After arriving in Istanbul, doing our TRT World News interview (see below), and getting into a scrape with an Istanbul driver, we eventually managed to have a fun few days celebrating the end of our journey with all our amazing friends and family who had come to meet us.
Turkish Delight but not as we know it.
We took in the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Süleymaniye Mosque, The Museum of Innocence, the underground cisterns and even saw some Whirling Dervishes! Bharat and Amy were a bit worse for wear after celebrating the night before and both spent one of the days horizontal in dark rooms. Bharat is still claiming his ‘fever’ was from exhaustion rather than the 2 bottles of wine, 2 tequilas, and copious numbers of beers he consumed…He has claimed to have given up alcohol until back in the UK.
Inside Hagia Sofia
After waving Amy and James off to the airport and back to normal life, we were down to the reconfigured Tuk Tuk team of Bharat, Rachel and up-for-anything friend Helen. They set off very early from Istanbul to Edirne but, as you can imagine, the traffic was still as horrendous as when we had arrived and one wrong turn had them heading into the queue for a ferry to Greece rather than on the highway towards the Bulgarian border! Everyone is now well adept at doing U-turns in the most unlikely of places and this was no exception, a quick U-turn later across the busy 4 lane road and they were back on the route!
The early start meant they arrived in Edirne in the daytime which the team had missed on their previous visit due to drone-gate. They fell upon a roadside market stall selling fresh fish and, after choosing their actual fishes, they were grilled to perfection and served with a salad and potatoes, making them the perfect lunch!. Delicious.
Fresh fish stall which cooked our lunch
As breakfast was included at their hotel, and the next morning they eagerly met downstairs ready to carb-load before the drive to Plovdiv. They ordered coffee. That was not included. They asked if their bread could be toasted. Not included. They asked for milk in their coffee. Not included. They asked for butter. Not available. So after some cold bread and extraordinarily hard boiled eggs they set off for Karaagaç to see the Old Railway Station which was en route to the border. The town was eerily empty but the occasional people they did see were extremely interested in our tuk tuk, photographing it inside and out as if they were part of a forensic investigation.
Part of our breakfast offering – menemen and chips
The Turkish-Bulgarian border was a nightmare and not because they were on the Turkish most wanted list after our Friday night bash with a Turkish driver. When we had our drone confiscated on the way into Turkey we had had been given a receipt and told to collect it on our way back into Bulgaria. “Just come to D3” they said. “It will be fine” they said. “You’ve got all the paperwork and paid all the fees” they said. Instead, what they should have said, in a nutshell, is “You will have absolutely no fun at all, wasting over 3 hours of your life, going from D3 to A1 to F6 to G9 and back to D3 before paying 2 fake ‘fines’ and then being sent round all those checkpoints again, whist all the time trying to be polite to extremely rude border guards who are playing Candy Crush on their phones when they should be doing their job, AND as if that isn’t enough, after 2 hours or waiting and running around, you’ll be told it’s “lunch” and you have to wait for over an hour for them to return to their Candy Crush games and be as unhelpful as they were before”. If we’d have known this in advance then we would have left the drone in Bulgaria with someone in the first place.
The longer story is that, as Rachel, Bharat and Helen crossed the border from Turkey into no-man’s land it became obvious that D3 was inaccessible and on the other side of a very tall wire fence. No-one spoke English, and R&B+H definitely don’t speak Turkish except for “çekip gitmek” which didn’t seem appropriate at the time…No-one knew what to do so they parked the tuk tuk and the Fiat in no-man’s and R&B went to find a way to ‘the other side’ leaving Helen to keep watch over the vehicles. R&B were escorted from room to room,across a vast courtyard, through a turnstile, and directed to a gate which slammed shut ominously behind them.
R&B walk over to D3 where 5 officials with guns sat playing Candy Crush on their phones, laughing and joking and showing absolutely no interest in helping. After handing over our documents, receipts for the storage, the drone serial number etc., and more laughing, R&B waited. And waited and waited.
After 45 minutes R&B, through gritted teeth, politely enquired what the hold-up was, which was answered with a lot of shrugging and the words ‘wait for chef’, which Rachel assumed was the boss. The boss never arrived and after more gentle probing R&B were sent to “A1” to pay something. A1 didn’t seem to exist so after a long time looking for it R&B eventually found it tucked away completely out of order with another 3 officials doing nothing in a room heated to the temperature of a sauna. R&B tried to explain what was going on, but man at the desk spoke no English so R&B were at his mercy as he willingly to rifled through Bharat’s wallet and took what he deemed to be a sufficient amount of UK pounds and Turkish Lira.
Back R&B go to D3, receipt in hand, feeling quite buoyant that they had not been outfoxed, and that, whilst they had definitely been robbed in pure daylight, they were about to end this nightmare and be given the beloved drone. R&B arrived at the desk to be met by the sour-faced woman who barked “lunchtime” at them and stalked off. The fact that this barking was followed by a lot of giggling and smirking from the border guards not only enraged R&B to the point where Rach was struggling to contain herself, but made the timing of paying the ‘fine’ at A1 not feel like a coincidence. There was nowhere to sit, no loo, no food or drink, which was unfortunate for everyone as they don’t know what R&B are like when they’re hangry!
Let’s recap at this point and turn our minds to Helen who was still sat in no-man’s land with both vehicles not knowing what has happened to R&B who had no signal on their phones. For all Helen knew at that point, they’d could have abducted by the Turkish authorities and whisked off to the Turkish prison they’d passed earlier that day.. It later turned out that Helen, had been quite unperturbed and had found a completely deserted duty-free shop which served coffee and baclava and meant she could read her book!
When the lunch hour was up R&B enquired again and an official picks up a phone and then shrugs at us. After politely protesting R&B were then led across another massive courtyard towards a hanger, F6. Their spirits, momentarily lifted, were crushed again as the roller door was shut, and the official shrugged his shoulders and lead them back to D3. This story goes on for some time, but, to quickly get to the end, Rach cried which managed to get someone’s attention who eventually lead R&B to G9 which had our drone, sitting on a shelf amongst booze, tyres and other confiscated items. Bharat had to sign something, pay another ‘fine’, and as quickly as they could the team bundled up the drone and headed to the Bulgarian border before the Turks could change their mind!
A lonely Sumo sits for 3 hours in no-man’s land between Turkey and Bulgaria
The team were welcomed by the smiles of the Bulgarian officials who photographed themselves with Sumo. But their tribulations were not quite over as they were then made to drive through an area marked “decontamination zone”. As they drove through the vehicles were sprayed with some sort of disinfectant (they assume!) but as the tuk tuk has no sides Bharat got a full earful! You’d have thought someone might have warned them! Bharat’s catastrophising continued as he demanded Rachel tell him what the ‘disinfectant’ could be and then made everyone wait whilst he de-decontaminated himself with some Waitrose kitchen wipes he found in the tuk tuk.
The return drive to Plovdiv was just as before: long straight roads through flat boring countryside and in no time Rachel was bombing down them a breakneck speed. Bharat had been doing his usual catastrophising about how the team would never make it to Plovdiv in the day light and the drive would be horrendous in the dark with the car STILL only having “one eye”. But all went well and Rachel’s speeding meant that reaching Plovdiv before sunset seemed within their grasp until disaster struck. When Rachel had taken over the tuk tuk driving, she had felt the vehicle was pulling a little to the right and she made a mental note to ask Bharat if he’d noticed. But as the drive continued, the right pull became worse and worse before suddenly, with a large lorry looming up behind, the tuk tuk veered violently to the right totally out of control. Even with the handlebars turned hard left, and Rachel using all her might to keep it on the road, the tuk tuk was out of control. Emily must have been watching over the team that day because, just as it seemed Sumo was going to fly off the road into a hedge upside down, a parking area came into view and Rachel managed to navigate Sumo off the road and stop. A rather shaken Rachel & Helen got out onto solid ground and inspected the tuk tuk only to see that the front tyre was as flat as a pancake.
Bulgarian Roads: 1 Sumo: 0
For the first time in the whole trip out came one of the THREE spare wheels that the support car has been carrying around and Bharat went into mechanic mode…This was perhaps his finest display of mechanical nous on the trip and the tuk tuk was on the jack and the wheel changed faster than you can say Formula One Pit Stop.
Bharat does a cracking good job!
With a great deal of predictability, Bharat, decided to give up giving up alcohol as he needed wine after the traumas of the day.
After a stroll around Plovdiv it was time to say goodbye to Sumo. The team rolled her into what looked more like a scrap yard than haulage company (!) where supposedly the lorry to take her home is collecting her tomorrow. Lets all pray that she makes it onto the right lorry and doesn’t get mistaken for scrap metal. It will be a week or so before she arrives in the UK and we’ll keep you all posted on the progress.
Sumo will sleep here tonight before being chauffeured all the way to London tomorrow
SPONSOR OF OUR JOURNEY: TUK TUK UK
Tuk Tuk UK Ltd has been our journey sponsor and has provided us with Sumo herself, 3 spare wheels, numerous spare parts (none needed) and masses of advice and help over the last year. We simply cannot thank them enough. Robert Leggett of Tuk Tuk UK is the nicest man you can meet and he has supported our journey from its inception. He loves tuk tuks, knows everything about them and we cannot recommend him more highly.
We have absolutely loved driving Sumo. She has gone where no tuk tuk has gone before, exceeded our expectations and never let us down. She has chugged up the steepest mountain and whizzed down the other side, she has been on motorways (by mistake) , cobbled streets, dirt tracks, maize fields, vineyards, river beds, hairpin bends, scary bridges and much more. She is now part of our family
Based near Manchester the company can provide you with a brand new tuk tuk, a second hand tuk tuk and even have some new eco-friendly electric models coming very soon. Everyone should have one!
We noticed that lots of youngish men in Istanbul appeared to have head injuries. But these injuries were all very similar and bandaged in the same way. It turns out that Turkey is famous for hair transplants! So the perfect place for Bharat to sort out that brown patch on his head!
We are currently on at £146,000 and we’re going to try to push and reach that £150,000 mark! Anything else you can spare for SUDEP Action would be hugely appreciated. Please use the following link to donate: justgiving.com/fundraising/tuktuktoturkey
Yesterday was SUDEP Action Day 2018 which was a day to remember those we’ve lost and create awareness of SUDEP. SUDEP is the largest cause of death for those with epilepsy and that is why we’re so determined to do something about it.
£150,000 would be almost half of what SUDEP Action usually receives in donations in a year and therefore will make a tangible, noticeable difference for all those involved.
We are set to be on ITV News again in a few weeks so keep an eye out for us and for more info nearer the time on our social media channels.
One of the key questions overhanging the trip was “make or break” for James and Amy. But we can happily confirm that they have just moved in together and so, for now, “make” appears to be the appropriate answer!
Last hug for Sumo before she is transported back to the UK
Turkish man who was obsessed with our tuk tuk and helped Bharat believe that he has not put on any weight
Sunlight streams into the the courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque
You shall have a fishy on a little dishy
Old wooden houses in Erdine, Turkey
We know we are back in Bulgaria
Whirling Dervish ceremony, Istanbul
Fishing off the Galata Bridge, Istanbul
Grand Central Station in New York City? No – Hagia Sofia in Istanbul
Underground cisterns, Istanbul
Mosque, Erdine, Turkey
Galata Tower, Istanbul
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
Sumo tackles cobbles and an adverse camber in Turkey