Welcome to the blog for our round the world trip.

02 February 2008

Cold Turkey

Temple to Athena, Assos, Turkey
Originally uploaded by rtw2007.
We sailed from Italy to Greece in, quite literally, “animal class”. We slept in the camper van on the open deck, next to two trucks packed with tetchy, smelly bulls. This was probably a class above “tourist class” cabins in the ferry itself, though. The ferry looked like it should have been taken out of service in 1975 and was almost entirely populated by surly Bulgarian truckers eating truly awful canteen food at extortionate prices.

Arriving at 3am into Igoumenitsa (or Igou-Igou as Helen has now christened it), we drove down the ferry ramp in our pyjamas and promptly found a space (among said surly Bulgarian truckers) to park up and get some more sleep. The next day, the town turned out to be surprisingly pleasant for a port town, with lots of pavement cafes and smart looking people drinking espresso coffee in the glorious sunshine. We meant to leave immediately, but accidentally spent three nights camping on a nearby cliff-top overlooking the harbour and the town, popping into Igou Igou from time to time to stock up on local kebabs and pizza. When we eventually managed to move on, we made our way swiftly across Greece, on an impressive new motorway slicing through snowy mountain scenery, which neither of us had expected. A day and a half later, we reached the Turkish border and prepared to leave the EU for the fourth time on this trip.

The Greek – Turkish border is surprisingly well fortified (old animosity clearly runs deep), with a group of bored looking soldiers guarding a Soviet-looking concrete bridge across a river between the two countries. The border crossing itself was easy, although Michael did have to stand in a queue for ten minutes whilst they checked that we had no Pit Bull Terriers. There was no mistaking the fact that we were now in Turkey: this must be one of the most patriotic countries we have been to, with enormous scarlet flags (bearing a white crescent and star) billowing in the wind from every house, shop, petrol station or convenient hill side vantage point.

Reaching Turkey puts us back onto the route which we considered to drive back from India: through Pakistan, Iran and then Turkey. Although it is a shame not to have been able to drive back, with hindsight it is a good thing that we didn’t try it, given the terrible recent events in Pakistan (the bombings in Peshwar and Lahore, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, being only part of the story). It is really saddening to see all of that happening in a country which we really enjoyed and where we found the people to be so overwhelmingly hospitable and friendly. On top of that, Iran has just had one of the worst winters for years, with people literally freezing to death waiting for snow-blocked roads to be cleared. So, all in all, a quick whizz through Italy and Greece has turned out to be far less stressful, less life threatening and a good deal warmer.

The Turkish roads from the border were good, so we made swift progress - first east and then south onto the Gallipoli peninsula. Immediately, the towns had a more basic and slightly more Middle Eastern feel than in Greece or Italy. The camper van is such an ideal way to travel here. First, everyone has (without exception) been very friendly, waving to us as we drive past in the van. Second, there are essentially no tourists around and as a result no-one seems to care where we park; we can literally pick the most picturesque spot on a beach or a headland and stop for the night, giving us fantastic views to wake up to in the morning. On Gallipoli, that meant parking right on the beach overlooking the Dardenelles straight, where we recorded our coldest night in the van so far, waking up at 5am to register a chilly -4.2 degrees outside (-2.3 degrees inside) and find a sheet of ice on the inside of the window above our heads. Quite a different story from much of this journey in the scorching temperatures of Central and Southern Asia. Thankfully, a burst of diesel air heating was enough to warm us through in time for breakfast.

The Gallipoli peninsula is a beautiful and historic place to explore. There are pine forests and green hills overlooking the sea in all directions, dotted with cemeteries and memorials to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in a series of battles to gain control of the straight (and thus access to the Black Sea) in 1915. ANZAC Cove, to the north, attracts thousands of visitors from Down Under each year for a ceremony to honour their war dead. Alongside the many smaller memorials are two huge monuments at the end of the peninsula, one to the Turkish soldiers (led Mustafa Kemal, later Ataturk) and one to the British soliders (directed from afar by Churchill). Between the two is an extensive graveyard to 12,000 luckless French soldiers, who having successfully conquered their side of the straight were called in as ill-fated reinforcements to help out the British and were promptly wiped out en masse by the Turks.

Crossing the Dardenelles was a short, yet inter-continental, ferry journey and took us back onto Asian soil. The Turkish coast is dotted with ancient cities and temples, which we are slowly working our way through as we head south. First stop was Troy. Sadly, we didn’t meet Brad Pitt looking dashing in full battle armour, so we consoled ourselves by playing in the enormous wooden Trojan horse at the entrance to the site. After Troy, we visited the picturesque village of Assos and the “Temple of Athena”, which is in fact only three and a half pillars of what used to be a temple, but which sits in a stunning location on a headland overlooking the sea and the Greek island of Lesvos. A taste of the ancient history lessons to come.


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