Eventually I had to leave the comfort of the Chisinau hostel and the resident intellectuals who kept me entertained every evening with comically-self-critical and open-minded discussion. Since I have been doing tons of thinking about the future, I guess it was good to have such a goofy group of people around. One of the guys lives in the hostel and teaches English online, another studies the weird entity that is Trans-dinistria and finally a French man doing a PhD on Chisinau Society. The seven people on earth that care about my PhD research were either at the defense or read it while it was still in draft form. I feel bad that this guy might not even find enough people interested in his research to form a committee. At least he was realistic about it.

So it was off to Bresov, Romania, home of Dracula kitsch. To be fair, I didn’t really look into the Dracula stuff, mostly because I don’t care that much. It turns out though that it was pretty much all made up for tourists anyway. So it was pretty easy to skip in that case. The town though was certainly a cute little town and the kitsch mostly hidden out in the hills. I found two great things about this place though, one was that it had some really great runs and the other is it reminded me how I need to run away as winter is coming and I don’t want to get cold. I did meet a few Romanians too, the young ones were fun and self-deprecating drinkers, so my kind of people. Also towering above the town is a Hollywood sign, except that it says Bresov.

After awhile I had to make a decisions. I needed to travel a whopping 300 miles south. The problem was that relying on public transportation, I couldn’t find a way to do this in less than 12 hours. What? That’s only averaging 25 miles an hour, why is it so slow? Well I never actually found an answer to that, but it took a full day on trains and eventually I passed over a few mountain ranges, through Bucharest and across the Danube to find myself in Bulgaria.

When I finally arrived in Veliko Tarnovo I thought I would just be able to walk to the hostel, down town. What I didn’t realize was how far the train station really was. Luckily, or strangely or in a very risky way, two odd men approached me at the train station. If it wasn’t after dark, I might have gotten nervous, but instead I just didn’t get a good look at them. All they wanted was to give me a ride to the hostel. I tried to get out of it by telling them I had no money and the rest of the usual lines. Then they told me they would take me for Moldovan money. Wait, What? No one wants that stuff. This is too good to be true. So, I thought why not live a little and I climbed into the back of a blue Lada, fully expecting to be robbed or have my kidney’s stolen or be sold into something I might find interesting. Instead these guys just drove like idiots all the way to the hostel. They were so damn happy to get my US$3 worth of Moldovan funny money, I gave them a few more. I have no idea what they want to do with it, but they gave me some old, presumably fake, Roman coins. The guy at the hostel asked me how the ride was and assured me these two guys were harmless.

Veliko Tarnovo used to be the capital of Bulgaria, long before Sophie. It was once referred to as the City of the Czars. I think it would be better called the ‘Village of’ but that’s OK, cities were smaller back then. The main attraction of this place though is the massive castle complex that straddles a double bend in the river. I cannot imagine how this castle could have ever been sacked and it is one of the more impressive castle ruin complexes I have seen in Eastern Europe. The crown of the ruins though is an old Orthodox Church. When you step inside, rather than have the usual iconography of this style of church, it had a fusion of communist workers art and orthodox iconography. It was interesting and I now regret not paying the few bucks to take some pictures. Veliko Tarnovo was a nice and sleepy little village but that just wouldn’t do, so I thought I better go on to one of the biggest and busiest villages in the world.

The trains to Istanbul were not any faster than the ones from Bresov so this time I elected for a slow bus instead. This was mostly uneventful except that the conductor asked if I had any cigarettes and alcohol. Well, no, why do you ask? They wanted to know if I would mind carrying some duty free into Turkey for them. Well, this sounds like a sequel to Midnight Express in the making, so my answer was of course – yes. See I feel like the Turkish government has been screwing me since before I got there and if I could help some Bulgarians smuggle in two extra cartons of Marlboros and two liters of Jagermeister, I could have the sweet smirk of vengeance. Small vengeance anyway. Well, it turned out it wasn’t just me, it was everyone else on the bus too. And to make it all the more interesting, the guys at the duty free shop knew the bus crew and had everything waiting. Cool, I appreciate an organized effort. Shortly after the border all the goods got loaded into a nondescript old red truck and was off to be sold elsewhere.

Strange thing about Istanbul, or rather Istanbul and me. I have backpacked all over Turkey before, and spent like 10 weeks this year sailing and travelling here. I have never actually been to Istanbul other than to change or get on a plane. In fact, I normally avoid large capital cities anyway, unless there is some reason to go there. Take Kiev for example, if it wasn’t freezing, it would be great to be there right now to see the pro-EU protests. Otherwise, Kiev is just Kiev.

In Istanbul, I was in the hostel for about ten minutes before I made two friends. Both guys were Americans and at the end of their trips. One was military and the other was an author. So these guys showed me around what they knew and it was a pretty good time. Obviously, most of the time was spent around the Sultanahmet Square. This is where you find the iconic Istanbul tourist stuff, The Hagia Sophia, The Topkapi Palace, Blue mosque and my personal favorite, the Basilica Cistern. All of these tourist sites are worth seeing, but what I really enjoyed was seeing them lit up at night. I also enjoyed being back in a place that was warm enough I could go out at night and not have to worry if I have enough sweaters. The coolest thing I did though was ride the Marmaray, its the first subway to connect two continents. It runs under the Bosporus and just opened a month or so ago.

I also found time to buy a carpet. Buying a Turkish carpet is an experience. Usually the first time you go in you might not even buy anything, or even talk about it. Just looking, have some tea, talk about stuff the carpet guys like to talk about. Then maybe you tell them what you are interested in and they show you some things. Once they get to know you, they will make a recommendation of what they think you might like. This guy nailed it, I am not sure how, but it was incredible that he pulled out the carpet that I have been looking for since the last time I was in Turkey, five or six years ago. So then it comes time to haggle. Also something fun with those guys, but what I realized is that they have been doing this for a thousand years and you will never beat them, you just have to get down to the point where you are comfortable with the deal and the reasons you are getting the carpet. Which, those reasons for me are a bit confusing, since I live on a boat, so having a carpet collection is not really prudent.

As for me, it seems that my comments about midlife crisis and growing up and those sort of things, well, that generated more email than I have gotten in a long time. Um, thanks, I think. So the last month has been up and down but at the moment it’s up. First, I am glad I spent two months sailing around solo. This really got me to understand that, no, I can’t, and don’t actually want to, do this forever. It also gave time to start writing a book that I have meant to write for years. I am not retired however, so I can’t just waste the time like all the retired couples that are my pseudo-peers. I still have to make an impact in life. The trip is almost over so I am almost in the proverbial final year and need to figure out what comes next. I think I have also definitely lost touch with some of reality – like what is it like to get ready for work every morning, or how hard would I work if I actually liked my job, where and what do I want my job to be and those sorts of things. You know, questions usually summed up as “what do you want to be when you get older?” Presumably, or hopefully, the job will be my own start-up but that’s all a work in progress. I am also getting tired of perennially leaving. I love my life and I made the choices to get here, but that also comes with a cost. Perennially leaving prevents me from being able to maintain the things that stationary people take for granted, like a mailing address or a phone number for that matter or whatever else. In any case, I am leaving for Israel soon, I hope to spend winter there and in Jordan and who knows where else until I can come back to Turkey. In the meantime I have just been hiding and hiking and writing and running and this is not quite reality.