While wandering home after a final meal on Thasos I bumped into a young guy near the campsite and we started chatting about where we come from and what we do etc. He was telling me about the 18 months service that all Greek males are required to do from the age of 21. The shocking thing he talked about was his time in the commandos, the Greek elite fighting forces. He showed me the cigarette burns and cuts on his arms that he sustained during his interrogation training, a sobering reminder that there are still many differences between the countries in Europe.
After a relatively smooth boarder crossing the first sight that greeted was a guy on donkey with a big smile on his face and a wave, a great start to a new country……
The difference between Greece and Turkey is immediately apparent in the change from the barren rockiness of the Mediterranean to lush green fields and a 10 degree temperature drop. Known as the food basket, the SW is the agricultural centre of a country which is one of the few countries in Europe that grows enough produce to self-sustain it’s own population.
It was getting late in the day so a quick blast up the road brought me to a stopover at Tekirdag to sample the regional speciality of cheese meatballs which prompted the start of my love affair with the greatest of all Turkish exports, the kebab.
The Eighth wonder of the world, the kebab
Istanbul, the gateway to Asia. The city formerly known as Constantinople, named after the Emporer Constantine during a 1000 year Roman rule. A huge city built around the mighty Bosphorus Strait among rolling hills. Constaninople a Christian enclave until the ’infadels’ were finally overthrown by Mehmet II from Edirne and turned Constantinople into Istanbul and the predominately Muslim state we see today.
The traffic! Istanbul has got to be the craziest place I have ever ridden. It has been said that the traffic in Istanbul is akin to driving in India. The eagerness of the locals to get from A to B is done with the most aggressive driving I have ever seen with an anything goes attitude to the rules of the road. After getting lost several times and observing 3 crashes I finally made it to the hostel in the centre of the old town, centre of the tourist district, with nerves slightly frayed and a huge sigh of relief.
The old town contains 2 of the truely magnificent buildings of the world. The blue Mosque with it's spectacular domes and towers and Aya Sofya, previous a Christian Church converted to a Mosque and finally a museum which it remains to date.
The Blue Mosque in all it's glory
The blue Mosque at night from the hostel window
The Blue Mosque main hall
Proof of Aya Sofya's Christian past
.......and it's conversion to the Muslim faith
The sounds from the main square, where both stand, evoke a feeling of eastern mystery as the call to pray reverberates from the towers of The blue Mosque and other surrounding mosques. Magical.
The hostel is a great little place, cheap, friendly and loads of backpackers to chat with and while away the hours.
Over the preceding days two other bikers turned up from the UK, Leon and Nathan which started the quest for the reasonably priced kebab and several days heavy drinking. One afternoon chilling out outside the hostel a Canadian girl had us in stitches over a Turkish sauna (Haman) her male friend had received. He was told to get on all fours and had been vıgoursly scrubbed everywhere, i litterally mean everywhere, by a male masseuse. Maybe the Haman experience was one best to be avoided. :)
Once spare tyres were purchased and a parcel received from home it was goodbye to my new found friends and off to the East, Asia awaits.
Further updates to come ın the next few days.