Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199708 Romania Bulgaria Turkey

FRIDAY 1 AUGUST 1997 – Another hot and sunny day.  We lend the dinghy to Alex and Tudor, 17 year old boys who are hear on holiday with Monica and Mircea.  We play a bit of backgammon and end up with a crowd of on lookers calling out moves to us and nearly falling out over tactics.  Monica is upset when she finds “Hass” their Alsatian dog has eaten all their evening meal.  I offer to cook a pasta meal for the 6 of us.  In the afternoon the boys borrow our bikes and go off for a long ride.  Whilst they are away we attempt to mend a loose double-glazing panel in the van and end up with lots of help.  You’ve only got to produce a screwdriver here and crowds gather.  The boys are late back, about 2 miles away Tudor had a puncture and they had to walk the rest of the way. They are frightened that we will be mad and can’t believe it when we aren’t.  The meal works out well, Monica brings and egg plant and tomato salad for starters and rice and peppers to go with the pasta in case there isn’t enough to go round – she obviously doesn’t realise I am used to feeding Claire, David and Daz’s appetites.  There’s plenty of food left and Alex takes the left over pasta to have for breakfast as he enjoyed it so much. 



SATURDAY 2 AUGUST – Spend the day on the beach, as it is again hot and sunny.  Monica and Mircea’s daughter Ioanna and boyfriend Cornell arrived in the night and we are invited to join them all for a meal tonight.   Steve plays boules with Mircea Alex and Tudor.  The meal is not so good for me, mashed aubergine tomatoes and green beans to start followed by polenta (a kind of casserole of feta cheese, Swiss cheese, corn flour and margarine, very greasy and with strong smelly cheese). Dessert makes up for it, home made mini doughnuts.  We have lots to drink (now very cheap with beer 20p ½ litre and wine 60p bottle) and good conversations.  Tomorrow I have offered o do a BBQ for everyone.   Thunder, rain and wind during the night.



SUNDAY 3 AUGUST – A nice day.  Steve plays pool with Alex and Tudor.  There’s a slight problem with the BBQ when we run out of gas and have to cook it inside.  I explain that it is normal for the English to have to transfer the BBQ inside but it’s usually because of rain!  We want to phone Claire and Mum but thee is no direct dialling from Romania, you have to go to a telephone and these are normally at the Post Office and open weekdays.  We have also read that mail to and from the UK takes 14 days but mail between UK and Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey only 3 days where they also have international direct dial telephones.  Another reminder of just how far Romania is behind the rest of Europe and even Eastern Europe.



MONDAY 4 AUGUST – We try to phone home from the Vama Veche village PO but learn that from here you can only phone to the next town of Mangalia!  We are going into Constanta tomorrow with Mircea and as it is the second largest city in Romania we should be able to phone from there.  Steve plays boules in the evening with 3 other local men.  They are used to playing with plastic boules and are curious to try out our heavier French metal ones.  They are playing on the beach so they don’t roll at all and have to be thrown high and hard.  Manage an early night for once.



TUESDAY 5 AUGUST – Mircea drives us into Constanta where we manage to phone Claire.  We visit the archaeological museum and see a huge intact mosaic floor, which is only 800m of the original 2000m.  The whole town is built upon the ancient town of Tomas (where the legendary Argonauts landed in search of the golden fleece) and lots of ruins are scattered around.  Constanta has a nice mosque and a casino on the seafront.  Drive north to look at one of the main tourist resorts of Mamaia, so touristy it even has a “Noddy” train.   Give Alex a “light bulb” style haircut using my clippers and he is delighted.  Pay the bill for camping 10,000 pppn + 2,000 pitch pn including electric.  That all equates to about £2 night. 



WEDNESDAY 6 AUGUST – Sunbathe until about 2pm then pack up to leave.  Set off just after 4pm to drive back to Bucharest with Alex and Tudor in our van following Monica and Mircea towing their caravan.  Steve notices a kitten in the caravan window (Monica adopted 4 kittens on the campsite) but when he flashes Mircea to stop he finds out that Monica had hidden it there to take back to join her other 4 cats!  Get back to their house just after 9pm.  It’s a very old house, 1890, in the old part of the city and very run down with an overgrown garden.  It’s worth about £140,000 as it stands but needs £20,000 spending on it to repair ceilings cracked by the vibration of the trams, rotten windows and floors etc.  Mircea should be going to work in Qatar for 4 years from September and plans to save enough for the repairs and to retire on return.  We cannot get used to their meal times or the amount they eat.  The evening meal is at 11.30pm with salad & tuna, crackers, mushroom omelette, fruit, chocolate, popcorn and lots of bread.  Too much for us and too late but we eat a bit of everything (and for me a lot of he chocolate).   It’s 1am by the time we get to bed.



THURSDAY 7 AUGUST – At the local market produce is very cheap, corn on the cob 5p, new potatoes 8p kilo, cheese 40p lb, so what do we do – we buy a reclining chair £9 (Sandra you can use it if you come again) and for Steve some Adidas flip flops 90p and two vest T shirts £1.20 each.  The biggest problem for us is not buying stuff.    Returned for a late lunch (a nice mousaka) that lasted from 4pm – 5.30pm.



FRIDAY 8 AUGUST- Mircea takes us for a sightseeing day beginning at the Village Museum with a collection of over 300 houses, churches and building from around the country.  We then move to Revolution Square and from Mircea learn much about the communists, Ceausescu and the revolution.  See lots of old buildings, new ones built by the communists and some reconstructed since they were bombed.  Many of the churches are painted inside and out but because everyone burns a candle on entering the building the ceiling and high wall frescoes are covered in black smoke.  The communists moved some of the very ugly buildings back by 20 – 30 metres. The gas, water and electric were put on elastic cables and the buildings were moved with people and furniture inside.  Attractive facades were then built in front of them.  Had we not learnt about the communists whilst in China we would have found this hard to believe?  We try to find an International phone to wish Carol “Happy Birthday” but can’t.  Don’t know how long it will take me to post my letters and cards but will keep looking.  Sure makes us appreciate the British communication system.  Other points along our tour include the University library, Cismigiu gardens, The Savings Bank, National History Museum (formerly the PO).  Break for lunch at Ciru Bierra, a beer cellar.  In the afternoon new visit another park and yet more buildings and churches.  In the evening I cook some Yorkshire puddings and serve them with Bisto gravy granules, not my best attempt but greatly appreciated.  This is followed by another big meal and more drink and chatting.



SATURDAY 9 AUGUST – Today Mircea takes us on a walking sightseeing tour.  At the Russian Church they make offerings of cakes on Saturdays in remembrance of the dead.  We are given a huge chunk.  We walk the main Boulevard where Ceausescu had a church moved to one side so as not to spoil the look of the avenue.  He made sure the Boulevard was 200m longer than the Champs Elyses and 1m wider.  The People’s Palace is unbelievable with every room different.  Once room was so big the carpet would not fit through the door or windows so they removed the roof to lower it in.  The whole building and surroundings is a very expensive, massive communist folly that cost the Romanians so much.  1/6 of the city was demolished and people were offered a choice of 2 alternative homes and given 24 hours to move.  Building work was around the clock causing many accidents and deaths.  The figures quoted are amazing but we feel sure that it is a building for them to be proud of in the future, we were very impressed.  Back at Mircea’s Monica has cooked lamb, a special type of baby lamb that has own ever drunk milk and never eaten grass.  We are very honoured as they normally only eat it at Easter. We are also very lucky, as Monica had been trying to get a sheep’s head so that we could have an eye each but she couldn’t get one.  



SUNDAY 10 AUGUST – We wake early and leave at 6.45am to head for the border as we are expecting delays.  We drive south to Giurgiu where the first booth at the border want our vehicle documents and US$10 to cross the road bridge, the river being the actual border between Romania and Bulgaria.  At the next booth they demand $6 ecology tax and at the following booth 5 soldiers stops us and ask for cigarettes or $5 to speed up our passage.  We’ve already given our cigarettes to Mircea and are rapidly running out of dollars but a bag of mint imperials seems to have a similar effect.  Next stop passport control where an officer checks inside the van.  We’re on to the bridge where we are stopped for another passport check half way across.  We finally reach the Bulgarian customs and stop to pay $3 Bulgarian ecology tax, $1 road tax and finally $2 vehicle disinfect ion fees (you drive through a muddy trough of water).  After 2 hours we’ve run the full gauntlet and emerge in BULGARIA, a bit of a record as we had been warned the process would take at least ½ day.  Following us through is a British car and trailer, Charles, Karen and son Lawrence left England on Friday morning to drive to Turkey to combine a holiday with the collection of furniture.  They tell us about the recent murder of an English man in his camper van in Hungary, we never felt threatened there but are glad we have already passed through.  Drive to Varna on very good roads with almost no traffic until we get near the coast.  Notice different countryside with rolling hills and some long distance views.  We try the campsite at Kamchiya but there are too many trees and it’s only really suitable for tents.  At 3pm we arrive at Camping Luna near Obzor and between Varna and Burgas.  Bulgarian currency is Lev’s and we get about 3000LV = £1.  The camping is by the beach and cheap at 6,000LV (£2) including electric and warm showers.  The toilets are not brill but usable.  It’s windy and has rained a little so the sea is quite wild with big waves rolling in.  There are cliffs just north along the coast and you can see the hotels at Obzor 1km south.  I have just done our weekly accounts and Romania was very cheap for us.  We covered 740 miles, arrived with an empty fuel tank and left full and only spent £220 in 14 days.  In the evening we visit the campsite bar for a couple of beers and to watch the athletics on TV.  Paid for 2 beers then got offered 2 free glasses of white wine to try so Steve buys a cheese toasty to eat with it.  We are then asked to join the family drinking “Sainsburys” Bulgarian red wine and they offer us local fish with bread and peppers.  We try to pay but although they accept US$1 they only really wanted 50c for the cheese toasty as the rest was on the house.  A German couple tell us that since communism ended in 1990 this site has been nearly empty instead of being full because standards are dropping hence the state of the toilets. 



MONDAY 11 AUGUST – It’s a cloudy, breezy but warm day and perfect for a walk along the beach to Obzor, another “has been” area now old and run down with only a few hotels open.  We buy a “Robson & Jerome” tape “Take Two”, £2.20.  It’s sealed and has a stamp to show it is original but we have our doubts.  Return along t road and check out he “Polska Camping” area of our site.  It’s very bleak with tin huts crammed together and fully occupied.  The toilets are smelly and dirty.  Makes us realise just how well off we are in England when these people are here on holiday and no doubt think themselves lucky.  Take an evening meal at the campsite restaurant and are joined by the German couple Erich and his wife who are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary.



TUESDAY 12 AUGUST – Our drive south takes us to Nesebur, a very nice old town on a small island.  The local houses are stone on the ground flour then wood higher up and most attractive.  Most people here are British tourists on a day trip from nearby Sunny Beach.  A couple from Settle tell us it is over 90F in England; here it is warm but cloudy with intermittent rain.  Have a look at Sunny Beach but it is very touristy and the campsite run down and basic but charging £15 night.  A bit further south is Pomorie where the basic Europa Camping charges US$10 but at least it’s on the beach.  We telephone Barry in Istanbul and he repeats his invitation to join him, which we shall do pretty soon if the weather doesn’t improve.  At least in Istanbul we can do some sightseeing if the weather is poor.  Everyone is saying this is the worst summer weather they can remember with no sign of improvement verified by more heavy rain in the night. 



WEDNESDAY 13 AUGUST – We leave the site early to try and get some gas.  There’s a big queue in Pomorie so we drive on to Burgas but still have to queue for 45 minutes.  There are two figures on the pump, one the number of a litres and the other the price in Levs.  Initially we haven’t figured out which is which so when are asked for 13750 Levs (£5) we pay it but just down the road we twig that this represented 13.75 litres of gas (as the meter showed 10ths of litres) and we should have paid 6200 Levs (£2).  Just south of Sozopol we see a sign for FKK (naturist) Camping Wesselie.  We take over the site that Australian Catherine and sister and Dad from Poland are just vacating. It’s a drizzly afternoon and but we meet Bruce from England and his Bulgarian partner and chat to them.  The beach is naturist and the people in the tents immediately behind it are nude all the time but you have to dress for the main part of the campsite as it is in view of the main road. 



THURSDAY 14 AUGUST – Cycle into Sozopol, a nice town with lots of market stalls and old wooden houses.  We are tempted by a harbour side café and have drinks and chicken noodle soup with bread for a total of 85p.  The afternoon is much nicer so we spend time on the beach by the campsite.  Think the bad weather may be over as 6 people begin tidying up the debris on the beach. 



FRIDAY 15 AUGUST – We spend the day on the beach, the sea is lovely, clean and with a sandy bottom.  In fact it’s the best beach so far.  Steve returns to the van to get some wine, bread and cheese for lunch and just about gets to the door when he remembers he should have put clothes on.  He hides himself behind the rucksack and disappears inside.



SATURDAY 16 AUGUST – Another scorcher of a day.  I decide to defrost the chicken and roast it for tea.  I put my hands inside to remove the giblets and am horrified to pull out the head and two feet.  We cycle 2km down the coast to look at Dunes Resort vacation village.  The nearest thing we have seen to western standards but not surprising at $70 night.  They have a motorised hang glider that lands in the sea and charge and extortionate $25 for a 10-minute ride.  We return to the campsite beach which is very busy with day-trippers but when we return in the evening it is almost empty and the water lovely and warm.



SUNDAY 17 AUGUST – My early morning swim is very refreshing.  Late in the afternoon we take a walk along the beach.  Steve spots a wine bottle washed up on the shore and amazingly there is a “Message in a bottle” but it’s written in Bulgarian. Continue to the next campsite with a big supermarket and buy lots of wine at 35p bottle.  Walk back along the main road and spot a car go past towing a trailer with a big brown bear in.  Steve thought he saw a bear the other day tied on the back of a horse and cart but I didn’t believe him at the time, now I do.  We ask someone at our campsite to translate the message from the bottle and discover that people on our site posted it yesterday.



MONDAY 18 AUGUST – Another hot day with clear blue skies.  We walk to another campsite and phone Barry and Claire.  It’s very romantic down on the beach at night as it’s a full moon. 



TUESDAY 19 AUGUST – Hot again so day on the beach. Few clouds in the morning and strong waves at sea.



WEDNESDAY 20 AUGUST – Another hot day on the beach.  In the evening Steve goes to watch football whilst I join our German neighbours Bernt, Ellie and 2 boys in their motorhome.



THURSDAY 21 AUGUST – A warm but windy day and we are the only ones on the beach tucked away behind our wind break English style.  We don’t stay for long and upon returning to the van we find a big ant problem.  They have climbed along the electric cable and are now inside.  We have a spray to kill them but then end up having to completely clean to get rid of the corpses.  Settle the bill for camping at 12920 Lev (£4.50) per day. 



FRIDAY 22 AUGUST – Set off at 7.30am and arrive at the border at 9.30am.  No problem at the first Bulgarian passport control but at the second checkpoint we are told off for following a bus through and not stopping behind the white line.  Next stop is the first Turkish check point where we are issued with a sheet listing 8 checks to be completed and rubberstamped.  1- Doctor for a health check, 2- Pay $4 for disinfections, 3- Pay £20 for visa, 4- Get passport stamped and visa entered, 5- Have vehicle documents checked, 6- Clear customs, 7- Have all the paperwork checked, 8- Final passport clearance.  You must do the checks in the correct order and if you don’t tip the clerk they keep you waiting even longer.  The whole procedure takes us 2 ½ hours and much hassle but not bad compared to someone who told us they took 14 hours.  Fortunately most of the countries we want to visit are in the EU.  In TURKEY we go straight onto the motorway towards Istanbul.  Phone Barry from a service station and he gives us directions to a place near his house where we can phone from.  The motorway around Istanbul is quite an experience.  Outside the city centre are huge new developments of brightly coloured flats (pink, purple, orange) mingled with minarets.  The traffic is horrendous and manoeuvres are accompanied by lots of horn hooting.  Dust blows up everywhere as the surface is churned up.  There seem to be few rules other than size prevails which could work to our advantage.  The exit we need is blocked off so take the next one and try to head off in the right general direction.  Everyone is very helpful in giving directions but we still end up getting lost and wind up in a village on the banks of the Bosporus.  I think I have seen a phone booth but there is only a slot for a card and no one sells them.  In the end a man in a café says we can use his telephone.  After we have spoken to Barry he asks us to pass the phone to someone Turkish.  Another customer takes the phone, jabbers in Turkish then hangs up.  He tells us to wait in the café so we order some drinks.  When we come to pay for the phone call and the drinks the proprietor tells us the customer who helped with the phone call paid our bill before he left.  Barry & his Turkish fiancée Cicek arrive 10 minutes later.  Cicek had asked the customer where we were and told him they would come and collect us.  We ask about phone cards and learn that the “phone box” was actually a bank ATM and they don’t have phone boxes, as we know them.  Barry travels with us in the motorhome back to their home at Sariyer.  It’s a beautiful spot on a new development of large detached houses and they are renting theirs.  They take us out to a lovely fish restaurant on the riverbank for a Mezes (assorted hor d’oeuvres) followed by grilled fish then fruit washed down with raki.  A wonderful welcome to Turkey.  Barry drops Cicek at her home because until they get married she must be home by 11pm as her family are Muslims.  Barry must convert before they can marry but a Muslim man can marry a woman of any religion.  Cicek is very westernised having met Barry when she lived in England but her family are not. 



SATURDAY 23 AUGUST – We are woken at about 5am by the distant wailing from a mosque.  After breakfast we collect Cicek and she and Barry take us into Istanbul.  We visit the backpacker’s area and book our flight back to England for when Claire has her baby.  After breakfast we walk to Aya Sofia, a basilica that was once the largest church in Christ but now converted to Muslim.  Barry hires a guide for a private tour, a 70-year-old man who is very funny.  Next we walk to Sultan Ahmet Camii commonly known as the Blue Mosque.  There are many young boys in smart suits with velvet and gold capes and wearing crowns.  Barry says they are celebrating having just been circumcised and says they are wearing Chop Suey-t’s.  The blue mosque is very nice and named after the blue tiles inside.  Next stop Kapali Carsi (the grand bazaar) with over 4000 shops in a maze of arcades grouped together by trade.  Goldsmiths, leather and fabric stalls abound.  Returning to the car we stop off in a restaurant where a Turkish band are playing and lades are sat in the middle cooking “gozleme”, a type of pancake.  A visit to a cake shop rounds off a super day.  Our initial impression of Istanbul is that it is much less stressful and far more interesting than we had anticipated.



SUNDAY 24 AUGUST – Head off to the squash courts where Barry, Steve and myself are joined by Alp, a Turkish man who works at the Australian embassy.  After I play and beat him he says he was just being a gentleman in letting me win 9 – 0.  His wife Gamze joins us and we have a chat in the bar.  In the evening we have drinks on a boat anchored at the side of the Bosporus.



MONDAY 25 AUGUST – Barry takes us into the city to the British embassy.  Having arrived in a vehicle it is stamped on Steve’s passport and we need permission to leave the country without it.  Unfortunately the embassy is closed because it is a bank holiday in England.  Drive over the bridge to the Asian part of Istanbul and visit a flea market at Uskudar.  We take in a couple of mosques before driving to the top of Buyuk Camlica hill for fine views accompanied by afternoon tea.  Early evening we visit Orta Koy, the trendy district, to try and find the Hard Rock café but it is an imitation.  We decide to go on a river cruise so pick up a quick snack from the jacket potato stalls before taking our 1-hour trip along the Bosporus 75p.  There are some huge jellyfish in the water, about 1 foot in diameter, not a tempting place for a swim.



TUESDAY 26 AUGUST – Manage to get the information for leaving the country without the van.  We have to leave it in a customs secure compound at the airport and this involves considerable paperwork and expense.  We collect our flight tickets then walk to Yerebatan Sarayi, an underground water cistern.  Built for Emperor Constantine to collect water for his two palaces it also contained fish to supply the palace kitchens.  Locals living above got to hear about this and drilled wells to lower their boats down and go fishing.  It has now been drained and the supporting columns exposed to reveal many pilfered from other monuments.  Two have heads of medusa and others have writing and carvings.  Walk through a local park to get to the black market where they sell electrical goods.  The is followed by a visit to the colourful, noisy, smelly and exciting Egyptian spice market.  For supper we have freshly grilled and filleted fish “buttie” on the riverside.



WEDNESDAY 27 AUGUST – Take the ferry to the Asian side of the river for Cicek to get her wedding dress fitted at Kadi Koy.  Walk around the won and visit Carrefours to do some shopping.  Back on the European side we go to a fish restaurant just north of Sariyer, Rumeli Kauaci, but get ripped off when we are charged almost £50 for 4 meals.  £20 is for 3 medium sized fish; the man says they are more expensive because they are fresh!  We have to agree with Barry that they are “taking the piss”.



THURSDAY 28 AUGUST – At the airport we check out the procedure for storing the motorhome.  Visit Topkapi Palace and harem.  The buildings are not up to much, more like simple museum buildings in gardens.  However the history about the harem is very interesting and the treasury holds the 5th largest diamond in the world.  A quick visit to the archaeological museum before picking up groceries at the supermarket to make French bread pizzas.  Barry & Cicek go round to Alps in the evening and we do some video editing.



FRIDAY 29 AUGUST – Take the van to Attaturk airport to check it into the customs area.  The paperwork is completed in just less than 3 hours and that’s with Cicek doing the translating.  In the afternoon we go to Belgrade forest for lunch and a walk.  Daz phones in the evening to say that Claire is in hospital with high blood pressure and they may induce the baby tomorrow. 



SATURDAY 30 AUGUST – Steve and Barry both have upset stomachs and as toilets leave a lot to be desired in Turkey they don’t want to venture out.  Fit in some sunbathing until early afternoon when we get a rain and thunderstorm.  At this point we go to Carsi to do some shopping and I buy an outfit to wear at Barry and Cicek’s wedding.  We decide on a light tea and I cook boiled eggs as they are supposed to be binding.  One is mouldy inside so eggs this may have caused the stomach problems as we had Welsh rarebit last night made with eggs.   Steve is now quite poorly and rapidly loosing his beer belly.  2am Turkish time we get a phone call from England, Claire has had a quick labour and produced a boy at 8.45pm weighing 7lb 70z.  Mother and baby doing well.  



SUNDAY 31 AUGUST – We wake up late after a restless night following the exiting baby news.  For lunch we got to a pizza place and sit out on the terrace taking in the view.  In front of us is a field of half built houses and Barry explains that the Turkish system is to build to this stage then wait for a buyer.  Once sold the builder finishes the house and builds the road as far as it.  They houses at the back of the estate won’t be sold until last as it would be too expensive to put all the road in at once.  We get back to the house and Cicek arrives and gives us the tragic news about Princess Diana’s death.  We are totally shocked and pick up more information on the short wave radio.  In the evening we visit Cicek’s brother Yavuz and his wife Cigdem.  We have Turkish tea and cake followed by Turkish coffee complete with a coffee cup reading by Yavuz.  Mine shows a map with lots of roads – wonder what put that idea into his heads!





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: