Sunday, June 26, 2011

You Crane?

Ahhh... The Ukraine. This country was not on my original trip itinerary, but Bryn discovered the "Crimean Dance Camp" was taking place during our trip to Turkey. We found a ferry across the Black Sea and things were set for 10 days of Swing dancing with Russians and Ukrainians. It was going to be our wild and wacky experience in the Former Soviet Union.

It started auspicious enough. Pretty much as soon as our boat left Zonguldak, Turkey, I came down with a terrible fever that I'm pretty sure broke my thermometer. I spent the first 6 hours of the ferry shivering under three blankets while a full moon shone orange over the Black Sea below us. The second 6 hours i spent in and out of the bathroom, either on the toilet or in the shower trying to cool down my fever that peaked at 102. The final 6 hours, my fever finally broke and I was able to go up on deck and see the Black Sea. Early in the morning, the sea is so flat and glassy. It was still as a lake and you could hardly feel the boat moving at all.

My first day at the Crimean Dance Camp was a wash. I spent just about all of the time in bed recovering from my fever. After three days of diarrhea, I broke open my emergency ration of antibiotics that had cost me $130 back in Austin. Within a day, I was feeling much better though, so thank god for Azithromyicin.

My body on the mend and my head clearing, I was able to take in the anachronism that was the Crimean Dance Camp. We had a total Soviet-lite experience. We were issued food tickets at the beginning of the week which we could exchange for wheat or pork based gruel during one hour windows throughout the day. We stood in line for this gruel, served in abysmally small portions. I'm sure that our daily servings didn't add up to 2000 calories. Maybe more like 1000 - and most of that came from oil. I could go on about the food, but I'll just conclude by saying that we gave up on the meal tickets and adventured on our own in town. We ended up doing much better for ourselves - budget be damned.

Our Savior in Nikolaevka - Meat on Stick

Our "hotel" was more like a dormitory. Four toilets and four showers for about 60 people. Hot water was rare and there was no ventalation in the showers so they were cesspools of stink and soviet germs. No toilet paper, no towels, sheets that wouldn't even fit over the hard bed (we ended up using our sleeping bags). The place did have lots of roses though. Apparently, we were supposed to stay in another part of the hotel that hadn't been completed in time, adding a huge construction site to our situation.

Our bed and room

As for the dances, all 150 of us were supposed to meet each evening in a little activity room that fit maybe 50 people. We ended up rationing the dancing - as one person passed out from the stifling body heat and bad air, another would step in and take their place while they recovered outside. We were supposed to have danced in an open-air cafe in town, but the organizers of the camp screwed that up and we were kicked out after the first night.

It wasn't necessarily the conditions that piss me off, it's the fact that we were paying $70 each per day to stay at this place. I don't mind third world conditions - that's the whole point of this trip - but I hate paying first world prices for third world conditions. Like all other dance camps, we paid for our spots ahead of time, before we knew what we were getting into. It reminded me that package deals should be avoided.

Don't let the cuteness deceive you, this place was way ugly on the inside.

It was interesting to be the only Americans in the whole town. Bryn and I got a good glimpse of Russian style vacationing. The beaches were packed with blubbery, hairy backed, reddened men and women from sunrise to sunset. All the restaurants were identical - same food, same design (think barn with benches in it) and same bad, karaoke music. The saving graces were the fresh peaches and cherries in the market and street venders selling roasted meat.

It was nice that I was with Bryn for these ten days, but other than that, I'm not proud of how I spent the last ten days of my trip. On top of all that - the boat that I was supposed to take back to Turkey (God, how I've come to miss that beautiful country) left earlier than I was told, so now I'm stranded in Ukraine. My choices are either to stay here another 4 days or go on with Bryn to Moldova and return to Turkey from Romania - backtracking the trip I took about a month ago. Sigh. I need to get moving east again. Asia beckons.

The next few days will probably mostly be spent on buses or trains. Next stop should be Diyarbakir or Van, Turkey. I can't wait.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Taking the Ferry from Zonguldak

Bryn and I are in Zonguldak, Turkey - up on the Black Sea coast of Turkey - about to get on a ferry for the Ukraine. We've been trying to organize a ferry to the Ukraine for some time (she's been looking into it for the past few months) because a) it'd be cool to take a ferry across the Black Sea; and b) there is a ten day swing dance camp happening in Mikolavka, Ukraine, from the 16 - 35 of June. Swing dancing has proven to be a very successful way to meet people and get to know an area, so we're both really looking forward to the Crimean Dance Camp 2011.

Our ride coming into the Port of Zonguldak, Turkey
According to the website, everyone else attending the camp is either Russian or Ukrainian. A few of the instructors are western European, but there's a good chance that we'll pick up some Ukrainian/Russian after all of this. As of now, I've only really got Nazdravya and Dobra Den. It should be fun.

And maybe the best part of it is that we're taking a boat there. And we're taking a real BOAT. None of this cruise liner stuff like I took from Iceland, this is an honest cargo ships with trucks and truck drivers and hardhat areas. The boat got into Zonguldak yesterday afternoon full of trucks from Yvpretoria, Ukraine (the boat only services the Zonguldak-Yvpretoria route) and we boarded it at around 7pm without having paid because the office was closed. It was a classic hand-signals and limited vocabulary conversation between us two Americans, an employee of the ferry company, the customs guy and the ship captain. I don't know exactly how it happened, but within about 10 minutes we had a cabin on the top deck with a nice view of the orange life boat.

Our home for three nights (note approach of full moon in top left corner)
We sail tonight at 1am, assuming that we have enough cargo on board to justify departure. We might have to wait until tomorrow morning to leave. No tellng. But the trip will take about 36 hours so we should be in Yvpretoria Friday afternoon - Mikolavka within an hour later.

The deck of our ferry at sunset. Trucks hadn't started loading at this point.
It's not exactly a passenger ferry, which makes the trip even more cool. There's a good chance that Bryn will be the only female on the boat surrounded by a bunch of Turkish and Ukrainian truck drivers, which is a little intimidating, but everyone we've met so far has been friendly and non-leary. We met the cook this morning, who served us breakfast, and he was very friendly, despite our inability to communicate with each other. It's been really helpful to be able to stay on the boat in harbor as it saves us money on hotels AND they feed us three meals a day. So far, so good. Will report on the more specific details once we get to the Ukraine.

Like a Good Wine...

I've taken the opportunity to read a lot of books during my trip so far and will no doubt read many more before I'm through. At the risk of sounding snobby, I think picking books to read during trips is like picking out wine to pair with a good meal. I'm not a wine expert, so this analogy doesn't resonate too much inside of me, but it makes sense from what I've heard about good wine.

I want to make a list of the books I've read so far and quickly note what they're about and what I thought about them before they become indistinguishable from each other. Since leaving the US, I've made a point of finding English language book stores in major cities along the way and have stocked up there. I haven't had to suffer any breaks between books so far and, at the moment, I'm carrying five with me, so I should be alright for a while. I try to always read a book fitting to the area I'm in but, that doesn't always work out perfectly. I've donated all the books as I go, unable, of course, to bring them all back home with me.

Hisotry of Warfare (John Keegan):
I actually started this book before I left Austin, but I felt like it was a good introduction to the world through a realists eyes. I learned about the spread of military technology and how Central Asia is where our modern idea of "invading armies" began. It inspired me to read about Genghis Khan or Tamerlane later on.

History of the Natchez Trace:
Explains how the Natchez Trace formed a land bridge between the lower Mississippi River and the Cumberland River between Natchez, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee before the steam boat came along and made even upriver travel cheaper than land. This was highly appropriate for my bike ride along the Natchez Trace, but it was poorly written and often devolved into laundry lists of demographic and economic facts and figures.

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen):
A great novel about contemporary American life. It's about a family of five from the midwest whose children have moved off to the corrupted east coast. Great novel for "getting a feel" for the US; my first country on the trip.

Absalom, Absalom (William Faulkner):
I found this at a used bookstore in Natchez that was suffering because of Kindle sales (I maybe should have bought one for the trip) for about a buck. Read it in Mississippi in honor of Faulkner and was almost finished with it before losing in New York City. It was a challenging read that kept repeating itself. I felt like the plot progressed two steps forward, one step back the whole way, with plenty of foreshadowing so that you knew the whole way that the outcome would be disastrous. I'd like to give Faulkner another try.

The Long Ships (Frans Bengtsson):
The novelized Saga of Orm, the youngest of a family of Vikings from Scania (modern day southern Sweden) who adventures around Europe looking for wealth and fame. I read this in Iceland in order to get a feel for the Nordic Viking life. I should have read the Icelandic sagas instead, but there were too many "begots" through the whole thing. I still liked The Long Ships though, and inspired me to take a trip from the southern most tip of Scandinavia to Nordkapp - only hitchhiking and camping and thereby barely spending any money at all.

Emma (Jane Austen):
This may seem like a strange novel to bring along with you on a ferry from Iceland to Denmark. Again, one of the viking sagas would have been better - maybe some Faroese literature? This was the first book I purchased abroad and I got it in Akureyri, Iceland. The bookstore there had a very limited English language selection and, foreseeing an uneventful ferry trip, I bought the thickest book I could find there. This happened to be Emma. I like Jane Austen, but after reading "The Corrections" and "The Long Ships", both rooted in the gory and often unsavory realism style, "Emma" seemed too uptight and proper. It only showed life in the parlor and didn't get into the juicy details of everyday 18 Century life. I supposed "uptight" and "proper" was good for me coming into Denmark and Germany, though. And, my ferry ride was the closest I got to England.

Balkan Ghosts (Robert Kaplan):
This book had been recommended to me on numerous occasions by several different people. In a flash of forethought, I ordered the book online and had it sent to Germany so that I wouldn't have to carry it there. No way was I going to find it in English there. It's a travel log of an American journalist going through the Balkans in 1990-1991 - right after the fall of the Soviet Union and just before Yugoslavia's messy break up. It was a good crash course in Balkan history - an area where I was sorely ignorant. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to a lot of the places he went, but it was good to at least have a frame of reference for the region. Several of my hosts in Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia commented on how it was useless since it was written by an American. They're probably a little right.  Nevertheless, it made me want to read Rebecca West's book about her trip through the Balkans in early 20th century, "Black Lamb Grey Falcon".

The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde):

Bridge on the Drina (Ivo Andric):
This was the first, truly "foreign" book I bought and read. Lots of people in Belgrade had recommended it and I found it easily in several Belgrade bookstores. Andric won the Nobel prize for literature and so is nearly a Serbian national hero. The book covers nearly 500 years of the history of Visegrad - a little town in current day eastern Bosnia. I had already passed through this area once I got the book, so I didn't get to visit it, but the book is an amazing portrayal of the history of the Balkans through the eyes of a famous bridge. From Ottoman occupation to Serbian uprisings to Austro-Hungarian occupation and their departure during World War I, it covers it all.

Bridge of San Louis Rey (Thornton Wilder):
Bryn brought this book for me from Australia when we met up in Istanbul. It's about life in 18th century Peru, so completely removed from Istanbul, but still a good, short novel about a group of people who die in a bridge collapse. I liked to continuation of the bridge theme after reading "Bridge on the Drina" but I mostly liked the book for it's sketch of the characters' personalities, motivations and inner struggles. It's framed by a friar's attempt to explain why these specific people died by the bridge collapse. Bryn thought that the futility of this effort was the central theme but I disagreed. The frame was ultimately an excuse to write about fictional, obscure individuals in 18th century Peru. 

Portrait of a Turkish Family (Irfan Orga):
This was another local recommendation that I bought in Istanbul for way too much - about $30. But that's just how things are in Istanbul. Way too expensive.  The book was a huge success when it came out in 1950, but has since fallen out of print and, according to the bookstore owner, there is only one version out now, which explains the high price. It's good portrayal of Istanbul during the fall of the Ottoman Empire and beginning of the republic; a riches to rags autobiography that kind of reminds me of Dickens, except that the author inserts too much of his own self-pity and conceitedness. At times, it pissed me off. When he whined about how his family had to get rid of one servant and were down to only two during hard times, I lost a lot of respect for the guy. Also, reading the afterword by his son made me respect Orga less. It sounds like he failed to learn from his hardships in WWI Istanbul and kept making lots of financial mistakes throughout his life. Still, you have to respect the insight he provides on Istanbul during an important time during its history.

Snow (Orhan Pamuk):
I was strongly encouraged to read Orhan Pamuk by several Turks. He's a contemporary, Nobel Literature Prize winning author who writes all about the experience of living in Turkey. He was exactly what I was looking for in Turkey. One of my hosts recommended that I read "Snow" as it is about eastern Turkey whereas most of Pamuk's books are about Istanbul. As I had already covered Istanbul in Orga's book (see above), I went for it. Snow is a story about a fictional week in the eastern city of Kars where an actor joins forces with the local military to take over the city. A journalist is caught in the middle of it and is manipulated by all different sides (Islamists, Kurds, Leftists, the military, etc.) to push their own agendas during the crisis. I thought it was a great introduction to all the different forces spinning around in Turkey, but it wasn't a great introduction to Kars, which I visited towards the end of the book. Pamuk's main character (the journalist) is also a bit of a wet-blanket. He reminded me of Goethe's "Junge Werther" who nearly made my head explode with his indecisiveness and hand-wringing and self inflicted pain. Pamuk could have cut about 100 pages from his book if he his lead character only thought things over three times instead of five. I guess that's what gives the book its texture, though.

To Catch of Tartar (Chris Bird):
Bryn brought this book for me from Australia as I'd be heading to the Caucasus after Turkey. To Catch a Tartar is advertised as a travel journal through the Caucasus, but it's actually a British journalist's account of the first Chechen war in the mid 1990s, which was fine by me. But Bird is a terrible writer. At one point, he strung together four totally unrelated metaphors in four consecutive sentences. His style really reminded me of Robert Kaplan but at least Bird didn't over inflate his own importance in the matter and paid more attention to the people around him than how awesome he was for hanging around in Chechnya while the Russians were shelling him. He jumps back and forth between the current and numerous former Russian incursions into Chechnya which, when mixed up with all the various names throughout history, was very confusing. But overall, he gets across the idea that the Russians have been trying to nail down the Caucasus for centuries and have never quite got it down pat. Great on the ground account of all that went down, too.

The Travels of Marco Polo
This is one of the few books that I didn't finish on this trip. It's basically just a collection of his notes that may or may not be fabricated. Marco spent most of his time in the service of Kublai Khan, the grandson (or son?) of Genghis Khan who ended up ruling the Chinese district of the Mongol Empire. There are some interesting stories in there from old, obscure leaders in places that were long ago erased by war, famine or the desert. I feel like you have to be more of a Central Asian history scholar to be able to put any of this stuff into perspective, though.

Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World (Justin Marozzi)
I had a clear objective from the beginning of my trip to read a book about Atilla the Hun, Genghis Khan or Tamerlane while spending many, many hours on Kazakh trains. I was able to carry out this objective flawlessly thanks to finding this book in a bookstore in Ankara back in June. Marozzi does a good job of displaying Tamerlane as one of those pragmatic, Machiavellian leaders who would massacre whole cities and pile their skulls into pyramids as a way to achieve empire. It was a reminder that often the most successful war is total war. Tamerlane is probably one of the least politically correct figures of history (probably the absolute least before Hitler came around). But Marozzi also writes about how modern day Uzbekistan (the heart of Tamerlane's 15th century empire) is rehabilitating Tamerlane's image in order to manufacture some kind of national history and pride. While I wasn't able to make it to Uzbekistan, I saw Kazakhstan undertaking very similar efforts with even more obscure historical figures.

The Great Game: The struggle for empire in Central Asia (Peter Hopkirk)
This was a continuation on the Central Asian empire theme, only brought forward about 400 years. This time, the empires are Britain and Russia, competing sometimes passively, sometimes aggressively, over the fractured kingdoms, emirates and principalities of present day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Western China. It has such resounding relevance to what is happening today and, generally, what is always happening in Central Asia. It also reinforced the theme from Tamerlane that to rule in Central Asia, you have to be a ruthless, cut-throat, sneaky bastard. It also reinforced my desire to go to Uzbekistan. Hopkirk has three other books on the subject that I hope to read once I get back home.

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack And The Japanese Psyche (Haruki Murakami)
Ok, so I didn't go to Japan and I never really planned to go to Japan on this trip. I actually read this book while traveling through Korea. I found this book in Almaty, Kazakhstan, which was a really weird place to find it, but couldn't resist. I've known about the 1995 sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway, but never really studied it in much detail. This book, on the surface, will tell you everything you'd like to know about how the attack was carried out and what witnesses experienced, but it's also a great novel. The format is a little strange: the author has basically woven together testimonies from over a dozen people who were directly affected by the attacks to give the event the most personal texture possible. Then, at the end, he interviews another 6 or so members of the cult (Aum Shinrikyo) who carried it out. It's the kind of excruciatingly in-depth, detailed exploration of the attack that I'd love to be able to read about every major attack ever carried out.

No plans for the next book yet. I'm off to India and should have no problem finding a good Indian novel in English though. As always, suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Snapshot of a Turkish Family

In Istanbul, I started reading "Portrait of a Turkish Family" by Irfan Orga. It's a riches to rags story about a family in Istanbul during the first world war. I'm enjoying it and encourage any of you to check it out for some good stories of Istanbul as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling. One hundred years later, I got a very different look at a Turkish family. This family lives in Serik, just outside of Antalya on the southern coast. Bryn and I stayed with them for four days and just left them this morning. Allow me to introduce them.

Our official host was Ummit, a 23 year old computer teacher who just finished two years of university. He lives with his parents, as most single, young men do, in the same bedroom where he grew up. He speaks limited English but had a tremendous amount of patience with us. He was bashful around Bryn and seemed a very innocent, protected only child. We were his first couch surfers and he was eager to please. Ummit was our favorite member of the family.

Ummit and I waiting for dinner

His mother, Sabriye, had the looks of a one-time beautiful woman, but years of cigarette smoke, black tea and non-existent dental hygiene had knocked her down a notch. Her smile made my teeth hurt for her and gave me a great urge to floss. She smiled often, and it was often accompanied by a laugh that had been corrupted by cigarette smoke and sounded more like a hoarse cackle. Her family was from nearby Antalya. We had the pleasure of eating dinner at her mother's apartment about a five minute walk away. A photo of Sabriye's grandmother hung over the living-room door. A fat, severe looking woman wearing a frown and a white headscarf on a bright red background.

Sabriye and Mehmet washing veggies in the river. We aren't sick yet!

Mehmet was the father. He was Kurdish and had come to Serik to be with Sabriye. He has worked dozens of jobs over his life, mostly as bartenders in nightclubs and hotels all along the Turkish Mediterranean coast. He had most recently bought a 1985 Peugeot van, loaded it up full of cheap plastic stuff made in China and drove around to various bazaars in the region selling it. At the end of our stay, he insisted (with much force) that Bryn and I take something from his shop. Bryn took a pack of tissues, I took some purple earrings for Bryn. Mehmet was the kind of dad who would come up from behind you during a game of backgammon and tell you what moves you should make before you had time to count up the numbers on the dice. He had good intentions, but he smothered you with hospitality. We had to fight him on several occasions to go out on our own. He was a very protective dad with an out-going, playful personality that one needs to make money at the bazaar. His English was about as good as Ummit's, but he spoke with more confidence, so the family was under the impression that Mehmet should be the ambassador of the family.

Like I said, Ummit was our official host, but Mehmet pretty much set the agenda. He insisted that we go to the "beachpark" nearby and that Ummit accompany us, even though Ummit didn't want to swim. Bryn and I had a great time in the Mediterranean, but felt bad looking back at Ummit sitting on the beach, fully clothed and bone dry. Despite the fact that Bryn and I wanted so badly to repay their hospitality and kindness by making them dinner Thursday night, Mehmet disrupted our plans and took us on a picnic instead. Then, afterwards, he dispatched Ummit and his cousin, Hussein, to accompany us to an opera (Carmen) in an old, Roman amphitheater in Aspendos. Bryn had bought these tickets months in advance and this was the real reason why we were in Serik in the first place. (Aspendos is a Roman town and only exists as a tourist destination now. Serik is the nearest modern day settlement about 5 miles away.)

Ummit, despite his sympathetic and sensitive nature, is definitely not the opera going type.  But he acquiesced his father without the slightest protest. He got in for free through a family friend connection; the friend appeared to be some sort of custodian, as he locked up the old, open-air amphitheater just before he drove us all home.

Then, on Friday, as Bryn and I were leaving Serik, Mehmet asked us why we were going so early and if there was some sort of problem, even though we had made it perfectly clear from the beginning that we would leave Friday. He was almost aggressive in his incistence that we stay. Then, when we finally won that battle, we had to fight another one to convince him not to drive us to the bus stop - that we were perfectly capable of finding the bus station on our own. Ummit, of course, was sent with us to make sure we didn't get lost in tiny Serik. 

As Bryn and I collapsed on the bus to Alanya after an hour of confusion, I wondered what was it that made Mehmet so tyrannically hospitable. I could never imagine contradicting a guest in my home and insisting that he or she see my town only as I would have them see it. We made it very obvious on several occasions that we appreciated their offers, but that we'd rather take care of this or that on our own, in our own way. I am fiercely independent when it comes to how I travel and I find that locals are often terrible sources for information on what to do in a place. Usually it's better to just set out on your own and many times I'll come back with something to teach my host.

Mehmet insisted that we do things his way. I never got the feeling that there was any mean-spirited intentions behind it, just a very deep-seeded, despotic approach to hospitality. I think Mehmet wanted to show that his family could provide for us. They were not poor, but obviously not rich. Providing for guests would show that they had excess. I can see how he wanted us to take things from his shop and value them since they were his livelihood. He wanted us to share in his pride of things. I think he also got a little excited and carried away at times. Serik does not receive many strangers as guests. I tell myself that his eagerness to share his life with us came out more aggressively than maybe he had intended.

All these experiences are teaching me how to be a  guest. I've learned to have faith in my hosts and just go with the flow. Things usually work out and I'm staying with locals precisely because I want to see their lives and how they present it to me. I have to allow them to do that, even when their way of doing things are convoluted and unnecessary in my eyes.

On a parting note, Bryn and I have seen two musical performances in the past 24 hours. The first one was a production of the opera, Carmen, in a Roman amphitheater in Aspendos. The second was an impromptu practice session in Jam's apartment - Jam is our host in Alanya. He had just dropped Bryn and me off at his apartment when there was a knock at his door and seven musicians filed in and started playing. Both were magical and surreal in their own, distinctive ways.

Amphitheater at Aspendos

Jam Session in Alanya Apartment

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Gobble Gobble

This entry is coming at your from Istanbul, Turkey- the Asian side. Getting to Istanbul was a tough journey, but well worth it since Bryn joined me here. We spent the first 3 days on the European side of Istanbul; the touristy, overpriced, hustler side of town where everyone is trying to make a buck off of tourists. It is a necessary evil one must endure in order to see things like the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Galata district and other places that embody the grandeur of Istanbul and the former Ottoman Empire. But the Asian side of Istanbul is much more appealing to me - and Bryn. This morning, we headed out to the hills just west of town and saw everyday life in Istanbul. We distracted a high school class by waving to them from the sidewalk, causing about a dozen heads to stick out windows and call out to us in English, waving to us. We had to slink backwards down the street like movie stars.

Blue Mosque

Few people spoke english, so we had fun figuring out what was going on and letting others know what we needed. It's intimidating at first, but becomes surprisingly easy. For food, just point at what you want and hold out some change. Watch how much other people pay and give them the same. For transportation, just get on a bus and say the name of the place you want to go in a questioning tone. People here are very willing to work with you on communication and come up with creative ways to do it. Much more adventurous and fun than dealing with all the slick, English speaking merchants on the European side.

We're in Turkey at an interesting time, too, because elections are coming up next week. Current Prime Minister, Recip Erdogan, is confidently appearing in posters all over town next to the number 2023 -  the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic and two elections away - as if to  say that 2011 isn't even a question. There are also tons of vans driving around with loudspeakers on top blasting either speeches from the politician whose picture is on the bus, or some techno song that he thinks his constituency would prefer.

Phoenix: The most famous band in Romania!

Getting to Turkey was complicated, though. I left Sunday morning at 1am, after seeing the most famous band in Romania play live in Barlad. I rode the train 6 hours south to Constantse, Romania, right on the Black Sea and near the Bulgarian border. I had an 8 hour wait in Constantse, leaving me time to see the Black Sea up and personal for the first time and meet up with one of Chelsea's Peace Corps friends for lunch. Then it was an 11 hour bus ride through Bulgaria to Istanbul. One interesting observation during the bus ride to Istanbul was that the bus driver passed out bottles of liquor to most of the passengers in Bulgaria in order to "legally" smuggle liquor into Turkey. Each passenger is allowed one bottle, so customs couldn't do anything when they came on the bus and found most of the passengers (even little old ladies) clutching bottles of tequila, rum and vodka that were obviously going to be returned to the bus driver once we entered Turkey. I guess they're just looking to stop the most flagrant of offenses. Sure enough, as we got into Istanbul, the bottles were collected and loaded into the bus driver's suitcase to be sold to someone for about half the price of normal liquor in Turkey.

Black Sea in Constantse

Road Sign in Constantse

I arrived in Istanbul at about 2am, just over 24 hours after I had left Barlad. I don't know why these train and bus schedules are so goofy. They are good at finding the absolute WORST time to leave and arrive at their destinations. I guess we were spared traffic, but I wouldn't have minded arriving in Istanbul at, say, 5 am and so avoid paying for a room that night.

On Sunday we're heading out of Istanbul along the Sea of Marmara down to southern Turkey. They we'll cut east and go out into the hinterlands of Anatolia. My goal is to see the Euphrates River.