Bulgaria & Turkey, November 2001 Travelogue
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Thursday 22nd, 2001

This hotel's one saving grace was that there was very hot water and a super blitzkrieg showerhead. There was a cafe downstairs in the hotel's tiny reception area, so I got a coffee and typed a little in the morning before packing up my bag and heading to the bus station. The train to Istanbul sounded like it was going to take too much backtracking so I read up on the bus situation instead.

I stashed my backpack at the "left luggage" office at the station & hunted down the international bus company.

The bus was scheduled for an 8pm departure, so I had the whole day left to explore Burgas.

Burgas was in pretty good shape. It has a nice wide pedestrian mall down the center of town & a few branches off of it. It looked a lot newer than the other cities I had been to, probably due to the cash it could draw as a port and beach town. I was carrying a bag filled with some stuff I wanted to ship home, but I didn't have a box or any tape for it. While I was wandering around, I paid special attention to the back-alleys and side-streets, trying to find the perfect size box. Before that happened I found a good sign to modify, changing it from "NO PARKING IN THE DRIVEWAY" to "NO PARKING IN THE CRAB GARDEN". Multi-colour electrical tape to the rescue!

Eventually I found the perfect box on a dead-end street. I carried it to the post office, loaded in my shoes and other junk, & used the last of the yellow and blue tape to seal it shut. Then I waited in line to see if I could get it shipped to the USA. Well, the postcards were easy, but the package took some doing. First, one woman weighed it and told me it would be about $20 to ship to the USA. Then I was ushered to a private room where they asked me to open the box for inspection. They pored over the various contents and re-packaged it while I filled out the to-from address paperwork in duplicate. They wrapped the whole box in paper with string (which I guarantee the USPS hates) and sealed all the edges with official postal tape. Then they charged me US$5 for the security routine & sent me back to the scale woman with all of the paperwork. The contents were marked "souvenirs". I paid her $20 and she carefully glued a very nice stamp to the box. Done in less than an hour! No problem!

I don't know if it will actually arrive in the US, of course...Katie and Eric warned me about stamps being stolen off of letters in the Ukraine. Now the sun was out, I was completely unburdened by packages, and I had Bulgarian money to burn before I left the country. It wasn't shaping up to be the best Thanksgiving of my life, but it wasn't bad.

I walked past a guard post and right into the port area to get some photos of ships. This was the east coast of Bulgaria, on the Black Sea. There was no sign of shipping containers, but there were giant cranes and tugboats. There were mountains of grain sacks and about 300 pallets of aluminum ingots lying around. I love that kind of stuff: Raw materials en masse.

Next I headed to the beach and was pleased to find volleyball-sized jellyfish getting washed ashore. I was a little scared to touch them, but eventually did. They jiggle like Jello, transparent with little bits of color inside highlighting alien organs. It made me homesick for the nice meal of alien organ Jello I was going to miss tonight back in California.
There were barnicle shells but no seaweed.

There was a deserted waterslide near the pier, and more deserted carnival rides inland a little on the seaside park. I bet it is a nice place in the Summer.

I walked around for another 3 hours until it got dark, then I hunted down internet cafes one at a time trying to find one where I could FTP from a floppy. Jason and Steegie were online & wished me a happy Thanksgiving.

My Thanksgiving dinner was goulash with meatballs and potatoes and bread. It was US$1.60, and it was damn good.

Finally it was time to get my bag and get on my bus for Turkey.

This bus was deluxe, new with soft seats that reclined. I brought out the laptop and got some attention with it. I am always a little concerned about using the laptop when I am on a bus or a train in a poor country, but I felt safe. The other people on the bus were smiling and partying it up generally. I even showed off some photos to a couple behind me.

We arrived at the Bulgarian border after midnight, and I was a little worried that I didn't have hotel documentation from every place I stayed (as I was informed I might need), but it turned out it wasn't a problem.

Next we arrived at the Turkish border, and I ran into a problem. After the doctor saw me & gave me his stamp, I was ushered over to the visitor's VISA window. The officer at that window held up a visa stamp for a 3 month visit: US$45. I didn't have it. I had $20 in one shoe, 5 British Pounds and $9 in my bag. I flashed my MasterCard and she shook her head "no" with big ol' frown on her face.

Then I said, "ATM?", and she gave me the "I dunno" shrug.


There were some shops outside, so I went over to the 6 Turkish border guards and said "is there an ATM around here?" The consensus was no.

So, I was at a desolate spot just past the Turkish border, with a busload of people waiting on me. The guy running the CHANGE stand seemed to think he could help me, but I didn't understand how. He took my money and handed me a wad of Turkish Lira. Oh, great, now I don't have enough in another currency.

"It isn't enough!" I said to him a little too loud, and handed him back the Lira. He gave me back my money.

There didn't seem to be any nice way out of this. I walked over to the shops, thinking of charging something and returning it to get some cash, but this border-burg's telephone lines were down, so they couldn't even sell me something.

The steward from the bus came in asked me what was wrong. He wanted to get the bus on the road. It was about 1am. I explained the situation to him in English. He took my arm and led me to the VISA woman, who he talked to, then the change guy, then the passport-stamper guys, then this guy who might have been the chief of the station. Slowly he figured out what was up and he too was at a loss.

"Bulgaria!" He finally exclaimed, pointing back the way we had come.

I countered with "FUCK!"

Ok, you might think I am foolish to not have $45 on me, but that is a considerable amount of money to be asking of every single person (oh, sorry, American) that comes into the country. You'd think the lady that sold me the ticket might have let me know. No ATMs either! Lame.

So I started to walk over to the bus, to get my bag out & plan out my next step, when the bus steward ran over and seemed like he had an idea. He talked to the VISA stamp woman, gave her some Turkish money and voila, I had my passport and we were back on the bus.

I thanked the bus steward and he drew a little "15" on his palm. 15 million, it sounded like he said.

"Istanbul...ATM", he said, telling me that when we got to Istanbul, there would be ATMs, and that I owed him 15 turkishthings.

I was grateful, but wondered how much this little exchange was going to cost me.

The bus got going again & I sat worrying about the ATM situation in Istanbul. It sucked, but someone bailed me out. They served coffee and a little packaged muffin. At about 2:30am, the bus arrived at a giant, semi-deserted bus station.

Everyone else got off and scattered, while I went back to the bus office with the driver and the steward. They watched my backpack while I ran to an ATM.

It didn't work.

I wanted to know what 15 million was equal to, so I looked for a red LED currency conversion board, but didn't see one. I located another ATM and it worked! It gave me the option to take out 10, 20, 40, 100 or 200 million Turkish things. I didn't have any idea how much money this was, so I took out 100 million. Out came ten 10 Million bills (which, by the way, looks like this: 10000000) and ran back to the bus office. I handed him two of them and expected change, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough. He wrote "150" on a piece of paper and some formula about how much that was in deutchmarks. Oh, hooray, I thought. This could be any amount on earth. I handed him the other eight bills and he held up five fingers. He wanted five more bills. The driver was overseeing this whole exchange somewhat detached. I hoped that he would stop his fellow Turk from ripping me off too badly. I turned toward the ATM and the steward changed his hand from 5 fingers to two fingers, shaking them. He was indicating that he was willing to give up his profit on this deal as he lost patience with me.

I ran back to the ATM and took out another 200 million. I handed him 5 of the 10M notes, and we were square. He nodded his head that we were even. I thanked him a bunch of times, grabbed my backpack and walked over to the nearby Elit Otel. Crisis over.

disturbing hair-dye advert

Bulgarian sign hi-jinks!

Soviet war mural, with tongue action

The port of Burgas on the black sea

Stacks of Aluminum ingots

Jellyfish on the Black Sea beach

A shot of the other side

Daniel, this one has a pipe and an ice-cream

pouring concrete in Burgas

My Thanksgiving dinner

Friday, Nov. 23rd, 2001

It was about 3 in the morning & I was checking into the Elit. It was 30 million, which I couldn't translate into dollars. I asked the 3 guys at the reception desk, but they didn't understand my question. I wrote "$1 = (blank) Turkish Lira" on a piece of paper. After a few minutes and calculations the paper came back with "23" on it, which didn't make any sense at all.

It was late, and I didn't really have any good way of figuring it out, so I gave up & paid.

I got to my room and studied my guidebook. It had everything in US Dollars because the inflation in Turkey make printed conversions obsolete too quickly.

I went to bed

In the morning I turned on the TV and BEHOLD, on the financials sidebar there was a conversion, 1,458,000 Turkish Lira per Dollar...Rats.

The Bus steward had charged me $100. He had done me a favor, but it was more like a $20 favor than a $55 dollar favor. I guess if you carry a laptop around people figure your time is worth more. If he hadn't helped me I suppose I would have spent the night at the border crossing, gone back to Bulgaria on a friendly bus (or hitchhiked), got the money and came back.

The hotel room was $20 which I can't complain about. The good part was that I made it to Turkey, and I was a MULTI-MILLIONAIRE!

I rolled out of bed around noon and made my way via subway & tram to the tourist center of Istanbul, an area called Sultanahmet. It was easy. There were tons of hotels and hostels listed in my ROUGH GUIDE, so I picked one that sounded cheap and good, the Mavi Guesthouse. It was $10 a night for my single room & shared shower.

I was in good spirits and headed right out into the city. Istanbul is kind of like Morocco, because there are Mosques and carpet hustlers all over the the place, but it is bigger and more cosmopolitan. It is actually a bit like Barcelona, Spain.

Sultanahmet had a few of the tourist hotspots: The Aya Sofya, The Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace & Museum. It didn't take long to get photos of the outsides of the them, but I wasn't ready to visit the insides yet.

I walked around through street after street of little shops selling water-pipes, glass ornaments, scarves, tablecloths, shoes, necklaces and hardware. The streets were jammed with trucks and cars and taxis trying to load or unload giant bundles of clothes and supplies...and why not? Today was the Friday after Thanksgiving! The busiest shopping day of the year!

There were also lots of men with various sized carts and dollies moving vast amounts of merchandise from one place to another. Speaking of men, there were mostly men around, especially on the subway. I'd say the subway and tram had about 10% women/90% men.

I wandered around until it started to get dark and cold. It was not nearly as cold as Bulgaria during the day, but now the temperature was dropping. I found warmth and overly-anxious salesmen in the Grand Covered Bazaar, but I was used to the clawing medina from the time I spent in Morocco. As I left, one of the three men pushing a gigantic handcart motioned for me to help them hoist it up a curb. I lent a little muscle for a second and we got it up the curb. It was great. What a way to be welcomed into a city!

I got a jacket & went out after a while to get some food. On the park area near the Blue Mosque (the hippodrome) there were lots of little tents and booths set up for selling food and treats in the evening in celebration of Ramadan. It was filling with people, Turkish men with mustaches and women with scarves on their heads, mostly a young crowd like you would find at the California State fair. Many people were eating candy...particularly these sticks of caramel-covered walnuts.

I went back to my room, and although I was in a hostel, I had my own room, so I was a little isolated. Eventually I went out to another hostel that had a bar & hung out. I met a nice couple from New Zealand, (south island) named Jeff and Ann(?) & we talked about Islam and New Zealand marksmanship and being millionaires.
The night ended with a belly dancer coming in and riling up the crowd. It was great!

100 Million Turkish Lira

Aya Sofya

Sultanahmet Camii (blue mosque)

preparing to hike upstairs with boxes

Sidestreet with smoking chimneys

Sultanahmet Camii at night

Some helpful costumed children

Imagine a water pipe with tobacco in it

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Read my other travelogues: Minneapolis 2001 | Burning Man 2001 | Europe 1999 | Costa Rica 2000

Back to main Cockeyed | Write to Rob@Cockeyed.com Last updated November 28th, 2001.
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