Istanbul’s Atatürk airport

I wrote this post a few days ago when I had no internet connection. So while I am not there right now, I thought I’d share it anyway:   

I’m currently sitting in Istanbul’s Atatürk airport, in transit on my way back to London. I should be boarding another flight soon, so this post might skip about a little as I’ll probably be finishing it when I’m back up in the air. At this point I thought that I’d be at least a little bit concerned about the latest Isis video that was revealed just a couple of days ago. They believe it was filmed somewhere in Mosul or Aleppo. A single man tells the camera that their next targets will be Rome and Constantinople (i.e Istanbul). I don’t know why they chose to use the old name for here, but I’d hazard a guess that it is something to do with a draw towards the past, to a time when Turkey was less Western. I could be completely wrong though. Atatürk airport was subjected to an attack just last year, but the terrorists couldn’t get through security so focused on the areas before immigration.

It’s a far lovelier airport than I’d expected, once I passed through the initial security I was found great airy spaces, with cafes displaying food which looked both beautiful and tasty, but I didn’t really have time for that. Plus, my overall journey was mostly just 18 hours of sitting an watching films while air stewardesses brought me food. It’s strange, that sounds like bliss at any other time, but when you’re trapped in a little metal box in the sky, cramped up in a seat, usually with some horrible smells floating around (I blame all the eggs they serve up) it becomes an experience far removed from lovely ideas of slobbing and eating guilt free. There’s a curious mix of delight and dread that nothing productive can be achieved.

So as I had already eaten three dinners (one at home, one at the airport, and one on the plane. Don’t judge me) and a breakfast (mmm, solid egg lump with a tomato) and knew I’d get another breakfast only an hour later (mmm, more egg lump) I wasn’t really in the mood for eating more food, despite it looking so delicious. Instead I turned to a far worse habit of mine than being lazy and eating many dinners. I’m sounding like such a well rounded individual now, right?!

So, I was desperate for a smoke after 11 hours on a plane from Hong Kong. I peered about on the signs but couldn’t see that familiar sign that looks like someone sliced up a cigarette on a platter (never sure if that’s to make it look bad, ’cause it’s cut up, or good, as it’s presented like some kind of delicacy), but I did see a sign pointing to a terrace. I wasn’t quite certain if I’d be able to smoke there, but it seemed like my best bet. I wandered, following more signs, and found myself on top of a roof, in what was essentially a giant cage. Beyond the cage I could see part of a runway, with the Turkish airlines flags peeking out from the stationary planes. The air felt fresh despite the fog of smoke, and as dawn was about to break the air was cool. Three guys in a corner were playing instruments, a guitar and I think a sitar? It looked a bit like a guitar but with a rounded back. To be honest I initially thought it was a lute, but then I heard someone say sitar and it sounded quite believable, so I’m taking their word for it. The sitar/lute sounded lovely though, and was played in perfect harmony with the guitar. The atmosphere was wonderful. It felt just like that part of the night where everyone is relaxing in a friend’s garden, people are merry but not sloppy, and the air is full of contentment. For a few minutes I almost forgot where I was. When the music stopped, it seemed like the players hadn’t even known one another, they shook hands and seemed to be introducing themselves. Sometimes these moments of magic are all the more special because they’re unexpected and unplanned.

It was only going to my gate that the magic was rudely shaken away. Despite already having been through initial security to get into the airport, I had to go through another 4 sections just to reach the gate, one immediately after the next. The first was questions on where I’d been and where my final stop was. The second I have no idea about, I handed over my passport to someone at a counter which came up to my neck. I have no idea what he was looking for. I just peered over the top of it and tried to look innocent. I mean, I am innocent, but I still worried that I’d  seem suspicious somehow.  Plus I heard that they stop people who don’t look stereotypically terrorist-y, and as a skinny blonde girl who wears far too much eyeliner, I probably don’t look like I’ve tucked a bomb away… Which would make me more likely to have, according to the above logic. Not that I’m certain I believe it. I bet that if they did the numbers of nationalities most likely to be ‘randomly checked’ then skinny white girls wouldn’t be at the top.

The third checkpoint officer questioned me on my choice to fly though Istanbul (honestly, it was the cheapest and TA are pretty decent). The last security section was a longer wait, because they were doing bag searches and pat downs, so the men check men and vice versa. I had to wait for just a few minutes, watching other people being searched. One man had a very curious bag and was arguing with the inspectors, “it’s already gone through security 4 times in total, not long ago in Israel, I can’t open it up!” Of course I was interested, but I thought I heard one of the officers ask about dry ice, and the man shook his head, sighing as though presented with an idiot, ” no, not dry ice!”

I had to move on then, but as luck would have it, the man is on my flight! We had to get a shuttle bus to the plane and he happened to pop his little bag by my feet. I was trying to be subtle so it’s a little bit blurry, but it seems to be some human cells. I’m a bit confused about why it says “deliver immediately” on it, since by the sounds of it he’s been carting it around on lots of planes, but perhaps it is something he has to hand deliver.

So in a two hour transit, I found magic, I found a bit of concern, and I found a man carrying human bits in his carry on. Atatürk, you may have been brief, but you were still memorable. 

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