We havnt said an awfull lot about Istanbul. It is an amazing place. The Byzantine empire started there so it has tangible history reaching back to before JC turned BC to AD. Coming into Istanbul by car takes some time, it is a huge massive sprawl of suburban enclaves that increase in height as you get nearer to the old city areas, changing from two story houses to tower blocks of apartments. The skyline is punctuated at random but frequent intervals by minarets that reach up from the many mosques of the city. The place does not require sleep, at its quietest moments there still seems to be a low level hum of activity. During the day that activity becomes a frantic onslaught of sights, sounds and smells, where no street is empty and most are teeming with buyers and sellers haggling, men sitting drinking tea from handleless glasses and awestruck tourists trying to take it all in.
At this time of year it is warm even when raining but by no means uncomfortable, every morning you wake to the sound of the Imams voice with the call to prayer at the nearest mosque. They dont climb the minarets any more, they have huge loud speakers attached instead. The Imams cry on a hazy pre dawn Istanbul morning is a strangely exotic experience and how I imagined it might be.
The historical buildings are facinating and many of them provide a welcome and calm oasis from the clamour outside. I did not get to see everything, you would need weeks, but what I did see was fantastic. I wont bore you with individual descriptions but I do recommend it.
There are shops everywhere in Istanbul many of them highly specialized, some places have a whole street of shops selling very similar items, there is a series of streets for habidashery and another for kitchen hardware, we saw a shop that sold only cuddly toys and another that had nothing but tupperware. The grand bazzare is a huge maze of stalls that you spend a day exploring on its own, many things are sold there but by far the majority of stalls are selling jewelry and carpets. Again thouroughly recommended but be preapred to be sold to by pretty much every vendor at every shop or stall in every street. In most cases you say no and all is well, some can be more insistent.
The lake that Pogradec sits beside is huge, you probably would not see the other side on a clear day, never mind the drizzle we woke to on Easter Sunday. We headed south towards Greece, the roads were significantly better than those in the North of Albania, the legal minimum depth for southern Albanian pot holes is only a foot. We were pulled over briefly at the Greek border, a communication problem I think. It wasnt so much that they couldnt understand English, they just couldnt understand how we had managed to get there.
Northern Greece had numerous road warning signs, some of which were for donkeys crossing the road. We didnt see any so assume that this is either aspirational or the donkeys have all emigrated to Albania, or Tescos have been to Northern Greece.
Heading South towards Meteora Sally spat the dummy again and would not help us with directions, she gets a bit pissy if you dont treat her with the utmost respect. So we resorted to a road map, archaic and edgy I know but after driving Albanian mountain roads in the dark we were looking for something more challenging.
I defy anyone not to be impressed by Meteora, it is a truly truly stunning place. The whole setting is impressive, not just the monastries. It was so impressive that it warranted a fry up, veggy burgers and scrambled egg. An interesting combination, the pan is not coated and has seen cleaner days so perfect fried eggs just werent going to happen. Eating sandwiches overlooking the Meteoran monastries was a worth while experience.
On towards Turkey, we had not booked anything so took a punt while we were driving on a place the other side of Thesalonika, believe it or not called Stavros. We arrived about 8:30 and found a bar on the sea front that was still open, I dont know the names of the folks we met but we will call them Mr and Mrs Stavros, very friendly, made us a huge Pizza, one side vegitarian the other carnivore, and plyed us with Greek wine and Ouzo.
Big day for the car today, it finally hits another continent. More later.
I have been musing on the strapline, should it be amateur professional or professional amateur. The former has a ring of hope to it, one day perhaps, though we be amateurs at the moment, we may become professional. The later, (professional amateur) just sounds like we might be serial underachievers. Mmm, on reflection this is not necessarily wrong, I am going to reserve judgement for the moment. I am considering using the strapline as a sort of instant mood meter on the trip. If you log in to the blog and find the strapline reads ‘amateur professional’ all is well with the world and we are on target. If it reads ‘professional amateur’ then we may well have broken down, the phrase book is open and our faces are contorted in failed attempts to form foreign words. In either case refer to specific blog entries for details.
So with Simon putting in all this effort I thought I had better contribute something as well. To this end I have purchased two phrase books, Eastern Europe and Western Europe. I can now ask for the nearest garage in upwards of twenty languages, all be it with some impressive facial gymnastics when trying to pronounce some of the words. If I have to gurn my way through the Balkans so be it. I am determined to be useful on this trip.
Ace, set up as a new blogger and raring to go. First meeting of the Professional Amateur Adventurers Astratastic association has convened and successfully concluded with a rough route map. Will try and post a copy for anyone who is interested.