Dan’s mission on arriving in Turkey was to obtain his Iranian visa. Istanbul then was the destination, and with the Iranian admin out of the way, there would be time to see some sights. Dan set up camp at Mystik Camping, in Kilyos, north of Istanbul on the Black Sea coast. The place was somewhat disappointing to look at, and it was not cheap, the price lists quoting a total of 26 Turkish Lira per night (approx 12 Euros) for a bloke, a bike and a tent. However, the fee did include WiFi, which Dan used to post a couple of little snippets on here before his netbook battery ran down.
The following morning, on Wednesday 4 May, Dan got up early, looked nervously at the very grey sky and wondered into the village to catch the first of two buses which would take him to the tram stop to get him near the Iranian Embassy. A quick check of the few shops in the village had not turned up any umbrella purchase opportunities. By the time the little 14-seat bus turned up at 8.20, it was properly raining. Dan had just a microfleece between his t-shirt and the elements, and was glad to clamber aboard. Once a further 39 or so people had boarded, the little bus set off for Sariyer. Arriving in much larger Sariyer nearly an hour later, there may have been the opportunity to buy an umbrella (you can get most things there) but there was no time – the 25E to Kabatas was in sight and Dan ran through the rain to get to it before he was completely drenched. This bus was bigger and newer and much smarter but made very slow progress towards Kabatas, at the northern limits of Istanbul. It would clearly have been faster to get into Istanbul on the bike, but the problem was what to do with it in the city, and how to carry all the kit all day. By 10.30, the 25E from Sariyer to Kabatas had made it to the tram stop, and Dan could transfer to the third and final mass-transit towards his destination. Once he’d bought a couple of tokens to get there and back, that is. It was still raining hard, and it was a relief to get on the tram and start to dry off again – after all, Dan wanted to look presentable when he arrived at the embassy and asked for permission to visit Iran.
With the address of the consulate transferred into his GPS, Dan was able to negotiate a meandering route towards his goal. He was absolutely drenched again of course by the time he got there, but after waiting in the queue to see the man about a visa, it turned out that was the least of his worries. The visa man was very helpful, and was perfectly willing to accept the form from the London consulate which Dan had already filled in – he himself had served at the consulate in London for four years before being transferred to Istanbul. He looked through his stack of authorisation papers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran, looking for Dan’s authorisation number. Nothing to be found. This was not good. Time to go and find an internet cafe and email the visa agency who arranged Dan’s application to Tehran, and ask them what he could do. Within the hour Dan had paid for at the internet cafe, the response came back that they would arrange for the Ministry to re-send the number. It would arrive by Monday. That was no good for today, but at least the game was not over just yet.
With nothing more to be done on the visa quest until Monday, it was time for some sight seeing. The weather had dried out a bit, so Dan took a wander over towards the Blue Mosque, strolling around the outside until the end of mid-day prayers at about 2pm, taking in the sights of this historic building and also of a German car-rally which had set up camp in the square outside. With prayers over, it was possible to take a look inside – which is where this already impressive building really comes to life. The decoration inside was truly wonderful, and well worth the wait outside in the cold.
With the mosque visited, it was time to take a stroll through Gulhane Park towards Topkapi Palace. Dan paused first to pay a small amount of money to a street vendor for an emergency umbrella (basically a plastic bag on a stick, but useable for £2) and then large amounts of money to the Turkish department of Tourism – and buy tickets for Topkapi Palace and then Hagia Sophia, the building which was first a church, then converted to a mosque and now just maintained as a museum. Both tickets were the best part of £10 a piece, so this was not a cheap day out for an overlander.
The Topkapi Palace is largely set up as a museum to show historical and religious artifacts from the times of the sultans and of early Islam, rather than to display itself per se, though it is still possible to admire the architecture of course. Frustratingly photography in the display areas is banned, but there are some remarkable things to see – ranging from clothing and jewels (one piece including an 84-carat diamond, for example) through to weapons and even the gold-encased arm and skull of a prophet. The way of Turkish tourist attractions is to charge an entry fee and then charge just shy of the same again to see the really good bits – in the case of Topkapi Palace, the extra fee covers entry to the Harem, the living quarters. However, it was getting close to closing time so Dan opted not to pay the extra to have a very hurried look round there, settling for just the main areas. One of the better photo opportunities should have been the view from the Palace across the water to the Asian half of the city – however that day this was not a great shot.
The interior of the Hagia Sophia provided more in the way of photographic potential – amazing decoration inside, the highlights being mosaics of varying vintage and intricacy viewed from the upper gallery.
By 6pm, Dan realised it was time to head back, as going by this morning’s performance, it would take the public transport system a good three hours to cover the 15 miles or so to Kilyos. Arriving at the tram stop, it was apparent that all was not well. There was a tram there, but it was full of very frustrated looking people, and had clearly not moved for some time. Tellingly, there were no lights on anywhere in or on the tram.
At times of difficulty, the stiff-upper-lipped English adventurer has only to think one thing for guidance. “What would Shackleton do?”. Deciding not to fashion his umbrella into a boat and set sail down the Bosphorous, across the Marmara to the Aegean and thence to Greece to get a cheap flight home, Dan instead walked back along the tracks to Kabatas – it was only about 3 or 4 miles. By the time he arrived in Kabatas, the trams had started operating again, but he’d got there before the one he could have boarded at Sultanahmet. The 25E took a while to arrive, and it was 7.30 before Dan was on his way to Seriyer. Arriving there at 9pm or so, Dan was a little concerned that the bus to Kilyos may have stopped already. Within 20 minutes or so, the little 14 seater was waiting for another 39 people to arrive so it could set off for Kilyos – arriving there at around 10.30pm. A long day, but well worth the trouble even if the Iranian visa result was more than a little disappointing. To Dan’s surprise, his tent had not been washed away, but the clay soil of Mystik Camping was not draining at all well, and the tent was doing a passable impression of a house boat. It was doing a sterling job, but by morning, some bailing would be required.
On Thursday morning, the whole campsite was leaving. The fifteen or so mostly French motor-homes were spinning their wheels in the mud and being pushed around by their hardy occupants. After squelching across the campsite for his cold shower and other morning ablutions, Dan was to follow suit, though in rather less dramatic fashion – the bike being somewhat better adapted to the conditions than the vans. If you want to live well in adverse conditions, take a camper van. If you want to leave those conditions behind, take a bike and a tent…
The goal for the day was Gallipoli (or Gelibolu in Turkish). The scene of some horrific fighting and losses in The Great War, the peninsula is now predominantly made over to a Historic National Park. The park contains a vast number of cemeteries for both sides, numerous little museums, a few Turkish memorials, and the Helles Memorial to the commonwealth forces at the far tip of the peninsula.
Dan has a history of visiting First World War battlefields, finding them a poignant reminder of how lucky his own generation is not to be caught up in such a tragic undertaking. There are many conflicts in the world and there is of course an enormous amount of suffering associated with them, but men of fighting age in the UK are free to get on with the life of their choosing, without being compulsorily sent to war.
The peninsula itself provides very attractive scenery, and Dan paused for a while to stroll along the shore-line at the now-infamous ANZAC cove. The landing site of the ANZAC forces is faced with easily defended cliffs, and there were very heavy casualties and little progress, ultimately resulting in a stalemate of trench warfare from which the Allied forces withdrew nine months or so later.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission does a characteristically good job of maintaining the cemeteries, and Dan spent a few thought provoking hours visiting a few. The sheer number of cemeteries on the peninsula is one of the most striking features of the place – so many lives lost for almost negligible gain.
On his travels around the peninsula, Dan had passed Hotel Motel Kum Camping and Caravan – and having storied it in the GPS for possible future use, made his way back there for the night. It felt good somehow to spend the night on the peninsula, the ferry across the Dardanelles narrows (at the point the British Naval fleet was forced back in 1915) to the Asian half of Turkey could wait until tomorrow.
Friday 6 May dawned cold and wet, though at least the sandy soil of Kum Camping was better able to cope with the water than the clay of Mystik had been the previous morning. Dan’s tent was once again rolled up thoroughly wet, and at 8am, a heavily laden little motorbike set off into the morning mist and rain towards the ferry at Eceabat. The ride along the coastal roads of the peninsula was hair raising at times – the coach tours had started up for the day and it was not unusual to approach a bend in the road to find an oncoming coach casually sauntering round the bend towards you on the wrong side of the road. Couple that with a wet, lumpy, worn road surface, lots of bizarre cambers, a fogging visor and an astonishing side wind, and you have the makings of a thrill-seekers’ ride…
The crossing of the narrows was astonishingly smooth, the peaceful waters not even reflecting the blustery weather. On arriving in Canakkale, Dan was heading south. The weather forecast he’d seen in Istanbul had implied that the weather in the North of the country was going to continue to be poor, but the weather down near one of Dan’s expected highlights of Turkey, the Roman city of Ephesus, was predicted to be bright and sunny for the weekend. So it was that Dan rode down and around the Aegean coast of Turkey to Selcuk near Izmir, pausing only to occasionally admire the view of the coastline.
By mid-afternoon, the goal of Selcuk had been achieved, and with the aid of a couple of very helpful locals, one of whom jumped on his own scooter to lead the way, Garden Camping had been located. Dan settled on a still-pricey 20 TL per night – exactly double the cost of the previous night on Gallipoli. It was in the shadow of the castle of St John and only a couple of miles to Ephesus however, so for the following day’s sight seeing, the bike could stay put. Wandering out into Selcuk, Roman remains are everywhere to be seen. It turns out that the striking aquaduct piers in the centre of town were actually relocated to make room for the train station, but they are at least rebuilt out of the original Roman stones and tiles. Dan located a supermarket for some provisions, and a whole host of mobile phone shops to purchase a local SIM card. With a Turkcell SIM bought, it was time to head back to the campsite and slip it into the basic Nokia handset that had been bought in Yaounde, Cameroon. Signal strength was fine, but for some reason, it wouldn’t send text messages or make calls – Dan would have to check with a Turkish speaker to interpret the error messages, but that could wait until after the following day’s visit to the Roman city…