Europe : The Final Frontier

I know that technically for the last bit of our time in Turkey we had been in Europe but as we crossed the border into Greece and back into the EU it felt that we were really now on the homeward stretch and back in Europe..

Not that we would be spending much time crossing Europe, it was always going to be a bit of a whirlwind tour. The last week it has seemed as if we have been crossing a border every day, partly due to the countries all been relatively small and partly due to the speed at which we are now travelling.

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Greece was a bit of a blur really. We joined a smooth motorway and followed it all along the coast. Every so often there was beautiful glimpses of the sparkling blue Agean and of lovely sandy beaches trying to tempt us down but unfortunately we didn’t have time and by the end of the day had turned inland into the wooded hills. We eventually stopped for the night near the border with Macedonia in a clearing down a forest track.

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It might not have been as beautiful as the coast but it was a lot quieter. As we return to Europe we realise just how much we enjoy finding solitude and camping by ourselves with just nature for company. As it’s peak holiday season in Europe we could see how popular the main sights and the coast were for obvious reasons. This was a lovely spot and we treasured it as we don’t know which one will be our last on this journey.


The next morning it was another border this time crossing into Macedonia. Not that the Greeks like the country being called that, as they have there own province of Macedonia on their side of the border. It gives rise to rather confusing signs as the first says “Macedonia says goodbye” and then just over the border there is a “Welcome to Macedonia” sign. Still the good news were that the border was very smooth and despite going through two passport controls it took less than 10 minutes to cross.

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We were heading for Lake Ohrid but on the way passed by the much less touristy Lake Prespa. We headed down to a spot by the lake for lunch and as it was so nice decided to spend the rest of the day there. Again there was hardly a soul around although unfortunately from the amount of litter around it must have been a popular spot at times. As we drove through the Balkans we could not but notice the amount of litter left lying around and overflowing dust bins.


Fortunately we had a quiet night and the next day headed over the mountain pass that lay between the two lakes. The views from near the top were fantastic. As we descended to Lake Ohrid the traffic picked up and by the time we arrived at St Nam’s monastery it was decidedly busy. Mind you we could understand why. The lake was set beautifully with the mountains around and every so often churches or monasteries dotted the shoreline.


We headed into the main town of Ohrid itself to see the castle and some more picturesque churches. We were hoping that we would be able to find our own quiet spot around the lake but no such look so we thought we would check out the campsite. As soon as we entered we decided there was no way we were staying it was just so dirty so we turned inland and found a quiet spot by a stream to camp. It had been a lovely day and we did not want to spoil it by camping somewhere horrible and for once we hadn’t crossed a border.


The next day though it was back to crossing borders as we entered Kosovo. We followed a lovely mountain road that gave great views as it twisted and turned through the valley. Again we were able to find a quietish spot by a small river to camp for the night. When we arrived there were a number of picnickers but they left in the evening so we had the place to ourselves for the night.


Following the road down through the gorge we arrived in Prizren. From the castle above the town we could see the interesting mix of the town as it was dotted with both Serbian Orthodox Churches as well as Mosques. Unfortunately this coexistence has not always been peaceful as big clashes broke out in 2004. As a result many of the churches were burnt, as well as people’s houses. It was hard to imagine as we wondered around the picturesque town enjoying its sights but is a reminder that such violence is sometimes never far away especially when it’s whipped up by certain politicians.



After enjoying a leisurely lunch by the river we debated whether we should cross another border. As Albania was only 20kms away and it was only 3pm we thought why not, so off we headed to our fifth country of the week. Again the border crossing was really quick and we were soon gliding through the mountains on a smooth motorway. We had thought about finding somewhere to camp in the mountains but before we knew it we were near the coast and things were much busier.

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We had read that Camping Legienda was a nice campsite with a pool and decided to give it a try. We were really pleased that we did. It was a pleasant campground with a lovely pool to cool off in the heat. We enjoyed it so much we decided to stay an extra day rather than pushing on to the next border.

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This gave us the chance to visit the castle that overlooked the town of Skhoder but more importantly enabled us to get some jobs done that we needed to do before heading back to the UK. We had been planning on doing these at a campsite in Montenegro but you never know we may still find some last wild spots to camp alone. Here’s hoping.

Reflections on Turkey


Lucy

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We entered Turkey with high hopes of seeing ancient wonders and tasting mouth watering sweets – we did both and more! 

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The fairy chimneys looked more like sandstone mountains, to be honest. Some of them were tall and thin, others were fat and short. There were thousands of doors and rooms. The people were fleeing from their enemies, so they carved out houses from the rock. They were all very cool inside. 

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We had to get up far too early to go on the roof with hot chocolate and cold feet to watch the balloons rising with huge belches of fire to make them rise. It looked beautiful. 

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Me and Alisha went to a cave, took out the rubbish; tidied it up; decorated it with flowers; and pretended we lived there. I would love to live in a place like that. 


The underground city was huge: room after room; tunnel after tunnel winding ceaselessly through the mountain. Down, down into the earth. They even had circular stones to close up doors, so the enemy couldn’t get in.

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At Sagalassos I loved the amphitheater, we walked around the bottom imagining what it would have been like to be a gladiator. Then we climbed to the very top, where the women had to sit far away from the action, and I watched the gladiators fighting in my mind. 


We went to an island, where we met an old friend of Daddy’s, we had breakfast there at his friends. There were olives, tomatoes, cheese, 5 types of jam, eggs, fruit, home made bread, and more – it was a glorious feast! They had an amazing garden with lots of lavender.

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We saw Alper again in Istanbul, we stayed in his house. We did lots of dancing with Dina and cooking. 

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I was sad to leave Turkey but I have lovely memories and I always know there are more adventures ahead of us. 

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Alisha 

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Turkey is a diverse country, we only scratched the surface of the place. It has an incredibly diverse history and culture, in places though it is incredibly sad. Gallipoli was a place where tragic things happened and both sides lost thousands.(Though I think that war is pointless why can’t they play a game of football even though if they played against Middlesborough they would win anyway) 


What is also interesting is the contrast between the two sides: on one side (Or hand whichever you prefer) there is this very Muslim, very holy and sacred community where every way you look there is a woman in a headscarf. On the other a widely western culture where you can really feel it’s European ties (not so much of a great thing as far as miniskirts are concerned.) Many feel the pull towards Turkey and its split personality. Me included. But one thing for sure, too much sightseeing gives you sore feet. 


Gilly

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As our last country in Asia and our first in Europe, Turkey has given us some wonderful experiences. 

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The memory of waking up to a hundred hot air balloons flying over the truck in Göreme still sends shivers down my spine, it was so beautiful. Hiking through the valleys amongst the stone pillars and exploring the abandoned cave houses felt like doing the sort of “adventuring” you imagine in your wildest dreams when you are a kid.


Visiting the island of Bozcaada, was an unexpected delight. Usually small islands and trucks don’t mix but thanks to our friend Alper, not only did we have a great place to park but also a fabulous time and met lots of fascinating people. We all quickly fell in love with the place. In fact on the ferry back to the mainland Lucy asked what the name of the island actually meant, I admitted I had no idea. “I think it must mean island of beauty,” she replied.


Steve

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After four years of travelling I was thinking I might be becoming jaded and that it was hard for a country to impress, so I was surprised at how much I loved Turkey. It was helped by meeting Alper, a former colleague and friend, and him sharing his enthusiasm and wonderful hospitality.

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Turkey was a dream to travel in. Great sights, history and culture but also some wonderful places to camp. We are really wanting to make the most of our last times wild camping away from it all and Turkey offered plenty of opportunities to do this. Either in amongst the fairy chimneys of Göreme or overlooking the sparkling Agean Sea in Gallipoli.  


Bozcaada was a completely unexpected gem and one we would never have known about if Alper had not invited us. It really was the idyllic isle with great food and friendly people to share it with. It was a very special few days.
As we crossed back into Europe the pace of life seemed to increase a bit. Istanbul is a dynamic massive city and we really only scratched the surface. Still the sights were fantastic and it was lovely to finish our time there with a wonderful meal at a fantastic restaurant. A fitting end to a wonderful three weeks in Turkey. 

Istanbul (not Constantinople)


“Istanbul was Constantinople,

Now it is Istanbul, not Constantinople

Been a long time gone, Constantinople

Now it’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night”

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The “They Might Be Giants” song has been going round our heads and out of the children’s mouth almost constantly since we left the island of Bozcaada heading for Istanbul.

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First though, it was a stop a the beautifully wild but terribly poignant peninsula of Gallopoli. Covered in pine forest with steep cliffs interspersed with shallow turquoise bays, it was were 130,000 young men died in the First World War.

The peninsula is dotted with graveyards and memorials to the brave that fought and died there. The Gallipoli Simulation Centre’s interactive 3-D historical journey about the campaign was too realistic for the girls but Steve and I found it very informative. Lone Pine Cemetery was powerfully peaceful, surrounded by thousands of Anzac graves, we looked down at the languid azure waters way below. You could still see the trenches nearby, where the opposing forces were just metres away from each other. Anzac Bay was also peaceful now, it was hard to imagine the horrors that unfolded there just over a hundred years ago. We can understand why it has become a place of pilgrimage for people from Australia and New Zealand.


There is a lovely quote from Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey who was an important commander during the campaign, several years later. His words for peace and reconciliation, were written at Ariburna Sahil Aniti, one of the Turkish memorials:

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To us there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mahmets…You mothers, who sent away your sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom. Having lost their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well.”


Gallipoli was also a place for a couple of fabulous wild camps, our first night we found a spot on top of the cliffs surrounded by forest next to the remains of several gun batteries. The smell of pine trees from one side, mingled with the sent of the sea. Steve walked down to W Beach and was amazed to find people swimming amongst the skeletons of the landing vessels of the Gallipoli campaign. The second night we drove down a firebreak in the forest and found a parking spot right on the edge of a cliff with a tiny sandy beach below. Once the few local families had packed up and left and we had put the girls to bed, I couldn’t resist going for a relaxing swim as the sun set. It was so nice, that we swapped babysitting duties so Steve could cool off before bed too.



We skirted the Sea of Marmara coast as we made our way North-East to the north of Istanbul for more wonderful hospitality from Alper, Steve’s friend and former colleague. I am sure when we ask the girls what they remember best about Istanbul it will be hanging out at Alper’s house: everyone cooking a different course for supper, eating, relaxing and chatting. When Dina arrived the following day, they loved her as well, as she got them up dancing and swapping recipes. We are all experiencing a period of change, so there were lots of interesting discussions and ideas flying around.


However, you can’t come to Istanbul and not appreciate its wonderful heritage and history so we dragged ourselves away to the city on both days. The Aya Sofya was built in the 6th Century AD, first a church, then a mosque and now a museum. It’s gigantic proportions awed us but we we were touched by the delicate nature of the Byzantine mosaics of Christ and his apostles on its walls.



The Blue Mosque gets its unofficial name from the Iznik tiles that adorn its interior. It’s one of Istanbul’s biggest mosques and one of its busiest. We mistakenly arrived just before prayer time but while we waited for the worshipers, we were invited for a presentation about the mosque and Islam from volunteers in the adjoining Islamic Education Centre. It was fascinating as well as restorative, with air con, drinks and snacks. Later while Steve and I marvelled at the mosque’s interior beauty, the girls tried to spot the ostrich shells suspended from the lofty ceiling to deter spiders.



The Grand Bazaar is in the heart of the old city and while we didn’t want to buy anything it was fascinating to wander its arched walk ways and marvel at the different areas of commerce. The Spice Market held a similar thrall with exotic smells bursting from all of the shops. Each enticing visitors with displays of teas, spices and jewel coloured Turkish delight. Here we couldn’t resist the wares on sale as we were tempted in by free chocolates and different flavours of Turkish delight, the pomegranate was a particular favourite.


The following day we headed to the Topkapi Palace, the palace of the sultans where we were dazzled by the harem and palaces. It was said the sultan rarely left the palace and whilst it was a beautiful place where his every need and wish was looked after it must have felt a bit like been a prisoner. Still there were superb views over the Bosphorus from the palace walls.


On our last evening, we met with Alper and Dina on the banks of the Bosphorus. There is something very magical about crossing the water to a different continent, Asia, by ferry as the sun starts to sink in the sky. It highlights Istanbul’s unique position and character. We crossed back to Europe in time to eat at Aheste, one of Alper’s favourite restaurants owned by a family friend were we were wowed with a deliciously diverse selection of meze, each small plate holding a different burst of flavour on the palate. The girls were delighted to chat to Alper’s friend, who asked them all about our trip. And they were even more delighted, as we were touched, with the pile of profiteroles with 4 candles to celebrate our 4 year anniversary on the road.


That night as we arrived home a huge yellow moon hung over the trees. The last line of the first verse of the song “Now it’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night.” Seemed to ring particularly true. Istanbul, it was too short – we will be coming back.

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With sad hearts, and probably a few extra pounds of weight, we left Istanbul next morning and headed for the border with Greece. We found a quiet spot beside a lake for the night, just a few kilometres from the border.