14 September 2022
In Greek mythology, Hermes was the god of trade, wealth, luck, fertility, animal husbandry, sleep, language, thieves, and travel. What an interesting mix of blessings. This messenger god, also known under the alias of Mercury in Rome, is the god of roads and doorways, and the protector of travelers. He is also seen shepherding the dead to Hades. Considering I just spent 40 hours getting to my destination, I think I must be on the bad side of Hermes.
My niece, Gabrielle, is joining me on a tour of the Stans. Our goal was to meet up at Istanbul Airport, stay overnight, then fly on to Almaty Kazakhstan the next day. Arrival time will be about 4:30 am! Between departure and final touchdown, three days have flown by on Hermes’ little winged feet.
Such a flight schedule is indeed a message from Hades. There is also the rarity of an aborted landing coming into IST. Did I hear the landing gear come down on first attempt? Or up as we went for a second go around? I think not.
Our overnight in Istanbul was luxurious not only because we stayed airside at the airport, meaning within customs and security, but we were surrounded by one of the best airports in the world. IST was opened in 2019 as Türkiye’s answer to Dubai Airport. And what an answer! Surrounded by stores from Fendi to Cartier, Hugo Boss to Montblanc, several electronic stores, fashion, foods and shopping, the airport is a destination in itself. One can spend hours wandering, shopping, wining and dining without setting a foot outside immigration. No Visa needed. When sated, or broke, we can head to our room, or cabin as Yotel describes it, and sleep it all off.(IST was just recognized by Condé Nast as the world’s best airport.)
A word about where I am. It is clear by Turkish Airlines’ messaging, I have arrived not in Turkey. This is the country of Türkiye. Evidently the bird has flown the coup and now, Türkiye it is.
After a long restful night with a late check out, we walk the few feet to Turkish Airlines’ Miles and Smiles Lounge. There salad bar, grilling station, desert bar, fruit bar, coffee bar, and several carts for mixing your own beverages awaits. The food is varied and plentiful. The lounge consists of several comfortable sitting areas. There is even a self-playing grand piano providing ambience for those not watching one of the big screen monitors. It is a lounge one can love. And also one where it is so enjoyable, time flies by. “Go to Gate” appears too soon.
This lounge is just one of many available to travelers who meet their availability requirements, which vary according to airline or customer. The banks and airlines are making a competition out of besting each other. The agony of long layovers are a thing of the past – for some travelers. Rental of an IGA Sleepod could be an option for other travelers tired of shopping and dining.
For Gabrielle and I, it is another five hours from Istanbul to Almaty. Boarding is a bit chaotic but we depart on schedule. More airplane food, a pair of socks, no sleep.
An added thought about Turkish Airlines: reading reviews, it appears to be the airline travelers love to hate. Their onboard service can be outstanding and the planes comfortable. However, I reluctantly agree with one reviewer when it comes to airport and ground service, “They hate you.” I definitely recognize better treatment and maybe more of those “smiles” when flying business class as opposed to economy.
We arrive early, at 4:35 am. Passport control for “other residents” is easy and friendly. We exit with our small carryons through the “Nothing to Declare” exit to enter the arrivals hall. Immediately our driver is there to whisk us off to our hotel. Streets are empty, the city is quiet. After a few words with the concierge, we are given a room for early arrival. Bless their welcoming hearts.
We are officially in our first Stan.