Dude.

Animals need to stop crossing the road.

Seriously.

I witnessed a number of geese and cows (separately) crossing the road on our way to Georgia.

So, Bulgaria – two chicks and a rooster.

Turkey – several geese and cows.

What next? Pandas in China?

Talking of chickens, they keep showing up. It was devastating to see one squawking in the hands of a man taking it to the market😭.

Poor chicken 🐔.

But that was in Kars. Instanbul was beautiful. No doubt about that.

The picture above was taken at the fountain in front of Hagia Sophia, a former church which was destroyed twice, rebuilt and converted as a mosque after the fall of Constantinopolis. Now, Hagia Sophia is a museum.

Its neighbour, the Blue Mosque (named after the predominant presence of the blue and turquoise tiles) was the first mosque I have been in.

Once in Kars, we also visited an orthodox Russian-built church converted into a mosque – which makes it the only one with such architecture in Turkey – or so I’ve been told.

So by now I’ve reached the conclusion that I prefer mosques to churches. The latter are so serious and so quiet while the former are loud, playful and as a bonus, have comfortable carpets.

We also went to see the Basilica Cistern (an underground water cistern from the Roman times). It was quite creepy, walking through the passage surrounded by the dark. The music didn’t help either. To be honest, I didn’t really care about the building, but I was curious to see the two carved Medusa heads, of which the story still remains a mystery.

It was interesting to see the culture of Turkey through my own eyes.

For example, while I’m not a religious person, listening to the call of prayer from the mosques was satisfying to my ears.

Even more fascinating was watching two restaurants in a battle of convincing passers-by to stop and eat. I couldn’t help but feel pity for the vendors in the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar when my parents refused their offers, but both my mom and dad found that perfectly normal. They grew up in a Mediterranean environment, so they must have been used to it.

The same goes for the sight of all the homeless dogs and cats stranded in the streets. This was not a common sight in London and it was soon enough that I was informed of the ugly truth – a lot of animals found on the streets of London were slaughtered.

Probably though, the first amusing encounter to the foreign culture was already on the bus from Haskovo to Instanbul.

Approaching the border of Bulgaria, you could see a lane going for kilometres full of trucks waiting to get into Turkey, as shown below (my parents were commenting on how this will become a common sight on the UK/France border once Brexit happens).

The locals have thus found ways to trade making do without the red tape of customs. As you are allowed to bring one bottle of alcohol per person into Turkey, the bus hostess was then going around asking the passengers if they wouldn’t mind carrying a bottle each for her. The bus then duly stopped before the border at a big discount store to buy the extra alcohol 😂.

Other (very) relevant things about Istanbul were:

– Even as we approached with the bus we couldn’t help but notice the amount of mosques all around.

– I finally had my hair cut in Besiktas! We walked into a minuscule shop (2*0.5mt max) where the barber – sitting in a chair, scrolling through his phone, seemed relaxed . He did his job well.

– One day, we tried to take a ferry back to the hotel area. While no-one at the station understood English they gestured us into one when my father showed them our destination on Google Maps. It turns out the ferry was going in the opposite direction. We had no choice but to wait on the ferry till it came back to its departure point. By then there wasn’t a ferry that could take us back to Sultanahmet. On the other hand, this gave us a chance to see the Bosphorus up close at sunset. And it was really beautiful.

That was all our time in Instanbul. But we weren’t finished with Turkey yet.

We took a train from Instanbul to Ankara. The train was very modern with a secure WiFi connection, so we were equipped for the three hours ride ahead 😎.

This wasn’t the case for our next train, Ankara-Kars, which not only was clearly past its prime but also had no WiFi connection. This was a tragedy, considering we were going to be on the train for 25 hours. So we were going ‘old school’ .

But more of this later. First, a bit more about Ankara. We had only two hours before taking the overnight train. Still, we managed to explore the nearby park and fill our parents ears with the chant “It’s not fair! Take us to the fair!” (Gençlik Park has a big permanent amusement park).

We stopped, however, at a park cafe for gyuzleme, ayran, and ice cream. I finally tried Turkish ice-cream! It feels like bubblegum. Very elastic.

While eating, few children startled me by coming over to our table, pleading for food. I had never experienced that. I was surprised and sad. But it turns out this is quite a common practice in Turkey and does not necessarily mean that they are starving.

Indeed, later on, at one train stop, a huge crowd of children came running towards the train, literally on the tracks, asking for food, drinks, toys, anything. Passengers on the train actually started throwing snacks and drinks out of the windows (I saw one kid happily holding a massive bag of Doritos).

This reminded my father of his past. Since he spent his summers in the village of Dobrich (which is really close to the border with Turkey) some of his friends would go with their bikes to the gas station where Turkish trucks stopped. The drivers would gift them with all sort of items but particularly prized was a special type of chewing gum which would contain stickers of fancy cars. They were called ‘BeepBeep’ and the kids would collect them and trade them as a particularly prestigious possession.

But enough digressing, back to the overnight train. I was ecstatic at the sight of our room – a folding couch, a bed, a fridge full of complementary food and drinks and free slippers. The lack of WiFi meant me and my family looked around and reflected on our trip.

So, I, Eliano Tonev, am proud to say I survived a whole 25 hours without WiFi.

In Kars we arrived late and left early. We still clocked in few interesting sights (among others the Kars castle, which I recommend to be called the ‘Karstle’) before heading into a taxi and driving all the way to Georgia.

By the way, the longest word in Turkish literature is composed of 70 letters. We all tried to pronounce it in one go, but we couldn’t. Can you?

Whew. That is one loooooooooooong post.