We woke up this morning and had one final breakfast on our patio looking out on the caldera. It was hard to believe our time in Greece was really at an end. We got everything packed up, and we were up waiting for our ride to the airport with time to spare. We really had time to spare, as the appointed time for pick up came and went. After 15 minutes, we started to get concerned. We didn’t really have a lot of time to mess around–our pick-up time was at 9:45; our flight was at 11:40. The airport was 45 minutes from our hotel, and we had to check bags and get to our gate at an airport that sees heavy traffic (flights are out every 10 minutes from an airport that has only seven gates).
The airport was crazy! Tim and I agreed that we’ve never been to an airport like it–not in St. Maarten, not in Kenya, not in any place we could think. We had to stand in line to get our boarding passes, then we had to stand in line to get baggage tags, then we had to stand in line to send our luggage to security. There was no one to man the security portion, so a huge line developed until an airport official finally “called the police” to come over to man the x-ray machine. A disinterested police officer came over and sat next to the machine, looking everywhere but at the screen as bags passed through. After we got our luggage through, we stood in line for security and passport control. On the other side, we discovered what can best be described as a large room with standing room only around the seven gates. Once the gate opened, we had to wait on the other side for a bus to take us to our plane. It was a free-for-all onto the plane after that. Tim and I were actually the first ones on the plane, having been the last ones on the bus. He remarked that we’ve never been the first ones on a plane before. 😉
One plane change and another flight later, we were in Istanbul! We collected our bags, exchanged some money, and arrived at the melee that was the exit. Lots of signs with lots of names and travel companies… but no sign bore our name or our travel company. We walked up and down for fifteen minutes without any change in our circumstance. Tim decided to try to call the travel company in Istanbul, but was having no luck getting through. I walked back through the line, and a man from another travel agency offered to help us. He called the travel agency and spoke with a man on our behalf. Tim was able to talk to the representative, and he told Tim that Goway told them we were not going to get into Istanbul until 8:30 p.m., so our arrival at 4:15 was unexpected.
We were met by a representative about ten minutes later, but then had to wait for another half hour before the car came. During that time, I came to the conclusion that the next “plague” for Europe is going to be lung cancer. I have inhaled more secondhand smoke in the last two weeks than I feel like I have in my entire life–there are so many people smoking everywhere. That was the situation waiting for the car; I started to get a headache there was so much of it!
Our driver arrived just in time to hit rush-hour traffic, so our trip to the hotel was doubled, but we were pleased as punch once we arrived. The hotel had thorough security and is really beautiful. Tim said this is for sure the most luxurious one we’ve stayed in so far.
After dropping off some things in the room, we headed out to find something to eat. Lunch on the plane was pasta, so after having only a Snickers bar between breakfast and 7:30, I was on the verge of hangry. 😉
Our hotel is right on the edge of Taksim Square, which is like the Times Square of Istanbul. There is SO much going on down there. Shops and restaurants abound. Tim and I walked around wide-eyed and open-mouthed soaking in the sights and the sounds around us. Street musicians contributed to a kind of festive atmosphere. Listening to the music, watching the meat for kebaps turning on the spit, and smelling wafts of baklava made it wonderfully clear that we were in Istanbul. As we started popping in and out of shops, our excitement arose: the exchange rate is 1 American dollar to 3 Turkish lire, so it felt like everything was on sale. Some of the same things we had admired in Greece and not purchased are soooooo much less expensive here. Tim thrilled at paying 30 cents for a bottle of water. I joked and said he was going to make it rain bottled water. Every time we saw something we liked and realized it was at least half the price it would have been in Greece, we laughed and said maybe we should buy one of everything.
We walked over to Galata Tower and then decided our feet were feeling a bit sore, so we turned and headed back to our hotel. We stopped for some Turkish ice cream (of course!) on our way. Turkish ice cream is really interesting. They put gum paste in the ice cream, so it has an elasticity about it. The ice cream can actually be stretched as far as 2 feet! The texture is really interesting, not one I can easily describe. It’s like very thick gelato that requires a couple soft chews before you swallow. I’m fascinated by it, and have been since I read about it before the trip. I’m pretty sure I’ll have at least one or two more before we leave. 🙂
Tomorrow is a full day tour in which we’ll try to cram as much of Istanbul in as possible!