Monday, June 9, 2014

What a journey to Istanbul!

So we were really excited about our trip to Turkey since this was going to be our first trip with my brother in law Gagan and his wife Shweta. All the planning was done, internal flight tickets bought, dates set, VISA in place, hotel bookings and tours decided. Everything perfectly planned to a T and we were ready to rock. However, I have always seen that there is always something that will make us sweat and our heart race…

So we were supposed to board our flight on Saturday. Aakaash has this awful habit of never knowing what time the flight will take off even when we are travelling to the airport he won’t know the exact time till I ask or we reach the airport and he finally has to take out the tickets and he is always in charge of the flight tickets, other than that I take care of all the planning and bookings. So we were all set to fly on Saturday night.

Whenever leaving for a vacation a lot of things need to be planned beforehand about the house, the maid, packing etc. I still remember it was Thursday late night and suddenly a friend from Australia was online and we rarely talked due to the time difference and by being sucked into busy lives. Sometimes things work in mysterious ways and it just so happened that out of the blue she started chatting with me and asked me about our trip and that how many days we were leaving for and when were we flying out? Suddenly while telling her I started calculating our days and something did not seem right.

All of a sudden I got a jolt and realized when I asked Aakaash for the tickets that we were travelling at 1:30 am on Saturday which meant that we were supposed to leave the very next day, Friday night and not Saturday night. We were relaxed that we had another 2 days to pack so we hadn’t put things together. Suddenly we were in a rush and packed all our stuff as we were leaving the very next day. I am still grateful that I did speak with my friend else we would have left on Saturday night; only to realize that our flight had already left the previous night.

Oh you think our escapade was over… not even close. So the next morning I got up and informed my nanny and steward to help me wrap up the kitchen and put together the kids clothes for packing. We were ready to leave and in Lagos the problem is that irrespective of the flight we need to reach the airport during day light due to security reasons. So even though the flight was at 1:30am we had to leave by 4pm. We got into our bus with the police escort and reached the airport; excited we went straight to the check in counter only to find out that we weren’t allowed to travel. No one can imagine the shock on our face. Our only question to them was WHY? They said your VISA is applicable from tomorrow……

We begged them and asked them to call the Turkish authorities in Istanbul and tell them that our flight was reaching after 10 pm and that we would wait those 2 hours in the airport and leave only at 12am so that we could show them our valid VISA. Our hotel booking was confirmed and paid for. We were supposed to stay in Istanbul for 3 days and then take our flights together with Gagan and Shweta to Capadoccia. The immigration authorities from Istanbul declined our plea. (PS – We always check till when our VISA is valid, I would recommend checking from when it is stamped- very important). To add to our miseries there was no flight the next day. So we had to wait 2 days before taking our flight. So immediately we called up our hotel and informed them about our problem and got that sorted out. Called my maids and told them to be at work tomorrow and of course they were disappointed but not as much as we were.

So 2 nights later we were back in the airport hoping and praying that nothing else goes wrong - with crossed fingers we boarded our plane. Finally we landed in Istanbul the 3rd largest city in the world and if I am not wrong the only country which is in Europe as well as Asia. In the morning we reached Istanbul and checked into our hotel. I would say we still managed to save our holiday from getting ruined. Had we missed our internal flights we really would have been in a pickle. Later that day Gagan & Shweta were also arriving from London and our flight to Cappadocia was the next day early morning.

To my surprise the location of our hotel couldn't have been better. It was right in the heart of the city, a mere 2 minutes’ walk from the main attraction Hagia Sophia. We decided not to waste a moment and headed straight for the iconic Hagia Sophia which was originally a church subsequently turned into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and now is a museum. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most unique part I found was that this place is shared by Christian and Muslims in harmony and is a secular building honouring both religions. There is Allah and Jesus in the same premises.

We met up with Gagan and Shweta and the reunion was amazing since I was meeting Shweta after her wedding for the first time. After our pleasantries we headed straight for Blue Mosque also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Barack Obama has also visited that mosque.. Lol.. Wonder why I said it but so be it!!! I don’t think I have seen a more beautiful mosque than that.

Later we decided to visit The Grand Bazaar - the largest covered market in the world with over 3000 shops. It is definitely a must visit place for all tourists. I bought a Turkish tea set for us and our families after the salesman demonstrated the durability of the fine cut glass by literally standing on it and nothing happened to the dainty looking glass; although I have never had the courage to try it on my tea cups. Later we decided to try the Turkish cuisine and retired early to bed since we had a 6 am flight to the splendid city of Cappadocia.