overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Pic of the week
Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

"Hello, where are you from?" ... "England" ... "Lovely jubbly!"

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 20 September 2005.

Turkey, Country 9, Diary entry 29th Aug - 1st Sep 2005, Total distance in western Turkey: 3122 KM

While I was busy writing this, Alex and Maz were also busy selecting photos and creating the first instalments of the photo album. Click the Photo link on the left to see the first ones: UK, France and Italy to start with and now they've worked out how to do it, more should be added soon so keep checking!

I think we counted 9 different windows we had to visit to get across the border from Bulgaria into Turkey - a couple on the Bulgarian side but the majority on the Turkish side. Police first, who sent us to buy a visa. Then another window to pay a few euros for something or other to do with the car, insurance, paperwork to log the car into the country, special stamp in the passport so they know not to let us leave without the car, etc. etc. All these windows were in the same building but not in any logical order so we had to just ask each person to point at the next, the majority waving us only in an approximate direction with a frustrated wave of the hand, then finally we got back into the cars and one final control where they checked everything was done before they let us in.

It was quite late by the time we finished all this excitement (once again breaking the "no driving at night" rule) so the first priority was to find a place to camp for the night. We found the terrain rather open but eventually found a place we thought should be far from anybody. It was fine, we all slept well and when we got up the next morning the fields we were in seemed deserted, until Maz was rudely interrupted during her shower by a farm hand driving up and quickly retreating - not sure who was the more surprised! We joked that none of his friends would believe a word of it - try getting anyone to believe a story like that down the pub - and sure enough 5 minutes later he was back with a car full of friends! Unfortunately for them the show was over so they pretended they were there for something else then went away.

A tankSo after a couple of hours of motorway driving and getting short-changed millions of lire by the thieving lowlife on the toll booth, we finally arrived on the outskirts of Istanbul. The only thing we knew was that the main sights are in the Sultanahmet district, which is a peninsula formed by the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea, and the fourth side is fortified by some impressive city walls. We eventually navigated our way there which was made challenging by half the roads being closed, and found somewhere to park and fulfilled priority number one: KEBAB! Now those of you who know me will know that I am something of an authority on kebabs (yeah ok, before anyone else says it, any food) but Alex and Maz were also very keen to try a proper Turkish one in Turkey, even though it was only about 10am! Well the judges� decision was a unanimous thumbs up, though Maz did cheat and leave the 20cm long chilli pepper untouched.

While we were eating a number of fighter jets and helicopters flew overhead so we started to wonder if a new war had started (it is hard to keep track with current affairs when travelling, I only occasionally think to look at the BBC website and haven�t looked at The Sun online since I was at work!) and then as we walked down to the main road there were tanks and armoured cars parading along the street. We watched for a while and noticed that a lot of the shops were shut so we half-guessed what was going on, and finally someone confirmed to us that 30th August is Victory Day in Turkey which is a public holiday to celebrate the formation of the republic in 1922. We thought it was lucky that this hadn�t affected our kebab shop otherwise we�d have been really upset.

Hagia Sofia museumWe caught the tram into the centre of Sultanahmet and the first priority was to locate the Iranian consulate and check its opening times. The normal processing time for Iranian visas is 10 days, but Maz had already arranged with an agent in London that ours would be fast-tracked for us because hanging around in any one place or returning 10 days later would have seriously affected our schedule. We discovered when we sat down to discuss what we wanted to do that we�d still be pretty busy during our time in Turkey. The fast-track system is supposed to be next day, but we wanted to allow as much time as possible in case of problems. The consulate is actually very close to where we were anyway and we found it closed, its opening hours being 8:30-11:30am, but it had been closed for Victory Day anyway. That meant we�d have to get up bright and early the next day. We�d previously been told that we would need passport photos on proper photo paper so we went into a photo shop to have these done - really the less said about these the better because not only did all three of us look like criminals (normal) but the prints were very poor quality and pixellated so we didn�t even look like real criminals but computer generated ones. After a brief spot of negotiation with the shop owner who swore that they were good quality we took them anyway and hoped they�d be good enough.

The Blue MosqueWe decided that travelling out of the city to a camp site would be too much of a pain and with the vast number of backpacker hostels at reasonable prices we checked into one that was recommended by the trusty Lonely Planet. Alex and Maz got a double room and I just went for a dorm bed which is a bit of a risk sometimes but I ended up sharing with a very nice Polish medical student called Ania who had been in Turkey on work placement for a few weeks - some might say she got the short straw having to share with me but I don�t think I snored too much. With accommodation sorted, now we could start the proper sightseeing and the first place we headed to was the nearby Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque is a relatively recent addition to the Sultanahmet skyline being built in the early 1600s, but it is a stunning building with large domes surrounded by six slender minarets giving it a more delicate appearance than many of the surrounding buildings. We went to go inside but it closes for prayer times so we sat in the courtyard to watch the faithful filing in to say their prayers. We then wandered off to look around a bit and found the adjacent Hippodrome which is where chariot races and were held around 200 A.D. but now is a long walkway lined with beautiful gardens The Blue Mosqueand some significant ancient sculptures including an obelisk taken from Karnak in Egypt, the hieroglyphics still sharply defined despite being 3500 years old. They used some quality rock, those Egyptians. Finally we returned to the Blue Mosque and the inside proved to be worth the wait, intricately and exquisitely decorated on the walls and patterned light falling onto the rugs on the floor cast by the stained glass windows, it was somewhere to sit and reflect for a while which is what we decided to do.

The sun was starting to set and we decided to go back to the cars and move them into the city centre, which was a nice idea in theory but we soon discovered that in Istanbul, every hour is rush hour. The roads had all been reopened after the tank parade but then promptly filled again with cars, trucks, scooters and pedestrians wheeling trolleys with goods back and forth. Most of the cars were OK - the Land Cruiser is a pretty imposing vehicle for them to argue with especially with the big bars we have on the front, so we were able to nudge our way in front of people when we had to, but the pedestrians were totally fearless and very hard to avoid! We dived off the main road which was totally static and tried to get through on the back roads, navigating by dead reckoning using the GPS but unfortunately we found ourselves deep in a one-way system. This is now starting to become a trend - we take a short cut, it takes much longer, but at least the locals are amused!

The Blue Mosque insideFinally we parked close to the hostel and went back with our overnight bags and then went straight up to the roof bar, from where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia can be seen in one direction and a view over the Bosphorus the other. We decided it was important to sample the local beer and we sat down in perfect time to see fireworks bursting over the city and the illuminated mosques to celebrate Victory Day. It was an exceptional sight - some of the biggest fireworks I�ve ever seen and certainly the loudest setting off car alarms all around the city. A little while after that the final prayer calls of the day started from the Blue Mosque followed by a number of other mosques around the city so we were completely enveloped by the exotic sights and sounds of Istanbul. A beautiful end to my first day in a Muslim country!

Up at the crack of dawn and dressed in our most conservative clothes, we headed to the Iranian consulate. Actually this was quite a painless experience because there weren�t very many people there and the staff were friendly and helpful, so we filled in the forms, handed over the photos, popped out to get photocopies of our passports and back in, popped out again to the bank across the road to wire the visa fee and back in, and finally they kept our passports and applications telling us to come back the next day at 10am. All going well so far. While inside we spoke to a few of the other applicants about what they were doing (and we gave them our calling cards, of course!). Among them were some Brits and an Italian who were able to confirm the standard 10 day lead time, and also a Moroccan who had been hanging around Istanbul for 21 days already! We began to feel very glad about using the agent, though until actually having the visa in the passport we weren�t able to fully relax. Topkapi Palace We had agreed that we would want to go our separate ways to see different sights so after heading back to the hostel to change into some cooler clothes I headed off for the Topkapi Palace. This is not so much a palace in the sense of a large ornate building set in large grounds, but instead a walled area containing a collection of intricately decorated smaller buildings each with its own purpose. I wandered round the different areas for a good couple of hours just admiring the Ottoman architecture, the displays of oriental crockery, silverware from different centuries and different Topkapi Palaceparts of the world and finally the treasury where there were many treasures including many solid gold items sent to Mohammed�s tomb in Medina but rescued from there when under threat during WWII. My favourite was a pair of candlesticks nearly as tall as me and encrusted with over 1000 diamonds in each, but these were small potatoes compared to the main exhibits - gem encrusted crowns, extremely extravagant but very uncomfortable looking thrones, delicately engraved swords and the famous Topkapi dagger, which was presumably for ceremonial use only, as this like many of the swords had Topkapi Palace treasureso many gems embedded in the handle they would cause the bearer nearly as serious an injury as the person receiving the pointy end. But the most impressive item of all was the Kashoggi diamond, an 82 carat piece mounted on gold surrounded by 49 smaller diamonds (each of which on its own could have been described as a really big diamond). Despite the fingerprints on the glass protecting it, it sparkled beautifully under the spotlights.

View of Bosphorus bridgeI then decided to head off to the Grand Bazaar to see my first ever souk and though it was quite a colourful sight to behold, I didn�t stay long as all the stuff in there was aimed at tourists and the sellers were quite persistent and while entertaining at first, that quickly becomes tiring. I found an exit (which was quite a challenge) and wandered around aimlessly eventually finding myself at the waterfront where I sat and watched the hustle and bustle of the ferries coming and going. There are so many ferries, yachts, supertankers and tugs going in all directions it is a wonder that they don�t all crash into each other.

Grand BazaarI headed back to the hostel to relax for a while and went back up to the roof terrace with a book, and got talking to a couple of Dutch girls Crystal and Fena who had just arrived in Istanbul the previous day and were spending a few days before heading to Fethiye. The hostel was preparing an all-you-can-eat barbecue and asked me if I wanted to join in, and as you can imagine I always get my money�s worth with that kind of deal so I decided I would. I ate with the Dutch girls and we were joined by a chap whose name I�ve forgotten (sorry) who worked at the hostel along with his side careers as TV producer, nursery owner and professional footballer, and who seemed to be an authority on pretty much whatever subject we decided to talk about and the conversations flowed until our brains started to hurt and we went our separate ways.

A new day and a new month, 1st September 2005, we managed to have a little lie-in before heading up to the Iranian consulate for 10am as we had been told. Everything went as smoothly as we could have hoped, it was a simple case of turn up, answer "yes" to the question "British passports?" and receive our passports back with a fresh new Iranian visa stuck inside. What a relief, everything had gone to plan! Now we have all the visas up to and including India. Fingers crossed for the ones after that also being so straightforward.

View from bridgeAfter another couple of hours of wandering round to catch the last couple of sights we wanted to see, we went back to the cars and performed a very complicated manoeuvre to extract them from the three levels deep of being blocked in. I particularly liked the idea of being able to drive from Europe to Asia so we drove across the bridge over the Golden Horn and then the big long suspension bridge across the Bosphorus. The views from the bridge were fantastic, from what I could tell at least, as I had to pay attention to the lunatic drivers around me, and there it was, we had accomplished a milestone of driving from the UK to Asia. A little sign even welcomed us, which was nice. After other bit of local sightseeing on the other side (also known as "getting lost") we crossed back to Europe, back to Sultanahmet to drive along the city walls and again get ourselves lost deep into the alleyways causing much amusement to the locals, and finally out of the city and towards the Gallipoli peninsula where we stopped in the small harbour town of Eceabat. There we found a hostel run by an Australian guy called TJ and we arranged a tour of the battlefields for the next day through him, and then finally found a spot to camp on the beach just north of Anzac Cove...

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Comment from Jim & Barbara (aka Mum & Dad)
Happy Birthday on 23rd Marianne. Can't send you a pressie so we have given a donation to CARE. This is a BIG hint to youor siblings and friends!

Pleased to read the diary - sounds brilliant. Keep up with the photos.
22 Sep 2005 @ 16:52:43

Comment from Matthew R
Looks like the fun is continuing. Still hoping I will be cruelly sacked and forced to fly out for a visit, but not much sign of that lately. Was thinking India would be a good place for Christmas.

Had a quick squiz at the new photo gallery, which is really good. As it will probably form a lasting record of your trip, shall I point out that "The Palace" in Venice is actually St Mark's Basilica. "The elaborate building next to the Palace" is in fact the Doge's Palace. No, that would be rude of me.

Happy birthday Maz. Martin I hear you emailed us - thanks for that, I'll read it when I am next home!

All the best.

22 Sep 2005 @ 22:02:31

Comment from Katherine
Happy Birthday Maz!! Sounds like you guys have having a really good time. Love the photos....really nice. Keep having Fun!! Can't wait for the next installment. Cya K
23 Sep 2005 @ 03:02:48