England to Istanbul

Sunday 21st June 1970

We left Trottie’s house at 11:00 a.m. and caught the 4:00 p.m. hovercraft from Ramsgate. Disembarking at Calais, we drove up to Ostend. Long hassle at the Belgian border with the French Customs who, on finding a dozen packets of cigarette papers in the front of the van, were convinced we were carrying hashish and went right through the van. This was about 6:00 in the evening.

We stopped in Ostend to look for a TV. Found one in a café and watched the whole of the World Cup final (Brazil 4 – Italy 1). Then had moules frites at a fish and chip stall. We had quite a long chat with the owner, who spoke good English. Getting on to the war, it turned out he hated the Germans, but only because of the “horseshit” they smoked! We asked him if there was anything he would like brought back from India. His reply was a little cup.

We kept on driving through the night, very nearly getting lost in Brussels, and reached the German border about 2:00 a.m.. Contrary to what we had heard, the Germans were quite happy about “hippies” and let us in without a murmur. Straight on to the autobahn and drove until about 5:30 a.m., when we stopped at a café for breakfast. Just coffee and wurst – 10/- each! Kept on driving, stopping every 2 hours or so for the odd ablution, reaching Munich about lunchtime.

While we were arguing about the best way to find a VW agent we passed one, so stopped and with the aid of photographs in the handbook obtained headlamp bulbs and a fire extinguisher. Then just the other side of Munich we stopped to have lunch (bread and corned beef). This was in a lovely pine wood, so nice we didn’t leave until about 6:30, during which time I had my hair cut (we’d heard that long hair could interfere with us being admitted to eastern Europe). Oh the agony! Into Austria, stopped at Werfen about 10:00 p.m. and nipped into a café for Kuchen, which weren’t. It had got dark about 8:30 due to a magnificent thunderstorm, and the sight of Alps illuminated from behind by lightning has to be seen to be believed. Reckoning the rain was over for the night we kipped in some more pine woods, and woke to a glorious day, with a magnificent view to be enjoyed from our sleeping bags.

Tuesday 23rd June

Continued to drive across Austria. Went over several magnificent passes, and once had to stop and paddle in the snow. Lunched by a river, on bread too hot to hold. Then straight on into Yugoslavia. Stopped about 6:00 p.m. in Ljubljana and had a wander around, nipping into a café for a beer. The locals seemed very amusingly tolerant of “hippies”. We still didn’t know one word of the Yugoslavian languages between us.

Drove on to Zagreb, getting there about 9:00 p.m.. Tried to look up a girl I used to date in Cambridge (Gordana Zivkovic), but had forgotten her address. We then decided to do it via a telephone directory, but the only phone we could find didn’t have one. So we tried to ring up in the hope of an operator speaking English, but couldn’t get any sort of response from the phone, eventually jamming it by putting in the wrong coin!

On to the Belgrade road. This was very bad – apparently the Germans had built it during the war and the locals had sabotaged the concrete with sugar! Stopped about 11:00 p.m. in a transport café for kebabs. Quite expensive still. It being illegal to camp outside recognised sites, and unable to find anywhere to hide the van, we drove on until daybreak (around 3:30 a.m.) and then flopped down beside the van down a little side road.

Wednesday 24th June

Woke up just after 6 a.m. to find some peasants starting work in the field right beside the van. No common language except a few words of German (which a lot of Yugs speak), but plenty of communication. We even helped them do a bit of weeding, and we swapped food and sang them songs with the aid of my trusty guitar. I’m sure they got as much enjoyment out of us as we did out of them. Sample conversation, them – “Inglese?”, us nods and laughs. Me – “Yugoslavia?”, them nods and laughs.

Left about noon. Stopped in Belgrade to buy food, which was getting noticeably cheaper (1/4 litre yoghurt 8d). Usual bread and tomatoes. Picnicked just the other side of Belgrade. Continued driving on to Nis, where we camped. The campsite was charging 7/- a head, so we tried to find somewhere else out-of-sight first, but failing in that went back to the campsite and spent the night there. Found a local café and ate a superb meal of cevapcicis (meatballs) and a litre or so of very potent and delicious local beer. 13/- each altogether, about the same as in England.

Thursday 25 June

Set off fairly early, aiming for Turkey, and crossed into Bulgaria some time around noon. At the border I did a quick bit of translation for a Turk, who spoke a little German, into English which the Bulgarians could understand. We noticed an immediate change in living. For example, the Yugoslavs grew grass for animal fodder, which they hand-scythed while still green and then hung up to dry. Very few grain crops. Their maize, and indeed all their field work, was tended by hand, mostly by the women. Bulgarian farming, on the other hand, was done in much larger fields, with more grain crops harvested with teams of combine-harvesters. There also seemed to be army ground every few miles.

The roads were quite good, although obviously very new, and every petrol station in Y and B was brand new, and of one brand. The Bulgarians have a nice habit of keeping the streets in towns and villages cobbled, so that one can’t go too fast.

We stopped to buy some bread for lunch, and picnicked by the road. Then pretty much non-stop driving to the Turkish border. Here we were subjected to the same routine as at the Yugoslavia-Bulgaria border – about five separate passport checks, the odd search or two then about ¼ hour wait. Eventually we got through and drove the 15 miles or so to Edirne (which we learnt later was originally called Hadrianople, named like Constantinople). We had decided to stay in the BP Mocamp here. Very posh, with clean showers, WCs, washing facilities, gas rings and tables and chairs – plus bar!. Thanks to another thunderstorm we had to pitch our tent in the rain.

Friday 26th June

Lazy morning. Made the most of the showers and did a bit of washing, then went to look round the town. The main mosque is meant to be one of the best in Turkey, and it certainly looked impressive from the outside, but we couldn’t go inside (it being a Friday). What we could go inside was the indoor bazaar we found, and this to our western eyes was simply amazing. We reckoned we were finally getting near the east. We collected lots of stares, mostly not particularly friendly – didn’t know why.

Lunched and dined on watermelon, pasta with tinned stewed steak, green peppers, aubergines etc and local wine (3/- a litre!). Delicious. Altogether a nice restful day.

Saturday 27th June

Up fairly early and into town to look at the mosque. It was quite simple inside, but strikingly beautiful. As quiet as an English church, but less awesome – more homely. Got picked up by a Turkish schoolmaster wanting to practice his English, and he showed us round the mosque and took us up one of the minarets. He then took us to a bar, where we bought him some local beer. On the way there we passed several old men selling bottles of water. Each bottle turned out to contain a couple of leeches, which they still use for bleeding patients.

Bought some lunch, then headed for Istanbul. Calling in at a camp just west of the city we pitched the tent, then hit town. I was driving, and my first impression was that the Turks are not good drivers. In fact, Istanbul is meant to have the worst traffic in the world. Still, we eventually reached the Galata Bridge and parked up.

What an incredible place. We started off by buying fresh fish sandwiches, sold off the fishing boat itself (which had a brazier on the deck). Eating these and watching the sun set over the skyline of mosques we thought “this is it”. Moving on, we bought some peaches (4d a pound) and splashed out on some grapes (8d a pound) and eventually went on to eat at a local stall. Should have asked the price of the meal first – we had no chance of bargaining down the outrageous price of 7/- a head with the meal inside us. I then practiced my bargaining technique ay a shirt stall, getting the one I wanted for £1. Probably far too much.

We continued walking through the market. The people here seem very friendly indeed, and most seemed to know we were English, for we got plenty of shouts of “Inglesi?” and “Hippy?”, the latter usually with an undertone of almost envy. It’s just impossible to describe the overall effect of the city, mostly because until you’ve been somewhere fairly eastern you have no idea how completely different it is from any European country.


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Sunday 21st June