Friday, May 16, 2008

ISTANBUL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT- 07 MAR 08, 0845 HRS,TST

The journey was quite a comfortable one as I had passed beyond the point of getting any sleep or even borrow it. I was thankful to Steve Jobs and his engineers for creating a battery that could fit into the i-pod and serve for more than 8 hrs at a stretch. Frankly I was caught off-guard when the hostess came up to me with a charming smile and told me to switch off the pod as it would interfere with the navigation equipment fitted onboard. I later realized that the in-flight movie was also stressing the same point over and over till it gate-crashed into the passengers. It is still a mystery (worthy of Agatha Christie) as to how my i-pod could interfere with their Nav Equipment.

After an uneventful flight, we taxied to a perfect stop at the Istanbul International Airport. It seemed alien and Hospital-like when compared to Delhi. After a lot of walking around, amidst much hand waving, gesturing and encounters with lots of travel agents (resembling their counterparts in the FBI) desperately trying to make a lot of dollars out of us smart-lot, we discovered the sleep shattering truth that there wasn’t any AI office around to confirm our hotel booking. After more hand waving, gesturing and more unlucky travel agents who left with their heads shaking in despair, sorrow and bewilderment we conned one agent into making a call to the Hotel, confirmed our booking and left with ourselves in the tube that ran below much to the chagrin of the agents who were on the verge of committing suicide but were prevented in the nick of time by the next set of unassuming tourists who walked right into their trap.

Istanbul still had a lot of time left for its annual de-frosting….and so we set foot into the strange land clad in whatever we thought prudent for a Mediterranean summer. The chill air ripped through the shreds of clothing making us scramble to the Hotel as fast as our legs could carry. We did make fast progress with the essential digression towards a very cheap sale of jackets and blazers, the odd bakery that served fresh croissants, ├ęclairs, photographs in the streets as part of evidence and a quick comparison of prices of all and sundry before finally reaching the Hotel President in Beyazit (a neighbourhood close to the University) for a quick change and breakfast.

I was quite sleepy but was goaded on by Sachin to take the trip around the city and was still clad in the same blue paper thin tee. So we set off in the general direction that Sachin, our able navigator had charted. We ended up seeing the grand Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Hagia Sofia Museum, ate some strange looking bagel with a lot of sesame seeds, the Kapisi or the Grand Market, where another set of comparisons, conversions and the usual proof that everything in India was cheap, cheaper was derived with astonishing accuracy, precision and speed, making some watch makers in Switzerland to close their shops for the day and incur no losses. The bagel had been devoured as the Swiss shops were closing down. The Turkish Wind God, who happens to be a blood relative of our own Vayu took cognizance of the facts (that we were dressed for the summer with a few exceptions, the express mathematical proof and that nobody else had any intentions of purchasing jackets regardless of the winter super- duper sale, thereby not paying him our respects and his dues) and decided to test the four wanderers as if his family name had been tainted by blowing steadily and often enticing them into the trap. The two brave travelers and another very brave one withstood the onslaught and soon the wind god flew away with the wind in his sails, to drown his sorrow over Beer and free salted nuts. (He was later found sloshed in the bar the next morning. His psychiatrist had to be admitted later that day in NIMHANS, Bangalore on special recommendation)

We left for the airport by the tube/metro and reached in double quick time. The painful experience of NDL Intl Airport was still not moved to the recycle bin and so, security checks and other formalities were done, well, expeditiously. The crafty plane from Istanbul for Tel Aviv taxied off somewhere about midnight or thereabouts. I was still lagging behind on a good night’s sleep and just managed to reach the seat and park myself. The day had been busy what with warding off FBI agent like travel agents, disposing off the wind-god, window shopping, sight-seeing, eating bagels, hazelnuts in-between lunch and dinner and walking aimlessly on the cobbled pavements till our feet or the pavements could take no more. I promptly fell asleep and was woken up a couple of hours (to be precise two hours, two minutes and two seconds later) to dismount and grace the Ben Gurion Airport security check. The formalities were completed by a very beautiful woman and I gathered around our luggage which was last sighted in Delhi. Hugging them with tears would have been a bit too much of an Oscar winning scene as they were still in near perfect condition when all others nearby resembled victims of a WWF championship match. So they were just huddled in a remote corner of the airport like Mexican refugees, as we waited for the rest of the group to assemble. The Israelis take every precaution to keep themselves safe from their neighbours, this included special checks and verification for Moslems and their purpose in Israel. It took almost an hour more to establish the fact that they weren’t upto any harm before they crossed over.

I was woken up again after the airport when we reached the Hotel, to dismount my luggage. We checked-in at three thirty and I promptly fell asleep in the lounge much to the chagrin of the security personnel as we waited for the rooms to be cleaned up and made ready for the likes of us. I woke up sometime at about ten or so when Sachin told me about my slumber and the near earthquake that was registered in the morning because of my snoring to go back to the room, dump my luggage, try and get some breakfast. Sachin’s mother came to our rescue as the dining hall had closed and her poori and alu sabji saved the day for all of us. I promptly fell asleep again after that to wake up for dinner.

We had finally arrived.

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