Travels with Papillon




The Narrative



To The Narrative - Page Index

To Camping by Country index





Your Papers Please!

Part 2



Papillon gets Run Out of Turkey



Photos in the border area are forbidden -  you sneak them.

It was a simple enough request - "Your papers please".  But a minute later the next statement was very chilling.  "Your papers are not in order!"   And at that moment every bad Grade B movie you ever saw with a border functionary and a poor hapless victim/traveler being hauled off flashes through your brain.

But he was correct.  

At the crossing between Kastanies, Greece and Edirne, Turkey you pass along a narrow overgrown half mile stretch of road between the gun pits of the Armies and the Customs Stations.  And you are required to make 2 narrow 90 degree turns to enter the Customs shed on the Turkish side.

Here you stop your vehicle in the only lane in the to Turkey direction and exit, with your "papers" in hand, and enter a 2 story ramshackle office building with a central lobby hall and offices to the sides and back.  They direct you into a unkempt dull office with one desk, one double door storage cabinet, one faded couch, 2 desk top computers and a lot of dust on the floor.  Here you hand over your documents and take a seat on the couch.

They were most polite but quite official.  They were checking to see that our documents were in order.  In Europe your Ownership paper (Title - of which you must have the original) also has entered on it your License Plate number.  In the US this is not the case at all.  Thus, they then wanted to check our Florida registration and there they saw that the plate number was properly entered.  Then they reviewed our Green Card (mandatory European form of Proof of Insurance) and spotted a typo on the card.  On the Green Card our license plate number was entered incorrectly.

And with that we were sent packing.

Denied entry.

Upon our return, the Greek authorities just laughed out loud and exclaimed, "That's Turkey!"



Working the Problem

Okay, now what.  After a short burst of panic you have to regroup and move on.  We call it Working the Problem.  You know that there is an answer out there, you just do not know the shape, nor color, nor texture of the solution as yet.  Quite often at this stage of the game you are not really sure what the questions are.  So you begin the process of Working the Problem.

First get a hold of our insurance agent and get a new Green Card.

Dial up the number in a pay booth but there are codes in European phones that I have not mastered - I keep getting disconnected.  Seeking out some help in a local smoke filled cafe inhabited only by men who were intent on their card games I am directed to one fellow who says, "Oh, you need a phone, here use my cell phone."  And thus we meet Dr. Savities.  He helps to connect us to our insurance man who does not answer.  He allows us to call a couple other numbers to help get the ball rolling, he allows us to use his number as a call back number.  And finally he drives us to a spot on the river where we can spend the night and try the phones again in the morning.

Free camp along the river.

In the morning (Friday) I am able to speak with our Insurance Man who promises to solve the paperwork issue, however he is away from the office and can do it on Monday, and the courier service will get it to us on Wednesday at the earliest.  Plus, he needs an address to send it to.

Thus, we decide to head back 110 kilometers to the Campground in Alexandroupolis, Greece and wait it out.  Also we send him the address via fax.

Further reflection led us to the conclusion that we would go bonkers just sitting around waiting for Wednesday.


... works in Mysterious Ways

While thinking through our options we met the Caravan Leader of a group of 22 Dutch Caravans that were returning from Turkey.  He informed us that all 3 Istanbul Campgrounds had closed and that the nearest site was 60 miles west of town.

With that news we thought that our denial of entry was divinely inspired because learning that tidbit at the gates of a closed campground late in the day is not good.  Thus we decided to spend a few days in Istanbul and that we would take the bus from Greece.

It is 8 AM on a Saturday morning in June in the bus station in Alexandroupolis, Greece.  Scheduled departure is 8:30 but they will not sell you a ticket until the bus arrives and they determine if there are any seats available.


This day they had plenty and we left on time for the roughly 5 and 1/2 hour ride to Istanbul.  Border crossings can vary from 15 to 90 minutes so scheduled arrival times are to be viewed as very flexible.

After clearing the border post of Greece, which took 30 minutes and where you were encouraged to visit the Duty Free Shop, we moved a mile down the road and entered the Turkish Border Post.  Very modern compared to the Edirne version. 

As in Greece, everyone vacates the bus and proceeds to the police checkpoint with passport in hand.  The bus ahead of us had to take all their luggage out for inspection but we did not.  Judy and I were sent to another office where we had to purchase a visa for 20 Euros or 20 Dollars American.  We had pre-selected dollars so that we saved 35% over paying in Euros.  

Here we see some of our merry gang of co-travelers perched on a sort of seat waiting for the bus to pass through the final checkpoint.

The police take your passport and enter their offices and scan your passport into their system.  What was bizarre here is that they handed all the passports to the young passenger in the middle of the photo who was required to get them back to each of us.  Here you see he still has a small hand full of them.

The fellow in the black shirt was Turkish but living in Greece.  He spoke very good English, as did the Polish guy living in Istanbul and the young Turkish student taking flying lessons in Greece. 

About 10 miles west of Istanbul was a massive Toll Station on the expressway leading into town.  There a dozen entrepreneurs peddled water, pretzels and anything else to the waiting motorists.  I will say this, these guys didn't slow traffic down at all.

Beside the far bus is another fellow who is hawking bouquets of flowers on this Saturday afternoon at about 3 PM.


In Greece we saw 2 guys offering bags of bananas for a couple of Euros each at a Toll Plaza 20 miles west of Athens. 


What happens next is Breathtaking - The Otogar

Arriving in Istanbul you enter the World's largest (I think) Bus Station.  Pictured above is 1/4th of it.  It is situated at the main expressway intersection about 10 miles from the center of town.  There are subway, bus and taxi services available to the city. 


Pictured above is the back side, or track side of the Otogar.  Each white on blue number indicates a different bus company and the location of their office and the single track that they can occupy within the Otogar.  The highest number we saw was 136 in the 2 wings of this place, plus there is a large building in the middle to house all the other retail.

Competition between the companies and other forms of transportation was very intense and out front on the sidewalk there was usually a tout promoting an offer you couldn't refuse for transportation somewhere within Turkey, the Mideast or even to western Europe.  All along the way men are asking "Where are you going?  Where are you going?"  And this was truly a mans world as the only women visible were just passing through as quickly as possible.  Though a couple of bus company offices did have a female clerk or two.

After arranging our return trip, getting Turkish Liras, and securing a hotel we headed downtown in a taxi.



*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *









Retail World



It would appear that every individual living in Turkey is engaged in Retail, either in a fixed location or on the street.  It would appear that wherever people can walk, someone has established a retail storefront or kiosk or cart to sell YOU something.  

This is not meant to sound critical, I just mean that there is a lot of retail here.  We actually enjoyed the market - bazaar experience, and yes we made a purchase here.



Heading down the street from the Suleymaniye Mosque into the western fringes of the Spice Bazaar.


We got into the Turkish style here on our 3rd day, we were nibbling street vendor purchased pistachios throughout.




The western entrance to the Spice Bazaar, which has much much more than just spices.


Though only men are visible in this photo many women walked and shopped here.  Judy said she would have no problem coming here alone to shop.  She felt that way about any Istanbul venue.



In a rare scene, a young woman, who is also "covered", is selling newspapers on the street.  We only saw this once, on the Asian shore, of women hawking in the street.  They were selling newspapers or flowers.




From a bus window I got this shot of a 2nd floor display window showcasing "covered" styles of wedding gowns.  There were about 2 dozen bridal shops in a 3 block section of this street.  More often than not each block contained mostly stores selling the same items.  Thus a shopper looking for a specific product category would only have to go to one location within the city to see most every type of merchandise available.





Tea Time



They are called "touts" but many other names can be applied to the them.  These are the guys who stand outside businesses and try to talk you into entering their establishment.  Occasionally they will do the selling but more often than not they are paid to get you into the door.  More frequently in front of restaurants and tourist shops they are not common in the US but we have seen them in the major city tourist locales.

In Turkey they are usually just a nuisance but some restaurant and carpet guys can get fairly aggressive.  Just ignore them and keep on walking.  If you stop and chat or look at their wares you are under no obligation to buy.  The absolute worst that we encountered were the restaurant touts on the Galata bridge.  Absolutely rude and aggressive.  Best way I know of to lose my business.

Many others were nice young men (usually) just trying to make a buck by promoting a business 12 hours a day.



*            *            *            *            *


Blue Mosque

Sultan ahmet Camii


Built in 1616 for Sultan Ahmet I it takes its nickname from the exquisite blue tiles from Iznik that cover the interior.  It was the first venue that we visited and what a place to start.  Simply magnificent as the next photos show.

Built with 6 minarets it has angered Arab purists for centuries who argued that only the Mosque at the most holy shrine in Mecca should have 6.

Mosques come with 1, 2 or 4 towers, based on the importance of the mosque.


No photos can do it justice.  Simply exquisite.


The Blue Mosque - Istanbul




Whereas Athens and Greece were about Dogs,


Istanbul is all about cats.


They are everywhere.



Haghia Sophia

For almost one thousand years this was the largest church in Christendom.

Consecrated in 537 by the great Byzantine Emperor Justinian, it was converted to a mosque after the Muslim Ottoman Turk conquest of Constantinople in 1453.  It was declared a museum in the 1930's by the Turkish government.

The Roman Basilica shape clearly visible even after the numerous additions to strengthen and preserve the building.


Hanging at the Gallery level are 8 roundels (large wooden discs) celebrating the founders of this mosque and Islam.


Allah - left

Mohammad - right


A triumph of Roman/Byzantine engineering and construction the dome is still one of the largest in the world.  Decorated with polished marble, mosaic and frescoed walls the interior is in need of a wash but it is still stunning.  In fact a large scaffold is just out of view to the right in which one quarter of the dome is being rehabilitated.





Of the surviving mosaics from the 10th century, the Deesis is the most renowned with Jesus flanked by his mother Mary and John the Baptist.  Below, Jesus will follow you with his eyes.



Taking Tea in the Waterworks

The structure now known as the Basilica Cistern was built in 532 AD to store water for the Great Palace of the Emperor (no longer standing).  Over one hundred yards long it is held up by 336 columns over 26 feet high.  The columns appear to be a mixed bag and most were probably being recycled from other structures around the empire.  A soothing place actually with just the dripping of water as your auditory accompaniment.  The place was featured in a 007 James Bond flick of the 60's.

At the end of the walkway within is a small cafe where we were introduced to the delights of Apple Tea.



j        i        '    m        3        &


The Emperor's Floor

Justinian was determined to renew the glories of Rome in Constantinople so he had constructed a new royal palace for himself and future Emperors.  The building was rejected by the Ottoman and subsequently was mined for stone and otherwise buried.  It has not been dug up as yet and there are no plans to.

However, by accident, the large mosaic floor of the entryway has been discovered and is on display, in situ, and in pieces at the Mosaic Museum behind the Blue Mosque.

For over 200 feet, the remains show idyllic scenes of life in Byzantium.  Dating from the 540's, these panels are gorgeous.





The Call to Prayer

Five times a day the faithful are called to prayer from the city's mosques.  When we first heard the solitary call from a single mosque in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina it was a calming intonement to praise Allah.

In a large city such as Istanbul, where one can hear the call from a dozen mosques, never in sync, at the same time, it is a cacophony.




Tiles of Topkapi Palace

There is so much to see in the Ottoman Sultan's Topkapi Palace that I will simply select one topic to showcase.








Istanbul has so much to see.  We stopped at a few more priceless mosques, visited the Sultan's new Dolmabache Palace (which could rival Europe's best), sailed to Asia twice for restaurant fare, and just generally walked around the "old" city.  We did not have time nor inclination to visit the "European" side of the city. And we were hard pressed to say that we ever saw the "eastern" part of town.  Istanbul is a  fairly modern, progressive, clean and safe city with good public transportation, restaurants and venues.  We shall return in a month.

But now it was time to return to Greece, check on the paperwork, and if okay, reenter Turkey with Papillon and head into the countryside.



Next - Turkey part 2

The Narrative - Page Index