Tuesday, November 3, 2009

European Tour Finale in Istanbul

I knew that this European tour would test my resilience, endurance, patience and mettle. I started my journey in San Diego, and then off to Vegas for the Olympia as I stated in an earlier post. Then, it was off to NYC, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zurich, Milan, Rome, Athens and Istanbul, London and finally back to NYC. I have always wanted to see Italy and Turkey, and now I had my chance. I took a friend of mine, Mark, to Amsterdam with me, and we were patting ourselves on the back over how well my trip had been going so far, and how we arrived early at the airport and things were going so smoothly. I still had several cities for something to go awry. And it did. When you travel a lot, your chances of something going wrong are increased dramatically. It's bad enough that I barely get to airports on time in the USA and with too many overweight bags. I tried to streamline my bags, but alas, it was still too much weight by European standards. I ended up paying nearly $1,000 in baggage surplus. I vowed that on my next journey, I am only going to pack the bare necessities, and if I need something, I will just buy it.

The first major mishap of the journey occurred when I miscalculated my timing out of Milan to the airport. It took me well over one hour to get there. I should have asked the clerk at the front desk so I could time it out. As it turned out, I could have made my flight into Rome, but the Easyjet clerk told me I should just wait for the next flight. After leaving the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, English was a secondary language to everyone, even in airports and public places. I found myself speaking one word at a time, very slowly. Most of Western Europe has a good grasp of the English language, but Italy, Greece and Turkey are entirely different. It becomes very frustrating when something goes wrong, like overweight luggage, missed flights, or one of my sponsors trying to find me in the airport. After the missed flight to Milan, I had no choice but to sit in a pizza place and catch up on emails. Milan was beautiful and I walked through the fashion district (very much like Beverly Hills), and I had a great dinner at the Blvgari hotel where a friend took me. I got a massage in the hotel, much needed, and enjoyed the spa. The room was free due to my Platinum status with Starwood. It was a beautiful room with a normal king sized mattress, which is unusual in Europe, as they usually just put two twins together and I end up falling in the damned crack. I hate that. So, I was very happy that it was a genuine king mattress. I like to sprawl out when I sleep. I am also a dangerous sleeper, as many a lover has told me that I elbowed him/her in the middle of the night when I turn.

I finally ended up in Rome, and my hotel was on the main street where all the fashion and fine dining was. I got yet another great room. Luckily, I had a great sponsor that grew up in Rome and took me out to sight see to all of the famous places, including the Coliseum, the Vatican, and many of the fountains. When I got home, coincidentally, I ended up watching a Gregory Peck movie called "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn. It was such a classic movie, and the fountains were easily identifiable. Since I enjoy watching a lot of foreign flicks, it's always cool to have been to many of the locations in the films.

From Rome, I ended up going to Athens, and although I made the flight on time, when I arrived in Athens, my luggage did not make it. So, I had one of the nicest suites in Hotel Grande Bretagne, at one of the finest hotels in Athens, and I had my scrubby flight clothes on. So, this forced me to rethink how I will travel in the future. One, I will bring a small carry on with my essentials such as toiletries, makeup and a change of clothes. I had to go to the pharmacy just to get the basic stuff. This trip was truly a lesson on how to travel, economize and get to the airport extra early. Not on time, but early. Because you have to account for the fact that you don't know where the hell you are going in the airport, will probably end up getting lost and asking a bunch of people directions that do not speak English very well. I have learned not to be shy and ask the first most competent looking person that may be able to help me. It was not so bad when I traveled from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Zurich, and Zurich to Milan because it was all by train. Granted, I had too much luggage, but I knew I at least had it, and I got to the train stations on time.

The day I left Athens and was flying into Istanbul, my luggage turned up, amazingly enough. Luckily, Turkish Air did not screw me over on the weight of my bags, as I was permitted to have two carry ons. Although, I completely forgot about some of the toiletries and when I went through security the ladies that inspected the bags chucked a lot of hair products. Which was fine by me, as long as it was not my expensive facial products or perfume. The ladies saw my small bottle (probably about 4 ounces, which is still too much) of Serge Lutens perfume, very pricey by the way, and I just gasped and begged for them not to chuck it. Thank God they knew what they were looking at, and they chose to ignore it and put it back in my bag. So, off to Turkey I went.

The hidden gem of my entire trip was Istanbul, Turkey. I completely forgot that I needed a Visa, and I did not realize I also needed Turkish Lira (which is about 1.47 to $1.00). So, I got my Visa for 20EUR and picked up my luggage, and it was all there. I got into a cab, and realized that I must have had the craziest cab driver in Istanbul. First of all, he did not speak much English. So, I wondered whether I would even get to the W Hotel. It seemed to take a while, and my cabbie was very aggressive, swerving in and out of traffic, yelling at people, making hand gestures, and mad dogging every driver that got in his way. When I entered the cab, I immediately tried to buckle my seatbelt, but I could not find the bottom part to insert the buckle in. So, instead, I just sat in the back bracing myself. The cabbie looked up at me a few times, and all I did was just give him a sheepish smile and tried to look indifferent about his crazy driving. Even if I said something to him, he would not understand, so that would have been futile. At one point, he slammed his brakes, and we were literally only a few inches away from a fender bender, which resulted in him yelling at the driver in front of us. When I got out of the cab, all I had was a 50EUR note, as I was in "Euro" mode. The fare was only 27YTL. When I handed him the 50EUR, (about 108YTL, which is four times what the fare was) I just told him to keep the change. Typically, cabbies only get a bit of change over the fare not only in Europe, but also in Turkey. So, he probably called it a day after dropping me off. I was just happy to make it alive to the hotel and get rid of that driver.

I had a great host/tour guide while in Istanbul, Hakan, and he took me around at night to see the mosques and old buildings and fountains. He took me to a local place where they serve a typical sausage meat on bread and some dip and a yogurt drink. I liken it to our McDonalds. But only healthier. And then, he took me the following night to a nice restaurant. I always like it when my sponsors take me to a really cool local place, and also a high end restaurant to experience the food. I went for lunch to a really great restaurant called "Kosebasi" and the food was amazing. I crave it now, and I can't wait to go back for more.

My hotel overlooked the Bosphorous and was in a very upscale fashion district with great dining options and other amenities.

In these photos, you will see the detail of the ceiling of one of the fountains, and I am standing outside one of the most famous castles in the old part of the town.

Of all the cities on the tour I visited, something about Istanbul grabbed me. Perhaps it was the surprise of the diversity of the people and the sophistication of the city. I definitely want to go back and explore more and perhaps the night life on a grander scale. I am definitely going to pack less so I can come home with a few trinkets from the bazaar! And I want to return sometime in May when the weather is just about perfect from what the locals tell me. I got my hair done and a manicure/pedicure at a local salon, and it was only about 1/3 the cost of the service in a big city in the USA and they were pretty darn good. One of my biggest weaknesses is Lokum and all the great baklava, so immediately upon arrival, I took a little hike behind the hotel and got my fill. I swear I can eat an entire box of Lokum in one sitting. It's just too addicting.

After Istanbul, I returned to London and had a relaxing time with my friend, Mark, and we recapped the entire tour, and how I may do it differently the next time. As much as I say I would never do that again, I probably will. But, not on such a grand scale hitting so many cities. And, certainly not with all that luggage.

My body is finally recovered and getting back onto Mountain Standard Time here in New Mexico. I found myself falling asleep on the couch around 9:30 pm all last week. Probably because I threw myself back into the gym, mercilessly, and punishing my body by lifting hard and heavy. I always say I am just going to "ease back in" so I am not too sore. But amazingly, I am stronger than when I left for this long journey. The only thing I can attribute it to is my positive mental attitude, a lot of good quality sleep, my high proetin/wild game diet, and motivation. I guess that's what a good old fashioned European holiday will do for you. Most of the Europeans take about 30 days off a year, and it is typical for them to take several weeks off at a time. It seems to have an invigorating effect when you return to your normal day to day life.

I have a feeling I am just tapping into my global travels!

1 comment:

  1. i always wanted to do something like this. but have been never able to plan it. i thing you did awesome considering the number of places you were going to.. its an achievement. i always wanted to be to Istanbul.. well, i guess that is one of those places that will stay in my bucket list for a bit longer right now..

    you do write really well, ever thought of writing for a travel mag??