Hello Turkey! But first customs. Fortunately, I have printed out our e-visas – it is the first thing they ask for, and it doesn’t appear as if we could have got our visas here at the border. Then we head off to get insurance. It is a major pain that the Green Card rules for non-EU vehicles have just changed. We are no longer covered in lots of countries. Such is the challenge of our kind of travel. Another queue – no idea what this one for, a cursory look inside GR2 and we are away. Hold on I see signs for vignettes/e-tolls. We stop to buy one. Finally, we are free!
Our first stop is at Edirne to see the amazing Selimiye Camii/mosque. The streets are full of traffic so fortunately our planned carpark has space for us. This mosque was designed by Sinan – considered the best Ottoman architect of all time, and it is gorgeous. We explore the markets & streets before heading off. It is much later than expected so we won’t be able to reach our planned stop beside a lake. Tonight, it is a motorway rest area – one of the larger ones. We sleep to the hum of traffic.
In the morning we head on to Istanbul. It has changed enormously since we were here in 2009. It has grown: super high-rise apartments clog the sky line, shopping centres each glitzier than the last, millions of cars on the roads many of these playing dodgems, and an amazing bus system in the centre of the road. And for me, best of all, the amazing gardens. Tulips are everywhere, and on the main motorways walled gardens with collages – magnificent. And plenty of time to admire them as we frequently crawl along.
Our challenge is to find an Isuzu workshop. All those parts we had in our cases need to be installed. Our GPS has a list of workshops, so we start heading to them. The first few have gone – replaced by high rise. We head across the Bosporus and finally strike gold. A great workshop, and even better they start work immediately. All afternoon, all day Friday & half of Saturday. GR2 should be feeling pretty good by now. Bonus: at the workshop we are taken to the staff canteen for a cooked lunch each day, free Wifi and we are able to sleep in GR2 inside the workshop. John has ordered 2 new tyres and they are due on Monday, so we head back to the city for what remains of the weekend. It is Saturday afternoon so the traffic should be minimal – but no. It takes us 4 hours in stop start traffic to reach our campspot on the waterfront. Only time for a quick explore of town before evening.
We are joined by a German camper – a huge Unimog. Spend time chatting to them. He is justifiably proud of the job he did building his camper. The next day we head out to explore. On our previous visits we didn’t see Tokapi Palace as it was closed. So, the Palace is our destination, and it doesn’t disappoint – magnificent. Those Sultans sure knew how to live.
Feeling hungry we head back to a restaurant we spied earlier – it has a rooftop room with great views and even better some yummy sweets. More walking around town, only to discover the Spice Markets are closed today, but we do get to see the Suleymaniye Camii – also designed by Sinan – again it is very lovely. Exploration complete we return to GR2. Hopefully Sunday night will be quiet- but no, it is not to be, more locals are out picnicking – in the morning the park is covered with rubbish, despite rubbish bins everywhere!
Monday, we head off. The gate is open so we decide the parking man has gone off duty! But no…he comes running after us. Still we can’t complain at a mere 40TL/ AU$13 for 2 nights right in the city. No rush to the workshop, so we decide to head across town to see the Chora Church. Well not the best move. We crawl through crazy traffic, wind in to the Church only to discover no parking & the whole thing is in wraps – we will give it a miss, but now we have to get out of this maze of skinny roads. The road I find is one that narrows alarmingly (one of those cute streets I would take a photo of) – unfortunately, no turning back. There is washing waving overhead and awnings are getting closer – then there is a crunch – I get out. We have bumped an awning. Mild panic sets in as the gap is getting smaller. All the men rush to help me and manage to steer John out with lots of yelling PHEW!! Centimetres to spare at the top and none at the wheels as they graze the sides. No damage much to my relief. After this fiasco we cross the Bosporus to drive along the waterfront & are rewarded with lovely views across to the city. By the time we arrive at the workshop the tyres have arrived. John ties them to the roof rack and finally we are off. Miles more city & towns that merge with each other and we finally get to the mountains.
We end our day camped by a small creek – beside one of many little tracks in the river bed. Here we meet a lovely French couple who are riding their bikes. They are more than happy to share ice-cream & Limoncello as we chat. Back on the road through lots more mountains, huge areas of wheat and lots of irrigation. Always harder to find a spot in cultivated areas, but we find a spot near a tiny town. A bit rocky but it will do.
My musings on Turkey as we drive across the country: Last year’s government subsidy must have been playgrounds, as every town, even the smallest, has a brand-new playground. This year’s government subsidy must be the installation of irrigation systems. They are spreading everywhere- all brand new or still to be installed. My suggestion for next year is rubbish dumps. Instead of using anywhere to dump rubbish, get it organised.
This morning the countryside gets flatter if possible as we pass a massive shallow lake. Crops are everywhere, but really can’t complain about all the wheat because we do enjoy the end result. Delicious bread straight out of the oven. Mmmmm. At Aksaray we stop for more bread & ask where to find the Eyri Minare – a minaret with a 27deg lean (actually the towns only claim to LP fame). Easy enough to get there but requires a 4-point turn to get back out! Our excitement for the morning over we head on to Cappadocia.
We have been here in 2005 with Stacey in GR1, so have decided not to visit the same things. It is actually quite hard to work out a route as it a huge area, so after a bit of planning we head in to the Ilhara Valley. Selime is our first sighting of fairy chimneys, and as ever they provide the wow factor. We get out and explore before heading on to the Monastery for a good look. Then detour to the town of Belisima to look at more rock churches full of very old frescos. Our last stop for the day is at Guzelyurt. By now we are a bit rock churched out, but we set off to explore. There appears to be a huge film crew here! John heads up a track – everyone is in period costume, but when I follow I am very sternly sent back. Maybe I was seen taking a photo. I sit and wait for John who somehow makes it right through before he is sent back. On down hill to explore a rather small underground city and back to GR2. Phew, time to find a spot for the night. Just out of town I spy a track to a lake, so we head down. Perfect! Lakeside spot with magic views of a rock castle & snow-capped peaks. A great spot to BBQ some good steaks.
When we finally pull ourselves away from our waterfront spot we head out to explore the rock castle we have been viewing. It is actually a tall rock with church & monastery on top. It has great views of our lake, but the church interior is sadly graffitied. Wonder if they would do that to a mosque! Time to head to Goreme- It is rather like fairy chimneys meets Disneyland. But we do love the views. We explore the massively enlarged tourist town, have a tourist lunch before exploring lots more sites – too many to name them all. Finally, out of the valley and on with our travels. We are meandering across country towards Nemhrut Dagi (our next must-see spot!). After a long day we pull up beside a river for the night.
Lots more driving with lots of high mountain passes. Stop at Darende – the LP mentions a great gorge – which we locate, but entry is now closed. We also find a place in town to get some new shelves made (AU$8 bargain) – John has been doing some reorganising inside GR2. Then we head on towards apricot central – there are millions of trees & lots of roadside stalls selling delicious dried apricots. With all these trees it means campspots are harder to find – but we find a nice one beside a lake with the bonus of a lovely sunset. We try to ignore the rubbish & mud.
We are nearly at Nemhrut Dagi. Just a very windy back road through villages that grow tobacco (we know because of the drying racks beside every house), then a massive mountainous gorge and then the town of Adijaman – this town gets our vote for the tidy town award (not a spot of rubbish seen here) & best bread award! Then time to tackle the mountain. A few touristy stops on the way- old pillars, a great Roman bridge, some stellae, then finally the steep windy drive to the top! We are excited. The weather is perfect – so now the climb and finally those massive rock heads. Another must see ticked off our list. As we leave flurries of snow fall and our path takes us through a thick snow drift. All good we head back down the mountain.
Our plan is to head towards Lake Van & maybe cross to Armenia from Turkey – it sounds as if a border may be open. So, we head via back roads in that general direction. Finally, we reach the mighty Euphrates River & cross the amazing new bridge. The road builders here do things in style. Finally, we spy a spot beside a small river – perfect for tonight. Miles & miles of cultivation follow. And now there are more & more army/police checkpoints. Many we are stopped at. Finally, at Lice we are very firmly told we cannot take this road for military reasons. We have to head north. In the end we change our route and head directly north towards Erzurum – hopefully out of the armed area completely.
Amazingly we are still up on high plateau and surrounded by snow-capped peaks. At the end of the day we find a gorgeous lake. Locals are still there picnicking, so we set ourselves up for the night. Sadly, an hour later the police arrive – we must go “there are terrorists here!” (Really), but we head off. At the next lake we are turned away so we end up tucked behind a big yellow grader at the petrol station – hopefully those terrorists won’t see us!! No, they didn’t find us so all’s good.
Our last day in Turkey sees us arrive at Erzurum bright & early, making it easy to park in the centre to explore the old area. It is thoroughly enjoyable – lots of ancient medressas, Ottoman houses, mosques and even a castle. Finally, we head out of the now busy town – directly north. We have checked with the police, and no we cannot go through Kars to the Armenian border. It is not safe (we assume it is because it is a Kurdish area)
The bonus is the magic drive we have to the Black Sea. We stop at a few sights – some Georgian monasteries built in inaccessible places, the lovely aqua blue Tortum Golu/Lake & the unexpectedly large waterfall, but it is the canyon that is the highlight. It runs for mile after mile all the way to the Black Sea. And of course, the road & associated roadworks are incredible. We pass through over 40 tunnels (We really should have counted them!) When Turkey makes roads, she goes for it full bore – just keeps on blasting through tunnels, moving dirt and widening the roads. The last part of our drive takes us through lovely tea plantations. We end up at Hopa, dinner at a local restaurant & a camp spot right on the Black Sea.
Turkey, we have loved visiting you. Tomorrow Georgia.