25.03.2013 - 25.03.2013 1 °C
After six weeks in Turkey, the day to leave dawned with some bittersweet feelings (except maybe for Abby, who has been anticipating Britain with great eagerness). It has been quite the experience, staying in one country for this long. While we didn't make friends with the language exactly, we came to recognize some oft-repeated phrases and felt a certain miniscule pride when surprising a shop keeper with some brief snippet of a distinguishable response. We appreciated the many varieties of bread; the ubiquitous glasses of chai; tangy-sweet pomegranate sauce; the bounty of cucumbers, tomatoes and oranges; tasty relishes and meat stews; omnipresent doners and pides; and honey-drenched baklava. We acknowledged the great national pride, the devotedness to their republic's founder, the grandeur of the historical sites, and the beauty and interest of the landscape. We carry a fondness now for Turkey that has grown from what it was six weeks ago. Hannah revealed that she feels more comfortable with Turkey than with any other European country, save for France. With familiarity comes ease and understanding. And the urge to return some day.
We had heard some stories about Istanbul taxi drivers, that they try to cheat or intimidate you in some way so as to augment a standard taxi fare. Tricks include palming the 50 lire bill you've just given them, replacing it with a 5 lire one and claiming you've given them the wrong amount. Or, they claim there's a special 'night rate' that's higher than the usual rate or the meter suddenly breaks in the middle of the ride. Wanting to avoid the hassle altogether, we elected to take a convenient shuttle bus that was a 15 minute walk from our apartment. We left our place at 8:45 AM, anticipating our 12:30 PM flight to London. It may seem like a lot of time to allow but we felt it's better to wait a bit than to err in the other direction.
Due to the wait for the next shuttle and the endless detours, we arrived at the airport (named Ataturk Airport -- what else?) at 10:15. The first step as you enter the building is to immediately go through security with all your baggage, both carry on and that to be stowed. I don't know why this is exactly unless it's to render the whole building a safer place in general. At any rate, going through the scanner, the guard saw something in Ben's main backpack that he didn't like. He pulled Ben over and asked him to open it. Now, you have to know that as we travel by car, we accumulate items that then have to be discarded prior to an airplane jaunt. It is always an effort to juggle what we feel we could use in the next country and what we know we have to give up. However, we try to eke out as much space as we can. This time was no exception and Ben had packed his backpack rigorously that morning, going through the effort twice to find just the right packing combination and layout (he is a serious master packer). Faced with the request to now open the bag, I could almost see him refusing or, at the very least, attempting to talk his way out of this. However, sensible as always, Ben acquiesced. The guard then proceeded to tear his neatly arranged contents apart, checking shoe bags and packing cubes, rifling through an orange folder containing printed documents, and generally creating a battleground where once peace reigned. He was looking for a metal implement that had shown up on the scanner. Ben helpfully tried to point out items that might have been metal but these were ignored. After several minutes and a repeated scan, he was unsuccessful in locating the offensive weapon so dismissed us. Ben then asked us to remove anything from the table that wasn't to be packed in his bag and tried to restore the previous state of his backpack. We ensured all on the table was complete and let him go to work. It took some effort and time but, finally, he was able to close the large bag, just. Sadly, that was when he noticed the orange folder lurking nearby, still outside his bag. There was no room for it to fit into our carry on baggage so he unzipped and began again. All was quiet as we watched the process a second time, wanting to be anywhere but here.
Within a mere half an hour of entering the security area, we were once again on our way, this time to check in. Having checked in electronically the night before, we anticipated some savings in time. However, the savings only occurs when you're finally at the counter but not prior, when you're sandwiched in a common lineup for all three flights going to London. "(Do you know how many people want to go to London?" I ask rhetorically.) Once that is over with, we proceed to passport control and then onto the second security area. Thankfully, there are only laptops and an iPad to unpack and we are through in a much shorter time. At length, we arrive at our gate and it is 12:00, a few minutes before boarding. We say a short prayer of thanks that we left early from the apartment.
Upon our arrival in Heathrow, we are greeted by a warm, familiar face, Ben's sister Helen. We have all been looking forward to seeing someone new within our mix and eagerly mob her, asking her about Canadian weather, marvelling over her small bag, and confirming she has brought the KD packages as requested. Helen will be joining us for the next two weeks of our travels and will then visit extended family in the Netherlands. We are very glad she's joined us and anticipate a lot of fun times ahead.
Leaving on the Piccadilly line (gotta love those English names), we started tubing. Riding the underground. Minding the gap, and all that rot. My first faux pas on the metro was to attempt to move my heavy bag at the same time the train lurched forward. I performed a quick swivel motion and found myself sitting in the lap of a very reserved, previously unsuspecting older British chap. Feeling it was the best way to diffuse the situation (other than actually getting up from his lap, that is), I held out my hand and introduced myself. He smiled weakly. My children rolled their eyes and ducked their heads. Helen graciously allowed me a seat next to her. The man left shortly. I'm saving my next faux pas for tomorrow.
The cold we encountered coming off the metro was biting and the wind, a bit fierce about our ears. It is all of one degree here, and we see some snow on the ground. It feels colder for us than our usual haunts in Canada. Thankfully, the house we rented in London was easy to locate and we found it lit and heated for our arrival. The hosts could not meet us tonight as it's the first night of Passover and they are Jewish. Their home is very comfortable and spacious, giving us three bedrooms and two bathrooms. However, there's always something unusual with these places and we warn Helen about this. Sure enough, at 10 PM, the lights downstairs go off. Fiddling with the fuse box didn't work and the puzzle wouldn't be solved till the morning, when we discovered certain rooms are on a timer.
I must admit it's good to be in the United Kingdom. It just seems easier, what with the Queen's English being spoken. But, speaking of the UK, how many of us can articulate the difference between England, Britain, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom? Let's be honest now. Well, if you're like me, you might need a refresher from time to time and I love to refer to this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNu8XDBSn10) to relearn what I need to on this topic. Hope you enjoy it as well.