It has been a week since the beginning of the Rally and each team has taken its own way, since after the start all crews are free to choose their route.
These first days tend to be a speed race, and also the first crash test for the cars. The teams try to cover as many ‘easy’ miles as possible in Europe, until they reach more ‘exotic’ places. There have been, of course, the teams that had so much fun in Romania’s beaches that they decided to stay there for a week before continuing the Rally!
We, thank God, are in the first group.
The first day, after the launching party, we left the Czech Klenova Castle and headed southeast to Budapest in search of goulash!
We stopped at Neusiedl am See, a great lake at the Austrian borders and a famous resort.
The next day, we made 700 klm crossing Hungary and entered Serbia.
The tiny Nissan Micra responded with no problems. We stopped in Novisad for a visit at the epic castle and later in Belgrade which is full of Balkan life and beautiful people.
Driving goes on all night until the city of Nis, south of Serbia, where the Greek and Serbian way of fun happened to be the same!
The best moments of the day were when we stumbled upon a red Ferrari on the highway and decided to follow it.
Our little devil did not have fun whilst running between cars, and even though we did the best we could, we didn’t manage to get closer to the Ferrari.
We passed by it though – it had stopped for gas… 🙂
Our third day was featured with delays. We wanted to arrive in Thessaloniki early in the day for pending car pimping and interviews, but things turned out to be different.
100 klm with work in progress in the roads, and 40 minutes of waiting in the FYROM boarders. The final hit was our GPS, which decided on its own to show us the way to Kalamaria instead of Pulaia. The highway of FYROM is a gigantic rally track with a lot of turns, but at least we didn’t face any problems at the Greek borders, because the people there, as soon as they see Greek passports, they just tell you: “Enjoy yourselves!”
It’s already Friday afternoon and all of our scheduled interviews are cancelled, and Spiros’ & Giorgos’ families are waiting for us.
However, we first try to place the roof rack we had ordered before enjoying some family time.
A roof rack that proved to be a great deal of trouble, since our 3-door Micra with no opening back windows proves to have an opinion of its own.
It all turned out to be ok in the end, and there comes the time where we enjoyed eating and drinking in the magnificent Thessaloniki.
Then comes Saturday. The day of the ‘doing-everything’ has arrived. Still a lot to be done, and most of the city is empty because people had hit the beaches of Chalkidiki.
The wheels that Drive magazine and Continental had arranged for us, are being delivered to us at the last minute and we place them on our own.
Thankfully the car has proven to be reliable and now there are small things to be checked: we had to buy tools, first aid kits, a tent for the roof rack, we had to place the last stickers and finally start loading the car. (check this out)
It’s already past midnight and we just head to bed, exhausted.
The next day we said goodbye to our families and the three of us started the journey of a lifetime.
We made a small stop in Kavala for some rest and in Komotini for a souvlaki and we headed to Egnatias highway so that we make it to Turkey.
Now there, we came across a great surprise. It’s the end of Ramazani and at the same time the beginning of the holidays for the Muslims, which means that all European Turks go back home. This is proved by all the German, French and Swiss license plates on the cars waiting at the borders.
We got stuck for five hours at the boarders, and when we finally got passed them, there are still some hours until Istanbul.
Lots of kilometers with bad lighting and weird driving, but Istanbul makes everything better with its peace and quiet morning.
Our plan for the next day was to visit the great Hagia Sophia which unfortunately was closed.
Change of plans, we drove through the chaotic city and we had breakfast at the Bosporus watching the ships with the Greek flags.
Then, we decided to drive to the Black Sea. On the way we met with a Danish team and the first stories start to be told. They got robbed in Bulgaria while visiting a monument on a cliff.
They saw people taking all their stuff from the roof rack and steal their car lights! We find out that other teams had given up in Bosnia, Ukraine and Poland and that there is a meeting taking place in a hostel in Istanbul for all the Mongol Ralliers that are there.
We even heard stories about teams that are still trying to cross the Russian borders and others deal with problems with some rotorcraft cameras.
One team got a 100 dollar fine for breaking the speed limit in Kazakhstan and another team dealt with trouble in Uzbekistan because the medicine drugs they carried were thought to be illegal.
Rumor has it that the lights of the car of one team bowed up whilst going up a mountain in Armenia and another team was stopped by the Serbian police because the crossed the white line of the road, but ended up taking photos with them.
We also heard about the first car accident in Gallipoli, Turkey where a truck hit a car. However the team members are ok and in search of a way to continue rallying!
With this and that the night came and we ended up in the small city of Kastamonu eating baklavas with some awesome Iraqi refugees who left Iraq to get away from their county’s destruction.
The next day we visited the tourist city of Sinop, we took a dive in the light blue waters of Gerze, we had fish in Samsun and we spent the night in Ordu.
The similarities of these places with Greece are everywhere. The Black Sea coasts, the city of Trabzon…
We woke up finding a note on our car by a Spanish team that recognized the car and left a hello note!
There are 250 crews that take part in this crossing-half-of-the-planet and when stumbling upon another team is like meeting with family.
So, this little note made us feel better. We visited the Sümela Monastery which apart from being a major tourist attraction can also be the death of your car. The cars have to stop and start again at an uphill road with a very steep slope and that has as a result the whole place smelling of burnt clutch.
We left the car just before the point of massive breaking down and continued on foot.
It’s a magnificent landscape and of historical meaning as well, so we don’t feel that bad for being out of breath.
Our last stop was in Beyburt, where local Turks invited us for kebab and narghile smoking.
It was the last day of “serious” roads ahead us. The next day we ‘flew off’ to Iran.
We are in Iran now, exploring this amazing country and we can’t wait to make some great memories to share with you!