Friday, April 7, 2006

Balkans, Bulgarians, & Bimbos

April 7, 2006

As I curled up on the cold hard ground for the night, I thought to myself what do vagabonds, hobos, drifters, and student missionaries have in common? Absolutely nothing! Except for tonight we were sleeping with them. Let me explain, Rheu, Israel, John, and myself had just arrived in Budapest, Hungary at 23:45, that evening. When we got off the train a menacing man with slicked back hair met us. Zig was a man to be feared! He wanted to help us find accommodations. But since we were only there for one night, he wasn't able to find anything. Israel then mentioned to him that we would be traveling thru Budapest later that week. He then proceeded to etch his phone number deep into Israel's memory. He made us swear that we would call him.

After our encounter with Zig, we met two guys from Switzerland, which were about our age. They wanted to know if we knew of a hostel were they could stay. Unfortunately we didn't, despite Zig's best efforts, but I suggested the marvelous idea of all of us sleeping in a park. They liked the idea and it soon became a reality. And there I was sleeping in a dimly lit park, with two strangers, nothing to keep me warm except for my summer sleeping bag, and the body heat from John and Israel.

April 8, 2006

After shivering myself to sleep, I was abruptly awakened to two men walking through the park at four o'clock in the morning. Fortunately they didn't give us any trouble. After checking to see if our Swiss friends were still with us. I tried to go back to sleep. But it was impossible! My toes were freezing. So I decided to go for a walk in hopes of getting some blood circulation back in my toes. Israel was up by this time and was suffering from the same problem, so he decided to join me. For the next two hours we wandered the streets looking for shelter. The only success we had was at a small grocery store, however that didn't last long since we didn't have any Hungarian Forint. All of our money was still in Euros and Czech Crowns. When we got back to the park I was able to go back to sleep, only to be woken up by Rheu an hour later. It was time to wish our new friends goodbye and find the Adventist Church in Budapest.

Lesson learned: sleeping in a park can be miserable, uncomfortable, and dangerous.

As you can image by the time we got to the church we were tired, stinky, and hungry. At the church almost everyone was wearing a suit. No one said a word to us as we walked by with our backpacks and dirty clothes. What would Jesus have done in this situation? I started to wonder if we should have even come. Then a man showed us where we would have Sabbath School in English. Rheu had e-mailed them a week earlier to make these arrangements. Sabbath School consisted of this man and the four of us. Afterwards, the church service was simultaneously translated for us. When church was over, only two people had talked to us. We had no idea as to what we should do next. It wasn't really what we had hoped for, an invite to potluck, happy Sabbath, its nice to see you, anything, would have been nice. Thankfully the story doesn't end there. Faith would have it that we meet one of the most hospitable men in Budapest. Arnold embraced us with open arms especially after we told him about our night in the park. Arnold was in his late twenties and could relate to us. He invited us to potluck and introduced us to everyone. After eating, Arnold suggested that we leave our bags at the church and later that night we could meet him there to pick us up. So with full stomachs and renewed spirits, we headed for the center of Budapest to explore what the city has to offer.

For the rest of the day we leisurely walked around Budapest enjoying the beautiful gardens and massive cathedrals. When the sun had set, we went to the famous thermal baths. When we were finished we met Arnold back at the church. He was kind enough to dive us to the train station and even pack us a meal for the trip. While at the station, Zig spotted us and reminded us of our commitment to him. Lucky Arnold was there to walk us to our train and keep Zig off our trail. Arnold then wished us safe travels—even going as far as getting on our train and making sure we were comfortable! We couldn't even being to express our gratitude to him.

April 9, 2006

We woke up the next morning bearing close to Beograd, Serbia. At the train station, two little kids came up to us begging for money. Instead of giving them money, we gave them each a piece of bread. The next thing we saw was that the two kids were feeding the food to the pigeons while smoking a pack of cigarettes with their mother! Unbelievable!

The rest of the day we spent visiting the few sights Beograd had to offer. We saw and ate at the first McDonald's in Serbia, the Kalemagdan Fortress, and Tito's Mausoleum (which was closed.) Imagine that! We came all the way to Serbia to see the grave of the greatest Communist dictator this side of the Third Reich, and as luck would have it, visiting hours had been over for 3 hours.

So after our attempt to visit Tito's Mausoleum, we decided to head back on the bus. Rheu asked a local teenager for directions back to the train station. Conversation started. When we got off the bus, Rheu, as observant as he is, noticed that some of the buildings were tattered. So curiously, Rheu asked if the city was reconstructing some of the buildings. Stunned, the teenager replied that it was "us Americans who blasted our whole f-'in country". And the history lesson began.

That evening we boarded the night train to Thessalonki, Greece via Skopje, Macedonia. Feeling good about our purchase the previous night for a couchette (sleeping car), we decided to spend the extra money again for another couchette. During some down time, I stepped out into the hallway when a young man ran into me. He apologized profusely—maybe a little too much—and then went on his way. When he came back our way he again apologized profusely. I just said it was okay, a little confused. We then settled into our bunks for a restful overnight trip to Thessalonki.



April 10, 2006

At about two o'clock the porter woke us up and told us that for the remainder of the trip we were going to have to ride coach. I am still not sure exactly what happened, something about the couchette having a flat tire? I don't know. All I knew was that we still had at least five more hours until we arrived in Thessalonki. To say the least, I wasn't thrilled. There was nothing we could do to prevent, stop, or even get a refund. We never saw the couchette or the porter again (and I had even given him a few Euros extra for being so nice to us). What's done is done!

We entered the new car and were quickly ushered into a compartment by the same young man I bumped into in the hallway. With his minimal abilities in English, we communicated with him for the remainder of the trip. He turned out to be 17 years old but looked way older than that. He told us he was on his way back home from Beograd on business (he then proceeded to hump the air while muttering the word 'girls' over and over).

Rheu and I dozed off for a while, while John and Israel stayed up talking to Alex. At about four in the morning, the train stopped for 15 minuets in Skopje. We heard an American voice from the compartment next to us and Israel thought it'd be a good idea to make friends. John, asked her for a pen thus laying the foundation of a friendship. Later she came out in the hallway and started talking to us while smoking a taste cig. For the rest of the night trip we talked with Jessica AKA: "Sweet Thang For You Baby" and Alex.

When we arrived in Thessalonki, Jessica was nice enough to show us around before taking off to her apartment to sleep. We wandered near the waterfront and happened upon the Filipino Embassy. Of course, we had Rheu try to coerce them into a free meal. But luck was not on our side. We found a circular garden near the street and enjoyed our breakfast – bread, cheese, and water—while watching people and cars go by. This was the best memory in Thessaloniki.

We only had 3 hours until our train left to Athens, so we spent them wisely and saw the major site – the ancient ruins of Thessaloniki right in the middle of the modern city. On the bus going back to the train station John struck a conversation with a pretty Greek girl named Lucy. We joined her and her friend over lunch at the station cafeteria. Our departure time had arrived, so we said goodbye but not before John obtained Lucy's phone number. We boarded the train and found out that it was pretty packed with Greeks going down to Athens. John and Israel found seats together and Rheu and I sat together nearby. The elderly folk of Greece are seat sharks as we witnessed countless gray heads swooping in for empty seats when unsuspecting travelers got up to use the bathroom. Not just that, but they had the gall to demand seats from sitting travelers, including a sleeping Rheu. He received multiple nasty taps on the shoulder as an elderly woman who rattled off to him in Greek to give up his seat. Rheu, fuming and embarrassed, got up and left saying: "I'm going to find someone who speaks English." This line was frequently mimicked throughout the rest of the trip. "It's all in the past." We didn't hear from the poor sap until we reached Athens, but apparently he lived it up in first class so it wasn't too bad.

We enjoyed the landscape as the train cut high above landscapes and over beautiful Greek mountains – including the mythic Mount Olympus. 6 hours later we arrived in Athens. We were starving by then and decided to first find a place to eat. We wandered down the streets until we found a small restaurant with cheap enough prices. We ended up eating at that restaurant every night we were there and became friends with the waitress. Later we walked around looking for Hostel Olympus where we were to meet Terra. But at 40 euros a pop, we soon realized that it was actually a hotel and not a hostel. A little ways from the hotel/hostel-wannabe, a man flagged us down and pointed to a sign that read San Remos Hostel. So we inquired the price and found out that Terra was staying at this same hostel. What luck! We met up with her and spent some time talking on the roof. We made plans for the next day and decided to visit the Greek island of Paros. That night we slept comfortably in nice beds with huge comforters. It was the best we'd had in nights.

April 11, 2006

The next morning we woke up at six o'clock, in order to catch the ferry to Paros. After lagging around at the hostel, we rushed to the Metro to try to catch our ferry to Paros. When we got to the port to inquire about tickets to Paros, the lady discouraged us from going because the trip to the island would be too long and we only had a day to spend so that wouldn't fit into our schedule. However, there was a ferry departing later to Aegina. It was either this or nothing. So we bought the tickets and boarded the boat, much to the delight of the saleswoman.

The 40-minute ride to Aegina was restful, most of us slept. When we arrived, it felt like we had wondered into the movie set of Pirates of the Caribbean. There were little fishing boats lined up along the pier. Small boys were throwing breadcrumbs into the water and watching the fish eat it up.

While strolling along the pier we found a fruit and vegetable stand. There were fresh oranges, ruby red strawberries, luscious purple grapes, along with an array of other assorted green vegetables. We then ventured up one of the side streets. The streets were filled with vendors. One shop had octopus stringed on a pole and others had fresh fish. However most of the shops were geared for tourist, you know: postcards, t-shirts, and other assorted junk.

At noon we had arranged to take a bus to the other side of the island. While on the bus, John feeling good about this performance in Thessalonki decided that he would try hitting on the two young women sitting in front of us. Unlike in Thessaloniki, these girls made it clear that they were not interested.

When we arrived on the other side, things looked about the same minus all the tourist and the busy seaport. There weren't that many shops or restaurants, but there was a small beach. We walked along the beach until we spotted an octopus. Immediately I encouraged Israel and Rheu to try to catch it. Israel jumped into the water with Rheu's sandal. After many attempts Israel captured the octopus on the sandal. Feeling comfortable, he then captured it again with his bare hands. By this time, Rheu, recognizing the great photo opportunity, jumped in to catch the poor octopus one last time.

We then climbed up a cliff that over looked the Mediterranean Sea. The weather wasn't the best but we figured that since we were there and we probably would never return we should at least go swimming. There was a little pit that we crawled down into to change into our swimming suits. The water was freezing! After doing a few laps and splashing each other, we had enough. When we got out, it was again refreshing. We then discovered Israel's passport in a puddle of water along with some of his clothes, apparently the wind had blown them into the puddle.

While Terra was changing back into her clothes, John, not realizing that she was changing, looked over and saw her naked. That's right naked! This would become a source of teasing and joking for the rest of the trip and quite possibility the rest of Terra's life. After everyone had gotten back into their street clothes, we walked up a hill that over-looked the town. It was getting hot and we were getting tired. For the remainder of the time, we spent waiting for the bus along the shoreline.

When we finally boarded the bus, we took a short layover at a temple and monastery. While we were looking at the attractions, we meet some French women. They were pretty friendly and spoke fairly good English, which was strange for them being French and all.

When we got to the other side of the island, Rheu, Terra, Israel, and I ate at an Italian restaurant. While we were spending our money foolishly on rationed food, John went on a shopping spree. When we finally caught up with him, he had purchased postcards, a Greek flag, a purse (for his own personal use), and an authentic Greek shirt, which I might add shrunk after he washed it. By this time we were all ready to head back to Athens with the exception of John but unfortunately he was over ruled with a four to one vote.

The Italian restaurant had only gotten our taste buds watering so when we got back to Athens we headed to the gyro restaurant again, where we knew that we would get a square meal and friendly service. Terra decided to try the lamb because Doug had told her that he would tell her everything thing he was thinking if she ate lamb. Now this might not appear to be a big deal but to Terra eating meat is an unforgivable sin.

After dinner, the sun had set and we went to the Acropolis and climbed up this huge rock, were it was said Paul had preached. The view was magnificent! The Acropolis was lit up, there was a cool breeze coming in from the ocean, and the sky was filled with stars. However the moment was interrupted when we heard some ambient sounds coming from a couple lying on top of each other just below us. By this time we were all tuckered out! We went back to the hostel for one of the most comfortable and sound nights of our entire trip.

April 12, 2006

The next morning we woke up bright and early. We had a small breakfast at one of the local coffee and doughnut shops. Rheu had planned the day for us. After breakfast, we waited in line to enter the Acropolis. While waiting, I couldn't help but notice all of the stray dogs. There were dogs of all different sizes. It was like "A Hundred and One Dalmatians" plus "Old Roy", "Beethoven", and "Lady and the Tramp" had come together to form a street gang. At the ticket window, I showed the sales women my teacher ID, thinking I would get a discount, boy was I wrong! Fifteen Euros, just to visit the Acropolis. This became a source of bitterness for the rest of the day considering Rheu, who is a college graduate, got the student discount. Never the less, the Acropolis was worth it. The ticket, fortunately covered not just the Acropolis but also all of the other ruins and museums in Athens. Of course we had to get our money's worth, so for the rest of the morning we spent touring these sites.

Since we had eaten at McDonald's in Serbia, we figured that it would be fitting to continue our MacWorld tour in Greece. Apparently there was a chicken scare because there was no chicken on the menu, but there were veggie sandwiches, which I might add were delicious.

When we had finished lunch we wandered around the city and found our way to one of the city parks. There was a pond surrounded with perennials along with some tall willow trees boarding the edge of the pond with chairs and benches situated under the branches. This looked inviting so we took a break from our sight seeing and simply relaxed. However this didn't last long since Rheu and John were concerned that we weren't going to see all the sights.

We then toured more ancient ruins, which by this time had lost most of its charm. Close to the fence that surrounds Zeus' Temple, Israel and I picked some fresh oranges from one of the trees. Thinking nothing of it, we then proceeded to throw the peals on the ground only to be spotted by an old man who blew his whistle on us. Apparently this was his official job. When he had finished scolding us, he made us pick up every single peal. We then visited the site of the Olympics, it was here the group parted ways. Israel, Terra, and I had seen enough and just wanted to relax. John wanted to climb up some mountain that over-looked the city and Rheu wanted to do his own thing. We decided to meet back up that evening at the gyro restaurant. Rheu ended up joining us while John claimed the mountain.

The four of us discovered that there was a Starbucks in the vicinity so we set out to find it. We wasted a lot of time trying to locate it and then when we found it, the prices were outrageous. But this didn't stops us. When we had finished our drinks and had caught up with the current events (thanks to the complementary English newspapers), we headed back to our meeting place.

By the time the five of us had met up, it was getting late and we had a train to catch. So we had a quick meal and said our good byes to our waitress. We then picked up some loaves of bread for our overnight journey, stopped at the hostel, filled our water bottles, and headed to the train station.

Terra's train was scheduled to depart in ten minutes by the time we had arrive at the station. We quickly helped her find her train and wished her safe travels back to Spain. After Terra had departed, I went to the ticket office to confirm our overnight trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. But as luck would have it, the ticket agent told us that if we wanted to board that train we would have to pay an additional charge of 50 Euro in order to make our connection in Thessalonki, Greece. I was enraged, this was ridiculous, and nowhere in the Euro-rail pass rules did it say anything about this extra charge! We then went to the information window and picked up a timetable to see what our other options were. There was another train leaving later that evening to Thessalonki but it was scheduled to arrive at one in the morning, this meant that we would have to wait until six to board our connection, pushing our arrival time in Sofia to eleven o'clock in the morning instead of eight in the morning. After looking at our budget we had no other choice but to take the local train. We boarded the train later that evening and quickly fell asleep in the reclining chairs in first class (with no extra charge).

April 13, 2006

When our train finally arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece, we found the waiting room and made ourselves comfortable. There were a lot of people in the waiting room considering that it was one in the morning. However we were the only ones that had luggage, so we assumed the rest of them were homeless. After taking the appropriate precautions, I quickly drifted to sleep, as did the others. Only to be woken up 20 minutes later by the security guard. Apparently if you are going to sleep on the benches you must do it sitting up. This made it a little harder to sleep but we were willing to comply. Unfortunately this wasn't our last encounter with the security guard. At two, the security guard woke everyone up this time. He told us that the station was closing and that we had to leave.

Outside the station the four of us evaluated our options. We needed some kind of shelter; it was too cold outside. We decided that John and Israel would search for an Internet café, hoping that they would be able to contact Jessica or John's Greek girlfriend, while Rheu and I would stay and watch the backpacks.

An hour had past and we hadn't seen John or Israel. Rheu and I were freezing; we couldn't take it any longer. We collected all of our belongings and set out to find some kind of shelter. Thankfully we didn't have to go far, there was a 24-hour diner down the street. For the next two hours Rheu and I took turns ordering food every 30 minutes to ensure our stay at this fine establishment. During this time Rheu went back to the station and found John and Israel waiting outside (they hadn't had any luck). At five we were allowed to reenter the station. We boarded our train destined for Sofia, Bulgaria an hour later. By this time we were all really tired and fell asleep right away after securing our spots on the train.

Arriving in Sofia was like stepping back into Communism. All of the buildings were colorless; smoke stacks loomed in the background as a railroad crew tried to clean up the mess of a derailed train in the yard. Inside the massive train station, things weren't that different. Everything was run down. Even the people seemed dreary and hopeless.

Rheu had done a little pre-trip research on Sofia and it turned out that the city only has one attraction: the Aleksandar Nevsky Cathedral. For those of you have never heard of this cathedral, it is only one of the most awe-inspiring buildings in the Balkans! And since the four of us consider ourselves very cultured, it would only be appropriate for us to pay it a visit. Besides that it was the only attraction, what did we have to lose? As we made our way to the cathedral, we stopped at a small strip mall and ate pizza.

When we finally found the cathedral, I was amazed at the building but even more so with the vendors in front of the cathedral. I was astonished! The vendors had a hug selection of Nazi merchandise. They had it all… Nazi guys, Nazi lamps, Nazi helmets, Nazi cameras… if you could put a Nazi stamp on it they had! I was even tempted to purchase a Nazi pen or something small like that but I was afraid that would be endorsing the Nazi Party. After looking the Nazi goods over one last time, I spotted John sitting in the front of the cathedral with a young Bulgarian woman. Interested in what John was up to, I made my way over to where they were sitting.

When I got to the cathedral John introduced me to his new lady friend, Georgina. Georgina was very eager to practice her English with us, however limited it was. She was extremely curious as to what four Americans were doing in Bulgaria. The next thing I knew I was looking at pictures with Georgina of her friends and family, while John quietly slipped into the cathedral. This made for a very strange situation. Feeling betrayed, I told Georgina that I wanted to go into the cathedral and that I would talk to her later.

When I found John, in the cathedral, I immediately began filling him in on what he had missed! When to our surprise, Georgina and her friend snuck up behind us. They wanted to know if they could show us around Sofia. After consulting with the rest of the men we decided that would be ok. But it turned out that they really didn't know were to take us, Rheu didn't like these outsiders, so he took matters into his own hands. He casually wandered from the group and started to take pictures of just about everything in sight. While Rheu was filling up his memory card, Georgina and her friend kept inviting us to their apartment. She finally said with her strong Bulgarian accent, "Do you want to take picture or go with me?" We politely told her that we wanted to see more of the city. Unfortunately we didn't leave the area right away so she continued to follow us around. She then asked me "do you think I am strange?" Being polite I said "no." She then asked if I was telling the truth. What was I to do, say no (it was the truth). I reassured her that I was telling the truth. We finally told her we had to leave but not before she gave us her phone number and e-mail address. She told us that if we changed our mind to call her.

After that we wondered around the city, picked up some food, and reserved two sleeping compartments for our overnight journey to Turkey. When we boarded our train, we were amazed at how nice the conditions were. This was Bulgaria, things were supposed to be run down! We had our own private sink, a place to hang our things, a minor and a desk. John and Israel pared up for the night, leaving Rheu and I in the other compartment. It didn't take us long to get comfortable and fall asleep.

April 14, 2006: Rheu's Birthday

At about two in the morning, the train had reached the border of Turkey. Everyone had to get off the train, leaving our baggage unprotected. Americans were required to purchase a traveling visa, so after paying our dues to the Turkish Government we were permitted to re-board the train. Lucky all of our belongings were still with us. April 14th happened to be Rheu's birthday, so the three of us tried to pin him down and give him his birthday spankings. Rheu didn't like this one bit and began to swing and kick us. It wasn't going to be easy giving Rheu his birthday spanking but we eventually got him tired enough to give him his dues. Afterwards, we crawled back into our berths.

The train finally arrived in Istanbul that afternoon. By this time we were all starving! Conveniently located across the street was a Burger King. We all ordered bean burgers (something they don't have in the States). After eating we, set out to find the Adventist Church. Rheu had gotten the address from the General Conference. We walked through the winding streets of Istanbul observing the beautiful tulips, marveling in aw at the Blue Mosque, and gazing in confusion as we saw our flag being flown up side down. It was apparent that they didn't support the war in Iraq. John suggested that from this point on we should only speak in Czech in public to protect us from any anti-American sentiment. All of us agreed. When we finally found the church, we discovered that the state had shut it down. But luckily there was a woman there, Tina, who had gone to school at Andrews University. She spoke English well and welcomed us in. She was really surprise to find four Americans at the door. She then introduced us to the pastor. We talked with them for a while about our mission in Prague and the Adventist Church in Turkey. Afterwards Tina told us that there was an international church on the other side of the Golden Horn and that she would take us there tomorrow. She also suggested some places where we might stay near the train station.

At the hostel we stayed true to our plan. John attempted to speak Czech to the man at the front desk and then switch to speaking very poor English when the man didn't reply in Czech. We told them that we were from the Czech Republic, which was the truth. We believed that this helped us secure a better price; if it did I really don't know. After settling in we went back out to discover more of the city and to purchase ferry tickets for our trip across the Golden Horn.

While at the Blue Mosque, Israel and I made friends with this Korean-Chinese-German fellow named Ephion. We exchanged stories of where we had been and where we were going. He thought that he was really smart because he spoke English, German, and Chinese. He had an opinion about everything. Besides those credentials, he also worked as a secretary for someone that was very important that worked for the European Union. He hinted that he wanted to tour the city with us (he was traveling alone) so Israel and I introduced him to John and Rheu. Rheu didn't think that there was enough room for two Asians in our group so he began to drift away from the group, trying to cover up his true feelings in the name of photography. Not only that but Ephion wanted to show us "something really cool" while Rheu, the birthday boy, favored the covered Bazaar, the world's largest covered market. There was a struggle going on between the two Asian powers. For some reason we agreed to let Ephion lead us to the Galata Bridge, somewhere we had already been. Disappointed we told Ephion that we needed to buy tickets in advance for the ferry. Ephion thought that this was really strange since we could simply buy them the next day. John told him plain and simple that it was our Sabbath and that we didn't buy or sell on it. This was even weirder for him. He told us that he was going to go buy a sandwich, while we bought our tickets. When we went back to meet him, he never returned. This helped relieve a lot of stress and tension among the group. Ephion got his beef on! Israel and I would mimic this phrase for the remainder of the trip.

Time was running out, the sun would be down in an hour. We went though a covered market however it wasn't the Bazaar. After trying to find a restaurant, we ended up at the place we had begun our day, Burger King. When we finished eating we returned to the hostel for a restful night. We went onto the roof and listened to the mosque as they sang prayers. It was really beautiful and completely different from anything else we had experienced. As we prepared for bed, an old man that worked for the hostel came into our room and began to tell us about all of the "big devils." America, the United Kingdom, and France were all "big devils," but he said that Czechs were good people; they were very polite and kept to themselves. He blamed these nations' influences for the reason why he hadn't gone to the mosques for months. This made for a very uncomfortable situation, if he only knew!

April 15, 2006

The next morning we had breakfast with a French woman at the hostel. She was very opinionated. She said when the French have a problem they let people know, they don't go to work, they riot, and flip cars over. They don't care how long it takes. She also said that President Bush cheated at the polls in Florida implying that legally he shouldn't be President. And like the French, Americans should be upset with their government and handle it in a like manor. None of us were really in the mood to ague and we didn't really want to bring to everyone's attention where our true citizenship belonged, so we let it slide.

After breakfast we went to the pier to catch our ferry across the Golden Horn. On the ferry we observed a young woman that was dressed up, who didn't really know where she was going, it was apparent she was a foreigner. She got off at the same spot we did, where we met Tina and her husband. When we got to the church, the woman on the ferry was there. It's funny how things work out. She was from New York City and had a lot to say in Sabbath School. It was only Tina, Tina's fiancé, her, and the four of us. After Sabbath School, the church service was in Turkish and simultaneously translated into Ukrainian. The translator said everything with just as much power as the original speaker. It was like it was his own sermon. We sat in the back where Sirgay translated it into English for us. The church was amazing; there were so many people there from different backgrounds. There were Moldavians, Turks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, and Russians. It was also said that this was the only Seventh –day Adventist Church in the country and that there were only four real Turks. All of the others had immigrated to Turkey for a better life.

When church was over an elderly lady invited us to spend the rest of the day with her on her island. John and Rheu were hesitant because we had to catch our train to Belgrade that evening and they wanted to see more of the city. However when she mentioned that she was going to feed us, we decided to go after she promised that we would be back in Istanbul by 5:00. Sirgay joined us on the 30-minute ferry ride to the island. When we got to the island the woman gave each of us a grilled cheese sandwich and told us to get into one of the horse carriages waiting outside the terminal. Everyone got in, except the lady, she gave the driver some money and then wished us goodbye. That was the last time we ever saw her. Cars were prohibited on the island so everyone walked or rode on their horse. The town reminded me of an old western movie. Most of the streets were dirt. The buildings resembled Spanish architecture. The carriage driver took us outside the town and into the mountains. When we go to the end of the trail we got off with Sirgay. Sirgay then told us that we were going to have to walk for the remainder of the trip because the trail was too steep for the carriage. When we finally reached the top we rested on some rocks that over looked the Sea of Marmatha. The warmth of the sun beat down on us as we sat there in silence reflecting on where we had been and all of the amazing people we had met along the way. We had reached a solace. It was the perfect place to spend Sabbath. Time went by really fast and before we knew it was time for us to start walking back to the ferry terminal. When we got back to the town, Sirgay surprised us and bought all of us ice cream. It really meant a lot to us.

When the ferry arrived in Istanbul, we wished Sirgay good-bye and thanked him for everything. The church people in Istanbul had such big hearts; we had no way of repaying them for all of their hospitality. I can't wait to see all of them in Heaven.

By this time the sun had gone down. We ate at an authentic Turkish restaurant, much to the delight of John. We had an assortment of vegetables, and chicken wrapped up in a flour tortia, it was delicious. We then made our way back to the hostel to gather up our baggage and picked up some food for our night journey to Belgrade. When we got to Sirkeci Station, I talked with the ticket agent to confirm our trip and to reserve a couchette. However the ticket agent told me that this train didn't exist, much to my surprise. So we weren't going to Belgrade or even Sofia, we were going to go to Bucharest, Romania, where we would make a connection to Budapest. The bad news was that the journey was going to take 42 hours instead of our original 30-hour trip. But there was some good news as well; the agent said that we could purchase tickets for a thru couchette all the way to Budapest. We bought the tickets and boarded the train shortly after.

While making ourselves comfortable in our private couchette, we were interrupted by the conductor who told us that we were going to have to make room for a Bulgarian woman. We were a little distraught about this since she had a lot of luggage and she wasn't that skinny but we made due. John tried speaking to her in Czech, thinking that Bulgarian might be similar. However most of the conversation was done through hand motions. She was really nice to us. She even offered some candy. After that everyone got comfortable in their bunks and fell asleep, that was the last time we saw the Bulgarian woman, she apparently got off the train at some point that night.

April 16, 2006

The next morning we woke up in the northern part of Bulgaria. For breakfast we had bread and water. There wasn't much to do on the train so we relaxed and watched the countryside go by. When we arrived at the Bulgarian-Romanian boarder the train stopped. The customs officer noticed that Rheu was from Texas. He then said very seriously, "Houston, we have a problem." All of us thought it was really funny except poor Rheu. After customs cleared the train we crossed over the Danube River. On the other side, a lady boarded the train. She gave us a paper to fill out and sign that stated that we didn't have Avian Flu. The woman then closed all of our windows. We really didn't know why she did this so after she had left we put them back down. Israel and I then put our heads out the window to take in the sights. As the train moved forward we went through, (I don't know what it is called maybe), a train wash. Anyhow both of us got sprayed. This was a precaution to prevent the spread of Avian Flu. I don't think it was harmful, at least I haven't noticed any problems. It probably actually helped protect us from the flu.

It wasn't long after that we arrived in Bucharest. To our surprise we discovered that the sleeper wasn't going all the way to Budapest. When we got to the station we rushed over to the ticket agent. Since we were taking a new route we had to buy tickets for our portion of the trip that was going to be in Hungary, before we arrived in Budapest. When we got everything sorted out we wanted to continue the MacWorld tour so we made our way over to McDonald's.

We didn't have much time. When we got to the platform, the conductor of our train told us that we would have to pay a reservation fee if we wanted to board. He then told us that there was another train leaving for Budapest and that we wouldn't have to pay any extra fee. When we got onto platform seven, we asked a guy where the train to Budapest was. He pointed over one platform and said that it was pulling out of the station! We ran down the platform and jumped onto the moving train in the nick of time.


On board the train, gypsies surrounded us. John had brought his meal from McDonald's onto the train and one of the boys to pointed at John's hamburger. The boy wanted a bite. John shook his head at the boy and then reached for his coke. The boy then motioned to John again indicating that he wanted to have a drink as well. John then smiled at him while holding the cup by his face and said, "No this is my drink!" John took a big gulp in front of the gypsy boy. After that incident I went out to find our sleeping accommodations, which was quite hard since they were nonexistent! We had been duped! So it looked like we were going to be riding with the Gypsies for the next night. But luckily, we found two empty compartments at the front of the train. John and Israel took one, while Rheu and I took the other. We were able to spread out across the seats. It wasn't too bad, but it wasn't a sleeper.

April 17, 2006

The next morning we were in Oradea, Romania. This happened to be a boarder station. John was really hungry and decided to get off the train and search for food. When he tried to get back on board the boarder patrol wouldn't let him. They thought that he was trying to sneak across the board. However it didn't take them long to realize that he wasn't Romanian and that he belonged on the train.

As the train pulled into Keleti Station in Budapest, we only had a few minutes to catch our connecting train to Prague. So when we got off the train we rushed to the departure board. We found our train and headed to platform five. When we got to the platform the train had already departed but luckily there would another train to Prague later that day. We were all hungry so, we looked around for alternatives to McDonald's but couldn't find anything appealing. Feeling famished, we all settled for McDonald's except John who was still determined to find an alternative.

After eating, we met up with John and went to a cathedral where we chilled outside the entrance. Rheu was feeding the birds bread. He thought that it was really funny to throw the bread at us and then watch all of the pigeons flock around us. Real funny, Rheu! The joke was really on him. A feather got stuck on his chin and he didn't know it. We all started laughing at him. I even took my camera out, but unfortunately he figured it out before I could snap a picture. After that incident Rheu and John went off and did their own thing, while Israel and I were too tired to do anything else. So we went back to McDonalds, where Israel checked his myspace.

At 6:00 we boarded our train and we were back at home that night.

What's done is done, its all in the past, lesson learned.

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