“Do you want to come with me?”
My co-worker and friend asked me that simple question referring to visiting his home country of Turkey. I thought about it for a little while knowing virtually nothing about the country of Turkey or where it even was on a map and I answered,
This simple answer set in motion my life today as well as a bunch of ‘firsts’ for me…getting my first passport, taking my first international flight, going through immigration for the first time, and experiencing my first jet lag.
I was 30 years old.
You, my blogging audience, have only known me for 4 years of my travels; a relatively short time. However in honor of my 10 year anniversary of traveling I thought I would take you back through that first international arrival in Turkey – before everything was recorded digitally. I wanted to focus on my memorable observations on that ‘trip of firsts’ – through the eyes of a very, very new – but mature – traveler.
First (lack of )Planning
This was to be a fast 9 day trip across the globe from San Francisco to Istanbul where I was to meet my friend, Giancarlo, and stay with his family in Istanbul and Bodrum. I honestly don’t even remember having a guide book. I knew Giancarlo would be taking care of me and he would be my guide. He had the itinerary all worked out and we were staying at his family homes the whole time. I knew him well since I’d worked with him for the past 2 years and we had become good friends outside of work. I think he felt it was a travesty that I hadn’t been out of the country at my age, and took it upon himself to fix that black mark on my personal resume. We talked about the trip a few times before we left, but the only thing I really remember was that Bodrum was a party town and to bring my swimsuit.
First International Flight
The plane flight seemed long as I went from San Francisco to Chicago to Istanbul.
This is the first time I flew on an international airline carrier, Turkish Airlines. My first memory was the fact that the flight attendants had very different outfits than US flight attendants. They were all wearing a turquoise dress and weird hats. I distinctly remember thinking the food was really strange and I was a little surprised that the audio entertainment wasn’t in English. This flight experience made me actually think about the place I was going to. I started to worry on that flight…what if I couldn’t communicate, and what if I hated all of the food, what if this was a bad idea?
First Travel Snafu (that didn’t take long)
Upon arriving, Giancarlo was supposed to meet me after customs. I didn’t really understand immigration or customs, but blindly followed the people in front of me. When I came through the doors to be greeted by throngs of people waiting to pick up loved ones, I didn’t see him. I panicked. I continued to scan the crowd in my sleepy haze and my eyes finally stopped on a sign that read ‘Sherry Ott’ – and it wasn’t Giancarlo who was holding the sign. I walked up to the sign and in choppy English the man introduced himself as Giancarlo’s father, Romolo. He came with the message that Giancarlo was stuck in Bodrum, and he (the father) was to put me on a plane to Bodrum that day. That wasn’t our plan…our plan was to stay in Istanbul. I just got off of one long, long flight and now I’m supposed to get back onto another…what an introduction into travel. Romolo walked me across the street to the domestic terminal, sat me down with a cup of tea and went to try to get me on a flight.
I remember thinking that getting on a flight without a ticket in advance wasn’t possible, yet here was this man up at a counter arguing with the desk staff on my behalf. I sat back and looked at my glass of hot apple tea and picked it up to take a drink and try to come to life. Owww!!! How do you hold a hot glass of liquid? I looked around me and realized that the people were holding the glass at the top near the rim else they would burn their hands. I thought…but why? Why don’t they just use a mug…why this silly juice glass?
Romolo had no luck in getting me on a flight right away, but he said that we would come back later and try again. Try again? I was used to a smooth operating set of rules that you follow to get a plane ticket…and there seemed to be nothing smooth or any rules to follow when it came to getting me a domestic ticket in Turkey.
First Foreign Food
I ended up spending the day with Romolo, making small talk as he played tour guide and took it upon himself to introduce me to Istanbul. He drove me all around Istanbul while trying his best to communicate in his choppy English. I just remember everything being so, so new in my eyes; yet in reality is was all really, really old. The cars were old, the roads were curvy, the traffic was hectic; it was like arriving on an alien planet for me. That first day in which I was whisked around the city by a man I had just met was a jetlag haze of new experiences. Yet somehow I loved it…I loved every bit of it.
We stopped for food at some point as I was practically dozing off in the car. At this point I hadn’t even gotten money yet, so I wondered silently how I was going to pay for anything. Back then I had travelers checks (something I would NEVER travel with now!), and I didn’t have a chance to change them yet as we toured the city. He asked me if I ate anything and I answered “yes”. He proceeded to order a feast of food I had never seen before. I was a little leery after eating the airplane food, but the midwesterner in me of course was cordial and tried everything. He joked around with the waiters and I had no real idea of what was going on nor what I was eating. I remember distinctly worrying that my stomach might not like Turkish food and really being concerned that I would get sick.
First Sprint to the Plane
We went back to the domestic airport and once again Romolo sat me down with a steaming glass of apple tea in a juice glass and he went to try to work on getting me on a plane again. I sat and watched him as he talked to the agent. I noticed the tone of his voice get stronger and stronger and soon it felt as if he and the agent were having a yelling match. I watched incredulously as this didn’t happen where I came from and I was rather confused as to what was going on. He would look at me and point as he was yelling at the agent and I imagined him saying “Get her on a plane dammit – I can’t play babysitter forever!” Soon it all died down, and he hurried over to me and said – you have to leave now! I was so confused as he put a ticket in my hand and whisked me off to the boarding gate. I hadn’t even paid any money…nor finished my juice glass of tea! I asked what was happening and he said that I had to go now and get on this plane. Uh…ok…I guess that’s ok; and I sprinted off to the plane.
Once I sat down in my seat – I wondered….am I on my way to Bodrum? Who will pick me up? How do I pay for the ticket? But soon all of the worry floated away as I settled into a deep sleep before we even took off.
What an introduction to travel. The trip was full of ‘firsts’, many ‘whys’, and ‘hows’ for me. It challenged my brain and my way of thinking in so many ways. Drinking hot tea in a juice glass was just the first of many eye opening cultural experiences. I remember being ultra worried about everything that trip, but it was that trip that left me wanting more…and more, and more, and more.
After the trip to Turkey 10 years ago, I decided I would use my cool new passport to see other places. Travel was intriguing and exciting – and it was challenging; I was hooked. Between 2000 and 2006 I utilized my meager 3 weeks vacation to go to other countries and get more passport stamps:
• Canada – Vancouver/Whistler skiing
• Australia adventure travel
• France road tripo
• Costa Rica
• Peru to hike the Inca Trail
• Brazil sailing adventure
When I came back from my Brazil trip, I met my boss in the elevator my first day back and he asked me how my trip was. I said that it was wonderful, perfect, and
“Next time I leave the country, I’m not coming back (to work).”
4 years later I’m still not back.
Travel is addicting, rewarding, educational, and the way I want to live my life. I’ve never had such a fun 10 years. Thanks to Giancarlo (and his lovely family) for taking this midwesterner and turning her into a global citizen.