If you have come to this blog chances are you were searching for information on Bulgaria. Well, you have come to the right place — and mind you — in the next few days, you will also get access to information on:
- Getting from Bulgaria to Turkey / Istanbul
- some places to stay in Istanbul
- and of course tons of info on sites and interesting places to visit in Istanbul
So, here we go with the first information piece "Travel from Bulgaria to Turkey / Istanbul"
As usual, there are multiple options for getting from Bulgaria to Turkey and Istanbul specifically. You can get there via
- plane: turns out the only fiights we could locate were from Sofia airport; asked for flights from Plovdiv (recently opened airport) and were told that none existed yet. The flights to Istanbul were not exactly convenient. The only airline that flew directly was Turkish Airlines; All others (British Airways, Lufthansa…) included detour back to London or Munich or….really crazy itinerary given that Istanbul is Southeast of Sofia and those other cities are way West from it…! As a result of this we decided that air travel was not the option we will pursue;
- Train: We discovered that there are a couple of trains headed overnight to Istanbul. The one we wanted to get on was the train from Bucharest (Romania) to Istanbul. It stops at several cities in Bulgaria – Ruse, Gorna Oriahovitsa, Stara Zagora – to name a few. The problem turned out to be access to sleeping car tickets. When we checked with the international train ticket desk (called Rila) – we were told that one can buy sleeper car tickets only from Bucharest. In Bulgaria you can only buy ticket for couchette – so we decided that was not an option for us either;
- Rental car: We checked on getting a rental car in one direction. Turns out you CANNOT do that. Turkey requires that all cars that enter the country have to leave with the same driver. So one way car rental was a no go. We had only the option of hiring a car with a driver. The price from Plovdiv: ~ approximately 300 euro!!!
- Bus: This was the last alternative. There are a number of bus lines that travel from various points in Bulgaria (Sofia, Ruse, ….) to Istanbul. We decided to use the HUNTUR bus line and get on the bus in Kazanlak traveling to Stara Zagora, Capitan Andreevo (the border crossing) and Istanbul. The ticket price from Kazanlak is approximately 45-leva which is very reasonable given the distance traveled (Kazanlak to Istanbul accoriding to Google Maps is ~404km)
Here are some pointer for the bus ride: (a) get ready for a relatively long journey; (b) the bus may include the occasional smoker – officially smoking is not allowed on the bus. (c) the bus makes a number of stops for restroom use, smoking brakes; food;
About the Border crossing:
Once you get to the border at Kapitan Andreevo (on the Bulgarian side) you will have to get off the bus and go through passport checkpoint. Then you will get back on the bus and continue to the Turkish side. Before you get there though the bus will most likely make a stop for shopping at the duty free store. Once you start crossing the Turkey border, you will have to give your passport and e-Visa (if you have purchased one ahead of time) to the Turkey immigration official and then wait for your passport to be processed. Eventually, the passports will re-emerge and be handed back to you by the bus driver.
Yes, the whole procedure is very strange and you need to pay attention to signs of what you need to do — that is unless you can speak Turkish and get information from the bus driver.
All in all the crossing is OK, and takes about one and a half hours.
After that, the bus stopped at one more restaurant and rest stop on the Turkey side and from there it was a non-stop run to Istanbul.
In the next article I will summarize options for hotels in the European side of Istanbul and near the main sites in the city. Stay tuned.