Business took me to South Africa and Istanbul for the first time. Thanks to my outstanding IBM hosts, the business side was fruitful and the experience was exceptional.
Getting to South Africa is a challenge from anywhere but from Peoria, it’s a whole ‘nuther thing – 3 hr drive to Chicago, 7.5 hr flight to London, 11 hr flight to South Africa plus layovers adds up to 32+ hrs. Fortunately, the weather was perfect and the Sandton Hilton hotel accommodations made the adjustment better.
Conrad Hilton – Istanbul
Tuesday night, we took a 10 hr flight on Turkish Airlines into Istanbul. We had the best travel experience as we emerged from the jet bridge in Istanbul. Someone was holding a placard with our name on it. He whisked four of us onto a golf cart and drove through the busy airport to customs where we were placed into a reserved line and quickly to baggage claim. In less than 30 minutes, we were in an SUV driving to the hotel. That doesn’t even happen in domestic flights. This was a special service care of the Conrad Hilton Hotel transfer. I highly recommend it. Check out the amazing views from the Conrad below.
Old Town Istanbul Tour
As we departed from our taxis in old town Istanbul, this guy pops out of the rain and says “Hey guys. Hey! I am not a tour guide but I would love to personally guide you while you are here. In return, I only ask you to visit my rug store.” Because of his persistence and Kurt’s reassurance, we allowed ourselves to follow our new found friend. Our friend’s first guidance was sage advice – the Blue Mosque closed 45 minutes after our arrival, so start there.
Our friend was waiting for us at the Blue Mosque exit then guided us to Hagia Sophia Museum. It was still raining and the queue looked to be about 45 minutes long but our friend who found us tickets from a pal escorted us past the long lines and around the mass of people waiting in the rain. Before we knew it, we were inside the museum safe from the rain.
About an hour later, our friend was waiting for us at the exit with a smile. We owed him the courtesy to visit his Rug store where we learned the 1000s of rugs were priced well beyond all our imagination. Too bad I didn’t get any pictures. The rugs were amazing.
Of course when I shared the story with Deb, she only wished I had brought back one of those hand-made silk rugs. Go figure.
Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople. Constantinople fell to the attacking Ottoman forces on the 29th of May in 1453 and became a mosque. In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum.
OK. I was probably in their social media posts so I figured I owed them to return the favor. This Japanese tour was marveling over the Deësis mosaic.
The Deësis mosaic -Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are imploring the intercession of Christ Pantocrator for humanity on Judgment Day.
Comnenus mosaic - The Virgin Mary is standing in the middle, depicted in Byzantine art dark blue gown holding Christ in her lap. On her right side stands emperor John II Comnenus and Empress Irene stands on the left side.
Southwestern entrance mosaic - Virgin Mary, Christ Child. On her left is Emperor Constantine. On her right side stands emperor Justinian I.
Randy Fleener, Deon George, Kurt Bilderback, Rob Coventry, Todd Walls, & Avery Bengston
Breakfast in Europe / Dinner in Asia
Yeah. I have heard the story before but I actually experienced breakfast in Europe and dinner in Asia. After our partner sessions on Thursday, one of our partners arranged dinner for us. We took cabs to a water taxi where we crossed the Bosphorus Straights to a restaurant called Rigel located on the Asian water front. The photo ops were amazing.
One thing I can’t get out of my head is “Have you tried the Raki?” You’ll have to visit Istanbul and ask your waiter for Raki to understand that one.