today. Europeans call McDonalds Drive-Through the "McDrive". Today,
and not for the first time in our Eastern European Odyssey, we did a Drive
Through - this time of
Plovdiv. The camping ground
we were searching for was nowhere to be found - it must have escaped into
the same black hole as the one in Veliko Tarnovo (another Bulgarian city where
we searched unsuccessfully for a campground) - so we decided to make a run for
it before the Traffic Police caught up with us. The odds were against us as
every trap set by these vigilant officers had netted several prey. But wait! We
have Bulgarian leva left. Off to the Metro - not the Underground railway as you
might imagine, but one of a series of Megastores that have sprung up on the
outskirts of almost every major city in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
shops stock everything from hairpins to clothes driers - a lot of it in bulk -
you don't just buy 6 potatoes but 25 kilos! They are ginormous (perhaps they
created that black hole that ate our lost camping grounds), deal only in cash -
but kindly provide ATMs - and - at least for us tourists - force customers to
spend at least 50 leva ($40 AUS).
spent our leva and filled the larder, we escaped Bulgaria, AND without serious
police harrassment. From what we understand this is somewhat of an
accomplishment. But enough Bulgaria bashing. It is a part of our trip that
really requires time to reflect on what was perceived threat and what was real.
(Bookmark this spot for a later reflection!)
far is a hoot! The border crossing was probably the most drawn out so far but
more of a pleasant sequence of misunderstandings than anything else (or are we
becoming tolerant to inefficiency?)
Bulgaria was again part of the universal Australian? Off you go -
bit. Whole bus loads of people have their socks unwoven but we seem to be
blessed with the 'harmless twits' image? A quick glance in the 'biosphere'
toilet is always enough to send the most ardent customs officer packing.
At the first
Turkish check point our passports were given a cursory glance .. Australian?
smile.. wave on. At the second a
young police officer pointed us to the Cashier Booth 50 metres away for visas.
This was not unexpected and we happily traipsed off to pay our US$20 each. Back
to the obliging officer who stamped away with gusto and pointed to what we
thought was the way out. Wrong again. Three hundred metres on we met the vehicle
check. "Passports.. Auto Papers?".
Auto visa?? This was a new one. Back to the Cashier (the same one).
Another US$4 and we had an auto visa.
at all fazed we returned to the vehicle check, were ushered around several pushy
Arabs of some sort and had our visa stamped for another US$2. An obliging
customs officer (the same one who had helped before) waved us through - off at
last!... But no. One more booth. Guess what! The customs officer had been so
obliging he had neglected to stamp our passports with customs clearance. Back
again. Somewhat embarrassed, the offending officer recognised his error
immediately and called the official 'stamper' away from his dealings with some
lesser beings and arranged the appropriate stamping . The only down side to this
point was that the customs 'stamper' had the hide to suggest that we must be
retired to be able to travel so far. A sense of humour - we think we like these
exit was announced to the officer in charge of exit boom gates - ..something ...
something .. Australians.. gate opened and off.
highway and signs directly to the very plush camping/motel complex that we call
home for tonight. Good dinner watching the football with the locals.
is it in people that makes them bearable? Or even likeable? Surely some of it
has to do with one's own attitude at the time. But trust us, when you have no
idea what day it is, you are fairly tolerant. Our tolerance has quickly turned
to frustration when dealing with those north of the Turkish border and south of
the Hungarian frontier.
yesterday's border crossing proved, otherwise annoying dealings with people can
be easy-going and pleasant. Having learnt not to judge a national character too
early we still hold (possibly unreasonable) reservations about the Turks. But
the book is well and truly open after one day.
one of the top four on the world's largest cities list. More than fifteen
million people live here. That's more than the population of New York and Sydney
jammed into the geographical area of Greater Brisbane. Most of them own very
nice new little European or Japanese cars. Those who don't drive little yellow
buses, taksis (sic) or trucks.
chosen day for our arrival in this great metropolis just had to be Republic Day.
The day we all go to town or drive our cars, buses, taxis and trucks about,
waving the Red Crescent.
is difficult for well-travelled people like us to admit it but we really have
never seen anything like this! Six to ten lane (each way!) highways criss-cross
the huge beast that is Istanbul. The lane markings are still visible and there
are definitely no more than three lanes! This means that for every two lane
markings, drivers make 3 - 5 lanes of viable traffic - and it is viable. People
honk (politely) to let you know they are coming in on your right/left [whatever
they choose] and the multiple lane system works - as long as you do what you
indicate you are about to do. Hesitate and you are lost ( and castigated for
your transgression with a quite different tone of honk.)
tracks of the Romans and the Crusaders we launched ourselves into the
accelerating throng of literally hundreds of thousands of vehicles heading for
the city on the D100. The reason being that our task for the day was to find
'Camping Londra'. Four hours later we had traversed the same small ring of
freeways and back streets four or five times. If anybody ever needs to drive to
Istanbul Airport we have an intimate knowledge of the main entrance. Wonder if
the machine-gun toting guards around the perimeter had our number after the 6th
pass?` This was not just our normal - lost in a strange city - trick. This was
big time lost in a big time city!
minarets of the centre of the third or fourth largest city in the world loomed
closer, we finally found our quarry and, as is our practice, drove straight past
by a number of 'pump boys' at service stations, all of whom were more than happy
to provide advice and directions in the best possible humour, we are now happily
settled, and it is possible to laugh about our four hours in hell. But once one
has survived Istanbul traffic nothing holds any further threat. Bring on the
our small patch of green in the midst of the total chaos that is inner Istanbul,
is an English family with three small children in a Landrover and a tent. They
are on their way overland to Bombay. Through Turkey and Iran and Pakistan.
That's adventure travel! It might have suited them better if they were
travelling in the IRE van we camped beside in Zakapone (Poland). It must have
been a converted armoured car from the 'troubled Irish north'. Grilled windows,
several obvious alarm systems and on a high wheel base. The obvious answer to
the usual border question, 'purpose of visit?' for this guy would be 'invasion!'
muezzins call the faithful and the sirens scream constantly in the distance, we
know we are in one 'big mother of a city!'
jump the train (metro) with the rest of the fifteen million locals and head for
the centre of the city.
Major General Peter Cosgrove
Do not attempt to invade Turkey again. Learn from the past and let it be.
spends as much on defence as the UK and Germany combined and a fair portion of
the hardware purchased with the tax payers' money was on display today for the
Republic Day celebrations. As we travelled to the centre of this amazing city we
passed the marshalling area for the parade - a closed-down three-lane freeway.
First we saw the light tanks with heavy machine guns and troop-carrying cabins.
Then the tanks! Kilometres of them lined up ready to rumble. That was all we saw
of the parade. We headed straight for the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the
Sultan's Palace on the Metro and Tramway.
press of people was minimal as it was Sunday. Having been awakened at sunrise by
the chants of the muezzins from two thousand eight hundred plus minarets and the
four speakers on each, we were on the road a little earlier than usual.
works surprisingly well and with minimal hassle on the public transport system
that must surely be one of the most amazingly diverse in the world. Metro,
trams, ferry boats, private buses and city buses cram the roads, moving 3.5
million people a day, seven million person/trips.
of Istanbul are everything the guide books promise - so very different from the
Western culture with which we are so familiar. Respect for Muslim religious
beliefs and practices demands that shoes be removed before entering a mosque,
but recognition of a more modern concept (theft) means that plastic bags are
provided for you to store and carry your shoes during your visit - a part of the
Turkish compromise between east and west.
however always the downsides of every experience. Being forewarned about being
hassled by carpet vendors and assorted touts, we began by simply ignoring them
for the most part, but, by and large, they are not pushy and if you smile and
say "No", they retreat into the background. They seem offended at
being ignored. Turks, so far, have been overtly helpful and friendly. While we
recognise this as an opening tack to "the big sell", it is a pleasant
change from the general surliness of people in Eastern Europe.
deserve special comment. Approximately the size of a Fort Transit panel van 7000
of these off-yellow workhorses roam the city, gathering at almost every corner
to take on another load of passengers who seem to be replaced on the queue as
soon as the bus leaves. They are always packed to the extent that their tails
drag on the road. Private buses are more comfortable but more expensive (10-20
cents more). At every stop, private operators honk, play tuned horns and pace
the pavement soliciting custom. Constantly in the background of all this
movement is the drone, honking and screeching of the 18,000 taxis, thousands of
trucks and millions of private vehicles.
this afternoon when the populace was really on the streets, we made the journey
from the centre of the city to our park, about 12 - 15 kms by metro and tram in
about 30 minutes. (As we write fire works - we hope.. are erupting all around).
is no poor third world city, nor is it New York or London. But in its own right
it can justly claim to be one of the truly great cities of the world. For the
statistically minded Istanbul has 1,500 banks, 1000 hotels, 135,000 grocery
shops, 36,000 hairdressers, 13,000 police officers and 300,000 public servants.
Every year the city needs to build 80,000 new houses and yearly there are 70,000
marriages, 40,000 deaths and, interestingly, only 5,000 divorces.
culture is strong and pervasive here, particularly noticeable in the ratio of
men to women (90:10) we saw on public transport and on the streets. Of the women
we did see, the majority are wearing shapeless, full-length coats and
headscarves - ( of course they could have been having bad-hair and/or fat days).
However, accommodation seems to have been made, since the times of Ataturk, the
first leader of modern Turkey (and interestingly the General who led the defense
of Turkey in 1917), for western ways - in particular a tolerance and even an
encouragement of diversity in religious and political views. The state-sponsored
renovation of the Basilica of St Sophia in the 1930s is just one example of the
willingness of the Turkish people, and in particular the citizens of Istanbul,
to understand and live with their unique geographical position, astride two
massive and historically turbulent continents.
well have been a freak, but the strait between Asiatic and European Istanbul was
a picture. The bays and bridges framed by a skyscape, not dissimilar to Sydney,
were further enhanced by a clear (pollution-free!) blue sky.
we met the pulse that was and is the real Istanbul. The streets and alley ways
of Eminonu lie in the heart of what was old Constantinople. At the foot of the
Sultan's palace, these streets today teem with small shops, street traders and
trucks delivering goods in medieval byways no wider than the average driveway.
The Romans and the soldiers of the Crusades trod these streets and today
hundreds of thousands of people move through the streets in a good-humoured
tide, pulsing around slowly-wandering gaping tourists like us. The feeling is
exhilarating and not at all threatening, although, with the normal travellers'
wariness, everything we carry of value is well hidden.
the hill in Eminonu are the markets of the Grand Bazaar -
four thousand four hundred shops in a market that has operated here for
centuries. Traders are direct but not aggressive. Service, if you show interest,
is over the top. Buying a $6 T-shirt could well involve a drink of tea and
several fittings. Shopping is a great game played and enjoyed by all players.
Galata Bridge from Eminonu was like moving between two vastly different worlds
situated within 500m of each other. The shortest underground railway in the
world whisks you from the edge of the Golden Horn to the top of the Galata Hill,
for centuries the 'sentry post' for the city. Overlooking the three major
intersecting waterways on which Istanbul stands, the Galata Tower provides a
panaroma of the whole central city.
the street-hustling shoe-cleaner boys wear clean woollen jumpers and 'bum-bags'
to carry their cash! The two kilometres of chic shops and side arcades with
quality produce from fish to game have much the same feel as Paris, Prague or
Budapest. Traditional Moslem dress is rare here, or perhaps there are fewer
bad-hair days. Wealth is obvious, but not ostentatious. Crossing back in the
late afternoon to the teeming streets of Eminonu, the sky was clear and the late
afternoon sun again turned the harbours of Istanbul into a 'must stop and gape'
passing stops unable to fit more passengers. Ours was 'close' to say the least.
But people were polite and co-operative, even in the midst of what we would
normally view as intolerable conditions. Contrary to popular belief, Turkish men
have adjusted to the expectations of the increasing numbers of women in the
Moslem culture who have chosen to dress and behave in a Western way. Although it
is interesting that the usual practice of men standing for women on trams, buses
etc., is more prevalent when women in traditional dress require a seat.
extremely well behaved and almost always in the company of their parents. The
usual signs of youth out of control, graffiti, street crime and general 'rabble
rousing' is totally absent in Istanbul! Strong Moslem family values may well be
can one say about one of biggest and most exciting cities on earth?
Istanbul this morning under clear skies, but as we crossed the city, the extent
of the pollution in the industrial areas became evident. Without question
Istanbul on a bad day is right up there with the cities of Eastern Europe. For
well over a hundred kilometers, visibility was down to less than 500 metres and
we could feel it in our throats and see it on our tissues.
industrial and urban sprawl on the Asian side of the Bosphorus reaches as far as
the city of Izmit where over a hundred thousand people died in a devastating
earthquake in 1999. From the highway the only real signs of the disaster are the
thousands of temporary homes in large compounds like concentration camps.
the cities and up into the mountains, we left the smog behind. A beautiful day
with snow just visible on the highest peaks, even though the temperature was in
the high teens. The landscape changed through forest
- with snow to road level - to open (Australian-like) grazing land to
rocky Mediterranean desert. From sea-level at Istanbul this morning, we have
climbed to 1850 metres, on the Anatolian plateau which extends east to the
camped in a motorway services area 40 km outside Ankara. Given the clear sky and
the open countryside we expect a cold night and a colder morning. These chills
are usually only until the sun gets up as there is still plenty of warmth left
and as we go further south it should continue to keep us warm.
concerns of being the only overnighters in the services last night were
alleviated around 8.00pm as truck after truck joined us. In the cool (0 C ish)
light of day the realisation that we are in the middle of an earthquake area hit
us. Why had we camped against a wall?
hesitate to say this for fear of breaking the spell - but we have had the most
unbelievable weather. In six weeks, we have had one day when it rained for a
hour or so and we broke out the Drizabones. Turkey does not have clouds! Clear
skies every day so far. Once we are away from urban smog the countryside is
service area just outside Ankara about 8.30am and drove on a six lane motorway
virtually alone for an hour or so to Ankara and around its ring road. Turkish
motorways have tolls. But at the price, why would you do it any other way? Nine
dollars for the services of an empty six lane motorway for nearly 400 kms from
Istanbul to Ankara [including the Bosphorus bridge toll]!
kilometers from the centre of Ankara there is nothing much to see. Open plains
dotted with small clusters of unfinished housing estates. Thousands upon
thousands of houses. Few occupied -- are they super-organised and ready for the
next 50 years of expansion - or are they using the leftover funds from the
drivers are reputedly the worst in the world. Another myth dispelled.
to Bulgarian, Romanian and even Polish drivers they are not half bad. The system
seems to work this way. If you get a short polite beep it means "I'm coming
through." If you get a long sharp blast, you have transgressed in some way.
Passing on single carriage roads is done much more cautiously than in eastern
Europe. And as with everything in Turkey the whole thing is achieved with good
have to be the friendliest we have encountered anywhere!. Good manners and the
every day civility of a G'day, a nod or some other greeting are ingrained here
as they are at home (or more so?). Pull into a camping ground and the 'chief'
(boss/owner) will be by within a respectable time to welcome you personally.
Monday, returning from a day in Istanbul, we crossed the freeway near our camp
(by overpass - although there were other options!) to do a bit of shopping, in
the mayhem that is inner suburban Istanbul. As we crossed the road the cleaner
from the camping area caught my eye. Amongst hundreds of people, maybe even
thousands, he nodded recognition as he trod the teeming streets to his home.
the mountains into the valley of Cappadocia is something we will never forget.
Even having seen the spectacular landforms in videos and pictures is no
preparation for the real thing. Geology and history have combined to create a
truly unique environment in and around the small village of Goreme. Flows of
volcanic lava followed by millions of years of erosion have created mounds of
rock that the inhabitants of this valley have carved and quarried to meet their
needs for thousands of years.
In the late
afternoon light the colours change by the minute. This time of the year tourists
are relatively thin on the ground. As a result prime vantage points to take in
the sites of this unique region are virtually all ours! Our camping ground - and
we are again the only occupants - sits above the village with views of the whole
valley. Having finally found a shop that sold beer, this is a Moslem country
let's not forget, we retired to our uninterrupted panorama at sunset.
in Turkey is far easier than we anticipated. 'Bankomats' (ATMs) are on almost
every corner. Roads are excellent. Petrol stations take VISA and 'Services
camping' (on the motorway and free!) is again viable. The only thing that we
can't seem to find is a big supermarket! Having tried the outskirts of every
large town and city we have passed through we have given up and started to shop
in local 'corner shops'. Interesting! Language becomes a problem, prices of
goods are not marked and what you want is never available. On the beer index
Turkey is the pits. AUS$1.50 for a 500ml can. The record so far goes to Romania
62c for the same product. But on almost every other measure Turkey is tops!