#12 – Ankara by train – 30 Days, 30 Countries
After some struggle with languages and currencies… (I ended up with free travel on the metro systems in Istanbul… and traveling on someone elses public transport card on the bus in Istanbul… but details later) I finally arrived in Ankara by train – ~2 hours earlier than estimated! It’s roughly 28 degrees (C) out here in the full sun.. Tonight I will be enjoy myself with a lot of Turkish food.. But first, relaxing time in the hotel. I got a free upgrade to a bigger room. They love tourists here it seems, while they are still here.
I can say that it is best experience so far: Ankara. Before I started my Interrail journey I didn’t even know that it was possible to travel by train all the way to another continent! Yesterday morning at 06:00 I arrived in Istanbul, 2 hours earlier than estimated (bus was a lot faster than planner showed). Heading straight to the Marmaris (metro connecting the 2 continents underneath the Bosphorus, trains are not running yet), it was not possible to buy a ticket with card. After finally finding an ATM, the ticket guy asked me a little bit more about my trip. I gave him my international ticket and explained I wanted to get to Ankara, he put a stamp on it and said go go go. So.. free travel with the metro system in Istanbul!!
After the metro I had to go with the bus for a small 20 minutes, but the card reader didn’t accept my stamp…. but some other Turkish payed for me with his card. After arriving in Pendik YHT (High-speed station) and some language issues I was finally on my way to Ankara. Arriving in Ankara, I immediately went for a seat reservation on the way back – which in the end caused me to keep the ticket office busy with me for at least half an hour… Summary: 1 problem, 2 “photocopi”, 20 calls and 4 whatsapp messages and I had my free business class reservation.
Finally able to explore Ankara! I first went to the “main tourist attraction”: Anıtkabir. An absolutely stunning gigantic memorial for the first president of the Republic of Turkey in the middle of the crowded city. There are many other architectural highlights in Ankara; Ankara Kalesi, and Augustus Tapınağı – all majestic and mystical in their own way. Besides the sightseeing, Ankara is also a great booming city to taste local food. Which is being sold pretty much eveywhere. Furthermore they love tourists (at least, the remaining ones – Anıtkabir was mostly deserted). My hotel even gave me a free upgrade to a bigger room (hoping that I come back?). I would definitely love to go back to Ankara with some more free time. Now on my way to eplore Istanbul, I think a bit more tourist oriented.
But now… one of the most bizarre nights I have ever experienced… hence the long story. First I want to tell you about a small intermediate stop I’ve made at Istanbul. Going back from Ankara to Istanbul (Pendik) went great.. going from Istanbul (Pendik) to Istanbul Sirkeci (main station) is difficult due to the construction going on. I knew that I had to go to the metro in Kartal. So when I’ve arrived at the bus stop of Pendik I saw a bus with ‘Kartal’ on it. No no no no metro (mumbling in Turkish), so I look confused but meanwhile he makes signs sit down. So I’m sitting in a bus to god knows where, which honks at everyone and as soon as someone waves the bus stops (doesn’t matter where; middle of a roundaboud is a logical place apparently).
After a while the driver shouts in Turkish to the back and makes signs saying ‘blue bus blue bus blue bus’. So I get out and go to another bus, and yes that one goes to the metro station of Kartal. I want to pay with a note of 20 lira, but apparently thats to much. And since they driver realizes I’m not Turkish he simply waves me to the back of the bus (again free ride!).
Viewing Istanbul as a tourist is quite an experience (where you coming from? Holland? Ooooooooooooo <whole conversion follows> / actually the only people that speak English.. trying to get you in their restaurant). Istanbul is very pretty, and rather safe by the way.. (!) – there are just a few who spoil it. One aspect of Istanbul I will remember forever: The Blue Mosque – unbelievable pretty building. Istanbul should definately be on your Interrail list.
Now coming to the bizarre part… at 22:00 I left istanbul with 2 other people who kept me company, both speaking English very well for a change. They wanted to go to Bucharest, and I was going to Sofia: our split up point was Dimitrovgrad. In Kapikule we had to change to the train to Dimitrovgrad, in which we sat together trying to ignore all the people that wanted to sell cigarettes to us. At some point when we were all in relaxed state (feet on other couches… oh oh oh naughty us), and suddenly there is this massive bulgarian looking guy pointing from outside to one of us very angry.
Turns out that he does not like that our feet were on other seats – so he enters the train! We were like o-shit whats going to happen? Luckily I had folded a blanket underneath my feet so he liked me. So he tried to give the other guy a speach in his best English (~10 words), and my other companion starts laughing… ‘NO SMILE NO SMILE’. So imagine a massive angry bulgarian guy being very angry at us? Well, it turns out that he’s a soft sweet little kitty. After the other guys put something on the seats for protection he came to sit with us.
In the middle of the night we had conversations for a few hours in sign language and partially English with the massive bulgarian guy. He even added me on Facebook!! We even took pictures all together, but not allowed on Facebook because his boss would be angry. To summarize all the conversations: not a good job, no money. One of my companions tried to convince him that he should go to New York, but no money. In the end his life dream would indeed be go to New York and marry with an American women.
Continueing like this, we were asking ourselves for how long is this going to go on? We al wanted to sleep, but yea the happy massive bulgarian guy was extremely happy that we had a sort-off conversation. Meanwhile I went to the bathroom, and when I got back the other 2 guys looked utterly shocked. What happened: the happy massive bulgarian guy asked his boss on the train if he could travel with the other 2 passengers to Russe (border of Bulgaria/Romania), instead of leaving in Dimitrovgrad. So, I was luckily able to sleep for a few hours. But I’m very curious how it went with the other 2 travelers.