Friday our last Overland Day

We set out early for a reconnaissance mission to locate our new hotel without our luggage. We found that it was just five minutes away and that our room was available immediately. Great stuff.

We then returned to the original hotel for breakfast and to consolidate the baggage. Our fellow travellers were busy with hectic plans for the day as they will all leave, either for home or for adventures new, over the next few days. After completing our first delivery of baggage (which does not bode well for getting stuff home!) we set out for the second time with Wendy and Sarah as we had decided to stroll to the spice market with them prior to making the most of the sunny day to do a boat trip down the Bospherous.

Although there are signs of the spice stalls being taken over by other elements, it is still pretty impressive and I could have lost Keith there for days!! When we emerged at the other end we just had to cross the road to board our boat, the timing was perfect. It is a very popular thing to do so the boat was crowded, but it was very pleasant, if a little rocky where the tides meet. A number of cruise ships were berthed across the river – apparently they totally eclipse the view from the new art gallery on the waterside where they are docked. It must be very frustrating!

After our little cruise, we decided to take the advice of the guidebook and have lunch by the riverside at one of what Keith declared as ‘the best fast food ever’! Three exotic boats were moored by the river. Immediately in front of each boat were small primary school sized chairs and tables. Rather remarkably, on nearly every child sized stool sits a full sized adult tucking into hot mackerel sandwiches. We joined the diners. The sandwiches were delicious and the system very effective. People purchase their food, eat it and, given that the sitting area is not very comfortable for a long sit, get up and walk away. A team of young men efficiently literally sweep away the debris and another set of eaters take over the table. Genius!

We then strolled back to the hotel and had a luxurious siesta before returning to the hotel of our chums to have a pre dinner last drink before our last supper. Simon and Emma joined us and they had put together a slide show of the trip from their photographs. It was great – we remembered, we laughed, we hooted – such a rich tapestry of events.

In high spirits we set off for our last meal together. We shared our individual highs and lows, the fun, our original chaos and marvelled at our later slick handling of truck lunches and camping. We were told we were a good group to be with – but I guess they say that to all the groups! We thanked Emma and Simon for their contribution to what has been the most wonderful experience.

You take your ingredients – a group of people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and for a short time Holland. You throw them together and sit them in a metal container for hours on end, throw in a lot of experiences, some challenges, add laughter and the occasional tear. You heat them up, then expose them to cold and what do you get? A group of very happy people who have shared so much, learnt a lot (not least from and about each other) and arrived at the end wiser, a bit sad to part but with a shared treasured memory that will never be forgotten……..

25th October, Istanbul.

Thursday – en route to Istanbul

It was an early start. We left Ankara just after 7.30 following a surprisingly good breakfast. It was a chilly morning and the truck was cold. After several renditions of Istanbul songs, a quiet pervaded the truck. It was to be our last travelling day together.

Keith and I had been on the truck before breakfast gathering our things together that had somehow spread throughout the truck.

It was a dark and overcast morning as we passed the big sports stadium in the centre of Ankara. A sprawling retail park on the outskirts of the city with a huge mosque in the middle of it was the last remnant of Ankara and then we were on the main highway between Ankara and Istanbul.

Initially the route took us through undulating light sand coloured hills of scrubland. Then more trees appeared and further on there were plantations of Christmas like pine trees that seemed a bit unlikely in this landscape. Later the road climbed to a sort of highland area, initially with hills and then mountains around us – our ears popped as we gained height. It continued to be cold on the truck even though the sun had emerged from the cloud. Rolling hills returned and there were more pine trees with small settlements amongst them.

The road travelled on, hills, tunnels, towns and lakes came and went. About 90 kilometres from Istanbul the towns started merging and then, aside from patches of green woodland and the occasional green valley, it seemed we were seeing the outlying conurbation that eventually became Istanbul.

The number of buses and large trucks increased, the valleys were now full of houses and suddenly the sea was beside us and large container ships were anchored. I think we were looking out over the Sea of Marmara. The traffic was heavy as it crawled up to the big bridge in front of us – we were crossing from Asia into Europe. Istanbul proper began. We had made it from China to Istanbul. What a journey for us, but how much more of a feat it must have been for those ancients who made all or part of the route, without Penelope and the intrepid Simon? Apparently many who reached Istanbul never returned home, but remained to enrich the cosmopolitan population that is Istanbul. Istanbul – the gateway to two very different worlds. I am not sure, from our experience, that this is not the same now ….

To move on. After another underpass, there were manicured gardens and then we were at the docks. We could smell fish. Then the fish market appeared. There were trawlers now out in the bay. We were then driving along the waterside. Small fishing boats were moored at short jetties that reached out into the sea. Rod fisherman stood optimistically by the sea wall their lines trailing slackly in the water. Ferries scudded over what looked like lightly choppy waves.

The traffic was relentless and our hotel was in one of the narrow streets of the old town, so the decision was made to take the truck directly to the coach park where it will stay until Simon and Emma take it off to Greece where it will over-winter, in a few days time. Penelope has always been slightly schizophrenic – mostly a truck but a bus when it suits!

We battled through the traffic, still causing people to stop and stare. With remarkable accuracy the coach park was found and with the usual agility we were parked.

The last few hours on the bus had been frenetic as we cleared the overhead luggage racks and emptied the ‘fridge and did a final tally of usage. Therefore, once the engine was turned off, I collected up the rubbish and found a bin for it, and the bags were unloaded and it was done. The truck was locked up to be seen no more. The next step was to find someone to take us to the hotel.

We looked like the return of a scout camping party as we stood on the pavement surrounded by bags and baggage. No wonder no taxi driver wanted the fare! In the end the ever resourceful Simon found a ‘man with a van’ (literally!). At first the idea was that just the luggage would be carried off, but in the event there was room for us all to pile into the back on top of the bags. I took up a fairly lounging stance sitting on the box containing the remaining three bottles of wine, supported by various rucksacks and bedding. Peter’s knee proved to be a good anchor point when cornering took place.

As it was a narrow, single vehicle road with a lot of parked cars for much of the route, progress was slow and, without any windows for ventilation, things got a bit uncomfortable for some, but we eventually arrived at our destination only to create some consternation in the traffic behind as we baled out and retrieved our bags. Nevertheless we had made it.

Our room gave us a bit of a view of the sea, but ours is to be only a short stay as we will leave the hotel to go to our ‘treat’ accommodation until we leave Istanbul on the 30th October.

We gathered on the 6th floor breakfast room overlooking the sea for a celebratory glass of wine and to be reunited with Wendy and Sarah. We had a short orientation session with them before having supper on a busy street near the the Grand Bazaar. Fish – a real treat following three fish less months. (Tinned tuna does not count!)

We walked back, tired but with a feeling of mission accomplished. Our last supper and the true end of the affair will be tomorrow, exactly three months after Keith and I arrived in Beijing and I started my blog…..

Wednesday – our penultimate journey – off to Ankara

We had our last breakfast at our lovely Travellers Cave Pension looking over the Goreme town pillars. We were too late for the balloon flyover. Gathering ourselves up, we set off down the small lane where the hotel was for the Main Street so as not to offend the locals again by bringing the truck up to the door.

After the excitements of the day before, it was inevitable that the trip to Ankara was going to be low key.

It seemed to take no time at all to leave our lovely Cappadocian landscape behind and find ourselves driving through what looked to be an ‘executive home’ housing estate. It was certainly a marked contrast to most of the places on our travels. After passing through a large town with high apartment blocks and several mosques, we moved into a vast agricultural plain, dotted with the occasional tree. The majority of trees grown here are apricot and walnut and the main crops are wheat, potatoes and a kind of squash that are grown for their seeds. These are fried and used as a popular snack. The discarded outer shells are seen as small yellow balls all over the fields. The rich larval soil looked dark and deep.

In the distance another volcano appeared at the edge of the plain and then a range of mountains stretched along to our right. To our left salt flats glistened white in the sunshine. This was a large salt lake that followed us for a long way as we charged along the highway, eating up the miles to Turkey’s capital city. Ataturk moved the Turkish capital to Ankara in 1926 in an effort to turn his back on the spectacular mosques and palaces of Istanbul. Originally called Angora after its key area of trade, the hair of Angora goats, Ankara has grown from a small provincial town into a vast city.

We occasionally passed farm buildings and even more rarely compounds of new farm machinery or trucks. This was the flat landscape of Central Anatolia.

We were passing another large lake when the traffic ground to a halt. We had come across the first road crash we had experienced in all the time we have been on the road. In a very short time we were moving off again and before long we were on the outskirts of Ankara. The dreaded gear problem rose to the fore again as Simon gallantly tackled the mass of traffic, underpasses and flyovers of the city. Gone were the groups of old gentleman sitting on cast off chairs and benches in the shade and lady’s with their shopping baskets full of bread and vegetables. Gone were young women swathed in scarves and pulling along reluctant young boys. Ankara appeared as a busy, brash city with no time for such niceties. We had been pulled back into the 21st century with a vengeance!

Our hotel proved to be in an older part of town and after dumping our overnight luggage we were off to find the Citadel the only part of the ancient city remaining. Nothing is known of the original builder on the site or the date but the current Citadel is Roman in origin, the Byzantines increased its size. In its hey day the surrounding wall had 44 towers and was 42 metres high.

We wandered through the narrow streets inside the wall. Many of the houses have been renovated and their ground floors are shops. The old Citadel area itself seems in part to have been made from a real ‘hotch potch’ of enormous old stones – some of which have been put in upside down, as indicated by their inscriptions! The design of the main castle was also very odd, with first a round inner courtyard and on increasingly higher levels walls and walkways. The walls were at least four foot thick. From the very top level there was an incredible view down over the metropolis of Ankara and in the misty distance, mountains.

On the way up and down we saw women industriously crotcheting all sorts of jewellery, bags and baby clothes. Sadly few people stopped to inspect their wares. It had been quite a stiff climb to the top and we stopped in an empty cafe for refreshment. I had home made lemonade which was delicious. Keith had an ayran the local salted yoghurt drink that he has taken to.

We trundled back down the hill, inspecting a local clothes area on the way, which was an education. Ankle length winter coats for ladies, together with some rather startlingly bright lacy affairs (that I can only believe are worn behind closed doors) and some weird get ups for children were readily available. Wedding dresses were also on display – all very exotic. It would seem that there is nothing particularly demure about the Moslem bride. However, it must be a bit hard to have the opportunity to wear all that frou-frou stuff at the wedding and then move to the very baggy trousers and the long coat afterwards. How lucky we are to have a choice! In fairness a lot of the local women seemed to have made their choice too and it has noyhing to do with polyester baggy trousers…..

After a rather scary skirmish out into the traffic we eventually found a little local cafe for supper and returned to our hotel to prepare for our last drive.

Tomorrow Istanbul.