Gotta Be Flexible When Traveling

“I’m sorry, but your train has been cancelled.”
“When will the next one be?”
“Tomorrow.”

Looking back at the city of Istanbul from the island of Buyukada in the Sea of Marmara.

Looking back at the city of Istanbul from the island of Buyukada in the Sea of Marmara.

My wife might tell you that I am not very flexible, that once I decide on something I hold to it and can’t be budged. That’s not a good idea when you are traveling.

So much of travel is beyond my control, and I have learned, in this one area of my life anyway, to be flexible. The cancelled train conversation took place five years ago, in, I think, the railway station in Pisa, Italy. We had reservations in Sorrento and had seen all we wanted of Pisa and didn’t want to stay another day; so we found another train, less direct but it got us there.

Sometimes the solution isn’t that easy. In February 2014 my friend Mike and I were waiting for a flight at Sabiha Gokcen airport in suburban Istanbul. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we were on our way to Cappadocia. Then the fog started to roll in.

I won’t say Turkish pilots are overly cautious, but they don’t seem to understand that you can take off using your instruments; you don’t actually have to see what you are doing. The fog got thicker and after a three hour delay all flights were cancelled. We had a place to stay in Cappadocia. We had none in Istanbul.

A quick check with the hotel we had been staying at, a two hour drive away, turned up no available rooms. So Mike jumped online and checked Expedia to see what was available near the airport. He found a place at a reasonable $112 a night. He pressed “book” – and as he did the price jumped to $783 a night. I guess the hotel had heard that all flights had been cancelled.

We did find a place at an acceptable price, and were able to rebook our flight for the next evening; Pegasus airlines insisted there were no seats available before then. This left us with a day to fill in an industrial park in suburban Istanbul. What could we do?

The hotel concierge suggested shopping at some of the nearby upscale malls, but that didn’t interest us. He did concede that there was a ferry service to some nearby islands if we were interested. It had to be better than shopping, so we took a short cab ride and hopped on the boat. Because it was a local ferry the return fare was only a couple of dollars.

When we saw this building in the distance we knew we had to find out what it was. Took subsequent internet searching to discover it was an abandoned orphanage.

When we saw this building in the distance we knew we had to find out what it was. Took subsequent internet searching to discover it was an abandoned orphanage.

We spent the morning and afternoon on Buyukada, the largest of the Princes Islands located in the Sea of Marmara. I looked it up after we got back to Canada. It was a delightful sunny day, and we walked to the highest point of the island figuring we would get a good view of the surrounding area. We also thought we might visit a monastery located up there, but were instead drawn to a fascinating wooden structure which subsequent research revealed to have once been an orphanage. Church-run of course. A huge building, fallen into ruin, fenced off to keep out people like me. I wonder if the needs of the orphan population have declined, allowing its closure, or if the state filled the void as Turkish society became increasingly Muslim.

By the time we reached the top of the hill  we realized something else about the island: no cars, just lots of bicycles and the occasional horse-drawn buggy. Turns out it is a very popular destination for city residents who want an inexpensive and restful day trip. We had kind of figured that out when we saw all the restaurants and bicycle rental shops near the dock.

I regret losing a day in Cappadocia, and I still think it would have been safe to take off in the fog. But by being flexible we were able to turn a disappointing situation into a pleasant experience. The visit to Buyukada was completely unexpected and took place only because our plans had been thwarted. It wasn’t Plan B, because we had no Plan B, but it was a great day. When you travel, your time becomes much more enjoyable if you are willing to take situations like that and make the most of them.

A closer shot of what must have been a huge institution with hundreds of children.

A closer shot of one wing of what must have been a huge institution with hundreds of children.

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One comment

  1. […] wrote about visiting one of the Princes Islands in Istanbul, and my interest in the abandoned building at the top of the hill. I recently […]

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