I'm ashamed to say I spent most of my final 2 days in Istanbul in a pub, watching the cricket. I think culture is over rated anyway.
Had so much fun it was unbeleivable though. Started off with a pub of about 40 aussies and 5 brits and ended up with the complete reverse! Met a lad called Andy who notcied my Cuths day tshirt. Turns out he was a cuthsman and was with a mate from Aidens. Pretty small world!
I did see a few sites, including the blue mosque which I finally got to outside of prayer time. It was absolutely wicked inside and a good place to chill out and read up on Islam.
As Ramadam had just started the nights were really good fun, everyone breaking their fast at around 7ish causing all the cafes and restaurants to be overflowing and the local parks were also full of families all out picnicking. It was also the first time I could walk down the local bazaar without being swarmed with shop owners as they were all busy tucking into kebabs!
I left Istanbul on Sunday night to head to Varna in Bulgaria. The train journey was about 14 hours, of which about 4 were spent getting across the Bulgarian border!
There were only two of us in the carriage which fitted 6. The other guy was an American called Zach who lived in Morocco and travelled about as and when he fancied. After chatting for a while I found out he was a maths teacher back home - boy did we have fun!!
I had to change trains at 8am. I had looked at the timetable and saw I had 45 minutes to do this and if I missed it there was a 10 hour wait to the next one. Just my luck, the train rolled in to the station 42 minutes late! I legged it to the main platform and realised I had no idea which train I had to get on as, as is the case with everything here in Bulgaria, the destinations were all written in Cyrillic, meaning that I was in fact looking for Bapha, not Varna.
To make things even more fun, hardly anyone speaks English out here so I just ran around asking people "Varna? Varna?" until a lady pointed me on board a train. When I was on, the ticket inspector came around and as with most trains I should have had a reservation, on top of my interrail ticket. This was only 5 leva (about 2 pounds) but as I had come straight from Istanbul i only had lira and euroes. I tried to explain this to the inspector, but she had no idea what I was saying. I offered her 4 euroes, which was more than enough, but she seemed to have never come across them before.
Eventually, a Bulgarian woman walking by overheard what was happening and luckily for me it turned out she was a nurse who had just returned from Croatia. She spoke limited English, but talked the inspector in to taking my money, so I could continue on my travels.
Although I have to say, I wish I hadn't bothered. Varna is a pretty nice place, but I've had a crap time here. It started from the station, the usual collection of taxi drivers rushing over, which is no big deal. I avoided them and walked clear of the station so I could work out where to go. I had the impression the Varna was a small sea side resort, but was very wrong. There aren't many hostels here and the one I was going to was described as "in the centre". There was no map in the lonely planet for some reason so I just set off, wandering about.
2 hours later I still hadn't found it and not a single local seemed to have heard of the place, so I gave in and went back to the station to get a taxi driver to take me there. I asked how much it was and all he would say was "computer, meter" which seemed ok. A sign said it was 0.89 leva per km, which was fair enough and his meter was clearly counting distance in units of 5 metres.
I had been warned by the lonely planet that "taxi drivers in Varna are a-holes" and this was confirmed when after 2005 metres he hopped out, locked the door and said it was 20 leva (about 10 quid) to where he had taken me.
This was a ridiculous price and I told him so, I knew it should be around 2 leva, but he insisted differently. Considering I knew you could get a 2 course meal and a beer for 5, I knew he was taking serious liberties.
After about 5 minutes, I convinced him to let me pay him 10 leva, still 5 times over the going rate, but a minor victory in some ways. Anyway, I got out with my bags and looked at the hostel. The door was boarded up and all that was left was a sign that said "Flag Hostel, ring this number". Great i thought...
I rang it and to my suprise there was an English guy on the other end. He said he would come to meet me and give me a room.
It turns out he is possibly the biggest prick I have ever met. When he came down, he said he had bills to pay and that it would take a few minutes. I wasn't best pleased after what was now 17 hours since I had left, but i followed him.
It took us almost 20 minutes to get there and when we did there was a massive queue outside. "O yeah, there's always a queue, it pissed me off, takes me over an hour every time"
I couldnt quite believe this, what a way to greet a new customer, and true to his word it took an hour to get to the front. Whilst we were queuing all he would talk about is how shit everywhere and everything is "yeah, i been to istanbul its shit isnt it. where you off to next? bucharest? mate that place is proper shit. i left london to come here cos it was such a shit place to live and now im here and ive found out bulgaria is even shittier" just the sort of thing to tell someone travelling the continent....
Anyway, after we had done this he took me back to the hostel (they had moved location as the old one was partially destroyed from a fire, although the new one was hardly much better) and he decided he had to check his emails before he could show me to my room... another 10 minutes gone. Finally he decided he could bring himself to do his job, which involved getting his Australian helper to take me across town to an appartment which fit 4 people. Those 4 beds were gone so she had to pump up an air bed for me and put it in the kitchen... By this time I was just happy to have somewhere to lie down, so I did just that until about 7. The aussie girl had told me that everyone goes out for drinks on the beach at 8 and invited me to join them.
I headed over and ended up having a really good time, there were about 12 of us, a mix of american, australian, kiwi and british backpackers and we sunk a load of local beer on the beach before moving to a restaurant and then to a cocktail bar (apparently famed for having the world record number of cocktails on sale - 2200 they claimed, but no flirtinis!!)
Afterwards we headed to a beach bar and knocked back more beers and some tequilla (which I still bloody hate)
This went on until about 4 when we headed back. When I got back in I stumbled around, putting sheets on the bed etc and went to sleep. This was until around 6 when I woke up to be sick. At first I assumed it was the booze, which was odd as Im not often sick from drinking, but I then woke up again at 630, 7, 730 and pretty much every half hour to be sick once again. I can only assume it was food poisoning from the fish I had eaten the night before, as it carried on until about 7pm. I think I must have set a record for number of times being sick in one day, not a good one to hold.
After spending the whole day in bed being sick I was in no mood to get the 10pm night train to Bucharest as I had planned, so decided to stay another night. There was no way I was going out that night, so just stayed in and went to bed around 10. I woke up at 9am feeling a lot better but absolutely parched as I had even been throwing up after water the next day. I put down some water and felt as good as new thank god.
Today I've just been chilling on the beach, finishing off my first book of the trip and am about to go and have my first meal since the fish I had 2 nights ago. Tonight I'm heading to Bucharest but I hear that it isn't that great a city, so I'm considering just heading straight on to Brasov, in central Transylvania.
Hopefully this will be a bit more enjoyable than Varna has so far, which has been made even worse by the news that Everton lost to Burnley and Liverpool lost to Villa. Had either result been the other way around I would have won around 300 quid on each, so its a bit of a disaster that they both lost... 10 quid well spent...
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