Farewell EU!

Posted by on 10, Jun 2010 in EuroAsia, Turkey

Farewell EU!

The Turkish Greek border crossing was fun! You leave Greece easily enough and then get to the bridge linking the two countries where there are plenty of armed soldiers in full combat gear at each end and the middle. The two opposing countries soldiers face each other in the centre of the bridge it reminded me of checkpoint Charlie in Communist times. The Turkish side – like last years entry point from Syria – had a brand new customs hall. Oddly the first Police checkpoint has the booth on the passenger side of vehicles. Linda handed our passports to the policeman who flatly refused to accept them from her – presumably because she was a woman – and someone had to come and tell me to get out of Taffy and walk around with them. After shouting at me for a few seconds to make himself understood he gave them back pointed and shouted a bit more for effect and I got back in Taffy and drove to point number two! I’m not really sure what he was trying to say but I’m pretty confident that the impression he left on me was not what he intended. Shouting no longer bothers me – we’ve been in too many borders and had too many police checks to be fazed by that. Now if he’d pointed his gun at me that would have been a different story!

Moving up to booth 2 it was at least on the drivers side and the official was slightly less obnoxious. But the organisation was hopeless. In order to get past booth 2 you need a visa (fair enough) but to get one you have to go inside a building to buy it (again fair enough) but that means you then have to drive past booth 2 and 3 and park and then walk back, get your visa and then visit each booth on foot fighting with the other people doing the same as you and those visa exempt people in thru cars! Chaos ensues together with lots of pushing in and jostling for positions. Eventually we manage to get to booth 3 where the happy chappy decides its time to make a phone call on his mobile and shuts the window on us for 5 minutes whilst he chats away about goodness knows what but it looked more a social call than work. After he had finished with us we then have to visit the booth opposite him (presumably so if you had got this far without getting out of your car you would be forced to do so now!) and get a stamp on the visa. It was a funny old setup and its hard to see how it will cope if through traffic is ever more than the 1 car every 2 minutes that we saw despite the fact we saw around 25 staff members, nearly all smoking like chimneys and not a woman in sight. Its interesting that when we crossed into Tunisia last year we were told that it used to take hours to get in but since they had accepted women into the job it was now much more efficient and quicker! We’ve crossed many borders in our vans and they are always interesting experiences. We’ve had rude and unhelpful – USA, slow -Ukraine, bureaucratic nightmare – Egypt, but Turkey has managed to roll all these into one! Oh, I forgot to mention that after all these checks you still have to pass a last booth and hand all your papers in again before you are allowed to drive underneath the welcome to Turkey sign!

The roads immediately changed from the smooth asphalt of Greece to a patchwork quilt of potholes and patches but we instantly encountered a large hipermarket – Kipa which is really Tesco and resupplied.

Our first night in Turkey was spent at a ‘Camping’ by the road. It was an overgrown field with an old Bedford truck abandoned in it and a small shanty town leading to the beach where the Jelly fish were so tightly packed you could hardly see the bottom. This didnt stop the locals from swimming though!

Our master plan for getting into Istanbul was to arrive on a Friday morning as we had found last year this to be the quietest times in Islamic cities. I can’t tell you if Istanbul is in fact quieter on a Friday morning than any other time but if it is I’d hate to drive in it on a different day. We missed our turn off and ended up right in the very centre of the city. Everytime we tried to get out we encountered a low bridge and eventually found ourselves in streets so narrow our mirrors past over the top of parked cars, people had to be phoned to move others and passersby lifted motorbikes onto the pavement to let us by. I’m not exaggerating to say we frequently had less than 1cm clear on each side of Taffy to squeeze through. But we survived and certainly provided the locals with something to talk about! We did eventually manage to reach our destination and parked up almost directly below The Blue Mosque! Well worth the nightmare drive.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around and enjoyed a lovely Indian meal on a roof top terrace overlooking the Hagia Sophia in the evening. It was hard to believe that earlier that day we had thought about giving up on Istanbul after we encountered our third low bridge!

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