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Layover Stories: auh/ist by Jennever Pelaez

It's been almost two years since my solo trip to Europe. To give you a refresher, here's a teaser that I made for my imaginary travel vlog.

I always found it hard to starting telling this story. I have numerous drafts and hundreds of gigabytes of photos and videos, just lying around in my hard drive. It just didn't feel... right. Maybe a part of me didn't want to share this trip to everyone who stumbles on my blog. Another part of me also wants this experience eternally published online, for me to look back to when I start forgetting all the details. I think it won't hurt to try again. This time, I'll try even harder to finish it.

22 days, 12 cities/towns, and one late 20-something girl.

Here's the story of me ticking off the Top #1 item in my bucket list before I turned 30.

Abu Dhabi Layover

9 hours

Before this trip, I have never been outside of Southeast Asia. I initially planned to meet up with my college Ate (older sister) outside the Abu Dhabi airport for my short layover. However a) she lives in Dubai and has to drive all the way to Abu Dhabi, and b) my layover was in the wee hours of the morning. We scrapped this plan. I was unsurprisingly tired anyway when I landed in AUH so I decided to use my credit card perk (Priority Pass is the best!) to get access to a shower and food, and to also nap in the lounge for a little bit.

This also gave me a chance to repack my backpack to make the process of pulling out my trip essentials more efficient. Most of the things I need on-the-go, I put on top.

Abu Dhabi Airport | lounge shower room | AUH Boarding Gate

People I Met (Abu Dhabi)

My layover was in Terminal 1 of AUH and the first lounge I saw that is accredited with Priority Pass was Al Dhabi. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many Filipina staff, and it gave me a sense of familiarity amidst tiredness. Quickly, I took my hot shower, and went to the dining area for some nourishment.

I was not in a chatty mood, but the lady at the next table gave me a big smile. This brought me to say hello and ask a little bit about her. She is Padma, mother of two daughters. She lived in Dubai for 13 years from 1990 to 2003, when the city was still very much a desert. She had/has a thriving career as a marketing executive. Then she moved to Canada in 2003.

When I shared that I am an IT professional, her eyes brightened up and asked how my experience was in this field. Her younger daughter is/was studying Computer Science and she said she wanted to understand her daughter more.

Being in IT as a woman sometimes sucks. There's not a lot of us, and this leads to working with a lot of men with big egos. But this challenge is far surpassed by the good things. We get to create things from scratch. We get to fix problems. And more often than not, women will be more organised in tackling those things. This is why we need more women in this field. I think your daughter will enjoy it!

We chatted some more about this topic, and I gave her some insight on what kinds of jobs her daughter can possibly apply for. Padma was thrilled to tell me that her daughter picked a course she is passionate about. Her boarding time arrived. We hugged goodbye. I finally took my nap.

Istanbul on a Hurry

8 hours

What do you do when you're in a vibrant city with lots of history and culture, but only have a total of 8hrs--including the time you'd spend in the airport to disembark and catch the next flight?

One-word answer: Uber.

I sped through disembarkation and immigration and quickly booked my Uber ride to Hagia Sophia. I didn't want to roam around that much since just getting there is already around 30 minutes according to Google Maps. Taking a round trip estimate plus a 3-hr allowance to catch my next domestic flight, I only really had 4 hours to spare.

I got dropped off one block away from Hagia Sophia since the adjacent roads are closed. I was walking and when I looked up, I saw this and got goosebumps. It was breathtaking even from far away.

I couldn't believe I was in Istanbul.

As luck would have it, it was already too late and Hagia Sophia wasn't accepting visitors anymore. I took a bit of time to breath a little, and bought grilled corn to snack on. I sat down curious at all the people walking around. There were more families who seem to be locals than there are tourists. I was truly not in Asia anymore. (Hang on--is it?)

Turkey is a country that occupies a unique geographic position, lying partly in Asia and partly in Europe. Throughout its history it has acted as both a barrier and a bridge between the two continents. [Source: Britannica]

He asked me to take the photo again so he can pose.

My first meal in Turkey was a grilled sweet corn.

Mama's only wish was a magnet so I took some time to buy that, and bought postcards for my friends from a local shop.

I sat on a bench at Sultanahmet Square to eat my corn while people-watching. I sat there very much still amazed that I was there, and took many long breaths to take in the scenery. (Also can I just say, madaming pogi!) After collecting myself, I decided to go inside the Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque.

People I Met (Istanbul pt.1)

Before I got to the mosque, I was stopped by a young man. His first spiel was that he is a volunteer tour guide and will not charge anything. He said he just wanted to let me know how to go about the mosque tour and that I should hurry because the next prayer time will start in less than an hour.

In retrospect, I realised I was a potential victim of a tourist scam but I will continue to tell that story later. At that time, I was just excited to be there, and to have someone I can ask to take my photo.

After some snaps, the young man told me he will wait for me at the Exit. I said, "Sure" while in my mind thinking that I probably won't see him anyway. With the amount of tourists and mosque-goers, it seemed more likely that he will lose me in the crowd.

Fast Facts:

A self-portrait inside the Blue Mosque
  1. There is no entrance fee.
  2. For female tourists, there are clothing requirements to be allowed inside. Fret not, there are booths where everyone can borrow the headscarves and full-length outer robes/outer-garments.
  3. The mosque is open from 8:30am to 12:15pm, 2pm to 4:45pm, 5:45pm to 6:30pm. The gaps are prayer times. It is open every day.

I donned my robe and headscarf (all borrowed from the mosque) and proceeded to walk around and observe. Although a lot of the exterior was under renovation. Inside the mosque, however, was a huge atrium with intricately designed pillars, walls and domes. It was breathtaking. At one point, I sat down on the carpet to just look up and enjoy the astounding yet exquisite architecture.

Built between 1609 to 1616 by the architect Mehmet Ağa as instructed by Sultan Ahmet I, the Blue Mosque is dubbed as so because of the 20,000 handmade ceramic Iznik tiles that decorate the interior, featuring many different tulip, rose, carnation, and lily designs, well lit by 260 windows. [Source: Istanbul Tours Studio]

It's believed that there was a misunderstanding between the architect and the sultan. Instead of building golden minarets, the architect built six minarets instead. This was not a good thing and the mistake sparked controversy in the Islam community because at that time, the only other mosque with six minarets was the Prophet's mosque in Mecca. Eventually, they resolved the issue by building one more minaret at the latter.

People I Met (Istanbul pt.2)

So going back to my story about the young man AKA Mr. Volunteer Tour Guide...

I purposely stayed longer inside the mosque so I can lose him. I really didn't want to prolong the interaction, and I was very wary that I might be getting scammed, or worse, about to get robbed.

I walked out of the Exit, and there he was happily waving at me. He said "Since you're done with the tour, can I interest you to go to my cousin's shop at the Grand Bazaar?"

"No commitments. You can just look."

I remember saying I didn't want to go with him, but he was insistent. There's also a factor that I wanted to see the Grand Bazaar since I was already there. I responded, "Ok, but just quickly. I have a plane to catch." That was not a lie. I really had to hurry back to the Ataturk Airport.

True enough, he took me to a relative's shop. They tried to sell me carpets, scarves and jewelry. While the prices were quite reasonable, I didn't plan to splurge on anything, nor did I want to be lugging around a carpet from Day 1 of my Europe backpacking trip. You can try imagining how silly that would have looked like. I did and I quickly laughed it off.

He eventually gave up and just wanted to chat. His cousin fixed us up both an apple tea, which we drank at the part of the street overlooking to the Blue Mosque. I said my goodbyes, and I fast-walked to about three blocks away where I can get an Uber.

Re: scam -- it's not a scam per se. But it feels like a scam when there's lots of hardselling involved. I looked this up on TripAdvisor and saw someone saying the same thing about the "free tour guide."

Spot the pussycat headband.

The man in the frame was approaching me to give me the flowers in his hand. Random but you don't get this often from strangers.

In a way, Istanbul was my Asia-to-Europe travel starter pack. It has been almost two years now and everything I wrote here, I remember vividly. My wish is to go back to Istanbul soon and to spend a longer time there. I barely even scratched the surface.

PS My Uber driver on the way back to the airport was super good-looking. Istanbul never fails to amaze!

Created By
Jennever Pelaez
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Credits:

Jennever Pelaez | jenneverblogs

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