Home from Turkey! Thoughts about travel, transit, and volcanic ash

I’m finally back home to Chicago!  It was a great 12 days spent in Turkey.  I will write more posts on Turkey, but for now, let me talk a little about travel and transit.  Especially since we’re in the middle of this volcanic ash thing.

This trip was full of transit.  We used all these forms of transportation: plane, subway, tram, tour bus, mini-bus, car, ferry boat, and finally a hot air balloon.  Wow! 

Istanbul is a large, sprawling city.  You need to move around to get to different areas.  We walked all over the city during our trip.  There is so much to see and experience that walking was very pleasurable.  But if you’re in a hurry, walking may not get you too far.  Luckily, Istanbul has a really nice tram that gets you to the main places.  It comes every 3-5 minutes, it seems.  Very efficient for tourists.  There are only a couple tram lines, however, so there are probably many locals who are not near tram service.  Taxis aren’t a bad deal.  They can be fairly cheap if you stick to one district (like Beyoglu/Taksim).  But Istanbul is big, and the taxi fare will run up as you go further (and if you get stuck in traffic).  If you are interested in visiting Istanbul, I would strongly recommend exploring on your own on foot/tram/taxi.  Don’t bother with the tour.

The distance between Istanbul to Kapadokya, in central Turkey (I’ll definitely write more on Kapadokya) is 600-700km.  Not a trifle!  Turkey doesn’t have much of a train system between cities like the Europe does.  They invested in a bus system instead.  Our ride was an overnight one – and 12 hrs long.  Can’t say it was terribly pleasant.  In fact, spending all night in a cramped bus, without good sleep makes you pretty darn cranky at 7am the next day.  But the experience wasn’t horrible, and it was cheap (esp. when you don’t have to pay for a hotel stay).  We also wanted to go to Ephesus, but another pair of overnight bus rides would have been very tiresome.  If you don’t mind paying more, a plane ride may be more comfortable.

Kapadokya is a large region.  There are several small towns to visit.  The landmarks are scattered throughout.  We booked a tour, so we were taken all over on a mini-bus.  It was probably the right thing to do.  Otherwise, you would have needed to do a lot of reading to figure out where to go, plus you would have needed a rental car.   It’s kind of like going around to all the landmarks in a large park like Yosemite or Yellowstone, but you also throw in some small towns, tiny streets, and everything’s written in a foreign language.  The best way to see Kapadokya, however, is by hot air balloon!  Wow, what an amazing experience!  I’ll write more about the balloon, don’t worry.  For now, enjoy this photo 🙂

Getting back to the States was the most difficult challenge.  We heard about the Iceland volcanic ash problem on Wed or Thurs.  Every story seemed to get worse and worse.  Jeff and I were returning on Saturday, the 17th.  We both had connections in Europe.  My connection was in London, and my flight got canceled on Friday.  Luckily I still have elite status on American Airlines, and it was relatively early with the volcano situation, so I was able to get through to the AA customer service center pretty quickly to get things resolved.  The agent put me on a Turkish Air flight (not even an AA partner), going direct to Chicago on Monday.  Phew.  Jeff’s situation was worse.  His connection was in Frankfurt.  They canceled his flight the morning of departure – the bastards!  One of his legs was on United, while the other was on Lufthansa, which was more difficult to manage.  And finally, the customer service centers for the airlines were so flooded with calls by Saturday that it took forever to get through.  He spent pretty much all of the day on Saturday to get re-booked.  And now he’s on Turkish Air, leaving on Wednesday.  Let’s hope the volcano gods will let him fly home!

I ran into lots of stranded tourists.  I bet Janine saw even more at her travel agency.  The ash made a great conversations starter with other tourists: “are you stranded here too?”  There was a mad rush for hotel rooms over the weekend.  Luckily Janine hooked us up with accommodations very quickly.  I ran into a few people at the Istanbul airport who had been stuck there for over a day.  Some Germans at the hotel ended up booking a train to return home, rather than flying.  I would never sign up to be in the middle of a crisis situation, but it was kind of interesting being in one…

It feels great to be home.  Today was a long day: Wake up, make sure flight has not been canceled, pack, 1hr train to airport, 3hrs at airport, 12hr flight, 1hr at customs, 1hr train ride home… man that was tiring!  I fell asleep right away.  Which is why it’s almost 4am, and I’m writing in my blog…

All Turkey trip articles on my blog: http://discopalace-blog.blogspot.com/search/label/trip-Turkey
My full blog: http://discopalace.com/blog

1 comment on “Home from Turkey! Thoughts about travel, transit, and volcanic ash”

  1. Justine Reply

    Wow – this makes my long trip home seem like a cakewalk! Glad to have you back man.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your travels. I’m so jealous 🙂

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