A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Kickstart

Iran to Pakistan

The road from Hell

The cock crowing woke me up, it was not even 6 yet but I had to go and catch the bus to Zahedann. I spotted an eldely couple and asked the if they were going to Zahedan at first they looked at me. Then I just said Zahedan which they understood and nodded there heads. When the bus came they pointed at it a shouted Zahedan, so I got on it. When on the bus they attempted to speak to me, but there english was as bad as my other languages, so in the end they forced food upon me and wouldn't take no for an answer. The bus journey took a couple of hours, after that I had to get a taxi to the savari rank and then get to the first part of border control. The amount of security checks were increasing and getting stricter, by the time I got to the last security checkpoint the guard was not happy with me or the driver as I didn't have a armed guard. He asked to see my passport, unfortunately I had it in my money belt, so as I struggled to get it out the look on the guard started to laugh and he made a joke in Farsi, I may not speak Farsi but even I got it.

The savari(group taxi) dropped us at a border checkpoint, so I thought. The setting was quite chaotic, hundreds of cars, lorries, buses, bikes, people, goats and donkeys all trying to get through this small guard hut. I stood back for a bit to see if I could figure out what to do or what was going on. After watching for 15mins I couldn't figure it out so I just went up to the guard and asked. In broken english he replied must go by car to next guard, wait here. So I waited for about 10mins, I thought he had forgotten about me but he was trying to find a nice car for me to to get lift in. The drive to the custom part took 5mins and was the easiest part of my day.

I walked into the Iranian side of the border control, I was looking around quite a lot for any sort of sign when I was approached by a border guard who asked where I was from, my instant reply was Scotland. At the time I didn't think to much of it a the time and walked with the guard and he took me through to where I got stamped out. Then I faced a problem because I said Scotland, but I didn't know this at the time. The guy on stamp duty asked me to sit down and wait as he had some stuff to do, I thought it may have been to arrange a armed escort to Quetta but no. It was to call in more security guards, his boss, and someone with the internet. The problem is that to a lot of people who use english as a second language, or maybe just ignorance, England is Britain and English is British and Scotland is something entirely different. After a while one of his co-workers whose english was slightly better came across and asked me where I was from again I said Scotland, then e asked for my Nationality. Then the penny dropped, and I looked him in the manner you would look at someone who had asked the most easiest question ever and replied British. He nodded politely and asked how that worked. I brought out my map and showed him that Britain comprises of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The border guard was back on the phone to his friend after telling him to type in Britain and search, he seemed happy with that, but they wouldn't let me leave until they all had a good look at the map and where other countries were.

I left the new border control building and headed across to Pakistan, which was only 50m away. The Pakistan passport control was a complete contrast to the Iranian border control. The Pakistan border control was barely even a building with a few money changers sitting outside. I walked into the border control where the attendant just looked at me, he didn't know what he was doing and it took about 3 of them to figure out how to read my passport and to fill in the relevant forms etc. I left the building and exchange my remaining Iranian Rials, at probably the worst exchange rate ever, but it was enough to get to Quetta but not much more. I had the equivalent of £9 and the bus cost £6. The bus left at 4o'clock and was supposed to take 14hrs. I had 2hours to kill so I went to a small cafe to have some tea. Within seconds I was was surrounded by people wanting to talk to me and test there English. I was also shown some Pakistani 'porn' which wasn't even as graphic as FHM but the guys there were rather excited by it. They told me that they don't get many westerners at that border crossing, they were happy that I was doing the crossing but they also thought I was a bit ad for doing it.

The truth be told I wasn't really looking forward to this part of the trip. The area was allegedly a Taliban strong point and raids on buses were quite common. The bus left from just outside the border checkpoint so I didn't have to go to Taftan, but I got to circle it a couple of times in the bus. The bus left only half an hour late, and we headed off. The mountain range to the left was where the the insurgents were. We headed along beside them for a while before going of on a slight angle. The road was good and we were speeding along the road, and I was unsure how the jouney was to take 14hrs. Looking out the window I kept on expecting to see the next installment and Starwars to be filmed there as I was barren dusty land with little hope of lfe living there. The security checks were happening thick and fast and they were getting more and more rigorous but they quite happy to take them. It got dark pretty quickly and unfortunately my imagination started to get the better of me.

It was just after nine and it was pitch black then the bus got called pulled into the side by two Toyota vans. The bus was boarded by two guys rapped in blankets carrying pretty big rifles they didn't check any passports but took one look at me and ordered me off the bus. I walked down the bus aisle looking around to try and figure out what was happening. The it was to dark to see what was happening outside and the people on the bus jusy stared at me. Even before I got off the bus there was a torch light directed straight into my face and someone started shouting at me in Urdu or Pashtoon. I told him I only spoke English, still unsure what was happening, and he shouted back passport. I handed it over and the torch was thrust even closed towards my face and the he spoke to some beside me. He asked for me Nationality I told him British and then I was asked then why i had an English passport. It was only then the light was taken away from my eyes and I could finally see the army units sitting in the back. I had to show them on the passport that it said British, the guard in charge looked as nervous as me. He had to call the Taftan checkpoint to make sure that I wasn't lying, for some reason this took about 20mins to do. I was finally allowed back.

After that checkpoint the road disappeared completely, the road was no more and was replaced by a dirt track. The top speed mus have been about 15miles an hour. We made it ti an proper resting place where the bus driver went round and hammered out the dents in the bus. The people on the bus came and spoke to me just to assure me what happened was perfectly normal and that it was all good. After the stop it was back on the bus, trying to get some sleep was impossible as the road was to bumpy, so of the bumps nearly threw you off your seat. I ended up just looking at the brightly lit up lorries that passed us.

The bussed pulled in at 0330 in the morning, trying to get accommodation was proving to be a bit of a problem. I got to the Hotel I wanted to stay that but it was shut, infact all hotels appeared to be shut. A rickshaw driver past and asked what I was doing, I told him that I was trying to get somewhere to sleep. He told me that the hotels shut there doors at 12o'clock and don't open till 7 in the morning, whether he was telling the truth or not I didn't really have much option and Quette wasn't reall the place I wanted to hang around all night.

He suggested a friends hotel, I knew it would be a bit of a con but I didn't have any other options. When I got to the hotel I was shown to a room, which was overpriced for what it was and the toilet had a lovely green light. I didn't have any money on m at that point so he held onto my passport until the morning after I had been to the ATM.

Posted by Kickstart 13:50 Archived in Pakistan Tagged bus Comments (0)

Iran

Money is a problem

Iran

After looking out the window from the Dora hotel a few of decided to get out of Tehran asap. You could see the smog settle over the city and could smell it as well. We did try and do some sight seeing. The Martyrs museum was close by so we decided to have a look however it was all written in farsi so we decided to give it a miss. We then walked up to the American embassy, which has now been turned into a museum now. That was also closed well to us anyway, so we went to one of the shops around the corner. If I had bought anything from that shop and got caught trying to get it back into this country, I probably would have had the police, MI5 and anyone else who deals with security round and my door.

On our way back to the hotel we noticed some strange things like the Greek Embassy was allowed to have a Christian cross on show and show it as a church. The anomaly that did interest us quite a lot was the old men who were sitting on the pavement counting through there old bottles, most notable of which were the 3 Johnny Walker red label bottles they had. I also had a shot of trying to find a decent guidebook to Iran but that proved impossible even the English book shops, where no on spoke English, had nothing. As the 3 of is headed towards the bus station we got a cab that went along the motorway, and it was an introduction to Iranian driving that I won't forget, as we drove along the motorway we seen the multiple motorbikes heading in the opposite direction, but in our lane. No one seemed to care and we just carried on trying to avoid them.

At the bus station we tried to get a bus but we had just missed one. The good thing about being very European looking and the Iranian people being very friendly we were soon on a bus to Isfahan (Esfahan) and for a decent price. I had the fun job of sitting next to an Iranian soldier who looked like he had taken geat exception to me sitting next to him. As we got up higher past the smog of Tehran, the rest of Iran was covered in Beautiful sunshine and the the glare from the sun was strong of the distant mountains, It felt like the right move to get out of Tehran as the smog seemed to suffocate the city while everywhere else was having a sunny day. After 3 hours of driving we pulled into a service stop so we could get refreshed, and those who wanted could pray. We got back on the bus and I sat down next to the soldier again, this time I realized that he wasn't well and that it wasn't be cause he was sitting next to an infidel. He seemed to be very fidgety, infact if I didn't know better I would say he was having the worst ever hangover. I offered him some water and he drank the whole lot he bought some bananas and ate some but after the second one he jumped and waved me away. Thinking he was going to be sick I moved quite quickly, but he wasn't sick he just wanted to lie on the floor, which was at me feet. I hoped that we weren't stopped for routine searches as I could already start to see the headlines form if we were.

Esfahan was a beautiful city and as soon as we arrived we started taking photos and probably took photos every time we turned the street corner. The next day we walked around town and went to good few mosques and were impressed by the quality and the standard of them. Later on in the day we headed to Imam square where we had tea on a roof tea shop. It was a good place to unwind and watch the world go by. After that we wondered around Imam Square and w were told by a few peolpe that we shouldn't probably be there tomorrow as it was the Holy Day. Hermani was returning to Iran, from France, for to give a speech about the 30 years on from the revolution and that things could get quite heated. We got talking to a Persian carpet salesman who invited us round to the Principality of Iran. We went there unsure of what to expect, but when we got there it seemed strange. There was an Iranian guy two Italian folk and a polish girl, they were talking away it was only when you got closer to them that you could tell that they were stoned or something along tat line. We felt a bit out of place there, especially considering what country we were in so as soon as we were able we left.

I woke the next day about ten in the morning and could here some chanting outside. I had a look and there was a fairly small crowd marching up the road carrying anti-American and Israel banners. I went and had a shower then I heard the chanting again this time the crowd was getting bigger. I decided to heed the advice of the people I had met yesterday and avoid the square so I tried to find an internet cafe. Well I asked the reception where to go and they pointed me up the road. I thought this would be far enough away from the square where i could walk past quietly, well it didn't work out that well. I started walking up and the place was reasonably quiet but the further I got up the street the busier it got and the more the strangle looks/ stares grew. It was only when I realized how big the army and police presence I thought I had better take a look around. I then saw all the the anti-ameican and anti-Jewish banners that everyone was carrying. There were adults covered in Nike and Levis logos carrying the banner as well as children as young as five. I felt quite uneasy at this point so I turned and headed straight to the river. As I walked around I still managed to draw a few looks, but they felt a bit more friendly. I was looking at the river when I turned round and seen I was drawing a bit of a crowd. They were a pretty nice and very interested in Scotland and they all wanted to get there picture taken with me.

The next day I headed to Shiraz to see Persepolis, the journey took about 8 hours but ar last I got to watch some Iranian films on the bus. When I got off the bus I was suddenly surrounded by about 8 taxi divers all wanting my business, I decided the best thing was to go to the registered taxi rank. I got to the hostel but I found out they had a booking problem. They only had a triple room left but they could give me a discount, it was still in my budget so I thought ok, but I would be transferred into a single room with a European toilet the next day. They also ran transport to Persepolis but it was done by the car and not the person, so I had to find 2 other people to go there which was pretty easy.

So the next day we headed out to Persepolis. The other two people who I was sharing the taxi with was a French couple. They asked the driver if they could interview him for there video diary they were making. It transpired that he had quite a lot of good jobs through oil and chemical companies before the revolution, but after that he was happy to be a taxi driver. The driver was more than happy to be interviewed and was giving some good stories. However, I felt they left the interview on a low not is when they asked why he never married, and he replied they only wanted him for his money.

Persepolis was quite amazing, it would have been awe inspiring when it was built. We spent around two hours wondering around there and by the end of it I was surnburnt. After that we went to the Tombs of Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes which were held at another temple. The tombs were carved into the rock face and had strange carving that were set around the place.

When I got back to the hostel I decided to check my money, then I found out that I had overspent and that I only had £50 pounds to get to Quetta, Pakistan. I decided that I needed to leave the next day and head to Bam. That was after I would go a buy some more toilet roll. Normally this wouldn't be that, but being in Iran this was a it more of a problem. First of all the “european” shops didn't sell any and there english wasn't to good. In one of the shops a group of teenage girls came in and were pretty good at englsh they offered to translate but I decided that I didn't need that badly. After that I thought I would try in the local bazaar. Again this took longer that expected, 2hr and having to speak to at least 6 people wanting to practice there english on me.

I headed to the bus station about 3 in the afternoon and bought my ticket, I did ask how long the bus journey to Bam took, I was told hours. It was longer than I wanted but I didn't really have much choice so I got on the bus. The time was slow in passing and we stopped every now again to allow to pray and have a toilet break. The other thing about going to Bam was that I would have to miss out Yazd and Kerman. I wasn't to bothered about Kerman but Yazd was quite a big thing to miss. So i'll have to go back there at some point.

We finally got to Bam at 3am, and when I say at Bam it was actually 1.5 miles down the road, the bus attendant had forgot to wake when we got to Bam and only remembered when we had left it. So at three in the morning I was abandoned like little unwanted puppy with no accommodation and no idea to get anywhere. So I headed to where I thought where the city centre was. With it being a Islamic country nights are pretty quiet, and there was no lights on at all. There were dogs roaming the street barking at you walked past, but as soon as you would turn round they would run away. I continued walking along the street and I heard a bang, I kept walking until I heard another bang, this time I decided to have a look around and I seen a light on and a open door. I walked towards half expecting to be confronted by some security guards with bug guns, but to my surprise the only thing open at 0330 in the morning in Iran are..........pharmacies. There two pharmacists stocking up, unfortunately none of them could speak English, after trying to explain where I was looking for i just asked for hotel and they phoned for a taxi. The taxi took me to one of the out of town hotels. When I knocked on the door there was no answer and the taxi had already driven off, I started to curse my luck. I had a look around and wondered if the hotel was even open, eventually the desk manager came and let me in. He showed the prices for the room but they were a wee a bit on the expensive side. I asked if he knew Akbar tourist guest house was he face was blank, I asked if he knew where the street was, again blank. I had to phone home as I couldn't afford to stay there and get to the border let alone Quetta. After a long conversation involving me, the desk manager and my mum I said “Akbar English” at that point the desk manager jumped into life and showed me where it was, he then ordered a taxi for me. When I got to the guesthouse the front was crumbled and I thought it hadn't been open since the earthquake some five years before. The taxi driver jumped out and banged on the door and somebody came and let me in. He asked what sort of accommodation I needed I just replied bed.

The next day I woke around midday and had a look around for someone but no one was there, I went to the front of the house and rang the doorbell, still nothing. I was left scratching my head as in what looked to be the premises consisted of a couple of tables and a hut for sleeping. I even started shouting hello but to no avail. I started to think that I had just climb into a building site a slept there as in had that sort of dream-ish quality to it. I was considering just going as I wasn't too sure how to explain it, however a voice came from a car that had just pulled up and said I take it your the person who arrived at the late hour then. It was Akbar, the owner of the house he took me to one of the tables and registered me there. He also told me what was left to go and see in Bam.

Bam might be 3,000 years old but there isn't much to see or do. Bam, was detroyed by a Earthquake 4/5 years ago now, and 40,000 of the 120,000 citizens died during it. The city was built by mud and the construction was very light but, they had heavy roofs. Now all the buildings have to conform to new building code that will ensure that sort of destruction couldn't happen again, it was quite funny to watch them rebuild the main street, the facade is what I would assume to be there before but the structure is now steel and lots of it.

Later on, the other guests there, Akbar and myself all got talking. I was lucky enough to find someone who had just come from Quetta and was heading to Kerman the next day, so I probed him for information But the real highlight was speaking to Akbar and listening to him tell stories and listen to him speak about the Earthquake (morbid, I know) I found out what why no one knew his guest house and why they refer to him as Akbar English, why the gutter water is so clean, how Bam managed to cope and his perspective on the whole night the earthquake happened. He is known as Akbar English because he taught English at high school and that's why they call him that. The gutter water isn't proper gutter water, it's water from underground chamber (can't remember there real name) that they use to irrigate the land, and that's why it is so clean. It was good to speak to Akbar, he was like the old man in the pub who has lots of stories to tell, but ones you want to listen to.

Posted by Kickstart 13:31 Archived in Iran Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Train to Iran

Istanbul to Tehran = 74hrs

The trip to Tehran

The first thing that struck when I walked onto the train was the amount of western travellers that were on it, far from the Turk-Iranian mass I expected. It wasn't long before we all got talking and there was a lot of people were going skiing in various places throughout Iran, must admit it never expected Iran to be a major skiing destination.
I tried to stay up until we left Istanbul, but after an hour and a half I still couldn't tell if we were in Istanbul or not so I went to bed. The next day was mainly taken up by sleeping and eating. The few things that I do remember was the amount of snow that we were passing through, a weird stadium that we passed in the middle if nowhere and lastly a tank racing along beside us a the army barracks. Later on in the day I went along to the restaurant car to find that it was packed. Most people were playing chess, a game I am hopeless at. It got quite competitive in there even the guards starting playing but by the looks of it they were worse than me. One of my thoughts was to get an Lonely Planet guide of Iran when I was Istanbul, however, that proved to be pretty impossible so I was quite happy when I got speaking to people who had a copy and didn't mind me scribbling down some notes.
We were supposed to be at Lake Van just before Midday, but it was turning 4 o'clock and there was still no sign of the Lake, we finally got to the Lake and sun down. Unfortunately the great views and scenery that we were all toll about were hidden by the blackness of night. The trip took a good few hours with very little to do. We tried to exchange money but we seemed to bankrupt the local money changer, the shop owner. He ended up having to go around and ask the locals for money to change. When we arrived at the other side of the Lake we had to wait for the train. When the train finally came there was madness that came with it. Not only were the cabins a lot smaller it was also now four to a cabin, which wouldn't seem that bad but nobody knew what was going on or why the whole train wasn’t opened up. I was flung into a room with 3 Swedish guys who were going skiing, well after they picked there friend up form the airport.
Early in the morning we were woken by Turkish customs and immigration, we were stamped quite quickly. Before dawn we were woken again this time by Iranian officials. This pr5ocess took a bit longer. They first sent someone in to check on the passports before sending us to the hut to get our passport stamped. I had some explaining to do, when the guy first guy came on and asked where I was from I answered Scotland thinking since he was in immigration he would know that it was part of the UK. Well after about 5mins of discussion and assuring him I was British he finally left me alone and then proceeded to get Sweden mixed up with Switzerland. When we went to get off the train nobody really paid attention to what we were jumping out onto, so you can imagine the looks on your faces when we debunked into 1foot of snow. One of h Swedish guys only were sandals and shorts to the customs house, he was a wee bit cold when he got back to the train.
The train was running very slow and very late, we were supposed to arrive in Tehran 12hrs after arriving at Tabriz, but we watched that come and go with no real sense of where we were. When we asked the stewards when we would arrive, they would just say its running later than expected/. We finally pulled into Tehran train station after 12 at night a good 7hours late. The next problem was trying to get accommodation for everyone, as there was now a group of about 8 of us. We got two taxis and scowered the town looking for somewhere to stay, we tried all the places shown in the lonely planet but they were full, so the taxi drivers tore round the city trying anywhere. To be honest that had been trying for what felt like an hour. The taxi drivers finally found somewhere. The Hotel Dora, it was a 4star hotel. The prices were very high, but we finally managed to get a deal, where we could have four in the triple room which meant someone sleeping on the sofa couch, in case your wondering I had the pleasure of the sofa couch, but at least the breakfast was good.

Posted by Kickstart 00:48 Archived in Turkey Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Istanbul

A city with two faces

sunny

Istanbul

The sleeper train was quite nice and had plenty of room in it. I go a compartment to myself so I got to sprawl all my belongings everywhere. After about an hour on the train I felt my bladder start to tighten, so I went out to find the toilet. I was told it was at the opposite end of the train, past the standard seats. I had heard allot about this train and that there was normally groups of opportunists that would lift anything if it wasn't nailed down. I have to say after walking half way down the carriage I felt like that was highly plausible. I had walked down the carriage and looked back over my shoulder and there was already someone heading to the sleeping quarters until his friend shouted to him. This of course could be my paranoia but I decided not to take any risks, so headed back to my compartment and use the basin as a make shift latrine ;). After that I took half an hour making my little area gypsy proof. I was woken at half three in the morning for customs and immigration. The Bulgarian side was done all on the train, however the on the Turkish side we had to get off the train to first get our visa then head to a separate office to get it stamped, I think the cost was 15 Euro. I also noticed the standard seat section of the train had now disappeared.

The train guard woke everyone at 0630 saying Istanbul, there were buildings outside, however it wasn’t until 0730 that we arrived at the station. At the station I ran into two American guys who were heading in the same direction, so I tagged along. I was only out of the train station for a matter of minutes before I got scammed- hook, line and sinker. We were walking a being a boot polisher and he dropped his shoe buffer, being the kind sole that I am, I picked it up and returned it to him. As I walked away he started going on about how he has to polish my shoes now as it was a kind act and his family are honourable and that it would be a great disrespect if he didn't do it. First of all he made a crap job of it, but then what really made me laugh (in his face) was he wanted 10 Euro for it. I did think about walking to the tourist police but I thought not. After laughing at be generally awkward he settled for 1 Euro in change. It was to taint my view of Turkish people for the rest of my time there, I also spoke to a more experienced travel than myself, and he fell for too, I didn't feel so bad then.

After a bit of a trek we found the accommodation where they were staying and by good luck the hostel I wanted to stay was 5 doors away. I was still tired from the journey, I know it’s an over night sleeper but you don't really sleep on them especially when your worried about gypsy’s. I went and caught a couple of hours sleep. When I woke I ventured out into town, I had been walking for about 5 mins then I was stopped again in the street by someone. He asked where I was from and where I studied, I told him I studied in Aberdeen. He proceeded to go on about his brother’s shop which is next Woolman Hill (a campus of RGU). He was trying flog some leather jackets, probably dodgy quality by what happened next. After I told him I wasn't interested he started saying just come and have a look etc I told I was travelling after about 5mins of trying to get rid of him he finally got the idea and started saying stuff in Turkish to me before finally waving me off. My impression of Turkish people was well and truly set now, even it was early times.

Back at the hostel got talking to a couple of the guys who were staying there and the suggestion was to go to a Hamam. We headed up to the Hamam, where David gave us some useful information about Istanbul, and the fact we were staying in the tourist trap, and that if we walked 5mins down the road we could get everything a lot cheaper. We went into the Hamam, 3 of us just stood there looking at each other while David had to tell us what to do, which was sit there and bathe yourself, after doing that for a while we relaxed on the heated marble table for 40mins before going to the reception area and drinking tea. After that we headed into Beyoglu for a tour of the town and a beer. Alex and David started discussing Swiss politics, which Manuel and myself, just tried to make other conversation.

David left the next day quite early, but he had the urge to wake everyone in the dorm up to give them gifts, or stuff he couldn't fit in his bag. It was nice of him but entirely unnecessary. I went round the town again as I was going to buy my ticket to Tehran, when I ran into another salesman, when I told him I wasn't interested he asked if he could help, the look on my face must have been pretty bad as he went onto say that if he helped me then in future I would remember and maybe be pass on his name. So he helped me try and find a decent price for the bus to Tehran but they were quite expensive, he even tried to haggle for me. In the end it was the train opted for. As I promised the place was Carpetiem Leather and ceramic store and the man's name was Aladdin, promised kept.

The other thing that struck me about Istanbul was the act it had so much Tourist police, although it sounds like a good idea I was continuingly thinking I was being ripped off, and most likely I was. I followed the tram lines as far as I could before I got hungry. I went into a small cafe where no one spoke English, however the word kebab is pretty universal. They tried to speak to me and ask me where I was from but they just looked with blank expressions, that is, until I mentioned Graeme Souness. They knew that name ok, as they were Fernbache fans and still hadn't forgot about his escapades during the final of 1996.

In the afternoon I walked along to Beyoglu and wondered about the shops, it was just like any high street in Britain. That night I just stayed in the hostel and spoke to Guido, who had travelled through Iran and Pakistan. He told me not to believe the hype and that I’ll probably find the people there warm and friendly, I tried to take on board the advice but it is hard when the media seems so against them. He also told me that I was travelling far to fast through these regions and that I needed to slow down. The best I could come up with was that I had a tight budget, which is true.

That night there was an argument that lasted hours and it seemed to be in Spanish and English, either that my Spanish has come on leaps and bounds. It seems to friends had fallen out over a boy and decided that the best place to air the argument was in the hallway connecting all the dorms. I got told the next day that they had left quite early that morning.

The first thing I done that morning was go down to the train station and book my ticket to Iran, it cost about £40 and was to last 67hours. When I purchased my ticket two of the girls staying in the hostel, and one of there friend, said hi. We got talking and they asked me if I wanted to join them as they were going to the Asian side of Istanbul. When we got to the Asian side things seemed a little different but not that much, it wasn't till we tried to find somewhere to get food we found out very few people spoke English there. We luckily stumbled across a restaurant where the owners daughter spoke fairly good English so we used her interpret for us, which was easier said than done. Astrid and Bridgette were meeting someone on the European side for a Hamam later in the afternoon, so we all went across. Honda and I went to the male one and the girls went to the female one. This Hamam was a lot hotter than the previous one and after being washed by the Turkish equivalent of Big Daddy I had to go to the rest area as the Hamam was to hot for me. Myself and Honda waited for 90mins on the girls but gave up and headed back to our hostels. On this trip we saw the erotic shop of Istanbul, even though we both thought that sort of thing was forbidden.

The girls arrived back at the hostel and their excuse for being late was that there was a rather large lady in front of them waiting to be washed.

That night we all met into the downstairs part of the hostel. I was speaking to Guido when the rather annoying and loud Americans came over and took up all the space. As I was basically forced away from where I was sitting I went on the internet and checked m -mails. After leaving we got the tram, and headed up the slope to taxes. It was at this point I realised I didn't have my bag with me. I panicked and walked pretty fast back to the Hostel, I knew where I had left it, and it was next to Guido. When the Americans had come along and occupied the table my bag was suiting under one of the chairs. When I got back to the hostel, the guy working there asked why I was back so quickly, so I told him and he lectured me on it. Fortunately my bag was exactly where I left and all my belongings were there to, I learned an important lesson at that point. When I tried to catch up with the rest I thought the best way to do it would be to get the tram again. This time the tram only ran half the distance, so decided to walk. I caught up with the group they asked if I had got a taxi, as they couldn't believe how quickly I had got to the hostel and back, I told them that I just really needed a pint.

We headed to a Shisha bar where they don't sell alcohol, rather they let you smoke water pipes with a variety of different flavours along with drinking some tea, of course. After a couple of rounds of the Shisha a few of us were feeling quite light headed and we realised why they didn't give you any booze. We also started a competition to see who could blow smoke rings, we all failed miserably and blamed on the draught. We were the last people to leave, it was getting late so we headed back to the hostel for a beer, finally. The manager wasn't to happy but he allowed to us to have one.

The train wasn't due to leave till 2250 so that left nearly a whole day to waste. The day was spent with Astrid, Bridgette and Honda along with a couple of there friends, mainly drinking tea and relaxing. For dinner we headed down to the river and ate a fish sandwich. The fish is caught and prepared about 2metres away from where we were sitting. The boats where you bought the sandwich were rolling about in the waves quite a lot and we were amazed that the guys standing on the boats could keep the balance, it seemed nearly impossible. I also introduced them to a game of 'Catchphrase Bingo' which is based on all the sayings that the touts would use to start a conversation Within about 30metre they had used all the generic sayings.

It was 2010 when I was leaving the hostel, the manager told me I had only 20mins to get to the last ferry for the night with that I walked as fast as I could down to the ferry station , I made it with 2mins to go, I paid and jumped on the ferry. I took about 10 mins to get there. When I get to the station I used my time to count how many other fries came in, it must gave been about 10 more.

Posted by Kickstart 00:42 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Belgrade and Sofia

Never go there on a Monday.

overcast

Belgrade.

The train left with barely anybody I asked to make sure that I was on the right train, I was. The only fun thing to do was count the Tesco billboards and even that got a bit boring after a while. Customs was pretty straight forward, I pretty much seemed invisible to them after I showed them my British passport and finally got the first stamp in my passport.
I arrived in Belgrade, the station wasn't really a station more and of a line. It was a cold rainy night and I was getting tired. Fortunately I had directions on how to get to the hostel. The first major problem I encountered was the street names. In all my wisdom I had written and drawn maps in English unfortunately Serbia writes the street names in Cyrillic only, that’s if the decide to put street names on at all. Through the use of my, now rain soaked, map and good guess work I headed in the write direction. When I got roughly got to the place where I thought it should be, I asked one of the locals walking past for directions. They told me I was at the right address, the sudden thought of being in the same situation as Budapest jumped into my head, I was not happy. I looked at the surrounding buildings and across the road, couldn't see it. At that point I raised my head to scream, and the green and white light caught my eye, I was directly beneath it.

The hostel was all but dead except for a staff member and a girl in the kitchen, that’s how it stayed for most of my stay. I didn't know what to or see in Belgrade, most of my knowledge came from the conflict in the 90's and from football. When I woke I headed to the bank to withdraw some money. I withdrew 30,000 Serbian Dinar., the notes were crisp 1,000 Dinar and you could still get a bit of ink of the paper if you rubbed hard enough. I then headed to the Tourist information, it was shut with a nice little note that it would be open in 10 minutes. I headed around to try and get smaller denominations of the notes I had. The slight inconvenience I had was that everything cost less than 100 dinars. So again I had to go another global company, starbucks. It was only place that I could be sure where they would have change. After my Mocha I went back to the tourist information. The girl sat behind the desk in and looked as miserable as sin. I asked if she spoke English and she said she did. Well she launched into a speech which was fast and had a severe Serbian twang to it, the only bit I understood was that all museums, galleries and public attractions were shut. It’s just what I wanted to hear. I had two days in Belgrade and one of the days was a write off as there was nothing to do! I walked around the city centre but it was quite boring. I thought I’d see if the castle was open. When I got near the castle there was people walking round and all them were eating popcorn. The castle had a good view over the Danube, and it also had lots of military gear lying around.

That night it was the young guy who was working. We got talking I was quite amazed to find that for his 8hour shift he was only getting paid 10Euro, I felt quite ashamed when he asked how much I got paid back home. One of his friends came round with some beer, it wasn't long before they asked me about my knowledge and perception of Serbia. That quickly led onto Kosovo, and there feelings were quite straight forward, Kosovo should still be part of Serbia. They showed me pictures and films of the protests that happened the day before Kosovo became independent. At that point I decided to try and change the subject that I had seen a Scottish pub in the highlights page of there brochure. They both laughed, when I asked what they were laughing at they told me that was where they got there LCD TV from. Normally I hate themed bars, but I thought it would be funny to see how Serbians seen the Scottish. I don't think they have ever been to Scotland, it was as Scottish as the French Revolution. The whiskey was American and the beer was Danish, not any sign of sawdust on the floor at all.

I had wanted to see the war museum, I had heard that it had some interesting material. The war museum would have been a lot more interesting if the wrote the material in English. Most of the English signs were saying “copy of....” or “replica...” as most of the artefacts were taken by the Germans during the Second World War. After trying my best to try and decipher what was going on I decided to leave, when I went through the metal detector it went off, however no one seemed to care, Just as I was putting my hand on the door the guard shouted something at me. I turned and told him I only spoke English, the smile came across his face was quite scary. He just said I had another room to see. It was the room I had wanted to see, the room was full of guns and material that was used in the conflict. It was quite harrowing. Firstly the full uniform of an USAF was hung up with some pride, the most shocking, possibly distasteful, was the blood stained machete that was supposedly used by Kosovo Albanians. It was more than enough for me.

Belgrade is quite strange place as there seems to be no one aged between 20-40 years old, the only thing I could put it down to was there smoking habit. From what I seen they wake up and have a coffee and 20 cigarettes and that is how they go for the rest of the day, I don't think I have seen a country smoke so much in my life.

Sofia

The train left on time I was quit glad to be leaving Belgrade, the people were friendly but the there was little to do. Customs was a little more interesting this time. The customs officer for Serbia came in he looked at my passport and smiled. He asked if I had any cigarettes or alcohol I said no, he told me I should have because I wouldn’t get it cheaper in Bulgaria. He then went on to ask if I had narcotics again I said no. he finally asked if I had any woman stashed away, this time I just shook my head. He laughed and said that really missed out in Serbia then. The tone changed when I reached the Bulgarian customs. They searched the whole compartment and had to show my passport 4 times before I passed through. On arrival to Sofia I was confronted by taxi drivers trying to get me to use their cab, after I got rid of most of them it was the turn of the beggars asking for money. I was given a name of a semi-reliable taxi company. I found one and jumped in I didn't even try to haggle over the price, it cost 5Euro.

I arrived at the hostel and was promptly asked if I was the Scottish guy, as I was later than I had planned. After filling the forms and showing my passport I was shown to my room where I quickly realised that I had to go outside to the bathroom, normally not to much of a problem but Sofia was freezing. After that I had some tea before heading to bed, where I was sharing with 5 Koreans girls and an Aussie bloke. The room that night was freezing and I had to go to bed fully dressed. The next day I wondered round the town centre and tried to find a DHL. My laptop wasn't working and I was going to send back to Scotland, however the price of sending it back home was over £125, so I decided it wasn't really worth it.

After doing some sightseeing I went back to the hostel, the girl that worked there had a look at the laptop and got it working, so I was happy. Strange thing was when the laptop wasn't working I was so protective of it then as soon as it was working again I started throwing and round and not caring that much about it.
I got speaking to an English guy who was staying at the hostel and he suggested going for a drink later at the local pub. I, of course, agreed. When I was getting ready 2 girls came in, one of them was quite distraught. I asked what the matter was and they had just come from Istanbul on the bus ride from hell. They said that they were on it for longer than they expected and hat they were extremely dehydrated. At that point I decided was going to get the train to Istanbul. I offered them water and paracetamol, but they had already done that and were getting better. Later that night I went and met the folk in the pub. To say it seemed a strange mix of crowd would be an understatement. A guy, in his 40's, and old English retired couple who now lived in Spain, as well as me and the Australian bloke. It was ok, it was strange watching the English guys’ perv over the Bulgarian girls, it was quite funny, and after 2 pints I said my farewells and went to bed. This time I asked for a second blanket.

I was leaving today to head to Istanbul, so I had to go get my ticket. Again I found buying my ticket at the office to be the cheapest way, and a lot cheaper than the prices I could find quoted on the net. I didn't really do much that day except from window shop. Later back at the hostel I found out why it was so cold, one of the Korean girls had removed the plug for the heater so she could charge their stuff. The last couple of hours I just spent chilling in the common room and talking, when he taxi came I had to rush out the door with out getting anyone’s details, which I kind of regret. When I arrived at the train station I asked where I got the train, as everything was written Cyrillic. When I got to the stance I had to laugh as the only train there was a single carriage freight train and it certainly didn't seem like the sleeper I was expecting. I asked again where the train was this time I was shown to the right train.

Posted by Kickstart 00:23 Archived in Serbia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 9) Page [1] 2 »