Friends are visiting Istanbul so I decided my next adventure would be taking the overnight bus there from Ankara. The buses are quite nice compared to those of long-distance haulers in the States–viewing screens in the back of each seat, decent headphones, reserved seating, and a guy who offers water, tea, and biscuits a few times throughout the trip, all included in the cost of the ticket. A friend took me to the main bus station and gave me the low-down on how to find my bus: ask at the counter and you will be told a range of ten numbers. Those are the bays in which your bus could possibly be parked in. My bus was to depart in bays one through ten. Easy, right? Nope, more like the opposite.
Friday began the exodus of thousands of Turks to visit family members. The 24th through 27th is Kurban Bayrami or Bayram, a religious holiday when cows or sheep are sacrificed and the meat given to the poor. Most schools are closed all week (my school, however, is in session Monday and Tuesday) so everyone seemed to be heading out of town in the wee hours of Friday night. My friend got me to the bus and ensured I was in the correct seat. Soon after he left, a woman stood in the aisle next to me and after looking at me, then her ticket, then me again, explained that I was in her seat. Come to find out that I was in the correct seat but on the 23:30 bus and my bus departed at 23:45. Off I go and begin looking for my bus. Due to the thousands of people at the bus station that night, I seemed to be swallowed up and dragged along by the crowd, all straining to find their buses as was I. Panic set in as 23:45 came and went and I didn’t see my bus. When questioned, a supervisor seemed to tell me that the bus was late. I went inside to the bus company’s counter and pushed my way to the front of the line but no one even looked my way. I was near tears and ready to catch a taxi back to my lojman when I thought I’d give it one more try. Not sure why because it was then midnight and my bus was scheduled to depart fifteen minutes earlier. I asked another supervisor who asked someone else and found out my bus was scheduled to depart from bays 110-118 which were downstairs. Downstairs? I didn’t know there was a downstairs loading area and I only saw stairs going up! Frantically scurrying through the terminal, I found the stairs leading down and spotted the bus outside the doors. It wasn’t my bus but two down from it I found the 23:30 to Istanbul. Relief like you cannot image swept over me. Shortly after I boarded, two men followed and the bus left the station at about ten minutes after midnight.
I had been given directions on how to take the Metro from the bus station in Istanbul, then transfer at a certain station to a train which would take me to my destination, the Sultanahmet stop near the Blue Mosque. Three people on the bus were all giving me new directions and I ended up following those of a young man who works at Bilkent University, on whose campus my school is located. He actually led me off the bus, over the street, through a parking lot and into the Metro station, bought the tokens for both the Metro and the train, and pointed me in the direction of the platform where I needed to wait. So helpful–don’t know how I would’ve found the Metro station without him. And all went well from there. Arrived Istanbul shortly after sunrise and met my friends, Jordan and Amanda, for coffee about an hour after departing the bus station. A long night but who can complain when in Istanbul?