Aditi and I booked window seats one in front of the other for our trip to Turkey, via Abu Dhabi. I am seated in 32K, and Aditi has the window seat behind me. However, when we get there, there is already a man sitting in her seat. He looks confused, as he doesn’t appear to know that not only is he in the wrong row, he is in the window seat instead of the aisle. He is meant to be in my row instead.
He moves over as I am struggling to settle and says “good morning” with great gusto. I am leery of over friendly people on flights. I have one of those faces that invite unsolicited conversation from people who have no social skills, self-awareness, or sense of personal boundaries.
On a flight from Florence to Delhi for the summer I made the mistake of exchanging email addresses with a Dutch guy I was seated next to. Over the next few months, he wrote long emails wanting to make plans which was quite possibly the lowest item on my agenda. Then, feeling indignant that I wasn’t making time for “fun” with him, he gave me a lecture on how my priorities were all wrong.
On a flight from Delhi to Toronto a 70 year-old man decided to attach himself at the hip, and unfortunately it was a stopover flight so we happened to be seated together for two flights in a row.
He did not cease to converse, and even when I put on headphones I would notice his mouth continuing to move.
“You have a nice smile,” he told me. And then followed it up with a comment I can no longer remember now, something about my “hairs” covering up my smile. Which makes no sense, but anyway, he was old so I kept a higher tolerance.
He asked if he could visit me in Toronto, and I mumbled a noncommittal response. He made me fill out his customs form, which I did, since I have a soft spot for older people traveling alone, but when he wanted to clear customs together I drew the line. Not only was he creeping me out, he had no return ticket: something bound to draw suspicion from an overzealous customs agent.
Armed with these experiences I am really not interested in making friendship with random people, that too at 5am when I haven’t slept. Fortunately someone comes to claim the middle seat and he enthusiastically launches into conversation with him instead.
The flight takes off, and finally it is time for breakfast. I can’t hear all of the breakfast options, so I go with the scrambled eggs, as what would be, in my mind, a safe option. When I peel back the plastic, I see a white congealed mass, bearing a slight resemblance to under-spiced mashed potatoes except resting in a layer of mystery liquid, with a quarter of a tomato wedged inside, like a sailor lost at sea. It appears that these scrambled eggs have been fossilized somehow. I briefly wonder if this is the flight attendants punishment for leaving my window shade up too long, since the two guys next to me didn’t seem to have it.
My stomach turns and so I take solace in the sausage, beans, and fruit that arrive with my meal. It is sunrise as we touch down in Abu Dhabi, and the layover passes without incident.
The beginning of the second flight passes easily enough except that I’m extremely hungry. My heart sinks a little to see eggs on the menu again, but the whole perspective changes when the flight attendant tells me there is no cheese and pepper omelets with sausage nor is there scrambled eggs with chicken kofta. The only thing left is something that goes by the name “strawberry pinwheel”.
I argue with the flight attendant that this sounds like a dessert but she assures me it’s a main course. When I open the package it looks like a pastry a bread roll drenched in layers of custard and strawberry filling. I eat one out of two pinwheels, and start to feel sick to my stomach – my tolerance for sweet things has come down with age.
I glance at the other items on my plate – yogurt and fruit are out of the question because I’ve had it up to here with sugar. But then my eyes settle on the bread roll. I rarely have bread rolls, especially prepackaged ones on flights, and I almost never have butter, as the combination of high cholesterol with my lactose intolerance and a sensitivity towards greasy foods do not make it a winning idea for me. However today buttered roll is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
Aditi gives me half a boiled egg a large soggy French fry and a piece of chicken tougher than leather from the “special” meal she ordered. I wrestle with the chicken, first to break off a piece and then I chew it longer than I’ve chewed most pieces of gum. The egg is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It has the shape of a small bowl and the diameter of a coaster you know the kinds you use for drinks. It is slightly yellowed and covered in small crater-like depressions.
Although the yolk looks damp almost like the egg is raw, when you cut into the egg the yolk crumbles and the entire egg has the consistency of stale hardened pound cake. I am not sure what happens to eggs when they get on board Etihad but it appears they go into some sort of major transformation into a completely different thing altogether that does not taste, look, feel or bear any resemblance to what it does on the ground.
I conclude after all of this that the bread roll and my soda water were the best parts of the meal. I was tempted to ask for a glass of wine, but the motley crew combination of food items on my stomach combined with alcohol would not bode well for the rest of the journey.
The rest of the flight and arrival process passes without incident. Aditi and I stop and get a coffee to regroup before finding our way to the hotel. We decide to take the Metro. It can’t be that bad, we think, if we’ve done it in Paris, without escalators and elevators, Istanbul should be a breeze.
Truth be told, it isn’t that bad, it’s just confusing because in Paris I am familiar enough with the language to understand the instructions on ticket purchasing and transfers. When we arrive at the metro there are four different types of machines, presumably to purchase tickets.
There are about four orange and grey ones that look like they’re from the 1970s called “jetonmatik,” while there are larger yellow and grey ones right next to them called “biletmatik”. The other two types of machines are both called “Istanbulkart” but also appear to be for different purposes. We finally figure out which one is right (I believe it was the jetonmatik?) and descend down into the subway.
We take the red metro line from Ataturk Airport to Zeytinburnu station, and transfer onto the blue tram line relatively painlessly. The subway is clean and the stations have a bit of 70s feel to them.
The tram is comfortable as well. We take the tram to Laleli station, thinking there will be a direct transfer line to the green metro line, but find ourselves lugging our suitcases for what seems like miles to Vezneciler station. When we finally reach the station, we go down no less than four long escalators to finally reach the ticket booth, after which we go down one more floor for good measure.
We reach Taksim square and exit the subway station. We are within a few hundred meters of our hotel, but we have no idea which way to go next. We go into a Starbucks and ask, but nobody can help us. One man advises us to ask a taxi driver. From everything we’ve been told, taxi drivers are the biggest crooks, so we are wary.
When Aditi asks, the man offers to take us for 40 Lira. We have no idea if we are being ripped off, but figure it is highly likely. But our muscles are tired and we just want to get to the hotel. It feels like hours since we left the airport (even though in reality it’s probably only been an hour and a half). We agree to go, and are about to get into the taxi, when another taxi driver comes and starts arguing that his taxi is first.
Although both Aditi and I dislike this man on sight, we agree to go in his taxi instead for the same fixed price. When a second man enters the car, we protest and tell him to leave. He starts being rude and telling us to relax, but eventually the second man leaves.
For some reason he takes us on a route alternative to the one shown on his GPS (which I am watching from the back seat), but he eventually gets us within meters of it. He orders me to take the luggage out of the back, and rips the notes Aditi give him and tells her “it’s torn,” and asks her to pay again. We have never been happier to reach our hotel. We conclude that the universe is sending us a message – no being lazy and taking taxis, you WILL take the metro and/or ferries and/or walk. Also I decide there and then that I will ask for a hotel airport transfer on my return.
The hotel is beautiful, and our room is quaint, clean and charming, with an exposed brick wall flanked by two windows so the room has plenty of natural light. We throw ourselves on the bed, and have a hard time getting up to shower and get ready to explore Istanbul.