Sunday, January 15, 2012

Traveler Al's "Almost A Last Hurrah !"

Planning for my adventure

I have long wanted to make a complete trip around the globe*.  My planning started off with that goal in mind.  I was hoping to fly from Honolulu, Hawaii to Hong Kong* for several days to see the sights, then onward to Bangkok*, Thailand for a week or so.  From Bangkok I wanted to fly to India*, take a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal* and then fly to Istanbul, Turkey, into Europe and then perhaps a Panama Canal Transit cruise* and home to Hawaii.  That was a lot of flying and a myriad of hotel reservations to make here, there and everywhere!.

There were definite problems with this preliminary itinerary!  It was expensive and uncomfortable!
* Indicates an item from my Bucket List of things to see and places to go before I kick the bucket.

I have to return to Southern California for medical check-ups to keep my Health Maintenance Organization Coverage intact (Med-I-Care regulations). So, I have to fly back to the Mainland periodically.  I used this required trip in late October, 2011 as the beginning point of my adventure.

I really enjoy cruising on a ship.  When cruising, you have transportation, lodging and meals as part of your cruise fare. You have a comfortable cabin, entertainment provided, amazing food and a great deal of leisure to read, swim and so forth while you are traveling. The only flying involved is that needed to get to the embarkation port and back then back home from the final port of the cruise. 

In February and March of 2011 I began to look carefully at transatlantic repositioning cruises in November to get back from Europe to the United States rather than flying back.

Transatlantic repositioning cruises are often great bargains that cost just over $110 per day even with included taxes, tips and single supplement fees that I must pay because I travel solo.

The lack of frequent stops in ports on a transatlantic cruise is not a problem for me. The greatest appeal of being on a ship, to me, is the fact that it is moving along through the sea. It is a great, grand boat ride!

Several Celebrity cruise ships were leaving Barcelona, Spain or Rome, Italy back to Florida starting in mid-November.  Shortly thereafter, I booked a transatlantic repositioning cruise with Celebrity.  This was the first hard booking I made for my big journey.

I kept working and working with air fares and schedules to fit to go to Hong Kong, Bangkok and India and could not come up with reasonable fares or times to make it all work.  I started to drop the idea of making this my trip around the world. 

Oh well!  There is always next year!

In researching cruises I noticed there was a very nice fare sale on a 14 day cruise to the Holy Land that departed Istanbul, Turkey on November 6, 2011.  This was very tempting and I could tie it into the transatlantic cruise.  Several days later, one of my newsletters reported that Turkish Airlines was posting a round trip fare from Los Angeles to Istanbul – round trip for $562 including taxes!  This is an extremely low fare even if I only used the outbound portion of the ticket!  

Bingo!  I booked a flight from Los Angeles to Istanbul for November 3, 2011

I booked the Celebrity Constellation’s Holy Land Cruise departing from Istanbul, Turkey which transitioned to a transatlantic crossing on its next voyage! I would disembark and re-embark in Barcelona, Spain on the Constellation on the same day, November 17th to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Later,  my friend, Ken, decided to try a cruise experience.  Ken and I booked an inside cabin on a Carnival Cruise Lines Panama Canal Transit cruise.  I would fly across Florida to Tampa, the departure part for the Carnival Inspiration, on December 3rd the same day I arrived from the Transatlantic Crossing,.

Here are my photos and my thoughts while on my big adventure.  Some of the photos of Istanbul are from my April, 2009 trip to Turkey when the tulips were blooming.

Personal Time in California

I and my friends, Sherb and Jen, took a red-eye flight from Honolulu to Las Vegas on October 10th, 2011.  Jen and Sherb were on a vacation and to visit family and friends in Las Vegas.  I was there to tend to my medical visits, help my brother, Bill, to recondition his rental house and to visit  family members in California.  

I had a very nice time while back on the Mainland.  My appreciation thanks to my family and friends for their hospitality.

Off For My Big Adventure

On November 3rd, I flew from Las Vegas to Los Angeles International and then boarded my non-stop flight to Istanbul, Turkey late that afternoon.  The flight was 12½ hours long.

LAX - Tom Bradley International Terminal

Istanbul is 14 time zone changes from California so -  I arrived the following evening, November 4th, 2011 just after dusk. 

Turkish Airlines is rated number 1 in Europe for on-time performance and comfort.  The aircraft was clean and comfortable.  A pair of soft sox and eye masks were passed around to all passengers. Beverages included the usual coffee, tea, juices and soft drinks.  Passengers wanting alcoholic beverages were served free drinks as well.  Two meals and a snack were served during the long flight, dinner, breakfast and later a sandwich snack. Meals were followed up with a practice that the airlines in the United States have dropped for all but first class passengers – service of a warm, damp, lemon scented towel to clean your hands and face after eating.  I wish the major airlines in the USA were as nice to travel on.

The Ataturk Airport in Istanbul is modern and much like any other major airport.  Arriving foreigners have to purchase an entry visa at the airport that is glued into your passport. The cost is $20 and the fee must be paid in US currency.

Turkish 90 Day Visa Stamp
Leaving the Airport

I took a very modern shuttle bus from the airport into to the city.  We followed Caddesi (Jod-es-ie) Kennedy which parallels the Bosporus. It is named after President John F. Kennedy.

I wanted to be dropped off on the European side of the Bosporus near the Topkapi Palace. However, the bus driver got it wrong and dropped me about 5 miles farther into the city on the other side of the Golden Horn.  I ended up having to catch a taxi back across the Old Galata Bridge to the Sirkeçi (Sir-ketch-IE) district where my hotel was located.

Caddesi President John F. Kennedy

I had dinner in the Red River a “Southwestern motif” bar / restaurant next door to the Hotel Ilkay  (Ill-kuy which rhymes with “guy”).  The Ilkay Hotel is located behind the Topkapi Palace - which was the seat of power for the Ottoman Empire until the secular; Young Turks headed by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk revolted and forced the Turkish people into the 20th century in the early 1900’s.

Red River Restaurant & Bar next to the Hotel Ilkay
Turkish Diet Coke

My room was small, but nice enough for the modest price of about $70 USD per night including free use of an internet computer and a nice breakfast each morning of the two days I stayed there.  I had stayed at this hotel 2 years before during my first trip back to Turkey after 55 + years.  

Room at the Hotel Ilkay - 2 twin beds in room

Bathroom at the Ilkay

Electric light controller - Hotel Ilkay room

My family lived in Ankara, Turkey, the capital city in the early 1950’s.  I spent one summer working as a teen aged camp counselor at a summer camp for American Army dependent children which was located on the shore of the Sea of Mamara near Istanbul.  I have an emotional connection to Turkey because of living there during my early teen years.

Traveler Al - Ankara, Turkey - I was 13 or 14 years old.

I went to bed right after my dinner, woke up once at 3 AM and read for an hour before going back to sleep.  My body took 3 to 5 days to adjust to the jet lag caused by all the time zones I had crossed. 

I wandered around the immediate area of the hotel the next day. The weather was sunny and cool – not at all like the rainy, cold weather I had encountered in April, two years before.  The neighborhood had changed a bit in just two years.  A restaurant I had visited before was closed and the space was now part of a hotel lobby. There were throngs of European visitors (Germans, French and Scandinavians) filling the streets from mid-day until late at night.

 Street in front of hotel - early morning

Shop across from the Hotel Ilkay - I bought Cokes and chips here.

Early morning street scene - notice street car tracks

One set of visitors at the hotel was a large Middle Eastern family with many boisterous children.  I suspect that they were a family of one father with 4 wives and about 10 children from teens down to babies. 

Polygamy is not practiced in Turkey as it is in other nearby Middle Eastern countries.

The Turkish "Brad Pitt"

A waiter at one of the local cafes called me over and said "Take my photo! I am the Turkish Brad Pitt!  

 Tulips were developed in Turkey - taken in April, 2009

There were many local bakeries offering fantastic pastries made from pistachio nuts and other sweets.  

Turkish Delights - fantastic pastries

More Turkish Delight

I stopped for a glass of chi (ch-EYE) or, as we know it – hot tea - served in a wasp-waisted glass on a small saucer with sugar cubes and a tiny spoon to stir with.  I had an excellent pastry at a shop established in 1864 and then enjoyed watching the parade of people just outside the window.

Turkish pistachio nut pastry with a glass of "chi" 

 A popular bakery since 1864

I continued my stroll down to the edge of the Bosporus where the hustle and bustle of the ferry boat terminals in front of the last European train station for the Orient Express are located. The Bosporus is an extremely busy water passage that separates Europe from Asia while connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Mamara and then via the Dardanelles to the Mediterranean Ocean.

Panoramic View - Looking towards the Golden Horn, Old Galata Bridge in the central area, Bosporus and ferry boats. The Galata Tower is at the left on the hill.

A ferry boat with the cruise ship terminal across the Bosporus at Kadiköy (Cad-a-koi) visible to the left.  Celebrity Constellation has not yet arrived. This photo is looking North up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea

Europe shore railroad station shrouded for maintance - just across from the Bosporus ferry boat terminals

I use a monopod (it resembles one leg of a camera tripod) on my camera to steady my shakiness for better photos.  I also use it as a cane to help me maintain balance as I walk.  While walking the streets of Istanbul, I became too reliant on the monopod by putting too much weight on it; this caused it to begin telescoping into a shorter length.  As a result, I fell into the street on my back across one set of streetcar tracks.  I was like a tortoise, unable to get my self back up! Three or four Turkish men rushed to my aid to get me back on my feet and off the tracks!  I thanked them profusely!  “Çoc teşekerederum!” (Choke tesh-eck-kerr-ed-er-rum.) Thank you very much!

Near where I fell across the street car tracks.

I noticed that the streets were lined with small restaurants offering special plates for sale.  A traditional food is prepared by placing slices of meat on a vertical skewer that slowly turns in front of a heat source cooking the meat.  The edges of this gigantic ka-bob are trimmed off to be used for fillings in various sandwiches. 

A giant ka-bob full of meat slices

The Turks have many great foods, including my favorites a bore(bore-eck)which is phyllo dough stuffed with cheese and / or meat / vegetable fillings which are then deep fryed to a golden, flaky brown. I tried several including one that was quite spicy for my second night’s dinner.

I read in my hotel room until nearly 11 PM and then went to bed.

Tomorrow is the big day – I board the ship for the start of my 3 cruises!

Next – Boarding Celebrity Constellation and views of Istanbul from the ship

Please click this colored link to view my other blog about living in Hawaii Life in the 50th State .

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Thanks for taking the time to read about my travels.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is an amazing blog. I am going to share with my girls and friends. I really enjoy your writing and photos.
    I love you, Dad.