Friday 5th May 2011, Edirne, Turkey
This evening we are the very edge of Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. The attractive town of Edirne has belonged variously to all three countries at different times throughout its history.
Last night it rained heavily and we shivered in our bed despite the extra blanket. Today the campsite was a complete quagmire and all Ian's recent efforts to clean Modestine were in vain. By the time we reached here she was completely smothered in the sandy wash that spews up from the road surface as we drive along.
We have now left the sea behind as we head northwards, back into Central Europe. Our next sighting could be the English Channel. This is almost certainly our last stop in Turkey. As we drove northwards up the peninsula to the town of Gallipoli we passed, variously;
1) A pack of wild dogs – most were docile but there is always one with a suicidal tendency, eager to hurl itself at Modestine's flanks regardless of our speed.
2) A shepherd with a crocheted black Muslim skullcap and long black waistcoat, watching over his free roaming flock of very muddy sheep – there are no enclosed fields here so livestock needs watching over constantly. Such a system of animal husbandry cannot possibly compete with the mechanised methods of the West.
3) A group of very young wild puppies, abandoned by their mother and left to fend as best they can. They looked adorable but will almost certainly either starve or be run over as they play on the road with no sense of self preservation.
4) Three cowherds chatting together while their combined livestock of six cattle searched for lean gleanings along the wet and muddy border of the dual carriageway.
In Gelibolu, the rain having eased, we walked down to look at the fishing harbour and for Ian to visit the museum dedicated to the 16th century cartographer Piri Reis who was born in the town. It was housed in the in the tower between the two fishing harbours and turned out to be closed. We found Gallipoli to be a very friendly and interesting little town full of small, individual food shops and cafes with countless hardware shops. I've never seen a country so keen on mops, hoses and clothes airers as are the Turks.
We bought bread and some hot spinach and lentil pies for lunch. We also purchased a bag of lokum, aka Turkish delight. The man in the shop had a barrel that appeared to be full of white icing sugar but nestling beneath were cubes of soft, sticky, sickly lokum. First we had to try a free sample. Then when we bought some, he added almost as much again of different varieties so we could taste them all. These last were gifts.
The town has a very strong military presence. Indeed there were barracks all around the town guarded by very young men in combat gear carrying guns! Lokum and military weapons right next to each other! It is a little scary. What do they expect is going to happen in a sleepy little town like Gallipoli? But everywhere we've been in Turkey we've seen soldiers and every one carries a rifle.
Down beside the harbour were several stalls selling wet fish and we were called over to take a look. All the stall holders gathered around, telling us their names and shaking hands – a bit slippery and pungent actually as they'd been sorting their sardines. They had one word of English between them, "Fish!" They proudly held out a flat fish for us to admire, "fish!" Then they lifted up a large sea bass for our admiration. "Fish!" Several smaller fish with rainbow scales were then held produced. "Fish!" We weren't making much headway until the captain of the fishing boat came back and was introduced. "Dill!" He looked very proud when we smiled and gestured at his catch, trying to explain we didn't actually have any means of cooking a large sea bass in Modestine! They didn't seem bothered, shaking hands again as we left and returning to sorting their sardines – a particular speciality of Gelibolu.
We drove north for about 150 miles along roads that were practically deserted. Turkey is a very large and generally empty country and travelling is monotonous. At Uzunköprü we crossed a long narrow bridge, an impressive reminder of the Ottoman power in the area. The bridge has 174 arches and was constructed between 1426 and 1443, even before the fall of Constantinople!
Around 3pm we reached Edirne, a town of some 140,000, people. Before Constantinople fell in 1453 and then became the accepted capital of the Ottoman Empire, Edirne for a time filled that role. So the town has two exquisitely beautiful mosques as well as dozens of smaller ones. We spent a couple of hours exploring the historic centre, which is attractively laid out with gardens around the two main mosques. The oldest mosque in the city, Eski Cami, was built between 1403 and 1414 during which time three brothers struggled for the throne. It was the sole survivor, Mehmet I, who eventually dedicated it. It has a very striking interior, adorned with massive examples of calligraphy.
As is so often the case with mosques, it has gathered an associated series of buildings, including the Rustem Pasa Kervansarayi, part of which is now an upmarket hotel, echoing its original use and the city's oldest Bedesten or covered market, housed under a series of domes.
Crossing the road to climb up through the gardens to the Selimiye Camii we were confronted with a rare statue that wasn't to Kemal Atatürk. It represented Mimar Sinan, the wonderful architect and engineer and fittingly stood in front of his major masterpiece, designed for Selim II in 1569 when he was 80 years old.
Its four slender minarets are 71 metres high, surpassed only by those in Mecca, and the central dome, richly decorated inside, is just a few centimetres larger than Aya Sofya in Istanbul. There are vivid blue tiles adorned with exquisite calligraphy and the marble mimber or pulpit is especially ornate.
Among the buildings it has gathered in its precincts is the Kavaflar Arasta or Cobblers' Arcade, another covered market offering cheap clothing and assorted nicknacks. Indeed commerce has long invaded the precincts of the mosque, with people in the handsome arcaded courtyard vending trinkets or even attempting to sell us plastic bags for our shoes for one lirasi, despite the fact that the mosque is amply supplied with shoe racks.
Inside the mosque too the atmosphere was scarcely devotional. Apart from the people attempting to pray, others sat on the carpet and chatted, talked on their mobile phones or had themselves photographed in front of the mihrab. A group of schoolgirls climbed up to the muezzin's platform above the little marble fountain immediately below the dome, laughing and shouting. Above it all the sound of the muezzin calling to evening prayer struggled to be heard inside the massive space.
Finally today we found this campsite. It's very poor value but will have to do for one night. At least the rain has stopped and we were able to sit outside with our wine until the sun set and the air became chilly once more.
Saturday 5th May 2011, Edirne, Turkey
This morning was hot and sunny as we left the campsite and returned to the city. We discovered one more magnificent mosque, Űç Şerefeli Cami, which rounded off our Muslim experiences for this visit. I've now been completely mosqued out!
We also visited the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography where the staff had to go around ahead of us turning on the lights, visitors were such a rarity! It was actually rather good, full of Greek vases and statues as well as ancient Turkish carpets and traditional dress. There was a section too on the city of Edirne and its chequered history. Because of its position strategically placed at the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey at different times in its history it has belonged to all three. It finally became part of Turkey once more under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty when national boundaries were redrawn, with the city being returned to Turkey from Greece.
As this was to be our last day in Turkey we explored the streets further from the centre and the tourist areas around the mosques until we found an authentic Turkish restaurant. Here we selected an assortment of little dishes containing various hot meats, vegetables, rice and salads which we shared. It was very good and felt authentic, our fellow diners all being local people known to the staff.
We discovered the town was famed back in Ottoman times for the production of fruit soaps. The tradition has been revived and they are to be found piled high in the bazaars.
Later we stopped at a sticky, syrupy cake shop for a dish loaded with a selection of tiny cakes with cups of tea – this was sent out for and was delivered from another enterprise nearby that made the tea! It was carried to the cake shop on a silver tray and served to us at our table.
Finally we walked back to where we'd left Modestine and, warned that buying food in Bulgaria would be difficult, we went to the nearby supermarket to stock up on a few essentials and to buy a cooked chicken to save work once we were across the border.
That just about wraps up Turkey (as well as the cooked chicken). The rest of the day will be reported in our next blog from Bulgaria.