We hadn’t left the U.K. yet and I had already broken into the medical supplies and wound up spending Saturday in A and E through a combination of childish excitement, a knife, amazon boxes and being drunk at 4am. Nevertheless preparation had to go on and the last few days were spent gathering the last essentials. Christopher (my brother) arrived on the penultimate day with the intention of joining us until Turkey and helping with the driving, which was a massive relief. That evening Dominic arrived and we started packing and lashing supplies to the roof rack amid the rain. After a couple of hours sleep, a generous portion of toast and a cup of tea we slipped into the night at 4am heading for Folkestone and the Channel tunnel. A seamless half an hour trip on the Eurostar delivered us to France where we began beating a hefty 800 mile path through Belgium, Germany, and Austria. Upon leaving the Auto-bahn and Germany we all remarked at how from this point onwards the standards of practicality and efficiency was all downhill. 18 hours of driving brought us to the uneventful town of Wels in Austria… nothing to report there.
The next day we set off with the rather optimistic target of Romania cruising through the old Austro-Hungarian empire where large Citadels and churches dominated many of the small villages. However the previous days driving had taken its toll forcing us to cut our trip short in Hungary. As a result we stumbled across a hidden gem, Szeged, an historic University town. Incredibly hospitable, safe, with fantastic food, the home of paprika and famed for its outdoor opera’s. It completely blew apart our previous misconceptions of Hungary. The following morning, our vehicle checks and a large pool of liquid under Delilah revealed a leak in the cooling system. A quick phone call to the Hungarian touring association put us in contact with a friendly local mechanic who had Delilah in his local shop and ready to go an hour later. After much gratitude we promptly set off for Romania where the style of driving swiftly changed. Horse drawn carts, single lane motorways and insane games of chicken with trucks kept us on edge. Otherwise it was an incredibly beautiful country where flat plains gave way to mountains, passing through a mixture of old traditional villages and soviet industrial projects. Night closed in making the roads even more treacherous as unlit cyclists and horse drawn carts randomly appeared out of the darkness.
Our target for the night was Sofia in Bulgaria, however upon reaching Calafat on the border it appeared the port was closed and we needed a ferry to cross the Danube. Bemused, we sought refuge in the Hotel Panoramic which resembled Dracula’s castle after a 1980s soviet retrofit. To our relief a hospitable receptionist informed us the EU had recently built a bridge to Bulgaria a few miles away! Over a quick dinner we decided to make the push for Sofia despite it being 9pm with another 5 hour drive before us. After some more unscheduled sightseeing around the local industrial estate we were greeted at the bridge by the border guards who were delighted to meet the ‘lost tourists’. Over the border the roads quickly deteriorated with potholed tarmac leading to cobbled stones. Christopher decided to stop and ask a particularly drunk local man wielding a trombone for directions to Sofia; to which he responded by pointing in the direction we had just come and insisting that we must be Italian. After detaching the man from the side of Delilah we got back onto tarmac and with Bond Scott (AC/DC) spurring us on we finally reached Sofia at 2am.
We awoke in Sofia to a stunning view of a bustling city seated between two mountain ranges but sadly, as with Hungary and Romania, we didn’t have time to explore these intriguing countries. Although this short glimpse of Eastern Europe had definitely wet the appetite for a future visit. Meanwhile the ferry from Iskenderun beckoned so we set off for the Turkish border town of Edirne. Three young men in a blacked out landrover got the authorities very excited as they made us completely unload Delilah putting everything through an airport scanner whilst taking great amusement in our toilet roll. Upon leaving the border it was getting dark so we decided to camp for the night at the rather dilapidated ‘Grande Omur camping’ run by a very sweet German lady who had a few too many demented cats. This gave us a great opportunity to test out and familiarise ourselves with the camping equipment prior to reaching Africa although the cats in Africa would be much larger.
The following morning we got up early, packed up the camp and left for a comparatively short drive to Istanbul or so we thought. The traffic was diabolic and our choice of hostel was amidst the maze of the old city encircled by a series of arches with insufficient clearance for Delilah. We soon settled into the rhythm of the traffic embracing the chaos around us. Several of the locals took interest in Delilah chatting with us as we shunted along. After a brief jaunt across the bridge to Asia we arrived back in Europe and promptly gave up. Handing over Delilah to the faithful Otto park boys we set off on foot through the vibrant streets of Istanbul guided by Christopher’s trusted Sat Nav. Practically sandwiched between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia we found our hostel. After dropping our belongings we grabbed some traditional turkish kebabs at a restaurant around the corner. The waiter was a Galatasaray fan from the Bronx who offered Dominic some complimentary bread upon hearing he was a Leeds fan, as a peace offering it seemed for the stabbings back in 2000. We then hit the streets of Constantinopol wandering around the mosques and bazaars ending the day in a roof top bar overlooking the Bosporus. Istanbul at 6am stood in stark contrast to what we had seen a day earlier: a city at rest, quiet and peaceful, the old monuments bathed in the glow of the morning sun. Sadly we had to pry ourselves away from this sight since we knew it would be short lived as morning rush hour was looming. Next stop the sandstone hills of Goreme.