How I Almost Got Stuck in Turkey

September 24, 2015

Normally, I encourage everyone planning a trip to research local holidays before booking a flight. I’ve heard more than one story of someone coming into Japan after New Year’s and finding the ATMs locked up (Japan is primarily a cash-only country). Many Couchsurfers going through the states have gotten stuck outside on the 4th of July with hotels, hostels, and hosts booked up weeks in advance.

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In my case, I didn’t heed my own advice. I knew, for example, that Greece was in the middle of a financial crisis. However, I also knew news organizations were greatly exaggerating the effects of this crisis on tourism and it would be unlikely to affect my ability to withdraw cash, move about the country, or find a place to stay.

Cupcakes in Patras
Dangerous storefronts in Patras, Greece

I knew that Turkey was dealing with skirmishes near the border with Syria and refugees were still coming into the country (two million and counting). However, I also knew I was very unlikely to encounter violence against foreign tourists in Pamukkale, Izmir, and Istanbul.

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A dog in Turkey clearly distraught over Syrian refugees

What I hadn’t done was research why flights were incredibly cheap from Istanbul to Sofia on the 21st (around $100), but spiked the next day ($300+). The country is about to start a five-day religious holiday for Muslims, one that allows municipal workers to take the 21st and 22nd off before official ceremonies begin on Wednesday. I hadn’t booked a flight or bus to Bulgaria, choosing instead to keep my travel plans fluid in case I was able to meet up with someone or maybe find someone taking the scenic route west.

So, I almost got stuck here. Almost. I was able to get one of two seats on a Metrobus leaving Tuesday night for Sofia. I was considering taking the train from Sirceki (just west of Istanbul), but it turns out, despite what Seat 61 advertises, that’s really not a good idea:

– The fare is cheap (80 TL), but you have to transfer 2-3 times, from a bus in Istanbul to a train to the Bulgarian border, to the Bulgarian train line, where you have to pay cash for the remaining distance.
– You will still have to stop at the border in the middle of the night, step out, and go through immigration.
– According to the ticket office, the train no longer has couchette cars. Meaning you’ll be sitting for eleven hours.

Granted, the bus is nine hours, 95 TL, and has the same border stop, but at least you’re on the same vehicle the whole time. I still might be in trouble, as I’ve heard it can be delayed for up to six hours and my flight departs at 2:40 PM Wednesday (expected time of arrival 8 AM). Nevertheless, it’s all I have right now.

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