One night in Istanbul

By: Travel Mammal

Landed at 10pm. Alone with an intoxicating mixture of thoughts and emotions.

13 million people. Would anyone help me? Not likely.

Subway. Trolley. Foot.

Destination: Sultanahmet District. Ancient. Classic. Byzantium.

Greek-inspired Agia Sophia. Stunning Blue Mosque. Topkapi Palace. Hippodrome.

All grandiose. Inspirational!

How did these monuments look when the Venetians first gazed upon them? I can’t imagine.

11:30pm. Wondered if Turkish baths were open late. Did Turkey have a law against sleeping in park benches? Didn’t know. Didn’t want to find out.

Found a hotel. Oasis.

Hotel Manager demands, recommends to keep my passport. Valuable document. Feel nervous. Do it anyway. Good decision.

Picture this: Underground bar. Dark. 30 minute walk from my hotel. Having a drink. Alone.

A man approaches. Sits with me. Think nothing of it. Small talk.

Two women approach. Both sit, one on each side. Waiter follows. Finger foods and two glasses of wine, one for each lady.

The couple across the booth start to speak Turkish. The woman next to me speaks broken English and immediately starts her pitch. Persistent.

Little do I know I was becoming a victim of a classic scam. One that is pulled on tourists all over the world, on a consistent basis.

I don’t know how and why it didn’t dawn on me earlier but I finally realized that this was actually happening to me. Ample street smarts but blinded in Istanbul.

Careful not to offend her and her pimp, who for all I know is sitting across the booth from me. Make up a story. I have a wife, kids.

She doesn’t buy it. Frustrated, she begins to speak Turkish to the rest of the group.

I’m in trouble.

Make a run for it? Push her out of the way?

No. Too big a risk.

Nobody knows I’m here. Defenseless.

Two major things going against me: I’m Greek, which for all I know makes me the enemy in Turkish eyes and I’m Canadian, which could make me look like a wealthy Westerner.

I stay, face what comes next.

The women suddenly leave.

Waiter approaches with the check. Leaves it face down.

$637 Canadian Dollars! Losing my mind. I had only 1 drink.

In seconds I’m ordered to enter a back room.

Justice, Turkish style?

Mind racing. Scared senseless. What would happen to me? What would I have to do? How long does it take to pay off this debt in Istanbul?

Praying, pleading with a higher power. Still oblivious.

Three big Turks and a wimpy looking Greek-Canadian in a small room, breathing thick air.

“MONEY”, demands the owner.

“I don’t have any money brother”.

He doesn’t believe me. Pads me down. Checks my shirt, pants, pockets. He finds something.

Drivers’ licence. Camera and $20 million Lira ($20 CDN dollars). Not a big score.

30 seconds of silence. Eternity. I wait.

“Go. Get out of here”, says the owner.

I sprint. Across the bar. Up the stairs. Out the door. Down the main boulevard, towards the hotel. 30 minute walk. 5 minute sprint. Istanbul’s polluted air was intoxicating, sweet that night.

Collected my thoughts. Did it really happen?

Yes. Lucky to escape unscathed.

Can’t imagine what would have happened if I had my passport with me. Thanks Hotel Manager. What about my credit card, debit card. Unthinkable. Relieved.

A scam. Everyone was in on it. Brilliant job. For one night in Istanbul, I was the mark.

The moral of the story: Just be aware that there are sometimes bigger forces at play. Scams like this are rampant around the World. Be as aware of your surroundings as possible and keep your eyes open.

But don’t forget to have fun.

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