Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Konitsa, Greece – Pamukkale, Turkey, Day 229 – 240, 20 November – 1 December, 2008

Konitsa, Greece – Pamukkale, Turkey

Day 229 – 240

20 November – 1 December, 2008

2,138km

Total: 26,321km

Soundtrack:

‘Greece 2000’ – Three Drives

‘Achilles Last Stand’ – Led Zeppelin

‘Ordinary Australians’ – Tug Dumbly

‘Blue Rondo a La Turk’ – Dave Brubeck Quartet

‘Meet me in the Middle of the Air’ – Paul Kelly

‘Rest Assured’ – Eric B. & Rakim

‘Fish in my Dish’ – Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

‘Hello Goodbye’ – The Beatles

‘Get Another Plan’ – Abstract Truth

Dedicated to the late Laverne, wonder chook and sister of Shirley (dec). Thanks MTMC for your love and care…

DB: Our days in Hellas were spent variously cruising around back roads, through villages and towns and eating exceptionally well. Without putting too fine a point on it, we were relieved to leave Albania behind and belt along deserted, quality roads. Still, we spent a long time reflecting on Albania, its history, people and struggle to get on top of things. We wish its people all the best.

We had been aiming for Thessaloniki but the weather was inclement, the kids hungry and players were appealing the light so we stopped earlier at Veroia. We negotiated the circa-intuitive central town’s streets and lanes and found a hotel that would have us. Dinner was alone in a large fish and seafood restaurant, and, while pushing 7pm when we arrived, the owner needed to fire up the lights and heating to make us feel welcome. The first restaurant we tried was not serving dinner until 8pm, and it became apparent that, at least in this part of Greece, evening meals were enjoyed late and long. The kids were in bed and Sandy and I planning the next few days long before most of the town tucked in.

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(Pic: Kavala, Greece)

Still, the octopus, calamari, fish and salad were highly commendable. The simple things in life…

We began trying to learn some Greek, and Maddy in particular began memorising the Greek alphabet – no mean feat. I tried remembering some of the Greek I learned from kids at school but only came up with words that would most likely get me into serious strife. This point was reinforced when Raffy, unknowingly, asked me quite loudly one day if I remembered something that we saw when we were in the Malaysian city of Malacca. I had some explaining to do when there were some sideways glances.

Kavala, with its view of the island Thassos again provided us with a wet welcome, and while we double parked on the foreshore road bedlam Sandy dodged the traffic and found us a room. Parking was in the basement, down a very steep driveway and under two concrete beams and an antique heating unit that, to my eyes, were to prove a height problem for the truck, and round a tight corner at the bottom. The other parking options were fundamentally absent – the streets were chockas with cars, vans and scooters, sometimes on the footpath. We gave it a go.

We snuck under the beams and heater and squeezed into a space surrounded by the detritus of current hotel renovations. Leaving the next morning would prove interesting. Oh, the checkout was fine, but the carpark proved rather traumatic. The angle of the turn into the driveway ramp from the basement and the incline meant that, for the first time on the entire trip, I had to use the low-ratio four-wheel drive. In a concrete carpark!

In the morning we briefly explored the old part of the city built hard up against the coast and marvelled at an old viaduct. Raffy reproduced some Marx Brothers comedy gold when he asked “Why a duck?”

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(Pic: Maddy and Raffy ‘climbing the walls’ of the ancient aquaduct, Kavala)

Driving through rural Greece was quite a thrill. The back roads were almost exclusively ours, save for a few tractors and roaming flocks of sheep or goats. Seemingly endless groves of gnarled olive trees clinging to hillsides terraced hundreds of years ago with carefully laid rocks to prevent their collapse, their ripe fruit being harvested by creaking older men and women. Recently harvested grape vines dotted the landscape.

SK: Along the roadside, every kilometre or so, were small shrines, little boxes in the shape of churches or houses, perched on a post, about as high as a letterbox. Based on our experiences in Albania, we were concerned that yet again these objects referred to road fatalities. But some sleuthing by Danny revealed that though some were indeed placed to commemorate a road victim, others were there to acknowledge a near miss, or thank a saint for some help provided. We marvelled at the sheer number of them on these secondary roads. The diversity of styles, the shiny new and the decrepit, were visual treats against the bitumen.

We also passed hundreds of brown signs, alluringly pointing to archaeological sites dating from the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras. Unfortunately the inclement weather was following us, and we decided not to trudge through ruins in the rain, figuring we’d make up for it in Turkey.

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(Pic: Kavala, Greece)

DB: Simple lunches of small fried fish, warm, fresh bread, tzatsiki and salad in village cafés, organised by a combination of pointing, gesticulating and giggling, and all the while being ogled by local men in fraying suit jackets playing with their worry beads, drinking coffee and ouzo and attempting to solve the world’s problems through a morass of intense dialogue and strong cigarettes.           

And of course it’s almost exclusively men in cafés and tavernas who have the time and inclination to spend hours debating, smoking, drinking and playing cards. We surmised the women were far too busy running the house and ensuring the men had a meal to come home to.

The Hotel Erica in Alexandroupoli is remembered fondly by our children as “the one with the grumpy lady”, in reference to the receptionist who seemed to be ruing the day she took the job. We found a cosy taverna, Gria Bathra, for lunch in the old part of the city and dodged the rain while doing a bit of exploring along the tiny lanes and foreshore. For dinner we searched for something cheap and cheerful but were often disappointed with either the prices, the concerted focus on all things red meat, the nicotine haze, or a combination of all three. When we ended up back at the little taverna where we had lunch, its young owner beamed and not only provided us with a sumptuous feast but with some complimentary accompaniments – and our introduction to the wonders of Raki.

Crossing the border at Ipsala, we bade a final farewell to Europe proper and were introduced to Turkey. The border crossing was straightforward, aside from a recalcitrant customs staff initially refusing to stamp our Carnet document, but finally relenting, and soon we were sitting at an outdoor table perched next to the marina for lunch in Gelibolu. Church bells had again given way to Muslim calls to prayer wailing across cities and villages. The marina was chock-cull of fishing boats, marginally outnumbered by the stray cats stalking mislaid fish, bait and restaurant leftovers.

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(Pic: Lunch at Gelibolu)

Immediately the people, buildings, roads, cars, traffic, clothes and light were markedly different. We noted an altered sense of space and time, and looked forward to our next few weeks in this ancient land.

Our first stop was Çanakkale, after meandering off the highway through small villages to the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) peninsula. We were tempted to head south to the fabled cove where Australian and New Zealand soldiers died in their thousands for a useless cause during the first world war, but we became acutely aware of a history that was the standard for Turks that described a gallant defeat of a foreign invader, coupled with a reluctance to contribute to a somewhat odd and problematical Australian fable that attempted to glorify a horrifying past.

We waited for around half and hour at Eceabat for the ferry across the notorious Dardenelles, attracting no end of enchanted boys and men to our strange vehicle packed to the rafters with gear and stickers denoting its pedigree. In a short time we alighted at Çanakkale and parked tight up against the front entrance of the cheap and cheerful ANZAC hotel. Yes, it rubbed against the grain like a year eight woodwork student, and its nightly screening of Mel Gibson in ‘Gallipoli’ in the ‘Troy and Gallipoli’ Café didn’t help. I was tempted, but resisted. We had been attracted to this place by the price and that “An extensive was performed in 2004 (sic).” Still not quite sure what this referred to – refurbishment? flea bombing? exorcism? – but it was comfortable and we were made to feel very welcome.

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(Pic: Driving beside the Dardenelles, Turkey)

We were aware that Aussies often overrun this area, particularly during the summer season, and we tried being inconspicuous, but it turned out we needn’t have worried as, given we were entering winter, we seemed to be the only foreigners around. Still, every shopkeeper, hotelier and waiter wanted to know where we were from, always guessing wrong (“Italiano? Espanola? Français?), and then, after we set them straight, finally declaring that they have a cousin in Melbourne. It seems ALL Turks have cousins in Melbourne. Still, there is a palpable sense of a sort of enforced tolerance in these parts – the fine line between courting the Aussies who overwhelmingly financially support the tourist sector (and from some accounts using their time in summertime Turkey as a simple extension of past shenanigans in the old Bay 13 at the MCG), and knowing full well that the invading ANZACs got their bums spanked by the triumphant Turks in the first place.

We spent a couple of days in Çanakkale, mostly wandering around its lanes and foreshore, where, at dusk, hundreds of people turn out to fish off the dock or fill the numerous bars, cafés and restaurants, and, in amongst finally finding the somewhat secluded old synagogue and marvelling at its recent refurbishment, even though, allegedly, the local Jewish community disappeared in the 1980s, we immersed ourselves in Turkish food, drink and general culture. The sun would set at around 4.30 or 5pm and the air would chill quickly, at which we would seek refuge in a café and play backgammon, read and write until dinnertime. As Raffy has reported in the previous post, we felt increasingly comfortable in Turkey, and felt somewhat warmed by the regular Muslim calls to prayer – even the pre-dawn ones.

SK: Looking over the Dardanelles Strait, watching the huge container ships and passenger ferries churn up to Istanbul and further through the Bosphorus up to the Black Sea, brought home the importance of this narrow body of water. Years of study, of the Trojan War, and a basic knowledge of WWI, couldn’t quite convey how strategic this water way was and still is. It’s a ten minute ferry ride from the European side to the Asian side of Turkey at this crossing point, and one can clearly see the towns on the other side. So whoever controlled this strait reaped great trade and military benefits, whether five millennia ago, one century ago or now.

DB: While in Çanakkale we made a day trip to the ancient city and ruins of Troya (Troy) – Home of Homer’s ‘Illiad’ and the Trojan Horse. The site was somewhat difficult to navigate and comprehend the extent to which this city, in its various incarnations over hundreds of years, helped determine what modern civilisation looked like. While the Turks are custodians of a plethora of ancient Greek and Roman ruins, most are poorly maintained or explained, despite the rather expensive entrance fees. Nevertheless, perhaps appropriately, serendipitously or just plain spookily, it was the morning after our visit here that my father rang and told us that in an heroic and desperate act (of crossing the road back home) he had snapped his Achilles tendon. Cue Twilight Zone music… Maybe Mr Achilles is still throwing his weight around? Dad’s fine – thanks for asking. In lieu of gifts he has requested donations to the DSMR Chocolate and Raki Fund. Contact us for more info.

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(Pic: “I didn’t do it!” – Troy, Turkey)

Next stop was Bergama, also known as ancient Pergamon. A small, rustic town that filled with the haze of wood-smoke from household cooking and heating fires in the evenings, we found accommodation at the Odyssey House, where we were provided with a small kitchen and a terrace that overlooked the town and the setting sun, where we sat in the late afternoon sun eating halva purchased from a small, crumbling shop that sold nothing but the divine sesame seed delights in dozens of varieties. We explored the local ‘Red Basilica’ and, on the way out of town, the ancient Acropolis, once a majestic and noble city of some 150,000 and home of the steepest amphitheatre in the world. We could have spent days trawling the crumbling grandeur of this once proud metropolis, but had again to move on.

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(Pic: Raffy in Pergamon)

Cruising further down the west coast of Turkey we came upon Selçuk, near the resort town of Kusadasi. We had been advised that Kusadasi is where the tourists go, while Selçuk is where the travellers go. This never-ending debate between being a tourist or a traveller is fascinating and nauseating at the same time, yet we were pleased to find ourselves in a town far from hordes of glitzy westerners filling restaurants and trying to order burgers and fries.

Still, daylight brought an almost constant stream of white tourist coaches past our temporary residence, the fantastic Hotel Bella, packed to the brim with highly polished Germans, weighed down by vests with way too many zips and pockets, assortments of still- and video-cameras and gaudy hats, too much makeup and shoes not designed for exploring two-thousand year old walkways. We had to time our visits to the ancient sites of the churches of St Mary’s and St John’s, and the beautiful old mosque to ensure we could actually see the things. Our ramble through the nearby ruins of Ephesus was inspiring. The sheer volume and grandeur of such cities is mind-boggling, and it seems its main demise, as with many others, was changes in the natural coastline of the Aegean; while there was once a protected harbour close by it has now retreated dozens of kilometres west, stranding the city inland and next to useless.

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(Pic: Danny surveying the lie of the land from Pergamon, Turkey)

SK: Maddy and Raffy, after commenting on how ruined the ruins were, endured broken columns, fragmented statuary, marble and rough hewn stones, arches to nowhere, and especially their parents’ enthusiasm. They did become adept at nimbly leaping up and down amphitheatre stairs, selling hotdogs, ice cream and programs to the imaginary crowds. While we meandered around these ancient towns, the kids devised games that struck me as probably not dissimilar to ones played by children for whom these sites were truly home.

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(Pic: Raffy and Maddy wonder if ancient loos still do the trick, Ephesus)

DB: The Hotel Bella provided a roof terrace, enclosed by temporary clear plastic walls during winter, replete with traditional Turkish couches, cushions and carpets, café and bar and a robust roaring fire. It is in places like these one can meet fellow travellers and share information, and it was here we met a couple from Adelaide, with one degree of separation through our respective places of employment, an older American couple fraught with concern about their planned next stop in Mumbai, India, and Pearl and Kingsley, a Canadian couple with whom we ended up sharing a wonderful meal in town of fish, rice, vegetables and salad. (They had, coincidentally, stayed at the same place as us in Bergama and recognised our truck, piquing their curiosity.) By chance, Kingsley is a doctor and was concerned about a wasp bite I received three days earlier that insisted on driving me mad, flaring up at all hours and inflaming my entire upper arm. A cream we had brought from home did next to nothing, as did a newer one we purchased at a local pharmacy. Kingsley provided me with a couple of antihistamine tablets that restored my arm and my sanity. Thanks Kingsley!

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(Pic: Why do cats love ancient ruins?)

From Selçuk we headed further south and east into the hills to fabled Pamukkale, an area again littered with extraordinary ruins but with the added bonus of natural hot springs and a moonscape of calcium lined pools on a hillside. We had skirted the city of Izmir and became a little concerned that this seemingly sprawling, smoggy and unattractive place would be the one we would need to return to in order to get the truck onto a ship to, well, somewhere. Nevertheless, our attention was elsewhere. We had reserved a room at a recommended hotel, but instead of heading directly to it we drove into town in search of a particular white Toyota Prado with conspicuous Australian stickers all over it and Victorian rego plates.

Our friend Jon Faine and his son Jack had been on a global road-trip of their own, driving from Melbourne to London via China, the “‘stans”, Iran and now Turkey (http://melbournetolondon.com). We had been in regular contact for months since Jon came over to our place in Melbourne one warm autumn day when we swapped planning notes, contacts and strategies and pored over maps and atlases. They had had a tough time getting through the ‘stans and did not dally driving through what they described as a bleak and somewhat depressing Iran. They were ready for some rest and recuperation and had made a beeline to meet us in rural Turkey.

And there they were.

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(Pic: Danny and Sandy meet up with Jon and Jack, Pamukkale, Turkey)

We immediately reflected on the strangeness of two Victorian (Australia) registered vehicles parked side by side in one of the most improbable locations, and stories of the road came easily. We were hungry for both food and travel tales, and the six of us retired to a nearby restaurant for refreshments. The day coincided with Jon’s sister – and our good friend – Susan’s birthday, and so we six gleefully sat around a table in a deserted rustic restaurant in rural Turkey singing ‘Happy Birthday’ down the phone to her.

We all checked into the hotel and immediately headed up the hill to Pamukkale’s hot springs and strange land formations, with Jon afterwards commenting on how nice it was to just follow another vehicle up strange roads instead of constantly checking maps and guides, yet how peculiar it was for that vehicle to be so obviously and recognisably Australian.

While wandering through the ruins of Hierapolis we could probably be forgiven for not paying them too much attention, as anecdotes and yarns about far-flung locations, roads, driving behaviour, customs, borders, landscapes, weather and car maintenance took priority. Before we knew it the sun was low and the air chilled. We found our way to the hot springs and dangled our feet. In the evening we stayed up for more storytelling and general catching up of world events in the lounge of the mostly deserted hotel, and Jack replenished his iPod from our music stash. We refrained from making any significant plans for the next day.

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(Pic: Maddy, Danny, Raffy, Jack and Jon at the hot springs, Pamukkale)

We had been advised by one of the hotel staff in Selçuk to make a one-hour detour to Aphrodisias, as it was home to some of the most extraordinary ruins in the world, including the largest Roman stadium, and, as it was off the beaten track, was usually missed by the madding crowds of jabbering package tourists. While he wasn’t exactly right about the latter, the former was certainly impressive, but still we all spend most of our time yarning about our respective journeys. We had considered making it back to the hotel for lunch but our stomachs rumbled and small towns were catching our eye. We rolled into Karacasu, our two four-wheel-drive vehicles with strange decals and registration plates causing no end of interest, and went in search of food. Again, there was no shortage of red meat, but we all had a hankering for something lighter. One street vendor told us of a place he could recommend and simply abandoned his stall to lead us through the narrow streets. The first place he took us to had, yep, lots of meat. He told us he knew of another but that didn’t really entice us. We thanked him and resolved to try and find something for ourselves. Perhaps better options weren’t available, we thought, and we considered grabbing some snacks for the road when we came across a small restaurant that was deserted save for the owner/waiter/chef and his wife, only metres from where we had parked the trucks. Without any common language except for our knowledge of ‘balik’, Turkish for ‘fish’, we sat at an outdoor table in the balmy early winter sun and waited.

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(Pic: Jack, Danny and Raffy kick the Faine footy around, Pamukkale)

The restaurant had a blazing traditional wood-fired oven and from it came one of the most magnificent feasts we have so far encountered. Medium sized local river trout baked individually in their own fish-shaped iron dishes in oil, herbs and spices. The flavour and texture were nothing short of divine. Add to that some fresh bread, minty yoghurt and salad, and we all had goofy grins on our faces. At the equivalent of about $7 a head, all was right in the world.

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(Pic: Fish in my dish, Karacasu)

We are often asked by locals about who we were and our vehicle, and Jon became quite adept at using his hands to describe the world, and the two families going in opposite directions to meet here and now. Tomorrow we would each continue to head in those converse routes.

Heading back to Pamukkale, through the thick smog of Denizli, we stopped at a roadside stall for locally grown mandarins, which seem to be everywhere. Jon got some for us in a big bag, and we hope he and Jack enjoyed them because we forgot all about them when we continued our travel chinwag at the hotel, in between checking emails and searching news sights for updates in India and Bangkok. More of the same over dinner at the hotel, and in the morning, after some ceremonial photos, and a Faine donation of surplus Vegemite (score!), hugs and fond farewells, we headed in opposite directions. No doubt there will be more to discuss in April when we meet up again in Melbourne – perhaps at a Turkish restaurant.

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(Pic: Jack and Raffy explore the enormous ancient stadium at Aphrodisias)

Our plans from here had been simple until very recently: drive to Izmir to put the truck into a shipping container bound for Bangkok, and, while it was on its solitary journey, we would spend a week or so in Istanbul, and maybe ten days or so in northern India before collecting our truck in Thailand and heading to Laos. Given that all flights into Bangkok had now ceased, that there were threats of shutting down the ports, that the Thai government was effectively lame and a bunch of lunatics had gone on a bloody rampage in Mumbai, the entire rest of our trip looked decidedly jeopardous. We shrugged and pointed the only reliable aspect of the trip so far – our truck – towards Izmir.

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(Pic: pools, Pamukkale)

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(Pic: Jon and Jack prepare to head west while we head east – courtesy the Faines)

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7 Comments»

  Wally & Eleanor wrote @

Hi D S M R Dont tell Jon but I like your blog better than his. Your s is more descriptive and I can feel the emotion of some of the places that you go through..Did you take a chunukia with you or did you make one. Happy Chanuka. Keep on treking Love Wally & Eleanor.

  Margie wrote @

Hi DSMR,

I must thank you for once again providing the essential ingredient for a perfect Saturday morning. After a hectic week on the treadmill of work and keeping a family fed and organized there is nothing I like more on a Saturday morning to discover a new entry on your blog.
Everything else is put on hold, the kids and the chooks have to sort out their own breakfasts, while I enjoy a leisurely coffee and a good read about your adventures.

Happy travels

Margie

  David Taylor wrote @

Hey there you lot. What a wonderful read, with you’re adventures. All sounding so great. And the photos, you are getting better, and better with the camera.
All is wonderful here in Melb Town. It has rained for 24 hours. Some heavy, some light, but constant. It’s an early Chrissy Pressy for all of us. One months rain in 1 day. Best rain for 3 yrs. 100mls in some areas. If you could have seen Argyle St., this arvo, when I got home from work. Just about all residents, dancing naked in the street. It was a fantastic sight. I tried to send you some of the photo’s, but net nanny deleted them. LOL. Seriously, it has been great, & showers to continue for the next week.
Take care, Lots of Love & peace,
David.

  Nene wrote @

Hi kids,
Your description of the old men in frayed jackets sitting at cafés, drinking and smoking, debating and solving the world’s problems – are you sure you weren’t in Oakleigh? We keep enjoying our taste of Greek culture doing our shopping there on Saturday mornings … and there’s a newish farmers’ market in Caulfield once a month with fresh produce, but nothing like the food you
describe! It sounds fantastic.

The rain keeps raining and we’re soaking it up.

Maddy and Raffy, how did you spend your birthdays?

Love and hugs, Néné and Louis

  Shell wrote @

Well, I linked here from Faino’s site 4 or 5 days ago and in the interim, of an evening, I’ve read the whole damn thing…… except… now I’ve run out!

I’ve really enjoyed reading about every last experience… highs and lows. Well written!

Cheers

shell

  Hilary wrote @

g’day all
once again my breath is held for the next exciting installment – oh to be young and intrepid, though i do remember those days. almost. hope you’re planning a book – well, a bestseller – to include all these tales, and more. doubtless many of the 23k (and counting) visitors to this site would jump at the chance to see your adventures gathered between covers. am i not brilliant at finding projects for other people to do?
namasté
hilary

  Ephesus Turkey wrote @

It’s wonderfull…


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