Monday, April 18, 2011

Here an Airport, There an Airport, Everywhere an Airport

One big part of having an international career is travel. And I believe that makes me a bit of an expert on airports. Generally I don't mind being in an airport. I know some people hate the crowds and the waiting, waiting, waiting... but I don't. I love watching people in airports (even better than WalMart sometimes). I also love that you can shop, have a snack and the occasional adult beverage. Sure, endless security checks aren't a thrill, but it's all part of traveling safely and that's okay with me. Here are some of my favourite and least favourite airports (or cities if I can't remember the name of the airport) and reasons why I like or dislike them:

LAX - this is one of my least favourite airports. It's extremely busy for one thing and poorly marked for another. I can get by in a busy airport but when I can't figure out where I am going because there are no signs, well... that's just another thing!

YVR - Vancouver is my hometown, so I am a little biased there but it's also such a pretty airport! I love arriving there. Leaving is usually fine unless you are connecting through the US. You have to go through US Customs in Canada when you transit through the US from this airport and it sucks! The US Customs often has security breeches or computer issues that cause lines to go out to the ticketing agents... it's crazy.

Seoul-Incheon - LOVE this airport. It's efficient, quick and easy to manoeuver. It's clearly marked, clean and just nice!

Charles De Gualle - I loved this airport for how quickly you can get out (there is no arrival customs... at all!!) but it was confusing and spread out over too many miles. It was huge and the duty free shopping when you leave is pretty much a joke. Boring!

Zurich - Um... perhaps it's the giant beer or the great shops or the clean bathrooms or the yummy sushi or the polite staff talking, but I loved this airport!! It was awesome!!! I loved my layover here.

Tokyo - I actually liked it here. It was so quiet when I got to my gate. Such a surprise. And there were good shops and things to do.

Manila - Oh my... this is one of my least favourites. You have to go through a million security checks and stand in ridiculous lines for nothing. And then once you've made it to the "secure" area there is a shop/restaurant that is about the size of a shoe box with the most limited selection possible. And then you have to go through at least one more security check before you get on the plane. And arrivals aren't much better. It's a gong show to get your luggage. I'm not positive but it seems like there are just 2 or 3 luggage belts for all the arriving flights. Chaos.

London-Heathrow - This airport is huge and clean and beautiful but also one of my least favourites. There is always some dramatic emergency or something happening here (once the air traffic controller caught fire so we couldn't land!!). And when you land for a transfer, you might think you are going to the gate next door (I landed at gate 25 and needed to go to gate 26) but in reality you need to do a giant loop through security that takes 45 minutes to get to the gate that you saw when you arrived. It's just a little too big...

Esenboga - I love this airport... it's easy! It's beautiful and clean and not busy at all. So simple, so easy to do what you need and good security.

Istanbul - Ataturk - This is huge but seems to function fairly well. I found leaving and arriving pretty easy. My only complaint is that when you arrive the lines to get a visa are ridiculously huge... but the duty free shopping is good, loads of things to look at and well marked out.

Okay... that's just a few that I've seen/experienced... I'm interested to hear/read what your airport experiences are.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Traveling from Turkey... the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Traveling is one of life’s pleasures and joys for me. I love to go new places, meet new peopl e experience new things. And this life as an expat teacher affords me multiple opportunities to do this thing that I love: travel. I travel to the place I am going to live for the duration of my contract and then I travel around seeing new places, people and cultures in the surrounding area on holidays.

Living in Turkey affords me some of the best travel sites in my new adopted country. I can go to a whole host of interesting and historical sites right here. And I have. I’ve seen Kapadokya, Istanbul, Konya, Aksaray and have an ever growing list of places to see. However, I still like to go outside of the country too. So with my spring break, I am leaving Turkey for the first time this school year for Paris, France. I have lovely friends living there and a very extra special friend coming to meet me from London. I just seemed like the perfect opportunity to get out of town, take a break and see something new.

As I said, this is my first time leaving Turkey since my arrival in August. I haven’t had to exit the country and I’ve certainly never been to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. But that is where I find myself today. As as the title of this post suggests, there is good, bad and ugly with the whole experience:

The Good: Turkish people (especially the women) love to get their hair done and there are hairdressers EVERYWHERE!! Because of travel arrangements, I got to the airport WAY too early to even check my bags. Unlike other international airports where you can just check your bag, go inside and shop, shop, shop this airport only opens check in gates 2 hours before the flight leaves. And that’s okay… but I had time to kill and some greasy hair (I took the 2am bus from Ankara to Istanbul). Thank God for the Kuafor!! I went in, inquired about a shampoo and style and the next thing I knew, I was agreeing to a haircut and the man searching out each grey hair on my head and dutifully cutting them out. I’d say he did a great job and I loved the feeling of being clean and coiffed!

The coiffed airport me...

The Bad: As I had taken the 2 am bus (which in and of itself was not a bad thing), I arrived feeling a little disheveled and in need of a bathroom. In Turkey, you are often required to pay for your use of the toilets. Usually, this means that the bathroom is sparkly clean and well stocked. Well, not at the Istanbul Otogar (bus station). The 1 TL I paid to be let in went straight to their pockets as it was clean-ish, stinky and lacking in basic materials (yes, squatty potties are a turn off for me at 7 am when I am bursting at the seams to go and am carrying a backpackers pack, a carry on and my purse… never mind that there is no toilet paper). I guess I expected more from the BIG bus station in the most metropolitan city in Turkey. However, at least the airport didn’t disappoint in this matter (and they’re FREE!!),although I was pretty sure my eyeballs were yellow by the time I got here.

The Ugly: So far the only ugly thing has been my greasy, post 2am bus trip hair… it was straight up gross!! But that’s all fixed… maybe the price of coffee could be considered ugly… but that’s airport prices for you… regardless of the city.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hospitals in Foreign Lands

I'm not a big fan of going to the doctor in my home and native land (Canada, for those of you who didn't catch that) but going in a foreign country can be scary and hard to navigate. In fact, I try to avoid it altogether, whenever possible. Instead, I rely on WebMD and natural remedies to keep me as healthy as possible. However, sometimes there is no avoiding it. Here are some examples:

In Korea, I had tonsillitis so many times and I, obviously, needed medication, so off to the doctor I went. I had great experiences with my doctors there. They were quick to diagnose and deal with my illness. I even had to have my tonsils removed at 30 years old (scary stuff). But they were great. The hospital (Samsung) had great staff, wonderful doctors, clean rooms and made me as comfortable as possible. They even had volunteers to translate and visit me so that I wasn't lonely or feeling like I couldn't have my needs communicated properly. I'd say it was a good experience.

In the US (and yea, that's foreign to me), it took me a while to locate a doctor who was taking on new patients, but once I did, I was really happy (except for the silly co-pay thing). I was able to get appointments with some ease and he was probably the most thorough doctor I'd had in ages. The clinic that he operated out of was less than inviting or warm, but it was clean and that's a plus, always!!

Here in Turkey, I've suddenly found an odd bruise on my body (and, no, I didn't hit or bump anything... it wasn't there in the morning and then, bam, it was there) and so I felt like I needed to get that checked out. I also had some internal pain... so I called the number for the ladies that help the foreign folk in Ankara and had them book my an appointment. They were lovely, speaking wonderful English and arranging everything in no time. I went to my appointment and my doctor was an internal specialist who spoke limited English. She was really nice, asked all the right questions and then told me that it wasn't related to what I think it is related to and proceeded to give me a topical cream for the bruise and told me that I can't eat salt, sugar, oil or bread... so that leaves me with rice, fruits and veggies. *sigh* She did order a battery of tests on Monday morning.... so that should be interesting. I'm having my first ever ultra-sound (apparently, that's just part of a normal check up here in Turkey... the doctor was beyond shocked that I'd never had one before).

The thing I love about the hospitals here and in Turkey is that when you visit the doctor, you are in the place that can get you booked for all your tests at once. There is no need to go home and call several offices to get the tests you need. They just do it right there. Also, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that they have staff who speak your language and the native language of the country you are in. They walk with you from place to place, making sure your questions are answered and that you understand what is happening. It's awesome!!