Istanbul … and a travel day

We arrived in Istanbul, Turkey at about 10 AM local time on Sunday. As the Marina neared the port, it was obvious that we weren’t in Kansas anymore… The minarets at the many (well over 3200) mosques in the city dotted the skyline, and as we neared the port area, the famous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia dominated our view.

The Marina docked quickly near the Crystal Serenity, a ship we had last seen in Venice (they did a Black Sea cruise that started in Venice and ended in Istanbul). While we were docked, the Celebrity Millennium also came into port.

We had booked a ship’s tour of some of the highlights of Istanbul for our half-day, and it was a typical quick overview. About 11 of us piled onto a minibus and went on a four hour tour that included driving over the Bosporus Bridge (allegedly the only bridge over which you can drive from Europe to Asia), visiting the Blue Mosque, walking through the Spice Market, and getting an overview of this huge city of 15 million.

The Blue Mosque was interesting — we had to remove our shoes to enter the building, but were allowed to use a wheelchair to get Barb around. The interior is a vast expanse with blue patterned tiles (hence the name), but marred by cables and lighting fixtures that really ruined the view. Our tour guide talked about the call to prayer five times a day, the need for devout Muslims to wash themselves prior to prayer, and gave us a good high-level look at the religion.

After we were dropped off at the pier, we experienced the call to prayer. All of the minarets are equipped with loudspeaker systems and you can hear the call wherever you are in the city. It’s an odd, slightly disturbing (to Western ears) song that varies by the time of day and the sect of Islam. We headed back to our stateroom to watch the afternoon disappear from our verandah, and I was able to catch the sunset call to prayer on video.

After a fast dinner at the Terrace Cafe, we headed to bed. We had already packed prior to our shore excursion, so it was just a matter of placing our bags outside of the stateroom.

Waking up this morning (Monday) we ate a quick breakfast, then debarked. I swear that everyone in the travel business that we ran into today was acting like it was their first day on the job. The driver and guide for our tour bus acted like they had no idea what they were doing while loading. Sad… When we got to the airport, we went through a first security check, and then promptly stood in line for over an hour until the Lufthansa check-in counter opened. Fortunately I had printed our boarding passes the night before, so we were able to get in the head of a line for those who only had bags to check.

The idiot behind the counter promptly told me that I would not be able to take my carry-on luggage on board the aircraft. That made no sense at all — the bag was under the weight limit, and I had carried it onto the aircraft from Frankfurt to Venice with no comment. I got a little nasty with the guy, so he said I should just take it up with the gate staff. At least we were able to get a gate check tag for Barb’s wheelchair.

We had about three hours to waste in the airport, so we spent the time watching the parade of humanity going through the Istanbul airport. When we were finally called, we had to go through a second security check. Sure enough, the staff at the desk was confused about Barb’s wheelchair — nobody in the world except for Americans seem to understand the concept of a gate check… When we were finally allowed to pre board the crowded A-321, the gate rep told me I would not be able to take my carry-on bag on board. I told her the same thing I had told the earlier Lufthansa rep and ignored her, walking down the jetway cussing.

Once we got to the aircraft, I had to try to explain to a flight attendant and the purser that not only was the bag less weighty than their limit, but had been placed into overhead bins literally hundreds of times. They argued with me, I finally just grabbed the bag, went to my seat and put it into the overhead bin — where it fit perfectly. They gave me some crap about the overhead bins being full, but my bag was the only item in the bin. Chalk that one up for a cranky American traveler. Do NOT tell me when I cannot take my carry-on bag onboard.

Our next fun came when we landed at Frankfurt and got to park on the tarmac instead of at a jetway. Nobody seemed to be able to tell us where we’d get the wheelchair, which we needed to transport Barb throughout the airport. After asking everybody including the pilot of the aircraft, one guy actually took charge and told us he’d pick us up in a bus with a lift. Apparently, it confuses the hell out of them that a person can walk short distances unaided but needs a wheelchair for long distances. No wonder you almost never see disabled Europeans — the entire continent is clueless about accessibility.

We did get some wonderful help (although slow as hell) from the Lufthansa special care team at Frankfurt. They assigned a nice young woman to help us out throughout the process, and they have promised to pick us up here at the hotel tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

I’ll be glad to get home. Travel days are horrible, and today was long and annoying. Hopefully our journey on United from Frankfurt to Chicago, and then on to Denver, will be much less taxing.

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