Old Jun 11, 08, 3:15 pm
Flying Buccaneer
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Plat, AA Plat 2MM, HH Diamond, WoH Explorist, SPG Gold
Posts: 2,199
My First Trip to Turkey - How It Came About - Where I'm Going

Not only is this my first trip to Turkey, but it’s also my first Trip Report. I’ve never felt compelled to report on any of my travels, but this trip is different. Because a couple of searches for hotels where I am staying and places I am visiting have had little or no response, it’s the first time that I feel like I can offer something to my fellow FlyerTalkers. (Also, I apologize if I include too much information, but I like to read the reports that offer a little more than the logistics of the trip.)

Why I Am Going

When the opportunity to apply for a grant through my university for a CIEE (Council for International Educational Exchange) seminar, I looked at the faculty development seminars that were offered. Instantly, I knew which one interested me the most… South India! The chance to explore Bangalore and Hyderabad was irresistible. I wrote my grant application, and the committee approved funding. The next step was to apply through CIEE, and I received notification of my acceptance in early January.

In early February, I got a phone call from someone at CIEE. She apologized and told me that, with a week remaining for applications, it looked like there would not be enough participants for the South India program to go. I was disappointed, but I asked if there were any alternatives. She told me that there was only one other program in danger of not going, and suggested that I take a couple of days to decide which of the remaining programs interested me. So I did my research, and talked to the chair of the committee that awarded me the grant and director of international studies. They told me that I could switch to any of the remaining programs as long as the one I chose (a) did not interfere with my teaching schedule, and (b) involved travel to someplace I had never visited. The first restriction was easy. Most of the programs fit within the six-week period between my study abroad class to Eastern Europe that ended on May 24 and my Summer class that starts on July 7. The second was pretty easy, too, even though I have traveled to 30 countries.

My choice came down to Northwest China and Turkey. Both were appealing, for different reasons. My only visit to China involved a change of planes at HKG… not really a visit. Northwest China would have been especially fascinating, but somewhat rigorous, according to the description. In addition, travel to China would have required a journey (or at least I through so). Turkey, on the other hand, was a place that I had always wanted to visit: the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and the center of the former Ottoman Empire, a country that’s 99% Muslim with a strict separation between Mosque and State. What better way to be introduced than through an academic seminar?

So I chose Turkey.

Planning the Trip

After the formality of changing my application, I waited for confirmation that the trip would go. I got that in early March, and quickly after that, I was told to plan to arrive in Ankara by early afternoon on June 17 and depart Istanbul no earlier than late morning on June 28. I finally start planning the trip, something I enjoy tremendously. (I am sure that my fellow FlyerTalkers can all relate to that!)

The fares from Tampa to Ankara and returning from Istanbul were well over $2000. I decided to try a roundtrip to Istanbul, arriving a few days before the start of the program and leaving soon after. After playing around on AA.com and ExpertFlyer.com, I put a reservation on hold. I called AA and asked the agent if eVIP upgrades were available on the TATL segments of the itinerary. Unfortunately, they weren’t, but she helped me find an itinerary that would allow me to confirm upgrades on the AA-operated flights:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
AA 1786 Depart TPA 12:00 p.m., Arrive JFK 2:50 p.m.
AA 104 Depart JFK 6:35 p.m., Arrive LHR 6:55 a.m.

Thursday, June 12, 2008
BA 676 Depart LHR 10:25 a.m., Arrive IST 4:25 p.m.

Saturday, June 28, 2008
BA 677 Depart IST 5:25 p.m., Arrive LHR 7:35 p.m.

Sunday, June 29, 2008
AA 99 Depart LHR 7:55 a.m., Arrive ORD 10:20 a.m.
AA 1258 Depart ORD 1:30 p.m., Arrive TPA 5:10 p.m.

I didn’t mind the overnight at LHR. I have stayed at the Sheraton Skyline a few times in the past when I had early flights leaving Heathrow, and I knew that finding a good deal on a Saturday night would not be a problem.

With the ticket purchased, the only thing left to do (besides wait for the trip to start) was decide how to spend 4 or 5 days in Turkey before the program began. I had read the Lonely Planet guide to Turkey a few times, and I knew that the program would concentrate on Ankara and Istanbul. Therefore, I wanted to visit the eastern part of the country, places like Kars and Van. There was just one problem: My partner looked at a map of Turkey and vetoed the idea. I did everything I could to convince him that Kars was safe, even though it was close to the Armenian border, as was Van, even though it was less than 100 miles from the borders of Iraq and Iran. He didn’t budge. So I decided to involve a third party: A Turkish colleague. Unfortunately, I was outnumbered. My colleague told me that I should stick to Ankara and parts west for my first trip to his home country.

Defeated, I tried to decide where to go for my pre-program R&R and exploration. I chose Antalya, partly because of its location on the Mediterranean and near quite a few historic sites, and partly because the Sheraton Voyager Hotel had some pretty low rates. I was able to purchase two tickets to get me from IST to AYT (Antalya) to ESB (Ankara):

Thursday, June 12
TK 0424 Depart IST 8:05 p.m. Arrive AYT 9:20 p.m.

Monday, June 16
TK 0911 Depart AYT 8:40 a.m. Arrive ESB 9:45 a.m.

So that brings me to today.

June 11, 2008 TPA-JFK
American Airlines 1786
Seat 5F

On the way to the airport, my partner pointed out that this would be the longest time we have been apart since we met in 2002. I had already thought of that, as I am sure he had. He dropped me at TPA's "Blue Departure" area around 9:40 a.m. I waited in AA’s first class line, but an agent in the other line became free first. I told her where I was flying, and she was able to check my bag all the way to AYT. Sheesh, it already weighs 49 pounds, and I haven't even gotten to Turkey yet! I also got my boarding card for the BA flight. By 10:00 a.m., I was through security and waiting for my flight.

Boarding started at 11:35 a.m., and went about as smoothly as a full TPA-JFK flight could go, I guess. At scheduled departure time, the FAs were having to check bags that could not fit in the overhead bins. Our flight didn’t push back until 12:05 p.m., but after a quick taxi we took off at 12:13 p.m. The meal service was typical AA domestic F lunch/snack: drinks and mixed nuts, followed by a choice of turkey and cheese croissant or grilled chicken salad, served with a “Wee Brie” and crackers and chocolate chip cookie. The service was brisk but attentive. The pilot made quite a few announcements, giving the flight plan, pointing out Myrtle Beach, SC off the right of the plane and updating the ETA. He kept telling us that we would land about 13-14 minutes early. In fact, we landed at 2:33 p.m. and after an exceptionally quick taxi for JFK, we were at the gate at 2:40 p.m.

After I deplaned, I made a beeline for the Admirals Club. At the desk, I was given a “Ving Card” that allowed me to enter the Flagship Lounge. This is the only FL I have visited besides the ones at ORD and LHR. This one seems less claustrophobic. Obviously, it’s the windows. The food selection is nice for mid-afternoon: tea sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, scones, and there is a full beverage selection like at the other FLs I have visited.

I still about 22 hours before I arrive in AYT, if everything goes smoothly. The long layovers give me a chance to relax a little between each flight, but they make the trip drag.

Next stop, London.
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