Day 29 – Wednesday, April 18 – Rize, Turkey – Dave

Today I tried my hand at driving the van, so Simon could spend the day on my bike.  Big mistake – but more of that in a moment…

We all pushed off early along the coast road – eastwards towards the Georgian border which we’ll reach tomorrow morning.  High quality dual carriageway, low quality drivers.  With the Black Sea a few yards to our left, the road swept round a series of dramatic headlands covered with woods and steeply-terraced orchards.  Every five minutes we’d pass through a town just like all the others on this coast – a rocky beach, a small, near-empty harbor with two stubby lighthouses at its entrance,  a long row of shabby apartment buildings painted in faded seaside colors and, of course, a glittering new mosque.

But the best thing about driving the van is watching Richard ‘interact’ with the locals. He’s highly animated, waving his arms furiously in a series of homemade signals – “Don’t even think about passing, you imbecile”, “Give me some damn room here”, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” and, finally, “Fuck off”.  Hilarious – and yet astonishingly effective.  The best moment was in town when two white vans overtook me in a crowded street and tried to squeeze in alongside him.  In quick succession they got the “Give me some damn room here”, then “What the hell are you doing?”, followed by a couple of “Fuck offs”, punctuated by blasts on his horn.  Then I noticed the single word painted on side of each van – ‘POLIS’.  But did Richard give a damn?  Hell no.  “Fuck off”  Fuck off”. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  “Fuck off”  TOOT!  TOOT!  “Give me some damn room here”  “Fuck off”…  Until finally they fucked off.  Quel hombre!

One extraordinary moment on the motorway/freeway – limited access with all the trucks, cars and motorcycles zipping along at 65-70.  Suddenly, ahead of me,  all our motorcycles veered right to avoid something.  And there in the fast lane was an old man on a bicycle.  He was struggling to keep moving, weaving from side to side, on the very edge of falling off – but credit where credit’s due, he was wearing a suit and tie and smoking a cigarette!!

I wonder if he’s still alive?

We also passed a car being steered by a grizzled man and pushed by two 50 year-old women who were roasting in their headscarves, heavy robes etc.  The man obviously believed that if he got out to push and let a woman steer, his balls would drop off.

We made a detour of 40KM away from the coast to visit the Sumela Monastery and, as we wound our way up narrower and narrower mountain roads, my one hour of experience driving the heavily-loaded van began to feel very slight.  The final 3KM was up a steep, heavily-rutted, goat-track with an enormous drop to one side, but by now I was committed – keep going, or reverse down.  I don’t know how many of you have seen the French Classic “Wages of Fear”, but this was it – wheels scraping the very edge of the chasm, beads of sweat stinging my eyes, hands clamped in terror on the wheel… And then, at the steepest part of the track – on a slope only the hardiest of goats would attempt – the van ground to a halt.  It couldn’t make it up the hill, even with the accelerator floored… My sphincter twitched.

I slipped the clutch, piled on the revs and tried again…and inch by inch the van started to move forward up the slope…

I’m not sure the monastery was worth it, but it was very impressive.  Hanging halfway up a huge vertical cliff.

Finally, we made it to our hotel on the edge of the Black Sea, where we dined fairly well and, more importantly, watched Chelsea beat Barcelona 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League Semi Final.

But my sphincter was still twitching.

 

 

Day 27 – Monday, April 16 – Goreme, Turkey – Dave

Here’s a photo SImon took the day before yesterday that has to be included…

Which is Nick?

A day of sightseeing in and around this extraordinary town.  In the afternoon, the hotel owner’s son, Osan, offered us a ‘tour of the area’ in his car, so, ignoring the First Law of Turkish Toursim (which states that “when someone offers you a tour it will include a retail opportunity involving their family member or friend”), John, Simon and I agreed to go with him.

We started in the ‘Valley of Love” (although none of us could figure out why it’s called that)…

This is where Osman’s grandfather worked the family land.  Osman told us that the grandparents of every one of his local friends were farmers, whereas most of their sons and all of their grandchildren were involved in tourism.  A dramatic change in two generations.

It was disturbing to listen to Osman as he drove us on to the local ceramics factory – our next port-of-call.  He talked openly of how conversations with a college roommate have opened his eyes to the importance and beauty of Islam.  “Democracy had its time – Ataturk was right to introduce it when he did – but as times change there could be a need for something else (i.e. Sharia Law)”.  And the one mistake Ataturk made in drafting the constitution was “including the third clause which states that the first two clauses must never change” – i.e.. that (1) Turkey is a democracy and (2) there is a separation of church and state.  When we asked him for an example of how things would be better for women under Sharia Law, he said that his college friend had given a very good example of that, but he couldn’t remember it. .  (However, he did text his friend and later came back to us with a confused explanation of how “a saw not a good tool to use when cutting a cake”).  Hmmmm.

So this enlightening conversation lasted till we got the the ceramics factory – a series of recently dug caves where they cure the clay, throw the pots, paint them and sell them to tourists who didn’t heed the First Law of Turkish Tourism.

Nevertheless, it was a terrific place.  A master-potter with huge forearms made a pot in 15 minutes while we watched.  And then it was Simon’s turn – on the ancient foot-operated wheel…

Potty Simon

Then it was time for our retail opportunity…and how could we resist?

Finally a stop at the family’s carpet store.  And this time, despite it’s alluring name…

The Rose Carpet Store

…we did manage to resist.

Finally Richard cooked us a spectacular dinner under the stars outside the hotel.  Using the dutch oven he conjured up a tasty melange of confit de canard and fresh vegetables, which we washed down with decent local wine.

Another fine day on the road.

Monday 16th April ;Gerome, Central Turkey- by Simon, 3600 miles out -6000 to go.

 

We now realise that Mustapha, our hotel owner in Ephesus , the one who had stiffed me for 45 Euros for a coupe of glasses of raki, also prebooked us into one of the worst hotels in Turkey. We have decided now that it  is probably better to follow our own instincts on hotels from now on. He booked us into the Hotel  “Rami” -it was full of noisey insomniac turkish lads on a school football tour and served no food or alcohol. Never mind we went to the only licenced show in town , had a great meal with a few beers and nearly got to watch the Turkish cup final which was cancelled due to a flooded pitch.

Torrential rain overnight cleared the skies ready for a blast across the vast  Cappadoccian plateau all of which is above 1000 meters. Once through Aksaray we wound our way up into the volcanic range that gave birth to the incredible dentate rocks mounds that have made Cappadoccia famous through 3 millenia. Stopped for a lunch beside a trout stuffed torrent and clambered among the first of of the cave villages.

We skirted round the highest of the volcanos, Mt Erciyes rising up to 3916 metres -sticking its snow clad rim into the clouds.

Cappadocia is a region which developed a  unique identity for several reasons, firstly it is on the silk route and therefore attracted travellers from Christian, Turkish , Persian and Greek regions, Some travelled through, others settled. Secondly those who stayed found that they could protect themselves from invaders by building underground interlinked dwellings bored out of the Dentate protuberances. They would wall up the openings and  anyone would tried to climb up to attack the cliff side dwellings could be poked and stabbed through small holes in the walls. Invading Turkish and Persian adventures got fed up with trying to winkle them out and largely let them be. The three local volcanos induced these dentate growths  by blasting larva up through the sandstone, they number tens of thousands, and gave rise to the hundereds of communicating  hollowed out villages

We  are staying at a cave dwelling hotel in Gerome and our proud hotel  owner,Hassan, has built a fine traditional house stuck on the side of the caves. I slept in large cave room  completely dark and soundless.

 

We are encouraging Richard to start cooking in readiness for less appetising offerings  ahead. John expertly side tracks Richard and I who are  keen to assemble our Delia Smith field kitchen ,  by spotting excellent local restaurants. To be fair John,who we believe is at least trying to enter into the spirit of camping and field cooking, has identified a 5 star camp site on his Ipad but it sadly  is not our route. It’s in the Maldives!

Dont forget – if you wish to see the photographs more clearly double click on them and some blow up nicely.

Simon

Day 24 – Friday, April 13 -Ephesus to Pamukkale, Turkey – Dave

Turns out – on  closer inspection of our bill for the last 2 nights in the ’boutique Ephesus hotel’- that the ‘gentle, long-haired economics professor” was something of a rogue who stiffed us spectacularly on the drinks tab.   But we should have seen it coming after he got impressively drunk and incoherent on Raki last night.  This morning his long hair needed a wash and he smelled bad – I think this distracted Simon from checking the bill properly.

Pleasant ride on empty roads…

…to Pamukkale where the whole hillside looks like it’s covered with snow…

…but, it’s actually calcite deposited by thermal springs bubbling up throughout the whole area.  The Romans, who were, it seems, prepared to travel huge distances and enslave and/or slaughter anyone just for the sake of hot water, built the city of Hierapolis here.  The ruins are extensive and well-preserved.

Our hotel was a vast, newish, shoddy, tasteless palace that offered infinite spa treatments like ‘chocolate mask’, ‘thermal spring rub’ and ‘Congolese massage ‘ (maybe I didn’t get that translation right).. but the place was completely empty apart from us and we felt sorry for the poor, suckered investors who’d built this colossal folly.

Then, suddenly, dozens of huge coaches rolled into the car park and spewed out hundreds and hundreds of amazingly unattractive Germans, South Koreans, Australians…and the hotel was heaving with people in pursuit of Congolese massages.

So we went into town in search of gozleme – thin pancakes cooked over an open fire and filled with spinach, lamb, potatoes etc.  etc.  I chose one from the menu that was filled with ‘spinach and feet cheese’.  Fortunately I had guessed right that this meant ‘spinach and feta cheese’.

We are enjoying Turkey.

Love to all,

Dave

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