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A Speed Date with Vienna and A One Night Stand with Istanbul

A Speed Date with Vienna and A One Night Stand with Istanbul

Old May 14th, 2024, 08:50 AM
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A Speed Date with Vienna and A One Night Stand with Istanbul

TL: DR 48-ish Hours in Vienna and 23.5 in Istanbul.

Don’t try this unless you’ve lived in one city and had visited the other.


~~~

It was a dark and quiet, and very early Sunday morning. DH had departed the previous day for Vienna; and as per usual on the first night of travel separation, I did not sleep well without him beside me. ‘Tis a testimony to our 30-year marriage, I suppose?

0300 came and I tossed. 0400 came and I turned. I grabbed my pillow and headed downstairs for the sofa, a bespoke piece we’ve had since forever that could render the Sandman unemployed with its ability to put someone me to sleep within moments of reclining across its cushions.

I dozed. At some point in my slumber I realized, “Hmmm. Since I’m on a 23.5 hour layover in Istanbul on my return, I won’t have my checked luggage with me,” and made a mental note to toss my folding weekender tote into the case to use on the overnight. Crazy the things running through one’s mind when sleep deprived.

0511. “BEEP BEEP BEEP” and then, “Evacuate. Evacuate Immediately.” Signals from the smoke detector in the kitchen jarred me awake. DDog came downstairs from his upper level lair and hovered nervously at my ankles. Then it mercifully stopped.

0530. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Except for DDog, who was still at my ankles. With our dog/house sitter set to arrive in two days, this was a situation that needed immediate resolution. I rang our local fire department and explained what was going on. Inside of five minutes the big truck arrived with all its lights flashing (but no siren). The firefighters examined the detectors and determined that the noisy one needed new batteries and, as I will forever believe, paid no mind to me in my pajamas.

(Now, DH had replaced every detector in the house a month prior. Seemed strange that the batteries would have gone bad in that short time.)

I thanked the responders and they departed. Before the engine made it two houses away, “BEEP BEEP BEEP” and then, “Evacuate. Evacuate Immediately.” I rang the firehouse again and the big truck and crew circled the block and returned. The firefighters examined the offending detector and now concluded it was defective. Would you believe that DH had purchased an extra detector on accident (or, foresight?) I retrieved it from the garage and the firefighters replaced it. I thanked them again, and all was calm, all was quiet.

Only now it was 0600 and I was wide awake, and with no opportunity for a good cuppa Joe. DH is the French press master barista in the house. I usually keep a stash of Singaporean White Coffee packets in the pantry for myself when DH is on travel, but I had forgotten to restock. AND, the bottle of sparkling mineral water that I drink every morning had gone flat, so it was a depressing start to the day all around.

Fast forward to Tuesday. Our Sitter asked if she could arrive early (as in, 6 hours before my flight) because she wanted to walk DDog and prep for a Zoom call in the afternoon. This turned out to be a good plan, for I was able to get into the IAD Lufthansa Lounge using Priority Pass before they close at 1500 to non-Lufthansa travelers.

I scored a cozy corner chair (with an outlet) and availed myself of a most respectable Turmeric Cauliflower and Crispy Onion Pilaf; a mediocre glass of wine; and a bowl of Haribo Gummy Bears, naturlich. Then some tiny Kofta-esque meatballs, more pilaf, and a (still mediocre) wine refill.

I wasn’t expecting to eat well on the flight, clearly. Earlier in the month we had flown United to San Francisco for our son’s wedding, and it was a miserable experience: the cabin smelled like a flying food truck plaza on a hot and steamy day with all the brought-on comestibles. The beverage cart did not even have sparkling water; and the Cabin Crew seemed overly disinterested in their job, so I was prepared for misery on my TurkishAir flight.

Instead, what a pleasant surprise awaited me! My Economy aisle seat (all Business seats were taken, as this was a last-minute-ish purchase) was almost Economy Plus in size and comfort. Do & Co, a preeminent Austrian caterer (with a rooftop restaurant overlooking Stephansdom) now caters meals on more than 60 airlines, including TurkishAir. I had a real meal that I actually ate! Even better, the flight crew requested that all passengers put their seats upright during the meal service, so no one had to suffer with a reclined seat in their dining space.

The 9-hour overnight haul to Istanbul was just okay, but that’s not on the airline. Lots of people chatting long into the night, and many walking around all the time, too. That, and I am woefully out of practice when it comes to sleeping on overnight flights. Since returning to the U.S. in 2019 we’ve only traveled internationally four times, and all were the short IAD-DUB hops so I am truly out of practice.

Captured a beautiful sunrise on the approach to Istanbul. Breakfast was equally as delicious: a fresh mix of feta and cucumbers, bread and jam.



Once on the ground I made haste for the IGA Lounge in the main terminal for my 2-hour layover, an oasis of calm in the otherwise Grand Bazaar feel of the airport. A cup of Turkish black tea and a plate of farmer’s cheese with black cumin (nigella?) seeds, cucumbers, and warm bread recharged me.

While Turkey and Austria may have close economic ties, when I boarded the puddle-jumper to Vienna I could not help but wonder if there was a tiny bit of 200+ year lingering resentment from the Austro-Turkish war: the plane was so old that the in-flight entertainment system still had the attached remote, and the system did not even work. Small matter for a short flight, but still humorous.

Upon landing in Vienna a message from the Dog Sitter popped up on my phone that began, “I just want to let you know…”
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Old May 14th, 2024, 09:47 AM
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Off to a good start! I've missed your trip reports. Great photo.

Almost without fail, our smoke detectors wait until my husband leaves the country to go berserk. It's become so common that I make sure the troubleshooting brochure is close at hand when he leaves. He also gives them a good cleaning with the vacuum as a preventive measure. Despite this, the day after he left for a trip a few weeks ago, all five smoke detectors went off, simultatiously blaring and shouting "Fire!". It scares the bejesus out of me every time.

Looking forward to more...

Last edited by Melnq8; May 14th, 2024 at 09:55 AM.
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Old May 14th, 2024, 09:58 AM
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Me too! I love your trip reports.
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Old May 14th, 2024, 12:16 PM
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The title of this TR wins!
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Old May 14th, 2024, 04:55 PM
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Cliff-hanger about the dog... jeez. Tell us DDog is ok! Pet emergencies are always my worst fear.
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Old May 15th, 2024, 07:41 AM
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…that you have the most thoughtful neighbors!

The night before, our Sitter kindly wheeled the trash and recycling bins to the curb ahead of the early morning pickup. She pushed the button to close the garage bay door,* locked the inside house door and retired upstairs for the evening. Around 2330 she heard a knock at our front door, and (rightfully) did not answer. Moments later she heard knocking again. (If you’re wondering why DDog was not alerted: he is a Hound, so by no stretch of the imagination is he a guard dog, and in fact slept through the whole event.) The Sitter did what I would have done in that situation and called the non-emergency police.

*I forgot to remind our Sitter; and she forgot to recall, as well, that that particular garage door is wonky, and sometimes likes to reopen when it reaches the ground. It’s one of many things on the, “What were we empty nesters thinking when we purchased a 115 year-old farmhouse” To-Do list.

Our neighbor across the street had noticed the open door and, knowing we were away, came over to alert our Sitter. We know this because he spotted the police at our house and came over to explain that it was he who had knocked.

All’s well that ends well, and in the span of three days both firefighters and police had been to our house in a matter of minutes; it’s wonderful to know that we have great neighbors and that our town services are responsive!

~~~~~

Back in Vienna for the first time since returning stateside in 2019, following seven magical years living there, felt like I was catching up with an old friend. Slipped into the language immediately. Still had the transit app on my phone; knew how to make the train connections and from which exit to come up at Karlsplatz (IYKYK), and in no time I had checked in to our room at The Grand Hotel Wien. Staying in a hotel made this visit feel different, though. We are now visitors and not residents, though that status may change in the next year or so.

DH wasn’t due from meetings for a couple of hours, so I freshened up and walked around a bit, saying hello to the beautiful architecture and ducking into a couple of favorite shops before settling in upstairs at Gerstner’s across from Opera (reserved ahead, of course) at a window table with a Haus Torte and Café Melange like on so many other occasions. To paraphrase Billy Joel, Vienna waited for me.

Three Museums in One Day

If you’re seeking an insider’s description of how to “do Vienna in one day,” this ain’t the report for you. I had a carefully scripted plan for my museum day and I stuck with it.

From the hotel I walked to Hofburg en route to KHM. So sparkling! So clean! So many tour buses vomiting day trippers into the city!




I had purchased my KHM ticket online and waltzed figuratively past the queue of visitors to bid Gruß Gott to my peeps Arcimboldo, Bosch, and Bruegel—because who doesn’t appreciate time alone in front of The Fight Between Carnival and Lent? KHM’s current exhibit, Renaissance in the North piqued my curiosity, but I found myself floundering and wishing I could have traveled a week earlier to join my former art group. I just didn’t get what was going on in those galleries.

From KHM I scurried, remembering that the beautiful Lippizaners would be exiting from the first show of the morning at the Spanish Riding School.

I was so close. Missed them by a pile mile.



Walking towards the Albertina I passed a couple admiring the Austrian National Library:

She: What a pretty building! Wonder what it is?
I responded with, “It’s the National Library, and it’s quite striking inside.”
He: “Thanks. But it probably costs to enter, and we’re not doing that.”

Each traveler to their own.

At Café Mozart I paused for a snack, Tartare (with Guacamole—don’t judge until you’ve tried it) and a Veltliner to provide the necessary sustenance to take on the Albertina’s Centennial exhibition of…Roy Lichtenstein, the famous American pop artist and then to drop in on the permanent Batliner Collection (Picasso, Magritte, Monet and others) I give both the Tartare with Guacamole and the Lichtenstein exhibit high marks. The Batliner and I are old friends, so it goes without saying that I enjoy every visit.

Across the street from Albertina is the new Heidi Horten Collection. Heidi, until her passing in 2022 was Austria’s wealthiest woman by way of her marriage to the German businessman and Nazi party member Helmut Horten, who amassed his wealth by buying out Jewish businesses during the 30s and 40s. I felt that the museum’s boards discussing this controversial history were well done.

That written, Heidi had an eye for art. DH and I toured a sampling of the collection in 2019 at the Leopold Museum during a special exhibit titled “Wow!”; following the success of that exhibition she established a private museum in one of Vienna’s many city villas that was once the office of a Hapsburg commander during WWI. Probably picked it up at a good price.

The 2019 exhibition was every bit Wow! The new museum is like being in an art candy shop! After all of this art I naturally needed a refresh at Gerstner’s for an Esterhazy Schnitte and a Melange.

Kahlenberg to Grinzing

The following day DH’s meetings concluded early, as expected. I ran the “Bitte Schön, Lady” food sample gauntlet at Naschmarkt in the morning like a pro, picking up a few favored foodie souvenirs before pausing to admire the owls at Succession. DH and I convened at the hotel in the late morning and then headed for one of our most favorite lazy-day wanderings: Kahlenberg to Grinzing.

Almost nothing had changed. The 38A from the end of the U4 whisked us to the top; we took in the familiar views over the Donau, then headed down to Cobenzl for lunch and the awesome new overlook!, then wandered down into Grinzing for a glass of wine and on to the 38 Straßenbahn to the Inner Stadt. Wiener Wald bathing. Like forest bathing, but with grapevines and alpine air.



Dining

Rose-colored glasses are truly the worst lens through which to view the past, of course, so we tempered some favorite restaurant meal expectations, but one we did not, though it all worked out. On inclement weekend days, a regular activity was to head into the Inner Stadt to tour an exhibit or somesuch, then grab lunch (and perhaps a bottle of Montepulciano) at a little Italian gem serving unparalleled Carpaccio di Polpo and wood-fired pizza. We love good food; I love to think about good food; and we (okay, perhaps mostly I) had been anticipating the thinly sliced octopus atop a bed of rocket, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and lemon and lightly sprinkled with fresh cracked black pepper.

DH met me at the restaurant on the first evening. Without looking at the menu we ordered the Carpaccio to begin.

Wir haben kein Carpaccio di Polpo mehr, Madam. („Kein“ being the operative word in that statement.)

My heart will forever be crushed. The waiter encouraged us to try the Beef Carpaccio and while it was very good, it just wasn’t…Polpo. The pizza and the wine made us happy or tipsy, or both, though and we walked back to the hotel arm-in-arm. Vienna has changed just a little bit, was our thought.

The Holy Trinity of Austrian Fried White Meat:

Hänchen nach Wiener Art
Backhendl Salat; and of course,
Classic Wiener Schnitzel

On the following evening we had reservations at an unassuming place we discovered on the very first week we moved to Vienna. Over our years in the city we dined there frequently enough that the owner, an older gent, upon seeing us would offer “Unserer Stammtisch?” (Our regular table?) whenever we appeared. He even knew our wine and menu preferences because over those seven years we ordered the exact same menu items at every visit.

It made our hearts happy that the restaurant on this return visit was bustling, even with guests lacking reservations being turned away. We inquired about the owner, and his son informed us that Dad was still the “Captain,” and that he, the son, was at the helm. My Hänchen nach Wiener Art (fried quarter chicken) was crispy perfection; the Vogerlsalat mit Erdapfel made me wish I was naughty enough to try to sneak Vogerlsalat seeds and those glorious potatoes back into America. DH’s Zwiebel Röstbraten exceeded his expectations. All was right.

On the wander down from Kahlenberg we stopped at Cobenzl for lunch. The Backhendl Salat (fried chicken strips atop potato salad and drizzled with Pumpkin Seed Oil) was perfection, as was the Weiß Burgunder.

Dinner on our final evening was at Café Schwarzenberg, just a few steps from the hotel, and another favorite when we found ourselves in the Inner Stadt. Though we thought we had eaten quite enough at Cobenzl, somehow the simple wander rendered us hungry? The only cure for that was…two Wiener Schnitzel, naturlich. And a bottle of Grüner Veltliner.

We bumbled back to the hotel and packed our cases. I transferred the barest minimum to my Weekender in order to make room for the “stuff” I had planned to purchase in Istanbul, and we turned out the lights...
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Old May 15th, 2024, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Jean
Cliff-hanger about the dog... jeez. Tell us DDog is ok! Pet emergencies are always my worst fear.
DDog was, and is perfectly spoiled. His tail was wagging so furiously when the Sitter arrived I thought it might fall off! The Sitter spoiled him by moving the crate on the upper level into the guest bedroom because she felt bad that he had to sleep on the rug in her room.
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Old May 15th, 2024, 07:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Travel_Nerd
The title of this TR wins!
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Old May 15th, 2024, 07:46 AM
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Originally Posted by gomiki
Me too! I love your trip reports.
Thank you! I've recently returned from the exotic locales of Providence, RI and West Lafayette, IN and am trying to find the words...
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Old May 15th, 2024, 07:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Melnq8
Off to a good start! I've missed your trip reports. Great photo.

Almost without fail, our smoke detectors wait until my husband leaves the country to go berserk. It's become so common that I make sure the troubleshooting brochure is close at hand when he leaves. He also gives them a good cleaning with the vacuum as a preventive measure. Despite this, the day after he left for a trip a few weeks ago, all five smoke detectors went off, simultatiously blaring and shouting "Fire!". It scares the bejesus out of me every time.

Looking forward to more...
Exactly. And without fail something will happen to the Network that is not solvable with a computer restart, usually when DH is 35,000 feet above the planet.
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Old May 15th, 2024, 08:17 AM
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We are now visitors and not residents, though that status may change in the next year or so.

Oooo...do tell. Are you ready to return to the land of nothing open on Sundays?
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Old May 15th, 2024, 05:52 PM
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I did not have on my bingo card that upon FFT's return to trip reporting, she would mention two places where we enjoyed dining during our Vienna visit in August 2023.

As further coincidence, being a former expat (for us it was Basel), I really appreciate your excitement at returning to your former temporary home and visiting favorite haunts.

And also, congratulations on your son's nuptuals.
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Old May 16th, 2024, 04:48 AM
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Another former expat here...birds of a feather?
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Old May 16th, 2024, 10:05 AM
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I love your comment about the couple who were not willing to pay to go inside the Austrian National Library! Why would someone be willing to spend all that money on airfare, hotels, etc., travel that far, and not spend what was probably a few dollars (not more than $20PP, I bet) to go inside a beautiful building???? That has never made sense to me. Wonder if they visited any of the museums?
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Old May 16th, 2024, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Melnq8
We are now visitors and not residents, though that status may change in the next year or so.

Oooo...do tell. Are you ready to return to the land of nothing open on Sundays?
I could be ready to have the house packed tomorrow.
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Old May 16th, 2024, 10:32 AM
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Originally Posted by KarenWoo
I love your comment about the couple who were not willing to pay to go inside the Austrian National Library! Why would someone be willing to spend all that money on airfare, hotels, etc., travel that far, and not spend what was probably a few dollars (not more than $20PP, I bet) to go inside a beautiful building???? That has never made sense to me. Wonder if they visited any of the museums?
Exactly. I bristled a bit at the museum entry fees because I have the Smithsonians down the road; and when we lived in Vienna I generally had annual passes to come and go as I pleased. And I can understand prioritizing one's sightseeing; then again, the €10 entry fee for a library as grand as that one seems like a no-brainer to me.
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Old May 16th, 2024, 10:36 AM
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Originally Posted by cats53
I did not have on my bingo card that upon FFT's return to trip reporting, she would mention two places where we enjoyed dining during our Vienna visit in August 2023.

As further coincidence, being a former expat (for us it was Basel), I really appreciate your excitement at returning to your former temporary home and visiting favorite haunts.

And also, congratulations on your son's nuptuals.
Thank you. For the past few years we have either been going back and forth to Dublin to visit DD or working on The Farmhouse. There hasn't been much new to write on the former; and on the latter, purchasing a 115 year-old farmhouse is a special kind of trip.
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Old May 17th, 2024, 08:20 AM
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This visit to Vienna was last minute for DH (his boss messaged him during Wedding Week (there were events Wednesday through Sunday; we managed to condense all the clothing into 4 suitcases and just 1 carry-on, but that’s another story!). After confirming the Sitter I scoured the Internet for the least expensive, and least miserable flight combination in between celebrating our son and his oh-so-lovely wife.

TurkishAir has an ongoing promotion, Touristanbul, where one can either tour the city; take a Bosporus cruise; or take advantage of a hotel overnight, depending on the length of the layover in Istanbul. I’d been to Istanbul previously, so I opted for the hotel. Plus, as of 1 January 2024, American travelers no longer need the IST exit visa—$50 more to spend at the Spice Bazaar was how I rationalized this scheme.

Vienna’s Schwechat airport is undergoing renovations and I am torn. Improvements were needed, I suppose, but now the Flughafen just seems all grown up and too modern for the former Imperial Capital. Chandeliers adorn the main hallway, for goodness sakes!

I checked my case and then wondered, “What happens to luggage on a 23.5 hour layover? Where does it go? And, will I see my case again?”

DH and I shared a truly lovely Frühstück für Zwei at the new Aida (Cheeses, cucumbers, peppers, Semmel, fruit and Kornspiz. I really do miss a good Kornspitz.) before heading East and West. But the tiny Johann Strauss Café, truly a relic of a bygone travel era and where we had countless coffees and Schnitzels ahead of our travels, looked so forlorn with its tables roped off from the brand new gate areas gleaming with at least a million charging ports…and comfortable seating.

Excuse me for a moment while I dab a tissue on my misty eyes…

TurkishAir pulled out the modern planes for the hop to Istanbul. Heh. I think the Turks are still harboring a grudge. Breakfast was served; a refreshing cheese and cucumber dish that I ate despite having just eaten. To the victors of those 10-12km walking days go the spoils of eating all. the. cheeses.

I had arranged a driver to my hotel (I was offered a choice from between two options and selected the Grand Yavuz Hotel in Sultanhamet). The hotel so had a Grand Budapest Hotel vibe and as a bonus, a beautiful rooftop restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus. The room was spartan but modern; the shower had great water pressure; the bed was comfy; and the neighborhood was pleasant. No complaints from me.

A quick refresh and then I was out the door, heading to the Grand Bazaar and the adjacent Spice Bazaar. Like Marrakech, these streets, especially on a warm spring Saturday afternoon are both chaotic and calm, raucous and reticent, and, if you’ll indulge my creative spirit, a chaotic symphony of loud butterflies.

Agoraphobes, Enochlophobes, and Ochlophobes, take note.

I was duly impressed by the Mammas deftly wielding their buggies over the uneven payment as they went from vendor to vendor, with the occasional Vespa zipping about as added obstacles, too. I laughed at the universal language of husbands carrying the bags and holding on to their wives’ purses while they shopped; and of Turkish teen girls obsessed with selfies. And let’s not forgot the stray kitties that meander like stealthy ninjas around shopper’s ankles—super cute little flea taxis.

DH seemed to think I would be able to score a rug on this outing, but it was not to be. My guard down, and before I could recall my negotiating tactics from a previous Marrakech visit, I was lured into a rug shop. Then came the stories about the hours of hand-weaving in each rug and how the colors are dyed using his grandmother’s tears. But I just wasn’t feeling it. Next time.

It was in the Spice Bazaar where I found my tapestry, not surprising, sampling Turkish Delights and teas, and being lured to one vendor after another by the aromas of pungent and earthy and heady spices in their beautiful displays. How could one not be?



Somewhere along the way I stopped for a Döner Kebab (so good) and an Ayran. One either loves or hates that cold salted yogurt drink, and I am a fan. At a table next to mine, two Burqa-clad women were enjoying their lunch of…spaghetti. Istanbul really and truly is the crossroads of civilization.

A pause for chai in the Grand Bazaar.



My airport driver messaged and asked if he could collect me an hour early because streets (and I used that word generously) in Sultanhamet were to close for the Istanbul half-marathon. I’ve seen the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque at dusk (sights absolutely worth seeing, especially with a chai in hand), so rather than drag my exhausted self over to view them on this evening, and with a 0530 hotel departure now I instead took in the views from the rooftop restaurant while writing postcards.*

In good order I was deposited at IST the following morning and made a beeline for the Lounge where the perfume of breakfast surreptitiously prepared me for the flight home. More cheese and cucumbers. I could eat this every day, and often do during the summer when my cucumbers are growing like gangbusters.

My Weekender filled with 11lbs of the good stuff, give or take.



So. I paid extra for an Economy Plus aisle seat on the port side of the plane, knowing that after 10 hours in a carbon-composite tube hurtling through space I would be looking to exit quickly. Upon boarding, I settled into my seat. Or so I thought.

There had been a plane change, and weirdly several passengers were moved around the plane. My EP Aisle seat had been switched to an Economy Middle. Oh. My.

The best the crew could do was to seat me in an aisle Economy seat at the bulkhead, and on the right side of the plane. I hate bulkhead. The tray and the entertainment system is in an entirely unpleasant configuration for me. Good thing I needed to start reading the book my group would be discussing in two days and could just zone out, except for enjoying the food at the mealtimes.

Off the plane at Dulles, my 30+ year living in D.C. with the Type-As instincts kicked in, and I wove myself through passengers (United, Austrian and Delta had all just landed from points abroad, too) faster than those ninja cats in Istanbul to board the next available Star Wars shuttle to Immigration.

DH and I have the latest travel cred, MCP on our phones, so I queued with the 10 of us in the know, feeling the sting of envy from the masses glaring at us who would probably spend 30 minutes waiting to enter.

I approached the CBP Officer:

Officer. Do you have anything to declare?
Me. Spices, and Turkish Raki from Duty Free for my husband.
Officer. Good choice. I see that your Global Entry application has been renewed. Would you like to sit for the interview now? It only takes about 5 minutes.
Me. (Wanting to hug the CBP Agent but thinking it might be inappropriate.) Absolutely!

If you’re doing the math, I was in and out of IAD, through CBP and the Global Entry interview; had my luggage (it arrived!) and was curbside where DH and DDog picked me up inside of 40 minutes. On a Sunday afternoon. A new personal best.

*I traveled a bit old-school for this adventure by not bringing my laptop. I love to write travel notes at the end of each day in a document but decided that for this short adventure I would write notes on paper. I also could not download photos from my Canon to my laptop. All I can write is, what a P.I.T.A. I have scribbles on hotel paper, my phone, and even on receipts that will appear in the final installment to this story, The Postscript.

Last edited by fourfortravel; May 17th, 2024 at 08:23 AM.
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Old May 17th, 2024, 08:46 AM
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mcp?
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Old May 17th, 2024, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Melnq8
mcp?
Whoops. MPC. Mobile Passport Control.
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