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With a donkey and a poffertjespan Nichon Glerum and Sven Jense walked from Sofia, Bulgaria, to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. By traveling not much unlike gypsies they hoped to raise awareness about the discrimination of Roma, Sinti and other gypsy peoples.

We travelled with a donkey, musical instruments and a poffertjespan, a special pan for traditional Dutch mini-pancakes. We cooked together with gypsies and non-gypsies. Because whether you are Roma or Sinti, backpacker or farmer, all of us need to eat! Not speaking much Turkish nor Bulgarian, we used music and food as communal language.

We followed the long distance walking route called Sultan’s Trail/SufipathEverywhere along the route we have been received with smiles and curiosity, gifts and great hospitality. Yet we did not see the same treatment for gypsies.

Gypsy culture is so energetic, so alive, but the general idea about gypsies is that they are all criminals and drug addicts. We want to stop the vicious cycle of crime and exclusion; discrimination leading to crime leading to more discrimination and so on. We walked 800 kilometer because we want more people to know about this.

(translations are automatic by Google – our apologies for their clumsiness).

Sun 21 July – Selling Jackie

This is our big day. We will finally walk up to the Hagia Sophia. Our three months of walking and traveling will today come to an end. No more walking. But we feel restless. There will be more walking. Selling Jackie will take some effort. We are certain that we will have to walk out of Istanbul. Nichon is bound to find a truck that will be able to take our donkey to a small village, but I’m not that sure about that. We’ll probably have to pay for that. We pack our bags for walking once again, leaving some stuff behind.  Continue reading

Sat 20 July – A Donkey into Istanbul

Our Big Day. We plan to reach Hagia Sophia today, with our Jackie Sofia. How will she endure the city buzz? We get up early and pack fast. Before 8.30 we are walking. This first of Istanbul’s suburbs is quiet. One shop is open, I buy bread and bananas but am not allowed to pay; the endless stream of gifts continues, even in this urban landscape. Continue reading

Fr 19 July – In the Picture

Sazlıbosna – Şamlar. We are being served a breakfast with bad news. Jackie again has escaped. How is this possible? After some probing of our host the story gets out; the shepherd has had his son leading Jackie. And our donkey needs some introduction to a person. It also took some days before she got used to us. But she ran again, and has been caught again luckily, but we’re not happy to hear about what must have caused her some distress. And on top of it, the sheep owner is not buying her! It is a bit pressing: we are both sad that we have to sell her, and nervous about the time and effort it will take us to find a good new home for her.  Continue reading

Thu 18 July – Lakeshore towards Sazlıbosna

We sleep late to find out it rains again. We have a double feeling; we want to walk again but at the same time we feel tired. We find out the group ‘refugees’ on the top floor of the building we slept in, are seasonal workers from Romania. They are also not too happy, as the rain prevents them for working. Dursunköy is depressing when there is nothing to do. Everything is a bit filthy, and now even the stray dogs, some of them aggressive, are a wet and silent.  Continue reading

Wed 17 July – Rained down

What was the meaning of last night’s rain? It’s a cloudy and windy day we wake up to. As we are in the middle of nowhere still, we have no choice but to go. We pack quickly and luckily Jackie walks again like nothing has happened. We have nothing left to eat. Luckily after an hour we find a lot of blackberries, and Jackie, Nichon and I eat greedily from the free roadside food. Continue reading

Tue 16 July – Lost in the Forests and Jackie drops dead

Revived we continue our adventure. Jackie is restless, and only after we restrain her a little and start walking she calms down and looks happy again. We fill our water bottle at the sources in the centre of the village. The water is said to be beneficial for our health. We feel healthy already, but for the day that lies ahead a little extra protection will prove useful. Continue reading

Mon 15 July – Donkey in the House in Akalan

Waking up still somewhat exhausted we decide to stay this day in Akalan. Jackie seems disturbed by the absence of our daily exercise. At one point she leaves her fig tree garden of Eden next to our house and steps right into our kitchen! and Nichon does a lot to find food for her. We try to find different places with fresh plants to eat. We rest and only around four walk into the small town to find an internet cafe. The owner of the cafe looks like a crook but acts like an angel. He does under no circumstances allow us to pay anything, keeps the kids away from us and brings us coke and tea. Continue reading

Sun 14 July – First sight of Istanbul

Gümüspınar-Akalan. Leaving around ten, the family that has treated us so well with their hospitality is gone. We leave a cookie with a small note and set ourselves a moderate goal. We stop for breakfast at a farm where we ask to buy some eggs, but the farmers wife insists on our taking them for nothing. With a jar of honey we bought yesterday we eat like king and queen. Continue reading

Sat 13 July – tea with a Bulgarian wrestler

Safalaan-Gümüspınar. We wake to the sound of a herd of cows passing through our camp site. Jackie kicks a large cow that comes too close. The cow barely reacts but after the third kick leaves slowly.
We take a long asphalt road to Binkiliç, then a path past small charcoal factories. At an intersection someone calls at us. Tea? The place looks idyllic, with small house, a vegetable garden, an open kitchen and makeshift bathroom, a mirror dangling from a fig tree. Continue reading