We had a tranquil drive from Alexandroupolis to Ipsala in Turkey. The border crossing in Ipsala went smoothly and we passed through much land devoted to agriculture especially sunflowers which then gave way to expansive pine forests. As we approached Istanbul from the east we passed seas of appartment buildings, many of them new. We were advised to buy a vignette for the toll roads at a Shell service station so we stopped after five stations that either did not have them or had none left. Each one said we should go on a further 25kilometres to the next service station. As it was we only had to go through an underpass at the first toll station and buy the thing for about 40 Turkish lira which we attached to centre of the windscreen.
We joined into Istanbul’s freeway system that we were forced to take to reach our destination and it turned into a nightmare journey with hundreds of trucks and thousands of cars at rush hour along Istanbul’s various freeways to our campsite. We saw one accident and many potential ones with many drivers ducking and weaving and much squeeling of tyres on the many interconnecting freeways. The brakes needed to be applied suddenly on many occasions. Istanbul and it’s surrounding suburbs and towns are very attractive given that there are between 14-15 million people living there.
There were fast growing housing areas in the surrounding hills and in the countryside near large industrial estates and there was a real push on greening the land with thousands of new trees planted everywhere and re-aforestation of many of the hills. There were many large magnolia trees in the towns as well and many other varieties being planted. Many beautiful hydrangeas were predominant in the towns.
The last time we were in Istanbul about three years ago we flew in and took the airport bus into the city which takes a very scenic and calm route around the bay of Marmara. This time it was very different. The area in which we stayed was on the edge of a forest and the undulating hills were interspersed with a lot of upmarket two storey houses and appartment blocks.
There was no rubbish on the highways or in the towns. There were many black rubbish bags on the side of the highway ready for collection. Everywhere was clean and tidy.
We managed to finally get off the chaotic highways and made our way through the many towns along the way and up some very steep roads to “Mistik Camping” in Kilyos a small town right on the Black Sea about 35kms away from the city where an old Turkish couple were sitting inside the gate together with a large dog on a chain. This was the closest and only one of two camping sites near Istanbul.
They unfortunately spoke no English (like most of the Turkish people young and old to whom we spoke apart from those in the hotels and restaurants and that was quite limited) but we managed with sign language. I always asked if anyone spoke German but no one seemed to know that either. I supposed with a population of 83 million Turks there was little need to speak anything else!
We decided to rewarded ourselves with a fresh fish meal in one of the many seaside restaurants. I was in no state to cook after my navigational skills and Maurice’s driving skills had been stretched to the limit.
The roads in Turkey were similar to ones in Greece with most secondary roads in excellent condition. Smaller roads in the towns were a bit bumpy but nothing excessive. Greece has a good feature of flashing orange lights before the actual traffic lights to let you know when the lights will change. In Turkey the actual traffic lights flash orange for a very short time before turning red.
We opted for public transport to get back into Istanbul. We took the bus to the closest and northern most metro station which took about 45 minutes. The bus drivers were excellent and a lot of the roads from the hills were one way so they travelled at break neck speed. They took a very scenic route along the Bosphorus past nice little towns and seaside areas. The metro then took another 20 or so minutes to get into the centre of the city.
We made the mistake of not getting the official bus but a private bus to the metro station to take us into the old city. The small private buses were a great idea as they took their passengers to wherever they wanted to go along their designated route. Our only problem was no common language so we were dropped off in Sariyer, a nice town where we had coffee but didn’t know where we were in relation to where we should be going. Luckily the shop owner understood where we wanted to go so he stopped another private bus and put us on. He told the driver to drop us at a metro station which he did and we found our way into the old city. The bus driver was multi talented. He drove with his left hand while taking money with his right hand and giving the passenger change!
We thought that the Italian drivers the worst for parking anywhere they found a spot but when we were having coffee we saw a driver stop his car at a green traffic light, come into the coffee shop, buy something and calmly go back to his car and drive away . I thought had this happened in Australia, he would have been lynched but the motorists just drove around the car without without a bother.
In Greece there are many large dogs and cats living on the street and most of the dogs have collars and were ear tagged. It appeared to be the same here in Turkey. They all seemed to be well fed with locals leaving food and water out for them and patting them.
Smoking is prevalent in both Greece and Turkey as cigarettes are very cheap with many of the smokers older men and women. Smoking was allowed in the al fresco areas of both cafes and restaurants.
Many Turkish women wore traditional dress of long skirts or trousers with long sleeved blouses,long topcoats and a headscarf. There were quite a number of women dressed like that in Istanbul city and also in smaller towns but there were also a big percentage of young and older women in sleeveless tops and jeans.
The infrastructure in the city especially for public transport was excellent with very modern trams, trains and buses for the millions of inhabitants and tourists alike. The metro was also nicely decorated with murals and mosaics and the service was very frequent (every few minutes). As soon as some saw Maurice’s white hair, there was no hesitation, they immediately gave up their seats. We also found this the case in China.
We had missed seeing “Hagia Sofia” on our previous visit because of extra long queues and were pleasantly surprised that we did not have to wait to buy our tickets and see the museum which consisted mainly of a large mosque which had been a Catholic church centuries before. We found our way to a restaurant overlooking the sea of Marmara to which we had previously been but were disappointed with the food and service but at least the view was good. Leaving there we walked a long way around the bay of the Sea of Marmara to a tram stop and continued up into Sultanahmet and to the Grand Bazaar. It was teeming with tourists so we made a quick exit, had coffee and cake and a much needed rest and then walked to the nearest metro station which took us to the bus station and back to Kilyos with the help of a young man at the bus station who did speak good English. He luckily warned us that many of the buses did not have their numbers displayed so he kindly asked for us and put us on the correct bus. It took us about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get by metro and bus from the old city to the campsite but we were definately not going to take Van Mauriceson near the city again.
We wanted to go across the “Golden Horn” (a horn-shaped estuary that joins Bosphorus Strait at the point where the strait meets the Sea of Marmara) to Beyoglu, an area we liked very much the last time we visited Istanbul so we took the light rail across the bridge to the last tram stop and back to near the Galata Tower to wander around the suburb with it’s many art galleries and shops. An art gallery owner proudly told us that Cate Blanchett had bought something from his gallery. We walked up to the Galata Tower and then onto the main shopping street where we took the old tramway for a distance before getting out and walking back to the light rail stop. On the way we saw a protest which was in aid of the Uyghurs but luckily it was a peaceful one but just in case the riot police were out in force with a water canon and tear gas guns.
We got back to the campsite after 7pm and I cooked a meal for ourselves and a friendly couple from Adelaide who were staying in the campsite. It was nice to have a conversation in English and we learnt that they had shipped their 4wd vehicle to London and were on their way to Australia via Tajikistan, Iran, Pakistan, India and across to China and then down through Asia. They were in the process of sorting out all the visas required which was taking some time.
We were up early to take the 8am bus into Sariyer where we stopped for a pastry and tea and then caught the bus/metro and a taxi down to the ferry terminal. We were going to take the six hour local ferry at 10.30am up the Bosphorus but it had started to rain (luckily it wasn’t cold)so we opted for a shorter two hour ferry ride which took us along one side of the Bosphorus and up to a second bridge taking traffic from European Turkey to Asian Turkey and back again to the ferry port. It was interesting to see Istanbul from the sea and the sun eventually came out but at least it wasn’t cold.
People were very kind and just used their travel cards on the buses a couple of times when we had run out of credit and could not get to a machine to top up ours. I was able to do the same for a girl who just caught the bus in time but had run out of credit. The vending and top up card machines were not always handy. This seemed to be a common practice as we witnessed it a few times. Usually the offered coins were rejected.
We left Kilyos on the 6th July after having the van washed in the local car wash. Maurice used his google translate to talk to the cleaner who did a good job for 20 Turkish Lira or about $10. We did give him a tip but he didn’t at first want to accept it. We stopped for a coffee as we had done in the previous days in Sariyer (a nice seaside town) and found a manned parking area where they charged us three times that of a car so it cost us $10 for an hour. It was an expensive cup of coffee.
We took the northernmost bridge over the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Turkey. We saw a new bridge and freeway that was in the process of being built and which was much closer to the Black sea but it had not yet been completed. Travelling on the Asian side on the way to Ankara We passed many modern, new housing areas and vast numbers of new appartment blocks which were interspersed with large areas of pine forests. We avoided the tolled freeways and saw on the secondary roads an enormous amount of industry with huge factories and and an incredible number of new warehouses and commercial buildings. International companies like “Barilla” were also there. This industry continued along the 300 odd kilometres to Ankara where there were again large groups of new appartment buildings dotted around the surrounding hills and within the city area.
It looked to us like Turkey was the country of the future with a booming economy everywhere. Unlike in Greece and in Italy we saw practically no vacant or abandoned buildings or houses, only ones that were due for demolition and reconstruction.
Our camping place out of Ankara was an interesting one, being in the parking area of the “Esenboga Airport hotel” where power and water were supplied and we had the use one of the rooms for showering in their very ornately decorated hotel. It was very pleasant to have a bathroom to ourselves for a few days.
On the property were two families of mother cats with four cute kittens each. One adventurous little black and white kitten visited us and was very playful. The staff at the hotel fed the cats every day but I did give them a couple of tins of sardines and tuna to supplement the left overs that they were given.
There were many and various shaped mosques in Turkey in many different colours. Some had shops incorporated into the base of their buildings which we thought was a very practical idea. We didn’t really appreciate the two mosques who competed with each other at 3.30am with high pitched and loud wailing near the hotel on one night. They were much quieter the other nights. The arriving aircraft were by comparison a pleasure to hear.
Ankara was in complete contrast to Istanbul when it came to tourist information. We could find no tourist centre when we arrived in the city which on the private bus only took twenty minutes. The fare was only 2 Turkish lira each and very good value. The private buses are only small but very practical and there are hundreds of them. We walked around and found only people who spoke Turkish so we had a brainwave and went into the Radisson hotel near the bus station and they spoke some English and were very helpful giving us a map and printing out another map so that we could see the major attractions that Ankara had to offer. They also plotted the metro stops for us which was very kind of them.
We caught the metro with a transfer to the Ataturk museum and mausoleum about 20 minutes away. It was such an interesting museum and was located in a high position overlooking the city. We were lucky enough to see the changing of the guard and spent a couple of hours in the museum which gave a great insight into the man who not only was a clever military tactician but who transformed Turkey with his innovations for a common Turkish language, education, industry and most aspects of Turkish life.
We found the food in cafes and drink selections to be fairly limited. They had a good variety of baked breads which were very tasty with cheese, spinach or potato fillings or plain circular breads. They had a speciality of layered pancakes with a small amount of filling in between the very fine layers . Nearly all the breads are covered with sesame seeds or some with blackened sesame seeds. The bakeries have a limited range of breads with the round Turkish breads or Pides more common.
The apple tea was delicious however a cappuccino was more a Turkish coffee without the grinds with a dash of foam on top. All hot drinks were served practically at boiling point so you had to be prepared to sit and wait to be able to drink it. I did try the Turkish coffee but it tasted very earthy and thick so I stuck to apple tea most of the time.
There were scores of new unlicenced cars just sitting outside the hotel and down the road in an open area with no security or fencing. The nursery down the road had no space left inside so many trees in pots were just sitting outside it’s fence.
Our last day was spent walking up hundreds of steps again, this time to Ankara Castle. The surrounding park was very green and peaceful. The castle or citadel was only quite small but was a good viewing point for all of Ankara city. It was surrounded by many houses, some ramshackle and some beautifully restored. The path once we got to the top had no signposts and a small boy pointed the way between the houses and washing lines to the castle. We found a very pleasant man from whom we bought a tablecloth and who spoke good English and excellent German as he had lived in Cologne for many years. He told us that the municipality was demolishing all the old derelict houses around the castle and rebuilding the houses in the old style at no expense to the owners.
Other old and crumbling houses on the neighbouring hill were also due for demolition and the inhabitants were going to be rehoused also free of charge. He recommended a restaurant for lunch nearby and it was a beautifully restored three storey house with many antiques and traditional Turkish items decorating the walls. We had lunch overlooking the city and the food was delicious and reasonably priced. Thick yoghurt with a cress like green, fried eggplant with tomatoes and large layered pasta pancakes with eggplant and potato filling.
A trip to the museum was next and it was located in an old trading post for Angora wool, famous in Turkey. This was then transformed into the present museum and was a beautifully restored old series of buildings. The museum was full of artifacts, brass, carved stone, pottery and wood from many centuries BC and was extremely well laid out with good lighting and all descriptions in Turkish and English.
A wander through the local markets on the way back to the bus had us stocking up on fresh fruit and vegetables and some very inexpensive delicious Turkish delight. I unfortunately made the mistake of showing our hotel card at the bus station and they obviously thought we wanted to go to the airport (the hotel was called the Esenboga Airport hotel but was some distance from the airport) and sent us walking with our shopping a couple of kilometres down the road and across the busy freeway. When we discovered that it was not the airport bus that we wanted we had to walk all the way back to the bus station and then get the correct information and wait for the bus. Then the bus driver missed our stop and we had to walk another couple of kilometres back to the hotel so we were well and truly exhausted by this time with slightly bruised peaches and plums.
In our few days in Ankara we only saw about another dozen foreign tourists which was in direct contrast to the thousands in Istanbul. Ankara does however need to improve their information service for foreign tourists, that is if they want them.

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