Thursday 6th December 2012
It’s far too long since I wrote anything, so once again I’m writing some memories of a recent trip before they fade away for ever. A quick weeks travelling before Christmas, roughly based on Turkey, was the plan but a little research from our favourite website, www.seat61.com, opened up a whole new possibility – how about crossing from Turkey into the Caucasus and discover another country, or indeed two, as Georgia and Armenia both share borders with Turkey, even though only one is currently open.
So tonight, Thursday 6th December, we started the week of travel with a night flight to Istanbul from Stansted, and once again set off with a bundle of railway timetables and little other information about the destination.
It was only because of this that we discovered Pegasus Airlines, www.flypgs.com, who I guess are the Turkish version of Ryanair. They were actually very good indeed, just like Ryanair with lots of options to make you spend more and more during the booking, but seemingly a bit more customer friendly, quite happy to accept our passports as proof of checking in online, and printing out a new boarding pass to include the checked baggage. Even better, at Stansted the flight to Istanbul at 23:30 was the last of the day, so the airport was totally deserted, the flight was only half full and we we actually encouraged to carry our bags onboard instead of going ahead with checking in!
Sitting in an empty airport is quite disconcerting and as the shops and bars were almost all closed, we sat in Wetherspoons, ensuring we kept the other two customers in sight at all times, and that we were close to a departures screen. The others drank up and so we followed and off to the Gate we went, allowing Wetherspons to close up and go home while we quite excitedly sat in our prebooked emergency exit seats (£22 each!) and thanked ourselves for having a nightcap before the flight and therefore saving on the seemingly quite expensive bar prices.
This was to be the first of five nights onboard planes and trains so it was essential to get some sleep, so lights out and hoping for the best, I actually think I stayed awake but there again it all seemed over very quickly and before we knew it we were desending in the first light of dawn catching a marvellous view of Istanbul as we landed at the cities second airport Sabiha Gökçen, which turned out to be brand new (2009) and winner of the Worlds Best Airport 2010 as voted by Budget Carriers.
With bags in hand we purchased our ‘visas’ at the Visa desk just before passport control for a hefty £10 each, but at least got a nice coloured sticker in our passports. We then looked at the vast line of passport desks all of which said ‘Air Crew’, ‘Diplomats’ or ‘Turkish Citizens only’. A minutes wait proved that any desk will do – welcome to the slightly disorganised world of Turkey! Passing by the deserted baggage halls and enormous Duty Free Arrival shops we walked upto the automatic glass doors which slid open and a new country beckoned.
There was a considerable choice of very attractive catering outlets, which wouldn’t be amiss in a western high street and we enjoyed late and croissants while trying to work out how expensive things were going to be in Turkey, since airport prices are hardly the best way to judge a country, but were very pleased to get almost the bank rate of 2.9 Turkish Lire to the pound, and no commission payable anywhere which itself was very uplifting and over breakfast we pondered just how much money travellers are conned out of during the process of exchanging their currency for another. As it happens, we were to find Georgia and Armenia just as good with very little difference in the buying and selling rate and with a huge choice of money changers in every city, the rates were themselves most competitive.
It was hard to remember that we had gone through a five hour flight, two hour time difference from the UK and the first night of the trip was already over.