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Thursday, October 13, 2011 | From Bulgaria to Turkey

Today I take my leave of Sofia and point the Editourmobil in the direction of Turkey.
Victor, the Iveco manager, had put his premises at my disposal for a further night, which was handy as it is situated directly on the motorway for Istanbul.

There is yet another change in the weather and as the day goes on, it gets hotter and hotter. The temperature hits 20 degrees and more and it’s time to don shorts. The sun shines all day on my journey and bathes the area around me in a very pleasant light. The vegetation has long since changed, it is sparse and the dominant colour ranges switches between brown and ochre. The landscape is dominated by mountains and rolling hills. The last third of the journey leads over highways that pass through tiny Bulgarian villages, where the locals have set out their market stalls full of tempting goods. All kinds of fruits and vegetables are on offer as well as locally made handicrafts.

At a petrol station near the border I decide to fill up the tank. Next to the toll booths, someone has fashioned a wind chime out of used PET beer bottles. "Great idea," I think to myself and take a picture.

Around 4:30pm I get to the border with Turkey. There are several passport checks at three or four checkpoints on the Bulgarian and Turkish side, which are separated by more than a kilometre. Whilst my passport is being carefully inspected I examine some of the Turkish border posts which provide a modest introduction to the language. I notice a rather sinister-looking gentleman in a suit who seems to want to go over the Editourmobil with a fine toothcomb. To my surprise, everything passes off quickly. I have to unload one or two things from the “garage”, and show him round the inside. After a short while, he pronounces himself satisfied and duly stamps my papers.

A few hundred yards away I am brought face to face with another cultural delight: from the minaret of a huge mosque, the muezzin is solemnly calling the faithful to prayer. It will be a sound that will accompany much of the next few hundred kilometres.

The roads are surprisingly empty, so that you do not at first realise that you are driving through a big city like Istanbul. Slowly the light is fading. On the outskirts of Istanbul I come off the motorway to look for a suitable place to park up for the night. No obvious place presents itself, so I decide to ask at the next petrol station if there is anywhere suitable to park. A lively discussion ensued with three beaming Turks and by an elaborate process of gesticulating and waving of hands they indicate that I am more than welcome to pitch my tent, so to speak, in a parking bay at the rear of the site. That was easy! Now it gets a bit more complicated. I get down from the cab and try to explain that I would like somewhere to eat. No problem for my amiable Turks, who point me in the right direction and 10 minutes later, I find myself on a main road full of banks, shops and grocery stores - all still open! I get some breakfast essentials in for the morning before sampling a delicious meal at the Café Mafe. This estimable establishment also boasts a free WiFi connection which enables me to sort out my emails and all the other online stuff.

My programme for tomorrow is to visit Danone in Istanbul and in the afternoon I have an appointment with Altintas in Ankara. A bit of a long haul, but I'm looking forward to it!