Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

Enroute To Roma

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

I am writing this to you from the economy class section of an Alitalia MD80.

We arrived at the Istanbul airport around 11.30am and headed back to Starbucks for our morning coffee fix.  Thank God we have invested in Starbucks – maybe need to up the shares a bit!

We took advantage of the free Wi-Fi and booked our hotel in Rome.  We didn’t know if we were going to be on the flight but having checked the loads before leaving the hotel we knew we were not going to have a problem.

A short stroll from Starbucks had us at the check-in counter for Alitalia and a pleasant check-in girl.  We received confirmed seats on the 2.10pm flight to Rome, checked our bags in and headed for the departure gate.  All very seamless.

I have taken the time at the departure gate and on the flight to update the past few days of our travels so all I need to do now is add some photos and upload the pages to the site.  I hope you enjoy them.

We haven’t slept on the short (2.30 hour) trip to Rome although we could have done with a quick catnap after last night’s (this morning’s) late finish.  Oh well, I guess we will operate on the energy reserves until we get into our hotel in Rome.  Having said that I am looking over at The Princess and I see that she is struggling to stay awake.  I think we will be having an afternoon nap on arrival at the hotel.

The hotel that we booked in Rome is located about 15 minutes from the city centre.  There is a free shuttle service into the city so that will serve us well.

We aim to catch the train from the airport into the city centre (Termini) and then call the hotel for pick-up.  It sounds like a cunning plan – let’s hope it works like this when we arrive.  If it doesn’t then we we will go into “remain flexible” mode and change plans.

I shall type some more after getting to the hotel as we are now on descent into Rome.  It is a bit bumpy and I can’t read the screen.


OK, back again.  Well, we arrived without incident to a beautiful sunny Italy.  The flight over Italy to Rome was very picturesque – lots of green paddocks and the Alps in the distance.  Rome has had a lot of rain in recent weeks so the place is lovely and green.

The baggage claim and passport control procedure was relatively simple – the Italian authorities were not too phased in getting to know us.

After working out where the train was we made our way to the train station and bought some tickets (11 Euro each for the one way trip to the Terminii in Rome).  The train arrived after a few minutes and we started the challenge of getting to our hotel!!

Getting on the train was not a simple procedure.  There are around 3 steps (up) to get into the train then you have to negotiate your way into the carriage.  Quite remarkable for the “airport train”.  Not very well designed at all.  However, once we got into our seats and settled in the trip into Rome was rather straightforward.

The trip into Rome was rather uninspiring.  The airport is a long way from the city centre so you pass through some farmland before reaching the city outskirts then finally into the city itself.  There was nothing of note to see on the way to the city.

The trip into the Termini (Central Station) took around 40 minutes and, as mentioned, it was quite comfortable.

On arriving at the Termini we grabbed a trolley, loaded up the baggage and went in search of the bus to the hotel.  We had spoken to the hotel at the airport and they gave us the directions on how to get to the hotel.  Not as simple as the description on the phone!

I had to find a bank that I could get some money from before I could by our three day pass.  It turned out that I was standing next to it but I circumnavigated the Termini before realising this fact.  This was fortunate because during my short navigation exercise I was able to work out where to buy the tickets from – you would think this would be obvious in the Termini – not so.  This was our introduction into the complete lack of information and guidance for tourists in Rome.

Anyway, we sorted out the tickets and received directions to the bus.  So, with trolley in hand we set off to find the bus stop.  Enroute it appeared that the trolley suffered a complete malfunction so we found another one, changed over all the luggage and set off again.  Around 10 steps later this one seemed to malfunction too.  Bugger.  It was only then that we realised that we had reached the allowable area for luggage trolleys.  A magnetic “shut me down now” strip was embedded into the concrete and would not let the trolley go any further – back to bag dragging mode!! Fortunately we didn’t have too far to go to the bus stop.

Getting onto the crowded bus with the number of bags that we had was a bit of a challenge but the crowd were obliging to the two “struggling tourists” and allowed us to pile our bags on to the bus.  They also obliged us in giving advice on when to get off the bus – thankfully.  We would not have had any idea otherwise!!

This is where the fun began.  After getting off the bus (similar exercise to getting on to it!!) we called the hotel for directions again.  “After getting off the bus you will see a flower shop (should have been a fruit shop as it turned out).  Go past the flower shop and you will see a bank. Turn left there and you will see a gas station.  After to petrol station take the next road and go uphill to the hotel”.  This all worked out perfectly. However, it was the wrong hotel, we were nowhere near the actual hotel and if it wasn’t for some Canadian Italians who spoke to the hotel for us we would still be walking around Rome!!  The Princess was broken and Roey completed a month’s worth of exercise lifting the bags up flights of stairs and hills.  Lesson – take the airport – hotel direct Mercedes Benz to the hotel on arrival in Rome!!

We finally found the wonderful little hotel, checked in, carried our bags a few more flights of stairs then collapsed.

Being rather famished after the bag dragging we asked for directions to the nearest restaurant, rugged up in some warm clothes and set out to get some supper.  The restaurant was delightful and we enjoyed some lovely pasta, pizza and red wine before returning to the hotel.  After a warm shower we collapsed into bed and slept like “logs”.

Off in search of “The Complete Rome Experience” tomorrow.


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Walking In The Footsteps Of Ancient Travelers

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Wow – what a day!!

We “slept in” until 7.30am (after two snooze alarm sessions!) and woke up feeling rather refreshed.

Breakfast in the hotel (part of the room rate) was very nice and rather filling.

The other diners included what appeared to be some first year US university students that are here as part of their studies.  A little noisy for our liking but maybe we are just getting older!!

We did a little bit of “online” business before heading out into the brisk morning air.

The hotel is located in a perfect location in the Old City so we were able to walk to everything throughout the day.

The morning started with an invitation to join the host of a new restaurant near the hotel.  He “shouted” us a free cup of apple tea (the Turks love their tea and coffee).  The experience was wonderful – so good that we went back for dinner later in the day.

We started with a stroll through a lovely park right beside the hotel.  The park is located near the St Sophia mosque area.  St Sophia was built in 500BC and by strolling through the park you get a great sense of the age of the architecture here in Istanbul and the way the people must have lived back then.

From the park we walked past St Sophia (originally a Christian Church but changed to a mosque under the Ottoman Empire when the Turks took over). It is closed on Mondays so we were not able to go inside.  However, the shear size of the building from the outside is something worth seeing.

St Sophia is located right next to a huge museum (built around the same time) so we took a walk through the gardens and outlying buildings of the museum.  Neither of us are big fans of museums so we were not to phased about joining the crowds that were going through it.

We just love to immerse ourselves into the culture on the street.

St Sophia is literally just across the road from the Blue Mosque – one of the incredible mosques in this fascinating city.  The Blue Mosque is called “Blue” because of the tiles used on the inside of the mosque.  These tiles are made from quartz and are very special.

To enter the mosque we had to take our shoes off and show respect for the Muslim custom – not unlike walking into any other religious establishment.  We had never been inside a mosque before so this was very special for us.  The beauty of the interior cannot be stated here – one must see it to truly appreciate it.  Wow.

From the Blue Mosque we headed for one of the many shops selling local wares and bought some small items to remind us of Istanbul.  The gentlemen in the shop spent a lot of time explaining the meanings of the writings on some of the small tiles we bought.  Like everyone we met he was a really nice man with a very interesting story to tell.

Feeling a little “peckish” we decided on one of the many Turkish restaurants in the area an dined on some more (different again) local food.  Again – not disappointed.

Like bees to honey we found a Starbucks cafe and enjoyed a nice warm cup of coffee and Tazo Chai Tea.  The warm interior of Starbucks was a welcome break from the rather cold afternoon and helped to wash down some of our lunch.

With our bellies full and our coats done up we got back “on the road” and went in search of more adventure.

A short stroll later we “stumbled” on the Grand Bazaar.  Now this was something very special.

We were told that the Bazaar was once used (1000’s of years ago) as stables and, over time it was converted into a Bazaar.  Now we have to tell you that the use of the word “Grand” is a bit of an understatement.  This place was incredible.  We thought that the markets in Hong Kong and China were impressive.  They have nothing on this place.  Not only was the size quite overwhelming but the beauty of the place was similarly breathtaking.  The variety of shops and wares is something to be experienced and I would encourage you all to visit this place once in your life.  Incredible.

Interestingly we kept our purchases to an absolute minimum (something to do with the lack of space in our bags??) – I bought a couple of lovely dress shirts and The Princess treated herself to a pair of incredibly funky shoes.

After finding our way out of the maze called the “Grand Bazaar” we had a chilly walk back to the hotel.  We stopped regularly to take some night pictures of the Blue Mosque, St Sophia and some other night sights.

We had a quick “turn around” at the hotel before walking back to the restaurant that we had apple tea in this morning.  What a wonderful night.  We sat down on sofas on the floor, listened to live Turkish music and ate wonderful food.  We met some Agel people from Dublin (three Irish guys and an Australian girl) and spent some time sharing our Agel experiences and doing some training with them.  It was a great way to end our time in Istanbul – a wonderful time.

We got to bed quite late (1.30am) as we got home late and stayed up talking about the way forward with Agel.  A bit excited at this juncture!!

We can sleep in again tomorrow morning as we don’t have to be at the airport until 11.30 am and our driver won’t be picking us up until 11.00am.  Not an ideal time to get to bed but we have turned into night owl’s during this trip.

Off to Italy tomorrow.  Ciao!!
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History, Culture and Turks

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Day 3 of the conference started much the same however, we had to check out of the room this morning.  This meant packing up our bags and dropping them at reception for safe keeping for the day.

After a hearty breakfast we walked back to the conference centre for a shorter (half day) session.  This session was held in a smaller room because they assumed that most people would have left after Day 2.  As it turned out they underestimated the commitment of the attendees so the room was overflowing (I stood up for quite a bit of the morning).  One of the top leaders in the company (Randy Schroeder) presented by himself this morning – a personal training session.  He is an outstanding trainer – a very humble and unassuming man that is passionate about helping others achieve greatness.  What a way to start your day!!

The session with Randy finished around 1.00pm so we headed out into the cool temperatures and walked back to the hotel.

Having checked out before we left for the conference centre we only had to arrange for a taxi for the trip to the “new” hotel over in the Old City – we booked this online last night.

While waiting for the taxi we met a lovely Greek lady and an Israeli businessman.  We talked about a variety of things and both of them were interested in receiving information about Agel.  Great stuff.

The taxi ride over to the Prince Hotel was quite interesting.  The young driver really didn’t know where to go but after much stopping and starting (to ask for directions) we finally arrived unscathed.  The “agreed” price was paid although I think he would have been happy with half the price – he was rather embarrassed.

The Prince Hotel staff were exceptional at the check-in (somewhat different to the first hotel) and, after a quick change of rooms (the first one was a smoking room) we settled in to a newly renovated room on the first floor.  The rate included free internet so we quickly got online and “captured the moment” by following up the variety of people that we met over the past few days.  We ask the new prospects to visit our site so

they can preview the Agel opportunity.  This site is a fantastic way of introducing people to the business.  After they preview the opportunity we call them and answer any questions they have.  They either see the opportunity or they don’t – very simple and a great way to build an incredible business.

So, after completing our “work” we took a stroll around the harbour side of the Old City before the sun went down.  It was absolutely fascinating.  The age of the buildings, the design, the size and the atmosphere are all incredible.  The Princess took some fantastic photo’s of the waterfront area and one of the dozens of mosques in the area.  We walked around the spice markets and strolled through the cobble stoned streets.  It was a wonderful experience and we are really looking forward to getting out and about tomorrow.

We dined in a lovely little restaurant that sold very yummy tomato soup and beef casserole.  We were once again impressed with the standard, taste and price of the food.  The waiters are very friendly and very attentive.  Great stuff.

Back to the hotel at a reasonable hour and into be d relatively early for the first time in a few days.  We get to “sleep in” tomorrow morning.  Yeah……
More on Istanbul tomorrow.
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Gelling With Other Gellers

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

We rose early this morning to make sure we were able to enjoy breakfast before heading off to the conference centre. We slept well – comfortable bed and not too much noise.

The buffet breakfast was very nice albeit a little unusual – local

The conference was held in the Lutfi Kadar (not sure what that means) about a 15 minute walk from the hotel.  The sky was clear and the temperature was low so we were quite refreshed by the time we arrived at the conference centre.  The walk allowed us to take in a little more of the local scenery (quite drab on this side of the city).

The conference started around 30 minutes late due to the large number of attendees arriving at the centre at the same time.

The security was tight (something to do with over 1000 Israelis attending a Turkish [Muslim] conference centre?).  I don’t think the Turkish have anything to fear because the Israeli’s are wonderful people – friendly, passionate and loud!!

The “vibe” of this conference was totally different to our Go Diamond event in Texas.  This conference was titled “Capture The Moment” and the attendees set out to achieve that objective.  Eileen (corporate Agel – Turkey) did an incredible job with organising this conference.  The music, the setting, the food stalls etc… were brilliant.  The crowd was on their feet more often than in their seats and this added to what we took away from the conference.  Agel is not hype and this weekend was definitely not that – it was passion.  Agel is an incredible company and the people involved in it know that we are a part of something very special and very unique.

Whilst we had seen some of the presenters talk in Austin there were quite a few new presenters at this conference.  The message was essentially the same however the context that it was delivered in was very different and we were able to take so much out of this conference too.  What a fantastic opportunity – two conferences in one week in two different continents.  We feel very lucky to be a part of this.

For the lunch break on the first two days we ate at a little restaurant near the hotel.  Again, the food was exceptional – great value, great taste and great atmosphere.

The conference finished around 7.00pm on day one and two so by the time we arrived back in the hotel we were ready to “wind down” a bit.

Both nights we went to a restaurant in a bustling place on Independence Avenue.  The crowds were incredible and the feeling we got from being immersed with the locals was fantastic.  We felt safe and welcomed everywhere we went.

This blog captures Day 1 and Day 2 of the conference so the next blog will outline Day 3 and our move to the next hotel in the Old City.

Off to bed for some well earned rest.

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Goodbye Dikes, Hello Minarets

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Well – we made it to Istanbul!!

We rose early in Amsterdam (a good thing), made ourselves breakfast in the cosy B&B and did the “reverse travel” thing (bus & train) back to Schipol Airport.  Having done it once it was relatively easy to repeat.

We arrived at the airport a good two hours before the flight and settled into a Starbucks (the only place in AMS with a Starbucks) before proceeding to check-in.  It turned out that we needed the extra time we had allowed.

On arriving at the check-in the polite girl sent us to the Turkish Airlines ticketing desk because our staff travel tickets indicated that we were to fly with KLM.  The staff travel department put one airline code on the ticket and this one happened to be for KLM.  Our ticket is open but the Turkish Airlines girls were a bit puzzled.  They asked us to go to KLM (in another terminal) ticketing desk and get our tickets endorsed for the flight with Turkish.  The KLM girls were wonderful but they could not endorse our tickets so we went back to Cathay Pacific’s desk and had them do it (the service there was perfect).

So, with the tickets endorsed we headed back to the Turkish desk then check-in and got our tickets – confirmed to Istanbul!!

The flight to Istanbul was only 3 hours.  It was very pleasant albeit that the in-flight service and aircraft (A320) decor left a little to be desired.  No complaints when travelling staff travel.

We had not booked our hotel in Istanbul (normal ops for us because we don’t know if we will get on a flight) so when we arrived at the airport we found a hotel/travel agent and took his advice on the appropriate location for the first three days (the conference days).  The price was a bit “steep” and the hotel was not anything to write home about however, it was in the right location – good advice from Sonder (the guy at the airport).

The “deal” included transport to and from the hotel (which would have been expensive in its own right) and it was available for us when we were ready.  We weren’t ready because we needed our afternoon Starbucks fix and, as it turned out, the nearest one was about 10 steps away. Ah……..

After a half hour we went back to the agent and met up with some other travellers.  Where were they from?  Calgary!!  How bizarre.  They were lovely people in Istanbul for business.  They offered any assistance we needed (they had been to Istanbul many times) and we exchanged business cards.

The trip into the hotel was rather interesting – via the “tourist route”.  We eventually arrived at the hotel and started the process of waiting.  As it turned out we arrived at the same time as a bus load of Israeli Agel conference attendees.  Watching the process of Israeli trying to talk to Turkish in English was very interesting.  The girl behind the desk was incredible and she carried out her duties perfectly.

After what seemed like an hour (I think it actually was – shouldn’t have spent the time at Starbucks!!) we were checked in to our room and started the settling in process.

We “hit the streets” in search of something to eat and eventually settled for a restaurant close to the hotel.  This was our first experience with Turkish food and we were not disappointed.

The food is exceptional and we look forward to trying a lot more of it in the coming days.

Having started the day early (around 6.00am) we got into bed around 11.00pm – ready for 3 days of conference!!

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