Thursday, 6 September 2007

Day 6 Plodov, Bulgaria to Istanbul

We woke early to flush our radiator out in an effort to improve our over heating problems. We had removed the thermostat a few days earlier and we suspected the seal where it had been wasn't holding. We needed to find some silicon soon otherwise one serious overheat and we could warp our engine block. The Polo set off ahead of us and the Camper van's crew were still in bed when we exited the camp site. Again we headed south for Turkey. It was really hot even in the early morning. We hit the Turkish border at midday only to find the team we had met in Belgrade already waiting there. The queues were long and it meant trouble for the SJ so we took to pushing it over the border instead of the constant stopping and starting in the heat. It took us a few hours to get through with us having to buy visas, car insurance and negiotiating the authenticity of our vehicle document. It appeared that I had only brought half of the V5 vehicle registration form and it was the more important side was sitting at home on my desk.

We got through eventually and were on the road to Istanbul. Somehow we managed to time our arrival in Istanbul right in the middle of rush hour. This meant the bad driving and constant beeping of horns was ten times worse than normal. The Citroen boys had picked out the Blue Mosque as where we wanted to head, apparently there was a hostel nearby.

After about 15 minutes of being forced out of lanes, cut up by buses, beeped at by taxis we were pretty much in the centre. At a set of traffic lights we were stationary next ot the curb when a couple of Police motor bikes turned up with officers on, one of them spotted the rally cars and started chatting to Blake. He suggested that we go straight on at the next junction despite it being for the trams only, there was a large no entry sign but he told us to ignore it, follow the tracks round and we would be at the blue mosque. Without further hesitation we set off, the citroen in the lead following a tram down these tracks. People were staying at us as we tore down this hill. We passed through two of the tram stations, the platforms on either side at window height meant we were looking up at the slightly bemused people waiting for their tram as we sailed on by. We even saw another Police car at the bottom of the hill, he didnt seem to bat an eyelid at our appearance from the station. As promised the Mosque was right in front of us and we pulled into a side road right next to a restaurant on the corner. The manager of the restaurant had seen us arrive and was moving cones which marked their private parking an was beckoning us in. He said we could leave the cars there for the night and they would be safe, he then invited us into the restaurant for dinner. It was open air with long low benches covered in rugs and cushions making up the seating. There were large trees over head shading the entire thing and traditional Turkish music playing the background. We sat and ordered four Shish Kebabs and nearly ordered 4 beers before remembering we were in a Muslim country and changed to 4 Cokes instead. The Kebab was delicious, far beyond the rubbish you get in a fast food place in England. The Manager, Osman had been asking about what we were doing and was very excited about it along with most of the staff who all spoke English in varying degrees. Osman then went on to invite us to his Uncle's house who was out of town to stay the night, he finished work at 11.30 so we had a few hours to look round before meeting him back there.

We headed down to the river front and to the flea market that was starting up, they were selling everything imaginable and at the same time nothing that you actually needed. We walked up to the massive and very impressive Mosque that sat looking over the bridge to the old town. The inside was even more impressive, all the walls and the huge domed ceilings so ornately decorated.

We met Osman back at the restaurant as he was finishing work and he was going to take us to meet some of his friends so we jumped in the cars, Blake and Osman in the Citroen and John, Dan and myself squeezed in the front of SJ. Off into the streets of Istanbul again, this time it was quieter and we had a guide but now it was dark there was an increased Police presence and I don't know how we avoided being pulled over. Osman took us to the old town and we went to one of his local haunts. It was a covered area with hundreds of bean bags set round tables, on one side were a line of stalls and food stands. At these tables people were sitting round playing backgammon, rummy and smoking water pipes (Basically you have red hot coals on a grill and you suck the smoke coming off them down through a liquid which can be a flavoured drink of choice, and you in hale the smoke, its a slightly more pleasant and a bit healthier way of smoking). He took us along introducing us to people along the way. It appeared as though this wasn't the usual place for tourists to go as we got a lot of strange looks and were glad we had Osman leading the way. I think he was quite chuffed to have us there and was basically showing us off to his frineds as the crazy adventurers from England.
We didn't stay long and soon were off again in the cars. This time to his cousin's cafe where we played rummy or at least did our best to play (with a lot of guidance for Osman's friends) until 3 in the morning. We then headed right over to the over end of the city to his Auntie and Uncle's one bedroom flat, his other cousin was sleeping in the one bed so I guess his Auntie and Uncle must have slept on the pull out sofa bed in the living room where Osman put us up. I was all very strange surreal but tiredness had got the better of us and we were off to bed pretty quick.

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