Crossroads Tour – Florence to Istanbul…

A Wednesday in May, 2011

Today begins the second leg of my Crossroads Tour, as I depart Florence for the long awaited and much anticipated city of Istanbul.

I awake to a calm, quiet morning. I grab a final cup of caffe ginseng from the Bianchi machine in the hotel hallway, and call a taxi that is waiting for me by the time I get downstairs. I’ve gone from hotel shower to airport gate in 30 minutes, like clockwork perfected. It’s going to be a great day.

About 15 minutes before we are to board, the flight is cancelled due to technical difficulties. The American next to me sums it up best. “Stuff happens” although he says it in a slightly coarser term.

I am among the first to retrieve my luggage but the very last one in line to rebook my ticket. An hour into what would be a two hour wait, an East Indian woman next to me strikes up a conversation. She’s leaving Florence after a 3 month stint, a consulting assignment for GE Oil. We compare notes about Florence, the difficulties we both had with Italian food (not enough spice), and our wish lists of other places to visit (Rome and Sicily for her, Cordoba and Morocco for me). I finally get up to the ticket counter and procure a ticket for the only flight departing for Istanbul that day, connecting in Munich. It boards in ten minutes…

I sprint to security to find a line. NO!!! Shoes off, watch off, netbook out of briefcase, I am slamming things into bins as fast as I can. I pass through the x-ray without setting it off this time, pull everything out of the bins and run in my stocking feet to the gate. As I reached a flight of stairs I gave thanks that I checked my suitcase, else wise I would have missed this flight entirely.

The airports here don’t have concourses from the gate to the plane, you are transported by a large bus, sort of like the tram cars in the subway loops at SeaTac Airport. Onboard the plane, I have a minor episode with my briefcase in the overhead bin, which expels my netbook, narrowly missing the gentleman seated below, before crashing to the floor and bouncing apart from its battery. I collect everything and return to my seat as the food cart comes down the aisle. The meal service is a half sandwich of cheese on rye. Or perhaps it’s butter. Or maybe brie. Served with the usual 4 oz. of water. I am dying for more fluids, and perhaps some actual food.

After an otherwise uneventful trip, we land in Munich. I have a 6 hour layover which will put me into Istanbul at 11 PM. I am completely frustrated that a city that is 4 hours away on a normal flight, is taking me 14 hours to get to. I look for a WIFI connection so I can contact my hotel in Istanbul. Not having success with that, I find a phone. My phone card doesn’t work and neither does my non-chip credit card. A second phone card, with 60 seconds of airtime, gets me through, but the person working the desk at the Han Hotel asked me to repeat every sentence, which takes longer than I had airtime for. I call back on my debit card and leave my name and tentative arrival time on their voicemail, and hope for the best.

  • Travel tip: Always rely on the flight departure boards rather than what your ticket tells you. Once again, the gate I’m departing from is at the opposite end of the concourse from the gate listed on my ticket. I run into an English gentleman looking for the same gate, but he says its locked. He agrees with my theory that airports change gates on a whim as a some cruel form of endurance test. 

The Munich airport is on a straight concourse that looks every bit like the SouthCenter Mall in Seattle — white, stark, and full of shops. I check the reader board again and find that my flight has been delayed by another hour and now departs at 7:30.

I find a coin operated internet point and try to email my updated ETA to the Hotel Han. It’s the first European keyboard I’ve seen, and I use up a euro trying to figure out how to type the “@” symbol. I pop in another coin and call over a couple of teenagers who can’t figure it out either. But they mention it’s some sequence of three keys, and after watching them for a couple of minutes, I figure out the sequence and sign in to my hotmail account.

I’m hot and headachy, exhausted and frustrated. My Italian is non-existent, my German is failing and my English isn’t far behind. About halfway through this layover I wish I had rented one of the napcabs — a private pod offering internet access and a place to sleep. Hindsight being the clear vision that it is, I console myself with the optimistic thought that tomorrow will be a better day…

For a few more photos of this trying day, please visit Daveno Travels.

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