Jared in Turkey

I packed my bags last night, pre-bus ride. Zero hour, 4:00am, and I’m gonna be iiiinnnnnnn Istanbul by then.

Hello everyone! I have arrived in Istanbul! OR is it Constantinople? Istanbul or Constantinople? I guess that’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

What a bus ride! We left Varna at 5:00pm yesterday and set out for a 12-hour tour. The weather started getting rough. It was snowing like mad as we passed through the mountains of southern Bulgaria by way of a very windy road…..the tiny bus was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, we may have tumbled off the mountainside, but we didn’t. I was crammed against the window with an old man next to me the whole way. He smelled like pencil shavings – 12 hours! Never take a 12-hour bus ride. It got dark quickly, so I didn’t get to see much of the picturesque landscape and that bums me out. Oh well. Then the fun started!

We arrived at the Bulgarian border, and the border patrol collected all of our passports. I was very nervous about surrendering my passport, but everyone else was doing it, so I thought it would be ok. They made us get off the bus and unload all of our luggage. They then proceeded to open each and every bag and examine the contents. What fun. I guess they were trying to catch those infamous Bulgarian smugglers in the act.

After we passed the Bulgarian border, we turned the corner and voila the Turkish border. They made us all get off the bus and go inside and stand in line to be checked in. When I got to the window, I was informed that I needed a Visa, and I couldn’t enter the country without it. No big deal…I knew that was coming…so I went around the corner and greased the palm of the border guy with 45 hard earned bucks. He slapped a sticker on my passport that said I was good to go.

Back on the bus. Oops, back off the bus cuz the Turks wanted to look at our bags too. We stood there for another hour as they opened each and every bag to examine the contents. Back on the bus. Six hours to go. Will it ever end? I dozed at some point and awoke to find us passing through some smaller towns on route to Istanbul.

Turkey looks like a pretty modern country! I could see the rows upon rows of very nice looking townhouses that we passed along the way. Everything looks new and modern, from the roads to the gas stations to the shops and larger outlet stores. It could very well be Israel or certain parts of America. The distinctive thing, though, is the towering Minarets (where the call to prayer is given) that protrude from the top of very beautiful mosque in each town. Don’t forget, this is a Muslim country.

We arrived at the modern looking bus station in Istanbul at about 4:00am. I was so wiped out, and I didn’t know what to do at that point. A lot of people were waiting in a room in the bus company’s office for their next bus, so many people offered to wait with me. I thought about it and said NO. I decided to make it for the hostel via taxi. Ohhhh taxis in Istanbul. Crazier than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

My driver did not speak a word of English, so it was very difficult to tell him where I needed to go. All I had was an address and a vague idea of where my hostel was…in the Sultan Ahmet section of town, right near the Aya Sofia (see previous letter). The guy had no idea where it was, so we spent half an hour weaving around the ancient streets of Istanbul.

No one was out at the time, so it seemed like a ghost town. I kept thinking, oh my God, it’s 4:30am, and I am lost in the back streets of Istanbul. Freaky. But we passed a lot of very large and beautiful structures, then we came to Aya Sofia. Extremely beautiful from the outside. After asking directions a few times, the driver found my hostel. He then tried to cheat me by quoting a higher price than what I was told at the bus station. I didn’t fall for it.

Enter hostel. Pretty decent. I got a single room…a little grungy with a sink…no bathroom…down the hall. The window was open, and it was absolutely freezing. I shut it and kicked on the heater, bundled up, and went to sleep.

By the way, I am a millionaire in Turkey. Of course that doesn’t mean much. The dollar is equal to 570,000 Turkish lira. So I got about 20 million. I’m loaded.

There ya go. The story of how I got to Turkey. You’ll hear much more soon…..