If you feel like wasting a few minutes reading something I wrote years ago.
I owned the leftover bottom half of a Istanbul-Prague-Istanbul round-trip air ticket, so on September 18, 2001, I decided to fly from Prague, Czech Republic, (where I lived) to Istanbul and come back the long way, over land. My interest in the region was mainly historical. Everything associated with Ottoman Empire’s push into Europe fascinated me, as did anything remotely Roman in origin. The land I would pass through – Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia – were all marches of the Roman Empire and subsequently sites of conflict between Turks and Christians stretching from the 14th to the 19th centuries.Faithful blog devotees will know what happens next, as it picks up here.
When I landed in Istanbul (only a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Prague) I was dressed in a long sleeve shirt and jacket, due to the prevailing autumn weather conditions in the Czech Republic (cold and rain). I was met by Istanbul temperatures that must have been in the 85F/30C range. Sweating like a pig, I took a bus and then a tram to the central train station, past the Aya Sophia and Blue Mosque and all the main sights in Sultanahmet, central Istanbul. Boy was I hot. I headed straight for the dirty bathroom in the Sirkeci train station, which is down by the water near the Golden Horn. I went into the dirty bathroom and changed into a light shirt, the one I bought some weeks earlier in Barcelona that I like to call my "Ramblas shirt" on account of it has a pocket on the inside, a safeguard against thieving Catalans.
I didn’t want to stay in Istanbul since I’d just been there, especially not in this heat. It was only about 4pm, however, and the train to Plovdiv, my first Bulgarian destination, didn't leave until 11pm. The station also didn't have any storage lockers for my two heavy duffle bags so I was stuck with those. So for a while I stood in the middle of a traffic island outside the main train station with my two heavy duffle bags, sweating and wondering what I was going to do for the next 6 hours.
I decided to trek up to the hill back to Sultanahmet to a youth hostel I knew about, and there they charged me about $1 to leave the bags in the closet for the rest of the evening. The hostel is right next to the Aya Sophia and near the sultan's palace, and it has a pleasant terrace where you can sit and drink beer. So that's what I did. Hung out a hostel -- funny because I don’t know of any place in the center of Istanbul that’s as quiet and pleasant. I was quite tired in any case. Istanbul is a wonderful city -- the sights are great and the people are nice, and I used to want to live there -- but at this time of year it just seemed hot and dirty, and I wanted to get out.
In evening, as it cooled off, I walked around a bit and found a restaurant and ate a delicious flambéed fish casserole, a whole baked fish with stewed tomatoes and peppers. The whole thing cost about $7, including a small beer.
I didn't sleep so well on the overnight train to Plovdiv, but since I was lying down for about 12 hours total, I didn't feel so bad at all the next day.
The train ride itself was really strange, however....