Welcome to Istanbul

The New Mosque, Istanbul © Antony Barton

It was time… time for The Trip. We were doing the collegiate run-around-Europe-with-backpacks-half-the-size-of-our-body for over a month. In that time, we planned to visit 10 countries. We were crazy.

A week in (having just visited Austria, Hungary and Romania), we boarded the train for Istanbul. Scheduled to be 18 hours, we knew it was going to be a long haul. A Kiwi couple paired with us in a sleeper, and we spent long hours talking about our adventures and watching fields of crispy sunflowers roll by. Along with us on the train were some hippies from Germany (there is no escaping the Germans – I swear they seek us out wherever we travel) and a woman from Cyprus with three passports. One of hers literally had handwritten documentation. I was fascinated.

Night met the train in Bulgaria, where we were told we would wait “a little while” for a train from Serbia to meet-up. Making conversation with some of our fellow train riders, a Turkish man and his wife pantomimed what we could expect while telling us “Istanbul, big danger!” Oh – Thank you for the advice.

The hours ticked by and we realised our long train ride just got a lot longer. Finally, the two trains re-united and we were off again, struggling to sleep on the top bunks in the sweltering August heat.

Screeech! Stopped again at around 4:30am, men with hulking guns boarded the train. Shouting at us in Turkish, we offered them our passports for inspection. They took our passports and left the train. Don’t all the guidebooks tell you never to let that happen? We blearily followed and forked over the money required for the visa. The Kiwis – those lucky swines – got off without a fee. I see. As Americans, your country starts a bunch of wars (excuse me – “conflicts”) and you don’t get very easy access to places.

A whole day had passed since we boarded the train. We eagerly disembarked, ready to see a new continent, the place once called Constantinople – Istanbul! Immediately, we fell in love with the smells and sights of the city. Aggressive salesmen chanted at us “Spend money here, please?” and we just smiled, happy to be swept away in the ocean of colour. We found our way to our hostel in Sultanahmet and gazed out into the water.

A little of this happiness dampened as a sour couple on the rooftop told us “Did you know there’s no water? The whole city. No water!” She seemed to take pleasure at the looks of panic on our face. We had just spent 25 hours on a train in August. We weren’t exactly feeling so fresh or so clean. Running to the lobby we asked at the desk and the clerk apologetically told us it was true. They were running on their water tanks but expected them to run out soon. He smiled sadly, “Welcome to Istanbul.”

Written by - Edited by Antony Barton - Photo by Antony Barton

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