You never know where you might be swept off to…

Hello all! Sorry I haven’t updated in a while, but I had finals this last week, then I went to Troy, and finally I was furiously working on my travel plans. Speaking of which, I’d like to walk you through my first day of traveling from Istanbul. I wrote down this post on the bus from Istanbul to Vienna, but I hadn’t had a chance to post it yet.

This first day of my travels home was a long one. For starters, I cannot seem to have a simple plan go right, something has to go array. For this trip, it began with a website. The English translation of the bus company’s website, as well as every travel website I visited, told me that the bus left at midnight on Tuesday. However, I had my friend Emre read my confirmation email to me (as it is in Turkish), and he raised concerns that the time was written 12.00, not 24.00 or 00.00 (as it would usually be written). These doubts were confirmed when he called the company for me; the bus leaves at noon, not midnight. This meant that I had to get up really early to be able to ship my luggage (which luckily ended up only being 180 lira, and not the 200, as was originally quoted). After that, I had to high-tail it to the Otogar (bus terminal), which is way the frick on the European side. As I was attending a friend’s birthday party the night before, I decided not to sleep, get breakfast right away in the morning at the Social building, then head over to the Post Office at 8:30, when it opened.

In terms of getting to the Otogar, Emre and I had discussed what was in theory the quickest route- take Bus 19 to the Metrobus stop, which would then cruise across the bridge without the hassle of traffic. From its stop on the European side, I would take another bus to the Otogar, but this last was not to be, I took 19 to the Metrobus as planned, but from there a fellow passenger and a security officer both suggested that I take the Metro (subway) to the Otogar. I took their advice, as I couldn’t see where the bus stop was, but in doing so put myself in a jam. As yet another Turk told me, I had to go to Taksim, then take the connector towards Aksaray. Finally, in talking with still another person, I found out that there was (of course) another step involved after that, which would be too confusing for a foreigner, so he took me to the Varan office in Taksim, to see if they had a bus that was going to the Otogar that I could take. They didn’t. Therefore, I ended up taking a taxi (I ended up using the meter- 29 lira) to get me there on time…barely. We were supposed to be there 15 minutes ahead of time, and he got me there just under the time limit. Immediately signing in and boarding the bus, I was then moved to another seat than the one that I originally booked, as they had apparently double-booked the seat. It was OK, though, as I ended up getting both an aisle and window seat to myself (the bus wasn’t nearly as crowded as the website made it seem).

It took us a little less than 4 hours to reach the border crossing at Edirne, and probably about an hour to cross. First, we went through the Turkish border patrol, who stamped my exit visa, then went into the Duty-free shop and food court between the two checkpoints (it must be weird to work there- as you are not technically in any country the entire day, but are stuck in liminality). I didn’t buy anything at the shop, but got a late lunch- a couple of burgers and an ice-cream from the Burger King (the only thing open), using the 5 lira that the bank wouldn’t accept for conversion.

When we went through the crossing on the Bulgarian side, I was asked for the first time a) where I was going (Vienna) and b) what my business is (travel). IT was still relatively simple- and no fee! (probably since I was traveling straight through without disembarking). We spent the next 6-ish hours going straight through the country, and I took the time to read through my European guide book (given to me by a Greek friend…but missing the Greek section :/) until sleep overcame me. It was approximately 4 pm when we exited Bulgarian customs at Edirne, and 10 pm when we entered the Serbian on the far side. This was more interesting. First, we were herded off the bus (nothing new) to have our passports checked while an officer checked our personal luggage. Instead of just getting stamped at a kiosk, we we were brought into a building a few at a time, where someone patted us down (mostly it was just a cursory search, but the officer took particular interest in a kind of old, arthritic Turkish passenger, who had a lot of stuff- i.e. papers- in his pockets. He even checked his wallet!). After the pat-down, we had our passports stamped and returned to the bus.

Strangely enough, after that another Serbian officer came ONTO the bus, quickly and superficially walking-through the bus before settling on me, as the obvious sore thumb of the group (being the only non-Turk white person on the whole bus). He demanded my passport again, so I gave it to him. After flipping through it, he stopped on the page where my Egyptian visa was stamped, demanding to know if it was a stamp from Syria or Lebanon. I said no, it was for Egypt, which I had to repeated several times, and even said the Arabic (and Turkish) word for Egypt (Misir) to try and get my point across. Finally, as he wasn’t getting it I had to turn the passport around (the visa was upside-down) and pointed out the word “EGYPT,” which was clearly written on the visa. Finally, he asked if I was tourist, then returned my passport and got off the bus without bothering to check anyone else. This I found amusing.

On the other side of Serbia, at about 6 am, I again had an issue. The customs agent collected my passport, and then asked if it was me. I simply said “Yes” and took off my hat, so that he could see the resemblance. He didn’t, and asked for another photo ID to confirm my identity. I gave him my ISIC card. After a minute or two of scrutiny, he accepted it and returned my documents. Finally, we were let through, and no herding off the bus this time! (Thank God, I was so tired that I just didn’t want to move). Similarly, the Hungarian officers collected our passports on the bus, then returned them to us without forcing us to move. There was no customs between Hungary and Austria (thanks to the EU), so my destination kind of snuck up on me.

My time in Vienna has been amazing! I will update you on what I’ve been up to these last few days in my next post, but for now, fare thee well.

One last thing: R.I.P. Danny. You were a good dog, and I’m going to miss you, boy 😥

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