Features: Bursa to Ankara
Location: Ankara, Turkey
Distance so far: 17,122
GPS Co-ords: Lat 39deg 53.687, Long 32deg 51.132
Dates: Saturday 18th November - Thursday 23rd November
Highlights: Bursa, Turkey's premier Ski resort and our first sight of snow, camping outside the Syrian and Jordanian Embassy's for our ludicrously expensive visa's, Bumble refuses to move.
We left Ciroz Camping on the Saturday after first driving into Istanbul to collect our laundry. Yes, it had been there since Tuesday, whoops! We also needed to send a few 'e' mails so Neil went off to the Internet Café in the Interyouth Hostel whilst I baby sat Chaka - unfortunately it's a little bit like that. What a fiasco. Their 'a' drive wasn't working properly so wouldn't accept our floppy disc. Neil then had to go to another Internet Café around the corner which also had problems, so altogether Chaka and I sat in Bumble for 4 hours - we were not amused. Neil returned incredibly frustrated - he was not amused. We finally left Istanbul at 5.00pm, in the dark and managed a couple of hours before succumbing to fatigue and pulled over at a Truckers stop for the night, parked alongside various other strange looking vehicles.
We set off early next morning, well I say early which is always our intention, but by the time we have put the sleeping bags and the bed away, had breakfast, taken Chaka for his morning ablusions, washed and dried the dishes and swept the floor, it is usually around 10.00am, despite having got up around 8.00am. The thing with living in a confined space is that you have to keep it clean and tidy, so our daily routines are important to us.
Arrived at Bursa and immediately looked for the Tourist Office, always our first port of call to get maps and general info. The people always speak English and are incredibly helpful. We couldn't seem to locate the T.O. despite directions from the Lonely Planet guide, so if in doubt ask a policeman. I spotted 2 in the town centre so leapt out and in my by best sign language managed to get my point across. The traffic police are a cross between 'Chips' and 'Judge Dread' with chevrons up the side of each leg of their very dapper white and navy leather suits and mouth pieces jutting out from beneath their leather baseball caps. They looked as though they were ready for anything and no sooner had I said Tourist Office, than he marched off to find his motorbike. We expected a huge Harley Davidson to appear to complete the image, but instead we heard 'phut' 'phut' 'phut' 'phut' as he spluttered around the corner on a 250 MZ. We followed in hot pursuit and were treated to a police escort through the centre of Bursa and hand delivered to the Tourist Office. So kind. Unfortunately, as it was Sunday it was closed but I managed to get a town map from an adjacent information office.
Bursa is famous on 3 counts. Firstly, it was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, secondly it is Turkeys premier Ski resort and thirdly, it is famous for its thermal springs. It is also famous for its savoury kebaps but I guess I can't put those in the same category. We parked alongside the original thermal spring, which is now part of an exclusive hotel. I had a peep inside and considered having the full treatment of thermal bath, body scrub and massage, but with it being part of the hotel I felt the prices were inflated and it somehow lost some of its appeal. We decided to move on to the savoury kebaps instead and what can I say, they were indescribably fantastic! Turkey is the home of kebaps, not Greece as a lot of people think, and more often than not they are served in crusty bread along with tomatoes and diced potatoes as opposed to the UK were they are served in pitta bread with salad. However, in Bursa, they were served in a sort of fajita along with gherkins and a wonderful sauce. They really were mouth watering and cost around 1,500,000TL - £1.50 each.
After pondering on whether or not to indulge in seconds and deciding that would be down right greedy, we decided to drive to the summit of the Uludag mountain in search of snow and a look at their famous winter resort. As we ascended Uludag, the views across Bursa were quite spectacular and we got our first real taste of the vastness of Turkey. It really is an enormous country, spanning 2 continents - only 3% of which lies in Europe - and with a geography that ranges from deserts, to vast fertile plains, to mountain ranges. Coupled with a warmth and hospitality unrivalled in Europe and you have one great country.
We drove as far as we could then reached a ticket office. To drive further up Uludag you had to pay 5,000,000 TL for a vehicle our size. We only had 2,500,000TL and the guy seemed perfectly happy with that. So on we drove, climbing higher and higher passing countless families having picnics and BBQ's - a great Turkish pastime - and with temperatures dropping we finally saw it - Snow!
It was a great sight after spending the past 7 months in at times, exceptionally hot climates. We continued on to the Ski resort and Neil, who was so excited at the sight of snow jumped out to introduce Chaka to this strange cold, wet, white stuff. He returned after a few minutes having concluded that 4 feet are better than 2 as Chaka raced off with Neil clinging on to the other end of the lead. I don't think he was quite ready for a sleigh ride with Chaka at the helm.
The Ski resort was getting ready for its busiest season and was a hive of behind the scenes activity. We drove on enjoying the clean, fresh air and the fabulous views until we found a camping area tucked away in amongst the fir trees. We were totally alone, perched at 1,700 meters, surrounded only by nature. We settled down to watch the sun set and reflect on the day.
The following day, we returned to the savoury kebap shop - you knew that was coming didn't you - and headed off to Ankara to get our Syrian and Jordanian visa's. We actually already had our Syrian visa's which we got in London, however, due to endless problems with Bumble we are way behind schedule and our 3 month visa's have expired. We stopped 20km's outside Ankara at another Truckers stop to spend the night. Truckers stops are usually located at Service Stations where an area is given over to HGV'S to park for the night. They invariably have a restaurant there and sometimes showers. I went into the restaurant in search of bread and milk and was immediately surrounded by Turkish men who couldn't do enough to help. One man spoke English and I was treated to a tour of the food on offer which was of a very high standard. Wonderful dishes of chicken and fish and a bakery at the back baking a kind of over sized naan bread. I think I must have been a bit of an oddity arriving at 8.00pm asking for a loaf of bread and a carton of milk in a male dominated truckers restaurant. After paying the bill, I was offered a splash of cologne by the cashier - can you imagine the same thing happening at a Granada Service Station on the M1.
The next day, we arrived in Ankara, found the Tourist Office, got our maps and Embassy address details and made our way to the Syrian Embassy. A lot of the Embassy's are located in the same area and each has a little booth jutting out onto the pavement with a security guard insitu or another booth just behind the gates, both who will answer those mundane, repetitive questions, 'How do I apply for a visa'? 'What time does the visa office open'? etc, etc. I was told that we needed to get a letter of recommendation from the British Embassy then return at 8.30am the following day. Despite my protestations that we already had a Syrian visa and merely wanted to renew it, they were adamant. No visa would be granted without a letter of recommendation. So off we went to the British Embassy. There, I was told that the letter would cost £35.00 and would be ready within a couple of hours. I couldn't believe it . £35.00 for a standard letter recommending us to the Syrian Embassy when we had already applied and being granted one in the UK. I asked whether it was £35.00 each and she said no, this would be for the two of us, possibly because we were married. I returned to Neil and Chaka still fuming at the price and whilst we waited for the letter, we made our way to the Jordanian Embassy. In stark contrast, they couldn't be more helpful and welcoming. I was given 2 forms to fill out - for Neil and myself - and told to go to Arapturk Bank in Ankara, deposit 22,000,000 TL into their account and return the following day. That was £11.00 each for the visa's and no letter of recommendation required. I later returned to the British Embassy to collect our letter.
That evening, we parked around the corner from the Syrian Embassy in a fairly quiet street and tried to blend into the landscape. I went off in search of supper and found a super corner shop which resembled the food hall of Harrods. They sold just about everything from an array of cheeses which they allowed me to sample to frankfurters - very popular in Turkey - olives, gherkins, mustards, preserves, wines and even Kelloggs Corn Flakes. It was such a personalised service and an absolute pleasure to shop there. Walked a little further and found a fruit shop selling some very unusual looking fruits which we had to try. One is called Hurma and looks like a large orange tomato. Another is a fruit called Ayla which is a cross between a pear, an apple and a lemon. We tried them later and the Hurma was incredibly sweet and succulent, actually too sweet for our palates and reminded us of Turkish Delight. The Ayla tasted like an under-ripe pear. Well at least now we know.
Awoke the following morning and off I trotted to the Syrian Embassy clutching my letter of recommendation. It was around 8.20am and a queue had already started. Everything took place from a small booth on the street out-side the Embassy where a young lady conducted the business from behind bars whilst we congregated on the pavement. We were given 2 forms per person to fill out plus they required 2 photographs and the cost? £36,400,000 TL per person - £36.40 per person for British nationals. What an outrageous price. I asked the lady, out of interest, how much do Turkish nationals pay and she replied, 16,000,000TL. Less than half the cost, not to mention the £35.00 for the letter of recommendation. She also said that Canadian nationals must pay 40,000,000TL and US nationals $60.00. They only accepted TL cash which we didn't have enough of, so it was off to the bank again and a swift dash back to hand in the completed forms and to return again at 1.30pm to collect the visa's.
Whilst waiting, we decided to deposit the money at the bank for the Jordanian visa's. In between cigarettes and cups of Nescafe, the bank clerks managed to complete the transaction. I can't get used to the fact that throughout a lot of Europe and Turkey, people in jobs that deal directly with the public smoke. It's like walking into Barclays Bank and the bank clerk sitting there with a Marlboro hanging out the corner of their mouth. It just wouldn't happen.
We had a few hours to spare, so we did a spot of sight-seeing around the centre. Ankara is often overlooked by people travelling to Turkey which I think is a shame as it is a very vibrant, fresh, business orientated city. It reminded me of Washington DC. Perhaps a little lacking in character, but with its tall impressive buildings soaring over the wide central boulevards and well manicured parks, it was certainly a very pleasant place to while away a couple of days. It is very steep in parts and certain perspectives such as the Botanical Gardens benefit from a fabulous vista across the surrounding area. This sees the city dramatically disappear and the barren, arid mountain ranges take over. Quite an amazing sight.
At 1.30pm, I dutifully returned to the Syrian Embassy and at 1.45pm the same lady emerged clutching armfuls of passports and installed herself in her booth. By this time a large throng had emerged around the small window of the booth and she started to call out names which all sounded Turkish to me, followed by shouts of recognition from the crowd as they clambered their way forward to retrieve their passports. I waited to hear the name Lawson but instead heard a cry of 'British'! 'Yes' I shouted back and pushed my way forward.
We spent a second night parked around the corner from the Embassy this time in a slightly busier street and we laughed as we settled down to a supper of Shepherds Pie, sitting on the sofa, chatting merrily away in our own little 'England', parked in a residential/business area in the middle of Ankara. Passers by would have no idea.
The following day, we drove the short distance to the Jordanian Embassy and handed in the completed forms and the bank receipt. The chap at the office was once again very friendly and helpful. I was asked to return at 2.00pm to collect them. Whilst in the Embassy, I got talking to 2 British guys also applying for visa's who were cycling all the way to Sydney. They had already travelled through Eastern Europe and had hoped to travel across through Iran, however, their visa's had been refused. Apparently, British and US nationals are not flavour of the month. They had to pay £50.00 to apply for the visa and when it was refused were told that the money was non-refundable. What a swizz! They also had to get letters of recommendation at £35.00 a shot. They are now thinking of flying to Karachi and cycling on from there - if you're reading this update, let us know how you are getting on. It really is a scam this visa lark. It is a real tit-for-tat culture.
I returned to collect the visa's at 2.00pm and eventually we got ready to leave Ankara late afternoon to head off to Pammukale. As Neil started the engine there was a very loud 'nothing'. Tried again and again, but it was completely dead. It was now dark and fast approaching rush hour in Ankara. We had been using the lap-top earlier that day and wondered if we had ran the battery flat - wouldn't be the first time - so Neil eventually managed to flag a car down to try to jump start Bumble. But again, nothing. Not even a murmur. Chaka who had spent the best part of the day couped up inside Bumble was getting agitated so I took him for a quick trot around the block whilst Neil continued trying to jump start Bumble. When I returned the engine was purring away. It hadn't been the battery after all. Somehow the gear lever had been pushed into Reverse thus preventing it from starting. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry. We were now feeling a little jaded so drove a short distance out of Ankara heading South West, found a Truckers stop and pulled in for the night.
Sue with laptop or should that read lapdog outside the Jordanian embassy, Ankara.