A Travellerspoint blog

Leaving Sofia

Grateful to my parents

Marin the driver dropped us off at the skyscraper of a hotel yesterday evening. My room on the 15th floor provides a great view of Sofia, a town of cobble stone streets, rumbling trams, girls bearing cleavage, naked tummies and bra straps. Also the archaeology museum boasting beautiful, gleaming solid gold vessels made by the Thracians 1000s of years ago.

I've gotten too used to the high life provided by my parents and am annoyed that the only English shows I can find on the 60 or so cable channels are CNN, a sports channel, and a ridiculous show about girls competing for the love of a dippy Italian boy. The mini bar fridge is stuffed so full I can barely squeeze in my bottles of water and a diet coke. The enormous window won't open. But I pause and think. There is no way I could have seen the Madara horseman, the tombs built 2500 years ago, Veliko T and the Black Sea as well as Plovdiv and Sofia and Rila Monastery in only 8 days without having a driver and I couldn't have afforded one on my own.

Marin drove mom and dad and I from Plovdiv up a narrow road winding through forested mountains to Rila Monestary. On the way we pause for sheep and buffalo yoghurt as thick as ice cream. The mountains rise up on all sides of the monastery. Swifts dip and swoop in the clear air. Black robed, black haired, bearded monks stride through the clumps of tourists and hikers, one fills large plastic bottles with cool spring water spouting from pipes.

Tomorrow we fly to Bucharest, Romania. Marin will pick us up at 6 AM. It's so relaxing not to have to worry about buses or how to get from place A to place B. I'm very grateful to have parents willing and able to plan such a trip and take me along with them.

Posted by zandara 06:57 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Following Lentils

It's 10:30 PM. Thankfully a quiet evening, unlike several nights ago when thumbing music and the crazed shouts of soccer fans filled the night air until dawn, when the raucous sounds were soothed by the calming voice of the muezzin from a nearby mosque. Soccer, or rather football mania. Yesterday, tired after a full day of walking around the city and exploring the Archeology Museum (more worthwhile in my opinion that the Topkapi Palace which was so crammed with tourists I wanted to leave as soon as I entered). I sat on a low fence in Taksim Square and watched a slim man arrange bright red Turkish football team tee shirts on his folding stand not far from a flatbed truck blaring music and selling all sorts of football memorabilia.

I hear the call to prayer again now through John's sixth story window. Zubeyir, the landlord of this expensive ($311 per week) but pleasant 3 bedroom flat, and his father finish a late night dinner with tea. I have to pack as in less than seven hours I'll walk to the stop in front of the McDonalds to catch an early morning bus to the airport. I'll fly west, to Sofia, following the route lentils and barley took thousands of years ago. I look forward to exploring new lands but I feel sad to leave, feel that in a week I've barely scratched the surface of this pulsating, vibrant city.

Posted by zandara 12:49 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Dushanbe to Istanbul

The Journey Begins


Mahmoud picks me up at 3:30, an hour or two before dawn, for the regular Monday morning Dushanbe-Istanbul flight. With only two flights a week, the planes are always full and seats can be hard to come by unless one books far in advance or has special connections (many seemingly impossible things can be done in Tajikistan if and only if one has connections. For example, the director of my school wanted to help her Tajik nanny get an international passport but was told the wait would be at least 3 months, because the country had run out of passport covers. Luckily my director's Russian husband was able to get help from a minister and a slightly bent cover was procured in less than a week).

The airport has new check in counters, but they have done nothing to lessen the crowds. A seething knot of people swarm around the single door into the tiny area where passengers wait to have their baggage xrayed. A uniformed man lets a few passengers into the narrow space at a time. A large woman, hair hidden under a scarf, with a small boy and a large black bag on wheels pushes her way in front of me, turns and says "New York?" waving her printed eticket. I shake my head and wait. Once through the xray machine we wait to be checked in, a very slow process. But unlike Tajik Air flights to Bishkek or Almaty, we have assigned seats. I work on cultivating my patience as the woman in front of me, assited by the US embassy fixer, lugs 2 enormous purple cases and a suitcase on the scale and pays $350 for excess weight ("that's nothing" she said, coming out of Nairobi I had to pay $750). I'm very grateful that after years of traveling I've finally learned to travel light as I finally shoulder my little knap sack and pass through another xray machine to the waiting room.

Unfortunately I have a middle seat, but the people on either side are slim and friendly. The neat, rather delicate Ismaili man on my right had been in country to visit his Pamiri wife who was waiting for a Canadian passport. I learned after moving to Tajikistan that Badakshan, a mountainous region in the west of Tajikistan, along the river that forms the border with Afghanistan, is 99% Ismali muslim, a sect under the leadership of the Aga Khan who as part of his Golden Jubilee plans to visit Tajikistan later in the year.

The flight is uneventful and a little more than 4 hours later the plane flies low over the Sea of Marmara and lands at Atatürk Airport. I slip through the crowds, buy my $20 visa, change money, and quickly find my way to the train which for 1.4 lira whisks me past numerous apartment blocks and the enormous new Ikea building into town. Unsure if one can get change on the buses, I try to buy a small bottle of water from a pizza shop just opening for the day, but the smiling proprietor refuses to accept money, so I smile and accept the small gift and buy a Turkish coffee at a small outdoor cafe.

I'm pleased that the buses are both well marked and air conditioned (and do indeed provide change) and I'm soon standing in one headed for Taksim. Under the brick aquaduct and across the Galata bridge over the Golden Horn we go, up a steep hill offering grand views of the expanse of water and the Eminönü and Unkapani districts of Istanbul.

I arrive at Taksim Square with 30 minutes to spare before meeting John, so I wonder down a street I later learn is Istikal. It's throbbing with people. I stare hungrily at the coffee shops, gaze at deserts stacked in glass cases, wonder into some of the numerous clothes and bookshops shops, somewhat overwhelmed after the dearth of eating and shopping opportunities available in Dushanbe.

At exactly 12 noon I spot John at the Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Republic Monument), which, a quick search of Wikipedia tells me, commemorates the formation of the Turkish Republic. I hug him, smiling hugely, and we agree to a snack at a small cafe with tables on the narrow sidewalk before heading to the room in a flat he's rented for a month.

Posted by zandara 23:20 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)



The first words of my first travel blog . . . what should they be?

It's getting hot here in Dushanbe and my patience with 5 year olds is wanning. I look forward to leaving. There are two flights a week to Istanbul, the main gateway to the rest of the world if you are in Tajikistan. I know my director and one of my students and her family will be on my Monday morning flight. No doubt I'll recognize many others as well.

On June 24 at 12 noon I'll meet John in Taksim Square. He's found an apartment through the Istanbul Craiglist and will have room enough for me to stay for almost a week. Then I'll travel to Sofia, Bulgaria by bus to meet my parents. Thanks to the internet I've learned precisely where I can buy my ticket.

Posted by zandara 02:33 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (0)

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