Crossroads Tour – Welcome to OZ –

I arrive at Ataturk at 11 PM. My luggage even showed up although I didn’t expect it to. I find a Diners Club credit card on the floor between Customs and the luggage area, and turn it in to Lost & Found, taking small comfort in the fact that someone’s day was worse than mine.

The hotel had arranged for a driver, who ushers 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 drive 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.

The hotelier is an older gentleman, speaking broken English in a thick accent that I strain to adjust my ears to. 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. 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.

It’s now after 1 AM. I fall into bed with expectations of being awakened in the morning by calls to prayer…

  • This is an excerpt from my original travel journal. The full text, which includes historical notes and traveler tips, is available for your literary pleasure at

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