The great train escape warning: kids this ...

Trip Start Oct 02, 2001
Trip End Nov 01, 2001

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Monday, October 15, 2001

The Great Train Escape...

WARNING: Kids, this is something you don't want to try at home.

Waking up in our claustrophobic couchette train compartment and looking out the window we realized this wasn't Europe any longer... this was Eurasia. The Mosques peppered throughout the countryside was our first sign that we would be arriving at our train stop in Istanbul soon.

Looking down at the map in our Lonely Planet guidebook, we noticed that there may be a quicker way to get to our hostel in Istanbul than going to the end of the train line and haggling with a Turkish cab driver for 30 minutes for a good price to our hostel which would invariably be an over inflated price anyway.

"SSSSCCCCRREEEEEECCHHHHHHHH" the train howled, the train was slowing down. The train was stopping.

Still shaking the sleep from our heads, we peered out the window, down the train tracks to get a glimpse of the railway station name we were stopping at. It was the same station name as the one from our map. The short cut stop! Ahhhhh!

Trains in Europe, don't stop for long. It's fairly typical to have to run out of a train to catch a connecting train which leaves 4 minutes after having arrived. We knew this. We had had our share of running down train stations with backpacks and flailing hands trying to catch the last connecting train. It was with this in mind, that we knew that we would have to make a quick decision... it was now or never!

"What do you think guys, want to roll the dice with the shortcut?" Luc asked, with a sense of urgency in his voice.
"Let's do it!" the others yelled, already gathering clothes and stuffing their packs.

In a flurry of whirling backpacks and acrobatics out of our train sleeper we ran to the train first exit door.

"Go, Go, Go!!! Next Door!" we all started to shout.

The next door was locked too and to make things worse, a quick look out the window revealed that the train platform was about 9 wagons ahead of us! We were so far back in this Turkish train that we would have to jump onto the train tracks if we wanted to get off. Uggg, It just kept getting better.

"Shit! The train is starting to leave!!! Run to the next exit!" we barked, frantically looking for an exit sign and bumping our way through the tiny train corridor.

The train was starting to inch forward as the conductor scrambled to unlock the back door for us. The exit door burst open and the moving train tracks down below seemed to be going faster and faster by the second... that's when panic started kicking in. Being the 3rd in line to get off of the train Luc was yelling "Get out!! Quick Quick!" and off we went.

One by one, backpacks, cameras, daypacks and all, we all launched ourselves from the train. In what has to be miracle, we all landed a little shaken, but in one piece and luckily with no oncoming trains in our path.

The adrenalin fading away, scratching our heads and looking around in all directions we realized we didn't really know where we were. The sound of Islamic prayer in the background and not a soul in sight. In times like this we turned to our only saviour, our compass. A quick compass check and north bound into Istanbul we started walking until our tattered bodies eventually hit the Orient Hostel.

Istanbul, the Eurasian city

Istanbul was the first Muslim country which we had visited. Ever. It's far enough from Central Europe and far enough from Central Asia to offer a unique mix which we had never experienced.

Just walking down the streets, after settling into the Hostel, brought a big grin to our faces. New, unique, experiences are always refreshing, having being to Europe several times before, Istanbul was starting to give us goose bumps of excitement from the foreign feeling it has.

Loud speakers cry out Islamic prayers 5 times daily in the bustling streets of Istanbul which has an ominous way of reminding you just how far you are from Central Europe.

Istanbul has many sites, both Christian and Muslim. Sifting through the sites we had already underlined in our Lonely Planet we had decided that Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bizarre would be our first day's sampling of Istanbul.

Aya Sofia, was built in the 4th century AD by the Roman emperor Constantine. If you recall, Constantine was the emperor to impose Christianity throughout the roman empire and what is a Christian empire without... a church! A big, gold encrusted, marble church and Aya Sofia is just that. Aya Sofia is the second largest church in the Christian world. From the 3rd to the 13th century it was the largest until St-Peters in Rome was built. When the Muslim took Constantinople they didn't have much use for a church though, so they quickly converted it to a mosque. Today, the Christian murals, previously covered over by the Muslims with white wash, have been restored. The result is a wonderful blend of Islam and Christianity. Christian murals adorn the walls but scriptures from the Quran do as well. Seeing as how the church was not built facing Mecca, as all mosques are, the praying areas in the church are all slightly off centre. Facing, you guessed it, Saudi Arabia's Mecca. Luc checked his compass just to make sure the tour guide wasn't snow balling us, the story checked out, south east it is... ;)

The Blue Mosque right across the street from Aya Sofia is a... well, it's a Mosque (duh). Still in use, it's quite something else. Entering via the "Visitors" entrance ( only Muslims can enter through the main door ) we were asked to take our shoes off. Being our first Mosque experience it was very interesting. The men praying in the front area and the women secluded to little, fenced areas in the back. Our tour guide in Aya Sofia explained to us that this is done as not to distract the men from Allah.

Off to the Grand Bizarre, a giant complex with carpets, jewellery, pillow, silks, and just about anything else you can imagine. Haggling away we managed to buy a few souvenirs and gifts. Although the Bizarre makes an interesting visit, the prices are a little high compared to vendors on the street due to the high rent they have to pay... we made a few quick purchases and headed off for the evening.

Apple Tobacco, Drinks and debauchery

Seeing as how the next day was to be Luc's last day in Istanbul the plan was for an early night. An early which would end at 6am. It all started with the apple tobacco. Almost every establishment in Istanbul offers free water pipes. Internet Cafes, restaurants and hotels are all more than happy to pull out a 4 foot high brass water pipe ( better known as a bong for us north Americans ) for your smoking pleasure. After stuffing the water pipe with apple and tobacco, a hot coal is dropped into the tobacco container and the result is a very mild, apple tasting smoke... quick nice actually. ( See the pictures to see what the water pipe looks like )

After a quick water pipe experience in the hostel bar, we went outside to the main hostel street which is eerily reminiscent of Kao Sahn road in Bangkok, without the smell. On the patio of a local bar, we met half a dozen Aussies, locals and Kiwi's and drank, smoked apple tobacco and talked until the bars wouldn't serve us anymore, which in Istanbul is around 5-6am. This would definitely play against our well plan of waking up early to see the palace the next morning...

The Turkish Baths...

Waking up at 11am the next day, it was clear that we wouldn't be able to see everything we wanted to for Luc's last day so we trimmed our ambitious agenda down to one Turkish Bath.

We gathered a few new friends and headed off to the bath, in what we were told would be a "non-touristy" area... they were right. Arriving at the bath Felecia was sent off to the women's bathing area and us to the men's.

In the Turkish Bath, a marble domed building which seems straight out of the roman age, we were greeted by our, for lack of a better word, bather. Each of us were assigned a bather and he then took us in for a full-on loofa scrubbing, hang-over killing sauna and a bone crunching massage.

The nice thing is that after the bathing, you are wrapped up in towels, given tea and then are shown to a small room to nap for a bit... quite a different experience from the Hungarian baths but just as fun all the same.

The Whirling Dervishes.

Squeaky clean and rested we decided to go see the Whirling Dervishes. The Whirling Dervishes put themselves into a trance like state and well... they whirl. One hand to up to God and the other down to the earth to bridge to gap between heaven and earth. Slowly beginning to spin as the music begins to play, the audience is quiet. No clapping or talking is allowed as not to distract the dervishes. Each taking their turn and finally whirling together in a dizzying dance, the dervishes spun as we enjoyed some Turkish coffee and apple tea.

And then there was 2...


My last day in Europe had finally come. I left the next morning for Canada. 26 hours of connections and flights to Canada weren't all that bad aside from the fact that I had my Swiss army knife confiscated by the damn Turkish police at the airport station. My fault, shouldn't have left it in my day bag, I guess I should just be happy that they didn't strip search me.

Gerry and Chuck are now off to see more of Turkey then to Greece. Good luck guys, see you in 2 weeks!
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