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Tin Man Parts for Sale

Well, it wasn’t any snoring which interrupted sleep but dogs barking, cats fighting and motor scooters roaring about certainly did. We both decided at 6 to get up and have some breakfast to make an early departure.

We were at the border with Bulgaria at 8am. Even though we were passing straight through the country on the same day, there is a minimum motorway ‘toll’ of 7 days, although it’s only about £15 and must be bought in advance online.

There was a noticeable Police presence about. We were stopped by a young, friendly officer who said he was just checking we had paid our ‘toll’ and once we showed the mobile phone with the receipt on it, he waved us on. There are plans to build a new motorway through the mountains but for us it was long sections of single lane roads. And the standard of driving took a serious nosedive. There was overtaking over solid lines, at great speed, right before blind bends. Neither Keith nor I are particular slouches on the road, though we’re trying to avoid contributing to the Police Christmas Ball by obeying the limits, but this was daft driving. Fast though some cars were, there were also others at the other end of the spectrum. We passed an old couple in an aged, rusty Yugo, driving along at about 25mph, sharing a pizza (or similar), oblivious to other vehicles on the road.

The mountains and forests gave way to a vast plain. By lunchtime, we were at the border with Turkey. It our first car and baggage check. The customs officer seemed a bit overwhelmed by the stuff on the roof cage, the boot full of a mixture of items. She asked what was on the roof and I told her a tyre, empty cans, car spares and oils. She seemed interested in the oils bit, thinking maybe it was olive oil and possibly taxable. But verbal clarification by me of engine oil caused her to be far less interested. Much to the annoyance of cars behind us in the queue, she then opened the boot, sighed and called a colleague. This was when Keith and I looked at each other as if the Marigolds were about to be issued. Midnight Express seemed not far away. A few questions of the medicines and I admitted to a couple of bottles of Serbian wine. Maybe their opinion of it was such, but they didn’t seem interested in our fairly lame wine smuggling. And soon we were told to get going. Just then the nearby mosque started its call to prayers. We had entered a different kind of place..

Turkey has another form of toll charging. It’s a windscreen reader, linked to an account that must always be in credit. Contrary to online reports, the first fuel station kept telling us (we think) that the tolls were not working with a brush of the hands and a “you can go, go!”. We doubted the information as quite a few other non-Turks were too. There was a post office soon after (also a vender of the tickets). But they were closed. After a few miles, we came to another fuel station, with a sign explaining that we could buy the ticket/windscreen thingies from them. A fellow customer (weirdly from Holloway Road, but a Turk) explained it all to us. Yes we did need the ticket and to pay the tolls. I wonder if the previous place had lost its vending franchise and was going to do everything to stop the new place making sales.

As in Bulgaria, the roads were empty, by and large. But as we neared Istanbul, it all changed. There were cars all over the place, under and overtaking, middle lane hoggers, a cacophony of horns and monster trucks. After a while making slow progress in heavy traffic, the Garmin led us to the door of our hotel, through tiny, tiny streets. It’s a modern, tall block. The sort of place that you might share with 250 photocopier salesmen. But it overlooks the Bosphorus, has aircon, a pool, bar and restaurant. It's just right.

We’ve achieved 3,000kms and visited six countries in five days. The plan now is to explore some of sights of Istanbul and then a less direct route through Turkey, taking in some hopefully interesting spots. Istanbul report tomorrow.

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