Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 30 November 2000
It looks like we are well and truly on the fast track now - full steam ahead to reach London by our self-imposed deadline of 5 December. All in all its not too much of a bad thing though as travel in Europe at this time of the year is not really a very pleasant experience. After chasing the endless summer for eight months we came down to earth last week with a rather nasty bang when we hit chilly Turkey and Greece and are now venturing into positively freezing Italy and France! Crossing through the Alps yesterday, the temperature read 4 degrees centigrade - not much fun for warm blooded South Africans who have been baking in the African sun for the last while. In addition, most of the tourist industry, except for the winter resorts, have closed up shop for the year and its been difficult to find an open campsite - although, probably rightly so, as camping under these conditions is ludicrous! So its beanies and polar fleece jackets out for us and at least our car's air-conditioning unit is up for a well deserved rest.
Our route through Turkey took us along the breathtaking Mediterranean coast, through tiny seaside fishing villages and across some of the most spectacular mountainscapes. Each village was filled with the most authentic looking cast of Turkish peasants, ancient men sitting on their porches playing chess and drinking coffee, women in headscarves picking olives in the fields and donkeys and oxen pulling ploughs. It was picture book stuff! At Antalya we headed inland and to the port city of Izmir where we had hoped to catch a boat to Italy. Of course, the best laid plans never quite work out as they are supposed to. As soon as we entered Turkey we started making telephonic enquiries into the cost of ferrying our car to Italy. We discovered that Turkish Maritime Lines ran a weekly ferry from Izmir to Brindisi (Italy) which departed each Wednesday. Perfect, we thought! Just enough time to cross Turkey and get our Schengen visas from the Italian consulate in Izmir before sailing. The ferry was scheduled to take three nights and two days but we figured it would be an overall saving as we would not have to buy the very expensive European fuel and we would save the wear and tear on our very weary Landy. Wrong again - it was not going to be that simple. Next enquiry was to the Italian embassy about the requirements for Schengen visas and whether they could be issued from Izmir. It was at this point that our trip almost met with a very sticky end when we came up against a very stubborn brick wall in the form of one Mrs Ranuchi, Italian vice consul in Izmir, who put her foot down with all the weight of the EU behind it. It appeared that Schengen visas had to be obtained in the country in which one holds residence and unless we were able to produce proof of Turkish residency like the proverbial rabbit out of a hat we were stuck!! We tried to explain to Mrs Ranuchi that it was impossible for us to have applied in our home country as we left there months ago and our visas would have expired. She was having none of it. Rules are rules and especially Italian rules just cannot be bent, broken or have exceptions made to them. This was the EU we were talking about after all and not some African backwater. She became quite petulant about it and we could literally visualize her stamping her sensibly shod feet and waving her hammy upper arms (this of course is our interpretation as she would not see us, she was always too busy. So we had to conduct our argument with her telephonically and that was only when her aide (who redefined the term rude) let us speak to her.
After a day or two of negotiating, begging, winging and threatening it was clear that the Italians were not going to make an exception on our behalf and our ferry to Brindisi sailed without us.
In retrospect it was probably a good thing as I have no idea what we would have done on the deck of the ferry for all that time! It was time for plan B, getting the visas from the Greeks and driving through Greece to Patras (or somewhere) where we could ferry to Italy. It was at this stage in the game that we met Mechmet, a swarmy Turk dressed in a three piece grey suit who looked a bit like Danny De Vito and who spoke with a very alarming Turkish/American accent. Mechmet tried to convince us that he was an authentic businessman who helped American military personnel find lodgings in Izmir. In fact he was just a glorified tout and scheister of the worst degree. Mechmet told us how he had travelled to London and knew just how difficult it was to find hotels, parking, etc and that it was best if he helped us. We were sceptical but at that point we were running out of options so agreed to have him show us around. He helped us to find "safe" parking in Izmir (which is difficult) - although we were nervous that we would return to find our car having been carted off to some sort of Turkish chop shop (Ay the stress!!!!!), took us to a flat that he "owned" and offered us use of it until we got our visas sorted out (for a small fee, of course). This was very attractive as the flat was fully furnished, complete with washing machine and was very centrally situated. He also offered to show us to the Greek embassy and to help us on that score. All of this, it turned out, was just a pretence for the usual carpet selling and horse trading that one gets all over Turkey. Mechmet had problems, tourism had taken a down turn with the problems in the Middle East and his American clientele were not keen to visit Turkey. He also had a daughter who was 20 and still living at home and needing to be plied with copious amounts of money. She could not work as all she could get was a secretarial post which Mechmet felt was beneath her dignity. He was trying to get her into an overseas university but as she had only completed technical school she was not exactly academic material. To top it all he has a greedy and demanding wife. Which meant that he was determined to subtly (or not so subtly) take advantage of us and fleece us for what we were worth. Unfortunately he chose the wrong victims as we are not worth much - we are budget travellers who don't want to buy carpets, paintings, second hand cell phones (???) and who are very reluctant to part with cash at all.
However this whole sub-plot only became obvious much later. In the mean embassy. We arrived there fifteen minutes after closing time and were told to report back the next day. Mechmet was having none of this and jumped in saying that we had an appointment. Nev and I looked at each other nervously knowing that we had nothing of the kind. Eventually a friendly Greek attaché (of what we never discovered) poked his head out to see who we had an appointment with. We explained the long sorry story and he ushered us inside. Thankfully he ordered the irritating Mechmet to stay outside. The attaché could not believe that we had driven to Turkey overland. We spent the next half an hour taking him through all the stamps in our passports and telling him where we had been. Despite the fact that the Greeks have the same policy about not issuing visas to non Turkish residents he was not going to be the one to put a stop to our travels at this late stage and he agreed to help us. Phew! Without his help we were certainly up the proverbial creek! He told us that it would take a day to get the visas as they needed to be processed through the Schengen system.
The next day we picked up our passports complete with shiny Schengens and waved goodbye to Mechmet who by this stage had become quite nasty after having had all his attempted sales rebuffed. He kept reappearing on our doorstep, his suit looking more and more ruffled, bemoaning his fate of a dreadful daughter, a ghastly wife and financial hard times. The bottom line was that we did not want a carpet, or a painting, or a silver necklace or his blasted cell phone which he
thought we could sell to make a quick buck in London. Eventually when nice refusals did not work we had to be firm and after that down right rude but nothing seemed to penetrate his thick skin. Definite rule for Turkey - avoid swarmy Turks offering help - there is always a carpet subplot in the background!!!!!
From Izmir we headed north along the coast and crossed into Greece at the Ipsala border. We did not get to Istanbul this time which was a real pity - we will definitely need to come back to
Turkey to take in all the tourist sites when we are less tired of travelling. The border crossing to Greece was a breeze. We were dealt with by a very camp customs official who had a neatly coifed head of grey hair and was festooned with gold jewellery. He literally glanced at our passports and stamped the car into Nev's for six months. I did not even get a stamp in my passport. Feeling a bit worried we went back to him two or three times and he kept insisting that a stamp was not necessary if we were travelling together. Eventually, to humour me, he stamped my passport as well. Our trip through Greece was short lived unfortunately (another one for next time) and we headed west across the country down to the port of Igomenitzia where we had been told we could catch a cheap ferry to Italy. It costs about 100 dollars for two people and a car to Venice which takes about 24 hours (or is supposed to). Having pushed on through the night to get to the port by last Saturday evening in time to catch the Sunday morning ferry we were most disgruntled to find that our ferry to Venice was running behind schedule due to bad weather conditions. Two hours they said so we had some breakfast, did some email, wandered the streets of Igomenitzia and reported back to the ferry offices at lunch time only to be told that there had been further delays. In short, we spent a very frustrating day at the Igomenitzia port literally waiting for our ship to come in. In the end it arrived at around 5 in the afternoon after being scheduled to leave at 10h30 that morning. The ferry was pretty amazing. They must have loaded in about 40 cargo trucks into the hold (you know those massive refrigerated ones) - at one stage it looked like there would not be space for us but luckily we were last on making for a quick getaway in Venice. The 24 hour ferry to Venice took 26 hours and we were literally suffering from cabin fever when we finally arrived. Our woes were not assisted by the fact that we did not in fact have a cabin so were confined to the deck or the bar. The latter was preferable as it had seating but was also popular with the Greek truck drivers who seem to be surpassed only by their Turkish counterparts in their
nicotine dependency. Not the highlight of our trip I must say!
No customs or immigration in Venice - its all wide open now with the EU and all. In fact, no more border formalities until we arrive in Dover I suspect! Of course we couldn't not spend a day or so in Venice and so we spent Tuesday wandering along the canals, checking out the awesome St Marks Basilica, having a very overpriced but totally delicious cappuccino at a cafe in the square, checking out the Rialto Bridge and, of course, the Bridge of Sighs. Nev decided that when in Venice it is fitting to feed the birds so he got himself a packet of bird seed from one of the local vendors. Those pigeons are sneaky buggers though and they know only too well what's coming the minute they hear the rustle of plastic. No sooner had Nev opened his bag of seed when the whole thing degenerated into a bad cut from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". These tenacious feathered lot sat all over Nev - on his head, shoulders, face. He was forced to unceremoniously dump the seed and bolt for safety sporting some very scratched hands. I, on the other hand, got some great photos! The best part about Italy was the food! After having been subjected to months of African cuisine we literally gorged ourselves on the authentic pizzas, pastas and pastries on offer in Venice - each looking better than the next. Of course, we were reminded about the dangers of foreign travel when Nev ordered an unpronounceable pizza off the menu and it arrived complete with some very slimy objects on top – they could have been mushrooms but within minutes Nev had convinced himself they were sliced up pigs testicles or something equally abhorrent. Nothing like a bit of squeamishness to ruin your dinner - next time we stuck solidly to the pizzas we knew!!!!
Anyway, we are in France now and headed for Paris. Our journey is almost over. Will keep you posted on the next leg.
chat to you soon
Penny and Neville