It was snowing again last night by the time I left, with my luggage, to get a quick dinner before heading to the station. The train to Istanbul arrived right about on time in Plovdiv, 9:43 PM. The conductor, who looked like Danny DeVito, showed me to my compartment. Since nobody else was in there I asked if anyone would be joining me. He said no! I was glad to have it all to myself.
|Looking out the window|
|Some Bulgarian beer|
The communist era Bulgarian couchette car was much nicer than the Serbian one. It was relatively clean, except for some nasty looking stains on the place where I was about to try to sleep. We stopped at several stations in Bulgaria, one for quite a while. The snow was coming down pretty heavily for the time we were in that station. I could hear something that sounded like a tree shredder, reminding me of the tree shredder scene in Fargo.
It was hard to sleep because the ride was so noisy, especially in Bulgaria. Ka chunk, ka chunk for hours. Then I think it was some time around 1:30 or 2:00 AM that Bulgarian passport control and customs boarded the train at the border. We must have been stopped a good 45 minutes or so, but it was pretty uneventful. Then we started moving again, and after maybe 20 minutes more we had the Turkish border checkpoint. We had to get off of the train for that. I first had to go and buy a visa, but there was nobody at the visa window of the building and it was dark in there. So I stood out there in the snow and slush (at least it was not snowing any more) for 15 minutes or so, and finally somebody showed up.
Turkey requires visas for visitors from many countries, including the United States and Britain. The visa is just a sticker that they put in your passport after you pay the visa fee that Turkey has designated for your country. A Turkish visa is not something that you have to get in advance like, for example, an Indian visa. I think it is really just a way for the Turkish government to collect a tax on visitors. For visitors from the United States, the visa fee is US $20. For visitors from the United Kingdom, it is £10. When I handed my UK passport to the visa guy, he gave me a blank look and said that he didn't have any £10 visa stickers. Since he had just dealt with some Americans, and since I happened to have a twenty dollar bill, I handed him that and asked him if I could just use that. He said okay, and then he gave me $5 in change. That seemed about right. Then I went with my visa to the border police window and got my passport stamped, then got back on the train.
Once back on the train, people from the Turkish border police came though to inspect passports and make sure everything was in order. When they saw my passport they got into a big discussion about it. I gathered that they (correctly) thought that I had the wrong kind of visa sticker in my passport. They made me get off the train again, and go back to the border police window. I told the guy there what happened and he was as confused as me. After I went back to the train, I told them that they border police guy said that it was okay. So that was the end of it. By the time we had a customs check too, and started moving again, it was well after 3:00 AM. So, I didn't get a lot of sleep.
Istanbul Sirkeci station, the main station on the European side is closed because of the Marmaray project which is creating a rail tunnel, connecting Europe and Asia. All inter city trains coming from Europe are terminating at Halkali, which is an outer suburb of Istanbul. From there I had to take a city bus into Istanbul, then a tram, and then a short (but steep) walk to the place where I am staying. I am in an area of Istanbul called Cihangir at least for the next few days. It has a lot of nice restaurants and cafes, and seems to be a pretty secular and liberal place.
|After arriving, outside of Istanbul, going to get the city bus the rest of the way.|
|After getting off the city bus|
|Waiting to cross street to get on the tram|
|The Golden Horn|