September 30, 1998: We went and saw the Sultans Palace. We also visited a carpet shop, and bought some sandals for souvenirs.
This is the Golden Horn River that flows through Istanbul, as seen from the Sultans Palace.
October 1st: At this point Thomas and I had figured that we should probably figure out how we were getting back to Rome, since that is where our airline tickets left from. We explored many possibilities. We thought of flying back, but that was too expensive. We thought of retracing our steps and go back, but that would be too boring. So we decided on the only other alternative that we could come up with. Go North-West through Eastern Europe and get back to Rome that way. Although this represented only a slight problem because neither of us had any clue what the counties along that route were like or even all of the countries we would be passing through. So we bought a map of Europe.
We went and ate at the Chinese Food Restaurant again for lunch. After that we went to the train station and bought tickets to Sofia, Bulgaria. We had the whole afternoon to kill, as the train didn’t leave until the evening. So we went back to the bazaar area by the University and shopped around. Some kid had a “genuine” leather coat that he was trying to sell me. As we didn’t have coats we figured we should get some kind of coat/sweatshirt as it was beginning to get cold in the evenings and we were headed to even least hospitable regions of the Earth. The kid started out wanting something like $120 American for the coat and after a little while of bargaining with him I finally gave him about $20 American for it. And then he sold Thomas a matching one for $10 American. That night we boarded the train for a 11 hour journey to Sofia.
October 2nd: The train took eleven hours to get to Sofia, Bulgaria. When we got off the train we tried to exchange a travelers check but, we had to walk to the downtown area to cash it at a certain bank, it was a real pain in the ass. We ate at KFC, um um delicious. Then we went back to the train station. We had decided in our brief time in Sofia that we did not want to stay there and we were going to move onto Bucharest, Romania. We bought train tickets for the 10:20 train, for 24,000 Bulgarian Lira each, about $15 American. We never saw one tourist during our brief stay, but stuff was cheap anyways. We sat at a cafe and I had a beer and Thomas had a Coke and it was only $1 American. Cigarettes were about 25 Cents a pack too. This is also where I picked up my marvelous magnetic chess set that was to keep us very entertained in the days to come. That night we waited around in the train station until boarding time. When we were getting ready to go this old man came up to us and led us to the train, and showed us where our compartment was and then of course he asked for $10, we gave him two and then ignored him until he left.
October 3rd: We were on the train bound for Bucharest, Romania. We started with an empty eight person compartment. We were alone we spread out and tried to get some sleep. Then at like three in the morning some local people got and crowded into our compartment. There were four of them so Thomas and I sat up and sat across from each other and tried to fall back to sleep despite their chattering. A while later some of their friends decided to come and join them in our car, so we ended up squeezing nine people into the eight person train compartment. At the Romanian-Bulgarian border the customs inspector came and hassled the people because they had like four duffle bags full of cartons of cigarettes which they were attempting to smuggle across. After the border the ticket inspector came to our compartment to check our tickets. He started on the side opposite of me and checked three of the locals and then Thomas, he checked my ticket but when he got to the lady sitting a couple of seats next to me a argument ensued. Apparently the lady did not have a ticket and the ticket inspector grabbed her and was trying to pull her out of the compartment! There were two men among this group and one began to pull on the lady to sit down and the other started grabbing for his huge roll of money while they both exchanged heated comments with the ticket inspector. The skinny man started to push some money in the face of the ticket inspector but he pushed it away and kept tugging on the woman. Now this ensued for several minutes and ended with the ticket inspector finally taking the money and leaving. I have know idea what was being said as they were speaking in either Bulgarian or Romanian, both languages that I don’t know.
We got into Bucharest at 9am. We got a hotel right across from the train station. Two double beds for 105,000 lei ($12 American) a night. We ate at a restaurant across the street, we both had chicken and French fries and a beer for 55,000 lei ($6 American) total. After we were back at the hotel we inquired into getting our clothes washed. The maid came to our room and looked over what we wanted washed and she told us 180,000 lei ($20 American). We told her that was too much. She left and came back five minutes later and told us she would wash them for 85,000 lei ($9.50 American). This time we told her no again, half on general principle of her trying to scam us and half because we still had enough clean clothes to get us to Budapest.
October 4th: It rained all day. The people at the Hotel we stayed at were assholes. We tried to send home a fax but couldn’t because the paper we had written it on was “Too Thin.” We took a taxi to the downtown area, originally the driver wanted 250,000 lei ($28 American), but I talked him down to 40,000 lei ($4.50 American). We had pizza at lunch, and we ate dinner at good ole McDonalds. We figured we could find our way back to the hotel walking but got kinda lost. So we flagged down a taxi but he couldn’t understand that we wanted to go to the train station. So I said “Choo-Choo” and pretended to pull on a train horn. The guy figured it out, and he only charged 30,000 lei to get back to the hotel.
October 5th: We bought tickets for the train. We also sent home a fax. We just generally hung out all day in the plaza outside of the train station and then later moved into the train station. Inside the train station we ate some hotdogs from “Pacos Chicago Style Hot Dog Stand.” They weren’t very good hotdogs. We got on the train at 7pm. We had good sleeping cars, it was 13 hours to Budapest.
October 6th: We got into Budapest at 8am. We got a map of youth hostels from the train station and apparently there was only like two open at that time of year. So we went to the closest one, which required a short ride on the subway. We had to wait a while in the bar of the hostel for a room to open up. For two people it was only like 1 dollar more to get a private room than stay in a large multiple person room, so we went for the private room. It was 1,200 F. ($6 American) each, and my god, it was the smallest room I have ever seen. There were bunk beds, and one of us had to sit down on the bed so the other could get in the room and close the door. After resting for a while we went out into the city to try to find a place to eat. We ended up by the Heroes Square so we checked it out along with some castle type place that was across the street.
Thomas in downtown Budapest.
We walked all over downtown Budapest and finally came across the “Tennessee Grill.” They served burgers and other American style cuisine. We both order a burger and we got mozzarella sticks for an appetizer, which came with of all things mayonnaise. After that we ventured to the other side of the Danube and saw the Castle on the walk back saw the Chain Bridge and went passed the Parliament building. We finished of the night in the bar of the Hostel, where we met up with our soon to be Canadian buddy Perry.