Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Journey: An Adventure of Its Own

     My trip to Samsun, was the longest I have ever been on by far. We expected smooth sailing after orientation, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. Finally we arrived to Istanbul, but this was after 60 HOURS OF TRAVELING from the time we left the hotel in New York.
     Orientation was pretty fun; much better than my orientation in NY last summer. We had multiple sessions a day ranging from safety to culture differences to how to learn a language. We all really bonded. I shared a room with Sam, who is doing her Junior year in Samsun with me. Lucas, a Junior and Lena, a gap year student are also in Samsun for the year with NSLI-Y. Danielle, Victor, Sylvan, and Cristina are going to Trabzon for the fall semester with NSLI-Y. Two other senior girls joined us on our second evening of orientation. Marley will be in Ankara and Hayley will be in Istanbul; they are both with AFS. I actually got to lead a session with one of my friends from last year’s summer trip to Ankara, who was asked to speak last minute about the Turkish culture, lifestyle, and ways of life.
     In New York, the 30 min delay for the bus seemed frustrating, especially since we were the last group to leave, but we had no idea what lay ahead. We got to the airport 3 hours in advance and that seemed like a long time. After 2 hours, our flight was delayed. Even though we had a small layover, we still had enough time. Then it was delayed again. At this point we were a little nervous about our connection because it got down to about 15 minutes. We boarded the plane and luckily fit all of our rolly-carry-ons under the seat so that we wouldn’t have to gate check them. We were prepared to run to our gate as soon as we got off the plane, and that is exactly what we did. We sprinted through the hallways, up and down escalators, along moving walkways, went on a train ride to another terminal, and down to the very end of the terminal where our gate was. It was at least a mile, and I’m not exaggerating. As I was on my way, we saw other students ahead drop their bags and they signaled to us that we had just missed our flight by 4 minutes.
     It was 10pm at this time. Luckily we had a chaperone and she got us a very nice hotel in DC with extremely comfortable beds :). It was about 1am when we entered our rooms and since we had been up for so long, we ordered room service. Who knew cereal could be so expensive for such a little amount? I fell asleep around 2am (apparently the boys stayed up until 4… they were a little tired the next morning). Since we had the whole day to kill, we rented a van from the airport and toured Washington D.C. We went to the Lincoln Memorial, the World War 2 Memorial and walked along the Mall. Then we drove by the White House, and were only 2 blocks away from George Washington University!!! That was actually a lot of fun because we had each other and we got to see the nation’s capital before going abroad for the year. The only thing was that we had hoped to be in Istanbul at this time.
     We arrived at the airport just to find out that we had troubles with our boarding passes. They needed to reissue them to us since we had changed our flights. They told us that they would give us new tickets in Frankfurt for our flight to Istanbul. We had dinner, exchanged money, and rested. On the plane I slept, ate dinner, and watched Letters to Juliet. It was an uneventful flight, which felt pretty good since so much else had gone on.
Lincoln Memorial!!
the 10 of us travelers prepared for anything!

     We got off the plane in Frankfurt, went through security and headed straight to the gate to make sure our tickets were correct. Then… we found out that the flight was entirely booked and there was no way we were to get on it. The people in D.C. had issued us tickets for a flight that was already full. The next flight to Istanbul was at 10 that night. So we sat in the airport for 9 hours. At one point we found out that our luggage wasn’t with us in Frankfurt. Fantastic! Luckily it made it to Frankfurt with us and it was on our plane to Istanbul. We were so close, but yet so far!
     I started writing this post while at the Frankfurt airport, partially to get a head start and write this before I arrived with my host family, but also to just kill time. We were just bored! We had already played so many games, watched movies and talked so much just to pass the time that we needed something else to do. Unfortunately we had no internet, but we still had Word. At one point a few of us girls showed each other pictures from proms and graduation.
     That night we flew to Istanbul and got there around 2am. Then we cleared customs, got our luggage and went to meet up with the AFS Turkey staff. I knew some of them from last year, so it was very good to see them again. One of the non- NSLI-Y girls left us there because she was staying in Istanbul for the year. The rest of us walked to the domestic terminal to check our bags and get our new boarding passes. My bag, along with another was overweight, but since our AFS leaders’ bags were underweight, they didn’t make us pay. I knew my bag was heavy from the start and was prepared to pay, so that was another good thing coming our way!
     We waited in the airport… awake… until we had to go to go through security and wait to board the plane. The flight to Trabzon, for the 4 NSLI-Yers there, was at 6:30 and ours to Samsun was at 7:35. Since there was very little time in Istanbul and no point to go to a hotel, we did not have time to shower or get ready before we saw our families after our flights to Trabzon and Samsun. We all changed and got ready in the airport bathroom. We had snagged clothes from our suitcases before checking them because that was the first time we had access to our checked bags since the beginning of the trip. On the plane, we tried to sleep, but it was only about an hour flight so that didn’t really work. That night we got no sleep. As we were about to land, we did a huge loop around the airport and back up and down the coast. That was the best part of the flight because we got to see where we were going to be staying for the year from the air.
     We landed at the Samsun airport. It was so small and none of us had ever been to and public airport with a terminal that small. We had to descend stairs outside and walk to the baggage claim. There are only 2 gates at the airport and 2 tiny baggage claims. Our bags came right away because all the people at the airport were working with our flight! Our bags were by far the largest ones on the plane. After exiting the airport we got onto a bus that dropped us off at a hotel in Samsun; it was where our AFS Turkey chaperone was staying for the night. The view was gorgeous out on the patio and we were about 100 ft from the ocean! Luckily we had time go to the bathroom and eat some Pide (Turkish pizza) before our families came, which was fantastic because we hadn’t eaten for a few hours and were very hungry.
     Our families came and it was fantastic meeting them! My first thoughts were that my family looked extremely kind, warm, and welcoming. The daughters are so cute and pretty! They hadn’t known about our delays/airport adventures because AFS Turkey did not want to worry them. Our AFS Turkey chaperone told them about it so that they understood. We had troubles at first fitting my large checked bag and my rolly-carry-on bag in the back of the car, but luckily we made them fit.

At the hotel before meeting my host family :)

     During the trip AFS told us that there had never been this much delay, problems, and length in a trip before. It was the most painful trip ever and the one thing I learned was to never travel with United! The thing that kept us from getting to Turkey earlier was our scholarships. Since it is issued by the US State Department, we have to stay with American carriers and could not change. Hopefully our trip back home in June will not be as difficult.

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