Monday, 20 February 2012

Surprise City Break

After 6 weeks in the British winter, and just as the first real snowfall started, we were putting away the down jackets, sleeping bags and woolly hats of Nepal and packing for the heat of Southern India, first stop Mumbai.  With temperatures hovering around 37'C, it would represent a jump of about 37 degrees! Our journey to Manchester airport by train was bound to be a little cold, but in about 12 hours we would be sweltering. It didn't quite work out like that - the snow that hit the UK that February morning was nothing compared to the disruption it caused in south eastern Europe. Our flight was delayed due to the snow in Istanbul, where we were had a short transfer, with a good 3 inches on the ground. The airport was chaotic, and we felt for the poor lady with her head in her hands at the transfer desk as she tried to deal with all the people like us who, due to the snow, had cancelled flights or missed connections. We were pretty easy - we had no fixed itinerary, all the time in the world, and a desire to see Istanbul. If it was at the expense of Turkish Airlines, even better! Eventually we were booked onto a flight for the following evening and  transferred by mini bus to the Hilton. The only snag? No luggage, and being dressed for India! But we enjoyed the nicest hotel room we're likely to see for a very long time.
Colourful turkish lamps in the Grand Bazaar                 

The next morning we headed into the centre of Istanbul to see what sights we could. We started in the Grand Bazaar, a massive covered warren of assorted shops selling all manner of items, such as spice, turkish delight (no, not belly dancers), carpets and lamps. The warm woolly hats and thick sheepskin coats looked particularly appealing. This was the only inside attraction that day, as from here we went on to see the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, both as impressive as they were massive. This was an interesting time to visit, as hundreds of Muslim men were streaming towards the Blue Mosque for Friday afternoon prayers.

Palm trees in the snow, outside the Blue Mosque 

By the time we were chilled to the bone it was time to head back to the airport. But it being Friday afternoon, and the fact that the shuttle bus had to visit several city hotels to pick up other stranded passengers, the 30 minute journey took over two hours, and as a result we arrived at check in very close to closing time. After 20 minutes waiting to see if there was space on the overbooked plane we got a boarding pass, but then had to high tail it to the gate. Once there, as if fate was trying to keep us in Istanbul, a Turkish Airlines official asked if we would give up our seats, as the overbooking still hadn't been resolved. Some decent compensation and another night, this time in an even better hotel, was tempting, but just as we planned our second day in Istanbul it all changed again. Due to some airline visa issue we were asked to board the plane after all. We were finally on our way to India.

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