Day 11: Gabrovo, Bulgaria, to Istanbul, Turkey

by Oliver Smith

This was the final leg of the journey with our Mini, which we had christened Tiny Wheeler, in homage to Lonely Planet’s co-founder, Tony Wheeler. 

By this point, Tiny Wheeler’s tiny wheels had made millions of rotations across thousands of miles of tarmac, gravel, mud and puddles. We had become familiar with his quirks and habits – the chirrupy ‘ding’ noise he made whenever our seatbelts were unfastened, his strangely gleeful ‘bing-bong’ whenever we were shooting down a motorway with a car door open.

So it was with some sadness that today we travelled from Gabrovo to the end of the European continent – and the point to which all roads east eventually taper – Istanbul, Turkey

The first sign that Turkey was near were Turkish trucks on their way into Europe, clattering their way down the middle of Bulgarian B-roads at warp speed. We spotted our first Ocakbasi by the roadside – the lively Turkish canteens with faded photographs of their dishes in the window (food which, in spite of looking a bit like roadkill in the pictures, is almost always incredibly delicious).

It was very late by the time we had crossed the border and arrived in Istanbul – the city's highways clogged with noisy traffic, and the backstreets full of stalking cats and smouldering shisha pipes and kids playing penalty shoot-outs at midnight. Istanbul was in the midst of political demonstrations – of which we would hear more later – but everything seemed quite normal in our neighbourhood.

Moving Tiny to the correct space in the hotel car park marked the final, emotional chapter of our road trip.

The day in statistics

  • Near-misses with Turkish lorries: 2

  • Worried phone calls from colleagues/partners/mums about the demonstrations in Istanbul: 3

  • Minis left behind: 1



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