Despite the travel chaos I had a great 12 hours in Istanbul. I arrived at 5.30am in the morning and Rowan and I headed into Sultanahmet to check out the mosques, palaces and statues.
The trip to Istanbul had special significance for me. It was the first time I had been back since I was drugged and robbed on a park bench in Istanbul 15 years ago. I found the park bench where I’d been left for dead and marked it with a photo (bottom of page). I’d imagined feeling more sombre than I was, and more anxious, but it actually felt like driving past a house you used to live in. It’s familiar but there’s not much nostalgia.
The Istanbul story, for those that don’t know it, was a significant event in my life. I’d arrived late the night before from Sweden and checked into the first hotel I found. I rose early to watch the fisherman ply their trade on the waterfront, reading my book and occasionally looking up to admire their catch. I struck up a conversation with two tourists – well dressed Tunisians – and spent the next few hours talking and visiting some of the mosques. After lunch we wandered down to the Bosphorous Sea and took up residence on a park bench that looked to the bridge that separates Europe and Asia.
As I sat between my new friends one of them pulled out a baklava cake which he carved up for us to share. He offered me a piece – the marked one – and within seconds of biting into it I was unconscious. I woke up 18 hours later in a Turkish hospital with doctors and nurses swirling above me. To this day I don’t know how I got to the hospital, who found me or how long I was on the bench.
What I didn't know, but was able to find out over the coming days, was that:
- I had been relieved of my passport, credit card, camera, address book and travellers check contained in my money belt
- I’d apparently been clinically dead on arrival at the hospital, with the doctor suggesting that I only survived because I was so fit (had just finished a 5-month cycling tour)
- $3000 had been spent on my credit card while I was unconscious
- I would have to spend countless hours at police and medical facilities in the coming week to support my new passport application
One of my real regrets about the whole episode was that it spoiled Turkey for me. Sarah – who I would meet while waiting for my passport in southern Turkey – loved Turkey but I never shared her excitement. The 12 hours I spent in Istanbul helped redeem Turkey in my eyes, and I now counted Istanbul among my favourite cities as I’m sure I would have 15 years earlier under different circumstances.