A Cheesy Little, not-so-close-to-the-Airport Hotel
I am tired of the sun! I am currently un-naturally tan (think George Hamilton), I am un- naturally hot, and I am un-naturally tired of being in the sun. Yes, it is true that only a few short months ago, I was lamenting the 42 continuous days of rain…but that was then and this is now. I am hot, tired and sweaty. I want to go somewhere cool…say England…yes, England…land of the pasty white people, bad fatty food, and cool grey weather… at this point in the adventure, this sounds perfect to me, so let’s go!
But first we have a couple more hours in Istanbul and a carpet to buy. Much like Morocco, it is a requirement to buy a carpet every time you visit Turkey. They sell carpets here much like we sell coffee in the US. Just like Starbucks (of which there are several in Istanbul) every street corner has at least 2 carpet shops. You can buy carpets in the grocery stores, in the gas stations, they even have vending machines that sell carpets. It appears to me that carpet sales must make up a very high percentage of the Turkish GDP. So, before we leave Istanbul, we must buy a Turkish carpet.
My sister Deb and her husband Colburn bought theirs a few days back from a guy named Mike ( a good Turkish sounding name if ever I heard one) who came recommended from Robin, who owns the really cool apartment we’re staying in. In fact, they bought 1 carpet, a donkey bag, and a few small, finely knotted pieces from an old baby crib. After their purchase, the Wall Street Journal reported that the value of the Turkish Lira took a noticeable swing upwards, probably due to an inexplicable and sudden jump in the carpet export sector of the Turkish GDP…oh right, the Shindell’s were in town. Any correlation? You decide.
But now it was our turn to contribute to the Turkish GDP so off to Mike’s shop I go with my wife, high expectations, and a large “available credit” balance on our Mastercard…a dangerous combination. Mike was not disappointed. After about 3 hours and many cups of tea, we walked away from Mikes with not 1, but 2 very nice old carpets…like I said, a dangerous combination. We are now the very proud owners of:
– A beautiful prayer rug with the “tree-of-life” motif
– A slightly smaller red, blue & black carpet from the Beluch region of Afghanistan
– A significant amount of Lowell Family sovereign debt
But, we rationalized to ourselves, this is a once in a very long while experience, and we don’t want to regret not buying this carpet or that carpet, and it’s good for the economy, and it’s something we can hand down to our kids…well, the list of rationalizations could go on for a while but suffice it to say that we bought 2 nice carpets, paid waayyyy too much money for them, and now have to carry them back home through several large airports on many small planes. I am hot, tired swe,aty, and am now carrying a rather large and quite heavy, satchel of old Afghani carpets…let’s go to England and cool off…please!
We say goodbye to Turkey after a wonderful 3-week tour through the western part of the country. Our overall impressions of Turkey are fantastic. The history, the people, and the “vibe” of the place are amazing. In my mind, Turkey is a country with a future, with or without the EU membership. Outside of Istanbul and Cappadochia (the 2 major tourist destinations in the country), we did not encounter a lot of foreign tourists. We feel as though we actually got to see a bit of the countryside, we got to meet some of the people, and Turkey gets “2 thumbs up” from our group. But I am hot, tired and sweaty…let’s go to England and cool off…please!
England…ahhh England! It is green, cool, and cloudy! It is also the land of narrow, dark, and scary roads. For our week-long stay, we have rented an adorable cottage in the Cotswalds (Laura just loves saying “cottage in the Cotswalds” in her best British accent). But, since the “cottage in the Cotswalds” is about 2-1/2 hours away from the “airport in the Stansted” and our “flight in the airplane” arrives very “late in the night”, we have wisely opted to spend our first night in England in a cozy little “cheesy hotel near the airport.”
Only too bad for us. As it turns out, our cozy little “cheesy hotel near the airport” that I rented on the internet turns out to be nowhere near the airport. In reality, it is about 45 minutes away from the airport. To make matters worse, our flight that was originally scheduled to arrive in England at 10:00 PM was an hour late. To make matters worser, the queue (British for “an interminably long, slow moving line) for the passport control was at least an hour long. But, to make matters the worstest, we were missing a cable!
A cable, a cable, my kingdom for a cable! As we completed the transaction for the rental car, Laura retrieved our faithful traveling companion / guide Tanya and brought her electronic, satellite-based brain to life. But as she tried to find her place in the world, she became confused. Laura said to me “Honey, Tanya is not booting up properly.” Words that struck terror into my poor, sweaty, and now tired traveler’s brain. “We’re screwed” was my immediate response as I had run through the entire problem in my brain in less than a second. Tanya would not boot up properly, we were not going to be able to use her to guide us to our not-near-the airport cheesy hotel. And we were now, officially screwed!
Here’s why. When we packed up and moved out of our house in Spain, Laura carefully selected and set aside the various and assorted electronic devices, chargers, cords, cables, and connectors we would need for our adventure. We had transformers, adapters, connecting cables, car chargers, power supplies, batteries etc coming out the wazoo. In general she did a great job. She even remembered to bring a very special cable that goes from a USB port on the computer and connects to Tanya so we could manage the various and assorted maps we would need for our trip.
The only problem, as we discovered in our first hotel in Turkey, was that the cable she brought for connecting Tanya to the computer would not work! It fit fine but would not allow the connection…who would have thunk? But in rides Colburn, gear head extraordinaire, to the rescue. He has another cable that both fits and works! We successfully load up our map of Turkey and Tanya guides us through the most remote mountain passes with only a few minor detours.
But we are not in Turkey any more. We are now in the Stansted airport in England. England is not in Turkey. We need to change Tanya’s map from Turkey to England. Colburn, and his cable that works, are on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic. No cable, no change the map from Turkey to England. I am tired, hot, sweaty and soon to become hopelessly lost on the aforementioned dark, narrow and scary British roads. Did I mention that, in Britain, they drive on the left side of the road? Did I mention that I do not drive on the left side of the road?
I panic. The nice gentleman at the rental car agency, with a very thick accent tries to calm my nerves by offering to print driving directions from the airport to the cheesy hotel which is not near the airport. After a few minutes of the printer whirring and clicking away with a brief interruption so he can change the ink cartridge, he hands me a sheaf of papers. “Sir” I said in my most accommodating voice, “I did not ask for a copy of the 2011 US Federal budget, complete with supporting footnotes, I merely asked for the driving directions to my not-near-the-airport-hotel.” “Jolly good, right-o mate..’ere ya go” he sings as drops the sheaf of papers on the counter with a thud as he motions the giggling gaggle of Koreans standing behind us up to the counter. It was my signal to leave.
No joke, there were at least 4 pages of instructions like “go 400 meters and bear slightly left on the 67th exit on the 4th roundabout…then proceed 25 meters and take the A8976 towards Chipping Not on the Green Upon Cuckhold.” I began to hyperventilate until Laura handed me an only slightly used airsickness bag to breathe into.
Well, we were now really screwed but we had to at least try. Laura suggested we stay at the L 900 a night Raddison hotel which was, in fact, near the airport but I huffed off the suggestion. We should have stayed at the Raddison and simply forgone the kids college tuition. We got lost getting out of the car park. We then drove 3 – 4 times around our first round about until we finally got off…going the wrong direction. We got honked at a few times and Laura polished the sidewalls of the tires a few times on the curb, the girls started to get “ooopy” (their description for being only minutes from hurling the bad airplane food all over the back of the small rental car), but we managed to get on the right road heading in generally the right direction.
Now we did also have a map from the nice gentleman at the rental car agency, but it was a map of Great Britainin it’s post colonial entiriety with our route showing up as a 1 inch line from the airport to our not-near-the-airport hotel. We vainly searched the map for landmarks. We peered into the inky blackness for any glimpse of a road sign. We feared for our lives, driving on the “wrong” side of the road. We pressed on into the dark night.
The British road system in this part of England was quite obviously developed from an ancient and primitive system of donkey cart paths that have been little changed over the past 1,500 years. No Eisenhowerian system of interconnecting highways to improve transportation efficiency here. We were driving on one-lane paths through 2-3 house villages in the dark, without a map, or even a general sense of direction. This was the Croatian experience all over again, but at least this time we had a full tank of gas. We pressed on.
At one point, we rounded a curve on the dark one-lane donkey cart of a road only to find ourselves staring directly into the high beams of a huge over-the-road hauler type semi truck. We stopped. He stopped. Laura wisely assessed the situation and backed up off the road into the weeds and the ditch that passed for a shoulder. The truck driver got out of his truck and walked towards us. In a thick Russian accent he queried us “Dyoo jew no whhher Buckinhamshire on the Avon at Stafford hillshire eees?” Too bad for this guy as he managed to find the only lost American tourist family in this whole part of the country and we were less than helpful in being able to provide him with any sense of direction, being lost ourselves.
As we parted company with our Russian trucker I swear I saw some of the boxes that we had “shipped home” on the back of his truck! I now hold out even less hope that we will ever see those things again as I am sure he was heading towards some English “boot sale” where they sell all the items that unsuspecting foreigners have “shipped home.” We pressed on.
To my utter amazement, we were actually navigating our way across the English country side, in the dark, without a map and only the most inaccurate and cryptic directions. The directions would say something like “drive .65 miles and bear left at Gamenshire lane.” We’d drive about 5 miles but, lo and behold, we’d see a sign that said “Gamenshire Lane.” My negativity was only overcome by our lack of other viable options. At each intersection, the roads seemed to get smaller and darker and further away from any signs of civilization. We did not pass a pub, store, gas station or house for at least 30 minutes.
But to my amazement, after negotiating the winding, narrow, dark and very scary roads, we actually saw some lights in the distance. Ahead we saw a sign for a town I could find on our map. Next we spied a main road…with cars on it. I was dumbfounded as we broke out of the wilderness onto to none other than the road where our not-so-near the hotel was located. We had found our hotel! It was 2:00 AM, I had been up since 5:00 AM, we were beat.
But we were now safe and we had, once again, defied the odds and found a warm safe place to spend the night, in a cheesy hotel, not very close at all to the airport.
We were all very happy in our beds! Tomorrow, a cozy little cottage in the Cotswalds!