Monday, 19 January 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: Scratching Yet Another Travel Itch

I was strangely even more laid back than I usually am when about to embark on yet another Itchy Feet trip (though I'm sure you know I had my usual lists of things to do, as that is the A type way!). The furkids were already sorted so I extended my day at work, went out for dinner to Heirloom (because let's face it, 1/4 tin of baked beans was never going to cut it) and still had to launder most of the clothing I wanted to bring with me. I think I panicked the most about not being able to find my trusty travel hat! I packed everything including a sleeping bag into a 40 L backpack, camera gear into my day pack, got 4hrs of sleep, missed the bus by seconds and of course had Car 2 Go issues (they reimbursed me for the trip however so win-win!) but it was finally no more sleeps! I am off to Kenya & Uganda via Istanbul!

My 4+ hour flight from Vancouver to Montreal was turbulent and I didn't have a window seat. I was, however, sat next to an Air Canada pilot and so instead of semi-hyperventilating every time we were thrown around I tried to remain poised, merely to save face so he wouldn't think I was an idiot. The pilot who was actually flying had us keep our seat belts on and kept telling us "the tower says it will level out and be calm in about 10 minutes". May be he was communicating with the tower of Sauron however as those 10 minutes never really came. We landed a little later than scheduled at a snowy airport but that didn't bother me as my connecting flight was a lifetime away. Well may be not that long but having then sat for 6 hours in the airport it certainly felt like it.

I studied French for 5 years back in high school. Shame then that that was over 20 years ago. Besides, I personally am never ever going to need to ask someone for a ham and cheese sandwich, which truly is about as much as I can recall from my GCSE French. That and the phrase for "I don't understand". Champion.

I'm not sure why the airport map was confusing me so much. I didn't yet have a gate number for my connection and I wasn't even sure if this airport had an international departures terminal. My brother, with whom I was conversing with, found this hilarious and made fun of my misfortune.

"How good is your French these days?" I asked.
"Shit. I did German" was the hilarious yet honest reply.

I did however manage to order a Jugojuice in broken French (well I'd no excuse really seeing how it was written out for me) and then a meat & cheese-less pizza, which I'm actually quite proud of. Not for my linguistic skills you understand but the mere fact that I was able to get such a thing in Quebec, where they love their meat and cheese. I'm pretty sure I'd have been pushing it had I asked for a veggie burger.....

The snow had been falling pretty hard during this time and by the time I boarded my Turkish Airlines flight for Istanbul just after 10pm you might have said it more resembled a snow plane. I hoped someone had a large container of ethylene glycol!

The moment the flight crew threw all the queue jumpers off the boarding line up I knew this was going to be a great experience!  Watching the faces of all those obnoxious passengers, seemingly devoid of the queuing gene, hoping to jump to the front and steal overhead spaces be told to wait their turn just made my day. One woman tried, and failed, twice. Finally an airline that takes boarding seriously! And it pays off, boarding truly was a breeze. The ample overhead space meant no problem getting my backpack in and my day pack went under the seat in front of me which I could then rest a foot rest on.

We pushed back from the gate early but then we spent at least half an hour getting de-iced. Just as that was finishing up the Captain announced there were some issues with a "contaminated runway" (snow) and braking. They were, I think, going to try clearing it, take some more measurements and then we "would see if we could actually take off". I secretly hoped that he didn't quite literally mean the latter part of that.

In the interim the cabin crew brought around little goody bags and a series of menus, plus you had a blanket, pillow, headphones and slippers waiting for you in your, what I found to be, comfortable seat (with head rests). The bag contained ear plugs (God send), eye mask (another God send), socks, toothbrush & paste and lip balm. The large touchscreen TV in front of you also had a remote control and you could plug in and control your iPhone/iPod via the TV. Wifi is apparently "coming soon". It had one of the best movie selections I've ever seen in flight (even if I did just play with the maps and cameras haha). Bit bloody posh this and I was in cattle class.

The food I ate was amazing, all vegan and incredibly tasty. You were even given a snack of the best Turkish Delight I've ever tasted prior to take off and had an invitation to request a sandwich or muffin any time you felt hungry. Water was quite literally on tap, with staff making sure you had it whenever you needed it. Everything was spotless and even the bathroom had flowers in it. The crew were to the point but very helpful, which was great when they swooped down on some young guy in front of me who seemed oblivious to turning his phone off during take off. It was quite humorous as he had initially tried to hide the fact by turning it over into his lap so you couldn't see it was on.... What the!?! I had already tapped him on the shoulder once - he apologized then carried on surfing Facebook! Haha Have we truly become that addicted to the Internet?

I'm sure there was more I could wax lyrical about but I can't remember it as I slept blissfully for at least 6 hours, ironically waking briefly as we flew by Manchester. I felt like I was totally spoiled during one of the absolute best experience I have ever had flying! Economy felt like First class. They were leaps and bounds above other carriers. Air Canada take note!

Despite having left over an hour late from Montreal, we landed at Atatürk Airport only 10 minutes late in 8hrs 35 mins thanks, I suspect, to a wicked fast jet stream. At times our ground speed was over 100 mph faster than our actual airspeed (thank you trusty travel map!) as we rode the jet stream. This is common at this time of year: a few weeks back BA114 landed in London 90 mins early from New York thanks to riding winds of more than 200mph. I certainly wasn't complaining either even if our climb from Montreal through the snow storm was initially a tad bumpy in places.

We were taken by bus from our plane to the main terminal and it was very crowded. Perhaps time to engage my queuing gene to avoid any nasty surprises? Everything is easy to follow though plus if, unlike me, you haven't sorted your visa prior you can use machines to apply for your E-Visa (I just used the same system back home a couple of weeks ago). The queue for passport control was huge but it moved incredibly fast and I believe every single kiosk had an officer in it. You are quite literally herded through, which some people might find cold in approach but I'm all about efficiency. I'm not looking to make friends here after all and well I've had worse experiences crossing the border into the U.S.! I didn't have to collect luggage and I was lining up for the Havatas bus all within about 50 minutes of touching down (and that included a bathroom break/freshen up).

The Havatas bus runs every half an hour and cost me 11 lira. You buy the ticket on the bus and then sit back and let someone else do the driving. It was 430pm on a Monday and so traffic got a bit congested but I was at my destination stop near Taksim Square (and the final stop for the bus) in just over 35 minutes. There is apparently a metro line but that involves several changes so this suited me just fine.

After a successful Air BnB experience in Tokyo, I had decided to use it again for Istanbul staying in an apartment near Taksim Square. My host, the very nice chef-in-training Gökhan, met me where I disembarked the bus and as we walked to his place he chatted away giving me hints and tips on where to go and what to do. I had to laugh when he pointed out the nearby Starbucks.

As I type it has been 26 hrs since I left my apartment and admittedly, despite it only being just after 7pm here in Istanbul, I've already climbed into bed. I am exhausted. Excited but exhausted. I can't wait to scratch my itchy feet tomorrow with a day of exploring Istanbul!

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