This is Part 7 and the last iteration of our Dacia Duster adventure through 10 countries and 9000 km around the Black Sea. You can read Part 1: Transnistria here, Part 2: Chernobyl here, Part 3: Belarus here, Part 4: Crossing the Black Sea and Georgia here, Part 5: Azerbaijan here and Part 6: Armenia here. As a reminder this Test Drive happened before COVID-19 travel restrictions were implemented. We are now out of Armenia and after quickly crossing back into Georgia we arrive in Turkey. This last part will see us travel almost 2,500 km westward to return to Bucharest for the drop off of Wolodymyr the Dacia Duster.
Turkish and Bulgarian flags and Part 7 itinerary Black sea snapshots
After driving continuously from Yerevan, Armenia, we hit Hopa just after the Georgia-Turkey border very late at night. For the next day we will follow the Black Sea coast. This area was once the kingdom of Pontus and Ottoman Greeks tried to create a post-WWI Pontic state here. We pass Trabzon and its spectacular football stadium, and the rest of the trip is spent with a succession of beautiful views of the Black Sea. First car park impressions show a high prevalence of pickup trucks in the region, quite a few 2nd gen Dacia Duster like ours including one taxi, a lot of old Renault 12, some impeccably maintained, and a flood of Fiat Egea and Doblo everywhere, matching the car sales charts of the country. However the Renault Megane is suspiciously absent from the car park here, which was already the case in Istanbul last year.
One of my objectives on this last part of the trip was to stop in a picturesque fishing harbour. Sinop, population 39,200, was selected to play this role after raving comments on the Turkey Lonely Planet. Sinop stands at the northernmost edge of the Anatolian coast and is the only southern-facing spot on the Turkish Black Sea. The town is indeed charming and bustling with activity as the fisheries and restaurants endeavour to sell the day’s catch. Sinop is also a touristic spot and leverages its heritage as a trading port for three millennia through model ships on sale in touristic shops – sometimes accompanied with the odd cat.
During this drive along the Black Sea I encountered a vehicle that I had never seen before: the Anadol A2 pictured above. Anadol was Turkey’s first domestic mass production passenger vehicle company. Its first model was the Anadol A1 (1966-1975), the second Turkish car ever after the Devrim sedan of 1961. 19,724 units were produced in its 10-year career. Anadol models were manufactured by Otosan Otomobil Sanayii in Istanbul between 1966 and 1986. The Anadol A2 was the brand’s second vehicle and its first four-door sedan and the first fiberglass bodied four-door sedan in the world. It was launched in 1970 as a four-door version of the A1 (middle picture above), and received a facelift in 1972 (bottom picture above). 35,668 units of the A2 were produced between 1970 and 1981.
Our next stop is Safranbolu, to the Southwest inland. Listed for eternal preservation as World Heritage by Unesco in 1994, Safranbolu is the perfect example of an Ottoman village brought back to life. The old town, known as Çarsi, is a maze of cobblestone alleys, traditional timber-framed houses, candy shops, painting galleries and cobblers. Life stands still here, with the beautifully maintained mud brick houses dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, most of them being originals restored and turned into hotels, shops or museums. The many tourists wander peacefully through the streets, huddled next to the two mosques in town. Safranbolu is named so because it was an isolated source of the precious spice saffron, and it became a stop on the main Ottoman trade route between Gerede and the Black Sea in the 17th century which provided commerce and wealth to the town.
It’s now time to reach Istanbul, the agitated megalopolis of 15 million inhabitants. It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the Turkish countryside I’m coming from, and the driving here is the most aggressive and brazen of the entire trip. It is now my fourth time in Istanbul, having visited in 2001, 2006 and 2018. Quick history lesson: Founded as Byzantium around 660 BC, it became Constantinople in 330 and served as an imperial capital for almost 16 centuries, during the Roman/Byzantine (330–1453) and Ottoman (1453–1922) empires. It was instrumental in the advancement of Christianity, then the Ottomans transformed it into an Islamic stronghold. Istanbul has changed little in a year, and it’s always a pleasure to roam through its busy streets and enjoy the sight of various tea and baklava stands as pictured above.
The many Fiat Egea of Istanbul
As far as Istanbul cars are concerned, it’s a full-on Fiat Egea festival, both private and taxis even more so than last year when the Renault Symbol was still very frequent. It is not the case anymore as the Egea confirms its hegemony over the Turkish market.
After this quick stop in Istanbul, we are headed Northwest to the Bulgarian border. Last year we had to slowly crawl for 12 hours to get through the Edirna – Kapitan Andreevo Turkish-Bulgarian border. It was the end of August and the end of school holidays but this time, in late September, there is absolutely no wait. We have one last stop to conclude this odyssey: the Buzludzha Monument, near Stara Zagora at the centre of Bulgaria and pictured in the hero photo of this article. Officially named the Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, its construction began in 1974 and it was inaugurated in 1981. Looking like a futuristic flying saucer and dominating the valleys around, it is indeed a striking vision and also offers swiping views of the neighbouring countryside. The Buzludzha Monument commemorates the birth of the precursor of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, in 1891. It is characteristic of the futurist architecture common to many state-constructed communist buildings. All maintenance stopped with the fall of communism in 1989, and the Buzludzha Monument is now closed to the public due to its hazardous weakened structure. I therefore couldn’t enter to admire the interior mosaics commemorating the history of the Bulgarian Communist Party.
We are back in Romania!Our 9,000km loop itinerary around the Black Sea.
This is it! 15 days of driving, 3 days on a boat and 9,000 km later, we are now back in Romania’s capital Bucharest for the drop off of Wolodymyr our Dacia Duster. It is now time for the usual quick review of what the Duster does well and what it could improve.
- Handles like an SUV, not a car on stilts
- Very attractive pricing of the top of the range 1.5 dCi 110 4×4 Prestige. (19,550€ or US$21,200)
- Contactless key locks the car automatically when you go away and unlocks when you approach.
- Rear view camera with guiding lines
- Cruise control: when on a downward slope and accelerating naturally, the speed decreases back to match the locked speed
- Very good sound system, a great improvement on the Logan
- Apple CarPlay works perfectly (Waze, Google maps)
- Smart storage under the front seats.
- 5.9L per 100km over the entire trip is really good fuel consumption
- Exterior design much improved
- Can withstand rocky unsealed roads at 80 km/h
- Very good visibility, further improved by blind spot alert on the rear view mirror
- Opening of fuel tank cap is faulty
- 6 speed manual old fashioned gearbox, the 1st and 2nd gears are a little abrupt and the 5th is a little pushy
- Some gremlins with music control: when on Apple Car play there’s no direct way to play next or previous song without having to enter the music menu on the screen.
- Cruise control can be temperamental and switch off by itself
- Boot has high floor and isn’t very spacious, especially for a family.