Old loves, new hatreds - Turkey & Eastern Europe
- Submitted by: Jack Campin
- Submission Date: 11th Feb 2005
Impressions in order of recall... let's map the way my memory patterns these events rather than try to imitate a video recording...
Just back from finding the local pub serves beer at 6.70 Kcs/0.5 l, 12p a pint. We're in a posh suburb - several embassies down the street - but most of the customers looked working class: could have been a pub in the East End of Glasgow. Marion met a Czech woman in the loo who was trying to assemble a water-squirting plastic flower... between them they got it working successfully... the Czech woman prattled on at us and never seemed to catch on that we had no idea what she was saying.
Postcards. Writing obligatory postcards is so boring that even writing about it
Prague considered as Glasgow: somewhat bigger amd the main city of a country not much bigger than Scotland. Same sort of scruffy grime; nothing like Glasgow's wastelands; much better public transport; far less pubs; similar mass housing, but better built and landscaped. The bus from Ostend left us at the edge of the city after a trip through Prague's answer to Motherwell and Coatbridge... big new coal-fired power station nearly completed.
/* We came with a charter group - the rest of the passengers were staying in Prague for their holidays. The courier passed on two warnings to everyone staying in Prague: watch out for thieves and watch out for moneychangers. The warning about thieves was in the usual racist terms you get all over Eastern Europe - those responsible are usually Gypsies and always from somewhere else. He warned against both private moneychangers - who will use conjuring tricks, Polish money, or colour xeroxed money to swindle the unwary - and the new rash of private cash exchange booths, 'Chequepoint' and 'Exact Change' that have sprung up recently. These places advertise a good rate but then charge 9% commission. He suggested using conventional banks: we used a MasterCard ATM and CEDOK, the state tourist agency, with terms nearly as good and open longer. */
Mild attack of herpes. Slight cold. Grey cloud all over Europe from London on Sunday night to here and now. I am not in a mood to be thrilled. Even the Old City seems more like a stage set than something alive and exciting - perhaps it might as well be a stage set. All the people selling earrings and pop-up clowns in cones and peculiar brands of (mock?-) Western cigarettes seem just like comic-opera characters acting in front of canvas flats - it's nothing like Istanbul where every cranny in every crumbling Ottoman ruin exposes termite-like activity in constant communication with the street. This is the Christian urban order: walled-in power with what goes on beyond the walls a vast triviality of ice-cream vending.
/* Tour parties were everywhere, usually led by a guide holding up either an umbrella or a car aerial with a bundle of ribbons on the top for the entourage to follow like sheep. Tourist tat had invaded everywhere; the Charles Bridge was completely lined on both sides by hawkers, and in one of the most surreal window displays I have ever seen, a bookshop near the Charles University was advertising Czech translations of Wittgenstein and stuffed toys on the same shelf. */
bus Budapest-Istanbul. Full of loud Hungarian chain-smokers and playing Hungarian radio; mostly nondescript Western rock music.
Spent the day in Budapest: too hassled to see much and trying to save money. Very hot and Marion frequently tired. My toes blistered by the end of the day. We came across Gerbeaud's (Vorosmarty's) by accident and only later realized we'd had coffee in the poshest joint in Budapest. (Marion said the ladies' loo was worth every penny). Bought the bus tickets, then went over to Buda, up the funicular, through the castle (amazing volumes of tourist tat - Edinburgh High Street has nothing to teach this lot) then up the cogwheel railway into the Buda hills.
Marion nearly got her daysac pocket rifled in the arches on Rakoczi Boulevard - three guys following us rather unsubtly. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, Marion felt a bump, the guys dropped back and we found the zip open. They didn't get anything (she had her pocket dictaphone in there).
Keleti Station - where we left our rucksacks - was crawling with fishylooking characters - I spotted one man who was loitering near the entrance doing nothing in particular when we left the bags at 11am and was still there when we got them at 6.30pm. Several other blokes wholooked like they were waiting to strike. I've never had that feeling as strongly anywhere else. Turkey is going to be one hell of relief after all this paranoia.
More on Prague: had a pint in U Fleku - bloody expensive (60p for 0.5 l) and horribly crowded at peak times - the only pub I've ever been in that had a currency exchange office by the front door. All the customers seemed to be foreigners - on our first look in (far too crowded to go in) we spotted the same Dutch computer scientist we'd met in U Koucoura the night we arrived. Flek is bloody nice beer, though.
The Hungarians have haggis! We had that (along with a paprika sausage, mustard, pickles, bread, chips and beer - 250 Ft for 2 people, about 1 pound 70) in the beer garden at the end of the cogwheel railway.
This coach feels exactly like the stereotype of a British tour party on its way to Benidorm. Nobody's stripped to their Hungarian flag underpants yet, anyway. If this is what Sampiyon Hersekli buses on this run are usually like, AVOID THEM. I think we'll try to find a bus to Bratislava or Prague on the way back - anything to avoid being choked with smoke in a mob of yammering loudmouths. The one Turkish family on the bus are at the back, totally silent, and not looking happy. The Hungarians have enough spirits with them to reduce them all to coma: let's hope it happens sooner rather than later.
Two things I've forgotten on this trip: my earplugs and my damiana tablets. God knows when I get to sleep. Infected toe (started when walking round Budapest).
going through Bulgaria. We got here through Serbia. The border check as we entered from Hungary consisted of a Serbian official getting on the bus, shouting a three-word question 'Hrvatski ??? ???' and leaving after nobody spoke up. So, back to before we got to Budapest, I wasn't sure I wanted to have this bit in writing before now...
train Praha-Wien-Rijeka. I've been carrying an ex-Yugoslav Army kitbag full of clothes and books that... let's call her Silvija... left behind in my flat in Glasgow. Also 200 pounds worth of high-quality multivitamin/mineral tablets intended from the refugees from BiH, paid for largely by donors from the net.
Couldn't sleep from Prague to Vienna. Left at midnight, arrived early in the morning. Worried about being robbed on the train - some rather unpleasant characters hanging around the central station in Prague and thought them quite capable of an Italian-style train bagsnatching.
/* The southbound Vienna station was about the most expensive hour I've spent anywhere - prices far higher than even Heathrow Airport. Marion spotted a man cruising the gents' loo, this at 8 in the morning; I found this a lot more bizarre than she did. */
[continued Monday on a bus from Istanbul to Samsun] Rijeka is a port city - container terminal, floating dry docks, dozens of ships of all sizes in port. The river that it gets its name from is a trickle that goes the town centre where it's a marina for small boats - Silvija showed us the one her father had built a few years ago. There's a paper mill inside Rijeka just upstream that changes the river's colour depending on what dyes they're using at the time; people can still fish in it, though.
Silvija has a child nearly 2 years old - call her Zora - and lives with her half-Italian half-Serbian boyfriend (call him Milan) in a tiny flat overlooking the container terminal. I happen to like industrial landscapes and this one was spectacular, with the Adriatic islands in the background. /* very much as I remember the view from hill behind the railway station in Auckland */ Silvija says there'll be a whole lot of UN military gear coming in a few days, more or less directly under the window. The flat was confiscated from a fascist collaborator after the war; the rent is about ten pounds a month. Now the new regime wants to hand it back to the collaborator's family and evict everyone in the building.
Silvija tells us, in general terms, all the horror stories about Bosnia I've heard before: the Chetniks castrating prisoners, impaling them on stakes, draining all their blood out... I'm a bit skeptical about some of these but the basic story seems plausible: that the Serbs are systematically trying to drive all other peoples out of Bosnia, just as they have been Serbianizing the Vojvodina for decades and have done something similar in eastern Croata; and that the UN is colluding in the process. The UN embargo is in effect one-sided: all the Yugoslav armaments factories were in Serbia, so an arms embargo only affects the Croats and Muslims, and the UN's 'peacekeeping' forces simply rubber-stamp existing partitions; they will do nothing to help the Muslim and Croat refugees to return.
/* Note: this was written in early July. It was September before the Western media finally got round to noticing the existence of an 'ethnic cleansing' policy. And I doubt if Silvija had access to any very special sources of information they couldn't have found for themselves. As I write this the Tories are refusing to permit even a group of 200 Muslim refugees to enter the UK. Germany is accepting 230,000. */
Rijeka has tens of thousands of refugees, and we see almost none of them. The nearby Adriatic resorts, like Opatija, have all been converted to refugee accommodation. Silvija says they - especially the children - are bitter, contemptuous of the minimal help they've had, intensely hostile, and she doesn't blame them one bit.
The party Silvija and Milan support - Silvija not all that enthusiastically, in that she respects some of their people but has anarchist leanings that would prevent her signing up for anything - is the HNS, Hrvatski Narodna Stranka, or Croatan People's Party. From the volume of flyposting around Rijeka, it looks headed for a walkover in the August election: the other parties are hardly bothering to campaign here. Rijeka returned a Communist majority in the election that put Tudjman into power. The liberal party (which Silvija regards as a tolerable alternative to Tudjman) launched its campaign in the town centre just as we were leaving; Tudjman's party and the renamed Communists (the SDP, Party of Democratic Changes) have only a handful of posters, and the far right only a few bits of probably-ancient graffiti, vastly outdone by graffiti for the 'Fiume' football team.
For a country at war there's damn little sign of it. Quite a few off-duty soldiers - mostly Bosnian militia mobilized here in Croata - but no patrols, no covoys, no guardposts, no improvized depots or hastily converted buildings. Nothing compared with Turkey when I was there in September '81; a year after the coup the whole country was militarized. I expected the same here, but it wasn't. The only military vehicle I saw the whole dayand -a-half we were here was a UN jeep. (One sign that not everywhere in Croata may be like Rijeka: a mural in Karlovac we passed on the way out, in a similar style to the Irish Republican ones, of a soldier holding a rifle. Karlovac was bombarded by the Serbian army, if I remember right).
Silvija's daughter is bright as hell and needs about three adults simultaneously to keep her occupied. She's far more coordinated than most babies her age and has a large vocabulary (most of which I don't understand, but I know what 'Zhiveli' means when she picks up her feeding bottle). Silvija's pregnant again; what with Milan's salary being only 200 DM a month and the rather limited help she gets with Zora from the family, she's in for a hard time.
She puts us up in Milan's mother's house, high up above the town at the end of a bus route. International middle-class taste: change the language edition of the women's magazines on the coffee table from Italian to English and it could be a middle-aged Catholic woman's flat in Glasgow.
I tell Silvija we could try to organize aid for the Bosnians and ask what would be appropriate. She says 'weapons'... the Bosnians don't see the point of aid that just feeds them up to be killed by the Serbians. She rather grudgingly concedes that food and drugs would be better than nothing when I point out that raising money for arms would be culturally impossible in the UK (and quite possibly illegal, though I don't know this for sure). But I'd have no difficulty persuading Muslim shopkeepers to keep a collection tin by the cash desk for a cause like this. I ask where it should go at this end: she says the official Muslim relief agency is the Merhamet, but that many Muslims don't seem happy with it. I don't find out the details. She's taking the vitamins to a hospital for refugee children near Rijeka; we'll get back in touch about where to send any aid money I can raise later.
Silvija is contemptuous of the Western media for its obsession with Sarajevo; she says the real problem is the systematic elimination of the entire non-Serbian population of Bosnia, and Sarajevo is only a tiny part of that. [I'm writing this in a hotel in Trabzon on Monday; on the bus out from Istanbul the edition of 'Turkiye' I read over someone's shoulder said that 70,000 Muslim civilians were pinned down by Serbian artillery fire]. The TV news in Silvija's flat showed a town I'd never heard of being blown to rubble by shellfire. Silvija has become a newsoholic ever since the Yugoslav civil war started, with both the radio and TV on all the time.
Croatan TV is censored: Silvija has about my attitude to Margaret Thatcher, but says she did something very positive by saying in a speech televised worldwide that 15,000 Croats had died in the war against Serbia - HTV had never given a total, and for a world figure to mention it forced them to be more open about what was happening.
Tudjman's government has also reintroduced the articles of the former Yugoslav penal code that prohibited 'defaming the state': in the mid-80s, Silvija had been involved in some imaginative and dangerous protests against these. She doesn't think the Croatan state has the strength required to enforce these the way Yugoslavia did: the new laws being just plain stupid rather than a real danger, in that attempts to invoke them so far have all failed.
We tried to work out how to get to Turkey from Rijeka. There wasn't a boat to Greece any more. We thought there might be a cheap MALEV flight from Budapest, so we booked a bus there (about 13 pounds each). We didn't want to go through Romania and Bulgaria because of the huge cost of the visas. I had at the back of my mind that we might have to go through Serbia: and that's what we ended up doing. I'd asked the Croatan border guards on the train not to stamp our passports, and explained why: they said travel through Serbia would be impossible because of the embargo, but they went along with me. Rather pleasant as armed guards go: very obviously happy with their job and the snazzy new uniforms provided by their new state. Silvija says almost the whole Croatan police were Serbs before, and almost all have since been replaced.
Silvija says there is very little anti-Serb animosity in Rijeka: certainly there isn't any graffiti that even mentions Serbs or Chetniks. She says the local Orthodox church has not been touched, neither have the houses of any Serbs left in Rijeka. The incidents she describes are trivial: a neighbour who persisted in leaving a 'YU' sticker on his car got his tyres let down every week, and the sticker with her name on it in Cyrillic that I designed for her with a Mac drawing program had been taken off the door by local children a year before. /* The local monument to the Partisans hasn't been touched, either - I saw that. */
Memory demands that I interpolate what happened to the Hungarian lager louts: they bought their maximum allowance of cigarettes at each border crossing, chain-smoking them for hours after, and stashed them in every place on the the bus they could find. They must have had nearly a thousand packets between them. Finally the Turkish customs officials found them - I think with the driver's help, since he didn't want to get stuck for it - and extracted the appropriate duty from them. I didn't see exactly what the duty or fine was, but a thick wad of Turkish banknotes was involved. I don't think I've ever felt quite so much like cheering for the cops before... NE MUTLU MACAR DEGILIM DIYENE, except that there were just as many Hungarians at the front of the bus who spent the whole trip quietly ignoring the zoo behind them.
arrived yesterday completely knackered after three consecutive nights on buses. On the final leg from Samsun to here Marion started going into heatstroke: got her out of it after half an hour of dabbing with wet tissues, cologne, and water, and applying the drinking water bags from the bus's chilly bin as cold packs. WARNING to anyone contemplating this trip: try to find a bus that makes minimal stops. Ours spent nearly as long stopped in tiny obscure villages (sometimes as long as half an hour) as moving, while entirely bypassing towns the size of Giresun. It could have done it in half the time: somebody *must* run an express service.
We spent yesterday (what was left of it after the bus ride) washing, dozing, and eating. The fish here is brilliant. Today we looked around the food markets: Marion as usual dictating notes on food prices and availability into her dictaphone. I was keen to find where the Georgians did their trading and we found the place easily by navigating to where the Mkhedruli signs were densest: ending up at a long covered market beside the 4-lane road east to Rize. Apparently the market was owned and operated by Trabzonspor (the football team): 2000 TL entrance fee. Somewhere between a typical British car boot sale and Paddy's Market in Glasgow. Weird range of stuff on sale: we're tempted by Sekonda pocket watches for about 40000 TL each. I decide to think for a couple of days before buying a Kiev 60 TTL medium-format SLR outfit for $110, and we come away with a set of 6 pottery dishes, 2 boy-scout-type can-and-bottle openers (1000 TL for both) and a 4 oz jar of caviar for 20000 TL. /* We ate this stuff beside the river as a picnic lunch in Yusufeli a few days later, with bread and lemon; on checking prices for the same brand in Valvona and Crolla's deli in Edinburgh we found that our lunch would have fetched 150 quid at their prices. */ There is quite a bit of surgical equipment on sale - mostly dental instruments /* sold at 50 times that price in the West as we found out later */ - vast piles of utter tat, and cheap tools ranging from pliers to pneumatic drills. But for the people selling crap like dolls, badges or fake-fur Red Army hats, it is really hard to imagine how the trip could be worthwhile. I asked about travel to Batumi in a travel agents beside the Trabzonspor market, who was advertising Soviet visas for sale: it seems there's a bus that only costs $3, but only Turks or Soviets can use it; others have to go by boat or plane and pay $100 for a visa. Forget it. One of the people I talked to in the travel agents came up to me in the market: he had emigrated from Turkey to Sydney and said he had to pay $45 for his visas when visiting the Soviet Caucasus. While I was talking to him someone comes up to us and says 'ayrilsin!' (go away!) to one or other of us... something funny is going on. I've been watching my pockets damn carefully all the time in this market - there is a faint tinge of paranoia about the whole business. I have no idea what that was about. Was the Aussie Turk a known con artist? Was I being warned away from an area the other man thought was faintly shameful?
/* I still regret not being able to take that 15-foot-diameter inflatable ocean survival dinghy away... */
After eating (grilled trout, 43000 TL for two, really nice) we wander back to the Georgian market area to see what the Georgians do with themselves when not actively trading. It's all rather grim and desperate: some are huddled amid piles of clothes in the market itself, others sleeping in cars beside it, others just sitting in the gutter staring into space. An 8-year-old boy runs past Marion and hits her hard on the bum. She's worried enough to want OUT as fast as possible: at the far end we find there seems to be no way up to the city itself, so we go to the other side of the 4-lane road and walk back bypassing the Georgians. Instead we get cruised by men in cars who slow down, make various unpleasant noises or unintelligible comments. I'm wearing shorts (my long trousers are in the hotel laundry as I last washed them in Prague) and Marion isn't wearing a headscarf: I assume the (Turkish?) drivers think we're a prostitute and pimp (or male and female prostitutes). It would be surprising if some of the Georgian women didn't boost their income from these trips that way.
We found a fruit I've never seen before in the central market: a cherry-like thing I was told was a Trabzon specialty when the stallholder saw me looking through my dictionary to find the label. Not as much taste as a cherry but a firmer texture. I get through nearly a pound of them and save the pips to see if I can germinate them in Scotland.
Took a roll of pictures in the Georgian market - mostly shooting from the hip with a 19mm lens. The only person who spotted what I was up to - hardly anyone ever does - was a Muslim cleric about my age who came up to me, took a look at the camera, and made a gesture I found completely incomprehensible. I suspect he knew what a 19mm lens could do in that situation. /* This guy's air of extreme intelligence, total assurance, and unknowable purpose made one hell of an impression - the most startling 30-second encounter I've had for a very long time. */
Might pass on the Kiev 60. The one camera I had a close look at in the market was a Fed-5: the shutter looked near to disintegration. Maybe this stuff is factory rejects? Prague was a good place for second-hand cameras, somewhat cheaper than the UK: the two things that looked interesting were a 5 x 7 monorail and a Russian medium-format stereo camera. Might get something there if we have any cash left when we get back.
Lots of rather tartily dressed women here with loose permed hair: some are more stylish and would fit in any Western city, others look like store mannequins. I'm not sure if they're Turkish women making an in-your-face protest against the Islamic code or if they're Soviet.
came here after a night in Artvin. Marion wanted out of Artvin as fast as possible: we were followed up the stairs of the Karahan Hotel by a man who acted like he was a hotel employee but stuck his hand up her skirt just as we were going through the door - he'd obviously done that regularly before. The whole town seemed exclusively filled with men: we haven't been anywhere where women were so invisible. (Marion compared it to a horrible time she'd spent in Durham the night before the Miners' Gala). We stayed in the Sabah (the Karahan was full and much posher than we wanted anyway). OK but not easy for a woman to wash in - loo and shower separate, handbasin in the hallway. We got the midday bus out after looking at another Georgian flea market: I got a Russian Swiss Army-type knife for 75p, Marion got a Molniya pocket watch for 1 pound 50.
The bus from Trabzon to Artvin was by far the fastest we've been on. The driver overtook anything in sight, ignoring blind corners entirely. We were in the front seats: I thought the first few wheelies might have been for our benefit but he carried on that way the whole distance. The coast beyond Rize lived up to its reputation: an overwhelming pall of gloomy cloud. Hopa wouldn't be exactly a cheery place even under desert sunshine - it's mostly garages and tyre retread shops - but in this weather it makes an average Scottish village on a wet winter Sunday look enticing. Everybody around the bus terminal had almost manic grins, though.
/* The tea industry is everywhere here - every village has a tea processing plant, with a chimney - presumably fired by by tea twigs - pouring out dense black smoke. The hillsides are covered with dark green tea bushes. If they advertise this area as a tourist destination it must be to people from the Mediterranean looking for a land of perpetual gloom.
Since Samsun we've seen a lot of men swimming in the Black Sea, and a few women paddling in their skirts, but not one woman swimming. Yet there are a few women's swimming costumes on sale here. When do they ever get used? */
A violent thunderstorm has broken over Yusufeli as I'm writing this: a wedding has just finished and a woman in a party dress just tried to run across the plank bridge below the hotel. Her heel stuck and she had to pull it out - her husband was running with a baby on his head, not something I'd have cared to do on a rickety wet bridge above a torrent like the Barhal. /* I had the accident in B. Traven's 'The Bridge in the Jungle' at the back of my mind, though the image of the woman in her party dress in the storm was pure Hollywood. */
The two of us have just had a meal of dolma with yogurt followed by fried trout and salad, for 10000 TL each (75p). The hotel (a new one, the Barhal) has a room with shower, toilet and double bed for 60000 TL a night. Everything seems cheaper than anywhere else we've been.
Rijeka had the same sort of goods as most Turkish towns - maybe more fashionable clothing, being so close to Italy - but all at Western prices (or, in the case of shoes at least, much higher). When a typical salary is 200 DM a month this must be a nightmare. Marion saw one old woman in a supermarket whose jaw dropped in horror at the price of toilet paper. The one thing that is really cheap is alcohol, distilled spirits in particular. I got 500 ml of some sort of aniseed-flavoured spirit to knock me out on the bus to Budapest: it sort of worked, but the cap wouldn't close again properly and I left half of it in a park for the local alcoholics to find.
/* Even fruit and vegetables were at the same prices as in Scotland; the market had a pretty good range, and the cheese and meat market was probably better than anything you'd find except in the largest British cities, but also at West European prices. Milan was in shorts when we arrived: his one pair of trousers had been stolen from the washing line. Replacing them was going to cost him more than a week's wages. */
Croata seemed extraordinarily well signposted: the Rijeka-Zagreb road had kilometre markers and every imaginable kind of warning sign. Turkish roads have far less: only one 'falling rocks' sign that I noticed between Trabzon and Yusufeli, despite a massive landslip that obliterated the road for a few hundred metres just before Hopa - they'd bulldozed a diversion out into the Black Sea from the fallen rubble. Maybe there isn't an international standard sign for 'The Entire Hillside Might Drop On Your Head At Any Moment'.
The wedding video has got to Yusufeli: the first thing that drew our attention to the one last night was a video light at the front of the hall.
* * * HEADING * * *
*we've been wandering up and down the valley with Marion doing her usual food-spotting and me taking photographs. I'm finally getting up to my usual speed of picture taking: all through Eastern Europe I didn't see much that I wanted to make a picture of. Local agricultural practices are more my style, together with the strange landscape - there's a thin ribbon of cultivation beside the Coruh and Barhal rivers, and the hills are spaghetti Western country - a wild tangle of buttes and scree that the Ministry of Forests is trying to cover with trees. The trees only seem to get to a reasonable size quite high up. (All around here there are official notices from the MoF saying 'Please Love Trees' in dozens of different ways).
We walked up the Barhal River towards the nearest Georgian castle yesterday - Marion slipped and got badly bruised so we didn't go all that far. The castle is parked on an insane crag: getting to it looks like a fairly difficult rock climb. The garden plots round here grow an incredible range of things: paddy rice, maize, wheat, hay, beans, olives, apricots, apples, pears, peaches, pomegranates, mulberries, brassicas, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, melons, almonds, walnuts, sunflowers, grapes, clover (for honey?), plums, aubergines - is there anywhere else in the world where such a variety of crops is possible? A few cows and chickens, some donkeys and horses as pack animals, but the only sheep we've seen was a pet.
two-hour ride up here from Yusufeli in the rain in a packed dolmus /* minibus */. One elderly man spent the whole trip sitting on a donkey saddle; he got out partway to collect a bear trap from a blacksmith's and left shortly before Barhal in the middle of nowhere with his bear trap, a scythe and two huge bags of lentils. The donkey saddle went back to Yusufeli; maybe it's a permanent fixture on the dolmus. I forgot my tripod at the Yusufeli stop; the driver was totally unhelpful and the phone here is out of order so I can only hope it's somewhere around Yusufeli when we get back.
We are getting a bit miffed at the tone and inaccuracy of the Rough Guide for here. It both overstates the badness of the road here - I've driven over worse in New Zealand - and ignores the fact that building any sort of road to a place as remote as this is a significant engineering achievement. And keeping it open despite heavy rain and falling rock won't be easy, either. And their comments about the road to the Georgian church at Dortkilise are just unintelligible - the road works are a mile away and there is no bridge under construction.
Dortkilise is where we went yesterday, almost accidentally. We just intended to walk down the river in that direction but not actually to it; after wandering past the rice paddies in the heat we got a lift to Tekkale and met the muhtar /* elected village headman */ in his teahouse. He took us up to Dortkilise - we'd never have found it on our own - with a taxi taking us most of the way and a government van of some sort taking us back. He invited us back to his place later in the week for a village festival in the Tekkale yaylas /* a yayla is a high-altitude chalet only occupied in summer */; his wife has a kind of rheumatism Marion thinks might respond to dietary treatment, so we'll see what we can do when we're back from Barhal.
We went to Sumela monastery near Trabzon when we were there: better in the postcards than in the actuality, though the situation is spectacular. Most of it was closed off and full of scaffolding for restoration work. This looked rather dubious: lots of men hacking away with pickaxes but no archaeologist in charge - it seems they just want it to look nice for the tourists and to hell with historical accuracy. The frescoes are only in reasonable condition on the ceiling - the walls are almost obliterated by graffiti, almost all Turkish names (unlike Aya Sofya in Istanbul, where nearly all the graffiti is Western). Also some Western names written slightly wrong and a few Greek ones dated 1875 or thereabouts but obviously more recent - is this some strange dating system, someone trying a bizarre fake, or what?
Cemil Ozyurt's hotel/restaurant in Barhal is built almost over the river - while writing this the water has changed from clear to diarrhoea-brown, presumably from the rain. The change took only a few minutes; a few hours later it's still brown. The smaller stream that joins it is still clear. Landslip?
/* Cemil Ozyurt's place is a hotel/bakery/teahouse/restaurant in one, a haphazard construction in an architectural style that reminded me of nothing so much as Ancient Hippie Californian. Cemil is about 50 and Marion says he's a terrible flirt. It only cost us 30000 TL a night for a small room with a double bed. */
The way things are built right at the edge of the water looks hazardous by Scottish standards - in the Highlands a flash flood would demolish anything built that way in a few decades - but many of these river-edge constructions, and the masonry used for channelling in places, seem quite old. The river must be more predictable than it looks. Otherwise half the hotels in Yusufeli would be piles of wreckage with the light bits washed up around Artvin by now.
[ Names and addresses of several men who posed for their picture beside a truck of the road to Hevek... ]
The river's clear again. We both woke up very depressed and flopped till mid-morning: Marion's theory is that eating eggs after a long break from them can do that, mine is that this is high enough for a slight lowering of oxygen level to be detectable. Anyway we got over it.
Walked up the valley towards Hevek. The cultivated strip is much narrower and more discontinuous here than down at Yusufeli, with a narrower range of things being grown. The whole valley was milling with butterflies: we must have have seen dozens of species and tens of thousands of individuals. Presumably because pesticides haven't got here. But very few birds; there must be more further up, as we came here with two Germans who were walking over the mountains to look at vultures. There are adverts in the hotel for hunting trips - wild boar are free; ibex, bear and lynx cost real money. One of the guys round the hotel is a professional hunter with a company that runs shoots here and in Bulgaria.
We were given a free lunch by some farmworkers when we'd walked halfway towards Hevek - boiled runner beans in a gravy with traces of tomato in it, salad, bread, and trout from the stream, fried, with noodles, both being sprinkled with sugar. I had my doubts but it tasted wonderful. Got a lift about halfway back with some electricity workers. The standard technique for working with HT here (the lines looked like 3300 V) seems to be manipulating live wires with immensely thick rubber gloves. Rather them than me.
The other side of the valley being full of butterflies is that it was also full of moths. Our window had a hole in it so they came in whenever the light was on. We must have had ten different species blundering around us, several of which seemed determined to get into bed with us. And I squashed a wriggly thing two inches long like a giant pink earwig.
We had an immense feed of fried trout caught by the local shopkeeper - the only trout I've had that could compare was from a restaurant in in Lisbon, much more elaborate. I suspect we won't even be asked to pay for that meal.
We both got ill in the night. I had a couple of bursts of mild diarrhoea and threw up violently, Marion had mild diarrhoea and just felt rotten until mid-afternoon. Not too bad as Turkish bugs go.
Marion seems to have cracked her coccyx in the fall near Yusufeli; it still hurts and there's no bruise.
The Valley of Lost Galoshes: we went up to look at the Georgian church above Barhal - similar to Dortkilise but in much better shape and with no outbuildings. Locked, the muhtar is the only person with a key, he's down in Yusufeli till this evening, and we're going at dawn tomorrow. The path and stream were strewn with old shoes, mainly torn galoshes; unless the fact that the village school is up there has something to do with this, I can't imagine why. The local shop has an immense stock of them.
We've been asking people about the employment and demographic situation in the villages around here: all are losing population, almost everyone goes to work in one of the big cities of western Turkey as soon as they leave school. Practically nobody from Barhal goes on to high school. About all we saw being exported from Yusufeli was a truckload of apples; presumably other fruit is, but nowhere near enough to keep a town of 4,000 in work. The TEK workers said they expected to retire at 40, and said it as if it was an accomplishment that Turks could do that while we had to wait till we were 65. So the result is that the village has almost no young adults: everyone between 13 and 40 is away working in Istanbul, Izmir, Germany, Belgium,...
The mosque here doesn't seem to do the ezan /* Muslim call to prayer */ very often. The only one we've heard was at midday. Or maybe they get Dial-ACall -To-Prayer and the phone's only just been fixed? - the Georgian church used to be the mosque until recently, and its tannoy is hooked up to a phone line. I thought that was cheating.
Blisters. Trainers are the best footwear for this kind of holiday but the heel join inside isn't well engineered. I spent the night with bits of Marion's embroidery thread through each blister, a trick I learned from Beate who learnt it from her mother from the Sudetenland - it drains them very effectively but I've never heard of anyone else doing it. It looks rather weird. /* The offending shoes were Hi-Tec Silver Shadows, but a slightly cheaper model than the XA4's I used on our last trip here. */
/* Veysel, the proprietor of one of the village shops, obviously fancied Marion a lot. She bought some fabric and other stuff from him and each time she went in he gave her a pile of henna as well for free. */
Barhal seems to be too small to have a statue of Ataturk. There isn't even one by the school. Amazing.
[ Name and address of two agricultural workers whose photo I took, posing with their pesticide spray. I don't know what the stuff was yet, but they weren't using any protective clothing at all with it. ]
[ More names and addresses, transferred from a bit of paper, of people I took pictures of in Trabzon. ]
Several times we've seen enormous donkey turds on the road, packed with cherry stones. It must have taken a good bucketful of cherries to produce each splat. I have never been anywhere where such a variety of fruit and vegetable are grown all together: Marion's been noting it all on her pocket recorder, but pretty near everything imaginable seems to grow here. And one thing we'd never imagined: fresh sesame, 'tut'. /* That's what Marion and I thought they were at the time because of their seed structure; they were really mulberries. 'Dut' according to the dictionary, but that's not how people here say it. */ These look like small grubs, and are white to purplish when ripe; they have a blackberrylike structure with each blob containing a seed. They're very sweet with a nutty aftertaste. There's no way you'd ever get to taste them outside an area that grows them.
We left Barhal early this morning; on the same dolmus there was a boy just leaving primary school to go to Istanbul. He had a very emotional send-off from his grandmother and several middle-aged women. There were two older boys in the dolmus who seemed to be part of the same family, but none of the emotion seemed to centre on them; I'd guess they had already left and were going back to Istanbul after a visit. They looked dull and leaden beside their brother, who was in and out of the dolmus as we waited for it to leave, in tears one minute and playiong with the dog the next. One more to the ten-million-odd population of Istanbul. Hope he makes it.
And nobody here seems angry about all this. It seems like the whole province is dying with a kindly, beatific smile on its face. The logical endpoint of this for all these gardens and rice paddies and villages to end up like the Scottish Highlands, razed flat to a desolation of sheep and game with armed guards controlling who goes in. Which might be a nightmare but so is the capitalist world system.
Turkish bus-driver etiquette: always stop for at least ten minutes longer than the passengers expect but then roar off with a few seconds' warning. If you don't get at least one traveller leaping through the door after it's started moving you haven't done it right.
Last night Marion left her embroidery needle at the teahouse table and two boys followed her across the street to return it. My tripod turned up in Yusufeli: a shopkeeper at the bus stop had kept it for 4 days. When we went for an all-day walk at Barhal I left the key in the door of our hotel room, with all our passports and tickets inside: of course it was all there when we got back, I never expected anything else. After the hassle of Prague and Budapest, where everyone seems terminally paranoid about thieves all the time and with good reason, this culture comes as a huge relief.
We're staying at Cemil Albayrak's guest house for his festival. 'His' festival because he's the muhtar and seems to be doing most of the organizing: when we arrived he was running around like a flea in a fit. He unwound enough after his wife came back that we all went to look round his garden - a bit bigger than an average British allotment but with a far greater variety of stuff growing. Marion slipped and landed on her bum again but thought the visit was more than worth it. Three things growing that I couldn't find in the dictionary: reyhan, pirpir, serali. I'll try the big dictionaries at home when I get back. /* No luck, I still don't know what they were; the first two are pot-herbs and the last a kind of bean. */
Neriman Albayrak /* name written in a child's handwriting */ is Cemil's terminally cute daughter who is, together with her mother, giving Marion a lesson in how to embroider borders on headscarves. She's 8. She collected some fresh sesame /* mulberries */ for us out of the tree beside the restaurant this evening: scrambling over wobbly branches above a 20- foot drop in galoshes.
There seems to be a local belief that eating yogurt with fish can poison you. Is this universal in Turkey?
Milan's mother had the idea that the way we should go from Rijeka to Turkey was by boat to Dubrovnik and then to Greece. The direct boat to Greece didn't run any more but there was a regular service to Dubrovnik, mainly bringing relief supplies. Dubrovnik was still being shelled and didn't have any electricity. If I was on my own I'd have tried it: there must be relief boats coming the other way from Greece.
Bulgaria got left out of this diary so far. No contest for Least Friendly Border Crossing. Transit visas cost only 20 marks - Marion had been told 20 pounds by the London embassy staff. Border post in a rocky gorge with (Marion said) the smelliest toilet she's used in the whole trip by way of welcome. Duty-free shop with a minimal range of spirits and cigarettes, which the Hungarians snapped up regardless.
The Dutch man staying here says that the Genya, the first hotel we asked at in Artvin, is 'full of Russian hookers'.
[ name and address of someone I took a photo of ]
The Dutch couple have been totally obnoxious. The man made a big show of walking out on Cemil's saz playing (he was pretty good, too): when offered honey with their yogurt they said 'no, we have sugar with it at home' and got Cemil to send his son Engin home (about a mile away) to get powdered sugar. This morning I found a Gregor-Samsa-sized cockroach in the bath: I seriously considered going outside to their tent and leaving it in their shoes. /* Marion assumed they were American, but then Marion tends to assume all obnoxious tourists are American... */
Two more Dutch people turned up in the teahouse today - butterfly collectors. One was a psychologist, the other a marine biologist. We'd seen them going back and forth between Barhal and Yusufeli several times. They've been coming to Turkey every year for 15 years: they say they probably have the biggest collection of Turkish butterflies in the world. They're writing it up: they don't think anybody in Turkey is doing anything comparable. They didn't think that with the level of information available to Turkish scientists and their limited means, that anyone outside Europe would be able to do comparable work. They know of one entomologist in a provincial Turkish university who was doing good work on butterflies, but his knowledge of research outside Turkey was so limited he didn't even know of their own work.
The made one remark I found really depressing: that hydro scemes were meant to cover almost every river in Turkey. Even if that's a huge exaggeration, it made me think of all the communities like this one - gardens, rice paddies, vineyards, orchards, houses... that are going to be drowned. No more old men pottering about with hoes, no more trees for little girls to climb in galoshes, just bare hillsides and dead water.
The frogs here are LOUD. Marion found them quite disturbing: I rather enjoyed them. We've come across lots of them hopping in and out of irrigation ditches, and a few flat ones on the road. This place hasn't yet joined in the world-wide frog extinction, it seems.
Walked down to the garden again today with Serife, Marion and Neriman. Serife worked the irrigation: an hour a week is all it takes. It's a brilliant piece of work: the large channels at the roadside feed into a network of smaller channels, gated by an assortment of rocks, planks, buckets, and plastic bags. A few seconds' work moving things at three points, and the garden's watered. The slopes are precisely arranged so that each plot gets an equal amount. She sprinkled a small amount of fertilizer (some white powder) round some of the plants. None of the grunt the average British allotment holder puts into it.
Back to Bulgaria: we only went through it along the main road, but still it looked quite different from any other place we've been. Cultivation seems a weird mixture of monoculture and chaos: huge fields of grain with haphazard plots between and around them, with these plots themselves all mixed up - crops obviously left to reseed year after year, so last year's and this year's crop end up in the same plot in randomly varying proportions. It probably works but it certainly doesn't look pretty. All the buildings look scruffy in the same way as some of the Czech ones, but to a far greater extent. While Turkish buildings tend to look halffinished for years, these hadn't been painted or even had their windows cleaned for decades: whole factories left to rust. The contrast was greatest at the Turkish border, where you suddenly get sunflower fields with militarily sharp edges, brand-new apartment blocks painted blinding white - Marion made a remark about communism having collapsed while fascism hadn't, which was way over the top but I can see why someone might get that idea.
I came back to the teahouse after leaving Marion with Serife, Neriman and another girl of about 12. They seem to have gone off home to eat (I left deliberately so Marion could get a chance to see more of women's life here). I came back to a political argument over the radio news: Erbakan threatening to bomb Iraq for supporting a Kurdish group, I think. Cemil was talking with three friends: he's a Social Democrat, one was a Demirel supporter /* conservative */, another backed Ecevit /* social democrat */, and the other Turkes /* fascist */. All very amicable.
/* I got my camera busted through an excess of generosity at Tekkale. We couldn't walk anywhere in the area without being given fruit - stuff with real taste that made EC-regulation fruit look like plastic. We were walking around the terraced gardens high on the hillside when a man in the terrace above called down and offered us some apples and apricots. He handed me down a huge armful, far more than I could hold; an apple dropped straight into my Minolta Autocord TLR and bent the magnifier. */
[ Several names and addresses of people whose pictures I took at the Tekkale festival on Saturday, and of a small girl with a pet rabbit who I also took of by the roadside later in the day... ]
On the bus, Sunday - just went through Ardesen. There was a local office of the Refah Partisi. Comfort Party??? Another one in Pazar. /* This is usually translated 'Welfare Party'; it's the Islamic party - it's surprising they have such prominent representation given how secular the Laz tend to be. */
More Georgian market shopping: got a bottle of Georgian champagne for 1 pound (15000 TL) at the tiny market in Yusufeli on Thursday - drank it on the beach where the Barhal and Coruh rivers meet. Today, in Trabzon, acquired: 4 meters of striped cotton for cushion covers, 12000 TL; another Soviet pocket watch with a railway motif, 55000 TL; a pocket-watch-sized circular slide rule, 50000 TL; 3 Swiss army knives (Victorinox lookalikes with 13 whizzbangs), 25000 TL each; another big multipurpose knife like the one I got in Artvin, 10000 TL; and 75 cl of a 1980-vintage fizzy red wine from Azerbaijan, 20000 TL. This stuff is really superb, far better than any of the fizzy Italian reds I've tried.
The Dutch birdwatchers said the top floor of the Karahan in Artvin was also taken over by ex-Soviet prostitutes. That goes a long way towards explaining what happened to Marion and why the main street for blocks around was totally devoid of women. And maybe it explains what the ultra-cheap bus fares for Turks to visit Georgia are for: intra-Third-World sex tourism. It turns out that there were even Georgian prostitutes in the Aydin Hotel that occupies the floor above the Hotel Barhal in Yusufeli, which explains two things - the stares we got through our window, which looks into a teahouse across the street that seems to be patronized by most of the hajicapped old men of the village, and the three who waved to me going up the stairs when I was in the lobby once. They turned on an intense flash of sexual magnetism. At the time I just thought they were French or Italian rafters coming in after a night out drinking, and that I was being a dirty old man. Seemingly not.
/* Explanation of where rafting comes in: the Coruh river from Ispir to Artvin is apparently one of the best in the world for white-water rafting. Cemil Albayrak made part of his income guiding parties at this (he has some sort of certificate in it). Yusufeli is the obvious place to break the trip, and we met one party (Belgians and French Canadians, I think) who were doing just that. */
This trade must be having a terribly destructive effect on male-female relationships all across north-east Turkey. I find myself trying to classify unheadscarfed women in the street as either Soviet prostitutes, Western tourists or Westernized Turkish women: and I don't find it easy until they open their mouths - even then I can't identify Georgian very well from small snippets. I don't suppose Turkish men find it much easier. Marion's been wearing a headscarf a lot of the time, though deliberately not in the traditional Turkish way - a headscarf is an obvious first line of defence here for any Turkish woman; being mistaken for a Georgian must be horrible.
God, is that whole country reduced to flea markets and whoring?
Snakes. When we went to the Albayraks' garden on Friday we came across a lizard and a snake a few seconds apart. Serife immediately started heaving huge rocks at the snake. It was a harmless-looking brown thing less than two feet long. She didn't say it was poisonous: just 'Yilan!' was enough. I hope she missed.
We got a bat flying round the teahouse. I was in the inner room translating at the time, so I didn't see it, but I don't think it was molested. Seems bats are OK.
We're both covered with mosquito bites from the stay at Cemil's. Most of mine don't itch much (prior exposure?) but Marion's been really suffering. We've just about run out of the ferociously powerful anaesthetic ointment I bought in Samsun in 1981. Pharmacies are closed today so I can't buy any more. /* I bought another few years' supply later; good stuff and totally unavailable in the UK - why not, given the existence of Scottish midges, I can't imagine. */
The bus ride from Yusufeli down to Artvin is along the side of a steep gorge all the way, with a torrential river below, below, unstable rock above, huge oncoming trucks, the bus overtaking everything in sight and at one point 33KV lines sagging to about 20 feet above the road. We're at the front of the bus where we can read all the cheery Muslim stickers /* above the windscreen */ (the 10 x 2 cm ones printed on a diffraction-grating background) which say things like 'The Last Stop Is The Black Earth' ('Son Durak Kara Toprak'). Just what you want to read in that situation. Are they for real or are the drivers deeply into graveyard humour? Or both?
Serife gave Marion a bag of dried mulberries. They'd make a superb sweetish snack food: crunchy with a nutty aftertaste. We've been thinking about how they might be marketed in the UK so as best to help the local economy. The Artvinlis would get far more for them if they were marketed that way than they do for the mulberry jam they export now. Snack food packaging is well within local technological capabilities.
I don't believe the Georgian 'castle' that gives Tekkale its name is really a castle at all. Sloping roof? No arrowslits? It looks far more like a church: there was no way to launch defensive weaponry from it.
Anadolu Hotel, off Yerebatan Caddesi, Istanbul, Tuesday - this place was great two years ago: now it's a shitheap. They demand (aggressively) money in advance. There are no towels in the rooms. Only one sheet per bed and the pillow covers obviously dirty. No slippers for the Turkish toilet and no toilet paper for the Western one. Sheets ripped in places. Awful Western-style music in the hotel bar, which charges more for beer than anywhere else we've been in Turkey. Western toilet blocked. Bedding feels damp. All the guests but us seem to be in their teens or early 20s - presumably they don't know that Turkish hotels can and should provide a lot more for the money. The place is in the Rough Guide and presumably other guidebooks so they've stopped trying.
We moved to the Aya Sofya (Yerebatan Caddesi). Same price, much cleaner, quieter and friendlier, our own shower.
We bought some more things we'd been intending to get in Turkey for a long time: tea glasses and a heavy-duty orange squeezer of the sort they use in the street stalls around Istanbul - these are better than anything you can get in the UK. I got a Turkish-made G clarinet: rather crudely made but sounds OK and the price was right (500000 TL, about 35 pounds).
I'm writing this on the train through Serbia between Nis and Beograd. Uneventful trip so far: the staff at Sirkeci station in Istanbul were being their usually cluelessly unhelpful selves, but (after asking some Western tourists for their European rail timetable, which the Sirkeci staff don't have) it seems we arrive in Budapest just before midnight, too late to connect to the Prague train. Bugger. This carriage is going to Warsaw and is mostly empty now - a lot of people got off in Sofia, including the three young Dutch men who shared our couchette and were also heading to Prague, but via Romania because they'd promised their mothers they wouldn't go through Yugoslavia... good grief. /* Marion thought they had nice legs, anyway. */
There's a little square off Istiklal Caddesi just above the Tunel that has a small Turkish-and-foreign-language second-hand bookshop and an immense population of cats. Marion fell for a little white kitten last time so we thought we'd look it up: there was a young white cat there that was probably the same one but it didn't want to talk to us. Most of the others just lay in the sun and asked to have their tummies tickled. There was a huge pile of kittens sleeping in a drain grille at the bottom of a tree. Marion counted 23 cats in the square (maybe 20 metres on a side). We also made friends with a fluffy grey kitten in Yusufeli, the Albayraks' family of a female and 3 kittens, and a kitten in Eminonu that seemed to spend its time a couple of catlengths from the new tramline. It's always nice to have so many cats around in Turkey. What noise do Turkish cats make, anyway? My dictionary doesn't list either 'purr' or 'meow'. /* 'to purr' is the same word as 'to mutter' or 'to grumble': 'mirildamak'. Can't find 'meow' - just use 'bagirmak' ('to cry out') perhaps? */
The new tramline is amazing. Each of the 4 carriages holds 48 sitting, 288 standing. There are 5 trams on the line by Marion's count and the trip from Sirkeci to Aksaray takes about 15 minutes. That's one hell of an efficient way of moving bodies around the city centre. And it's free.
A piece of graffiti by the railway line: VOLIM SARAJEVO RDE ZLA @ /* The @ being the international anarchy symbol. */ We've passed a couple of tanks.
On the other hand, the tram is a lot less interesting a way of getting up that hill than the old mix of insanely packed articulated buses and dolmuses with drivers yelling their heads off at each stop. And the same goes for a lot of other things about the city: there seem to have been more changes in the last 2 years than in the previous ten, mostly in the direction of making it more like a European megalopolis on the model of Haussmann's Paris. It's got a long way to go but already there seems to be quite an unnecessary degree of orderliness creeping in.
The most dramatic change is on the fringes of the city: this must be the fastest house-building programme in the world. Whole cities of tower blocks are going up: you could drop Glasgow's Easterhouse among them and not notice it. Most built from prefabricated concrete panels: where are these made? One encouraging development is that they are starting to take on interesting shapes and layouts, closer to Newcastle's Byker or Safdie's Habitat than the Standard International Oblong. But no mosques. Who are they building these for? Surely most of the immigrants will be immigrants from the countryside for whom religion is still important? There's hardly even any open space left to build them. And transport links? There aren't any rail links out there, so the city's bus service is going to need enormous expansion to cope. And travel times are going to be of the same order as London.
We spent an extra day in Trabzon on our way back - Istanbul Airlines switched our flight time from 13.30 to 20.00 without warning, and we didn't want to travel that late and miss seeing Turkey from the air and arrive in Istanbul when most hotels would be full. So we had a chance to look at the Aya Sofya Museum in Trabzon. The fresco paintings here are astonishing - the faces are all individual, some of the earliest examples of humanistic art in the European tradition, while the narthex has a symbolic cross-vault painting of the Four Evangelists that looks somewhere in between Blake's illustrations of Dante and the op-art cubism of Vasarely. The postcards don't get anywhere near doing it justice. It far outclasses anything in the Aya Sofya or Kariye in Istanbul. /* Something else we found in Trabzon was 'sira', a very-slightly-fermented grape juice drink which is made by the same firms that make 'boza' in winter. Great stuff: we took 2 litres of it on the train to Budapest. I hadn't tried it before; it isn't very widely sold and, if Coke and Pepsi have any say in the matter, will shortly cease to exist. Coke and Pepsi advertising is *everywhere* in Turkey. I don't suppose it will be long before Turkey has babies dying of malnutrition from being fed on cola as in the UK. */
There was a display of gravestones in the garden around the church. Mostly Ottoman, some Roman and Byzantine. And one labelled as Byzantine but covered with Armenian script. I took a picture of it, complete with label.
Another VOLIM TE SARAJEVO inscription in a shunting yard.
A field of haystacks that have subsided unevenly so they look like lactating nipples.
We wanted to look inside the Georgian church at Barhal - it's the same desing as the one at Dortkilise but in much better condition - but the only person with a key was the muhtar and he was in Yusufeli while were in Barhal so we never got in. The Dutch butterfly collectors said we should have tried bribing the local imam but nobody at Barhal even hinted that he might have a key. This seems a remarkably coy attitude for a small village with a major monument on its hands.
We have just been through a very long tunnel, and on this train there are no lights during the day. What you need for these situations is a Bonker's and Groper's Guide to the Railway Tunnels of Europe, so you'd know in advance how much time you had.
I tried climbing one of the hills near Tekkale to get up to what I thought was another Georgian ruin. I was only wearing trainers: I gave up after a couple of hundred feet of scree. The stuff was coated with dried salt and full of sharp fragments of calcite. I got covered in stinging scratches and descending was even more difficult. Next time I'll bring hiking boots and a pair of gardening gloves.
More graffiti, still in Serbia near the Hungarian border: BBB (the Zagreb football team), 'Born to Kill' (in English), several occurrences of the symbol
> | c
> | c
(the '>' symbols are actually backwards C's, so the thing is symmetrical). Somewhere south of Beograd: SRBA CAR, MRDA CAR. Lots of @ signs.
Welcome to Bulgaria: the border guards charged us 50% more than we paid going by bus the other way and then tried to fiddle my change. They didn't understand any English and seemed to resent being spoken to in Turkish. /* The chief guard was a loud-voiced woman who woke us at 3am with a torch demanding deutschmarks. Another movie stereotype. */ I went looking for the restaurant car and was rudely stopped from walking down the train by a monumentally offensive passport control geek who just ignored 'restaurant? restoran? lokanta?...'.
I miss that Turkish restaurant car - we only had it while on Turkish territory. Good food, cheap, comfortable and friendly, far better than any other I've seen (next best being the Lisbon-Porto express).
The toilet in the Turkish compartment was the best of a bad lot until someone (presumably one of the Poles) nicked all the toilet paper and someone else splattered diarrhoea all over it. The Hungarian one has a seat lid that falls down on your back and a crap-stained seat and the Bulgarian one smells utterly disgusting - its flush is about a teaspoonful.
One problem with that restaurant car: the only beer it had was Tuborg, albeit the bottled version which isn't quite as awful as the keg or can forms. The other main Turkish beer, Efes, at least attains mediocrity. The Turks haven't really got beer right yet. Surely some of the German returnees know what it's all about?
I am reminded of one of them we saw at the festival in Tekkale on Saturday - a Turk in goldrimmed spectacles and Panama hat who had picked, of all possible German archetypes, the comic-book Bavarian as a model to emulate. I suppose there is something vaguely Tyrolean about the yaylas of Artvin, but you half expected this guy to pull an inflatable euphonium out of his pocket. /* Like a lot of Turks who've been to Germany, he couldn't believe we knew hardly any German and persisted with it despite our total incomprehension. But then a lot of Germans get a bit miffed when I find it easier to get by in Turkish in Germany, too. */
The festival was quite simple: we all got up there (about 7km up the valley from Tekkale) by 9am. Just after we arrived a group of the men said the ritual prayers over a calf and killed it: very quick and painless, much like the technique used by the New Zealand slaughtermen in the the abattoir I worked in. What followed was a display of the most incompetent butchering imaginable. They started skinning it but tried to take the legs off as they went. One of them slipped and stabbed the animal in the bowel: this meant a dash to the stream to wash the leg and some bizarre attempts to ligature the cut piece of intestine. /* This bit was almost like a Monty Python send-up of a surgical operation. */ After much fumbling the limbs and torso halves were passed to the cooks, who chopped them into random bitesized chunks. Marion said she could have done a better job, but this was obviously men's work. The chopped-up calf was sprinkled with salt and pot roasted in four large metal buckets. The result didn't taste bad but was hardly the most exciting meal we've had in Turkey.
Tekkale has a zurna player but not a drummer (the usual accompaniment everywhere else in Turkey). While the butchery was going on some of the men did a brief line dance with a handkerchief: we'd seen the same zurna player performing for what seemed to be a stag night just before in Yusufeli (that dancing might have been a bit less accurate but was a lot wilder). Then we got a series of wrestling matches, from very young boys up to adult men. (Nobody much over 20, though, unlike the oil wrestling in the west of Turkey). Then a brief speech introducing the new imam and an appeal for funds for the new mosque. This was done in an effectively public way: men came up to hand notes to the fundraiser, who shouted out the donor's name and how much they'd given: applause followed. Out of two to three hundred men they got 3 1/2 million TL. I gave them 50,000 and one of the few other tourists there (Steve the Australian) did the same. We got a good round of applause for it.
We'd been eating bread and cheese by the stream with Cemil at the start, and he took us to his mother's yayla during the midday prayer meeting for lunch. A wonderful spread of pide (home-cooked flat bread), salads, honey, white cheese, kaymak (clotted cream) and fruit, all locally produced. The reason the butchery was so fumbled is quite understandable: most of the time the local diet is vegetarian, with the occasional small trout (these are ridiculously easy to catch with a thin stick, a few feet of fixed line and a spinning lure). /* Even sheep are rare here: the only one we've seen was being kept as a pet in Yusufeli. */ Sitting on cushions on the balcony of the yayla looking down the valley on to something like a Swiss picture postcard, this was a meal I'll remember for years.
After that we went back to the main gathering where the meat was being served. A small taste was enough for me, and the German and Dutch women stuck by their vegetarian principles and wouldn't even taste it (this struck me as boorish). The a couple of exhilarating rides in the back of a truck down the valley to Tekkale. For the second ride we had the calf's skin with us.
From that to the worst meal we've ever had in Turkey: the in-flight lunch on the Istanbul Airlines flight from Trabzon to Istanbul. This is cheap at 45000 TL (30 pounds) but better bring your own food - it's an internationalstyle plastic tray with a few slices of tomato, a roll, a piece of white cheese (the only good thing on it) and some slices of processed meat, one of which tasted very much like pork to me - at least I couldn't imagine anything else that could taste like that. Alcohol is one thing, but pork on an airline menu in a Muslim country? The following day I was belching sulphurously and Marion threw up: we suspected lahmacun we got late at night (not a good time) from a street stall, but the airline meal seems a more likely culprit in retrospect.
Back at the roadside eatery just inside Germany (1 km from the Czech border). Just remembered what we saw here on the way in: a busload of Polish tourists from Wroclaw. Something about them immediately suggested religiosity: on cue, a priest at the front of the bus pulled out a book and led them in a prayer session. /* By German standards this place was a pretty good deal, with nice goulash soup; it was mostly used by Turkish and Hungarian truck drivers in enormous rigs covered with pinups and other trucker kitsch. It has a supermaket-cum-dime-store attached to it selling all kinds of stuff, including lots of consumer electronics ranging up to laser printers, presumably aimed at people going home eastwards with money still to burn. */
We arrived at Keleti Station, Budapest, in the middle of the night. The train was mobbed by touts for yough hostels, all wearing vests advertising them and shoving leaflets into our hands. They were selling accommodation much the same way the touts at Istanbul bust station sell long-distance rides. We paid a fortune for a taxi ride to Nyugati station for the train to Prague, but got there in time with no trouble (there's less than an hour for the connection). The train was filthy: considering that Czech local trains are pretty clean and the Prague metro is immaculate, it looks like the Budapest cleaners just assumed that the mostly young Inter-Railers who made up most of the passengers weren't worth the bother. /* Four more gorgeous legs in our compartment, belonging to two young Dutch women this time. */
/* Almost all of the other tourists we met in Eastern Europe were Western Europeans, and the only non-western-European tourists we met in Turkey were Australian. It looks like this whole area of the planet has become an American-free zone except for a few bunches of them huddled together en masse for protection in the centre of Prague. The State Department's scare tactics seem to be working. What I found rather more surprising was how few Eastern Europeans were using the trains. */
Graffiti on a motorway bridge in Belgium: MOSLEMS BUITEN. Posters stuck on the next bridge: VLAAMS BLOK - are they the local fascists? /* Yes. */
Two rather uneventful days in Prague. The flat we're in (same area - Stresovice) is rather better - the owners were away for the weekend and their father let us in. Prague is an insanely difficult place to get food in - all restaurants close at 9pm, nothing opens before 10 or 11am, and it even gets difficult after 7pm. We had to resort to expensive bar food at a tourist joint (U Pinkasu) on Saturday night and missed out entirely on Sunday night. I'd have been happy with the basic Czech restaurant meal of pig and stodge but even that was hard to find (finally got it from the rather good stand-up eatery on Narodni truda). /* We did find ice cream, though. Lots of it. Prague must do the best ice cream on earth. */
/* In these last three days, we also wanted to visit U Kalicha, touristy as it might be - the pub featured in 'The Good Soldier Svejk'. It was closed for renovations. Just round the corner was a herbal medicine shop with a window display entirely devoted to a product called 'WANK' - if they'd been open I'd have bought a sample just for the box. I went up the Petrin Tower - one of Eiffel's designs, much like a scaled-down Eiffel Tower - and we went round the odd mirror maze nearby. We did some shopping, mainly for musical instruments - a C clarinet, two cello bows and a Strohfidel - and a big clay Golem as a souvenir of the Jewish quarter. The cemetery of the Jewish quarter was a tiny space with tumbling gravestones piled in heaps everywhere; lots of candles left by visitors, with little notes attached, mostly trite wishes for peace. Rabbi Loew got hundreds of these. The museum beside the cemetery had an exhibition of children's drawings from the Holocaust, which Marion liked but which I thought was mostly unilluminating and predictable. Jewish Prague being marketed as a big tourist asset: the only other feature of the city that gets exposure comparable to ghettoes and golems on T-shirts and postcards is Mozart.
And we made an afternoon trip to Kutna Hora.
This was a deeply strange place. We walked far longer than we expected to get to it - the Rough Guide doesn't make it clear that there are TWO railway stations, a main-line one out of town and a spur-line one in the centre. So we got off a Brno train at the main-line station and spent an hour wondering why things didn't look like the map. In the old centre everything was flaking stone, cracking unpainted wood, rusting iron, and overwhelming silence. I now know exactly what to imagine for the setting of Kafka's 'The Castle'. The silence extended far out beyond that into the modern blocks at the edge of town: even children played politely with hardly a sound. (According to a Czech Jew Marion met at a bar-mitzvah back in Edinburgh, this is normal for Czech children; they have always been disciplined to be seen and not heard). I wish I'd found this town at the start of the holiday, as its atmosphere was utterly unlike anything else I've experienced and I'd have liked more time to look round it and photograph it systematically. The supposed main attraction, St Barbara's Cathedral, didn't impress us very much, though we couldn't get inside; built on the we'll-have-one-each-of-everything principle of architectural ornament.
We couldn't get a meal there, either, because the only bar/restaurant we found was being run by one woman single-handed doing what would have taken six people in Scotland and naturally taking so much longer that we'd have missed our train back to Prague (which turned out to be free as nobody came to check tickets).
Kutna Hora does have a sex shop. I imagine that mummification must be a big seller and the vibrators have silencers. */
Jack Campin room G092, Computing Science Department, Glasgow University,
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/* Extra notes written as I type this in are put in comment brackets like this; everything else is as I wrote it at the time except for a few trivial corrections of spelling and grammar. That includes the time sequence; it was sometimes a few days before I got round to writing something down, so events are very far from being in chronological order. */