On the Bus to Istanbul

The bus ride from Sofia, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey.

I don’t remember everything well. We boarded the bus on December 12, 1980.

It was a Friday and it was late afternoon. All the seats filled up by other tourists and Turkish people. We found empty seats toward the end of the bus. I sat on the left side of the aisle with Krisztina beside me. Arpad sat on the right side of the aisle beside a stranger. I don’t remember too much of it. We crossed Bulgaria from Sofia on the Western side to the South-East border crossing to Turkey. It was in December and the days were short. It was dark when we boarded the bus. After two or three hours the bus stopped for a toilet break, at Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria. After the rest stop the bus continued the trip into the night. We slept until we reached the Bulgarian-Turkish border where the military guard took our passports for inspection. When he had all the passports he descended the bus and we all had to wait there for his return. Fifteen to thirty minutes later he returned and beginning at the front seats he handed back the passports to their owners. One by one he opened each passport and looked inside and then looked at the person the passport belonged to, before he returned it.

He did this at every row, with each person sitting on the seats on each side.

When he reached the row we were sitting in, he opened my passport looked at the photo inside, looked at me and instead of giving it back to me he started turning the pages one by one and looking at each page very carefully. Seeing this, my mind started racing and for a couple of seconds that seemed like an eternity I was sure he is going to take us off the bus and return us to Romania. We were told at the Turkish Embassy, we didn’t need visas to enter Turkey but at that moment, I was sure that was not true. He was looking for the stamp on my passport that allowed us to enter Turkey and I didn’t have it, I thought. Finally he looked at me and than he pointed at Krisztina, who was sleeping on the seat beside me. That is when I understood what he was looking for. He was looking for Krisztina’s name and photo in my passport. She didn’t have her own passport because of her young age and her photo and name were applied to Arpad’s passport. Relieved, I pointed to Arpad and the officer understood to look for her information in Arpad’s passport. After he did that he handed back our passports. The joy we felt was equal to the big scare we felt before. He handed back all the passports, except for one. The person sitting next to Arpad had to follow the officer off the bus, we don’t know why. He didn’t return to continue his trip. For us the rest of the bus ride was a happy ride. We rolled into Turkey and at Edirne we had to leave the bus and stand beside it with our luggage until we were cleared by customs. Edirne, the first Turkish city we encountered, will always be in our remembrance. It is the city where we reached freedom. We left the communist countries behind and were outside the iron curtain. In the morning we reached Istanbul the city that emperors fought to conquer. Once belonged to the Greek Empire then to the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Now we felt like we were conquerors too.

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