The 26-hour bus from Tbilisi to Istanbul was probably the nicest I’ve been on, with coffee and tea service, a TV at each seat, and regular stops at full service restaurants, several of them owned by the bus company, Metro. The most difficult part was crossing the border between Sarpi, Georgia and Hopa, Turkey and even that was a minor annoyance.
Several long-haul buses arrived at the same time and we all pushed our way through a brand new, yet boiling tunnel, with a beautiful view of the sun setting over the Black Sea. The claustrophobia dampened the view, along with the sweat dripping down my back and pokes and prods as we inched forward. Most everyone was using their passports as fans so I can confirm I was the only non-Turk or Georgian in the group.
This was further confirmed when we stumbled out of the tunnel twenty minutes later and swarmed the passport window. Since there was no such thing as a line being formed we were all once again squished together and elbowing our sweaty way forward. Knowing I still had to get a visa, I was just as aggressive as everyone else.
When I arrived at the window and handed over my passport the woman smiled widely, her first during the half-hour I’d been watching and said, “American. Nice. Are you a teacher?” Perhaps only Peace Corps volunteers or American English teachers pass through the land border to Turkey. Regardless, it was a nice reminder as I left how much Georgians like Americans—it doesn’t hurt that we give them lots of money and are not huge fans of Russia. The governments that is, not me. I like everyone. Especially Art. Hi Art.
Finally through the Georgian exit, I went in search of the Turkish visa window, wandering through the bus and car lanes in the rain. I found the visa window on the far side of the border control, paid, and walked back to the other end to hand over my passport for a stamp in one of the vehicle lanes, dodging passing buses while waiting. Then it was back to find my own bus waiting near the exit to Turkey. I arrived in time for the call to prayer on the Turkish side, a sound both exotic and peaceful.
Back on the bus, we stopped every couple of hours through the night, sometimes to eat and sometimes for 10-minutes to let people on or off or relieve bladders and smokers. I slept sporadically, curled in my window seat, listening to music and watching the single movie I could sort out in Turkish: Rise of Planet of the Apes. (Ape made smart by man. Ape abused by man. Ape kills many men and climbs a tree. I think I got the basics.)
I arrived in Istanbul early afternoon and met up with Ruta (Peace Corps friend) and her cousin who put me up in their posh hotel. Yesterday we wandered into half a dozen beautiful mosques, had a delicious lunch near the grand bazaar—basically just a high-end shopping mall these days and not so impressive. The bazaar outside is more interesting but it was also Saturday and the crowds were overwhelming and a little gropy and we made a quick escape and took a ferry to the Asian side where we had dinner.
Today I am waiting at the Agora Guesthouse and Hostel at their rooftop lounge overlooking the Sea of Marmara. Angie arrives within the next hour.
Impressions: Istanbul is beautiful. Too many tourists at the moment, but gorgeous in every direction and prosperous. And the carpet sellers, they accept a, “no thanks”, which is nice. So nice.
I, per usual, packed too much and have been dropping things along the way. My computer is way too heavy for backpacking, but I’m addicted and sleep with it I will, petting it through the night to make sure it hasn’t absconded with my camera, which is also too big, but takes nice photos, so what can I do? Answer: wear the same three outfits for the next 26-days—as you’ll no doubt notice in my Facebook photos, to be posted one day soon.