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…..