Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Long Road Home - 11/8/2009

After dropping off Levent E, Osman’s uncle, and Halit, we were off again to the bus station in Ankara. It was about 10 pm by that time, so I had some serious doubts that we would be able to make it in time to unload, by the tickets and board the bus. I was cold at first on the bus, and Levent K let me borrow his jacket again to stay warm. I slept quite a bit on the way back. Omer seemed to be driving pretty fast and several times we passed police, but we didn’t have any problems (I think God was definitely protecting us!). We passed through Kulu again, and I think we made a bathroom stop there. We boarded the van again, and were off to finish the first leg of my 30 hour journey home.

We arrived at the bus terminal in Ankara right at about 12:30. Given that we had left around 10:00, I think Omer made some amazing time, only 2.5 hours compared to more than 3 hours on the way down. We pulled up to the curb and unloaded all the baggage. The guys then began to bestow gifts for us and the other folks at home that they knew in Raleigh. Unfortunately, it created a bit of a logistical problem as none of us had sufficient space in our luggage for all the gifts. We ended up having to hand carry some of them. We passed into the terminal and zipped over to the ticket counter while Omer found a place to park the van. We paid for the bus tickets and then headed outside to find the bus. It was just outside the door so we went and gave our luggage to be stowed under the bus. We had a few minutes left, so Jeff, Levent & I headed to the bathroom. Levent, hadn’t had time to buy us a gift, so he went in a little gift shop (despite my protests) and purchased some more gifts. I bought some chocolate crackers to share with Jeff & Randy on the bus, then headed back to the bus. It was time to board the bus, so we said our goodbyes and thanked the guys for the wonderful time that we had with them. It was hard to say goodbye to them after such a short few days but our hearts were full.

After boarding the bus, we found our seats. This bus was even nicer than the one that we rode to get to the high speed train. The seats were pretty comfortable and they all had video screens with multiple channels of decent movies (though they were all in Turkish). We munched the chocolate crackers while we waited for the service. They gave us water, tea or coffee, and a cake. I skipped the tea, as I had had enough earlier in the evening, and wanted to fall asleep. Once service was complete, they turned off the lights. I watched the ending of Crash, then blew up my inflatable neck pillow and tried to go to sleep. I don’t remember how long it took, but I think fell asleep pretty quickly. By this time it was around 2 am, and after the bad previous night’s sleep, it is no surprise that I didn’t have a problem sleeping. I woke up around 3:30 as the bus was making a rest stop. I was absolutely freezing, I think from the fever chills I was still having. I shook my way into the rest stop, which looked very much like a typical American-style truck stop. I was too out of it to do any shopping, so I headed back to the bus, where I took some Advil and continued my shivering while the bus waited. By 4am we were back on the road again. I feel asleep and woke up again around 5 am. At that time, I thought we were going to be arriving at 6am, so I thought that we only had 1 hour left. I figured we would be in the outskirts of Istanbul by that time, so I tried to stay awake and watch for signs of our impending arrival. On the left side of the bus, I could see the faint outline of tall mountains and little clumps of lights at various elevations. It then dawned on me that the bus ride was 6 hours and we had left at 1 am, so we had 2 hours left. I feel back asleep and woke up again sweating. I took off my jacket and shoes, but I was still very hot and uncomfortable. I took TheraFlu, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. The remaining time on the bus was spent trying to find a comfortable position, drifting off to sleep, and then waking up again hot. When we got to Istanbul, we had three stops. The first was at a hotel, and the second was at what looked like the main office for the bus company we were using. We finally crossed the bridge over the Bosphorous and were back in Europe again. About 20 minutes later we had finally arrived at the main bus terminal in Ankara. It was large and seemingly disorganized, with a big section of it underground. It seemed like we passed through the entire complex before stopping to unload. There was no sign of the entrance to the Metro, but Randy asked one of the drivers how to get to the airport, and we were led to a free shuttle bus. We waited 15 minutes or so on the shuttle bus before the driver finally came over and we were off. It was Sunday morning, so there was very little traffic on the roads. The driver flew to the airport, easily going faster than 80 mph. We finally arrived safely at the international terminal at Ataturk airport.

We arrived at the airport at about 7 am. I wanted to put on some fresh clothes in the restroom before checking in, so we went in and washed up and repacked our luggage. We had a lot of gifts from our Turkish friends that we needed to figure out how to transport. After finishing up in there, I went to the check in counter for Turkish Airlines, while Jeff & Randy waited on me. There was sort of a long line as they were doing a security screening at the check-in counter. I had received some wrapped gifts as we were leaving, but I was careful to not mention that when I was questioned, to not make any further delays. I checked in without any issues, though my bag was a lot closer to the weight limit this time around. I then headed out to meet Jeff & Randy. We went over to a little airport cafe where I bought a fruit cup and coffee for 15 TL. We sat and chatted for a while why Jeff & I ate. Randy made some phone calls using my phone so he could arrange some meetings with friends before his departure tomorrow. At about 9 am it is time for me to go to my plane. I say my goodbye and head off through passport control. There was a security checkpoint at the main doors to the airport, so I didn’t need to go through another checkpoint after the passport check. I wandered around a little bit, trying to find some kind of store that sold snacks and drinks, but had no success. It was good that I didn’t find bottled water as they were screening carry on luggage for liquids at the boarding area, and I would have had to throw it away anyway. I then went to exchange my Turkish Lyras for dollars and finally headed for the boarding area. There was another security checkpoint where they asked about where my bags had been and then they x-rayed them again. I passed through into the waiting area and sat down to try and reorganize my backpack. A few minutes later they started boarding the plane, so I headed over to the jetway to board the flight. I was a bit concerned about flying with this head cold, but I am also really looking forward to arriving at home.

I read a little bit on my IPod while we waited for the plane to pull away from the gate. Once we started pulling away, I shut it off and closed my eyes, falling asleep until we were up in the air. Once we got up in the air, I could the pressure decreasing in my head which felt great. The first thing that the airline did was pass out headphones and these little zippered comfort pouches containing visors, fresh socks, ear plugs, and lip balm. As I was having to breath a lot through my mouth, the lip balm was a blessing. The remainder of the flight home was without incident. The meals were as good as the previous flight over. Despite my attempts to stay awake, I dozed for most of the 10 hour trip to New York.

After arriving at JFK and disembarking I made my way through the passport control area and then down into the baggage claim area. I waited for what seemed like an interminably long time. My fever was spiking again and I was starting to sweat. Finally my bag made its appearance and I made ready to go through customs. I had a bunch of gifts from our Turkish friends that I was carrying. I wasn’t sure what all I had since it was wrapped, and I was concerned that there was fruit that wouldn’t pass. I had declared the Turkish Delight candy that I knew I had, but when the agent asked me if I had any food I just blurted out no, which wasn’t true nor was it what I had written. He just let me pass anyway. I then rearranged my bag and headed over to the Air Train to the American terminal. By this time I was really sweating, I must have looked awful. I got my boarding pass from the automatic machine, and then got in a very long bag check-in line. After checking my bag, I passed through security and then went to get some dinner. I had a stromboli and a large coffee (I wanted a warm drink). I then wandered a bit looking for a gift shop to get something else for Jonah & Elisabeth (without success).

I finally made my way to my departure gate, where I sat and watched 16 Blocks. As the boarding time approached, they began asking for volunteers to take a flight the following day, because the flight was overbooked. I didn’t think much of it, as I certainly didn’t want to spend another day traveling. Then, as I was heading to the bathroom, I heard my name called. I went over to the counter and the lady said that the plane was overweight, and that because my ticket was one of the last one’s booked, I might get booted and have to take the flight the following day. I was so sick and tired I just said ok and sat back down. Then I started thinking about how awful that would be to have to go to a hotel and then come back, all while being sick. So then I started praying that I wouldn’t get booted and at the very last minute they let me board the plane to Raleigh.

The last leg of the flight home was only about an hour; we arrived 30 minutes early. Merl was there to pick me up and Jeff’s flight also got in at the same time. It was so nice to get home!

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