Day 102 - Wednesday 12th July - Calais to Abingdon (England) - the last day

It was pissing down with rain accompanied by a small gale when we arose. An early breakfast and off to the nearby Eurotunnel train station at 0730 for our 0850 train.

Sitting around in queues to pick up car tickets and through Passport Control at the station, meant the car was leaking badly, we had towels across our knees to mop up the drips. Generally at speed the rain gets channelled away, but at a standstill it finds its way through every crevasse. The windows fogged. The demist fan puffed ineffectively while the windscreen wipers flapped back and forth smearing bugs. And we were damp from running around packing the car in the rain. Welcome to Europe.

The border crossing only involved a Passport check and stamp. There was no Customs inspection or checking of car documents. As far as I am aware they have no idea that we have brought a car into England. Maybe we will find out some more when we fly home. They could be checking in our baggage for it.

The train was delayed. There had been an “incident” in the tunnel, which we determined later to be an electrical issue that had closed one of the two tunnels. So the trains could only go in one direction at a time. Normally the trains are 4 minutes apart. A combination of the Eurostar passenger trains, the Eurotunnel car trains and transporters carrying 30 trucks at a time. The advertising material in the train says they carry 1.6 million trucks a year. It all sounds pretty busy and meant we were running an hour late.

You drive off the train, up a ramp, around a corner and you are feed straight on to the motorway. Before doing so, there was a large sign reminding you that you were now in England and that they drove on the left hand side of the road. We had to remember this.

We for some reason decided to follow the A20. In normal circumstances (I mean normal countries, like Australia, China and all of Europe), the A road is the premier route, at minimum a four land divided motorway. In England these are the quaint little cobbled roads, bordered by hedges with lots of traffic lights through the towns.

We only had 130 miles to cover to Abingdon. The Garmin said 3.5 hours. It should have been a doddle, at least that is what we were expecting. After and hour and a quarter, getting lost multiple times and only covering 21 miles, a call was made to re-evaluate the decision to travel on the A roads. We headed for the M25 (M is for Motorway – unlike every other country on this planet – and I am becoming a bit of a self professed expert in this area after having had some practical experience in evaluating them over a number of countries).

Off we sailed like Toady in Wind in the Willows, the breeze streaming in our hair, for a short while, until this M (for Motorway) ground to a halt. The lack of speed was compounded by the driving skills of truck drivers. It would appear they are not aware of, or are not compelled to follow the European standard of driving in the kerbside lane and not overtaking. Most of them must have been taught to drive in Melbourne, as every time we came to an upward incline, they decided to TRY to overtake the truck in front. I emphasised the TRY, as in many cases they failed. They had to abandon the manoeuvre and pull back, because the outside truck had managed to maintain enough speed to fend them off. Meanwhile about 100 cars were banked back watching the failing snail pace drag race.

Needless to say our 1230 ETA at the MG Car Club in Abingdon had to be continually pushed back. The journey was taking so long, we had to make an unscheduled Happy Stop as everyone was in need of a pee.

Getting close

Getting close

Our arrival at the Club was closer to 1430, but still met with great fanfare (well you would like to think there was). Our friend Megan from Oundle made it across and was the first person we spotted jumping up and down, waving and carrying a lovely bouquet of flowers for Loris. A number of MG Car Club members had come over to welcome us. There was a new cameraman from China TV recording the event and a number of people who ran the Club. Plus a table full of sandwiches and drinks.

First we congratulated each other for making it, breathed an enormous sigh of relief, were then welcomed by the assembled crowd and then posed with the cars for all and sundry to take photos.

I won’t get philosophical about the achievement or the arrival. Over the past few days we all seem to have regained some energy and shrugged off the tiredness that had set in half way across Europe. I am not sure whether the driving through Germany and France had been a bit easier, the decision to split up and take things at our own pace, or the adrenaline of being so close to the finish was driving us.

The car made it. The body is unscathed, surprisingly. Mechanically there is some work to do, starting with rebuilding the gearbox, replacing a few shock absorbers, a radiator fan and replacing the broken steering wheel. The car could also do with a good clean, but I may get that courtesy of Australian Customs when the car is shipped back.

Its not all held together by gaffer tape.

Its not all held together by gaffer tape.

My body is in need of a diet and some conditioning to get fit again. Otherwise it’s in good shape. Loris’s sciatica was a constant worry, but never an impediment. The rheumatism in my thumb joints, slowly got worse over the trip as the effects of the cortisone injections wore off, especially after a long day of rough roads. However, it never amounted any significant pain, maybe the Mobic was keeping it at bay.

As I climbed in to the car this morning I was thinking that despite the leaks and drips, it was remarkably comfortable. Maybe my body has moulded to the seat. It has certainly got used to the cramped space, less so to the heat. But it felt remarkably at home. And now it has nearly ended.

An empty seat.

An empty seat.

Tonight a celebratory dinner with the team and a few hangers on. We each must make a short presentation and show some photos. Tomorrow, after breakfast we will each be off on our own.

Over the next 10 days we will catch up with some friends, enjoy a couple of days walking in the Lakes District and start the process of getting the body back into shape again, and of course preparing the car for shipment home.

Day 101 - Tuesday 11th July - Dusseldorf to Calais (France)

Interesting logo for a German trucking company.

Interesting logo for a German trucking company.

A 400k run across 4 countries. We had covered three by our morning tea break. None of this 40 days in one country stuff. The addition of Holland and Belgium were not on our original list of visited countries, so this pushes the tally up to 19 with four additional countries we would have added if we had climbed the fence that we were skirting around: Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Serbia.

It was cool and wet again today. I even needed a light jumper over the T shirt. And the forecast is for more rain, just as they seem to be ready to harvest the wheat over here and we are heading to England to do some walking in the Lakes District after Abingdon is reached tomorrow.

Despite some interesting places to stop and explore, such as Brussells, Ghent and Brugge, we kept to the autobahns for most of the journey as we had stopped in these towns on our bike ride to Paris last year. Instead we headed for Dunkirk just to the north of Calais for lunch.

One of the things that has stunned me on this trip, is that we have watched wheat been grown from just to the south of Beijing across most of the two continents we crossed, to the edge of the Atlantic where we passed fields today, ready to harvest and the Garmin told me we were at an altitude of -6 metres. There is a lot of wheat grown in that area, most of it used in bread and noodles.

Dunkirk wheat fields at an altitude of -6m. 

Dunkirk wheat fields at an altitude of -6m. 

It was grey, blustery and spitting with rain in Dunkirk. The brightly coloured changing sheds were empty and the beach was deserted. Loris sat in the car to eat her sandwich, I sat on a concrete bench to savour the elements. Some may have been tempted to immerse their bodies in the Atlantic, just to say they had done it, but with a less than inviting mid-summer picture, I resisted. Instead we lined the car up on the promenade for a photo of it next to the sea and a fitting bookend to the journey from the Pacific near Shanghai to the Atlantic.

Maybe the crowds will be here next month?

Maybe the crowds will be here next month?

Eglise St Eloi, No gold in French churches.

Eglise St Eloi, No gold in French churches.

Resisting been blown back to Shanghai.

Resisting been blown back to Shanghai.

Dunkirk boat harbour

Dunkirk boat harbour

Tomorrow we board the train at 0850 for the short run under the Channel to emerge at Folkstone. Our hotel for the night is the Holiday Inn just up the road from the rail terminal. On our way to the hotel, we took a detour past the railway line. Its surrounded by a high barbed wire fence and guarded by a number car loads of Gendarmes.

Day 100 - Monday 10th July - Heidelberg to Dusseldorf

For the first time, the group decided to make their way individually to Rochefort, the destination for the day, rather than drive in convoy. I am not sure that it was a reflection of the state of cohesion in the group, but rather than everyone is comfortable on travelling individually, the Garmins are guiding us to the destination, plus it does give each of us a bit more breathing space. We had previously organised to leave the group for the evening and head to Dusseldorf to catch up with friends.

Before we left Heidelberg I spent some time trying to sort out my booking on the Eurotunnel train from Calais to Folkstone.  I had booked it back in early February and could not find the confirmation, nor the email address I had used. I rang Eurotunnel to find that they could find the booking, but I had made it through an agent, AFerry. Not sure why, but it cold have been late at night. I tried to call them, no phone number on the web site or anywhere else for that matter. I could send them a message once I logged into My Account. To do so I needed my email address that I had registered with them. After spending half an hour in an endless loop, I recalled Eurotunnel and they gave me the booking reference number, which is all I hope I need to get on the train on Wednesday morning. It will be sad if we are left behind at this late stage.

A scenic route besides the Rhine was suggested. But the weather forecast was predicting some significant storm activity and I had to get some stuff done, including the blog, so we decided to take the easy way up the autobahn for the 4 hours to get there.

For most of the run, until we neared Dusseldorf, we crossed rolling, wheat covered hills. It levels out around Dusseldorf. The trucks were back on the road again and in different sections, the cars flew past us like we were not moving. We drove in the truck lanes and gingerly stuck our nose out and around to pass each with care.

We stayed with our dear friends Florian and Aurora Koehler and were joined for dinner by Rainer Ester and Markus Frings, long term business associates and friends. It was good to catch up.


Day 99 - Sunday 9th July - Vienna to Heidelberg (Germany)

After the previous early night, we were awake bright and refreshed as we had a 700k run to Heidelberg in Germany. The forecast was showing that it was going to be another hot day, but as we were going over the Alps, I was unsure if the bit of altitude would keep things more in measure.

It was a run on the truck free Austrian and German autobahns. Trucks are not allowed on the weekends. I don’t quite understand this as every parking bay is crammed with then waiting for their release on Monday.

With good roads, the leader for the day wanted lift the pace to 120k, and so the group took off. We struggled with this. The suspension of my car had been set up with front and rear springs from and MGV8. This lifted the car and gave a couple of inches extra ground clearance. It was a great benefit on the rest of the trip when we sailed over all obstacles with out grounding. A couple of the Melbourne cars had not modified their suspension, with the consequence that they grounded one every pebble and one ripped of their exhaust pipe bracket multiple times. On the autobahn at 120kph their cars behaved beautifully, while the front end of mine started to float.

We were nearing the end of the trip. I would have been devastated to have come so far and not made it to the finish, so we let those who wanted to let loose (if you can call it that in a 1970 MGB) on the autobahns t go for it, while we drove at a more conservative 105 -110. In the end we arrived at Heidelberg a few minutes apart.

We experienced a bit of everything as we drove. Rain and sunshine. A cool start ending in a humid finish. Free flowing traffic to the usual snarls and roadworks you get, surprisingly frequently on the autobahns. Unlimited speed sections down to 10 kph just after we crossed the border a policewoman with an assault rifle checked the traffic as it passed. Porsches and Lamborghini’s shot past and we even saw a beautifully restored MGA out for a Sunday drive.

Heidelberg was a bit of a surprise, like most German towns a lovely altstadt (old town) with its narrow cobbled streets, the obligatory castle and medieval churches, and plenty of open air cafes serving cold beer. Sitting at one with a half litre of weiss beer was a fitting end to the day.      

Day 98 - Saturday 8th July - Budapest to Vienna (Austria)

For the first time the group split for the drive to Vienna. Some wanted to sleep in, a couple wanted to explore some more of Budapest, while the rest wanted to get to Vienna as early as possible to allow more time for exploration.

The border crossing between Hungary and Austria was not even a formality. We just had to slow down. Not a big problem for the MGs, but for the other traffic it was a bigger inconvenience as they were bustling along at 130kph or more. But everyone was well behaved.

The countryside did no change from one side of the border to the other. Rolling hills, more sun flowers, wheat and some wind turbines.

Austria managed to fend off the big conquests. They defeated the Mongol Horde and kept them in Hungary and a couple of centuries later, spent 15 years keeping Suleyman out, before he too gave up. But the did have to deal with the Habsburgs, as royal family, for about eight centuries until the end of the First World War in 1918.

I had not visited Vienna before and to try to do it in an afternoon was somewhat ambitious. So we decided to focus on a couple of things: the royal palace and part of the newer museum district. It was hot (for Europe – 34c) and humid, we were tired and moving slowly. The Royal Palace was crowded with throngs of tourists craning to view the extensive and varied exhibitions.

Palace table setting. Interesting use of gold.

Palace table setting. Interesting use of gold.

Not sure whether this picnic set would have fitted into the MG.

Not sure whether this picnic set would have fitted into the MG.

Cake decorating to go with apple strudel and Vienna coffee

Cake decorating to go with apple strudel and Vienna coffee

The Austrians are having an identity crisis.

The Austrians are having an identity crisis.

The Museum District is a nearby conglomeration of a number of art galleries and open space. In the enclosed courtyard, it seemed to be fancy dress day as it was full of young people all dressed in outlandish costumes. The girls committing themselves more than the boys. The Momuk Museum is a modern, black granite edifice set amongst the classic old buildings. Its architecture stunning and its exhibition spaces calm and inviting. Its contents did nothing for me. It was all modern art of the extreme kind, and while the curator had detailed and creative descriptions of the exhibitions, I failed to share her message.

Disappointingly we returned to our hotel hot and sticky, around 1800 to have a quick kip before meeting others for dinner. We were struggling.   

Day 97 - Friday 7th July - Timisoara to Budapest (Hungary)

We managed to find our way on to the A1 heading west towards the Hungarian border with only a relatively short detour. Although there was signage leading out of town, it was missing at critical junctures, like at round-abouts and intersections. Added to this, the Garmin wanted to take us up road that were deadends.

The countryside was flat, covered with sunflowers interspersed with fields of wheat stubble and seemed a lot more productive than what we had seen in the previous couple of days further south.

The border was again a sit in your car and hand over your passports type. We were done in about 10 minutes and on our way across Hungary after first stopping to buy Vinyets (toll passes for Hungary and Austria). The highway speed limit was now 130kph and most drivers seemed to avail themselves of it. The road etiquette was strictly European (keep out of the left hand lane unless you are over taking, and trucks were all confined to the right). Although we were not attempting to travel at the speed limit, it was all very civilised as we drove through rolling countryside covered in more sun flowers and wheat stubble.

Our objective was to get to Budapest by lunch time so that we had the afternoon to explore the city. We managed to achieve this and as our rooms were not ready, immediately set off to explore.

For the uninitiated, the city is made up of two parts divided by the Danube, Buda and Pest. An ancient city with a rich history. While not directly on the old Silk Route, it was in the path of both Ghengis Khan and his Mongol tribe as well as Suleyman the Magnificent. Both conquered and controlled Budapest and Hungary for substantial periods of time.After gaining its freedom from the Ottomans, it was then part of the Austrian empire, occupied by the Germans, and then under the control of the Soviets until 1989 when it eventually got its freedom and is now a part of Europe and the Chengen zone, although it does not use the Euro.

The city has a real European flavour and wandering about it was the first time we had come into contact with significant numbers of tourists. There were cars from all over Europe driving the streets. And widespread use of English. The restaurants and bars were buzzing and compared to what we were used to pay, the prices had escalated by a significant factor.

Welcome back to reality.

Day 96 - Thursday 6th July - Craiova to Timisora

It was just over 320k from Craiova to Timisoara, a destination we wanted to arrive at early enough to visit the Museum of the Revolution. A museum that was dedicated to the 1989 Romanian revolution that ended communist rule and the control of the dictator Nicolae Ceauscescu who ruled from 1967 to 1989.

There is only one freeway in Romania and it runs from Bucharest, the capital to the Hungarian border. Unfortunately not near where we were. So our route continues along the two lane road we had navigated the previous evening. Crowded with trucks it was slow progress.

On the outskirts of Craiova we passed a small oil field with its donkey pumps bobbing up and down. The rolling hills covered with wheat and sun flowers soon became more treed and mountainous. The appearance of prosperity did not. The countryside was dotted with old abandoned industrial buildings. The housing was not much better, except for one town that we passed through where a number of the buildings had these multi tiered roofs like a pagoda.

We head for Orsova on the Danube and the Serbian border for morning tea. It was situated in the edge of the mountainous Domogled National Park. A lake resort town, it was struggling and most of the infrastructure was crumbling.   

One of the observations, new to our travels were the small business operators plying the highway, most likely servicing the trucks. All young and female, in shorts and tight fitting fluro T shirts, obviously so that they would be noticed and probably so that they would not get run over while waiting on the edge of the road.

Travel was slow. The guide books had advised not to expect average travel times of better than 50 kph. This was probably optimistic. The temperature was once again in the 30s. Europe seemed to be experiencing a heat wave. Slow driving in a hot MG is very tiring.

The other challenges we had were the road signs. The speed limit was constantly changing 60 – 80 – 100 and back down again. But this was not limited to Romania. I am sure it was done on purpose so that no one had a clue what was going on and the police could pick you up at random. The other issue was the no overtaking road sign a black car, being over taken by a red car. In Romania, this is interpreted strictly. Red cars can not over take black cars, but anyone else can, even black overtaking red. And they all do as there are very few red cars – possibly for the obvious reason.

We eventually made the A1 and the last 60 kilometers into our destination was much more pleasant. A group went straight to the hotel, while the other 3 cars went to the museum. Timisora was where the revolution that toppled Ceauscescu started. It only lasted a couple of weeks, and like the rest of the Soviet block that had already collapsed, the outcome was inevitable. Unfortunately for the Romanians, the army was still loyal to Ceascescu and opened fire on the protestors. More than 1100 we killed over a few weeks at the end of December 1989. Ceascescu realising that his power was doomed tried to flee with his wife, but were caught in the process. A summary trial and both were executed on Christmas day 1989.

The city was pretty lively place with a folk dancing festival in progress which was being televised to the nation. The parade through the main Independence Square added colour and a lot of noise as drums were beaten and trumpets blasted, none it seemed, in time. But may be that was how it was supposed to be. 

Day 95 - Wednesday 5th July - Plovdiv to Craiova (Romania)

We were supposed to lead for the day, but given the short notice and multiple route options to our destination I bailed on the responsibility as I was unsure about which border crossing to take. And given that each option involved a crossing of the Danube, the wrong choice could have meant a long swim.

Shiraz stepped up to the task as they had researched the routes and opted for the slightly longer, but main route along the A1 highway as suggested by Google, which skirted around Sofia (the capital of Romania. As a variation a short detour into the Central Balkan National Park for morning tea was planned. At a little less than 400k and 5 hours it should have been straight forward.

Things became unstuck shortly after we joined the A1 and were directed off it by the police along with all the other traffic. This sent us on a long detour through the picturesque national park along with every truck, bus and car that was also planning their trip along the A1. Unfortunately while the A1, with 2 lanes in each direction was more than capable of dealing with the traffic at 130kph, the back lanes of the national park were less so.

After a 3 hour detour and a guided tour of the mountainous regions of Bulgaria we rejoined the highway. We found out later that there had been a 40 vehicle pile up at 0600 involving a number of trucks, busses and many cars. From a distance we had glimpses of lots of mangled wreckage. More than 20 people were admitted to hospital, many critically.

Wile detouring we passed a number of factories, deserted and decaying remnants of the Soviet era and now unable to compete in a competitive world.

We eventually found our way to the Danube border crossing through the fields of yellow sun flowers and then got a better measure of the process. Passing the Immigration and Customs was straight forward. Both Bulgaria and Romania are EU members so it was more of a formality. However, the ferry only went in the direction we wanted every 2 hours or thereabouts. 1600 was the next scheduled service. When the ferry docked shortly before that time, we realised that things were going to be a bit delayed while they loaded all the trucks, cars and motor bikes.

While crossing the river we chatted with the other traveller, mainly those on touring motor bikes. A couple from Austria and a Belgian guy who had his parents following in a Ford Ranger SUV. They had travelled to Australia for 10 years to visit another son who lived in Adelaide.

We still had 100k to go to our destination when the barge eventually berthed, and we still had to do the Romanian Immigration and Customs. Although this was the main border crossing between the two countries, the road was only two lanes and shared by all the local and through traffic. Horses and carts, semi trailers in the fields loading melons and local speedsters unwilling to wait their turn for a decent space to overtake.

Eventually on our way the Romanian side of the river was a stark contrast to Bulgaria. I had equated both economies and presumed that both sides of the river would be similar. While the Bulgarian was very rich and intensive cropping, the Romanian side was sparse. Horses and carts were the new form of transport. I am not sure whether there was a rain shadow, or the soil was much less fertile, but this was a very poor region. I had spoken to a few people who had describe Romania in glowing terms, but on reflection they were referring to the northern Transylvania region.

By the time we had arrived in Craiova, had a shower and were back out looking for a place to eat, it was getting on towards 2100. What started out as a simple transit, had taken significantly longer.

Soviet style architecture

Soviet style architecture

The beautiful Orthodox Cathederal was unfortunately closed

The beautiful Orthodox Cathederal was unfortunately closed

Local wine list

Local wine list

Craiova was another university town. We headed for the old town centre to find the street cafes night life. Like Plovdiv, the beer was local and cold, as was the wine.

Day 94 - Tuesday 4th July - Istanbul to Plovdiv (Bulgaria)

This was a drive in two parts. A run to the Bulgarian border where we met up with the rest of the group again and then across Bulgaria with the group to Plovdiv.

Following the heat of the past few days, we were relieved to wake to find that it was overcast, a few drops of rain and a cool breeze bowing in across the Sea of Marmara. Unfortunately we had not given the hotel notice that we wanted to get our car out of the garage, os when we asked the question, there was a lot of consternation. The problem was they had jammed about 30 cars into a space for 10, including all the way up a steep driveway and our was at the furthermost point. The Concierge suggested that it would take 45 minutes to extract our car and I was to wait in Reception until called. He was stressed, so I obeyed.

Somehow he managed to do the shuffle in just 15 minutes. Maybe this was a manoeuvre to get a better tip, but we were relieved.

Like our way in to Istanbul, things went well on the road out of town for the first 10 kilometers before we hit a wall of near stationary cars. Luckily with the cool weather I was not faced with the on/off engine starting routine every time the vehicles progressed a meter.

We had arranged to meet the others at the border at 1200. As usual, I had planned this to the minute, but had not factored in the delay with the car extraction and only some delay with traffic.

In the end all went well and we arrived 30 minutes early.

The run across what was ancient Thrace, the European part of Turkey to the Bulgarian border was different. Rolling hills, lots of sun flowers, harvested wheat and a few interspersed town. The traffic, once we were out of Istanbul, was light. The only challenge was the tolls on the motorway. We had driven part of this section previously when we went to Gallipoli 12 years ago and recalled the toll booths. These have now been replaced by electronic tolling. The signage was all in Turkish and there was no line for a cash payment. So we just ran the gauntlet. Despite the Traffic Policemen stationed 50m past th etoll plaza we went through with out too much drama: we found a lane without a boom gate and the alarms must have ben muted.

Things were progressing well on the border crossing as well. We did not have to get out of our cars. We sat there, presented our Passports and Registration Papers and were processed quickly. We were through both sides in less than 30 minutes and on our way to the gloriously name Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

I had images of donkey carts, pot holed two lane roads and a generally impoverished rural environment. As we drove down the 4 lane divided motorway, our first stop was a Shell Petrol Station to get our motorway toll pass. The shop in the service centre sold everything from the tags to Johnny Walker and a fine selection of local wines, a wide selection of cigarettes and a few snacks.

Storks nests. Previously seen in Uzbekistan.

Storks nests. Previously seen in Uzbekistan.

The rest of the drive through rolling hills and acres of bright yellow sun flow unfolded uneventfully. Our hotel in Plovdiv had the aura of a large Soviet resort, but seemed to function coherently. The town was a bit of an eye opener. A large percentage of the population are university students and they were wandering up and down the main traffic free town plaza as we headed in to explore the Old Town. Lots of restored 18th and 19th century local buildings and a couple of beautiful small orthodox churches.

Loris and I had found a restaurant in town we intended to return to for dinner after a shower and change. But did not make it further than the veranda of the hotel. Most of the twm were already seated there but we managed to find a table and save the walk. I know many of you may find this surprising that I gave up the opportunity for a walk, but we were in Plovdiv. Beers, local Bulgarian wine and a very enjoyable salmon steak and we were ready to be entertained by the military parade in the city square next to the hotel. We knew the parade was about to start when the Generals left their wine and table next to ours.

The speeches were rousing (well the locals were roused) and we knew it was coming to an end when everyone went down on one knee and sang the national anthem (I think) and pounded their hearts with a clenched fist. And then the fireworks. Not Sydney Harbour style, but these pyrotechnics were accompanied with machine gun fire for the entire performance. Not just a few 1812 Overture loose canon volleys.

I think we went to sleep after that content in the knowledge with so much military personnel around, we would be safe.

Day 93 - Monday 3rd July - Istanbul

With our new walking guide in hand Loris and I were out early, starting at the old city walls, now known as the Theodosian Walls after the Emperor builder. They kept the hordes out for centuries until Mehmet the Conqueror eventually made his way through them with his army and brought to an end the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire in the 14th Century and established the Ottoman Empire.

We walked half way along the wall to the beautiful 16 century Mihrimah Mosque, built in honour of the daughter of Suleyman and one of the many buildings still standing designed by Sinan, Suleyman’s architect. In its day it contained a mosque, medrese (school), sibyan (pre-school) and bath house. They are all still in use and on our visit the place was over run by kids on school holidays.

From there it was down to the centre of the old city and Valen’s Viaduct that transported water into town. Also nearby and more interesting that this were a couple of Byzantine churches built in the 11th and 12th centuries. Still in use today, they were converted to mosques after the city was conquered.  

Filling out the forms outside the Social Security Office. 

Filling out the forms outside the Social Security Office. 

As we walked through the area near the wall and around the old churches I was struck by the contrast with the other areas we had been frequenting in the city. There was no gentrification, the housing was generally pretty mean, there were some beautiful old wooden Ottoman places in need of much repair. And all the inhabitants were very conservatively dressed. While you get the feeling that Istanbul is much more liberal than the rest of Turkey, it very much depends on where you walk.

By now the temperature was well into the mid 30’s and the walk to the giant 16th century Suleyman mosque, was slow. Inside the outer wall we seemed to be transformed by the shade and peace. Also designed by Sinan (and the site of his mausoleum), the site is both a magnificent mosque and the mausoleum of Suleyman, his wife Roxanna (the Russian) and his daughter Mihrimah.

Suleyman's mausoleum and mosque

Suleyman's mausoleum and mosque

Suleyman’s reign was the peak of the Ottoman Empire. He conquered and controlled from Vienna to Afghanistan. Those who followed, slowly lost the lot until they were ousted in the early 20th century by the Republican movement (about the same time as the last Emperor of China lost control as well).

A final walk through the Bazaar to get some material for Ali to us to a textile shop. What at first appeared as a small shop facing one of the halls opened out into 5 different rooms leading back from the hall. The owner, who spoke with a slight American accent explained that her father had established the business 65 years ago. The textiles they sold were from across the whole of the Silk Route, each with their own fascinating story. In the final room she pointed out a shelf vividly coloured Syrian silks. No longer made, they were the last of that line.

Syrian silks

Syrian silks

Dinner with Ali and Marcelo ended our second visit to Istanbul and let us with the feeling we had hardly scratched they surface of this complex and vibrant city.