For the most part, my two week stay in Istanbul was a pleasant experience. Minus some of the worse bathrooms I’ve ever encountered and also what’s known as “Istanbul intestines.” The night that my partner and I decided to leave, we went to look for a train to take us to Sophia, but since the computer systems were (always) down, we had to take a bus. We were instructed to go talk to the tourist agency around the corner. The man at the desk offered to buy us the tickets and have them delivered to the shop. I was a bit ill, and I didn’t feel like looking into it myself, so it seemed like an OK idea.
I don’t usually right about the bad things that I run into on a trip just to say negative things about someone or a company, but I would truly hate for someone to run into the situation that my partner and I did. So because you’re reading this article, you won’t run into the same problems, and most likely won’t leave Turkey with a bad taste in your mouth.
The guy gave us the tickets and we gave him the money. He pocketed 20 lira and left. There were always Turks trying to make a buck, so figured “whatever.” We get to the bus station, get our official tickets, and the lady behind the desk says “Give your bags to the man over there.” And we did. We gave the bags to the man, he put tags on them, and then gestured for use to go upstairs. We waited until the time came to enter the bus, about 8:30pm. Another bus driver looked at us and said “Sophia.” We said yes. He told us to get on. No one asked to see our tickets for the entire trip. As the bus was pulling out, my partner and I asked one of the drivers if we were on the right bus. We showed him our tickets and our baggage tags, and he said yes, there’s no problem. So we assumed there wasn’t any problem, and proceeded to relax while other people argued over their seats. Some people really wanted two seats to themselves, so they decided to sleep on the bus floor.
We arrive at Bulgarian customs and learned that our bags weren’t there. We couldn’t believe it, at first. But then we realized that sense and logic didn’t seem to be a part of this company’s moto. Other passengers told us that this company couldn’t be trusted. A young Turkish girl touched my shoulder and said “You’re in a bad part of the world.” The bus drivers didn’t have much to say except that they were really sorry, and that they would give us a ride back to Istanbul and another ticket free of charge to Sophia. What was suppose to be a 10-hour bus ride, was turning into what looks like a 36-hour trip. All because we took the crew’s word at the bus station.
We waited for a few hours at customs, and then headed back to Istanbul, praying our luggage would still be there. After this we feel we couldn’t really trust what anyone said. Especially when the other passengers were saying “Head back to Istanbul, and make sure you get your luggage.” We arrived at the bus station at 6:30am the next day, and we’re greeted with the worst bus station clerk anyone could imagine.
“Hello” my girlfriend says. “Our luggage was left here, and we came back to get it.” “Why did you leave it here? You were suppose to take it.” He responds rudely. “The man took our luggage, put a tag on it, and said we were OK to get on the bus.” She responds. “What man?! What was his name?” He begins to raise his voice. And none of them are wearing name tags, so we’re assuming this is part of the scam. Thankfully our bags were still there. I grab them, and I say “Just give us our money back.” He gets violently angry and starts waving a calendar around as if the month of August was suppose to be frightening. “You don’t know where you are! You’re not in Europe! You’re in Turkey! You don’t go demanding money!” He screams. And I’m thinking, “I knew I wasn’t in Europe when I first walked into one of your bathrooms.” But none the less, if we were, we wouldn’t likely be dealing with an impulsive bus station clerk.
“You want your money, go to the police.” He said. Which was another one of his scam techniques. I said back, “Just give us our money, or we will.” “YOU LEAVE RIGHT NOW BEFORE I CALL THE POLICE!” He shouted. “Call the police, call them right now.” I respond
ed. “No, you go!” Learning how far from reason this man, and everyone who we dealt with at this company was, we left. We also learned that there were only traffic police around, and no one that could help us deal with this situation. As I walked out I pulled out my phone to take a photo of this poor guy. I said “Tell the world what you think about Europe.” And this was his response.
After that, it wasn’t too long of a walk to find another bus station that offered professional services. Only about 20 meters away. A company called “Metro” ran their system like anyone would except.. From Europe anyway. They checked our passports, our tickets before we got on the bus, and made us sure that our bags were on the bus. The metro buses were a lot cleaner, and the attendants spoke English, unlike the workers for Alpar.
What the poor clerk didn’t seem to understand, is that his job at this bus station depends on tourists, to a degree. And as more and more people travel, and learn the type of behavior that he exhibits at his company, the more likely we will lose his job, and finding himself serving kebabs.
So save yourself a headache. Take the redline on the metro yourself to the main bus station. Go to “Metro” bus station, pay the extra 15lira, and enjoy the ride to Sofya.
And thank you Alpar, for making Bulgaria seem like just an enchanted place.