It was late when we arrived, very late, like 2.am and we had no Turkish Lira. George parked the bus right in front of the Yucel Tourist Hotel at 6 Caferiye Sokak, rooms were 20
TL for a bed in a small three or four-bed dormitory, which is right next to the Aya Sofya, churches. There were not enough beds for everyone so George let six of us sleep on the bus, while the rest checked into the hotel. I was one of those who slept on the bus that night along with Kiwi, Sculls, Bill, and John from Melbourne and John from Exeter.
Istanbul previously called Constantinople, capital of two empires during the last fifteen hundred years: firstly the Roman Empire of the East and then the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Spectacularly sited on the border of Europe and Asia, where east meets west, is one of the most historic cities in the world. With it's mosques, ruins, walls, aqueducts, narrow streets and bazaars. For nearly 1,000 years as Byzantium, and Constantinople, Istanbul was the urban centre of the western and Near Eastern worlds, with a population of one million that was ten times the size of its nearest rival. There is a saying; East is east and West is West but Turkey is something else.
Istanbul has a population of more than 8 million and has become a crossroads for hippies going to and from Asia. Some hitchhiking others travelling in buses just like ours, Magic bus, London to Kathmandu. But it was our two buses that seemed to look the worst of all. At 8 o' clock the six of us on the bus were now awake and in the reception of the hotel hoping that we will be able to get a room. "Come back at ten," said Ali the receptionist, maybe we have rooms, maybe not? We joined the others whom were now having breakfast and drinking sweet Turkish tea, Turkish bread and jam. "Russ can we leave our gear in your room and have a wash until we are sure that there is a room available?" I asked. "Sure, we will hang around if you like until you check in, then we should go to the bank to change some money, then off to the tourist office to find out what there is to see."
At ten Ali was right, some rooms had become available, Steve and I shared a room that was rather shabby. The others called Steve, Sculls, which was a shorten version of his surname Scully. But I preferred to call him Steve. Doubles were 90 Turkish Lira a night, showers were extra. The rooms were rather shabby, with views across to the mosque and it's minarets. Because the hotel was right in the middle of the action we did not mind.
At the bank the exchange rate was 30 Turkish Lira to the pound which made a nights stay at the hotel 1.50 each a night. After changing some money we headed for the Grand Bazaar, or Kepali Carsi as the locals know it, a labyrinth of alleyways and passages, a treasure trove of delight. The bazaar is divided into areas - carpets, jewellery, clothing, silverware and many more. "Russ you should buy a coat or blanket while we are here" as George said that you will need it when we head into the mountains, everyone else had sleeping bags. "I'll buy a blanket if I see a good one, I don't want to buy a coat" Said Russ.
There was everything for sale from nylon socks to fake Rolex watches. "You buy carpet, I give you good price," "it's a blanket I need,” said Russ, "not a carpet." "Carpet good quality, I give you special price, first customer of the day, special price." You have any blankets? No but lots of carpets, all good quality." We strolled through the bazaar; John from Exeter bought an Afghan coat. It was lunchtime now and the only place to go in Istanbul for lunch is the pudding shop.
Situated right in the heart of Sultan Ahmet, the pudding shop is crowded from morning to night with all kinds of people. We sat at a table by the door and ordered a variety of foods from savoury lamb costing 10 TL, kebabs, salad and baklava. Russ, Skulls, Kiwi and I all ordered a selection of puddings, and custard tarts, for which the Pudding shop is famous. The place was crowded with Germans, French, Swedes, and other Nationalities from Europe. A kaleidoscope of colour, Levi jeans, shoulder length hair and golden bangles.
There was a woman in an Afghan dress wearing a gold ring in her nose, she had obviously just arrived from India, as she went up to the counter, she said "I've been dreaming of these cakes since I left Herat.
Signs were hung on the walls warning the dangers of getting caught with hashish (BEWARE OF DRUGS - DEATH PENALTY). There were messages pinned to a notice board from travellers wanting lifts,
German Girl with 25 Deutschmarks needs lift to Munich. Will except any offer.
Or travellers selling Indian rupees or messages from people waiting for others to arrive.
In the afternoon with our stomachs full we walked across the square to The Sultan Ahmet or Blue Mosque which was built in 1616. It is famous for its six minarets and inside you find the blue luminous impression created by the Iznik tiled walls. Our shoes were left outside in respect to the religion of Islam; "I hope they are there when we come back?" said John.
After admiring this beautiful mosque we walked down to the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn. This famous stretch of water is a constant hive of activity with ferries and boats churning back and forth. The floating bridge dates back to 1912. It carries a constant stream of cars, mules and horses as well as people, Istanbul revels in contrast.
Around the bridge, fishermen were selling their catch. On the lower level of the bridge people were drinking tea and coffee as well as smoking through their bubble pipes. It’s here where the Golden Horn meets the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara, gateway to the east. It was six o' clock when we arrived back at the hotel; George and Ram were with Graham in the dining room. Bill the Scotsman came up to us as we entered the lobby. In his thick Scottish accent he warned us." George has had his clothes stolen, yes its true,” said Damian.
"Someone broke into the bus this morning and pinched all of his clothes" I said, "I didn't think he had any." "He does not have any now any way." There he was yesterday warning everyone not too leave their gear on the bus because of thieves and what does he do, he leaves it on the bus and the bus gets broken into. "Serves him right," said Aussie John. "Yeah, but its not nice to have your clothes stolen.
How did it happen? He left the drivers side window open." That night we all gathered in Val and Maureen's room, Val had explained that one of the guys from the hotel wanted to kiss her as he taken her and Maureen to see some belly dances the night before. He thought she was so beautiful, "be careful," Russ warned her, so we then began to drink ouzo until late.
Constantinople had taken its name from its founder, the Roman Emperor Constantinople who in 330 AD, moved the capital of his Empire from Rome to a site beside the Byzantium. Constantinople is said to have undergone no fewer than twenty-six sieges and had been captured eight times.
Tuesday 3rd December.
Six o' clock in the morning " Allah Akbar.... Allah Akbar,"
We were woken by the cry of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer "You don't need alarm clocks in this country." It was after ten by the time we got ourselves organised; today we planned to go on a ferry trip up the Bosphorous. The ferry left from beside the Galata Bridge at 13.30.pm. It was to be a 90-minute journey to the village of Anadolu Kavagi and back again. The views from the ferry unfolded as we headed up the river. The awesome fortress of Rumeli Hisari beneath the arch of the Bosphorous Bridge. It was a beautiful day, the sun shone and we were all happy as we made the return trip to Istanbul, the Great Mosque of Suleymaniye stood out against the skyline. This is considered to be the finest mosque in Istanbul. Built in 1557 and it's designer Sinan, was rated an architectural genius of his time.
As the ferry pulled into the quay, the Galata Tower could be seen standing alone in the district of Galata. Thought to be built in 1216 and was used as a fire lookout tower as well as being a prison. It was after seven when we disembarked from the ferry into the crowd, it was time to eat. We went to one of the little restaurants that litter the waterfront for dinner, serving fresh fish and baklava we gorged ourselves to our hearts content.
Val had experienced the Turkish hotel worker trying to force himself upon her; it was at this same time Bill walked passed her room, saw what was going on and threatened to punch the guy out if he did not leave her alone.
The main rule that all travellers know is that you never loose your passport, I had mine in my money pouch. Next morning the cry of the muezzin came with the rising sun. "Steve, must be time to get up" I said, "Those bloody," the Muslim priests who call the faithful to prayer was getting on Steve's nerves. Today was to be our last day in Istanbul, We all met in the lobby of the hotel, then headed off for the Topkapi Palace, situated behind the St Sophia and bordered by the Bosphorous, this was the palace of the Sultans from 1462. The Topkapi is not just a palace but a whole collection of gardens, houses and of course the harem.
The best thing to see is the jewel collection in the treasury. There was supposed to be the hair from the Prophet John the Baptist. Could be any bodies hair, I thought. The view from the gardens over the Bosphorous was magnificent although I found the harem rather boring, not much like the fantasy the mind imagines.
After this intake of mindful knowledge it was time to rest a while before we were due to start on the bus again tomorrow. While we were in Istanbul for these three days we had totally forgotten that we were due to go back on the bus again. Russ had to go to buy a blanket to get him through the Turkish Mountains. We all had our last indulgence at the pudding shop before heading back to the hotel to pay our bill.
Thursday 5th December 1974 was the day we left Istanbul, it was 08.45am when we finally pulled away from the hotel that had been our home for the last three days. In one way it was sad to leave but then again we were now full of optimism of what lay ahead. Russ had bought a thick woollen blanket last night in the bazaar for only 120 Turkish Lira, Russ said, "the guy had come down from 215, but I'm sure I got ripped off."
We drove across the Ataturk Bridge, into new Istanbul passed Taksim Square and headed north towards the Golden Horn Bridge this would be our entry into Asia; a new and exiting continent where new experiences awaited us. Asia Minor at last, as George drove the bus with Graham in the second bus is following. The weather was overcast but soon we were in the mountains with snow on the ground as we drove towards Bolu our lunch stop.
Nobody was ready yet to approach George after what had happened in Istanbul. We were all scared of him this huge man who was so abrupt and rude in his manner, yet we relied on him. He was to get us all to Dehli in one piece. So nobody even Graham the second bus driver was brave enough to approach him.
We were now in the wild Turkish Mountains at 4pm we pulled into this small town with the name of Kizilcahaman. There seems to be something wrong with the bus. I could see by George’s face that he was not happy, when he said that the bus had a problem and that we would stay in this village tonight.
Here we were only seven hours out of Istanbul and we have already broken down, at least we are in a village and not in the middle of anywhere. Apparently there was a problem with one of the front springs and it could take a few days to fix.
We all checked into the local hotel, the hotel Gungor where doubles were 15 TL. (.50p). The rooms were shabby, plain white with a piece of cloth for a curtain. The beds were made of iron and there was a huge stove in the centre of the room. I shared a room with Russ and Steve. That night in the hotel lounge if you could call it that the hotel owner made us quite welcome as we drank his tea and coffee as well as eating his kebabs and rice. The place was full of locals although we were the sights to see. Yet they were also a sight to see, sat around all men no women and all holding hands. It was certainly an unexpected windfall for the hotel owner having all these travellers on his doorstep.
Next morning we were up at 9am George said that we could be here for a few days while they drove on to Ankara to get a new spring. It was a beautiful morning so we all decided to climb a small mountain; gradually we zig zaged our way to the summit, which took over two hours to climb. Steve was stripped of to his waist as the climb made us all sweat. It was mid afternoon by the time we got back to the village and an hour later it was snowing like mad with the thermometer dropping. It was getting cold, so we asked the hotel owner for some wood so as to light the stoves in the rooms to keep us warm. At this Point he must have thought this was another way to make more money from us. He wanted to charge us for the wood he had, but we refused to pay. We also decided that if he wanted to charge us for the wood we would not eat or drink in his restaurant.
It was cold in the rooms; suddenly we could hear a banging coming from Kiwis room. Russ went to see what was happening, Kiwi and Bill were sharing rooms, in which they had a wooden chair and table, which were no more as they had broken them up and proceeded to light a fire with them. "I'm not bloody freezing to death,” said Bill, "let’s do the same," said Steve "stuff this hotel owner." So we went round all the rooms breaking up the furniture and lighting the stove. Barry and Aussie John went to buy some booze and came back half an hour later with a selection of beers, Turkish whisky and ouzo. We all sat by the fire; Steve had some tapes while Helen had a small cassette. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon was put on as well as Rick Wakeman’s, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Helen said that she was hungry and that she would go to buy some bread and meat to eat. It was some forty-five minutes later that Helen arrived back and suddenly burst into tears, She had been attacked and assaulted by some Turkish men when she went to the shop. We now began to realise that we are in the wilds of Turkey and that going to the shop here is not like nipping out for a loaf of bread in Nottingham or Sydney. Russ said," that one of us should have gone with her," but none of us had experienced this kind of thing before. Aussie John now said that he had diahorea, and every half-hour had to go to the toilet.
Next day we were still stuck in this God forsaken hole, it was 10.30 by the time we left our rooms. It was snowing heavily, different to yesterday when we had climbed the mountain. Suddenly there was a huge commotion from upstairs, the hotel owner had now discovered that he had no furniture left, this had taught him a lesson he would not forget. But by the tone that was coming from his mouth (obviously swear words in Turkish) we decided it would be best to leave. Russ, Steve and John decided to stay. The rest of us left him some money for the two night’s accommodation and left. Two hundred yards up the street we checked into another hotel, it was like a repeat performance as the hotels owner’s eyes light up as he saw us all wanting to check into his hotel. Later at two we met up with Russ, Steve and John.
There were a group of men from the village following us and we all felt unsafe, John still had diahorea, this was cause for concern so he had stopped eating. There was no sign of George, Ram or Graham. Just the lonely sight of the bus had broken down by the side of the road.