After spending hours trying to get to a good hitching spot near the motorway outside Thessaloniki I give up and decide to get a direct overnight bus to Istanbul. The bus is half empty and luckily no one else sits at the back of the upper deck where my seat is, so the prospect of a decent night sleep looks likely. I take my shoes off and make myself comfortable across three seats. I drift off only to be woken half an hour later by the conductor fella who’s dressed as if he’s going to a wedding. He asks me for my ticket and passport and that’s where the conversation should’ve ended but this Turkish prick in a dicky-bow decides to eyeball me and says while pointing to the corner seat, ”This one your seat. Is problem 3 seats.” I eyeball him back and ask ”Why? There’s no one sitting there.” The eyeballing continues for another ten seconds with a deadpan expression on his face before he responds nonsensically, ”This a bus, not a train. Is problem.” I’m thinking to myself if he actually wants me to stick to one seat on an overnight journey when there’s a whole row of seats to my right. ”That doesn’t make any sense” I reply, but his lack of English prevents him from either understanding or responding and he returns to the lower deck. I stretch out along the seats again but Dicky-bow returns and wakes me up 15 minutes later to give me some wrapped Turkish biscuit he’s been handing out to passengers. Needless to say, I don’t get much sleep on the bus journey and I arrive in Istanbul knackered and in need of a place to stay. Within a few hours though, I’ve found the hostel in the old city (Sultanamet) that I was recommended and stay there for 3 nights.
It’s the first time I stay a hostel on this trip and I don’t regret it. It’s cheap, quiet and has great views of the Bosphorus. I also meet more travellers than I have during the whole time since I left Ireland. A photojournalist from Mexico; an English activist who’s on her way to Palestine; a fella from Kentucky who’s cycled from China…all interesting folk with good stories. I also bump into the Dutch hitchhiker who I met in Western Greece…we just happened to be chilling in the same cafe and he tells me all about his plans for India (spiritual enlightenment, etc).
The old cliché of Istanbul being the ‘bridge between East and West’ only seems relevant to in the geographical sense – the European and Asian sides are part of the one city. Its population is fast approaching 14 million, while Anatolia empties. It’s the same pattern seen the world over, especially in the global south…rural areas depopulating as urban areas swell due to the perverted logic of capitalism. While browsing the net one night I come across an article in The Guardian (I still begrudgingly check it, even though I despise it – the islamophobe comments below the article are a good example of why) by Istanbul novelist and Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk. In it he waffles on, being the good privileged liberal he is, about how important it is for him that Turkey be part of EU. He seems oblivious the multiple crisis the EU faces and the fact that it’s ultimately doomed. Why the fuck would any self-respecting Turk want to be part of that shambles now? If they’re wanting a piece of the pie, it’s too late – it’s almost finished. There are more important issues to be talking about, like Turkey being a key ally of Yanqui imperialism via NATO or there being 600 Kurdish political prisoners entering their 52nd day of hunger strike in Turkish jails. I met the author of that Znet article, Taylan (I contacted him through IOPS) and we spent an afternoon chatting about some of the draconian laws in Turkey, the tens of thousands of political prisoners, and other political issues. It’s something I’m keen to learn more about and hear first hand experience as I move towards the south-east.
Someone once told me that life during long-term travelling is a bit like ‘normal’ life on speed and that’s true. The wealth of experience you gain in a short period of time is overwhelming and I feel after a month on the go that my head’s all over the place. One thing I find though is that it makes you less cynical…the rollercoaster always seems to come full circle. After meeting Taylan I move into a different hostel where I’m moved from bed to bed 3 times and kept awake, by the loud music of the club next door and then by 3 Bulgarians who thought it ok to turn on the light and chat to each other in the dorm at 4am. At 7.30am I pack and leave the hostel, hoping that the farm I had planned to go to near the Black sea would accept me coming a day early. While waiting for a response from my text I stand on the street contemplating how shit Bulgaria must be, I’m approached by a French guy who invites me over to have a beer with him and his mate who’s sitting down the street and beckoning me over with his tin. When I explain I don’t drink I’m told they’ll get me a coffee so I reluctantly drag myself over a with my backpack and sit with them and a couple of drunk homeless people they’ve bought food for while passing Turks give us strange looks. It turns out they’re travelling street musicians and we go to a cafe and spend the next 3 hours drinking Turkish tea (they insist on buying). Even though they’ve been up all night drinking, hanging out with them lightens my mood as we chat about all manner of things from their times in Mexico to their upcoming trip to Colombia to the evils of capitalism. It’s on this pleasant note I get a ferrybus across to Asia and go to the ecovillage near the Black Sea.