At 02:20 on July 5th we were waiting on the platform at Cologne and joined the rest of the party on the Istanbul train.
We had sleepers from Cologne to Munich, where we stopped off for a 24-hour rest — not so much for us, as for the others who had come all the way from London. That Saturday afternoon, after lunch in the Rathskeller, we took a trip to a rather ornate castle outside the town but were rather tired; and as it was raining quite hard at times did not really enjoy it. That evening we missed the rest of the party, who were going out to visit the beerhalls, because we overslept our afternoon nap. We searched for them for a while, in vain, and ended up in the Hofbräuhaus, the most famous of the beerhalls: hundreds of years old, on three floors, it must easily hold over 1,000. We had a couple of tankards of ale. It ws a joy next morning to have a bath, which we found was available at the station; I had about three feet deep of pine-scented water!
We did the rest of the journey, Munich to Istanbul, without a break: three days and two nights. The first day was through some magnificent Austrian and Yugoslav scenery. The first night not too uncomfortable, since we had just five in the compartment. We woke up in Belgrade. We had a cup of coffee (ersatz-Turkish type) and rolls on the platform. We didn’t have time to visit the city centre; close to the station it was all rather shabby. That day was not very interesting until we got near the Bulgarian border, where we went through a narrow ravine, but the surrounding hills were brown and bare, monotonous.
We had to change carriages at the Yugoslav border, but profited from it: we picked some delicious yellow cherries from the stationmaster’s garden! —— We had to wait a long time at the Bulgarian frontier, at Dragoman [*], and had to unload everything for a customs inspection.
Barbara, Denis, Julia, Norma, Till
Norma, Julia, Peter, Don
[*] I learned only recently that dragoman is the only word in Europe and the Middle East which has meant the identical thing (“interpreter”) for millennia — in this case, about 5,000 years (the referent has of course changed over time: from interpreting imperial decrees to interpreting for tourists!) Virtually all words change their meaning over time, this one has, in effect, not. Like most words, it has changed its sound shape, but not very much considering the time-span: the Akkadian in 3,000 BC was targumannu. It spread through the Balkans from Istanbul after 1450 because the Turks used so many interpreters (rather than making the locals learn their own, like the Romans did).
After that we had to stay in the train for a long time, and soldiers were there, lined up on both sides, to stop us leaving. However they were quite friendly and one of them even ‘stole’ some tomatoes from a goods wagon for us! All this beneath a large picture of Dimitrov, the Communist leader.
When we got to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, we stopped for an hour and a half. We had no trouble leaving the train and the station. As we walked along the very shabby, dirty streets we joined in with a bod who spoke quite good English; he said he had been to Sydney and Melbourne. He took us on tram to a large Byzantine church, which was closed. We then walked back, and only just made it. Sofia centre is large and modern but rather dirty; I don’t remember one car, and the trams were very very full. However the Bulgarians looked a little better dressed than the Yugoslavs.
We left Sofia at about 9 p.m., and after a bite of supper (we had a large crate of bread, cheese and fruit, which we kept replenished) this time I decided to sleep on the luggage rack. It was very comfortable and I got at least 6 hours’ sleep! We woke up in Greece (the train route goes through the north-eastern corner, there is no Turkish-Bulgarian rail link because they hate each other so much). I had hoped for a couple of hours in the one Greek station, but we had none, and no Greek stamp for our passports. By the way we already have one large Yugoslav and one large Bulgarian visa for our passports and will get one more of each going back. The Bulgarian one is very fine with three postage stamps of different colours! [**] Eventually we left Greece and crossed a river (into which I managed to spit). Our first impression of Turkey was (of course) a dry and dusty station, and another hour’s wait. The countryside was also dry and dusty, a few fields of sunflowers and a few hilly trees, a lot of light blue thistles and stubbly grass, villages of mud-coloured houses towered over by thin minarets, grey, mournful water buffalo, all the women in black, especially the older ones whose faces were invisible — the closer to Istanbul, the smaller the veils. In Istanbul most of the women dress Western-style, one of the results of Atatürk’s 1920 Westernization campaign..
[**] Note: I had signed the official secrets act after my 1957 military stint in the “Intelligence” Corps, in which document I undertook to report when planning to visit any Communist country. So I duly reported to the War Office before Tony and I left England, only to be told (implicitly, at least) that I needn’t have bothered. When entering neither Yugoslavia nor Bulgaria did I remember to worry…
We eventually arrived at Sirkeci station in Istanbul, very tired naturally after a seven-and-a-half hour journey. We were met by the school director, Sina Bey (“Mr. Sina”) and half the school who took our suitcases for us across to the local train to Küçük Çekmece [***] and when we got there, from the station to the camp..
[***] Note about the Turkish orthography. There are two “i” letters, one with a dot, [i], and also one without, a kind of schwa: shown here with the numeral “1”; “ö” and “ü” as in German. “c” is [dž] or “j” in jam, “ç” is [č] or “ch” in chin, and “ş” is [š] or “sh” in shin.
Map showing Black Sea, Bosphorus, Istanbul & Sea of Marmara Map showing modern layout including the Florya Airport. In 1958 Florya was simply a ‘dormitory suburb’ for Istanbul. The suburban railway ran parallel to the coast and then through Avcilar to Buyuk Çekmece (“Big Harbour”).
Views of Florya
Barbara, Norma and some young Turks
Küçük Çekmece (“Little harbour”) is a lagoon just north of Florya, to the west of the airport, and in 1958 had houses and shacks by the water and a green park which was used for the language camp.
Note: this part of the narrative was written towards the end of the first month!
The food provided was of an elementary nature: here is the cook:
Our tents can be seen in the background.
The personnel can be divided into 5 different groups: (1) Klaus Eckstein who organized everything from the British end; he came with us but left soon to go to France, (2) Sina Bey who had a similar camp here last year but left after a few weeks, see below!, (3) his sister-in-law, whom we call “Cadi” (the hag or the witch), whom he had to bring into the business for more cash, (4) the students, aged from about 7 to about 40, all at different stages of proficiency, (5) us.
Now the ‘witch’ is crooked but a very good businesswoman. Sina Bey is less crooked, and when on his own, as last year, is said to have been very trustworthy. But a week ago he took a plane to the USA and did not tell us — someone saw a picture of him boarding the plane in an evening paper ! — he just funked the whole issue…
“The issue” was our dissatisfaction with the food and the organization. It came to a head at the end of our first month, when we had a showdown with the “Cadi”:
Now I’ll stop to explain why we are packing it in early. Sina is not coming back for a whole year! — We had originally been promised (by Klaus and by Sina) that we would be living in a hotel, and arrived to find – tents, not even ready for us even though the rest of the camp had been in operation for 2 days. The salary arranged with Sina Bey was to be increased after the first month in compensation for the living conditions. In fact, sleeping in tents is very agreeable. The food is very poor, sometimes there is none; and we often have no oil for the lamps in our tents…
Barbara washing some socks!
And then a week ago the witch told us there would not be a second month. She then cut our pay, explaining that Sina had paid us too much. We could not talk her round, she would not budge an inch. Yesterday we went on strike, until she makes up what she owes us. Whether we will get any more is another matter! But we can’t continue the strike — the courses we teach and the students will suffer. They are very much under her thumb, and had to pay through the nose for the food she buys for them and the wages she passes on to us. The strike was ineffective!
So we will finish on Saturday. Three of us — Denis Levy, Tony and I — will be off for a … holiday, and will meet up with the others in Izmir on the 10th and leave Turkey on about the 15th.