So, to recap: the overnight train tickets have been purchased to our Plan D destination and we are set to leave Istanbul for Thessaloníki (Greece) at 9:00 on Wednesday night. It was right around here that I made the boneheaded comment (see above) about all being right in the world.
Tuesday arrives and Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad is thumbing languidly through the English-language Turkish newspaper which I had bought during our ticket-purchasing debacle - and which I admittedly hadn't read (or have yet to read) - and announces,
Holy shit. There's a transportation strike tomorrow ... no buses and trains will be running!
And thus it begins ...
We spend the greater part of that afternoon e-mailing people, tweeting ex-pats in Istanbul and scouring online editions of newspapers. This is what we learn:
a) there is indeed a general transportation strike set for the next day. Its intention is to 'send the government a message' - because any other reason to strike would just be asinine. Might I add that the strike date is set for the "Christmas Eve-Eve" of the Islamic world when everyone and their dog are travelling.
b) private bus companies - for example the bus line for which we have tickets to take us into Istanbul - would probably not walk off in sympathy.
c) the ferries which offer travellers a multitude of services (e.g. connecting the bus station to the city of Istanbul) would be striking.
d) there was general doubt if an internationally-bound train would be halted - but really, no one seemed to know.
on top of this, this is what we suspect:
a) if our private bus company - for example the bus line for which we have tickets to take us into Istanbul - is in fact running the next day, we will be unable to get to the train station because local transportation (i.e., ferries, buses and trams) will be not be working.
and this is what we decide:
a) since the strike is set for the next day, we will go into Istanbul after work that night and stay in a hotel
b) we will exchange our bus tickets for a bus which goes to the main bus station rather than the ferry terminal in case the ferries are grounded due to fog.
So, we reserve a room at a cheap hotel near the Blue Mosque, furiously pack our bags, and hie ourselves to the bus station to exchange our tickets. We are able to get seats on an 8:55 bus which is a slight inconvenience since I work until 10:00. No matter, it's exam night and if I have to give my students the answers to expedite the process, I will.
Fortunately, I don't have to, and Mr. This Cat and I barrel off into a pea soupy night. We pat each other on the back. How proactive we are! we say to each other (pat-pat). Ferry service will have definitely been suspended on a night like this. We eventually pass the ferry terminal - and indeed the ferries aren't running (pat-pat) - arrive at the station, hop on a subway, transfer onto a tram - and poof! we are in Sultanahmet. What a shame that the map I printed with directions to the hotel is completely illegible - really, what's the point of printing personal documents at work if they can't be bothered to change the toner cartridge regularly? I probably should have checked that more closely. We wander through empty dark pea soupy alleyways, looking for our hotel, trying hard not to think about the wads of euros stuffed into my socks and the giant bullseyes painted on our foreheads and the rob us! rob us! signs affixed to our backs.
Nonetheless, we arrive safely and spend a joyous evening, indulging in a sybaritic repast of corn nuts and beer. The next day we store our luggage with the concierge - our train doesn't leave until 9 p.m. - and float from one café to the next, one bar to the next, in search of inexpensive time-killing activities (i.e., free wifi) and light refreshment (i.e., beer).
Knowing that we can board our compartment at 8:00, we head back to the hotel, grab our knapsacks, pause to snicker at the Canadian Tire money on display (right next to the Indian rupees) under the glass of the front desk, and make our way to the train station. We approach the International Ticket Counter and see a throng of like-accoutred individuals (knapsack-toters) with mind-numbingly sheep-like expressions on their faces milling about. This does not bode well. I look at Mr. This Cat and ask him to reconnoitre.
Reconnoitre, I ask.
He approaches the throng of like-accoutred individuals (knapsack-toters) with mind-numbingly sheep-like expressions on their faces and asks what the problem is. Baaa baaaa, they bleat. It would seem that no one has had the resourcefulness to make enquiries. The always enterprising Mr. This Cat goes to the ticket window to find our friend, Mr. No. who somehow is able to communicate that our train has been cancelled because of the strike.
Balls. Fucking balls.
Lest a considerable number of its clients as well as a neighbouring country be really miffed at them, TCDD (the train company) has judiciously engaged a private coach to take us to Erdine, the dried shithole Turkish border town with Greece. Mr. This Cat is told to return at 9:00. He imparts this not insignificant travel update to the throng of like-accoutred individuals (knapsack-toters) with mind-numbingly sheep-like expressions on their faces, and we leave in search of light refreshment.
We kill the next hour in a tavern near the train station where not only am I the only female in attendance, but its sole washroom is equipped with a urinal only - not even a toilet à la Turca. I choose not to consider what one does if a Number Two is in order.
We return to the train station and we are greeted by a Frantic Man who, with much gesticulating, tries to usher us directly onto the bus. We still have fifteen minutes, and because of the lack of female-friendly facilities at the tavern, I now have to pee. I pay my lira and pee (sitting down) at the train's w.c. and then we board the waiting bus. It would seem that we are the last to board the bus and there are no seats left together.
The bus driver, who has accompanied me down the aisle - for what purpose I have no clue - calls to the three gypsy women who are sitting separately in three pairs of seats, and asks if they would double up to free one of the deuces. They refuse in an animated fashion and with verbiage I suspect is quite foul. Mr. This Cat and I take separate seats. The bus lurches and shivers and staggers off into the (still) pea soupy night. The man next to me realizes what has happened and stands up, offering his seat to Mr. This Cat. I have unfounded hope that he will be one of the few Turks tomorrow who will not take part in Islam's Festival of Death.
Time passes. I read. Mr This Cat nods off. The largest and closest of the three gypsy women spends the next few hours:
a) shouting to her co-travellers at a volume which belies the fact that they are 6 inches away from her,
b) shouting at herself at a volume which belies the fact that she is no great distance from herself,
c) snoring at a volume which belies the fact that she is a female of her species.
Time passes. I read. Mr This Cat nods off. Because we have been on the road for less than 90 minutes, the bus driver decides that we all need a pee break - which of course is code that he needs a cigarette. We stop, we pee. The bus lurches and shivers and staggers off into the (still) pea soupy night.
Time passes. I read. At around midnight, we are jolted from our respect reveries by the absence of movement. Through the inkiness of the night we can make out:
a) a dried shithole Turkish border town
b) a train station
c) a blacked-out train
d) two Turkish police officers who are approaching the bus.
Two Turkish police officers approach the bus and board. They divide and conquer: one starts at the front of the bus while the other goes to the rear, thumbing through and collecting passports. The younger of the two takes Mr. This Cat's passport and residence booklet and eyes it suspiciously. He fingers it thoroughly until he finds the page with Mr. This Cat's valid dates of residency and then holds his hand out for mine. He takes my passport and residence booklet and eyes it suspiciously. He fingers it thoroughly until he finds the page with my now invalid dates of residency and looks at me. The Young Police Officer Clearly Unversed in Manners mutters something in Turkish. I reply that I am aware that I have overstayed my welcome in his fine country by four days in as polite a manner as possible. Being that the language I choose to communicate this fact to him is English, he doesn't respond.
The Young Police Officer Clearly Unversed in Manners calls over the Nice Old Police Officer. They deliberate while never taking their eyes off of me. Perhaps they consider me to be a flight risk. Perhaps they think that several bricks of hashish are taped to my body. Perhaps they forget that I am trying to leave their country.
You, the Young Police Officer Clearly Unversed in Manners barks, pointing his finger at me, off the bus.
End of Part the First.