Off to Istanbul, despite passport and police mishaps

The Serbs were by far the friendliest bunch we've met on our #istanbulorbust road trip. Most looked like hit men but couldn't have been funnier or more charming

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The Independent Online

We left Prague and drove to Vienna. I didn't have high hopes for the Austrian capital. I'd been there as an impoverished youth and it hadn't struck a chord in my soul. This time was very different. The city was bedecked with Easter markets, and the cafés were full of comfy Viennese consuming food and chocolate at a rate that would fell a lesser nation.

We visited the Modern Art Museum. It was truly, spectacularly awful. I love modern art but when the best piece is a drawing of a woman wrapping the faeces of a defecating man (to keep it warm) I think it's time to move on. Ironically, Adolf Hitler's traditional art was dissed by the art powers of Vienna. If only he had gone "modern" he would have surely been a huge hit and saved us all a lot of bother.

On we drove to Budapest. Sadly, our passports stayed in Vienna. Our wonderful concierge resolved this by arranging for a car to bring them to us overnight for a reasonable fee. He was nowhere to be seen the following morning leading us to suspect that it was he, himself who had made the five-hour round trip. Whatever, it was in the tradition of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Next up was Belgrade, Serbia's capital, bombed by Nato back in 1999. I wasn't sure if British number-plates would get a good reception but I could not have been more wrong. The Serbs were by far the friendliest bunch we've met on our #istanbulorbust road trip. Most looked like hit men but couldn't have been funnier or more charming.

There were a couple of stalls selling T-shirts of Ratko Mladic but out of politeness we pretended to ignore these and concentrated on the Slivovice (favourite T-shirt on sale – "F*** Coke, F*** Pizza, All you need is Slivovice). Belgrade is, after all, a city that has been sacked 44 times in its history which has given the Serbian people something of a dark sense of humour and a carpe diem attitude to life.

Next up was Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We arrived after a hairy incident in which a Serbian policeman tried to flag us down and then chased us after we were unable to stop because of the fast traffic. We were very near the frontier and made a decision to escape into Bulgaria, which we just managed to do. I'd been warned that Sofia was as ugly as Swindon but it turned out to be a rather charming place with a plethora of imposing totalitarian buildings and some absolutely stunning women. We celebrated our escape from Serbian jail in alcoholic style.

The next day, after a brief visit to the Museum of Socialist Art (or the Garden of Forgotten Statues as we called it) we headed for Istanbul. We arrived on a beautiful spring evening with the domes and minarets gleaming and the blossom in full bloom. Everyone adored the city immediately but the visit to the From Russia With Love Basilica Cistern was the biggest hit with the kids.

Two days here and then we start driving back. I can't wait.