11.07.1966 - 13.07.1966
We took the bus back to Thessaloniki and bought a ticket in the railway station to travel to Istanbul the following day. On the return trip I was again struck by the parched brown beauty of the Greek countryside and its close similarity at times to New South Wales. All it needed was a few gum trees and I would hardly have been able to tell the difference. We checked into the Thessaloniki Y.H. to sleep on the floor - filthy toilets, but I don’t mind Greek hostels, as the rules are extremely lax and they don’t have the usual hostel atmosphere at all.
Tuesday 12-7-1966 and Wednesday 13-7-1966
The train left Thessaloniki at 8.15 am and we soon discovered that it was going to be a very slow journey - 24 hours at least, with many stops. The train was also pretty lousy by European standards, though we’ve been on worse. We found ourselves in a compartment with four pregnant Greek ladies who jabbered to us good naturedly all day long and we got on quite well with them. Strangely, all the women in the carriage seemed to be pregnant and to know one another, but we could not work out what their collective journey was all about. We never found out. Also on the train was an Australian chap, Dave Petersen, whose father currently lives and works in southern India, and strangest of all coincidences, it turns out Dave knows our friends the Wilsons in Madras extremely well. In fact, Mr Wilson had mentioned to him in early 1965 that two young Australians, namely us, had stayed with them for a few days. It is extraordinary really that our paths should cross as they have, and he has invited us to stay with his folks in Madras should we decide to go that far south. He is also on his way to India, but moving as fast as he can. We had a fairly uncomfortable night on the train, and at the Greek/Turkish border one of the customs officials randomly picked on my rucksack to be opened for inspection. Naturally the contents went everywhere. Still it was something to pass the time - from everyone’s point of view I guess. I slept reasonably well, despite the discomfort, but felt a bit stiff in the morning. I also felt very grubby, as to my mind I had not had a proper wash since leaving London.
We finally rolled slowly into Istanbul, and after going to five banks before being able to change money, we walked to an American student’s hostel in the Old City and checked in. I have to say it is really grand, and I immediately had a magnificent shower, washed clothes etc., the works, and now feel squeaky clean again. I don’t think I have had a shower like that for eighteen months or more - it was hard to find one in England. I feel really great.
We went into the Hagia Sophia mosque later in the morning, which is just across the road from the hostel, and although I was certainly impressed by the vast and ornate interior, I was a little disappointed by the plain rendered exterior, and in fact did not realize when first seeing it from the side that it was the Hagia Sophia mosque. It is nevertheless an amazing construction and its scale will probably seem even more impressive when viewed from a distance. Ade and Dave are both asleep at present, in nice clean beds, so I am at a bit of a loose end this afternoon. I might go over and have another look. We have decided to stay here about 3 days, including today, and then get on as fast as possible across to Erzerum. Istanbul really seems a great place, and I thrill every time I hear the fabulous sound of the ferry horns on the Bosphorous (there it goes - whooop...whooop, with a rising pitch - I love it!). We will of course go to the Topkapi Museum, but after that I would really enjoy just wandering around the city.
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