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In Turkey: May 2008 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

IN TURKEY: MAY 2008

1,700 Miles in the Second Month of a Three-Month Motorhome Journey

From Alanya on the Mediterranean Coast to the Black Sea Border with Georgia

Margaret and Barry Williamson

May 2008

This illustrated travel log describes a motorhome journey through Turkey in the spring of 2008. We started from Finikounda in the south-west Greek Peloponnese where we had spent the winter of 2007/08. For full details of this period of cycling, walking, writing and spending time in the company of good friends, click: Winter at Camping Finikes.

Our jMay_to_Kahta_Web.jpgourney to Turkey took us first of all to Gythion (for the opportunity to cycle round the Mani peninsula). We then drove to Alexandroupoli on the Greek/Turkish border via Sparta, Corinth, Athens, Thessaloniki and Kavala. By the end of April, we had reached Sedre Camping, east of Alanya.

During May we crossed eastern Anatolia, from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and the border with Georgia. The first map on the right shows the first part of this journey, from Sedre Camping near Alanya to Kahta in the region of Mount Nemrut, via Antakya (Antioch) and the Syrian border.

The second map on the right sMay_Kahta_to_Hopa_Web.jpghows the continuation of the journey, across the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and north across the vast tundra and semi-desert of eastern Anatolia - the region between the great rivers (Mesopotamia) - and through the Georgian Valleys to the Black Sea at Hopa. 

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Overall, our intention had been to follow Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as far as the Syrian border, before turning north across eastern Anatolia. We aimed to cross Turkey to Hopa at the Georgian border and then follow the edge of the Black Sea west, through Trabzon and Sinop to Istanbul and on to the Bulgarian border.

Turkey_Map_MBT.JPG

In the map of the whole journey, given above, yellow is the track of the motorhome; blue marks other journeys by hire car from Seljuk and later from Kahta..

Our visa is valid for 3 months: this is the travel log for May, the second of those months.

To read the log of the April journey in Turkey, click: In Turkey April 2008

To read the continuation in the June Diary, click: In Turkey June 2008

For images of the journey, click: Turkey in Colour

To see more maps of the journey, click: Turkey Maps

For more details and images of our motorhome, click: A Flair for Travel

For more details of our touring bicycles, click: Paul Hewitt Tourers 

To read the log of our previous motorhome journey through Turkey, click: Turkey Log 1997

28 April - 4 May 2008   At Sedre Camping, DEMIRTAS, nr ALANYA,   Turkey

At Rest and at Work at Sedre

With a goodT18_Sedre_(23).JPG wireless internet, we took the opportunity to work on our website, especially the photo galleries and new articles on Turkey, as well email correspondence. We also put some effort into planning a couple of weeks in Cyprus, with much emailed help from the MMM's Travel Consultant on Cyprus, Don Madge. Major problems were getting information on ferries and the latest news on passing to and fro between the north and south of that still-divided island. Baker's sent us a corrected and updated Green Card, while Vodafone continued to ignore our latest complaints. All this kept us busy, along with the domestic chores of cleaning, laundry and so on.

For a break, we walked along the pebble beach in both directions. T18_Sedre_(13).JPGThe Mediterranean is a nice blue, with wonderful sunsets. Across the main coast road (D400) are banana and orange plantations – and that's about it round here! A few years ago this would have been wilderness: there was no sealed road east from Alanya until the 1960's. Now there are sporadic outcrops of holiday homes but as yet no infrastructure. A mini-bus does run regularly past the campsite to Alanya (13 miles west), but it takes 50 minutes each way with detours and we did the tourist round of the town on our last visit (see 5 Oct 1997).

We miss T14_Koyc_(37).JPGour bicycles for exploration and the sheer pleasure of riding, as we wait for the new front forks which Paul Hewitt (the builder of the bicycles last summer) is sending for Margaret's bike, to replace those bent when we reversed into a Turkish building.

Our friendly neighbour, Koray Tezcan, hT18_Sedre_(10).JPGelped us with our route-planning, going through the list of campsites prepared by the Turkish Caravan & Camping Club, of which he is President. In turn, we help future travellers by putting his amended and updatedlist on our website. Koray is busy organising a rally, to be held here at Sedre Camping in September, and we worked with him on the English translation of the programme. A Turkish club rally was held here last autumn and they hope to make this year's an international festival. The British Caravan Club and the FICC have been notified, among others.

The campsite manager,T18_Sedre_(14).JPG Kamil Acar, was so pleased with our work that we were given the task of rewriting all the campsite publicity, including the restaurant menus, in 'English as she is spoken'. We enjoyed working with the staff here, it's a well-run and friendly place.

We had a brief but interesting talk with a young Turkish couple in a small tent - students at Nicosia University in northern Cyprus - who gave us their view of the situation there and the problems surrounding EU membership. They were from Istanbul and explained their choice of northern Cyprus, saying it was a great University for learning English. He showed some evidence of this; she none.

A group of about 20 cycle-touring students from the Ukraine camped here overnight but sadly we had no language in common.

The only other campers who came, Australians Paul and Jacinda,T18_Sedre_(12).JPG had driven their expedition-equipped Land Rover Discovery up from Cape Town - 20,000 miles in 10 months. For excellent coverage of their journey through Africa and the Middle ET18_Sedre_(20).JPGast, visit www.discoeverywhere.com. Former Perth accountant Paul hopes to work in documentary video making when they eventually return home. His photographs and videos show that he is already well on his way to a promising career. Their overall impression was that the route is becoming too easy and too popular: within 2 years the whole way could be sealed. Their main challenge was getting through and out of Kenya shortly after the election results were announced: a journey from hell.

For yet more images, click: Sedre Camping

5 May 2008   69 miles   DEMIRTAS, nr ALANYA to ANAMUR, Turkey   Dragon Restaurant/Mocamp   €5.00 (YTL 10.00)

Twisting our way along the coast through banana plantations to Anamur Castle

As we left the comforts of Sedre Camping, our new friends scattered a pail of water on the ground behind us – a Turkish custom to ensure we return. We hope so!

Coast road 400 eT19_Anamur_(12).JPGastwards was easy for 13 miles, past banana plantations, greenhouses and strawberry fields to Gazipasa. Then it narrowed and began to climb, with 'Muz' (bananas) on sale in every layby: huge bunches at less than one Euro per kilo (and very good too). A mist of cloud shrouded the hill tops, with the sea still visible 1,000 and more feet below. Luckily, there was little traffic weaving its way round the bends – just a few trucks, which were in better condition and better driven than any in Greece. They bore the words 'Allah Korusun' to be on the safe side (that is, on the right!)

The first climb reached almost 1,500 ft before zigzagging down to sea level again and the banana groves at Kaledron, at 35 miles. Soon we were climbing again, on a narrow road clinging to a steep hillside above the sea and impossible to widen – challenging driving, not recommended for cycling! The second climb reached 1,550 ft, past honey and banana sellers and forestry workers logging the pines. Descending to a tiny fishing harbour, at 49 miles, we passed the Melec Restaurant advertising 'free camping' and noticed one campervan thereT19_Anamur_(13).JPG, by the beach on the right.

The third climb to 800 ft, past a tar-gang patching the road surface, was followed by the steep descent into Anamur, heralded by acres of plastic cloches and greenhouses, at 62 miles. The 2 miles of dual carriageway through the town was being widened, with dusty roadworks and high-rise flats, but no sign of a supermarket.

A couple of miles east of the town, we passed the impressive castle, Mamure Kalesi, between the road and the sea. Another mile along, in the forest on the right just before the road climbs again, is Pullu Camping. We turned in, remembering a quiet campsite run by the Forestry Commission (see 2-3 October 1997), bT19_Anamur_(16).JPGut things have changed! The new sign reads 'Disco-Bar-Beach' and the group of men at Reception quickly lost interest in helping us fail to find a space among the trees, tents and uneven terraces.

We turned back towards Anamur, having noticed 2 signs for camping by the sea just west of the castle. 'Camping Paradies' (Parodies?) was closed but the Dragon Motel, next to it, offered a simple campsite among pine and eucalyT19_Anamur_(26).JPGptus trees, between its 'motel'/restaurant and the beach.

After lunch we walked along the shore and round the back of the enormous 12thC fortress, then in at the front gate (€1 each, but as the custodian had no T19_Anamur_(35).JPGchange we were ushered in free of charge!) From the road, the crenellated walls and 36 towers look intact (it was used as a barracks in WWI), but the vast interior is empty – apart from a 14thC Ottoman mosque, restored in 1971 and still in use. The walls are crumbling on the seaward side and too dangerous to attempt a circuit of the battlements. Streams of silver bubbles showed where turtles swam in the moat, gulls soared effortlessly overhead, and otherwise we were alone. Magnificent. For more images, click: Castle on the Rocks.

6 May 2008 84 miles   ANAMUR to TASUCU, Turkey   Camping Akcakil   €10.00 (YTL 20.00)

A challenging drive through forested mountains to the port of Tasucu

Heading ever T20_To_Tasucu_(10).JPGeastwards, past Pullu Camping, the newly widened dual carriageway over a low headland continued to the small port of Bozyazi (5 miles). From there on, D400 was a very narrow bumpy 2-lane highway (emphasis on 'high', with 4 major climbs ahead).

We followed the forested coast, below the ruins of Softa Castle high on our left, through more plantations and glass-houses (bananas, strawberries, tomatoes, vines). We do believe Turkey's claim to be self-sufficient in food, as production and distribution seem well organised.

13 miles afteT20_To_Tasucu_(12).JPGr Bozyazi, the road suddenly leapt up the bare hillside, a narrow ribbon of bitumen winding its way through the stumps of stripped forest for 5 miles, reaching 700 ft. A 4-mile descent through pine forest took us briefly back to sea level before the next climb, then a steep drop to the little port of Aydincik. We'd only driven 29 miles but were ready for a coffee break! The tortuous road wasn't busy but the traffic consisted mainly of buses, lorries and logging trucks, requiring regular pauses to inch our way past (and we were on the outside of the unprotected drop to the sea below!) The lorries are beginning to look more eastern: smaller, with brightly painted wooden sides.

Another 8-mile climb to 1,200 ft was then followed by a sectioT20_To_Tasucu_(17a).JPGn of very rough road works - 5 mph through 2 miles of dust and rubble, where much needed road-widening is underway. Back on the tarmac, a twisting one-mile drop brought us to Karatepe for a glimpse of its beach and agriculture before we were climbing again, above the beautifully turquoise sea, to 1,000 ft.

A very steepT20_To_Tasucu_(21).JPG forested zigzag descent led to sea level again at Ovacik (49 miles driven). It was another 6 miles, up and down, to the next port-village at Yesilovacik, where a tent sign indicated a rough camping area by the beach. After 3 miles (uphill) there was a right turn for Ancient Afrodisias (Tesan) out on a headland, and 2 miles later a right turn for Mavikent (3 miles away on the coast – rumoured to be good for free camping).

After the fourth major climb of the morning (and 69 miles) we dropped fromT20_To_Tasucu_(17).JPG 700 ft to a little harbour at Bogsak, where we made lunch. It was another 3 narrow miles to Camping Akcakil, between the road and the pebbly shore, and 3 miles further to the port of Tasucu, where road widening is in progress.

Before settling at the campT20_To_Tasucu_(34).JPGsite, we continued into Tasucu to check on the ferries crossing to Girne (Kyrenia) in Northern Cyprus. Plenty of parking space by the main square (turn right off D400, past the Best Resort Hotel, and down past Lades Hotel to the small harbour). Here, as well as post office and shops, we found the ticket offices for the 2 ferry companies (Fergun and Akgunler), each of which run a Ro-Ro vehicle ferry to Girne.

They do not compete on fares or times - both departing after midnight, T20_To_Tasucu_(38).JPGdaily except Fri and Sat, at the same price. There are no cabins and the boats return from Cyprus during the daytime. The Ro-Ro's actually sail from Tasucu's larger port harbour, a couple of miles to the east, while passenger hydrofoils leave from the small harbour. (Note that, as foreigners with a vehicle marked in the driver's passport, we are not allowed to take a ferry to Cyprus – or leave Turkey in any way - without the motorhome.)

Armed with this information, we checked the port location before returning to the campsite.

7-10 May 2008   At TASUCU, Turkey   Camping Akcakil

More about Cyprus - and enjoying Turkish Customs

Akcakil has developed T20_To_Tasucu_(39).JPGsince our last visit, when water had to be specially tanked in for us (see 30 Sept-1 Oct 1997)! Now it's a pleasant sea-side campsite and restaurant, with free-ranging chickens, ducks and rabbits (for the latter?)

There is also free wireless internet and we spent our time on reading, writing, laundry and phone calls. Many emails came in and out and we updated and added to our website (thanks to Cindy Webb and Don Madge for their new pieces). We strolled along the short stretch of pebbly beach, blocked by rocks in each direction, but the campsite isn't well placed for walking, rT20_To_Tasucu_(33).JPGight beside the extremely busy coast road - the only way into town, over 2 miles away.

Barry's birthday was richly celebrated with an egg liqueur gateau (known as the crθme de la crθme, owing to a misprint in the recipe resulting in an excess of whipped cream!) MargarT20_To_Tasucu_(40).JPGet also made 6 pounds of jam, using the deliciously fresh strawberries and mulberries from Tasucu market (Thursday and Sunday), at a total cost of €2.50 for a kilo of each! Tasucu is a busy little port, with tourist boats at anchor serving as cafes, and an internet centre charging €0.25 per hour. The clock tower (complete with nesting storks) is the chimney of a demolished flour mill, dating from the 1890s.

Cyprus: Still undecided about a return crossing to the island, we made more enquiries at the ticket offices and the Customs House, with the following results.

Ferry Companies: Fergun and Akgunler, both with offices by the square. We found no-one speaking a language other than Turkish, either when we phoned or when we called in. Information in English is available on-line at www.akgunler.com.tr and www.fergun.net/uk.

Vehicle Ferry: Each compT20_To_Tasucu_(36).JPGany runs a small Ro-Ro vehicle ferry from Tasucu port to Girne (Kyrenia) in Northern Cyprus. They do not compete on fares or times - both departing after midnight, daily except Fri and Sat, at the same price, taking about 6 hours. There are no cabins and the boats return from Cyprus during the daytime (leaving Girne after midday), slightly faster. We asked 3 different people about sleeping in the motorhome on board - 2 said 'No' and 1 'Maybe'. The return fare was €45 per person. The motorhome, classed as a 'Caravan' after showing them a photo, was €180 return. A smaller one might be classed as a 'Minibus/Van' which was €10 cheaper. You can't book on-line (yet) but can make a reservation (but not pay) by phone (the campsite managers at Sedre or Akcakil were willing to ring on our behalf). Otherwise, call in the office the day before to book, space permitting. You pay when you collect the tickets on the morning of sailing. Akgunler will accept credit cards, while Fergun wanted cash. In addition to the fare of €270 return, there are small port charges which have to be paid in cash.

Hydrofoil: Both companies sell tickets for the express hydrofoil (footT20_To_Tasucu_(35a).JPG passengers only), which crosses daily to Girne from Tasucu harbour. It leaves at 10.30 am and takes 2 hours, returning from Girne at 9.30 am. Return fare €56 per person including port tax. (But the official position is that foreign drivers may not leave Turkey without their vehicle which is always entered in their passport.)

Insurance: Our 'Green Card' covers Cyprus, now an EU member, but this only refers to the southern (Greek) part of the island. Arriving in northern (Turkish) Cyprus, you must buy transit insurance (minimum one month's cover at about €50). We are told that if you then go into Southern Cyprus and back into the North, you might have to pay it again! The borders have been open to EU citizens since 2005 and there are 5 crossing points, 4 of which allow vehicles through (click here for more details).

Exiting Cyprus: There are no normal vehicle ferries from Southern Cyprus to Greece (or anywhere else). With a vehicle, you have to return to Turkey on the Girne-Tasucu ferry, unless you can find a freight ferry going to Greece that will take it. If you do, the cost for a motorhome is horrendous at about €800 upwards according to size. More on www.viamare.com/freight/index.htm. It may also be that legally you can't leave southern Cyprus for Greece, having entered from the north.

After lengthy debate, we agreed that, to justify the cost of taking the motorhome across, we would need to spend longer in Cyprus than we wished. That time would count as part of our 3 month tourist visa in Turkey (which does not start again if you leave and re-enter, and which is difficult to extend). Finally, we decided to double-check the remote possibility of being allowed to leave the motorhome in Tasucu and take the hydrofoil across, for a few days in Cyprus with a hired car.

Venturing into Tasucu Customs House (past 2 signs forbidding entry) we found a Customs Officer, who asked to see our Passports. No problem, we thought, BUT – it seems a bureaucratic error was made as we entered Turkey and which we had not noticed. (Lesson: always notice). In Barry's passport, the date by which the vehicle (not us) should leave Turkey was entered as 7 May and, coincidentally, this was now 8 May! Suddenly, there was a problem.

For a while we thought thaT19_Anamur_(11).JPGt we were about to be (a) arrested, (b) asked to get out of the country by yesterday, and/or (c) given a large daily fine. However, we managed to make friends with their only English speaker, the Head of Customs, and Barry signed a confession, written in Turkish. Armed with that, the Head of Customs and several others tried and failed to change the entry on the immigration computer. Eventually, we entered the office of the Big Chief, who put his newspaper down and, after a cup of tea all round, finally agreed to rubber stamp and sign a written entry in Barry's passport, explaining the situation (we hope).

Relieved by all that, we turned to our reason for entering the Customs House. Yes, they said, we could leave the motorhome parked at their offices while we left the country without it for a fixed short period in Cyprus, but it seemed to be a personal favour with no charge, rather than an official procedure. Maybe it was an apology for the bureaucratic error? But it would need to be an official arrangement, to explain to others why we didn't have the motorhome with us! We have heard of motorhomers leaving their vehicle in a Customs Compound at Istanbul airport, in an emergency, with a large daily charge.

Back on the internet and telephone to investigate car hire in Cyprus, we found there are car rental companies in Girne, but you are definitely not allowed to take a car hired in the north across the border into southern Cyprus. Conversely, cars hired in the southern part of the island are not insured for the north - you are allowed to cross at your own risk, if you take full responsibility and buy third party insurance at the border, though they didn't recommend it!

In the end we decided to forget Cyprus until we are able to get there to tour with our bicycles (sadly, Margaret's bike is temporarily out of action, awaiting new front forks). We did once cycle round the southern part of the island in the spring of 2000, staging there on our way To and From Israel, but were not allowed in the north at that time.

We are grateful to Don Madge (MMM Travel Consultant) for his part in the above information and for details of campsites on Cyprus.

11 May 2008   119 miles   TASUCU to ADANA, Turkey   TIR Lorry Park on E90 Motorway

Heading East onto the E90 Motorway

After visiting Tasucu's twice-weekly market again (it's Sunday), we were away, following the decision to spend our time going further east in Turkey rather than over to Cyprus. We did call by the port to see the pair of ro-ro ferries docked there – they looked very small and we couldn't decide which was the older!

On coast roadT21_To_Antioch_(10).JPG D400 (which we've followed the length of the Mediterranean) we bypassed Silifke after 13 miles. We'd explored its striking castle, and the ancient remains at Uzuncaburc to the north, on our last visit (see 1-2 Oct 1997).

Driving on, past fields of strawberries sT21_To_Antioch_(11).JPGupplying the roadside stalls, we stopped at 27 miles in the seaside resort of Korykos to shop at Migros supermarket (we even have a loyalty card!) After another 2 miles we passed Kizkalesi (Maiden's Castle) rising from the sea off-shore, opposite an older ruined fortress on the coast. A few lads played football on the beach and a single boat waited to take tourists to the Crusader castle. LT21_To_Antioch_(12).JPGess than a mile along, behind an Opet fuel station on the right, we knew of Kervan Camping (see 28-29 Sept 1997). Now we found the site scruffy and disorganised, with a few Germanic and Belgian outfits spread along the shore, no level pitches, no space for us, no hot water and an asking price of €10. Nicely placed by the beach, in sight of the Kizkalesi, we felt sad it had been taken over by the Beach Bums and their enormous satellite dishes. We didn't stay.

The road east now became a good dual carriaT21_To_Antioch_(14).JPGgeway, as we drove through Erdemli (lemon-growing town) at 42 miles and continued towards the port of Mersin. The seaside parks were busy with family picnics and barbecues: a Turkish passion. The roadside stalls with smoking chimneys sold hot corn cobs.

10 miles later,T21_To_Antioch_(15).JPG at Cesmeli (before Mersin), we joined the new motorway 0-51 signed Adana/Ankara. It climbed briefly inland before turning east again, with 3 EMPTY lanes in each direction. Toll tickets were issued 20 miles along. At 82 miles we had a lunch break at a spacious service station, 3 miles before the exit for Tarsus (now a huge industrial city that Saul/Paul would hardly recognise). T21_To_Antioch_(18).JPG

At 93 miles, we joined the E90 (north for Ankara or continuing east, as we did). It began to rain as we paid our toll (a whole €1) at 102 miles, shortly before Adana (Turkey's 4th largest city), and finally parked at a BP Service Station/TIR Lorry Park on the motorway between the Adana exits. The friendly staff ushered us into a corner near the customs compound and shared the packet of cigs we offered (always handy for such occasions). We had a safe free night, if a bit noisy.

12 May 2008   133 miles   ADANA to CEVLIK, Turkey   Parking opposite the Fishing Harbour

Rounding the NE Corner of the Mediterranean, via Iskenderun to Civlik with its Roman Tunnel and Tombs

While we bougT21_To_Antioch_(19).JPGht petrol at the Lorry Park, we were given glasses of tea from the ever-ready urn. A nice touch and not unusual. Then we headed east again on the 6 smooth empty lanes of E90.

We crossed a fertile plain of wheat and corn, collecting a toll ticket after 20 miles before Ceyhan, where there is a view of Yilankale (Snake Castle) perched on its hill. At 32 miles the motorway split and we took E91 for Iskenderun and Antakya (Antioch), towards the Syrian border. We were turning south at the NE corner of the Mediterranean, which felt significant.

The splendid quiet motorways have frequent rest areas with parking T21_To_Antioch_(21).JPGand toilets, as well as regular service stations with a huge empty parking area, fuel, self-service food, clean toilets, a barber's perhaps, and no queue for anything (the polar opposite of Britain or Italy!) Some even had a small mosque, overnight stays were welcome, safe and free of charge (we always asked permission). Private motoring is still rare in Turkey and the motorways are mainly used by trucks, whose friendly drivers park overnight in a row and hose their lorries down before resting. The only items on sale were cigarettes, non-alcoholic drinks, snacks, newspapers and CD's – no maps, they all know the way! And no mall for bored shopaholics – there aren't any.

Heading southT21_To_Antioch_(22).JPG down the East Mediterranean coast, the road kept high at 400-500 ft, with mountains rising inland. The scene changed to one of really heavy industry, built up from Dortyol all the way down to the major port of Iskenderun 20 miles later. We paid a toll of €1.10 before the Iskport exit at 70 miles, leaving the motorway for Belen, where it turned into a dual carriageway, 10 miles further.

Rising from 900 ft to 2,000 ft through BeT21_To_Antioch_(26).JPGlen (at 83 miles), the road remained a good 4-lane highway as it climbed for 4 miles to a pass at 2,450 ft. Stopping for lunch in a lay-by soon after the top, we had a surprising view of the vast green plain of wheat fields below. The 5-mile descent was steeper but still on a wide road, the inside lane grooved by heavy trucks.

At 93 miles the road T22_Antioch_(10).JPGdivided: E98 turned east to the main Syrian border crossing for Halep (Aleppo), while we stayed on E91 for Antakya/Antioch (and beyond to Syria – its proximity indicated by the number of army jeeps on the road). We followed a river valley south for 15 miles, wayside stalls now selling potatoes, until we met the new Antakya bypass. Taking this, we skirted west of the city and then turned onto a minor road SW towards the coast.

Sadly, there was no avoiding the centre of Samandagi (at 125 miles),T23_Sivlik_(41).JPG a crowded dusty town (pop 36,000), whose poverty came as a shock. This area (including Antakya) formed part of the French Protectorate of Syria after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and only reverted to Turkey in 1939, with Ataturk's foresight (although the Syrians didn't and still don't agree). Samandagi still felt like a different country, with horse-drawn carts and bony donkeys, rough-looking characters rummaging in garbage bins, ragged children. Squeezing through the chaos of the town centre, we turned right and along a bumpy road up the coast for 5 miles to the small fishing harbour and (last) resort of Cevlik. This was literally the end of the road – past the shore and fishing harbour, it became a rough track round headlands to the north.

Cevlik is onT23_Sivlik_(10).JPG the site of Seleuceia-Pieria - the Roman port for Antioch (modern Antakya or Hatay) - and we had been lured by its ancient remains, though had we known about Samandagi we might have resisted the temptation! There were some redeeming features: a quiet parking area for the night (at the end of the road opposite a Fish Cafι by the harbour); taps along the beach with good drinking water (we filled our tank on seeing local people queue with plastic bottles); and the friendliest of neighbours (2 invitations to come and meet the wife and drink tea, politely declined).

From the sea-front, the ancient site is found by following signs T23_Sivlik_(21).JPGto the 'Titus Tunnel', up a short lane and a flight of steps, behind a restaurant, through an entrance gate, eventually coming to a ticket office (€1 each). Follow the path alongside a gorge for about 10 minutes to the entrance of the tunnel, cut through high rock walls. (Alternatively, you can walk the gorge channel with difficulty.) Cross a small Roman humped bridge over the gorge, then go down the modern woodT23_Sivlik_(22).JPGen stairs to enter the tunnel, which we walked through (and had to return the same way). We were glad of the stout shoes and torch we had, as it got darker, rockier and damper underfoot.

This feat of engineering was cut at the time of Roman Emperors Titus and Vespasian, to divert water from the surrounding mountains, which had been flooding the town. We have never seen such an impressive Roman work (the Corinth Canal was begun by Nero, but soon abandoned). The only other visitors, whose voices echoed along the tunnel, were a small group of students from Antakya University. Very friendly and lively, they all shook hands, practised their limited English and photographed each other standing with us!

The experience was not over. Once back through the tunnel, another pathT23_Sivlik_(31).JPG led off to the 'Rock Tombs', which were equally astounding - an area with several storeys of Christian tombs, between once-ornate pillars cut into a cliffside, dating from the 1st to 5th centuries. The whole region has early Christian connections. A cave-church in Antioch is said to be the first place where Christians met to pray in secret; the place were the word 'Christian' was coined; Saints Peter and Paul both lived in Antioch for aT23_Sivlik_(33).JPG time; Luke the Evangelist was born there; later the Crusaders regarded it as a holy city; and the 6thC monastery of St Simeon lies between Antioch and Samandag. It felt like a special place.

Near the tombs was a small stall selling local plums (very green and sour!), bunches of bay leaves and bay leaf soap. Walking back, we noticed most of the trees were laurel (bay) and picked our own leaves. The Greek myth of Daphne originated from this area: the virgin Daphne prayed to Zeus to be spared the attentions of Apollo and was turned into a laurel tree to save her (a good deal or no?) After all this, we slept soundly.

For yet more images, click: Cevlik and Titus Tunnel

13 May 2008   138 miles   CEVLIK to ERZIN, Turkey   Opet Services on E91 Motorway

Through Antakya (Antioch) and out to the Syrian Border before turning North

We backtracked to Samandagi and manoeuvred through its 3-mile T23_Sivlik_(42).JPGcongestion. Among the sadder sights was a motorbike rider carrying his family of 4  to school (no helmets, of course); less lucky children, whose job was to tend goat-kids along the gutters; and the old woman trying to cross the road with two eggs from the shop, cradling them in her hands. Along the dirt shoulders of the main road was a continuous line of small workshops and businesses, the whole very reminiscent of India.

At 16 miles we reT22_Antioch_(14).JPGached the Antakya bypass but continued for 4 miles into the busy city. Crossing the River Asi to the east side, we immediately turned south along the river bank on a road which joined E91, through the suburb of Harbiye. We intended to follow it to see the Syrian border at Yayladagi, but on leaving Harbiye at 25 miles the road turned into an unmade track of rubble and road works. We turned back by the Jandarma Post and returned through T22_Antioch_(25a).JPGAntakya and across the river, with no chance of parking to visit the museum (famed for its Roman mosaics).

Escaping on E91, wT22_Antioch_(27).JPGe paused at a Carrefour supermarket 2 miles north of the centre to shop. At 35 miles we turned right (east) on the bypass to meet road 420, which leads to the Syrian border crossing at Bab al Hawa (for Halep/Aleppo). This was a better road, across a flat plain at sea level, the fields growing potatoes and corn, the verges bright with poppies. For the last 5 miles before the border post, the road ran alongside the frontier immediately on our right, marked by a barbed wire fence and coilT22_Antioch_(30).JPGs of razor wire, beyond which lay a barren rocky landscape. On the Turkish side were fertile fields with the odd watch tower. Old Ataturk certainly wasn't stupid!

Of course, we couldn't enter Syria (lacking advance visas and serious paperwork for the vehicle), so we turned left onto E98 at 57 miles, a few miles short of the crossing point. Soon Reyhanli, an agricultural town with a population of 60,000, took us by surprise! Continuing noT22_Antioch_(40).JPGrth-west, we had a reasonable 2-lane road, empty of all but a few tractors and trucks. We waved to an old shepherd, leading a donkey carrying his missus, followed by their flock of sheep and goats. We could have believed they were bound for Bethlehem.

Turning SW at Kirikhan, we met the E91 from Antakya at 89 miles and paused for lunch by a filling station. Fortified, we drove over the 2,450 ft pass back to Belen, meeting the E91 motorway at 103 miles.

Continuing north we saw (and smelt) the vast industrial sprawl T24_To_Khata_(12).JPGof Iskenderun (a port founded by Alexander the Great, which regularly changed hands, finally reclaimed from French Syria by Ataturk in 1938). This is the very end of the Mediterranean. We collected a toll ticket 10 miles along the motorway, which lasted T24_To_Khata_(15).JPGwell into tomorrow!

Our night halt was at a large Opet service station, a mile or so before the Erzin exit. We parked at a discreet distance from the line of drivers washing their trucks, until the night watchman (complete with whistle) asked us to move alongside them so he could guard us all. What courteous service – and he proudly declined the cigarettes we offered.

For more images, click: In and Around Antioch 

14 May 2008   196 miles   ERZIN to GOLBASI, Turkey   Bpet Petrol Station

Round Gaziantep and into SE Anatolia, meeting our first Kurds

Less than 3 miles up E91 to E90 junction, where we turned north and easT24_To_Khata_(20).JPGt, passing Toprak Castle on its hill 5 miles later before Osmaniye. At 30 miles, by the exit for Duzici, we were at 1,200 ft with mountains looming ahead. The motorway reached 3,000 ft, then avoided further climbing via 4 pairs of short tunnels (well lit, 3 lanes in each direction) before reaching Nurdagi.

The exit forT24_To_Khata_(19).JPG road 360 to Malatya, to which we later returned, was at 73 miles but we continued 12 miles to the next exit (for Gaziantep), paying our 2-day toll of less than €2 as we left the motorway! Following the D400 (our old favourite) we headed into the university city (pop 1 million plus), hoping to find a base for exploring the area. It's an orderly green affluent city with lots of trees – and lots of traffic. As ever, we admired the skill of the men carrying a tray of tea glasses or with a platter of bread rings on their head, dodging across the busy roads. Passing no hotels, restaurants, garages, whatever, with large car parks on the way in, we found ourselves in the centre, roads narrowing, traffic lights closing in …

A right turn signed 'University and Zoo' provided an escape route, leading out to a new ring road west of the city (6 empty lanes!). Following this for 10 miles, we rejoined D400 at 119 miles, gave up on Gaziantep and turned back to our original route. Our lunch break included the local speciality of Baklava pastries from the bakery we parked by. (Traditionally made with the best pistachio nuts, grown in this region.)

We regained E90 motorway at 126 miles, leaving it one junction along T24_To_Khata_(23).JPG(toll €1 – the price doesn't relate to the length!) Every possible tract of land is used for agriculture, with nuts, apricots and vines in evidence - the result of irrigation from new dams built in south-eastern Anatolia (the GAP scheme), unfortunately to the detriment of Syria and Iraq downstream along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

Taking the 36T24_To_Khata_(24).JPG0 north-east, the good 2-lane road paralleled the railway up a river valley, climbing to over 2,000 ft. Shepherds herded their animals and the red-soil stony fields were mainly worked by head-scarved women, often waist-deep among the wheat. Men were digging irrigation channels. After 19 miles, the railway town of Pazarcik (pop 25,000 or half-a-Scunthorpe) lay by a dam (Baraji) on the River Aksin. StoneT24_To_Khata_(28).JPG masons worked on marble gravestones. Pistachios (Fistiki) were now the street vendor's choice. Leaving the river valley here, the road climbed to 3,000 ft with a first glimpse of snow on the peaks ahead.

At 190 miles we entered Golbasi, where the road for Kahta and the Nemrut Dagi National Park turns off. There were plenty of fuel stations, though few had a parking area. We made a good choice at the Bpet garage on the right, run by a very friendly Kurdish gentleman. He insisted we take tea with him, prouT24_To_Khata_(29).JPGdly showed us the satellite TV from 'Kurdistan' and ushered us into a corner for the night.

There was no public phone but he willingly offered the office phone to check on our proposed hotel/camping for tomorrow. Both he and his young assistant emphatically refused to take the cigarettes offered, or payment for the phone call. In fact when we asked 'Do you smoke' we were offered one! Moments like that are truly touching.

15 May 2008   62 miles   GOLBASI to Kahta, Turkey   Zeus Hotel & Camping   €12.50 (YTL 25.00)

The Kindness of Strangers

It was cooler in Golbasi, at almost 3,000 ft, and showery. As we bought petrol before leaving, we were given glasses of tea and a gift of 2 dusters. The men even wanted us to share their breakfast of bread, cheese and eggs, though we managed to persuade them that we'd already eaten.

After a mile, we turned right for Kahta (gateway to Nemrut Dagi NT24_To_Khata_(30).JPGational Park). The narrower road served tiny hamlets, the women dressed like gipsies, with a rusty old satellite dish outside even the poorest hovel. We ran gradually downhill along the edge of a fertile valley. Stopping at a wayside tap to wash the dust off the motorhome and photograph the pistachio groves among the vineyards, we were hailed by a smiling old man, dressedT24_To_Khata_(32).JPG in a respectable 3-piece suit and cap. Perhaps he mistook us for the local dolmus (minibus) but we were happy to give him a lift for a couple of miles along to his village. He removed his shoes (unbidden), looked round in wonder and chanted Mas Allah thrice before we set off (the equivalent of 3 Hail Mary's?) Safely arrived, he left with lots of handshakes and thanks (Teshekkur). It was a good opportunity to repay kindness by passing it on.

At 28 miles, by a brickworks, the road dropped tT24_To_Khata_(38).JPGo 1,675 ft to cross the River Goksu (which joins the Euphrates as it leaves the Ataturk Dam). We climbed again for 10 miles to Adiyaman at 2,220 ft, a congested provincial capital of 178,000 souls. Our transit was subject to a diversion through the centre, causing long traffic jams. Police struggled to control the junctions, 3 ambulances buzzed about with lights flashing and the crowds looked nervous. We never found the cause (civil disturbance or local accident) bT24_To_Khata_(34).JPGut we were glad to get through. 14 miles further, 10 miles before Kahta, we passed a small oil field in the midst of the wheat plains – another surprise!

Entering the dry and dusty oil town of Kahta at 2,430 ft, there are 3 hotels set along the main road, Mustafa Kemal Street, as you enter town - the Nemrut on the left, closely followed by the Zeus Hotel on the right, then the Kommagene on the left. The 3-star Zeus and the humbler Kommagene offer camping with Nemrut_(10).JPGhook-ups for motorhomes in their car parks.

We turned into the Zeus and found a level gravelled area, bordered by trees and roses, sheltered from the sight and sound of the road by tall buildings. We share it with any visiting tour buses. There is a tap for tank-filling and a new toilet/shower block for campers, as yet without hot water, but the English-speaking manager offered us the use of a bathroom in the hoNemrut_(12).JPGtel. The Zeus has wireless internet (no signal in the car park but lap-tops welcome in the lounge, bar or restaurant) and an outdoor pool, surrounded by shady gardens and fragrant hedges of clipped rosemary. A real oasis! It's less than a mile from the centre of Kahta, with a supermarket almost next door. Naturally, tours to Nemrut Dagi can be arranged.

After lunch rain began to pour and we were pleased just to be here, the furthest east we have ever driven in our own motorhome and taking welcome hot baths!

For more images, click: Road to Kahta

16-21 May 2008   At KAHTA, Turkey   Zeus Hotel & Camping

Resting at the Zeus before a Magical Mystery Tour to meet the Stone Gods at Nemrut Dagi 

The road onwards from Kahta, east to Siverek and Diyarbakir, wT26_To_Tunceli_(13).JPGas flooded by the damming of the Euphrates at the Ataturk Baraji, claiming to be the world's fourth largest (and it's only 1 of 22 dams planned for the GAP scheme, 17 already completed). Maps and road signs show a ferry crossing to Iskalesi at the northern end of the dam but the drivers here tell us 'Ferry Closed', which means that Kahta is a dead end. The road continues for 20 miles to the entrance for Nemrut Dagi National Park, but ends 10 miles beyond that at the lake.

Walking intoNemrut_(14).JPG Kahta, we found the few tourist establishments (hotels, tour operators and the more likely eating places) are all to the west of the main junction, where the road turns left for Nemrut Dagi. Continuing straight on, the town becomes more workaday, with rough and ready businesses – even some outright begging, the first we'd seen in this visit to Turkey.

The manager of the Kommagene Hotel (naNemrut_(17).JPGmed after the ancient kingdom in these parts) was pretty aggressive in marketing his tours, following us along the street in a minibus and demanding we look at his 'camping'. It may be cheaper at €7.50 a day (with one night free if we took a tour) but the car park is open to the noisy dusty street, with no hotel facilities. We stay here!

When you see aNemrut_(15).JPG queue at a Turkish shop, it is either a barber's or a bakery selling hot bread/pizza straight from a wood-fired oven. We joined a queue at the latter (past the junction, on the left) and bought 2 flat-breads with a spicy meat & tomato topping. It was a treat to watch the 3-man production line at work and we had a filling lunch for the grand sum of €0.25 each! Another first was trying fresh green pistachios, given to us by a gaggle (or giggle) of schoolgirls who had been scrumping in the orchard. Surprisingly sweet out of their shells (both girls and nuts).

The Nemrut Dagi tours on offer are controlled by the 3 hotels. The onlNemrut_(11).JPGy independent Tourist Info office we found (turn left at the junction, towards Nemrut Dagi) was outside a 'Tourism and Hotel College', probably run by the students. The 2 brothers who were manning it when we called were eager to please and hand out brochures, but hadn't a word of English/German/French between them! They tried to converse with us through an instant-translation computer program, which gave us a few minutes' amusement but only resulted in the offer of a tour costing more than at the hotels (probably the same one, plus their commission!) We tried asking about the lake (less than 3 miles away as the crow flies). 'Where is the lake?' came the on-screen reply!

The lass serving in the supermarket did better. 'Where are you from?' she asked, with perfect pronunciation. 'England – do you speak English?' we replied. 'No, I am sorry, I do not' came the answer. She persisted with a friendly 'Good morning' each time we went for bread!

Nemrut_(16).JPGKahta is an oil town, though neither oil nor Nemrut-based tourism seems to have brought it much prosperity. The residents are Kurdish-speaking, with the more senior gentlemen clad in the traditional baggy trousers. Children speaking Kurdish must learn Turkish at school (whereas Turkish-speakers may take a foreign language, such as English, French or Russian). Many are not educated beyond primary level. According to the excellent English-language daily newspaper 'Today's Zaman', Turkey's population of over 70 million includes 12 million young adults (aged 15-24), 40% of whom are not in work or education – a massive problem looming.

There was a public holiday on 19 May (the anniversary of Ataturk's landinNemrut_(13).JPGg at Samsun in 1919 to launch Turkey's independence struggle). It has been designated 'Youth and Sports Day', with celebrations in Ankara, in Turkish embassies across the globe and in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. We strolled round Kahta (hot – in the 30's C or 80's F – and dry as dust, with only 20% humidity). Little sign of youth or sports in the quiet park. The shops were all open, each with its coterie of men squatting outside on doll's house-sized stools at low tables, playing dominoes over glasses of tea. In the evening, a brief firework display lured us onto the streets, where people were singing and carrying flaming torches. By the time we reached them, a small blaze (rubbish or dry grass) was being hosed by the local fire engine, the Polis arrived and the crowd rapidly dispersed. We turned sadly back – it had been a fine night under a full moon, brought to an abrupt end.

There is no sign of alcohol or coffee-drinking, with caffeine provided by a strong shot of tea. Most mHalf_way_to_India.jpgales smoke and Turkish tobacco is sold loose from sacks outside the grocery shops, alongside big baskets of eggs. The present government has just announced an immediate smoking ban in any enclosed public space, including educational buildings (with 12 months' grace for restaurants and cafes). Checking our globe and GPS (from low tech to hi), Barry found that Kahta is half-way between our home town of Huddersfield and a waymark we left in 2006 in the Indian city of Varanasi (Benares), a major pilgrimage centre for Hindua, Buddhists and Jains alike. Certainly, it feels like we're half way to India – if only we could keep driving east!

For more images, click: Road to Kahta

A Tour to Nemrut Dagi National Park

For the full set of images, click Mount Nemrut and Around

The 60-mileNemrut_(107).JPG round trip to Mt Nemrut (a peak in the Anti-Taurus Range at 2,150 m – over 7,100 ft) could not be made in anything as big as our motorhome so, preferring independent travel, we made futile enquiries about car hire before accepting that we had to be driven there. If only we still had our motorbike on board!

The hotels run circular tours in a fleet of 12-seaterNemrut_(122).JPG Ford Transit minibuses. The 'Sunrise Tour' sets out at some unearthly hour to be at Nemrut summit for dawn, returning via the other sights, while the 'Sunset Tour' leaves after lunch, taking in the sights on the way to the summit for sunset, getting back by 8 pm or so. Price negotiable, depending on how many ride together. Through our Zeus Hotel, we arranged to go alone in our own time with a good driver: the steady Mustafa.

Leaving the hotel Nemrut_(20).JPG(elevation 2,350 ft) at 2.30 pm, we had a wonderful 5-hour Magical Mystery Touring. Driving past the 'nodding donkey' and buildings of the local oilfield, amid a barren rocky landscape, our first stop, after 6 miles, was at the Karakus Tumulus at 3,000 ft. Dating from 36 BC, it's a 70-ft-high burial mound of crushed stone containing female members of the Commagene royal family. The 4 columns that remain are topped with an eagle, a lion, a bull and a figure - others were later used as Roman building blocks. From the Tumulus we had our first view of the pointed peak of distant Mt Nemrut.

After another 7 miles, down at 2,000 ft, the road crosses a modernNemrut_(28).JPG bridge over the River Cendere, before it flows into the Ataturk Dam. Just upstream is a well preserved Roman bridge, which we walked over, watching the local families swimming and having picnics below us in the shade of a gorge. Stunning scenery and a stunning piece of Roman architecture, built in the 2ndC AD in honour of Emperor Septimius Severus, his wife and 2 sons (with a column for each of them). Caracalla (the next Roman Emperor) assassinated his brother Geta and had his column removed!

Our third short Nemrut_(49).JPGstop, 4 miles later, was at a medieval Seljuk bridge across the Kahta River, a tributary of the Cendere. High above were the gaunt ruins of Yeni Kale, a 13thC Mamluk Castle (accessible by a steep path from Kocahisar/Eski Kahta village, which we didn't try), on the site of a Commagene fortress.

During the next mile we turned off the main Nemrut_(53).JPGroad (D360) into the Nemrut Dagi National Park (entrance fee €2.50 each), climbing to the car park for Arsameia at 2,700 ft. Here a small cafι sells carpets and mats woven by the women in nearby Kocahisar. Arsameia was the summer capital of the Commagene kings, who ruled from 69 BC to 72 AD (latterly subject to Rome). Following the break-up of Alexander the Great's empire, the governor of Commagene, a Roman ally, proclaimed himself King Mithridates I. He was succeeded in 62 BC by son Antiochus I, who signed treaties with both Rome and the Parthians. Growing rich, he suffered delusions of grandeur, claiming not only royal ancestry but descent from the gods (the Egyptian tradition of god-kings). The original 'Big Head' - his tomb lies below the funerary mound of Nemrut Dagi (of which more anon) - Antiochus made thNemrut_(65).JPGe mistake of siding with the Parthians in a dispute with Rome. The Emperor deposed him in 38 BC, in favour of Mithridates II, and Commagene was ruled by puppet kings until Vespasian made it part of Roman Asia. Enough history – but the area is steeped in it, with other ancient bridges and tumuli not on our route.

We spent a good 40 minutes at Arsameia, climbing the track up the ceNemrut_(63).JPGremonial road to the ruins of the hilltop palace. Several stelae (standing stones with relief statues and inscriptions, in Greek) have survived on the way up. We passed the weathered figure of sun-god Apollo-Mithras (a syncretistic god, combining the Greek deity with the Persian), then the entrance to a cave (for Mithras worship) with the bases of stelae depicting Kings Mithridates and Antiochus. Higher up, we gasped at the sight of a larger cave-temple entrance, with a sacreNemrut_(61).JPGd corridor descending perilous steps. Above it was the longest Greek inscription ever found in Turkey, meticulously engraved round a curve in the rock, describing the founding of Arsameia. Above that, stunning in its state of preservation, stands a larger-than-life-size stone relief of King Antiochus shaking hands with the Greek demi-god Heracles. (Antiochus is the one regally attired!) Scrambling higher still, on the level hill-top are the foundations of the capital city, with a spectacular view down on the ruins of Yeni Kale beyond.

From here, our driver took a 6-mile short cut, zigzagging across the contours,Nemrut_(72).JPG climbing on a rough hair-pinning track. The precipitous views were spectacular, his driving expertly cautious, though no traffic came the other way (the Sunset Tours all followNemrut_(85).JPG the same circuit!) At 5,200 ft we met a better, if narrow, road coming up from Karadut. Paved in stone blocks, it ended 4 miles later at the large Nemrut Dagi car park. The last part of the journey was well above the tree line, with snow posts marking the verges (the road can be closed from mid-October until May). The views of the Eastern Taurus range of the Nemrut Mountains, with the dammed Euphrates River and its plain below were astounding. Superlatives fail!

We reached the car park (with small cafι) at about 5 pm – 28 miles from Nemrut_(94).JPGKahta and at 6,700 ft. From here it is a strenuous 20-minute climb to the top, taking either of the stony paths labelled 'West Terrace' or 'East Terrace' (the terraces being connected by the Northern Terrace, a short ceremonial road once lined with carved reliefs). The terraces are at 7,132 ft, meaning a straight climb from the car park of over 400 ft. Not difficult terrain but you need good shoes and lungs, plus a jacket! The Nemrut_(97).JPGwhole is the mausoleum of Antiochus I, who had two ledges cut into the rock at the top of Mt Nemrut and a peak of crushed stones piled between them, originally raising the summit by some 180 ft (55 m), which has dropped to 165 ft (50 m) over the millennia.

Gaining the East Terrace, we joined the small group who had arrived ahead of us, cameras poised, gazing in wonder at the 'thrones of the gods' on the ledge. The colossal seated statues of Antiochus and his ancestor-gods gaze eastwards over the mountains, their giant heads lying at their feet, toppled by earthquakes. The heads, over 6 ft (2 m) high, repreNemrut_(98).JPGsent the syncretistic gods of Apollo-Mithra, Fortuna-Tyche, and Zeus-Ahura (a fearsome eagle), as well as Heracles and Antiochus himself. Carved reliefs show processions of his 'relatives': Greek and Persian royalty. Other statues represent Commagene dominance over the sky (an eagle) and the earth (a lion). There are inscriptions in Greek about religious and social issues. Mystery and megalomania combined in a unique folly. We couldn't begin to imagine the astonishment of the Prussian Officers who discovered this site in 1882. Systematic excavation didn't start until 1938 and has now ceased, the conical burial mound untouched. It's believed to contain Antiochus I and some of his family – unless he really ascended to join Zeus!

Round on the WNemrut_(117).JPGest Terrace, there was a similar line-up, their fallen heads perhaps less weathered below their thrones. Reliefs showed Antiochus (wearing a very Persian cap) shaking hands with the gods. Carvings of a lion, moon and stars are astrological. The number of visitors must be astronomical – they began to arrive in droves to stay and watch the sunset, with competing commentaries inNemrut_(104).JPG German and French. It was too cloudy for much of a show and we descended the mountain track to enjoy a peaceful return drive in daylight, after welcome mugs of coffee from our thermos. We had taken an hour to walk the mile-long loop, a unique experience all round.

We returned to KahtNemrut_(123).JPGa by a longer but easier route, down the steep stone-cobbled road past the end of the short-cut track, continuing south and east to Karadut, at 3,500 ft. The 8 miles from Nemrut took 30 minutes! On the way down to this remote mountain village we passed 4 simple hotels with camping for tents or small vans in their gardens (the Cesme, just outside the Nemrut National Park ticket office for those entering by this route; then the Kervansaray and the Euphrat; lastly the Karadut Pension in the village). Further along we passed the Hotel Camp Tur, before reaching Narince, a largeNemrut_(127).JPGr village 6 miles below Karadut at 2,800 ft, where we met road D360 (which once led east to Diyarbakir but is now a dead-end, since the road was flooded and the ferry across the dam recently ceased). This route down through the mountain pastures was a collage of timeless images: humble cottages whose occupants worked the land. The villagers, some mounted on horse-back or riding donkeys, were busy bringing the cattle in from the fields. Children waved. They had lived like this for centuries, with no idea of what the would-be Pharaoh had built in the sky above!

The next 10 miNemrut_(128).JPGles were faster (up to 50 mph) on the broader road, to a modern bridge over a finger of the Ataturk Baraj, down at 1,830 ft (the lowest point of the day). We rejoined our outward route 3 miles later, near the Karakus Tumulus, and were soon driving back past the oil field, alerted by the smell of gas! We reached the Zeus Hotel by 7.20 pm, still daylight, and wondered if the crowds up on the Western Terrace had stayed for a possible sunset. If so, they would have missed the delightful scenes on the way back, which had completed the experience.

At the Zeus Hotel, as the only 'campers' during the week we stayed,T_People_(35).JPG we were made very welcome, with full use of WiFi internet (and copious glasses of tea). On our return from the Nemrut Dagi tour, we decided to sample the 'set menu' dinner, laid on for the coach tours which came and went. Sitting in peace in the garden, we enjoyed tomato soup, kφfte (rissoles) with rice and salad, and the local speciality 'Noah's Pudding'. It's a sort of milky sponge pud stuffed with currants and raisins and pulses – supposedly using up all the bits left in the Ark! A delicious end to the day and to our stay in Kahta, a friendly little town that has grown on us.

For the full set of images, click Mount Nemrut and Around

22 May 2008    154 miles    KAHTA to SIVEREK, Turkey    PO Petrol Station

Across the Euphrates, detour to Sanliurfa (City of Prophets) and onto the Mesopotamian Plain

We were sorry to T_People_(34).JPGleave the friends we'd made in Kahta. The Zeus Hotel stafT_People_(33).JPGf said we'd become 'family' (after a week in their car park!) and the team at our little supermarket (baggy-trousered father and 2 daughters) showered M with hugs and kisses (after buying little more than a loaf a day!) Tourists rarely stay longer than the one day needed to visit Mount Nemrut, coming and going in packages by Mercedes coaches and staying within the safe walls of the hotel! These birds of passage do not know what they miss and all the things it would be worth staying for – the real Turkey.

In the absence of the T26_To_Tunceli_(19).JPGIskelese ferry on the road east, suspended by 'government politics' 2 months ago, we could only exit to the west, backtracking on road 360. The transit of Adiyaman (after 19 miles) was easier today, on a dual carriageway unhindered by riot or diversion. At 30 miles, we turned south onto D875, along the western edge of the massive Ataturk Baraj (system of lakes). The golden fields of ripening wheat soon gave way to scrubby desert, once past the irrigated area.

A high point of the day (in fact the low point at 1,274 ft) was meeting theT26_To_Tunceli_(27).JPG Euphrates 50 miles from Kahta, just downstream of its exit from its lake. We parked by the banks for lunch, watching larks and shepherds, swallows nesting beneath the bridge, all seeking water and shade.

Climbing graduallyT26_To_Tunceli_(40).JPG (2,000 ft at Bozova) along the rough road, we turned off with relief at 83 miles onto a smooth new highway, D885 for SanliUrfa (meaning Glorious Urfa), an 8-mile detour to the south. The city was founded by Old-Testament King Nimrod, its bazaar tucked beneath the citadel from which Abraham (or Ibrahim) was hurled into the air by the wicked king, landing safely on a bed of roses. Abraham was born here, as was the prophet Job (he of great patience) - a place of pilgrimage for 3 faiths. But pilgrims should approach on foot, not in a 6-ton motorhome! Finding no space of any kind to park, we circled a roundabout before reaching the old centre and returned whence we came, leaving the Holy City to the pious.

Heading north on D885 (or E99), it was a good road apart from a few unfinished miles of road works. We veered north-east across rocky desert, inland from the southern side of the Ataturk Baraj, passing nothing but a military air base until we reached the humble oil town of Hilvan. We had driven 123 miles from Kahta, lying just over 20 miles away in a direct line (across the lake)!

The E99 now deteriorated to a bumpy 2-lane road as it conT26_To_Tunceli_(48).JPGtinued for 23 miles to Siverek, population 127,000 (at 2,250 ft), a town we could have reached in less than 60 miles' drive from Kahta if the ferry had been running! The local Kurds tell us it was discontinued to prevent easy transport links to their major city of Diyarbakir. A bridge is promised … one day. Siverek looked a little rough round the edges – which is, of course, where we had to stay, as a cluster of petrol stations on the way in offered our only parking possibility.

We joined the row of Turkish and Iranian lorries being washed in front of a simple restaurant/filling station, complete with prayer room and small minaret. The run-off water was channelled for irrigation. 'Parking OK?' 'Yes, yes, welcome.' It felt Middle-Eastern, many of the townspeople resembling desert Arabs – women dressed like nuns in the voluminous black chador; even the younger men in salvar (full baggy trousers). Those working in the fields wore headscarves or Yasser Arafat-type headgear. Horse-drawn carts clip-clopped by, homeward bound, as dusk fell.

In the course of the evening, a Kurdish trucker who had a few words ofT26_To_Tunceli_(44).JPG English came to introduce himself and offer cay – the ever-welcome glass of tea – later followed by another glass, courtesy of the waiter. Strangely, for such a dry and dusty atmosphere, tea still comes in the tiny goblets, served on a china saucer with sugar lumps (which some men pop into their mouth, sipping the tea through them).

It was incredibly hot and dry again, our T26_To_Tunceli_(46).JPGtemperature inside reaching 96 F, not quite matching yesterday's 102. This is much higher than the average for the hottest months of July and August in this region, so even the locals are commenting on the heat. Despite the noise (traffic and barking dogs), we slept well because we felt safe among friends – much safer than on a service station in say France, Italy or Spain. And as for the UK, charging well over 10 pounds for the privilege of parking on motorway services for longer than 2 hours – we have not yet met a foreigner who can believe that! Here there is no question of payment (even for the tea or vehicle-washing), so we always buy fuel at these overnight havens.

23 May 2008   252 miles   SIVEREK to TUNCELI, Turkey   Opet Petrol Station

A Long Day's Drive: to Diyarbakir, then north along the Tigris Valley to Elazig and through our first army checkpoint before Tunceli

E99, the road toT26_To_Tunceli_(49).JPG Lake Van and thence to Iran, continued east across the stony desert of the blazing Mesopotamian Plain. A vital east-west link, the highway is being widened and became a dual carriageway in parts. (Mesopotamia - meaning 'between the rivers' of Euphrates and Tigris - was the ancient land which now lies largely in Iraq. Both rivers rise in Turkey, flowing through modern Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf.)  

We climbed gradually, the landscape dotted with flocks of sheep clusteredT26_To_Tunceli_(57).JPG round muddy waterholes or cattle seeking sparse grass. Occasionally a man followed a horse-drawn plough, where small wheat fields were sown between the more barren areas. Shepherds and landscape resembled the setting for a Nativity Play. The few dwellings were square stone houses with flat mud roofs, their yards alive with women, sheep and goats. Suddenly, after about 40 miles, a big bright modern building appeared between villages – a school, with blue-smocked children playing in the yard and a fleet of minibuses at the ready. A ray of hope for the future. We reached 3,875 ft, then dropped slightly as we passed a large army base. The Jandarma keep control.

At 53 miles (and T26_To_Tunceli_(58).JPGat 2,350 ft) we reached Diyarbakir, population 750,000, centre of the Kurdish territory of SE Anatolia (and of the PKK Kurdish Workers Party). Instead of demonstrations or street theatre, the first thing we came to was a modern shopping mall complete with M-Migros supermarket and Burger King! The car park attendant was pleased to see us (and our cigarettes) and we were soon restocking our pantry. We even found 2 cheap rugs for the floor and a long-handled squeegee for the windscreen - and we admit to having an early lunch with crispy hot fries. We were welcomed by the German-speaking manager, who was pleased to replace the Set Menu drink of cola with orange juice (such a small thing, but it causes arguments and refusals in many countries!)

Continuing east for 4 miles, past the crossroads for the city centre, we reacT26_To_Tunceli_(66).JPGhed our goal and crossed the Tigris River down at 1,942 ft. A rough camp was pitched along one bank, with people wading, washing or doing dhobi in the rushing water: refugees from the lands to the east? Our GPS showed 40°14' East so far our furthest east ever in our own motorhome.

Returning to the crossroads, we turned west for 2 miles through the traffic until we met the massive dark stone walls of the old city – again with no chance of a place to park before we managed to U-turn and retreat. With regular gates and bastions, the walls encircle the Byzantine city, whose historic mosques, houses and churches we had to leave unseen. As the temperature was again a sultry 100 degrees F (38 C) at 12.30 pm, we were not too disappointed!

We followed the valley of the Tigris north-west on dual carriageway D885: a flat landscape at about 2,500 ft. Cement works alternated with ploughed fields (agricultural land rather than animal-rearing). At the many Jandarma posts, the men were always ready in camouflage gear, well-armed.

Ergani, at 97 miles,T26_To_Tunceli_(106).JPG was a dusty cement-works town of 47,000 inhabitants, one of whom gave us our first (and only) angry fist-shake as we waited at traffic lights. Climbing on through the hills to 3,700 ft, it was no cooler. At the little industrial/railway town of Maden, 15 miles later, we met the Tigris and followed it more closely. The road narrowed from here, over a pass at 4,272 ft. It turned west at 128 miles, along the northern shore of Lake Hazar (the dammed Tigris) for the next 15 miles. We'd hoped to find a place for the night by the water but the man-made lake was undeveloped and inaccessible, the road featureless and still under construction. No petrol stations along the way, just a small restaurant, right by the road with little space; the only hotel was through a low arch!

At the western end of the lake, we turned south for 2 miles to the village T26_To_Tunceli_(107).JPGof Sivrice, which had nothing to offer. Weary, we continued north on D885 almost to Elazig, then turned east at 168 miles along the southern edge of yet another artificial lake. At Kovancilar, 39 miles later, the only likely petrol station was full of trucks. We turned north, resigned to driving further.

Immediately the hilly laT27_To_Erzurum_(10).JPGndscape became softer, greener, with wild flowers and storks nesting on pylons. After 13 miles we met our first serious army road block. In the office we were asked for passports, father's name, mother's name (no matter if they still live) – then the atmosphere lightened as we were offered tea! From here on, the road was so rough and empty that we wondered if we'd strayed from the main road, but no, we finally reached Tunceli - a little town at the confluence of 2 rivers, near the entrance to a national park.

Gratefully, we turned into the yard of the only fuel station, next to a small Jandarma post. As darkness fell, a pair of policemen in bullet-proof vests came to the door. Not to move us on but to assure us that we were safe and welcome!  Hos Geldiniz.

24 May 2008   116 miles   TUNCELI to ASKALE, Turkey   Shell Petrol Station

Up the Pulumar Valley with the Transhumants, from SE to NE Anatolia

Before leaving Tunceli we photographed the river confluence from a little T26_To_Tunceli_(118).JPGpark opposite the petrol station, then followed road D885 uphill alongside the Pulumar River, a road still being widened through the mountains. After just one mile we were halted by blasting operations for a few minutes, then rewarded with access to a lovely green river valley, thin waterfalls streaking the rock formations to the sides.

At 14 miles we pT27_To_Erzurum_(37).JPGarked by a spring to fill a bucket and wash the dusty windscreen. Across the narrow road, a trio were fishing by throwing a small drag net into the fast-flowing greenish river, fed by snow-melt from above. The shepherd herding his flock had a splendid Balkan moustache. Very different scenery here, well away from the Mesopotamian Plain and its Kurdish people. Then a pair of unmistakeable bright yellow birds with black wings flew across the road in front of us – male Golden Orioles! Virtually unknown in Britain or Scandinavia, the remainder of Europe and Turkey constitute their summer breeding range. Secretive birds which hide among foliage, this was a rare and beautiful moment.

The road climbed on, through a seriT27_To_Erzurum_(64).JPGes of short tunnels and avalanche shelters. At 23 miles we paused at the sight of a transhumant nomad, on the move to higher summer pastures. He was loaT27_To_Erzurum_(49).JPGding his pack-horse, expertly tying the bundles in place, watched by the mare and suckling foal. Nearby a large pile of pots and pans, bags and baggage awaited transport, guarded by a pair of tiny lambs! He allowed us to photograph the scene, indicating that he was bound for the village of Pulumar, 17 miles up the road. Continuing, we passed a bee-keeper tending to some of the many hives we saw along the way.

Pulumar, at 40 miles and a height of 4,700 ft, had a school, police station, T27_To_Erzurum_(86).JPGone small restaurant/shop, a few houses, a tea-garden in the forest and a view of surrounding peaks streaked with snow. We wondered how the population of 2,000 lived. Then the road climbed more steeply for 6 miles to the top of a pass at 6,380 ft, occupied by an army base. There was still a little old snow on the verges of the very rough road. Descending slowly down a steep winding road, often on gravel, we saw several transhumant camps (large bell-tents and flocks of sheep), settled in the valleys below the snowy ranges.

Below the pass T27_To_Erzurum_(98).JPGand at 54 miles we were halted by an army road block, where our passports were again checked (along with our memory of father's name, etc). Soon we joined the E80, a main east-west route leading from Ankara, hundreds of miles to the west, to the border town of Dogubayazit and into Iran. Turning east, we made lunch at the first truck-stop we came to (still no fuel!) The lorries bore a mix of Turkish and Iranian number plates. In another 22 miles, the tiny village of Kargin had 2 petrol stations – the first we'd seen all day! A fill of fuel and the inevitable tea were both welcome.

The small town of Tercan, 15 miles later at 4,660 ft, also had filling stations, so we need not have worried. From there we climbed for 17 miles to a 6,700 ft pass, then descended gradually for 6 miles to Askale at 5,460 ft. The best place for the night was a Shell station on the right as we left the shabby town, where we were welcome to park between the prayer room and the hose-down truck wash.     

25 May 2008   58 miles   ASKALE to ERZURUM, Turkey   Alpet Petrol Station

Exploring Erzurum, from historic Mosques to modern Ski Resort, ending in a fine meal

Continuing east on E80, a good straight road across a 6,000 ft farmed T27_To_Erzurum_(100).JPGplateau with snow-streaked peaks to both sides, it was pleasantly cooler (just 70 F at 9 am). After 19 miles the D925 turned off to climb over several high passes to meet the Black Sea near Rize, but we decided to visit Erzurum and then take D950 over the mountains.

At 23 miles Ilica, an industrial town at 5,830 ft, with cement and concrete factories and a veterinary college, looked an unlikely setting for the rumoured 'Aqua City Water Park' with camping. Enquiries revealed that the Water Park is actually at Pasinler (20 miles east of Erzurum), though we didn't go to check on the camping.

At Erzurum, 7 T27_To_Erzurum_(127).JPGbuilt-up miles after Ilica and at 6,200 ft, we were delighted to drive straight into the city centre along the main thoroughfare, which became Cumhuriyet Cad (= Republic Street), right past some magnificent examples of Seljuk and Ottoman architecture. Better still, we found a place to park at the east end of the street, just round the corner from the twin minarets of the early 13thC Seminary! The quiet Sunday morning traffic was a blessing.

The man by whose little shop we had stopped came to greet us, insisting we takeT27_To_Erzurum_(132).JPG large cups of tea in the arcade and meet his neighbours. We puzzled them by refusing the cigarettes offered with the cay, as we don't smoke, then buying a few packets from him (ready for handing round at petrol stations – a dangerous occupation?) With the niceties over, we were free to explore, assured that our new friends would watch over the 'Caravan'.

Modestly T27_To_Erzurum_(105).JPGdressed in trousers (plus long sleeves and a headscarf at the ready for the Temptress), we walked the length of the main street, visiting the principal sights, all open to the public (minus shoes). The air was wonderfully fresh and it was pleasant just to walk in comfort. Erzurum is obviously an affluent city, with a university and an army base, as well as a ski resort less than 5 miles away in the Palandφken Mountains. The glossy shops in and between the historic piles sold fine goods and clothes, especially bridal wear.

The Twin Minaret Seminary pre-dates the Mongol T27_To_Erzurum_(108).JPGdestruction of much of the city in 1242. We found it dark and austere, with a courtyard and domed hall within - an impressive symbol of Seljuk wealth. Next door lies the older Great Mosque, built in 1179, which was under restoration, clad in scaffolding.

Crossing theT27_To_Erzurum_(117).JPG street and continuing westwards, the next monument is a small Ottoman mosque dated 1645. (Ottomans took the city in 1515, led by Selim the Grim.) Then the classical Lala Pasa Mustafa mosque of 1562 tempted us to look inside and admire the glittering crystal chandelier and the thickness of the soft carpets, while keeping very quiet in the presence of 3 bearded devotees who sat cross-legged reading the Koran and counting their beads.

The leafy tea-gardens here looked inviting,T27_To_Erzurum_(122).JPG with families sitting among the trees and a small boy feeding the ducklings. A trio of senior gentlemen invited us to join them but you can only drink so much … The adjacent Mongol Medrese (theological seminary) built in 1310 is now an Arts & Ethnography Museum, with a small admission fee.

Returning T27_To_Erzurum_(128).JPGalong the main street (which seemed to contain every kind of place to eat, drink, stay, shop, bank or sight-see), we finished our tour with a short climb to the remains of the 5thC citadel. By now it had closed for lunch (12-1 pm) but the view over the city was the main reason for walking up there. The off-duty soldiers, who sat in groups drinking Cola, explained they have 15 months' compulsory military service. All said they missed their homes and families.

We went down to our 'Caravan' and drove the T27_To_Erzurum_(134).JPGfew miles gently uphill to the Palandφken Ski Resort, to the south of the city: altitude 7,265 ft at the end of the road (the base of the ski runs). It was a pretty low-key place, the ski-ing season over, though the powder usually lasts until May with an annual tournament in April (global warming at work?) The large rough car park by the ski lift was far from level, and busy with cars attending some function at the adjacent Dedeman Hotel. Not a suitable place for the night. The nearby 5-star Polat Renaissance Hotel would not entertain the idea of allowing us on its safe, level, almost empty car park – we didn't get as far as offering to eat there to qualify as customers! We lunched at our own table, then returned to Erzurum in search of a welcoming petrol station.

We certainlyT28_To_BSea_(11).JPG found that – a smart new Alpet services on D100 (E80), a short way east of the city centre (Pasinler direction). We were welcomed with glasses of tea in the lovely restaurant (no question of payment). We returned to dine there in the evening, ordering 2 kebabs: chicken and meatball. Soon a trolley was wheeled over with breads, stuffed peppers, dips, a variety of salads, water, Cola – and the kebabs. The kindest of managers indicated that all the extras were 'on the house' and we were only to pay for the kebabs (and very little at that)! The interest shown in our route and our plans was heartening. The finishing touch was 'Nescafe', which proved to have an aroma very reminiscent of raki! Went down a treat!  

26 May 2008   56 miles   ERZURUM to UZUNDERE, Turkey   PO Petrol Station
Down the Tortum River Gorge

Before leaving the petrol station, we washed the dust off the motorhome. T28_To_BSea_(13).JPGAs ever, there was no charge for use of the car-wash, whether it comprised a bucket and brush or (as here) a pressure-jet hose – and glasses of tea were brought over unbidden. We'll miss these courtesies once outside Turkey!

Exiting Erzurum on D950 northbound, we stopped after 3 miles at the Otobazar (the area of town for repair garages, tyre fitters, etc). In a well stocked and organised accessory shop, Barry found a few items on his list (12-volt bulbs, 25 mm spanner for wheel nuts, an air compressor and a replacement socket set). Of course, we took tea with the owner while he worked out a price.

Travelling north (T28_To_BSea_(111).JPG2 days to the Black Sea), the road crossed a high plain (well over 6,000 ft), its tiny villages served by horse and cart. These are summer pastures for sheep and cattle, the lush green grass well watered by snow-melt. After 16 miles the good new road ended at a sign indicating road-works for the next 30 miles (a grossly underestimated distance!) Long dusty stretches awaited tar-seal and our motorhome didn't stay shiny for long. Forced to drive very slowly, we witnessed a Golden Eagle swoop and land in a meadow right by the road – our first sighting!

After the plateau, we climbed a pass to 7,000 ft at 27 miles, then followeT28_To_BSea_(22).JPGd the Tortum River down to the little town of Tortum 8 miles later at 4,870 ft. Walking round to buy bread, during school lunch hour, every child we met had got as far as 'Hello, how are you?' or maybe 'What is your name?' practised with much laughter. The younger children wore blue smocks or dresses with white collars, often carefully embroidered (by their mothers?) with their name or the Turkish flag or '1 2 3' and 'a b c'. Older children were polite, shaking our hand, making us welcome. (Note: Tortum Lake and Tortum Falls are not here, but 30 miles or more down-river – see tomorrow!)

At 42 miles we parked for lunch, opposite a small village mosque, then followed the Tortum River along its widening valley. More road works had us rolling the freshly laid tar (a difficult cleaning job later with WD40). By 3 pm it was raining hard and we pulled into the next petrol station on the highway near Uzundere, just before a thunderstorm broke. We were still up at 3,570 ft and lightning flashed in the mountains.

27 May 2008   132 miles   UZUNDERE to HOPA, Turkey   PO Petrol Station

From Tortum Falls to the Black Sea – a long day of surprises in the Georgian Valleys

The day began T28_To_BSea_(44).JPGby crawling for 1.5 miles behind a road-laying machine, before passing it to judder over the gravel ridges of D950. After 5 miles along the gorge of the now turbulent River Tortum, the road climbed for a mile (from 3,370 ft to 3,714 ft), rising above the southern end of Lake Tortum. There were stunning views of the pristine green-coloured lake (thought to have formed when a landslide blocked the river, several centuries ago) and of the strata of the rocks, towering to both sides. The road dropped to skirt the western shore of the glaucous water, past a fish restaurant on a small peninsula, and so to the head of the lake at 12 miles, where we parked by a pictorial sign for Tortum Selalesi (= Waterfall), at 3,360 ft.

It was a beautiful morning after the storm, with blue sky and fluffT28_To_BSea_(51).JPGy white clouds, perfect for a walk to the Falls - about half a mile, which could have been driven, on a rough track to a large car park/picnic area/cafι at the head of the waterfall. The Falls were a splendid sight in full spate, with attendant spray, sound and rainbows. May and June are the best months to see them, as most of the water is diverted for hydroelectric power during the rest of the year. Good stone steps with a safe iron handrail led us down to the foot of the cascade.

This mountainT28_To_BSea_(19).JPGous land to the north of Erzurum and east of Artvin was once part of the medieval kingdom of (Christian) Georgia, with many old ruined churches, monasteries and castles in the Georgian Valleys, though none lay directly on our route. The spectacular mountain scenery bordering the longest gorge we have ever driven was enough – exhausting 2 sets of camera batteries!

D950 now descended this magnificent chasm, T28_To_BSea_(73).JPGfollowing the Tortum River past the tiniest and poorest of hamlets. The small houses built of logs and stones looked empty but some were still home to those eking a living from the hillsides to which they clung. Swaying footbridges sometimes crossed the river to access orchards of cherries and apricots. There was a simple petrol station 10 miles after the Falls, at the junction with road 060 from the east, at 1,790 ft. Here the Tortum River meets the Coruh River (which reaches the sea in the Republic of Georgia).

5 miles later we tT28_To_BSea_(89).JPGook a side-trip (6 miles west along the Coruh River) to Yusufeli, in search of 'Greenpeace Camping' - listed by both Lonely Planet and the Turkish Caravan & Camping Club. We had actually phoned the place from the petrol station to check it was open and suitable for a large motorhome – 'Yes, yes, we have space and electricity. Welcome.' Yusufeli is a small busy town (pop 6,400) at 1,850 ft, lying on both sides of the river, which we hit at lunchtime. We negotiated our way to and across the bridge as instructed, asked for the 'Camp' and were pointed to the right along a narrow road, which quickly closed in. Eventually we managed to turn round, afraid of having to reverse the whole way if we went further.

The man spoken to on the phone suddenly appeared and we T28_To_BSea_(83).JPGfollowed him on foot down to the river bank and along the unmade track to a small scruffy campsite, suitable only for tents or miniature campervans. We couldn't have reached the entrance, let alone got through it (too low and too narrow)! Feeling somewhat angry, we were just glad to retrace our route and escape the town. We calmed down over lunch, parked by the Coruh (a raging white-water river) on the way back to the main road.

At 40 miles, back on T28_To_BSea_(109).JPGD950 at 1,770 ft, we showed our passports at another army checkpoint and wondered what a large sign listing times of day meant (no-one to ask). We found out 16 miles later, at 2.30 pm, when we met a queue of 5 trucks waiting at a barrier. The drivers were all out, drinking tea at the mobile snack stall, indicating it would be at least an hour before the road was open. No traffic came the other way and we never did discover the cause. No matter, we're always ready for a tea-break. We thought it would be 'downhill all the way to sea' from here (at 1,160 ft) – we were wrong!

By the time we moved at 3.45 pm, with another 11 vehicles behindT28_To_BSea_(122).JPG us, it was raining. There was a short tunnel 10 miles later, at 900 ft, but no sign that it had been blocked. Another puzzle was that the road signs for Artvin showed a much greater distance than on our GPS or our (new) map. At 75 miles, the junction with road 010, the expected left turn NW for Artvin did not exist – the town was signed to the right, heading NE for Georgia! Watching our bearing on the GPS, we reached 41°58' East (further east than the Tigris at Diyarbakir). 4 miles later, as our navigator was starting to panic, a new road (shown neither on the map nor the GPS) veered off left for Artvin, climbing back on itself, rising from 993 ft to a dizzy 2,630 ft in 5 miles. We soon caught up with the convoy of lorries from the earlier road block, labouring their way across the clustered contours on this craziest of routes. From the top we had a clear and eerie view of the cause of this permanent diversion – way below us a frighteningly huge dam was being built on the Coruh, right across what had been the main Artvin road.

A 6-mile hair-T28_To_BSea_(117).JPGpinning descent followed, landing us back on the D010 down at 640 ft at the foot of the hillside city of Artvin. Seeing nowhere to stop, we continued along D010 above the Coruh River, the road running through 3 tunnels before reaching Borcka down at 340 ft. We had driven 114 slow miles but this town, with its own hydro-electric dam, offered no parking place, the petrol stations being too small.

From here the river turned north to cross the border into Georgia, towards its Black Sea estuary at Batum. Unable to follow the valley over the frontier, our road climbed again through lovely damp greenery for the next 8 miles, snow-T28_To_BSea_(123).JPGpoles marking the verges, reaching a pass at 2,300 ft (690 m) - above the clouds! It was verdant, humid, raining. On our final descent, the final surprise was to see vivid green tea bushes planted on the hillside, from 1,200 ft down to sea level!

Entering Hopa (a Black Sea port with a pop of 17,400) at 7.30 pm, we pulled into the first fuel station on the left – as did several trucks in the course of the wet evening. We hadn't quite reached the sea, 1.5 miles ahead, but it was near enough, so we celebrated with a Fray Bentos Steak & Kidney Pie (all the way from England), carried for such an occasion!

28 May 2008   32 miles   HOPA to SARP & back to HOPA, Turkey   TIR Lorry Park   €2.50 (YTL 5.00)  

We see the Turkish-Georgian Border, explore Hopa and spend our first night by the Black Sea

After a fill of petrol T29_On_BSea_(15).JPGand a hose down with water, we reached the Black Sea at last - actually it was dark grey, a stark contrast to the turquoise Mediterranean. Meeting the coast road, we turned right (NE) for a sight of the Turkish-Georgian Border.

Passing the port of Hopa and a tea factoryT29_On_BSea_(29).JPG (its wood-fired chimney smoking), we came to the small town of Kemalpasa 10 miles along. Small fishing boats were being rowed close to the shore; a pair of cormorants on the rocks dried their wings. In another 3 miles, the village of Sarp was divided by the frontier. A few waiting trucks were parked inside the series of short tunnels before the border. There was no sign of army checkpoints or guards until we reached the actual border post and turned round. (Most nationalities can buy a 90-day visa at the border, but a vehicle presents problems of insurance, customs carnet, etc.)

Returning to Hopa, T29_On_BSea_(23).JPGthe humidity (over 50% when we've become used to 20%) and the clouds resting on the tea-clad hills were reminiscent of the plantations in Malaysia or the South Indian hill-stations. We turned onto a large reasonably safe parking area for buses and lorries right by the sea, opposite the PTT (post office) on the coast road (Cumhuriyet Cad). The man at the entrance indicated it was YTL 5 per night, stay as long as we like. (No water, just parking.)

From here it was a short walk round the town, where we boughtT29_On_BSea_(19).JPG international phone cards at the PTT, whose postmaster was a keen football fan supporting Chelsea (rather than the usual Manchester United)! A group of women shopping in the supermarket were obviously from over the border, very different from the Turks in dress and appearance.  Also found an internet cafι, where we managed to check and send some emails, despite the frustrations of the Turkish keyboard and lack of English-speaking assistance. We fled when it was invaded by school boys at lunch time, come to play noisy games and eat the chip butties made in readiness for them! Men were fishing from the end of a jetty and there was plenty of fresh fish on sale in the town.

Later we ate well-cooked chicken kebabs, salad and oven-fresh bread at the modern 'Garden Kebab' cafι, in a little tea-garden on Cumhuriyet Cad.

29 May 2008   At HOPA, Turkey   TIR Lorry Park  

A Storm at Sea

We woke to a very different day, with violent wind and heavy rain, the tea-clad hills behind the town now invisible! Postponing the drive westwards, we took time to write, read and bake.

30 May 2008   123 miles   HOPA to LAKE SERA, Nr TRABZON, Turkey   Lakeside Fish Restaurant
Along the Coast in Search of a Campsite

A morning's work T29_On_BSea_(18).JPGon phone and laptop, inside a multi-storey non-food shopping arcade with at least 3 internet centres on the ground floor, proved much quieter than yesterday's cafe. We're often embarrassed at the generosity shown to us in Turkey. We researched campsites along our route (not many), checked emails and updated this log. Also managed to extend our Endsleigh travel insurance policy on-line (saving 10% over phoning) – but only after 2 phone calls as their website was down! The super-helpful young man refused to take any money (or cigs) for 3 hours' use of his Wi-fi – and he gave us tea and biscuits!

After lunch, with brighter weather, we left Hopa to drive west along the T29_On_BSea_(32).JPGcoastal highway D019 (E97) – a good smooth dual carriageway with the occasional tunnel. The eastern shores of the Black Sea are picturesque and well settled - not with beach and tourist developments but by those whose livelihood depends on the tea processing plants (run by Caykur), textile factories, ports and fishing harbours.  

A series of small towT29_On_BSea_(36).JPGns were tucked twixt tea and sea. Lush green tea-clad hills rose to our left, while waves pounded the strip of rocks to the right of the highway. Each town had one or more tea factories (cay fabrikasi), chimneys smoking: Arhavi at 16 miles was followed by Findikli, Ardesen (a bigger port at 26 miles), Pazar, Cayeli (with a ruined tower guarding the headland by a tunnel entrance) and Gόndogdu, until at 55 miles we reached Rize (pop 78,000). This port is not a rice-growing centre, as we'd imagined, but at the heart of the tea plantations, with larger modern factories.

We saw no campsites along the coast and very few hotels, none of T29_On_BSea_(106).JPGwhich had a generous car park, space being at a premium. Even the petrol stations had no room. Sea gulls wheeled overhead, men fished from every jetty and rock, but there was nowhere for us to stop for a night.

At the next town, called Of (at 72 miles), a road turned inland, winding up to Uzungφl in the forested mountains. There is supposedly camping by the lake there but it means climbing for over 30 miles up a very minor road, so we kept heading along the coast into the setting sun.

7 miles later, in T29_On_BSea_(40).JPGSurmene, the Tourist Office in Rize had assured us of a campsite – 'you can't miss it, you'll pass it'. We circled back, asked at a petrol station and then at a restaurant – definitely no camping! On through more small towns - Arakli, Arsin and Yomra – until we passed the airport and came to the major Black Sea port of Trabzon (pop 215,000) at 115 miles.

Luckily the coastal highway bypasses much T29_On_BSea_(49).JPGof the city but the Friday tea-time traffic was heavy and the drivers impatient. After being held up by one nasty accident, with a mangled car jammed under a lorry and police trying to disperse a crowd, we were glad to get through, taking a quick photo of the 13thC Byzantine dome of Aya Sofya (now a museum) as we passed.

Trabzon's T29_On_BSea_(45).JPGTourist Office had told of camping at Lake Sera, so we turned left at a sign for Sera 6 miles west of the city. After climbing for about 1.5 miles, we found a small green lake up at 300 ft and paused by a fish restaurant on the right to enquire about the campsite. The waiter insisted we turn into the car park, saying 'Camping problem. Very bad. Much drinking. You stay here.' As he added 'No money, I like English', we deT29_On_BSea_(47).JPGcided to stay, though wished the yard did not slope so much! He immediately produced a tray of tea and showed us where to fill our tank with good water.

We repaid the kindness by having dinner at the tables overlooking the lake, throwing our spare bread to the ducks and geese. The freshest of trout was simply served with salad, bread and tea. Trying to make conversation, we got it all wrong! 'Local tea?' – 'No, from Rize'. 'Local fish?' – 'No, from Samsun'. It was still delicious.

31 May 2008   30 miles   LAKE SERA to COSANDERE, Nr MACKA, Turkey   Altintas Trout Restaurant/Camping   €5.00 (YTL 10.00) 

Up the Macka Valley towards the Sumela Monastery     

Since the restaurant car park sloped too much for our fridge (whicT29_On_BSea_(44).JPGh likes to be level), we slipped away from Lake Sera early, returning to the coast and back towards Trabzon. The coastal highway has generous laybys to the west of the city and we parked 2 miles along to enjoy breakfast with sea view and we took showers on an even keel.

Through the city (quieter on this Saturday T29_On_BSea_(55).JPGmorning), we turned inland at 9 miles, on D885 (E97) northwards. Passing traditional wood-fired bakeries, we stopped in a village 5 miles along to buy bread warm from the oven – sold only in boat-shaped loaves that were almost 3 feet long! The D855 crosses the spectacular mountains, via Turkey's longest road tunnel and a couple of high passes (over 6,500 ft or 2,000 m), through Gόmόshane and Bayburt, to Askale and on to Erzurum – following the ancient trade route from Trabzon to Iran, the Silk Road travelled by Marco Polo.

Our goal was somT29_On_BSea_(60).JPGewhat nearer - we turned off at 25 miles, in the small town of Macka at just over 1,000 ft, onto a minor road which climbs to the Altindere National Park and the Sumela Monastery. From various sources, we had a short list of trout farm/restaurants offering 'camping', all on the right along the road which follows the river up towards Sumela. We had soon checked (and eliminated!) them all, as follows.

1. Verizana Camping, 2 miles after Macka, was a small sloping field with no sign of life and no reply on the phone.

2. Sumela Restaurant/Camping, 1 mile further, is a trout farm and restaurant. We were offered a place in the sloping car park with rough toilets (showers out of order) and some kind of hook-up for an absurd YTL 25.00 (€12.5) per night.

3. A sign for a different Sumela Camping, half a mile later, pointed 500 m along an unsealed track to the right. We parked on the road and went to investigate. It was a lovely walk up a fresh green valley along a tumbling stream, though the track got narrower and rougher. After the best part of a mile, a narrow wooden bridge crossed the stream to a trout hatchery/simple campsite - OK for a car, maybe! Back to the motorhome for coffee.

4. We finally turned round at the hamlet of Cosandere, after checking at the smart new hotel there (Cosandere Pansiyon). They no longer had 'camping' and said there were no further possibilities higher up the road, which now climbed more steeply.

5. On the way back, as a last chance, we paused at Altintas (a new restaurant with trout farm behind), lying between the two Sumela Campings! This one was not on our list but it did have a caravan on its sign, along with a fish, a knife & fork and a cup of tea. The owners could not have been more welcoming. Mr Altintas ushered us into a corner of the car park, fixed a hook-up via a lead from the basement, while his head-scarved mother showed us the toilets, and asked if we neeT29_On_BSea_(59).JPGded water.

After lunch we looked round our 'campsite'. Trout farming is big business along this river and the hatchery obviously pre-dates the restaurant. Mr Altintas and his parents also grow vegetables and vines, and the outdoor tables are set in a garden by the trout pools under shady hazelnut trees. A trio of marble graves stand opposite, beside the quiet road, all bearing the name 'Altintas' – his grandparents and an uncle, watching over the family enterprise.

To read the continuation in the June Diary, click: In Turkey June 2008

To read the diary for the previous month, click: In Turkey April 2008

For images of the whole journey, click: Turkey in Colour

For more details and images of our motorhome, click: A Flair for Travel

For more details of our touring bicycles, click: Paul Hewitt Tourers