The group was heading further west to Ephesus and then on to Canakkale to visit Gallipoli. We decided to head north to Istanbul to visit Ali who has moved there as a new base for her ongoing Iraq and new Turkish training programs.
There were a couple of nagging concerns about travelling on our own for the first time. Firstly the navigation. Garmin was showing the route to Istanbul as 660k, while Google Maps had it down as 560k. I had not had time to reconcile the differences by the time we left. Secondly we were totally unsupported if anything went wrong with the car and with the failing gearbox, leaking head gasket and weeping front shock absorber, not to mention the vagaries of the fuel pump, the car was not without some concerns. And finally there was the issue of Istanbul traffic.
As we headed off at 0745, the temperature was already climbing into the mid thirties. We were headed in an arc north west up towards the Sea of Marmara. After an hour we started to descend to nearly sea level. Other than around the Caspian Sea, this was the first time we had been below an altitude of around 1000m since we entered Iran. The sky was now coloured with heat haze and pollution and out in the paddocks it was an endless sea of grape vines.
After morning tea I handed the controls over to Loris as we were on a freeway and there was not a lot of traffic. I set about resolving the 100 kilometer difference between the Garmin and Google routes. In the end it was simple. One was taking us around the Sea of Marmara and the other across it, and there was no mention of a ferry. So we followed the signs to Istanbul and Google and watched as the Garmin had us in unchartered territory. Its disappointing that I had just purchased the Garmin maps to find that the latest roads are not recorded. You would have thought that they may have had some notice that a new tollway and bridge across the Sea of Marmara was imminent, or even under construction.
Once across to the northern side we were on a crowded freeway into Istanbul. The Turkish drivers are amongst the best we have had to contend with, a vast difference to the Iranian. But in most cases as we headed west, we had been driving in light traffic conditions. The only issue we had was that they all drove fast and ignored the speed signs. On the freeway into Istanbul, the speed limit was 90. The trucks were doing 100 and the cars much more. And it was crowded. We were sharing the road uncomfortably with the trucks. As we turned onto the O-1 to take us across the Bosphorus and the Bogazici Bridge linking Asia and Europe the traffic lightened remarkably and unexpectedly, until we came overa rise, could see Europe for the first time and the traffic at an absolute stand still.
The MG does a lot of things well, but idling in stop – start, bumper to bumper traffic when the temperature is above 40c is not one of them. It only took a few minutes of this and the engine started to misfire and generally choke. There was no emergency lane, but luckily the road was slightly down hill. So we would crawl for a few car lengths, turn the motor off and wait for the traffic to move again. We did this for 6 kilometers. Luckily the engine temperature behaved and the starter and battery held out.
It was an amazing feeling to cross the Bosphorus and realize that we were now entering a new Continent. Once across and off the freeway, what seemed as an easy route to our hotel was made more complicated by Garmin sending us on a couple of unnecessary loops and detours. Eventually with a bit of luck and random navigational decisions we made it to the Mamara Pera Hotel overlooking the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara.
Time to relax for a few days and catch up with Ali.