We spent a day in London and then it was on to Istanbul, Turkey.
I'll try and grab a picture of the Istanbul terminal on the way back. The batteries in all my devices were dying, and I needed them for communication. But the Istanbul airport is not only gigantic, it's like Mall of America meets Vegas.
It was a sight to see even in the middle of the night.
Then, after three days of travel, it was time for the last leg of the first leg of our trip - the flight to Kabul.
Loading the plane to Kabul in Istanbul was one of the more chaotic experiences I've seen at an airport.
The gate agent checked everyone's tickets and passports at once, loaded us on a bus and then hauled us to the plane sitting on the tarmac.
It was a normal 737-like plane, but instead of using the jetway and going in one door, they backed two sets of stairs up to the plane - the front door and the back - and told everyone to get on. Didn't matter which door you chose. Albert and I were in row 16 of a 30 row plane.
No matter which door we chose we were going to be swimming upstream. And swim we did, through a sea of crying children and about 5 different languages that even the flight attendants didn't understand.
One woman had two young children on board, and they were scattered all over the plane. She was trying to get all of them sitting together, but she spoke a language that almost no one on the plane understood.
That took a while to sort out, but I think she finally got everyone in one row.
The flight to Kabul was fairly interesting as well.
Shortly after taking off from Istanbul, the captain announces we are flying over Iranian air space. Not long after that the flight attendants have the whole right side of the plane close their window shades, but wouldn't say why.
The people on board were very friendly, I'm sure they knew we were American, but I didn't notice any ill feelings towards us.
I also couldn't help but notice how well-dressed they were, especially when we were flying over Kabul. The homes and buildings are like the ones you see on TV, pretty primitive. It was an interesting paradox.
I wonder if flying in the Middle East is like it used to be in the US decades ago: a luxury that you dress up for.
The women were in dresses and the men were in suits. Even the small kids were dressed up.
The last 10 minutes of the descent into Kabul look a lot like the last 10 minutes of the flight into Anchorage over the Chugach range. In fact the mountains with all the snow on them look almost exactly like that.
It was very beautiful.
The Kabul airport is something to behold. There are two gates, and the terminal looks like a dungeon.
Getting off the plane is where I encountered my first less-than-friendly looking people. But I think whoever they were, they were scowling at everyone, not just me.
The baggage claim/immigration/customs area was about 1,000 square feet to cram a couple hundred people into. It had no windows and a grand total of three lightbulbs. Dungeon is an accurate description.
I wanted so badly to take pictures inside, but I didn't dare. Now's not the time to upset anybody.
Getting through immigration and getting our bags through customs went much smoother than I thought it would. I've heard of journalists, specifically TV folks, getting hassled for our electronic equipment.
Oddly enough, the only place we got razzed for our gear was in the US. Not in England, not in Turkey and -so far- not in Afghanistan. We still have to leave out of here in a week.
We met up with the military without problem and were taken to the military side of Kabul airport to wait for our next set of flights to get to Forward Operating Base Salerno where the 4-25 are based.
We took off on our flight to Bagram Air Base (stop 1) without problem. It's on that flight I learned the dorky spiel flight attendants give about buckling your seat-belt is apparently federally mandated, almost to the word.
The guy on our military hop, with like 5 people on it, said the same safety briefing that you would get on any flight. I had to laugh, and so did he.
We landed in Bagram, and for the first time in we're not sure how long (Albert and I weren't even sure what day it was) we got to take a shower, eat not airplane/airport food and sleep in a bed.
My back actually hurt for a while because it wasn't used to a mattress.
We should finally be to FOB Salerno by this afternoon and get to start telling great stories!
See you soon,