Greetings from Istanbul!
We’re giving ourselves – and our car – some much needed rest in this sprawling, vibrant metropolis. We wish we could say that we’re writing to you from a quaint Turkish teahouse with a coffee in one hand and a
hookah nargile in the other, but we’re really just in the lobby of our hostel. We don’t like mixing business and pleasure. (Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for Turkish teahouse-ing and nargile-ing over the next couple days!)
To catch you up, we left Slavonski Brod Saturday morning to hit the highway and cruise through Serbia. Or so we thought. No more than half an hour into the drive we hit traffic, or more accurately, we hit a 10km-long parking lot – precisely the distance to the Serbian border. People were out of their cars, walking down the shoulder, and napping, because as far as the eye could see, not a single car was moving.
Oddly enough, most of the cars weren’t Croatian- or Serbian-registered Yugos, as one might expect to see here, but rather, luxury BMWs and Audis with German, along with Turkish decals and bumper stickers. We quickly found out that these cars were occupied by members of the massive Turkish diaspora in Germany, returning to their homeland to celebrate Bayram, the weeklong festival that marks the end of Ramadan. This meant that we’d be stuck in the rush for the next three countries.
Not wanting to waste precious fuel, the Rubikhans decided to put our own car in neutral, and simply push it when we could. And it worked like a charm. For the next four and a half hours – pretty much half a day – we pushed and waited, pushed and waited, pushed and waited, until we reached the border.
With daylight hours already waning, we abandoned our plans to make it to Bulgaria. Instead, we drove (through a couple more traffic jams) to the Serbian city of Niš (pronounced “Nish”, not “Nees”, which is helpful, since it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the pleasant French city on the Mediterranean). There, after a few dead ends (literal and figurative), we found a hotel willing to take us in. The receptionist (slash owner slash maid slash chief coffee-maker?) even offered us breakfast and a parking spot up on the sidewalk outside.
Until this point, our only interaction with Serbia, and its people, had been with its traffic-choked roads and utterly loony drivers. So, we were pleasantly surprised by the warm hospitality and helpfulness of the local people we encountered in Niš. Plus, the local beer wasn’t half bad! We are beginning to acknowledge the value of modest expections, and we look forward to exploring more of the off-the-beaten-path locales that lie ahead.
We hit the road early the next morning, with our driving goals for the day tempered by the previous day’s frustration. Fortunately, traffic wasn’t bad, and we coasted through Eastern Serbia and rejoined our Turkish friends at the mercifully painless Bulgarian border. It was here that Cooper noticed a small sign warning of construction at the major Bulgaria-Turkey border and recommending that cars detour north to the much smaller border in Lesovo.
Nightmares of border traffic were still fresh in our memory, so 300km later we veered north to the smaller crossing, where we were thankfully met by absolutely no traffic, two Rally teams to chat with, some bird poop for Nick;s shoulder, and a friendly Bulgarian exit guard who laughed us through once we told him our final destination. And it was only 5:00pm. We could make it to Istanbul after all.
So we drove through the twilight and made it to Istanbul with enough energy to meet some other Rallyers for a beer or two in our neighborhood. We looked forward to three nights, and two full days, of recuperation in the city.
Yesterday was our first day away from the car in over a week. We explored Istanbul by foot (for a change) stopping by the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque before the heat induced us to yield to the simpler pleasures of tea, beer, deep-fried mussels, lamb kidney, and goat intestines. (Seriously.) That night, we met up with our friend Sera from school who invited us to her home to unwind and catch up. It was exactly what we wanted.
We’re crossing our fingers that a garage will be open this afternoon (it’s still Bayram) so we can get someone a little smarter to examine our car before we begin the next legs of our journey. Also in store is a big night out tomorrow with Sera and friends. So let’s see what time we manage to hit the road tomorrow…
Thanks for following, everyone! All of your emails are thoroughly appreciated, and often treasured. So even if we can’t write back with anything resembling punctuality, we love hearing from you. Also, don’t forget that you can view our location (updated every ten minutes, as long as our car is moving), right here.
Hobey ho, let’s go!
Serbian heavy industry, illuminated by the setting sun.
The morning catch in Serbia, featuring Darko, the late Mr. Dragonfly.
These guys were driving this horse-drawn cart on the Bulgarian expressway. (Harvard class of 2025?)
Bulgaria is the land of sunflowers. Fields of the bright yellow flowers stretch for miles.
Is that a MiG-21 in your backyard, or are you just happy to see us? (Spotted somewhere in Bulgaria)
The Rubikhans and Team South Afristan, whom we met at the Bulgaria-Turkey border. Cooper was delighted to encounter another Oregonian on the road!
The 12km-long queue of lorries waiting to leave Turkey.
Benjie enjoys a sunset döner, a few kilometers into Turkey.
Cooper photobombs the New Mosque in Istanbul.
Afternoon prayer at the Blue Mosque.
Team photo in front of the Hagia Sophia.