Walking to Bulgaria Would Have Been Quicker

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” –
Cesare Pavese

Back in February I booked my flights for my annual pilgrimage to Bulgaria, times where perfect, it was all set. We had several rough months by means of operations and plenty of visits to Doctors etc etc, so this was a great chance to unwind and let my hair down in the company of great friends from all over the place.

One week before traveling, I received an e-mail from the booking agent informing me that the airline had changed their flights, instead of arriving in Bulgaria for 9am, I would be arriving in Istanbul at 10:10 and then catch the 19:30 flight to Sofia arriving at 20:55. Obviously I wasn’t overly impressed by the prospect of having to kill the best part of 9 hours in an airport I looked for other flights but to no avail. I complained to the airline and asked for an upgrade, also to no avail. I arranged to meet a friend in Istanbul and do the touristy thing, after all, I had never been to Istanbul, unfortunately, that fell through at the last moment. I decided I may as well stay put and just chill out in the airport.

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Photo taken from aircraft I flew in

I arrived in Istanbul a little after 10:10 am and decided I wasn’t going to keep quiet about this, I was a man on a mission! First port of call was the airline’s “help desk” (the word should really be removed from their title and just be called Desk!). Here I was told that I should get a Turkish Visa, go upstairs and ask to be changed to an earlier flight (great!). I paid my 25 Euros and moments later I was in Turkey! I popped to their office upstairs (after asking half the population of Turkey how to get there, directions are not their forte in this airport!). Eventually I found their office, I proceeded to the other “help desk” (please remove the word help). I was then told I had to get a ticket before they would speak to me. Annoying, seeming I was the only person there! Anyway, like a good boy, went all the way back, got a ticket and was then seen to. Having been assured there was an earlier flight at the original desk, I was almost excited at the prospect of arriving a bit earlier. Well, this wasn’t to be, I WAS on the earlier flight, there were no other flights other than the one I was booked into. I was told to go downstairs and visit their Hotel Office and they would put me up in a hotel for the day. Great! I arrived at their other office to be told that I wasn’t entitled to any form of accommodation. After some more arguing, eventually they agreed. They put me in a shuttle with several other disgruntled passengers and eventually headed off in one of their shuttles. It was a great to chance to see parts of the city (which incidentally looks lovely!) We arrive at a lovely 5* hotel which was to be my shelter and home for the day, I was told to report to reception at 4pm to be taken back to the airport. After several showers and a failed nap, it was time to be picked up and embark on the next leg of my journey. Being picked up at 4pm seemed very sensible as the flight wasn’t boarding until 6:30. Eventually, after a 45 minute wait, the shuttle turned up at 4:45. The driver then decided it was time for a quick cigarette before taking us back. I was watching the minutes ticking away, wondering whether I would actually get to board tis flight or not. Traffic was horrendous, we hit rush hour big time. The driver didn’t seem to know where we were going as on several occasions he would stop and ask passers-by! Eventually, we arrived at the airport at 6:15 pm! I got hatting to a lady traveling to Mongolia, she was more stressed than me as her flight had already started boarding (mine wasn’t for another 15 minutes). The last thing we needed was to arrive at an airport which was absolutely packed with people everywhere AND having to go through security before you even entered the terminal! We cleared security, my flight was already boarding (or so I thought). Once again, the lack of signs really caused me a lot of hassle as I couldn’t even find where the gates where. Eventually I did. Only to find a further passport control centre and more security checks. It was not 6:50! I got through security and then I had to find the gate, obviously, It was the furthest one possible. If you haven’t been to Istanbul, the airport is one of the biggest you will visit and all in one terminal. I rushed to my gate (502), only to find that it was for the flight to Albania. I double checked the screen and I was at the right gate. Our plane wasn’t even there yet! Eventually, the Albania flight took off and we boarded straight away arriving in Sofia only 10 minutes behind schedule.

The flight back unfortunately wasn’t a great deal better! I had a fab time in Bulgaria meeting up with friends and meeting new people as well as visiting our old favourite haunts. After attending a highly successful  charity event on Sunday, it was now time to head back home. I arrived in Sofia airport in plenty of time (airlines don’t tend to wait for anyone!). Checkin and security all fine, no problems (I know this airport like the back of my hand so not much of an issue). I headed out to find our boarding gate then proceeded to spend a few spare Leva I had left over and bought a traditional Bulgarian table cloth as well as a cap for Kati to go with her collection of international caps from countries she has been in.

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In complete contrast to my outbound flight time between landing and taking of from Istanbul was relatively tight; just 1.5 hours…..what could possibly go wrong? Boarding time came and went and no sign of any aircraft. We took off slightly before 23:00 hrs, fortunately the flight is a bit quicker than the quoted time, on the way to Sofia it was just 1 hour. We took off and after just one episode of Blackadder on my iPad, (30 minutes), the captain announced we were now starting to descend and to switch off all electronics, we would be landing in Istanbul in 25 minutes. This was very welcomed news as it would mean landing slightly before midnight (next flight takes off at 00:30). We flew over Istanbul and circled around for a bit, we then flew away and lost all sight of the city. We then got into cloud and just kept circling and circling, occasionally banking left. After a while we started to descend but just as I thought we were heading in the right direction, we accelerated and once again started climbing. Eventually we landed much to everybody’s relief. However, it was now gone midnight. We stopped miles away from the terminal which meant getting onto buses. Eventually, we arrived in the terminal at 00:15 (15 minutes from take off). I literally sprinted into the terminal to be greeted by a sea of people and once again very little information, or help from anybody. Eventually I found a monitor saying last call for boarding. My gate was, of course the other end of this ginormous airport. I ran and ran, my shoelaces had come undone but I wasn’t stopping for anything…or anyone. People just moved out of my way as I was very clearly not planning to stop. Eventually I reached my gate, it was deserted……….I pushed a door open and found someone in the there, I made it very clear I was demanding to be allowed to board, I wasn’t asking! They agreed. Feeling mightily relieved I made my way to my seat which was at the very end of the plane only to find someone sitting in it. I made my feelings known quite clearly and he soon moved after questioning if I was right (cheeky sod!). In the midst of all this madness I kept thinking in the back of my mind what did I have in my suitcase. There was no way my suitcase would make it to the next flight in this short period of time. We took off and I watched several more episodes of Blackadder, didn’t sleep a wink as I was pretty wound up after all this hassle. We landed in Doha on time and once I had gone through immigration etc etc I popped over to check the carousel just in case my suitcase was there. It takes quite a while to go through immigration etc etc which usually means your suitcases are waiting for you going round and round. I had a quick look but nothing, so I reported it missing. They checked with Istanbul but no trace there either…. perhaps it never left Bulgaria! The driver picked me up and headed home. Cathy and Katja were in the car ready to leave when I arrived, so I took them to school then headed home for some much needed sleep. An hour later I received a call from the airport to tell me my suitcase was there and ready for collection, it had been there all along and had arrived with me!

I was reunited with my suitcase the next day and al was fine, just glad to be back home! In 2 weeks we head off to England for the summer, let’s hope Lufthansa are a bit more competent!

 

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