I met George and Linda at Gatwick. We’d arrived early so we had time to eat in Jamie’s Italian in north terminal. Friends seem to be a bit worried about eating with me in Jamie’s since I wrote the review of his latest TV show but I was actually quite complimentary about this particular branch of ‘Italian’ and, sure enough, we had a good plate of pasta to keep us going on the long journey ahead. We’d assumed that any food on the flight would be a miserable sandwich. As it turned out, it was a lot more.
The slight flight delay was soon sweetened with Turkish delight. As we settled into our Turkish Airlines seats and the plane took off into the afternoon sky, a stewardess came round with a tray and gave us each some of the sweet ‘delight’. It was chewier than the marshmallow over-sweet ‘delight’ often sold in UK and I knew it was the real thing as my friend Bogac had recently brought some from Istanbul’s oldest Turkish delight shop – Haci Bekir. Then we were brought a menu. A menu! None of the three of us had been given a menu on a flight for a long time. Soon a tray of smoked salmon, potato salad, some koftas (in my case, Linda and George chose stuffed aubergine), followed by a rather good little slice of cheesecake followed. We were impressed. We’re not talking haute cuisine, but it was good flight food and served with a smile. We decided the Turkish people were very hospitable.
We landed at Istanbul’s Sabiha airport around 8.45pm, Turkish time. We whizzed through the sparkling and quite smart airport quickly and looked for our transfer guide to take us the 50km into the centre. There were a few of us – 8 or so – to pile into the minibus. There was quite a long delay. Some sign language indicated the driver may have gone for a smoke. When finally led outside to wait more minutes, the guide shrugged his shoulders: This is Turkey, what is 5, 10 or 15 minutes? But fortunately we were all good humoured and no one seemed seriously put out. The journey itself was a surprise. Even this late at night the roads were remarkably busy and the motorway full of large lorries and trucks. We learnt today they’re only allowed to use these roads late at night or early morning.
About an hour later we were crossing the Bosphorus by way of Galata Bridge and the minibus, after a couple of stops was making its way up narrow streets to Hotel Grand Yavuz. We’d arrived. It has to be said it’s really not that grand (though its faded elegance suggests it was once grander), and perhaps more deserving of 3 stars than 4, but it’s fine and certainly a good location. It was late but after unloading our bags into our rooms we took the lift to the top floor and bar for a drink to celebrate arriving in Istanbul. Looking out across the Bosphorus and towards the Blue Mosque, we felt happy to be here.