En route to ConstantinopleJune 15 in Turkey
The twice daily train from Izmir to Bandirma Port, known as the Eylül Express, left punctually at 14.00. The term Express was a bit of a misnomer as it trundled along so slowly at times that it might have been quicker walking along its single track. The train however was modern and air-conditioned, and I was glad I had made a free seat reservation as it was extremely busy. Relaxing with a welcome cup of chai from the trolley, the silence was broken by the wailing of 3 toddlers who appeared to take it in turns to scream at the top of their voices, much to the delight of their families, especially one granny, who beamed with delight every time one of them let go with a particularly prolonged outburst. Ah well, it’s only a 7 hour journey, I consoled myself. Two of the babies got off (with their parents) after 3 hours, but shock horror, another 3 got on! What is this - a baby boom? Is the telly so bad in Turkey? I searched my emergency medical kit: paracetamol, Diocalm, Ex-Lax - but no sign of Calpol or even Nurse Harvey’s Gripe Mixture. Lesson learned - be better prepared.
The scenery was pleasant if unspectacular, and the Turkish countryside was lined with olive orchards for much of the way, with minarets dotting the villages and towns we passed through. The sun was beating down and it was nice to enjoy the cool of the carriage. In spite of the modern comfortable seating accommodation, the loo on the train was another story - literally a hole in the floor for squatting. I was wishing I had purchased one of the pads displayed on the mannequin in the pharmacy outside the station (see photo).
What’s this? Only five hours after departure and all the little tots have dropped off to sleep. Bless the little darlings, they’re no bother at all.
On arrival at its northern terminus at Bandirma, I made my way just across the street to the Panderma Port Hotel, an old inn full of character with a large double room facing the front. The interior was dimly lit and the colour scheme was from the 1970s - all browns and creams with illumination coming from 40 Watt bulbs. I could scarcely see the keyhole to my room in the dimness, but the fact I still had my sunglasses on didn’t help. I was pleased to see a late night café still open and made my way there, only to realise that 100 yards (or is it metres?) along the street there was a huge Blackpool-like resort waiting to be enjoyed. A sizeable funfair opened onto a veritable sea of attractions - side shows, candy floss stalls, tattoo parlours, outdoor theatres, hotels and literally hundreds of eating places. There was even an illuminated suspension bridge. The place was thronged with thousands of people all out enjoying themselves. For the first time on my trip I felt a bit out of place - you need company to enjoy funfairs and the like. Young people were queuing up to buy food from takeaway stalls - barbecued corn on the cob and what looked like pickled cucumbers.
I opted for the safer option of a McDonald’s. Sitting outside people-watching in the still warm evening air, I watched four girls at a table in front of me, all made up to the nines, wearing the best designer gear, showing each other YouTube clips on their top of the range mobile phones, and generally having a good laugh. They got up and left without clearing their table. Seconds later two teenage boys came over and appeared to start clearing up. However they were actually emptying the leftovers of the fries into a packet each, and the dregs of the soft drinks into a cup each and made off with their complimentary Happy Meal. An old lady, heavily wrinkled and stooped with age berated them, waving her stick and shouting something unintelligible. She then sat at the table and proceeded to pick at the remaining scraps left by the young vultures. They had beat her to it. Such an illustration of wealth and poverty at one table in the space of five minutes.
In the centre of it all, amidst the noise and hustle and bustle of the crowd, the Crier called the faithful to prayer from his minaret, high above the Sodom and Gomorrah scene below. The amplified sound was deafening.
My comfortable stay at the Panderma Port included a substantial breakfast, all for £27. The three friendly waitresses rushed to greet me, the only diner in a room which was set for 50. ‘You would like an omelette?’ the eldest one said ‘with eggs and cheese?’ Well certainly with eggs I thought. ‘And what about some cheeses? This one is my favourite - and this one too’. By this time my plate was groaning with several large cubes of identical looking (and tasting) white cheese. When I returned to my table the omelette had arrived, complete with eggs and cheese, and tasted delicious. Some Turkish tea arrived in one of the fine fluted glasses I had become accustomed to, and which at home might be used to display small bunches of freesia. This version was very strong like Builder’s Tea, and tasted as if it had been stewing in a can for a fortnight. I gulped it down quickly and went back to the buffet for baklava, returning to see my Builder’s Tea being replenished with a smile.
Thus fortified, I made my way to the IDO Ferry for the 10.00 sailing across the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul. What a great way to arrive in this grand city. I made my way to my hotel - the Senator, only to discover it had been taken over by Holiday Inn. It had all been refurbished and the room was terrific. I headed off to see the Grand Bazaar which I had missed on my last visit as it was closed. What an amazing place! Then a walk to the Sultanahmet area and a visit to see the Blue Mosque and the ginormous Hagia Sophia. Although both still magnificent, there was a lot of renovation work going on. Took one of Istanbul’s clean, efficient trams to the Galata Bridge and had fish for dinner in one of the many seafood restaurants. It was a lovely sunny evening and I enjoyed looking over the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus where numerous ferries plied their way back and forth. I’ll maybe pop over to Asia for lunch tomorrow.
I discovered my hotel had a Hamam (Turkish Bath) available, and I took advantage of it to rejuvenate myself after walking about the hot streets all day. Bliss…Read more