Saturday, 5 March 2011

It's grim out East

Hilariously, I can post to my blog in Turkey but if I click on the link to read my previous post then it tells me (approximately) that "this site has been blocked by court order"!  Sweet.

When we last left off I had just reached Bucharest in my "Double Deluxe" sleeper from Budapest.  Cold and grim is how best to describe it (sorry Michael!).  I was all ready with my map from the tourist info to walk into town when a man at the traffic lights befriended me and suggested that walking was the last thing I wanted to do due to all the bad people around.  Mainly to escape from him, I scuttled back to the train station in search of some LEU and a taxi.  It all seemed too easy then but the taxi driver had the last laugh when he took me on the "scenic" route which cost 6 times the cost of the return taxi the following morning.  As we were still only talking about a few pounds, I made a mental note about my own stupidity and wrote it off.

I did venture out again onto the streets of Bucharest but feeling fairly daunted.  There isn't much smiling going on in Bucharest, at least not at this time of year on a cold grey day with snow and ice on the ground.  A reasonable meal was consumed in a trendy little bar but the principal activity for the afternoon was to purchase my train ticket for the following lunchtime and acquire a suitable sleeper reservation (not a 6!).

I had noticed on Man in Seat 61 that a new note had appeared very recently about some engineering works on the Bucharest to Istanbul line - take the train, short bus journey, back on the train - didn't sound too bad.  The lady at the train ticket office told me that once the train stopped, it was a bus all the way to Istanbul... still I thought that this seemed like the most enjoyable overland option - best to be on a train in a comfy carriage able to move around, lie down and watch the countryside for as long as possible.  In reality though, this did seem to have put most people off the journey and there were only a few brave souls who had decided it was worth the effort :-)  I am unable to say that I took the "Bosphorus Express" as actually we were switched to the oldest possible rolling stock train to Sofia.

I had a double room to myself which bizarrely had already been made into beds at midday (I don't think that the guard liked to have much work to do). I curled up with my book and off we set.  Shortly afterwards we had a couple of visits from Romanian and Bulgarian passport control guards (so friendly these days!) and then we meandered gently through the Bulgarian countryside for the rest of the day.  I was feeling slightly aggrieved that having travelled so far, I still didn't have a stamp in passport to show for it...

My ticket suggested that we would arrive in Svilengrad at around midnight, the guard guestimated 1am and in reality it was just before 2am.  The train guard had no intention of waking me up at the right time, there were no train announcements and the station signs were not written in English script, so I was a little concerned about missing the stop and ending up in Sofia.  In the end a gruff man came and shouted "Change" a few times in an unamused fashion and I was off and onto the bus.

On this bus, the train employees only spoke Bulgarian and the passengers were mainly Turkish, me and a young Spanish couple.  Communication was not a strong point here.  The words "passport" and "visa" got us all where we needed to be.  I now had my first visa and heard the clunk of my passport being stamped for the first time (bizarrely John Motson was commentating in the background...)

I was pleased that it was quite a comfortable bus and had my eye mask and earplugs ready to go once all the border controls were out of the way.  It seemed a little cruel to me that I was having Phil Collins and Eminem blasted out at me at 2am.. but figured that this would be turned off soon enough.  The bus started to take quite a strange route out of the customs area and even the locals looked bemused... ah ha, we were being taken to a nice modern train!  It wasn't set up as a sleeper but I nabbed a whole compartment to myself (one train - 14 people!) and settled down for a few hours rest.

I woke to see the Bosphor glistening to my right.  After the grimness of the east, you could just feel the vibrancy of this remarkable city.  Istanbul here I come!

Svilengrad - a good place to use in a trivia quiz in years to come?

1 comment:

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