Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Turkey: arrival


It snowed in Detroit -- a fast, furious flurry of snow, reminding us that this is a winter trip, even if the destination has a winter unlike our own.

We traveled to Turkey last winter too and it was a good time to be there. You can't list many places in Europe (well, Eurasia in this case) that will give you decent weather in January. In Turkey, along the Aegean coast, you may get some winter rain, but you'll also get winter moderation. A pleasant change from our weather back home.

So we'll head south and then further east, though not so close to those sadly troubled borders that it would make my daughters back home nervous. (There may be snow there, but again, southern snow. Different from a Wisconsin chill.)

But that's too forward looking. Let's consider the trip thus far: first, I must note that the Air France flight to Paris was half empty. I cannot remember when I last flew on a plane where we could get up and effortlessly switch to unoccupied bulkhead seats. And of course, since I have in Ed an ever delightful seatmate, my personal space has grown, as we can spill over and intrude on each other and in general get more wiggle room. Bliss! (Okay, maybe that's not a big issue for you, but I'll take any extra benefit that would promote the likelihood of at least a modest hour or two of sleep.)

So, overseas flight: superb.

The Paris layover was shortened by a slight lateness of arrival. Most people would not view thirty minutes until take off as an invitation to pause for a cup of coffee at the airport. But I would. And did.

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And again, the flight to Istanbul is one third empty, giving us a nicely vacant middle seat so that we can spread out. Especially useful at lunchtime. Because yes, Air France (and most European carriers) still bothers to serve a good (and free) meal, even though the flight is only three hours long. (The attendants assumed that we would want the offered wine. Whether or not you drink it surely depends on whether you're able to reset your internal clock fast enough so that it doesn't seem like you're sipping wine at what is for you 6 in the morning.  After hesitating for a second we decided to make the required conversion to "afternoon." And yes, the lemon tart was excellent.)

travel to Istanbu;-5.jpg

From start to finish, it was a dream trip. I couldn't have imagined a better one.

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landing in Istanbul

Of course, the real challenge comes tomorrow, as we navigate the internal transportation systems of Turkey.


I hesitated on where to spend the night, I really did. No one loves airport hotels. And yet, in the end, I chose a place that I suppose qualifies as such, in that it's just 3 miles from the Istanbul airport. It seemed stupid to drag ourselves to downtown Istanbul for the night when we have an early morning flight tomorrow. So we are at the Gonen -- a choice that is guided by price (tonight it's cheap!) and by a minimum of hateful reviews. (I take hateful reviews of these airport places with a grain of salt: people are tired, they're in transit, everything irritates them. Lack of a smile on the face of a hotel desk clerk will unleash review words you don't often see in print.)

We're tired, sure, but for God's sake, we're in Turkey! So we check in -- nice, very nice in an everything-is-a-shade-of-brown sort of way (keep in mind -- a bargain!).


And do we plunk down and fall asleep? Tempting! Maybe after one quick look outside, just one peek out there and maybe, too, after we grab something to eat. Yes, definitely that.

We are in a commercial suburb. This is what you get when you stay by the airport. A big outlet mall glares straight at us from across the street. But the hotel proprietor, after trying hard to sell us on the restaurant on the premises, does note that we'll find places to eat up the hill.

Out we go. We pass Little Ceasers. We pass Dominos. Things are looking bleak. Then, a few steps further, we come across a tiny place, diner-like in its use of bright lights inside. Gulagaci Kebap.

The proprietor is super welcoming. I'd forgotten the standard Turkish greeting. Hello! Where are you from?

We settle in. The menu is full of kebabs -- lamb, beef, the usual. But it also has chicken and salads and we're a bit choosing in the blind, but what comes to us -- one chicken in a hot iron pot and another in a yogurt sauce with tomatoes and peppers -- they're wonderful! The spices are just right, the meat is tender. With a typical raw grated salad salad on the side. And a fresh from the oven flatnbread. All for a total of $20.


We watch the men come and go (it's so rare to see women congregate in the way that men do here), some sit for a while, some eat, some pick up food, especially the flat breads to take home. If I showed you a vignette of this, without any indication of where I am, you could have guessed Turkey, yes, maybe, but also Syria in better times, or Lebanon or any other country that is so close to where I am that the habits of the people surely don't change just because some years ago a border was drawn between one group and the next.


We pass a bakery on the way back to the hotel. Should we? Of course!


So we're in Turkey.

Now, wish us luck on Part 2 of the journey tomorrow. That's going to be tricky. And therefore fun.