Day 1: Travel and Istanbul

The day before the day of was not quite as busy as I expected, I went to REI and picked up a pair of zippered pants and a hat for the trip. It was their 4th of July sale and there was a crowd of people standing outside the front doors. While I was there I ran into an old friend Sarah that I knew from when she worked at a client of mines offices. That evening I took it easy hand just hung out on the couch with a friend.

I has asked my mom to sew some of the patches that I had collected over the years to my backpack, it ended up being a much larger job than she expected, so mom if you are reading this THANKS a million, the backpack looks great.

The trip started with an American Airlines flight from San Diego to JFK that was fairly uneventful, one thing that really surprised me about the flight was the aloofness of the air staff, I felt like I was in a bus with other passengers just heading to the same destination.

The flight was on time, one thing if you are going internationally you have to be at the airport two hours prior to the flight even if you are on the domestic leg of the flight. They almost closed the flight down; I was only there about an hour prior because I thought that this part was considered a domestic leg. Oh, well I made it without issue.

Landed in JFK, it was an easy tram transfer from American to Turkish Airlines. Turkish departs from Terminal one. I had about an hour in the terminal between flights, and when I got to the gate it was packed. There was no doubt that this was going to be a fun flight. People of every age, color and race were all heading to a common destination. Moms changing babies on the floor in the line, kids talking in Hebrew and Turkish. I just dig flying the local carrier.

We boarded on time, but the counter staff struggled to have people understand that there were two lines that we could use. Everyone was just herding towards one of the gates while the other less obvious ingress was empty. You would have expected that they would have done this before. Oh well. I entered the plane found my 24J aisle seat and sat down.

We pushed back from the gate on time and then proceeded to sit on the tarmac for another two hours waiting for our place in line. About forty-five minutes into this the Captain announced first in Turkish and then in English that we were number twenty-one for take off and it was going to be a while. No bid deal.

The actual flight was one of the best flights that I have ever had. Unlike some other airlines sitting in coach did not mean that we were ignored as second-class citizens. The air staff was really attentive and water and food flowed with an uncanny regularity.

The flight was without turbulence either inside or outside the plane, even the constant hymns of crying babies just seemed to be ok. The plane was an Airbus a 340 that had three old center mounted TV’s for the in-flight entertainment, two of which were working perfectly and the one that I would have been able to see, black as night. Thank goodness I brought a book. I am reading the new Jason Borne thriller…it just feels right to read a spy novel on the way to Turkey. There must have been something about the way I was dressed because everyone was trying to talk to me in Turkish, all it took was quick smile and the word “English??? for them to smile back and wave a quick hand in what looked to be embarrassment.

As we circled Istanbul I was able to catch a glimpse out the window of the country that would be home for the next two weeks, with its sun baked features, it looked hot and passionate. This is going to be transformational.

Exiting the plane was without incident, as I walked towards the sign that proclaimed Visa and immigration. I knew from my reading that the Visa requirement was easy, just walk up, hand in your passport and twenty backs and they stamp your passport. Less than two minutes, easy. Then I looked towards the passport control line as it snaked for what seemed like a mile. Our delay at JFK had created the perfect storm on the ground; three airlines had landed virtually simultaneously, one from what seemed to be Japan, the other from England and ours from the US. Most people were of foreign decent and the lines swelled with only four stations opened. I finally made it though the line after about an hour and a half with nothing more than a smile and a word, when asked the reason for my trip I replied tourist.

I took a passionate cab ride from the airport to the hotel in the historic district. I am situated a few short blocks away from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, dead in the center of town. I arrived at the hotel about twenty minutes after climbing into the smoke filled cab none the worse for the wear.

I claimed my room key, left my passport at the front desk and went in search of a shower. “Christ, is it going to be this hot the whole time???? I heard some woman ask at the desk. All the concierge could say was it was unseasonably hot for the next four days. I smiled, and made some joke towards the woman who was from some Midwest state. She did not seem amused.

The water was wet, the shower ice cold and I changed into a something lighter than my transatlantic garb and went to the roof to get my first real view of the city. From this birds eye view I overlooked the ocean on one shoulder and the old city over the other. Blue to the left, Sofia to the right. Imagine what it must have been like to be here in the heyday of Turkish civilization. Christianity balanced against Islam with the power of the emperor and the Church.

I loaded up on bottled water, and headed to the Blue Mosque, I heard the call to prayer and the guy at the bar told me that they close the Mosque for thirty minutes to all but the faithful, so I should leave in about twenty to miss the masses.

Shoes off, no talking and what an amazing building. Six minurets make its commissioner the most powerful man of his time; only the great Mosque in Mecca has one more minuret. A quick picture inside the Mosque, I have to be in it. If you are planning to follow my journey here is one of my travelism “a picture without a person is just a postcard??? so unless it is an overview shot of a city I want the pictures to have me or the people I meet in them, or else it is just easier to buy the postcard, and they images are usually better than anything that I can create with a simple point and shoot. Oh, and I will always try bargain for the postcard prices when I leave the tourist areas. People after my own heart.

Dinner was simple, stuffed grape leaves with rice and minced meat, a bourecca with potato and figs. And then some walking through the old city by night. The sight and smells of people smoking water pipes and sitting having a great time in the cafes is just too much to resist. Jet lag will have to wait. BTW, its 6:30am right now and I have been up since four watching the Turkish MTV. And thus day two begins.