4 Planes, 3 Days

MSO -> SEA

I left my friends at the Missoula airport at 2:45 on Wednesday afternoon to walk through an empty TSA line, beginning my 42-hour journey to the other side of the world.

My flight from Missoula to Seattle was short and uneventful. I had purchased this leg separately from my Seattle to Bishkek journey which meant I needed to collect my checked bag and then go through check-in and security again. The Seattle to New York portion was on Alaska Airlines, but the other connections were on Turkish Airlines which caused some complications. I waited in several different lines before I was directed to the scariest line of all, the line where people have to go when they miss a flight or something has gone horribly wrong and they need someone to yell at.

I am eternally grateful to Nicole at Alaska Airlines for helping me, even though she looked at me like a woman possessed when I told her my final destination. She had to manually enter details because of the airline switch and a lot of time between each flight. Thankfully, Turkish Airlines included two checked bags on my economy ticket and the Alaska baggage fee didn’t apply, so I was satisfied enough to wait in line for so long. I said farewell to my belongings for the next two days and held steadfast to the changes of clothes, laptop, important documents and toiletries I left in my backpack which weighed much more than it really needed to. 

My flight to New York didn’t board until 9:00 pm, so I had plenty of time to kill wandering around and finding a place to eat. I hate eating in airports and my experience this time did not improve my opinion. I had walked from Terminal D to A searching for something that looked satisfying and well-priced, found nothing, and as a result, settled for the last restaurant on my path: the Mountain Room Bar. I ordered a turkey burger for $16 and for the remainder of my time there had to listen to waitstaff yell “Last call!” and chase potential patrons away from the entrance because they closed at, like, 6:00 pm. I asked for no cheese but naturally, the request was ignored. The very mediocre burger was served with plastic utensils which I was unimpressed with, and the fries weren’t great either so my only recommendation for dining at the SeaTac airport is avoiding this place. 

SEA -> JFK

I wanted to make sure I slept on the overnight flight, so I made up my mind to walk around to wear myself out. I wish I had used a step tracker and had a lighter backpack because I was fairly sweaty by the time I went to my gate to board.

Because of the time change between Seattle and New York, my small and weak brain was under the impression that it was a longer flight and I’d have more than 4 hours of sleep, which was a horrible mistake. I took melatonin and had a strange trip in and out of consciousness until we landed at about 6:00 am.

I am fiercely dedicated to always choosing a window seat.

To avoid spending my twelve-hour layover at the airport, I made plans that morning to meet a friend who’s living in New York for coffee. Burdened still by my backpack, I navigated the JFK Airtrain to the subway and made a series of small errors that landed me in an interesting predicament. 

Escaping the Airport

Using Google Maps, I made it easily from the airport to the Jamaica Station where I was supposed to take two different subway lines to get to Manhattan. Suggested was one stop ahead on a green line, direction Oyster Bay. I found a sign listing the expected trains, found Oyster Bay assigned to track 8, made my way to it, and hopped on. 

Inconveniently, stops weren’t being announced and there was no map to follow so I just got off at the first stop, per my Google Maps directions. At the moment, nothing signaled to me that everyone else getting off at this stop was all a part of something that I was not. As I followed the group that formed, climbing the stairs from the track into the station, I thought: Well, even if I screwed up and took the wrong train, at least there will be another arriving shortly that will be going the direction I came from. That’s the nice thing about trains! 

Then I started seeing signs requesting the proof of employee ID and the woman checking everyone inside rolled her eyes and informed me that I was in an employee exclusive facility and that they would need to escort me out. The next train returning to the Jamaica Station wasn’t until 9:30 am so I would have to order an Uber for $12 to take me back. They had to make a copy of my ID “for the system”, whatever the hell that means, so if you make a stop at LIRR-Hillside Facility and see my unsmiling passport photo hanging on a bulletin board labeled “Idiots Who Can’t Use Public Transportation”, you know the story. 

My sweet, silent Uber prince Gabriel returned me to the Jamaica Station and I got a nice tour of Queens. My faith unshaken, I pulled up Google Maps again which suggested a much simpler route to follow that I wish had been my original directions. I made it in one piece, without any failure, to the 86th Street station. 

I still had my stupid, heavy backpack that I was planning on stashing in a One Hour Framing shop. I found an app called Vertoe that I think is limited to New York where you enter in a time frame and location and you’re matched with a heavily vetted mom & pop shop to leave bags or luggage in. Seemed legit, but after my morning fiasco I didn’t have enough time before meeting for coffee, so it remained with me.

My friend suggested an Australian coffee shop on Fifth Avenue and I had a breakfast of yogurt and granola and an Aussie iced latte which did not seem distinctly Australian to me in any way. I was a sweaty mess after trekking through the city via subway, but Carl suggested we head over to the Met to take advantage of AC and the visitor ticket included in his membership. Thankfully, I got to stow my backpack for free and could enjoy walking around (almost) unencumbered for the first time in 24 hours – they did make me take my laptop for liability reasons, but one of the staff members very kindly got a bag from the gift shop to for me to put it in. 

I usually enjoy strolling through galleries but I was too exhausted to find meaning in any of it. Carl showed me his favorite section and we parted ways shortly after. The Met is huge, it turns out, so I had plenty of time to wander (albeit, zombie-like) to and from the exhibits with my dumb laptop in the gift bag. 

There were two pieces that stirred me out of my stupor. The first, Caspar David Friedrich’s Two Men Contemplating the Moon, was my world for about three weeks of German 302 when we focused on German romanticism and I had to write a short essay about it. Not knowing it was in the Met, stumbling upon it in the Apollo’s Muse exhibition was a moment of comfort, that I recognized something and had background information to attach to it. I eventually made my way to the Robert Lehman Collection and was drawn to singing voices. It was Ragnar Kjartansson’s Death is Elsewhere and it actually stirred me enough that I started crying a little bit. It was a video shown across seven screens, of two sets of twins (Aron and Bryce Dessner of The National are featured, which I was stoked on) dressed very granola, walking around singing accompanied by a guitar in an Icelandic field. I don’t know enough about art to explain why it resonated with me as well as it did, but I was glued to the floor (save for the turning required to follow the singers as they moved across the screens) for about thirty minutes. 

I took a break on a bench nearby and realized that my new shoes created a blister on the back of my right ankle and it was bleeding profusely, staining the shoe. I pulled up my sock and carried on. 

Bored, tired, and underwhelmed by more exhibit touring, I decided to leave the sanctity of the AC for Central Park where maybe I could find a nice patch of shady grass to lay in. I reclaimed my backpack and feeling a bit like Cheryl Strayed, marched my way to the park. I was too exhausted and hot to go very far and settled on a patch that was more dirt than grass. Luckily, I had band-aids for my blister in my backpack and tried washing my feet with water from my water bottle and facial cleanser in my toiletry bag so I could change into my sandals for the rest of the day without knocking out anyone with the horrible stench of my bare feet. This was a low point. After about a half-hour of sitting in the 90-degree heat, I decided that if I was too tired to walk around and see anything I may as well just sit around in cooler temps at the airport. 

I expertly navigated the subway back to JFK and got to the proper terminal. Now that my head has cleared, in hindsight, I should’ve made an effort to find something quick to eat in the city because the only appealing food option in the airport close enough walking distance from my gate was $17 fried rice which was pathetic.

JFK -> IST

The flight from New York to Istanbul made up for it, though. Shout out to Turkish Airlines and God himself, because I was granted an empty seat next to me. I cannot believe I am saying this, but the food was delicious and something I would consider eating at an actual restaurant located far away from any planes. Dinner was a choice of pasta or chicken, of which I chose the latter. It came with scalloped potatoes, steamed broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, a roll, hummus and quinoa, three shrimp on a small, sad bed of shredded lettuce and two tomato slices, and a chocolate raspberry cake. (One of my fatal flaws is how willing I am to Risk It All for my love of shrimp, but nothing bad happened to me on account of this.) The meal came with caesar dressing, olive oil and lemon sauce, and butter. And the utensils weren’t even plastic! 

The amenities were great; small bags were handed out by flight attendants that included slippers, socks, earbuds, an eye mask, and lip balm. There was also cologne and hand lotion in the bathroom, two things that I neglected to put in my backpack at an attempt to not weigh it down. 

After a few glasses of white wine the flight attendant granted me without an ID check (13.5% alcohol, baby! The Turks don’t mess around!), my melatonin dose actually did me some good on this flight, and I slept very well after checking out the movie selection. (They had all of the Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ice Age, Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies which I was very impressed with.) Breakfast was a cheese omelet served on top of a fried tomato, potatoes, and mushrooms, a fruit bowl, cottage cheese, and another roll. 

We landed in Istanbul and I immediately made my way to the airside hotel. I knew it was expensive and a day pass at the IGA lounge with showers was half the price, but I just wanted to connect to some reliable Wifi and to be alone for a few hours. I had the option of booking by the hour, so I did six which cost me 108 euro. An all-inclusive hotel bar and lounge pass cost another 20, but I thought sleep would serve me better than drinks.

I planned a long layover in Istanbul on purpose due to Turkish Airlines’ offer of free city tours with luggage storage, transportation, and meals arranged. I initially booked my flight so that the layover time matched with the offered tour times, but I was bumped to a different flight that didn’t work out with the tours. The airport is an hour and a half drive from the city by taxi, which is really the only option to get there, and seemed expensive. And after my luck in New York, there was no way in hell I was going to try using public transportation or navigating the city myself. So now I was stuck, but regained my dignity after showering and laying down in a real bed for the first time in two days.

I checked out an hour and a half before my boarding time, but my gate wasn’t assigned until 30 minutes before so I wasn’t sure which terminal it made most sense to be in. The airport was built rather recently, and it’s all very spread out and can take a while to walk to where you need to be. I lazily decided to eat at a Burger King because all of the nicer looking eating establishments were too crowded and expensive. My verdict: I would not recommend Turkish Burger Kings. 

IST -> FRU

The last leg of my journey went smoothly. The flight was full and I had seatmates, but there were screens and another delicious meal and wine were served. I watched a movie and slept for a few more hours before arriving in Bishkek at 5:40 am where a program coordinator escorted me by taxi to my host family’s apartment. 

I’ll summarize my first impressions of Bishkek and school orientation in another post, but I did want to recap my arduous journey because even though it wore me out, the overnight flights were a good way to adjust to the time changes and I had breaks to get outside and exercise my legs between very long flights. I’m about 50/50 as to whether it was worth it; an Istanbul tour would definitely sway my impression but spending 100 euros on a hotel still puts me slightly below the total cost it would have been for a series of more direct, better-timed flights. 

I am so so so glad I checked my carry-on. I would not recommend flying for so long with one, especially with the lack of luggage storage. I’m still trying to figure out what made my backpack so heavy – I only put in 2 days worth of light clothes, my Teva sandals which are very light, my laptop and its charger, my water bottle, a toiletry and makeup bag, and things like earbuds and tissues. If I could do it again, I would have 1) tried to get more sleep and 2) gone out of my way to try that luggage storage app because having that monster thing on my back literally and spiritually weighed me down. I would have gotten significantly more out of New York if those issues were alleviated.

So, there it is: all of my complaints in excruciating detail. If you read all of this, I am impressed and concerned about your lack of hobbies.

Now that I have been ushered into the lifestyle of a nomadic, free-wheeling world traveler, I sign off as a true travel blogger. Ciao!

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