Road trip: Utrecht to Istanbul and back, in six days

IMG_7123sThis is one of the craziest road trip stories I have. It all happened in 2010. Through social media (how else!) I got in touch with an Utrecht-based artist who was hitchhiking through Europe, along all three European Capitals of Culture, with a caravan, but without a car. I got involved by being one of the very first ride-givers of the project, when I took Tjerk Ridder and his caravan from Arnhem to my home town Nijmegen.

To cut a long story short, my hitchhiking friend made it all the way from Utrecht to Essen (Germany), Pécs (Hungary) and ultimately to Istanbul in Turkey. He only hadn’t given much thought on how to get back. So this is where I came in again. Months before the end of the Caravan Hitchhiking Project I promised to provide the last ride, from Istanbul back to Utrecht, diagonally across Europe. So when I received a call from Istanbul, it was time to start another epic road trip. From home to Istanbul and back with a caravan, through 10 countries, in 6 days.

My father agreed to accompany me on the 3 day dash to Turkey. The trip started with an overnight drive from home to Venice in Italy, from where we caught an overnight ferry to Greece. We leave home after work, driving about 1,000 kilometers through Germany, Austria and Italy.

Roadtrip route. Click to enlarge.

Roadtrip route. Click to enlarge.

We arrive in Venice very early in the morning. Our ferry to Greece leaves in the afternoon, so we have half a day to explore this wonderful place. We park the car at the ferry terminal and take a boat to city centre.

We arrive in Venice very early in the morning. Our ferry to Greece leaves in the afternoon, so we have half a day to explore this wonderful place. We park the car at the ferry terminal and take a boat to city centre.

The first sea miles are right through the heart of Venice.

The first sea miles are right through the heart of Venice.

Driving off the ferry in Igoumenitsa. From here it is about 925 kilometers to Istanbul, all the way through Northern Greece.

Driving off the ferry in Igoumenitsa. From here it is about 925 kilometers to Istanbul, all the way through Northern Greece.

We drive across the Greek mainland, over an EU-paid highway that is hardly being used, as it doesn't connect any major cities... Welcome to the EU!

We drive across the Greek mainland, over an EU-paid highway that is hardly being used, as it doesn’t connect any major cities… Welcome to the EU!

We spend the night in Thessaloniki, an historic city on the Aaegean Sea. Our short visit reveals a Greek city off the beaten track, very worthy of a short citytrip.

We spend the night in Thessaloniki, an historic city on the Aaegean Sea. Our short visit reveals a Greek city off the beaten track, very worthy of a short citytrip.

Crossing the EU outer border into Turkey is an adventure. I got good help from Dutch-Turkish families, that make this trip every year to visit family in their homeland. They were happy to assist us from one counter to the other, basically importing our car into Turkey.

Crossing the EU outer border into Turkey is an adventure. I got good help from Dutch-Turkish families, that make this trip every year to visit family in their homeland. They were happy to assist us from one counter to the other, basically importing our car into Turkey.

We arrive in Istanbul in the afternoon, leaving a few hours for sightseeing. Istanbul has enough to see for a full week, but we have to go back home!

We arrive in Istanbul in the afternoon, leaving a few hours for sightseeing. Istanbul has enough to see for a full week, but we have to go back home!

In 2010 Istanbul is one of the European Capitals of Culture.

In 2010 Istanbul is one of the European Capitals of Culture.

In the evening we hook on to the caravan, right under the Blue Mosque in the background here. I then drove through medieval Istanbul, with a caravan, back towards home. Trust me, taking a caravan into central Istanbul is a driver's nightmare... I loved it!

In the evening we hooked on to the caravan, right under the Blue Mosque, in the background here. I then drove through medieval Istanbul, with a caravan, back towards home. Trust me, taking a caravan into central Istanbul is a driver’s nightmare… I loved it!

Before leaving Istanbul I dropped my father at the airport to fly back and then took my two artist friends, plus a friend who rode his bicycle along the three Capitals of Culture, back the way they had come. Overland, through Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia. Here we cross the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

Before leaving Istanbul I dropped my father at the airport to fly back and then took my two artist friends, plus a friend who rode his bicycle along the three Capitals of Culture, back the way they had come. Overland, through Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia. Here we cross the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

Our itinerary takes us through the heart of Sofia, capital of Bulgaria. We spend the night here, before driving towards the border with Serbia.

Our itinerary takes us through the heart of Sofia, capital of Bulgaria. We spend the night here, before driving towards the border with Serbia.

South Serbia is a beautiful green and mountainous region. We fill up our tank in the town of Sicevo for the stretch to Belgrade.

South Serbia is a beautiful green and mountainous region. We fill up our tank in the town of Sicevo for the stretch to Belgrade.

Filling up in Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Interesting conversation with the attendants about how sad they were to loose their great leader to the tribunal in The Hague... We quickly continued...

Filling up in Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Interesting conversation with the attendants about how sad they were to loose their great leader to the tribunal in The Hague… We quickly continued…

We stop for a great Balkan grill dinner in Novi Sad, capital of the lush Vojvodina region in the North of Serbia, beautifully placed on the Danube River.

We stop for a great Balkan grill dinner in Novi Sad, capital of the lush Vojvodina region in the North of Serbia, beautifully placed on the Danube River.

After spending a few hours in Novi Sad, we cross into Croatia, where we visit the shot city of Vukovar, home of one of the heaviest battles in recent history. So close to home.

After spending a few hours in Novi Sad, we cross into Croatia, where we visit the shot city of Vukovar, home of one of the heaviest battles in recent history. So close to home.

That same evening we reach Pécs, the second European Capital of Culture on our trip. Pécs is a small city, very worth visiting. An off the beaten path gem in Hungary!

That same evening we reach Pécs, the second European Capital of Culture on our trip. Pécs is a small city, very worth visiting. An off the beaten path gem in Hungary!

From Pécs we drove through Austria into Germany, where we visited the third European Capital of Culture, Essen and the Ruhrgebiet. At the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site we had more television interviews, before taking the short home stretch.

From Pécs we drove through Austria into Germany, where we visited our third European Capital of Culture, Essen and the Ruhrgebiet. At the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site we had more television interviews, before taking the short home stretch.

Only six days after leaving, we returned to Tjerk Ridder's home city Utrecht. Of course he had been on the road for many more months than I had. Full of the most amazing stories of hospitality, friendship and support, which ultimately brought him from here to Istanbul... and back!

Only six days after leaving, we returned to Tjerk Ridder’s home city Utrecht. Of course he had been on the road for many more months than I had. Full of the most amazing stories of hospitality, friendship and support, which ultimately brought him from here to Istanbul… and back!

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