There were some truly amazing moments in our moving around during tour break, at least from a “memorable” perspective. Here are three standouts, ranked according to my own, shadowy system:
#3: Airport transfers, Istanbul
This one makes the cut in a genuine, “it was so nice!” kind of way. We rented an apartment in Istanbul, which was wicked on several counts, including that our “landlord” arranged a driver who picked us up at the airport and installed us in the apartment. The same guy took us out to the other airport four days later. I don’t usually think of myself as the private car kind of person, but Dunc gets reimbursed, so, well bend my privileged rubber arm.
The driver was exceedingly nice, like most Turkish people we encountered (not just those in the hospitality industry). We arrived at the airport grouchy, with a sore back (me), and generally a bit tired. Having a dude waiting with a sign with your name on it = easy! Even better when he also has a comfy, good-smelling van, Turkish delight, water, and a video about Istanbul to help pass the (very) long drive (“This bridge, very busy. Other bridge, busy, all the time, busy”). Every 20 minutes or so he’d check in with us: “Everything: OK?!” Yes. Yes it was okay. Even A++.
It was much the same on the way out from the apartment. We headed downstairs a few minutes early and he was already waiting for us, just as nice as before. If you’re headed to Istanbul, I will give you his contact info and you will also find everything: ok!!
#2: Istanbul to Casablanca
Awesome trip to the Istanbul airport aside, this epic journey is in close contention for the number one spot.
Where to start… well, Duncan had The Sickness (some kind of bug I gave him – more on that another time). Nothing about the journey was simple. Even check-in was aggravating, starring a desk agent who had apparently never dealt with people who were connecting through Cairo, since she vanished for 20 minutes to talk to a supervisor. We eventually got to our gate which was crammed and stifling, as pretty much every flight seemed to be delayed. My usually-furnace husband lay on the floor, zipped into his polar fleece and complaining of being cold. The airport’s lack of salty crackers (all he wanted) almost broke our no-chip resolve. Almost.
I think our relatively-short flight to Cairo took off around 1:00 a.m. or something. But with overnight-ness and time changes, I had basically no idea what time it was for the next 10 hours. All I know is that we had a 6.5 hour layover in the Cairo airport. Rather than let Egyptair arrange a transit visa for us so we could go stay at some hotel (apparently included in the cost of our ticket), Duncan wanted to just wait it out at the gate. Something about not wanting to leave our passports at the airport like the Egyptair folks said we would have to… I guess I can understand that.
So wait in the airport we did. Under the bright lights. With the extremely loud cleaning crew – I swear to God, there were six of them yukking it up JUST TO TORTURE ME. And frequent, blaring announcements. In very uncomfortable chairs, as we were locked out of the gate itself. The gate that had couches. COUCHES PEOPLE. Oh my God, I wanted a couch. Duncan stretched out on the floor but I suffered in a chair. Typical, I guess, of an airport stay but I am not the dirty 22-year-old backpacker I was once (see above re: privileged rubber arm).
Still, I must have dozed at some point(s), because suddenly the sun was up, a bunch of other travellers were praying, some kids were squealing, and they eventually opened the door to the gate about 45 minutes before departure. I think I got 15 minutes of couch time?
One more 5.5 hour flight! Yay! With strange movies playing and the world’s tallest man physically preventing me from putting my chair back. With his knees. Not on purpose; he was just big. Not sure how I managed to get an emergency exit row seat and he didn’t but my underslept persona is less than generous (see above re: cleaning staff clearly out to get me, not just trying to make their jobs fun). I took my leg room, thanks, and “suffered” in an upright seat. Again, I think I snoozed, because suddenly the flight was almost over.
By the time we arrived in Casablanca, Duncan was actually over the worst of the sickness somehow. Show off. The passport line took at least an hour, maybe 90 minutes, to process about 20 people. ?!?!?
The tour had arranged a pick-up service and sure enough there was a dude with a sign who ushered us out into the parking lot, through the pro-Palestinian demonstration at the airport doors (unclear if it was related to the recent marches as I can’t seem to find decent info about it). We waited about five or ten minutes, before we and the other two tour folk on our flight were split up to take different cars.
Unfortunately, we got the guy who had a key that was definitely not for the car he was sent to. And then the rain started.
We were herded under an awning while half a dozen dudes yelled at each other and on their cell phones and eventually we were taken with another dude to a little car and crammed in. The driver was actually really nice; he and Duncan chatted en Francais during the 30-40 minute drive while I semi-snoozed in the back seat.
Do I even need to mention that it took another 45 minutes to get a room once we landed at the hotel? It’s a long story (and I’ve been so brief thus far…) so let’s just say we were relieved when we finally got into the room about 20 hours after we left Istanbul. Not much to write home about (#firstworldproblems!!) but after so many hours of being upright I was ecstatic to find a comfy bed.
#1: Kayseri Airport to Goreme (Cappadocia region, Turkey)
While #2 almost wins for the sheer length and annoying-ness of it all, our experience landing into, renting a car at, and then making our way from Kayseri airport was definitely the most unique.
We landed in Kayseri around 5:00 p.m. and I was hoping for Duncan’s sake that we might be able to get our rental car and get to Goreme (about an hour’s drive) before the sun was totally down. Hah!
Our flight was domestic and we’d gotten our visas sorted in Istanbul. However, since our bags were checked straight through from Athens we had to pick them up off a luggage truck on the tarmac and physically walk them through the international arrivals terminal (which is basically one door over from the domestic one). When we got inside, we were greeted by 100-200 very senior Turkish women dressed all in white who all had water cooler jugs in special bags. My googling has failed me; I’m not sure what their scoop was.
We saw exactly three rental car desks inside, none of which lined up with the name on Duncan’s print out, so we went out into the crowd of around 300 cheering people waiting for the women, outside the airport. Some friendly security guys had to make a path for us and a few others to get through the crowd. They waved us over to the domestic arrivals door when we asked about car rentals.
Sure enough, some of the others found “car rental” dudes there holding signs with their name. No one for us, though, as the sun rapidly set behind the hills. We asked one of the guys with a sign about our rental company and he assured us that it was his friend, no problem. He then called his friend, and assured us that he was here, we just needed to wait.
A few minutes later I took a look in the domestic terminal where yet more security guys tried to help. I seemed to be highly amusing though they did go to pains to help the Amusing Foreign Girl. Which was fine, if mildly patronizing. Once again, they called the company and reassured me that we just had to wait.
A minute later, a dude came running out of the jammed parking lot with Duncan’s name on a clip board and apologies for being late. He had a total baby face and yes, maybe, a slight gleam of used car salesman. He was also a mobile car rental desk – the rental agreement, the optional GPS, the credit card machine… all in his bag.
Doing the paperwork on the hood of the car while the 175-cars stuffed with the women and their families all tried to exit the tiny lot with the call to prayer as our soundtrack was, I think, my favourite part of the whole thing.
We finally hit the road, got gas (it was a pick-up/return empty situation. Weird!), and struck out for Goreme.
By the way, the car itself was some kind of Chevrolet station wagon, beat all to shit and with 120,000 km on it. I named it Ol’ Wilson.
Have I ever mentioned how much I hate GPSs? I mean, yes, they’re useful. Sometimes. I’ve been known to refer to them as the Source of Marital Discord. Naturally, this had to be one of those nights when it was basically useless. After sending us on a wrong turn on the highway, we ended up on a partially-sealed back road (“continue on unnamed road for 3.7 miles…”) that led us through a tiny little village that seemed to be entirely shuttered. Except when a person would suddenly appear by the side of the road. “Or is that a driveway? Honey, I think this is a drop off!”
And then more back roads. Until eventually we got to Goreme, where of course the GPS has exactly one street and one hotel in its brain. Guess what? It wasn’t our hotel.
Thank God for iPhones. Needless to say, we didn’t use the GPS again, and our return to the Kayseri airport a few days later was decidedly less eventful.