Silk Road by MGB – Days 94 to 102 – across Europe to the finish lineMonday, 24 July 2017
The final stage of our Silk Road trip felt like it was going to be a race to the finish, we would exit Asia by crossing the Dardanelles from Asian Turkey to European Turkey, enter the European Union as we crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria, then make a quick sprint to the finish line, Abingdon in England where MGs were made until 1980. That’s seven years after my MGB, Burgundy, rolled off the assembly line. In fact we had enough time for at least a little look around in all nine countries we visited on our European transit.
▲ Crossing the border from Turkey into Bulgaria.
▲ I’d intended to visit Plovdiv in 2015, but a long delay on my Air Serbia flight from Belgrade to Sofia meant I got to Sofia and even had time to do a Bulgarian Communism tour, but never got to Plovdiv. This time Plovdiv was our first stop in the European Union and it’s a thoroughly delightful town, a place I’d like to come back to. This is the Roman Theatre, Plovdiv has a number of Roman ruins.
▲ The town is made for wandering whether it’s along the main street past Stefan Stambolov Square or around the winding, cobble-stoned streets of the old town.
▲ From Plovdiv we travelled west towards Sofia and then north up to the Danube River where this ferry took our fleet of MGs over to Romania. I’ve visited Romania a couple of times in recent years to Bucharest the capital and to the colourful villages of Transylvania.
▲ This trip started in Craiova from where we drove back to the Danube and the riverside town of Orșova. The drive from there to Timișoara was definitely one of my least favourite drives all the way along our Silk Road route. There was nothing wrong with the road, but it was strictly two-lane, heavy with cars and trucks and all of them travelling fast. You seemed to be constantly overtaking trucks and always with a convoy of traffic moving rapidly towards you. It was never less than nerve-wracking.
▲ Timișoara was where the events which rapidly led to the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu kicked off. The 1989 Revolution Museum tells the story.
▲ It’s another beautiful old eastern European town and having had our history lesson at the Revolution Museum Roger, my Turkey and Europe co-driver, and I headed to colourful Piața Unirii for a cold beer, this is the view across the square to the Catholic Cathedral.
▲ The next day we drove on to Budapest where a walking tour of the old town area took us past this 2013 mural commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian football team’s defeat of England at Wembley Stadium in London.
◄ Viktor Orban’s current Hungarian government is not flavour-of-the-month in Europe and this memorial to the 1944 occupation of Hungary is a symbol of the problems. It depicts Hungary – the archangel Gabriel – being swooped on by Nazi Germany in the form of an avenging eagle. In fact Hungary had co-operated with Germany throughout the war and the wholesale deportation of Budapest’s Jewish population to concentration camps after the Nazi arrival was ably assisted by the country’s fascist inclined government. In other words the memorial, which had to be erected in the middle of the night due to local opposition, is regarded as a whitewash. The 1944 Hungarian government was a Nazi collaborator rather than a Nazi victim.
On my previous visit to Budapest in 2009 I found the Shoes on the Danube memorial, a poignant reminder of Hungarian Jewish men, women and children shot and pushed into the river at this point by Hungarian Arrow Cross fascists in 1944.
▲ Our next stop was Vienna where an afternoon of exploration included a visit to the Stephansdom Church with the wonderful stone-carved 1515 pulpit.
▲ Departing Vienna the next morning this elderly Nissan Skyline parked outside our hotel was a reminder that our MGBs weren’t the only interesting old cars on the road. This one had been driven from Kuwait and it was en route to Morocco.
◄ One of the longest day’s drive of the whole trip took us across Germany to Heidelberg with its colourful old town by the riverside.
▲ It was certainly a town of bicycles.
Finally we crossed into tiny Luxembourg, just in time for lunch and a look around the old town, then on into Belgium where we endured an endless autoroute traffic halt due to some sort of accident and overnighted in Rochefort where fine dining was the order of the day.
▲ Our last night was in Calais where we had time to walk along the coast and gaze across the Channel to the white cliffs of Dover. And to check Rodin’s statue of the Burghers of Calais outside the port city’s fine town hall or Hotel de Ville. The next day we crossed under the Channel on the Eurotunnel train and on Day 102 drove to Abingdon near Oxford.
▲ On Day 103 I had another co-driver when Maureen joined me for the short drive to London where I squeezed Burgundy into my garage. Now do I sell my faithful MGB in England or ship it back to Australia and sell it there?