The Big Brother Oz Bus rolls on … sitting on the Orient Hostel roof in Istanbul overlooking the Blue Mosque I can look back on a week in which I was fascinated by Romania, when tensions within the group exploded and we reached the bridge between Europe and Asia.
May 25th marked the end of week one - though for everyone of board it feels much more like a month. It is amazing how close people can become in such a short space of time!
Week two began with a new country - Romania. The contrast of his recent EU nation with Hungary was shockingly stark. The country seems overwhelmed with poverty; each city we went through was littered with harsh industrial buildings and old style dilapidated soviet tower blocks. The situation is much worst in the villages as cars give way to horse and carts and people practice subsistent farming.
By day nine we had moved to my highlight of Romania - a small city called Brasov. With its Hollywood style sign overlooking the city and surrounded by dense forest it appeared to embody the aspiration of Romania. With friendly locals and many trendy bars and clubs the city re-intevograted some of the unexpected back into the trip.
We were also in Transylvania country, home of course to the infamous Cheeky Girls and Dracula. Thus a visit to his birthplace and castle were a must. Far however from living up to its gruesome reputation it was infact a beautiful region. The Carpathian Mountains which we weaved our bus through provided the most stunning views so far.
Last week also saw many of the initial relationships that had formed break down. The many days of constant travel had put a strain on the facade of friendliness some had created. It all came to a head in our campsite just outside Bucharest. The drunken antics of some and loud music led to confrontation in the night and resentment which persists. Many now wish like the actual Big Brother that we could evict some of our fellow bus mates.
Despite an incident with the police and my astonishment at the continuing deprivation my brief visit to Bulgaria was tarnished by my own stupidity. While checking into our best hotel so far overlooking the small town of Kazanluk I ran up some steps in my flip flops catching my big toe and ripping off my nail. Despite the fantastic help from the first aiders on board it was decided I had to experience a Bulgarian hospital.
Not quite knowing what to expect (though the assumption was - it would not be good) I was taken a back by the speed and cleanliness of the local healthcare system. Despite frantic attempts to explain I did n't want to have my entire toe amputated, the doctors were extremely kind and I was treated within 30 minutes. While I am still on anti-biotics at the moment, everything is fine - but it has proved a hassle in trying to walk properly since.
The next morning, after a short stop in a remote village in which we met some friendly locals with lots of flowers it was onwards to the Turkish border. Despite fears of hours of delay everything at the border went well. Turkey has been a surprise and a relief. It is much more developed (at least in the west of the country) than the former soviet block we had left behind. On Thursday evening we arrived in sprawling Istanbul. This huge city seemed to be endless.
Istanbul is a fascinating place, built on the cusp of Europe and Asia - it is a city in constant conflict. With some Turks trying to hold on to its secular history while others look east and to the important role of Islam.
So when in Turkey do what the Turks do … I have had my first proper kebab, a cut throat shave and lots of Shisha. A walking tour allowed us to take in its rich history - including the Blue Mosque and Royal Palace. And a cruise along the river is a must, as is a visit to the many local spice markets and bazaars.
The excitement of this fantastic city coupled with a public apology from one of the group has settled the camp. So things are looking up for week three as we start a new month and move into a new continent - good bye Europe!