August 5, 2012
Turkish Airways was recently awarded Europe's best airline award and my flight from Cape Town to Istanbul proved that the award was well deserved. The best seat of the trip, incredible catering and just a great on-board experience for the 11 or so hour flight (2 hours from Cape Town to Johannesburg and 9 hours from Johannesburg to Istanbul).
One small issue though was the fact that they kept the cabin too warm... all night long and no need for the nice duvet. Oh well...
Arriving at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul is a whole different story though. We arrived at 5:40am and instead of parking at a gate, we had to park on the tarmac and bus in to the terminal. This is something I just can't stand... but I dealt with it. Then upon arrival all U.S. citizens, along with a bunch of other countries need to pay $20 to get a VISA. Well, low and behold I didn't have $20 in US currency, nor 15 Euros, nor any Turkish Lira and my luck would have it that the only ATM in the arrivals hall was out of commission. So I begged a few people for money to no avail, bunch of jerks, and then asked for assistance from the airlines and the info counter... big mistake.
I have many Turkish friends...actually under 3, and they are all great people, but it seems that every single person I met today absolutely hated their job and did not want to help in any way, shape or form. It was aggravating to say the least and after I maneuvered the system a bit, I ended up in the departure area (I went up a back stairwell) and found an ATM, withdrew some money and made my way back downstairs to the VISA man who was the most unfriendly person EVER!
He put the stamp in my passport, I didn't say Thank You and I proceeded to passport control which was luckily a breeze because everyone on my flight had passed through 30 minutes prior. I picked up my luggage and made my way to the Turkish Airways Hotel Desk.
Another nice feature about Turkish Airways is that if you have a 7+ hour layover (mine was 17, they will get you a hotel for your layover... free of charge. It wasn't the Ritz, but it did the trick and after a 4 hour nap I was ready for my 6 or 7 hours of Istanbul exploration.
First stop was the Doubletree Hotel in Old Town...scouting out potential places for our Spring Break Trip. The Sales Manager Ismail (who is now one of my 3 Turk friends) was great and the hotel is awesome... could be the place! I then kept on walking in the 91 degree weather, sweating like a pig, although in this Muslim country I don't know if they use that expression. I saw a few of the familiar sights, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, etc. and then headed down to the edge of the Bosphorus where a bunch of locals were enjoying the sun and diving off the edge of the breakwater into the sea, which was not too clean. I was tempted, but I didn't want to spend the last three days of the trip with a middle eastern infection so I just did some sunbathing which was 99.9% done by men. There were 2 women that I saw on the rocks or on the breakwater... out of about 1,000 men. I guess the ladies aren't allowed to take the robes off even when it's 91 degrees out.
After walking 7.2 miles, no blisters today, I headed to the Four Seasons where I was to meet the 1/2 Dreamer, Tahla who went to high school in Maine this year. I met him last year during my trip and it's great to see his English improve so much.
We had a nice Turkish dinner and then I rode the tram back to my hotel, had my first Turkish hair cut... not too bad, and then de-greased from a long sweaty day of walking with a hot shower.
Now I'm sitting in the Turkish Airways Lounge. By far the best lounge of the trip... too bad it's located in the 2nd worse airport of the trip.
Headed to Shanghai tonight... no blogging or facebooking probably but I think I will survive.
See you in Tokyo something soon.