This entry is posted by Jeff, for Rick. It was sent on January 30th. Another post coming up tonight!
[Unfortunately it’s difficult for me to send pictures from rural Kenya on a mini-ipad so I’ll have to do a pure “picture-post” when I return.]
Travel excitement, no matter in what form the travel or the destination, always hits me the same way: an anxious knot in the pit of my stomach, an anticipation of all there is to experience in the course of the journey. (And, of course, there’s also that gnawing self-questioning – do I have everything I need!?)
We flew out of Toronto at 4:30 in the afternoon, leaving behind unseasonably mild temperatures (+3) and a landscape showing very little snow; even Lake Ontario had no ice. It is about a 9-hour flight to Istanbul. I wish I had the ability to drop off to sleep whenever I need to but the excitement wasn’t going to let that happen. So I was awake through most of the night, listening to the snorings and murmurings all around me between watching lousy movies. Eight hours later I was staring out with burning eyes at the south side of the Black Sea, counting the ships ready to descend through the Dardanelles and Bosporous to the Mediterranean. I made mental note of the large stands of still-existing forest and snow covering much of the area.
In Istanbul I was taken by surprise by the weather. I had been expecting a mix of sun and cloud and +3 degree termpatures. I had the temperature right but there was heavy overcast and a heavy, wet snow falling. It continued all morning before turing to pure rain in the afternoon – hypothermia conditions.
As we had the whole day in Istanbul (and our bags were being shipped through to Nairobi) we cleared customs and took the subway/tramway to the Blue Mosque area. The subway is cheap and direct; all instructions are written or spoken in both Turkish and English – a much better (and cheaper) alternative to a taxi. We wandered through the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The sense of history in these buildings is almost palpable. Just think of the people and events that have shaped them. And the drama continues: throughout the area, carefully (and tastefully) placed were numerous police vehicles – a reminder that just 2 weeks before 10 elderly German tourists were killed by a suicide bomber in this very area.
During our travels we picked up the inevitable guy connected with a carpet shop. As we weren’t in a hurry we let him take us to his “uncle’s” shop. We went upstairs to the (thankfully heated) showroom where we were turned over to the guy who would make the sales pitch and his assistant – the one who, on cue, would roll out the carpet demonstrating a particular design or fabric. The salesman was pleasant and knowledgeable….I guess…what do I know about carpets? We learned a lot about carpets, had some delicious tea and got warm but, in the end, left without buying anything (much to his chagrin) even though “we ship all over the world”.
We took lunch at a Turkish restaurant – backgammon boards and hookahs getting a workout – under a covered patio. It was open air except for the plastic covering stopping the sleet; it was also heated except that the wind quickly dissipated most of the heat. My intention had been to stay in the area throughout the afternoon but the conditions were terrible and we headed back to the airport to kill 10 hours – the flight to Nairobi didn’t leave until 0:55 AM.
Istanbul airport is wonderful: flights come and go from what I’d always thought of as mystical places – Tashkent, Aqqaba, Bacu…..cities of Central Asia, the Orient, Africa. And because of the destinations, the people-watching was extraordinary. Your mind got carried away with the possibilities – so much to see in the world….so little time.
At last we took off for Nairobi. Again I was tired but not sleepy. After crossing the Mediterranean I watched the golden snake of the Nile, set off by city lights, wriggle its way south until the lights ran out in the desert…and, thankfully, I fell asleep.
At 8:30 AM we deplaned into 26 degree temperatures and the smell of Africa.