March 15, 2008 GMT
No.7. Bulgaria..and on to Turkey

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Right. Where were we? Bulgaria.

After a bedbug-ridden night in an overpriced hotel in the border town of Giurgui, I left Romania and crossed the Danube for the last time into Bulgaria. Monday and another new country. I liked that. This is what I'd come away for.

Clear blue skies and sunshine. Perfect motorcycling weather for a fair-weather biker. I took the road south east to Varna, then on towards Burgas. After miles of high plains the horizon suddenly dropped away and the sparkling blue of the Black Sea opened out before me. Another 'Made it!' moment.

The campsite at the beach resort of Sozopol was my kind of campsite. Shady, a few metres from the beach, a fine cafe/restaurant with an attractive waitress. Perfect.

I chatted to her about my trip - the route, the drama, the excitement, the dangers...She was impressed. So impressed that she introduced me to her father, the owner of the cafe, who didn't seem quite so enthusiastic.

I left early the next morning, after a non-existent holiday 'romance', heading for the Turkish border.

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'Green card?' demanded the surly border guard.
'No. This is the new insurance papers' I smugly replied handing him my white paperwork. 'I was told there was no longer a need for a green card.'
'No green card. No Entry into Turkey', said the guard looking for the next in the queue.

'What?!' A cold shiver went down my spine. This is serious. These guys are not going to let me in. My trip is over. I sank onto a wooden bench in the office. What the hell was the next move?

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I talked and pleaded with any official who would listen. An hour passed. Phone calls were made and heads were shaken. Finally, having worn through the knees of my biking jeans, they came to a settlement whereby I took out an 'additional' insurance for Turkey. I kissed the official's shoes and paid up.

Turkish roadworks. Epic. They take the old surface off for twenty miles at a time and you're left with miles of unpredictable gravel and sand. Cars and trucks race by - on both sides - and leave you choking in their dust. Contact lenses? Who needs them.

Dark rain clouds were sweeping in from the south as Istanbul finally came into sight. My pristine 'Istanbul to Kathmandu' Lonely Planet recommended the area of Sultanahmet as the best area to base myself for a few days. All I had to do was find it.

I'd done my best to memorise the 'run' into old Istanbul at a motorway cafe where they'd tried to charge me 9.00 for a cup of Nescafe. It was with this knowledge I plunged into the ring roads of the city.

Nothing sharpens the senses more than a run into a foreign capital at the end of the day. Fast moving motorway traffic...intersections...low sun in your eyes...names of places that weren't on your map...Left...Right..Wrong. It was only a matter of time before I'd spiraled into a busy quarter of the old city. The wrong one.

At 8.00pm I gave up wrestling with the choked streets of the old town in my desperation to reach Sultanahmet. Glancing down an alleyway a neon lit 'Hotel' sign called to me...I settled for the Hotel Sleez, 'near' Sultanahmet and a tiny airless room.


The following days were spent savouring the delights and characters of Istanbul. Breakfast...The Blue Mosque...BMW...the cafes of Sultanahmet...BMW...a man who'd painted his Mercedes as a one man Peace campaign... freshly grilled fish on the quayside at Eminonu...and finally BMW again - new tyres and oil change.

There was more to see but, once again, the Dusty Highway was calling and the following morning I scrambled onto the ferry crossing the Sea of Marmara heading for the windswept town of Bandirma, the Turkish mainland and the road east. I headed south.....

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Posted by Simon Roberts at March 15, 2008 04:53 PM GMT

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