Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Saturday 25th - Serbia to Turkey

All those that entered the sweep stake on us only making Clackett Lane services on the M25, you've lost your bets! We just made it to Turkey.

Saturday 25th / 8am: Jerry appeared to be hungover from the rave the night before, so we treated him with a body wash and picked the flies out of his nose. A freshen up for the journey ahead. (Bex cleaned the windscreen)

Cruising along the riverside market by Nis historic fort, we dodge a weird mix of horse drawn carriages and old Russian cars, as we slowly make our way out of town. We have seen so many funky looking Russian vehicles in the area, that we’ve decided to start taking pictures. We'll list our favourite top five models on the blog soon.

Mountain roads enroute to the Bulgarian border

Further along the route we stop at an old Serbian roadside Café to grab a quick bite to eat. Fresh stone baked bread, with handmade cheese and local ham. Mmmmmm. Then its straight into the Suva Plannina Mountains, an awesome drive through tunnels and gorges which finally leads to flat farmland as we near Bulgaria.
Jerry at Bulgarian cafe - Is that bonnet open?...!

We arrive at the Bulgarian border, and after a quick chat with the Customs official about the genius of Manchester United, we’re ushered across the border without delay. Sofia proves to be a nightmare, very poor roads with major roadworks throughout the city, the diversions for which even had Mr. Garmin stumped… Jerry hits his first major pothole in central Sofia, a big bang but fortunately no damage.

Its hot and we’re running late for a dinner date with my parents in Istanbul. The car in front is driving at 55kph in a very rural 60 zone, there’s a queue of cars behind me. Curiously nobody is overtaking, in any other situation they’d be streaming past with lights flashing and horns blaring.

After 15 minutes of this, I decide to overtake and push on a little quicker. Literally 5 seconds after I pass the car in front, a Bulgarian Police officer appears from nowhere and waves a baton at the car.. I pull over to the side of the road , he walks over to us : “Please, your documents, passports, driving licences. Follow me”
I walk back to the patrol car, he checks through the paperwork and hands it back. After a brief chat in Bulgarian to his colleague in the passenger seat, he turns and asks where I’m headed. “Istanbul, then Vietnam” I explain.

I quickly reel off the planned route ahead. A brief silence then: “Mr Levell…..Mr Max Levell….I would like to shake your hand” Shocked, I shake the guys hand. “I shake your hand, because I think maybe you are a little bit crazy!!” Its laughs all round, they wish me good luck and send us both on our way. I did think about getting a picture for the blog, but thought it might be pushing my luck just a little. A classic moment and one I wont forget in a hurry.

Jerry & Bex at Belgrade fort

Eventually we arrive at the Turkish border. The entrance formalities and brilliantly rubbish, you would struggle to devise a more ridiculous and infuriatingly inefficient system…After queuing up in your car, you reach window number 1. The guy asks if you have a visa. No, I would like a visa on arrival please. OK, no problem, proceed to window number 2. When you’ve spoken to them, park your car, walk back to me and apply for a visa.

We proceed to window 2. Do you have Turkish insurance? No. OK, proceed to the car park. Go to window number 1 to get a visa, then come back to window 2 and see me to arrange insurance…..Eventually I arrange the necessary papers and we proceed to the final checkpoint. Only to be told there’s one rubber approval stamp missing from my passport, please return to window 36. Here a Turkish customs official jokes and says there’s actually nothing missing, but he’ll stamp my passport anyway…

We make it into Turkey just as the sun is setting. After two hours on excellent, almost totally deserted highways, we see hazard lights on the hard shoulder just up ahead. An elderly man flags us down frantically. We feel compelled to pull over, after all it could be some kind of medical emergency...

Nobody in the car speaks a word of English, but we manage to communicate via a dodgy combination of French, Russian and German. Apparently his car has broken down because the battery is flat…..Hmmmm, thats a first! I ask him to turn the key so I can see what’s happening, it spins over perfectly. Its full of fuel and there’s nothing obviously wrong in the engine bay, so I explain that a jump start isn’t going to help and we continue on our way to Istanbul.

At last we reach Istanbul - Incredible traffic and an exceptionally rubbish standard of driving, ridiculously bad in fact. Some guy in an ageing Honda speeds past us on the hard shoulder absolutely flat out in the heart of town. He swerves into a regular lane, but the traffic lights change to red. The car in front of him brakes, he locks all the wheels up and snakes all over the road narrowly missing three other cars...Why is our video camera never on when we need it to be?!  

Everyone from cab drivers to bikers toot, wave and shout with thumbs up at every turn. We arrive at the hotel in the historic Sultahnmet district, narrow cobbled streets lined with cafes and bars. My dad meets us there and has arranged parking for the car right outside the Avicenna hotel.
A small crowd of tourists & locals soon gather around the car, asking questions and taking photos. The hotel manager says its drawing so much attention to his hotel, that we’re welcome to leave it there as long as we like. Result!

London to Istanbul

Distance = 3050 km
Time enroute = 4 days
Fuel burnt = 300 Litres  (ish)
Punctures = 0
Breakdowns = 0
Police tickets = 0 (only just..)

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