Istanbul, Turkey and the Orient Express
Trip Start Sep 16, 2006
69Trip End Sep 16, 2007
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We spent one night and one day in beautiful and huge Istanbul. Our night train arrived as the Orient Express to Budapest, Hungary was leaving. There is one per day, at 10pm, heading to Hungary. Get your tickets early because the paperwork is long and all done by hand in quintuplicate!!
Lots of big green parks all over town, filled with families and kids and smooching couples on benches.
Lots of old ancient ruins, super elaborately decorated mosques, bath houses, persian rug displays, a mixture of Byzantine Christianity and Islamic art everywhere! Gold and blue.
Many tourists and the usual peddlers of cheap cologne and kebabs (or 'kebap'). "Schneckens" galore, as a young Turkish gangster gigolo fake cologne peddler referred to the Germans. We won this bootleg perfume salesman gigolo over after offering him a sniff of our armpits.
The Strait of Bosphor splits the city into the European side and the Persian side. Poeple like to shoot bottles with bb guns along the waterfront. Lots of scuba divers and snorkelers in the murky depths of the downtown Strait, with massive ferries chugging along in the background. Huge numbers of incredibly well manicured high fashion hair guys! really impressive.
Be prepared to haggle. Upon entering an inexpensive deteriorating pension, we asked the price per room per night, and were treated to an insanely funny back-and-forth haggle, which started with the price at over $100 us dollars and ended with me drawing a picture of a bird for the haggler, and telling him that my 'real' price is 'really' the price i told him 20 attemtps ago. 'really'. haggling seems so pointless, because you end up paying exactly what you wanted to pay, they end up getting excatly what they knew they would get, but then they have to treat you like you insulted them for refusing their outrageous staged price. it is sort of pointless.
Istanbul is a really really good place to spend all day walking.
We departed at 10pm the next day, bikes ready. After purchasing our tickets, which was a hand-written quintuplicate ordeal, we cooked 36 hours' worth of train food on the platform and were befriended by the train station chief who made us tea and let us wait in the managers' offices off to the side of the platforms. so we hung out in the train station service and traffic control depot, watched some videos, drank tea cup after tea cup, and then suddenly the shades were drawn. there was an innocent offer of a shoulder rub, "before a long ride... it is good!", and next thing you know, and 'innocent' pat on the breast, pubic mound grab, and getting ready to leave as we looked around uncomfortably, next thing you know-- the station chief belly flops onto your back . that was weird. his name is Ahmet Onala, so watch out for him.
But we finally got on the train, received some refusal to allow our bikes on despite repeated questions about whether it is ok or not (it is supposedly up to the train chief, go figure, and then again has to be approved by the train cabin manager who rides all the way to hungary). Be prepared to smile a lot, pleadingly assure everyone the bikes will not make a mess, and be charming.
On the train...........................
The Orient Express route is amazingly long- 36 hours to be exact. Istanbul to Budapest. Sleeper cars only, with little bunk beds. We went across Turkey, NW across Bulgaria, Romania, and then into Hungary. Along the way, there were many many unfriendly and shady efforts to get us to pay an extra fee (each time we crossed a border or there was a crew change within countries) for the bikes. And each time we acted like we didn't udnerstand, told them "no money", and they left us alone. But they sure tired to extort us! At one point, a really abrasive and ruthless Hungarian conductor who had just boarded the train, offered us a choice: either pay him the fee he asked for the two bikes, or get off the train. He forced us to get off the train, walked with us to a bankomat, and took our money. It wasn't that much, but we were counting pennies at this point, plus it was the principle (he stashed said money right into a pocked). So we got his name and filed a nasty complaint in Budapest. Aside from that, the ride was great. A little girl from Iran, named Lila, was our new best friend. There was a guy transporting some sort of stash of pipes and cake tobacco from Syria who attracted lots of search control attention, poor guy. And a guy from SF who was on a world wedding tour vacation. A torn sheet was our privacy curtain, and our window to the outside was bolted shut (we unfastened it but later relaized it was botled shut for a reason). The train is really warm. When the train passed the nuclear power plants in Romania, along the Danube, where people were bathing in the waters right downstream (our mom says maybe the water is warmer there??), the EU required that all vehicles, including trains, be power washed immediately. So our train drove through a train power washer after the nuclear experience, built onto the tracks, and that is when we wished our windwo was still bolted shut. Ours required two people two tools and lots of grunting to budge.
The train... a total adventure. long, old fashioned. hot. slow. but very worth it! sleeper cars and oddball neighbors. up close views of railroad towns and their people. lots of stopping to stretch and take breaks outside. lots of get-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-show-your-passport-to- someone-across-the-tracks-in-your-pajamas. Orient Express is worth it!! A great place to take a date, or your grandparents.
*we will post photos at a later time*