You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2009.

An easy border crossing into Jordan. The first car inspection so far, but luckily we avoided the complete ‘unpack your car’  inspection suffered by others. I had to drive over a man in an inspection pit as he thumped the underneath of the car for anything suspicious whilst Bun and Iso stocked up in duty-free!

We took the castle route east after the border towards Iraq. Feeling slightly overwhelmed by historic sites, we camped wild overnight after finding a spot in the dark. Bun and Iso got scared when sorting out the tent when they noticed a pick-up coming towards us in the dark. It turned around, probably after noticing the vehicle more clearly and seeing our number plate.

We awoke in the morning to a lunar landscape with only distant cars from the road in sight. The nights are cold here. Changing altitude and the shift from warm days to cold nights has given me a cold. I’m about to put my head in a bowl of vicks vapour!

The desert road after the border is more like a roller coaster which adds to the fun of driving. The rumours of the lack of diesel in Jordan hasn’t been noticed yet, but we are told it costs a little more than in Syria. We filled up both tanks to use up the last of our Syrian pounds.

The other amusing fuel stop is for cooking fuel. Every time I need to fill up the canisters with unleaded petrol it turns into a 10 minute discussion about why I need them filling up. Plenty of gestures are needed and if necessary I end up showing them the stove in the back of the car to explain. Bring back self-service!

In the morning we took the road south towards Azraq, Jordan’s only oasis. We are camping in the grounds of the Azraq lodge, a former British military hospital. The hotel is owned by Chechens. They first arrived here after Russian persecution in the late 19th century. The town is also known for Qasr -Azraq, the desert roman fort which Lawrence of Arabia chose for his headquarters.

We are here to see the Azraq wetland reserve in the morning before we head towards Amman.

Jordan’s eastern border with Saudi Arabia is a strangely angled line that makes Jordan’s shape look like an odd piece from a children’s game that needs slotting in somewhere. Winston Churchill was responsible for the line in the early 20’s when he was British Colonial Secretary. The story behind it is known as “Winston’s hiccup”.

Bun 5 times champion at backgammon after beating me before losing her crown to Iso in the next game!

 

After coming out of the wild a few days ago, we are clean again and have been enjoying what Damascus has to offer us. Our trip from Palmyra took two days and we enjoyed the best camping to date. We visited Maalula, a small village where the houses are set into the cliff, before we headed to Damascus the next day.

We met another couple from west Wales travelling overland to South Africa. They saw us in Istanbul a few weeks ago but we only met them by chance in Palmyra.

4,000 years of continuous occupation makes it, alongside Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world. We are staying in central Damascus, only 10-15 minutes walk from the old city. More cosmopolitan than Aleppo, Damascus is one of the main reasons for choosing this route to Africa. I’m expecting some amazing landscapes in Jordan but Syria has two great cities worth visiting.

We visited the neighbourhood of Al-Midan Jazmati on the first night, an area known on for its food. We got talking to one man who said people from Jordan come here purely to eat the food. The lamb Shawarma is known for being the best in Syria.

It is the festival of Eid later this week and there are many people from other Arabic / Gulf  countries in Damascus for the celebrations.

Wandering the old city has been a highlight. We have criss-crossed Muslim, Christian and Jewish areas and have found some really good places to take it easy. One restaurant www.jabrihouse.com was shown to us by a young man we met in a coffee shop in the old city. We took in the surroundings as we helped him with his English.

We have also seen some incredible sights, two being the Umayyad Mosque located right in the middle of the souq and the Azem Palace. The souq lacked the buzz and chaos of Aleppo.

We have one more night and most of Wednesday before we leave.  I could easily spend a few weeks here exploring and getting to know the city better.

I had food poisoning the night before we left Aleppo so was still feeling rough yesterday after being up most of the night.

En-route to Damascus we followed the road east out of Aleppo towards Iraq and spent the night outside the castle ruins of Qala’at Ja’abar, which overlooks the turquoise Lake Al-Assad. The Euphrates river flows into the lake and then heads onwards into Iraq where it meets the Tigris.

Very strong winds came in the night and continued untill after we left in the morning. Not only that, but we normally get a group of cats or dogs at every camp stop and tonight we had dogs. One of Bun’s shoes wasn’t where she left it the night before – a dog had run off with it. The missing shoe turned up ok!

We didn’t view the castle early the following day, but headed straight onto Palmyra. After stopping for lunch in Deir ez-Zur, we drove for the next few hours down an amazing scenic route to Palmyra. It was an amazing desert landscape. We chased the sun towards the famous site before we set up camp in the grounds of the Zenobia hotel which overlooks the ruins. We spent the night having a few drinks and playing backgammon after finally buying a set in the souk in Aleppo.

When you enter Syria there is a weekly diesel tax of $100 which is soon made back by the cheap fuel. No logos and poor signage make the fuel stations hard to recognise. We aren’t  complaining as the fuel is only 30 pence per litre.

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, is seen everywhere, from stickers in the backs of cars and taxis, to huge framed pictures in restaurants and on the streets of all the towns. He is sometimes portrayed in military uniform and at other times in a suit, but I get the impression he is well liked in Syria.

The lorries look like they have just returned from long journies from Iran or Pakistan. The dust covering the brightly painted trucks glow neon at night and carry huge loads.

We are in Palmyra for a few days before heading to Damascus via Hims.

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We crossed into Syria on Saturday afternoon. As it was late we stayed in the grounds of the ruined Basilica of Saint Simeon of  Stylites in Qala’at  Samaan and viewed the site the next day before we headed to Aleppo for a two-day visit.

We were told by the guard that their would be wolves around but they had enough dogs around to protect us! A slightly broken sleep with dogs barking randomly in the night. We got another run in the next morning, passing through olive groves and dodging a donkey before almost dieing on the hill back up to the car.

We are staying in the labyrinth of alleys that is the Al-Jdeida district in Aleppo. We’re loving the souk, the best we have found on the trip so far. Very laid back despite the mad traffic.

We’ve missed the GPS that was such a life saver getting in and out of  European cities. We get mapping back in Egypt. We went around in circles a few times until I ventured out on foot with a few locals to find our hotel. Again, help is everywhere and we are amazed at peoples generosity.

The food is incredible. The oddest food we ate was cherry kebab which we had at a restaurant called Beit Sissi.

More in the next few days………………..

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Having left Kalkan on our way east along the coast, we decided to stop for the night outside  a town called Demre.

That night we bumped into Omar, who runs boat journeys to the nearby island of Kekova. Being late, he knew that he didn’t have much chance of getting us on the boat till the morning, but he did invite us on board to join him for tea.

That was fine until he said he was leaving for five minutes to get his car so we could join him for a drink at  a nearby beach bar. Five minutes turned into half an hour while we waited on the boat for him to return.  Even his fisherman friend,who spoke no English,  got bored waiting and left us alone on the boat.

Omar finally arrived in a fresh change of clothes and a dilapidated rusty old banger. When we got in Alan tried to adjust the seat and Iso and I cracked up because it was clear that he would be unable to. The guy whizzed off and I said to Al sit back and enjoy the ride. He slowed down next to one bar but it was very busy so he shot off again until we got to an empty one.

When we had finished at the bar, which was extremely strange,  he drove us back at high speed to town. There we got a bottle of Raki from the supermarket and joined him on his boat. Before long we were off to sea with a bottle of Raki and loud music to make a night of it. At one point Alan and Iso decided to dive overboard for a freshen up.

Four hours later we headed back when suddenly the boat got caught in fishing nets. We knew it wasn’t good when, after Omar dived in, he came up and said it was a ‘big problem’. We spent the night on his boat a few hundred metres from land, which was frustrating because we just wanted to get back to our tents.

The next morning we woke up feeling a little bit worse for wear. Omar stripped off  again,  donned a diving mask and grabbed a large knife. He then plunged overboard to cut the propeller free from the nets. Every now and then we would hear a gasp for air, a lot of spluttering and the words “too much, too much”. After half an hour of this we finally set off for land. Looking forward to getting the hell out of there!

He never did get us on that boat trip!

We are crossing the border  into Syria today. We spent last night in a hotel in Antakya, 60 km’s from the border. Possibly the worse weather so far to get here, as we followed the coast. Torrential rain and wind slowed us down but we arrived safely.

We had the Landcruiser looked at by a Toyota garage in Antalya a few days ago They looked over the vehicle for free whilst we had a coffee and used the internet. No problems found!

We’ve had problems getting internet connection since leaving Istanbul, so sorry for the lack of updates.

We are currently in Kalkan on  the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey, making our way along the coast towards the Syrian border.

On the night we left Istanbul we took a ferry to cross the Sea of Marmara from Darica to Yalova.

We drove through Bursa and got lost trying to find our way to Ulubat Golu which we thought would be a good camping option. We were unable to find the minor road out of Bursa so I stopped and asked some men in an office which way to go. They had a look at the map and gave me tea whilst they worked out the route.

After a while they jumped in a new white BMW and showed us the way. The journey easily took 30 minutes through country roads.

When we arrived  they waved us goodbye and we were left to it. An episode of The Sopranos came to mind as we were driven through the lanes in darkness.

We ended up wild camping just outside of a small town called Hasanga.

We regretted not trying the Iskander kebab in Bursa which is known as a culinary highlight in Turkey. Grilled lamb kebab served with melted butter and yoghurt. We had eaten enough grilled meat in Istanbul to let this one go!

A massive highlight a few days later was a visit to the travertines and the Roman spa settlement of Hierapolis. Travertines are calcium carbonate shelves and pools which were created when warm mineral water cooled and deposited calcium as it cascaded over the cliff edge. It looks like icing on a Christmas cake. It was relaxing to paddle through the pools having explored the Roman settlement in the baking midday heat

Iso and me have started running and managed to get in a three and a half mile up and down run from the hotel where we camped to the entrance of Hierapolis.

We are following the Lycian Way over the next few days towards Antalya.

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Iso has arrived in Istanbul. We drove to the airport to get her, crossing the Bosphorus bridge from the European to the Aisan side of the city. The view was amazing. At the end of the bridge is a toll but there was no obvious place to pay by cash. We sat at the barrier causing a massive queue. Finally a young Turkish guy came and asked us if we spoke English and then used his electronic prepaid card to scan us through. We continued our journey with no furher mishaps.

When we got back to Istanbul we checked into our new hotel ‘The Empress Zoe’ which was directly opposite from where we had been staying for the 2 previous nights. We felt a little guilty about this but the new room was amazing. It is a suite so it was like having our own little flat. The bathroom is hamam style with all heated marble, which made the whole flat extremly warm.

On Iso’s first night we went out for mayhanes, this is a way of dinning  which is traditionally associated with getting absolutley wrecked on raki (aniseed-based drink like ouzo) whilst eating meze. We got a taxi to the Beyoglu area of Istanbul and  were totally ripped off by him. We tried to argue but he changed his meter and got quit agressive.

We then headed to the Nevizade Sokak which had been recomended as a good place for mayhanes . The whole street was filled with eateries serving the same thing. There were lots of men approaching tables trying to sell you various bits and bobs like bottles of western alcohol and lottery tickets. It was extreemly lively and a great place to people watch. We did as the locals do and ordeded a bottle of raki to share, then they brought out a huge tray with loads of little sample dishes on it for you to chose your meze from.

After our meal we walked down the Istanbul equivilant of Oxford Street and I bought  turkish sweets to take away for all of us. Alan had baked quince with cream and Iso had something that was like sticky toffee pudding but much sweeter and lighter whilst I had baclava.

We then went down a side street and went into a sweet little bar to have cocktails. Iso and I looked around and saw there were no women but this did not bother us as there had only been one other where we ate. Then a large sceen was rolled down and they started playing a Madonna concert and blaring Kylie tunes from the sound system it became apparent that it was a gay bar. This was probably a good thing as they were really relaxed and one guy was really chatty and wanted to be our best friend. Then we headed home without getting ripped off this time.

High winds and changing weather wasn’t much to hang around for in Greece. After a unknown delay we crossed the border into Turkey just before dark last night. The usual, insurance, customs and visa process took a while. Nothing on the map looked like a possible diversion before Istanbul , so we decided to head straight there. The edge of Europe is in sight.

Bun woke this morning to the sound of morning prayer. She endeavored to wake me up but having done my first long drive in ages I could not be stirred from my deep slumber and slept right through it!

Feeling disorientated, like always when I arrive somewhere in darkness, I got my first view of the Bosphorus from the roof of the hotel. It feels good to be here after wanting to visit the city for such a long time.

We got a ferry and walked around the Asian side of Istanbul today and ate lamachun for lunch. Before then I drank a freshly squeezed pomegranete juice and got a head rush.

On the return journey we drank Turkish tea on the 20 minute ferry journey and watched the ferries and cargo ships coming and going on the busy Bosphorus.

Men selling bread sounded like Evening Standard vendors on the streets of London before they axed most of them a few years ago. On the bridges numerous men fish like they are trying to put food on the table.

We were, for a minute, back in Dalston, but as we approach Asia, the level of street life has increased and boys attempt to sell us items we don’t need.

Bun’s sister, Iso, lands in Istanbul tomorrow for a two month journey with us through the Middle East and Egypt where we will spend Christmas in Siwa.

We are here until Thursday

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November 2009
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