Bussing out of Bulgaria
We survived our 8 hour overnight bus journey from Plovdiv (Bulgaria) to Istanbul (Turkey) and have happily vowed NEVER TO DO THAT AGAIN. Overnight train journeys are bad enough, but at least you have half a chance of getting some sleep on a train (assuming, of course, you have a bunk/couchette). Buses are not designed for sleep. Not at all.
We left Plovdiv at 10:00pm and soon discovered that the ambient temperature on the bus was set to “Broil”, making even dozing impossible. After an hour or two of profuse sweating and discomfort I eventually gave in and complained to the “bus hostess” (like an airline hostie but far less glamorous). She seemed almost surprised that we thought it was too hot! Obviously the Bulgarians like the heat – we’ve noticed that shops, public transport and even hotels generally seem to be kept very warm indeed. Lucky for us our bus did actually have a setting other then “Stun” and we were soon enjoying cool, fresh air. The cool air and late hour had us both ready to doze off, but then we reached the border…
Crossing the Bulgarian border was easy enough: we all filed off the bus and the tired-looking customs guy briefly checked our passports, stamped us out of the country and wished us a pleasant journey. Little did we know that the real fun was only just starting… Getting into Turkey was way more painful than leaving Bulgaria! First we had to walk half way across the border-control zone and buy our entry visas (which for Australians is literally 3 times the price of every other nation – seems Aus recently increased the cost of Aussie visas for Turkish citizens, so Turkey tripled costs of their visas for Aussie in response). Then, with visas firmly stuck in our passports, we walked all the way back to the immigration control area and lined up with everyone else to get stamped into Turkey proper. At this point our passports went for a little walk with the Turkish immigration officer. We were reassured they would come back to us, but it’s still nerve-wracking seeing your most (only) prized posession taken away like that. Bearing in mind that it was 2:00am by this stage, and cold, windy and very dark out there in “No Man’s Land” between Bulgaria and Turkey!
Once everyone had been stamped in to the country we filed back on the bus and drove through the immigration area to the customs zone. this is where things got really interesting as they had us all take EVERYTHING off the bus so that our bags (big and small) could be scanned and checked – just like at the airport. While we were doing that, a couple of Turkish customs officers also went through the actual bus with a fine toothed comb. Not sure what they were looking for, but they were removing panels and looking behind engine casings and all sorts. Maybe transit buses are used for smuggling?! Luckily no illicit goods were discovered and we all allowed back on the bus.
Back on the bus everyone settled in a bit, thinking that was the end of the stops…. but no, we had one more (very important) stop to go: the only toilet stop for the whole 8 hour journey. Now, we’ve learnt that you take toilet breaks when they come – whether you think you need to go or not. Especially when they’re this infrequent! Everyone else obviously had the same idea and we all filed off the bus again and queued up for the loos. This is when being a boy becomes VERY attractive. Boys can pee without having to touch anything too nasty; girls however…, well, it’s a little harder for us. I won’t get too graphic (some of you may, after all, be contemplating a meal in the near future), but suffice to say it was horrendous. Squat toilets are not great at the best of times, let alone at 3:00am when you’re half asleep and the risk of, errrrr, putting your foot where it shouldn’t go, is high. The smell was the worst, mostly because the plumbing in many parts of Turkey doesn’t cope with loo paper (like in lots of other developing nations), so you can’t flush it, you have to put it in the bin beside the loo. And those bins had not been emtpied in about a month I’d say. Definitely one of those toilet stops I’ll remember for ever – for all the WORST reasons!
Once all passengers had returned and been accounted for we continued on our way and the lights were dimmed, allowing us to finally get some sleep. I know some lucky souls can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and happily snore away any time they’re on an kind of train, plane or bus (there were some of THOSE people on our bus last night – lucky bastards!). We are not those people. In the end we managed about 2 hours of broken sleep each which left us both feeling pretty average.
And so, after an uncomfortable night on the bus, we arrived in Istanbul in the predawn darkness. In the darkness all we could make out of the city were the street lights; just from that though it was apparent that the city was huge. Istanbul is in fact the biggest city we’ve been in since Moscow, Seoul and Tokyo. With a population of around 17 million, this is one massive sprawling metropolis! Not that we explored any of the city today, as soon as we were off the bus we made our way by taxi (they drive like maniacs here, by the way) to our hotel and have spent the day relaxing and snoozing. We intentionally booked ourselves into a 5 star hotel for our stay in Istanbul as were figured a little bit of luxury might be nice after the weeks in Eastern Europe. So far the idea is really working out well; it’s been very nice having access to a concierge, a massuese, a mini-bar, room service, cable TV, a fluffy bathroom, slippers and a bath.
Not an exciting day at all blog fans, but we promise to make up for it over the next few days as we set out to explore Istanbul and all the wonders this incredible city has to offer! Ciao for now!