July 23 Grand Hotel Gulsoy, Istanbul
We woke up at our campsite on Wednesday morning just outside of Budapest and made our way through rush hour traffic into the old city. Stopped at a market to buy some fruit for breakfast and then took a walk. Lots of great old buildings in the centre of town, we could see them from the bridge as we crossed the river but we never did make it into the old part of town. We spent a couple of hours before the ever present thought of “let’s get back on the road” took over and we headed for Serbia. After a couple of hours I set up the bed in the back and Calen took over. We crossed into Serbia and past Belgrade almost right across the whole country before we stopped for a roadside supper. This was the first time we used the small propane stove that we bought in Engelburg.
Not long after supper we crossed the Bulgarian border. So far none of the borders have been any trouble at all. In fact Calen has to ask them to put a stamp in his passport because they don’t normally do that any more. Early on in Bulgaria just before dark we drove through a gorge with high rock walls, a river at the bottom and a village scattered along the slope. Very picturesque. Just after dark we met 4 Germans driving 2 rally cars and they suggested that we travel in convoy because we planned to drive through the night and Bulgaria isn’t known as one of the safer countries in Europe. So drove through the night we did. One would drive while the other slept and we traded off every 2 or 3 hours.
We arrived in Turkey just after day break. Clearing customs was a little more thorough with passport checks and the purchase of a visa but we all made it through in a reasonable amount of time. The Germans and a couple of guys from Italy that started travelling with us through the night were all set to find a campsite and get some rest but because of our bed we were both reasonably well rested so we continued on about 3 hours into Istanbul.
Calen was asleep as we joined the rush hour commute and what a rush hour it was. The highway, similar to the 401, was clogged with high speed traffic but rules of the road were merely a suggestion and at one point believe it or not I passed a family in a horse drawn cart with cars streaming around it. I laughed out loud when I saw that but Calen was sleeping so I couldn’t point it out to him. Here I was trying to keep from getting squeezed out of my lane at high speed in rush hour trying to read the little city map in our road atlas. I missed one turn off and then another and another before I finally oriented myself enough to take an exit headed for the downtown. Away from the highway was even more chaotic with buses, motorcycles, hand carts and pedestrians to concern myself with as I tried to keep going in the right direction. At one intersection just as I was trying to do a manuver Calen’s foot slid off the bed and pushed the gear shift into neutral. I didn’t see what happened at first, I just knew that I lost forward momentum. At first I thought the car had stalled but when I went for the gear shift I felt his foot. I pushed his foot out of the way put the car into drive with cars honking like crazy behind me and continued on my way. One good thing about finding your way in Istanbul is that once you get to the water you can pretty easily follow it along in the direction that you want to go and this is how I found my way to the old part of the city.
As soon as we got close we knew we were in the right area because of the mosques with their minarets, castles and cruse ships. In fact the harbour was full of ships, you could easily see a dozen in any direction coming and going through the Bosporus. I figured we would just head up the hill into the city and we would find lots of hotels to choose from but as soon as we turned off of the main street we were into the twisty, crowded narrow cobble stone streets that leave you completely disoriented after you make even two turns. There were people walking everywhere in front of us, trucks stopping to unload their goods and always some car behind us honking to get us to move. What fun! The first hotel we saw we pulled over and asked the hotel security guy on the street if the hotel offered parking as there wass no way I wanted to leave the car on the street over night. Once we were sure that they had secure parking the next question was how much. $100 USD, more than I would like to pay in Turkey but after an hour of searching I didn’t care so we checked in to a very nice place right across the street from the Blue Mosque with a view of ancient buildings and a glimpse of the harbour. Time for a shower, some food and some serious exploring.