The plan to do a two-part post seems to have been completely blown out of the water, though this will be the final in the Europe 1987 series. My diary suggests the journey was more action packed the further south we travelled, or maybe I just wrote more. The diary is certainly a lot more verbose in the latter entries, perhaps this was due to me spending more time on my own? Sadly, it appears that the more I wrote the fewer photos I took; most of the photos I have left were taken early in the trip.
We take up the journey on 28 October 1987, soon after crossing the border into Greece from Yugoslavia, after what seems to have been a couple of miserable days; with poor weather, a lack of places to camp and hard driving on busy and winding mountain roads not making us the happiest of campers.
It turned out Northern Greece was a continuation of the Southern Yugoslavia experience. It was cold, it was wet, it was very deprived and there were few places to camp. I note that one night we slept in the van in a field and were surrounded by feral dogs in the morning. I have no photos from that period. I noted in my diary that we were almost killed on the road somewhere between the border and Thessalonica. I was driving and barrelling along about 50 miles an hour when someone pulled out of a side road in front of me, forcing me to swerve off the road into the dirt and back onto the road again. It was very scary and the closest we came to dying. I can still visualise the car coming out of nowhere, me wrenching the wheel to the right, hitting the dusty bank, then wrenching left and back on the road again. I cannot visualise the swearing, though I suspect some bad bad things were said.
Thessalonica was effectively closed as a senior government official was visiting, there were armed police and soldiers everywhere, including tanks on the main roads. We didn’t stay, but found a campground somewhere between the city and the Turkish border, and blessed relief, there were hot showers. It had been a long time between showers and sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference.
After two days driving across Greece we entered Turkey. I noted in my diary that there was loud cannon fire near the border and a lot of soldiers on manoeuvres on the Turkish side, though the border crossing was straightforward. Turkey was my second favourite country after Germany; and the polar opposite of tidy, clean and organised West Germany. I seem to enjoy the really tidy and strict countries like Singapore AND the mad, loose and scruffy countries like Cambodia and Laos. It is the in between I dislike more than anything.
I only saw a fraction of Turkey, just Istanbul and down to Bodrum on the coast, and it was the country I wanted to return to the most when I got back to New Zealand. In the main it was very friendly, the people were open and generous, the food cheap, tasty and plentiful and I liked it very much.
We arrived in Istanbul during rush hour on a Friday night. The roads were complete madness, five lanes of cars on a three lane road, honking and yelling, cars all over the shop. I noted that I loved it, the Kiwi driver in me looking for a challenge. We had no maps or guidebooks for Istanbul and Turkey so just drove toward the centre of town looking for signs pointing to campgrounds or hostels. Driving down a one way street we saw the ‘True Blue Souvenir’ shop with a small Aussie flag painted on the front. I stopped the van so Sam and Trudy could run back to the shop to ask for advice on places to stay, they came back with Simon and Typhun from the shop (No idea of the spelling of his name). They told us we could park and camp outside of their shop for a small fee, it had 24 hour security (armed policeman outside the station two doors up) and we could nip into a nearby hotel to use the loo and sinks. It sounded perfect to us, so much better than fields and wild dogs.
Simon said he would direct us to the shop, and jumped in the van. We drove round the corner onto a rammed three lane highway, approaching a roundabout Simon jumped out of the car, walked into the middle of the road and stopped all the traffic so I could cross the three lanes. He then move the barrier blocking the road entrance to the Blue Mosque, and we drove through its car park, across the front of this glorious building and out the other side. To cap it off we drove up the one way street the wrong way, past the police station, parking outside the shop. I wasn’t sure whether to laughing my head off at the madness of it all, or be fearful of spending 10 years in a Turkish prison. Once parked and not arrested, I chose the first option. Welcome to Istanbul!
We spent three days in Istanbul, parked up outside the shop, other vans joined us and it was largely a lot of fun. I loved Istanbul, the old town, the mosques and the market were all highlights, as was being shown around by our hosts, eating in local cafes and drinking copious quantities of apple tea and brutally strong coffee. I am surprised I have so few photos.
Typhun and Simon.
Hubbly Bubbly cafe.
I noted in my diary that there was a bus strike in Turkey, and I could not get back to London for a few days, so after a short, interrupted phone call I agreed with Deana that I would carry on to the coast and then get a ferry to Athens and bus it from there. I could not afford to fly. So, on 2 November we carried on south, taking two days to get to Selcuk.
My diary says ‘I liked Selcuk’. We spent the best part of four days here, the most we spent in any small town. The first night was spent sleeping in the van outside the public toilets with a bunch of other van tourists. The second night we stayed in a guest house as it had been six days again without a shower. I noted it was nice to sleep in a proper bed. I also noted that I lost my wallet, but didn’t think it had been stolen and thankfully it didn’t have all my cards in it, and only a small amount of cash.
We hung out with quite a bunch of people, including a Kiwi hitch hiker Pete who stayed with us to Bodrum. The main reason for coming to Selcuk was to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus, made famous in the book, ‘The Bible’. We arrived in town too late to visit on the first day, and the second day it rained for the first time in eight months (the Phil holiday curse). We finally made it there on day three. Pete had a guide book which was really handy.
These were my first proper ancient ruins, none of this 1000 year old stuff like you get in the UK, these were 2000 years old. Proper ancient, and what I had been really wanting to see, the legacy from my childhood neighbours. I really liked exploring Ephesus, I liked the fact that nothing was fenced off and I could roam all over. I liked it that I didn’t accidently destroy something which I almost did when visiting the Roluos Group of temples in Cambodia. I liked that I could sit on the old toilet and read my book. I would love a pair of Doc Marten boot that look that worn in now!
The next day we carried on south stopping at some even older ruins, the Greek ruins of the Temple to Athena in Priene, these ruins are from 1000BC. Wow, 3000 years old! Fabulous. There was no one there except us and while not as extensive as Ephesus they were still mighty impressive, and we had a bit of fun with mock sacrifices on the alter. Not that the ancient Greeks did human sacrifices!
As we were leaving Priene Trudy realised she had been short changed that morning by the bank in Selcuk when changing Japanese Yen for Turkish Lira, by two zeros, a not unsubstantial sum. We shot back to Selcuk just in time, arriving before the bank closed. The bank knew they had made a mistake and there were no issues in getting the extra money. We spent the night parked outside the toilets again and went to our favourite cafe for lamb stuffed peppers and beer. The next morning I almost got busted by the toilet cleaner who arrived while I was still in there after climbing over the wall, I made a rapid exit the same way. He knew and stood there glaring at us until we drove off.
The next morning we drove south again, this time making it to the port town of Bodrum, and my final destination. It was Trudy’s birthday and my last night in the van with the Grieve sisters. We had cake and wine, and most of us were sick, we were all tired. It was not the bestest of nights to say goodbye.
I see a couple of dogs came to farewell me as well.
Goodbye Turkey. kiss kiss.
Early the following morning I was on the ferry to the Greek Island of Kos, where I stayed for a few hours before getting on another, overnight ferry to Athens. I slept on the hard metal deck with a load of other tourists. Arriving in Athens I discovered there were still strikes and I had to wait three days for a bus to London.
I was not very excited by this and this was reflected in my negative feelings for Athens and my predicament. I only have a couple of photos from the three days I spent in an ancient and interesting city, and that is of the Acropolis. I didn’t even like that as it was behind a fence, there was construction going on and there were loads of people all around. My diary also says a lot of the museums were closed due to strike action, and the ones that were open were too expensive. I must have been pretty broke by then. I seemed to have spent a lot time hanging around in a youth hostel, talking and eating.
Eventually I got a ferry to Brindisi in Italy and then a bus which took three days to get to London. I arrived back on the 14 November 1987. Apparently I smelt and looked terrible after three days on a smoke filled bus.
Not long after I arrived back Deana and I flew to Australia where we stayed for three months with her family on the Gold Coast before flying on to New Zealand in February 1988 where I stayed for the next 23 years. Which loops back to the start of this blog in 2011.
I very much enjoyed that trip, I didn’t see anywhere near as much as I would have liked, but it opened my eyes to the world and the possibilities of travelling and seeing things differently. There is a great world out there and I deplore the views of the narrow minded nationalists that want to shut borders and blindfold our young to the possibilities that should be available to them. I cannot wait to get back on the road again and would love to ‘do Europe’ one more time. Maybe with more showers.
The photos posted in these four blogs are from an album I put together after the trip and are all I have left of the between 250 and 350 I took over the ten weeks. I know I used 12 rolls of film and am sure these would have been a mix of 24 and 36 shot rolls. The other photos would have been tossed out when I sold the house in 2011 and had a massive cull of my possessions.
The diary is going in the bin now. It is time to declutter just a little bit more. As LP Hartley most famously wrote ‘The past is another country’, but it is one I have visited.