Turkey — Day Twenty-nine — Istanbul to Vancouver

Monday, November 5, 2008

Our day started way too early. WAY too early. We were up and had our suitcases at the front door in the darky-dark-dark, waiting for the shuttle bus to pick us up. Sabo was asleep behind the counter in a chair, his legs laid over another chair and a blanket spread over all. It was very sweet, and we didn’t wake him.

It had rained in the night, and the cobbles were shiny and black, hypnotizing for two very tired people.

The shuttle came on time and our giant suitcase and two duffle bags were thrown into the back with great haste, and we were bundled in. The first passengers of the day, I guess, which didn’t bode well. No — it didn’t. We made a quick and disorienting tour of the major hotels of Sultanahmet, picking up people and piles and piles of luggage.

It seemed like we might have been late for our airplane, since we were still collecting passengers as of six am, and we needed to be at the airport for six-thirty to give us time to check in for an international flight at eight-thirty. I was forgetting the first rule of driving in Istanbul, though: go as fast as you can all the time. We sped along the waterfront road, Kennedy Caddesi, all the way to the airport and got in just in time. Of course we had to wait until every other passenger and their crap was lifted off of our squashed suitcases before we got to join the lineup at the entrance door — can you tell I was cranky?

The lineup at the entrance door seemed a little strange, until we realized that the customs — complete with x-rays and suspicious looking uniformed people — were right at the entrance. You didn’t get to go anywhere in the Ataturk Airport without being fully x-rayed. I put my bags on the conveyer belt and walked to the other side, where the lady with the wand gave me a once over, not even pausing at my ankle, not even tsk-ing at my flipflops. The guy on the other side of the x-ray machine was a little excited, though, and not in a happy-fun-birthday-party kind of way.

Taking several steps back, and keeping her hand on her hip, the lady customs official told me to open my backpack in a very serious tone. Eeek! The Turkish jail seemed suddenly, uncomfortably close. Finally, my personal lightbulb lit up, and I knew exactly what the problem was: I opened my pack and unwrapped… my tap! My beloved solid-brass hamam tap, which I wasn’t about to trust to the vagrancies of luggage-sorters, was carefully wrapped and stowed in an inner pocket of my carry-on luggage. I pulled it out and showed it to the lady, who took it over to the nervous guy beside the x-ray machine. I was very afraid they would confiscate it, if not for my stupidity of bringing a gun-shaped object onto a plane, then because it was a cultural treasure. The Turks are very close about such things, I’ve heard.

The x-ray man spent several minutes with my tap, consulting with someone on the phone, before bringing it back to the lady who wrote something on a list (the stupid tourist list?) and gave me back my tap, telling me with a few eyerolls to stow it in my checked luggage. Ok!

Steve came though without incident.

Getting on the plane was a usual cacophony of lines and more lines, checking luggage and finding a duty-free. We tried to buy some raki to bring back to Canada, but we weren’t allowed to buy alcohol because we weren’t on a trans-Atlantic flight! It didn’t matter that we were spending all of 20 minutes in Frankfurt, we couldn’t buy. We consoled ourselves with about a million boxes of the previously-elusive lokum and some jam. We even bought a bunch of little chocolate-covered Turkish delights to make sure we used up every last kuruş.

Breakfast on the plane, which was running late, was passable. We remembered how good the food had seemed on our previous experience with Turkish Air — little had we known at the time! Not that it wasn’t still good, by airplane standards, but we already missed the food.

WARNING: rant ahead!

We got off the airplane in Frankfurt and were met by a woman from Lufthansa, who looked at our tickets and told us to make haste downstairs to the gate. At the gate, we joined the very long line. Finally at the front, watch-checking all the while, the lady at the gate looked at our tickets, rolled her eyes and sneered, and told us we needed a boarding pass — from two flights upstairs. We tried to tell her the lady had told us to come straight here, and we’d already been in line ten minutes, and we really wanted to get seats together. She basically told us “run, then”. We ran.

Upstairs, out of breath and irritated, we told a man at the Lufthansa information kiosk that we needed boarding passes. He also looked at our tickets and told us, very excitedly, that our plane was leaving very shortly, and we should have just been boarded. We told him that we were told in No Uncertain Terms to come up here for boarding passes. He looked at us incredulously and got on the phone, yelling at the other end in German, while waving us back downstairs. We ran again. The bitch woman at the counter, now looking both snotty and like she’d just had a strip taken off her, looked at our tickets, looked at our luggage stickers (complete with barcodes) and typed some information into the computer, and waved us through to the waiting room.

At the counter, most of the travelers were being herded onto a bus to go out on the tarmac to board. I explained to the nice young woman what had happened, that we were Very Irritated and we wanted seats together… and that it was our honeymoon. She looked completely crestfallen and advised that the flight was actually oversold and she wasn’t sure we’d even make it on the airplane, let alone with seats together.

I cried. I was so frustrated, so anxious, and in mourning for leaving the most amazing city I had ever seen. I was bereft, and it showed. That poor girl! She told us to just wait, and she’d see what she could do. After waiting more than half an hour, she waved us onto the bus, the last people on the plane. To her credit, and I don’t know how she did it, she arranged for us to have three seats together so we could have some room.

On the plane, tired and stressed beyond reason, we waited. And waited and waited and waited. Finally the captain came on and announced there was a delay because there was a problem with some luggage that was being offloaded from the airplane. Steve and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing: that woman at the gate was so horrible, could she have screwed up our luggage on purpose? No, we thought — we were being paranoid.


The flight was long and uneventful, the flight crew gracious and kind, the food passable and the Simpsons movie a sad disappointment. Deplaned in Vancouver, aching and tired, we waited at the luggage carousel. And waited. And waited. Notice a pattern? Eventually we were paged to the Lufthansa counter, where we were told that in fact the bitch woman HAD typed one number wrong on BOTH our checked pieces (one I could see as accidental, but two? yeah). Our luggage was still in Frankfurt. It wouldn’t be arriving in Canada until the next day, and would be put on the bus to the Coast after that. At least Lufthansa was going to pay for the bus. Still. Crap!

We left the luggage area, still shaking our heads. What crap! We had wanted to show John and Gayle our carpets, and my tap! My precious tap! That bitch! I knew we should have stayed in Turkey.

Of course, there was still the matter of customs. Steve had his oud and backpack in hand, and I had my backpack and purse. Even estimating low on our YTL conversions (and who doesn’t do that?), we were still a few hundred over our duty-free limit. We dutifully showed the customs guy our slips. When asked about the rest of our luggage, out poured our tale of woe and Lufthansa. He gave each of us a close look, shook his head, and carefully changed an ‘8’ into a ‘5’ on our form and waved us through. Finally, something good happened!

We were met by John and Gayle and taken back to Tsawwassen for a very sweet reunion with Angel, who was so overcome with emotion that she leapt into my arms for cuddles and couldn’t stop yipping and whimpering. Poor doggie!

After a brief rest, we piled our rather sparse luggage and overjoyed dog into the little blue car (she jumped in as soon as the door opened and refused to get out) and took off for the Coast and bed. Ah, sweet bed.

The next day, I received an apologetic phone call from Lufthansa advising the luggage was in and on the bus, which unfortunately got in after the depot was closed. Unwilling to go another day without my tap, I met the bus. The driver said there wasn’t anything for me and I’m afraid I lost it a little bit on him, falling just short of grabbing his lapels and demanding my RSFH at once! Not surprisingly, he found the suitcase and duffle bags, and they were in my possession once again. Thank goodness!

At home, I noticed a round burnt hole in the bottom of the duffle bag that held our big carpet. I was angry all over again, though I couldn’t quite imagine the Lufthansa woman finding our luggage and putting out a cigarette on it… well, maybe I could. Fortunately the carpet was undamaged, or there would have been hell to pay. That said, the RSFH was damaged beyond repair: missing one handle, most of one wheel, and a plastic thing that previously covered up a pointy piece of metal. There was also a broken glass or two, which I guess could even have been squashed in the dolmuş on the way to the airport. Still — not impressed.

It was a sad way to end what was in every other way an ideal first backpacking trip. I cannot say enough good things about Turkey: the food, the people, the easy transportation, the food… go to Turkey, at least once in your life, go. It is a wondrous, wondrous place. Steve says I had such a good time because the Turks liked me, that I fit in well with them. I think I was open to the experience, the language, the humour… I could live in Turkey. Not that I’m not grateful to be Canadian, because that sure opens a lot of doors (ah, Kanada!), but I love Turkey.

I love Turkey.

“Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.”

Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi

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