I will eventually do a post about leaving Korea but that involves pictures and videos so first you will get this:
I am in Istanbul! I arrived safely thanks to many anonymous people who helped me on my way. This has to be one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world. Every other second I see something that has been there for over a thousand years. The numerous mosques – while similar in construction to each other – are each impressive in their own right. My hostel in right next to the Hagia Sofia or Aya Sofia which is absolutely magnificent. Right now, I am very glad I came.
I arrived at Beijing international airport in high spirits. Though I remembered my last trip through this particular slice of hell, in which I spent about three hours running, hell for leather, carrying a very expensive and heavy set of bells and following Marion, our long-legged - and possibly possesed - chior instructor, as he ran from one end of the place to another. I blamed the craziness on the disorganization of our tour guides, or Marion himself, but really there is no way to make this airport go any smoother. I was determined to have a smooth run of it, but things started going wrong immediately. I was walking away from the gate when I saw a sign for 'international transfers' going the other way. This did not make me happy. Then it turned out I was over thinking it and I was going the right way in the first place.
The main problem is that this airport is set up differently from all the others I've seen in the past. You have to go through immigration with everyone else even if you are going to transfer and thus never set foot outside the airport. This doesn't seem like a good security scheme to me as I could have walked out of the airport at any time and disappeared into China without a visa. Maybe they just don't care? But if they don't care, I certainly do, because I thought I had gone the wrong way and done something incredibly stupid up until the moment I had my boarding pass in my hand.
After talking to several rude people behind desks and two very nice ladies in shiny shiny gold pants suits, I finally found the international departures (which was behind another immigration booth) and got through to where I could check into my flight. A combination of getting turned around and something weird about my reservation had served to make me late and practically hyperventilating. The lady at the check-in counter didn't help, because she had just finished turning away two people who had similar irregularities in their bookings as mine, telling them basically 'I'm sorry there's nothing I can do'. She took forever to look at my papers and one problem after another seemed to come up. No, Cairo was not my final destination anymore, No, neither was Dubai, yes, my bags are only checked to Dubai but I am perfectly capable of re-checking them. She told me I had already been issued a boarding pass which was most definitally not true, and she kept on asking me what happened to my flight to Cairo as if the answer wasn't obvious.
I finally calmed down when I got in front of my gate at which point it dawned on me that I may actually make this flight.
Dubai was a whole different story. I'm sure my experience might have been less pleasant if I had arrived at a decent hour. But I landed in Dubai around 5am and the place was pretty deserted. Despite the two hours it took me to get through the immigration line (not an exaggeration) I kind of like Dubai International. When I stepped outside the weather was amazing, warm with a cool breeze. I kept on thinking in my head – what is this sensation in my limbs? I'm not wearing three layers and yet I'm... warm? It was only then that it really hit me – I am so not in Seoul anymore. The palm trees were a big tip off as well.
The UAE (United Arab Emarites, which is the country Dubai is in for those of you unfamiliar) is as lackadaisical in its approach to immigration as china seems to be despite the two hour wait in the line. I could have left the airport at any time and disappeared into the countryside never to be seen again. Of course, this could be some kind of deliberate loophole the likes of which are exploited for human trafficking purposes. Undocumented workers could easily find their way in and have no legal recourse to get themselves out.
Anyway, oppertunities for organized crime aside, the airport was very peaceful, a nice break from Beijing and Incheon.
The flight from Beijing to the UAE was one of the best I ever had because I slept through most of it. Normally, I am incapable of sleeping in moving vehicles. Unlike my brother, who has the unholy ability to fall asleep during a five minute car ride, I must stay awake for the entirety of a 13 hour flight.
But this time, I had a plan. I was going to try sleep medication. Most of the time, I don't like to take any kind of medication if I'm not sick. It takes a lot of nagging, usually, to get me to take an advil even when I have a migraine. So my departure from this earlier ethos was a big deal. I had tried it before when I came back from China the first time but I didn't have good results as I had the beginnings of a fever and I took it when everyone was still awake and talking. It just served to make me loopy and slightly delusional. This time I was smarter, waiting until I was ready to sleep to take it and bringing an eyemask. It was honestly one of the most enjoyable flights I've ever been on due to the fact that I spent a large portion of it unconcious.
I managed to take a shower in Dubai – all their bathrooms have shower stalls. A fact I would have loved to know before I checked all of my shampoo – but had to put my old grotty clothes back on which kind of deafeated the purpose of the whole excersize.
I arrived in Istanbul with few mishaps and, despite Ataturk International's complete lack of direction concerning the recovering of your baggage, I finally managed to get all my stuff (all 30 kilos of it) and connect with the person who was supposed to pick me up at the Airport.
As we drove into the city, I couldn't help but marvel at all the ruins that everyday life seemed to flow around. There were clearly modern buildings built on top of an ancient Roman-era wall. In that way it reminds me of Cusco because of how there are so many ruins just scattered throughout the city that the people barely take notice anymore. There are spray-painted tags right next to some Roman graffitti.
When I got to the hostel, I checked in and sent some emails. I had planned to take a shower and a long nap when Natalie, my roommate came in. The first thing she asked me after she established who I was was 'what are you doing in here?' In her mind there was no greater sin then spending any time in Istanbul in your hostel. She came here from Russia with only a purse full of clothes and an iron will. She took me to see the sunset over the river from a tower that was built byEmperor Justinian and overlooks most of Istanbul. I got some really spectacular pictures.
Then she took me into the nightlife heart of downtown where there were hundreds of people walking the streets. It was about the time she started talking about night clubs that I had to say 'uncle!'. I had been traveling for two days straight, had been in three countries, on three planes, and marched over countless distances with my large amount of luggage in tow. I needed sleep. But I didn't want to cramp her style, so I told her I could figure out my way home by myself, which was almost true.
I managed to figure out the trams which involved three different lines. At one point I had to transfer via this underground shuttle and the guy kept on yelling at me 'Get off at the first stop?' which I finally figured out was his way of helping me. He was not, in fact, asking me a question but giving me instructions.
There was a little confusion because my hostel is right next to the Hagia Sofia. But I hadn't learned to recognize it yet and so I couldn't remember which one was the Hagia Sofia and which one was the Blue Mosque. Finally I got so close to the one I thought was the Hagia Sofia, only to find it had blue domes (which had been harder to see from farther away, especially at night). But I found my way eventually and crashed in our room, waking conveniently at 4am when Natalie rolled in.