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Istanbul… Where Europe meets Asia

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A view of Istanbul.

A view of Istanbul.

With the number of Nigerians that played and currently play for Turkish football clubs, coupled with quest by our ladies for fabrics from that nation, Turkey is easily a household name to most Nigerians. However, the July 15, 2016 failed coup brought the country to limelight; we all followed the media reports. So, when this reporter was invited by Turkish Airlines to be part of this year’s media hosting for journalists across Africa in Istanbul, it was indeed an honour, an opportunity to finally establish physical contact with the country one had followed from the outside.

Though the travel notice was quite short, processing travel documents, especially visa, was hitch free. Thanks to CEO of SBI Media Mr. Rotimi Bankole and a former colleague at The Guardian, Samson Adeoye, who was very helpful. He would call, sent text message and countless reminders just to ensure all was well; he was ever ready for queries.

In all, four Nigerian journalists were selected for the trip. Aside from this reporter, Thisday and Vanguard newspapers were also represented, while Mr. Kunle Hamilton, a former Editor with Thisday, was also on the bill. We were part of the 102 journalists drawn from across 23 African countries, plus few others invited from countries such as Pakistan and Nepal by the Airlines to come explore Istanbul.

With Turkish Airline’s Station Manager on ground, boarding was smooth. Of course, we all had Business Class tickets and equally treated as one. As for the cabin crew, they were friendly and ever ready to serve. Just ask and it shall be given. Once boarding was completed, the captain announced Turkish Airline Flight TK 0626 ready for take off.

Cruising at an altitude of 41,000 feet, the travel time to Istanbul is approximately six hours thirty minutes. Though the pilot, who spoke both in English and Turkey, had assured that weather condition enroute Istanbul was fine, he warned of possible turbulence as the flight climb out of Lagos. For Boeing 777-300 ER series, the impact wasn’t much; we were just fine.

The flight finally touched down at Atatkur International Airport Istanbul very early the next morning; the weather was chilling. However, the airport was already booming with activities. At the immigrations, the process was smooth. Aside being checked by just one officer, travelers barely spend two minutes and you are off the queue. And with over 15 officers attending to visitors, it didn’t take long before the long queue disappeared.

We spent few minutes at the Turlkish Airline’s Business Lounge for wash up and light breakfast; a team of journalists from Ghana joined us here. Eventually, we met with our official tour guide, who conveyed us to Radisson Blu Ortakoy, which became our home in Istanbul.

Driving through the streets of Istanbul paints a picture of a country earnestly pursuing serious infrastructural development. At every corner, there’s a construction work going on. Like in some parts of Lagos, the streets are a bit narrow, causing vehicular traffic, especially during rush hours. But they seem to be dealing with it, as most of the roads are currently undergoing expansion. As for drivers, some of them are as ‘good’ as your typical Lagos danfo driver. Good enough, traffic lights work.

At the hotel, we were met with a large group of journalists from other countries and there was ample time for networking. Few minutes of rest, we were set for a press conference with the Chief Executive Officer of the airline Dr. Temel Kotil at the Turkish Airlines Head Office. To make for easy communication, the team was divided into English and French, with a bus dedicated to each group.

Before the briefing, we were treated to a special cocktail session with all sorts of finger food. But trust Naija; we only ate what we know. For others, everything goes.

Translated in English and French, Kotil condemned the failed coup attempt on President Recep Erdogan, cautioning visiting journalists to beware of the machinations of the coupists whom he said are believed to have presence in many countries and the capability of infiltrating several organisations including the media.

For Kotil, it was also an opportunity to speak on the achievements of the airline and plans for expansion. With passenger traffic peaking at about 50m a year, the projection by the airline, according to Kotil, is to increase traffic to 90m in the next few years. Even with the number of airport in the country, there’s plan by the airline to construct a bigger airport in addition to the present Ataturk Airport and expand its fleet from 336 to 500 aircrafts.

After breakfast the next morning, we were at the airline’s Flight Training Centre, where we saw firsthand the training session. In deed, it was an eye opener to what pilots and flight attendants go through before taking up the job. A well-equipped facility with qualified trainers, this is one project Nigeria needs back home.

Opened in 1994, the centre boosts of 60 classrooms capable of training 1500 persons simultaneously and has a massive conference centre. Today, it has become one of the largest simulator centres in the area. Whilst the airline trains its own personnel at the highest levels of standard and quality, they also profit from offering training opportunities to other airline personnel, in both national and international arenas.

The centre has reached a highly competitive level due to a recent increase in investment, which has grown in parallel to fleet, personnel numbers and a team of expert trainers. In the end, we had our lunch at the centre before we set out for a presentation at Turkish Do&Co.

A joint venture of DO&CO and Turkish Airlines, Turkish DO&CO, which has been serving the Turkish market since 2007, currently provides service to around 60 airlines operating in and beyond Turkey. Having grown rapidly along with Turkish Airlines, the company now controls around a 70% share of the in-flight catering market in Turkey.

As we rode back to the hotel, we (Nigerians) pondered on the state of our aviation industry and the need to get it up and running. We recalled the good old days of Nigerian Airways and how the investment eventually crashed. In all, we all agreed that, no mater the challenges, Nigeria needs a national carrier, especially now the country is eyeing tourism.

Our last day in Istanbul was fully packed but memorable as well; it was a tour of the city, which started very early in the morning. Just like in Lagos, you must leave early here to beat the traffic and the road expansion project seems to have worsened the situation. And with a tour guide on board, the story of Turkey, particularly Istanbul as a city was well told.

A fascinating city built on two Continents (Europe and Asia) and divided by the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul is one of the greatest cities in the world. A city where modern western city combines perfectly with a traditional eastern city, this is a melting pot of many civilizations and different people. Historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, it is the most populous city in Turkey and the country’s economic, cultural, and historic center.

After its reestablishment as Constantinople in 330 CE, it served as an imperial capital for almost 16 centuries, during the Roman and Byzantine (330–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin (1204–1261), and the Ottoman (1453–1922) empires. It was instrumental in the advancement of Christianity during Roman and Byzantine times, before the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453 and transformed it into an Islamic stronghold and the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate.

Istanbul’s strategic position on the historic Silk Road, rail networks to Europe and the Middle East, and the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean have produced a cosmopolitan populace, although less so since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Overlooked for the new capital Ankara during the interwar period, the city has since regained much of its prominence.

Our ride ended at the waterside where we took a boat cruise on the Bosphorus that lasted for about an hour; it was a fun experience. Particularly, Michael, a German by birth, made the cruise more enjoyable. Very playful and friendly, he sang, danced and ran commentaries, as the boat cruised along the beautify scenery to the Asian side of the city. The boat finally came to a stop at the Oto Park, from where we moved to the Beylerbeyi Palace.

Though open to the public daily from 09:30 – 16:00 (except Monday & Thursday), as a visitor to the Palace, you must subject yourself for proper security checks. Part of the procedure involves getting your bags searched and passing through screening machine manned by friendly but business minded security guards. If you are the type that loves books and souvenirs, this spot is your best bet.

Except for your mobile phones, cameras (both still and video) are not allowed into the palace. However, Palace Guides are always on hand to take tourist through the edifice in either English or Turkey. Outside these two languages, you may have to find a private interpreter. Even at that, mere seeing the architectural masterpiece in its majesty is more than enough for any tourist that appreciates quality and taste.

Our lunch on this day was at the Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi, a very popular restaurant that has hosted world leaders, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Usually packed full, don’t be scared with the long queue; their service is always fast. If you are visiting Istanbul, this is a must visit.

After lunch was time to visit the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 shops. Well known for its jewellery, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antique shops, many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather, gold jewellery and the like.

Being our last day in Istanbul, we resolved to wrap our tour with night clubbing and Afro Nite Club was the best bet. Owned by a Nigeria, from Anambra State to be precise, the club is home for most Africans in the city; locals also enjoy the club that usually hosts popular Nigerian artistes. For sure, Naija tunes dominated the air and it was interesting to see how much Nigerian songs have traveled. After our exploits within and around Taskim, we retired to our hotel, had few hours of sleep and then left for the airport for onward journey back home.


In this article:
Rotimi Bankole

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