Monday, 17 February 2014

In Istanbul...

It was a bit rushed if I'm honest. By the time I reached Heathrow Terminal 5 in the taxi from home and cleared security – all of which was absolutely fine – I had about an hour and a bit to have something to eat. My last meal was two Shredded Wheat at around 7am this morning and it was now 3pm so I wandered in to Wagamama for a kind of Thai-inspired curry and rice (chicken and vegetables – nice and light) with a glass of Merlot, which was sorely needed. Sitting there after ordering, however, I began to worry about whether I'd be served in time. The last time I was here in October last year, waiting for a flight to Montreal, the service was terribly slow and when you've got a plane to catch you're constantly on tenterhooks, listening out for any gate announcements. Today, I felt that a repeat performance of last October would be the last straw, but I think they sensed my anxiety as my food arrived pretty promptly and it was very tasty – just what the doctor ordered considering the hectic morning I'd had and the rather long and tiresome cab journey from Sanderstead.
Room 533, The President Hotel, Istanbul. No time to take any more...

A window seat...
Right enough, there was little time to relax as I found myself paying up and striding towards the gate (A10) which wasn't a million miles away, thankfully. There was a short coach journey to the plane and then I found my seat (24F – a window seat and I had two vacant seats to my left so I could spread out a bit). But sadly I wasn't relaxed due to my stressful morning and after the plane had taken off and broken through the clouds I found myself pre-occupied with the morning's aggravation, which was clearly (and unfortunately) playing on my mind.

Thank God for John Simpson!
The flight was due to take off at 1620hrs and arrive in Istanbul at 2200hrs. It was bang on time, but a very boring flight, although, thanks to BBC foreign affairs editor, John Simpson, it was just about bearable. Simpson wasn't on board the flight, but he writes a column for High Life, the BA in-flight magazine (this one about how he was moving out of his residence in Paris) and my only slice of enjoyment was reading his column. I've read one before on another BA flight; not only is he a very good writer, he has that ability (reserved only for good writers) of drawing in the reader, making him (or her) a part of whatever experience he is describing. Oh for more of the magazine being written by Simpson. He's written books too and I really wished I had one as the rest of High Life is just like any other in-flight magazine: boring.

Once we'd cleared the UK and crossed the English Channel there were clear skies all the way to Istanbul, but it was night time and all I could see from my window was veiny trails of light, joined together to make cities and urban sprawl below me; occasionally I watched the map as the plane edged ever closer to Istanbul and soon there were only 39 minutes of the flight left. We started our descent soon after and I was amazed at how the plane swooped in across the bay (which I'm sure has a glamourous name but I need to find a map to look it up.

Clearing security in Istanbul was pretty efficient although I was unaware that I'd have to pay for a visa (around a tenner). Getting a visa slowed me down and by the time I reached Baggage Reclaim Conveyor 1 my bag was one of three left on the carousel waiting to be picked up.

A scuffle broke out at customs
As I waltzed towards customs a scuffle broke out and security cards were trying to restrain a man who was trying his best to break free of their grasp. Women were shouting and there was clearly some kind of altercation, but I breezed past the incident, a worthy distraction, which meant that my bags weren't checked. Not that there would have been a problem if they had been checked as I had nothing of any interest other than trousers, socks and pants and a digital camera.

I drew some money from a cashpoint and then ordered myself a private car transfer to my hotel, from where I write this post. The President Hotel is very pleasant, even if the hotel staff appear and sound a little abrupt. "Any questions?" I was asked twice, once by the receptionist and then again by the porter who took my bags to the room. I was in no mood for tipping, not that the porter didn't deserve one. Perhaps when I've had a decent night's sleep.

And now here I sit in my room, quite a pleasant room, but I feel homesick and want to be with my wife, who I called as soon as the plane landed and before I even got out on to the tarmac.

The weather here is warmer than the UK – it's about 13 degrees compared to about 8 degrees in the UK – and there are no clouds.

Time for bed...
I've got a couple hours to kill tomorrow morning so I'll take a walk around town as I think I'm pretty central here at The President and I need the exercise having sat in a taxi and then a plane and then another taxi. There's nothing worse than inactivity. Who knows? I might find a bicycle to hire. Right now it's 22 minutes past midnight and I'd better get some shut-eye.

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