Some may welcome the arrival of summertime, but when you have to be waiting at the roadside to catch a bus at 5.30 in the morning in the first week after the clock change, it is decidedly unwelcoming and definitely dark. In a deep recess of the mind there is a vague recollection that this is all in a good cause, but that’s as far as it goes.
Actually, it is in a very good cause. With fourteen fellow Kalkan residents and part-timers, Margaret and myself are setting off on a trip to Istanbul and Gallipoli via a number of historical sites in Western Anatolia. The key focus is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli campaign in WWI which happens this month. We understand a lot has been done at the site since our last visit in 2009 and we are keen to explore and learn. On the way we will be spending two nights in Istanbul and visiting such historical and archaeological sites as Troy and Ephesus. But it’s only 5.30 in the morning and lack of sleep is a more pressing issue.
Our first night is to be spent in the city of Bursa close to the Sea of Marmara a mere 650km north of Kalkan. So we know we are in for a long day’s drive on a bus that has just one seat for each of the sixteen passengers. The vehicle is more of a stretched minibus than a small coach but, within its limitations, is reasonably comfortable.
As we move above the coastal hillside of Kalkan, one bright spot is a full moon getting close to setting. Through the gloom we can see the odd dolmuṣ and workers waiting at the roadside to be picked up and taken to work. At Uğurlu the bus takes a right turn and we are now on the main highway that heads up into the mountains from the coast. The next few kilometres are a long slow grind up a modern road. Murat, our driver and owner of the travel company, is driving as fast as the Mercedes engine will take us bearing in mind that the bus is full to capacity and well laden with our luggage. We pass every size and shape of vehicle including a pick-up truck laden with beehives. Were the bees actually in their hives?
This road gains a lot of height and just about the time we cross the first summit at around 1,300 metres I can feel my ears popping. There’s a lot of snow on the nearby mountains but none on the road. As we descend slightly to a mountain plateau and enter a small township of houses with red-tiled roofs designed to through off the snow, everything looks very cold. There’s light snow scattered everywhere, a frost har over the nearby lake and a distinct impression that winter is not over yet for these high pastures. Just to add poignancy to the scene, the tall, slim poplar trees look rather like icy stalactites pointing upwards from the ground.
Sunrise comes at 07.11 with cloud scattered along the horizon but a clear blue sky above. The road takes us into Söğüt and we take a left turn in the centre of the town towards Burdur where breakfast awaits. The next stretch of road is relatively quiet and for the most part straight. There are big gaps between vehicles, maybe as much as ½ km. It is bizarre to see a man set out from the opposite side of the road, mobile phone pressed to his ear, and not noticing our bus bearing down on him. He might have made some excellent judgements of speed and distance but there was little margin for error and all so unnecessary.
The area around Burdur is famous for marble. Many of the surrounding hills are scarred by quarries where marble bocks have been extracted. These have been removed to nearby factories where the marble is cut into usable pieces before distribution around the country and for export. A thriving industry. This is an ancient industry that stretches back at least to Roman times. We once visited a museum in Muğla, a few kilometres to the south, where the main exhibition was of original heads of Roman gladiators carved from local marble.
And then we arrived in breakfast town, otherwise known as Burdur. This town cum city has a population of 75,000. Many of those not in the marble industry are supporting the very large military establishment. I believe the soldiers here are largely conscripts undergoing basic training. In Turkey all men are required to do National Service. There are very few ways of avoiding it. There was a case recently of someone in their late 50’s/early 60’s who had lived abroad for most of his life, who had been told that he was now too old to be conscripted, but who nevertheless was picked up by the system and had to hand over large amounts of money to avoid being called up.
In the middle of the town we passed the first sign post pointing to Istanbul, our destination for tomorrow. It showed 603 km still to go. On the far side of the Burdur was our chosen breakfast stop. We arrived there at 8.30, a little less than three hours from Kalkan. The café was attached to a petrol station and at first glance was not an obvious choice, but, we knew from previous visits, that it would be well up to the task of feeding our party.
The place has had a bit of a makeover and looked inviting. We were offered a choice of food but most went for the traditional Turkish kahvaltı, which in this case consisted of a warm hard-boiled egg, white and yellow cheese, olives, cucumber, tomato, thick yoghurt with the consistency of Cornish cream, baskets of hot, flat bread and all washed down with ҫay. The cost was a mere 10TL (a little over £2.50) per head. By 9.30, having taken advantage of the new, well equipped and spotlessly clean toilet block, we were on the road again.
The countryside was now much greener than before with orchards and all against a backdrop of high, snowy peaks. There was also the first windfarms of the journey. At the roadside there were regular radar warning signs. They must have had some bearing on Murat as he was now driving at a very sedate pace. We came to the small town of Sandikli and we were pulled in to a public weighbridge. The total weight of the fully laden vehicle was displayed as 4690 kg. This was clearly more than permitted as our driver was called in to the office. Whether he was given a warning, paid a fine or was given some other penalty, we do not know. Sufficient to say he looked a little chastened but, thankfully, we were allowed to move on.
As we drove northwards there was increasing amounts of snow in shady patches at the side of the road. We stopped briefly for a leg stretch and coffee at Afyonkarahisar, a major junction and long-distance bus interchange station. There is also an outlet mall, largely US brands, and a Starbucks. Not that we had time today, but, the real attractions of Afyon are the thermal springs and the hotels built over them. They seemed to be very popular.
It was at Afyon that we saw the first of a breed of traffic lights that were unfamiliar to us international travellers. Not only do the lights change colours but they are supported on arc-shaped metal structures that light up in unison. Very difficult to miss the colour of the lights.
Kütayha was the next city along the route. This is the home of porcelain in Turkey based around the abundance of clay in the surrounding area. All the big names have factories here. Most of the factories have large silos which presumably are used to store the minerals need for the glazing processes. It must a very prosperous city judging from the size of the industry.
Shortly after passing through Kütayha we stopped for lunch at another non-descript roadside lokanta. On the far side of the vast seating area there were a number of counters serving hot and cold food plus drinks. And in the middle of the seating area there was, rather incongruously, a bride in full wedding dress and a small family party having, what we assumed to be, their wedding breakfast. You wouldn’t see that on the M1 in England or even Route 66 in the US. Our simple lunch of soup, bread and bottled water cost 6tl a head – a bargain for a main road service station.
By way of contrast to the wedding event we were soon to be held up by a funeral. The road from the lunch stop got busier and busier and merged with the D200 east/west highway. This road started to descend from the high plains through a steep-sided valley. The four lane dual carriageway twisted downwards following the bends of the river. As we rounded one bend we could see a policeman ahead waving down the fast moving traffic. And it was just as well he was there. Round the next bend there were cars and vans parked on both sides of the road and people coming down from a cemetery to our right and wandering across the road to reach their vehicles. It was as though the D200 had been transformed into a country lane. Those that had reached their cars were now executing U-turns across the highway. And all this activity was oblivious to the through traffic that had slowed to a virtual crawl. There were visons of more funerals being need in the very near future.
We were now getting near to our destination for tonight, Bursa. Over the fields we could see signs of a major civil engineering project which turned out to be the construction of a branch of the high-speed railway link from the Istanbul to Ankara line. Turkey has a grand plan for a high-speed rail network stretching from East to West and North to South. This line, when complete, will continue through Bursa to the Aegean port city of Izmir.
As we entered the outskirts of Bursa we stayed on the original road but passed a spur road leading on to another giant civil engineering project. In this case a motorway (or expressway) that currently forms a bypass for Bursa but will soon become yet another faster way of reaching the Istanbul area.
As it was still relatively early, before heading for our hotel there were two sites of historical importance on the agenda. More on that, our amazing fast food experience and a journey utilising two ferries to get smoothly to Istanbul, in my next post.