I Flew in to Istanbul.
Walked around the airport with my friends, figured out that my baggage was indeed checked all the way through to Bishkek. Some fellow volunteers had their bags only check through to Istanbul, so they had to get a visa, pickup their baggage and then recheck everything outside passport control. I thought that one of my bags was packed all the way and the other was going to need to be rechecked. So I went out to the baggage pick-up and eventually figured out that my stuff was not going to come, so I just had to hope everything would make it to the end of the line.
Visa in hand, it was time to go get some kebab’s in Istanbul. My friend Jonathan found a hotel room rental guy who spoke some English, and figured out where the metro was and what stop we should get off at if we wanted to find some nice cafes in which to eat. Fantastic. Jonathan, Brian, Katie and a girl whose name I forget took the metro a couple stops, and ended up in a nice non-tourist neighborhood. We were definitely the only Americans around, it was nice. We ended up finding a little kebab shop about a half mile from the train station where we sat down and ate mixed grills. Luckily the waiter spoke a little English, although really just enough to ask if we wanted mixed grills and take our orders for sodas… although when we asked what kind of soda they had, he was confused. We ended up resorting to just ordering cokes and fantas, the universal soft drinks. The meals were huge. There was tomato, beef, beef, jalapenos, beef, and nan (or whatever they would call it). It was fantastic, and when we left, it was time for the mid-afternoon call to prayer. While we really didn’t understand a thing the mullah was saying, it was very cool to hear it in person. Sure I’ve seen it on TV and in movies, but this was my first time hearing it in person, standing right next to the mosque.
After a 30 minute ride on a bus rented out specifically for Peace Corps invitees, we arrived at the old soviet era hotel in which we’d be staying. Jonathan and I elected to room together for the following few nights. When we got up to the room on the sixth floor via a very old elevator (the call buttons were single push button, and the floor selection buttons were similar), we found a slightly run-down, thread bare red wall to wall carpeting with a European looking bathroom (tub with hand shower, toilet, beday). The beds were, however, quite comfortable. And we slept like babies after our previous two nights of near sleeplessness.
When I opened up my hiking backpack, I realized that my two tubes of crest toothpaste had exploded. Well, they were not the usual screw on cap types, and these snap closed tops had been forced open either by pressure or they had caught on some else I had packed in the same luggage compartment. This meant that pretty much all my toiletries were covered to some extent by sticky, mint flavored goo. Washing off the all the toiletries wasn’t too bad, but was the last thing I wanted when trying to hit the hay.