We arrived in Istanbul after a very pleasant flight. Probably the best airline we used the entire trip. Lots of leg room and fun tasty little meals. Also I got to wear your big floppy hat a lot like a goober. Once we arrived the first order of business was getting to our hotel which involved more sweating than any other part of our trip. After much confusion we took a bus that was like a train to a subway to about a half mile away from the hotel. Once we got to our hotel though it was worth it since we were staying at the Istanbul Marriott Sisli which is amazing. The first thing we noticed was all the security. Every vehicle that came into the hotel was mirror inspected for bombs underneath it and they had barriers lowered into the ground once you were deemed safe. There was also an x-ray machine and metal detector to get into the lobby. We were using your Marriott discount here but we were using my account because I am some level of Elite due to my Marriott Visa which meant we got upgraded to a family suite room, which was hands down the best hotel room we have ever stayed it. We had a living room and a couch! Why did we need that, I have no idea! After cooling down a little we went to go get food and see some sites. I was feeling adventurous so we tried some stew with boiled tripe in it… we were not huge fans, but the chicken wings at the place were seriously delicious. After getting some cash we got an Uber and went to see the Hagia Sophia. It was amazing to see a building that has stood for almost 1,500 years especially since it spent it’s first thousand as a church. We also got to see the Omphalion, which is were every Byzantine Emperor was coronated.
We left very impressed and ready to go see the Blue Mosque right across the way. However unlike the Hagia Sophia, this was still being used as a mosque and prayer had just started so we would have had to wait 2 hours to get in, so we decided we would come back another time. After this we walked over to the Grand Bazaar and stopped along the way to get a McFlurry from a McDonalds with a walk-through. The bazaar was overwhelming and crazy, we didn’t spend a ton of time there since we already had acquired so many things on our travels. After this we needed to get food so we grabbed a quick bite. Since we had touched down in Turkey, I had been texting my buddy that lived there trying to find a place to meet up and we had finally gotten in contact and we decided on Galata Tower. We weren’t too far from there so we decided to walk. On our way there we had to walk over a huge bridge and we took a bunch of wacky pictures. We were at the tower for about an hour and hadn’t heard anything from him so after doing some window shopping we took an Uber back to the Hotel.
You had been craving breakfast food for a while so that morning we went all out and ordered a full American Breakfast from the hotel and chowed down. After that my friend came over so we could show him the room and hotel and then he could show us around the city! We started by going back to the Golden Horn area and going to Chora Church which is a church that was built around the 4th century. The inside is beautiful and filled with gold. After that our goal was to find the access point to climb the remains of the Walls of Constantinople, Josh had recommended it to me and even copied some pages from his guidebook to show me how to find it. It wasn’t as simple as the guidebook made it sound, or we are denser than the intended audience but after about 45 minutes we finally figured it out. We were very glad we did though because it was an incredible view and an amazing experience. After we did all that we went to eat Syrian food at Sahtin. We had some delicious hummus and fried chicken!
The last planned day in Istanbul is a crazy crazy story. We start fairly normally by meeting my buddy for a Turkish breakfast which is amazing. Aside from the traditional elements we also had a breakfast pizza which was delicious. We then went to see his place which is on the Asia side of Istanbul which meant a ferry ride over to Asia! We saw some dolphins playing in the wake on the way over and then took our first steps in Asia. After hanging out there a little bit we went to Taksim to do some window shopping since we were still really under budget and having some fun. On the latter half of the trip we had been looking for a swimsuit for you but hadn’t been able to decide on one. I really wanted to make sure we got that done and I guess my desire to make that happen confused my logic because I totally mixed up my travel math by forgetting to factor in the time it would take to get from where we were to the hotel. Which was a crucial mistake because getting back to the hotel and out of the city got pretty hard with Ramadan incoming and like 3 accidents between our hotel and the airport. We got a taxi from Taksim to get us back to the hotel and then wait outside and get us to the airport after we grabbed our stuff.
First off, this taxi had no seat belts, our driver spoke very limited English, and driving in Turkey is crazy normally much less in Ramadan traffic. Next I was out of cash and Ally thought that was a good time to start denying my card at certain ATM so a taxi ride ended up being around 250 Lira between driving us from taksim to the hotel then partway to the airport, couldn’t make it all the way due to traffic, then to every ATM in a 2 block radius At one point we were going the wrong way in reverse down a one way street and pulled a uturn on the highway. The payment process ended up be crazier than it needed to be because he knew we were in a hurry and really took advantage of the situation which was pretty capitalist, he said he could take foreign currency and not have a problem but once I handed him a hundred euros he pulled a magic trick and was like you never gave me anything then we had our ATM adventure because I was too tired and rushed to fight it so he ended up with like 225 Lira + 100 euros so like 200 bucks. Luckily for both of us you were in the car for most of this so I didn’t get in a fight.
We ended our taxi ride 6 metro stops away from the airport and we had around an hour until takeoff so we were hopeful that we could get there in 10-15 minutes by train and then haul butt and go to the counter. So at IST they have x ray machines just to get into the airport, not the security area but just to get into the area with the counters. Keeping with how the rest of the day had gone, my checked bag got flagged and I had to take absolutely everything out of it. They said I had electronics in it, when for the first time in the history of me carrying a bag on a plane that wasn’t actually the case, because I had all of them in my carry on bag. You go through easier and started looking for our our check in desk and shockingly LOT Polish airlines doesn’t have a huge presence in the Istanbul airport so finding their desk was a whole thing and when we did find it at around 4:55 it was abandoned. We talked to the Star Alliance members around them and over the course of me trying to get us on a plane 2 people told me it would be “impossible” to get on the plane. A plane that was still sitting at the gate within 1000 meters of my location and wasn’t scheduled to leave for 30 more minutes and after the fact we found out was actually delayed another 15 minutes, with passport control lines that were maybe 20-30 people long which is around a 5 minute wait at an airport the size of IST. This left me upset…
So once I accepted no one on the planet wanted to let me on this flight to Poland I wanted to find a way to get there so we could catch up with our flight to the US the next day. They tried to get me on a Lufthansa Flight to Zurich that was leaving about 20 minutes after our scheduled flight that would be able to connect us with a flight that would get us to Warsaw at 9 AM the next morning, which is around 2 hours earlier than our flight from Warsaw was scheduled to leave. That’s when they gave me more fun information, which was, thanks to the fact we had missed our first flight our entire itinerary had been cancelled and we would have to re-book everything. By this point, I was furious. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this angry since it was a combination of anger at me, the situation we were in, and the people I was talking to. I was sick of talking to people in this airport none of which actually worked for the airline I was supposed to be flying or United who I had booked the flight through. The only people we’d talked to worked for airlines in the same alliance. This lead me to call the United number for Turkey, the man there said he couldn’t help either and the call United in the states. I needed you to help me calm down and you did a great job, after a minute I was ready to make the last call we ended up making in this disaster. At at the exact time our flight was scheduled to take off I called United in the states and said look, “I made a mistake. Due to circumstances both in and out of my control I missed my flight and I just wanna go home.” And at that point God stepped in.
The lady who answered the phone was genuinely one of the nicest customer service reps I had ever talked to. and I explained our situation; that I had booked everything on points and that I could pay for new flights but it would be a stretch to afford them. Her response was “that’s not going to be an issue let’s see how we can get you home.” She scheduled us for a 7 AM Turkish Air Flight to Amsterdam and we flew United from there to Chicago and from there to Austin. All of this ended up costing me just around 100$ to handle the airport fees and charges some of those places charge. In addition the seats on the flight from Amsterdam to Chicago were upgraded to economy plus which usually costs significantly more than the tickets we bought. That made the entire flight way more comfortable for me at my height.
I had been trying to control this situation from the word go and had made a total mess of it, but God showed us tremendous grace and made everything work. It was pretty clear to both of us in that moment that the whole world may be falling apart around us but we are always safe when we are in his hands. In hindsight we felt even more protected since almost exactly 2 weeks later the exact spot all this drama had taken place was blown up by terrorists.
After all of this drama we were pretty hungry so we stopped at the Popeye’s in the airport while we looked for hotel’s to spend the night. After some searching to find out where we could stage we found another opportunity to use you discount and found an amazing hotel for only 55$ a night. The Renaissance Istanbul was amazing, a perfect place to relax after all the craziness of the day. They had a plate full of fruit waiting for us in our room, a pillow menu that allowed you to pick from 9 different kinds of pillows to get the right firmness and materials you would like. It had a small mall inside it, several restaurants, including a pastry shop, and was right on the water. It also had the TV sound output to a speaker in the shower. We tried out most of the 7 pools, with your new swimsuit ;). And all of this was within a mile of the airport which meant if craziness came again we could walk if we absolutely had to.
The next day we caught a flight to Amsterdam, and almost had problems there, but we made it and were in our economy plus seats before the plane took off. We had a couple hours at O’Hare Airport in Chicago so after getting all our bags straightened out, other than the my dad’s cane that did not make it, we went to get some Garrett Popcorn. After our snacking was sufficiently sated we looked for real food and with a little help from the web we decided on the Berghoff Cafe. We both had Rueben sandwiches and they were a perfect welcome back to the USA dish!
Upon landing in Austin, Sam and his wife Leah picked us up and took us home.
Still in the adventurous spirit, and desperately needing a Mexican food fix, we tried Taquerias Arandinas which we really enjoyed, then went home to sleep in our own beds for the first time in almost 4 weeks.
P.S. The cane came about a week later and we were able to give it to my dad!