The 19hr Istanbul Layover

November 24, 2022
Start: Kathmandu, Nepal
Stop: Istanbul, Turkey

It’s a reluctant wake-up since today is the day filled with many goodbyes and the start of a long trip home. There’s breakfast, last minute arranging of luggage, paying the hotel bill, tears. Tiger and driver arrive at 9am so I head back upstairs to get my luggage. Tiger presents me with a marigold garland for blessed travel before we load into the car. More tears and then Caspar is able to come with us to the airport. Caspar’s flight does not leave for another eight hours so he’s got a bit more time to do some shopping in the Thamel.

At the airport, we unload the car and it’s hugs all around. I even get to see and say goodbye to Rupesh, who was the one that picked me up from the airport the day I arrived in Nepal. With tears in my eyes, I push my clunking cart over to the airport entrance. I’m immediately told that I’m not allowed to have my marigold garland which is super sad. I want the blessings and it smells good. I reluctantly pass it back over to Caspar and wave one last goodbye.

Luggage check, passport control and security all go fairly smoothly. No issues about my small carry-on backpack this time. It’s a small enough airport that there’s only one large area where international travelers wait for their flights. I’m amused by the small birds that fly around the waiting area finding scraps of food. Eventually my flight boards and I take my seat at the window. We proceed to sit on the tarmac for an hour with no explanation and no offering of water. Eventually, we start to taxi and I can see the top of the Boudhanath Stupa poking up above the Kathmandu skyline. As we climb into the sky, the buildings shrink in size as the Himalaya Range takes center stage one last time.

The lights of Istanbul twinkle as we land in the dark. I see that red bridge again and it looks a lot like the golden gate. Google search tells me that it’s called the Bosphorus Bridge and one of three suspension bridges that span the Bosphorus Straight. These bridges are significant because they connect Europe to Asia. We taxi a ways and then come to a stop on the tarmac. Some people start jumping out of their seats and the flight attendants go ballistic on them. Repeated and forceful reprimands over the loud speaker telling everyone to stay in their seats! We start taxiing again and eventually arrive at our gate.

In true thru-hiking tradition I could have prepared to throw out a mat and sleeping bag for my 19 hour Istanbul layover. But as appealing and badass as that sounds, I opted to spend the big bucks on the Istanbul Airport (Airside) Yotelair. For $300 I got a teeny-tiny room with blue lights, wifi and lounge access. Because of my long layover, Istanbul Air might have been able to provide a room in the airport but it is not guaranteed. After a walk around the airport to buy a few souvenirs and a nice shower I head into the lounge to find some dinner. It’s an interesting assortment of salads, rice and some mystery meats but I make do. I try Turkey’s Efes Pilsener which is brewed right here in Istanbul. It’s not particularly tasty but it’s something to sip as I watch Brazil’s World Cup match on tv. Back at my room, I use the buttons on the wall to extend my bed out flat and enjoy a good nights sleep.

November 25
Start: Istanbul, Turkey
Stop: San Francisco, California

I’m up early and luxuriate in the shower. I visit the lounge for breakfast and have some eggs, potatoes and bread. Check out is 10am but I sneak back into the lounge and hang out there until almost 12pm. The lounge food changes over to lunch and I have some salad and rice before heading out to find my gate.

The gate procedure is really……ummm…..interesting. It’s all barricaded off with glass. I go to the first person and he checks my passport and boarding pass and gives me permission to proceed. I walk four steps where there are two people who want to see my documents again. I walk another six steps and there’s a man who wants to see my passport, again. Then there’s a line and everyone is waiting to have their carry-on stuff checked. Women go to one side and men to the other. There is only rudeness in the way that we are treated. A young woman takes out everything from my backpack and carry-on luggage. She unzips every little pouch that I have. She is very forceful with the zippers and I ask her to please be careful. She doesn’t understand me and calls over a supervisor who kind of gets in my face asking what the problem is. Dang, this is rough. Eventually, I escape the gauntlet run and stand waiting to board the plane.

It’s a 13 hour flight back to SFO and it’s a challenge. I’m strategically located in the middle section on the aisle to give myself as much room as possible and minimize having to get up for other people. I ask for an extra bottle of water so that I can take some medication and am denied. I’m told that I can go to the back of the plane for a tiny paper cup of water. I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough water so at least this time I have some extra bottled water from the airport hotel. I just keep the movies going and power through. We land at SFO at about 5pm and because the only flight going to Arcata this evening is at 6:30pm I will be spending the night near SFO. If I was really crazy I’d head on over to the Warriors basketball game. I mean, I am coincidentally game ready reppin’ my shirt.

November 26
Start: San Francisco, California
Stop: Arcata, California

A short flight to home sweet home.