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New Europe

Day Thirty-seven: Plovdiv to Edirne

Michael Palin - New EuropeThere is nothing very beautiful about the E80 interchange east of Plovdiv, but there is an excellent truckers' café, the Motel Merita, with an engagingly ebullient patron, fine kofta kebabs, succulent meat rolls and an irresistible speciality of metre-long loaves of bread, crisped in the oven and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

I manage to cadge a lift in the direction of Turkey with a big, full-bellied man with a remarkable head. Almost exactly pyramidal in shape, it tapers from a bull-like neck to a small square crown. He hauls himself up into the cab and surprises me by getting out a very neat pair of horn-rimmed glasses, as if we were in a library instead of a 40-foot truck.

He's a friendly man and his few words of English are mostly destinations. I learn that one of his recent journeys took him all the way to Uzbekistan. Two weeks there and back doing 430 miles a day.

We pull out of the parking lot, a sudden halt to let another vehicle pass sending
a row of hanging icons swinging above the windscreen.

After a mile or two we come to a sign that sets the pulses racing. Well, mine anyway. 'Istanbul'. Two hundred and eighty-five miles down the road.

Late afternoon. Crossing into Turkey at a village called Kapikule. The Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish borders all meet here as Europe funnels down towards Asia. A large mosque is marooned in no-man's-land, but apart from that there's nothing remotely attractive about this place. Blighted by the frontier, Kapikule seems to consist of little more than a lot of concrete tarmac, a lot of steel fencing, a huge gantry with the badge of Turkish customs at its centre, a filling station, a railway line, a truck park and ploughed fields, strewn with paper bags, stretching away on either side.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Thirty-seven: Plovdiv to Edirne
  • Country/sea: Bulgaria
  • Place: Plovdiv
  • Book page no: 90

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