Bulgaria - Turkey (Istanbul)

Our first call is to the Bulgarian embassy to see if any of our passengers need entry visas. Luckily they didn't but things can sometimes change when you arrive at the border. It's a long way round and we will need to spend a night in Bulgaria. The drive through the Greece country side is pleasent and we soon find ourselves at the Greek border. The guards are not so pleasant this time as we are leaving and worst still, they know we are going to Turkey. We cross into Bulgaria at Kulata north of Thessaloniki and head towards Sofia the capitol.
The first thing you notice about Bulgaria is how backward it is. This is in 1973, it's a communist country and it shows. The roads are very quiet and what traffic there is, in the main, is horse drawn. The road surface is cobbled and narrow. We need food for tonight, so pull off into a small town and stop in the main street. The people could not have seen many tourist buses here, but they barely look at us. It's as if we don't exist. The shops look OK until you go inside, then you realise that the shelves have very little on them. Most are filled with bottled fruit or vegetables and only a single row at the front, to make them look full. There is no bread, cheese or meat of any kind. We find a few potatoes that are soft and in poor condition. Bread will be available tomorrow, but they couldn't give a time. There is plenty of alcohol, so we buy some of the local brew to compensate for no food. We camp near Blagoevgrad for the night. We arrive in Sofia the capital mid morning. Things look better here, there is some activity but still not many smiles. Churches and grand old buildings are common, but the housing for the people is either run down or has that tacky soviet look about it. The country is beautiful but the atmosphere is poverty and distrust bordering on fear of foreigners. We head to Plovdiv en route to the Turkish border crossing at Svilengrad.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Sofia - Bulgaria

We have seen very little for sale in Bulgaria, so imagine our surprise when we arrive at the border to find a duty free store complete with French perfume and Scotch whiskey. It seemed completely out of place and as this was an unusual place for tourists to enter Turkey, one wonders what it was doing there. The second surprise was the price, everything was really cheap. I purchased a dozen litre bottles of Johnnie Walker red label whiskey for $36US. I don't like whiskey. but they would come in handy later on and would get us out of the odd sticky spot. The border guards were slow and asked a lot of strange questions. They wanted to know what profession everyone had. They went through each person and asked where you had been, why you had come to Bulgaria and how much had you spent while here. A strange question considering there was nothing to buy!. It was Rob Malone an Americans turn and we were going fine until they asked what he did for a living. "Statistical Analyst" was the reply, this was met with blank looks so I said "teacher". "I'm not a teacher" pipes up Rob, "I'm a statistical analyst". I tell him they have no idea what that is and you could spend the next 2 hours explaining and they still won't get it. He settles for "Accountant".

Bulgaria

The Turkish border guards are very careful and search us from top to bottom. They pay particular interest to our radio and sound system and take some convincing that it is not a two way radio. It all seems a little unusual but it won't be long before the reason becomes clear. Turkey is a land of contrasts from modern city to remote farms, beach to snow covered mountains. What becomes obvious is the history, everywhere you go there are ancient ruins. Every culture and religion has left its mark on Turkey. Turkey is our first muslim country and will have to be handled differently if we are to avoid hassles. They are friendly people but it is not immediately apparent. The run to Istanbul is on good roads and we are soon in the outskirts of the city. This is our first taste of traffic gone mad, there seems to be no rules, just drive where you like. Big vehicles have an advantage, but if they think you are wavering, you are lost. You soon learn to push your way through the masses. We are heading to a campsite on the main road into town which turns out to be well organised. The crew are given free rooms much to the passengers dismay except Celia and Jos, who are looking forward to their first night of passion in total privacy. There is a lot to see here and even I am keen to get into town.

Istanbul

Fred has been here before, so we tag along with him. We didn't have any breakfast as Fred was promising something special. Our first stop was the "Pudding Shop" one of Istanbul's "must visit" spots. The breakfast was to die for. A fresh omelette delivered to the table still cooking in its own little pan and accompanied by the best Turkish bread ever. The remaining bread was used to soak up a small plate of curd and cherry jam, which was washed down by cups of thick Turkish coffee. All set to take on the city, we head for the blue Mosque (Sultenahmet), given this name because of the large stained glass windows that colour the inside of the mosque, in the most beautiful blue. The building is the most well known land mark in Istanbul and with St Sophia and the Topkapi Place, are a tribute to the Otterman and Byzantium Empires that ruled this part of the world for many years. We walk down through the older parts of town heading to the Bosporus and the floating bridge, on the way we pass many interesting workshops that could come in useful if we have any mechanical problems.

Blue Mosque - Istanbul

The bridge across the Bosporus is floating on pontoons and acts as a ferry terminal and shopping centre. You get a good view of the Golden Horn bridge spanning east and west. There is even a Turkish Delight shop that sells hundreds of different kinds and after taking 20 minutes to decide on one, I manage to pick one that is not sweet and tastes like old goats hoofs! Hunger is raising its head again and we go back to join a queue buying fried fish from a small boat in the harbour. The boat is tied up near a jetty, but the swell is about 3 meters and the boat keeps appearing then disappearing. You have to shout your order as it's coming up and when it's ready they hold it out and you have to grab it before the boat goes down again. The fish was great considering where it was cooked and just goes to show how you can make a living if you try. We spend the afternoon going through the bazaar. I have visited bazaars in Morocco and find them fascinating, they have an atmosphere not found anywhere else. I could spend all day just watching life pass by, shop keepers asleep on a pile of carpets or young boys delivering trays of tea. It's the pulse of the market and has been this way for centuries. The bus ride back to camp is an experience and I see an expert at traffic weaving. There's a few tips on how to keep moving like going onto the wrong side of the road and forcing all the traffic off on to the foot path.

Bosporus - Istanbul

Golden Gate Bridge - Istanbul

Turkish Delight

The trip continued Map of trip so far
An overland journey to India following the India overland trail through Belgium, Germany, Austria Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, & Nepal. Visting sites of Dubrovnic, Split, Kotor, Athens, Kerimoti, Istanbul, Galipolli, Troy, Delphi, Efes, Goreme, Nemrut, Tehran, Esphan, Persepolis, Shiraz, Kerman, Bam, Quetta, Kandahar, Kabul, Bamian Valley, Kyhber Pass, Indus river, Lahore, Punjab, Amritsar, Kashmir, Delhi, Agra, Taj Mahal, Vanaris, Patna, Raj Path, Kathmandu, Himalyas. All this undertaken in a 20 year old Asian Greyhound, Swagman Tours, LS Bristol bus. This Indiaoverland company was held together by Norm Harris an expatriate Aussie living in Windsor. With drivers like Bob Ashford, Geoff Lawrence, Clive Parker, Dave Watt, Ronnie Martin, John Witchard, Ken Mcdonald, Derek Amey & couriers Fred Fisher, Jos Livingstone, Peter Swift, Kieren Smith & mechanics Gordon Hammond, Graham Libby, Pomme John & Rastas just to name a few.