Picture The Scene
Five strangers come together with one aim; to be reunited with their families far far away. They climbed mountains, swam rivers, trekked jungles, faced danger and adversity day after day, hour after hour, until they finally reached their destination, cold, tired, hungry, delirious with thirst…
Ok, well like any true storyteller I’ve quite possibly embellished it a little so make a cuppa, sit down and I’ll tell you what really happened….
How It Began
It all started just after the flight that never was, was completely cancelled. Two of the original organisers had got the bit between their teeth and were determined to get home no matter what it took. Luckily for me I’m friends with one of them so I was invited along for the ride.
One minute we were catching the Eurostar to Dusseldorf and then an onwards flight, the next minute it was via Cologne, even a stay in Minsk was discussed (briefly I’m relieved to say). Then I got a call asking if I could be ready to go home in two days as I was booked on a flight to Bulgaria.
Was I ready? Of course I was ready. I’d been ready for two months.
The First Step
The journey started on Sunday 31st May when I met my friend, Janet, in Luton for an overnight stay. That in itself was a little challenging. The hotels near the airport weren’t open so we booked a studio apartment nearby. Turns out it was a building used by the local council to temporarily house people. My bed was in the kitchen, only one plug socket worked, the loo seat wasn’t attached to anything, the handles on the dirty windows were lying on the windowsill, we had one towel between us and the lift smelt of broccoli (apparently it was marijuana my more worldly travelling companion informed me). Although everyone we saw seemed nice we did take the extra precaution of putting our suitcases up against the door, and briefly wondered if there would still be wheels on the hire car the next morning! Luckily for us the only things active that night were our imaginations and all was well the following day.
Meeting New Friends
On the Monday we headed over to the airport. There were no other flights going so it was easy to spot our fellow travellers who consisted of a chef to the stars, a wee Scottish lassie and a biker. We greeted each other with relief and apprehension but were soon distracted by a guy giving a staff member grief because he had turned up for his Easyjet flight but couldn’t find it. Seriously?! I can only assume he had been living in a cave for the last three months!
Everything was closed at the airport apart from a Boots & WH Smith. The check-in process was as normal. The security checks were mostly the same except for one extra fella who clearly didn’t like our biker much and questioned him on all aspects of his life, the chef was searched on the basis of his Colonel Abrahams baggy trousers (remember them?) and a lady, who I can only assume has been living in the same cave as our friend earlier, was escorted from the airport after telling security she was going on holiday.
And We’re Off
Not long after, we were taken to our Wizz Air flight. Apart from mask wearing you really wouldn’t know anything was different – there was a trolley service, duty free sales and no social distancing.
When we landed at Sofia Airport we, and everyone else, did that thing we always swore we’d never do. Yes, that’s right, we clapped. I think you can probably let us off under the circumstances though.
We went through passport control with the minimum amount of fuss once we’d filled in a form asking why we were there and giving contact details in case someone on the flight was affected.
After we’d gained our freedom we found Dimitris, our driver for the next leg of the journey.
We had chosen a border a little further away that we knew was small, open 24 hours and where you could walk across. Dimitris was an absolute angel despite having to put up with five hyperactive, nervous, hungry individuals with weak bladders who had to stop for frequent loo breaks during our six hour journey. We all got to know each other pretty well in that six hours and, with three of us being from the Fethiye area, had a number of mutual friends.
The last hour of the journey was down dark, winding country lanes and we started to ponder the fact we really didn’t know Dimitris that well. Was he driving us to the border, or was he taking us to an isolated farm where he would butcher us and turn us into the Bulgarian dish, Kebapche. Luckily for us he wasn’t hungry and the border crossing loomed into view shortly afterwards.
It was 1am when we arrived and the place was deserted. There were more stray cats than people wishing to cross the border. Border guards appeared looking understandably baffled as five bedraggled foreigners emerged from the darkness carrying luggage that contained coffee makers, slow cookers and all those other useful things you can’t travel without.
Ten minutes later and with our passports stamped we bade farewell to the wonderfully patient Dimitris who agreed to stay put until we rang him from the other side of the Turkish border. Then we began the walk into the unknown, towards the dim light that was the border crossing. Were they going to let us through? Were we going to be stranded in no man’s land forever? Were we going to feature in the sequel to Midnight Express? Was Dimitris going to get the opportunity to have us for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Would he use my slow cooker to simmer us for a few hours? Would we find ourselves once again in a bedsit in Luton?
Well, you’ll have to wait for the next installment to find out exactly what happened…
This article was written for Fethiye Times by Sian Midgley
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