June 2013- Kotor Bay, Montenegro
What a place! We are staying right across a narrow road from what must be the most beautiful bay in the world! Three steps and we can dive into the sea. The dramatic mountains drop steeply right into the bay which is dotted with gorgeous little villages clinging to the shore. Its 8:30 in the morning and already very hot in the sun. Olly is making pancakes that we are going to smother with bananas, peaches, fresh yoghurt and some maple syrup. Mmmmmm…… Our breakfast is a multicultural affair. Our yoghurt is fresh and local, our tea is from Rwanda, our honey is Egyptian and the flour is Namibian! 🙂
We have been zooming through countries, like one of those 10 countries in ten days tours you can do! Obviously getting held up in Egypt has taken some time off our Europe leg as we are going to a wedding of some very good friends that we wont miss so we still need to get to the UK at the same time. So we have decided to just enjoy a few places and not try to see too much. European countries are mostly so small, some of them we will just be transiting through very quickly.
We made our way to Istanbul on mostly smaller roads which was a nice way to see some countryside and played car cricket as we drive along. We were invited to tea when we stopped to get fuel, we sat in happy silence (no shared language) with our hosts, the two blokes who gave up diesel, and sipped a little beaker of tea with them. Istanbul was fantastic- what a city! It is such a mix of east and west. We decided to stay right in the city so we could have the advantage of walking everywhere, the campground we heard of is an hour from the city. We found a hostel that said it had parking although we were a bit suspicious how it could in the city but went for it anyway and figured we would sort it out when we got there. We arrived on Sunday 16th June a day with more protests planed for Taksim Square. The travel warnings about Turkey have been coming in thick and fast and more so for the 16th to keep watch and stay aware as problems looked likely. We had not had any internet for a few days so weren’t sure what had been happening but had asked where we were staying the night before and they said don’t worry about it. He also said it was just a few people, that turned out to be not the case! As we approach the Bosphorus, the body of water that separates the Asian side of Istanbul with the European side we were getting more and more excited. Even from afar the city is beautiful. As we approached the bridge we noticed large groups of police dressed in full riot gear all standing and sitting around. We assumed protesters had tried to block the bridge (which turned out to be the case) and of course the bridge is a major area of the city so police would not allow it to be blocked. We had looked on the map where Taksim Square was and knew we were not staying near it, what we didn’t know is that we would drive very near it and right through the protesters on their way there! As we drove through the city we saw a road sign to Taksim Square and were happy to be directed away from it by the GPS. We saw increasing numbers of police lining the road, certainly the largest police presence either of us have ever seen. As we drove we noticed ahead of us a commotion and the cars and buses in front of us stopping, soon we saw why. On the other side of the road but spilling onto both sides was a group pf people, we couldn’t see yet how large, wearing surgical masks, some with gas masks, many with helmets or hard hats and red scarves, carrying turkish flags and shouting, clapping, and singing. A few of the cars in front of us did a quick U turn and a few went straight. We made the split second decision to go straight. So glad we did, although it looked the most intimidating way it was by far the best thing we could have done. We were both nervous and unsure as we were not sure what we were driving into but within a minute we could see it was all fine! The group at first looked like few hundred, but as we carried on we could see many thousands of people on their way to the square. So glad we didn’t turn around or arrive a few minutes later or we would have met the protesters walking past the police we had seen a few blocks earlier. People streamed by, shouting, waving giving us the peace sign, the few cars around us honking which really got people going but there was not even a hint of aggression or anything and despite what the government might say the most obvious thing about the group of people streaming past us was that they were normal people. Young and old, lots of couples. They all looked like they were headed for dinner or something, the only thing that gave them away was they had masks around their necks and most were carrying helmets. They certainly were not a group of hooligans. No doubt the Prime Minister has his supporters but from what we can gather the vast majority of people there believe he is trying to bring Turkey towards more Islamic state, which they do not want. Turkey is guaranteed to stay secular based on the constitution and people want it to stay that way. There were clashes that night as there is every night now but we were far away and didn’t hear or see a thing.
Istanbul captured both of us. Driving through the small streets of the old town, where we stayed and found our hostel, which was tucked on a dead end back street and was the perfect place to leave landy for a few days, safely parked. We could see glimpses of the incredible buildings that seem to be everywhere in the old town and soon saw the startlingly beautiful Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) and the Blue Mosque. Wow. We enjoyed walking around the old area of Istanbul and seeing amazing buildings poking out everywhere. I also got pummelled and relaxed at a Turkish hamam (bath) and for the first time since Durban my feet are clean!
Our highlights of Turkey in a nutshell:
After the heat, dust and dirt of Egypt swimming in the blue blue waters of the Med
The food! Amazing bread, cheese, fab fresh fruit and veg, and all things Turkish, we have eaten them in other places but not in Turkey! – gozleme, Turkish bread (we don’t know it’s called here!), Turkish delight and baklava. So much better there!
The cherries, they deserve a special mention- we were given some freshly picked off a tree when we stopped for a picnic, an old couple waddled up and gave us heaps of cherries had some bread and cheese with us (we were having our lunch) and toddled away climbed the ladder and started picking again. Not a word of common language between us. So lovely and the cherries were DELICIOUS!
Istanbul- charming, full of history, modern, old- the lot!
The single most noticeable and memorable thing by far was the complete head spin of the dramatic change from Africa, where we have been for over seven months. No doubt the ‘biggest’ border we have crossed.
We left Istanbul after spending a morning in the incredible Aya Sofya and hit the road for Greece where we did some more eating :). We have a lot to get used to in Europe- as we drove along we saw two police cars near the road and the men standing there looked up at us so we pulled over, they looked at us, we looked at them and finally they said “Do you need something?” We said “Oh, we thought we were to stop!” We are so used to road blocks we just saw them and assumed! None of that here then. We decided at the last minute to go through Macedonia as it turned out to be a shorter route and stopped yesterday afternoon at Ohrid in Macedonia. Ohrid is a lovely town right on Lake Ohrid and we spent a very nice afternoon walking through its old crocked cobblestone streets and following the boardwalk around part of the lake. It was a busy town with eastern Europeans on holidays and people jumping in the water and having drinks. We drove down the lake and spent the night tucked away right in the far south of Macedonia very near the border, near a tiny harbour hoping the people at the hotel we were next to wouldn’t mind us staying the night there. We slept well and snuck off early in the morning for a swim and hit the road again yesterday.
We drove through Albania yesterday. We only saw it from the road and our eating stops. There must be an election coming very soon as everywhere was covered in political party flags and billboards. Albania has bunkers that dot the countryside, during communism they built 700,000! That was interesting to see.
The borders here are EASY!!! In fact we have not even had to get out of the car, you drive up and show your passport and they ask one or two things and off we go. Although yesterday coming in to Montenegro they didn’t believe our rego papers for landy were the rego papers. They obviously normally see European ones and we went back and forth with a very annoyed border guy who didn’t speak English and was just shouting in the widow “vehicle papers” over and over. Anyway we got through and arrived here…. Hot hot and found this perfect campsite. On the big front grass of a couple’s house. We had a ‘chat’ (again no shared language at all) with the lovely leathery wrinkly old man, who was just delighted to hear us say Australia. His son and grandchildren live in Melbourne and are here visiting now! After much handshaking and back patting with the lovely old fella and as soon as we could politely we rushed away and jumped into the water, ah……….
We walked along the tiny narrow road that hugs the bay, the sun very hot so we spent the walk admiring the scenery and seeking shade, another few swims and made some dinner and finally the sun set and it was cooler. This place is already on the “List of Places to Go Back To”.
Later….dreamy sigh… lovely day. We have been swimming, reading, swimming, lunch then swimming…. At some stage during the very hot afternoon a guy came in a van and opened all the doors to reveal big wooden crates overflowing with fruit and veg so we stocked up. He even had some wine, he opened a bottle let us taste it and then if you decided yes he puts a lid on it and its yours. He patted his chest pointed at the wine and said “my family” Much later after an early dinner at landy we went out for a walk when it cooled a little. A bus came tearing down the tiny narrow road and we decided to hop on, and ended up in the village of Kotor. Brilliant! We had no idea what to expect and found a small town surrounded by old city walls that surrounded the town and arched up scaling the steep mountains above to encircle a church and at the very top a fort. We had an ice cream, sat and watched people and found a funky little bar down a tiny alleyway for a beer. What a treasure. We walked along the bay a bit to see the walls lit up at night and then went back to landy.
L and O