By Dora Ohrenstein

Months ago I saw a photo on ravelry of an amazing slip stitch stock made in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. From that moment I decided to go to the region to find out about more about these socks, their origins and makers. I was most fortunate to obtain a frequent flyer air ticket from New York to Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, and back via Kiev in the Ukraine. In Kiev I was to meet up with crochet master Antonina Kuznetsova, who invited me for Ukraine’s Indendence Day when she learned I was planning a trip to the region.

On an adventurous journey, it’s wise to be prepared for ups and downs. The very first day of my trip made this point quite clear. I flew on Turkish Airlines from JFK to Istanbul, where I was to connect to a flight going to Tashkent, capitol of Uzbekistan, 12 hours later. That long gap seemed daunting. At the airport, I came upon a sign that read “Free Tours of Istanbul for Turkish Airlines In Transit Passengers.” Outstanding! The tour started at noon, it was now 10. In the interim I thought I’d take a look at my checked bags before they went on the next plane.

I always pack liquids in carry on bags. At airport security they were discovered, removed and banned — perhaps $100 worth of creams and other goodies considered essential by a semi-pampered American woman. I was permitted to rush out to check them.

The integrity of these items was now on my mind. I asked Turkish Airlines could I see my bags. For an hour I sat in the Lost Luggage section watching young women punching endlessly at computer keyboards, along with several very distressed passengers whose luggage was lost. A second hour went by. I asked for an update and was ignored. Eventually I was sent to a young man who began from scratch, asking me what color and shape my bag were. He punched in numbers and made some calls, then said “Your bags are missing,” and handed me a Lost Luggage form to fill in. I refused to do so and loudly demanded to speak to the manager. Continuing in this vein proved fruitful when half an hour later, he produced my bags. They were fine. It was now 11:55 and I dashed out for the tour.

From this point on all was pure heaven. I boarded a small bus along with an Italian couple, we drove for about 20 minutes to the picturesque Old Town of Istanbul and were brought to a restaurant where other Turkish Airline passengers were enjoying lunch on a high terrace overlooking the waters of the Bosphorous, with a perfect view of the Blue Mosque — one of great monuments of Istanbul. Daniela and Pietro, very engaging Italians, sat with me and we ate a tasty meal of grilled meats, all gratis from Turkish Air. As the meal ended, there was an extraordinary moment as the muezzins of the city began to sing, one right after the other, four or five calls to prayer mingling in the air like a fugue, each distinctive voice from a different direction. A magical spell fell on the rooftop where we airline passengers sat. Then a long-haired young man, Erbil, introduced himself as our guide for the rest of the day, and we headed for the famous sites of Istanbul — Haga Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.

The Blue Mosque, seen from the terrace restaurant where we enjoyed free lunch.

Old Istanbul streets, Daniela and Pietro walking ahead.

A grand hallway in the Haga Sophia

Erbil, Pietro, Dora, Daniela – photo taken with Erbil’s phone.
I’d heard about Haga Sophia for years and found its sheer magnitude stupifying, its condition a sad ruin. From there we went to the striking Blue Mosque, then walked through the outdoor Hippodrome, where ancient stone columns from Constantinople’s time still stand. After only a couple of photos my camera was, most unfortunately, out of juice. Daniela, Pietro myself, and Erbil, a college kid who was thrilled to meet an American, became fast friends as the hours flew by. Last stop was Topkapi Palace, the Ottoman version of Versailles, acres of beautiful parks, lavish displays of rare diamonds and other jewels. There was a famous film from my childhood about a heist of these very jewels. We couldn’t linger but had to return to the airport, where, hard to believe — I had a delicious pasta meal with Daniela and Pietro and we said fond farewells. They were en route to Cambodia.

At 9:30 pm I boarded the flight to Tashkent, into a cramped middle seat directly behind an American woman with three beautiful blond little boys, the smallest a non-stop screamer who didn’t quit at all during the four hour flight. My exhaustion was so great — I’d been awake for 20 hours — I slept anyway. At Tashkent airport a quarrelsome line of people pushed and shoved for three quarters of an hour to get through passport control. Eventually I exited the airport, looking around anxiously for my Uzbekistan guide. It was 4:30 a.m. in Tashkent, who knows what ungodly time for me. Very shortly a young Uzbek man stepped forward and called out my name. With great relief, I knew I was not lost, but found.