Jun 212016

Woke up at oh-dark-thirty to check out, and the front desk guy at the hotel was nowhere to be found. I eventually found him in the hotel bar asleep in a chair with his head on a table. To his credit, he woke up pretty quickly, and check-out was reasonably efficient. There was a surcharge for using a credit card, and only visa cards were accepted. As promised the night before, the hotel shuttle was waiting for us and we made the short drive to the airport in maybe 10 minutes. On the map the airport looked a long way out of town, but when I asked the shuttle driver apparently that’s the new airport being built by the Chinese…like everywhere else in Africa.

Upon entering the terminal there was an x-ray and metal detector, after which some official people with badges asked for passports and escorted is to the check-in area. Apparently there was nothing official about them at all, and they just wanted a tip for showing you where to check in. Seriously, the airport is two rooms – one for waiting and one for checking in. Did they not think we could figure it out? Eventually they went away without a tip, but they were hassling the woman in front of us pretty hard. She told them all she had was a 20 euro bill, and they took it…and eventually she realized she wasn’t getting any change. Amateur mistake!

No problems at all checking in, short wait for immigration and security, then the Angola-style “please come into this room.” I managed to get out of it, but it was the currency control room, where they tried to find money on you which you hadn’t declared…and take it. Ian got away with no issues and we got to wait in the departure haul which maybe had a couple hundred seats and was buzzing with flies and mosquitos, even at 5am. There were even a couple of stray cats to complete the wildlife scene. Eventually one of the shops opened and was selling bottles of water so we could get rid of the rest of our currency. There apparently was a Mauritania Airlines lounge, but if it’s even still in business it was very, very closed at this hour. Instead, we were treated to several people watching loud bollywood movies without headphones in the waiting area. Ugh.

Boarding eventually started about 30 minutes before departure, and was a walk across the tarmac to the plane. I tried to take my phone out to get a photo, but was quickly yelled at by one of the security guys. Ok, I get it, no photos.

Turkish Airlines flight 593
Nouakchott, Mauritania (NKC) to Dakar, Senegal (DKR)
Depart 06:00, Arrive 07:00, Flight Time: 1:00
Boeing 737-900, Registration TC-JYF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 94,894
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,284,419

The flight goes Istanbul – Nouakchott – Dakar – Istanbul, and when we boarded there were still about 50 people on the plane, headed to Dakar. Of course one of them was in my assigned seat and looked annoyed when I showed him my boarding pass. The flight attendant looked annoyed to, and just said “take any seat.” Uh, ok, score another one for Turkish Airlines.

Took off maybe 15 minutes late, but with a flight time of only about 40 minutes we arrived right on time. Nothing was offered at all to eat or drink on the short flight, and soon we arrived Dakar. It was also still mostly dark when we took off, so no real photos for this completely unremarkable sector other than a view of Dakar as we came in for landing:


The 50 people got off in Dakar, and maybe 100 more boarded, and it looked to be a nearly full flight back to Istanbul. I only saw two empty seats in business and maybe a handful that I could see back in coach. Fortunately, there was a crew change and our rather surly crew was replaced by one that only seemed mildly annoyed.

Turkish Airlines flight 593
Dakar, Senegal (DKR) to Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart 07:55, Arrive 17:55, Flight Time: 7:00
Boeing 737-900, Registration TC-JYF, Manufactured 2012, Seat 3E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 98,200
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,287,725

True to form on Turkish we had a “chef” on board. I’m pretty sure they’re just flight attendants who wear a chef’s hat and apron, but hey, it’s amusing. I usually go with the lemonade pre-departure the offer, but this flight decided to go with the orange juice. Unfortunately, the turkish delight they normally hand out with it was missing this flight:


So what’s for breakfast this morning?


Flight attendant came around with hazelnuts, which have mercifully moved from being in a bag to a bowl. Must have been some blowback from the Korean Airlines incident. When I asked for a mimosa, they looked confused. I decided to explain “can I get a champagne and orange juice.” “Oh we have no alcohol on this flight. I think it is because of the religion.” Seriously what. the. eff. I get not serving it out of Mauritania as a dry country but what is the point on a Dakar to Istanbul flight? Is it because it was the first day of Ramadan? Doubtful, as they were serving us food during the day…I was cranky, and decided I needed coffee…and another fresh orange juice:


Usual delicious turkish appetizers…cheese, pepper slices, jam, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and fruit. Super tasty…now I’m craving peppers and cheese…


The “turkish pancake” – I wasn’t very impressed with it. Found it incredibly bland with almost no flavour at all. I spread a little of the jam on it and that helped, but overall, not impressed.


Five hours flew by. Seven hours is a seriously long flight on a 737, but at least Turkish gives generous pitch in business class with plenty of room to stretch out. I killed time watching movies on my iPad, and a small snack before landing. Yes, more cheese and sliced peppers on a roll, and the delicious berry cake that Turkish often serves. Mmmm….


Overall, for a seven hour flight it wasn’t the greatest but it could have been much worse. We landed in Istanbul right on time, and I checked at the transit desk to pick up my boarding pass for the next morning. I had decided to splurge when I was in Mauritania and changed my routing home. The Turkish flight had always been planned, but then I was going to go on to Zurich for a night in Turkish business, then take United first nonstop home. Decided since there was availability to treat myself to an Istanbul to Frankfurt routing on a Turkish A330 followed by Lufthansa first home via Newark. A few hours later, the nonstop Frankfurt to Dulles opened up so I ticketed that.

First time I’ve ever seen absolutely no immigration line at Istanbul, and since we’d done the eVisa we didn’t have to wait in line at all. Quick trip through customs and a stop at Starbucks in the arrivals hall to get some caffeine in an attempt to wake up. We tried calling Uber, but after several minutes nobody had responded, so we decided to take a regular cab.

We were staying at the Gezi Hotel Bosphorus, part of Starwood’s relatively new Design Hotels collection. Normally I choose the W in Istanbul, but it’s not walkable to all that much, and the Gezi is right on Taksim Square. It was a relatively long taxi ride since traffic was heavy, and when we arrived the room wasn’t ready – because despite requesting a room with two beds they informed us they had pushed them together and made one bed. They invited us for more coffee in the restaurant while we waited, and 15 minutes later, the room was ready. We were definitely rewarded with a great view of the city:


Quick stop in the room, and then we headed out. Unfortunately, it was already 7pm at this point and although we’d hoped to wander around a bit and at least see the Grand Bazaar and maybe the Hagia Sofia from the outside, we were absolutely wiped out. We took the Tunel metro down to the water and walked around for maybe 45 minutes before admitting defeat and heading back to grab some dinner near Taksim Square.

We decided to head to Faros Kebap on the recommendation of a coworker, and life was much better after a couple of large beers…and a cheese appetizer…holy cow that’s a lot of cheese:


I went with the pistachio kebab for a main, and it was super tasty:


At this point I was a bad influence and insisted we get some raki…and of course baclava to go with it:


Short walk back to the hotel, and time to pass out at 11. That early morning wakeup call was going to come far, far too early…

Jun 202016

We arrived in Nouakchott late afternoon, and by the time we hit the ATM for cash, paid our taxi driver, and got to the hotel, it was early evening. The hotel had blast gates up, and taxis were not allowed into hotel grounds, so for the second time this trip the taxi had to drop us outside and we had to walk through security to get into the hotel. They weren’t paying much if any attention to their metal detectors, but at least things seemed pretty secure.

We were staying at the Monotel Dar El Barka, which most sites seemed to agree was the best hotel in town. Only problem was – a few months before our trip it was showing completely sold out so we had made alternate plans. Fortunately, rooms opened up about a week out so we were able to switch and very glad we did.

Check-in was quick and we were shown to our first floor rooms, which were exactly in line with all the online reviews. Rooms are very poorly lit and dark, but the AC is freezing cold and the beds are comfortable. Overall, it’s a solid hotel and the rooms were good. Except as often seems to happen in Africa we had no towels…and my bed had no sheets. A quick call to housekeeping and they showed up in 15 minutes.

At this point, after the long travel day, we just wanted an ice cold beer, but after retreating to the hotel bar were left disappointed:


Yes, unfortunately Mauritania is a completely dry country, and while you can supposedly get your hands on black market alcohol it’s extremely expensive and somewhat hard to find. Not at all worth it for a few days. We were also really hungry after missing lunch on the long drive from Saint Louis, so decided to have desert before dinner. The profiteroles were delicious:


After the sun had set, we decided to venture out and find dinner. There were no sidewalks per se, because they’d all been covered in sand, and even many of the roads were hard to see in places. We walked for about 15 minutes, and eventually found the restaurant that had been recommended – a very smokey place called Le Frisco. Complete with San Francisco stained glass cityscapes on the wall.

There was a small menu of items which were incredibly inexpensive, most $5-6 and a large board of daily specials with maybe 20-25 options most of which were closer to $10. I ended up getting the chicken cordon bleu which was actually super tasty and came with fries which were also super tasty. Just water to drink, although it would have gone fantastic with a beer. The music selection was even more interesting, consisting mainly of 2Pac with a little bit of Justin Bieber thrown in for good measure. I swear restaurants in Africa have the most entertaining music selection…

Back to the hotel, where I think I passed out for about 10 hours – the long days overland had definitely taken a bit of a toll.

In the morning, we met up for breakfast, where it was quickly clear why the hotel had been initially sold out. There was a big football match going on – I believe qualifying for the Africa’s cup or some such thing. Mauritania was playing Cameroon and the entire Mauritania team was staying in our hotel. No idea why they weren’t staying at home if they were local, but they had not only completely taken over the hotel but also raided the breakfast buffet. There were no coffee cups to be found, no plates to be found, etc. Eventually some were rounded up, and there was just enough food left to make a decent breakfast. The usual francophone africa baguettes, real Nutella, plenty of coffee and/or tea, and some hard boiled eggs. Overall, pretty solid.

After breakfast we went to the front desk to ask them about getting tickets to the football match, and they said you had to go to the stadium. Oh, and “I like your tattoo – can I take a photo?” Fortunately, Ian thought to get a photo of him taking a photo:


After this, I had to work for a bit, so took care of that and mid-afternoon we headed for a walk to stadium to look into tickets for the match. Fortunately, it was at around 6pm so we had plenty of time. We had a hard time finding the entrance to the stadium, so ended up walking much farther than we needed to, which wouldn’t have been a big deal except it was hot. Really hot. 114F hot. Fortunately, there was absolutely no humidity, and even 114 didn’t feel too awful.

Eventually we found the place to buy tickets, and there were dozens of heavily armed riot police standing around. We debated if we wanted to go see the match, but eventually decided the large group of riot police was probably a bad sign given Mauritania does suffer from a pretty serious terrorist situation, so we gave it a pass. In retrospect it probably would have been fine, but…

Instead, we decided to grab a cab and head to the port to see all the fishing boats coming in. Ironic given we were trying to be security-conscious that we hailed a random cab on the streets, but it worked out just fine. Managed to negotiate a reasonable price which would include him waiting for us, however, once we were in the cab he “just had to make one stop.” Uh, ok. The stop was only maybe a five minute detour away and I finally realized why I imagined I was smelling fresh bread – because I was! There were a couple of giant bags of baguettes in the backseat which he was delivering to a restaurant for dinner. He attempted to convince us to visit the restaurant later for dinner, and if you do “tell them Mohammad sent you.” Yeah, not because you’d get a commission or anything…

After maybe a 20 minute drive, we were at the port. He said he would come back for us in 15 minutes, and we were left to wander. It was late afternoon, but there was tons of activity with all the fishing boats coming in:


Fisherman repairing a boat:


Several boats pulled up in front of what seemed to be the main market square:


Right next to the square there were several very very dead fish, which looked to be discarded, or not acceptable for sale. Or maybe that was just because of all the flies around and the stench of fish everywhere:


More boats:


Rough surf coming in:


Group of fishermen hauling a boat in:


Large fish for sale:



Back to the hotel, and a dip in the pool sounded fantastic. However, I had more important things to do – namely washing the smell of fish off of my shoes. Everything stank of fish, but after an hour of scrubbing it was mostly gone, and by that point, it was getting late and the pool didn’t sound nearly as enticing:


We opted instead to head out for an early dinner, but as soon as we left the hotel compound there were hundreds and hundreds of football fans streaming our way. Apparently Mauritania had lost, so the potential for unhappy crowds – combined with the whole “stay away from large crowds in un-secure places” thing we opted to wait. Back into the hotel for an espresso while we waited:


Decided to head back to El Frisco again for dinner, and the “specials” were exactly the same as the day before. The clientele, however, was quite different and consisted mainly of local football fans enjoying a post-match drink instead of being mostly expats like the day before. Had a quick dinner, and retreated back to the hotel since we had to be up at oh-dark-thirty for our flight to Istanbul.