by Amy Gutman
I don’t remember when the idea first occurred to me – the origins of genius can be mysterious. But at some point in planning a trip to Turkey, I got it into my head to try out this hypothesis: Things that go “wrong” may turn out to be the best part of the adventure.
I soon learned that I’d picked the perfect canvas for this experiment. (Travelers’ tip: Dark humor helps.)
The first successful deployment of my theory came as we prepared to leave Istanbul en route to Cappadocia. We’d planned our last night with care, our timing with precision. This in itself should have set off alarms, but we didn’t know that yet.
This is how it was supposed to work: Bags packed, we’d make our way to the ferry from the lovely Hotel Uyan in Sultanahmet. From there, we’d make our way across the Bosphorus for a final meal at Ciya Kebap, our favorite food discovery, then a short hop back on the ferry to the Haydarpasa Station to catch our overnight train. The brilliance of this (or so we thought) was that the train station also happened to be on the city’s Asian shore, making our final trek to Ciya the perfect finale to our stay.
At the start, all went as planned. We made it to the restaurant and after some deliberation both settled on an enticing kebap involving sour cherries. But this was not to be. “Cherries FINISHED!” announced our waiter when we attempted to place the order. (I don’t recall what we had instead, except that it was delicious.)
Well-fed and feeling good, we headed back to the ferry. The train station was just minutes away. We already had our tickets. We had plenty of time.
I was sitting in the cabin quietly reading when my traveling companion appeared before me, a stunned look on his face. “We didn’t stop!” he said.
I looked up, confused. Then I turned to the window and saw that Asia was rapidly receding as we crossed back to Europe.
How could this be? We’d been back and forth between Eminonu and Kadikoy several times, and we always, always stopped at Haydarpasa on the return. Always – except, apparently, not this time.
It was after 8pm. We had less than two hours to make it back to the station. Mild panic ensued as we raced around, trying to figure out how.
It didn’t help that neither of us spoke a word of Turkish. “Station? Station?” we asked urgently. Our fellow travelers looked at us blankly. We finally found a uniformed ferry official. “WE. NEED. STATION!” We gestured, pointed, pled. He too looked at us blankly at first. “Haydarpasa!” We pointed back to where the station had been. “We need to get there! How do we get there?”
Then suddenly his face brightened. He finally understood! He pointed back to Asia. “Ferry FINISHED!” he said.
What happened after that is something of a blur.
After recovering from our initial shock, we learned that this ferry would return to Kadikoy one last time. True, it wouldn’t be stopping at Haydarpasa, but at least we’d be on the right continent. We could make our way from Kadikoy to the station – and if we were really, really lucky, we might even make our train.
It was later that night that Turkey Suggestion Box was born. We did in fact make the train, and safely ensconced, traveling east, we started to debrief.
“The ferries shouldn’t be FINISHED until overnight train departures are FINISHED,” my traveling companion remarked, not unreasonably.
Turkey Suggestion Box!
Over the next week, we had plenty of chances to add to its contents. (“Buses making trips of more than eight hours should have toilets on board. Turkey suggestion box!”) It may not have made our travels more comfortable, but it made them lots more fun.
I have many great memories of that trip. Favorites include my visit to the breathtaking Istanbul Modern, an impromptu meal at Nazar Borek with an ex-pat who’s still a Facebook friend, and smoking hookah with a posse of Turkish teens who sat next to us at dinner one night and decided to show us around.
But when friends ask me about Turkey, these aren’t the first stories I tell. Most often, I start by recounting the tale of the Turkey Suggestion Box.
An honors graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Amy blogs at Plan B Nation: Living Creatively in Challenging Times. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, and the Huffington Post, among other publications. Her two novels, Equivocal Death and The Anniversary were both published by Little, Brown.Google+