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Wow what a place, a great city, very cool, and so much modern history.
Yesterday we did the hop-on-hop-off bus tour, it was a great way to get round the whole city and see some of the main sites, and the guide was pretty ok, alternating between German and English. We got to see the Berlin Wall, where it’s still standing in places, and you can see the plaques of people who were killed trying to cross it: the last was 1989 which is not that long ago really.
We also had a long walk along the river past the craft markets and stopped at the history museum and art gallery which are both beautiful buildings around a park.
We then headed for Checkpoint Charlie but first we stopped off at Topography of Terror, which was a big exposition, along a still standing part of the wall, explaining a big insight into how WW2 came about and how Hitler came to power, plus some of the terrible things that happened. It was a big read, but well worth it. I was taken aback at how such a nutter came to rule the country and find other similar nutters to help him execute his plans. I was also surprised to learn how lucky he was at the beginning and that if the previous government hadn’t had issues with corruption then Hitler may never have come to power.
We then went to the Checkpoint Charlie museum. The checkpoint itself is no more than a replica of the original border post, and some touristy guards at a make-shift customs hut who pose for photos, but the museum was started in the year after the wall was put up, and has so much information and history, plus some modern history mostly to do with human rights around the world.
So it took us through the history of the wall and how it came to be, the escapes, the failed escapes and the falling of it. The museum was very busy and due to my dyslexia I struggle to read when there are lots of crowds as I cannot concentrate as well so I started to skim over some things but it was still amazing so see how clever some people were and how some escaped using things like home made hot air balloons!!!
In the evenings we just hung out at the Belushi’s Bar, played pool and had a few s and a chat to other travellers before going to bed.
So on our final day in Berlin we had a fairly busy one, we decided to go to the Zoo as it is supposed to be one of the best in the world!! And it was great, had some animals I have never seen (polar bears/tigers etc) and as I have been to Africa (thanks Sue and Chris xx) we have seen lots of stuff but this place has soooo much we were very impressed.
Then after the zoo we went on a mad run into the town as I needed new trainers cos mine had fell apart (no Rixxy, they had not fallen apart, they stank, and were stinking up our clothes in the bag!), and we needed a new tent as our one was leaking and mouldy. (That’s what you get for £30). So we splashed out on a pro campers tent which was pretty expensive but we have been camping a lot to it’s worth it.
The tent has nearly twice as much space inside as the other one, but folds down to only a little bit bigger than the first one, and most importantly has 2 entrances and we can put just the inside up if its really hot without the rain cover. We also bought a watch which we needed, and Cat bought a pink Roxy hoody which we did not need. Hmmm.
The following morning we headed east towards Poland. The roads became a bit rougher as we entered Poland, but not really bad, since I am writing this from Ukraine and these are truly bad roads! We headed pretty much south through Poland, and found a campsite in Jelenia Gora, and were very happy to pay only a quarter of the price we had been paying in Europe. We even had free wifi in the tent so we set up the mac and watched Cougar Town and Mock the Week!!
On Wednesday we had a fantastic day riding along the borders of Czech and Poland, dipping in and out of each country for over 400km. The roads where great: twisty and in places tiny, lots of gravel and the odd pothole but very quiet. The villages we passed through were so pretty and it was just great to be on the bike and exploring.
Towards the end of the day we decided to head straight to Krakow as we weren’t far away and we wanted to spend a couple of days there. When we arrived we went to about 10 different hostels to find them all full, so we ended up staying in a Holiday Inn, which was pretty nice and not too bad on the bank balance. It was a good opportunity to get all our clothes washed and cleaned including the bike gear, and I also took the opportunity of a nice clean (overpriced) parking space to change the brake pads on the bike and give it a going over with WD40!!
The first night in Krakow we were pretty tired having had a 600km day, so we wandered into town for a bite to eat. Neither of us knew what to expect, but we were so pleased, it was so beautiful and I can say now its one of the best cities I have ever been to, I don’t know why but I loved it. We ate some dinner on the first night, but as we were so tired we decided after a small walk around to go crash out!
On the first day Cat decided to get the laundry done (we stuffed everything into the large backpack and the sleeping bag strapped on the outside – she looked like she was going hiking!), which took most the morning, and I was given the green light to spend the morning in bed watching TV in my pants!! In the afternoon we did some shopping and went for a good walk around the city, its so so so pretty, I love it, all the cafes are in a square, there’s lots of entertainment and a real mix of new bars and cafes with huge old buildings, monuments and palaces. Cat bought some more trousers she does not need and I raised my eyebrows in small protest but was given the “it’s my birthday next week” speech I know when I’m beaten, however I did stop her the getting the matching top SHE HAD TO HAVE!!
In the evening we had a few drinks in the hotel and chatted to the other guests, then went to a few bars. We watched fire-twirling and poi shows and breakdancers, and just wandered from bar to bar on the square enjoying the atmosphere.
The following day we went to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. I’m not going to blog about it, it was a very sobering day and makes you fell sick thinking about how horrible it must have been for all those people. There really is not much you can say about something like this, it truly highlights the horrors of the war and I’m glad I went and suggest you go if you ever get the opportunity.
So on a more positive note – the next day we headed for Ukraine but we missed and ended up close to the border in the woods. Cat had been reading (on the iphone World Travel App) about Ukraine and freaked ourselves out – all the road signs are apparently in the cryllic alphabet, the roads are terrible, and everyone speaks Ukrainian and Russian, maybe some Polish, and no English even in “important” ie touristy jobs. Plus police corruption is rife. So we needed another day to prepare.
We found a nice scenic road in the most south-eastern corner of Poland and headed there. The ride there was very interesting with the roads slowly getting worse and my sat nav deciding that we could manage even the most barely used tracks with a pillion and luggage.
One road started as gravel and then we came across a big mud puddle. Cat jumped off to walk ahead to see how the track was further up, and she came back with the advice of turning around. Another puddle further up, and then the track split into two barely visible grassy tracks both leading into a forest, and there was a signpost with 20 mins to the village we just came from, and 2.5 hours to the next.
But sat nav said we could get through, so I made the call. The track did get worse, and then turned into just flattened grass – we literally couldn’t see where the track went but got some great photos. So to all the Polish kids on dirt-bikes – please stop using the Garmin to upload your off-road routes!!
We only had one accident which was a hard fall and I bruised my leg. The left pannier came off but we think it’s got some sort of quick-release so it didn’t break. We eventually came to a gated path leading to a farmhouse, and we could see the tarmac road beyond so we opened the gate anyway and rode through. Apart from that we managed about 13km off road with full luggage!!!
We finally found the tourist route, and started thinking about camping, but signs and pictures along the road reminded us that there are bears and wolves in the woods, so wild camping was off the cards.
Luckily though, we happened across a very busy and very pretty town and saw a sign to “Tramp” campsite and headed down to find out it was a festival (local polish rock/folk music). So we initially thought tickets and stuff would be out of our price range but luckily we found an English speaking steward who helped us out so much and it turned out 2 festival tickets and 2 people camping with 1 motorcycle came to a massive………………..£8.00!!!!!!! Haha we were so pleased!!!
So we bought our tickets and rode into a busy campsite and found somewhere in the middle to set up. We had only been there about 2 minutes and a guy walked over and said hello, and invited us to join him for a and a sausage with a group of others around a fire they were having later.
The atmosphere was great and lots of people were walking past us looking at the bike and saying hi, especially those on other bikes like harley etc!! After we got our 5 star tent set up, we went for a walk around to explore. Beers were expensive at around £1.40 a pint!!!
We walked around the festival area, it’s no Reading but it was great with a few stalls and a main stage, then we headed into the town which was 2 mins walk away but also had 3 or 4 bars with bands on. There was a beautiful harley there and then there was what sounded like a blues bar so we went inside.
This was one of the coolest bars I have ever been to! As I walked in it was a total sense invasion of gothic art, and dark old school rock!!! It was so cool, devil paintings, menus carved out of bone, antlers all over the walls, torture equipment over sculptures of devils with wings and half naked vampires… everywhere you looked had something on the wall and there was no spare space. Plus it had the coolest saloon doors I have ever seen - they were small hairy creatures with horns, totally cool, I wish I could buy the whole place and stick it in a city, you would make a fortune!!
So we ordered our drinks in the usual point and hope manner and some of the others around us spoke a few words of English and tried to help. We paid the man with a 100 note and didn’t realise until we had sat down that he gave us 99 change! Now as much as it’s cheap in Poland that would have made our drinks around 25p so I cannot live with that and went back to the bar.
With the help of the same polish guy who helped me order, we pointed out, much to his surprise, the bartender error and he realised he had given us 2 £20 notes instead of 1 £10 one £20. So we corrected that and the guy was very thankful for my honesty, but we’re funny like that and feel if we hadn’t done it the next day somehow I would lose a lot more!!
The band was not playing until much later and we had just missed a set so we decided to head back down to the festival and get some food. There was a guy cooking the most wicked sausages, potatoes and pork chops in a huge frying wok, so we had that and then decided to head over to the fire area where the guys from earlier in the day had invited us.
When we arrived they all asked us questions, a couple of them spoke great English and so translated for us and the others who had questions about our trip. It was nice to be in a group and be socialising and understanding some of the jokes. We hung out there for about 2 hours just chatting and Cat managed to score some free from the bar (no idea how) and then it was time that the band was on in the gothic bar so we headed back there and watched them before having another couple of s (and another sneaky sausage and potatoes) at the festival and then hitting the sack.
It was a really really good night and a fantastic way to say bye to Poland which has been far better than we expected!
Ukraine, Romania , Hungary
Well to say the least it’s an interesting place.
The roads are TERRIBLE and VERY dangerous, not for any other reason than they are appalling, and they lure you into a false sense of security by being great for over for 10 km then suddenly mid corner they run out and become wacky paving or just a hole group of pot holes. And not small ones either - big enough for you to stand in to the point were lorries and 4X4s are avoiding them. So your speed drops massively, think we were averaging on open roads about 80kph.
The border took ages, but people were friendly and looking at the bike and asking as many questions as they could before we ran out of words!!! Once we were in the country we followed our sat nav, wisely choosing to stick to the “red roads” on the map, and not yellow which would probably be sand!
There’s not a lot to say, it wasn’t that pretty, some of the building are but Ukraine in most places was very run down. Anyway we were tired, and potholing is a fun but draining sport, so decided to stop at one of the bigger towns on our route – Ivano-Frankivska or something.
We found a huge hotel which we thought would be very expensive as it was in the middle of town, and they had two weddings on, but for this 4 star hotel it was less than £50 a night for a both of us with breakfast, parking and wifi included. BARGAIN!!
I unloaded the bike and for the first time we got quite a lot of attention. Guests from the weddings and other kids started to gather round the bike and take photos and one lad in particular was very excited and so I put him on the bike for some photos which pleased his mum and family.
After we unloaded we went for dinner at what looked like a supermarket, but lots of people were eating so we joined them. Basically, they’ve got a little cooker with some hot chicken and baked potatoes, and you can buy your drinks and sides from the supermarket, and then eat out on the tables like a picnic. Our half chicken, 3 baked potatoes, salad and 2 drinks cost only £3.00!!!!!!! Haha this country is very cheap!!
In the morning we slept in and then went down for breakfast late around 9.30am, did some internet stuff (but forgot to do some banking so now we are broke) then decided to head out (we would hit Romania later in the day). As we got more into the Ukraine, things start to look more “Russian” as Cat called it, especially the churches, in fact the churches are very beautiful and we often slowed down to look and if Cat was not on another planet at the time take some pictures.
Again I think we have been a bit spoilt with views and roads, and the ride itself was not that amazing, but we stopped for petrol and filled it up with over 21 litres and was pleased to be asked for less than £20, in fact I believe I worked it out to be £17.50!! LESS THAN £1.00 A LITRE!
I was very pleased, but the only problem we had was we literally went to 15 petrol stations trying to find the UA (Ukraine) stickers and in the end we didn’t find one, so we still need to get a UA sticker from somewhere. The other problem was we managed to lose Cat’s prescription sunglasses, but I’m sure we can get some more made up in Prague.
On a nice note, a businessman heard Cat asking for the sticker and tried to help her, then he came up to us after and chatted. He spoke good English and was driving a Range Rover Vogue (remember we are in the Ukraine). He gave us a Romanian sticker as we said we were going there next, and he also gave us his business card and said should we have any trouble at all either in Ukraine or Romania or if we ever come back to Ukraine give him a call as he would be happy to help us out. Afterwards he followed us for a bit and once he pulled over make a big point of beeping us and saying goodbye!!!!
Once we hit the Romanian border we went though the usual border control, they speak no English we speak no Ukrainian/Russian so its a lot of point to stuff and guess work. The border guard liked the bike (Ukraine side) and moved me up the queue and we got past the Ukrainian bit pretty quickly.
We joined the back of a long queue for the Romanian side, and the driver in front of me told me to go through. We said no, we will queue because in Poland the guy sent us back, but then all the others in front insisted we move straight past them so I nervously went toward the front. There were 3 lanes but only 2 open so I moved slowly along the 3rd until we got close to the front, then the boarder guard stood up moved the barrier and waved us straight through to the passport control!!! SCORE!!
As soon as we arrived in the passport control they guy did our passports while others waited, the customs guy looked over the bike, smiled, nodded and stamped the book thing and then they lifted up the barrier and we were away!! We were so pleased as what we expected to take a good 3 hours took about 1!!
As we entered Romania the roads improved straight away. We also came across some very pretty churches and some big houses. We were riding towards the mountains and could make them out like a cloud line. After about 40km we started to hit the odd town and the roads got a lot twister. The roads are not great to be honest, but they not that bad, and the towns are clean and much more modern than we expected. In fact so far we have been very impressed with Romania! People are very friendly and we get a lot of people looking if we stop anywhere at all. The mountains are so pretty and the forests very thick with trees, so it’s very green.
As we came over the mountain and down the other side, we stopped at our first hotel of the day (normally we stop at up to 10 to see how much they cost and the quality – mostly influenced by budget!!) But today we chose the first place, it’s very pretty with a large double room and for £20 a night it’s less expensive than a campsite in Western Europe!!
The next day started out on nice twisty roads again, but then a thunderstorm rolled in, and at one point, coming down a mountain, we were in fog so dense we couldn’t see more than a few meters in front!
At this point I feel I need to big up Rukka and our daytone and sidi touring boots. It pissed down today – heavy, big drops of rain to the point that I was crawling along twisty roads at 15kph and the only reason we did not stop was that there was nowhere safe enough to do so and a big Romanian lorry might run us over!! The Rukka gear kept us 99 percent dry, its excellent! And the boots kept our feet dry so I do feel the need to say that those bits of kit are excellent!
It rained pretty much the whole way to the Hungarian border. We had a little stop at the Merry Cemetery, in Sapanta, which has humorous headstones. They are all carved in wood and coloured, with pictures and stories about a person’s life, plus how they died. For example, there are pictures of people getting hit by cars or trains, and one man we saw had a picture of him as a doctor on the front, and on the back had him and his wife, and then a third women nearby with flowers!!! It’s all written in Romanian/Latin so unfortunately we couldn’t understand the jokes and stories, but the pictures were funny!
As we got to the border the weather finally cleared up, and we were off the mountains so we could see for miles and we were definitely heading towards the sun!
We had read in our iphone travel app that the border from Romania to Hungry often had queues of up to 6km long and the Hungarian guards were very strict about making sure you had all the right vehicle documents, including insurance which we don’t have (we have insurance, just not the documents).
So we stopped off at a supermarket and got some supplies to prepare for a huge crossing and wait. Well we arrived and there were no guards at the Romanian side, just an empty border post, so we drove through and joined the back of the Hungarian queue. It was definitely not 6km!!! but still a queue.
We have learned that often motorbikes do not have to queue as they do not have to go through such big searches as cars do. So as I joined the back of the queue, Cat went to the front and asked if we could move up seeing as we were on a bike. He waved us up, asked for the passports and the bike docs, so we gave them to him. He barely even opened the passports - just smiled at me, gave everything back and said “Bye Bye”!!
And that was it, we were in Hungary!!!!!!! EXCELLENT! So we stopped outside the border crossing and ate our rather unnecessary lunch.
But today our luck had not finished there.
As usual, we picked a random route and a random destination, and when we got close, and tired, we put “camp” in the sat nav and followed it to the nearest one. The campsite was off the road about 800m, and when we got to it there was “Biker” written on the road in a couple of places, which is not that rare as bikers often camp, but it turns out this place was privately hired by a Hungarian motorbike group called the Black Dragons, as they are having a biker festival this weekend!
We explained that we had found the campsite by accident, knew nothing of the festival, and just wanted somewhere to sleep for the night. Rather than turning us away, they said it’s fine to put up a tent, and when we asked how much, they said for nothing!!!! YAY!!!!
Cat went to the shops to get supplies ( and water) while I set up the tent, and then one of the main leaders of the motorcycle club invited us over to eat with them (they had cooked a huge pot of chilli con carne), so we gladly joined and got talking.
Two of the guys spoke English, so we chatted mostly to them and they translated our story to the others. Lots of questions were asked, and again Pakistan and Iran were talked about a lot!! Then they started to drink and insisted we join them - this included doing shots of Jagermeister and traditional Hungarian home brew (50% proof)!
The manager of the group was a MASSIVE fan of “‘Allo’Allo” as the only English he spoke was quotes from it. They love it in Hungary apparently and he was so pleased when he figured out that I knew what he was talking about. Also one of the English-speaking guys has family who lived in Perth, and he was blown away when Cat said she’s from there too!
They also insisted we stay another night, and they were trying to get us to come back for the Sunday of the festival which we couldn’t do as we have tickets for the Moto GP and we have been looking forward to it for months. They also gave us a Black Dragon plaque which we can stick to the bike and a gift.
So to the Black Dragon Motorcycle Club: thanks very much for looking after us, it was a great night and we really really enjoyed it!!
The following day we just relaxed – we had slight hangovers!! We watched a movie on itunes and just ate food! I have put on all the weight I lost in Morocco and have added about 5kg in 4 weeks!! It’s hard to eat well when you travel and you tend to eat a lot of carbs which is pretty bad!! But we also did walk to, from and around the town which is about a kilometre from the campsite… Anyway!
The following day we packed up, said goodbye to our hosts and then headed for Czech. It was a very pretty ride, through the north of Hungary, middle of Slovakia and into southern Czech. We stopped somewhere in Slovakia and had lunch on some straw bales as Cat has never sat on one before, so we rode into the field, found a nice place to stop and sat on a bale to eat our sandwiches!!
Bruno - Moto GP
Once we arrived in Brno we found the Radka campsite which we had booked in advance, but it was a little “sloped” so we went to others to see if they had space, but all of them were full too we went back to Radka and found some flatish space.
Its turned out to be great as there is a few English/Welsh/Aussie people camped right next to us, so each night we have ended up having a few s and sitting around chatting until the early hours. The northern lads we met are really nice blokes and on the first night I think we covered just about every subject you can imagine, they have a plan to do every Moto GP in the world and only have 2 or 3 left to do in Europe before moving onto the further afield ones so we are going to stay in contact and try to meet them in Phillip Island!
The Moto GP has been great. Getting our tickets on the first day was a massive hassle, and I was a little underprepared having gone though the same thing last year at Catalunya. I should have known what to expect!!
So we ended up having to drive back to our campsite and get the laptop so we could trace exactly who sold us our tickets, and once we sorted that we found a small grey hut tucked out the way between 2 bushes and got our tickets and we were in!
We went up and sat on the big banking which Mike had told us was the best place to watch from, it is excellent as you can see so much of the track and there is tents, food tents and toilets all near by. Friday was not so busy but Saturday was totally packed and the atmosphere was great!!
The Saturday we had a great day apart from our taxi ride there which was supposed to cost 400 KC and actually cost 800 KC as we were given an unexpected tour of Brno. We were pretty annoyed but when someone claims they don’t speak a single word of English what can you do!!
Lucky on Saturday we bought some s, a bottle of wine and food from the supermarket so we sat on the banking drinking and having a laugh all day, the atmosphere at Brno is great and the view is also amazing - I got some great photos!!
Each night when we arrived back at the campsite we would get together with some of the others staying here and sit around having a few s and chatting. The whole place was packed out with hardly space for a small tent left!! We met some Aussie guys on Saturday night who gave us loads of advice about biking in Oz, and we’re looking forward to riding out with them in Brissy.
Sunday was raceday and we knew it was going to be packed so we got up early and decided I was not going to drink and we would ride the bike there. So we arrived about 9am and it was already rammed busy!! The racing was excellent, but I have to say the Moto GP was a bit boring: the 125’s and the Moto 2 was far more interesting, I’m really getting into the Moto 2 this year!! Shame about Bradley Smith crashing out, but we’re glad Kasey Stoner won.
After the Moto GP we rushed back to the bike to get away quickly and decided to skip the Red Bull Rookies race, but what we didn’t realise was that the police had put signs up everywhere saying bikers would not be allowed to leave until 1 hour after the races had finished!
Well this went down like a poo sandwich and everyone was moaning, they barred the doors and had to get 4 police officers to block the exit. To begin with there was some small protesting and people moaning but after about 30 minutes it really kicked of with EVERYONE beeping horns and revving engines!! Plus 5 or 6 guys at the front were starting to get pretty annoyed and aggressive, but then the chief seemed to turn up and told them to let us out!! I must say the police were very rude!!
So I went to start the bike which it did, then looked down and blam petrol was everywhere, not good! So I had to push the KTM out then tried to see where the problem was, after some faffing I started to take the KTM apart and as I removed the fuel tank I could see it was leaking from the main fuel hose, only a small problem really but very annoying!!
Lucky we have AA European breakdown cover but really he did what I was going to do, duct tape (or dub tape, for Oli) and stuck a Jubilee clip on it, then I limped it home, it lasted for 5km before it started leaking again but I got it back to the campsite.
The following day the AA was going to come get the bike and take it to KTM in Brno, but I decided to call KTM and try to explain what was happening. Thanks to the guy who owned our campsite who acted as a translator I managed to tell KTM exactly what we needed over the phone and much to my surprise he said to cancel the recovery and he would come to us.
About an hour later he turned up with the new bit of hose and 2 jubilee clips. I had already taken the tank off so he changed the hose over then I said I would put it back together but he insisted he wanted to do it so I let him.
Then I asked him how much we owed him with a bit of a gulp, I knew it was a simple job but he had come out to see us so I was expecting him to make it pretty expensive… well it was 300 KC - £12.00 yes £12.00 so I gave him 400 = £15.00!!!
So thanks very much to KTM Brno, that was amazing and we really appreciate your help!!
So we thought then our day was done and as we had postponed our stay at Belushi’s in Prague until Tuesday, expecting the KTM issue to take all day, we just kicked back with a movie we had saved on the laptop.
About halfway through a girl came running into the campsite said something to us in Czech and we said sorry we are English, she then looked very up set and ran to a couple who where sitting outside their campervan and must have had the same conversation with them before running off, so we paused the movie and thought we better go see if she was ok. So we walked up the road and on the left there was a car parked out the way, and as we walked around we could see she had locked a baby and dog in it!!
Bugger! As we turned around, the other couple had also come out so we ran back and got some tools. I was just going to carefully break the window but the woman had a coat hanger, so I got my finger in the door and managed to pull it open enough to wedge a wrench handle in it, then the other guy stretched the hanger out and tried to reach the lock. He had about 10 goes but it wasn’t working and I thought I could see why so I changed the shape of the hook slightly and asked to have a go and bam managed to get it first time much to the young mum’s relief!!
Then we walked back and finished the movie! That evening we met another biker from Greece, who had been hit up the arse by a car and broke his fuel pump so he was waiting to get his bike fixed. We were going to have a BBQ but it rained really hard so we had to cancel, and we ended up going to the bar round the corner and having dinner there. He talked to us about Greece and where the different people on the different Islands are from, he seemed a bit fed up with Greece but it was very interesting to learn an insider’s perspective!!
Gambia in a C90 Will?? Now that will be fun, i would love to do SA to London........ who knows maybe i will carry on if i can raise some funds!!!
Prague and Budapest
Prague and Budapest
In the morning we loaded up and headed to Prague, pretty uneventful apart from we had someone pull out of a side turning very fast right in front of us, it happened so quick I didn’t even get angry, but I realised if I was 2 seconds earlier there would have been no way he would have stopped and we would be in big trouble. It’s a bit sobering when stuff like that happens to you on a bike and does remind you how vulnerable you are!!
We stayed at Belushi’s in Prague, its really really nice, more like a hotel than a hostel. We have WIFI in our room and our own bathroom. In our first afternoon of walking around, Cat managed to order new prescription sunglasses and I got my eyes tested as I have had some spots in font of my left eye, but my eyes are excellent apparently, only my left one gets a little tired but not enough for me to have glasses (thankfully!)
So Prague is very beautiful, there are lots of statues, big old buildings and churches and lots of history combined with lots of cafes and bars and a very laid back atmosphere. We did the free walking tour on the first day and it was really good, the Scottish guy we had was excellent so we booked onto a paid tour of the castle for the following day as well.
We ate dinner a few times in the main square. One night was at a great restaurant where their menu was a book, with one item on each page and a photo of it! (CAT) Took ages to decide! We also got to see what the Scottish guy called Europe’s 3rd most overrated tourist attraction, which was the Astrological clock on the hour. The clock itself is really cool, but the chiming on the hour is very overrated.
The tour of the castle the following day was also very good, but both myself and cat feel very toured and historied out now!!! The girl who ran it was Australian and had been living there for 20 years!! After the castle tour we went for a drink with some of our group who were also staying at out hostel, but they where leaving that night so we only had one before heading back to the hostel. We had dinner and a fairly early night.
The following day it rained all day, so we stayed in and watched a marathon of House episodes on the laptop. The rain cleared up in the evening so we ventured out to the Ice Age Exhibition which sounded cool but was a bit crap then got some dinner and headed back to watch the Karaoke at our bar for a bit!
On the Saturday, after 4 nights in Prague, we packed up and headed south, to Budapest through Slovakia. We stopped just outside Prague to visit the Bones Chapel in Kutna Hora . It was also smaller than we expected but pretty amazing: 40,000 skeletons all decorated into different displays. Really creepy and odd!!! It didn’t seem to be that busy until a coach turned up and 50 OAPs got off and started shuffling around, I think we timed it just right!!! After this we headed to Budapest on the motorway, boring but the best way to get to Budapest in a day!! (600km)
Buda and Pest
Budapest was HOT, no air con in our room and it was 38 degrees for the 3 days we were there!! But as we arrived and unpacked we found out it was Hungary’s National Day and they were having fireworks on the river, a bit like London on NYE.
We found this out as we were in the main area at the hostel chatting with the others in the common area. We decided to go to the river as a group, so we grabbed a on the way, and then went for a drink after too.
The next day we went for breakfast at a great little café 2 doors down from our hostel, I was enjoying a good latte, and the girl from the group last night turned up. She told us she was having a day at the spa baths and get a massage and nails done. I could tell by Cat’s face straight away that she wanted to go and I knew she was wanting a good massage for a while so I suggested to Cat she went with her.
So the girls went off on their girly day and I went back to our room, got the camera and went for a 5 hour walk round the city. I really love the buildings and the statues and so I took lots of photos. I came to the main square and there was an Orchestra (a bit like they have at the royal opera house in covent garden square sometimes) so I decided this was a good place to sit and have a coffee and some lunch. After listening to them rehearse for about an hour I moved on and found not far away at the actual opera house there were salsa dancers all over the street dancing. Again I watched for a bit then Cat text and said she was a hour away so I wandered back. It was nice to have a day of just wandering around!!
I had picked up a flyer, and the rough understanding was that at some point that night the Hungarian National Orchestra was playing a free concert the square, so about 8pm we ventured down there and It was VERY busy. We wanted to eat, so we explored the restaurants along the edge of the square, they weren’t “cheap” but throw in a free concert and we thought it was a good deal! Just as we arrived at a good one 2 people paid their bill and left and we got a pretty good table with a view of the stage. We had a great meal and few drinks and chatted whilst the music played, all the TV crews were there filming and we came to the conclusion that it must have been due to it being their National Day the day before, and the atmosphere was great!!
The only downside to this whole experience was the heat. It was muggy and really hot, too hot to sleep and there was no air con in our room. On the third day, having had 2 crappy nights sleep we just had a day of chilling out watching house on the laptop, and we also decided to was time to move on, for no other reason than it was far too hot!!
We have also decided we are definitely going to meet the London to Taskent guys in Turkey. We wanted to ride from Istanbul to Baku in Azerbaijan with them, but I don’t we can get visas for AZ, so we’ll just get to Tbilisi in Georgia. It will help raise some money for charity, plus it will be great to ride as part of a group for a week or so!
Romania and Bulgaria - The Top Gear Greatest Road In the world
So with a plan to head towards Romania and see the Bears cave and Dracula’s Castle we made our way out of Hungary. The road out was fairly uninteresting, a mix of good and bad tarmac, but the funny thing is, well it showed me how oblivious Cat was! As we went along the highway, every now and again in a lay-by or truck stop their would be 1, 2 or sometimes more girls dressed like they were going clubbing in a hot climate. I was a bit confused at first, then it clicked.
I then said to Cat, do you keep seeing the hookers on the side of the road? No, Cat said. I said to watch and you will see, so at this point both of us were unsure as it wasn’t HUGELY obvious, but at 11am they had either had a really long night or were open for business. Anyway the next lay-by we came to confirmed our suspicions as the girl was wearing slightly more obvious attire in the form of a thong and stockings and see through top. Cat was gobsmacked and could not believe this was going on, on the side of the road, at 11am on the main a road, and as we went along we saw more and more, I think Cat got a few photos. It is very sad to see once you get over the initial shock!!
As we approached the border the girls were no longer at the roadside so we guessed we must have been getting close to Romania. We came to the border point and the guard was very quick to just wave us through on the Hungary side. We hit the Romanian border and the guy stopped me, asked a couple of questions about the bike, and when I went to give him the passports, he said no, off you go, have a good journey!! So again a nice quick border crossing!
Soon we found the Bears Cave, after going the wrong way to the entrance and riding right through the middle of the market and stalls!!!! The bears cave was very interesting and is one of the prettiest caves I have ever been to. Plus it’s got Cave Bear bones from back in the last Ice Age (they got trapped in the cave by an earthquake and ate each other – the cave wasn’t discovered again until 1945!) so it actually made for a very worth while visit. Even though the tour was in Romanian, a girl did a little translation for us which helped!!!
After we finished the tour we needed to find somewhere to stay as it was getting late. We followed our sat-nav towards our next destination, looking out for a hotel or pension along the road. The options were pretty limited but we saw a sign for a couple of pensions down a 2km road, so we headed that way. We ended up in a fairly decent little place, I think we were the only guests. We had steak and chips and chicken and chips, 2 pints and a glass of wine plus our accommodation for £25!!! BARGAIN J
We then moved on towards Bran Castle in Transylvania. We weren’t expecting much as we read in the guide book that it wasn’t that good, but it’s Dracula’s castle so you have to see it!
On the way we passed lots of very old wooden churches and it was unreal that they had stood the test of time given their fragile state. We also passed one or two vulgar GOLD churches which I found disgusting when you look at how some of the people in the community are living. They’re not slums but they are still poor.
Once we got through the city we soon came to a big mountain range with some good roads, then it led us into the town with Dracula’s castle. We parked up and took our bike gear off and put shorts on as it was a fresh 34 degrees still at 4pm and we headed up to the castle. It was actually a very interesting place, not so much from the blood sucking point of view, although they did have a lot of information about how vampire stories and the Dracula theme developed, but also from it being a very pretty castle. I could hardly fit through most of the doors, which had Cat laughing at me and at one point there was a secret staircase where I had to walk both ducking down and at a slight angle up and my shoulders touched the walls and my head on the ceiling!!
The following day, thanks to our travel agent Smurf Tours (aka Gaz), we headed back round to the Transsomething (Transfagarasan) Highway which was on Top Gear a few years ago and was voted best road in the world.
Getting there the roads were anything but the best roads in the world - they were rubbish with huge pot holes and gravel and cars on your side of the road and general madness. They were possibly the most dangerous surface we had ridden on, to the point where a couple of times the bash plate was hitting tarmac and I was losing the whole 21 inch wheel in a pot hole, very dangerous! I did quickly learn to lift the front end a little which was helpful!
Once we started to get to the beginning of the highway the roads slowly got better, the views were excellent and by the time we got to the dam area it was fantastic!!! The roads got very good but the surface was very hit and miss so no hero stuff, just enjoying the road and views, and as we got to the mountain pass we were very pleased to find out that a beautiful new surface had been laid so I opened the KTM up a bit and had a little fun: nothing too mental as I only made Cat say wow and let out a nervous laugh twice.
It was a lot of fun, once you got to the top you could look down the other side and see for miles: it was a fantastic piece of road easily in my top 3. The ride down was as fun as the ride up and once I hit the bottom I had a big smile on my face that soon disappeared as I realised I then had to get on the boring A roads and motorway and get into Bulgaria.
One interesting thing we saw on the motorway was a horse and cart full of logs, broken down with a flat tyre! So we did a u-turn, pulled up next to him, and communicating with sign language, managed to blow up his wheel with our electric tyre pump!
Border crossing into Bulgaria was no problem, just drove through both sides, but had to wait about 20 minutes for the river crossing, as the bridge was only one way. We drove over the Danube for the last time and Cat stood up to get photos. It was pretty big considering it was near the end of its run, and we had seen it as just a little trickle all the way west at Donaueshingen in Germany.
As soon as we arrived in Bulgaria things changed, it was a very different place. The outskirts of the towns had lots of big grey 70’s and 80’s style council housing that was very run down but once you got into the towns it was very beautiful and had some very pretty buildings. It was already dark by the time we came to a town and found a little hotel on the outskirts to stay. It was a very modern and nice room with WIFI, our own bathroom, and breakfast for about £30, plus the 5 star hotel across the road parked my bike right at the front doors for a small tip!!
That evening we wandered into the town and saw it was a lot nicer and busier than we expected. The restaurant we stopped at was busy and even had an English menu, and the menu had just about every food you can imagine on it!! After a good feed we headed back to sleep, and on the way back we could not believe how busy the town was and how many young people were going out drinking.
In the morning we woke fairly early and we drove right into the town on out way out it was even bigger than we thought and was a very pretty place with the old stone wall still in tact along with some very old looking buildings including a medieval castle. I had a long day to do on the bike with a little over 700km showing on the sat nav, so it was time to crack on!
Entering Turkey Heading South - Then A Accident
After about 200km we came to the Turkey/Bulgaria border. We got no special treatment this time and we did find things to be a little backward. You would queue up, get to the front, then be told you need to buy a visa at a different window, so you would do that, queue up again to get the stamp, get to the next window and be told you need to get insurance at a different window… you get the idea. So even though it wasn’t busy and Cat was being very proactive it took us about 2 hours to clear the border. The most annoying thing about the border was that everyone was very nice, and they weren’t purposefully badly organised, they just were!!
As soon as we had cleared the last checkpoint, we went to turn the ipod on, and realised that I had left my phone at the other border gate, whilst waiting for Cat to organise the insurance. I was ready to leave it but Cat insisted we drive back, and she convinced the exit border guards to let her back in so she could look for it. It wasn’t where I left it, but luckily the other ladies had handed it in and we got it back no problem.
Once we were in Turkey I heard the call to prayer and realised how much I had missed it. That might come as a surprise but it’s something I really genuinely love hearing, such a very mellow, different sound and it gave Turkey a very Morocco feel. In fact now I have been here a few days its very Egypt v Morocco in general!
After we cleared the border we had about another 300km to do before we got to Gallipoli. The good news was the motorways and roads in Turkey are excellent and the driving is not too bad, with the odd exception of the odd nutter, normally in a high powered 4X4 - I saw one guy go up the hard shoulder up the inside of a lorry on a 4 lane motorway, I was doing 140 KPH he must have been doing 190 and he came very close to hitting the lorry!!!!!
As we came to the coast the roads got very twisty and for the first time in a month we could see the sea! We were both jumping for joy and larking about as it was very hot and the idea of a swim was great for moral on a long day on the bike like that.
Soon we reached the Gallipoli spot and had a walk around the beach cemetery, then we road up the dirt track to the main Australian memorial, Lone Pine. It was about 5:30pm, so it was a lot cooler meaning we could take our time without melting too badly!! Once we had an explore we rode a different way out which meant we got to ride past a lot of the other memorials including some of the Turkish ones. It was an amazing place to have had such a battle and you could see why so many lives were lost on both sides.
On the ride into the town, Cat realised she had lost my phone. Properly this time. She put it on the pannier to get onto the bike, then forgot to pick it up from the pannier and it must have slid off. But I can’t be too mad because I was ready to leave it behind at the border anyway. I guess it’s not meant to be!
As we headed back to the main town it was getting late, so we stopped at a hotel and again got a good deal and again they could park the bike right in front of the doors, so we then headed in and showered before going out for dinner. It was very very very windy but we walked down the sea front to a very big and busy looking sea food restaurant. Turkey is not as cheap as other places, accommodation is not too bad but food, drinks and fuel are not as cheap as we expected – fuel being about £2 a litre!!!!
The following day much to my joy we had a big day on the bike but it did include a trip to the ancient city of Troy! We crossed over the Dardanelles Strait before stopping at Troy. It was much smaller than I expected but still very interesting, then we had a big 450km run down to the beach resort of Kusadasi.
It was really nice here, I really liked it and it gave me time to catch up with my diary and have a coffee, Cat went to get some sun whilst I caught it up. Then we went for a nice walk around the bay and relaxed. Then we realised the football was on so we went to a bar and started having a few drinks. It was happy hour cocktails all day so we basically managed to get hammered. It was a lot of fun though and we needed to be hammered to watch arsenal take a 8- 2 whipping by man u!!
Obviously the following day we were fairly hung over so we just relaxed and recovered.
The day we left we had a long day, stopping in Ephesus on the way out. It was jaw dropping, a massive city of ruins, bigger then anything I thought I would ever see. We spent a good 2 hours walking round but we didn’t take a guide, there were so many people there by the time we left we just wanted to get out of there.
After Ephesus we headed to Bodrum to visit the underwater archaeology museum, set in a huge castle so we got to take a big walk round the castle and see all the recovered shipwrecks. It was really interesting but I was very conscious that it was already 2pm and we had 450km to go to Oludeniz, the famous Blue Lagoon of Turkey.
We arrived in Oludeniz about 7pm, it was getting dark and the place was packed out. We tried to find a hotel and found out that nothing was available as it was Eid, the festival at the end of Ramadan. We ended up going back toward Fethiye where after much knocking on doors we finally found a hotel about 5 minutes walk from the harbour area, about 9:30pm. Tired and a bit grumpy we headed out to explore and were pleased to find a good restaurant and have some great food.
The following day we headed down to chill out at Oludeniz. It’s a very beautiful place BUT as it was the Eid holiday it was packed, packed to a point where you could hardly move between people, but we got some good sun and I swam out to the island and back which killed me and made me realise that the only problem with a bike trip where you’re on the move all the time is that YOU’RE not actually moving too much! But I figure from here onwards food is gunna become more scarce and nice restaurants will be replaced with markets!!
We had a nice day, but it was far too busy so we decided that evening over a and some more good food that we would move on sooner than we had planned. So the following day we got up and headed for Pamukkale. We woke late and missed the hotel breakfast, so we found somewhere that did English breakfast and as I hadn’t had one for a month we decided it was a good idea.
We only had 250-ish km to do so there was no real rush. We left after breakfast at about 1pm and headed out of the town. After about 70km the roads were being worked on and there were big diversions for about 15km at a time, often onto gravel or sand roads. We followed the signs for Denizli, but soon we seemed to be off the bigger motorway or main road and be on a well signposted but much smaller road. We had taken a wrong turn but as it was well sign posted and we were still seeing signs for where we wanted to go to it was not a big problem. The road kept climbing up and down mountains to about 1300 meters high, the roads were very twisty but good.
As I came down a pass there was a good straight bit of road before a right hand turn, the turn was tight so I moved out to look around it as best I could and there was no sign of anything coming the other way. As I moved into the right hand side of the road to get myself lined up for the corner a truck suddenly came into view, but at this point I could only see his right hand side, and to my horror he was on my side of the road.
I moved the bike back out thinking I could get past him on the wrong side of the road, he suddenly saw me and tried to correct his road position, I then tried (all under breaking) to get back to the curb again and bam we hit the van head on.
I went flying over the handle bars and onto the deck, as I hit the floor and came to a stop I heard Cat scream, so I jumped up thinking **** she’s hurt but she was screaming my name as she was worried I was hurt. Turns out being on the back she basically witnessed me summersault over the front of the bike whilst she somehow fell off the side.
Luckily we were both ok, adrenaline kicked in and straight way I ordered Cat to take photos, so she did. The bike looked a mess and your brain runs into overtime, there was a bit of oil, fuel and a lot of other liquid running down the road which I thought was coming out of the bike – turns out it was coming from his van with only a small amount of fuel coming out my bike - but the front wheel was smashed in.
I was guessing the forks were bent and knew it would cost thousands to fix. The guy got in his van and moved it and I moved the bike out of the road. The police were called and people kept stopping and asking if they could help. A retired policeman stopped and spoke ok English and he helped us out. It was at this stage we found out the guy was trying to say I was in the middle of the road. I was furious, and it took me a while to calm down, but hey ho us bikers always get the ****ing blame so there’s nothing different there, I was just glad Cat was ok and I was ok. I was not going fast and lucky neither was he otherwise it would have been a lot worse.
The police turned up and started to take statements and ask questions, they got an English speaker on the phone and used him to translate for us. We remembered we had taken photos straight away, so Cat got the camera out (it was at this point we noticed the dent in the front of that as she was wearing it on her wrist.) and the police were not happy - they where throwing arms around and having a go at the other driver in Turkish, he was still protesting but the police dismissed him because they could clearly see his road position from the photos, and the woman he was with started to say oh no oh no oh no. I was still really pissed off and was saying as little as I could.
The police arranged recovery of the bike and took us and the bike to the closest town. They asked if we wanted to make a report and then explained that even though they could see we were in the right, in the eyes of the law you cannot move the vehicles from the area, once they have been moved the police take a neutral view and it comes down to insurance companies decisions.
At the police station they prepared a report for us and added our photos and theirs to it. They then helped find us a hotel, and got quotes for bike transport to other cities if we wanted it. They were so friendly and so helpful I have to say they were far more professional than most of the English police I have ever had to deal with, yet they had half the equipment!
Once we got to our hotel it started to hit home, we were gutted, but it was late so we got some food and just crashed out.
In the morning we woke up sore, both on our bodies and emotions, I felt I could have done more to avoid it, Cat told me to stop being silly. It could have been so much worse – we are both walking and talking. We decided to go outside and start taking a proper look at the bike through fresh eyes.
I started to dismantle the front end of the bike, and I thought the forks were bent and I noticed the ignition barrel was about half an inch to an inch closer to the dash. But as I took bits of fairing off I could see that it was a fairing bracket and a sub-frame arm which had bent. The wheel came off and I salvaged the brake discs and other bits, I took the forks off and checked the compression and made sure there were no marks of any stress or damage.
I then took all the front fairings off and slowly bent the front sub-frame and fairing bracket back into a normal-ish place. It was good news, the wheel was badly damaged but everything else seemed to be useable. I went over the rest of the bike, checking for cracks and leaks but everything looked good so I started her up and ran her for 10 mins. Again went over it and checked for leaks and everything was fine.
Whilst all this was going on various people turned up at the hotel to “help”, they all chatted together and asked me questions, they called people and soon a guy turned up in a van and insisted I go with him and bring the wheel. As I expected they could not repair the wheel but they did say they could get me a new one. Situations like this happened several times over the next 2 days, but they kept trying to get me a wheel made for about 200 euros, they didn’t understand that I needed an ACTUAL KTM wheel not a cheap copy!!
The following day – very sore - we woke with a mission to get us and the bike to Istanbul. It wasn’t easy getting things sorted as we were in a tiny town, so we started calling car rental companies. The Turkish guys turned up again trying to help – but they always go with the cheapest option and were trying to get me to cargo freight it, and get us on a bus, but I kept telling them no and we were getting a bit frustrated.
Then suddenly we started to get call backs from rental companies and one of the hotel owners called a private taxi guy and asked him how much to take us and the bike to Istanbul - he 1200 lira so about £400 but its 800km and with petrol prices at £2 a litre it was a good deal and about £300 cheaper than any other option. So he went off and got the seats removed from the back of the minivan, I took the forks out again and the screen and handle bars off, he turned up about 2 hours later with some car tyres and about 4 guys and we loaded it in - it just fit, with only about an inch to spare!!!!!!
So we had a deal, and he came back the next day, we packed our luggage around the bike and set off. As we’re writing this, the sun is setting, we are about 150km in, somewhere in the middle of Turkey, and we’ve just had a yummy lunch by the roadside of homemade cakes, bread and watermelon. It’s nice to sit back and enjoy the view for once.
We should arrive in Istanbul about 8am.
We arrive in Istanbul to Spormoto, the KTM dealer and importer for Turkey, at about 6am, and it doesn’t open until 9am so we have to wait around. While we are there I put the front end back on the bike and Cat does some of her diary.
At about 9.30 a guy turns up and opens the shop. They have had 6 days off so he had a lot to do, but he started looking for my parts and arranged for a company called Kickstart to come get the bike and service it as they did not have a service centre. He said they will be there between 10.30 and 11 to get the bike but as a lot of people had time off over Eid, the roads were packed and he didn’t turn up until 12.40pm. Cat had left as our driver from Denizli was getting a bit pissy waiting around so she had gone to the hostel, who again thanks to booking.com didn’t have any booking for us, but lucky they did have a room.
The news on my end to begin with was not good, The computer was showing one wheel in stock but they couldn’t find it anywhere. They told me it takes over 2 weeks to get a new wheel, to which I replied I could get one in 2 days from the ever helpful guys at the KTM Centre in Hemel as they were happy to send one out. It was at this point I was horrified to hear that in Turkey there is a tax on everything for motorcycles over 250 CC - another 37.5% on top of all the normal taxes and VAT!!!!
So even if I could get a wheel out it would get stuck in customs. Mustafa kept saying “but don’t worry we will sort something” and then carry on working, as if I had known him for years and he had always sorted me out. Haha, I needed to know WHAT we would sort out, and he would reply “don’t worry”, but of course I was very worried.
In the mean time other customers were coming in and I met Kemal Merkit, the famous independent Turkish Dakar rally racer, who was very helpful and told me he was off on a rally for a few days with one of the owners of Spormoto.
Soon Kickstart turned up with the van and took my bike to the service shop. Whilst this was happening the owner turned up and found the illusive wheel so that was one problem down. But a new problem had cropped up and they could not find a rear tyre, but again told me not to worry as they would “sort something out”.
So that was all I could do today. Very tired from our overnight journey, I asked how to get back to the hostel and was writing down directions when another customer asked if I would like a lift as he was going across the river anyway. He was a Dutch guy who lived in Turkey and had a company there, he was a really friendly chap and he drove me back to the other side of the river and gave me nice simple directions to the area I wanted to be in. I got on the subway for about 4 stops then got a taxi to the hotel before just crashing out.
In the evening we got up and went to the main street around the corner from the hostel. We had a few drinks and some food and just relaxed, it was nice to feel like a tourist again after some crazy days. We were still 4 days away from the charity riders meeting us in Istanbul and at that stage we were 90% sure we wouldn’t make it!!
On Tuesday we did the touristy stuff – the Grand Bazaar first to buy Cat her Iranian outfit, and get our visa photos taken. We then did the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Underground Cistern. We were told the Iran embassy is open all day, but on Tuesday afternoon we discovered it was only open Mon-Fri 8:30am to 11:30am. NOT the only completely wrong bit of the info we got from the “helpful” guys at Big Apple Hostel. (“I am Iranian, I know it is open all day, but not Fridays” “Well, there’s a big sign on the door saying otherwise, so you’re wrong.”) Very annoying to have lost a whole day in the visa application process!
We also confirmed details for our Carnet – we had already posted the documents to them from Hungary, but told them to hold off on taking payment until we confirmed we were definitely going ahead. So we called them on Tuesday afternoon, gave them the address for delivery, and tried to pay over the phone. Firstly the credit card wouldn’t work because Barclays hadn’t received the amount we paid onto yet. Then my regular card didn’t work because it was a London transaction and they know we are travelling. Cat had gone for a massage, and had the card reader in her bag, but luckily she walked in when I was still on the phone, and suggested transferring the funds into the still open StreetPR account and paying on that card. Perfect! Should arrive no later than Thursday afternoon.
That evening we met a really nice couple and another guy and we all went out for some food together. Paul knew the area as he had worked there a few years back and we had some great food in a real locals café that was dirt cheap!! We then went for a few s and some shisha near our hostel. It was really nice to spend an evening chatting with good people after our stressful week.
So we tried the Iran embassy again on Wednesday. We already had our visa approval number, so we had to fill our applications forms, pay money into their bank (which was a mission in itself because we couldn’t pay in dollars, only euros or lira, so we had to get more cash from the atm, but Barclays had again randomly blocked my card!) and then line up again to hand it all in. We taught Turkish people what a queue – I think it really was invented by the English because no other country does it!
After all that, we were given a receipt slip and told to come back Saturday!! This meant it was all over, the charity group were planning to leave Friday and we would not get our visa in time. We also noted that the embassy was not open Saturday so we pointed this out and the guy behind the counter said “No, come before Saturday.” I said “Tomorrow?” he said “No, after tomorrow”. “Ok, so Friday?” “Yes.” What a round-about way to say that!! So the new plan was to pack the bike and leave Friday morning if we could get the visa at 8:30am.
After this, we did some more touristy bits and went to see the Topkapi Palace. We met a lovely American woman who attached herself to us in the queue, and it was great to have a third person to wander around and comment on the sights with. It was really interesting to see the Harem in the palace grounds, and the collection of jewels.
In the afternoon, everything fell into place with the bike. I went back to KTM center to sit and wait and make sure they were working. (Work looks like tea-drinking in Turkey!). They had taken a set of tyres off a display bike (thanks guys) so I had the rear, they gave it a full service and even a forks oil change to check the condition of the forks, which was perfect! So it was ready and I was able to ride it back to the hostel that afternoon. All in without the wheel which was 540 euros, it cost me 600 including a front and rear tyre, so not too bad, but the accident has put a big dent in our hard saved budget. And on arrival back at the hostel, our Carnet had been delivered a day early!
On Thursday morning Cat decided it worth a walk up to the Iranian embassy on the off chance the visa was ready, the worst they could say was no! At the same time I had been on the phone with the charity guys, and they had arrived in Istanbul last night, a day early, so were planning on leaving Istanbul this afternoon, half a day ahead of schedule!! I was on the phone with Alex saying we were not going to be able to make it but we would ride over and say goodbye, when Cat turns up with a big grin on her face - we had managed to get our visa, 2 days earlier than they told us it would be ready!
I called Alex back to find out where they were. We packed and checked out of the hostel a day early, and headed over to their hotel! Half way there we had to stop to go to the post office, which lightened our load by 3.5kg. Whilst I was waiting for Cat, Alex called and said they had decided to stay another night after all. So we ended up booking a room at their hotel, meeting up with everyone and having a few drinks and a swim in the pool!! Perfect way to relax now that we had everything in place.
That afternoon we took the group to the main area and we had a great meal on a roof top bar, we also walked around the old town and looked at the blue mosque and other areas. In the evening we all headed out for a few drinks, (some had more than others!) and the food was also very good, Martin particularly enjoyed his impromptu Pina Colada Pizza!
We had some more drinks and cake on the roof bar for Sparky’s birthday, then it was off to bed (after abusing the hotels high-speed internet to download two more series of House and some movies and new music), as we had an early 8am start.
Meeting the London To Tashkent Charity Riders and Heading TO Georgia
So the next morning we woke up and left Istanbul in 2 groups as the 3 BMW riders had to collect their bikes from the service and were going to catch us up. We rode out of Istanbul as 4 bikes and it was nice to be part of a group straight away, stopping for a healthy Burger King breakfast!
The ride was pretty uneventful as far as the roads were concerned and by lunchtime the BMW riders had caught us up. We rode until about 5.30pm before stopping and getting food and drink supplies in a small town where we got lots of attention. The one thing about being a large group is that you stand out a lot more, so we were surrounded by kids and people looking at the bikes. After we left the town we rode about 15 minutes before going down a dirt track and camping in a clearing in the woods. I took charge of fire duty (and Cat took charge of making sure no-one burned the campsite down – you know who you are!!!) and the others cooked food and distributed drinks or collected wood for the fire, it was a good atmosphere and everyone chipped in.
That evening we ended up getting a little drunk and had a good chuckle. In the morning we woke thanks to someone’s phone alarm as they can sleep though an earthquake (no names, but you still know who you are!) and some strange noise in the distance that was getting closer. It turned out to be a curious shepherd with his sheep and goats and dogs, followed by another shepherd about 30 mins later with cows. A couple of us went looking for some dirt roads while the last few people packed but there was not a lot about and even though we found a huge gravel mine we got told to go away by the guy at the gate who was less than impressed!!
As we headed toward Georgia the coast road slowly got more interesting, and was still a very good road. I run out of fuel at one point but managed not to hold the group up for too long - the one down side to riding as a group is the delays, it’s not a massive issue but it was noticeable for us as we have been riding for so long as a solo couple.
On one of the mornings we went to try get a trip up the mountain in the cable car, but it was not open until 10am and we needed to get on the road, so we headed back to the hotel to eat breakfast. As we saddled the bikes up and got ready to go, Mark and Paddy presented me with a special award for the continuation of our trip - their piece of hose so I could cipher fuel out of another bike if I ran out again!
The chuckling pair enjoyed giving myself and Martin (also on a KTM) grief as they were on the BMW’s, which are admittedly the better bike if you only ride on the motorway, if you’re boring and draw a pension! Anyway that day the roads and views improved even more and we made our way towards Batumi. It was also this day that Sparky ran out of fuel, on a BMW!! And Mark (also BMW) whilst not concentrating turned his BMW into a bowling ball, lucky for everyone he’s not very good at bowling otherwise we would have been in serious trouble!!! (we had all braked for the red light which Mark didn’t see, so he came flying through us with about an inch to spare and cut the red light too!)
We arrived at the Georgia border behind the BMW’s, just after Mark’s attempt at 10-pin. We all got the stamps and the bits we needed, but for some silly reason they mucked mark around and he was getting pretty annoyed. I think it was stress and the near death experience he skillfully escaped the previous hour, anyway in the end we got it all sorted thanks to Cat running around with handfuls of passports and paperwork, and the others saw there was one big advantage to having a pillion at borders.
As soon as we crossed into Georgia it was different, lots of people were around and we regrouped. Paddy warned us about the drivers in Georgia and then we moved off as a group. Much to our surprise the drivers WERE as bad as Paddy made out, and probably the worst we experienced so far, cars pushing among us and trying to force you off the road was not that uncommon. After about 100km we reached Batumi: the hotel was fantastic and the city was very beautiful.
After we sorted our rooms and had a shower we all met in the hotel bar, Paddy had some champagne already ordered from one of the sponsors Bagrationi. It was really nice and then soon we had a second bottle before deciding we needed to go get some food. We went to a local restaurant and the food was excellent, Paddy ordered lots of bits for everyone to try. We loved the khachapuri (melted cheese bread) and sashlik (roasted meat on a big metal sword/skewer).
We also had a couple of bottles of wine and after the food decided to go to a bar. We found a great bar with a live band, that had a fun atmosphere but at the same time we could hear each other speak. We were all drinking and talking and even having a little boogie! After several vodka-redbulls we all wanted to clubbing, but one of my flip flops broke so I was wearing one flip flop and one of Sparky’s socks. Not surprisingly we got turned away from our first club of choice, and had to settle for the “classy” Discorama underneath our hotel.
We all had a good time as a group but we were surrounded by young pretty girls and older gentleman, it was very strange and then Cat was taking photos of us dancing and got told off by a doorman and was told that in this club there was a no photos policy, so we realised what this club really was!
The following day was a right-off for some reason, maybe it was the massive hangover! Cat headed out shopping to buy, I’m not really sure what, and I slept most of the day. We were keen to meet Levan (our sponsor) when he turned up but he arrived when we were already in bed.
The following day we woke, went to breakfast and saddled the bikes up. We met Levan for the first time and his private security. The plan was for us to follow Levan’s security van so we would not have any problems on the roads. At about 2pm after riding through some beautiful Georgian countryside we came to a stop in a small village. We were amazed at how friendly the people had been, some wishing us luck as we passed, some taking photos and cheering and in some villages it seemed like they knew we were coming through.
Levan took us to his ancestral home in the countryside, and we were welcomed by his family members and shown around this beautiful old wooden house and into the main entertaining room where a huge feast was laid out. It was the best layout of food I have even seen, I was blown away, Levan was a fantastic host and he told us about his family history, and his involvement and passion for his country. He was a truly different and inspiring character. The food was great, about 14 people ate and drank and they told stories and made lots of toasts and when we finished it hardly looked like we had had anything to eat even though we were all stuffed.
Before we left, we added flags to our bikes, but most of which broke off before we made it to our final destination. The afternoon ride to Tbilisi had more people on the roads waving and cheering as we passed and we found out we had been on the news the night before as well.
As we approached the city of Tbilisi, there was a huge number of bikers and a couple of TV camera crews blocking the hard shoulder and inside lane on the motorway. We were waved in to pull over and approached by lots of people asking us how we were and congratulating us on our journey. We were told after about 5 minutes rest to get ready to ride into town, and at this point there were well over 120 bikes riding with us, the TV crew and various photographers.
It was crazy riding with wheelies and tooting and flags getting caught in wheels (we arrived at the factory with 4 flags and 5 empty flagpoles!). We rode for about 15 minutes before being ordered to the front of all the bikes by one of the camera vans. We soon came to a huge building that was very beautiful and had a fountain out the front, which turned out to be the Bagrationi Champagne Factory. There was a large crowd waiting, there was a stage, drinks and even fireworks went off as we entered, it was amazing! Journalists were everywhere asking questions and lots of people congratulating us. Sparky then borrowed someone’s bike and did a small show and showed how clinical and skilful he is with any bike. We then went inside to be presented with medals, and to give a $10,000 cheque to the charity. At the end we were all given big bottles of beautiful Bagrationi champagne which we sprayed over each other before drinking!! It was a truly unique experience and the day was not over yet.
After chatting with lots of people, taking our photos and having a few more drinks we were then told to go with Levan to the Sulphur Baths. The men were separate from the woman, but this was also an excellent experience. We soaked in the natural hot water before getting a traditional Georgian rub down, we had them privately so we got to have a and a good chat. After the baths and feeling very invigorated we headed to Levan’s beautiful steak restaurant - the only 5* restaurant in the city, WOW was this good food, we drank ,we ate, we all had to give a speech and it was another fantastic evening, before Levan walked us back to our hotel in the city after midnight.
The following day we woke late as we mucked up the times and had not changed my watch over since we entered Georgia. We rushed breakfast and eventually found our way back to the Champagne factory to collect the bike, then using my ever helpful skill of just knowing roughly where I am, I found my way back to the restaurant but missed the first 20 minutes of the Georgia V Scotland rugby game, which was meant to be our final group event before we went our separate ways.
I ordered a coffee and watched the game whilst Cat went outside and chatted with Claire. After the game we said our goodbyes to everyone and Levan reminded us we said we were interested in going to visit one of his schools for the opening day the following day, but we had forgotten and we could not get anywhere to stay so we decided to move on but its definitely something we feel we would love to do in the future.
After we left the group we rode out towards the border on a route Levan had told us to take, the roads, views and scenery were fantastic and some of the best we had done on the trip. Georgia had been a complete surprise and a fantastic experience, every single person we met was so friendly and both myself and Cat have said we would go back to Georgia for a holiday!
That night we stayed in a small border town in a small motel, the chain on my bike was playing up and I discovered I had a tight spot, so I spent some time fixing it. We had our dinner bought to our room and we had a big room that was very clean even if it was not that modern. Cat really liked it, and it looked like the owners had given it lots of thought, even though it was still cheap.
In the morning we headed out to the border and back into Turkey without any problems. It’s the same route our Charity friends look last year and they warned us, but just to let them know, the roads were not too bad, and the last 20km to the border is brand new tarmac roads, much better than the muddy gravel we were expecting! Once we entered Turkey we headed to Igdir, stopping there for 2 days and just relaxing, taking some time off the bike to get prepared for entering Iran.
After two days of rest, we made our way to the Iran border, Cat in full long-sleeves and headscarf and under her bike gear.
As we got close, near Mount Ararat, we saw another biker, so I decided to pull over and see if he was ok. He was but he was just stopping to take some photos. His name was Tony and he was from Austria about to do a 1 month tour of Iran. After a 5 minute chat we decided it would be good for us to ride together for a couple of days as we were heading in the same direction and neither of us sure what to expect.
As we got to the border there was a huge queue, none of the signs are in English so it’s a bit of a guessing game as to what queues you have to be in. So after splitting up and joining various queues we started to figure it out. It took us 40 minutes to clear the Turkey side as there was a large queue of foot passengers and we weren’t sure if we had to join them, but we did, and of course they don’t “queue” so it’s a lot of holding your position and not letting them cut in from the sides.
Once we got to the Iranian side we were pulled to the front and side of the queue, which was for foreigners with vehicles, I guessed. We handed our passports over and the guy disappeared for 20 minutes telling us to sit and wait. Just as we started to worry he turned up with the passports and told us to move on, we then had to get the carnets sorted so we moved up a door to the next area.
This area was very busy, lots of people saying they could help us, and this is where Morocco came in handy. I had seen it before, not on such a big scale but it’s very difficult to see who works for the government and who takes advantage of any situation going to get money out of people. The rule of thumb we go for is if they’re not sitting behind a desk they don’t work for the government, this means sitting at a computer, not standing in the same room, wearing a similar suit or standing behind the desk.
They took the carnets away and we waited around again, they knew what they were doing as a lot of vehicles from Turkey had to have carnets. So as we waited, a muscle-y looking guy and the guy in the suit approached us and said come with us, I said no I’m waiting for my carnet, they said no problem we will bring it out to you, I said no I will wait, they started to almost apply pressure and I just looked him in the eye and said I’m not going anywhere until I get my carnet.
The guy in the suit said I work here, I said I don’t care, you don’t have my carnet, he then gave me a dirty look and walked off and bothered other people. Tony stood beside me, I couldn’t tell if he was used to it or not but having gone through it before I’m not doing it again. So the muscle-y guy hung around and soon his intention was clear, he wanted us to change money with him, which we had already done before we got to the border, he tried to tell us he was an official changer, but who walks around with pockets full of cash at a border?!
Once our carnets came back the guy needed to look at the bikes, he came out, looked at them and then the guy in the suit appeared as we got to the bikes, the guy handed over all the paper work and the guy in the suit said something to him and then he asked us for 30 euros! I laughed and said no, he said you must pay 30 euros for help, but I said no way and we moved on.
We got out of the border and hit what we thought was a road, thinking we were all done, but then we got to another gate, a big security-looking guy stopped us and asked for our paperwork, caught a bit by surprise we gave it to him, he said we needed assurances (insurance) and we had to walk with him to the other building.
So myself and Tony went while Cat looked after the bike. We walked about 200m and then got to an area where there was a bank, as we came into the building he said I want 20 euros, I said no, he said to help you I want 20 euros, I said no so he threw our paperwork back at us and walked off. He was not a security guard even though he was standing at the door of the hut as we approached it!! So we went into the bank and after a lot of back and forth finally got the all clear to leave…………… we were finally in Iran.
The world felt different in a big way, you will see we do not have as many photos of Iran as we have of other countries, especially scenery shots and this is because you have to be very careful what you take photos of, you do not want to make anyone think you’re a spy or working for the government. It would be easy to get caught out because there are army dugouts, anti-aircraft missiles, launchers trucks and lots of other military stuff all over the place, right by the road.
The first thing we did was decide to get some food, so we stopped at a burger bar, ordered 3 burgers and 3 drinks and it came to about £4 for massive burgers! After a good feed we decided to move on and I wanted to get to Tabriz for the night. We had about 300km to do and I led the way.
Once we got to Tabriz it was very difficult to find our way around. My bike overheated and played up for the first time, it had got hot before but never this hot, and it started to flash warning lights so I had to turn her off and cool her down for a bit. We got some help in the form of a local student who showed us where the accommodation was that we had read about. Cat went and looked at it whilst Tony and myself waited with the bikes, we attracted a really big crowd of people looking at the bikes and asking questions.
Cat came back and said the place was a total dump but was less than £10 a room, but she said it was really horrible, so we decided to look for something else however we needed to wait for my bike to cool down properly. It was at this point one of the guys who spoke English said he had a kebab house just around the corner (15 meters away) so we parked the bikes outside and went in to get some food. The burgers were good again so after some food and a chat, the student said he knew where the better hotels were.
We followed him out the town and got to one of the hotels, Cat went inside and got price quotes, it was about 10pm by this point and everyone was getting tired. It was expensive but our options seemed limited, Tony’s room was going to be about $80 and our was going to be $120 which was way more than we wanted to pay, but we decided it was fine for 1 night as it was late. We unloaded the bikes and went in, the guy then tried to charge Tony for a double room claiming no single rooms were left, but the place was half empty and why would you quote a single room price 5 minutes earlier if no single rooms were left!
Cat was really angry and the guy was very rude and didn’t give a shit if we stayed there or not. So we decided to leave and find somewhere to camp. The student said we could camp in the local park but I was pretty against the idea as I imagined what would happened if you tried to camp in hyde park!! But what I seemed to miss was that it was a very done thing in Iran, in fact camping in Iran is a very popular thing. So once we go to this park there were lots of people in tents camping and socialising. We found a spot and set our tent up before helping Tony and then crashing out. We were all tired and a bit grumpy after a bloody long day and I felt like I wish I had done less mileage!!
The following morning we woke about 8am after a much better nights sleep than expected. Tony was also about at the same time so we packed up and got on the road. He told us that at about 4am the police had turned up and hung around for 5 minutes but not that long and they did not bother us so we guessed it was curiosity more than anything else.
Today we were planning on crossing the mountains towards the Caspian Sea Coast. The ride out was excellent, the roads in Iran are good, even though the drivers are totally mental - I have now developed a theory that if they drive a Peugeot 405 GLX then they are wan***s! Anyway we headed out towards the coast, the road was very fun and the tarmac was very good apart from one bit with potholes all over the place, and when we left the motorway there wasn’t actually a slip road, so we followed a truck along a dirt track, down a very steep sandy hill, under the bridge, and back up the other side to join the a-road.
We climbed up and down the mountain side following Tony and since most of the signs were only in script, we stopped to ask for directions a couple of times. On one occasion a nice guy came up to us and insisted we take a whole melon each (which we later had for lunch) and with a big smile he said Welcome to Iran!
As we moved closer to the coast the clouds moved over the roads and visibility got down to about 5 meters. This lasted for quite a while until we came out the other side and slowly made our way down the mountain. The roads were again excellent with lots of twists and turns, however I was taking it easy as after our accident in Turkey I’m very cautious of people being on the wrong side of the road so I often hug the outside line to leave plenty of space.
As we came down the mountain we lost Tony in traffic and after about 20 minutes we came around a corner and there was lots of people in the road, our hearts were in our mouths as for a minute we thought the worst but lucky (well lucky for us) it was 2 cars, one had obviously come round the bend on the wrong side of the road and hit the other, lucky everyone seemed to be ok.
We caught up with Tony as he had waited at a set of traffic lights further up. We then decided to head towards a coastal town as there were signs on the map for Hotels. We rode into the town and found a small 3 star hotel, but they wanted 60 dollars a room which was a bloody lot, and more than the locals price of around 40 dollars (Cat could read that on the board) again the place was empty but the guy did not really want us there, so a bit annoyed we moved on. It seems that no-one really wants tourists in this country.
We decided to get some food before finding somewhere to camp or another hotel in a closer city. We saw a nice looking restaurant and we pulled over and spoke to the guy, he spoke a little English – odd words, but with Tony’s translation book we were getting somewhere. We ordered some food and asked the price, we double checked then triple checked how much he wanted, using fingers to show the prices - 40,000 for me and Cat each, 30,000 for Tony. We had chicken kebab and Tony just had vegetables and rice.
We had our food and the drinks and they had said we could stay there for 11 US dollars in one of the huts, but I felt it was no better than the tent so I was prepared to just move on, they then said they had some “suites” but for one reason or another Cat could not stay there so Tony went to look and came back and was happy to stay there, even though they changed the price for the suite, now it was 25 dollars.
I was happy to move on so we handed over our 80,000 rial and went to leave, then guy then came over and said we owed more money. At first we didn’t understand because we had definitely confirmed the price, and reminded him that Tony hadn’t paid his 30,000 yet, so that’s probably what they were waiting for. But he was claiming he had said 70,000 each which was total rubbish and is more than we have paid for food anywhere!!! We refused to hand over any more money and a small argument broke out, we were already on our bike preparing to go and they kept asking for more. Cat started to lose her patience again, and even I was getting to a point where I thought I better either give him the money or leave, so I fired the KTM up and drove off.
I was so angry and at this point decided I just wanted to get the hell out of Iran, it’s a shame to say that now, as you will read, but our first 2 days had not been anywhere near as good as we hoped. In addition to not feeling welcome by hotels and getting ripped off, I have missed out the fact that when we filled up with fuel they always tried to keep the change, it’s just constant silliness but we were made to feel unwelcome and always on our guard.
To maybe put it in context, if we had lost money to everyone who tried to take it or demanded it in those 2 days it would have come to about 80 euros, a huge amount when you consider our actual expenditure was about 25 US dollars a day including food, accommodation and petrol.
So we hit the road and was planning on getting to Tehran. It was 450km away and we weren’t going to get there until 11pm-ish. I pulled over by the road side to adjust the chain as it was making a fair amount of noise (it had developed a tight spot), and pretty quickly we were surrounded by 5 or 6 cars and people taking photos and chatting with us, offering help. The chain fix only took 5 minutes, but it took us about 30 minutes to finish taking photos and leave. It was the first time anything like that had happened and some people had given us their numbers and said to call if we had any problems, which was very nice, but we were still a bit unhappy with the country in general.
After about 80km we got stopped by the police, but all he wanted to do was look at the bike and have a chat before wishing us well. About 7pm the bike started to play up for the first time, getting to about 120kph then slowly dying, then I would turn her off restart her and she would run fine again until but slowly she would die again. I stopped and filled up fuel then the bike ran great again and I was convinced it was just a shitty tank of fuel as I had a similar problem in Turkey.
About 10pm we came to a large town called Qazvin, it was very modern looking and Cat could see a large building with colourful lights which we thought might be a hotel, so she looked Qazvin up on the travel app and it said there was lots of hotels in this modern city so we decided to head towards the building using my homing pigeon (Cat’s is a crack addict and doesn’t know which way to go down a one way system). I have now been asked to point out that her butterfly is very good and that it spotted the flashing lights in the first place! Whilst this is true, once we got there it unfortunately turned out to be an apartment block not a hotel, but the city seemed nice so we decided to continue looking for a hotel.
As we were looking and waving to people and saying hello to other cars and bikes, a big white 4X4 big American thing beeped me then stuck his hazards on and in English asked if he could help us. We pulled up and said we are looking for a hotel, he said no problem follow me, so we followed him around the corner where we pulled over and he met his wife. We were looking at a dodgy doorway and thinking oh crap this place looks like a dump I hope we are not going to get ripped off again, then his wife came over and introduced herself and said did we want to stay with them? We of course said we didn’t want to put them out, but they insisted and said they had had travellers stay there before, they seemed really nice and genuine straight away so we said ok and followed them.
We were still in the centre of the city when we pulled up outside a large building that had 5 floors. We parked the bike inside the garage then got in the lift. We went up to the 4th floor and were then taken up to the “guest floor” which was a flight of stairs above. The place was beautiful and we found out that Ali was an architect and in fact owned the whole building, all 5 floors, and he has his parents, brother and cousin and family on the other 3 floors below.
We got changed and went down to their apartment - wow what a beautiful place! They were so friendly and welcoming and we talked about travel and Iran. They introduced us to 2 of their friends and they were very modern Iranians and it was nice to meet people who were real Iranians and see how similar they are to any other successful 30 somethings anywhere else in the world.
They then said we should go eat and offered us fast food or traditional, we said we did not mind but traditional was always welcome. We then headed out into the city and came to a large restaurant with tables outside. In Iran, all the restaurants have seating on large bed-type sofas and the food comes out on one big plate and everyone helps themselves, like at a picnic. More people arrived and more food was ordered, we all chatted and ate and we felt a lot better and relaxed and we felt really welcome. After the food they refused to let us pay anything and we headed back to their apartment. We went up into the guest floor onto the outside area and smoked hubbly bubbly and chatted until about 1.30am before we headed to bed.
We had a great night, and after a couple of crappy days it made us feel like we might give Iran more of a chance. The next day we got up at 8am and we were a little tired, but they gave us a Redbull which went down a treat and then Ali insisted he drive out and put us on the right road to Tehran.
The road was crazy, a motorway but drivers who only wanted to wave or take photos would get so close to us we often had to tell them to back off. We would often overtake a car only for it to come 3 minutes later flying up behind us flashing us and forcing us over to then wind down windows and everyone be waving and taking photos!
At about 200km the bike started to play up again in a big way so we pulled in for fuel. We filled up and the guy tried to keep 10,000 Rial (1US dollar) but it was costing us 100,000 a tank that’s about 26 litres for £6.00!!!! We then moved to the main rest area and decided to share some ice-cream to cool down and take a small break. We sat on the pavement in the shade and we must have looked like really poor travellers, all dirty and sharing one tub of ice-cream, that a random guy came over with 2 cold sandwiches for us, said “Welcome to Iran” then got in his car and drove off! Very unexpected but the gesture was just a very genuine and welcome one.
So we finished the ice cream and decided to save the sandwiches until our next fuel stop. We had skipped Tehran (didn’t want to deal with the traffic) and were headed for Isfahan. We got on the road and the bike ran well for about 100km then it started to play up, as it would not go faster than 120km and then it would sit at that speed before slowly dying. I would turn it off turn and back on again then I would get 50km, then only 30km and it would slowly get worse. We filled up again about 40km our of Isfahan, and I closed the external tank wondering if it was air getting in from there. The bike ran to Isfahan and started to play up a bit in the town but we soon found a good hotel for a good price about 35 USD a night, and we were able to park securely in their garage.
Isfahan was nice, we spent one day just relaxing and one day doing a bit of sight-seeing. We were getting a fair amount of attention but it was a very pretty city. I also called KTM and Rob and talked through the symptoms of my bike and they gave me a few things to check, so I went over the bike and did the checks. I looked to see if all the fuel tanks were open properly, checked to see if the coolant had any oil in, and to make sure there was no water in the bottom of the petrol tanks but everything came up negative and so it was still a mystery.
The following day we got the bike ready to roll and left the city. We were a little worried about how far we would get but we were holding out hope that we would make it to Bander Abass the port which we needed to get to in order to get the ferry to Dubai.
About 150km in the bike started to play up, we stopped and filled her with fuel and waited about 30 minutes before moving on. This time she ran well for about 100km before starting to play up so I pulled over and filled up again, but this time as we tried to move away we made it about 200 meters before she konked out and stopped running. I turned her off then on again but she just started then as soon as I tried to move away she would die again. Argh crap, my heart was in my mouth, I really really did not want to break down in Iran I would choose any country but this one as getting parts and help was gonna be nearly impossible!
We limped back to the petrol station and I started to take the bike to bits. I could see nothing wrong with her and even checked to see if the air filter was blocked or if there were any kinks in the fuel lines. To begin with people stayed out of our way but slowly a crowd of people gathered around, pointing and trying to say things to us.
After about 30 minutes a young woman and her family arrived and she spoke pretty good English and started to translate. After deciding to try to hitchhike on a lorry we got a sign made up and everything, but the woman insisted we stay with her and her family in Shiraz which was 130km away. By this point it had been over an hour and a half and so we moved the bike on. She lasted about 60km before dying to the point were I felt I had to move stop, it was not good.
The family had been following us and so pulled in behind us. Again they waited with us, offered to buy us food and even when we insisted we were happy to wait on our own they still insisted on staying with us, saying they had nothing to rush home for and it was the Persian way to stay and help. Again in the rest area people came over, one guy offered us some melon and when I said no thank you he looked really confused and I remember you’re meant to accept everything, so instead I smiled and myself and Cat took a slice even though we weren’t that hungry, and 5 minutes after this someone turned up with apples and insisted we take one each as well!!
After another hour it was dark and the bike had cooled down so we made the last dash for Shiraz. To cut a fairly repetitive story short, after a couple of stops for 10 minutes in Shiraz we made it to the house of the family. The living room was very pretty and even though the house was not on the scale of the place we stayed at in Qazvin it was a very beautiful family home, they made us feel very welcome and after looking at photos we all sat and ate some food, (on the floor of course). They kept apologising for the food as they were saying they did not have much in as they were coming back from a holiday. But they didn’t realise how much we appreciated being rescued and getting fed as to be honest we though we would be sleeping by the road side, which was not particularly dangerous as in any service station there was always people setting up camp in the evening, but it was not as fun as having a roof over your head and some food in your belly. One thing we ate with them that we really liked was flatbread with soft spreadable cheese and sesame seeds, very yummy and we’ll be making that at home!
We got about 7 hours sleep and woke about 8am. Myself and Cat knew what we needed to do, so we got straight to it. We needed to get a man with a van or truck and get to Bandar Abbas where we could get the ferry, so we had breakfast and discussed options with the family. We’d had offers the night before to go to an area in Shiraz where they fix bikes and they claimed they could fix the KTM, but being to close to Dubai and knowing that it needed to run for another 30,000km before we get to Australia I decided it was best to try get someone to take us to the port in case the person fixing the bike did more harm than good.
They family rang a haulage firm and said it would be about 3.5 million Rial ($300) to take us to Bandar Abbas and that we could leave anytime. Looking back we should have stayed in Shiraz a couple of days and done some sightseeing but we had read on the internet that the ferry went Saturday, Monday and Wednesday so we decided to try get the Saturday ferry. After a chat with the family we confirmed we would go meet the haulage firm and get on the road.
As we packed to leave the family brought us a beautiful gift of a prayer written in Persian, this was not the first gift as the night before they insisted we take some posters of Shiraz and various other sites of interest. But the prayer was made out of some sort of metal work in the traditional way, we were very reluctant to accept and Cat made sure she had another one before accepting (as it was the prayer for protection that every Persian family has in their home). Cat was really pleased with it and said she will put it in our house with a picture that was taken of us with the family.
We felt pretty bad as we had nothing to give back, so after some thought we decided to give them one of the medals that we got from Levan and Paddy in Georgia. It was a very nice gift as the medals meant a lot to us and it felt nice to give them something so genuine. They seemed to like it, especially as it had our flag on and we showed them pictures of us wearing them, and said she would hang it up.
I then went to the garage to pack the bike and I could hear her trying to give Cat more stuff but she flat refused, it’s the Persian way to keep offering you gifts until you refuse. It’s also a weird tradition that if you ask the price for something in a shop they could tell you to take it as it’s worthless, that does not mean help yourself though it means you have to put a value on it based on what you think its worth, it’s a very strange way of bargaining!!
After we got the bike packed the kids got a photo with us and the bike, the young boy in the family was really pleased to be allowed to sit on the KTM, something I have let the young lads do in the various countries we have been to if they have hung around enough.
We followed the family to the haulage company, and once we arrived the truck drivers were all around the bike and were excited to have such an interesting cargo. At this point something strange happened, we were preparing to pay $300 for the Toyota hilux type truck to take us the 550km to the port, the wife in the family was translating and they were sort of arguing amongst themselves, we thought it was over which driver was going to get the work, or whether they would let us pay in dollars.
So we were preparing to pay and the wife said to us “you pay $200.” It seemed like they had got us $100 dollars off, they did not say they had, only that the price had changed, so they must have been bargaining for us! So the driver was selected and off we went to load the bike onto the truck. Everyone was trying to help but I took over and made sure it was secured properly. We then said our goodbyes to the family and left cramped in the truck!!!
The truck journey was pretty uneventful; we stopped off everyone 200km and stopped in a small restaurant where we bought the driver some dinner. We arrived in Bandar Abbas at about 7pm and started looking for a hotel, we found a good one pretty quick and as we might be there for a few days paid a little extra to ensure they had wifi and BBC World News.
We ended up being stuck in the hotel for 4 days, and there is nothing to do here, it’s really just a big port. We found about 4 website with different info about the ferry, even speaking to different people gave us different answers! And as the weekend here was Friday and Saturday we had to wait until Sunday to get our tickets, we went to 2 places to get the tickets and even that meant lots of running around.
We have pretty much been confined to our hotel room watching House or Sopranos on the laptop, most the good websites are blocked, the hotel has a great pool but as woman are not allowed there, I was told by Cat I could go but in the way that says you will pay later if you do!!
The hotel service was pretty poor, the girl on reception was very good so we tipped her when we left, but when we got our bill in the morning, the prices for all the food were more than on the menus, this included the coke from the mini bar! Cat was furious as they tried to say there was a price increase whilst we were there but it didn’t make a lot of sense, and even their maths was wrong so when you added the bills up they didn’t even add up to the right figure by their or our maths, so Cat went all accountant on them, got out her pen and paper and gave it all a good going over.
The guy behind the desk looked nervous and I decided to stand behind her and just nod whenever she referenced my way, in the end they caved in and gave us a 15% discount on the entire bill, which was great as it meant we nearly got 1 night for free!!
We got the bike packed and left for the port, it was pretty easy to find and when we arrived it was not too busy. There was a lot of back and forths, and we went to 12 offices to get all the paperwork done, and after 4.5 hours we then had an 8 hour wait in the terminal.
We’ve been told this ferry was a real dump and to expect to share our chairs with cockroaches, so you can imagine we were not looking forward to it!! But in reality it was quite fine, the benches were long and cushioned so if you got a whole one you could sleep, and they served and ok dinner, and there were no screaming kids, or cockroaches.
It was a 12-hour crossing, but the water was calm so it was easy. When we arrived in Sharjah (the port north of Dubai) it was hot, and again we had to wait to unload, and then do a few more back and forths to clear customs. Couple of hours later we left the port, and just managed to get the bike to Jade’s place (my sister) before it started to play up again. It’s now in KTM getting a proper going-over, and should be all ready for the second half of our trip.
Our overall summary of Iran is one of 2 sides - it definitely has a lot of faces. Some of the people here are truly some of the kindest and friendliest I have ever met, on an individual basis, but there is a huge divide between the rich and poor – every time we have dealt with a hotel it has never been a great experience and it does seem to be the way that you don’t always feel welcome. Which is odd as most people are incredible, and I was totally taken back by some of the acts of kindness we were shown totally randomly. We’re very disappointed to have missed out on the last 4 days of sightseeing as I really felt we were starting to get used to the madness of Iran. It’s well worth travelling to but I highly suggest going to a more tame version first like morocco
Another fab read at breakfast time.
So glad you and Cat didnt come out too badly from your accident !
I was in Poland and Czech this year, also visited Auswitch, very humbling. On the upside I met James Blunt the singer, got his autograph and picture taken (he was impressed that I had rode all the way to Poland) and later with a group of Germans and Poles we got into his concert for free
Also did the church of bones, well I set the alarm off poking my camera thru the mesh grill... I just looked around with that look of innocence on your face.
The C90 ride is for the "Scooters in the Sahara", where when we reach Bansang the scooters will be handed over to the hospital and used by doctors and nurses.
Then in May 2012 I set off for my RTW trip on a slightly bigger bike, a Yamaha TT600RE.
Anyways, ride safe, looking forward to my next breakfast read
Geordie aka Will
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