09.19.2013 - 09.19.2013
Thank you. There IS a God.
Those are my thoughts as I stagger down the jetway at 5 p.m. after a mind-numbing 16 hour flight from Atlanta to Istanbul, including a 4 hour layover in Paris. Tired and jet-lagged, we trudge off the AirFrance flight, not looking forward to the entire immigrations, VISA and customs process at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. I have read conflicting reports on Trip Advisor: some say the process is a breeze, others describe horrendously long lines erupting into bedlam.
Photo credit: http://www.primeclass.com.tr/en/Services
Then, there she is. The blond Goddess in a tight red jacket and wearing impossibly tall high heels standing at the end of the jetway, holding a sign with our names on it. “Come with me,” she says, as she loads our luggage onto an electric cart and whisks us down the concourse. (By the way, I am too brain-dead at this point to take any pictures of our actual Goddess, so these are photos taken from the web.)
Frank looks at me with grateful eyes.
Oh yeah…. Now it’s all coming back to me. Our travel agent, Karen Fedorko Sefer (Sea Song– see separate posting re: Turkey travel agent) recommended that we utilize the airport’s “Prime Class CIP service” upon arrival in Istanbul. That’s why we're on board the electric cart, whizzing past hordes of people crowding the busy airport concourse. This is part of the “Prime Class” service. She will assist through the entire process until we meet up with Sea Song’s representative on the other side of security. This is the first of many times during the trip when we utter a silent thank you to Karen.
Photo credit: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/europe/1091354-istanbul
Living in the city that is home to the busiest airport in the world, I'm used to crowded airport terminals. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on its busiest day is a cakewalk compared to the mass confusion and long lines that we witness at Ataturk Airport. As the electric cart slows to a halt in the arrivals terminal, we see the impossibly long line for VISAs. Uh-oh. Waiting patiently in line is not something we do well.
Whipping out the e-VISAs that I obtained for us on-line pre-departure (thank you, Trip Advisor), I show them to our escort. She announces that we can skip the long VISA line and proceed directly to the immigrations booth in front of us – where there is NO line. I subsequently learn that “Prime Class” would have entitled us to use a separate dedicated line, or jump to the front of the regular VISA line (another reason to utilize this service).
Anyway, if you heading to Turkey, we highly recommend that you or your travel agent arrange “Prime Class” service for your arrival. See Prime Class CIP. In addition to providing a greeter upon arrival and assistance with immigration, this service can include expedited transportation to Istanbul hotels.
After clearing immigrations/customs and collecting our luggage, Frank and I bid adieu to our red-jacketed Goddess as we are handed off to our Sea Song guide. Metin, a former semi-professional wrestler, has over 20 years experience as a licensed tour guide and is to be our personal guide during our entire stay in Istanbul. He quickly hustles us into our waiting Mercedes mini-van, introduces us to Josef, our driver, and we start the journey across town to our little “boutique” hotel in Sultanhamet, near the Hagia Sophia. During the ride Metin briefly outlines what we’ll be doing with him for the next several days, and points out interesting sites along the way. We get our first views of the city walls.
We also experience the rush hour traffic that Istanbul is apparently famous for. I subsequently learn that according to the GPS manufacturer TomTom, Istanbul has the second most congested traffic of any city in Europe. I believe it. BTW, in case you're wondering, according to TomTom Europe's top five worst traffic cities are (in order): Moscow, Istanbul, Warsaw, Marseille, and Palermo. Paris is 7th and Rome is 8th.
After we arrive and check in to our hotel we enjoy our first Turkish cuisine at the hotel’s roof terrace restaurant - excellent! Following dinner we collapse in our beds, hoping to catch up on the seven hours of sleep that we lost in transit.