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Published: September 16th 2021
We got away early around 6.30am and reached the Iran-Turkey border some 4 hours later for a late breakfast. The crossing took around 1.5 hours, but we gained 30 minutes by putting our clocks back. No hassles on either side of the border. Most of the time was spent queuing up for duty free goods, where I picked up a bottle of Scotch for USD4.
It was a long drive (over 500 kms) into Erzerum and we didn’t arrive until 7pm. The countryside most of the way was semi and rocky wastelands, with snow-covered mountains constantly in view. From Agri through to Erzerum, we had a number of climbs that took us up into the snow line, which was really pretty when it had the sun shining on it. We passed quite close to Mt Ararat (15,000 ft) just after crossing the border – it seemed to just rise suddenly out of the plains. We also got pelted with stones by some gypsy-looking children – that would have made for a great photo if we had stopped. Mud huts and apple blossoms added further to the scenery, and we also saw quite a lot of army activity, especially just on
the Turkish side of the border.
The accommodation at the Hotel San was quite good, with the room containing a heater and a hot shower. Dinner at the Atlanta was quite expensive at 27 lira (about 2 bucks) for meatballs, veges, rice, yoghurt and beer, but at least it was good tucker. Erzerum looked to be a quaint little town and it was a pity we didn’t get a chance to look around.
The next day’s trip through to Sivas saw us travel through similar terrain to the previous day – mainly rocky, desolate, semi-mountainous area. Much of the way was covered with snow, and we saw a number of really fast-flowing streams (whitewater rafting, anyone?) passing through the valleys. For a period, the road followed the beginning of the River Euphrates. The villages were starting to look a bit more contemporary but were still very picturesque. The Turkish people in the countryside looked similar to what I visualised the Russian peasants would look like – long coats and ‘burglar’ hats abound. They didn’t seem overly friendly toward foreigners, and as usual, not too many women were seen wandering around.
We stayed at the Hotel Divan in
Sivas, which was pretty cramped and had no showers. We had dinner at a small cafe across the road, and it looked as though dinners in Turkey were going to be a real treat. You were shown into the kitchen, advised of all the meals on the stove, and then asked to make your choice. There were two small disadvantages – the meals were not that large (you often required two meals) and you never knew the price, although in general they were great value for the money.
It was a shorter drive to Urgup the next day through rather monotonous, desolate, rocky countryside. It certainly showed some improvement as we neared Goreme Valley, where we got an initial indication of the cones, pinnacles and rock formations we could expect on our visit there the next day. We stayed at the Paris Motel outside Urgup, which was good value for the money. The afternoon was spent washing clothes and the bus, before an impromptu game of soccer. At night, we went to one of the big hotels for a night of Turkish dancing, accompanied by some oldies from a Penn Overland tour. The local dancing (6 men) was okay,
but the discotheque atmosphere later fell a bit flat, and wasn’t cheap either. To conquer this, I had my first taste of Raki, a kind of Ouzo, and it clearly had the desired effect as I slept well that night.
It was great to have the following day without any travel. We spent a leisurely day taking in various aspects of Goreme Valley, which in general resembled a moonscape. The area appeared to have erupted at some stage in the past, and “a giant, surrealistic hand has clutched the area, squeezed it, and twisted it into bizarre forms, unnatural pyramids and cones”. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
We first checked out the rock churches area, where we visited several chapels, most of which contained impressive frescoes. We then progressed on to Zelve, an interesting site where funnel shaped rocks are hollowed out into houses. After lunch in Urgup, we drove to Kaymakli, 20km south of Nevsehir, where we went right down into an underground city, complete with all conveniences, chapels, cooking facilities etc and which was connected to another city by a 9 km tunnel, 100 metres underground. It was supposedly built by the Christians as
a hideout in their battles many moons ago. The admission price was only 8 lira with our student passes, but with an outrageous 16 lira more to take a camera in with you, which I suspected would be the case more frequently from now on.
The next day’s travels were a fairly easy trip through to Egirdir, with the scenery far less desolate than the last couple of days. We passed through green arable farming country, with much more animal life than we had seen for quite a while. Our campsite was under a huge craggy mountain on the banks of Lake Egirdir – a beautiful area, with the lake closer to a green colour than blue. As this was our first camping experience of the trip, lessons were learnt quickly in erecting tents, washing, and cooking for a crowd, before taking a very brief swim in the freezing cold lake. Our dinner of soup, fish, veges and tea came to around 10 lira each, and that also included the next day’s breakfast. We spent the evening chatting around a campfire (fortunately there were no renditions of ‘Waltzing Matilda’!) before retiring early.
That night did not produce a
memorable night’s sleep for yours truly due to the gradual deflation of my air bed – it was a pity we had to keep the same one for the whole trip. It was a cold morning on rising, but we warmed up with some toast for breakfast, and the weather cleared before we took off at 8am for Kusadasi. We had a good run and reached the Aegean coast by 4.30pm. The scenery was rugged at first but gave way to flatter green farming land closer to the coast. Although it was pretty hilly early, the bus seemed to be coping with this sort of terrain much better. It was quite a sophisticated campsite at the beach at Kusadasi, with great facilities, and we shared it with a number of other overland tourist buses, including a minibus from Hughes Overland. We had a swim at the beach, a run, and a game of soccer before dinner.
After dinner, about half the bus went down to an open-air discotheque, with a large group of females from a Contiki European tour at least giving the boys a change of talent to chase. I ended up chatting for most of the evening
with Judy from Melbourne, which was certainly a pleasant change of conversation from that on the bus.
We made our way into Efes (Ephesus) early the next morning to check out the ruins. We first checked out the House of Mary, followed by over an hour’s walk through a series of ruins, including streets with pillars and colonnades, culminating in the Ephesus Amphitheatre, which seated 24,000 people. As in most places in Turkey, the cost of bring in a camera was prohibitive (20TL), but Bob took his in and brought back a selection of snaps.
The trip next day to Pergamon followed the coast, although it was rarely in view for the 3-hour journey. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the scenery along the way, except a number of storks on towers and chimneys. We camped in a fairly crude campsite near the sea, just short of Pergamon (now called Bergama), where another swim (three in a row!) in a cold, choppy sea got rid of any final hangover effects.
It was only a short drive through to the ruins of Pergamon – mainly pillars and crumbled walls, with a Greek-style amphitheatre. Further along was a set
of ruins at Asklepion, which had some fame as an early time medical centre. Neither was hugely inspiring, and I couldn’t feel guilty about walking in free to both, a saving of 24TL. The most pleasant aspect was the abundance of wild flowers, with the red poppies in particular standing out.
After lunch at Edremit, we had a 3-hour drive to Troy, site of the famed wooden horse of ancient Greek mythology. From early reports, this site contained nothing new of interest, so we took their word for it and gave it a miss. Certainly, the postcards on display suggested we hadn’t missed much.
We got our first view of Europe about half an hour later, when the coastline of Thrace became visible over the Dardenelles. It was quite a sight, especially with the memorials of British and French World War 1 servicemen visible high on the headlands. A short ferry ride over put us onto European soil. It took only another 30 minutes to reach our campsite at Gallipoli (Gelibolu to the locals). We had to walk the remaining mile along the beach before we could reach Anzac Cove, and the memorial and gravestones of some 360
Anzacs – quite a stirring scene.
The following day marked 3 months away from home for us, and we had covered a lot of territory in that time. Before leaving the Gallipoli peninsula, we climbed up the hill overlooking Anzac Cove and checked out the Australian (Lone Pine) and NZ War Memorials, erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We were also able to get a good panoramic view of the layout of Gallipoli, with its thick undergrowth.
The trip through to Istanbul took around 6 hours, through mainly rich farming country, not unlike New Zealand. For most of the trip, the Sea of Marmara was in view and there were some pretty impressive looking beach resorts. We got a bonus with an impromptu performance by a bear on the roadside just before we reached Istanbul. Arrival in Istanbul just happened to be where we hit the 10,000 kms mark travelled for the trip thus far.
We stayed at the Hotel Ayasofya right in the heart of the old city. After settling in, a group of us (7 guys, 4 gals) took in a genuine Turkish bath (30TL for the works). The works comprised a steam massage
and a good lather, which brought our huge amounts of body dirt and dead skin with the scraper, no doubt the result of a couple of months travels with mainly cold showers.. The massage certainly located a number of my weak spots, especially in the middle of my back with a 14 stone masseur walking across it!
We had dinner and a few beers at the European Pudding shop (Lale Restaurant) before I decided to set out for a stroll around the old city by myself at about 10pm, since no one else wanted to join me. Big mistake! Initially, I just strolled around for some 3 hours, checking out the sights, which were superb at night, especially the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn, before I decided to sample the night life. I found an interesting little underground bar and took in a number of drinks, first with an ex-sea captain, and then later with a local lawyer. When I realised around 2am that I had absolutely no idea how to get back to my hotel, I was invited back to the apartment of the latter, for what turned out to be an extremely long night ....
I took a very early departure from mine host around 6am after a night of unsuccessful ‘touchies’ in his very limited sleeping quarters. In hindsight, it was absolutely dumb of me to go back to his place and I'm probably lucky to have got out in one piece. Needless to say, we didn’t make any future rendezvous!
Fortunately, I ran into Bob and some of the troops from the bus shortly after, as they had realised that I hadn’t returned to the hotel and had come out looking for me. We took in two of the shopping streets in the new city (Istiklal & Tarlabasi Cadderi), but I was not very inspired by the leather gear. I returned soon after to the hotel for a nap, coming via the PTT where I picked up some mail. There was some rain through the night and a couple of short squalls this morning. I shopped again around the Old Bazaar early afternoon, picking up in my rounds a leather coat for USD55, a jumper for 125TL and a swap of my Kathmandu jeans for a light pair cost me 90TL. It was an expensive afternoon, but some warmer clothes were becoming
We did a quick Kodak trip around in the late afternoon, taking in the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Museum and the Hagya Sophia church, but were not prepared to pay the admission prices to the latter two.
Next day was a full day’s sightseeing in Istanbul.
We left the hotel around 10am for Galata Bridge, where 10 of us hopped on a ferry for a cruise up the Bosphorus. The trip took about 2 hours each way, with an hour’s stop at Remi Kavagi, a little fishing village just short of the Black Sea, where appropriately, lunch was a superb meal of mussels, bread and beer. The boat trip itself was pleasant, without being spectacular, and probably would have been improved on a clearer day. We returned via the castle and suspension bridge and hit the old city again around 4pm, where we hung around until it was time to have our final dinner in Turkey.
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