We landed in Istanbul at 7am New York time on September 11th. We had a short-layover before our next flight to Izmir and went through immigration and security to catch our flight which was scheduled at about 8:45am New York time. The young Muslim lady wearing a head scarf working the immigration window was very friendly and she even came out of the booth to kiss Annelise on the head…a very warm reception to Turkey. We then got on our flight and when we landed at 10am New York time and the world had changed forever.
It took awhile for us to start to get information. In Izmir, English was not widely spoken and when we got to the car rental desk the agent pulled me into the office where he showed me on the dial-up internet a picture of one of the tower standing and on fire – all the words were in Turkish. I tried CNN but overloaded. Then we were informed that a car bomb had gone off in Istanbul (ultimately not related). The emergency protocol is to notify the county manager of your situation so I called him. He said he didn’t know anything but we have to assume the USA is under attack and to “lay low” and head to the hotel in Foca near the jobsite as planned, confirm arrival, and we would connect the next day. Foca is the resort town and was very remote and in hindsight probably as safe as you could get. But laying low with our group was going to be a challenge. We called the USA and all the circuts busy and finally got through to friends in Cairo and London who filled in the details that both towers had fallen and the Pentagon had been attacked as well. By then it was 9pm local time and we checked in to the hotel and walked to town to eat. People were coming up to us and saying that they were sorry in broken English – 100% supportive.
We were up very early the next day trying to find information but phone service to the USA was still spotty – Sharon was focused on trying to get through to her family to check on her cousin who was New York City firefighter (he was OK). I headed into work to check in and when I got to work the Americans were advised that they didn’t need to come in to work and to go back to their residence or hotel. We said that we were ok working as there was nothing else to do however became clear after a while they didn’t want us there as we were making them a target. I went back to the hotel and we stayed there a couple of days lockdown and went back to the jobsite once before we headed back to Istanbul. We had planned on staying in Istanbul for only a short time, but because all flights were cancelled, the girls stayed longer until flights were available – I was scheduled to stay another week anyway.
Below are some pictures from the trip – it wasn’t a vacation as we were pre-occupied and concerned with the events back home but we were safe the entire time.
Foca was about a 1.5 hour from the Izmir airport and 20 minutes from the jobsite – we stayed at the Phokaia Beach resort on the Aegean Sea (I clearly had to google to find that). We were pretty much on lockdown until the last day when I when to work and the girls went on a boat ride.
As planned, we spent a day in Ephesus which are the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Greek city before flying back to Istanbul. Ephesus is about and about a 2 hour drive from Foca via Izmir. Ephesus is an important site in both Greek and Christian history. Generally it seemed better preserved that places I had been to in Greece or Italy and you could truly visualize the the city.
Went we arrived in Istanbul, we didn’t know how long that we were going to be there. It was the weekend and the plan was a semi-house hunting trip and dinner with work colleagues Saturday, some touring on Sunday, and the girls would fly back Monday while I stayed for work for another week. Moving to Istanbul or Izmir was a potential option after my London assignment ended, so I wanted Sharon to see potential places to live. But it was decided to skip the day and we stayed at the hotel most of the day.
We had a hotel in Taksim Square – which normally would have been a great location but that was the location of the car bombing from the week before and we were still very cautious. When we did decide to leave, instead of taking public transportation, we got a driver and were very deliberate on where we visited. The start of each day was finding out more information from the USA (much better internet at hotel) and trying to figure out when the girls would fly back.
Istanbul is truly one of the great places in the world to visit – it is the cross-roads of world with the city straddling Europe and Asia. Now Turkey is secular with most of the people practicing Islam (Sunni) and very welcoming (this was my circa 2000-2002 view – it seems to have changed) but the city had been known as Constantinople since the Roman Empire moved there in ~ 300 A.D. We focused on our visits to 3 sites, Sultanahmet Park (Hagia Sophia & the Blue Mosque), Tokapi Palace, and a boat trip on the Bosphrus.
Hagia Sophia dates to the dates of the Roman Empire and was a Christian Church for 1,000 years then covered to a Mosque in the 1300’s.
The Blue Mosque was completed in 1600 which the objective of being more impressive than the Hagia Sophia – both are very impressive. But considering that the Blue Mosque was built 400 years ago while Hagia Sophia was built 1,300 years before the Blue Mosque, I’d have to vote Hagia Sophia.
Our trip to Tokapi Palace was most memorable for misplacing Alexandra for awhile – we found her as she had latched on to an English-speaking couple and had gone to security. I am guessing the picture below is before the drama.
I don’t remember the specifics, but eventually we were notified of flights resuming and Sharon and the girls left on the second flight back to London – still paranoid so they weren’t on the first one.
I made 6 trips to Turkey and spent about 6 weeks in country over three years and really enjoyed my visits and the people as well as the large projects that we were building there with our partner. We ended up never seriously considering relocating to Istanbul as after 9/11 it seemed best to head back to the USA. From a work perspective, our work outside the USA fell off dramatically for a couple of years
(This was written during the Great Shutdown of 2020. My memory isn’t this good, used internet searches to fill in a lot of holes. If there’s huge fat foot below me, it not my fault – that an advertisement I can’t control).