The last time I was crossing the Hellspont and descending on the capital of Byzantium, I had just concluded my drang nach osten- the drive eastward.
I was spending the semester studying in Prague, and I had begun my week in Krakow with my roommate Brother Shane, Jose and his friend Tracy. We had come to Krakow for the weekend, and Shane and I had gone to see Auschwitz. I can remember feeling so hollow and empty as I walked through the camp, and yet shocked that I found the symmetry of the wires and towers amid the autumn to be sadly so beautiful. I can still remember the smell of Birkeneau, and the feeling of knowing this place in a nightmare.
But I digress. My compatriots were heading back to Prague for class, but I realized I had the day off Monday and decided I would take Tuesday off as well and head to Warsaw. Ah, but it was Thanksgiving that week, and we had vacation from Thursday on. So I decided I might as well take the rest of the week off and wander around Central Europe. Shane mentioned he and some of the Prague classmates were heading to Turkey for Thanksgiving break, so I decided that I would meet them. Since we were heading towards the Middle East, I told Shane to bring me some swim shorts and we would go swimming in the Black Sea. And thus began my drive eastward.
I went on to Warsaw, and from Warsaw to Budapest. From Budapest to all sorts of Transylvanian adventures (I got thrown off a train, but that is a story for another blog). From Bucharest to Sofia, and on a midnight express to Istanbul.
I arrived in the wee hours of the morn to a Turkish bus station, which was akin to a Turkish prison. I couldn’t figure my way out or find an exit. Finally, I found a security guard, but he didn’t speak a lick of English. I threw out the word “exit” in every language I could muster, but he was at a loss. Finally, he just motioned for me to come with him.
He took me to an office, where all the other security guards were having their pre-dawn Ramadan meal. Ramazan in Turkey. The security guards who spoke English began chatting with me about what I was doing there. I explained I was lost, had no money on me and needed to get to a hostel. They smiled, and small guard with a small mustache told me to have a seat and a meal with them, and they would get me on my way.
The security guards proceeded to feed me the most delicious meal of Turkish lentil soup with rivers of cream and some indescribable flaky savory pastry in a soup-sauce gravy. Sweet baklava and sweet coffee for dessert.
Then they escorted me through the bus station, with the sleeping vagrants in the alleyways. They took me down to an atm where vagrants were sleeping inside. The small guard with the small mustache held up one finger to me to hold on a sec, then some of the security guards went into the ATMs and forcefully dragged the vagrants out. After they were removed, with palms up he beckoned me to enter. I took out millions of lira, and was on my way. They took me to the roof, to find a taxi. They told the taxi where to take me, and told him the price. He started to argue with them, and they silenced him. “Please enter, my friend,” said the small guard with the small mustache. I bade them thanks and they bade me safe travels and I sped into the night to the hostel. I got my bed and slept well.
The postscript was that the next morning I went to the hostel lobby to ask where I could find the internet. “I need to check my email so I can find my friends,” I told the fellow at the lobby. “You have already found them, they are here,” he replied. I laughed and told him I was looking for half a dozen Americans. He smiled, and said they were on the second floor. Sure enough, I went up to check and by chance found them all there. Merhaba to Turkey.