Turkish bus companies seem to be slippery about how long it takes to make your way to Istanbul from elsewhere on the Anatolian peninsula. Even with the main drag from the capital, Ankara, they were hardly exacting:
“Between five and seven hours”, was the cryptic reply I was given, both by the bus companies themselves, and the ferocious armies of touts they all employ to snag lost-looking souls with backpacks and throw them on the next bus which needs filling.
“Well, which? Five or seven?”, I asked. I was approaching Europe, dammit, the least I could expect was a whiff of customer service. A helpless shrug of the shoulders was all I was getting from Mehmet at Ulusoy though, who helpfully reminded which platform I’d be leaving from in Ankara’s immense central bus hub.
Sadly, what Mehmet forgot to disclose was that the bus would be leaving half an hour ahead of schedule – along with all my bags, it transpired. Minor panic. Mehmed? Shrug. Taxi? Where to? Shrug.
After a spot of torso-lunging out of the taxi window, waving my arms around frantically to attract the driver’s attention through the impenetrable tinted – and doubtless bullet-proof – windows, he finally relented and I was allowed to board in a dusty lay-by.
“We made an announcement!” protested the driver. “Your bag was here so we knew you were too!”.
Drama over, I was united with my backpack containing treasures from the East, chief among which were the tremendous Tutku biscuits I stocked up on in Samsun. A whirl of vanilla/chocolate biscuit on the outside, they hide a venerable chocolate explosion on the inside, thus making them perfect for any occasion, particularly breakfast.
I munched the Tutku hungrily and settled back for the journey of no fixed duration. It was soon clear just why that was. Istanbul: 10km, read the signs after only a few hours on the road.
An hour or so later, we were still trundling through the outskirts of this immense city, home to 15 million, and slowly descending into the gridlock for which Istanbul is famous. Five to seven hours, indeed – it had been nearly six by the time we stopped for a break in some non-descript neighbourhood. You know you’re in for a long afternoon when you take a break in a part of the same city as your destination.
Moments later, however, we sped over an immense bridge, looking down on the blue waters lined with yacht clubs, restored fortresses and mosques. Here it was – the Bosphorus – the thin sliver of water that separates European Turkey from Asian Anatolia. Here we are. After nearly three months, I’ve made it back to Europe.