July 20, 1980
Holiday Inn of Aqaba
Dear Auntie & Uncle,
Kuwait was still asleep when we set out on our long journey back to Europe on Thursday, July 17th, 1980 at 03.30 a.m. In a way I felt very, very sad to leave the host country that was our home for the past nine years. The place also had a sentimental touch, since it was here that our daughter, Marinette, was born.
Kuwait was not a land of milk and honey as some would have it but it was kind to us. We met some lovely people there whom we shall never forget. As far as we are concerned, Kuwait will always be full of memories – pleasant and otherwise. But human nature is such – that we tend to remember only the pleasant things and forget the unpleasant ones. Allah Akbar.
The distance from Kuwait to Amman, the capital of Jordan is 1,140 km. However, we managed to cover it in a matter of 16 12 hours. Give and take a stop at the border and customs of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan of about two hours. There were some people who had to spend 28 hours by the same route. If you got out a map, you would be able to visualize the places that we had been driving through.
From Kuwait we drove along the empty highway that passed through the hot and dry desert of Saudi Arabia. The whole scenery is one of those very parched, brown and monotonous landscapes. Being the Holy Month of Ramadan (Moslem fasting month), the Arabs, in particular the Saudis are very strict in their observation. And although we brought with us a large cool box, containing various drinks, fruit and sandwiches, we had to be extremely careful not to be caught eating or drinking in public during the day. If caught we would be punished very harshly such as whipping, stoning and/or imprisonment. Even the thought of going to jail in Saudi Arabia makes me shudder. Death would be more preferable.
I was not able to help Walter with the driving, as women in Saudi Arabia, native or foreign, are not permitted by law to drive, nor to work side by side with men who are not members of the family. Only after the Saudi Arabian border was I able to take over and drive into Amman.
An Exciting Incident
There was a funny incident at the Saudi Arabian border, which I must remember to mention. It seems very funny now in retrospect but it was a terrifying moment at that point in time. If you recall, before this trip I went to Thailand in May and June. There I bought two tins of crispy Chinese roasted pork. I had been saving these for our trip, as the meat would keep for a long time in the heat without going rotten. I had the two tins of pork in the car boot among other things.
When we reached the Saudi Arabian border, we had to stop the car and get out so that the customs officers could inspect our belongings. It so happened that we were not
permitted to take out the luggage ourselves but to leave the task to the two Korean labourers. Well, fair enough. Luggage out. Suddenly, I remembered the two tins of
pork in the boot. As if they had read my thoughts, the Koreans removed the two tins out of the boot and stared at the red labels, which were naturally in Chinese. I broke out in sweat and for a petrifying minute, I thought our journey was coming to an end before it even began. We would most probably land in jail. Allah have mercy.
The two Koreans looked at the labels and grinned. If they knew what was inside the tins, they were not going to give their Saudi masters the pleasure of discovering the secret. The joke would be theirs alone. I looked at them pleadingly and with gratitude. With inscrutable faces, they put away the tins and I breathed a sigh of relief. Satisfied that they did not discover anything unusual or illegal, the Saudis let us go. While this was taking place, Walter had not the slightest clue of what I had been through because he had forgotten all about the two tins of pork. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Remember alcohol and pork meat are strictly “haram” forbidden in Saudi Aarabia, Kuwait and Libya?
Brace yourselves – this is going to be a lengthy letter and if you like, you can pass it on to the others to read, as I intend it to be a kind of “travelogue”.
While living and traveling in a foreign country, it’s most helpful to try to understand the mentality of the people in that country because the understanding can come in very useful. I’m fully aware that few Arab men, being chauvinistic as they are, will ever say “no” to a woman, especially someone they consider attractive. We expatriates have a saying “if someone lives a long time in a desert, even camels are beautiful”. This is not intended as disrespect to any culture.
As we approached the Jordanian border, we could see long queues of travelers waiting to have their passports checked and stamped. We had been told that it would take a full day before we would be able to get through. Undaunted, I walked over to a good-looking Arab officer. Smiling and using all my charm, I asked him whether he would be kind enough to have our exit visas stamped and the car triptyqued. While talking, I touched his hand lightly in the process. My request was immediately granted and in no time at all, we could hit the road again. Even Walter, used to Arab ways and customs could not believe our luck. The same thing happened again at the other end of the border. No questions asked and we were able to jump queues of the other travelers. It sounds unfair but there you are. Justice is God’s domain. Only this time the officer asked if Walter was my father. Perhaps he mixed up the word “husband” and “father”.
One important thing I’ve learned while living and traveling abroad is to be flexible without going against your own principle. Narrow mindedness and stubbornness will get you nowhere.
The nearer we got to Amman, the scenery changed drastically. The countryside is more hilly and rocky. There are oases fringed with palm trees. A few camels and herds of goats were grazing lazily nearby. There were some scattered desert style houses built of sandstone.
Is the capital of Jordan. King Hussein is the country’s ruler. The country is growing and developing very rapidly. From experience driving in and around Amman, I felt the Ammanians seem rather reckless, having no respect for traffic rules and regulations. Perhaps I could say the same about the Thais.
By the time we got to the Holiday Inn, dusk was falling around us. In a desert country such as this, night falls on you at a rapid speed.
No time to waste. The following day we began our sightseeing by visiting first the famous Roman Amphitheatre, which is like any other amphitheatres we have seen in Rome, Athens and Persepolis in Iran. While I was waiting for Walter at the entrance, a young Arab came cruising along. He stopped near me and before I realized what was happening, he stretched out his hand and grabbed my bottom. Out of reflex action in self-defense, I hit him with all my might with the map I had in hand. I’ll never know if he was more scared or I was because he ran and he ran. I burst out laughing until tears ran down my cheeks. Poor boy. I should have let him carry on and enjoyed the whole episode.
Wherever they went, the Romans always built an amphitheatre or a coliseum as a place of entertainment. An amphitheatre was like a stadium but instead of a football match being played, it was a match between human beings and animals in particular the lions. The Romans enjoyed watching humans being slaughtered while feasting. and drinking. Wrestling was another favorite game where two men wrestled one another until one was killed by strangling. Such a place always gives me an eerie and morbid feeling that I have to shudder every time. I don’t believe that human beings will ever change. Perhaps today they can hide their brutality and cruelty in a more subtle way.
We spent two nights in Amman, recuperating from the long hard drive before setting out again for Petra and Aqaba.
Petra is a Greek word, meaning the Rock. The place was inhabited by the Nabataens from about 3000 B.C. Temples, palaces and tombs are everywhere hewn out of the mountainside. The most magnificent scene is that of the Treasury, the entrance of which used to be a place of sacrifice. The only transport into Petra itself is either on horseback or on foot. It took about three hours to drive from the highway to get to the site. Visitors enter Petra through a siq, or a narrow defile, between walls, towering 70 m. overhead. Within an hour’s walk in Petra are the multi-tiered remains of Beidha, one of the world’s oldest settlements. I would love to see the place when the sun set or when there is a full moon.
The distance from Amman to Aqaba is only 500 km. but we spent ten hours on the road since we drove along the King’s Highway which winds its way through the rocky hills and valleys of Jordan. However, it was really worthwhile driving on this highway as we were rewarded with a spectacular vista. On one peak of such a hill we had a bird’s eye’s view of the Jordanian countryside down below.
The Jordanian valleys are very fertile and form quite a rich farm land. Wheat, potatoes and vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes as well as lattice grow in abundance, which are exported to many oil-rich countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
lies at Jordan’s southernmost tip on the shores of the Red Sea, and is the country’s only seaport. It is set against a rugged background of mountains, but the golden beach and blue waters are inviting to our eyes that have seen practically nothing but desert on the journey through Saudi Arabia.
As a fun resort, Aqaba has much to offer. There is swimming in the Red Sea all the year round (in winter the temperature rarely falls below 20 Celsius), also snorkeling, skin and scuba diving, boating, surfing, fishing and water skiing. Walter drank nearly the whole waters of the Red Sea, trying to surf. I did two rounds of mono-skiing today. The boatman was rather dismayed when I refused a life jacket, saying I was not used to having anything else on while skiing (except of course a swimsuit). A life jacket would be rather a hindrance than a help. In the end he gave in and was quite pleased with the way I skied. I gave no cause for him to have a heart attack or anything like that. After all, I did not do any somersaulting, nor did I fall into the waters for that matter.
Tomorrow at the crack of dawn, we will be traveling back to Amman but taking a different route along the new highway.
Until next time.
21st July, 1980
Somewhere en route to Amman
We got up very early this morning and had a big breakfast before continuing on our journey. While waiting for Walter in the breakfast room I was propositioned by a European businessman who probably thought I was a fair game since I was all alone. However, he was to discover later that it was a no no.
Our first stop of the day was at the famous Wadi Rum. Wadi means valley in Arabic. It lies about 4 km. from Aqaba. Wadi Rum is a desert with the valley of the moon landscape. It is a large valley with eerie black and red crags and pink sands about a mile in width. In this century it became renowned as the Jordanian refuge and headquarters of T.E. Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia. Remember the film “Lawrence of Arabia”? This is the site where the film was made.
We will probably spend another two nights in Amman before moving on to Syria on Wednesday, the 23rd. Perhaps you will not hear from me again until we reach Syria and Turkey.
Please don’t worry about us – we are okay (so far). Wish with all my heart that David could make this trip with us. But on the other hand I wonder if he would be able to withstand the hard journey.
Please let David, Cyn, Onn, Auntie Rosie, Auntie May, Auntie Kim and Auntie Annie also read this letter as I can’t manage to write to each and every one individually.
22nd July, 1980
We made an attempt to drive to the Dead Sea which is on the southwest of Amman at the border between Jordan and Israel. The Dead Sea depression is 394 m. below sea level – the lowest level on earth. It has an area of about 90 sq.km. We got there all right but could not reach it from our side as there was no way down. So we stopped at a hot spring instead.
Israel is only a stone’s throw away but it was out of our reach. We wanted to go there but were afraid of encountering problems with our passports, car and belongings. We are so near and yet so far. We will make it there some other time from Switzerland.
Writer’s note: This writer did get to the Dead Sea later from Switzerland.
31st July, 1980
Hilton International Hotel
Dear Auntie & Uncle,
I meant to write while in Syria but did not have a chance to do so. Even now I doubt if I would be able to complete a single page. Hope you have received my letter posted in Aqaba, Jordan.
Of all the places I have seen in Jordan, I love Jerash the best. Having seen it, I can only say that in my view the ruins of Jerash are much more impressive than those of Acropolis in Athens or those in Persepolis in Iran for that matter. And Iranian architecture in those days was world famous. However, this is based on my personal feeling and has nothing to do with other statistics.
Jerash is only about 40 minutes’drive from Amman. It is probably the most beautifully preserved Graeco-Roman city in the world and lay for hundreds of years beneath the sands before excavation and restoration began in the 1920s.
The most impressive sight is the Great Oval Forum, with a wide street of columns which lead towards the towering columns of the temple of Artemis. There are also the remains of several Roman baths, and pools, theatres and the tripled arched gateway built in 120 A.D. You can still see the tracks made by the chariot wheels, driven by Roman Generals, Consuls, merchants etc. in the market square in those days. Just close your eyes, the sky is a cloudless blue with not a trace of cloud. There is a gentle breeze and the temperature is around 40 degree celcius in the shade but it is dry and no humidity.
As I sat underneath a pillar in the market square, I could see in my mind’s eye the beautiful chariots, hear the noise of a buzzling crowd in the very market where people were bargaining, buying and selling. I dreamt of the scene of the days gone by. I am glad, very glad we made it to Jerash.
2nd August, 1980
I don’t seem to get anywhere with my letter, written in Istanbul. I shall have to do some more writing before I forget everything.
From Jordan we went to Damascus, the capital of Syria. Nowhere in all the places we had been so far, did we waste so much time as in Syria, trying to find the correct road.
The signboard system was so bad that at one point we lost about 100 km. missing a turning. That did not improve our sense of humor. When traveling a great distance such as this, timing and scheduling are of primary importance. First of all, we did not want to drive at night anywhere in the Middle East – least of all in Syria, which is not a very friendly country to say the least and it has been accused rightly or wrongly of being a breeding ground for terrorists.
The political situation in the country has deteriorated a great deal during the past months. At every turn there are soldiers armed with rifles and heavy machine guns, spot checking all vehicles and their passengers. At one point before leaving Aleppo for the border of Turkey, we were stopped by a group of soldiers who appeared to be ignorant, illiterate and unkempt. While demanding to check our passports, they interrogated us in the same breath, wanting to know if we had any weapons hidden somewhere in our luggage. That’s fair enough but then they insisted on checking every bit and piece of our belongings. Opening our bags, they threw everything onto the road in the process, my knickers, brassieres and all. The way they went about looking at things (in my view) more out of curiosity than from a security standpoint annoyed me so much that I lost my temper and shouted at them, asking if they were customs officers or what. If they understood what I said, they showed no sign but I could tell that they were embarrassed being shouted at by a woman. By the same token, they could have taken out a rifle and shot me on the spot. Anyway, when they were not able to find anything and got bored with the searching, they let us go. They must have been rather disappointed not having been able to find anything unusual to entertain them.
had a curfew – thus under the balcony of our hotel, soldiers armed to the teeth were standing guard from 6.00 p.m. until dawn. At the world’s largest citadel we were refused entry because the place was also heavily guarded. The atmosphere was not inducive to linger. However, it was an experience we would not have missed for anything in the world. In retrospect at the time of writing, I must admit that it was rather a frightening experience but thrilling nevertheless.
The capital of Syria is the only known city in the world that has been continuously inhabited for the past 4,000 years. The central feature of Damascus is the Ummayad Mosque, which is also the site of St. John the Baptist’s tomb. By the way, one of St.John’s hands and a piece of his bones can be seen at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
Another relics of the city’s Christian past is to be found at the House of Hanania in the old Damascus, the refuge 27of St. Paul the Apostle. Hanania’s House with its underground chapel is located on the Street called Strait. If you look up the Bible, you will see the part where Paul saw a vision and was told by God to go to the Strait Street to be baptized by St. Hanania.
The Souk (market) of Damascus is very old and interesting. We bought a brass table, two carpets, one is a Russian Pocara, also called the Royal Blue, and the other an Iranian Pocara. Both carpets are about 30 years old. We also bought two backgammon sets inlaid with mother of pearls for which Syria is very famous.
Aleppo is possibly even older than Damascus. Its souks are much more interesting than those of Damascus. The main souk, ten miles of meandering, low corridors, lined with shops, packed with goods of every description, is one of the oldest and best preserved, and possibly the most fascinating in the Middle East. Even the goods sold here seem as if it had just been unloaded from one of the ancient camel trains traversing Syria. Donkeys are still used as means of goods transportation – they are still the beasts of burden. There are about 20 traditional hammans or public baths, some of the ancient khans or rest houses are still in a fine state of preservation, as well as shops, schools, graveyards and courtyards. It is a fascinating city within a city where visitors can spend days wandering without seeing the same thing twice.
We drove past Homs and Hama without stopping. Homs is Syria’s third largest city and is best known as Syria’s first and only oil refinery. Hama is famous for its groaning wooden water wheels and orchards.
The ruins at Palmyra was to be our next stop. We had been told that if we had seen Jerash, we could easily leave out Palmyra as the two are quire similar. But we thought since we already were in this part of the world, we might as well take a look at it, although Palmyra is out of the way, which means a drive of about 300 km. on a desert road.
Palmyra was the capital of the famous queen Zenobia, whose ambitions provoked the Romans into achieving what other armies had for so long failed to do and crush the Palmyran Kingdom. The ruins of its kingdom – best known of which is the Temple of Bel – are so stunning and well-preserved as to be considered among the finest not only in Syria but in the whole of the Middle Eastern Region.
I am neither a historian nor an archaeologist. However, I love looking at ruins of centuries gone by such as Palmyra which is 19th century B.C. old. I can understand why the Romans bothered to come all the way to build something gigantic such as this. It was because the place lies on a very important caravan route. The way I am crazy, looking at places like this, I should have taken up Archaeology.
3rd August, 1980
Porto Carras, Greece
Before setting out on this long journey, everyone we talked to was rather apprehensive and wished us all the best of luck. The trip would not be that safe, they said. What with trouble in the Lebanon and the war brewing between Iran and Iraq. They warned us of the deteriorating political situation in Syria, a severe shortage of petrol and highway robbery in Turkey. People advised us to ship our car once we got to Latakia in Syria and to avoid Turkey at all costs.
While in Amman we heard on the radio that terrorists were inciting trouble within the country. Turkey was in a turmoil because of its subversive elements. It would be tomfoolery to travel all the way across the country. Having been warned, we were determined to take all precautions necessary. At the Syrian/Turkish border, we filled up the tank and made sure to store the two plastic containers brought from Kuwait in case of emergency. Perhaps we were lucky because we did not counter any problem whatsoever at the Turkish border. In fact, no officers could have been friendlier and kinder. There was no shortage of petrol and no highway robbery. I can’t say that we were disappointed!
It was very pleasant to drive through Turkey, a rich agricultural land. Along both sides of the road were fields of cotton as far as your eye could see. The climate was less harsh than in Syria. We spent a night in a hotel in Adana, Turkey’s third largest city and supposedly the richest agricultural land in the whole of Turkey.
However, we were soon disillusioned with the hotel we were staying at. It was supposed to be the local best. We found out as soon as we checked in that the A.C. was not functioning. We reported to the hotel manager who promised to take action. All we had to do was to go out for dinner and wait. No, we could not have another room because there was no vacancy because the hotel was full. What else could we do but to grin and bear it.
When we came back from dinner, nothing was done. In the bathroom the cistern leaked and when we tried to open the bedroom windows to get some fresh air, swarms of flies rushed in. Across the street was a night club and an Arab female singer was trying to sing one of Bonnie-M numbers without much success. It was very hot and stifling in the room. We got up to take a shower every now and then but since the cistern leaked, the whole bathroom was flooded in no time at all. Finally, at the crack of dawn we could bear it no longer, so we got up, paid the bill and went to the car. You wouldn’t believe this, but just as we got there, we found that one of the tires had gone flat.
Stopping at one of the garages along the road, we managed to have it fixed. Thank Allah that at least these people get up early to do their work. To my delight I have discovered that in Adana there are also some tropical flowers quite similar to those in Malaysia and Thailand.
To get to Alanya, we drove along the coast road (non-stop beaches). The scenery was beautiful and the view of the Mediterranean was breathtaking. The drive was not easy as the road winds and meanders. There were countless curves and hairpin bends. At midday we stopped at a very romantic restaurant, overlooking the sparkling, blue Mediterranean. The lunch was sumptuous, consisting of two huge fried fish, almond Turkish style rice and lovely crispy salad with lots of onions and olives. The meal was one of the best we had had since we left Kuwait. About 60% of the population of Turkey are engaged in agriculture. There are several eating places in the country, relatively cheap and delicious. Turkish food is supposed to be world famous and is what I would say a happy combination of Asia and the influences of the Mediterranean world. Turkish cuisine is noted for its pure quality stemming from the freshness of the fruit, vegetables, meat and fish in a country that produces all its very own foodstuff. The country is one of the few nations which can truly feed itself. Turkey has a great many undeveloped resources and the people are hard working.
We spent a night in Alanya, a seaside resort in the province of Antalya. Antalya is a delightful shaded city with abundant water, and an attractive old harbor. The extensive old Ottoman town with its narrow streets and timber houses is one of the best preserved of its kind. Well kept public gardens on the cliff tops afford a superlative view across the gulf to the rugged mountains of ancient Lycia. But Antalya is very crowded in high summer.
At first we were not quite sure if we would be able to make it to Istanbul all in one day. But we thought we would give it a try. If the worst came to the worst, we could always stop; at a motel somewhere along the way. We drove non-stop and managed to get to Istanbul Hilton at around 8.00 p.m. – much to our relief. The drive took twelve hours. Once in a while we stopped for petrol and checked the four tires. Petrol, contrary to all the original misgiving, was plentiful – at a price of course. We found, to our pleasant surprise that all our precautions were unnecessary after all. Although the country was teeming with soldiers, armed with machine guns, none bothered us and we were left alone. Quite a welcome change from what we experienced in Syria.
Istanbul is very enchanting. It is the largest city in Turkey. Istanbul is indeed charming but staggeringly squalid. The old city is divided from the modern business centre where the principal hotels are situated by a heavily polluted inlet, the Golden Horn, crossed by the picturesque, archaic Galata Bridge. A third part of the city, largely residential, lies across the Bosperous in Asia. Istanbul is a city of mosaics –some of the loveliest I have ever seen.
We enjoyed sightseeing, shopping for suede suits and coats in the covered bazaar where many languages could be heard and above all eating and sampling Turkish cuisine which is truly excellent.
houses the finest collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelains and of course the famous collection of precious stones, similar to those in Tehran and London. However, I always find these collections quite vulgar. And one must not forget the kris or dagger encrusted with diamonds and emeralds which tempted the robbers in the film “Topkapi” to try and steal – and nearly succeeded too, had it not been for that dumb (clever?) little bird. Remember the film?
We were taken on a tour of the palaces, one of which was Dolmabachar Palace, which is on the bank of the Bosperous and is opened only twice a week. As soon as we entered the palace, the glittering of gold nearly blinded us. Wherever we looked, it was gold, gold and gold. The staircase, the balustrade and even the flowers are made of gold. According to our guide, there are about 14 ½ tons of solid gold in the palace, which used to be a residence of one of the Sultans. Home sweet home wherever you may roam. I must say these Sultans knew how to live and enjoy their (at that time) unquestionable royal privileges. The wealth of these Ottomans is staggering – to say the least.
The old city abounds in Ottoman mosques, the finest, the 16th century Suleymaniye, inclues a library and museum of Islamic art. The Sultan Ahmed or Blue Mosque dates from the following century and has fine tile work. I could go on and on about these places.
We spent four nights in Istanbul and then headed for Greece on the 1st August, Swiss National Day. We would love to go back to Istanbul again, as we had such a lovely time there. For the first time in my life, I sampled a real Turkish bath – an unforgettable experience.
Again we spent twelve solid hours driving until we reached Thessalonika in Greece where we spent a night, trying to sort out where we should go next for a quiet rest. I must say, traveling by road is the best way to really get to see the country.
Writer’s note: This writer went back to Istanbul again twice.
Halkidiki (Porto Carras)
is a two-hour drive from Thessalonika. It is supposed to be the latest European summer holiday playground. Everybody who is anybody comes here for their summer holiday and rightly so. The Aegean Sea at this point offers warm, clean, deep blue and unspoiled water for swimming, boating and water sports. It is a perfect place for us to rest and relax for a few days before continuing on our journey. We did some water skiing, played some tennis and sailed.
I’m writing this on the hotel terrace, overlooking the sea. It’s 7.30 p.m. but the sun is still on the horizon. Some people are still swimming, sailing and enjoying the last rays of sunshine. It is very peaceful.
I hope you are not bored, reading the letter, as I said I intend it to be a form of travelogue. If I left it too long, I would forget what I had seen and I so want to share our experience with you. Even at the time of writing, I’m feeling a little disoriented and having difficulties at times, remembering everything that had taken place during the journey.
Please give my love to all at home. Do write soon, as by the time we get to Switzerland, I will be dying to receive news from home.
With lots of love,
Switzerland, August 12, 1980
Dear Auntie & Uncle,
The whole of Europe has gone mad over the summer holiday. The Germans, the French, the Dutch, the Italians and the Swiss, not necessarily in that order, rush to Yugoslavia for a spot of sun and sea (and perhaps also sex?) We were caught in their
wave along the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia. Result – there was no room “at the inn” along the coast. The famous seaside resort of Dobrovnik was chock-a-block – every single bed was occupied – all hotels were full – so we were told. What to do next? We were tired and weary, which brought to mind what Napoleon had once said. “The army can march only if their stomachs are full”.
So we decided to stop at one of the restaurants for a meal. After dinnner we washed ourselves and brushed our teeth in the restaurant’s bathroom. Having accomplished the nightly routine, we drove away again for the next 100 km. before settling down to spend that fateful night in the car. Fortunately, ours is an Oldsmobile Cutlas, one of those yanktanks, equipped with A.C. and provided enough room for both of us to sort of “lie in”. The traffic noise from the lorries that trundled past made it impossible for us to really get to sleep. So at the first crack of dawn, we got up, brushed our teeth and did our demand of nature behind one of the bushes – then drove on. The experience, though exciting, is not to be repeated.
We breakfasted in one of the restaurants. It consisted of soggy bacon, oily eggs, hard bread and lousy “ditch-water” type of coffee. By then we had had enough of Yugoslavia and decided to alter our plan. Instead of driving north along the coast, we drove to Zadar and had our car shipped over to Ancona in Italy. The ferry across the Adriatic took six hours. However, it was not due to leave until 11.30 p.m. In the meantime, there was nothing for us to do but wait on the shore.
Writer’s note: Dobrovnik today belongs to Croatia.
Many people we know always talked enthusiastically about Yugoslavia as being a wonderful place for a summer holiday. Our short experience there proved otherwise First of all, Yugoslavia as far as I can see, does not have a proper beach but a rocky and thorny shore. Perhaps we were spoiled from the lovely beaches in Phuket as well as in Kuwait and some other countries. At any rate, we spread an old blanket we brought with us on the ground and lay down. There were no trees to give shade. So we had to be happy with whatever shade we got from the car to get away from the murderous sun. Needless to say, the place was crowded with tourists.
When evening finally came, we went in search of a place to have a shower. We found a crowded camping site where we got a special permission from the camp manager to use the camp facilities. He was very kind and refused to take any money from us. The friendly campers were disappointed when told that we would not be spending a night with them. They were so curious to know everything that they would do anything to make us stay.
When we left the Middle East, we thought our trouble was over and things could only get better. Surely, it must be more comfortable and pleasant to drive in civilized Europe than in those “backward” countries such as Turkey for example. However, we were sadly mistaken. We had a wonderful time in Turkey and in Greece despite a few setbacks (they were to be expected anyway). But to travel in Yugoslavia was a nightmare. It was the worst. The road signs are just as bad if not worse than the ones in Syria. Yugoslavia is not entirely a flat country but of rolling hills and in some parts of low mountains. We studied the road map and decided upon a road which we presumed would be a short cut from Titograd to Dobrovnik. It was getting quite late and we had been driving all day from Porto Carras in Greece. We gave in to the temptation of taking a “short cut”.
The “short cut” proved to be rather treacherous. It was a narrow and winding road (even to a Swiss like Walter), under repairs. The dusty road meanders its way up the mountain. Since we had come this far, there would be no point in turning back. So we ploughed on. The road was in a dreadful condition full of gravels and potholes. On our right was a foreboding steep cliff and on our left a deep ravine. One false move and we would have been with our ancestors.
At the peak of the summit, a lorry was coming in the opposite direction. Walter, as always, a gentleman, gave way to the bigger vehicle. He steered the Oldsmobile out of its course. The car lost its foothold and fell off the road. Because of the sheer slope, it suspended there. I thought this was it – c’est sa. Dusk was falling around us and we still had a long way to go. The lorry driver and his companion were helpful enough because they got off their vehicle to help us lifting the car onto the road. But in order to do so, we had to make sure that the car was light. So the boot had to be emptied of all our belongings, the collection of which had increased along the way. In the meantime all traffic came to a standstill, as no car could pass through, so narrow was the road. Mosquitoes began to hum and insects started their night vigil. Finally, it was over. No damage to the car – no one was injured. But I can assure you that it had been a heart throbbing moment for all of us. We got to Dobrovnik in the end – only to find that there was no place to stay – the story of which I told you earlier.
Ferry to Ancona
The cabin on the ferry that carried us and the car across the Adriatic from Zadar in Yugoslavia to Ancona in Italy, seemed a paradise. Upon reaching Ancona, we decided to head for Switzerland. We had had enough of driving
Just as we were passing a junction, leading into Milan, an Audi overtook us and the people in the Audi began to wave and smile. We wondered who they were and as soon as we could find a place, we parked the car and the Audi pulled off the road too.
The couple happened to be Mr. & Mrs. Engler and their daughter. Mr. Engler is a director of Schindler in Milan. While in Kuwait, I entertained him one evening during one of his business trips. How happy we all were. It was indeed a million to one chance of a coincidence that they should have driven out of Milan at that particular moment. They were also heading for Lugano as we were.
They invited us to lunch with them. It was due to Mr. Engler that we did not have to stop at the customs to declare our luggage. Oh, what a lovely welcome. Mr. Engler is Swiss and his wife German and they used to live in Lucerne at one time.
We spent a night in Lugano, relaxing and then drove to my mother-in-law’s farm in Emmental in the Canton of Berne the following day. At last we made it to good, old (boring) Switzerland.
Looking back, we are very glad to have made this trip. With all the trouble brewing in the Middle East, strife between Syria and the Lebanon, the holy war between Iran and Iraq, the chance of anyone making such a trip within the near future is very slight indeed.
Take good care of yourselves and God Bless.
P.S. Having arrived home safely, we said a prayer of thanks.