Breadcrumbs

The first leg - Europe - Trans Asia 1975

 

The trip through Europe is a little vague almost forty years after the event. I am also unsure if some of the snippets belong in this trip or a later crossing of Europe. Here goes anyway.

Map of Europe with approximate route

We had arrived in Europe

Whichever way you look at it, we had arrived in Europe. We were on the 'Continent', mainland Europe. It was my first time. We had crossed the English Channel, the only sea crossing, with our truck, the rest of the journey was on land.

 

Holland

Arrived at Zeebrugge recovered reasonably well from the loading incident. Off the ship, cleared customs and on our way.

Slept the night in a layby, Back on route in the morning.

West Germany

Entered West Germany and had to declare how much fuel we had in the tank. We did not know about this before hand. Apparently it was something to do with paying tax on fuel which they consider should be bought in Germany. It was more of a problem in the other direction in reality. A lot of the big rigs / artics had 1000 gallon or more belly tanks on the trailers in addition to the huge tanks on the trucks. The drivers would fill up in somewhere like Iran for a shilling a gallon, that translates to 5p a gallon, or about 1p per litre. They could then travel across most of Europe without buying any more fuel. I wish!

At one fuel stop for us, one of the other truck drivers suggested we use the truck diesel pumps as it would be faster to fill our tank. It was. The nozzle size is about 2.5" or 60mm, which in itself would make it quicker. The pump was also on steroids. It took mere seconds for the tank to be full and overflowing. Diesel spraying everywhere. I don't recall using the big boys pump again, but perhaps we were just more careful having learnt the lesson.

We were driving along a four lane road, into a city centre somewhere in West Germany , when we were confronted with a low arch bridge. The question was how low, and how high was the truck. We knew the height in feet and inches, but not in metric. The signs were in metric. There was insufficient time to do the conversion in our heads. The bridge was upon us. I was driving again. There was nothing for it, headlights on, move to the centre of the road straddling both centre lanes, in the face of oncoming traffic, align with the highest part of the arch an proceed, with caution. As it happens there was plenty of headroom. Another lesson learnt. We wrote the height in metres on the dashboard next to the feet and inches.

 Austria

Here the little truck came into its own. As a Kraft delivery lorry it had probably spent its life doing short hops, barley stretching her legs. We had blown the cobwebs out of the top of the cylinders in West Germany, and now we had some serious mountain passes to contend with.

Fortunately the early ones were dual carriageways. We would spend a while overtaking some of the big artics on the slow crawl up hill, feeling good in ourselves and proud of her. She was a lot older and less powerful. Then they would crawl slowly past us, a different part of the hill, different gradient, and I guess slightly different gears for the big trucks with their multi split gearboxes. Sometimes as many as 12 synchromesh gears with splitter, compared to our 4. The truck successfully took whatever we threw at her, albeit, sometimes a little slowly.

 Yugoslavia

We choose to take the motorway through the centre of the country. That may not have been the best choice. It was not a motorway as we knew it. It was an ordinary road, one lane in each direction. It was busy, very mixed traffic, so there was lots of occasions where we were faced with a vehicle on our side of the road, quite close, as it overtook a slower moving vehicle. Sometimes these were very close before they returned to their side of the road. The effect was not made any easier by the fact that the truck was right hand drive. Overtaking for use was a joint effort between Pete and I with the driver watching to others face as you pulled out into the oncoming traffic.

The road was littered with car wrecks, left just to the side of the road, perhaps as a warning to others. Frequently they had been turned into shrines, where a loved one had died. We noticed that sometimes truck drivers would act as if the whole length of the truck had completely cleared whatever they were overtaking as soon as the cab was passed, pushing the other one off the road, with nowhere to go. The technique is to anticipate that that is what is going to happen and break sharply as they pass, then you stay on the road. The further East we went the more the driving deteriorated.

Another thing we noticed was that big is mighty, and mighty is always right. The biggest truck always has right of way, and always wins. Adapt diving methods to accommodate local methods! And don't have an accident, even if it is not your fault. Have you heard this one before? "You are the foreigner. If you were not in our county there would not have been an accident, therefore it is your fault." Maybe not Yugoslavia, but definitely some regions.

It had the air of a fifties movie

Yugoslavia was probably the first experience of a significantly different culture. West Germany and Austria still had a Western European feel to them even if the language was different. Quite a few people could speak some English, so communicating was not a major obstacle. You can get by. Yugoslavia was different. It was communist for a start. It had the air of a fifties movie, a little stuck in time, unable to move forward, apart from isolated pockets. It was also very rural. There were towns and cities of course, and we drove through a few of them. But the lasting impression is of countryside, with farming still being part of the horse drawn era, with the occasional innovation of a small tractor. Perhaps a simpler idyll, or just a harsher existence.

We stopped at a very small village, a little away from the main route. Sometimes we would cook for ourselves, and sometimes we would allow somebody else to cook and wash up for us. We tentatively went into a place that may have been a bar / cafe. Yes, it was, and it was crowded, Full of the noise of happy people talking to each other. We ordered something to eat by the newly acquired skill of pointing to somebody else's plate. We were happily eating, when something very strange happened. It suddenly went quiet. Nobody had rung a bell or anything like that. just everybody stopped talking, and then they left. All of them. It was 8:00pm.  We were left on our own with only the staff left. They did not try to chase us out as if it was past closing time, and we did not feel threatened by the circumstance. However, it did feel odd, so we finished our meal and left. Then back to the truck and our beds, on the floor.

Now, I know that it is wrong to make assumptions or generalisations about anything based on a single experience. But it did seem a bit like the communist state was involved. We will never really know but it was if it was an edict than between ?:00, maybe 7:00 and 8:00 you shall go out and enjoy oneself, but at 8:00pm you shall go home an get on with living you harsh existence. Produce for the common good an we will allow you an hour of happy chat. Yes, I know it is all more complicated than that.

Greece

In Greece the lasting memory is of the campsite in Thessaloniki. We also went to the motor repair district, but why? I don't recall, at the moment.

Turkey, the European side

 

One of the early lessons we learnt in Istanbul is that traffic lights seem to be optional. I suspect that the Turkish police don't agree with this interpretation.

Red traffic lights are optional, and the bigger the vehicle you have the more optional the red light becomes

Istanbul is a big city, with large approach roads crawling slowly towards the centre. As with lots of cites, roads like that are littered with traffic lights. On reds we would dutifully stop, only to be passed by other vehicles ignoring the reds. This happened a few more times, so it was not a random aberration. We were both quite into people watching, which we would say gave us an advantage when trying to assimilate different situations. A few more times, an we thought we knew enough about the rules to join the game. Red traffic lights are optional, and the bigger the vehicle you have the more optional the red light becomes. 'the less often you have to stop and the more everybody else has to avoid you.

Knowing these new rules became a bit of a party trick for subsequent trips. Jumping red lights!!

We continued to make our way into the centre, and found somewhere to park, relatively touristy.

An extract from a rare letter home

We stayed at a street car park outside the Blue Mosque in the European side of town with a lot of other campers. The car park was guarded 24hrs a day and cost about 60p a day, double normal price because of the size of the lorry.

 Well that made it easy to find our way back to where we had parked. We where still sleeping in the back of the truck and nobody seemed to mind. It was after all a campsite, but on the street, outside a famous tourist attraction.

Loo trips could not be just outside the truck though. There was a nearby public toilet, attended by a wizened old lady who took your money. It was of the squat variety. A raised footprint on either side of a 2" (50mm) hole. The problem was that the pipework was the same diameter. The system was not designed for, nor could it cope with toilet paper. There system was that there was a tap and a tin. You poured water into the tin and used your left hand and water to clean yourself after your ablutions. They found that a lot of Europeans could not, would not cope with this and insisted on bringing their own toilet paper, which they then used and put down the loo. Into the narrow pipes which then became blocked. Result, signs in lots of languages telling you not to put toilet paper down the loo, but into the bucket provided for used toilet paper. This in turn led to very smelly public toilets and lots and lots of flies. Pleasant subject. But if you have ever travelled into out of the way places, you will recognise that toilet becomes a major topic of conversation.

There was also a favoured cafe nearby, which for the cost of a cup of coffee, or two, provided a free sit down loo. Still the same problems with the pipework and toilet paper, but at least you could be more comfortable at the same time as being disgusted.

Don't worry though. you soon get used to it. If you don't you go home. And miss out.

We met with our first real taste of street hawkers. "You buy this Mister, very cheap" and others "I buy everything". They even offer shoe-shine when you're walking around the town with sandals on. After about three days of wandering around the town we came across a huge area of shops devoted to the motor trade. About the size of old Romsey. There just happened to be two Bedford dealers so as we thought we had a squeak  in the region of the clutch we put on our dirty togs and dropped the gearbox out onto the road. Anyway we couldn't find anything wrong but put a new thrust bearing in just in case. Upon putting everything back together we saw the pivot to the leaver arm was out a long way and slightly bent, but it would not budge and there was no new one to hand, so it was left. We still had an occasional squeak.

I am glad the authorities were relaxed about us both camping  and doing truck repairs outside the Blue Mosque, near the man with the dancing bear. We had found what we were looking for in Thessaloniki. The clutch work was not very difficult as access underneath is reasonable. However, everything is very big, so I guess it balances out. The truck gearbox is just a bit smaller than a small car engine. We probably stayed in Istanbul about a week. Apart from the stay at the campsite in Thessaloniki. This was the first place were we had stopped and taken a breath as it were. Until now it had been about getting to here, not about the journey, more about the achievement of miles per day.

Then we had rested and were ready to take the next leap of faith. Into Asia.

Next day we left for Ankara.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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