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LAX to Ankara for a haircut

LAX to Ankara for a haircut

Old Oct 8, 03, 11:01 am
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LAX to Ankara for a haircut

Some people will fly across the U.S. to get great barbecue. Others will fly to Asia to pick up the latest and greatest electronic toy. I flew to Turkey to get the ultimate haircut.

OK, maybe that wasn’t my original reason to go to Ankara, but now that I found haircut nirvana, revisionist history will record it was my intent from the beginning.

Early this year, I decided my United mileage balance was way too high with their pending “demise”, and I went on a spending binge. Part of the bender was a First Class Star Alliance reward to Turkey, on Lufthansa. A number of people had said great things about their service, and I wanted one of their nightshirts. I booked a trip for early April, which coordinated with a friend’s schedule who lived in Ankara. As the trip approached, the American President decided he needed higher approval rating, and a war broke out in the area. While this in itself was not in my mind a good reason to cancel the trip, my boss and wife thought otherwise, so I rescheduled for late September.

My buddy in Ankara it turned out came to California around Labor Day, and while visiting informed me my proposed re-visit date to Ankara had to be changed. He it turned out was going to be in Alberta, so we agreed to push it back a week. Of course a month before leaving getting first class seats became a challenge, as awards to Munich were at a premium due to Oktoberfest (MUC is the hub for most of LH’s flights to Turkey’s part of the globe). Finally I was able to book LAX-ORD-MUC-ESB but had to settle for ESB-MUC-LHR-LAX (across the pond on Air New Zealand) for the return.

Los Angeles – Ankara
Upon check-in at the 1K kiosk in Terminal 6, the agent printed me a boarding pass for the MUC-ESB segment showing a seat different then that which I had gotten LH to assign me to. Probably five calls in the past week had gone to LH, as that segment originally had only one assignable seat, the terrible 6E (it was suppose to be an A-320). I had gotten a LH supervisor to give me an aisle in row five the day before heading out of Los Angeles, but UA’s boarding pass said 3F. When I got to the Red Carpet Room I called LH, who after a ten minute hold, said the best a supervisor could do is unblock 3A, a window on the two seat side. Not awful, but what happened to my aisle? Per LH the seat changes were due to a United schedule change. Weird answer (later in MUC I was able to get an agent to ultimately give me 1D, what more likely had happened was the metal ended up being an A-319, messing up the seat maps).

LH’s first class service from Chicago to Munich, was not a disappointment. There were only five people in first on the A-340 (eight seats total), with most of the time two people serving us. I was seated in 1A, and the rest of the passengers settled in row two. I avoided turning around all flight, to enable the delusion that first class was my private jet ).

I started dinner with two appetizers, Lobster Medallions with Potato Salad, and Pancake rolled with Duck served with Cantaloupe Relish. Entrée choices were:

-Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper accented by Merlot Demi-Glace, sauteed Carrots and Green Beans and Potato with Onion

-Panzarotti Pasta with Shiitake Mushrooms and Chervil Broth (Star Chef offering – Hans Stefan Steinheuer from “Zur Alten Post” in Bad Neuenahr Heppingen; it was spectacular tasting)

-Grilled breast of Chicken complemented by Red Bell Pepper Sauce, Asparagus and Mascarpone Polenta (oddly, this I believe was the entrée served MUC-ESB and it was quite tasty)

-Seared Fillet of Grouper featuring Tomato Salsa and Baby Bok Choy

Dessert, in addition to the cheese cart was a yummy Dulce de Leche Ice Cream with Fruit Coulis

My spirits choices were:

-“D” de Devaux Brut, Champagne Veuve Devaux, Frankreich/France (good, not world class)

-Campari and OJ (my drink of choice when I’m trying to be eurotrash )

-1999 Pommard, Bouchard Pere et Fils, Burgand, Frankreich (excellent Pinot Noir, I would spend my own money for it)

-2002 Westhofenor Bergkloster Siegerrebe Beerenauslese, Weingut Neef-Emmich (dessert wine, pretty bland)

While this may be heresy to some, but for me the incremental cost in miles (and certainly spent dollars) may not be worth flying in First on LH, unless the flight is extraordinary long. This flight was only seven and a half hours. Dinner and breakfast used up about a third of the flight, and at the early hour the flight left Chicago (wheels up about 17:10), sleeping was not a major interest I recognized. I watched the entire Lord of The Rings 2, and actually caught about three hours of snooze. However I prefer sleeping on my stomach, and I couldn’t get enormously comfortable. Many international business class seats are reasonably comfortable for three hours of sleep. United’s “C” seat for example is quite good, although on my LH flight FRA-PHX “C” flight last October I would not have been happy if my goal was to get quality sleep. Being a daytime flight on that trip, I was actually not trying to sleep to allow me to get back in time-zone shape when I returned to Los Angeles.

Upon arrival in MUC, I visited the Senator/Business Lounge facility and took a shower. The shower facility is decent, although the bathroom I had was uncomfortably warm. Afterwards I went into the business lounge to surf. Dumb me forgot there were two lounges, so I did not visit the Senator side.

Upon arrival in Ankara late afternoon, my friend greeted me and on the trip to his apartment, mentioned he would probably have to go to Athens the following evening for a couple of nights, on business. He inquired if I wanted to go, and I indicated probably yes, assuming the flight costs were not outrageous. Athens would add a new airport to my list, and give me country number fifty. Ultimately he was able to get a strange business class joint fare for us, which was only marginally larger then a single ticket.

The next morning my buddy and I escaped out of his apartment early before his wife got up and went south of the city to the Or-an Forest for a run. This is a privately owned (by Middle East Technical University) and maintained forest of three to four square miles. It overlooks two attractive lakes (Eymir and Mogan). Later in the morning we went downtown to visit a jeweler to order a custom pendant for my wife and went to my buddy’s office to check e-mail.

I’ve become spoiled by bandwidth. One expects high speed connectivity in an office environment, but in a country such as Turkey tons of cheap wide bandwidth is not guaranteed. My friend runs a regional sales office for a multi-national corporation, and when I visited there were seven people on-line. The best connection they can obtain without causing shareholder value to plummet is 256K, and it is clunky with that number of users. Lotus Notes is their mail client, and the replication demands are great.

After a while we took a drive and ended up at my friend’s barber, as he needed a haircut before heading to Athens on business. I’ve been in Turkish barber shops before, as an observer, but this time I decided to imbibe.

I sat down in the chair and was prepped. However nothing would proceed before all participants (me, the barber, and his apprentice) had a mandatory glass of strong Turkish çay. The locals also needed to inhale (and unfortunately, exhale) a few unfiltered Turkish smokes. Having consumed the tea and the cancer stick, the barber spent a couple of disturbingly long minutes contemplating my head.

During this time I learned the other barber doing my friend’s hair, who is the shop owner, also moonlights as the local “Muhtar”, which is an elected politician akin to an Alderman. His Ward consists of 6,800 constituents scattered over 2,200 apartments in 280 buildings. Responsibilities include registering citizens as they move in or out of the Ward, certifications of good standing, and dealing with local “pot hole” issues. His phone rings off the hook, and people stop in to ask a question or two.

Once the barber recognized his job was to do little more then give me a haircut, he slowly cut with scissors and an electric trimmer the lower half of my hair. Over the next twenty or so minutes he cut slowly, sometimes clipping four or five individual hairs before re-contemplating. He then stopped and repeated the tea and cigarette absolutions, before returning to deliberation on what to do next. After a pause he started combing and brushing my hair, which gave me the impression he was done cutting, ignoring the thick mass on top of my head that had not been clipped. Instead he decided to light my ears on fire.

The barber took a massive Q-Tip and dipped it into some sort of rocket fuel, then lit it, creating some sort of incendiary device. The sucker was burning a bright blue and he ran it close to my ears, singeing any hairs it came in contact with. What was the point of this, apparently to singe any hairs it came in contact with!

After he cleaned up the burned flesh, he then grabbed a straight razor and shaved the back of my neck, so that it was baby behind smooth. Finally he wrapped a towel around my neck and pushed me into the sink, whether for decapitation or a shampoo. I’m happy to report my head is still intact (although my wife would attest to the fact it’s contents are quite loose).

After a partial drying, another tea and smoke, the barber went to work with the scissors on the bush on top of my noggin. The cutting and contemplating his sculpture took another long time, but finally he was satisfied and began blow drying it. Next he extracted an electric massage device and gave me a full back, shoulders and arm massage. Not great by massage standards, but heck, I’m in a barber shop.

After the therapy, the barber threw some mousse on my hair, brushed it again and stopped. Another tea and cigarette break took place and he stated in Turkish, “Sihhatler olsun!” which roughly translates as “May it last for a while or may it be healthy” (which apparently is a carry-over from ancient times when the barber was a blood-letting physician).

My friend settled up with the Alderman/Barber for the total damages which came to a total 14,000,000 TL excluding tips of another 2,500,000TL (exactly $12 grand total for the two of us, and my buddy also got a facial shave with a circa 19th century straight razor).

Turkey and Greece are not the friendliest of neighbors and flying from one capitol to the other is not seemless. There are no non-stops and the 575 miles is a five hour affair (from arriving at Esenboga in Ankara until exiting immigration in Athens). No hassles mind you, just time consuming.

At Esenboga Turkish Airlines-THY has an entirely separate business class building, entitled “CIP” (commercially important persons). Check in is fast and the lounge is large and well furnished. I was a bit surprised how low key the security was, my recollection of four previous flights on THY was one of ultra high security. Was this relaxed attitude only for “CIP’s”?

The last time I was in Istanbul was mid-1999, and the international terminal was under construction. The new terminal is a joy (especially compared to the old dump) with a beautiful CIP lounge and impressive duty free hall. My friend had recently been in Dubai, which has the reputation of duty free paradise, and he thinks IST is just nearly as good, and the prices are lower in Turkey.

We breezed through customs in Athens, and within ten minutes from stepping off the plane, were in a Taxi heading to the city.

To be continued……..

[This message has been edited by Craig6z (edited 10-08-2003).]
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Old Oct 8, 03, 12:26 pm
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<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I flew to Turkey to get the ultimate haircut.</font>
Uh oh. Is there some kind of blocking feature I can use so my son doesn't see the title of this thread? Once T-wiz found out lalala gets her haircut in London, he's held out for haircuts in Madrid and Paris and is getting his next month's cut in London. You FTers can be a very bad influence.
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Old Oct 8, 03, 6:44 pm
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What decadence...

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Old Oct 9, 03, 3:45 am
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Great first instalment, Craig6z - keep 'em coming!
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Old Oct 9, 03, 4:54 am
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Sounds like fun!
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Old Oct 9, 03, 8:21 am
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Well, now I know where to go once my barber retires (again - he's the Michael Jordan of Barbering)...
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Old Oct 9, 03, 11:49 am
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Great trip report!!! I really enjoyed the barbershop story. I had a good laugh after reading of your second delusion "I avoided turning around all flight, to enable the delusion that first class was my private jet ).". I am somewhat saddened about your first delusion in the report "the American President decided he needed higher approval rating". I hope you really don't believe that.

Happy Contrails
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Old Oct 9, 03, 2:16 pm
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I heart Ankara, interesting city, especially if you see it with a local.

As for haircuts, I have one on Oct. 25 at 11:15 with Helmut , anyone want to have lunch at wagamama on beak st. that day, I'm free.

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Old Oct 9, 03, 2:53 pm
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Rats lala, we'll miss you. In fact I'm going to be sending you an email to see if you'd recommend Helmut for Zach. We haven't made an appointment yet.
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Old Oct 9, 03, 10:59 pm
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Athens – Then back to Ankara (At least that was what we attempted)

It was close to midnight when we checked into the Metropolitan Hotel. The following morning (Wednesday) I intended to tour Athens, while my friend conducted business. After breakfast I asked the desk clerk whether someone could arrange a three-hour city tour, and he said it would be too late to jump on to any sort of organized effort. He said he’d make a few calls and ring me up in the room. Around 8:45am he called and said he had someone to do it, but it had to be in the next half hour, due to planned protests around town later in the day.

The previous week all kinds of workers had gone on strikes for a day or two (police, hospital staff, etc.) and today it was the taxi drivers’ turn. There is an election approaching and every interest group was lined up to make their agenda known to the next government. In fact we realized that we had left the airport the night before just in time, as the drivers official protest began just after midnight. The gentleman who would take me on the tour called, we agreed on a price, and then re-emphasized the need to get moving.

The driver picked me up at 9:15 in a tiny Hyundai car, and immediately apologized for the small vehicle. Apparently his larger car was “unavailable” this day. Later I learned the true reason. The guide was actually a car service operator and could not be seen on the streets driving his Mercedes, as it would be looked at by peers as a non show of solidarity with the strike (car service and taxi drivers have the same political agenda). So instead he ran out and rented a small inconspicuous car. For three hours the driver showed me Athens’ sites.

The visit to the Acropolis was abbreviated due to dozens of bus tours. The last couple of days it seemed, the facility had been closed due to protests, and there was pent up tourism demand. When I arrived at the ticket office at least four hundred people (mostly from France) were milling about. A glance up at the monument revealed tons of people looking down at the throngs on the ground. I decided to take some pictures from the base, and walked back to the spot the driver was hiding (he wanted to stay a good distance away from the bus parking, as he knew too many regular bus drivers and they would rat on him). Overall it was an enjoyable tour, but I did not see anything that would motivate me to rush back to Athens and spend additional time touring.

That evening my buddy and his gathered business contacts (Americans, Greeks, Turks, and Israelis) met up at a Taverna about three blocks from the Metropolitan to commiserate on the day’s events. While their business venture appeared to be in stasis, it did not damper the opportunity to over-indulge on appetizers, entrees, and politics. There were seven of us and enough food was ordered for twice as many. We sat outside under a patio cover while a raging thunderstorm ensued. After many rounds of drinks the group parted with solutions to all the outstanding, millenniums old, difficulties in the Middle East.

Our flight back to Istanbul was for 7:45am (the airport was purported to be about 44 kilometers away), but with the taxi strike we had to take a bus the hotel was providing gratis at 5:00am. After a quick check-in and security clearance we were off to the British Airways lounge, which Turkish Airways uses for “CIP’s”. Attractive, but small, we were the only people inside for the first half-hour. Snacks were limited and boring, but they had two new Internet terminals with high-speed access. My curiosity revealed the last person visiting Flyertalk on my terminal, had been there only eight hours earlier.

After arriving in IST we cleared customs and walked over to the domestic terminal. It used to be an agonizing walk from the International to the Domestic facilities, while the years long construction projects ensued, but now the stroll is tolerable. My buddy said his wife continuously whines about the walk, as taking “half an hour”. It took twelve minutes, which appeared to validate my friend’s hypothesis that his wife has no sense of time and place. We walked into the Turkish CIP Lounge which had a “Smoking Only” sign at the door, and promptly learned there was a non-smoking facility about 40 meters away. This non-smoking facility was bright and relatively new looking, compared to the smoking one that was dark and dowdy. A less than subtle message, I mused.

The 45-minute flight to Ankara was very bumpy as we were approaching ESB, and we were maybe 1,000 meters from the ground when we broke through the clouds. A minute later, the pilot made a fairly hard right turn and began gaining altitude. An announcement in Turkish (which my friend thinks he translated correctly) stated the wind was suddenly too strong at the airport, and we would be returning to Istanbul. Based upon landmarks, my friend estimated we were about 7 kilometers from the runway.

Upon landing back at Istanbul we parked out about 200 meters from the terminal (most domestic flights are bussed over to the planes anyhow). After a few minutes a small bus pulled up and I believe one of the pilots got off. Quite a few passengers started walking forward to the business class compartment we were sitting in, telling the chief flight attendant that they wanted off the plane (a 737-400) as they missed their business meetings in Ankara, and the trip would be wasted. People flipped on their cellphones to the dismay of the flight attendants, who were paranoid the plane would explode, as they had already started refueling. Few paid them much advice. My buddy’s wife was called and she said she couldn’t believe that the airline had even taken off, as the wind and rain in Ankara had been terrible all morning and she had been convinced their two meter satellite dish was going to uproot itself and fly off. My gut and flying experience told me the pilot aborted due to wind shear. The storm, later described by the buddy’s office staff, was of the type that affirmed to me wind shear would be possibility.

Fairly quickly a number of passenger busses arrived and a whole bunch of people left. I tried to keep count, but a number of people would get off the plane, walk on to the bus, and then get back on the plane. Best estimate is three dozen finally drove off (there were maybe ten empty seats on the plane originally). After another twenty minutes or so, more busses arrived and it was obvious that they were going to empty the plane. We ended up back in a dreary boarding lounge, where 50% of the remaining people lit up cigarettes under two massive non-smoking signs.

Everyone hates delays. However they are often tolerable if the airport facilities are decent and the airline keeps you informed. I’m used to United’s announcement protocols, which are typically very informative, timely, and relatively truthful. Turkish Airways does not subscribe to this customer service mantra. Despite two gate agents in the lounge there were no announcements, and direct interrogation of these two would reveal they had no clue what or when anything would occur. After about 45 minutes in the lounge, two busses arrived and we got back on (no announcements of course, it was all communicated by telekinesis). Passengers were asked to re-identify luggage set out next to the plane, and after a reasonably short interval we were off to the runway. I’d estimate all told, half the passengers had abandoned efforts to get to Ankara on TK120.

All told, from the early morning exiting of the Athens hotel, to arriving at our car in ESB, time elapsed was ten hours. The joys of vacation travel.

While I’ve been diverted to secondary airports because of weather a couple of times, and have been on aborted landings three times, returning to the originating airport was a first for this roughly two million miles lifetime flyer.

To be continued...

[This message has been edited by Craig6z (edited 10-10-2003).]
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Old Oct 10, 03, 9:09 am
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Great report, that might have been more accurately titled, “A close shave in Ankara”.
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Old Oct 10, 03, 10:02 am
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I've had great haircuts in Thailand, and also in Maldonado, Uruguay. The one in UY only cost me $1.40.
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Old Oct 10, 03, 10:48 am
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Enjoyed this one...great writing style!
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Old Oct 10, 03, 12:34 pm
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I'll second that!
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Old Oct 11, 03, 7:21 pm
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A THY Turkish Airlines plane recently crashed landing in Ankara.
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