What a week, after just over 10 weeks completely stationery at Sundance Camp in Turkey and then a short sprint in the outside world of Turkey, with a two week ‘just to be sure’ stay in a lovely apartment in Gulluk we have done 1,500 km in the five days. Buster hasn’t known what has hit him, but nevertheless responded as usual very well, requiring his little health kick cocktail of AdBlue once in those miles, as well as diesel of course.
Those miles travelling have also taken some degree of toll on us as well with us Turkxiting on Saturday 20th June- 15 weeks after our entry. Our plan was to leave Turkey and enter Greece as soon as the borders opened and Greece said Yes. But with the last update announcement from the Greeks on the 15th, and with us already drooling with thoughts of feta cheese and pork the answer from Greece was still a firm No. The next update would be in 2 weeks, and so with heavy hearts we agreed to motorhome on and see some of the Turkey we hadn’t in all our weeks there.
We headed to the lovely World Heritage tourist attraction of Pamukkale. Pamukkale has been made eternally famous by it’s gleaming white calcite travertines (terraces) overrunning with warm mineral rich waters. Of course, like most natural tourist attractions this has changed over the years and now some of the terracing is man made and the water flow is controlled lessening the effect. You could, as vouched for by David and Katherine (who visited the site many years ago (( not together!!)) swim very freely in all of the jacuzzi like pools and even drink the water, which was apparently like drinking hot mineral water. We were lucky to some degree in visiting the springs just as Turkey re-opened for internal tourism, in so much as the place was not overrun with coach loads of visitors. But you could tell from the town and its tourist tat just how busy this place is generally. We made sure we took full advantage of this temporary quietness and despite not being able to swim or drink the water we all thoroughly enjoyed it.
It was on the long drive to Pamukkale that we had something of a light bulb moment after hearing that fellow Sundance kids Lisa and Danny had transited through Bulgaria and were now in Serbia and planning the rest of their trip back to the UK, we both looked at each other and said why don’t we just do the same. Another two weeks in Turkey wouldn’t be so bad, but the numbers of Covid cases had increased dramatically following the release of restrictions and just how long would it be before the curfews etc were put back in place. While in Pamukkale, this was confirmed by a phone call from the Greek Embassy in Turkey- with the numbers increasing it would be unlikely that they would open the Greek borders to those entering from Turkey. Turkey had also announced that with the borders open to some other countries they would only extend our now expired visas for so long. In other words, we don’t care where you might ideally want to go, but sod off somewhere!
So, diversion ahead was agreed by the four remaining Sundance kids and the plan was put into action very quickly.
That afternoon saw us making a huge drive north towards the border. It was nearly 6.30 when both Buster and Jez arrived at the seaside town of Ayvalik. The town we discovered is absolutely delightful, with much of its history and architecture stemming from its past when it was Greek. In the old town there are still Greek Orthodox churches that have now been converted into mosques and many of the older residents there still speak Greek. The Ottoman Greeks, who made up the majority of the population in Ayvalik, were forced to abandon the land of their ancestors and relocate to the nearby Greek island of Lesbos, while some Turks from that island, were in turn forced to start a new life in Ayvalik. All of this happening in the early 1920’s following the Turkish War of Independence. We benefited from this hybrid of cultures by doing a spot of retail therapy from the cute and interesting artisanal shops in the old town and had a lovely steak and meze dinner that evening, well deserved after our first long diversionary drive.
As keen as we were to put Turkxit into action (unlike the other xit) David really wanted to visit Gallipoli, being a 1st World War buff, and as we really did have to drive through it there was no point in not stopping. We made the 20 minute or so ferry crossing from Asian back into Europe (geographical continents) and headed to a Park for Night spot in the small unremarkable (LP) town of Eceabat. 80 lira for the crossing, about £9.00.
The Gallipoli Peninsula is now a protected Historical National Park and so it should be with its countryside a memorial to the many thousands who fought and died there in that War. There are more than 60 meticulously maintained cemeteries on Gallipoli commemorating the 130,000 Turkish and Allied deaths that occurred during that bloody campaign.
David’s great uncle fought at Gallipoli during the campaign and either fortunately or unfortunately was wounded and sent home. He went on to fight at the Somme and Passchendaele, wounded again at both. He survived all only to meet his end three years later due to another pandemic -The Spanish Flu. Rather strange that we were visiting this historic site over a hundred years later while the world is again fighting off a pandemic.
Rather than attempt to visit the landing beaches and memorials ourselves we opted to take a tour from a local company called Crowded House Tours and despite the name, everything in the small town seemed to be called Crowded House or some other Anzac linked name, the tour was excellent. Our guide being an historian answered all our questions and gave us a more detailed insight to the history offering his local knowledge as well. It was the first tour he had done since the 20th March so he was more than delighted when we made the call to the office- hopefully things will continue to pick up from them, but the four of us would thoroughly recommend them.
We then made a three hour or so drive up the border town of Edirne arriving late afternoon to this strange town, capital of the Ottoman empire until Mehmet II conquered Constantinople. We thought that the closer we got to the border and also Istanbul the more European everywhere would become. Well to clarify that further-the easier it would be to get a drink in bars and restaurants- not so. In the last three places we stopped at, as above, alcohol was not readily available and so much so that whilst wandering around the old town in Edirne, trying to find a bar after Google and Maps Me had failed, Katherine had to resort to desperate but ingenious methods to find a bar. After all what else are Vodafone stores for, if not to direct their customers to drinking holes. The logic was good, young local staff but the three of them still had to phone a friend to obtain the name and location of one such hostelry. We left the store feeling like perhaps we should be attending AA meetings but followed the directions given. Again, we failed and again eventually had to ask in another store- this time we chose a shoe shop. Bizarrely, amazingly or just complete BS the shop and the bar were owned by the same people and so the young gentlemen in question took us all firmly by the hand and deposited us in said bar- The Patio. We enjoyed our last drink and food in Turkey before making our way back to the vans for our last sleep on Turkish soil- or so we hoped. For the last 15 weeks we have heard the call to prayer every day, included the first one at 4.30 or 5 each morning, so where could be more fitting for us to spend our last night than in the car park of Selimiye Mosque- A World Heritage listed building, and also again for us the first visit inside one. To be honest the rest of the mosques on a whole have an almost standard look and build, like they have been prefabricated and then dropped down. This one, built between 1569 and 1575 is believed by many to be the greatest in detail and design. However, it still didn’t stop the pair of us screaming awake, WTF by the 4.30 call.
I fully expected to cry when we left Turkey, as it has been an emotional journey in the country and we will always remember it, not necessarily for the right reasons. We will always remember the absolute kindness, generosity and warmth of the people. We will return in better times and explore fully, but we thank all those people who have helped us through and along during these times. Another reason for no tears is that customs and border control staff are the most oddest of people, for the main devoid of any emotion or sense of humour and of course we were even more tense because of the Covid rules and regulations. The Sundance Four all made it through and after one nice and one not so nice experience in Bulgaria we are now in our respective vans in the Serbian town of Nis.
We left Turkey with temperatures of mid thirties and now sit in long trousers and long sleeved t-shirts, considering dusting down the hot water bottle again. Church bells ringing replace the call to prayers. I had my last bite from a Turkish mosquito in Edirne before being welcomed by a Serbian one. We have had our first taste of pork again after 15 weeks (barring the celebrational bacon). Tea is again made from a tea-bag and served with milk. Wine is now costing £20 per bottle in a bar, compared to £12. We continue to get stared at for being underdressed, quite rightly so until we got the long trousers out again. People continue to wonder in amazement as to how we have got to wherever we are, we have been the first tourists to many places, attractions etc. The vans both attract admiring looks, with double takes from many, when they first see one English reg van and then two seconds or so later another passing. No one here yet has asked us how much the vans cost and if they could see inside (Turkish people were very forward at both) .
Providing we can live with the weather, we intend to stay about ten to fourteen days in Serbia exploring and then continue our journeys, always preparing now to be ready to make another diversion should we have to and another XIT.
Top Motorhome Tips of the Week
If you don’t empty your toilet for a few days in the heat – it will stop customs and border control officials from entering the van to inspect. (Although we had nothing to hide)!
You can fit many pairs of new shoes and/or sandals into any size motorhome