Nov 7, 2013
Sitting in Heathrow waiting to find out if our departure gate is a 10, 20 or 30 minute walk. They announce the gate 30 minutes before boarding. I guess the reason is make sure the bad guys are in good shape. We did manage to clear security. Peggy got the full pat down and my carry on was flagged. I thought it might be the somewhat mysterious vacuum sealed packs of Turkish specialities. Instead it was the ominous looking heavy metal contraption that caught the screeners eye. We had to disassemble it a bit before getting cleared.
We are in pretty good shape after a night under the flight path. At the pub across the street we had a meal of that old healthy British standby fish and chips. The Guinness was fine while a plane shook the place at least once a minute. The British Arsenal football team beat the Germans and the local fans were pleased. Good thing considering the number of pints they had consumed.
We chose the hotel as it was close to the airport. Thankfully the skies became quiet by midnight and we slept pretty well on a characteristically lumpy British mattress. The shower curtain less shower was a case of let her go. The water was hot and we used the hotel shuttle to the airport. The British are boring drivers compared to the Turks. We were welcomed at the Virgin Atlantic reception area. Not really a counter. First Lady directed us to another who double checked that our luggage was also on its way to San Francisco. I am impressed with the VA style that applies even to steerage passengers like us.
Air travel is always the worst part of any trip. Delays are normal and we need new words to replace “delay” and “late” since they represent reality and are not the exception. This morning is no exception despite great visibility and no rain. Just need to adjust to an airline clock that always runs one or more hours behind the rest of the world. Even VA is subject to this time frame. They just try to make waiting pleasant by providing a rack with a dozen current magazines to peruse and take a complementary reading material.
All in all the trip was entertaining and somewhat adventurous. We took none of the cruise “shore excursions” and managed to see many new things and places. Never followed a paddle. We were helped by having previously been to the areas around the ports serving Marseilles, Naples and Livorno. We were able stay close and explore.
The most pleasant surprise was Istanbul. While the place struggles with crumbling infrastructure people manage to live in the incredibly historical area. I was not overwhelmed by the cuisine but we enjoyed our street food experience eating where local ate. Managed to exist without Turkish wine. The people were kind and helpful and we never felt uncomfortable other than dodging cars and trams while crossing streets.
We are boarding. Now seated upstairs in 747. Same tight economy seats but a new experience. Our carry on treasures are safely tucked away in floor level cabinets instead of the usual cramming in the overhead cubbies. It is the little things.
Turkish is not the easiest language for a traveler but thanks to the Internets, multi-national enterprise, MTV and sit-comes many people know some English. Naturally in the tourist areas English is common. There are always pictures to point to hand language. We managed easily. The other pervasive parts of the culture like the calls to prayer were startling at first. They soon blended into the city noise. I also realized that despite the best efforts of the Muezzins and their amplified speakers, life went on. Istanbul remains a secular place with reasonable co-existence between Islamist and Secular inhabitants. There are concessions on both sides. That is a good lesson for all of us.