A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Overnight train to Sofia

We took our first overnight train from Istanbul to Sofia in a 6 person couchette which is essentially a tiny room with three bunk beds on either side. As we have been in private rooms our whole trip thus far, it was a bit of a shocker for us to be in such cramped quarters with four other people (and a kid). It brought me back to my first overnight train in France years ago, huddling with my backpack on the top bunk and not wanting to give up my passport in the middle of the night to some strange man, who only later I realized was the conductor.

We shared the room with a couple from Switzerland and their cute little girl that had a strawberry shortcake knock-off doll that was knocked too many times in the head, slurring out a pitiful song and jerking around epileptically. As kids travel free around here if you can put them in your bunk or bus seat there are usually kids crawling all over the place, families are not afraid to travel in Europe. The other bunkmate was a nice guy from South Korea, a Tae Kwon Do teacher who scaled the bed and leapt to his bunk on the top with the deftness of Jackie Chan.

In addition to the confined space, it was blustering hot even with the window open. We both knew we were going to have a tough time sleeping so I inquired about drinks and was directed to the Romanian train car. Bumping back and forth into the walls as I traversed the narrow, dark hallway like I was already drunk, and nearly getting caught between the train car doors, skirt slipping into its death grip where I couldn’t go forward or back. My heart beating faster, what am I doing? I finally found the conductor who sold me two warm beers in the can, no excuse me it was the Romanian King of Beers! Success! It helped ease the hours until we tried to sleep through the sweat and the smell. My god! someone had bad, bad gas.

A couple hours later we got to the Bulgarian border and had to get out for passport control. Ron and I put on our shoes and bolted from the train, eager to get through the line and back to sleep. We were number 6 or 7 in a line that went out the door but when we got to the front the officer was not at all happy with Ron’s passport. He scanned it a couple times and frowned, trying to turn the monitor to show us the incomprehensible message it was returning. Mine was no better. We were directed aside the line and stood there another hour as everyone passed, the visa stamps flying.

At last the place had emptied and the officer pounded our numbers into the computer, made an angry phone call, photocopied our passports and finally relented into stamping them. What’s wrong, we never found out. The only thing I could think is that other than looking Spanish, a lot of people think Ron is Turkish, so maybe they thought he was trying to escape the country with a fake passport? Whatever the case, our plan to be on and off the train the quickest backfired and we limped back to the broiling train to frustrated stares of the other passengers being held up by the suspect Americans.

We thought that was the end of passport control but we were woken up an hour later and again an hour after that to get more stamps. Welcome to Bulgaria, we have inefficient border security procedures but once you’re in everything is pleasant and cheap!


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