Ruins, Mosques and Beaches as we hit Turkey


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Middle East » Turkey
April 30th 1974
Published: September 16th 2021
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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 a necessity.

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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16th September 2021
Hagya Sophia in Istanbul

Nice blog Well done Keep posting
16th September 2021

1974 Trip
I’m fascinated by your recollections of this overland trip. Afghanistan and Iran sound an awful lot different to today - no Taliban, and alcohol…. Did you keep a diary at the time or are you writing all this from memory?
16th September 2021

1974
Hey guys, I wish my memory was that good, but I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast yesterday! No, my records were a bunch of different handwritten diaries (pre-iPads!) and a shoebox full of hard copy photos (remember them?), which I have since scanned and used as far as possible. Bear in mind that photos were expensive in those days for backpackers on a budget, so regretfully I don't have as many records as I would love to have so I've had to supplement with some 'borrowed' pics or in some cases, pics I've taken in more recent visits to the same countries. My biggest regret is not taking enough photos of the interesting people I met on my travels (no selfies in those days!) and I struggle to remember most of them as I write about them.
16th September 2021

People make the trip
Fabulous markets, ruins, mosques and beaches always capture our eye but the people who we chat with are the ones who make each of these trips extraordinary.
16th September 2021

People
I couldn't agree more, MJ, whether it be locals or fellow travellers, which is why I regret the lack of photos as memories of my meetings. If we ever get the chance to make it down to Florida (our eldest son married an American girl and lives at Annandale, Virginia), we'd make a point of contacting you guys as I guess that between us we could tell a lot of stories. Joan is even an ex-nurse, so you could talk 'shop' with her! But it's now almost two years since we've been able to visit and see our only grandkiddies ....
5th October 2021

"The Hippy Trail"
Of interest, Merry Jo, after your suggestion, I purchased the above book and have just finished reading it. While it certainly fitted into that region of Asia well, I was in fact disappointed in it. I thought it would be a whole bunch of similar minded traveller's recounting their most interesting experiences on the 'Hippie Trail' (a bit like blogs) but the book in fact reminded me of my post-gradate thesis in that it was full of one or two line quotes or 'grabs' with a reference to the source in the appendix. However, it did show some interest insights into the mindsets of the travellers in those days.
16th September 2021

Please come to the USA
We'd love to visit with you and talk travel. Let us know when you are heading our way.
18th September 2021

in Istanbul was the place where all travellers arranged to meet. I had forgotten about it until you mentioned it in this blog. There were no Lonely Planet guides or internet so all travel info was passed on by word of mouth when you met up with other travellers. Another one which comes to mind was the "Thai Song Greet" cafe in Bangkok which has, sadly, now been buried under an expressway. I have been back to Turkey several times since 1969 but, in those days, bus travel was one of the most likely ways to be killed so John and I decided to take a boat from Istanbul along the Black Sea coast to Trabzon which was the closest we could get to the Iranian border. It was supposed to stop at several ports along the way so, travelling 3rd class, ie sleeping on deck, we only brought enough food to eat between ports believing we could get more food at each port. We were not alone in that. A hundred or so other passengers had the same idea. The whole trip was to take three days. We got to Zonguldak and restocked with enough to get us to Samsun - 15 hours away. 1st and 2nd class passengers were fed on the boat but 3rd class had to provide there own food so when the shipping line decided to bypass Samsun and it was still another 24 hours to Trabzon, we were all getting rather hungry. We asked the captain if he could provide us with some food to tide us over till the next port but he refused saying it was not company policy to feed 3rd class passengers. There was a lot of grumbling but we were reconciled to being hungry until I noticed that leftover food from the 1st and 2nd class passengers was been thrown overboard. I gathered up a few other 3rd class passengers and we went to visit the captain and demanded he give the uneaten food to the 3rd class passengers rather than throw it away. Faced with what was essentially a mutiny by the passengers (who vastly outnumbered the crew) he relented and leftover uneaten food was sent down to us deck-class passengers.
18th September 2021

Turkey
One of my other subscriber's asked me if I had kept records of my travels or was just recalling from memory, to which my response was that sadly I can barely remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, so little chance of remembering my travels in any detail. So along the way, I just kept a bunch of hand-written 'diaries' and ended up with a shoebox full of hard copy photos, which I have now scanned into my computer. As you would remember, photos weren't cheap for the backpacker on a budget, and my biggest regret is not taking more pics of some of the wonderful people, both locals and fellow travellers, that I met on my travels. So, let me ask you the same question - as I enjoy reading of your various experiences, are you recalling these from memory or did you too keep a diary with you as you went?
19th September 2021

Memories
I did keep a diary and my mum kept the few aerogrammes I sent home but they are all long gone now. It is your recollections that have triggered my memories. Day-to-day stuff is long gone from my mind but some things stand out that I recall. I'll get to my arrest at the Italy/Yugoslav next.
19th September 2021

Memories
I don't think I'd better associate any further with a man of your criminal background, John! I look forward to hearing that story but if you are linking your memories with my visited locations, that one will have to wait a while. I'm guessing Italy is still a least a dozen blogs away and Yugoslavia maybe as many as twenty, unless I lose my enthusiasm in the meantime.
20th October 2021

Memories
Hey there John, exactly a month ago, in response to one of my blogs, you sent me a message - "I'll get to my arrest at the Italy/Yugoslav next" and I advised you to wait until I got to these countries on my 1974 travels. Well I've now gone well past them, so how about you tell me your story as it's always great to hear tales from younger days!
19th September 2021

Russia
Ok. I will keep quiet about my adventures in the USSR. Just remember not to step off the footpath in Red Square. Shots were fired! Crossing from Mongolia to Russia was also an adventure though not so fraught. I was a bit older then.

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