Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Bridge of Khalkis. (Terry)

We arrived at the dockside of Khalkis and were assisted in going alongside by Geoff, a Frenchman who has spent 30 years living in Wales(those old wine smuggling routes die hard, eh?) – His wife, Simone, speaks English with a strong French accent but he speaks English with a Welsh accent.  They were a very nice couple on a very nice 31’ cruiser.

The bridge with its currents

The transit is an ancient one.  The Emperor Justinian was the first to bridge the distance (that we know).  It can be a terrifying piece of water.  The current reverses up to 7 times a day, and even at times has north current in the mainstream and south on the periphery, a sort of whirlpool.  The reason for all this has yet to be explained and Aristotle himself was so perplexed by his inability to understand it he is reported to have jumped in in frustration!  Maybe it was just an August day?

The current

You have to find the Port Police to book your transit – not easy, as they are in back alley with no signs until you see the building’s doors.  It costs E18.77 to pass, and you are instructed on the procedure.  The Port Police control the nightly passage but it is Khalkis Municipal Employees who determine slack tide/slack current and decide when the bridge will open.  You are instructed to be on standby from….x, usually 10:30pm or so.  From then, the Municipal guys monitor the flow and then hit the “go” button and you have 10 minutes to get your bum into gear. 

Your radio call comes “Common Sense, Common Sense, Prepare Your Boat!   To which you answer “Port Police, Port Police, this is Common Sense, Understood.”

To get out of our berth was the stuff of nightmares.  In front was a 70’ Plastic Fantastic which we dare not hit, and behind were 2 yachts rafted up, cutting off an easy escape.  The plan was to have the Admiral hold fast at the bow with a forward line (extra fenders added) whilst the lackey on the wheel hit reverse and full left rudder to rip the stern out to midstream, at which point the boss could let go and we would proceed in a stately fashion backwards into the channel.  Worked perfectly.  No boats were damaged in the filming of that exercise, and we then ponced about in the channel waiting for the bridge to part (it falls down a little, then retracts to each side from the middle).  At one point in the procedure, me foolishly assuming I was first, I glanced upstream and saw the massive fishing boat Konstantinos bearing down on us.  This is a bridge where might-is-right and big guys go first.  I let him pass.  Then the call came from the Port Police “Common Sense, pass the bridge.”  I swung in behind Konstantinos and then found a cheapskate plastic dude trying to cut me off – a couple of these motorboats arrived late and we knew they hadn’t had time to register and pay.  Suddenly he backed off and Carol said he had just been told by the Port Police to get back in line!  Didn’t know her Greek had improved to that level, but back off he did.

Through we went.  Now we’ve done this a few dozen times going down the ICW, but this one is apparently a drawcard.  There were hundreds (hundreds!) of sightseers on the bridge waving and cheering as we thundered through, hoping for all get out that the tide didn’t suddenly kick in.  Once through, we ambled off to starboard to a huge wide open bay that is 30’ deep almost to the edge and anchored for the night in still calm waters.  The tension was all relieved, we hadn’t hit anyone and we hadn’t hit the bridge and the Australian flag was flying high (we had a young girl come along earlier in the night asking it we knew so-and-so because they moved to Australia.  She was a bit young to understand how big it was but I’m sure if her friend’s brother plays for Carlton I’d know).  We also met a man called Peter who lives in……Karrinyup.  Milverton Avenue to be precise.  He is mostly retired, the kids run the business and he has bought an apartment down near the bridge.  He wanders to Greece each year then heads home when it starts to go coldish.  He offered to help us out by driving us to hardware stores but I’d already gone all over town not having any success so we missed a later catchup.

Out in the bay, it was a couple of dry-and-dry’s and off to the bunk.  (Cinzano Bianco, 750ml, €6.00, not even on special!)

Down the channel

Today was a big one.  51.8 nautical miles.  We passed a superb new bridge over the channel to Evioa, 128’ high from memory, with a whole mess of guys in small boats fishing in the narrows.  Each one had a beach umbrella on his boat and a small inboard motor and tiller.

 Bridge fishing, Chalkis style

Farther on down we passed one of the signs of “Le Crise” in Greece – an entire modern cement plant idle and shuttered.  Then, three or four small ships laid up, rusting away.
Cement plant - out of commission 
Rusting away 

We came across a man out chest deep in the water fishing for ?  Maybe occies?  He had a pole which didn’t have any net on it so it wasn’t for scooping and he was way out in the water.  Any suggestions?
We were intending to anchor in a small village only 12 miles from the last night’s anchorage but we got there so early we decided to make some more miles. 

Old lighthouse

Bad move.

The Meltemi kicked in and we were then hunting for a home for the night in 40+knots with one 52kn coming off a mountain.  Long story short, we motored right across the channel and are in…..
The Bay of Marathon

What a beautiful bay this is.  We are at least a hundred metres from shore and are still only in 14’ of water.  The charts lie.  We couldn’t get a hold in close (so we couldn’t swim in to the beach bars L ) but further out we are in tight.

The Bay

This is where Darius the Persian dickhead got his arse well and truly whipped by the Athenians in 490BC.  Darius didn’t like the fact that the Athenians and the Eritrian cities combined to assist in the Ionian revolt.  (We passed Eritria earlier in the day.)  He sent two guys with a bucketload of men and ships and took Eritria but then when he tried Athens, he came up a little short and all his guys got killed a lot.  We are only 17.4 nautical miles from Athens here, about 30-something kilometres.  Looking into the west here we can actually see the two passes the Athenians blocked off to bottle the Persians up.  This setback, and then Darius’s son Xerxes' unfortunate encounter with Leonidas and the Spartans, gave rise to 200+ years of Greek ascendancy and then the rise of Western Civilisation.  The wind is still howling somewhat but the Greeks camped in the trees are enjoying themselves - it is the final week of Greek holidays and some are still making the most of them here.

The Admiral and I are enjoying Gilbey’s G&Ts in the cockpit - the wind might blow, but it is a hot wind and we are still in our bathers.


Oreis, Oreios, Orei? Even the locals call it by different names.

We wandered into the start of the Evia channel on a pleasant enough day, with the sun shining on the water and the wind blowing gently for a change.  The Express Pegasus inter-island ferry passed us again showing as going astern at 17knots on the AIS.  Somebody on board has programmed the Heading and the GPS heading as a reciprocal, so they show as heading 180  from where they are actually heading.  On day one it was simply amusing but it still hadn’t been corrected on day 2 and I also saw it on the screen on day 3, still going backwards.  You would think someone would wake up.
We wandered into Orei and looked around the harbour – an elderly chappy waved us over to a spot on the outer dock and took our lines, then gave us some restaurant and supermarket pamphlets.  We used the first restaurant pamphlet (photo on the front) to locate the Nautica and wandered off for a late lunch.

Having no cooking gas is becoming tiresome, so we tried to locate a gas fittings place.  No luck, not in Oreis, which doesn’t even have an ATM.  It is a holiday destination for mainland Greeks who mostly come over in their cars, so they can drive in to Istaia, 6km away, if they need cash.

We found out the bus timetable (1 ½ hours to wait) and eventually headed off into town.  We found an EU gas regulator for our bottle but unfortunately, wrong one.  Didn’t fit.  Still no gas.

 Oreis has a pleasant night life as the residents and tourists emerge from the heat of an August day to slip into the Perpeta.  We spent the nights in the Nautica with salads, mezze and seafood together with cold red wine or Fix.  Relaxed dinners overlooking the marina.


This wouldn’t be the Med if it was short on castles and Oreis does have one.  It’s not remarkable in any way, and is largely run down but there was a Geocache up there so I had to go.  An easy find and one more logged in.


From the Castle of Oreis

Some of the well-travelled in this readership will no doubt be aware of the 6-ton marble lion in the British Museum, taken from King Mausolos’ tomb in Bodrum. (The Mausoleum).  It’s the one that the Fisherman of Halicarnassus tried to have returned to Turkey, using the argument that it wasn’t meant to spend its days under grey and leaden English skies.  The British Museum wrote back and told him they agreed and painted the ceiling blue.  Well, Oreis has a marble bull, also 6-ton.  It is not in the British Museum, it simply sits in a glass case in town alongside the main church.  Bit hard to nick, it being 6-ton and all but it is a wonderful specimen.  It was washed ashore in a very heavy storm in the late 50’s or maybe the early 70’s?  Don’t remember.


We met a lovely couple of cruisers, Sue and Brian on Dawn Surprise, who keep their boat in a nearby hard-standing area over winter.  They were just about to relaunch and unfortunately the list of jobs kept them away from a later catch-up for a drink or dinner.  They live in Poole and we hope to catch up again when we get to the UK in a couple of years.  They live very close to one of the oldest pubs in England so that’s another drawcard as Brian’s promised me a beer there.

Swimming in Orei takes a bit of a leap of faith.  Within 10 metres of the beach (30’, 10 yards, not very far) the water plunges down to 70’ – 100’.  We could sail up to the shore and throw an anchor out and wouldn’t touch bottom.  They also have a simple Beach Bar, which generally has as its clientele a group of men who don’t seem to have much else to do except sit around and smoke all day. 

They're in 100' of water
We went over at sunset one night and enjoyed the company of two young mothers and their children plus a few Amstel beers (€1.5 each).  I made faces at a bub in a pram, which he thought highly entertaining, so he did it too.  This kept us both amused for a while but he was short of a beer and his mum didn’t seem to want to buy him one, so he decided to have a little sleep instead.
There is a geocache in the tree we were sitting under but with so many Muggles around we couldn’t locate it with anything resembling stealth so it has gone unlogged by us.  Frustrating knowing it was within about 1m but that’s Geocaching for you.  Another Mediterranean sunset picture follows:


 From the Beach Bar at Oreis - sun setting over the Greek mainland


Goodbye Turkey

The return from Kars to Canakkale was a very long trip. First the sleeper train to Ankara, through mountains and fertile farmlands, then the new fast train from Ankara to Istanbul, where yet again a kindly Turk dropped everything to escort us to the bus depot. The bus spent most of the five hour trip trying to escape the bedlam of peak-hour Istanbul, but once free, the route was quite a scenic one, skirting the Sea of Marmara. All fine until the very last bit – it was 2 am and we could see Common Sense on the other side of the channel, but the ‘hourly’ ferry was not running until 4am, so the passengers dozed or wandered about Eceabat for a couple of hours. Then, at last the ferry arrived, a short zip across the Dardanelles, a hundred metre walk and we were asleep at last in our own cabin. Bliss!

Istanbul Bridge Traffic

The next couple of days we spent catching up with Russ and Mary Kay on Once Around, friends from our winter in Finike, and by a wonderful coincidence also with Barbaros – the go-to guy (with special responsibilities for marketing!) at Finike Marina – and his family. Clean up the boat, buy a few provisions, an easy straightforward check out of Turkey at Canakkale Marina, then it was time to go.
Barbaros and his daughter, Mary Kay, Russ, Me, Terry
August 12th saw us head out and down the Dardanelles, an exhilarating ride with the current behind us and water traffic of every kind including freighters, tankers, endless ferries, tiny fishing boats, the Rainbow Warrior, and even a yacht race which included two yachts from the Turkish Naval Cadets. One final unofficial overnight stop on the Turkish island of Goceada, one unofficial overnighter in Moudros, Greece, then to Myrini in Limnos and the Greek Port Police for official check in, much more efficient and straightforward than our check in last year in Preveza.
All the green triangles are moving! 
Turkish Naval Cadet yacht 

We will miss Turkey. It has been a revelation to spend ten months exploring such a fascinating country, with its amazing range of experiences – the soaring Taurus Mountains, capped with snow in winter and vivid with flowers in spring; glorious blue Mediterranean bays and the life of the waterfront; the vast steppes of the east; the astonishing alien landscapes of Pamukkale and Cappadocia; rich agricultural lands and frenetic cities with their surprising contrasts between traditional life and the twenty-first century. Eastern and Western cultures have collided, mingled and cross-fertilised here for thousands of years, and Turkey has some of the world’s best preserved evidence of ancient civilisations and how they lived – awesome sites like Ephesus and Pergamon, but also hidden gems that few tourists get to see (such as Arykanda and Apollon Smintheon  - see previous blogs). And everywhere without fail, we met friendly, hospitable Turks who couldn’t do enough to help us out and make us feel welcome.

Myrina on Lemnos

But there’s a lot to be said for being back in Greece: a palpable feeling of freedom as people enjoy the beaches and bars in their colourful summer clothing; Greek salads with creamy feta and sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes, grilled calamari, sardines, octopus salad … pork … and cheap, drinkable wine at the supermarkets!  The Turks make the best yoghurt in the world but the Greeks make better cheeses!  Terry says Efes is a great drinkable Pilsner for everyday consumption but Fix Hellas beats it.

So far we’ve made our way west to the Sporades – beautiful islands with much less charter traffic than the Cyclades – and down the channel between the large island of Evia and the mainland. My favourite was Kyra Panagia, partly because it offered us a refuge after a tough passage from Lemnos, but also because it is inhabited only by herds of horses, donkeys and goats.

At the moment we’re holed up in the Bay of Marathon, under siege from a strong northerly wind. If it eases tomorrow we will head down to Olympic Marina for some work on our gas system, then west towards Italy to pick up friends for the next cruising adventure.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Istanbul to Armenia by train. (Terry)


The Istanbul to Ankara high speed train is up and running at last.  For the past two years, you had to get a bus from Istanbul to Eskisehir (see earlier blog for more info on this wonderful small city.) and then catch the train on to Ankara.  One way, Ankara to Istanbul, business class, is TL113.  More space than flying business class and easier boarding experience. 

The YHT (Yuksek Hizli Tren) stops 35 km from Istanbul. It’s still called “Istanbul” but not if your hotel is around Taksim Square.   It’s an outer suburb by a long way.

You get to Ankara to nearly the middle of the city, opposite Genclik Park.  A new station is under construction.  The way the Turks build, it could be ready next week!  They blocked off the underground passage to the other side of the tracks (pity, it was where our hotel was) and the next day they already had lines of concrete trucks and a concrete pump truck pouring the foundations for the new station.
Genclik Park

From Ankara station, you catch the Dogu Express.  Dogu simply means East because that’s where it goes.  It’s not an express, it stops all the way along the line, even at crossings where an informal drop point has grown up over the years and cars gather to retrieve passengers or put them on.

The trip takes 27 hours and a sleeper cabin is highly recommended.  It leaves Ankara at 18:00 each night and arrives in Kars around 21:00 the next night.  It leaves Kars around 07:45 in the a.m. and arrives back in Ankara around 10:am the next day.  Although it is only about 900km direct from Ankara to Kars, the journey is about 1400 because you follow a) the rivers and b) go between towns as the train is a service train, not a sightseer’s train like the Canadian ones.

The Sleeper bunks

The one way fare to Kars is only TL 79.25, or about $40 Australian dollars.  The sleeper cabins have a fridge, a wash basin, power point and a cupboard.  Beds are premade so when you pull your bunk down, it’s ready to get into.  Toilets are clean - forward toilet in each of the sleepers is Western, aft is Turkish-style.

The best all-round view is in the dining car, usually two up from where they put the foreigners.  Beer is same price as in bars around Istanbul and Ankara, about $4.50 for a 500ml bottle of Efes (good stuff, see my Beer Tour of the World in our blog).  Food is basic Turkish and the range does diminish over time.  Certainly on the way back your options reduce.  Still, it’s good quality and enough on the plate to keep you happy.  The old chef doesn’t speak any English at all but you can draw what you want and out it comes.

You will find the dining car is where the Turks will want to talk to you.  These Turks tend to be less exposed to westerners as many come from the far east where there is little interaction as the few tourists who do visit sit in big buses and stay in their groups.  Many of them will be curious as to why you are bothering to go out there.

The landscape of the Taurus Mountains is quite spectacular, and the train follows rivers most of the way.  A large SD card in your camera is advisable.  Circular Polarising filter necessary to snap out of the windows.

Following a river gorge - the headwaters of the Euphrates River are here!

In Kars, we stayed in the Hotel Temel.  Very basic, no aircon in the rooms but designed to stay cool.  Showers hot but no curtains so the water goes everywhere (we figured it was their problem, not ours – if they didn’t want water all over the floor, they would have put curtains up, eh?)  Beds were good, linen sharp and inviting.  The hotel staff are unfailingly polite, and the owner (big boss the others call him) presents every day in his suit and tie.  Breakfast was simple Turkish cold meat and fruits and cheeses.  We were waiting for a taxi to the train station when we left and the boss arrived for work and took us instead.

We wandered around Kars a bit to see the old sites - the castle is quite spectacular and you can drive up there despite what Lonely Planet says.  There are a few other sights to see also and the new museum, quite a ways out on the edge of town, is worth a look.  It’s about 2.5kms from the main drag.  We walked it. 
Kars from the Castle

Restaurants are all over – alcohol service is rare.  A specialty of Kars is Goose, but because it costs TL60, it is not always ready and waiting.  If you really want it, perhaps pick your favourite restaurant (the first two in Lonely Planet are OK) and ask the day before.  Goose flocks are all over so we were careful walking past the stone farm fences in case there were some we didn’t see – they are cranky sods.  There are also very large woolly Anatolian Sheep Dogs.  Good luck trying to steal a sheep when these guys are watching them.  They’re usually quite placid but that’s only when they don’t own the territory you meet on.  If they own it, they get all proprietorial and put on quite a threatening display, followed by a very nasty bite if you are a bit slow on the uptake.
Not the type to pick a fight with for sure

A lot of Turkish cheese is quite mild but in Kars they sell Kasa Eski (eski means old in Turkish) in any one of maybe 20 or 30 specialty shops with cheeses, village butter (don’t tell your cardiologist about this stuff) honey, nuts, dried fruits etc.  Kars is famous for its honey and you can actually do “The Honey Walk” if hiking is your bent.  The shops are a feature of Kars, as are the specialty shops way down west in Datca where they sell almonds and olive oil, or in Elmali where they are famous for apples (and where they make darn good cider also)


The abandoned city of Ani.

 The ruined city of Ani

The city of Ani was fought over for thousands of years.  It was eventually abandoned in the 1700s.  It lies about 40km east of Kars.  There is no real tourist industry in Kars so you will need to negotiate with a taxi driver for a trip out there.  There is one guy who has a deal with the hotels – when you are checking in, they ring him and he will talk to you about a trip to Kars.  He speaks good English.  HOWEVER, despite him saying he himself will be there in the a.m., this is not necessarily the case.  See my review of Kars on Trip Adviser (surprised they published it).  If you do get a taxi from the train, see what he will do.  You MUST specify a 3-hour wait, not two.  The site is very spread out.  They will try to wriggle down to two, two and a half but insist on 3.  Should cost you around 120TL maximum for the two of you, or $60 Australian. Less if they try and cram more people in.
The Church of the Illustrator - you literally cannot see this until you are on it.

There are numerous buildings on the site, quite spread out.  The Church of the Illustrator is out over by the river and down a slope – you cannot see it until you are almost on it and it is quite large.  The fence around the bottom is the Turkish border with Armenia.  It is the point beyond which you cannot pass, although the actual border is a little further out – the Turks have military bases in this “no man’s land”
Guard tower on the border - war was not that long ago.
 The Old Silk Road crossed here

One of the most striking points of interest is the ruins of a bridge that crossed the river once upon a time.  On the far side, you can see a track leading to what would have been the on-ramp.  This is where all the caravans on the Old Silk Road crossed over for hundreds of years, on up into the city of Ani for shelter, rest and food.  It is worth taking a moment to sit and consider the trade that walked this way. For those who have watched numerous documentaries on the Old Silk Road, the Taklimakan Desert, Tamerlane and the Trans-Siberian Railway, this single spot affords a powerful reflection on trade between very distant cultures. It is down by where the Nunnery was, or the Church of the Virgins.
The Church of the Virgins

There are three more churches within driving distance.  Just going to one of them added another $20 Australian to the bill and despite them all saying they know where they are, our guy was on the blower phoning a friend for directions. 

For the biblical minded, you are not very far from Mt Ararat when you are in Kars.  You can climb Mt Ararat but is costs a very large dollar and takes about 3 days.  Permits, guides etc. (you are not permitted to climb without a guide) will set you back around Australian $1,500., big money in the scheme of things.
The Cathedral of Ani

The family that occupies the land on which the ancient monastery buildings stand (see Lonely Planet) has daughters with reddish hair and freckles. (Where the church is, not the monastery building.  If you go out there, even the girls warn you about next door’s dogs!)  Yes, the Celts invaded here around 300BC from areas around Germany and set up camp.  (They were referred to as the Galatians so dig out your St Paul).  It is not uncommon to see Celtic features in the East of Turkey, as Galatia was centred on Ankara and points east – lots of red and ginger hair, ginger beards, freckles and fair skin.  The church on their land dates from 870AD.  They use it to store hay.  They have a hay cutter with a sort of blower on one end.  They feed hay in the blunt end and it gets blown out in small bits into the church.  They’ve blocked up the windows so it just fills up and doesn’t blow back out.  Better use for it than just letting it sit there for 1,200 years doing nothing.

Block up all the windows and pour chaff in.

Red hair and freckles on the Armenian border with Turkey
We booked our return when we booked our out-ticket to make sure we could get back – it is usually full days in advance and we had to wait a week for a spot.

The land is rich and fertile, with large herds of cattle, complete with cowboys and cowgirls, sheep, goats, geese, and many horses.  Kids use their horses to get around on.  It is a major wheat growing area, and they also grow a vast range of vegetables to boot.  Plenty of water, rich brown dirt but unfortunately heavy snow in winter so they lay up large supplies of hay.
 You might have a tractor but you still pitch by fork.

Bee farmer's collection of hives - magnificent honey in this whole area.



Saturday, 23 August 2014


Ankara is not a city to fall in love with at first sight. Our first sight was a long, hot, dusty, hilly trudge through streets full of litter, most of it a carpet of tout cards for escort and massage services. Apart from a couple of grandiose banks, the architecture was soviet-style brutal concrete blocks, softened only by their crumbling edges. It was the end of Ramazan holiday, so most shops and cafes had their shutters up and the people milling around looked hot and listless, especially the women in their scarves and long gabardine raincoats. Back at the hotel we checked out what there was to do in Ankara and hoped that we could tolerate it for three days while waiting for the Friday train to Kars.

Fortunately, it got better. Next day we purchased a metro card which greatly improved the transport options, then headed to downtown Ulus, the old historic centre. Here a Hittite/ Roman/ Byzantine/ Seljuk castle sits at the highest point, presiding over the densely built-up surrounding hills and offering the most appealing perspective on Turkey’s capital. The streaks of graffiti on its walls were almost compensated for by a man playing traditional music in the courtyard, which did contribute some atmosphere to the scene. The old town itself is a pleasure to wander through, with restored Ottoman buildings now housing small shops and traditional crafts along with some more upmarket stores.

Ankara Vista from the Castle
 This chappy was very good.
We went to the main museum as usual and this one – the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations – is a beauty, with artefacts cherry-picked from all over Turkey. The building itself is a lovely restored Ottoman market and the collection is organised as a walk-through time tunnel, beginning with the fossil record (Turkey’s own early hominid, Ankarapithecus) and progressing through the Paleolithic, Bronze, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Phrygian, Ottoman and Republican ages. For an Australian tourist in these parts, there is a constant sense of just how lived-in every place is, often by entire civilizations that you’ve never even heard of. And with this comes a sense of just how fragile and temporary even the greatest cultures can be – loot a few temples, burn a few libraries, assassinate a few leaders and it’s all but over; just a pile of stones, an olive tree and a herd of goats to mark the spot where a great philosopher taught, an artist crafted something beautiful or an engineer planned a complex water system. The highlight of the museum is the collection of artefacts from the Gordion burial mounds, which include the presumed remains of King Midas, along with remarkably well-preserved metalwork and furniture.
King Midas

Another museum is worth a visit here – the private Industrial museum of Rahmi Koc, once again in a beautifully restored Ottoman building. This quirky museum has collections of trains, cars, motors, tools, toys, instruments, pharmaceuticals, old photographs, Ataturk memorabilia, cameras and film paraphernalia, diving gear and lots more, all well presented and with helpful labelling.
Ceramic piece in the industrial museum

On our last day we decided to take an evening stroll to Ataturk’s Mausoleum before an evening rendezvous with a group of Ankara’s Geocachers at a local bar. The Mausoleum is an impressive sight, visible for miles at the top of a wooded hill and lit up after dark. There is a museum of Ataturk’s possessions (including his dog) and a photographic record of his funeral. The collection of documents is testimony to the man’s enormous energy and vision in establishing the modern Turkish state – it’s no surprise that virtually every business, home and even vehicle in Turkey has a portrait of Ataturk or a copy of his famous signature in pride of place. We had expected the tomb itself to be a place of utmost respect – like Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in Hanoi, where the pilgrims file silently past with bowed heads, many of them in tears – but here people were chatting and taking photos, even the Turkish tourists. Oh well. Apparently Ataturk himself never wanted a mausoleum anyway.

The Ataturk Mausoleum lit up behind our hotel, with a crescent moon above

Behind me is almost every Lonely Planet ever published.
We walked on through leafy suburbs to the Varuna Gezgin Café del Mundo, a splendid bar/ café with about four levels including a rooftop, an international collection of beers, and every corner decorated with fascinating stuff from the proprietor’s many years of world travel. Terry was in heaven, especially after a dry few days in Ankara city. We enjoyed meeting the local geocachers: once again it’s proven a great way to get off the beaten track and see a different aspect of a place.

Café De Mundo
Then early on Friday morning we headed for the station, discovering on the way that the tunnel under the highway and railway had been bricked up and it was a very long walk around – fortunately an enterprising taxi driver had discovered this too and was busy making a killing on five lira trips back and forth to the station. We were there in plenty of time, and settled comfortably into our sleeper car for the 26 hour journey east across Turkey to Kars on the Armenian border.

 The Dogu Express to the Armenian border

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Eskisehir (Terry)

We arrived in Eskisehir very late at night.
Our bus was late getting into the massive Otogar at Bayrampasa, where we had been waiting since 10am.  10am bus - full, same for 11am bus so 1pm it had to be.  It was supposed to be there at 12.30 but didn't arrive until 1:30.  Traffic out of Istanbul over the bridge was horrendous - took an hour to go 7km.

Then first opportunity the driver had to leave the traffic behind, he went down a hill without looking ahead and got the bus jammed between two sections of road - front jammed down, rest of bus still on the road.  Then he tried to jack it up - ?  You get it up in the air, it still has to go either forward or back, eh?  Anyway, after over an hour of pissing about, two different tow trucks coming, plus a crane truck, and a small forklift, which only managed to lift its own wheels up, a big forklift came and lifted enough to get some planks underneath.  Off again.
This part of Turkey (around Izmit) is very densely populated and has extensive infrastructure.  Consequently, our progress was excruciatingly slow through city after city as we inched through ports and dockyards.

We finally arrived in Eskisehir around 11:30pm and caught a taxi to a hotel Carol booked online as the bus was pulling into town. We were at the “Madame Tadia” and what a superb hotel it was.
We only booked for a night as we wanted to find out about our train on to Kars. We walked to the station in the morning and found out the first sleeper berth to Kars was the next Friday, a week away!  Oh well, travel at the end of Ramadan, expect to be in considerable company.  We researched Eskisehir a little and found to our great joy that this city is a Gem of the first order.  We decided to stay until Tuesday, and to go to Ankara for a few days on the bullet train, then go on to Kars, have a few days in Kars and return again on the sleeper.  The return will be a little different - Turkey's new high speed link from Ankara to Istanbul begins tomorrow and the new train will do the trip in 3 1/2 hours at 250kmh.

It was supposed to begin on the 11th July but there were several incidents of cable theft (Gypsies in the area!  and before anyone gets all P.C. about it, read the National Geographic article of September 2012 about them and "metal trading")

Eskisehir is pronounced “Eski” as in what you put your beer in for a bbq, “sh” as in be quiet I’m watching the footy, and “here” as in where are you? - I’m right here.

The city is home to two universities, with the Anadolu University being the 2nd largest in the world by enrolments (nearly 2m, mostly external, served by 88 student centres).  The mayor of the city is a folk hero here, particularly among the young adults.  He is an Economist, of course, who has created a superb municipal vista, with wide leafy promenades, great facilities and a series of useful quirky initiatives.  For example, all the city streetsweepers use brooms made of birch twigs.  Free, biodegradable, have worked well for thousands of years. Why not?  There are gondolas on the city canal that runs through town.  The gondolas are made in the city workshops.  The gondoliers all promise not to sing.  Every street corner and intersection has a statue of some sort.
New Orleans Blues in the middle of Turkey

A city character, immortalised

Gondolas on the Porsuk River 
We visited the Archaeology Museum first, as we usually do, and we were touched by the grave stelae there - memorials by simple citizens for their husbands, wives and children.  One was for a chap who died when he was struck by lightning, which said "Well, enjoy yourself while you can because you don't know what's around the corner."  Another said" Live your life to the full because you can't bring anything you own here (to the tomb).  Another was put up by a lady for her husband Mytine, and her three sons (Polykronos, Phosphorus and Bubba - don't remember the last one) who were all "taken suddenly".
A circle of grave Stelae
They have a chariot set up in front of an interactive screen, like a race car video game, with leather reins that guide the horse.  You can drive around the ancient city, but it's a bit hard to control because the horse goes quite fast.  Lots of mud houses got bowled over and there's a very pissed off blacksmith in town, too.
Horse racing, 300BC
The tomb of King Midas is a bit south of here, about 65kms.

We found a nice bar, “Sleepless” in “Bar” Street, and took up a position each night on the street tables, having a beer and a wine before our dinner.  Beer was cold and the wine Carol was served was more than just generous, it was about two normal glasses and only 10TL.  Whatever time Happy Hour was, we seemed to be there for it.
Bar Street, Sleepless on the right
There is no Big Red Bus in Eskisehir so we got on the electric light rail.  According to the map, there are two lines, the red and the blue.  As we were heading to what we thought was a visit to Kent Park, with the Mayor’s latest innovation, an artificial beach, the tram took a righty when it should have taken a lefty.  We were greatly surprised to find we were on a third route which hadn’t made it onto the maps as yet and off to the furthest points of town we went.  Luckily, on the very last stop, a security chappy got on and took one look at us and thought “I don’t think they’re locals”.  He offered to show us where the closest crossover point was for the two lines and even got off the tram to guide us.  That’s Turkey all over.
Eskisehir's Beach
On the Sunday, we went for a wander along the canal/river to look at the bridges.  We found about 13 of these and whilst ordinarily you would pay heed to The Bridge of Sighs, Tower Bridge, Ponte Vecchio etc, and have scant regard for bridges in small cities, these are different.  In fact, each is different from the one before.  They are painted different colours, quite strikingly, have different ornamentation and also each has a different span method – and are supported in different ways.  Another Eskisehir tradition.

The Turquoise Bridge near our hotel

The Blue Bridge, next one up.

The White Lace Bridge

The Purple Bridge
There are about 13 of these - you get the idea.
We also went up to the old Ottoman quarter - a great tourist attraction here and full of visiting Turks and their families.  In the large mosque, there are workshops for artisans who carry on an old tradition of carving Meerschaum, found in the area (I always thought it was found in the Netherlands)

Ottoman houses in Odunpazari

Many are being restored completely

The biggest Meerschaum pipe you've ever seen.


Mostly we ate at the Lokantasis we found, but on our last night we dined in some splendour in the garden surrounds of Meze, a Lonely Planet recommendation.  It was very nice indeed and even though it’s one of the city’s best, it was still only TL70 or $35 for the two of us (no alcohol as we’d already had our drinks over at Sleepless)  Breakfast in our hotel wasn't to be dismissed lightly, either.  I was reliably informed that it was something I am not used to, healthy.
Madame Tadia's prepared breakfast
 Monday a.m. it was off to the train station and our first journey on a rocket train.  We had Business Class seats and they were very comfortable, with lots of space around them and an in-flight TV system.  Unfortunately, all the movies were dubbed into Turkish, not subtitled, so I was a bit lost.

Off to Ankara in 1hr, 10mins it was.