Saturday, May 4, 2013

Day 1 in Istanbul, Travel Day & Walking Around Istanbul, Meeting New People

 Today was a travel day, which means I had to wake up early.  Instead of waking up early to catch a train, today I woke up early to catch a 10am flight to Istanbul.  My flight was not early, but I had to get to the airport early to check-in, get my boarding pass, and find the gate.  I had a hostel mate leaving early this morning and I woke up shortly after she got up in the morning.

I took the metro to the airport, it took longer than usual, I ended up getting to the airport about an hour before departure time instead of the 2  hours early I had planned for. I had no problems checking in for my flight, I got something to eat on the way to the gate, the airport was laid out differently than a US airport.  I went through passport control, got into the shopping area, but no security check.  I kept wondering, where is the security check, it was right before the departure gates.  I had to throw out the bottle of water I just bought when I went through security, they did let me keep my spinach pie.

The Mesa retiree was in the boarding area when I arrived, we were both going to Istanbul on the same flight. I had to search for my boarding pass when I got to the gate, I stuck it in my backpack and could not find it, i found it eventually, and before the boarding call, but I experienced  a few minutes of panic.  I talked to Mesa retiree before the flight.
Turkish Airlines Plane Before Departure for Istanbul
The flight from Athens to Istanbul was nice, Turkish Airlines is a great airline.  Non-American airlines are nicer than US based airlines, Americans do not know what they are missing in service or comfort until they fly a foreign carrier.  Economy on Turkish Airlines was nice, a short flight, we had leather seats, in-seat entertainment systems and a good meal, not the crappy airline food you get in the US.  The meal on the short flight from Athens to Istanbul was a fresh tuna sandwich on a wheat roll, a salad, apple cake, crackers and a water cup, they also had beverage service on the flight.  I was impressed, I have not flown a non-American carrier since I lived in Japan.

After we landed in Istanbul I made my way to the visa/passport lines.  I figured I would meet up with the retiree from Mesa in the baggage area.  I got my visa quickly, then I went to the wrong passport control area, I ended up at passport control 2 for Iraqi (and other countries I cannot remember now) citizens.  The customs officer directed me to passport control 1, I went back, found a much longer line and waited.  I had no problems going through customs, I met up with the Mesa retiree at baggage claim and we headed into Istanbul.  

Istanbul's metro system is easy to navigate, I got the directions from the email hostel world sent to me.  I lost the retiree, he did not get off at my stop, I knocked on the window, and waited to see if he returned on one of the trains. He did, we went to the hostel, he had not booked a place in advance, and checked to see if there were single rooms in my hostel, none were available, but the staff did find a place for him to stay.  We said goodbye, our travels probably will not coincide the rest of my trip, I booked a flight to Israel, will return to Europe sometime later. 

I spent the afternoon walking around Istanbul and meeting new people, the Turkish people are very friendly, every few feet someone wanted to speak to me.  I met a Turkish man working in a shop I walked past, he said hello, came out and spoke to me, invited me to have tea. I went to have tea, expecting him to try to sell me something, I ended up spending a couple of hours speaking to him and a Turkish woman while sipping tea.  We talked about my CIA experience, their backgrounds, they are even trying to help me find a teaching job in Istanbul.
Lynnae Drinking Tea in Turkish shop 
After drinking tea with my new Turkish friends, I resumed my walk, this time in the direction of Sultanahmet where many of Istanbul's big tourist attractions are located, including the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, and the Topkapi Palace. I will go back to the area tomorrow, most of the places were closed when I got there.  I went to the park next to Topkapi Palace, there were a lot of people taking pictures and enjoying the cool Friday afternoon. 
Lynnae at Gullhane Park next to Tokapi Castle 
Blue Mosque

Lynnae in front of Aya Sofya
After I looked at the sights in Sultanahmet, I walked to the Blue Mosque & sat down on some of the benches.  Later some college students approached me, asking for help with their English homework assignment.  They spoke halting English, being a former English teacher and a student of Japanese I was impressed they approached me and were willing to use their English, I agreed to help them with their assignment.

We found a place to sit on some grass near the blue mosque and they had questions prepared to ask me.  I think their assignment was to have a conversation with an English speakers, they asked me if it was OK if they used a camera to record, I told them, I had no problems with them using a camera.  We had an English conversation, they asked me what my job was, where I was from, many different questions. They were excited to learn I was former CIA and to get my business cards.  We went and had tea after and spoke more English, they taught me some Turkish words I have since forgotten.  They bought me some delicious Turkish sweets, I think a marshmallow based candy.  They had to leave after tea, I went back to my hostel, talked to a hostel mate from Germany then went out to have dinner. 

Me & Turkish Students I met today 
I went to get dinner a little after 9 pm, I ran into the Turkish man I met earlier, he invited me to have dinner at  one of his families restaurants, it was delicious and on the house.  I am back at the hostel now, I have had a long day, it is time for me to get some shut eye.  I have a full day planned tomorrow too.

Istandbul Day 1 Photo Album 

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