Thursday, November 6, 2014


Well, Will and I have spent the last two days in constant motion.  This was partially a protective measure to deal with this new, forgotten sensation of cold (kinetic energy! We only start shivering when we stop walking!) and partially a concession to the sheer size of Istanbul. We walked for days without reaching the end of the three neighborhoods we explored; I have the feeling we could have spent our whole two months in that city without getting tired of the street food, the cobblestones, the mosques and minarets, the super hip boutiques in the super hipster neighborhoods, the constant fashion show parading down Istiklal. A few pictures:

The inside of the Aya Sophia. 

One of, like, 17 mosques we saw in a row. Was this one the Aya Sophia? I don't think so, but I don't really remember and they kind of all looked identical.

Our host Fatih and Will in the attic apartment
Last night, after saying our goodbyes to Fatih, Will and I headed to the bus terminal to catch the 10:00 overnight to Bulgaria.  The bus was (to our Cameroonian-trained senses) astonishingly empty, with TVs on the backs of the seats and coffee service to soften the blow before we hit the border crossing.  Our TVs went unused; exhausted by three days of hiking up and down Istanbul, we fell asleep immediately, to wake at 1:00 am when we arrived at the Bulgarian border.  The crossing was cold; the temperature had fallen to 6 degrees Celsius, so we stamped and blew as we waited in line like carriage horses in Central Park.  The whole thing took about an hour, and we were off again, sprawled across our empty rows like KINGS, I tell you, KINGS!

The bus was headed to Sofia, although the ticket agent had assured us we could be dropped in Plovdiv, no problem.  Our bus driver, upon hearing our destination, had elucidated what this meant: we could be dropped on the side of the highway next to the Plovdiv exit, 3.5 kilometers from the city itself.  At the time, Will and I looked at each other and shrugged.  We were backpacking.  We could certainly start to hike into town, and if we could hitch a ride along the way, so much the better.

When we reached the turnoff for Plovdiv, it was 4:30 in the morning and the temperature had fallen to 1 degree Celsius. The highway was dense with fog, halogen lamps smearing orange patches into the mist.  Will and I scrambled out of the bus into the bitter cold, rapidly rethinking our strategy.  There was a single gas station on the side of the highway, and we made our way towards it. "If we buy something every 45 minutes to placate the shop guy, we can probably huddle inside until the sun rises," Will suggested doubtfully.

Our bus driver, however, had other plans.  He had quickly discerned that we were mere babes in arms, unable to speak a word in either Turkish or Bulgarian, and apparently felt somehow responsible for leaving such saps on the side of the road, given the conditions.  He had hurried out of the bus after us, and while explaining something neither of us understood, managed to summon, as if by magic, what must have been the single taxi trolling the outskirts of Plovdiv at 4:30 in the morning.

We had located a hostel in advance, and not only laboriously copied the address in Cyrillic, but pulled up a screenshot of the Google Maps page showing its location on Will's laptop (sometimes Will and I act like people who have smartphones, only without the convenience of the phones or the 3G internet). The taxi driver seemed determined to misunderstand where we wanted to go, repeatedly offering that he knew a very nice hotel, very cheap.  When we insisted on our original location, he went into a muttered tirade in Bulgarian, occasionally exploding with an affronted-sounding "Hostel!"

By 5:30 we had arrived at our hostel, Cribs. We dropped our backpacks and, feeling a surprising surge of energy, decided to kill the time before things opened and we could eat breakfast by going on a run.  As I go to press, we have both showered and coffee'd, and are about to begin our exploration of Plovdiv.

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