My Other Travels Through Europe
November 20, 2006
Well, the fact that the Turks and Europeans have fought it out over this soil over the centuries could be reason enough alone to write a separate chapter on this, but the trip to south west Turkey, even though it only took three days, was interesting enough so I shall dedicate a chapter to that.
It was a great shame it was night when I drove and travel through the mountains north of Podgorice and into Serbia. Thick bulbous snow reflecting a full moon and tall dark and ominous mountains in the background. Looked like excellent ski country and will have to check it out sometime. So no pictures unfortunately through all that and this to the left is the first, not too far past the Bulgarian border.
Headed north of Podgorice, Montenegro, because after consulting with God and some locals I decided against driving through Albania and Greece. So north through Serbia it was. And even though I left at the end of the day and it was getting dark, the moon was full enough that I saw everything and it was a beautiful drive indeed. I recommend it and hope to do it again in the daytime.
Perhaps an opportunity to say something about Montenegro. One thing they pride themselves on is that they are such a small country yet they managed to defy the Turks over the centuries. Apparently the Sultan sent hundreds of thousands but they could not conquer this small country, until he finally came himself to check it out. And there he was, with his massive army, looking with bewilderment up at the super steep and high mountain walls, and after another failure decided to go back to Persia and give up on this country.
Also, the Germans apparently could not really make it this far, but the Montenegrins did have some skirmishes with the Croatians. Historically they were an independent state but were somehow swallowed into Yugoslavia under communism, and then left a part of Serbia after that. They apparently did not take part too much in the Bosnian war, but because they were part of Serbia, they got nailed by the sanctions, so their economy was hit hard and that is why they are so poor at the moment. But the Croatians finished a fancy highway, tourist traffic is on the rise, and the Montenegrins are climbing out of their difficult circumstance. I’ll complain about the garbage everywhere, but the people are pretty laid back and peaceful, and I would recommend a visit to the country.
Piggie breaks into the Muslim world!
So the drive north through their super high mountain ranges was quite enjoyable and reminded me a lot about British Colombia, Canada, where I planted half a million trees. It was already cold when I left and it got colder as I climbed my way higher and higher. It looked like there was a meter of snow on the ground and I passed one ski village after another. Also worth checking out. But I was fed up with the cold weather and seeing my breath in the truck, or trying to work in a sleeping bag with two sweaters and winter gloves with the finger tips cut off so that I could type. But I did not expect that I would be going through such mountainous and snow covered country, so it must have looked strange when I had to get out at the border crossings, or at the occasional grocery store, or asking the occasional policeman for directions, dressed in my usual attire of, yes, you guessed it, shorts, sandals and no socks.
Actually, reminded me a bit of Mexico when I had to cross those constant military borders where they asked me if I had any drugs or weapons on board. But they instead would always get distracted by the postcards I had taped on the wall. Apparently they had never been anywhere before and were curious where all those places on the postcards were. This time though the border guards were in such shock at my attire that they forgot about anything else.
Crossed into Serbia, didn’t drive too much further, and already more guards to control me. Saw a “UN Checkpoint” sign and wondered what it was all about. Made it through there and the guard said, “Welcome to Kosovo.” Huh? Who said anything about driving through Kosovo? Maybe it was because I was driving so quickly to warmth that I did not stop to get any local maps, such that I was using my big, rolled up wall map of Europe for guidance.
Not having much detail to follow, would use the road signs but which took me off the main highway and I ended up taking some small noodly road. The plan was to go south through what I thought was still Serbia, into Macedonia, then to Bulgaria to Turkey. It was actually rather cold, and ending up on this old road wasn’t the greatest because it wasn’t well tended but rather icy.
Front row seat on the ferry to Canakkale!
Everyone was driving at a snail’s pace and I saw regular vehicles off the road in the ditch. There weren’t even many road signs either, such as the ones that warn you of sharp curves. At one point I was going down a slight decline and approaching a bend a little bit too fast. I guessed it might have been a sharper curve, couldn’t even see that well through the snow and fog, so I eased on the brake to slow me down ahead of time.
That is when the entire four tonnes of the beauty started spinning out of control. I was heading straight for a thin guard rail and you can imagine an electrical bolt of adrenalin charged through my spine right into my skull. But hey, I’m a good driver, and instead of slamming on the brake like a retard I released the brake and cruised forward, easing on the brake the least I could, while turning the front wheels the least angle possible. Missed the guard rail by about half a foot only to start sliding towards the ditch on the other side of the road. But that was easier to negotiate and I was back on track, the blood in my brain pumping major amounts of adrenalin. Thank goodness for the special unidirectional front tires I bought before I headed out from Prague – expensive at almost 300$ a pop. So I decided I should occasionally test things and slammed on the breaks when I thought it was safe, to learn the truck’s limits. Later in the suburbs of town I even tried to practice a 180 spin, but somehow the four rear wheels had too much traction, temperatures tend to be warmer in cities, and looks like they were sprinkling a bit of sand. It was getting dark and it looked like I was going to spend the night in Pristina. Yes, that town where the Russians had a standoff at the airport against the west during the Bosnian war.
They seem to have a lot of marble in Turkey, here used as a sculpture.
The town of Bodrum. Too touristy for my tastes.
Finally making it off the small noodly road I got back on the highway and not too much farther to go to Pristina. But I guess the cops saw me leaving the old highway and pulled me over at the checkpoint.
“Show papers! Do you have insurance? No, not good!”. The supervisor strolls out and points out that they aren’t really part of Europe yet and that my liability insurance from Allianz did not apply here and that I should have got separate insurance at the border or ahead of time.
McD in Turkey okay, but McTurko??
I liked the flower pots on the wall in this alley.
Interesting attention to detail.
“Sorry about that. I didn’t even know I was going to go through Kosovo. See?” I partially unroll my large wall map, now crumpled and ripped in places. “No Kosovo on here. I thought it was part of Albania or Macedonia or something. Where is it exactly, by the way?” He draws with his finger tip the border of Kosovo. “So what do you have back there anyway?” gesturing behind the blanket hanging behind my head. “Camping? Any people back there? Women?” I try to create an opening for him so he can see behind the blanket, but that somehow did not work. “F*ck some b*tches, eh? Ha ha”. “Yah, ha ha ha.” Didn’t expect him to say that but decided to play along, giving him my broad Canadian smile. A little silence hung in the air, so I thought I should say something: “Well, you know how it is. A woman would have to be crazy to go on a trip like this with me. Tried and I tried, but simply could not find any.” “Okay okay my friend. Well have a nice trip and make sure to stay in our country a while.”
Basically the look I had when I was trying to explain I didn’t know I was in Kosovo, and without liability insurance at that. Often I would forget to leave the flashlight on my head, often lit.
If you were a cop, couldn’t you help but love, or feel sorry for such a case?
Phew. Okay, so on my way and spent a freezing cold night in Pristina. Besides the minus 20C temperatures I experienced in the eastern part of the Czech Republic during the winter, that night was the coldest I had to endure yet, so I threw on my warmest long johns, thick warm socks and winter hat, and snuggled into my winter sleeping bag, throwing the wool blanket over that, and managed to survive until the morning without a problem.
Now through Macedonia, I saw an army guy hitchhiking, just as I was leaving the capital city. So I picked him up and he helped me get to Bulgaria. He confirmed what the guy at the border said: that the main highway to Bulgaria was closed due to construction. So I was pretty lucky and he guided me through some insane construction on lesser roads, backtracking several times and forced to do u-turns on major highways, until I dropped him off at his village and made it to the border of Bulgaria.
Above: Bodrum bay.
Right: metal steps descending into a crystal clear sea.
Which reminds me of the last time I went to Bulgaria, perhaps 6 years ago. When we had to wait four hours at the border. Every border crossing was a long wait and each time the bus attendant carried out another two bottles of wine, but the Bulgarian border was particularly bad. I was amazed that the country was supposed to be let into Europe within a month and yet the corruption still seemed rampant. I noticed a big sign on the window “Do not pay anything here!”. At least the EU accomplished something. The woman behind the counter fumbled with my passport and documents a good five minutes, mumbling “passport” over and over again.
I gathered later she was hoping I’d throw here some bills to speed up the process, for she didn’t even stamp my passport after all that fumbling. Another window, then a third. This time the guy wanted to see the inside of my truck. In my haste to get away from the cold, I didn’t clean up the inside as I usually do, and when he asked me to open the side door bags of food fell out onto the road. The inside was generally in shambles. He tried to climb in but almost broke the step. That is something I still have to fix. He just shook his head and mumbled scofflingly under his breath, “European Union”. Like he expected something better to come out of the Czech Republic. It was a small border crossing in the mountains and I guess he was tired of looking at my underwear strewn over the seats, so he sent me on my way. And still a fourth window, at which sat a fat and well fed Bolshevik with big fat lips who managed to get 18 Euro out of me for a road sticker, which I later realised was not necessary.
Now on the other end of Bodrum peninsula in Yalikavak, watching the sun set over Greek islands.
Making it through another border, I did what I usually like to do in such circumstances, celebrate with a beer! So I pulled into the nearest grocery store but was astounded to see the higher prices than I was used to in Montenegro. Bought a sandwich and the woman saw I was struggling with the beer decision, so she suggested the two litre plastic bottles. Usually a bad idea I find, but the price was good, so I went along. Got into the truck and immediately took a few healthy swigs, and was soon on my way.
Nice slow drive downhill. Because the main highway was closed, I was forced to cross farther south, driving up into the mountains again, through a small border crossing. Because I went so far south and because my friend in Sofia did not respond to my emails (turns out he was trying to get laid that weekend, so obviously more important than meeting little ol’ me), I decided I will head south through Greece instead. But after the fiasco at the Bulgarian border, decided I will not take the chance in Greece and cut somehow through Bulgaria without going North through Sofia. I was easing my way back down the hill, grabbed the two litre beer bottle, wedging it between my legs, the steering wheel and my belly, and screwed open the lid. But I guess because of that earlier healthy few swigs and the fact that it was now partially empty, its contents sloshing away with the bottle lying like that on the seat next to me, as soon as I screwed open the cap beer spewed out all over my shorts. Now that’s just great. I was running out of clean clothes, these were my last clean shorts, and now I will stink like beer.
Found a nice secluded spot a little outa town. Pictures below from the small peak in the background.
Got onto the highway, was following the speed of the traffic, and yet another cop check. That is just fantastic. By now I had almost finished the bottle, was a bit inebriated, and my shorts stunk of beer.
I was cooperative and gave him all my documents as he requested.
Now before I commence with this story, after it was over I decided that all cops in the world must be using some renowned website or something. Like policeacademy.com, with the first heading reading “5001 ways to take money from a foreigner”. And of course some very basic lessons in English. Two important words, one for each of their brain cells:
“Problem. Big problem”. Of course, we could easily add to this “No problem”, but that would be one more word than the number of their brain cells and certainly not necessary in their vocabulary.
Anyway, I was amazed later how fluently the conversation went. Perhaps after living almost two months in Montenegro I learned how to speak such rudimentary Czech/Slavic, while waving my arms in various ways, that this Bulgarian understood me fluently. I will spell out the basic conversation, and at some point give you an example of the rudimentary level we were talking at.
“Problem. Look, you were going 74 through a speed zone of 50.” I just stared at the fancy display with my mouth gaping open, breathing slightly to the left so he would not smell the beer.
“And what is this? There is no stamp on your passport.”
“It’s not my job to put a stamp on the passport.”
“But there is not stamp on your passport.”
“But I don’t have a stamp, so how can I put a stamp on the passport?”
At this point the other cop who was standing outside of the car next to me burst out laughing.
My favourite spot so far to park for the evening,
next to a boat repair yard.
So I continued: “And where is this 50 km speed limit sign anyway?”
“It’s back over there. You must go back 20 km and pay the ticket at the office.” He was repeating this several time, by which time I was getting a bit nervous and angry, my voice heightening, but all the while being careful to breath out to the left.
“But I’m not going back that direction. I’m going this [gesturing the opposite] direction, and after that I’m going to hang a right and drive on to Istanbul.”
“But you must go back 20km and pay the fine at the office.”
“And what about all those cars barreling past me?”
In rudimentary Slavic, I asked: “A co swoosh swoosh swoosh?” Gesturing with my head the cars whipping by us as we tried to resolve the issue. “A co” meaning “and what about” and “swoosh” the first thing that popped in my head to describe a speeding car. So I continue: “And that monster blue truck can’t even go that fast. And why are you picking on me? You see Czech license plates and pull me over? Well why don’t you just write me something on a piece of paper and I’ll send you a check in the mail.” (not)
View from my window in the parking spot above. Nice place to hit after another free internet day at the marina. Gotta get here by around 4pm to see the sun go down.
By this time the cop standing next to me had crawled into the car next to him and started to talk to him. I didn’t understand, but I imagined: “Listen Bob, look at what this freak is wearing. Black long johns, shorts on tops, thick wool socks and sandals. And look at that truck. You think this freak has any money? Just give it up and let’s wait for the next tourist.”
So he reluctantly handed me back my documents and muttered something which sounded like “Ty si pasak”. Or I guess “paserak”, which would essentially mean “you are a smuggler”.
Hmm, the above might be an interesting transition.
To right I eventually added a curtain separating the front and hiding the interior. Quickly removable to be used as a wool blanket. Crazy glue, electrical tape and Velcro have truly become my friends.
Whatever dude. If he was stopping traffic fairly, I could cooperate, but I generally always go almost half the speed as anyone else, even if it is faster than the speed limit. It would be retarded for me to drive at 30k while everyone else is driving at 110. Actually, after this incident, I decided that this was going to be my argument. I always drive slower (couldn’t possibly drive faster anyway), and if someone pulls me over, I will tell them I work hard all year long to save up for a trip and I am not going to let every thief pull me over every 10 km and shorten my vacation to this beautiful country, and I am simply not paying. So write something on a piece of paper and I’ll send you the check in the mail.
Really, police generally don’t want to waste their time with freaks like me and would rather wait for someone honest folk like you to come along and fork out the cash. So please, keep doing so, so I can get away with my approach. Don’t try this (away from) home, kiddies!
Anyway, decided not to take any more chances, drove slower and off the main highway through some rickety old one. A good time to drive is at night, when most of the police are at home eating dinner, or when they cannot see your license plates, so I made it by sleep time almost to the Turkish border.
Got up early in the morning and took the opportunity to clean the truck and put it into order. Heard the Muslims believe cleanliness is Godliness, and that they are generally clean and tidy, so wanted to set a good impression before crossing this border into the land of midnight express.
Crossed through and they were walking around banging slightly on the outside with the handles of their screwdrivers. One even unscrewed one of my wooden panels. I kept hearing the word “insulation”. At one point I explained to them that the reason some places sound hollow when they banged the metal frame and some parts not was because I used this stuff Bitumen. Which is basically tar paper, which you hold over an open flame so that heats up and then sticks to the metal when you press against it. Then the rockwool, which is like fiberglass insulation, goes on top of that. The Bitumen is good because it absorbs the vibration of the metal exterior casing, otherwise it would sound unbearably like the inside of a large drum while rumbling over the highways. I explained this using my usual charades and arm flailing gesturing, hoping they would not misinterpret the tar paper heated over open flame to mean sheets of hash sandwiched between the visible insulation and the metal exterior. They seemed to buy it and waved me on my way.
The view from the small peak mentioned above. My truck now parked on the water in the bay inlet at the foot of the peak in the background (very very small blue dot if you can zoom in that far).
So I was finally in the Muslim world, crossing that border over which they had fought against the Europeans throughout the millennia. And it was fun to have crossed my first time zone as well! I barreled it southward after that and made it half way to my final destination by nightfall. Two days it took me to drive down the west coast of Turkey and I had to marvel at what a machine this Mercedes was, humming like a bee without the slightest complaint. And I was surprised how far south I had to go before I stopped seeing pockets of snow, but with every spin of my big fat tires, it was like slowly turning the knob on the thermostat, and I was realising a large part of the reason why I had set up this mobile accommodation in the first place. Any passengers with me will testify how often those little people outside look perplexed at us, the truck at first seeming like a beaten up delivery vehicle but what on closer inspection instead looks like a cottage on wheels, with a madman wearing spectacles and a baseball cap at its helm. I was certainly getting lots of such looks on my way deep into Muslim territory, and with my 1400 Watt stereo blaring western rock, I felt I was rampaging a little European invasion of my own. The next day I made it to my final destination: Bodrum – suggested to me by one of my translators.
It is the southwest corner of Turkey and possibly its warmest part. Although a local informed me it did get colder around the time I arrived. I was escaping the freezing cold front which seemed to hit Europe like a brick and imagined I was spearheading a little historical invasion of my own, but this cooler weather subsided after a few weeks and I was back to shorts, no socks, sandals, a short sleeve shirt and swimming in the ocean. AAaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh….
More views from the same peak above. Nice walk there every Sunday, and an opportunity to cook in the quiet bay, where few Turks frequent.
A few days here asking my usual questions and determined that most of the marinas have wifi internet. After mentioning that I prefer nature, someone suggested the bay on the other side of the peninsula, where there is also a marina, probably also with wifi internet. Drove here, was pleasantly surprised to find it free, and am slowly settling in for the winter. When crossing the border the guard said I can stay until April 5. That sounds just about right. If I want to stay longer, Bodrum is a port town with ferries hitting a lot of the Greek islands, which I can see while looking out the front window. May check them out at some point anyway, since they are not far away at all. So far the Turks have been nice to me but I still haven’t found the perfect parking spot. Will offer free English lessons to meet some locals and make contacts, and hope it will be a long, pleasant and warm winter. A major reason for putting this big truck project together in the first place.
After living here for about three weeks now, I must say that the Turks are pretty relaxed and not at all the horror everyone painted them as. Tommy the party preacher, in his typical jaded outlook on every nationality, said the Turkish police will look forward to slipping some narcotics in my pocket to justify throwing me into jail and make “Niagara falls size out of my skinny white European bum bum”. Many other people I knew were frightening me with similar stories, but so far the Turks have proven harmless, even cuddly little teddy bears. Relaxed and generally nice, and I look forward to offering some free English lessons for an opportunity to meet some locals and snuggle in for the winter.
Back to Euro Tour Page
Finally got a chance to try out one of my portable showers.
A big moldy rock on the Sunday peak.
The boat repair yard where I liked to camp out.
My fancy new wifi antenna, clipped to the diver’s rear view mirror.
Can catch a signal up to 10km away and a new expression of my freedom.
Here parked next to the local marina with free internet.
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