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Ancient Empires: Turkey and Greece via Delta One and Open Skies Biz Bed

Ancient Empires: Turkey and Greece via Delta One and Open Skies Biz Bed

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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:16 am
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Ancient Empires: Turkey and Greece via Delta One and Open Skies Biz Bed

Background

Ah the glorious six days between Christmas and New Years. When I was in law school that meant vacation and now that I’m a criminal defense lawyer it still means vacation as there’s very little work done during that week. That’s why every year since 2013 I’ve gone abroad during this time period. In 2013 I went to Nicaragua, 2014 to Madrid, 2015 to Eastern Europe and 2016 to Western Europe. And who would I be to break such a proud tradition? No one, that’s who! Obviously the first question that came to my mind was where to go. I had considered at first another trip to Eastern Europe as I have a plan to visit Helsinki, Riga and Tallinn in one week but it was pointed out to me by none other than my brother James (my oldest and most trusted travel advisor) that it would be frightfully cold and the sun would set early each night. Therefore, I looked farther to the south. Plenty of people had warned me about visiting Turkey because of the terror attacks and general state of unrest under their government. But I’m firmly of the belief that when you stop visiting places that’s how the terrorists win. In addition to Istanbul I figured I could visit the main sights in Athens and one of the Greek Isles.

Putting together the flights was a fairly easy affair for me. Firstly, Delta sold me a combined DL One/KLM Business itinerary for their new “low” rate of 70,000 miles. Secondly, I was able to use AA miles to get home at their much better low rate of 57,500 miles. I wanted to avoid Heathrow and as American rarely releases seats on their own metal these days, I ended up booking a combined Iberia and Open Skies itinerary home. This did require a forced overnight at Orly but it also meant getting to leave Athens in the late afternoon which I much appreciated. I then picked up the internal flights on the cheap so my finalized itinerary looked as follows:

12/25-26 DL C RDU-DTW-AMS, KLM C AMS-IST
12/28 TK Y IST-ATH
12/29 OA Y ATH-RHO-ATH
12/30 IB C ATH-MAD-ORY
12/31 BA C ORY-JFK, DL Y JFK-RDU

This trip was all set to be a usual CMK10 affair: a couple days on the ground in each city and a whirlwind of activities and much walking when potential disaster struck in the form of a pissing match. I’m not sure who started it, but the egotistical President of Turkey and the equally egotistical President of the United States got into a spat over basically nothing. I had stupidly neglected to get my E-Visa in advance and all of a sudden back in October no more Visas were being issued. I considered abandoning the trip or changing things but something told me to stay the course. Then in early December news filtered out that Turkey would issue visas at their consulates or embassies. I was able to get an appointment for December 21st which meant a $465 coach round trip ticket from RDU-NYC (ouch) and paying $160 for an in person Visa instead of $20 for an E-Visa (double ouch). Still, I got the Visa and would be able to make the trip. Though just to really give me the middle finger, the dispute was resolved on December 28 and now everything is fine again.

Anyway, onto the trip. As always feel free to skip around as you like as this will be a long one.

Christmas Day

My girlfriend is Puerto Rican which meant we first celebrated Nochebuena on Christmas Eve. We then spent the better part of the evening building Barbie’s Dream House for her five year old daughter. It took hours and of course the next morning we were woken up to “Santa brought me a house!”. Yes…Santa



Still, she was happy and that’s all that matters. And the benefit to the routing I’d put together was that I didn’t have to catch my first flight until 5 PM which meant we could have a lovely Christmas Day.

DL 6287 RDU-DTW 1708-1909 CRJ-700





RDU really goes all out with its Christmas tree. They had put away their menorah (which is far less fancy) by this time though.



After a quick check in I was free to enjoy the Skyclub





Which is a very pleasant place to spend a few minutes. They have a good local beer on tap and as it was December I was able to show my Delta Amex and get two free top shelf drinks. Merry Christmas indeed.




And of course I was dressed in my best because I’m me and it’s my thing.









Personally I’d prefer a little mainline action on this route but at least I got a single seat side this way.





Being as this was Delta we loaded up quickly and were also able to enjoy a PDB a piece as boarding commenced.





The flight was a fairly nondescript one. Beverages of choice and the snack basket (which due to a lack of catering at RDU was filled mainly with breakfast items) and an on time arrival into snowy DTW. The snow worried me as A. It wasn’t supposed to still be snowing and B. I had a connection in AMS that was tighter than a snare drum.

DL 138 DTW-AMS 2040-1025 (+1) A-330-300





I knew I’d have to make my way over to the main concourse eventually by why not first visit the B/C Skyclub?





As you can see it was a very pleasant place to relax and for the nostalgic among us, it still feels very Northwest-y.





They also had self pour liquor and a few decent food options such as the pasta pictured as well as soup and some cold options.







I still had time to pop into the main A Concourse Club for a few minutes. It also still looks as it did when this was a Northwest hub.





Once at the gate it took some doing to push my way through the massive crowds waiting to board what would be a surprisingly full flight for Christmas Day.



I had been very much looking forward to this flight. I’ve flown Delta One previously from Asia as well as Domestically and I enjoyed both flights. Plus, Reverse Herringbone is a good way to cross the Atlantic.



I was also touched to see this note from the purser. Said purser also came over to each passenger and handed out menus and introduced herself to each passenger.











The amenity kit was handed out too and as you can see it’s one of the better ones. Not only is the case of a nice design but the contents are excellent. There’s even a pen!



PDBs of water, OJ or sparkling wine were offered and I overheard the passenger in 3A asking for a beer which was accommodated.



Here’s to a great trip





Meanwhile, the weather I’d mentioned earlier was still causing problems. Between the snow and the fact that it was Christmas cargo loading was slow going which led to a delayed departure. We also obviously had to deice which when you’re an A-330 takes quite some time. This meant that we took off at 10:03 PM on a flight with a scheduled departure of 8:40 PM which put my scheduled 65 minute connection in serious doubt.







Once we took off the service started. Our flying time was only going to be 6 hours 55 minutes so I was hoping for a quick dinner and then a snooze. However, as in their infinite wisdom Delta provisioned the flight with only one flight attendant per aisle, it was very slow going. The f/a working my aisle while very friendly, was overwhelmed and somewhat scatterbrained. When I asked for the Delta Sunrise Cocktail (Cranappple, Bombay Sapphire and ginger ale) she asked “is that the one with the tequila?













The menu was also somewhat uninspiring.



Meanwhile, after 45 minutes I finally got my first tray. The soup was decent enough and the Charcuterie especially tasty but I still don’t understand Delta’s obsession with overly fancy salads. They don’t lend themselves well to being served on airplanes and while they look nice the execution is quite lacking.



Finally at long last the entrée. At this point it had been nearly 90 minutes since we took off. Don’t get me wrong I do like the premium cabin experience where one gets to linger over their meal and dine as they wish but on this flight I wanted to dine quickly then sleep. Also, because of the poor service there were no bread refills or wine with dinner. The chicken was decent enough at least but as I said earlier: uninspired.



Now this part was at least complaint free. Oh wait except for the fact that it had now been two and a half hours since we took off and I was onto my second movie. That and the fact that when I asked for Port the flight attendant didn’t know what that was.



Once I had the seat in flat bed mode I was able to enjoy a few hours sleep. This really is one of the best designed Business Class seats on the market though I do wish Delta would provide a second pillow.





When I awoke we were 50 minutes from landing and breakfast service was underway. However, despite putting my seat upright, turning on my light and taking out my tray table no one asked me if I wanted anything to eat or drink. I suppose I could have rang the call bell but I don’t feel I should have had to. Overall outside the seat this ended up being a disappointing flight. And I say that as someone who really likes Delta so this was doubly disappointing.



The chocolate mints I was handed by the purser ended up being breakfast.

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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:19 am
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KL 1613 AMS-IST 1130-1655 737-700

When we docked I had exactly 27 minutes to make my next flight. We came into the end of the D Concourse and I knew I’d have to go to the second finger of it which meant a fairly long walk. While briskly striding towards my next gate I happened upon a departure monitor which announced to my infinite glee that the flight to IST would be delayed an hour. Not only did this mean I could slow down my pace but I’d even have time for a little lounging.







My options were either the KLM 52 Lounge which was located a fairly long walk away or the Aspire Lounge which accepts Priority Pass. KLM’s second Crown Lounge is behind passport control inside the Schengen Area so it wasn’t an option.



The lounge was crowded and a shower would have cost me 17.50 Euros but it beat the gate.



Maybe I should have paid for that shower…




Plus there was much to see. Food options were better than the average PP lounge: they had a rice dish, a soup, a number of cold cuts and cheese and rolls and an okay liquor selection. As I hadn’t eaten this morning I was glad to be able to make a sandwich and have a coffee.







A long walk to the bowels of the D Concourse and I found my 737-700 waiting to take me to IST.







While Euro Business may have some benefits over First Class in the US (meals on shorter flights, better wine), this would not be the most comfortable way to fly 1,376 miles. Joining me up front was a KLM crew member and fourteen members of the same family. I ended up feeling like a bit of an outsider among them but at least as they were devout Muslims, they wouldn’t be hogging the beer supply.



The 333 that brought me in is the far one.







Oh this is another benefit to Euro Business…real curtains!











Ah yes there’s the beer I mentioned earlier.





Today was a flight where you were glad to be by the window. It seemed every two minutes a plane would fly by us near enough to make out which airline it was.



I’m used to shorter KLM flights where the meal is a cold sandwich and I was afraid I’d have more of the same on this flight. However this was a rare time I was glad to be wrong as we had a choice of two hot options (or hoptions if you will). The pasta was actually quite good though it could have done with some form of sauce.





The descent took us over the city of Istanbul and gave those of us in the window seats some amazing views.







This all made me very excited to be spending time here. We even flew over my hotel and I was able to see the walks I’d be taking the next couple of days.







Istanbul

With all the issues I’d had obtaining a Visa and of course the fact that Turkey and America were pulling them out and wagging them at each other I had prepared for a lengthy detention at the border. Instead I was treated to a bored officer glancing at my Visa, arching an eyebrow at me and then stamping it and waving me through. This was a relief but I had all that pent up righteous indignation that felt wasted.



I took a cab to my hotel, the Intercontinental, which gave me my first taste of Turkish driving. I have never seen anything like it. No signals, sudden turns, driving on sidewalks and curbs, cars flying from every direction but miraculously, no accidents. It was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time but best of a all a bargain at only 80 Turkish Lira (~$22) to go the fifteen miles or so to the IC.







Of course due to security concerns the cab had to be inspected for bombs and I had to pass through a metal detector before I could approach the front desk of the hotel. Once there the agent remarked that as I had booked a Club Room I should take the elevator up to the 16th floor and check in there and my baggage would be delivered to my room. When I reached the 16th floor the agent was expecting me. She had actually called me the day before to ask if anything special should be made ready for me and to ask my arrival time. She was only one of many staff members who went out of their way to take care of me. I’ve never received a level of service like I did in this hotel. Everyone knew who I was and addressed me as Mr. Kunz. Even me, a person who thrives on attention found it at times a little much but I’d always rather have that than too little attention.







My room was on the 17th floor and like many an IC room, was a little dated. They must have a surplus of 1970s era carpets and wood furnishings somewhere that they keep stocking hotels like this and the IC Bucharest with.



The best technology 1990 had to offer!





My favorite thing about upscale hotels is you get a spacious bathroom.



A little welcome amenity.



Before heading out to dinner I popped down to the lounge. They do breakfast from 6:30 to 10:30, drinks and appetizers from 5 to 7 and otherwise it’s open for coffee, tea and soft drinks. I just wanted a Coke and a chance to catch up on emails but of course two people hustled over and asked me if they could make me coffee or tea.





The hotel is nicely located next to Taksim Square and its adjacent nightlife. This was a great place to stroll and acclimate myself to Turkey. Plus finding dinner would be no trouble.





A mile away was this place and I enjoyed delicious lamb, hummus and of course a couple tall Efes Beers before calling it a night.





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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:22 am
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The next day dawned late but beautiful. One of the best parts of being here was I’d get days of 60 degrees and sun while everyone back in America froze and whined about it on Facebook. Me 1, them 0!



I love starting my day with a lounge breakfast. The spread was mainly limited to cold items but they also had eggs, sausage and a rice dish plus some really good coffee. And then it was time to walk.



Don’t worry, you can’t possibly forget who’s President here…not anymore anyway.





I walked a mile and hopped on the light rail which took me to the old town where I’d be spending most of my day. Public transit in Istanbul is fabulous as they have a Metro, light rail and a lot of buses all of which run frequently and if you get the Istanbulkart are really cheap.





If you know me you know I love trains (hence all my trip reports about train trips) so my natural first stop was the old Sirkeci Railway Station which used to be the eastern terminus of the Orient Express (it’s even featured in “From Russia With Love”). It’s not much to look at anymore but still…history and all. From there it was time to walk over towards Topkopi Palace with a stop at the Archeological Museum on the way.



Note ever present pretzel vendor, I swear Istanbul has as many of these as New York.







The museum is absolutely worth a visit. They have an indoor and an outdoor portion and unlike some of the bigger sights around here, it’s not very crowded.





Amazing what can stand the test of time isn’t it?



Meanwhile outside there are a number of ruins that apparently didn’t make the cut and are just abandoned next to the sidewalk.



Topkopi was next and it would be quite crowded. I absolutely recommend getting a Museum Pass. They’re 85 Turkish Lira and get you into this, the archeological museum and the Hagia Sophia as well as several other sights and you can skip the giant lines to buy tickets to get in.





Now this was a place to be. Beautiful, well preserved buildings and grounds and a lot of history from when it was the palace of the Sultans. They have a bunch of relics of the Prophet Mohammed including his (alleged) beard.





The detail work inside the various rooms is stunning and unbelievably well preserved.



Harem eh? I suppose it’s not cheating if it’s cultural.





I do recommend getting the more expensive ticket (or Museum Pass) and also seeing the Harem areas.









Sure beats my apartment!



Another incredible ceiling.



Ugh parents always lie and claim they don’t have any favorites among their children BUT THEY TOTALLY DO!





After this I was on my way to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque when I stumbled upon the Tomb of the Sultans. I saw a sign saying “admission: free” and decided I should get my money’s worth. It ended up being one of those wonderful moments you get when you take trips. I visited these intricate tombs with people who prayed to the Sultans. Watching and hearing them pray was absolutely fascinating and worth the visit…and taking my shoes off.



Hello Hagia, I’ll be back for you later.





The Blue Mosque would come first.



I don’t know if I want to belong to a religion that makes me wear pants.





The inside was incredible, absolutely one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been inside. My timing was good too, as they were going to start worship in 10 minutes they limited access right after I arrived so it wasn’t too crowded.



Turkey: Land of A Thousand Amazing Ceilings





Devout Muslims really get into their whole prayer spiel. It’s very visual.



My lone bad moment of the day came when a tout followed me for half a mile begging me to come visit his shop. The guy was so bad at taking no for an answer I hear the MeToo Movement has him on their radar. But at last I escaped to the Hagia Sophia.





As you can see this was another amazing building (with you guessed it…great ceilings) which was slightly tempered by the ongoing construction. Still, saying it was built in 537 AD a little spit and polish every now and then is probably a good thing.









But baby…it’s not what it looks like! Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to block the door, we’ll move over here.



The grounds were very enjoyable to stroll around too, especially in this weather. Believe me I was not regretting being in Finland.



Let’s keep this 6th Century Party Going! And as most museums were around $5 to get in I figured why not see em all?





The big draw, in addition to it being a 1600 year old sewer system, is their Medusa columns. They were quite…hair raising. AHAHAHA.



And now for a little lunch. I decided to go one street over from the pedestrian thoroughfare which connected the Hagia Sophia to the Basilica so I didn’t eat anywhere where a waiter stood on the sidewalk and tried to talk me into coming inside and man was I glad I did.





Lamb and hummus at every meal is a surefire ticket to success. I had the restaurant practically to myself and ended up having a fascinating conversation with the waiter who bemoaned his government for scaring off Americans. This was my 5th trip abroad since Donald Trump was elected and Turkey is the first place I visited where locals didn’t interrogate me about him but instead gave me a “I get where you’re coming from” talk as their leader is also prone to tantrums and doesn’t understand diplomacy.



Next up would be a pleasant walk to the bazaar. In addition to having good public transport, Istanbul is wonderfully walkable.





In a world without constants, at least there is still Constantine.



Typically when traveling in Europe I have a rule “if you pass a church, stop in” so in Turkey I adapted this to “if you pass a mosque, stop in”. This was a good rule.



Though it made me wish I’d brought slip on shoes.



Next up, the bazaar. As much as my feet were starting to hurt by this point, it was an absolute gas walking around the various halls, people watching, smelling the food and spices and checking out the wares.







My next stop would be the Spice Market which meant a great walk through the labyrinth of shops between the two.







Ahhh I wish I knew how to cook so I would know which of these to buy.



Afterwards I took a rest outside and watched two of the many stray cats in the city having a palaver.



After my legs got feeling back into them I headed for Galata Tower (it’s the giant pencil looking thing) just across the pictured Galata Bridge



While all the time planes flew over me in the gorgeous sunlight…it was a great day.







Once I got to the tower there was a long line to get in and I decided I was in no mood for lines so I put it on my to do list for the next day.



Instead I relaxed outside with the ubiquitous Turkish Tea I’d seen everyone drinking all day.





After a quick subway ride I was back at my hotel in time for a late afternoon rest.





There was plenty to enjoy out my window as I caught up on work emails which left me very grateful the IC had upgraded me to a sea view. Incidentally, remember earlier when I was waxing on about the service? There were so many little touches that impressed me.



Like neatly arranging my bathroom things for me.



After stopping into the lounge for a snack and a beer (they only had beer and wine for drinks which was a little annoying but there it is) I headed back down Istiklal Avenue in search of noms.



I chose No. 19 Dining which ended up being a real treat.



Ah yes sir, table for one?





The restaurant is actually family style and not in the overused phrase way but in the a guy cooks a bunch of Turkish dishes and doles you out some portions. I told him I’d never been to Turkey before so he served me a couple of vegetable sides and meatballs wrapped in eggplant. It was delicious I just wish I’d known it was BYOB before I got there!





Afterwards I hit up a famous spot for some baklava and Turkish Coffee. Incidentally, I’m convinced no one actually likes Turkish Coffee. I think someone served people used grounds and hot water and claimed it was Turkish and the idea just caught on because wow is it vile.



Lastly I took in a nightcap at the bar on the top floor of the Intercontinental. It was pricy (a double Glenfiddich came out to about $40) but what the hell, it was an experience and a great way to end a great day.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:24 am
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The next morning I got up with the sun (less impressive when you realize that it rose at about 8 but I never met a literary phrase I wouldn’t employ) to maximize my last day. My plan was to hit up a few last places on the European side then venture over to the Asian side and see what was there.





Today there was no line at Galata Tower (hooray!) so I headed up for the views. I wasn’t here in time for Sunset but hey, you can’t beat em can you?







I’m typically “blessed” with terrible weather on my trips so the second in a row lovely day thrilled me to no end.



I hadn’t hit the New Mosque the day before so I rode the Light Rail back across the bridge to visit it. I’d like to mention that as someone whose curse is picking the wrong exit from transit systems it was really nice to be in Istanbul where it’s signed so well even I went the right way. Unfortunately, the New Mosque is currently being remodeled inside and the construction has placed temporary ceilings at about ten feet so it wasn’t worth seeing. Oh well, off to the Asia side.





I wasn’t going to have time for the standard Bosporus Cruise but a ferry ride would at least give me a taste of that fun.





Not sure I should be reading this book on a boat though.











Once across I hopped on a bus that took me to my first stop: Karacaahmet Cemetery.





I had a nice walk here in the shade among the many graves. I enjoy urban cemeteries from an archeological and a historical prospective so I always try to see them when traveling in big cities.



My next stop was Beylerbeyi Park which is right next to Beylerbeyi Palace. It gave me excellent views of the European side and also the fun feeling that I was standing in one continent looking at another.









I was also on hand to witness a high level talk designed to ease the species tensions.



I had wanted to visit Beylerberi Palace but it was annoyingly closed for renovations (something of an accidental theme on this trip) so I contented myself with a walk around its grounds.







Another bus ride took me up to the Anatolian Fortress, a 14th Century Fortress positioned at the narrowest part of the Bosporus.





But more importantly it took me near some restaurants for a much needed lunch.





After all the red meat, seafood was a nice change of pace. It did end up being a little complicated though as not many people seem to speak English on the Asian side so the waiter and I pantomimed our way through ordering but it all worked out.



After I got back to my hotel (thanks to a cheap and comfortable Uber) I checked out of my room (the latest check out they’d give me was 3 PM) and headed to the Pera Palace Hotel for dessert and coffee while I finished my book.



The hotel not only has a lovely brasserie but they have a lot of history inside their gorgeous walls, legend has it Agatha Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express” here. With that ending my trip on a sweet note, I headed back to the IC ride and one white knuckled cab ride later, I was back at IST.

TK 1843 IST-ATH 2020-2045 A-321



IST is a pain now to use if you’re starting here. The near curb is blocked off (and to get to it you go through a vehicle checkpoint) and there’s now a security checkpoint with metal detectors just inside the doors, before you can even check in. Thankfully I had made sure to arrive with plenty of time.





Inside was absolute chaos too as there were too few Turkish employees on hand to deal with all the passengers. Thankfully neither passport control nor the second security checkpoint took too much time and I could blissfully find refuge in the lounge.



I do like being in big international airports and seeing all the different destinations one can fly to. If any picture could capture wanderlust, it’s one like this.



Ahh, don’t mind if I do. I’m probably the only FTer who isn’t Star Gold but thankfully my United Club membership gets me into Star lounges when I’m flying Star.



I’d always wanted to stop in here and I admit to being a little overwhelmed at first. The lounge was a massive, sprawling place that was unfortunately a little crowded. I decided to drop my bags at the first seat I found and then walk around.



I quickly found that food wasn’t in a centralized area but that there were numerous stands throughout the lounge where it could be found.





The Turkish flat bread station was my favorite.





Liquor was a little worse than I was expecting (JW Red? For shame!) but when it came to soft drinks they really exceled. Bitter Lemon for the win!







I was eventually able to put together a decent dinner which is a ringing endorsement for a lounge. Overall though I was less impressed than I’d expected to be. I couldn’t find an outlet for one. For another no one told me how the wifi worked



Eventually I realized you had to scan your BP at a kiosk which spit you out a code. Still, at this crowded an airport it absolutely beat the gate so I wasn’t complaining too much.



Especially when I got to my gate. Which was of course followed by a horrible free for all boarding and then a crowded bus ride because Europe.



That man’s face is all of us.



I’m super jealous, my brother’s initials are in that registration, that never happens to me and I actually track the various tail numbers I fly!



Rear air stair boarding? Don’t mind if I do!







When I got to my seat I found a woman in it pretending to be asleep. I announced I had 16A and she gave me a glare that would melt paint and then moved over to the middle seat. Nice try though.



Goodbye and thank you, Istanbul! You were a delight.



We got a meal! This flight is 335 miles, the equivalent of LAX-SFO, so I was very surprised and delighted.



We also got in on time which I much appreciated as I was very tired and had an early wake up the next day.

Athens





I decided to experiment with Uber which meant having to meet my driver inside the short term parking lot in the rain (which was not much fun) but it did mean a 29 Euro ride downtown and as ATH is quite far from Athens itself, that part I liked.





Unlike the IC Istanbul, the IC Athens is a very modern hotel, something I rarely find at ICs. Sadly, the service here was not on the same level as it had been in Istanbul. At the IC Istanbul they didn’t ask if I wanted help with my bags, they immediately took them. At this hotel I was asked and it was in a tone where it was clear they’d prefer me to say no. On the plus sides I was told my room had been upgraded from Superior to Deluxe (whatever that means) and I got a late check out.











I was impressed by the local bath products though. They made a nice change from the standard IC stuff.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:26 am
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OA 204 ATH-RHO 0900-1000 A-320



The next morning I was up early to head right back to ATH. My research had told me that Athens could be done in a day so I decided to also spend a day on one of the Greek Isles. I figured Rhodes would be a colossal (zing) amount of fun.





After the chaos of IST, the quietness of ATH was a relief. I had bought my ticket from the Aegean website but I ended up being ticketed on Olympic. I was worried this would cost me use of the A3 Lounge but thankfully it did not.









All I’d known about Aegean beforehand was that a lot of people used status matches to them for free, undeserved lounge access on United flights. Their lounge was very comfortable and my stay there was a nice one. Their fleet of mainly A-320s sure is boring though but hey, it’s Europe.





After a short Cobus ride we were deposited at our A-320.



Which looked the same inside as every other Euro-320. Though the Aegean crew was very friendly. While we were boarding they handed out mints to everyone and were smiling and seemingly happy to be working.



My window was annoyingly tarnished today which ruined any good views.





Once in the air we all got drinks and snacky cakes and despite this flight being 40 minutes long…drink REFILLS! Not bad for the subsidiary of a forgotten Star carrier.



Unfortunately, my good weather streak would be broken and in the one place I had really wanted clear skies and plenty of sun.







Welcome to Rhodes.

Rhodes

My research had shown me that the island was somewhat spread out and that while there were buses, I figured a rental car was a better way to go. Thankfully Enterprise was willing to rent me an automatic car with a GPS for 58 Euros which wasn’t awful for one day.



I had never driven in Europe before but I’m a smart guy so once I learned they drove on the correct side of the road I figured how hard could it be?



My first stop would be Rhodes city itself and its old town. I figured it was best just to park near it and walk around.





The highlight of this would be the Palace of the Grand Masters who behind I had parked near. I walked around to the front which took me along the shore.





This sure would have looked GREAT in the sunshine. LE SIGH!



One of the fun parts of being in Greece is there are ruins seemingly on every corner.







Now THIS is how a Palace should look!





In Turkey I had awesome ceilings, in Greece I have awesome floors!



I was not expecting to find Gothic architecture in Greece but obviously I was not complaining. Plus, it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Note.



I’m a little disappointed their moat wasn’t filled in though, being as I was at an actual castle. After that I got back in my little car and drove up the coast. Despite the weather I decided to stop at a beach along the way and being a big classic movie fan, what better spot than Anthony Quinn Bay?





Ah hell, it’s still beautiful. It was here that I realized that Rhodes was kind of deserted in the winter as I had this place completely to myself and I saw very few cars on the road.







Bet it would be fun here in the summer.



The drive was mainly devoid of other cars but I did have to dodge the occasional goat.





My next stop was Lindos, a picturesque little town which I planned to explore and find lunch in. My hopes for the second were quickly dashed when it turned out I had the whole place to myself.



There were numerous restaurants but they were all closed. Apparently nothing goes on here in the winter. At least I had a pleasant walk.







I also visited their beach which again I had to myself and then went to the back side of their Acropolis which sits on top of that gorgeous cliff. I figured if I drove back towards the airport I might find lunch.



Halfway there I stumbled upon a rare open business. Plus The Alabama Sports Bar? On Rhodes? This I had to see. Once inside I asked where their name came from and the ex-patriot Irish owners told me “because of the song Sweet Home Alabama” in a voice that implied I was the dumbest person on earth for not realizing this though frankly this just raised more questions than it answered.



Their website said they had a full menu but when I asked for food they told me they didn’t bother with a kitchen from October to March and no one was on the island. In fact they were very confused why I was there. They did invite me to come back for karaoke that night though. So with just a beer and a snack mix in my system I got back on the road.



I got back to the airport and decided to venture on the main road back towards Rhodes city. A few miles away I saw this place and it was open.





As it turned out, I was so glad I waited. The restaurant sold fresh caught fish and then cooked it on the spot for you.



Therefore I ended up with a giant piece of delicious salmon, rice, fried bread and a beer for less than ten Euros. This made the trip to Rhodes absolutely worth it. Though I did have to stop eating to take a call from a sex worker client who was convinced her landlord was sneaking into her apartment and setting fire to her clothes, but that’s the life I signed up for.

OA 217 RHO-ATH 1850-1950



I proudly returned my car dent free (though my wallet took a dent when three gallons of gas cost me about 25 Euros) and entered RHO which, surprise surprise, was deserted. During the summer months the lounge boosts two Priority Pass lounges but this time of year it was just me in a crappy seat.





Most airlines only fly here seasonally.





Because it was raining they insisted on busing us the 200 feet to our plane.



Which nicely was not the same plane as this morning, I hate tail number repeats in my log.





This flight ended up being 100% full and I have absolutely no idea who these people were or what they were doing in Rhodes besides not eating anything.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:29 am
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Athens Part II

After a restful sleep I got up ready to maximize my morning and early afternoon before flying onto Paris. I hadn’t seen the point of going for a Club rate this time and I decided not to bother with the 30 Euro breakfast in the restaurant so after fortifying myself with a granola bar and in room coffee I hit the streets.





My hotel was about a mile from the main sights and the walk up there was fairly lame. Outside the ancient Greek stuff Athens is a fairly forgettable city.



Though again, there were seemingly ruins around every corner.



You know, Greek stuff yada yada.



I wanted to hit the Acropolis Museum before the crowds so I decided to start there.





I wasn’t aware photography was prohibited and I got yelled at for taking this picture so make sure you REALLY enjoy it so it’s worth the dressing down I got.



Their collection was outstanding and I could have spent far longer inside admiring each piece of art but I had my sights set somewhere else



To the Acropolis! The sole expensive attraction I saw all trip!



After an arduous climb (at least for me whose life of excess and drinking beers with lunch have led to him being very out of shape).



But the views made it worth it. So very worth it. Incidentally somewhere down there is Mars Hill site of the first ever Supreme Court.



Unlike Rhodes I was sharing Athens with seemingly every tourist in western Europe.





The Parthenon is under construction but saying it’s older than dirt I think we can forgive them for having to fix it up a little.





More modern Athens isn’t quite as much to look at but I still enjoyed being above everything reveling in the sunlight and enjoying my morning.









One of the hardest parts about travel photography is getting an unfurled flag shot.







Well that was fun, just gotta push through all the other tourists and I can move along to my next spot.





You should always see a city’s parks so I headed for the nearby National Garden where I ran into my old enemy, Lord Byron, who was a big factor in my getting a C in a college English course. I still hate him.





The park was lovely though and sparsely populated.





Hadrian’s Arch looks a little out of place with a bus behind it but it’s still impressive.



Speaking of, this was the Temple of Zeus when Hadrian reigned. I don’t think they had the moon back then though.





My last stop was the fascinating First Athens Cemetery. It’s 200 years old (old for the US, not for Greece) and the architecture inside and the use of space was really interesting.





How Third Man . Anyway, when I said “last stop” I meant before lunch. I found a café nearby that wasn’t too touristy and settled in for a lunch.





Not bad for a mere 15 Euros. After all the rice in Turkey it was nice to mix things up with some pasta.



A brisk walk back and a quick rest because once again I had put my poor body through rigors it wasn’t used to and then it was time to say goodbye to Greece and start making my way home to responsibilities. Blah.

IB 3151 ATH-MAD 1555-1840 A-320







I was happy to find ATH once again fairly deserted. I was not so happy to find that the plane was going to be late coming in and therefore we were going to be delayed. I had another tight 65 minute connection and I really didn’t want to worry about another missed flight.



IB uses one of those Everyone and Their Mother lounges at ATH that takes all the non Star airlines plus PP and even Diners Club (?).





It was about what you’d expect on the inside though at least their wifi worked fairly well.



Iberia did a quick turn around and I was settled into my uncomfortably thin Euro Business seat far earlier than I’d expected to. In fact we left only 24 minutes late which meant I was no longer too worried about my connection.



EK: Fly us to EWR, it’ll piss off Delta. Come on you KNOW you want to.





Aegean has such a boring fleet. Would it kill them to get a 737 or something? Anyway, back to the flight.







Ahhh that’ll make up for the lack of IFE and Wifi being as this is Europe.



As I’ve come to expect with Iberia, at least on short haul flights, I got a decent meal. There were no menu cards which was odd but we were told the options were chicken or pasta. Plus they have Mahou, my preferred Spanish beer.



And I do love their little coffee set up. After this though the flight attendants disappeared to the galley, something they do the world over.





Today we’d fly into the sunset which is always a treat for the travel photographer, particular one who enjoys sunsets as much as I do.





Purple Haze, up in my brain.





Our arrival of only 15 minutes behind schedule meant there would be no connection issues. Especially when it turned out the same plane would be taking me onto ORY.

IB 3400 MAD-ORY 1945-2145 A-320





I even had enough time to hit up a lounge, though the Dali Lounge at MAD is not at all worth getting excited over.



While it’s comfortable enough the food options are utterly bizarre





Most are found in a cold case and are similar to what you’d buy at a no name coffee shop.



Plus some of the furniture is in dire need of replacement. But hey, it beat the gate I guess.





Once back on board I was amused to take part in a true Euro Business Class experience. From ATH-MAD our cabin was just 3 rows and I was in the last row. From MAD-ORY the cabin would be 5 rows and now I was in row 4 and it was the second last row.



Yay we got menus this time and as I’d just had the chicken I decided to go with the pasta.



Which was a very good choice. The flight crew on this flight were different ones from the last flight and were more helpful. The flight was also lightning quick and we arrived 20 minutes early which in non schedule padded Europe is very rare.

Paris



I was staying at the Hilton ORY which is nicely connected via shuttle bus to the airport. Or was nicely connected I should say. When I arrived at the hotel I saw a sign on the desk saying as of 12 Noon on December 31st the hotel was ceasing to be. After four decades in operation the hotel was closing and was going to be demolished and replaced by a TGV rail station. The front desk agent was very sad about it.







However after about ten seconds in my decidedly un Hilton room, which was far too hot but whose air conditioning didn’t work, I could see that the world would not be a worse place without this property. Some of the newer Ibis ones by the airport are far better options I imagine. My dad also told me he used to stay here in the 90s and how it was dated even then.





They did have truly amazing murals to eat breakfast by.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:31 am
  #7  
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BA 8005 ORY-JFK 1045-1325 757-200





The other passenger in the shuttle with me was a long time hotel guest and the driver gave him kisses on both cheeks. I think as a Diamond guest I’m entitled to such things too but never mind.





Orly is an absolute dump now just like it was in the 1990s when American airlines were forced to use it. But still, I got to try a new product and one that’s about to disappear so who cares? And I love 757s and they’re also about to disappear so good times all around right? Right.



They sure take advantage of technology here. Why print important information on a boarding pass when you can just handwrite it? Also note that I got SSSSed, possibly because of my visit to Turkey.



Security wasn’t too bad but man this gate area sure was. Thankfully I’d get to go to the lounge.



Which was in the basement next to the bathrooms. Charming.







It wasn’t too bad and they had decent coffee so there was that.



And there were airplane views.





I presented myself to the gate early to get my screening out of the way. It ended up not being too bad, a brief pat down (that was barely arousing the guy groped me so little) and then explosive swabs on my bag and I was done. After that we were all herded from one hold room to another while the aircraft was cleaned and catered.



Hardly very premium now is it?



Once on board I made the celebrated left turn into the forward Business Class (known here as “Biz Bed”) cabin where I would be sitting. The seats are essentially the same as BA’s normal Club World seats which while outmoded, are really good for day time flights.







And they all feature direct aisle access!





Having plenty of windows would be nice for the day time flight too.



The plane was 26 years old and looking like it. It started out with Condor and still had placards in German in fact.



One complaint is that you stare right into the face of the person next to you. The person next to me turned out to be a seven year old girl whose mother and sister were across the aisle and whose father was two rows up. While we were on the ground one of the crew asked if I’d switch with the father whose seat, 1D, “was the exact same as yours”. Well actually no it isn’t, it’s an aisle. I declined because of that and the mother came over, told the flight attendant to stop bothering me and then profusely apologized as she hadn’t asked the f/a to ask me to switch. As it turned out the 7 year old was very well behaved and a perfect seatmate.



The halfway decent amenity kit was passed out on the ground along with my first of many New Years Champagnes.





Merry New Year!





As I was sitting backwards we pushed forward then took off back which is a strange sensation but once in the air you can’t tell which way you’re going and I did love my view of the massive engine and wing.





A bit hazy but I was glad I could pick out the Eiffel Tower and less glad I could also see Montparnasse Tower.



Once I could recline a bit and put my feet up on the ottoman I was as comfortable as I could be. While I like a lot of flat bed seats, many of them don’t have a good cradle position. This seat absolutely did.





Negative points are given to the IFE option which was an older generation iPad with very few movies and shows loaded onto it. You put it in a weird holder that hangs above your tray table.



Menus were passed out late, let’s see if they were worth the wait.









Hmm fairly promising.



I switched to Kir Royales which was a great choice as the crew made a really good one. The fish appetizer was a good choice too as it was fresh and tasty and who wants a salad when the fish also comes with a salad?



Unlike Delta there were bread and drink refills and this chicken dish was also great.



Negative points for the lack of Port on the airline but otherwise the food was surprisingly good. Between that and the seat I was very happy to be on the flight. The crew on the other hand was pretty bad. They were obviously in bad moods and spent as much time as possible back in the galley.



They did leave us a few nibbles up by their curtained off little fort at least.





A mid flight walk gave me an idea of how things looked in the other two cabins. The PEY product looked very US Domestic First and coach looked like…well coach.





After a two and a half hour nap in the not terrible flat bed mode I woke up to chocolates, champagne and land fall.



And in time for a fairly decent second meal. I would have liked scones and clotted cream and jam but this was better than expected. Open Skies definitely delighted me more than disappointed me and that is not at all what I expected!



Oh boy it looks cold down there, maybe leaving Greece wasn’t so smart.



After eight hours of flying we finally entered New York airspace and flew right over ISP on our way into Kennedy.



This beach is so cold on winter’s afternoon. Once we landed I braced myself for the worst. I’d heard stories that would make my remaining hairs curl over what US CBP did to people who’d visited Turkey, hell two of my own brothers dealt with it, but as it turned out no one cared where I’d been or who I was (which was eerily similar to how the girls in high school felt) and I was on the curb 12 minutes after we docked at the gate.



DL 4243 JFK-RDU 1928-2135 CRJ-900

When I booked this trip I was not happy to find out there were no midday JFK-RDU flights on any of the airlines (AA, B6, DL) who fly the route. So I was stuck with a six hour layover waiting on the earliest flight which was Delta’s.



Thanks for the ride! Now take me to where the good planes hang out.



Now we’re talking! I can’t believe I have to get on some garbage regional jet though.





As lame as US aviation may be, it was nice to have Precheck again.





A long walk later and I was at the Skyclub. The agent there and I looked at any possible earlier ways to get me home but none short of going to LGA (ehhhhhhhhhh) existed. So I settled in for the long haul.



Still, there are worse places to camp out, and I did get to watch the NY Giants win their magical third game of the year.







And there was much to see if you’re like me and you enjoy spotting.



Shame the Skydeck was closed. I was able to make dinner out of the grilled chicken and rice and corn they had on offer to complement their usual soup options.





After day turned to night (not something I enjoy experiencing from a domestic lounge) I made my way to the farthest gate for the flight to RDU. As this gate is across from the Jitney stop (Delta calls their inter-terminal buses “Jitneys”…it’s stupid) it meant constant blasts of cold air from the open door. Rarely was boarding such a relief.



I figured this flight would be a cinch of an upgrade, even for a Silver Medallion, what with it being New Years Eve and all but First Class was sold out a week in advance and I ended up in the first row of Comfort Plus. No matter though, I slept the entire way to Raleigh.



Flight 143 of the year, a new record, in the books.



My girlfriend picked me up at RDU and we headed to our usual spot: Ponysaurus in Durham, to ring in the New Year. I was so glad to see the Chirba Chirba food truck and gladder still to enjoy some hoppy IPAs after all the Pilsners in Europe.



Now that’s worth coming home to!



They even gave us a Champagne [of Beers] Toast. Happy 2018 indeed!

Conclusion

Now that was a trip. Not the best flying I’ve ever done but I saw some great stuff unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Istanbul is a true world city and the ruins in Greece were very much worth the visit. And nicely, nothing went wrong, hell it only rained one day out of six! And what more could I ask for? I guess I’ll see you all again in 2018 when I go wherever I decide to go then. Thanks for reading.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:53 am
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Awesome review as always.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 11:00 am
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@CMK10 ,
"I don’t know if I want to belong to a religion that makes me wear pants."
"...which was eerily similar to how the girls in high school felt."
I cannot stop laughing. Genius!


I do think the dog and cat photo was my favorite, but applause for getting an "unfurled" flag shot. Well done!

Just the view from your hotel room in Istanbul was inspiring not to mention the overwhelming array of Turkish cuisine.

I too would have some significant questions about the "Alabama Sports Bar," but it doesn't sound like they would have terribly convincing answers.

Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Your photos and commentary were amazing.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 11:45 am
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I don't think anyone will miss the Hilton Orly or the rooms with their curtains of sadness. That place was so nasty, they should have just called it the Paris Hilton.

Thanks for the great trip report. Loved your pics of Istanbul. Its back on my bucket list.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 12:07 pm
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Always enjoy your reports. Very entertaining!
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Old Jan 20, 18, 12:27 pm
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Originally Posted by jrp2 View Post
Awesome review as always.
Thank you very much.

Originally Posted by Mats View Post
@CMK10 ,
"I don’t know if I want to belong to a religion that makes me wear pants."
"...which was eerily similar to how the girls in high school felt."
I cannot stop laughing. Genius!


I do think the dog and cat photo was my favorite, but applause for getting an "unfurled" flag shot. Well done!

Just the view from your hotel room in Istanbul was inspiring not to mention the overwhelming array of Turkish cuisine.

I too would have some significant questions about the "Alabama Sports Bar," but it doesn't sound like they would have terribly convincing answers.

Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Your photos and commentary were amazing.
You are very welcome, I'm glad you enjoyed it and thank you for your kind words.

Originally Posted by bitterproffit View Post
I don't think anyone will miss the Hilton Orly or the rooms with their curtains of sadness. That place was so nasty, they should have just called it the Paris Hilton.

Thanks for the great trip report. Loved your pics of Istanbul. Its back on my bucket list.
I'm with you, that room felt very 3 star Best Western-y. Glad you enjoyed my trip and I absolutely support you wanting to put Istanbul back on the bucket list, I never felt unsafe and I had a great time while there.

Originally Posted by theshaun View Post
Always enjoy your reports. Very entertaining!
Glad you enjoyed it!
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Old Jan 20, 18, 3:22 pm
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Fun trip report thank you. I am doing a 9 hour layover in Istanbul later this year and hope to get out to see Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. This report made the fact that that layover is en-route home something to look forward to rather than something to break out the mourning blacks for.
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Old Jan 20, 18, 4:16 pm
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Nice trip report - thanks for sharing I am very impressed your tie stayed on so long
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Old Jan 20, 18, 5:13 pm
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Great report and great writing with wonderful humor: Thank you.

Athens deserves a second visit: the central market, the Plaka at night, the National Archeological Museum, the 1896 Olympic Stadium, etc. From Athens you can do day tours to Delphi and Osios Lucas Monastery with its mosiacs, or go to Epidaurus and Mycenae. The inexpensive public bus system works well for this if you don't want to join a tour group. Then there is the great train system: To Thessalonica or Patras [rent a car there to visit Ancient Olympia], Kalamata, and places in between.

Please give Greece another visit. I've been going there since 1974 and never been bored or disappointed.
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