbul and check in again for Kathmandu. Well, I thought that the whole point of  the ground staff was to check the tickets and documents. I don’t see how that is our fault when no questions were asked and where the  paper tickets which had very clear  details about our whole flight were inspected.  I can’t stand it when people are rude for no reason, although I do understand her stressful line of work. I maintained my calm and gave her all the details. She tells me, insists in fact, after a round of frantic calls, that there is no connecting flight to Kathmandu from Istanbul on that day. I show her the printout where the flight to Kathmandu from Istanbul on the same day (after around 3 hours of transit) is mentioned. She finally says that I will have to first get to Istanbul and that hopefully there will be a flight to Kathmandu.

I am stressing out on the lounge and blame it on the Polish travel agency. Turns out that it was a Slovak travel agency, but we had booked via the Polish branch. I was bummed at the idea of having to spend 24 hours in Istanbul, while not being sure if my Nepali passport would allow me to go out. The same lady from the counter, after a while, comes rushing to me when I am going through security check and informs me that the flight to Kathmandu was on the other day, at the same time. A full 24 hours transit. I am shocked and angered with the travel agency. The lady, finally, at least puts my baggage straight to Kathmandu and reminds me not to go outside the airport in Istanbul.

Before I can make any calls to Nepal and ask my family  not to come to the airport the other day as planned, we have to board the plane. The flight is about 3 hours long and I cannot wait to land and find out if I am allowed out after purchasing some kind of visa. The view of blue sea while landing fuels my desire to go out even more. At the airport, I try to catch wifi, but there is none. The machine for visa purchase doesn’t work and I am still not sure if my nationality is allowed to buy visa-on-arrival. I find the staff finally, and he answers with reluctance and limited English, that I may purchase it from the machine. Bingo! I find a machine that works on another area and purchase the visa. Funny that my boyfriend with his Polish passport had to pay slightly more for the visa from the guy at the counter and I could just use the machine, and still paid a bit less. (maybe 10 USD less, I don’t remember.) Could be because his visit visa was valid for more than a month while mine was valid for exactly 30 days.

The passport control queue is very long and we’re tired and worried where to stay at that point. No wifi wasn’t helping the situation either. After waiting in the queue for a while, we finally pass the immigration. It was around 20:30 at that point, maybe even later. The airport is mad busy. No electric sockets in sight, no free wifis. I make international call to Nepal with my nearly-dead phone and my boyfriend meanwhile withdraws some Turkish liras from the ATM. I am still blaming the whole mishap on the travel agency for not informing me about the change.

We then try to find some SIM card for mobile internet. The counters selling SIM card plans are full and after waiting for no less than half an hour, I talk to the overworked girl at the counter, who tells me that I need to fill out an entire application and get my passport copied, to get the overpriced SIM card. We decide not to buy it. We just sit and contemplate where to go. I suggest we could go downtown taking the metro or something and just try to find some hostels or hotels to stay for the night. But that plan doesn’t sound very feasible in a huge city, with one big luggage and at night time. We then decide to book a hotel through one of those numerous counters advertising car hire and hotel services at the airport. We bargain (I knew it would work in Turkey!) and book a hotel, apparently three-star but god-knows-what, at the city, and pay in euros. I think it was 90 euros a night, including airport transfers. I still don’t know if we paid too much.

The transfer from the airport to the hotel was long, very long. About an hour, with very little to no traffic. I am amazed at the size of the sprawling city and impressed how similar it looked to any big European cities. The hotel looks quite nice, maybe it was two-star. We go out to the square right outside the hotel, where there was a mosque. I am thrilled to be in a very different country. My boyfriend is eager to try the kebabs. We take a walk around, equally excited and surprised finding ourselves unexpectedly in Istanbul, and leave the rest for the other day.

Using the hotel’s wifi, I find out that the second email I hadn’t checked carefully was about the flight date change from Istanbul to Kathmandu. So, the flight was changed two times. One with return date, which I had agreed to and the other with change in date on Istanbul-Kathmandu route. I had forwarded the older one (with the first change) to my boyfriend, which he had printed out. I feel stupid, but not displeased as I was really excited to see more of this huuuuge, vibrant city that I had heard so much about, even just for a day.



12 thoughts on “What led to one day in Istanbul

  1. Wonderful blog, Pooja, especially since I was there at Istanbul Airport a few days ago. You paid far too much for a hotel. My hotel was five star and free, including breakfast, but I saw in reception that they were selling single rooms for 60 Euros. But yours was a double I suppose. You could have taken the metro to the city and found any one of thousands of hotels that are there. Never mind. Next time. You should get the free accommodation next time because that’s what the Nepalis on my flight were doing.

    1. Wow, for free, really dai? Just in the event of a normal transit? I didn’t even think that it was a possibility as I thought the airlines was not at fault here. We bargained from I think 110 euros to 90 actually. We’re not very experienced yet 😀 The hotel was above average, and breakfast was included too. Well at least, if I happen to be in Istanbul next time, I’ll know!

      1. Yes that’s right, Pooja. On transits over 8 or 9 hours (I think) Turkish Airlines will give you free accommodation. You need the visa first and then go through passport control and straight through the customs hall. When you exit there turn right but stay inside the terminal. Walk to the end and just before Starbucks there is the Turkish Airlines hotel desk. They will take your boarding card but will return it to you after a while and take you with a courtesy bus to the hotel. It was really an excellent experience and an excellent hotel. Better take me with you next time.

      2. Good to know, dai. I would have found a way if I knew about the transit beforehand, but it was so sudden and unexpected that we had to settle for that expensive hotel. Thank you for sharing, I will remember this if I travel via Istanbul next time. 🙂

  2. Sounds like a terrible experience! I hate connecting flights, especially when everything seems to go wrong. I think you really paid way too much for that hotel. Half the price would have been enough…it is sad how local always try to rip off tourists wherever you go in the world.
    My wife was few years ago in Istanbul in a five star hotel at price per room was 80euros with breakfast etc

      1. Yeah, it is sometimes really annoying. Too bad you had no chance to check out it quickly online before booking, really surprised that there are airports without wifi around :O. (Okay I have been only to a few ones so far)

  3. It is always a bit anxiety privoking when one’s well planned holiday itinerary has to be changed at the last minute. I am happy that you could turn it into a positive experience. Istanbul sounds intriguing.

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