The return to Istanbul begins on the huge Golden-Gate-size bridge over the Bosphorus. The plan is to find our hotel, the Serene, and return the rental car before 6 pm. The hotel is in the same neighbourhood as the agency. It’s now about 2. No sweat, eh?
First exit right and loop left under the bridge and left onto Barbaros Blvd, which is in full rush hour mode, six across, no lanes, noodging down a long steep hill. Right onto Beşiktaş Caddesi, the waterfront drive, madness at this hour. We’re looking for the mosque on the left that marks where to turn right and go up the steep hill into Beyoğlu. The name of the street? On the map it starts as Boğazkesen Caddesi, further north it’s Yeniçarşı Caddesi. That’s what we want — our hotel is on Yeniçarşı. Do not have iPad in hand, do not quite see the name of the street as we turn, now in full Magical Thinking mode, up and up we go, and it’s soon evident we are in a tony area, limousines, swanky people, and it’s not Yeniçarşı. So we go swirling around and past some very posh hotels and gardens and join a bunch of creeping vehicles that are squeezing into a one-laner, impossibly steep, and we edge down, down, down, back to Beşiktaş to try again.
Unbelievably we do this three, possibly four, times. Each time the traffic gets thicker and — did you see that asshole in the Mercedes cut in there? — our knowledge of Beyoğlu does not advance a bit. Like being inside a washing machine. Around and around. You can’t stop.
— If you don’t ask somebody for directions, I will.
Oh, we did; several, several people. All very helpful, without speaking English, they traced routes along the contour, down little tiny streets that I forgot as soon as they said them. Landmarks to look for? Wouldn’t recognize em if they fell on us.
— Well, then let’s call the hotel.
— And ask them what? Directions from here? Where are we? Ask them to send out a search party?
Mr Persistent figures the only way is If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again. Look at the map, hmm, there’s more than one mosque on the waterfront … Back down the hill, there’s Mosque 2, and there’s the turnoff — hurrah! we’ll be there in no time.
After gunning her up these incredibly narrow streets, we find ourselves at the top, on a cross street, surrounded by throngs of people. We drive along until a man holds up an arm and says I guess (in Turkish) that our vehicle is not allowed to be here. We try to ask about the Serene Hotel. Instead he leads us, cutting a swathe in the crowd — drawing the ire of one hopping mad woman who almost falls off her bike — until we are directed onto a side street, back in the Great Unknown, the Rumsfeldian Unknown Unknown, of Beyoğlu.
About the third try at this — we’ve been here … haven’t we been here? — turn around, go back down, back the way you came — we decide to ditch the car and search on foot. Did I mention it’s a sweltering hot day? Back to the parking lot where we’ve already asked for directions. It’s now 5 pm or so, and we’ve given up on returning the car. We leave the suitcases and head back up the hill, past this enduring Ottoman-era house:
Cross İstiklâl Caddesi again — the street with no cars, an antique streetcar
and a million pedestrians.
— The hotel should be right here!
We start up the first side street past İstiklâl. Nothing but floods of people. Paula approaches a waiter or maître d’ standing outside a restaurant.
He takes us in hand — speaking no English — and leads us back to a small passageway between buildings. We all plunge in, past a tiny barbershop, a take-away joint, people sitting, talking, drinking tea. And there it is, the Serene Hotel.
No frontage on either street. We would never have found it unaided.
Nice people (always young men) at the desk; nice corner room on second floor. About $100 Cdn a night, no breakfast served. One window looks down on a little bar in the courtyard. (How we enjoyed listening to the pre- and post-dawn conversations wafting up intact from the bar.) The other window looks back up the passageway of our first approach:
Went back to fetch our suitcases and drag them up that hill; left the car overnight (25 Turkish lira). Returned it to the agency in the morning, on time, with no penalty for the cracked windshield.
On our last night in Beyoğlu we went back for dinner at the restaurant — (yummy lamb chops) — and to thank our rescuer. An elegant expressive gentleman. Kissed Paula on the head. A mensch.
On the day we said our goodbyes to Beyoğlu and just a few hours later on May 31, in nearby Taksim Square police tear-gassed and clubbed protesters continuing the witness begun exactly one year ago. At issue: a government give-away of Taksim Gezi Park land to mall developers.