THE BEST MOSQUE & THE BIGGEST CAKE SHOP I’D EVER SEEN – REACHING ESFAHAN, IRAN, 1976

SUN 7TH NOVEMBER, 1976

Everyone feeling smelly and filthy (dust rises up through the floor from the roads – less in Iran – E. Turkey worst).

Got into Esfahan about 10.30.  Drove up main boulevard – very wide street with rows of trees and paving down the centre with seats.  Dropped in Shah Square outside Shah Mosque [now called Imam Square and Mosque].

Really incredibly beautiful Mosque – covered in tiny, intricate blue tiles both outside and in.  Passed through huge wooden doors, plated in silver with gold trimmings; passed under cool archways, again decorated in blue tiles.  Main courtyard was huge and magnificent – arches and minarets and huge dome; some very delicate smaller arches in one corner (ten of them) and all were reflected in a rectangular pool, so 20 could be seen at once.  Really warm in sun and peaceful inspite of a few tourists.  Various little men squating under columns – one washing himself by the pool.
Two little courtyards off from main one, either side of dome.  One was fabulous.  Rectangular in shape, enclosed with wide arches causing shaded raised pavements all round.  Up the middle were trees and lovely white and purple flowers and at the centre was a little pool with goldfish.  (Tiles here were blue but largely yellow too).  Then there was the area under cover of the huge dome.  At the centre the echo bounced back at you.  Jan and I stood stamping on the stone floor.  2 Iranians asked us to pose with them!
Then me, Jan and Rob made for main street and post office.  Went down arcade with fantastic shops with material prints, miniatures, jewellery, silverware etc.  Asked way from lad who gave us dry figs and pointed us in right direction.  Looked for place to eat through arch, down steps to small courtyard with store houses and restaurant.  Ordered chicken and rice; served up with chunks of raw onion and flat bread (loads of it) and yoghurt, glasses of water and loads of ice.  Sprinkled kind of nutmeg (sweet) on rice – delicious.  Really filling meal for 90 rials (less than 90p).
Staggered across street into sticky cake shop!  Biggest we’d seen – rushed from huge cakes to date biscuits wondering what to buy!  Bought 3 different types – cocoanut cake, chocolate covered bun and date biscuits.  Felt too full.  Rob stopped on way back to square to have shoe mended – Jan and I escaped man wanting us to buy his sticky cakes (!) then a carpetseller who wanted us to drink his cay!

Met up with others coming out of bazaar.

Had a fresh banana milkshake at stall in square – saw it being made.

Then me, Julie and Paul wandered up street, beckoned into miniature shop by artist.  He did little drawings on his name card and wrote our names in Farsi.  Showed us lots of photos of girls who’d come into his shop and were now all his girlfriends!

Entrance to covered bazaar, Esfahan

Outside one shop, where a metalworker was banging away at a plate inside, was an incredibly big teapot – made Balnagown teapot [of Edinburgh Gorrie Granny] look doll’s size!
Fred back again!
Back to camp after post office stop – 6 letters!!

Had a shower (cold), washed clothes etc.

In evening made up punch (supposed to be for Nov 5th) – red wine, dashes of spirit (my cherry brandy), cinamon, orange.  Very nice – especially hot.  Had session in the bus until quite late.”

Packs down at campsite, Esfahan – chaos in bus

A SHERIFF, A TURKISH PUZZLE AND A STICKY (CAKE) SITUATION – ISTANBUL, 1976

Yeni Cami (New Mosque), Istanbul

SUNDAY 17TH OCTOBER, 1976

Part Two:
‘Walked through market, reached Yeni Mosque, flocks of pigeons around the place.

At the quayside we bought fish and bread from a little bobbing boat, with a charcoal fire (looked hightly dangerous!)  Lined up by the rails were salt cellars and a bowl of garlic to be taken with the fish.

A Turk spotted Rob’s sheriff badge and got talking.  He took us to a cay shop up the hill from the Blue Mosque and we had another sticky cake on the way back!

Di, Jan and Rob eating fish at Galata Bridge

Then we went to St Sophia, a museum now so didn’t have to take off our shoes.  Tehran (a medical student) came back to the camp with us, we went up to the bar for a bit.  After supper I went to do some washing and Rob came and told me that Tehran wanted to see me.  Unfortunately he was sweet on me and wanted me for his girlfriend.  Gave me his Turkish puzzle ring!  He fixed for us all to go to a fish restaurant the next day.

Went back to bus eventually – had a little session; initiated the driver of the Encountertruck.’

INTO TURKEY – TASTING THE CAKES, AND REVELLING IN HOT SHOWERS AND LETTERS AT ESSO CAMPSITE

By the time we reached Turkey we had been on the road for three weeks, yet this was the first stop where we could pick up mail from home.  Imagine being out of contact with family and friends for that length of time in the 21st century – inconceivable!  Letters were like lottery wins and home entertainment rolled into one!

SATURDAY 16TH OCTOBER, 1976

Early start – dark when got up – no one looked very bright!

Countryside fairly poor, flattish fields, lots of cart and oxen, dirty muddy rivers, mostly dried up; low hills in the distance.  Stopped at grotty town – spent last drachma on biscuits – funny blend of Turkish and European clothing – most women enveloped in black.  Little kids came after us for money – boys pushing smaller kids in prams – pathetic sight; came as quite a shock when felt a little tug at my elbow.

Stopped at border for a bit – some buses were made to empty completely – at Turkish side, bedding and things spread all around.

Long drive for most of the day.  Stopped for a cay stop in town on the coast.  Got a welcome in the cake shop (me and Neva needless to say!) everyone very friendly.  Had an eclair!

Eventually reached the Esso Campsite outside Istanbul – dark by that time, so haven’t seen anything yet.  Kitchen facilities – all ate in the dinning room area – Encounter [Overland] group singing away at other end of room.

Hot showers here too!!!  Windy and cold tonight.  1st mail stop.  Letters from Mum and Dad.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THASSOS ISLAND – cakes, surf and dishy Greeks all to ourselves, 1976

Thassos Island and Keramoti on the Greek mainland were to be the inspiration for a disturbing incident in my novel THE VANISHING OF RUTH

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Ferry to Thassos Island

FRIDAY 15TH OCTOBER, 1976

Boat building

“Got the ferry across to Thassos Island – half hour trip (calmer than Skye crossing).  Fairly cloudly over island.  Landed at small town.  Wandered around streets with Neva and Sally – headed straight for cake shop.  Worked our way through apples, bicuits, pastries too!

Various ruins in town – bits of pillar lying around.  Walked out along front, began to clear.  Saw men sorting their fishing nets and further along there was a timber yard with 3 boats being made – just the skeletons so far.  Lovely smell of freshly treated wood.  Also passed a shed with boy scout emblems on the walls – they get everywhere!  (Boy scouts not walls).

Nosed round small crafty shops, selling clothes, pottery, belts, jewellery etc.  Walked along past ferry landing, sat by the sea.  Met 2 English blokes who had been on Island for 2 or 3 weeks – we were quite an event as most tourists had left by now.  The really fat one said there were no jellies today – I nearly split myself when I saw his flabby belly – a bit incongruous!  They directed us in the direction (good English) of a nearby beach; so we stocked up on more food (a real piggy day!) – bread, toast, honey, cheese, yoghurt – Neva had another cake!

Neva and Sally on Thassos Island

We walked out of the village, up a lovely wooded hill road – great forests covering all the mountains.  Lovely leafy, sunny walk, very quiet and deserted.  Came down to a group of chalets, passed various open air dance floors and bars – everything closed down, so didn’t have to pay, but made our way down to the private beach.  Fantastic breakers, so dashed straight in, whole beach to ourselves (only 1 little man in the distance).  Picturesque island just off the headland – Neva said looked like the Whitsun Islands.  Ate picnic and I snoozed in the sun.

Walking back, a taxi suddenly appeared and a man offered to take us in to the harbour – so got a free lift and reached the ferry in good time.  Met us with Bill and Shirley, Adrian, Chris and Hans.

Coming into Keramoti again – looked like South American swampy village, very flat.  Sally and I wandered around Keramoti – lots of hens and rather shabby plots, though houses were quite gayly painted.

Lovely sunset early evening – played with a football with a little local boy and Adrian – ball kept going into the flooded areas – my white trousers got an even worse coating of grime!

Keramoti beach bar

Most people had a meal out at the nearby bar – took ages to come.  I had 3 small fishes, tomato salad, chips and bread – washed down with plenty Domestica!  Bar filled up with Greeks – eventually we were all dancing.  I went and sat with some Greeks – 2 really dishy.  The Thessalonican medical student was a bit persistent, suggested a swim – eventually escaped saying my husband was waiting for me!  Hid in the bus.  Felt a bit down again – Mark cheered me up.
New girl finally caught up with bus – Mary (New Zealand).”

CHRISTMAS IN KATHMANDU – porridge, parties, pipes! 1976

[Christmas in Kathmandu: at the start of the trip I hadn’t expected to still be there for the 25th – a return plane ticket should have been waiting from Asian Greyhound.  But it was a very happy day with all the right ingredients: good food, drink and lots of friends with which to share it – and a dusk walk with a magical moment when musicians came out of the dark like a group of Biblical shepherds playing their pipes.]

SATURDAY 25TH DECEMBER, 1976

Christmas!
When woke, Di gave me and Heidi a little Xmas stocking filled with nuts, sweets, bics and tangerines!  Got up leisurely and had breakfast with Sally and Anders, Heidi and Di at about 11.30!  Sally and Fran gave me a little bead choker and card.  Had porridge at KC’s – all a bit chaotic from the night before – some suffering!

Nipped down to corner shop and bought vodka, spicy nuts and sweets for Di and Heidi and peanut butter for Sally and Fran.  Back to hotel for cocktails in Chris and Nikki’s room again!  Went on till about 3.30!  Great atmosphere – chatted with guy off Contikee – trip where bus rolled – didn’t get on together etc – not like Swaggies!

Went for lunch with Di and Heidi – had gorgeous mushroom and chicken roll at Shangri la served by sweet grinning waiter!  Went for evening stroll with Di round streets – lovely dusk with moon and evening star and mist settling on hills around.  Passed a little band playing drums and pipes and bells – lovely rhythmic beating in the half dark.  Streets busy still (passed shop stacked with coloured glass bangles).  Di still not better.

Met Sally and Heidi in KC’s cake shop and Heidi treated us to piece of pie and coffee. 

Had a drinks party in our room with selection of spirits and nuts – Bill, Shirley, Sally, Fran, Adrian, Anders all came.  They all went off to KC’s and I went down to ‘Cafe de Star’ where Rob and Maree prepared a fabulous dinner – we stood around having “Crispin’s aperitif” ie country liquor, water and orange, until meal served.  All sat in far room at long table – Rob, Maree, Geoff, Jan (Fred ill) me, Diane, Mike, Hans, Ian, Chris, Nikki, Mark and Pam.  Really super evening – all stuffed ourselves with turkey, chicken, carrots in butter, peas, cauliflower, stuffing and roast pots, follwed by Xmas pud and white sauce, presented with flaming Cleopatra whisky on top!

By the time it came to KC’s cake we were all so painfully ill that we sat there just looking at it!  No one moved for hours because couldn’t face going up steps – Geoff and Jan had to stagger back with Fred’s grub.  All gave Geoff his Xmas pressy – woolly waistcoat, pen, biro.  Had my bottle of Muscadet wine from Channel crossing!  (And hotel made us a punch).  Everyone in good mood, cracking jokes etc. 

Mike said farewell because off early – so I said, “Ceylon Mike!”  Eventually all lights in other part went off and waiters went to sleep on floor – so we finally broke up and crept upstairs to bed with pieces of cake!”

XMAS EVE IN KATHMANDU – PARTY TIME! 1976

FRIDAY 24TH DECEMBER, 1976

Xmas Eve!  Di not well.  Went into town early and sent telegram home, “Happy Christmas – love you all. Alcoholica”!
Met up with Mark and Pam – wandered back – Mark bargained for our postcards – any excuse for an argument!  Walked through backstreets – cows, dark shops, rickshaws, kids with pockmarks – Pam worried in case gets chickenpox.  Met Rob and Maree eating rock hard gooey things – Mark said looked like cow pats!

Went in later to collect suits – Di went back because sick.  Yeti Travels, then expensive tea at Ra Ra Restaurant – not good.

Had bread and cheese and curd in room – Di in bed; Heidi egg nogging!  Then went to rum punch party in Chris and Nikki’s room.  Really good fun – lots of people there, great drink.  Rude comments about my green suit – “come in your pyjamas” etc.  Sang Christmas carols then decided to sing outside KC’s – so we all grouped at the door and sang away – difficulty in remembering words, but appreciated by diners at KC’s Xmas Eve party.  Sally knocked down some of new kitchen wall!  KC very tolerant with us.  Some of us sneaked in and listened to guitarists and drank Night Lifes, while others went on to sing elsewhere.

Tried to organise going to midnight mass but didn’t know where place was – Mike had already set off walking, had said I’d go too.  Joined others in cake shop – KC lit cake with brandy on – all had some – kept pouring rum into my coffee – no one paid for anything!  All very merry.  Went round kissing everyone merry Xmas.  Back to restaurant – funny little urchins grabbing onto us out of the dark.  Locked us into restaurant, so Nikki rushed back for Chris and others!  Pushed back tables and had a disco – really great bop.  Finished about 3 o’clock!  Got Xmas kiss from KC!”

ANNAPURNA DAWN & CONSTIPATION IN KATHMANDU – the final day on the bus, Nepal 1976

[Our final day as Swaggies/Overlanders began with a breathtaking sunrise over the Annapurna Range at Pokhara.  Then we were doing all the chores for the final time: dismantling the tents, heating up last night’s leftovers, cleaning out the bus … but not the rat!  Then is was off to Kathmandu, our final destination on the hippy trail.  Whether from nerves or excitement or strew and baked beans for breakfast, I was doubled up with constipation for this final leg of the journey and remember lying out on the seat unable to sit up listening to everyone oohing and ahhing about the view coming into Kathmandu.  I did get a look at the mountain tops though … 

Kathmandu – a magical medieval muddle of houses and mayhem of rickshaws, bicycles and animals.  We decamped into cheap tourist hotels of the Thamel District – the Asia and The Star – and discovered the delights of KC’s restaurant and cake shop!]

THURSDAY 16TH DECEMBER, 1976

Woken at dawn, shouts from outside that view fantastic, so grabbed clothes and staggered out to see pink light on Annapurna range, behind hotel!
Really breathtaking and clear, with dark wooded foothills in front and thatched huts in foreground.  Everyone clicking away with cameras.  Peak of Machhapuchhare in centre really magical – gradually whitening then disappearing in morning cloud.

Last breakfast – stew and baked beansThen great clearing and washing of bus and equipment, (rat still stowed away with us!)
Left Ian at Pokhara – lake looked glass-like as drove past with fringe of mountains around.  (Nice, cheerful, quick blind boy said goodbye to us – helped at hotel until went blind – no money for operation – Neva and Julie want to help him financially if possible).

Lovely run to Kathmandu – negotiated festive archways out of Pokhara (nearly lopping picutre of queen off), had to rush to front of bus then to back to change weight and height of bus!
Lovely valleys with rounded mountains, thick with green vegetation – deciduous trees and banana trees, paddy fields, haystacks, thatched shelters in the fields; small villages, lots of cattle and hens – with good reflexes!  People carrying heavy loads attached by bands round heads, including small kids.

Climbed up pass from Pokhara valley into Kathmandu valley.  Lovely view of Himalayan range in evening sun – paddy fields set into side of hairpin bends!  Not much room for buses!

Had incredibly painful stomach pains by this time (constipated on final day!) so had to lie down the whole time.  Could hardly walk when reached Kathmandu.

Called in at Blue Star – most people felt too expensive, so drove through city to other side – narrow streets with brick and wooden houses – got stuck trying to get round corner – great hootings from rickshaws and consternation from shopkeeper whose house we were about to take away!

Dropped in street by KC’s restaurant – had look at “Asia” and “Hotel Star” – latter cheaper so most piled in there (Jan at Asia waiting for Fred who’d gone to Pokhara to meet us!)  Shared room with Big Pam and Neva (on floor). 
Went to KC’s for meal (stomach relieved by this time!) with Fran, Sally, Di, Heidi, Adrian, Chris and Hans.  Good meal – I had cheese jaffle (like puffed up bread) and apple pie – soon learned about excellent pie and cakes – KC’s have separate cake shop across road from restaurant!”