Thursday, October 15, 2009

Diary , 26th of July 2009 - Arrival in Trabzon - Continued

So, as I was saying... we looked for some breakfast at the service station where we'd spent the night sleeping in the Subprime Micra, but found the prospect of more kebab meat and spicy vegetables unappetizing in the horrendous heat and returned to the car to plan our day...

Although there were other options available to them, we were almost convinced that the UBS conspirators were planning to cross over into Iran, and to continue their journey to Mongolia traveling through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. Realising that we had precious little intelligence, other than reports pointing to the kidnappers traveling through Trabzon, we decided our only option was to drive to Trabzon as soon as possible, and start talking to the locals.

The drive to Trabzon was beautiful, with sweeping coastal views and surprisingly little traffic. All along the road, the police were pulling over drivers left and right, but for some reason they were leaving us alone. Were they leaving us alone because they thought dealing with a foreign driver was more hassle than it was worth, or did they know of our mission?

With the police giving us free passage we made good time, and arrived in Trabzon around 10:30am. With little else to go on, we started cruising around the town, quizzing shopkeepers about strange men in pin-striped suits purchasing large quantities of food, water or other supplies needed for a long overland expedition. After a few hours with no success, we decided another approach would be required and retired for lunch to consider our options.

By this time our appetites had somewhat recovered in the incredible heat and humidity of Turkey, and we devoured a kebab each, and I had a couple of strong Turkish coffees. Reenergised, we decided to try going from hotel to hotel, questioning the staff about any strange arrivals in the last couple of days.

All seemed lost as we went from hotel to hotel, with nothing to show for it, until we reached the Otel Benli, not far from the docks. The Benli's hotelier informed us of a particularly secretive group of western men who had arrived just two days ago. Apparently, the group had requested a couple of rooms with no windows if at all possible. Some hotel employees had also noticed members of the party leaving their rooms in the early hours of the morning, returning with hessian bags full of what looked like large bundles of banknotes. The men had checked out only this morning, in such a rush that they had neglected to take with them a large pile of Russian Roubles, and a map of Rostov-on-Don.

At first none of this made any sense. Sochi wasn't exactly in the direction of Mongolia, and we already knew that it wasn't possible to cross into Russia from Georgia. A moment later it struck us. They must be heading to Russia over the Black Sea. Somehow for all of this time we'd been ignoring the fact that Trabzon is the largest port on the Black Sea. With this information we rushed to the port area as quickly as we could. Maybe the banker's ferry hadn't yet left for Russia?

Frantically we went from gate to gate in docks, trying to find out where the ferries for Sochi depart from, and if any had left today. After about an hour we got the answer we had been dreading, as a security officer informed us that the Apollonia had left port for Sochi just a few hours ago. Apparently no more ferries were leaving for Sochi today, but the officer thought that another ferry might leave tomorrow afternoon, and told us to head toward the top of the docks to where the ferry agents' offices are, and look for the Deniz M---, he wasn't completely sure of the name of the agent.

Armed with this info we rushed back up the hill to the ferry agents' offices, hopeful that we would be able to find a ferry for tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, being a Sunday all of the offices were closed, but after asking around we were eventually directed to a large, hirsute Russian man who claimed, in broken english, to be able to get us onto a ferry first thing tomorrow morning.

Strangely, the Russian insisted that we return to the docks at exactly 4am, to start processing our customs paperwork. Finding this a bit odd, we thought we might have a translation problem, so I asked in Russian - "в четыре часа, не в шестнадцать?" (At four o'clock, not at sixteen o'clock?), to which the Russian man replied hastily "Yes Yes Yes, Da Da Da!".

So it appears that we have another completely inadequate night's sleep ahead of us tonight, but we can at least sleep comfortably knowing that we are now only 24 hours or so behind the bankers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Diary , 26th of July 2009 - Arrival in Trabzon

This morning we awoke stiff limbed, sweaty and not at all rested at a service station, somewhere between Samsun, and Trabzon, where we believed the Utopian Banking Society conspirators were hiding out with the World Economy. At this time we were unsure what the UBS conspirators were planning to do in Trabzon. They were surely not intending to stay there too long - then, as now, we were convinced that their ultimate destination was the sparsely populated steppes of Mongolia.

But where to from Trabzon? Borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria all stood within a days drive of Trabzon, but few of these directions made any sense. Syria and Iraq were obviously out, with neither country being vaguely in the direction of Mongolia, or offering good prospects for the creation of a Utopian Banking Society within their borders.

Armenia's border with Turkey has been closed since 1993, and Armenia's war with Turkey's ally, Azerbaijan, over the disputed territory of Nagorno/Karabakh. Crossing the closed border from Turkey into Armenia would be exceptionally dangerous, and would achieve little, with Azerbaijan, Iran and Georgia bordering and no clear route onward to Mongolia.

Crossing into Georgia could at least be safely achieved from Turkey, but the journey onwards to Mongolia would still not be easy. The border between Georgia and Russia is also closed due to conflict over the ethnically Russian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, wholly within Georgia's borders but having achieved varying levels of de-facto independence since the early 1990's. The UBS conspirators would be able to cross from Georgia into Azerbaijan instead, but where to from there?

Iran had seemed to us to be the most logical next step in the UBS conspirators journey to Mongolia. From Iran, the kidnappers would be able to continue overland to Turkmenistan, then Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and from there they would only be a short distance through Russia from the northwestern border of Mongolia. Of all of the immediately obvious options, this seemed to be the most likely to us.

As we clambered out of the Micra and slowly made our way toward the service station cafe for some breakfast, our sleep deprived brains struggled to make sense of the situation. After finding the prospect of more kebab meat and spicy vegetables too much in the already stifling heat, we returned to the car to make plans for our arrival in Trabzon. With no information on the UBS kidnappers' next destination, we needed to be prepared.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Diary, 25th of July, 2009 - Svilengrad to Samsun... Continued!

When we left you last (yes, far too long ago), we'd just purchased orange and green card from a man in a uniform, behind a window, at a gate, on a toll road, just inside Turkey...

With the orange and green card in hand, we drove up to the toll gate and waved the card infront of the card reader. Nothing happened. Then we poked the card into another card reader, and following a beep the gate raised and we were on our way to Istanbul.

Initially, traffic was light for such a large road, but as we drew closer to Istanbul the lanes began to fill up and it quickly became apparent that we no longer blended in at all. Children stared at the weird men in their tiny car, young men gave their thumbs up in approval, and everyone beeped their horns - seemingly for anything and everything from approval for our vehicle and mission, disapproval for being cut off in traffic by another car, disappointment at the speed of travel, or just to test if the horn on their car was still working. We joked that much like in the old Marshall Batteries ads, there must be a service in Turkey that you can call at any time of day and night, and a man will come out to replace your horn by the roadside.

Once we were within a few kilometers of Istanbul, a family traveling in a black Audi wagon pulled alongside us, and the driver and father called out to us and asked us where we were headed. Not having any particular plans at this point, we replied that we intended to drive to the center of town, and there get some money, lunch, a map and maybe explore the city a little. The driver replied that there were many 'centers' of town in Istanbul, but that we should go to Taksim. A few puzzled looks later he offered to show us the way.

As we followed the Audi, the open fields with smatterings of farmhouses and mosques gave way to enormous modern developments consisting of almost identical apartment towers, and then slowly to an almost limitless sea of buildings both old and new as we made our way toward Taksim. Once we were close enough to find our own way by roadsigns, the Audi pulled over at a service station and the father came over to us to explain the rest of the way, and quizzed us a little about what we were doing in Turkey. Not wanting to unnecessarily reveal our true mission, we explained that we were part of the Mongol Rally, and were driving through Turkey on our way to Ulaanbaatar, purely for adventure.

Not long after the service station we found our way to Taksim, parked and wandered to the square in the sweltering midday heat. After an all-too-brief bout of sightseeing, we ate a great open kebab lunch, and then set to business getting a road map of Turkey and cash for the journey. Along the way we discovered a small bookstore with some cats sleeping off the heat of the day on top of a collection of second hand books. Poking around for a while we found a collection of old and second hand postcards for sale. We bought a few to send home to friends and family and then returned to car, to continue our pursuit.

Leaving Istanbul was easier said than done, even with our maps of the city and of Turkey, but eventually after numerous semi-successful attempts at communicating with the locals, and a few wrong turns, we were back on the freeway and on our way towards Trabzon.

For just over 200km after leaving Istanbul we still had the luxury of traveling on the very good toll-road, with our speed limited only by the Micra's feeble 998cc motor. We knew that it couldn't last though, and just before the town of Gerede we were forced to exit the toll-road and try our luck with the regular Turkish highway network.

Off the toll-road our traveling speed dropped significantly, and once again we found ourselves driving through endless roadworks detours and doing everything we could to avoid becoming victims to yet another crazy overtaking move. With night falling, we came to the realization that we were unlikely to make it to Trabzon tonight, and instead set our sights on Samsun, about 300km to Trabzon's west.

At around 10pm our stomachs got the better of us, and we pulled in to a small roadside restaurant for another delicious open kebab meal with some of the almost ruby-coloured Turkish tea. Our appetites sated, we continued driving into the night toward Samsun, stopping only for petrol (accompanied by more fantastic Turkish tea, and an awkward conversation with one of the young men working there who knew enough english to ask us questions, but not quite enough to understand our replies.)

Finally we reached Samsun around 2 or 3am (this was becoming an all too familiar now) and drove around looking for somewhere to sleep. We come across a group of men standing by the side of the road outside of a mini market, and with more sign language and pictionary explain to them that we are looking for a hotel. Not long afterward we set forth again, armed with a hastily scribbled map showing us the way to the nearest hotel. Or so we think.

I'm not sure if it was the quality of the map, or the quality of our sleep deprived thinking at this point, but it took us something like an hour to find the hotel not more than a kilometer from where we had stopped. Ready to fall asleep in a gutter somewhere at this point, we made our way into the hotel carpark, only to be told by the hotel operator that they were closed, and that we'd have to go somewhere else.

Dejected, we decided to drive on toward Trabzon, and if possible find somewhere appropriate to pitch our tent and camp for the night. Not finding anywhere suitable for camping, and in serious danger of getting into a traffic accident in our sleep deprived state, we finally pulled into a service station and settled in for a very uncomfortable night, sleeping in the car.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Diary, 25th of July, 2009 - Svilengrad to Samsun, Turkey

Another hot, sweaty morning waking up in the tent after far-too-little sleep. This time, rather than dogs and trucks to raise us from our slumber, we woke to the sound of a passing horse drawn cart. And trucks. Always the trucks.

Once we'd given up fighting against consciousness we arose, pulled down the tent, packed the camping gear back into the Micra and drove down to the Turkish border, filling up the fuel tank on the way as Turkish petrol is quite possibly the most expensive in the world (and definitely the most expensive on this trip, including the UK. Big thankyou to the interwebs, you were right, again). With a full petrol tank, we exited Bulgaria and began our first visa-required entry.

The Turkish side of the border crossing had more stages than an outdoor music festival. First of all, we drove through a gate with what seemed to be IR cameras, to check whether we had the swine flu or some other horrible illness. Once we'd been verified healthy by the whiz-bang cameras, we proceeded to the next window, where we were informed to proceed to another window on foot to purchase our visas.

US$20 poorer each, we moved on to another window, where we purchased insurance for the Subprime Micra, lest we be involved in a traffic touchup. With our visas and 3rd party insurance purchased, we moved up to the customs stage, where after the customary (eheh) "are you carrying and drugs?" Q&A session and a very cursory look over the vehicle, we were waved along to passport control. A few minutes later, with our passports stamped we got back into the car and drove out, on the road to Istanbul.

At this point, we had no map, and no Turkish money. After stopping at a petrol station which had maps, but no credit card facilities, we decided to press on to Istanbul, and withdraw some cash and buy a map there. What could possibly go wrong?

The road was fantastic - something ridiculous like 4 almost perfectly smooth lanes each direction. We started to feel uneasy. Other than the stifling heat in the non-airconditioned Micra, things were just a little bit too good, a bit too easy. We started to suspect that we had fallen into a trap.

A little further down the road, our suspicions were confirmed. It was a trap, a toll-road! With nowhere left to go, we idled up to the toll gates like a couple of lambs to the slaughter. The driver of the car infront of us got out to talk to the man at the gate. I figured I may as well do the same, and lined up behind him. After what appeared to be a heated conversation, the man infront of me handed over some Turkish Lira in exchange for a green and orange card.

After considering fleeing to the car, turning around and heading back to Bulgaria, I approached the window and asked if I could pay by Mastercard, summoning all of my international charades and interpretive dancing skills. It worked! Immediately, the man behind the window's expression changed, and understanding perfectly my question, he replied "No."

Sickened by the thought of pulling out now, turning around defeated by a toll-booth, and allowing the UBS conspirators to get away with kidnapping the World Economy, I dug deep and summoned the courage that had allowed me to lead the STS-101 space mission, that pulled me through some truely torturous filming sessions for 'Home and Away', that I had been able to instill into Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne after the 2005 Ashes defeat - and asked if maybe they'd let us through for free this time. Pretty please?

Again, the reply was a polite but firm "No." Devastated, I knew that there was nothing else for it. I pulled out a wad of US dollars from my jeans, and asked if I could pay with them. After some furious punching away on the calculator, the man turned back toward me and showed me the readout. 26. I paid up and received an orange and green card like the man before me, and...

TO BE CONTINUED. (I'm tired and I want to go to bed).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Diary, 24th of July, 2009 - From Bucharest to Svilengrad

Another day, another country. Today we drove from Bucharest to Svilengrad, on the Bulgarian/Turkish border. It is here that our easy EU border crossings end.

Our hotel last night in Bucharest has been something of a mixed experience. Sleeping on a real bed in an airconditioned room was so luxurious it felt completely sinful, but on the downside we only got about 5 hours sleep and the provided internet was so slow as to be completely unusable. On the upside, the woeful internet service provided us some bargaining ammunition and we got our parking for free.

Somewhere on the road coming into Romania yesterday, our power inverter failed. Since we've been relying on the inverter to keep our laptop and cameras charged, this is a bit of a problem, so before driving to Bulgaria we figured we'd better try get a replacement in Bucharest.

A man one or two hundred kilometres out of Bucharest had told us of a computer store chain that would "definitely" have power inverters. Armed with the name of the store, we'd looked up the address last night on the painfully slow internet. We figured we had it all sorted out - a quick drive across town, grab an inverter, and hit the road to make it to Svilengrad early in the evening...

The first sign of trouble came when we asked at the front desk of the hotel if the nearest store was where google maps had told us it was. It wasn't. Instead the nearest was 30-40minutes drive. Not too bad. Of course, the roads we wanted to take to get to this store were being ripped up for some major reconstruction - which combined with a river with only a few crossing points meant more like 90minutes, in our non-airconditioned Micra, in 35degree heat and diesel exhaust.

We finally make it to the address of our computer store, but it looked more like an industrial park. We rolled up to the gate and asked the security guard if we were at the right place. He said yes, and motioned that we drive down the back left corner and gave us a ticket. We drove in, parked up and walked into the store.

They didn't sell power inverters, but they did have a computer with internet that they let us use. After a bit of searching around on the net we found a place advertising power inverters in Bucharest, so we asked if we could use the phone and called up to see if they had any in stock, and if we could buy one today. The man on the other side of the phone spoke no english, so one of the people from the computer store kindly spoke with him for us.

We figure that we now had this power inverter business under control. Another half hour drive, pick it up, then off to Bulgaria. We found it to the street of our power inverter selling "business" fairly easily - but we couldn't for the life of us find the actual building. The whole street seemed to only be large run-down apartment buildings. The first 3 or 4 people we asked had no idea either, but luckily, one guy who was just about to leave went in to bat for us.

After finding the building that matched the address, but still no obvious sign of a business, he called up on the mobile. We were assured we were in the right place, so we parked the car and waited. A few minutes later, a sharply dressed young romanian man in highly reflective sunglasses parked beside us in a new Hyundai, walked over and asked if we were looking for Theodor. Figuring this was probably our power inverter seller, we said yes.

The man walked back to his car, removed a couple of DVD players from the boot, placed his handgun on top, and motioned for Peter to follow him into the apartment building to meet Theodor. After handing me his passport and wallet, Peter followed.

After an uncomfortably long wait in the carpark, Peter yelled out from the apartment window. Even though we had called ahead to check that the advertised inverter was in stock, apparently the only models available were the "high quality, professional models". Of course, these inverters were a little more expensive that the $20 model advertised. Unfortunately, we weren't in the strongest bargaining position, so after a quick trip to the ATM, a shiny new 600W inverter was ours, and it was time to get back on the highway and head for Bulgaria.

The last 60km through Romania were much like the rest, with suicidal drivers, slow and smelly trucks, and numerous young men kind enough to give their girlfriends a ride on their motorcycle sans helmet or any protective clothing. On exiting the country we were required to pay a small toll for road tax, and then we were on our way over the bridge to Bulgaria.

Just over the bridge we had our final visa-less border crossing, into Bulgaria at Ruse. After a few cursory checks on the car and the standard "are you carrying any drugs?" questioning, our passports were stamped and we began the long drive toward Turkey, and the Utopian Banking Society conspirators destination: Trabzon.

The contrast between Romania and Bulgaria was stark, with an obvious drop in wealth evident in the buildings and road quality, and with the Cyrillic road signage giving the place a very eastern bloc feel. Within a hundred kilometers or so, Bulgaria threw out it's first challenge - an unsigned detour around roadworks, to another road heading the wrong direction. Luckily, a combination of compass bearings and following some Romanian truck drivers who appeared to know where they were going put us back on track, but the Bulgarian highway system wasn't finished with us yet.

A couple of hours after sunset, and another Bulgarian roadworks detour challenge, this time a bumpy gravel track through a small town. As what we believed was the detour snaked, bumped and weaved its way through the residential streets of the village we became less and less convinced that we were ever going to make it out again, facing the right direction. Just as we were beginning to doubt the wisdom of following the gravel path any further, a solitary Audi bounced its way toward us. We waved them down and asked which way to Sliven. Through much gesturing they explained that after the next left we would see some round signs that will show us the way out.

Not long after returning to the highway, we attempted to get some dinner at a service station that appeared to have a cafe attached, but which on closer inspection seemed to be more of a smoking room, with some junkfood for sale. We decided then that we may as well just push all of the way through to Svilengrad, the bordertown with Turkey.

An hour or so further down the road we came across a line of trucks, stopped, with the drivers out of their cabs talking, smoking and in some cases drinking vodka. We wandered up to see if we could find out what the problem was with a bit of charades and a bit of Russian that was hopefully close enough to Bulgarian for understanding. Unfortunately, all we managed to understand was that we had to wait.

In the end, it turned out that we were waiting for a very long, one way section of roadworks. Eventually the last vehicle travelling through the other direction exited, and we were able to get moving again. Our headlights weren't really up to the job for reading the contours of the heavily potholed dirt detour, so we stayed close to a red stationwagon to read the bumps by watching how high their car bounced.

This generally worked very well, but somehow at a critical point we must have lost sight of the stationwagon momentarily (probably because the Subprime Micra's 50bhp made it hard to keep up) and we hit an enormous step up from the dirt road to the new paved surface. We both looked at each other in horror, but luckily the damage was limited to a large egg on either front tyre, and we drove on into the night and early morning.

Some time around 1 or 2am we made it to Svilengrad, and found a small service station near the road with a restaurant attached and the lights still on. With some charades and pictionary we ended up getting some chicken soup, sandwiches and coke.

With our bellies not quite full but at least not growling, we went back into town to try to find a cheap hotel. Everything either looked far too expensive or was closed, so after an hour or so of blind, sleep deprived driving through town we decided to see if there was anything right next to the border. There wasn't. So we fell back to Plan B - find a spot in a farmer's field not completely exposed to traffic. Once again, we fell asleep to the sound of trucks and dogs.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Connex apologises for any inconvenience caused"

Michael and Peter would like the apologise for the slow pace of blog updates.  Unfortunately, between driving, eating and sleeping, there has been little time for writing, converting photos and uploading.  Currently in Бийск, Russia, Michael and Peter are hoping to arrive at the Mongolian border tonight.  Inside Mongolia they don't hold out much hope of finding internet cafes.  On the other hand, provided they can get electricity, the inability to drive at night should provide some time to write blog posts for posting on arrival in Ulan Bator.

Until then, here's a teaser...

We last left you in Bucharest, Romania, where Michael and Peter were hot on the trail of the Utopian Banking Society henchmen as they were headed to Turkey.  Since Romania, our intrepid travellers have driven through Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan and Russia again.  On the way, they've encountered;

  • The world's most insane roadworks detour through small village streets in Bulgaria
  • Near constant horn beeping in Istanbul and Trabzon
  • Some very shifty ferry operators and hangers on, who tried to extract US$150 above the going rate then left our heros sitting on a motionless ferry for a full 24hours before departing for Sochi
  • Some of the friendliest people we've ever met in both Russia and Kazakhstan
  • Some policemen and customs officials very intent on extracting large bribes in US dollars (unsuccessfully I might add).
  • and much, much more...

There is much to tell, but with some equipment failures, a scarcity of internet cafes and an increasingly tight schedule, mean that the story may not be told for a week or more.  Please accept our apologies, but such is the reality of driving half way around the world in a month.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Diary, 23rd of July, 2009 - The road of death, Romania

This morning we awoke early to the dulcet tones of six or seven barking dogs accompanied by the steady drone of trucks on the highway. I'm not sure if they ever stopped during the night. It had been a warm night and was already shaping up to be another hot, humid day, so feeling particularly seedy and probably quite smelly, we packed up the tent and hit the road for another long day of driving - destination: Bucharest.

An hour or so into the day's drive, we dropped in to a service station to check the tyres and water. I also really wanted a coffee to prevent the inevitable caffeine withdrawal headache. Since we were able to pay for dinner last night with Euros and weren't planning on staying in Hungary for long, we weren't carrying any local currency. I asked if I could buy a coffee with Euros, but rather than having to deal with changing my 2 Euro coin, the attendant gave me the coffee for free. Score.

Driving through the Hungarian countryside by day was a completely different experience to Budapest by night. Last night, Budapest was a beautiful, clean and distinctive city, but the Hungarian countryside shows much more of the country's

For the first time since the channel tunnel, we needed to stop for passport control as we crossed over into Romania. After a few quick checks our passports were stamped and we were on our way, and almost immediately it became very clear that we were leaving western Europe.

The roads and drivers in Romania are absolutely insane. Almost the entire distance from the border to Bucharest consisted of winding, single lane mountain roads, rising and falling with the contours of the land. Just to make things interesting though these roads are completely overflowing with trucks struggling to make 80km/h up the hills, and cars with psychotic drivers intent on maintaining no less than 130km/h.

Naturally, this results in lots of hairy overtaking. Three abreast with the overtaker straddling the centerline around a blind bend is commonplace. And if that isn't enough to get your blood flowing, the roadside is littered with absolutely lethal objects on or near the while line at the edge of your lane. For example; car sized drainage ditches with concrete separations each 15m, concrete parapets stepping in and out, random piles of dirt and bricks, and the occasional pedestrian walking directly on the lane in the middle of the night.

Around 9pm we bought dinner at a small roadside grill restaurant. The staff for some reason weren't very friendly, but the mechanic sitting behind us spoke flawless english and was very interested in the car and where we were going. I think we almost convinced him to change one of our CV joints for us!

After dinner, we returned to the highway for another couple of hours of Romanian Roulette. On the way we encountered more deadly roadside furniture than you can poke a stick at, a stoppage caused by a truck that had dropped it's entire rear axle on the road, and a stray dog that held a solid 45km/h for 200m beside our car as we entered Bucharest. After rolling around town for a while we eventually found a hotel for the night at around 2am. Completely exhausted, we cranked the aircon to full and hit the sack, with another long, hot day ahead of us.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Diary - 22nd of July, 2009 - From the Czech Republic to Hungary

After learning that the suspected Utopian Banking Society conspirators were headed for Trabzon on Monday night, we spent much of Tuesday making last-minute preparations for our journey. Having left the UK so hastily, we still had a number of expedition essentials to aquire - fuel for the Trangia, iodine for water treatment, a tyre repair kit, and a compass.

Unfortunately, neither Peter nor I speak a word of Czech. The fuel for the Trangia and food for our travels were quite easily purchased at the Tesco in Klatovy, but iodine for water purification was to prove practically impossible. After coming up empty handed at the local camping store, we headed to the pharmacy. Some pictionary and broken english later we discovered that the pharmacy didn't sell tincture of iodine anymore, but the woman at the counter was confident that another camping store in the town square would have something for water treatment. With a printout from Google Maps in hand, we headed to the town square.

While Peter waited in the car I headed to the first camping store, paper and pen in hand to explain through pictures what it was we were after. After a number of confused looks and some mutually unintelligible exchanges, a light suddenly came on in the head of the shop assistant, and she ran off excitedly with my water bottle... and returned with it full of tap water. Not exactly what I had in mind, but figuring I might have better luck at the next camping shop.

At the second shop I had much more pictionary success, and through sign language she explained that they didn't carry water purification tablets, but that she thought they might have some at the pharmacy up the road. Feeling a slight sense of deja vu, I wandered up to the second pharmacy, where one of the pharmacists explained that they don't sell iodine at pharmacies in the Czech Republic anymore. Defeated, I headed back to the car. With every second we spend in the Czech Republic, the UBS conspirators are getting further from our reach. We simply must hit the road.

From Klatovy we have driven to Linz, Austria. Though this is not the most direct route to Turkey, we felt we would have better luck getting a solution to our water purification problem here.

On the way to Austria we passed back through Germany shortly, and immediately after crossing the border were pulled over by an unmarked Audi wagon with two plainclothes German police. After checking that we weren't smuggling drugs from the Czech Republic and laughing at the prospect of us making it to Mongolia in four weeks in the Subprime Micra, the wished us good luck and left us on our way.

We spent last night at the Hotel Locomotive just out of town. After walking down to the town center for dinner and a look around, we came back to the hotel to process some photos, charge some batteries and spend a little bit of time on the internet before going to bed. Having constructed a makeshift power plug adapter from an old light cord we'd found on the walk home, I plugged in my US power board... and BANG! The lights go out. It seems that the surge protection circuits in my board cause serious issues for 220v supplies.

After stashing the offending gear back in a bag, I headed out toward the lobby to try to explain what had happened without incriminating myself. Thankfully on my way I came across the electrical box for our floor, found the circuit breaker for our room and reset it. The US powerboard is going back in the bag for the rest of the trip.

This morning we had another fantastic continental breakfast, and after discussing our rally car at length with the hotel owner, we started pounding the bitumen again. From Linz, we passed through Vienna for a late lunch, then into Slovakia through Bratislava and continuing through the night to Budapest in Hungary for dinner.

Budapest is an amazing city. As we parked the Micra, we noticed two young men paying undue attention to us and our car. We decided that it might be a good idea to stay close for the time being. Fortunately, directly across the road we found a bar/restaurant with a direct view of our car from the table. As we ate our traditional Hungarian soup with hot paprika, the two young men returned to scope out our car, but having noticed us noticing them, they seemed to decide to move on to an easier target.

Before continuing down toward Turkey, we decided to make a quick tour of some of the city's many attractions. After driving aimlessly for 10 or 15 minutes, we found a group of local teenagers who in flawless english directed us to the road up to the Citadella, overlooking the city.
The Citadella and the views of the city below are truely spectacular. It also seems to be the number one make-out spot for local teens. After an all too brief visit, we returned to the Micra for a couple of hours extra driving, but not far out of Budapest food-coma started to hit, and we set up camp in a field maybe 20m from the highway, to the sound of barking dogs and heavy freight trucks.