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December 2010 -- Usually I tend to say that travel is for the journey, not for the destination. But I regard the first stretch of this journey merely as a warm-up, because I've been there before, and because it's also a pretty cold warm-up. The first days I just keep moving most of the time, at least during daylight. With a starting mileage of 221.137 and grey German skies, the journey starts on the A3 Autobahn, at the junction for Wuerzburg-Randersacker.The Balkans in winter exude grimness rather than a welcoming charm, an impression further underlined by quite poor roads and few daylight hours in general. Except for one day in Hungary, it is snowing non-stop all the way through to the Bulgarian-Turkish border, so I dont feel any desire to hang around in the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria longer than necessary. However, one needs to acknowledge that in case of emergency there are snow ploughs pulling out of just about every shed in the country.
Due to the fact that the toll charges for the so called Autoput, the Balkans most important transit route, are as high as 70 Euro one way, I clatter through Serbia using country lanes. Even though German authorities advise you not to, it is perfectly possible now. And rarely have I enjoyed a stretch of black motorway as much as the last miles to the Turkish border.The pretty blonde lady of Turkish customs (now, who would have expected that?), asks me, a little confused in the rain, where I'd come from with my 'snow mobile.'I almost disclose my identity as Santa Clause but then she might have expected presents as well.The following ten days I spend in Istanbul.
Hungary/Serbia border crossing
On the road in Bulgaria
Istanbul causes wow! moments like few other cities: Oriental hustle in the Great Bazaar, European shopping and party atmosphere in Taksim, conservative Islamic outskirts and ultramodern architecture in the European business districts: This creates breathtaking vistas full of contrast. Istanbul's diversity draws the masses - and not only tourists.Established on the foundations of the great religions and cultures of the world, the megalopolis of 15 million keeps growing. And with every new arrival from rural Anatolia it is being challenged anew.
Winter night near Belgrade
Atatürk, the national hero: Welcome to Turkey!
If you cross the greater metropolitan area of Istanbul today from west to east, you drive through a world of concrete for almost 180 kilometres. Extended industrial complexes, gigantic shopping malls and sterile satellite towns advance into valleys and hills that only ten years ago were empty land, far away from the city.Most locals just cannot afford to pay the expensive rents in the city centre, not to mention any of the scenic places overlooking the Bosphorus channel. Employees quit their jobs because they spend six hours in traffic every day. For many inhabitants of Istanbul the wow! moments have worn off with time, but still they are spoiled by their magnificent city. For the visitor Istanbul remains simply unique. Go there!The next and first new episode of my journey takes me from Turkey'’s biggest city through central Anatolia to the Syrian border. Later on, on my way from Syria to Iran I come back to Turkey, this time passing through its extreme southeast.All about that… here!
RouteWuerzburg -– Nuernberg -– Passau -– Vienna (Austria) -– Budapest (Hungary) -– Nis (Serbia) -– Sofia (Bulgaria) -– Istanbul (Turkey)HUNGARY (updated 12/2010): A motorway toll sticker for four days costs EUR 6. There are frequent checks („Matrica Kontrol“). Nowadays you don’t need a sticker any more, just keep a receipt ('E-Vignette').SLOVENIA / CROATIA / SERBIA / MACEDONIA (F.Y.R.O.M.) (updated 12/2010):Toll for Autoput highway (from Austrian-Slovenian to Macedonian-Greek border for a van): about EUR 70 one way. Autoput is now in good condition all the way. Crossing Serbia avoiding the Autoput is no problem, but it just takes time.You can now pay with credit cards at some petrol stations (such as OMV) so you don’t need to change Dinars any more. Euros are accepted only at Autoput toll gates (higher charges when paid in Euro). Unleaded petrol is available almost everywhere, costing EUR 1.02/L.BULGARIA (updated 12/2010):A toll sticker (for any roads) for seven days costs about EUR 5. Petrol stations accept credit cards. Premium Unleaded (95): EUR 1.10/L.TURKEYsee TurkeyAll information subject to change (note time of writing).
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Inside Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Old structures often get levelled due to land speculation. (Istanbul)
Crossing Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge is a truly uplifting experience.
Nice and costly: Wooden villas from Ottoman times (Istanbul)
Ortaköy and its mosque in the afternoon sun...
Dangerous goods ahead: Experts warn of serious ship accidents on Bosphorus waters.
...and by night (Istanbul).
View from Europe towards Asia (Istanbul)
Golden Horn with Galata Bridge (Istanbul)
Anchoring on the Asian shore