To North Cyprus: 3000 miles, 12 days,
10 countries, 4 currencies and 2 ferries
Steven Roberts continues his account of a drive to Cyprus…..
Leaving Plovidiv in Bulgaria we felt we were on the home straight, with only one more country to go through before reaching Cyprus. The road to the border was good in good condition, and we got into Turkey in good time. Once we got there I realised that my car insurance did not in fact cover Turkey, so I had to pay 200TL for short term cover at the frontier. That and the Customs checks delayed us a little, but we headed off to Istanbul in good time.
The City was even bigger than we expected, and we were pleased when we found the Holiday Inn we had booked fairly easily. The trouble was the hotel was on the opposite side of the road, that road was a dual carriageway, but not only that there was a tramline running through the middle of it. We kept heading north looking for a way across, but to no avail. Then the satnav seemed to go ‘renegade’ on us, and started sending us miles away. After three hours we still hadn’t found our way back, but we did manage to experience the fringes of a protest/riot in Taksim Square. (It was just after the Ankara bombing and the protesters were blaming it on the government). Eventually we found a hotel, booked a taxi from there, said ‘drive to the Holiday Inn and we’ll follow.’ Fortunately we found an honest driver who took us straight there, and only charged us 25TL.
After a fairly stressful start to our visit to Istanbul it was good to take a relaxing boat trip on the Bosphorus the following day. This was a great way of seeing the city for the first time, and getting an idea of its vastness. We also visited the spice market which was an amazing experience. Istanbul seems to have more clothes shops and stalls per square mile than anywhere else we’ve ever been, and we must have walked past at least 100! (We had no room in the car for as much as an extra pair of jeans, so weren’t tempted). After Istanbul there was only one more stop on our journey to Cyprus, and that was Ankara.
As I’ve said our visit to Ankara was just a couple of days after the bombing. This was a bit unnerving, but we weren’t going to let Daesh or whoever change our plans (though we didn’t tell our friends where we were staying that night). We booked a hotel on the outskirts as we wanted to get away quickly the following morning. We knew it would be pretty much a full drive down to the ferry port, and fortunately our hotel was on one of the main roads out of Ankara. The roads were much better than the map suggested they would be, so we got to the central city of Konya in good time. This has been one of the economic powerhouses of Turkey in recent years, as the plethora of new(ish) buildings showed. It also appears to have been planned quite well, and the main road ran alongside a long park area. We had a brief stop for petrol and a drink, and then decided to press on towards the port. I’m glad we did as the last leg of the journey was quite slow on winding mountain roads. These were OK, but more easily tackled in daylight.
Tasucu is quite a small place, but the location of the port is not well signposted. We almost missed the turning down to it, as we drove past, but we realised what we’d done and turned round. We had booked our crossing online but wanted to double check the departure time, and see if we could book a cabin as well. We were told we would have to go into the main town of Tasucu and find Akgunlar shipping’s booking office. We did and duly paid 80TL for our cabin. Whilst we were in Tasucu harbour we noticed a car that was even more heavily packed than ours with possessions crammed inside, and piled high on a roof rack. We then saw the number plate and noticed it was in Arabic with the sole word ‘Syria’ in English writing underneath. We were pleased that this family had obviously managed to get out of there, but it also made us think how lucky we were to be travelling by choice, not escaping a terrible war.
The ferry to Cyprus is scheduled to leave at midnight and arrive about 8 hours later, but you have to be at the port by 21:00. We had a brief bite to eat and a look around Tasucu then headed for the port for the designated time. After a while the gates opened and we were into the port. A further wait and it was time to do passport control, and then await the Customs checks. After a while a Customs Officer appeared, had a look at the car, asked me to open a couple of cardboard boxes with CD players and radios in them, then gave me a slip of paper to hand in when driving up the ferry ramp.
Midnight came and went, then after a further wait we were signaled to board the ferry. This was not the easy ‘drive up a ramp and park’ we’d had at Dover. We had to drive onto a lift platform with two other cars, the lift slowly moved us down to the next level, we drove off parked, and the lift ascended to pick up the next trio of cars. Luckily there weren’t too many vehicles to board on this occasion. There were a lot of foot passengers though, and they entered the ferry the same way we did, many of them pushing large trolleys of possessions, carrying cases, or both. Driving onto an unfamiliar ferry is one thing, but to do so in the dark of midnight with people walking in front of your car….well let’s just say you need to concentrate. The number of foot passengers was far more than the small lounge was designed for, and we were so pleased we’d booked our two-bunk cabin, and we did at least manage to get some sleep that night! On the cabin walls we noticed maps of Scandinavia, and when we looked further we could see that the good ship Via Mare spent its previous life as a freight ferry on the Baltic beat between Estonia, Finland and Sweden.
We awoke with the sunrise, and then a familiar and reassuring sight was visible through our cabin porthole, the Besparmak Mountains. In a short time we would back in North Cyprus, doing the Customs and Immigration formalities and driving to our apartment – the ‘second home’ which was now going to be our primary residence.