Last night after waiting a bit at the hotel common room we packed up all our stuff, got our big bags out of the storage room and meandered heavily-laden to the train station. The Istanbul Serkeci train station is in a pretty building, but surrounded by construction so we didn’t want to spend too much time there, however, I wanted to arrive early to make sure we made the train. When we got there the train was parked on platform 1. Zoe got to see the railway kitty one last time before we walked all the way to the end of the platform to get on our old German train.
The Bospor Express runs from Istanbul to Bucharest and we were taking it just over halfway to Plodiv, Bulgaria.There were only 3 grafitti-covered cars sold to the bulgarian rail from Germany a while ago Ours was the last, and we were excited to get on a half hour early to get settled. Our berth was a 3 bed berth with 3 bunks stacked on top of each other and a little covered sink in the corner. It was old, a bit run down, and smelled of smoke, but we were happy to be on our way. The heat was cranked full blast so we opened a window before shoving our bags up into the attic storage area. Lots of people were in the hall hanging out – Eastern europeans, a few English-speakers, some French ladies. Quite the variety on this night train…seems the super cheap price fits everyones budget.
It departed on time, which shocked me as I read it could be 2-3 hours late. We watched Istanbul go by and then snuggled into bed. Avi and I had the bottom bunk, Zoe in the middle, and Bethany up top. There was no curtain so the lights and sounds going by made the room quite bright for a bit until we cleared the city into the hinterland. I slept pretty well – the ca-thunk-a-thunk of the typical train sound really lulled us to sleep. There were, however, a few jarring stops that shocked me and Bethany awake a few times. Of course, Zoe slept on….she can sleep through anything. The train departed at 10:00pm, and this was the first train running along the route without a stop. Previous to today there was construction requiring you to get out and ride a bus for 20 minutes. So glad that ended.
We DID get awoken for passport control at the border. Around 4am there were loud knocks on the doors. The train was stopped at Kapikule station. We grabbed our passports, bundled the kids in the blankets and walked out into the cold night, down the stairs under the tracks and back up on the main platform where a small building housed a single man checking passports. To my surprise another train going the other way was also there, so 50 or so people were lined up inside and out. The conductor of our train led us to an inside waiting room, and then all the folks in line ushered us to the front because of the kids. Thank you kids! The man took a while on our passports, and eventually stamped them. We were on our way back to the train and took some pictures. The kids woke so it took a half hour or so to get them settled back in. The train sat there for about an hour until everyone was aboard an then we were off. In 20 minutes, though, people came banging on the door again to see the passports. ugh. Avi woke up. The Turkish guys checked to make sure we each had been stamped. Then, after another 10 or 20 minutes people came banging again to check them. This time it was the Bulgarians….but they were down the hall. Avi had fallen asleep on my belly, so Bethany got down with the passports. It took about a half hour before they came back to TAKE our passports and put them in a bag with everyone elses. We stopped at a station and they took all the passports off the train for stamping. It took forever. One French lady was denied entrance. So, at around 6am the passports were returned to us, with a smile, and the train was on its way.
At this point we figured it would be late, but the conductor told Bethany it was supposed to arrive at 8. Of course, he told me to just go back asleep and he’d wake us 20 minutes before Plovdiv. We fell back asleep, but not well. Bethany was up at 8 and I slept for a while longer until Avi woke. When I visited the cesspool of a bathroom (so gross I don’t even want to blog about it other than Zoe peed on the seat and I didn’t clean it because it wouldn’t be noticed)….the conductor said another hour or so. At 9:30 ish he banged on our door with a half hour warning. We packed up and around 10 am pulled into Plovdiv Bulgaria. It looked rough, and we doubted our decision to come to Eastern Europe.
That quickly changed after our taxi drive to Old town and our lovely hotel; the Plovdiv Guesthouse. This part of town is up high on three hills with gorgeous old buildings, cobbled roads, churchs and some ruins from the Thracians around 3 BC. It’s cool, but we were tired and hungry. Our room would be ready after lunch!! Took the advice of the hotel desk and went to a tavern down the road – there were some fried cheese balls to die for. Traditional sharp feta-ish cheese breaded and fried. Zoe and Bethany passed on that so I had them all. We also had some chicken dishes that were uninspired but good. It didn’t take long for all of us to fall asleep for a long nap after returning to the hotel. It is quite cheap here. We have a big triple room with our own bathroom and great views!!