Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Eurotrip 2015 - Days 0 & 1 (6/26-27/2015) - Getting to Istanbul

Perhaps a little background is in order...  This trip was originally supposed to partially be a joint vacation of two couples - Joe & Tina, and me & Claire.  Well, Claire broke up with me within the last few weeks, so things didn't end up going as originally planned.  Basically, I ended up being the third wheel to Joe & Tina while we followed the original itinerary.  Claire ended up doing her own thing after flying to Istanbul.

The trip began for me early on Friday morning (June 26) with a taxi to the St. Louis Amtrak station.  I had originally planned to take the bus there, but it had been raining all night and into the morning.  The talkative taxi driver got me to the station (in his Prius) in plenty of time to catch the 7:55 Texas Eagle to Chicago.  This train ride itself had been hastily arranged only a couple of days prior when I eventually realized that the original plan to get to Chicago had become overcome by events.

The train was late getting into St. Louis, and so was also 15 minutes or so late to depart.  I sat on the upper deck of one of the coach cars, and used the extra-reclining seat to try to catch up on the many hours of sleep that I had missed the night before due to packing and some last-minute planning.  The 6-hour ride up to Chicago was mostly uneventful save for a couple of delays (waiting for freight trains to pass) that made us even later (30 minutes) to arrive in a cold and drizzly Chicago.

Tina picked me up from Union Station and drove me back to the apartment, where Joe had been working from home most of the day.  After some last minute packing on their part, the three of us headed out around 3:00 to catch the CTA train to O'Hare.  Anticipating long security lines at the airport, we rushed to catch the next train (even running down the ramp when we saw it approach as we had only just made it through the turnstile).  When we arrived at the airport, though, we didn't have much trouble getting to the international terminal (5) and the security line was minimal.  We then had a couple of hours to kill before even having to board our 7:20 flight to Zurich.  During that time, we grabbed some food (in my case, a sub-par veggie burger from R.J. Grunt's) and charged up our phones.  Boarding for the Swiss Air A330 started a little late due to a delayed crew, and where were even more delays before we took off.  We eventually got in the air and made up some of the time on the 8.5 hour flight.  We were fed both dinner (vegetable pasta for me) and breakfast (croissant), and I was able to watch a movie and get a few hours of low-quality sleep.

Upon arriving in Zürich the next morning, we had a 2-hour layover during which we switched terminals and breezed through security before boarding a Swiss Air A320 to Istanbul.  One odd thing about this plane (I'm not sure if it's a general A320 or Swiss Air thing) was that the seat row numbers skipped from 17 to 25.  This flight was "only" 2 hours and 45 minutes and had us in Istanbul by 5 PM.  After going through passport control, we quickly picked up Tina's checked suitcase (the agent in Chicago had made here check it) and went out to the arrivals hall.  We were met there by the airport transfer that Joe had organized through the hotel.  After a couple of hand-offs, we eventually got in a van that took the 3 of us speedily (so speedily that I feared for my life) to Tashkonak Studio Suites in Sultanahmet, Istanbul.  This was the old part of town, and the streets were so narrow that the driver had a lot of trouble turning the last corner before the hotel - he eventually made it with the van barely unscathed.  There had been a very light sprinkle when we made it out of the airport, but the weather had cleared up early in the drive.  The temperature was in the low 70s (F), and dropped a bit as the night progressed.

We checked into the hotel and then took a few minutes to settle into our rooms.  The hotel was a little strange in that our rooms were in a separate, seemingly totally unrelated building from the lobby.  My room was adjacent to Joe and Tina's on the ground floor.  The furnishings in the room were pretty good, but it's location was suboptimal.  I picked up a lot of nearby noise from the street outside, and the opaque curtains didn't quite fully cover the street-level windows (though the translucent curtains were at least thankfully a bit more expansive).  After a brief respite, the three of us walked out to find some dinner.  We passed a restaurant that had been recommended by the hotel clerk, but ended up eating at another one that was likely very similar - the name on the menu was something like Marmara Fish and Meat Restaurant.  I had a house special vegetable casserole dish that was cooked in a single-use clay pot (I later saw this referred to as a cistern special at another restaurant), while Joe and Tina shared a similar looking seafood dish (but without a clay pot involved).  My dish was pretty good, but probably not worth the 70 Turkish Lira (about $26) that was quoted.  Overall, it was a solid dinner, though.  And the view of the Sea of Marmara from the table in the back wasn't terrible.  The restaurant was mostly empty, but I'm not sure how much that had to do with it being Ramadan (or Ramazan, in Turkish) - the sun was still up when we arrived.  The sun set toward the end of our meal, and the owner and the employees were able to have their dinner.

After eating, we walked the short 2 blocks back to the rooms and plotted some plans for the next couple of days.  We said our goodnights by 10:30, and Tina in particular looked like she was ready for a good night of sleep in a bed, as opposed to an airplane chair.  I didn't mind having a bed at all either...


An album of all my favorite photos from the trip can be found here:
Google Photos (no photo spheres)
Google+ Photos (includes photo sphere functionality)

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