After a full day of work I left my apartment at 7:30pm. Got on the subway at 7:56pm, which should have gotten me to Union Station for the 8:30 FlyAway bus with a couple minutes to spare, but I arrived just as the 8:30 bus was pulling away. So I had to wait there an extra half hour.
I had redeye flights on consecutive nights coming up and needed to maximize sleep on them, so I'd purposely stayed up late Tuesday and Wednesday and then gotten a full night's sleep Thursday. Then I took a PM pill just before leaving my place Friday (the 10th). I figured the fact that I hadn't taken one in a while combined with the lingering sleep deficiency would knock me out on the plane both nights.
I was flying LAX-JFK and then JFK-IST with a 9-hour layover. Delta wouldn't let me check in for the second flight because it was too far in advance. Huh? Last year I had a 12-hour layover in San Salvador but I was able to check in for both flights at the beginning. So I'd have to get my bag at JFK and then check it in again. This actually made it more likely than I'd leave JFK and go into the city, since I'd have to leave the sterile area anyway. I was pondering whether to go on some Manhattan adventure or just stay in the airport and read. There was rain in the forecast and I didn't want to get stuck carrying my big black cockbrella in my carryon all the way to Istanbul.
Ate a tuna sandwich. Flight left 11:45pm. The pill was kicking in and I was about to pass out walking onto the plane, but once I got in my seat I couldn't sleep. The last 3 hours or the flight went quick so maybe I dozed off for a bit. Landed 8:15am.
It was raining, but I couldn't find anything interesting in the bookstore, so when I got my checked bag I took out my big black cockbrella (from the bag, not my pants), rechecked the bag and went into the city. Caught the AirTrain at 9:20am, and 21 minutes later I was at the Howard Beach station which smelled all East Coasty and sweet! I thought it was $5 to exit the AirTrain area to get on the subway, but there was no turnstile between there and the MTA tracks, possibly due to construction.
I caught the Tensai (formerly known as A train) at 9:54am. There was a little boy singing "I Believe I Can Fly" next to me on the subway. Precious!
Arrived at the World Trade Center at 10:45am. Almost teared up at all the memorials and just from being in the area.
Just topped off yesterday at 1,776 feet. Officially the tallest building in the US.
I texted WTC pics to my bro and sis. My sis said bombs went off in Turkey. Sis boom bah! I checked the news and it happened near the Syria border...nowhere near where I was going.
Across the street. Next 4 photos are from St. Paul's.
Tomb of Richard Montgomery, the first officer killed in the American Revolution.
St. Paul's has been turned into a makeshift memorial.
Items that were hung on the fence after 9/11.
St. Paul's exterior.
I called Mike to brag about being in the Big Apple. He informed me that he passed all his classes and would be awarded the Juris Doctor a week hence. If I'd had a kazoo I would have played the "charge" sound that Howard Stern uses to signify an admirable feat.
Left the WTC after an hour and took the Sweet T back to Howard Beach. LG had recommended Lenny's Clam Bar, which was close to the station, so that was my lunch plan. But I got off on the other side of the tracks (I did not see Deuce or Domino there), and there was no way to cross back over without paying the $2.50 fare to go back in. So I lost half of the $5 I saved.
Had lunch here 1pm-2pm. Captain's Platter ("you got your shrimp, you got your scallops...I don't know what that is"). It came with linguini that had huge chunks of garlic in it...the perfect meal before a flight. And I had a glass of burgundy. Hopefully that'll enhance the PM pill, which I'll have a tolerance to on the 2nd straight night. Everyone here talked like Cyndi Lauper. The waitress reminded me of Ro delle'Grazie.
Great timing...I got back to JFK at my target time of 3pm. I'm always good with timing when I'm handling my own affairs, like at work on the rare occasion I'm allowed to manage my own responsibilities, or when I showed up for a date earlier this week exactly at the arranged time of 7pm. Of course leaving the country for a couple weeks after the date was ill-timed. I seem to do that every year.
Every time I look at the photo page of my passport and see "We the People", my brain plays Jack Swagger's music. It's very patriotic.
For the second flight I was in 40A and had an empty seat next to me. Bingo! The only thing better than a hottie sitting next to me is nothing at all. I took another PM pill just before boarding, and was looking forward to sleeping all stretched out in my surprise bed.
The flight was supposed to leave at 5pm but was delayed almost an hour. I heard something about a problem getting bags on the plane. Out the window I saw two ground crew guys watching their colleague who was inside the plane, and one of them took a photo of the colleague and then they both went nuts. So the colleague must have done something awesome in the underbelly. Still unexplained: There were two bags next to the conveyor ramp, and I saw an IST tag on one of them, but they drove away without putting those bags on the plane.
I dozed in and out of sleep for 10 hours. We landed 25 minutes late (10:35am).
I was in line 10:50am-11:20am for a visa (suggestion: get it in advance to avoid the wait) and then in the passport line for an hour. Entered Turkey (country #47). By the time I got down to baggage, the carousel for my flight was no longer indicated, so I had to search all of them. Found it all the way at the last one, in a pile of unclaimed bags.
I went down to the subway, but the token machines didn't take 50s (which was all I had after the ATM). So I went back to the market to buy a Coke). Got on the subway (which was TL 3...it must have doubled recently because everything I had said TL 1.50), transferred to the tram and got off at the Gülhane stop at 1:50pm (total ride was an hour). I couldn't find the Hatay Hotel until 2:30, though. The adress in the G Adventures instructions wasn't clear...I figured one of the words meant it was in an alley off the main street, but I went down several blocks and didn't see it. Meanwhile I'm dragging my big bag on wheels over cobblestone streets, passing the same spot 2 or 3 times, and I'm surprised no one asked me if I was lost. Finally I got Wi-Fi in front of some random hotel and found the Hatay on a map...it was just one more street past where I was looking. I tried to check in but they said the G group was moved to the Centrum Hotel, which was nearby. This was the 3rd time our starting hotel had been changed. We got e-mails about the first two, but not this one. No biggie.
Always a huge relief when I get to the hotel and see this.
Our tour leader Ibrahim (Ibo) was waiting for me. Maybe not for me, but he was waiting. Group meeting wasn't till 6:30pm, so I had some extra sightseeing time. Checked in (finally) at 2:45pm.
I headed up to the cool area of the old city, where all the stuff is. First up was Hagia Sophia. I always thought she was an Orthodox saint, but apparently she didn't exist. The name means "Holy Wisdom". One time Sofiya Alexandra called me adorkable and sweet and said I'm the original Zooey Deschanel. That's some holy wisdom right there.
Blue Mosque. It's across from Hagia Sophia and is bigger. What a dick!
Hagia Sophia from the same spot in the opposite direction.
To get in I had to scan my ticket in the turnstile. I remembered not to awkwardly jam it in at various angles because of my sister making the same mistake at the first game at Citizens Bank Park. Hagia Sophia is closed Mondays, so it was recommended that we see the inside today.
This was originally an Orthodox church and then it was converted to a mosque by hanging big Arabic disks.
Area behind the altar. Whatever it's called.
I want a low-hanging chandelier in my apartment!
I love those discs!
Hagia Sophia is permanently undergoing renovations.
View from upstairs.
Mosques are notoriously difficult to photograph.
12th-century mosaic of Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist.
Hagia Sophia is no longer a church nor a mosque, but functions as a museum.
Hey, why don't I have a disc behind my head? I'm pretty saintly.
Blue Mosque out the window.
This is a good-looking place. Worth the visit.
Next I went to the Basilica Cistern, which I remember Gabi (jacksonjacksoff) from my India trip recommending. Too bad her parents would not have approved of the age difference. I think Lonely Planet also recommended it as a good place to cool off on a hot day, being underground and wet and whatnot.
This place is cool! In both senses.
The cistern contains 336 marble columns. Water was dripping on me. I assumed the water came in through some legitimate channel, and not through the ceiling.
Medusa head supporting a column. Origin unknown, but it's believed to have been scavenged from some Roman building.
2nd Medusa head.
Back at the hotel I cleaned up and went down to meet the group at 6:30pm. As soon as I walked in, someone said "you must be Chris". It was Michelle from the message board, who had seen my standup videos, albeit The Best of Chris Putro from 2008 or 2009, when I wasn't as good, or maybe was better than now. Roll call: Michelle and Lee from Canada, Katie and Kent from Australia, Megan and Andrew from Australia, Adrian and Ofelia from Romania/Canada, Mary from Atlanta and her friend Mike from the UK, Kate from Australia, Dave from Canada, Andy from Canada and Shirley from Australia. An older group than usual (I'm one of 6 younger people) and only one single girl. Ack!
At our first group dinner I had meatballs (köfte, the only Turkish food I remembered from my research, and it tasted a bit like gołomki) and rice. No alcohol since it was a family-run restaurant. Afterward we had drinks outside at the Q Inn Hotel. I chatted with Kate a while...she quit her job before coming to Turkey, so there's my first inspiration in this whole "go to Turkey and think about life" thing. There are lyrics and music to that thing, but only Stella knows them. First awkward moment was when Katie proposed building a stack of coffee table books that itself would be a coffee table, and I told her that Kramer beat her to it with a better idea. I had my bag next to my chair and at one point I looked down and saw it submerged in a stream (from someone hosing down the street). No major damage. I ended up having 3 big (500 mL) beers here at TL 10 each (US$ 1 = TL 1.79). I stayed there with the young couples (Katie & Kent and Michelle & Lee) and Andy till 12am. Kate (the other young one) took off early because she's rooming with Shirley. Megan (who I'm disappointed was not THE Megan McCormick from Globe Trekker) & Andrew left at 8:30 to go to sleep. This is starting to feel like the Balkan tour already. Or maybe they're just THAT couple who ditches the group every night. Every tour has one.
Back in the room I noticed that my fridge made Pac-Man eating sounds.
I wanted to do some Internet stuff but evidently Turkey blocks my mail server! I can't check e-mail on my phone or through the web login page. What dicks. I still checked Facebook and whatnot while having 2 more beers from the minibar. Now I think of Denzel whenever I'm confronted with the minibar decision. I sent 4 friend requests, but it was tough finding everyone because some of the names are too common.