Leaving the security blanket of the EU and crossing over from Greece into Turkey was good training for the coming months. All Jules required with her wonderful maroon UK passport was 15 euros and she got a sticker. My not so wonderful green mamba South African passport meant I was sent back and forth between Visas and Border Control several times, finally being ushered into a police station and waiting for a policeman to wave it around for about 20 minutes while he worked out what it was, before taking multiple photocopies of it and handing me a hand-written visa with 4 different stamps. At least it was free, so we’re back to Even’s Steven’s in the “who has spent money on what for themselves” department. We then had to empty our car to show them we had no contraband – I think the guy was more interested to see what gear we had.
We saw our first donkey carts and thought driving through Turkey would be a calm, sedate affair. Then we arrived in Istanbul. During rush hour. A city with a population of 13.5 million people, all trying to get to the same campsite as us at the same time. After witnessing two bumper-bashings we arrived at our campsite, a place called Mistik camping. The photographs on the website for this campsite were clearly a serving suggestion and as we initially didn’t believe it was the same place, we proceeded to drive around the town trying to find the real “Mistik camping” only to end up back at the same place an hour later.
The campsite is on the outskirts of Istanbul in a place called Kilyos, on the Black Sea. Having arrived quite late after a long drive, we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant. While we were waiting for our food to arrive one of the waiters offered us some fresh almonds. Except he wasn’t a waiter, and once he had served us our fresh almonds with 3 blocks of ice on them so we couldn’t give them back, he demanded 20 Lira. Wide-awake, exchange-rate savvy Chris and Jules would have told him where to stick his almonds one by one, but tired and weary Chris and Jules handed over the money and while he made a sneaky getaway we did the sums and then sulked our way through supper and got chased by a vicious stray dog on our way back to camp. At least the fish was nice.
At the campsite we met a lovely Dutch couple who are heading east with their 7 and 10 year old sons for the next 5 months. We compared notes and gripes about how we both originally wanted Land Rovers because they look so cool, but went for Toyotas because they are so reliable, only to discover that this isn’t necessarily the case – although their car has over 400,000km on the clock. Istanbul is currently having a tulip festival with flowers all over the city. Turns out they’re originally from Turkey and not Holland.
Istanbul on foot is a pretty crazy place – you need a Red Bull just to be able to fall asleep. We ended up in the old town, sampling bits of baklava and breads along the way as we made our way to the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque and other sites.
Highlights include the fish market, Basilica Cistern, and a street with music shops full of Martin acoustics, Parker Fly’s and other guitars I used to drool over when my university degree was something to “fall back on” if my music career didn’t work out.
We’ve both experienced the call to prayer in other countries, and it always makes us feel like we’re in an exotic location, especially when walking through places like the Grand Bazaar and seeing streets turned into places of prayer, although the 05:00 am Allahm is not as much fun.
We watched fishermen catching little fish on a bridge over the Bosphorous Strait, 6 at a time, which we later enjoyed battered and deep-fried at a little fish shop in a slightly quieter street. Having experienced the odd drunken kebab in London, our expectations were pretty low, however sober we weren’t disappointed and really enjoyed a different version of the doner kebab, with chicken, fried chips, pickled chillis and a yoghurt drink thrown in to wash it all down. The yoghurt also comes cleverly disguised as milk, something we discovered when our tea curdled the next morning.
We spent most of the next day driving through more Istanbul rush-hour traffic, in the rain, trying to find a Toyota service station as worryingly our car is using oil and we want to take it for a service after adding over 6,000km in one month. As there were no campsites in the area I redeemed myself from the almond saga and haggled a hotel manager down from 180 Lira per night to 120. After quite a bit of google translate while talking to somebody at the Toyota service station, we found out that a service was going to cost us 10,000 Lira (over £3,500). A bit of haggling later and a service was going to cost us £400, using our own filters etc. It looks like it might have to wait until Egypt.
Hopefully the oil issue isn’t too serious – as with diagnosing health issues online, diagnosing car problems can also result in sleepless nights. Please don’t helpfully mention the words “head gasket” in any comments!
After our unsuccessful attempt with Toyota we did a 9 hour drive to Cappadocia, amazed at how much the landscape in Turkey changes in such short distances. They clearly aren’t messing around with Syria on their doorstep as we passed a convoy of trucks towing about 20 tanks and saw a fighter jet and 2 army helicopters flying around Ankara.
This morning we woke up to the sound of a flame thrower right outside our tent, opened the flap and had a hot air balloon about 20 metres above us coming down to land nearby. There were balloons all around us, with the most bizarre Martian landscape in the background. The rest of the day has been just as horrible, with a long walk through strange rock formations, looking at old houses and Christian churches cut into the rock over 1,000 years ago.
We’ll be here for the next three days or so, doing a bit of sightseeing and relaxing before heading over to Egypt for the real start of our trip.