So in October 2009, when U2 announced the second leg of its 360 Tour for the summer of 2010, I pulled up the schedule to see if U2 would make a Seattle stop this time. As I was looking at the schedule, I noticed a European leg below the North American tour. I looked at the schedule and … holy **** … U2 was playing in Istanbul the same time I was planning to be in the city during my sabbatical. Well never one to pass up an opportunity to for a road trip concert, I logged onto the U2 website to find out when tickets would go on sale and how I would purchase a ticket. The site had all the info. Tickets went on sale in mid October 2009 through Bilitex – the Turkish equivalent to Ticketbastard (uh Ticketmaster). So I pulled up the Bilitex site and after locating the English version, created an account and bought my ticket when the tickets went on sale. The ticket would be delivered to me in July via fedex. OK. Let’s see if that works.
Fast forward to July 2010 and low and behold in early July, my ticket arrived as promised. Yay, yay, yay. The concert was scheduled for Ataturk Olympic Stadium. I had no idea where the stadium was located in the city, but if the stadium was built for Istanbul’s Olympic Games bid, it must be fairly accessible right… uh think again! A couple weeks before I left on my trip I became curious and Googled Ataturk Stadium. It turns out the stadium is in the middle of nowhere (off the autobahn leading to Ankara). OK. Well there must be public transportation to the stadium. Uh that would be a big fat NO! Well at least there must be shuttle buses for the concert… uh maybe not…. after Googgling every combination I could think of, I could not find any information on any shuttle buses that may be taking foreigners to the stadium for the U2 concert. (The closest I came was a reference on a site to shuttle buses that left Taksim Square for Olympic Stadium for another concert.) YIKES. You mean I have a ticket, and I may not have a way to the stadium. Unfortunately, the planner in me would just have to wait until I reached Istanbul to find out how to get to the stadium. If worse came to worse, I would just suck it up and hire a driver for the night. I was NOT missing this concert.
So when I arrived in Istanbul, the first thing I did was ask the very charming desk manager in my hotel how to get to Ataturk Stadium for the U2 concert. The young man told me he would look into it for me and let me know. Well a short time later he advised me that the private bus charters were full (uh how come I could not find any information on the internet about private bus charters), but there were public shuttles leaving from Taksim Square. OK. That comports with what I had read for the other concert. I asked about times and location in Taksim Square, but the desk manager came up blank. Good Lord this was not what I had expected.
On Sunday, I realized I needed to take it up a notch so I got up early and wandered down the street to the Four Seasons Hotel, slipped the concierge 5 TL and asked him to help me find out how to get to Ataturk Stadium for the U2 Concert. He jumped right on it and 5 minutes later I had my answer. I was to take the tram to the Jenibosna stop and change to the Metro where I was to take the subway to the Aksaray stop. There would be shuttles at Aksaray taking concert goers to the stadium. Right on. Good to go…
So Monday afternoon I got ready for the concert. I checked with the front desk about the weather and was told the forecast for the evening was clear and warm. Excellent. No need for rain gear or coats. So about 3:30 I headed out of my hotel since I had been advised it would take a couple hours to get the the stadium via public transport. About 5 minutes and a short walk from my hotel later I jumped on the tram headed for Jenibosna. I road the tram for about 20 minutes and reached my stop. I got out and … uh where’s the Metro??? Not a Metro sign in sight. Not only that, I appeared to have landed in the middle of a no tourist zone. Damn I knew I should have learned Turkish before I left. So, armed with only a smile I wandered down the street asking “Ingilizce”, but only hearing what I expected … “Hayir” (No). I finally saw a set of stairs and thought maybe the stairs led to the Metro, but no such luck. It turned out to be an underground shopping mall. I stood there for a minute or two contemplating what to do. Finally a young man approached who spoke limited English. “Help you?” he asked me. (By the way… I love, love love the Turks. The kindest, warmest, friendliest, most generous people you will EVER find. If Turkey is not on your list of places to visit add it immediately. The food is great, the culture is amazing and the people are truly wonderful.) So I smiled at the fellow and said “Metro”. Bingo. Apparently “Metro”” is a universal word. I should have been asking for the “Metro” instead of looking for someone who spoke English. Anyway, the fellow pointed up the stairs and and referenced that I should head to the left at the top of the stairs… 200 meters. OK then. Off I set. Five minutes later still no Metro. I stopped again only this time I used the magic words… “Metro?” “Ah Metro” … 200 meters and the point straight ahead. OK. So Turks are not that good with distance. So on a I trekked down the street. I finally saw the big “M”. And was happy to see the name Jenibosna on the Metro sign. All right then. Back on track. I stuck 1.50 TL in the machine, got my token and headed down the stairs.
Now a new problem. There were two trains at the station and the signs both referenced Aksaray. Um that doesn’t seem right. So I took my chances and jumped on the train to my left. I asked the first couple I saw if the train was heading to Aksaray. Since the woman was dressed in a head scarf I presumed she was Turkish. Uh how presumptuous. Turns out they were from South Africa and were not sure where the train went. At this point a gentleman answered my question. Yes… Aksaray. Fabulous. I grabbed hold of the standing strap on the top of the railing for the standing area and held on as the train left the station. About 50 minutes later … Aksaray. As I exited the subway I noticed a group of people looking as lost as I was. Aha. Concert goers. “Excuse me… are you all going to the U2 concert” (hoping they spoke English).j That would be a big yes. Turned out that the group of folks were from Romania and just as nice as can be. We immediately commiserated about what a pain in the ass it was to find a way to the stadium while simultaneously looking for the promised shuttles. Because there was eight of us now it seemed like a good idea to see if we could negotiate a rate for two taxis to the stadium. Andrui (sorry Andrui if I am misspelling your name I wasn’t sure of the spelling from what you wrote on Anca’s card) walked over to taxi stand and proceeded to commence negotiations with the cab driver. We were in stitches watching this progress. It was a series of shouting, walking away, more shouting and walking away. At one point, a cop came over as well as another guy who also identified himself as a cop (he showed Andrui his badge). Both were there to make sure the taxi drivers were not abusing the concert goers. The lowest price was 25TL for each cab. While all this was going on the 3 gals in the group had wandered over to the extremely long shuttle bus line. Apparently there were only a handful of buses and with the length of the line, we had no shot in the near future. In addition, the fare was 7 TL. OK then cab fare it was. As it turned out the price seemed very reasonable when we found out that it was going to be another 25 minutes or so to the stadium. Good Lord.
So I pile into a cab with George, Anca and of course… Andrui. The cab ride was a blast. I won’t even go into the description of the ride … Turkish cab drivers don’t believe in lanes or speed limits…. in addition we were caught in one traffic jam after another. The best part of the cab ride, though, was the company. These folks were a blast. Warm, friendly and super nice. As we were riding along, I came to find out that Andrui and I had been in Peru (and Machu Picchu) at exactly the time. What are the odds of that?!!. Apparently Andrui had been in Lima for some kind of film event and traveled around Peru a fair amount while there. Andrui said he was in the film industry and as Anca added “semi famous”. Well Andrui and I spent a good portion of the cab ride discussing Peru.
We also discussed my trip and invariably the question was posed to me have you been to Romania? Uh no. (I actually felt bad saying it because these folks were so nice I found myself sitting there wondering why the hell hadn’t I visited Romania.) And just to show my further ignorance of what is apparently a wonderful country, I asked why they chose to come to see U2 in Istanbul. Turns out there were two reasons. First, it was Anca’s birthday the next day so this was a birthday present to herself, and second it was only about a 12 hour drive from where they lived in Romania. 12 hours? Geez I had no idea Romania was so close (and I pride myself on knowing geography).
We finally reached the stadium and were apparently fortunate to have the cab driver we did have. The other cab exited at a different exit and had not reached the taxi drop off area when we arrived. As we got out of the cab I noticed a very dark expanse of clouds on the horizon… uh oh. I thought the forecast was for clear skies? Well maybe the clouds will go around us. As we left the cab, we were assured that this was the area where cabs would be located after the concert. Excellent. That was all I needed to hear as I was thinking I would just hire a cab for the ride all the way back to Sultanhmet.
As we waited for the other cab, I noticed all of the vendors and entrepreneurs set up around the area. VERY Turkish. There were kebab stands, and fruit stands and little boys selling water and grills set up with meats being cooked and on and on. The other cab finally arrived about 15 minutes or so after we arrived. The others joined us and we proceeded to walk towards the stadium. This place was really in the middle of nowhere. Other than the stadium and the roads leading to the stadium, there was really nothing else around. We reached the gate area infield zone (the standing area) where the Romanian folks were going to be for the concert. I had purchased a ticket in the seating area since I was not so sure how long I would last in the middle of thousands of people. I said good bye to my new friends from Romania and trudged on to the entry area where my seat was located. (I actually wished I could have hung out with the Romanian folks. They seemed like such a great group of people. Even better would have been to spend some time with them over a few beers.)
So I took my spot in line to enter the stadium and waited. One of the down sides to taking the public transport was that it was hard to gage how long it would take to get to the stadium. The doors did not open until 6:30 and I was in line about a half hour early. The benefit. U2 was doing its soundcheck. Yes!! So those in line got to hear Mothers Of The Disappeared, Return Of The Stingray Guitar, and Mercy. Now I am not a huge I know every U2 song kinda person. But fortunately, there were two Irish folks standing near me who were telling folks the songs being played. After the soundcheck, I went over and had them repeat the names of the songs, which I wrote them down. The Irish couple went nuts when Mercy was played. (They later told me it was an unreleased song that was recorded during How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’s sessions, but leaked onto the Internet. OK. Obviously U2 was gearing up for a special night since this was their first ever performance in Turkey.). With sound check over, I realized I was starving and contemplated going back to the other side of the stadium where the vendors were located. This would probably take me at least 15 minutes to get to the other side of the stadium and another 15 minutes to get back. When I say this stadium is massive, I mean it. So as I contemplated what to do about food, I kept watching the very ominous black clouds that were moving towards the stadium. GACK. I had no coat. (Why the hell didn’t I put that tiny plastic rain coat in my shoulder bag. I’ve been to enough concerts to know better….)
I opted to stay where I was and find something inside. (Bad choice, this stadium was operating on bare bones and the food selection consisted of hot dogs and some kind of round meat patties stuffed into a bun. YUCK.) Anyway, the stadium was finally opened and we moved inside. I found my seat and WTF?! I was on the opposite side of the stage from what I had selected AND the stage was not situated at my end of the stadium as shown on the original diagram. I was seated beside some Brits and we were all staring in shock. Instead of having kick ass close to the stage seats, we were several sections over from the stage. THIS WAS NOT RIGHT. Turns out everyone around me was thinking the same thing. We learned the stage was moved from our end of the stadium to the other without correcting the seating for the folks who bought tickets. Well I was not going to take this. So I got up wandered around and checked out the seating in the section that was now the equivalent of where I was supposed to be seated. Yep. Very nice. Crap.
I went back to my seat and contemplated what to do. Fortunately, the weather gods took the problem out of my hands. About 30 minutes before Snow Patrol was scheduled to hit the stage the rain started coming down and this was not a shower this was a torrential downpour! Everyone in the stands raced for cover and everyone in the infield popped umbrellas. (Uh how did they all know about the weather forecast… and I somehow was lead astray). The roadies were racing around the stage trying to cover the equipment with blue tarps. By now the wind had picked up, and I was freeeeezing. I wandered around the stadium looking for a store or something. Nothing. In fact you have never seen a stadium this size (80,000) with so few facilities or amenities. (Tthere were only a couple food stands, no garbage cans that I ever found and only a couple restrooms … BUT… yes sports fans… squat toilet number 3…. if I wasn’t so damn cold I would have done my happy dance…. 3 for 3!)
As more and more people arrived, many were sporting the same multi-colored plastic rain panchos. OK. I’m smart enough to know this was not a coincidence. Vendors must be selling them outside. I approached a couple and asked and sure enough… vendors were indeed selling them. I HAD to have one. Not only would the plastic keep me dry… the plastic would act as insulation and keep me warm. I knew there was no way security would let me leave the stadium and return so I had to figure out a way to have someone on the outside buy one for me before they entered the stadium. As I headed to the exit at the far end of the stadium, I ran into two guys with the same idea. Both were Turks. Excellent. Now I have locals on my side to help with the language. We got to the exit and spoke to a security guard. The guard agreed to help us. Fabulous. Five minutes later he was back telling us this plastic bag of a poncho would cost us each about 7 TL (about $4.75). Done Deal! I handed over 7 TL and a few minutes later dry and warm. Hallefreakinlujah!
I got back to the stadium area just as they finished erecting tents over an area of the stage so Snow Patrol could play. By this point, no one was sitting in the uncovered part of the stands. Most of the folks had taken up positions under the cover in the isles, at the top of the stairs or behind the seating from which you could see the stage. Well damn. If this was the new rule then I was going to go to the section I was supposed to be in. So off I wandered and found a spot just as Snow Patrol took the stage. (At no point did any security move anyone, ask to see tickets or appear to care where you sat. Fine by me. In fact, most of security had their cameras out and were doing nothing but enjoying the concert. OK then….)
Now a word about Snow Patrol… uh they ROCKED it. I’ve always enjoyed Snow Patrol, but they were really terrific live and in person. They were very careful to remain under the tents to avoid the rain, and I can’t imagine that was easy since most musicians love to roam the stage. The rains did not dampen their enthusiasm or their sound, though. They played for about an hour including their well known tunes “Just say Yes”, “Chasing Cars” (with the U2 road crew singing on stage with Snow Patrol), “Crack the Shutter” and “Shut Your Eyes”. I guess the Turkey show was Snow Patrol’s last with U2 and they really went all out. I thoroughly enjoyed them.
As Snow Patrol exited, the rains let up and finally stopped. The next feature was watching the roadies try to remove the tarps without spilling any of the rain water on the equipment. It was like a dance watching these guys work. When the tarps were finally removed, the whole stadium cheered. (At this point it did not take a lot to amuse the crowd.)
So for the next 45 minutes or so the roadies did their set up. Because the rains had let up, a lot of people had moved back to their seats. Uh not me. I was staying put. I figured when U2 took the stage security would not pay a lick of attention to where people were sitting or standing… and I was right. People stood in aisles. People stood against railings. People sat in other peoples’ seats. No one cared….
And so finally the big entrance. It was THE entrance of all entrances. The lights dimmed. The crowd screamed. And there they were. Strutting across the bridge to the enormous and I mean enormous stage. ( The stage features a large four-legged alien looking structure that holds the speaker system and a cylindrical video screen that is directly above the area where U2 performs. There is a ramp surrounding the stage which is connected to the actual stage by rotating bridges. It was unbelievable.) The U2 entrance made a statement and it said “We are the most well known rock band in the world and we are here…..” (It reminded me of when I saw the Pope’s entrance into St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. It was THAT over the top!)
Once on stage Bono preened for the audience and they lapped it up. Strut to the left. Pose. Strut to the right. Pose. Strut out the catwalk. Pose. Then the inevitable “we finally made it Istanbul” and into Return of the Stingray Guitar (which I recognized from sound check) The next two hours was like the U2 hit parade: Beautiful Day, Get on Your Boots, Magnificent, Mysterious Ways, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, In the Name of Love (actually called Pride), Vertigo, With or Without You (encore) and of course Sunday Bloody Sunday. And while U2 sang, the amazing stage was at work. Bridges moved as Bono and the Edge walked the stage. The alien stage lit up and glowed. The 360 screen was filled with pictures of the band as they played and strutted. (FYI – I uploaded two videos, but my video camera does not work well in the dark at a distance. Also the videos makes it appear that I was miles away from the stage when in fact I was only 2 sections away and had a fabulous view.)
As great as the show as, however, I think, the highlight for the Turks was when Bono brought out one of Turkey’s famous folk singers (I was told by one of the Turks his name was Omer Zulfu Livaneli – she was kind enough to write it down for me) to join Bono in singing Mothers of the Disappeared. (The guy beside me said that U2 never plays the song outside South America so it was very rare indeed.) After Mothers of the Disappeared, Mr. Livaneli then sang a song by himself, which was apparently one of his hits because the ENTIRE stadium sang along. It was a very moving moment. All in all I would give the show high, high marks. It was a wonderful show.
And then my fun began. As I exited the stadium, I had to make my way to the opposite side to find a cab either back to the Metro or hopefully back to my hotel in Sultanhmet. Well 15 minutes and weaving my way through the masses later I arrived to find…. NO CABS. OK so where are they? A police office pointed down the road. OK. So off I went with several thousand other people. And we walked and walked and walked – at least 2 miles and probably more. As we walked down the road those with cars dodged the pedestrians. And those of us walking dodged the cars and the parked cars. It was insanity. We finally reached the end of the entry road to the stadium that intersected with the main road only to find… NO CABS. At this point there was mass and I mean mass confusion. Corporate chartered buses like Blackberry were flying down the hill only to jam on the breaks at the intersection as thousands of people milled about.
At this point I started talking to these fellows who were walking near me and asking what they thought we should do. Turns out they were from Norway and believed the best strategy was to keep walking and get away from the crowd. This meant trudging up a huge hill towards the freeway (at least another 1 1/2 miles. Although I was exhausted at this point, I had to agree with the strategy so off we went. As we walked, one of the guys had apparently spent time in the U.S. and was a Minnesota Vikings fan. He wanted to know if I was a Seahawks fan and what did I think about the Seahawks trading T.J. Houshmandzadeh…uh dude I have been out of the country for 3 weeks. I had no clue.
Anyway, talking to this guy made the walk at least somewhat enjoyable. So we reached the end of the road where it joined the freeway. There was only one problem: there was a median between us and the freeway and we were on the wrong side of the freeway making it impossible for us to hail a cab. We had to somehow get to the other side of the freeway. After surveying the problem, we realized there was only one solution. So we ended up climbing over the median and we waited for a break in the traffic. Fortunately, we did not have to wait long and presto we raced across the freeway. (I swear to God I am not making any of this up.) Once on the other side, we realized there were about 20 of us who had braved the long walk (about 4 miles was my guess), the climb up the hill and the freeway dash. By this time it was about 2:30 a.m. and the concert had been over for 2 1/2 hours.
As we stood there figuring out our next move a bus pulled over. Some guy yelled that they were going to the Metro. Manna from heaven. We raced to the bus, got on (I got a seat thanks to a nice guy) and off we went. Turns out that someone had called some private bus companies and explained the problem with no cabs or buses to transport the foreigners back to Istanbul proper. Anyway, 5 TL later and we were at a Metro stop. I had no idea what stop we were at when the driver let us off. It was dark, I was exhausted and just needed to get off my feet. (Yes mother my legs were incredibly swollen by this point.) By now, my Norwegian friends figured they would wander around and find the Metro. Uh no thank you. I stayed by the main road and figured I would wander back to the gas station we passed. Just as I started in that direction, a bus slowed down and someone yelled Taksim. Oh my God. YES I screamed. Taksim. Taksim. And I raced after the bus. It stopped I jumped on. Took the last remaining seat. Paid 7 TL for the trip and realized how damn lucky I was. I could take a very short cab from Taksim to my hotel. (And yes this was another private bus that was helping move all the stranded folks back to the city.)
So 45 minutes later I was in Taksim Square. I raced across the road. Hailed a cab and… no English. He did not understand my pronunciation of Sultanhmet and did not understand Seven Hills (I even held up seven fingers). I had no energy to pull out my electronic translator so I said Haghia Sophia. Yep magic words. He knew that landmark so 10 minutes later there I was a block from my hotel. I paid the 10 TL fare and limped to my hotel. I walked in at 4:00 a.m. thrilled to be back at the hotel. The front desk manager took one look at me and rushed over. He sat me down and raced off for some ice and water. I chugged two bottles of water and took the ice upstairs to wrap around my legs.
As I told the front desk manager, I was too tired to even think about what a great show it was or what a complete clusterf*%#k the transportation set up had been for the foreigners. All I knew was that I needed sleep and in a day or two the whole effort to get to the stadium and return would be hysterical. And what about my Romanian friends???? I hoped they had an easier time than I had. Well believe it or not, I would find out the answer the next day!