I am exhausted. I feel like I slept all day but I needed it. I’m drained. It is 2:52 local time right now so I guess that means, what, almost 8AM in NY? So it was a little more than 48 hours ago I started the long ride to Istanbul.
We had to leave early because my sister had to be back in Boston for work on Saturday. So, by 6:30 Am we were in the car and headed out of Oswego. The entire way it was snowing pretty good. Well, what’s good about driving through snow? That won’t be doing that again for a long, long time. That’s what. Oswego to Albany takes about 2 1/2 hours and we got in there a bit after nine.
I piled in to that cramped bus a bit after 8:30 to begin my ride into NYC. The gentleman I sat next to was a math teacher who commutes into NYC every weekend. He spent a year teaching in Hong Kong back in ’11 and shared his experiences as a stranger in a strange land when he heard that I was headed to Istanbul. Once arriving in NYC I jumped on the airport ferry and skipped onto the island. I sat with a much older gentleman who had actually lived in Istanbul for a a while back in the seventies when he was a representative for a pharmaceutical company. This would have been before the ’80 Coup, the new constitution, and the change in the currency for the Turkish Lira (1 TL now = 1mil TL then) so not much from his experiences seems like it would carry over. Once he learned I was planning on writing once I arrived I think it would be fair to say that not many of his experiences really happened the way he shared them with me, either. Each story seemed to be a little more extravagant than the last but they did make some entertaining listening. He would end each time saying, “So you could put that in your book.” I think he thought I was writing some James Bond type novel. Anyways…
I arrived at JFK around 1:30. I knew that I was going to be stuck there for a while but that time got stretched even more then I expected when I found out, after going through check in at four, that my flight had been pushed back two hours. No worries, I was expecting a 4 1/2 layover in Moscow and this just shortened that up a bit. I got my two big bags checked in (they weighed in at just over 90 lbs) and headed past security. Once inside I found myself a Turkish restaurant and had my first ever Gozleme. How would I describe one? I guess you took a really big square tortilla and fill it with a type of chicken salad. Fold it in half and grill it. Then fold it again and again so it makes a footlong wrap. Cut it in half and you have yourself two pieces looking like hot pockets but tasting simply amazing. I ate my gozleme, did some reading, watched Wisconsin beat up Arizona in the NCAA tourney, and waited… and waited… and waited…
To be fair, I did meet some other really amazing people while we all sat there. I met a young Russian man in his late twenties who has already sailed around the world in the Russian version of the merchant marines. He has been to Istanbul a few times but never for more than a few hours. This man, Andrei, also translated a brief conversation with a Russian scriptwriter. That writer, Gregori, had spent a couple weeks in Hollywood and was on his way back home. He will be back in NYC sometime this summer to work on a Russian movie. There was also an Azerbaijani lady I met who was extremely nervous about returning to her home for the first visit since she moved to the States sixteen years ago. About an hour after (the delayed) boarding was supposed to begin, we finally did board. Once on the plane we waited and waited waited some more. Then the pilot came on the speakers and gave us the Russian version of “just kidding” we all grabbed our luggage and headed back off the plane for a little more waiting. The one good thing about this, Aeroflot gave us vouchers by means of apology that did let me get another gozleme.
Finally, almost exactly twelve hours after arriving at JFK, we were back on our plane and in the air. I had an aisle seat and sitting next to me was a young boy, about twelve, who was traveling with his grandfather to Paris. His grandfather was asleep almost immediately so we chatted a little while and I figured out how to work our mini TV’s so he played some games while I put on some classical music and tried to drift off to sleep. I would say the kid was pretty cool except when he got up to use the necessities, he broke my good headphones. I brought 4-5 pair with me and the only ones I didn’t get from 5 Below are now useless. Arrgghh. It was an eight hour flight and we touched down in Moscow a little more than an hour after I was supposed to be leaving for Istanbul, I arrived in Moscow. There was a standing ovation when we were finally allowed to get off.
The airport in Moscow looked a but less new or “sterile” than the JFK one but besides that, it is superior in every way. Better environment, friendlier employees, quieter, better restaurant selection… One thing though, security was a joke. While I am walking through the metal detector and my bags are going through the conveyor, the guy who was supposed to be watching that belt was sitting with his feet up on the table completely engrossed in whatever phone game he was playing. By the sounds, if that game wasn’t clash of clans, it was something very similar. Another unique experience here was using the restroom. I walk in and three men are at the urinals doing there thing while some cleaning lady was right next to them, whistling away, cleaning the sinks. Never would have happened in America. Because of the dalay, I was given one complementary meal which I used at TGI Fridays (same decor, completely different menu). Finally, around 9:30 PM, we took off.
This is running a little long so I will just briefly say I landed in Istanbul around 1:00 AM local time, made it through passport, customs, and baggage claim by 2:45 or so, and was checked into my hostel and in my bed by about 3:30AM. For me 3:30AM = 8:30PM so it still took me another 45 minutes to get to sleep. I was up shortly after noon (5AM NY time) and after a couple hours walking around getting the lay of the land, here I am. I’m home.