What Am I doing here? Istanbul, Cairo, Greece and Going Home

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?

Cairo, Egypt
29 AUG 2012

As I begin to write this I am still sitting in a beautiful little konak (wooden house) just a stone’s throw from the Blue Mosque, Arasta Bazaar, and the Grand Palace Mosaic Museum in Istanbul.  Erten Konak is a remarkable little guest house filled with unique oddities and treasures.

ladies fancy hats in Istanbul I’m still not certain about the ladies hats displayed like flowers, but the gorgeous mosaics in the courtyard and the glass covered basement access to a cistern that leads from the Basilica Cistern to the sea is something extraordinary.

In any event, I’m comfortable here and getting the work done which I came to Istanbul to do. I’ll write a review of Erten Konak in a few days when I have a bit more time. As you read this, I am hopefully back at home with my beautiful wife and daughter in Morocco. (editors note – due to some booking issues with awful booking service Tripsta, I am delayed a few days in Cairo – not the worst place to be stranded, but I really wanted to see my girls :( )

It’s been a very nice and productive month in terms of getting business done, sailing, and enjoying the good life in Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Egypt – but the truth is, it’s time to go home. This particular trip, I couldn’t bring my family with me and I’ve missed them dearly while I’ve been away.

So, as I write I’m sitting in a cute little Istanbul konak, as you read, I’m hopefully back in Morocco with my family – but the in between is what I really want to write about. After all, I truly believe that it is the in between spaces of any journey which make it fulfilling and interesting. The things of the unknown.

Without at least a bit of uncertainty, I find that life and travel don’t hold much interest.

For those of you who have been following, the uncertainty that has been hovering over my head during this trip was how to get home. For those who aren’t familiar, let me catch you up.  In August, I had the chance to go sailing on a friend’s yacht in the Greek islands for a few weeks – since the best yacht is a friend’s yacht – I jumped at the chance. Especially when I found a 30 Euro budget flight to Italy and then another 30 Euro flight to Greece. Part of the reason the trip worked was because I had some things to take care of in Turkey anyway.

After the sailing was done I stayed a few days in Thessaloniki, Greece as a guest at The Excelsior Hotel (which, by the way, was perhaps the nicest hotel I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying).

14th floor view from IzmirFrom Thessaloniki, I caught the ferry to Chios where even though fires were raging, I had a wonderful time exploring the island by motorbike before catching a ferry into Cesme, Turkey – renting a house in Alicate for the night and then heading to Izmir where I stayed (and never wanted to leave) at the Ege Palas in a 14th floor executive suite where my desk looked out over the Bay of Izmir.

There must be something to having an office with a view because I got more productive work done there than anywhere else in an amazingly short time – it might of been that I just didn’t want to get up or move from the view.

From Izmir a flight to Istanbul where I met with some colleagues about the nascent International Association of Professional Online Travel Journalists and also discussed the formation of a foundation based in Cappadocia which will focus on sustainable tourism and travel as well as create a permanent travel writers residency in Cappadocia. Very exciting projects!

Istanbul cooking classWhile here, I’ve visited the Mosaic Museum, caught up with old friends, took a Turkish cooking class (don’t worry, I’ll tell you about it later) and have been enjoying this queen of all the cities once again. My home away from home.

But finally, I had to figure out how to get home. To be honest – I’m sick of budget airlines. Ryan Air is cheap generally but they don’t fly to Turkey, the service is crap, and the baggage restrictions are draconian. I’m tired of counting my ounces and not being able to check a bag without paying a fee that equals more than the cost of a regular ticket.  There are some cheap options from Turkey to Ryan Air hubs – but I scrapped that idea as soon as I thought of it.

As for Air Arabia, the worst airline in the world – at least flying to or from Morocco, they still have my credit card on a banned list (which, by the way was their mistake to begin with and that I’ve never been able to get them to fix) and when I went to check the prices – I found them to be about double what I would be willing to pay for a terrible flight at inconvenient times anyway.

I considered (seriously considered) doing a reverse Orient Express and taking the train from Sirkeci Station in Istanbul to Sofia, Bulgaria then to Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany and then into Spain to once again take the ferry into Morocco – but the truth is, if I do a trip like that, I want to spend at least a few weeks on it and at the moment, I want to get back to my family so I wouldn’t feel right doing that. Maybe another time.

I looked into jumping on a cruise ship – cabins are cheap these days and there is a twelve day cruise from Istanbul to Portugal which would give me the chance to jump ship in Spain and take the ferry – but again, twelve days is too long.

So, I looked at other airlines. Turkish Airlines, which by the way, is one of the world’s great airlines – had flights to Morocco starting at about 900 Euro one way! That’s more than a ticket to San Francisco and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Royal Air Maroc had flights starting at around 700 Euro and they are a crappy airline, so I didn’t want to do that either.

Finally, I turned to the Vagobond flight planning tool  which is absolutely awesome and I (of all people) should have gone to first (and yet the company it directed me to, Tripsta, has the worst customer service on Earth – so the tool is good, but skp Tripsta and go to the airline directly for better service).  I found a Turkish air flight for $600, a  Royal Air Maroc Flight for $500 and flights that had layovers in Madrid, Tunis, or Jeddah for $400.

Best of all, I found a flight that had a 21 hour layover in Cairo for $350. I’ve never been to Egypt and on my list of things I wanted to do this year (which I generally make on New Years Eve of the proceeding year) go to Egypt was on the list.  Ideally, I had hoped to go for longer than 21 hours, to have my wife and daughter with me, and to explore a bit – but that’s what I get for not being more specific.  So, I booked the flight.  I leave for Cairo tomorrow.

I’m going to try to do a night tour before catching my flight to Casablanca the next morning. I have no idea what is actually possible on a 21 hour overnight layover in Cairo – but I’ll be sure to let you know.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook