Larry’s Odyssey, or Offending the Gods of Travel, Part 2

June 6, 2012

[intlink id=”3212″ type=”post”]When last we left[/intlink], I had just arrived at my hotel in Istanbul. At 3:30am local time. After traveling for 49 hours (was supposed to be 19). Having not slept for 36 hours. At 3:30am, it’s ten hours before I am to speak at the e-commerce expo. Oh, and my one piece of checked luggage is nowhere to be found.

I am wearing comfortable clothes for traveling (sneakers, shorts, a t-shirt) and no luggage means:

  • No dress shoes.
  • No dress socks.
  • No dress pants.
  • No dress belt.
  • No dress shirt.
  • No suit jacket.
  • No laptop cord to connect to the projector (the laptop was in my backpack).
  • No laptop remote.
  • Very few business cards.

This is not good.

I check in with my wife (via email and Apple’s FaceTime), and then fall asleep. It’s a twin bed, which isn’t great, but it’s the best bed I’ve had in too long. I set a wake-up call for 10:30. The driver will pick me up at noon to take me to the conference, and I need to shop first. I try not to let myself consider the possibility that my bag will arrive in the morning. Which is good, because it doesn’t.

I wake up in the early morning, so pleased to have gotten some sleep. What’s even better is that I’m awake enough to know that it’s early, and I can still sleep a bit more. The only thing that rivals sleeping is being conscious of knowing that you can sleep some more. I look at my watch: 10:30am. No more sleeping; must get up, as there’s a lot to do yet. A minute later I get the wake-up call. Ugh.

An employee at the hotel lets me know that there’s a mall just a five minute walk away. I head off.

Five minutes later I can see the mall. Unfortunately I’m on the wrong side of the street and this is not a street that pedestrians can cross (Istanbul is not a pedestrian-friendly city). I run into some tourists that seem a bit panicked and are so happy to find someone that speaks English. Unfortunately for them, I’ve only been in Istanbul for a couple of hours, I know nothing, and my world is still mostly upside down.

Ten minutes later I’m at the mall. The second store I walk into will suffice. I am very relieved to find that the clothes also have what I’ll call American sizes. In other words, I don’t need to figure out my inseam in centimeters.

I buy:

  • Dress pants
  • A dress shirt
  • Socks
  • Undershirts
  • Underwear (is that too much information?)

Total cost: $170 (USD). Probably about a third more than I’d be comfortable spending on the same quantity and quality at home, but I’ve been in the same shorts for three days now, and I’m pretty sure I can’t wear those to the conference. I’m resigned to not wearing a jacket, nice shoes, or a nice belt.

I get back to the hotel and borrow scissors to open all the clothing (little things one has to think about). As I’m just about to hop in the shower, the front desk calls saying the driver is there, 15 minutes early. I quickly shower and get ready. No breakfast and, even worse, no coffee. No coffee.

I leave the hotel at noon and am at the conference by 12:15. I was originally scheduled to go on at 1:40, but the conference is running late, and I’ll now go on about an hour late, after lunch (this is a new concept to me, but it’s a smallish conference). I’ll actually write about the presentation and conference in detail in a separate post, but I’ll say here that I think it went well. After the presentation, I answer a couple of people’s questions, but then get driven back to the hotel after 5pm.

My bag is still nowhere to be found.

I email my wife to let her know the presentation went well. I shower. And I sleep. I sleep on and off from 6-ish until 8:30am the next morning. I’m awake for a while around midnight in order to do FaceTime with my family.

Thursday morning I’m feeling much better. And with the presentation behind me, I have one day to be a tourist in Istanbul. My bag’s still MIA, but I have enough clean(-ish) clothes for that day, at least.

I have breakfast at the hotel, which is only my second meal in Istanbul and only the third meal since I had the sodium-rich and expensive breakfast in Heathrow 48 hours before. (All in all, I lost 8-9 pounds over those six days; but I can well afford it.)

I do a lightning round version of being a tourist in Istanbul. It’s a beautiful day and I’m able to see a lot. If I were continuing the parallel to Homer’s Odyssey, the sirens would be the vendors that lure tourists into stores to buy hand-made Turkish carpets (or so they say). I got suckered into three stores, which is unfortunate, as I cannot afford a Turkish carpet. Nor do I really want one. But those guys are relentless and apparently I’m too nice to shut down their advances.

I get back to the hotel just before 9pm, nine hours before I leave for the airport. My bag is there.


At least now I’ll have a clean shirt for the trip home.

I have time to shower, repack (mostly redistribute), talk to my family, and get 4-5 hours sleep before I awake at 5:30am to leave.

The flights home look like this (all flights are on Friday, June 1st; all times are local):

  • Leave Istanbul around 8:20am, arriving in Frankfurt around 10:30am (three hour flight and I get an hour back from time changes)
  • Leave Frankfurt around 12:30pm, arriving in Washington Dulles at 3:00pm (about a nine hour flight, but I get six hours back)
  • Leave Washington Dulles at 6pm, arriving in State College (i.e., home) just after 7pm

I’m worried about the Turkish Airlines flight out of Istanbul, having been burned by them already (twice). I’m also worried about making my connecting flight in Frankfurt. I let my wife know that if all goes well, she won’t hear from me until I call from Washington Dulles around 4pm, as there won’t be time to email before that.

The driver picking me up to take me to the airport is a few minutes early, which is a great relief. I’m at the airport by 6:15.

The line to check in is not terrible.

I get to an attendant. He cannot find my ticket number for the last leg of my flight (to State College). More heart attacks.

I go to another line to find the ticket number. The attendant thinks she found it, but isn’t sure it will work. I return to the first line.

The ticket number does not work.

My heart. My poor, poor heart.

I recommend that I just be booked to Washington Dulles and I’ll fix the last leg from there. This suggestion will turn out to be ironic, but it’s not taken regardless.

After 30 minutes or more on the phone, the attendant finds the number and is able to book me home. I make it to the gate in time. The plane boards late, and is late leaving.

Chest pain. (Not literally, but after the hardship in getting to Istanbul, I’d like it to be smoother sailing on return.)

The flight is now expected to arrive in Frankfurt just an hour before my next flight leaves. I’ve already heard about the redundant, time-sucking security at the Frankfurt airport.

I can taste the panic.

I run through the Frankfurt airport and make it to the plane as it’s boarding. I would have loved to upgrade to business class again, but it was not an option. I’m in the middle seat (shudder), but at least I’m on the plane. I’m heading home.

I can’t work (no room for the laptop), but I doze as best as I can and watch two movies (“Undefeated” and “The Muppets“). Nine hours is a long flight.

I arrive in Washington. My bag is there (I have to take it through customs). I have three hours before my flight to State College. I’m going to make it home.

And then the travel gods strike again.

The flight to State College is canceled due to weather.

All the flights to all the smaller airports are canceled due to weather. The airport is a mess.

I try to call my wife, but cannot find a pay phone that will work with a credit card.

Did I mention that I didn’t have my cell phone on me because I was deathly afraid of international roaming charges? Turns out that was kind of a stupid decision on my part.

A very nice gentlemen watching me lets me borrow his cell phone. I let my wife know that the flight is canceled. It seems that I’m going to have to stay in a hotel again and fly the last leg home in the morning. I could rent a car and drive home but: A) that would cost more money; and, B) it’s now been 20 hours since I awoke in Istanbul that morning (after 4-5 hours of sleep), and I’m worried I’d be delirious at the end of the drive home, across empty Pennsylvania highways.

There’s a very long, slow moving line at the United counter for people rescheduling their flights. An employee comes out from behind the counter to explain:

  • Dozens of flights are canceled
  • They have blankets for people to stay there at the airport (like a first-world refugee camp)
  • The airline will not put people up at a hotel, because the cancelations were due to weather/beyond their control
  • The hotels have a limited number of discounted rooms for this situation, and those will be taken quickly

Oh, you got me good, travel gods. Well played.

I must get out of this airport. I throw caution to the wind and decide to rent a car to drive home. $150 for the car, plus $30 for gas. All these travel complications have now cost me over $500. And taken years off my life.

Problem: my bag is in a queue somewhere to get on the (nonexistent) flight to State College. We are told we can request our bag from the United booth by the baggage claim. The employee there kindly explains that it’ll probably take 2-3 hours to get the bag and, frankly, unless you really, really need it, just forget about it. The bag will take the next flight whether I’m on it or not.

I take the shuttle to the rental agency and get the car after a reasonable amount of time. Problem: it’s about 6pm on a Friday night and traffic around Washington D.C. will be horrific. I hop in the car without a usable map and decide to wing it. I head north and west, as the worst traffic will be east. This actually works out surprisingly well.

After two hours, after driving through pouring rain (i.e., the rain that canceled all those flights), I’m in Pennsylvania, witnessing an eerily beautiful sunset, and not doing too badly for having woken up 22 hours ago. Two hours later, I’m finally home. I missed seeing my kids before they went to sleep, but I’m home.

The next day, I return the rental car to the airport and pick up my luggage, which seems to have had an entirely separate trip from me.

I go home and perform a huge sacrificial rite to the gods of travel.

Because in three weeks, I’m flying again.