segunda-feira, 17 de maio de 2010

DESTINATION BRAZIL 2010: Istanbul-São Paulo with Turkish Airlines

AIRLINE: Turkish Airlines (TK)

ROUTE: Istanbul (IST) - São Paulo (GRU)


AIRCRAFT: Airbus 340


DATE: 16 May 2010
DEPARTURE: 10:45
ARRIVAL: 20:00
FLIGHT NUMBER: TK15
FLIGHT DURATION: 12 hours
CLASS: Economy
PURPOSE OF TRIP: Personal


I had four hours to "enjoy" Istanbul airport while waiting for my flight to São Paulo. What should I do?

I wanted to freshen up. Maybe take some shower or something. I was looking for a place where I could pay and use the shower facilities but there seemed no such place to be found. That's what I thought. Or that's what I was made to think. I tried the airport hotel but it was full.

Asking the airport staff didn't help at first. It seemed that every person I asked pointed to different directions. Some simply couldn't understand me neither could I understand them. Few were also rude.

Though it's getting crowded, Istanbul Airport is a nice airport. It's a good transit point for flights to Asia, North America, Europe, Africa, and yes, now South America. Coming from Hong Kong, I only waited for 4 hours before embarking on my flight to São Paulo (the return flight is a whole different story though).

After the "looking-for-a-shower-room " adventure was over, I found a place to relax and proceeded to do my favourite thing: PLANESPOTTING!


A TK B737 and a TK A330 in Star Alliance scheme

TK B737's. Obviously a TK's territory!
TK A330 in Star Alliance colours

The control tower with a Brish Airways Airbus plane

TK B737 and British Airways A320
My most favourite shot of a TK A330. I like it so much that I made it as my Youtube account background. I used to hate TK's colour scheme and the A330 but they grew on me! Lovely plane and colours!

An interesting aircraft and airline. Caspian Airlines!

When passengers started to flock through the gate where I was busy planespotting, I had to leave and go to another emply gate. It went on and on until I got tired of it and just settled in a place near the flight monitor to be able to check my flight from time to time. After two hours of walking and sitting and watching people, at around 09:30, the monitor displayed the information I was waiting for: flight number TK15 to São Paulo at gate 218. The gate turned out to be near where I was waiting.

I got excited and was among the first to get to the gate. There were 10 passengers when I arrived but wasn't sure if they were flying to São Paulo. But maybe most of them were because they were talking to each other in Portuguese (later I found out I was right).

Then the security officer shouted: "São Paulo!"

It's funny because at that moment I could believe I was actually going to São Paulo! Well, for others this is just an ordinary event in their life. For me, it was different. I wanted to do this for a very long time but I just couldn't afford it! To go to Brazil is so damn expensive (at least coming from my country).

The passengers started to fall in line. The metal scanner alarmed and that I should take off something and I was afraid that it was my belt that I should take off. I told the agent my pants would fall down around my ankles and we laughed!


Gate 217. Holding area for a flight to Central Asia. I arranged my documents here before proceeding to Gate 218.

Then I took my very first picture of the lovely Airbus 340 of Turkish Airlines that would fly me to São Paulo!

Turkish Airlines Airbus 340

A Turkish Airlines territory indeed!



Then I went to the Gate 218's holding area. There was another documentation verification and I was asked again about the Brazilian visa. I just told her I didn't need a visa and she was OK with that.


Gate 218. This is THE gate!

My flying metal to São Paulo!

A closer look at this beauty called "Mersin"!

Catering is handled by Do & Co. Excellent company!

And here comes the crew!


Here they are!


Another shot at the holding area. People were talking in Portuguese and it was very cool to hear them talking!
And another one for "Mersin"


A view of "Mersin" while I was going inside...it

Before stepping inside, I had to pat on the flying metal again, as a tradition.


BOARDING

The flight was full. Many Brazilians of course but some passengers were from Africa and South Asia.

Unlike the Boeing 777-300ER, this Airbus 340 is Turkish Airlines own aircraft. So, this was my first flight on an authentic Turkish Airlines metal. The cabin interior was of Turkish Airlines branding and it's so pleasing to the eyes! I love the combination of powder blue and turquoise (except for the pink curtains that divided the cattle class and the business class). But overall, it's a joy to look at.







TAKE OFF

We took off late because of the busy runways of IST.

The plane was being pushed back ready for its 14-hour flight to São Paulo!
Turkish Airlines Airbus 330 from my window. Lovely!
Ready for the take off run! Istanbul Airport at that time was too busy that we were kinda running late. You can see many planes lining up for take off...

The engines started to roar...and we were pressed against our seats
The take off run...

The plane was racing across the ground with full force...


And the aircraft's exhilarating rotation...

And we lifted off the ground!

Some parts of the city of Istanbul seconds after take off...

Minutes after take off...going up...higher...and higher...

The Sea of Marmara


IN-FLIGHT

There was a good selection of movies and TV programs but I was most of the time listening to Turkish music and some Brazilian music.

The amenity kits and headsets were distributed and after that, the hazel nuts and orange juice soon conquered our mini-tables.

I love Turkish music and the selection of Turkish music offered was a joy! I loved Mercan Dede's series of albums and the greatest hits album of Özcan Deniz.


My seat

The seat and legroom deserve a special mention. I wasn't at all comfortable during most of the flight. I'm 5'10 feet tall and that should not have been an issue. But because of the dreaded IFE box, the legroom was restricted. And we're not talking of a flight of one hour or so. It's 14 hours! I tried hard but I ran out of any possible position to make myself comfortable. Wow, that was a pain. Good thing I was flying to São Paulo and I didn't mind those things at all and thanks to the in-flight entertainment, I was a bit distracted from this inconvenience.





My personal TV


Cabin crew

A gentleman and a lady served our row. The guy was polite, and yes, "smiling" as well, hehe. Almost all things can be said to the lady but the guy got more points. When you ask something from him, he would politely respond. He was really doing a good job on the said flight.

The food was great! Of course, that was by Do&Co! So far, I've flown with 18 different airlines but I consider Turkish Airlines economy food offerings as some of the best in the industry.


ARRIVAL

12 or more hours have passed and we were arriving shortly at the Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo.

Minutes before landing: my first glimpse of the city of São Paulo. Sure, I was tired. But I was happy. This was a vacation 4 years in the making. I was excited. I had tears in my eyes, haha.

And we landed in São Paulo!

The plane arrives in São Paulo!

Anyway, we arrived late. It was cold, not bitter cold, but just enough to make someone from a tropical country uncomfortable without a jacket (but I love cold weather, don't get me wrong!).

We were then bussed to the terminal and proceeded to the passport control. Worth mentioning is the Brazilian method of screening the incoming passengers. While the passengers were still on the line, the police agents were already checking the documents so by the time a passenger would reach the passport control, he would just wait for the agent to stamp his passport.

The police asked for my passport and talked to me in Spanish. I don't know why...maybe he thought there was more chances of me knowing how to speak Spanish...but I answered him in Portuguese. He was surprised. I told him that I wanted to visit the city of São Paulo, meet some friends, speak Portuguese...all those stuff. He was amused.

No visa was needed but there was a verification of documents. Then it was OK. Before I proceeded to the passport control for the stamp, the police agent again told his colleague that I spoke Portuguese, haha. And they said: "Ah que legal, muito bem!" (meaning: "that's cool!").

The airport of São Paulo-Guarulhos is old school compared to North Asian or European airports. It's not the most pleasant of all. It's even congested. It needs expansion. But just the same, who cares, I didn't mind at all, haha. GRU is actually a symbolic airport for me as a Lusophile.


SO LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN!

Upon clearing immigration and customs, I had my money changed from USD to Brazilian Reais and went off. At the waiting area, I was surprised to see the guy from hostel who had my name written on a cardboard. I mean, I wasn't really surprised. After all, I sent an e-mail requesting them to meet me at the airport (yet at the back of my mind, it was only a gamble coz I didn't really expect that they would pay attention to my e-mail). Oh well, that's means they were efficient.

I asked Fernando (the guy's name) if I was the only one he was going to meet or was I sharing the car with another passenger? He said I was the only one. He's quite nice. I told him I still couldn't believe I was in South America. He actually served as my guide (and a good one at that!) while we were cruising down the road going to the hostel. He told me he owned the car but during his free time, the hostel would contact him to meet passengers at the airport. He added that most of the time passengers wouldn't talk to him because he only speaks Portuguese so he liked it when I told him I could speak his language. Maybe I'll contact him again when I return, hehe.

My first impression of São Paulo? It's like the suburbs of Madrid. Of course, it was night time so I don't know if my impressions were justified.


Hostel

We arrived at hostel at around 10:30. I paid 80 Brazilian reals (40 US dollars) for the service. It was a good idea. Better than renting a van or taking the taxi or worse, the bus. I was tired! I surfed the Internet and sent messages to my family and friends and informed them that I had arrived in Brazil. I also bought a phone card to call my sister in Canada.

My first phone card bought in Brazil...hehe


Then time for that much-needed sleep...

I had earlier reserved an individual room. But the receptionist told me that since I wasn't able to confirm (or I didn't know what happened, I was too tried and excited to listen, haha), he booked me in a dormitory-type room for 8 persons and the individual room would be vacant only after 4 days. What? I wanted a room of my own because I had to rest, get a full sleep, and get ready for the next day of adventure. He said he could contact other hostels (nice of him) and so I requested him to contact another member of Hostelling International (I had two bookings for two different hostels, just in case). I gave him the contact number and luckily there was an individual room available for 45 reais (here, the price was 50 reais so I got to save 5 more reais if I move to the other hostel, but that's not the point by the way). He instructed me where to go and phoned a cab to get me to the metro station. I paid 8 reais for the taxi ride.

It was around 23:30PM when I got off the taxi. There were people around but not a lot. And me, a stranger in the giant city of São Paulo, just arrived some hours ago, fresh from the airport with my backpack and nearly-worn out luggage, standing there alone, wondering where to go. I was a bit scared. But I'm not new to this kind of situation though. I did this in Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Palma de Mallorca, Paris...name it.

So after some seconds of pondering, I hit the metro station and went to buy a ticket.

Inside the metro station in São Paulo. I bought my ticket from the both at the far right of the picture.

There were three empoyees at the booth and I asked them in Portuguese how to go to Praça de Arvore where the hostel was located. At first they could not understand me (because of my accent, haha). I had to show the address and one of them got out of the booth and showed me the metro map.

At first I was "fighting" with the card validation thingy when a Brazilian lady noticed it so she helped me out. I took the opportunity to ask her if she knew the place to where I was going and she said she knew the station where I would have to get off and that she was heading to the same direction (but not exactly to my destination). So it's OK.

My subway card. This was good for 3 trips I think. But it can be loaded again and you don't need to fall in line.

This is Vila Madalena station where I started off my metro journey...

Then I had to ask again. Yes, my Portuguese language skills actually came in handy. And the people whom I asked were nice and were patient with me. I know I had a different accent (more on the European standard Portuguese) but they were cool with it. The metro employee told me the the street I was looking for wasn't that far from the station. Oh, OK.

I went up the streets but I just couldn't figure out where I was! And it was 00:10 at dawn! What the hell I was doing alone in the streets?

I went to a bar to ask. I asked one person and ended up being helped by four people and one of them was kind enough to take me to the street where I should be starting my 15-minute walk to the hostel! Nice first impressions.

Although excited, this time I began to become nervous of what I was doing. I was alone again in the middle of that dark alley. Well, I was caught in that situation so nothing else to do but go for it. The neighbourhood (by the way it's an upper-middle class) seemed calm and I was only the one who was walking on the streets (no wonder it was calm, haha). The owner of the bar who had helped me passed by while I was walking and he signalled to me that I should walk further ahead...two blocks more!

Finally, I reached the street where the hostel was located. There was a bar at the corner but it was closed and there some 4 people outside.

I walked further down and was happy to reach the hostel...

I made it!



So this pretty sums up my first day...or night in São Paulo...waiting for more adventure in this huge city!

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