Jensen Monday Club
Top Touring Tip 3: Take Your Shades Off at Borders.
Chris had commented that we had not yet met any "characters" yet (a euphemism for "fruitcakes") and no sooner had he said this than a Belgian guy who had stayed in the same hotel as us in Belgrade started up a conversation. If you look up "fruitcake" in the dictionary there is a picture of this guy. But, he was an entertaining nutter and we headed off in high spirits.
We knew that today was going the be the day we were going to make it to Istanbul. We spent some time driving around Belgrade sightseeing (more than we had planned and we didn't actually get back on the road to Istanbul until 11am).
It was the end of the motorways after Belgrade, but at least the Serbian normal roads were well maintained. One of the perils of Europeans driving on the wrong side of the road is overtaking, where you have to rely on your passenger to tell you if it's safe to go. Driving on the right was an idea of Napoleon, and look what good it did him! Other than having to pick our opportunities to overtake trucks we made good time
An attempt at overtaking that nearly didn't go quite as planned...
We started heading into more mountainous terrain, and the scenery was very impressive.
Part of the reason for this bit of a trip was to see if we could get a 34 year old car to survive a 5000 mile journey. Although we had made the 1000 mile trip to Scotland with very little problem, and had worked on 136-8801 extensively, there is always the nagging doubt that something, somewhere is waiting to trip you up. And usually in an embarrassing first day of the journey, home on a trailer sort of way.
But we were on day 3, the car was flying, there were no ominous noise (except from Chris munching the Werthers originals) and Istanbul was at the end of this road, so we gave it some welly and headed into the distance...
As we headed towards the Bulgarian border the roads began to deteriorate markedly, and the car was starting to take a bit of a pounding. We had miles and time against us so we turned up the stereo and carried on regardless.
We suddenly found ourselves in some very rocky terrain, and the road needed to go through tunnels to get past this mountainous section. The map didn't show this as a new road, and by the condition of it's surface it didn't seem new, but the tunnels had a distinct look of being dug as we were driving through them...
The dust being kicked up by the tunnelling and the lorry in front of us made it impossible to see where we were going inside of the tunnel. We couldn't stop though because of the 40 ton lorry behind us...
We both developed nasty coughs for a while after we got out due to the amount of dust we swallowed, and the car went from being pristine to a wreck!
Unquotable quote: "I can't believe such profligacy".
We were chewing up the miles at almost the same rate we were chewing up the Werthers, and it was all looking good. We had taken a bit of a gamble by going through Serbia as we had heard stories of corrupt border guards and traffic police "creating" fines for foreigners that never actually make it into the government coffers, and more likely end up in the local bar. But so far, so good...
My mate Simon who we had met in Ulm was going to go within 170 kilometres of Istanbul to his mum's place (she moved to Bulgaria about a year ago and this was his first visit) and he should have been following us as the road we were on went past his mum's place, but he was so concerned about bent rozzers that instead of going through Serbia he headed east into Romania and ended up on a ferry to Bulgaria! (I'm sure at one stage he sent me a text message saying he was in Wisconsin, but that may have been a spelling mistake)
A few miles before the border the car started to feel a little twitchy at the back, so as it was time to refuel, we pulled into a petrol station to fill up and check the tyres. The drivers side rear was almost flat due to the pounding it had taken.
A quick blast down the road and we were at the border.
There was a rather entertaining sign at the border telling you how they took customer service very seriously and if you were less than delighted with the service you received you could write in and complain. Given it was the Bulgarian secret service that murdered 2 Bulgarian defectors in the 1970's with gas propelled poisoned umbrellas, we though better of it.
They also seemed to find it difficult to come to terms with people coming to Bulgaria on "holiday". Perhaps we should have said "spying".
After driving the car through a sterilisation shower, and paying a tax for the privilege (naturally!), we were in Bulgaria.
It was about now that our luck changed. I was driving and we were barrelling along when a Bulgarian copper jumper out waving what looked like a table tennis bat. How he thought this was going to stop a 2 ton Interceptor doing the wrong side of naughty I don't know, but I hit the brakes anyway. And waited a bit. And a bit longer. And eventually stopped about 1/2 a mile down the road. Chris suggested I reverse back, so we did.
The Bulgarian copper was unused to British cars, so he went to the passenger side expecting to find the driver. Instead he found Chris with a mouth full of Werthers. Chris had commented before that when in Europe people always think he is German. He doesn't strike me as looking particularly Teutonic, but there you go. After getting over the shock of not finding a steering wheel, the copper evidently did and said to him "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"
"Nein" replied Chris. This got the copper laughing, so things were looking up. He then started speaking Bulgarian. We looked dumb (not difficult). He did a few calculations of what he could earn out of this versus having to get a translator etc, decided it wasn't worth it, and sent us on our way with our wads still in tact.
Result! Jensen 1- 0 Bulgarian Rozzers.
We had got away lightly, and so turned up the stereo and hoofed it. A little latter we saw the first signs for our destination.
Most signs were in Latin as well as Cyrillic alphabets, which was lucky as it took a while to work out the 3 was Z (or was it the other was around?).
We skirted around Sophia, and saw "working girls" at the side of the road. We took no pictures as it was a depressing reminder of how poor these countries were, and what some poor unfortunates had to do to keep their heads above water.
I think it was around now that I told Chris the "Unluckiest Man in the World" joke. I once told it my mate Dick in the pub, and after a 3 second delay, he exploded and fell into the fire place.
Which was bad news as the fire was lit...
It had the same effect on Chris (just minus the fire), and the punch line became an unquotable quote:
Unquotable quote: "F*ck me, I've won a car!"
Eventually we rocked up at the Turkish border. After seeing the film "The Midnight Express" we were on our best behaviour. It was a constant theme at all the borders we came to that everyone in Europe and Turkey can speak better English than me, except for the border guards, who don't speak a word...
This is a picture we took on the way out of Turkey as it was night time when we first arrived, and we didn't fancy getting banged up for espionage. But you will get the general idea of the interminable hours spent waiting for something to happen.
What did happen was that after waiting for hours, we got to the front of the queue. The border official got half way through our paperwork, then suddenly stood up, but his umbrella under his arm (we weren't sure if it was a Bulgarian special or not, so we didn't say anything), and off he marched out of his kiosk and into the distance. Way into the distance...
It turns out it was the end of his shift, and instead of finishing our papers before clocking off, he just f*cked off!
A new official appeared, and after lots of gesturing with a very angry moustache, he signed the papers and we were off!
50 yards to the next Turkish check point. And then another 50 yards to the next one, and the next one , and the next one.
6 in total.
But, we were finally through, onto some good Turkish motorways, so we turned up the stereo, and gave it some welly!
It was very late at night, so we had decided to go directly to our hotel for a good nights sleep, and a good meal as we had lived of Werthers, Red Bull, and crisps since leaving Chris's house.
Unquotable quote: "We haven't eaten since Saturday..."
We had only the most basic directions for the hotel, so the inevitable happened when trying to find your way around a HUGE city like Istanbul, we got lost. Big style (it was too dark to take pictures when we arrived, but we replicated the trip for the photo's shown here later).
We were lost and on the wrong bloody continent! Arse! And to make matters worse, Asia was closed, so we couldn't even get a bite to eat.
We did a U turn and headed back to more familiar territory.
After running the toll gate on the bridge to Asia (Sorry! We were from out of town and didn't know. Honest!) we were back in Istanbul.
I drove the car around the deserted Istanbul streets, and it will live with me for the rest of my days. Driving a car like the Interceptor around a city like Istanbul with almost no other cars about. It was a truly, truly, memorable experience.
We eventually found our digs, and as I described in an e-mail "We were as wild eyed as weary, and as elated as exhausted", but we were there! We retired to the rooftop bar for a well earned beer, and sat overlooking the Bosphorus river. We were amazed.
"Look behind you" said Chris...
BLOODY HELL! It was the Blue Mosque!
We fell into bed shattered...
Go To Day 4: The Carpet Baggers.