04.06.2017 - 04.06.2017 16 °C
Day 11 Sunday June 4 2017
Bakucha Vineyard, Luleburgaz to Safronbolu / 576 km
- Overcast & only 18 C as we leave the vineyard at 9 a.m.
- AG pays the bill. It's all in Turkish & the receptionist speaks insufficient English to translate. We have no idea if it is correct. But it is less than was originally quoted for room & half board so we pay up. We were unable to use booking.com for this hotel reservation. There is no trip advisor rating either so they receive very few European visitors. A well kept secret. Maybe it's best to keep it that way.
- It's a long drive today . That's often the way in SG's carefully planned schedule - a day of sightseeing followed by none, a short mileage journey precedes a long one. This truck trip has taken over a year of preparation - it is our unique route with most destinations especially selected.
- We rarely return anywhere out of choice. But this evening is an exception. It almost feels like we are heading home. Safronbolu - a place we stayed on our London to Sydney adventure. A place that was meant to offer a 2 day stopover but which due to AG's arm infection was extended to several days. The manager of the hotel, Hassan, was extremely kind and drove AG to the various clinics in an effort to get an accurate diagnosis and the correct medication. We hope that he is still there. AG did little sightseeing back in 2014. SG remembers the wonderful old Hamam and hopes to share that particular experience with AG this time around. In any case we have a rest day tomorrow in Safronbolu to recharge the batteries before the long Turkey leg of our journey.
- We are feeling angry. We have just connected to the Internet and have heard about the London Bridge incident last night. Another act of terrorism on Mainland UK, more innocent lives lost. We're reasonable people and are willing to carry ID cards, be subjected to random searches, give the authorities power to take away British passports from those who are even 'petty terrorists' and to throw out of our prisons and deport those who have committed crimes on British soil but who are here illegally in the first place. Yes enough is enough.
- Meanwhile en route to Istanbul and beyond, the 3 lane motorway is empty. Istanbul - there's no way round it since we are heading to Northern Turkey & the Black Sea coast. That's why it was and still is so strategically important. Being a Sunday we are hoping that traffic on the city ring road will be reasonably light. We have no intention of stopping in Istanbul. We are trying to avoid Turkey's potential hot spots of political protest.
- Istanbul is one of the world's great cities. It is a metropolis of 15 million people that extends for miles. The motorway system around the city and leading across the Bosporus is first class. Large national flags dot the skyline, as do numerous mosques. Long stretches of the motorway banks & verges are cultivated ( you could say manicured) with specimen trees and flower beds actually in bloom. Yes there is money being spent on civic pride in this city.
- The views from the road bridge across the Bosphorus are magnificent. Istanbul's old town hugs the waterside. The sun has now emerged and the water is a gorgeous colour -a true turquoise.
A colour forever associated with the Turks. Originally a French word meaning Turkish jewel because the turquoise stone was imported into Europe from Turkey. The first recorded use of turquoise as a colour in our English language was in 1573.
- We have now crossed over the geographical border between Europe & Asia.
- At our journey's 1/2 way point we stop at a Shell service station. A Starbucks beckons. This side of Istanbul we are seeing more women wearing headscarves. Worry beads or prayer beads take pride of place as an impulse purchase at the cash desk.
- For several hundred kilometres we share the motorway route to Ankara before joining a more minor road ( still a dual carriageway ) & heading NE to Safronbolu. We drive through an extensive low lying mountain area that is deeply wooded. It starts to rain again and the temperature drops to 16 C! Somehow not very Turkey like. A reminder that this is a vast country with varied geography, vegetation and climate.
- When we stop for our picnic lunch we realise the fridge is not working. This is a blow to our planned self sufficiency en route! It's another electrical problem in a vehicle that is meant to be electronically simplistic. The contents are smelling. The cheddar cheese from UK is maturing nicely and pungently.
- 7 hours later we arrive in Safronbolu. AG is an amazing driver. But driving such distances is manageable when there are no traffic jams and carriageways are triple lane. The state of our UK motorway infrastructure is in contrast embarrassing. Only today we read that journey times on the M25 are getting slower. Don't we know it!
- Our small hotel, the Gulevi, is a converted former Ottoman house & has not changed in 3 years. Nor has it been updated. It is still quite basic but the lovely garden is a real feature & hopefully the breakfasts too. If our memories serve us correctly.
- It is quite cool - for Turkey - and rain showers continue intermittently for the rest of the evening.
- We walk the short distance downhill into the old town of Safranbolu to re-acquaint ourselves with the layout, determine what we might do tomorrow and find a restaurant for supper.
- It is Ramadan and many establishments are closed or not serving food until sunset when the local Mullah announces break fast time. Those who have fasted since sunrise will then tuck into the special meal of the day - 'iftar'.
- A kindly Turkish man from Ankara, also a visitor to Safranbolu, recommends a restaurant. It is 7.30 pm and it is empty. The owner agrees to serve us and beckons us to a solitary table outside, We sit practically on the street. We choose from a limited menu and start to satisfy our hunger but not necessarily our appetite. We are surprised we are allowed to do so in full sight of fasting muslims. This is not the case in the Middle East during Ramadan. We wonder how long it will be until Erdogan decrees that Ramadan be more strictly observed by everyone in Turkey, including 'non believers'.
- For the next hour we not only eat but watch the world go by. More and more Turks arrive at our restaurant, greeting each other warmly and taking a seat at the various vacant tables. This continues until every space is taken but still no one eats. Time is moving on, it is nearly 8.20 p.m. and now food is served to the tables. Everyone will eat the same. Still no one raises a fork or sips a drop of water. They are waiting for the Mullah to give the signal that the day's fast is over.
- At around 8.30 the loud call to prayer resonates around the town. Finally everyone relaxes and starts to eat. This performance is repeated everyday throughout the month of Ramadan. A supper party with friends & relatives that lasts 28 days.
- Previously such sounds & sights would have brought back happy memories of our 5 year posting to Muscat, Oman. We have lots of Ramadan stories to tell. But today after recent atrocities committed in London & Manchester in the name of Allah, we feel great sadness and not a little irritation, however unjustified it might be.
- Back at our very quiet hotel ( we suspect we may be only guests ) we later here the final call to prayer of the day to the nearby mosque. Earplugs in again tonight - but they are unlikely to work 100%. The Mullah is too loud and the mosques too numerous. It is truly a surround sound.