‘We saw Jews with hearts Like Germans’: Moroccan immigrants in Israel warned families not to follow

Moroccan immigrants arriving in Haifa, 1954

Moroccan immigrants arriving in Haifa, 1954

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‘We saw Jews with hearts Like Germans’: Moroccan immigrants in Israel warned families not to follow

[This article, written by Ofer Aderet, first appeared on the Harretz website, and this version reprinted from the Portside website.]

Thousands of letters written in the early years of the state by immigrant soldiers to their families in Morocco reveal a gloomy picture. Most wanted to go home. ‘If you want my advice, stay in North Africa; it’s better than the Land of Israel.’

In 1949, in the midst of the War of Independence, an Israel Defence Forces soldier wrote a letter to his family who remained in Morocco. ‘We came to Israel and thought we’d find a paradise here, but regrettably it was the opposite: We saw Jews with hearts like Germans.’ He also had a word of caution for his relatives: ‘If you want my advice, stay in North Africa; it’s better than the Land of Israel.’

The soldier’s identity remains unknown, but thousands of similar letters that were deposited in the IDF and Defence Establishment Archive show that he was not the only Moroccan immigrant who harboured such feelings. Excerpts from the letters, which had remained below the radar of historians and researchers, are now being published for the first time.

Another soldier from North Africa was more direct and blunt, accusing the Ashkenazi Jews of racism. ‘The European Jews, who suffered tremendously from Nazism, see themselves as a superior race and the Sephardi [Mizrahi] Jews as belonging to an inferior one,’ he wrote to his parents. He complained that the North African new immigrant ‘who came here from afar and was not required to leave his home because of racial discrimination – is now humiliated at every turn.’

A feeling of injustice also arises from the lines that follow: ‘Instead of [showing] gratitude, they treat us like savages or something that is unwelcome. When I see [North] African friends wandering the streets, one without an arm, the other without a leg, people who spilled their blood in war, I ask myself, ‘Is it worth it?”

Historian Shay Hazkani – whose research focuses generally on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on how Jewish immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East were absorbed and treated during the early years of the state – discovered these letters in classified reports written by the postal censorship bureau that operated in the army from its inception. The unit’s members read the letters sent by soldiers and deleted classified information. Moreover, they also copied – without the soldiers’ knowledge or consent – passages that would interest the army and the civilian authorities. By this means it was possible to monitor the mood among the soldiers and to track other developments.

Dr. Hazkani was especially interested in what these historical sources could reveal – despite the problematic nature of reading personal correspondence – about the feelings of immigrants who had come from Morocco to fight in the war in 1947-48, who were opening their hearts to their families who remained behind.

‘The Poles control everything,’ one soldier wrote his family in Morocco at the time, noting that ’95 percent of the guys here are dissatisfied, and would like only to go back to where they came from.’ In the view of another soldier, ‘Palestine might be good for people who suffered in the camps in Germany, but not for us, the French, who are lovers of freedom.’ (He was referring to France’s protectorate regime, which ruled in Morocco until the country became independent, in 1956.)

Allegations of discrimination at the hands of Ashkenazi immigrants are rife in many of the letters Hazkani studied. One soldier, originally from Casablanca, wrote his family back home that the Polish Jews ‘think Moroccans are savages and thieves. When we pass by, they look at us like [we are] brutes.’ His dream was to return to Casablanca, he told his family, and he would go on crying until he was able to buy a plane ticket.

Morrocan immigrant at Dead Seas Industries potash plant, 1956

Morrocan immigrant at Dead Seas Industries potash plant, 1956

‘I can’t stand this country, which is worse than jail. The Ashkenazim exploit us in everything and give the best and easiest jobs to the Poles,’ a soldier wrote to relatives in Morocco. ‘The wages are worth nothing. For his easy labor, the Pole gets 2.5 liras, but the maximum we Moroccans can earn for our arduous and strenuous work is only 1.5 liras.’

The perusal of thousands of letters by new-immigrant soldiers from Morocco suggests that the majority of them wanted to return home and that they recommended that their families not immigrate to the Jewish state, or at least put off any such move. The percentages shift between periods and between the groups of letters sampled, but a summary drawn by the IDF turns up high numbers: About 70 percent who wanted to go back to Morocco and 76 percent who recommended to their families to stay put.

The army’s top brass itself generally displayed a patronizing, hostile and distant attitude toward soldiers of North African origin, according to the IDF’s own files, from which the letters quoted by Hazkani were taken. ‘Even though the soldiers are of inferior education and culture, they manifest potent criticism,’ one army report states. ‘North African immigrants suffer from an inferiority complex that might be caused by the way their Ashkenazi colleagues treat them,’ a censorship official wrote after analysing the soldiers’ letters.

‘This phenomenon is serious and raises concern,’ he continues, not just because of the damage to morale among the soldiers, ‘but also because of the information sent by the ‘offended’’ to their families and friends in their countries of origin.

Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics shows that 6 percent of those who immigrated from Morocco in the years 1949 to 1953 actually returned to their native land: 2,466 out of approximately 40,000. Proportionally, Hazkani found, this was almost twice the number of those who returned among the immigrants from Europe and America (Ashkenazim).

‘Human sheep’

Complaints about Israel did not only make people decide to leave the country. There was an Israeli government policy that was intended to hinder or delay immigration. In 1951, the government adopted a policy of ‘selective aliyah.’ In a 1999 article, ‘The Origin of Selective Aliyah,’ Dr. Avi Picard, from Bar-Ilan University’s Land of Israel Studies department, notes that the restrictions referred to the “quality” of the immigrants – who by and large came from North Africa at the time – and not their numbers, and were imposed via classification on the basis of one’s physical fitness, age and profession.

‘Don’t believe the Zionist Office in Morocco. It is spreading propaganda, lies and distortions,’ an immigrant soldier from North Africa wrote his family in an effort to dissuade them from making the move to the Holy Land. ‘Here you’ll be called ‘dirty Moroccans,’ and the papers will write that the Moroccans don’t know how to dress or how to eat with a fork. Only with their hands. They think that the only human beings here are the Poles.’

Military post office in Tel Aviv

Military post office in Tel Aviv

The unnamed soldier was referring to a series of articles published in Haaretz in 1949, which continue to resonate to this day. A reporter on the paper, Aryeh Gelblum, assumed a fictitious identity in order to document life in the immigrants’ transit camps. He published his grim conclusions under the headline, ‘I was a new immigrant for a month.’

‘This is an immigration of race such as we have never before known in Israel,’ he wrote, in reference to the North African immigrants. ‘We have here a people at a peak of primitiveness. The level of their education borders on absolute ignorance, and even graver is [their] incompetence at absorbing anything intellectual.’

Gelblum added, ‘Only slightly do they surpass the general level of the Arab, Negro and Berber inhabitants from their places [of origin]… They are completely subject to primitive and savage instincts. In any event, this is an even lower level than what we knew among the Arabs of the Land of Israel of the past.’ He continued: ‘What can we do with them? How can we absorb them? Have we considered what will happen to this country if they became its citizens? One day the rest of the Jews from the Arab world will immigrate! What will the State of Israel look like and what sort of level will it have if it has citizens like these?’

In the summer of 1950, Davar, the organ of the Histadrut labor federation, ran an article about a transit camp in Marseille where new immigrants, most of them Jews from North Africa, were waiting on their way to Israel. Terms such as ‘bad material’ and ‘human sheep’ were used to describe the prospective immigrants, who would have to be ‘kneaded’ in order ‘to shape them.’ The article went on: ‘Will it be possible to form new traits among these abject human beings? In Israel, will they not again descend into the atmosphere from which they were removed – among their brethren in the community?’

An article in Davar that September warned about the ‘oriental’ character of the people who would flood Israel. ‘Our fate depends on quality. In other words, the degree to which the non-oriental elements, which are the only ones that can sustain this country, will triumph. How to elevate them to the Western level of the existing community and how to protect ourselves with all our might against the possibility that the quality of the populations of Israel will fall to the oriental level.’

Similarly harsh comments were made by the country’s leaders, as has already been revealed. Levi Eshkol, the finance minister and later prime minister, was quoted in 1953 as saying, ‘We are shackled with human refuse, because in those countries they are sweeping the streets and sending us in the first row these backward people.’ Other leaders expressed themselves in similar terms.

Some of the immigrants from Morocco heard these voices and read the articles and were enraged. Their feelings were given expression in an article titled, ‘Moroccan Jewry Gazing toward Israel,’ published in 1949 in a Jerusalem-based periodical, Hed Hamizrah (Echo from the East). It opens by noting that at first ‘the enthusiasm of the masses of Jews [in Morocco] for making aliyah to the Holy Land was unbounded.’ Subsequently, however, when the newcomers encountered Israeli reality, ‘that enthusiasm began to be mixed with bitter disappointment.’

It is clear from this that the letters from the disappointed soldiers reached their destination in Morocco and resonated there. ‘The reports reaching here from Israel are ominous. We are told that the immigrants are being received in Israel with gross discrimination and scathing insults,’ the Hed Hamizrah writer noted. ‘The sorrow is heightened when you hear that these insults are not coming from gentiles but from their brothers who are in Zion, on whom they pinned all their hopes and from whom they thought to find succour and aid until they adjusted to life in Israel.’

Morocaan immigrant doing road work, 1949

Morocaan immigrant doing road work, 1949

The author wonders ‘what did we do to deserve having this trouble fall upon us, and this shameful attitude?’ He goes on to review the contribution of Moroccan immigrants to Israel’s rebirth: ‘Is this the reward that the official institutions pay us for having fulfilled our national duty in all senses? After all, you all know what we have wrought in the past and in the present. We were among the first illegal immigrants [ma’apilim] to Israel. Young sailors among us left their families and suffered together with their brethren in the concentration camps of Cyprus. Young lads from Morocco were also not lacking on [the ship] Exodus Europe 1947. Our boys fought like lions on all the fronts, in the north and the south, the Galilee and the Negev, in the Old City of Jerusalem and in the land’s other cities, and blood was shed everywhere.’

The article concludes: ‘Morocco’s Jews fought for the deliverance of their land, and why should they be discriminated against? Why is their blood different from the blood of their Western brothers? The bitterness caused by this insulting attitude is growing apace here. Everyone is demanding that the government of Israel right this wrong.’ Addressing members of Knesset, the writer calls for ‘the abolition of this racial discrimination, for we are the children of one father.’

Yaron Tsur, an expert in the history of Jews from the Arab and Islamic countries, addresses this issue in his 2001 book ‘A Torn Community: The Jews of Morocco and Nationalism 1943-1954’ (Hebrew).

‘The first testimonies about the cooling of the enthusiasm for the idea of aliyah to Israel are connected to the reports about the shock experienced by the immigrants from Morocco at what they viewed as discrimination against Sephardim overall and against Moroccans in particular in Israel,’ Prof. Tsur writes. ‘That was one aspect of their encounter with the ethnic problem. The potency of the negative impact these reports created may be gleaned from numerous testimonies. This discrimination was apparently the phenomenon that was most damaging to Israel’s image in the eyes of the [Moroccan] diaspora.’

According to Tsur, heightened efforts to portray the positive aspects of immigration to Israel were of no avail. ‘No propaganda could offset the impressions of the immigrants in letters from Israel and the testimony of those who returned,’ he notes. Complaints about discrimination were heard from every quarter in Morocco, he writes, and they also had an impact on the efforts to raise funds from Moroccan Jewry for the Zionist cause.

Thus, the professor describes a meeting in a private home in Rabat, at the end of which one of the participants said to the guest speaker, ‘You spoke well, but I will not donate anything and I will try to see to it that others follow my example, because you are treating Morocco’s Jews like savages.’ In another meeting, held by an MK from the Sephardi List, Avraham Elmalich, with Moroccan rabbis in the city of Port Lyautey (today, Kenitra), a religious court judge requested of him ‘that every son of Israel who will go up to Israel, whoever he may be, it will not be said of him, ‘This is an African, a Sephardi or an Ashkenazi,’ but just a plain Israeli.’

The soldiers’ letters also reflected this sentiment. One soldier wrote his family that the antisemitism in Israel was worse than in Poland. Indeed, he added, the discrimination was so widespread that it could be compared to the extreme nature of relations between whites and Blacks in America. Striking a similar note, another wrote, ‘Orientals are treated here like Negroes in the South of the U.S. There is great hatred between the Orientals and the Westerners, who make up the Government.’

One soldier wrote, dishearteningly, that despite everything, he preferred to remain in Israel and not return to Morocco. It is better to be a ‘filthy Moroccan’ than a ‘filthy Jew,’ he explained to his family.

Waxing poetic, another expressed the hope ‘to finish my service in the IDF and return to you, to my homeland Morocco, which I loved. This makes me very happy.’ One of his comrades-in-arms, who was from France, was frustrated at being identified, mistakenly, as a Moroccan. ‘I only know French but my skin is tan and I resemble a North African. What should I do? No one believes I am not North African. I don’t have a job, and even ‘white’ girls don’t want to dance with me,’ he complains. Another soldier cautioned his family that this was not the right time to immigrate to Israel. He explained, ‘You must know that the Arabs are our brothers, unlike the Ashkenazi Jews, who make our lives miserable. For all the money in the world I will not stay here.’

Moroccan immigrants in southern Israel

Moroccan immigrants in southern Israel

‘Big Brother apparatus’

An analysis of the letters reveals that the writers effectively refuted the central tenets of Zionist propaganda: The ‘homeland’ is not Israel but Morocco, and it is only to there that can one ‘return.’ As for the Jewish state, the only recourse is to flee it. Moreover, the brethren of Morocco’s Jews are not the Jews of Poland or Germany, as those who espoused the ‘ingathering of the exiles’ had hoped, but rather the Arabs. Thus, instead of a new – Israeli – identity, the hard landing experienced by some of Morocco’s Jews contributed to the shaping of a Moroccan identity.

The soldiers’ letters are quoted in Hazkani’s new book, ‘Dear Palestine: A Social History of the 1948 War’ (in English, from Stanford University Press). The historian has drawn in the past on the same collection of letters from the army’s postal censorship unit. One such study, which gave rise to an article in Haaretz in 2013, dealt with letters sent by soldiers from the front in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The letters themselves, in the army archive, are not accessible to scholars or others. Selected passages from them were quoted in internal military reports under the heading, ‘The Soldier’s Opinion,’ earmarked for senior ranks – and it is these reports that Hazkani was able to locate.

How did he get to this archival collection in the first place? At the beginning of the 2000s, Hazkani was the military correspondent for Channel 10 News. One day, while preparing an item about Israel’s arms deal with Germany in 1958, he came across an odd document. ‘It summarized the views of ‘ordinary’ soldiers about the deal… Their views were extracted from their personal letters, secretly copied by a massive Big Brother apparatus,’ Hazkani explains in his book.

Although the historian’s current focus is on soldiers of Moroccan origin, other archival documents show that they were not the only foreign-born soldiers during the state’s first decade who had scathing criticism about the Israeli society in which they found themselves. Soldiers from the United States, Great Britain and elsewhere who arrived as part of the Mahal project – involving army volunteers from overseas who were not immigrants – also weren’t wild about the so-called sabras. A survey conducted among the volunteers in 1949 by the Israel Institute of Applied Social Research (later renamed the Guttman Institute, and today called the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research) found that most of the newcomers expressed negative opinions about the Jewish state and its inhabitants (55 percent), with the bulk of the complaints referring to the phenomenon of proteksya (cronyism or favouritism). ‘Other reasons for resentment,’ Hazkani notes, ‘were chutzpah, egoism, hypocrisy and lack of respect.’

In this country, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ that’s important, one of the volunteers noted in his answers to the questionnaire. ‘Proteksya… proteksya… what chance does a guy like me have without that vitamin?’ added another. Some complained that the locals made no effort to be friendly, and were impolite, impudent and loud. A common theme was that Israelis think they’re always right and can’t abide the idea that sometimes the other side is right. The volunteers also felt that the locals attached too much importance to their country of origin, which affected their attitude. And, of course, that Israelis love aliyah but not olim.

The army’s postal censors diligently copied passages in which the volunteers expressed highly negative views about their experience in Israel. ‘It is enough if I say that when the Anglo-Saxons [first] came here, 95 percent were interested in settling. Today, you can’t even find 5 percent,’ a soldier wrote to his family in England. ‘In this country, soldiers try not to die for their country, but try, and with success, to have others (foreigners) die for their country,’ another observed. A volunteer soldier from the United States castigated the sabras’ ‘reprehensible behavior’ and termed them ‘irresponsible’ and ‘cheaters.’ ‘When I come back home,’ he added, ‘I’ll tell you how the people here falsify all the ideals that you work so hard for and that for the sake of their realization I came here.’

A South African soldier expressed anti-war sentiments, writing to his family that he didn’t want to fight for imperialism and the Zionists’ ‘territorial ambitions.’

Another maintained that ‘a golem is being created here, and no one knows how it [will] turn out when it grows up.’ The golem in question was the State of Israel itself, which arose, he wrote, thanks to lofty ideals but was losing control over its character and its future.

All pictures credit: Fritz Cohen/GPO/Haaretz

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Bus travel from Tirana to Istanbul

More on Albania ……

Bus travel from Tirana to Istanbul – with, hopefully, some practical information (including surviving the first couple of hours or so) and some observations

Leaving Tirana

The buses from Tirana leave from the International Bus Station (N 41.333204, E 19.801029) which is off Rruga Dritan Hoxha, the ‘new’ route to Durres. The bus station is slightly hidden behind the Palace of Sport/basket ball court, This is opposite the bus station that operates buses to the north of Albania. Though not absolutely necessary it would be wise to book in advance.

There’s no opportunity to exchange currency during the journey so, if possible, have a few Euros for food and drink at the Greek stop.

I didn’t know it until I left but there are two bus companies that have buses leaving at the same time – 12.00 every day (apart from Friday). The one I used was Alvavel/Alpar from kiosk 3 at the station. The cost of a ticket was €40 one way, €60 return. The other was Expres tur which was a bit more luxurious in that there were three, rather than four seats, abreast. The bus itself looked more modern and not a second hand cast off from some other country as was mine. Also the service was more efficient. At a late night stop, when both my bus and the ‘luxury’ bus were at the same service station, the Express driver spent some time cleaning the windscreen and the front of the bus and the helper cleared rubbish from the inside of the vehicle. On my bus the ‘staff’ were in the restaurant before the passengers.

Expres tur also have a kiosk at the bus station but I haven’t been able to find a web address and hence not certain about their timetable. If the budget stretches to it I would suggest the the Expres service – the seat of a second-hand bus gets hard after a few hours and these newer seats turn into a virtual bed.

I was told the journey would take 20 hours – which with the hour difference between Albania and Turkey is a good timetable. Arriving at 09.00 would be a civilised time in a place that you might never have visited before. The website says arrival time is 07.00 – but that’s not true either.

Both companies had a pickup in Elbasin. After that, at about 14.00, the bus stopped for the driver’s lunch break on the road between Libradzh and Prenjas, for about 30 minutes.

Alvelar/Alpar have a depot in Korçe and took a number of passengers from Tirana to Korçe but few, if any, passengers joined the bus there. There’s a separate service from Korçe to Istanbul – see website.

After Korçe the bus was less than half full. I travelled at the end of September so things were getting quieter in general but at that time it meant that most people, if they wanted, had a double seat – making things slightly more comfortable for an overnight journey. It wouldn’t have been as comfortable if the bus had been full.

From Korçe the bus heads to the town of Billisht and then on to the border with the same name. The bus arrived at the border just before 17.00 and the whole process of passing through both Albanian and Greek passport control/customs took just over 30 minutes.

Leaving Albania and entering Greece

The process is as such:

To leave Albania take all luggage, both from inside and the hold of the bus, into the customs hall. There’s a random, cursory, hand check of luggage. I have a waterproof liner in my rucksack and I think the customs officer was caught slightly off guard in that what he was feeling was the same he would have done (more or less) if he had just felt around the outside of the bag. There was an X-ray machine in the building but it wasn’t used when I passed through. After the customs check the immigration window is a few metres away. I’ve always found Albanian passport control one of the easiest to negotiate. However, you don’t get a stamp in your passport when arriving or leaving by land in Albania (which was a bit disconcerting when I first arrived in Albania by land).

After returning to the bus the process to enter Greece is even easier. You only need to go to passport control and no luggage was checked, either hand or from the hold. Presumably random checks take place from time to time.

After crossing the border there wasn’t a stop until 21.45 which lasted about 30 minutes.

Crossing into Turkey from Greece

The Greek/Turkish border is reached at about 00.30-01.00. You know you are getting there as on the approach you pass a very long queue of parked up lorries.

The helper collected all the passports and presented them to the Greek immigration. That allowed the passengers to spend some free time in the duty free shop.

It’s one of the curious matters about customs that there are supposed to be established rules but they are often just ignored or openly broken. The bus staff bought a huge amount of booze, what exactly I didn’t see, way over what would be considered for personal use. Some of this was then stashed in the cold compartment where free water is normally stored. The stash of booze was then covered by the water bottles and any extra given to willing passengers to ‘call their own’ – in the event that any questions were asked.

Now this ‘smuggling’ was going on openly. I could see what was happening. There was no effort to hide what was going on. The Greek customs must know about this. If not they must be one of the most inept, incompetent or corrupt organisations in existence. But they do nothing to stop this. If you have laws and rules at least abide by them – if not just scrap them. This excess of duty free also accounted for the distribution of duty free bags earlier in the journey for passengers’ rubbish – not too good for the planet either.

Passing through Turkish immigration was equally as quick and easy. My printed visa wasn’t even looked at so I’m not sure what happens there – whether my passport scan brings up an OK I don’t know.

Arrival in Istanbul

The bus arrived at Otogar (the main Istanbul bus station) at around 05.00 – a lot earlier than I expected – and before things started to wake up, including the Metro and the public transport system in general. My bus had made a couple of stops in the old town before heading to the bus station. I noticed a sign post to Taksim Square, near to where I would be staying, but not knowing the area at all it didn’t seem a wise thing to do to get off there.

I was fortunate in that I had a very little Turkish money from a previous visit some years ago. This enabled me to pay for the use of the WC (TL1.50) – to change from shorts to trousers. I was the only one wearing shorts on the bus and started to think I might stand out once on the streets of Istanbul. Doing so in Tirana you are one of the crowd. Doing so in Instanbul marks you out immediately as a tourist.

Next thing to do was to find a cafe to sit down and wait for the city, or at least the bus station, to wake up. Not having a single word of Turkish didn’t help but assumed that life would start again after about 06.00. It was interesting that, with the fame of Turkish coffee, my first cup on this visit was made from Nescafe Instant – and it was as bad as I had remembered.

Otogar might be one of the biggest bus stations in the world but it is certainly the ugliest. Coming into it was like passing through a half constructed concrete car park. Buses everywhere but with a feeling of dirt and decay. I didn’t think it would look any more inviting in the light of day. Having only seen a small part of the city when everything was quiet this goes against the general feeling of the city which appears to becoming an homogenised western city. Such globalisation is taking the character out of so many cities throughout the world. Otogar has been left out of this modernising process.

Over the years in various countries I sat and watched – for what now seems like countless hours – street traders waiting for customers. It was the same in Otogar. The cafe was open, as were a number of other stalls/kiosks in a small ‘shopping centre’ but there were only a handful of customers for almost two hours. Whether it ever gets really hectic I’ll probably never know from personal experience but it must be a mind blowingly boring existence for so many people to just sit and wait.

By 06.30 things were still very quiet and I didn’t know if I had over-extended my welcome at the cafe. However, as I had spent a lot of time in Albanian bars where I had had a few beers whilst others had just had a small coffee but were there as long as myself, I assumed the culture to be the same in Turkey.

It was still dark and I wasn’t sure if the Metro had started up so after I got to this point in my typing I decided to wait and move once the morning had arrived before going exploring – first for a cash machine and then the Metro, assuming I would find both in the same place – that was another assumption that wasn’t correct.

When I did stir it was light – fortunate that I travelled before autumn had really set in and the days got shorter. But life is never easy. Finding the Metro (as in railway system) was made more confusing by the existence of a bus company called ‘Metro’ and they seem to have an office every second space at the front of the bus station. The Metro railway entrance is, in fact, in the middle of the huge square in front of the Otogar, slightly to the right when you have the bus station to your back.

But first, like me, you might need some cash. Once you find the Metro entrance look at the row of shops directly opposite the bus station entrances and there you will see a branch of the Turkiye Is Bankasi which has an ATM to the right of the entrance. Currently (autumn 2019) there are about 7 Turkish Lira (TL) to the £.

(One of the consequences of the light is that your first impressions of the bus station are proved right. In the dark it’s bad, in the light it confirms itself as a right shit-hole.)

As is nearly always the case ATM’s only issue you with large denomination notes but for the Istanbulkart – which you need to travel on the local transport system – you really need a couple of tens – I don’t know how the machine would react if you inserted a larger denomination note.

My solution was to go for a bowl of soup at the cafe close to the entrance gates that allow you into the Metro system. The soup was quite good and definitely filled a hole after spending 16 hours on or about a bus, cost TL10 and it was understood why I needed a couple of ten lira notes in my change.

Obtaining a Instanbulkart

Right in front of the gates to the Metro there are three machines which dispense or top up the Istanbulkart. In theory the system should go to English but I couldn’t get that to work. Fortunately a helpful local took me through the procedure.

First you put your TL10 note in the slot and after the machine has eaten it you press the bottom of the three buttons which will issue you with a card. This costs TL6 so you have TL4 credit but this will only get you on to one train/tram/bus. To top it up for a few journeys, place the card with the picture face up on the grey reader to the right of the screen. This has a lip to prevent it from slipping off the machine. Put another TL10 in the slot and once eaten press the second button (the one in the middle). This will then give you a total credit of TL14, sufficient for four/five journeys.

To enter the Metro system place the card picture side up on the reader to the right of the turnstile. A single journey costs TL2.60 and the balance on the card can be read.

Make sure to keep the card reasonably well topped-up. There’s no transfer system so if you need to change Metro lines, or from Metro to tram or bus, then you need to enter the system anew. However, if you do so within a couple of hours each transfer is slightly less that the one before. The card is also valid on the ferries but the cost depends upon the route taken.

You now have cash and the means to get around the city. And to suffer the caterwauling every day.

More on Albania ……