Dire straits

191 nights : 7,279 miles travelled : countries visited 14

“And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits”.   Sun Tzu, The Art of War

We had survived more than a week without electricity and WIFI so we were looking forward to both as we drove from Istanbul to the Gallipoli Peninsula. We arrived at Hotel Kum and Camping after a long hot drive to find the gates open but all buildings locked. We found some men working in the grounds and one approached us with a scowl. ” We are closed. We closed on the 31st October.” I was confused but happy. “Oh good, this is only the 27th!” The reply was even brusquer. “We are closed.”

We found a free and much more hospitable alternative in nearby Eceabat beside the Boomerang Cafe. Ironically, this was a much better position right next to the Canakkale Strait (the Dardanelles) and once again watching huge ships pass by from our pillow was a real treat.

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We were officially welcomed to Turkish time by Mesut and his fellow raki loving customers in the cafe as they explained that it is not only the calendar that can be ignored. The Government had postponed putting the clocks back due to the upcoming election. We were delighted to hear this as we thought we were going mad with all our devices disagreeing over what the hour was!

The  narrow strait that is the Dardanelles is the only passage to Istanbul by sea and has seen centuries of conflict. The first naval war took place here in 405 BC when the Spartans defeated the Athenian navy. Alexander the Great, Byzantine and Ottoman leaders have all recognised the strategic importance of controlling this area as they created their empires. During World War I, Britain and France made two unsuccessful attempts to capture and hold the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Straits. There were many casualties on all sides including soldiers from Australia and New Zealand but the Turkish Army managed to resist  against expectations. This campaign became a defining event in the development of Turkey as a Republic. Kemal Mustafa, who went on to become Ataturk the ‘father’ of the secular nation that Turkey is now, emerged as an outstanding commander. Despite the passage of time, ANZAC day is still commemorated every year and many visitors, young and old, still visit from Australia and New Zealand.

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The statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded Allied captain is based on an incident reported by Anzacs and reflects the compassionate tone of the Gallipoli memorials and cemeteries
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Brighton Beach
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Beach Cemetery is located at Hells Spit on the southern end of Anzac Cove
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Anzac Cove
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Private A. Yeatman is buried with twenty others at Plugges Plateau
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Allen Yeatman was a 37 year old journalist who died helping a wounded soldier. These excellent cards brought many anonymous graves to life.
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The most memorable exhibits from the innovative museum were bullets pierced by other bullets showing the intensity of artillery fire
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The Anzacs and Turkish soldiers developed a high regard for each other
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The trenches here are some of the best preserved.
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They were often just a few metres apart and there are reports of items including food being exchanged between troops of opposing sides
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The Turkish 57th Infantry Regiment Memorial
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The cemetery commemorates 1,817 soldiers who lost their lives

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The beautiful peninsula is dotted with battlefields, memorials and cemeteries
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We reached the Canakkale Martyrs Memorial at the end of the peninsula in time for sunset

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Whilst our motorhome insurance covered us for the Asian side of Turkey we did not have breakdown cover. However we were a whisper away from the archeological site of Troy so we crossed our fingers and took Brian on his first ferry crossing.

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Brian in pole position ready to cross the Dardanelles
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We’re moving with nobody in the driving seat. I’d better stay alert!

We stayed in Tevfikiye beside a pension run by Uran and his parents. The little restaurant at the front also serves as a souvenir shop, breakfast room for the guests, tea house for tourist bus drivers and storage for the scooter!  Uran is a certified guide for the site of Troy 600m away and we are really glad he showed us around. Whilst we had done a lot of advance reading on the archaeological dig and the evidence it had unearthed, we would still have found ourselves wandering around a pile of old stones. The site has revealed nine successive cities spanning thousands of years.

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A section of the walls from Troy VII the most likely time of Homer’s Trojan war
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Troy was found under an earth mound in the 19th century by English archaeologist Frank Calvert and first excavated by the infamous German Heinrich Schliemann. Some of the oldest handmade bricks are protected here by replicas.
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Well preserved altars from Roman Troy
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If the legend of the Trojan Horse were true, then this is the most likely view from the gate it was left beside
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Access to Troy II castle was via this ramp
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Schliemann’s ‘trench’ showing walls and a gate from Troy I
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The theatre dates from Roman Troy IX
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A narrow gateway on a bend suggests the city was under attack at some time
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The most famous impression of the Trojan horse dates from the 1970s!
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The locals have named this stray dog Hector and he and his gang rule the village

We seriously considered taking a chance on exploring Turkey further without breakdown insurance but decided to head to Greece for the winter. On our last night, as I turned out the light, it suddenly occurred to me that whilst we had been concerned unnecessarily about paperwork to  bring Kipper into Turkey, would we have any difficulties getting him out? I decided there was no point researching it at midnight. Thirty seconds later I was on the internet researching. I discovered that Turkey is classified as high risk for rabies, so an additional test is required for entry into the EU to prove the rabies vaccine is active. Unfortunately the results take three months to process.  Without the test there was a chance of Kipper being taken into three months quarantine at the border.WHY DID I NOT CHECK THIS BEFORE? I decided there was no point waking Graham up to tell him. He would only be up all night worrying.  Thirty seconds later I was shaking Graham awake. We worried together all night, facing our own dire straits!

Uran was a hero. He initially laughed at the rules, then researched and agreed we would need to take Kipper to a vet for the test. He called his vet who said we should be able to get a government veterinary licence instead. Uran drove with us to the local government offices in Cannakale where an official said that no, we would need to go to a vet for the test and wait the three months. Uran asked her to check with Ankara and get back to us. Meanwhile, we convinced ourselves that there are many worse things than spending the winter in Turkey! We discussed where we could go and what we could do. An hour and a half later we received a call from the government official. Yes a veterinary licence would be issued. A further two hours spent between three government offices produced our valuable paperwork.

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Feeling relieved but 10 years older!

We approached the Greek border the next day proudly grasping Kipper’s pet passport and the hard earned official, government rubber stamped and sealed licence. The border control officer looked horrified when I offered them to him and quickly waved them away. Customs control didn’t even let the wheels stop rolling so were completely unaware that we may have a dog, cat or elephant in our motorhome, never mind the accompanying import licence. It was one of those very rare occasions when we were both speechless!

M & G x

Treat of the week: We had great difficulty communicating our requests in Turkey.  Two coffees please….Large or small?…Small please……..I’ll bring you doubles. (Grand Bazaar, Istanbul)

I’d like one melon please (me holding up 1 finger)….Farmer outside his gate replies  in Turkish and holds up 10 fingers….No I’d like 1 melon (1 finger raised)….Farmer pulls out carrier bag and starts filling it with melons….Okay I’ll take 2 melons (2 fingers raised)….Farmer continues talking in Turkish and keeps filling bag with melons…. Okay I’ll take 3 melons (3 fingers raised)….Farmer starts emptying bag and hands me 4 melons….How much..I start to raise my fingers to sign?……………………”ten lira” he answers in English. (Roadside in Anatolia)

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Melon every day for a week!

 

 

 

 

  

 

We meet east meets west

182 nights : 6,965 miles travelled : Countries visited: 14

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul”   Alphonse de Lamartine

It is not a good idea to drive a motorhome into Istanbul with a hangover, even a mild one. The night before, we had celebrated getting across the Turkish border with Kipper after a few anxious days worrying about entry requirements. Matt from Sakar Hills, our last Bulgarian campsite, gently pointed out that we were  being too British. He reassured us that rules may be there but are not necessarily designed to be followed. He was right; we were not asked about the dog or the absent paperwork!

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A sesame roll seller takes advantage of a captive audience

Taking Brian into any city centre is a challenge but surviving two hours of writhing queues, with lane hopping drivers squeezing in all around us was a feat of concentration and nerve. On the upside, we had time to note how Istanbul is mushrooming and to spot some of the key sites as we finally reached the centre. The relief of arriving was mixed with euphoria….we had driven all the way to Istanbul!

We parked on a fisherman’s wharf, next to the Sea of Marmara and behind the Blue Mosque, at the hub of endless activity. By day, sightseers watched ships leave and approach the Golden Horn or the Bosphorus. Fishermen prepared their boats.  Tourist bus drivers chatted and waited. Vendors brought glasses of tea or sold sesame rolls to anyone wanting refreshment. The piercing call to prayer floated over the top of it all. Dogs played or slept. By night, lovers watched the lights on the water. Ships sounded their horns as they waited. Vendors sold seafood and party goers extended the fun by dancing on the tarmac with their car stereos pumping out the beats. The faithful were called to prayer an hour before sunrise. Dogs barked or slept.

SAM_8544We did not sleep, much. But that was part of the magic of our stay. The cloud barely lifted and it rained often. But Istanbul is always sparkling in our memories. New friends David and Carol took turns with us to visit the old city or to keep an eye on our vans. But very soon this strange place felt safe and familiar.

Our walk into the city took us past some of the 19th century wooden houses which are now protected. Some have been restored and converted into boutique hotels while the Tourism Police occupy a lovely yellow example, although a suicide bomber caused damage earlier in the year. SAM_8282SAM_8138

Ancient and beautiful crowd in together around the site of the Hippodrome making our work as tourists both easy and supremely satisfying. Only the central line of the Roman chariot racetrack remains, marked by monuments from across the ages.

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The Egyptian Obelisk and Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus
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The Serpentine Column from Delphi, Greece is nearly 2,500 years old
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The domed fountain commemorates Kaiser Wilhelm II visit and looks very out of place

The courtyard of the Blue Mosque is on the former site of the Hippodrome’s royal lodge, a grandstand for the emperor and family to watch the chariot racing. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, or Blue Mosque as it is popularly known was completed in 1616. It is simply beautiful and the space seems designed to draw your gaze upwards.

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We returned later in the week

A short walk away is the most incredible indoor space we’ve seen. The Aghia Sophia was originally a church, then a mosque and now a museum to an amazing 1,400 years of inspiring people to consider a world beyond ours.

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The ‘church of holy wisdom’,  Aghia Sophia
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The scale of everything is awe inspiring
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The Imam stands only part way up the minber or pulpit leaving the highest point for God
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Scaffolding for restoration masks much of the space
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The sultan’s lodge
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Byzantine mosaics have been uncovered

A much more earthly need for water led to the creation of the cavernous Basilica Cistern in 532. More than 300 columns hold up the ceiling and the low lighting and sound of drips on water as you stroll around inspire many whispers of wow. We had never seen anything like it.

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The Medusa heads at the base of two columns suggest other monuments were plundered
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Their positioning upside down and on a side are a mystery

We tried to see Topkapi Palace on a wet Saturday so the queues to see it’s many treasures were discouragingly long. The only room we got a good peek at was the Circumcision Pavilion (no queues there!) which was both peaceful and beautiful. Like all areas of royal life even this procedure was associated with sumptuous ceremony!

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A series of gates and courtyards leads to the centre of the palace
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The Iftariye Pavilion is a canopied balcony giving views down to the Golden Horn
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The Circumcision Pavilion is decorated with Iznik tiles
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The Iznik tiles from Turkey are found throughout the Palace as well as in the Blue Mosque
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Never too wet to spot a ship!

David negotiated a bargain price and unusually, a ride for Kipper , on a boat trip around the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. We could see how Istanbul is a meeting point in many ways; water meets land, old meets new and of course Europe meets Asia.

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The Galata Tower dates from the 6th century when it was used to monitor shipping
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Old and new
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At last a bit of sun!
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The Dolmabahce Palace
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Fried fish to finish

These meeting points mean that trade has always been at the heart of the city.  The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar were buzzing….albeit with tourists as well as locals. A treat for us was being able to visit many sites together while Kipper snuggled up with Carol and we both tried our first Turkish coffee and the first of a lot of baklava on our outings!

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The Grand Bazaar was established in the 15th century and is still thriving
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A unique shopping experience
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Great prices for the spices
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Teas and sweets are also popular
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The Turkish Delight was eaten before it could be photographed!

The sun finally appeared on our last full day and we took Kipper to Gullame Park which was once the rose garden of Topkapi Palace. We sat and had lunch in the park cafe and looked down at the activity on the water from a different angle.

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The skies are clearing
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The view from Brian’s kitchen improved
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We saw a traditional method of delivering traditional rugs as we walked to the park

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Looking across the city walls towards the Bosphorus

The full moon that night set the seal on a magical week.

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M & G xx

Treat of the week: I couldn’t leave Istanbul without a visit to a haman. I picked the closest one to us and it turned out to be one of the most historic and opulent Turkish baths in the city. Indeed it was magical sitting under the 18th century dome pierced with star shaped windows as I sweated and waited to be scrubbed. The Cagaloglu Baths can boast of previous visitors including Kate Moss and Michelle Pfiefer and I imagined the attendant thinking this was just another body to deal with. Stripped down we are all alike on that marble slab….yeah right…. alike as a tapered candle is to a lava lamp! But I did glow afterwards!

MeSAM_8545anwhile the boys enjoyed some quiet time watching the ships go by.