Day 3 & 4: Zadar, Croatia – Istanbul, Turkey

Our little detour down to the Croatian Coast had taken us a little off track in terms of a direct route to Asia, meaning we had to cut back north into the mountains and over the border into Bosnia. Upon leaving Croatia the customs officers asked if we perhaps might have a gift for them, alcohol? Cigarettes? We politely declined to indulge them. Fortunately our detour meant we were able to drop into Mostar on the way, which despite a deluge of rain as we arrived had a lovely old town and ancient bridge. We weren’t able to stay long though as we had a lot of miles to cover so like Japarazzi we snapped some photos and hopped back into our chariot. The mountain roads were pretty dicey in places and the standard of driving had dropped off considerably since crossing the border from Croatia. We might have been more tempted to pull over and stop for a bit were it not for the sporadic red land mine warning signs dotted in the woods at the side of the road. We did meet Irhad, a Bosnian lad who was a big fan of the Mongol rally and who spun his car round to come in for a closer look after he spotted as stopped at a petrol station. It was also strangely reassuring to see convoys of British troops rolling through Sarajevo. On a “training exercise” presumably.

With night falling and an epic electrical storm overhead, we headed back into the mountains toward the Serbian border. As the roads grew narrower and the signs less helpful, we started to wonder whether the border crossing would be open to international traffic or whether we’d be forced to head back hundreds of kilometres out of our way to a more major border (something Al had experienced once too many already on a previous trip). Fortunately Saint Christopher was smiling and we crossed the border without incident, the Bosnian official even wishing us an ominous “good luck”.

Serbia passed by with the night, the only other vehicles on the road a seemingly endless stream of high value GB and Dutch plated cars driven at high speed by suspiciously Albanian looking single drivers. Never has the expression “drive it like you stole it” been better illustrated. When dawn broke we were still driving; Dave and Al coaxing each other along the pothole riddled stretch of soviet era asphalt that passes for a motorway in Bulgaria. Pushing on we reached the Turkish border. Even this was passed with relative ease – some later teams apparently had a considerably different experience.

It was at this point we made our worst call of the trip so far: “let’s book a hotel in Central Istanbul and have a nice chilled out night, Turkish bath, massage, kebab and a few beers to soothe us after our epic drive”. Sounds like a great plan right?

Wrong. After four hours in standing traffic we reached the area where our hotel purported to be, in a maze of tiny streets you’d struggle to drive a motorbike down, with inclines you’d think twice apart walking up. After yan hour or so of Don valiantly guiding the Skoda through the narrowest of cobbled streets, we finally reached Turan Caddesi. But the street was blocked by a cement mixer. Thinking we could cut left and then rejoin the street we once again we plunged into the maze, unable to get back where we wanted. Eventually we pulled over, exhausted, and Al went into the maze on foot to try to find the best way to drive in.

The maze was no less confusing on foot, and took on a distinctly more threatening atmosphere outside the safety of the car. Even when Al finally found the street, the hotel was nowhere to be found upon it. Asking more help brought more problems, as Al found himself being asked to follow down a dark side street which seemed highly unlikely to be the location of the hotel, especially given his guide had now been joined by two more “friends”. It was at this point Al decided that being mugged, stabbed or gangraped would not improve the chances of finding the hotel and beat a hasty retreat back to the car, where Don and Dave had been enjoying a nice ice cream.

Pressing on through istanbul’s seemingly never ending (and barely moving for that matter) rush hour, the lads crossed the bridge to Asia and crawled out of the city. Finding an out of town hotel didn’t prove much easier until a chance wrong turn brought them to a newly built, plush Best Western. Totally broken by their epic drive, and still unsure it wasn’t a mirage we stumbled into the reception and checked in, thirty-six hours after they left Zadar.

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