Confessions of a Traveling Movie Nut

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Spy movie theme music began to play in my head as I boarded the train at Sirkeci station in Istanbul. My sleeper compartment was just like the one James Bond had in the movie "From Russia with Love". Distinctive red and cream coloured arborite paneling on the compartment walls gave it that swank 60's look. Black and white checkerboard vinyl floor tiles accentuated the atmosphere. And I was on the exact same route; Istanbul to Zagreb. Perhaps the best fight scene ever filmed was in this second and finest of all 007 movies. Bond had invited a man he thought to be his Balkan contact into his compartment. An error in judgment however, for he had let in evil Spectre agent Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw. When poor unsuspecting Bond wasnīt looking, Grant clunked him over the head with the butt of his revolver. A fight ensued. Bond got the upper hand. Then Grant, then Bond again. The fight seemed to go on for half of the movie. Finally Bond got hold of the nifty little garrotte that was attached to Grantīs hi-tech wristwatch and strangled him with it...or maybe he stabbed him with the knife that was hidden in the bottom of his own attaché case. It was a long time ago. And here I was, in perhaps the very same compartment, looking out the very same window.

I climbed into my bunk, turned out the light and ran my fingers over the sleek, shiny arborite. Soon I fell into a deep sleep. In my dreams beautiful Tatiani, played by blonde Bond-girl Daniela Bianchi, smiled teasingly as she made a pitcher of martinis. Tatiana disappeared behind a curtain or perhaps a haze as I was awakened by a loud banging sound coming from somewhere within the train car. I opened my compartment door and was stung by a blast of cold air. I followed the noise down the corridor to the end of the car. The door of the train was swinging on its hinges and banging on its door jam. These doors fasten tight, I thought to myself. You canīt open them while the train is, it couldnīt be. The Cold War had been over for more than fifteen years. I went into a crouch, looking left, then right. Slowly, arms extended in front of me to block a punch or perhaps a sweeping karate kick, I edged back towards my tiny room. Safely inside I latched the door and pulled the covers over my head.

At 4:00 a.m. a loud knock came to the door. A man in military attire barked some sort of order at me and pointed towards the door at the end of the car. I looked out the train window. Others, half asleep, were walking somberly along the train platform. I asked a young half-dressed German woman why we had to get off the train. Trembling, she shook her head in silence and continued walking. As we marched, shivering, along the ramp towards a darkened building on the other side of the tracks I thought of the movie Midnight Express. `They must be looking for drugs.ī My heart began to pound. I felt my pockets, then looked at the locked zipper on my knapsack. Then I remembered I donīt use drugs. The entire trainload of perhaps 100 people were paraded into the lightless building and told to form a line. Standing in this cold, dark room I began to realize that living the vicarious life of a secret agent isn't all its cracked up to be. Then a light came on from inside an adjoining area. A curtain was pulled aside and behind a counter sat a squat, olive skinned man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He began asking to see our passports. Sighs of relief filled the room. We wouldnīt be shot, tortured or buggered. We were at the Turkish frontier - the last stop before entering Bulgaria. Instead of getting on the train to check visas, like everywhere else in the world, the Turkish border police made everyone get off the train and come to them. I watched as the smoke-puffing official pounded away with his rubber stamp. He didnīt check entry visa stamps. He didnīt compare the passport photos with the faces of the travelers that carried them. He didnīt even bother to look at the fronts of the passports to see in what countries they were issued. If the drug carrying kid Billy Hayes from Midnight Express had been on this train heīd have gotten through with no difficulty. Hell, we all could have gone through; bags filled with drugs, guns or anything else weīd chosen to smuggle out. The fast stamping border guard just wanted to get us the hell back onto the train and out of Turkey so he could get on with whatever he was doing - a DVD movie, a whore, or perhaps a hashish filled hookah.

An hour later as the sun began to rise, my fantasy girl Tatiana at my side, we started westwards toward Sofia, Bulgaria. Sleepless but excited, the phantom blonde and I sat looking out the train window; watching for old missile silos the Russians may have forgotten to deactivate at the end of the Cold War.
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