Turkish Delight

Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
Trip End Nov 18, 2002

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Saturday, August 31, 2002

This is a short entry on my side trip to Bulgaria, killing time before Linda arrived to meet me in Istanbul.

-- Turkish Delight

I finally met up with my friend Paul at the Cairo Airport. He'd been stranded in the Sahara desert when his group's Jeep broke down and had made it back in time for his flight to Istanbul. The same flight I was also booked on.

When we arrived in Istanbul, the air was cool and a light, a cooling trickle of rain was covering the city. After 3 weeks of scorching heat in Egypt, the mild weather was a welcomed change. Finally I could walk outside without being instantly soaked in a pool of sweat.

We checked into a nice room in the backpacker haven of Sultanhamet and immediately launched ourselves towards the closest roadside bar to quaf a cold pint of local lager.

Istanbul brought an instant smile to my face. It was like being in Europe again. No more bizarre stares from locals and no more language problems. It almost felt like I was home. Seeing as I'd been in Istanbul less than a year back, the familiarity of Sultanhamet was comforting.

Paul, a couple from new Zealanders and I sat around drinking and just being generally silly until finally venturing off into the raunchy discos of Taksim to end the evening in the early hours of the morning.

-- "Maybe I won't go to Bulgaria... "

When I opened my eyes the next morning, Paul was packing for his flight to Malaysia and I was seriously reconcidering my trip to Sofia, Bulgaria, which I had planned to take to kill time before Linda arrived.

"Uggg,... maybe I'll pass on Bulgaria" I said to Paul as I rubbed my eyes and shook my hang over from my head.

I began to debate whether staying in Turkey until she arrived would be a better idea. The bus to Bulgaria was an overnight one which would almost guaranty another night of sleeplessness, in the state I was in, another night without sleep didn't seem like a tempting offer.

"Nono... you should go. You'll be fine"

It was just push I needed. After thinking of how great my trip to Southern Laos was and that I'd gone through the same mental debate the morning after the rocket festival, I decided to run out to buy my bus ticket before I could change my mind again.

I was going to Sofia. It was done.

I managed to sleep until 3pm that day before jumping into a taxi to the bus station. I'd heard of how good the bus system in Turkey was, but until I arrived at the central station, I had no idea just how good it was. The bus terminal was more like an airport, with hundreds of ticket shops lined side by side and hundreds of busses stacked up behind. When I climbed aboard the bus, the seats were wide, AC was on tap and free snacks and drinks for all. A far cry from the Lao, Indian or even Vietnamese busses by far.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the seats, sleeping was a futile effort and another night sans-sleep awaited. I was exhausted.

As the bus slowed down, the Bulgarian man who spoke just enough broken english to hold the little bit of conversation we'd had during the ride to Sofia was tapping me on the shoulder. We'd arrived in Sofia. It was 4 am and suddenly the logistics of it all came crashing down on me.

My trip to Sofia had been a last minute ordeal and I didn't have a guide book, currency or any information about the city. The only nugget I did have was a brosure for a hostel which seemed pleasant.

"Do you think there is a currency exchange?" I asked the chubby, gray haired Bulgarian. I could see by his frown that he hadn't understood my question.

As I slowly tried to think of a way to get to my hostel, a frenchmen sitting opposite me turned to face me. "Excuse me, do you want to split a cab?"

"Ummm, sure that would be great, but I don't have any Bulgarian money."

He casually shook his head and dismissed my attempt to pay half the fare. "It's ok, I'll pay"

"Thank god!" I thought to myself.

Thierry, a frenchman who'd been working in Sofia for almost a year as an IT consultant and who was returning from a short holiday in Istanbul with his Bulgarian girlfriend saved the day and had a taxi driver take me to my hostel.

As he dropped me off, we made plans to meet the next day for some sight seeing in the city.

-- Sexy Sofia

I met Thiery after 4 hours of patchy sleep in the Hostel's 12 bed dorm.

"This town is pretty provocative isn't it?" I said to Thierry the next morning as we walked down the street passed an advertisement which featured a beautiful women holding up a bunch of grapes, tongue extended and licking, almost sucking, the phallic bunch.

"Luc, in Sofia, you can almost smell the sex."

He was right. Everything from advertisements, to the way women dressed to the brosures for sex clubs that the tourist office had given me, smacked of hedonism.

In Sofia, sex was big business and it showed. The town was clean, surprisingly modern and in complete defiance of it's communist passed, viciously capitolistic.

We started off by having lunch, which he refused to let me pay for, a ritual he would repeated for my entire stay, and aquainted ourselves better.

When it came to sightseeing in Sofia, English wasn't a strong point. At the local museum of national history, the signs were all in Cyrillic as with most other signs in the country. Despite this, we did managed to learn a small amount about the country's past, through Roman times, Turkish rule to communism and times of world wars. Bulgaria had been through cycles of repression and was now a free, democratic country thriving on capitalism. From the looks of it, it was well on it's way of becoming the next Prague of Eatern Europe. I could almost see the heards of tourists which I imagined would soon be flocking to the city.

It was cold in Bulgaria. The coldest I'd been in 6 months. Since Canada.

To end the day, we had dinner with Jeny, his "coppine" and had a very interesting talk about how Bulgaria used to be during it's communist times.

Finally, the evening ended with a visit to several of Sofia's night clubs and I called it a night.

-- Day 2 in Bulgaria

I had planned on a day trip to the Rila Monestary but as I woke, a tram/bus and taxi to the distant valley seemed like a harsh trip. Tired and perhaps a little lazy, I decided to stay in town to see more of the city.

Walking through the city, I bumped into a tiny antique shop which made me glad I had stayed in town. The shop sold everything from antique statues of Lenin to WWII Nazi passports. I bought a few authentique communist era souvenirs and met up with Thierry and his friends for lunch.

After lunch, it was time for shopping. Shopping in Sofia was alot more developed than I'd expected. I spent the afternoon buying some clothes and souvenirs. Things I couldn't have bought elsewhere like quality travel-pants and shoes.

When 7pm came around I headed the train station and caught my ride back to Istanbul.

-- Language difficulties

I was laying in the middle bunk of my sleeper compartment when the man who was sleeping in the one under mine walked in. He greeted me in Bulgarian, to which I nodded and asked "English?"
"No" ... he answered, seemingly disapointed that he would be stuck sharing a cabin with someone he wouldn't be able to speak with.

He reached down and offered me a beer, the universal language. I accepted and we attempted a conversation. Unfortunately, it didn't go very far. We walked out into the hall way and hung out to the windows watching the sun set over Sofia.

He looked sad. "Luc, Canada?" he said pointing to trash which was littered all over the grass and tracks that were zipping by.

"No, not like this."

"Mmmm... " he answered "Bulgaria, no money"

Nicoli was a crop duster on his way to the Sudan. This much i could get out of him but sign language could only take us so far and as the sun crept below the sky line, we stood there gazing out the window, speechless, listening to the boy in the cabin next to us practice his flute. As the soft soothing tones of the flute filled the air, we retired into the cabin and I prepared to awake in another country, Turkey.

"Goodnight Nicoli"

"Goodnight Luke Skywalker"

Maybe Nicoli understood a bit more than I had thought.
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