After landing at the airport in Izmir, we headed to the train station which was conveniently located at the airport (ahem, take note Toronto). Our hotel confirmation indicated that the the closest subway station to the hotel was Basmane station, which was only a “15 minute” train ride from the airport. As we bought our train ticket, we asked the lady at the counter which platform takes us to Basmane and she pointed and directed us accordingly. The first thing we noticed about Izmir was that it’s not a touristic region and that in fact, not many people spoke English the way they did in Istanbul.
While waiting for the train, we had a look at the station map on the platform and noticed that Basmane station was not displayed on the train map. A little concerned, we went back inside and asked the lady again if she was sure this was the right platform and she insisted “yes, yes Basmane” and pointed back at the platform. We shrugged and hesitantly took a leap of faith. The train came and we settled in with our luggage. As we rode from one station to the other for much more than the estimated “15 minutes”, we noticed that we were heading towards a residential area. We felt very far from where were were supposed to be. “I don’t think we’re going the right way”, said my friend, breaking the doubtful silence. So we re-convened: we looked again at our hotel information and studied our train map but we were still left confused as to why this bloody Basmane station was nowhere to be found on the map.
Finally, I sucked it up and asked a man sitting across from us if he knew if Basmane station was coming up. He didn’t understand English that well and regretfully struggled with a response. Another man heard us and said “Basmane?”and we said yes with a glimpse of hope that he would show us the way, but he spoke to us in Turkish and we couldn’t figure out what he was saying.
After a few awkward attempts to communicate with the people who tried to help us and after a slight sense of panic overcame me (not a terrifying panic, but the kind of panic you get when you have no idea where you’re going and you start imagining that you might end up in Kazakhstan or something), a young man who was sitting a few seats away came to us and handed us his iPhone. He pointed at it and said “My friend. She speak English”. At first I thought he was talking about Siri but then I realized he meant that he had an actual friend on the line that we can speak to in English. My friend and I looked at each other wondering if we should take this guy’s phone but he dismissed our hesitation and insisted. I took the phone and a woman’s voice on the other end greeted me in English. In reality, she struggled getting full sentences out but I could tell that she really wanted to help us. She asked us where we were, I explained our debacle and after a few struggling words, this wonderful stranger on a phone that was being lent to us by another wonderful stranger, unraveled the mystery of the missing Basmane station: we had to get off at a previous station and take a connecting train on a different train line that went to Basmane – something the idiotic ticket collector failed to mention to us and which explains why the station wasn’t on the train map.
I thanked her with a million Tashakur idirim (“Thank you very much” in Turkish) and I handed back the phone to the young man and showered him with many thanks and appreciation. He humbly put his hand on his chest and said “it’s okay” and sat back in his seat. My friend and I were in awe. We couldn’t believe the amount of effort these passengers took and went out of their way to help us. Normally being young women traveling in a foreign country, especially in an area that is limited of tourists, you would think we’d have to be more cautious, but these guys were legitimately hospitable and just wanted to help us. “This would NEVER happen in Toronto!” she whispered at me. No kidding. If you smile at someone in Toronto they think you’re going to rob them. We got off at the next station, thanked the guys for helping us out and finally headed the right way. That day, I decided to give humanity a second chance.