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Night train to Istanbul

Friday, March 24th 2006

As the sun was setting I walked north to the train station, to catch the train to Istanbul. At the station there seemed to be an organised scam operating, with people latching onto unsuspecting travellers, saying there were 'tourist information' and then demanding money for 'help' given. One of them spotted me looking at the departure board and ended up walking with me to the Istanbul platform. I tried to get rid of him but couldn't, and ended up giving him a couple of leva, worth about 60p, at which he looked pretty offended. I saw another one further down the platform demanding five euros from a group of travellers.

We left Sofia at 7.45pm, and for the first few hours I had a sleeping compartment to myself. At 11pm we reached Dimitrovgrad, and suddenly there was a lot of noise in the corridor. I could hear a lot of American accents, and from what I could gather there was a large group of them all trying to find spare beds. I had two, but I had liked having the compartment to myself and so I was considering quietly locking the door and ignoring them all, but then my conscience got the better of me. I opened the door and asked if anyone was looking for beds.

And I was glad I'd asked because I ended up sharing my compartment with Dorna and Lauren from Iowa. They were part of an orchestra touring south-eastern Europe, and they were fun company. We talked for the next few hours, until we got to the border with Turkey at about 4.30am.

Leaving Bulgaria was easy, but getting into Turkey proved to be more long-winded. At every other border I've ever crossed by train, the border officials have walked down the train to stamp passports, but here at Kapikule everyone had to get off and file into a small building, where a couple of guards slowly processed the queue. If it hadn't been for the crowds of Americans I'm sure we'd have been through within minutes, but as it was we spent almost two hours there. At one point, guards started shouting and blowing whistles, and it turned out that Lauren had almost got everyone deported by taking a photo of the train.

Finally I got my Turkish entry stamp, and we got back on the train. By 8am it was a bright sunny day, and we finally left Kapikule and headed into Turkey. I slept for a while. We finally reached Istanbul at about 1.30pm, five hours late after a journey of just 300 miles.

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