March 17, 2010

Sofia – Istanbul (Balkan Expresi part 2)

Sofia station is sex shops, bars and travel agents, and beer and pizza comes cheap.

Bellies half-happy, we board the Istanbul train, where a Japanese bloke about our age but much smaller occupies the cabin two doors down. Kohei. Kohei wears a jumper called Value And Worth, and we make friends straight away. He’s travelling the Balkans alone, on his first trip out of Japan, and is full of interest and intelligent indignation about littering. He tells us he’s collecting soil samples in each country he visits, and it’s impossible to tell if he’s joking.

The next stop adds two Latvians to Kohei’s cabin, half-pissed and determined to party. They cram into our cabin with armfuls of beer, and tell of their day’s busking in Sofia, their arguments and the night Roland spent in a Bulgarian cell. We play songs on the guitar, and the conversation veers to wildness- they’re major celebrities in Latvia, apparently, and they tired of the paparazzi and are travelling overland to China. No, actually, they’re on the run having committed a murder, and we must never tell anyone we met them. Kohei contorts with confusion, and we smoke three spliffs to celebrate.

Too little sleep finds us at the Turkish border. There’s frost on the platform and a rag-tag collection of blear-eyed travellers colliding slowly in a room with a glass Hatch. We queue for too long in the cold to get our passports stamped, and meet Andrew and Jan, Andrew a print-maker terrified of flying but needing to reach Damascus for work. They’ve both got brilliant faces. We worry that the Latvians might have been busted, but they turn up at the very last minute, Roland without shoes. Hatch, stamp, back to the train.

Welcome to Turkey.

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