Midnight Express to Istanbul…well maybe not "Express"

Hirohito from Tokyo
I think I’ll call Bruce on Skype

 Hirohito, my new Japanese lady friend and I waited and waited  along with about 20 others that were sprawled out the the concret platform hoping the trian would arrive. She had been with the same company as an office worker for 6 years.  She said over 50% of Japanese work for the same company all there lives. We all knew it was a sleeper and all nighter so most were prepared for it.  The 9:07 arrived from Sophia to transport us to Istanbul around Midnight.  We boarded and were shown our berths.  Mine already had two sleeping passengers on the middle and upper bunk.  I crawled into the bottom bunk .  It was an oven with no circulation .  The door into the hall was closed to keep the light and noise out.  The shades were drawn and windows closed.  I sweated and rocked with the movement of the train for around 3 hours until we reached the border.

 We were all awakened  and waited while a Bulgarian checked each compartment and each passenger. That took about one hour.  Then we resumed our positions and the train ran for about 15 minutes when we were stopped and ordered off the train to stand in line to stamp our entry into Turkey.  I read we needed to buy a Visa at this point.  Some did and some didn’t but no one found out until  they reached the border guard who sent me out and down the road to the Visa control guy to buy my Visa.  No Bulgarian Levs accepted so I had to stand in line at the duty free kiosk to change money to Euros and buy my Visa , put it into the passport and return to the border guard line.  The line had doubled since they let out more of the “2nd Class” passengers.  I finally got my passport stamped and returned to my hot bunk.

The train departed around 3 am and was cooler now.  l finally fell asleep for at least 6 hours before being awakened every time the train stopped to let some passengers out at the different Whistle Stops along the way.   The conductor had to wake the whole train to make sure he didn’t miss anyone.  One of my bunk mates had a girlfriend that couldn’t sleep and kept coming in to see if he was awake and wanted to talk…she was pissing off me and the other guy who didn’t even know the man with the needy girlfriend.

We exited the train in Istanbul at 12:15 in the afternoon exhausted and hungary.  I was in no mood to hassle with the Tram directions the Hostel gave. I hired a taxi who wanted 40 Lira…now I don’t know what that was in dollars but sounded like around $25 in dollars. I guessed right.  I baulked but he started up with  gas in Istanbul is $3 a litter blah blah and I explained to him I was sick , tired and hungry and really just wanted him to drive me to the Hostel.  I paid him and walked in to an oven.

 Do I have a fan in my room …no.  I am cancelling my reservation for 6 days to this ” top rated  hostel”  and will pay for tonight.  He gave me the 6th floor walk up!  It was an oven.  I haven’t been able to access the internet as advertised and the one computer they have always has a line of people waiting.  Now I can’t even get on the computer to find another place to stay so I just left to find a hotel.  I walked back to the water front , found an ATM so I could pay my bill , had a small delicious fast food lunch and returned up the mountain.   I was trying to get an idea as to where the hotels would be.  I knew they weren’t on the waterfront so took a shower, changed into shorts and took off for the water front again to take a water taxi to the center of town. As I was on my way back down the Mountain, I noticed a Chef outside with a rotisserarie smoking meat with wood charcoal.  Then I noticed he advertised a review by the N.Y. Tmes for his famous smoked meats.  He asked if I wish to sit down but explained I just had a snack earlier and would stop on my return.

I got to the dock, I paid a dollar, jumped on the departing ferry with the crowd .  I then realized this was not a taxi to the other side but a trip to Nantucket.  It was early and pleasant the for $1 a great ride.  The air was cool on the water and the ferries and sea buses were going back and forth  like Venice.  Just not mine.  Mine crossed the Strait of Istanbul from Europe to Asia .  I panicked when we arrived and everyone rushed to get off to get the train to Syria or something.  I asked one of the crew who explained they will eventurally return to the original starting point so just relax, stay aboard and enjoy.  I did .  All these ships were state of the art with wide screen TV , in Turkish, snack bars, multi levels, clean and great facilities.  I did return and decided to take the Tram to the Sultanitina or some big tourist attracted across the water in one of the main centers of Asian Istanbul where I might find a hotel.



  The trams were top of the line, AIR CONDITIONED, clean, efficient and accepted  smart cards, micro chips, or tokens that could be purchase at  machines that accepted  bills or coins with directions in English and three othe languages.   This was nice.  I exited near one of the most famous Mosques in the world and saw a sign for a hotel.  The streets were packed with Turks and Tourists and everything was alive.  People praying in the streets.  Beautiful displays of food , Cafes with exotic menus both expensive and cheap.  I found the entrance and walked up to find the desk clerk sound asleep on the couch.  He was startled and embarresed but showed me a room immediatly…yes it had A/C, internet Wi Fi, private bath and centrally located for the tour buses and sights.  How much….50Euros!  OK that was double what I was paying and with our dollar in the dumps…came out to be $70.  5 days…$400.  I told him I would think about it but after checking out another that wanted 80  Euros…I took it.

Excuse Me…can I get by here?



One of those…and those and ….

I wandered around a bit and took some photos then decided to return to the NY Times award winning restaurant. The Tram proved very convieient so I arrived at the bottom of the Mountain and slowly walked to the restaurant where I was informed I was too late!  I thought he was joking until I noticed all the meats he smoked with the wood charcoal were gone.  He spends all day makeing this dish then sells in out in about 2 hours.  Not a bad life.  If I want to try it, I have to return at 7pm the next day.  I passed up all those great restaurants to be turned down…I have to eat there now.

Milk Pudding with Ice Cream

 Meanwhile I trudged up the mountain to the hostel.  There was one place still open.  This is not the busy part of town and most restaurants have closed for the evening.  I found one and David , an Australian I met earlier when checking in the hostel was just finishing.  I quickly asked to see a menu before the owner closed on me.  He showed me the menu then took me to his kitchen where he has all his creations on display.  He must make them during the day  then lays them out at room temperature until he sells them…then they served them that way!  I experienced this in the last city and didn’t die but really wish I could eat at a real restaurant that was cooking food to order.  I took the stuffed peppers served at room temperature.

 David and I chatted about our travels.  He retried around 8 years ago and backpacks 2 months out of the year.  He was in the travel business and after he and his wife were married they traveled around the world…typical Aussie walk about.  Both have traveled a lot together but lately he travels mostly alone to places he has never been.  A wealth of information about Myanmar , China, Pakistan, and travel in general.  I wanted a beer but nothing sold alchocol near a Mosque so he suggested I climb the rest of the mountain where all the restaurants and bars were.  I wasn’t to enthused about his suggestion but neither was I enthused about spending the evening in a oven without something to assist my sleep.  We exchanged email addresses and  I took off up the mountain.

 I mean cobblestone streets straight up with no shops, lights or encouragement until I neared the top.  There was an entire city up there that was alive and vibrant with all the streets a maze of bars, Hookah bars, night clubs, restaurants, cafes, all packed  and then the Main Drag…a pedestrian boulevard with fancy shops and ice cream shops everywhere.  People were out in groves.  I read the police raided the businesses there. Recently Istanbul imposed a “No Smoking” in bars or restaurants.  Well we have seen what happens in the beginning and the same happened here.  Everyone wanted to sit outside so they could smoke.  The business owners moved all their furniture into the streets to accommodate the customers.  The local residents couldn’t even walk down their own streets and the barely two lanes became one so cars couldn’t get through either. The morning found trash everywhere so the residents complained, the police raided the businesses and forced the owners to put the furniture back inside.   Well it looked to me that didn’t last long…all the streets were full of people sitting outside!  I bought some gin and orange juice then returned to my oven.

 I couldn’t sleep so came down to do my blog.  Nice crowd of travelers I should be visiting with.  The clerk just brought over my laundry.  They offered to do it for 10 lira and I explained I really only have a shirt and pants but would be willing to pay the 10 Lira or $6 to have it done.  Since it was such a small amount he did if for free and just handed it to me. Nice Gesture. Australian David had retired early as he was checking out at 6 am to explore the Golden Horn, an area up the Strait of Istanbul where I traveled by boat.  He was getting off and walking it.   Stay tuned for more “trails and trials” of David.

3 Replies to “Midnight Express to Istanbul…well maybe not "Express"”

  1. Great information thanks to share this blog.Eurostarbuses is one of the most experienced coach companies in Europe. We have our own fleet of more than 70 modern coaches sightseeing tours, bus excursions, airport transfer, corporate travel, school excursions and transfer to sport or cultural events. Our coach hiring and group department offers individual service and assistance when planing your tours and events. Minivan, minibuses and hire buses.


  2. Great information thanks to share this blog.Eurostarbuses is one of the most experienced coach companies in Europe. We have our own fleet of more than 70 modern coaches sightseeing tours, bus excursions, airport transfer, corporate travel, school excursions and transfer to sport or cultural events. Our coach hiring and group department offers individual service and assistance when planing your tours and events. Minivan, minibuses and hire buses.


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