The journey begins

Istanbul Travel Blog

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American Airlines JFK-LHR

I'm finally getting around to posting this trip report, only over a year late.

My travel buddies and I visited Central Asia -stans last year.  Our plan was to start in Almaty and head overland through the 5-stans and end in Tehran.  US Citizens must be on a guided tour in Iran, so I arranged an itinerary with key2persia.  I had already bought my open-jaw tickets AUS-ALA/IKA-AUS when I found out our visa authorization had been denied (no reason given) two days before we were supposed to depart for Almaty.  We then had to scramble and rebook our tickets, visiting Iraq and the Balkans instead (I need to finish that previous report too!!)

In early August I decided to apply again for an Iranian visa, this time using my UK passport, hoping to travel the week of Labor Day.

Turkish Airlines LHR-IST
  The advantage of using a UK passport for the visa is that it is not required to have a tour guide, the disadvantage is the visa for UK citizens costs twice as much (150 Euro vs 70 Euro).  Getting a visa is a bit of an involved process, first you must apply (usually through a tour company in Iran) for a visa authorization number.  This can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, and can be denied with no reason given (as happened to us previously).  Once the visa authorization comes through, then you can apply for the actual visa stamp.  When you apply for the visa authorization, you must specify which embassy you plan to get your visa issued.  Once the visa authorization is approved you have usually 30 days (I've also read 3 months) to get the visa issued.
  It is possible to change the embassy but it does cost extra and tames more time.  This time I used a different tour company and I also specified Istanbul as the embassy as I heard that they issue visas quickly there.

UK passports usually take 10-20 days to get an authorization number, but after I had not heard anything back after three weeks I assumed that it would not come through in time.. and I ended up booking a last minute trip down to Cow Do in Buenos Aires over Labor Day weekend 2012.

Finally over 5 weeks after I had applied and I had pretty much given up hope I was surprised to get an email saying my visa authorization had been approved!  So next was the mad scramble to find flight availability and plan a quick week-long trip to Iran.
Sultanahmet street
  I hoped to fly to Istanbul arriving Sunday night, get the visa issued the next day and take a flight Monday night to Tehran.  That would give me 5-6 days on the ground, not much but enough time for me to see Tehran, Isfahan, Persepolis and Shiraz.  I ended up finding award availability on American/British to Istanbul leaving the next weekend, although with bad connections including a long layover in Dallas, a LaGuardia-JFK transfer and only 90 minutes to connect in LHR.  Coming back to the US, I planned to fly Qatar from Shiraz back through Houston.  But since I did not yet actually have the visa, I was worried about problems and did not yet book my return flight.

It was an interesting time to visit Iran. The sanctions had started to hurt the economy and a shortage of foreign currency caused the rial value to plummet.
Corn vendors
  Officially the rate was 12500/$1 but when I was there it was 25000/$1.  Prices had not yet risen and it was already an inexpensive place to visit, allowing for some great deals on accommodation and entry fees to sites.

Sep 22, 2012
Flight: Austin, TX (AUS) to Dallas, TX (DFW), American Airlines, economy
Flight: Dallas, TX (DFW) to New York, NY (LGA), American Airlines, economy
Flight: New York, NY (JFK) to London, England (LHR), American Airlines, economy
An uneventful start to the trip.  Supershuttle picked me up on time and dropped me at the airport with no problems.  I had received the Scottevest for Christmas last year but haven't had much of a chance to use it previously.
  I  managed to stuff all my electronics and passport/tickets inside the pockets which made going through security very easy.   I had not renewed my Admirals Club pass this year for the first time in 10 years (I've been flying United more lately), but luckily I still had lounge access as I was flying internationally as a Platinum.  

The flight to Dallas was uneventful but from then on the problems started.  My flight was originally supposed to depart at 1:35 PM but there was an earlier flight departing to LGA at 12:30, since I had not checked bags I was able to standby for the earlier flight.  I had to transfer LGA-JFK so an extra hour buffer time would be great.  We board the flight... only to have an hour delay due to mechanical issues!  In hindsight I should have just kept my original flight.
  The 1:35 flight was cancelled and hopefully they would have instead put me on the nonstop DFW-LHR flight.

We landed 70 minutes late in LGA, although at my original flight's scheduled arrival time.   That left a tight but doable 3-hr time to transfer to JFK.  Luckily traffic wasn't too bad on the Van Wyck (Saturday) and I was relaxing in the JFK Admirals Club within an hour.

The flight to LHR was uneventful though we pushed back about 15 minutes late.. I was worried about my connection in LHR.. only had 95 minutes to transfer T3-T5.  Usually that is enough but I would have preferred a longer buffer, especially for visiting the BA lounges.

Sep 23, 2012
Flight: London, England (LHR) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST), Turkish Airlines, economy
Hotel: Old City Hostel, Sultanahmet, Turkey (20€)
We arrived in LHR on time but took nearly 30 minutes to taxi to the gate arriving at 9:30.
. by then I only had an hour to connect and was definitely worried about missing my flight.  However when I deplaned there was someone there with my name, BA had proactively protected me on a Turkish airlines flight instead!  Much better as TK departs from T3 as well which saves making a terminal transfer.  Plus that meant earning full Y miles LHR-IST on an award itin, score!  I even had time to pop into the SAS lounge for a bit before heading down to the gate.

The flight to Istanbul was quite nice on the A330 plane.  TK has pretty good food options even in economy.

Arrived at Istanbul airport to a huge line for the visa then another long line for immigration.  They have since moved to an online e-visa so that should speed arrival.  This was my third time in Istanbul since 2009 and the airport keeps getting busier and busier with TK's huge expansion the past few years.
  I took the metro+tram combo towards the center of town, getting off at Sultanahmet station.  I planned to stay at a hostel nearby as I hoped I would only need one night in Istanbul.  The Old City hostel was very convenient, just a block away from the tram stop.  Very clean and nice dorm rooms and it wasn't too busy.  The Iranian Consulate was also conveniently located just a few blocks away.

The temperature was great so I headed out to grab a doner kebab for dinner, then wandered around the Blue Mosque and through lower Sultanahmet.  The streets were very busy with tourists and sidewalk restaurants.  Even if touristy, I love the atmosphere in Istanbul.  I returned via the Iran consulate to scope it out for the next morning.

Zagnut66 says:
Congrats on being featured!
Posted on: Dec 06, 2013
halilee says:
Congrats on your featured blog! I really hope to make it to Iran someday so I'll be reading this either great interest! I do love turkey as well!
Posted on: Dec 06, 2013
Bluenose says:
Thanks for posting this, I have just booked a 7 day trip myself and this has given me some insight.
Posted on: Dec 06, 2013
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American Airlines JFK-LHR
American Airlines JFK-LHR
Turkish Airlines LHR-IST
Turkish Airlines LHR-IST
Sultanahmet street
Sultanahmet street
Corn vendors
Corn vendors
Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque
Istanbul
photo by: Memo