The closer we got to visiting Istanbul the more we read and worried about the continuing conflict in Syria, which by that point had reached the Turkish border. Our initial plans to travel east to visit such sites as Mount Nemrut were long forgotten as the U.S. Consulate warned against citizens traveling that close to Syria and Iraq. Instead we decided to stick around Istanbul to avoid any troubles arising from the foreign conflicts, yet somehow trouble still managed to find us.

The first question our hostel host asked us upon our arrival at the Magic Bus was whether we had seen anything up the street. When we replied no, he casually filled us in that there had been protests up there earlier in the week—we would later find out that by “protests” he actually meant “riots,” which explained the presence of the heavily armed police at points along our walk from the bus station.

Things seemed very quiet that evening though, and after dinner on a lively side street off Istiklal Avenue, Britnee and I settled down for our first night at the Magic Bus feeling safe and secure. Unfortunately our attitudes would quickly change the following morning. First came the email from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara that I received because I was signed up for their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program:

STEP, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program That warning came about 12 hours too late as we had just paid for six nights at the Magic Bus that was located in a Kurdish neighborhood right off Taksim Square. Those “violent altercations” with police had been happening for the last three nights right outside our front door as demonstrators, incensed by the Turkish government’s inaction in the fight against jihadists on the Syrian border, grew violent.

The extent of our neighborhood’s unrest I learned from a fellow traveler named Matt, a native of Chicago who was passing through on his way home after teaching English in China. Matt had been at the Magic Bus for the past few nights and had actually been with the mobs outside when police let teargas fly and unleashed their water cannon riot tank. When some rioters produced molotov cocktails and another shot his handgun into the night sky, Matt realized things were “getting a little out of hand” and kept his distance, watching from the hostel rooftop. The Magic Bus, IstanbulThen Matt had more bad news to share. While things had remained quiet on the street the night before, there had been a burglary inside the Magic Bus that left three other travelers without their belongings. Thieves had entered through a fourth-floor window, broken through a heavy locked door, descended to the third floor and taken three backpacks from beside the beds of the owners while they slept. A very unsettling occurrence which produced even more unsettling thoughts of what might have occurred if someone had woken up as it happened.

The Turkish equivalent of CSI arrived in two tracksuits with one briefcase and a DSLR to “investigate” and seemed surprised by the fact that the building was inhabited by travelers. I broke the morning’s news with Britnee who was still relaxing in our private room and we began talking about moving, cursing ourselves for electing to pay all six nights in advance. When we asked about the possibility of a refund, our Syrian hostel host, who spoke perfect English the night before, suddenly had a hard time understanding us. And without a refund we were stuck.

Then came some strange but kind of good news: the police were shutting the hostel down and we would get our money back. We never got a clear answer as to why—whether it was because of the burglary or the riots outside—but by that point we were getting the impression it was an illegally-ran hostel/business that was just now discovered by the police. With that news the countdown began to find new accommodations before nightfall and the unwanted experience of hauling luggage through clouds of teargas and crowds of angry Kurds. This also proved to be a bad time for the internet to stop working in the hostel, so I set out on foot with Matt as a guide to find a new home. TheMagicBus_Istanbul_08My search proved unsuccessful, but thankfully Britnee had managed to get online and we booked a room at The World House Hostel, only a 15-minute walk away. In the meantime the hostel owner was nowhere to be found and his three Syrian staff members were packing all of his belongings to take to him elsewhere as he refused to return.

Those poor staff members were also packing their own lives as their jobs and their home at the Magic Bus were no more.  After we travelers all received our refunds, we walked to our new home with new friends and fellow evictees, passing the massing police force at the end of our street as night fell. TheMagicBus_Istanbul_11The World House ended up costing us more than double the price of the Magic Bus, but was worth every penny for the sense of security it provided: actual locks on doors, security cameras everywhere, 24-hour reception and the lovely smell of coffee emanating from the downstairs coffee shop. Oh yeah, and no riots on the street outside! Finally we could get comfortable in Istanbul and get to sight seeing.

P.S. If anyone goes to Istanbul and finds the Magic Bus up and running, please let us know!

About The Author


Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

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