Monday 3 June – We traveled to Alexandroupolis which is still Greece and stayed in the only campsite in the town, which was 2km west. It’s famous for its lighthouse. It was another student town, so had some very nice bars and quite a relaxed feel to it.
We’re only here one night as making our way to Turkey tomorrow [Alexandroupolis is the nearest town with camping to the border] There is a rather swanky and fully kitted out overland Land Rover in the same campsite, turns out they are a Swiss couple who have taken a 3 month holiday from work, and are travelling the Silk Route to China and then back through Russia. They didn’t have a website but Paul took a photo of the car and posted it on the Instagram page.
Tuesday 4 June – There was a massive thunder storm in the early hours and we thought we would be crossing into Turkey soaking wet, but it cleared before we emerged from the tent. The road to the border was only 40 km so arrived around 11.30.
There is a building on the left just before the crossing at Ipsala where you can buy Insurance, Change Money and get a haircut – just if you fancy it. Purchasing insurance is a requirement; even if you have it from your home country and costs 32 Euros for 3 months, which is the minimum period.
There were quite a few processes at this border and has been the lengthiest process so far. First, the Greek police look at your passport, then you go to the Turkish policeman who looks at your passport and then tells you that you need a visa from the opposite side of the station.
I tried out my beginners Turkish with the Visa guy with a ‘Hello’ and ‘Thankyou’ He pulled out a bag of mints and offered me one in congratulations, he also taught me the word for ‘Goodbye’. Visas are 15 Euros each and last 90 days, i think this is the same when you fly in too.
After you have this Visa, you have to go back to the first officer, he stamps the passport and then you move onto another customs officer. He looks at the V5 log book for the bike and inputs details, checks you have brought insurance and then stamps one passport for the bike and then we move on through no mans land, which is heavily guarded with armed military but all very friendly and point the way.
When you get to the end of no-mans land, all documents are looked at again and then you move a little further, there is one final check of the passports and the number plate was inputted one last time and we were on our way. Whilst there was a lot of stages, it was very simple and hassle free.
We stopped on route to the Istanbul campsite at a roadside restaurant for some lunch. No-one spoke English, and so far we have only leanrt ‘Hello’ and ‘Thankyou’ which doesn’t get you very far when you’re hungry. First for drinks, we ordered Coca-Cola at which the poor waiter just looked utterly confused, maybe our northern accents but was odd considering there were coca-cola banners, napkin holders and even salt and pepper shakers.
Then for food, there were no menus, except a large list on a wall, which we assumed was food. Paul pointed, then guy nodded enthusiastically but after 40 minutes of waiting, and a plate of cherries which were brought after 20 minutes, we figured nothing was coming. We left hungry but as we were only an hour away from the campsite not too disappointed. It was a funny first encounter with Turkey, and a very quick reminder we need to master some of the key basics for when we pass Istanbul unless we want to go hungry.
We travelled on a main road from the border to the Campsite and therefore the roads were fairly good. We chose to stay at Campsite Mocamp as it appeared first on a Google search and it was en-route. We were greeted by Izmet who is the caretaker, and his sweet little girl, who acts as his left hand man and later brought over the welcome pack. Izmet is a funny character and speaks very loudly. The campsite had very nice grass but was fairly basic in terms of facilities, no wi-fi or shop but it did have a heli-pad should any VIP campers want to fly in.
It’s also way way out in the countryside. So no shop and no lunch, meant bread and a bit of tomatoe would have to make do, as we tuck in a guy drives in on a motorbike, flips his helmet and says ‘Paul and Amy?’ I was completely confused, how did he know who we were? My immediate thought was we were in trouble, but Paul knew he was the guy who was on a thread on Horizons Unlimited we’d been speaking to about travelling through Iran and Pakistan together. He’d seen our plans and figured he make his way over.
Rochdi is from Belgium and is travelling on his own for three months, until he ships the motorbike back and his girlfriend meets him in Vietnam, where they will travel for the next 8-10 months backpacking. His website is http://1yearwalkabout.weebly.com/. We went for dinner together in Selimpaşa, the closest town which was still about a 10 minute drive and made plans to move to Mostik Camp, which is north near the black sea and closer to Istanbul centre.
Back at the campsite Rochdi pulled out some whiskey and we spent the rest of the night chatting. We’re happy to have a partner again and whilst we’ll separate in Istanbul, we’ll definitely be trying to meet up again to travel through Iran and Pakistan together.
He’s not convinced we should drive into Istanbul at all, and tells us of all the people, including Turkish people, who have warned him against it. The alternative would be to leave the bike at the campsite but undecided at the moment but at least we have a few days to decide, for now we’re just excited to have our first glimpse of the city tomorrow.