For all my talk about Bulgaria being a chance to ‘catch up’ and to make the most of the fast internet and low prices, the month seems to be degenerating into yet another travel opportunity.
I have now left Bulgaria and taken a bus to Istanbul in Turkey. It cost a bargain €20.
Istanbul has proved a fascinating break for me. I have been here before, circa 1979 (yes I’m that old), but it feels very different this time.
Istanbul was very much on the 1960s-70s ‘hippie trail’. As a teenager stuck in suburban England I used to pour over books about the overland route used by the ‘hippies’ to get to Goa and Kathmandu (or sometimes Thailand).
This route diverged at Istanbul to go in various directions, meeting again at the India/Pakistan border. I simply couldn’t wait to go do this journey myself. There was a magazine called the BIT guide; it was really just some photocopied sheets stapled together with information and advice from people already on the trail and bound together with a pink cover. I read it so many times that it was torn to pieces and the ink was all smudged. Even now I can still recite some paragraphs from it by memory.
The thought of leaving home and travelling the hippie trail, meeting cool likeminded people and leaving my suburban roots behind became one of the main things that kept me going through some pretty dark teenage years.
In typical fashion, by the time I got old enough to do it all the routes onwards from Istanbul were effectively closed off. I travelled to Amsterdam and then on to Greece and finally Istanbul. Then I had no idea what to do next. Lebanon were involved in a civil war, Iran were having their revolution and Russia had invaded Afghanistan, meaning that Istanbul had effectively become the end of the road.
It was probably just as well; I’d run out of money before I left Athens and was really just surviving on handouts and other people’s leftovers.
I remembered my previous trip when I came across a restaurant called The Pudding Shop. It is now effectively a tourist trap but back in the day it was the main meeting place for alternative travellers in Istanbul, who left messages for one another on the notice board offering rides or advice, or trying to get in contact with people they’d met on the road (no Facebook in those days). In 1979 it was a great place to hang out, meet other travellers and bag a cheap (meaning free) bed for the night.
For movie fans, The Pudding Shop features in Midnight Express.
* Unfortunately none of my 70s photos have survived the past 37 years of house moves, travel, separations, storage units, theft and various other stuff that life has thrown at me, so all these pictures are from my current trip.
* The hippie trail also branched off to Essaouira in Morocco, somewhere I also re-visited comparatively recently, which you can read here.
Istanbul has had a few little brushes with terrorism this past year of course. This has left tourist numbers a little low (amongst Western tourists anyway, visitors from the Arab world are still coming) and the prices are reasonable; it is not the bargain destination of Bulgaria/Serbia and such, but it is not so expensive either.