Monday, September 03, 2007
Not long after I had a past event recalled to mind by the actions of the train folk. Several years back during a train ride from Prague to Austria, the train kept stopping during the night and we had to run from train to train to bus to train without ever knowing what was going on. Fortunately, this time we had warning. Right after I finally dropped off to sleep, the train stopped and we boarded a bus which ended up driving us 2 more hours to Beograd (Belgrade). It was a pretty ride, watching the sun come up over the corn and sunflower fields. Once to the Beograd train station, we plunked down for a couple cups of Turkish coffee and chatter until our next train, which whisked us to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Now this train ride. Not the most pleasant of rides. It started out ok with pretty fields, cities and a couchette for us and a smallish older lady. Eventually I fell asleep, until a crowd of Bulgarians joined us. This is also when the temperature moved into the uncomfortable zone. No fans, no a/c, and no air flow within the car added to the stifling heat. By early afternoon all my water was hot enough to steep tea (and almost burn your mouth) and hanging out one of the train windows was the only way to feign comfort. At one stop I ran off to try and fill a bottle at a nearby fountain and was almost left behind. Running in my flops I leapt up onto the stairs and swung into the car while everyone laughed and cheered. At the next stop, one of the Bulgarians in our couchette grabbed 3 bottles (one of mine) and ran off to fill them. O blessed cold water! How you quenched my thirst....until it turned hot 20 minutes later.
Suffice it to say, we arrived in Sofia just after dark completely dehydrated and exhausted. And hungry I suppose. I didn't notice that.
Connection building began in the Sofia train station. We saw a crowd of other non-local travelers, one of whom was wearing a shirt from last year's carfree conference. Through them and their Sofian friend, we got bus tickets to Istanbul the next morning (with our new friends) and directions to the city center where we had heard rumors of a hostel. Bidding our fellow carfree comrades goodbye, we set off. A very kind local girl guided us to the tram, on which we met two girls, one from Germany and one from France/UK. Very nice, and also on their way to their hostel. We followed, got a couple beds in the dorm and then went to dinner with them. Great people, a great conversation, two themes which continue to recur in this trip. After dinner we joined other international travelers in the hostel lounge for some drinks before crashing for the night.
I think I have the time and energy for one more leg of the trip which will leave us on the eve of the conference.
The next AM we walked to the bus station and boarded up for a 9-hour trip to Istanbul. A pretty and semi-mountainous ride coffee and tea supplied to us by the bus stewardess type. The best part had to be the a/c, especially as we watched the bus's thermometer slowly rise up to and over 40 degrees C. Oy.
At the border we had our passports checked by the Bulgarians. Then we had to get off the bus for them to be stamped. Back on the bus and over to Turkish customs where foreigners again got off to buy the Turkish visa and then back on to await our stamped passports. When those arrived, our bus joined a long queue and after maybe 30 minutes we got off, grabbed our bags and laid them on a table for inspection. Ours were not checked but the process took a while. Finally after maybe 2 hours from start to finish, we were across the border and on to the final leg!
Pulling into Istanbul, Sunday night, we noticed hordes of people picnicking alongside the highway. It turns out green space is very hard to find, so anything close will do. The sun was going down which made for a pretty entrance into the city. Off the bus, we grabbed the Metro to the tram which we took to where we thought we had to get off. In hindsight, Kadiköy is not the same as Karaköy, though they are pronounced very similarly. Being tired we didn't look closely at our directions or the map and ende up in Europe rather than Asia (Istanbul has a European and an Asian side). To further complicate matters, the street we needed to look for, in order to find our host Rick's house, exists on both sides right next to the ferry docks. After wandering around and not finding anything else fitting our directions, we called Rick. After much confusion, he figured out where we were, laughed and told us to get on the river ferry to the right place. Which we did. He was kind enough to come down at 10pm to pick us up and guide us through the 10 minute walk to his place. Exhausted, we collapsed on his couches alongside Elly who had arrived hours earlier (she also made the same mistake as us, which made us feel a little better).
After some small chatter and clean up, horizontal sleep was a blissful end to the day.
I think this captured a little of the chaos of the trip. It was fun and exhausting and so much more interesting than flying right to our destination!