September 01, 2011 GMT
Trouble in Istanbul

They sure know how to fly a flag in Turkey.

This was the first thing I noticed when I crossed the border. Huge flagpoles and flags that seem almost too big. Red with a white crescent moon and star in the centre. It really does stand out against a clear blue sky, flying confidently in the warm breeze.

I don't think I've seen flags quite this size anywhere else.

They are everywhere. Not always of the huge variety on a massive flagpole, but the flag is a powerful symbol in this country.

I like the Turkish flag.

On volunteering details of my planned route through Turkey, some locals were concerned about safety in the south east or the so-called Kurdish region. I had been aware of troubles some years back and checked for any current travel warnings. I could not find any.

Hearing the locals and knowing I was sticking to major roads and only riding during the day, I decided to stick to my planned route.

Certainly there has been more visiblty of the Jandarma, a rural branch of the Turkish military charged with the maintenance of public order, internal security and general border control. I have passed many small and some larger outposts and bases. They are easily recognisable and clearly signed. Each proudly flies the Turkish flag.

As I head west it seems the bases are dimishing. Perhaps I am heading out of the danger zone. I chatted about this with someone at the hotel in Mardin and he commented that there has been some recent troubles a little further east, causing a downturn in tourists in the area. Some Mardin residents have also chosen to leave the area as a result.

Tonight I turned on the tv and saw a report on protests today in Istanbul related to the same issues apparently causing the troubles in east Turkey.

A few weeks ago there were riots in London.

So where is it safe these days?

Could be everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Trouble can always be found if you go looking for it.

Of course there are places that are definite no go zones. Sometimes you can just be unlucky. Even with the increased military presence in eastern Turkey I did not feel unsafe. Much of it is probably related to border security as it is close to the Syrian border.

I'm so glad I came to this part of Turkey and seen all it has to offer. It wasn't on my original itinerary but merCan convinced me to go. And he was so right. I may still encounter some troubles but perhaps no more than if I were in London or Istanbul.

Either way I certainly won't be looking for it.

I have enough trouble navigating through the old cities to my nightly hotel. This kind of trouble will do me just fine.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:26 PM GMT
Mardin to Sanliurfa

My friends the coastal breeze and altitude are no longer with me. I'm on my own now. As a loaded the Family Truckster at 0930 this morning it was already over 30 degrees in the shade. As I got onto the highway to Sanliurfa it was 35 degrees and even at 2130 it is still 33 degrees.

I'm glad it was an easy riding day. The heat really got to me today. With only 122 miles (205km) travelled today I reached the hotel in Sanliurfa just after noon. Mostly motorway type conditions today along the vast plains of eastern Turkey. Other than my descent from Mardin there was nothing overly spectucular about the scenery today.

For the first time it was actually cooler to have the visor on my helmet closed. When open it was like a hair dryer blowing in your face.

No stops today. Just straight through. Enough petrol to get me there, just.

This could have been a mistake and I'll probably revise my hot weather riding strategy going forward. It is easy to dehydrate in these conditions. I rested in my airconditioned hotel room for several hours on arrival to get my energy back before exploring the city.

You also develop an odd facial suntan in these conditions. My nose and cheeks are red but around my eyes (shielded by sunglasses), my forehead and ears(covered by my helmet) are still relatively pale. My lips are sunburnt. Even though I apply sunscreen, sometimes several times a day, it is not enough. I've become soft living in the UK where there is either no or at best gentle sunlight. The sun here is every bit as strong as you find in Australia. It needs to be respected.

As with most of this country there is history in Sanliurfa. And the remains of a large fort on the hill in the centre of the old town. An oasis like park sits below the fort, including water features filled with sacred carp. It was packed today, every bit of shade inhabited by locals enjoying the last of a series of public holidays to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

A typical, labrynthe like market provided some respite from the hot sun.

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Over the next few days I head back into the centre of Turkey. I need to work out a better way to manage the heat. Luckily tomorrow is another low mileage day.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:33 PM GMT
September 02, 2011 GMT
Gaziantep

This is a big call but this could be the best place I've stayed yet. The hotel I mean.

I'm in Turkey's pistachio central where baclava flourishes and calories are not counted.

Need more clues? I'm in Gaziantep, the sixth largest city in Turkey and the home to some 180 pastry shops. This town is also played an imprtant role in Turkey's independence in the 1920's following the fall of the Ottoman empire.

There is a kale or castle and bazaar, famous for its copper workers, shoe makers and multicoloured spices.

To tell you the truth, I've probably had my fill of markets and castles for the time being, but these were fine examples, as good as any I've visited. And a bustling city centre also - there were people everywhere.

The baclava was very good. I'm still yet to taste it from one of the finer establishments but this on my "To Do" list. It is no more than 20 metres from the hotel.

merCan recommended this hotel to me. It is also in the Lonley Planet guidebook. The entrance was a bit of a challenge to find as it in one of the tiny lanes, up a few stairs, just off the main drag to the kale. This was another park the Family Truckster job and walk to the hotel. I got close and the Turkish coffee I had while I got my bearings in yet another new city was great.

I had made an email reservation at Anadolu Evleri the day before. The email reply to my availability inquiry was prompt, personal and included directions which turned out to be invaluable. I immediatley felt welcome.

I pressed the buzzer at the external entry to the central courtyard and was greeted by Tim, my host. "Hello Brett". I didn't even have to introduce myself. I had mentioned in my email that I was on a motorbike and my riding kit is a bit of a giveaway even when the bike is not present.

Tim explained he was a biker also and showed me his secure parking area where his bike was garaged, proudly telling me he had done 100,000 km on it. Unfortunately recent roadworks had included guttering, making access impossible to the Family Truckster.

Tim had a back up plan and after the assistance of his staff to help gather my luggage, my guide hopped on the back and directed me to a nearby Oto Park.

Minutes later I was shown to my room. Wonderful. Tasteful. Comfortable. Understated but not minimalist. Old but not in a museum like way. Functional but not modern. My room is decorated with an old fashioned typewriter and antique cameras. This is a traditional stone house and the central courtyard immediately takes you a million miles away from the bustling copper market barely over the road.

Tim is an excellent host. He informs me he is half Turkish and half American. His English is flawless. It seems there is nothing he wouldn't do to make my stay memorable. Everything seems so relaxed yet the attention to detail is apparent. He has a rare skill and the staff echo his style. This is very boutique to the point where I feel as though I'm being welcomed into a good friends home and invited to stay the night.

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Another great find on my Turkish adventure. Sometimes it is the stunning landscapes, or the ancient architecture, sometimes the history going back several millennia. And let's not forget the people and their warm welcome. Each day is a different combination and a bit Forest Gump. You never know what you're gonna get.

Here are some images from Gaziantep.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:54 PM GMT
September 05, 2011 GMT
Gaziantep Part 2

Dining in many parts of Turkey is a vastly different experience for me. The food is great and the service most attentive. Great value for money. I've had some wonderful soups, mezze platters and kebaps. But there is a different emphasis on the dining experience.

My experiences have made me wonder if the Michelin way of determining great restuarants is potentially flawed, perhaps even encouraging snob value over value for money.

Don't get me wrong. I've dined at some Michelin star restuarants and they have been great experiences. The attention to detail is apparent. Everything is just right. But does it need to be so right?

A quick Google search did not reveal any Michelin star restaurants in Turkey although there may be some. Or at least there should be.

I dined at a superb restaurant in Mardin (Cercis Murat Konagi - this place had everything I would ever need from a restaurant). And another in Gaziantep. It was rated highly by Trip Advisor. And I was not disappointed. The food was excellent and complimented by perhaps the finest pistachio baclava going.

But this restaurant did not serve alchohol. Many in Turkey don't. They were even scarcer during Ramadan. Accordingly there is an apparent emphasis on quick service, great food, in and out quick so the next diner can have your seat/table.

Why bother to have diner's linger if they are not drinking expensive wines? Much better off getting someone else in to spend their money on the food.

Now I like a nice wine with my dinner, but, as I have learned in Turkey, this is not an essential part of enjoying a meal.

Nor is the decor.

It was interesting to read the Trip Advisor reviews of Imam Cagdas, my restaurant of choice, and highy recommended. Some claimed it looked like a high school cafeteria and seemed taken aback by this.

And this is not a bad description of the place. But it did not detract from the quality of the food - it was packed from late afternoon. In some ways it added to the charm of the place. And the baclava was of world class. I think my meal was over and I was payng this bill within 25 minutes of sitting down. It's amazing how reasonably priced a meal is when you do not have the cost of alchohol added to the bill. Water is not expensive. I was completely satisfied and my wallet was lighter by less than 15 euros.

This gets my star.

In the morning I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at Anadolou Evleri and I shared with Tim my immediate travel plans. He suggest a couple of alternative routes. First going north. Then when I head west again following the coast sooner than my original route.

The first suggestion proved spot on and I had a much shorter and more enjoyable ride than I had prepared myself for.

But nothing could prepare me for the absolutely incredible, utterly natural, timeless imagery that indulged me on arriving in Goreme.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:44 PM GMT
Cappadocia

This place is well known.

Although if you asked me where/what it is before I arrived in Turkey I'm not sure what I would have told you.

And it covers a much larger area than I'd expected.

I'd decided to stay in Goreme based on the info in the Lonley Planet guidebook.

Once again it was good advice. I must say I've found nearly all of the information contained within most reliable.

A hotel was booked before my departure from Gaziantep.

This area is at altitude. About 1,000m above sea level. So it was nice and cool also. But I think I passed through at the right time of the year. This place is apparently blistering hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. High's less than 30 but nice and cool in the mornings, less than 10 degrees, even now.

So everyone lives underground it seems. This helps regulate the temperature. My hotel room was in a cave. Kind of quirky and fun. The views from the hotel terraces were spectacular. I just sat there watching the colours change as the sun set on my first evening. This place is amazing.

I took more photos during my stay in Goreme than any other city I've visited on this adventure.

I even did two tours.

This is a very touristy area but Goreme handles it in a relaxed way. It's there but not high pressure. Take it or leave it. And all reasonably priced if you want to partake. And as well organised as anywhere in the world. They pick you up, drop you off, do it all. Almost too easy. Sometimes I at least would like to walk from the hotel to a central pick up point. You just don't get that much exercise riding a motorcycle.

Have a look at what greeted me last Saturday afternoon.

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More to come.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:59 PM GMT
Cappadocia Part 2

I didn't sleep well Saturday night. Not sure if it was because I was in a cave. When I woke up Sunday morning I was tired and ached all over. Every now and then my stomach would tie itself in another knot.

I'm not sure what brought this on. I'd hardly eaten all day. Nothing for dinner either. Just no appetite. Didn't even finish my wine.

The tour started ay 0930. I hoped there wasn't much walking today.

There wasn't luckily.

I've become a bit of a speed tourist these days. Probably another positive influence from P. I only need enough time to look, read something and take a few photos and then I need to be off to the next beauty spot or place of historic significance. Nothing to be gained by lingering.

If they'd given me a map of the route I reckon I could have done it on the bike in 2 hours.

The tour guide was excellent though even if a little repetitive. And the lunch was good - an all inclusive buffet, drinks extra. Not ideal for someone with a sensitive stomach. The salad was good though.

You know how there is always one guy on a tour who likes to take advantage of the "all you can eat buffet"? Well we had one. He went real hard. Had noodle salad with every plate full. Even desert. At least someone made up for my poor showing.

But the tour was good. I saw some things I would not have otherwise seen. The hand made, hand painted pottery was for me the highlight. This and realising how large the Cappadocia region is. Could have done without the winery though. The Goreme open air museum was also excellent. A Byzantine Christian monastic settlement built inside the volcanic rock formations, some chapels elaborately decorated with frescoes, and now defaced, eyes of Christ removed, all extremely old. Remarkable.

My return to the hotel was most welcome around 1630. At least now I could have a nap. Maybe I'll feel better when I wake up.

I didn't. Maybe a walk and some dinner and I'll feel better. Wrong again.

Back to the hotel and into bed early. A hot lemon drink and all wrapped up to keep warm tonight. Tomorrow is a big day. Got to shake this. Too much to do to have a sick day.

Here's my highlights from the day.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:21 PM GMT
Cappadocia Part 3

I enjoy writing this blog. Helps to keep me from becoming a total recluse. Connects me with people while I'm away. It's nice to receive your feedback. Makes me want to write more about my adventures. It's nice that so many people I care about are interested in my adventure.

Most nights the words come easy. Especially if the experience is worthy of description. Most days it is.

But there are other factors also.

An internet connection is a prerequisite. I have not stayed anythere yet that one has not been available. Mostly in my hotel room but in some places the hotel lobby or restaurant is my only option. It works best for me when I can write in the restaurant, starting about an hour before ordering and continuing after dinner, accompanied by some wine.

Distractions are welcome. Particularly if they are English speaking and interesting. Mostly the hotel owners or employees. Sometimes other hotel guests. It is always good to have a chat.

I'm always anxious if I miss a day that some of you my think I have had a problem, an accident even. This of course could happen. But maybe only start to get concerned if I miss three days running.

There's been plenty of my hot air put into these blogs. I think I've done close to 80 posts now.

Appropriate that today I let someone else provide the hot air for a change, and take me for a ride in a balloon over Cappadocia.

The day started at 0500 with a short mini bus ride to the ballon company headquarters to start the day with a coffee while all my fellow ballonists assembled. I felt good. My hot lemon drink and early night did the job.

Another short mini bus ride to the take off zone and we were in the basket and taking off just before sunrise. It was a perfect morning, clear skies and light winds.

There were heaps of balloons. Over 50 by my rough count. And up to 25 people in each basket. This is big business.

And spectacular too. Peaceful. Such a gentle take off and landing. Much more control from the pilot than I'd expected. Not even the burners were as noisy as I thought they'd be. And when they weren't on it was so quiet. 360 degree views, elevation changes, everything. I saw the sunrise about 5 times as we continually changed elevation. We went into valleys and at times seemed to float amongst the fairy chimney's, so close you could have almost touched them. Other ballons were close by too. We may have even touched another one a couple of times.

After an hour of flight we landed, right on target, with the basket straight on the trailer that would take it back to base. No dragging along the ground.

Champagne was on hand to toast the successful flight before we were taken by mini bus back to our hotels.

This was a great experience. It's nice to know these things need more hot air than even I have.

Here are some of my favourite photos.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:20 PM GMT
September 06, 2011 GMT
Turquoise Coast

Shortly after the hot air balloon touched down the Family Truckster was loaded and I was on the road again. South now, headed for the Mediterranean coast. Was a good ride too. An interesting combination of motorway and A roads. Scenic too. I enjoyed it.

I was headed for Tarsus. To a BMW dealer to be precise. The Family Truckster is due a 12,000 mile/20,000 km service.

The dealer was great. They had a look at the bike and assessed they did not have an air filter before committing to the work. They even contacted the next BMW dealer on my route to book me in, giving them a few days notice so they can have all the necessary parts on hand on my arrival. With luck this will happen on Thursday. Not too much more mileage to get there so a good result. I didn't really want to hang around for 3 days for an air filter to come in.

It sure is hot now. Back over 35 degrees. Unlike the Black Sea there is no cooling breeze coming off the Mediterranean. My strategy is to stop regularly and rehydrate.

Outside of Istanbul this is the most developed part of Turkey I've visited. A little souless to be honest. It's all a bit Gold Coast going through Surfers. Plenty of traffic lights and high rise. Intermittent glimpses of the water. Nothing to invite you to delve deeper, just motivation to get to the next town.

It sure is hot. But I want to push on this afternoon and have an easy day tomorrow, when I hit the coastal twisties.

I stop for a break and consult the Lonley Planet guidebook.

Hotel Yaka is enroute and is highly recommended. There is even a nearby offshore castle. I'll stop there for the night.

It didn't take me long to get there. It was much closer than I'd realised. But it sure was hot. May as well stop and check out the hotel.

Well, check out turned into check in.

And soon I was walking around the delightful highway/coastal town of Kizkalesi.

After an enjoyable walk I made my way back to the hotel to start blogging for the evening. I'd been quiet for a couple of days and had much to catch up on. I was greeted by the hotel's owner, Yakup. We chatted about iPhones and iPads and the merits of Android based tablets. I suggested he look at the new Sony tablet on the basis that Android would soon take over from iOS.

He told me about his nephew in Melbourne and other members of his family in Europe. They all sounded very successful. Yakup sounded most proud. He would like to visit them all but his mobility isn't what it used to me. Bad knees and a bit overweight. He figured there was little point visiting if he couldn't get himself around to see the local sights. He didn't want to be burden. I doubt he could be if he tried. He reminded me of someone I thought very highly of. Someone I miss.

I had a nice meal at the Yaka Hotel and after a few hours and some glasses of red wine from Cappadocia my blog was up to date. Yakup shouted me some watermelon. It was good too but at the risk of sounding fussy would have benefited from a few hours in the fridge before serving. Or perhaps it had been. Did I mention how hot it was?

Here are some images from Kizkalesi.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:49 PM GMT
September 07, 2011 GMT
Kizkalesi to Side

Today's mileage was not huge. About 218 miles (351 km) to be precise. My journey west along the Turquoise Coast continued. But today the tourist towns, high rise developments and sandy beaches were scarce. So was the traffic for that matter. But what there was of my fellow motorists today really got under my skin somewhat. In particular the buses.

It's not like the drivers were any worse that the rest of Turkey. Or should I say not as good? I don't think my comment will offend any of my new Turkish friends - many of them I'm sure would agree.

I think it was the heat today.

My problem with the heat starts right from when I put my kit on. It's heavy all this stuff and not designed for walking around in, particularly when it is 35 degrees. And this is usually the temperature when I load the bike. Luckily the loading procedure doesn't take too long. But long enough to work up a proper sweat. I get some relief when on the highway but overheat again when stopped at traffic lights or searching for the hotel at the end of the day.

Today was the Mediterranian version of the tight twisty roads I encountered when following the Black Sea coast from Amasra to Sinop (the road surfaces were probably better though). It took me 6 hours and 20 minutes riding time to cover the distance today at an avarage speed of 35 miles per hour (56kph) mostly on roads with a 90 km speed limit.

Tim had briefed me thoroughly on this, suggesting I'd average 35kph so I was happy with my progress. As with most roads in Turkey they are in the process of upgrading this road. This is another great ride which will be something else when the roadworks are complete.

But back to the source of my annoyance. I'm not sure why they paint lines on the roads in Turkey. It makes no difference. Cars, trucks and buses will use whichever bit of road they like. There is no respect for the vehicles which might be travelling in the opposite direction. There have been many occasions that I have been confronted by a car or bus half way over on my side of the road when coming around a blind corner.

Most times they just move over and there are no dramas. Today on a couple of occasions, buses in particular, did not move over. One time I was forced to take evasive action while the bus maintained its incorrect line. This was not great. It's not easy to change your line when cornering on a motorcycle. There were also a couple of overtaking maneuvres around blind corners where if not for me slowing almost to a stop the outcome would have been disasterous. No amount of flashing my lights or waving matters. The driver just gestures back to me as though I was in the wrong!

Side (pronounced See-day) provided the usual labrynthe of one way and pedrestrian only streets guaranteed to confuse anyone trying to follow a GPS.

Now as you all know I'm a big fan of any technology or gadget that makes motorcycle touring adventures more efficient or enjoyable. But once I hit these old cities the small paper maps within the pages of the Lonley Planet guidebook are a far better resource (except you need to memorise them before you leave or else stop in town and consult them). The GPS still does provide a map of the streets as you ride, even showing your intended destination - it's all but useless for directional assistance.

Another top tip is not to worry about pedestrian only zones and one way streets. It is a must that these be utilised to get to your chosen destination. No one cares. There are plenty of other motorcycles doing the same thing. Pedestrians get out of the way - eventually.

But not dogs. Not surprisingly, I did go the wrong way in Side and ended up in an Oto Park where I simply turned around and headed back out. On the way a rather large dog started barking viciously and then chased me and even attempted to bite my leg!

My first choice hotel was fully booked but they kindly made a call and sent me off down the road to an equally impressive location that could put me up for the night. The Kamer Motel was a worthy substitute indeed and the manager kindly found a spot for me to park the bike and even rang the BMW dealer to confirm my booking for the 20,000km service scheduled for Thursday. Though quite a touristy spot there was a nice mix of history and relaxed party buzz about Side. I may even stay another night.

I'm starting to get into the parts of Turkey where the Roman and Byzantine influence is more apparent in the remains of some extremely old buildings.

Here's what I saw on Tuesday evening in Side.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:50 PM GMT
September 08, 2011 GMT
A Day at the Spa ...

At noon I prepared myself for the short journey to the local BMW dealer. I was pretty sure I was booked in but there was only one way to find out.

What to wear? Could be a few hours sitting around waiting so I didn't really want to wear all my kit. And it was only about 4 miles to get there from the hotel.

I'd been sweating like a pig all morning. So much so I could have won the wet t-shirt competition, had one been underway, when I got to the museum. The walk there was no more than 3km. And there were no Solo Man impersonations with the two bottles of water I gulped down on the way. And it was barely 10am.

Against my usual strict conditions for riding a motorcycle I went in shorts, t-shirt and walking shoes. No motorcycle boots but I still pulled on my gloves and helmet.

If I'd gone completely native I would have worn thongs (flip flops), no gloves and a cap. Then I would have really fit in with the local standards.

It was sort of liberating, riding the short distance to the BMW shop in my version of motorcycle touring nudity. But I was quite timid all the same. For me, having the full kit provides me with so much riding confidence.

On my arrival the usual langauge barriers led to a more drawn out checking in process than would normally be the case. Initially they told me the workshop was full but they would see if they could fit me in. After much checking they finally worked out it was me who had booked the Family Truckster in for the afternoon. I'm not sure what they were looking under. I wrote down my name, the model and the registration number. Perhaps they have a different booking/indexing system, one that I'm not familiar with. Not to worry, within 30 minutes it was being taken into the workshop.

A couple of hours later they told me the rear brake pads needed to be replaced. Sure I said, go ahead.

But they were not in stock and it would take 3 days to get them in. We ascertained the current pads would be good for another 1,000km but I should take it easy. Can do.

I'll get them done at the dealer up the road in Izmir. So I emailed them and put them on notice. They have already replied confirming they have them in stock so this should be no problem. I'll let them know when I work out what day I'll be passing through.

At about 1730 the Family Truckster was ready, The afternoon at the BMW Spa had done it the world of good. As usual it was washed, and sparkling in the afternoon sun. Riding it back to the hotel it felt different too, it felt newer. Seemed tighter and happier in the traffic, no signs of overheating, although it was cooler at only 30 degrees.

It was almost the same effect that my visit to the Hamam had on me yesterday afternoon.

I can't wait to get back on the highway tomorrow.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:02 PM GMT
Antalya

I didn't really want to spend too much time in Antalya. I wanted to stay another day in Side. I'm not really sure why now.

It's probably because I had no choice about Antalya. This was where I had to get the bike serviced. No more choices about this. I like to do what I want to do, like most of us I guess. Not what someone else or circumstances dictate I must do.

This perhaps is flawed logic on my part.

There was no room available on Wednesday night at the Kamer Motel. I suppose I could have looked for another place close by. But I still would have had to pack everything up again. May as well move town.

Antalya was only an hour's ride west. There are plenty of hotels in the old city. With a population over 1 million there should be things to see and do.

And there was.

After the usual hassles of finding my hotel of choice I had a wander around. I'm glad I persisted this time. The Otantik Butik Otel is a great find. Very good value in a great location just near Hadrian's Gate (yes he came through here also).

This place is great. I like the narrow streets, the Ottoman style buildings, the volume of hotels and restaurants, carpet shops and other typical Turkish tourist traps, the history.

It's hotter here than Side. Or maybe just more humid.

I had a great meal at the hotel and some excellet local wine while I blogged the evening away.

After a great breakfast on Thursday morning, I made my way to the museum via the marina. The museum was far more worthy than my attention span, though I did read some of the information accompanying the exhibits. There sure is some old and interesting stuff here, covering many years of occupation by a variety of civilisations. You could really spend some time in here and learn heaps. There is plenty of history in the region. Some major sites that provided material for the museum. Mostly between Side and Antalya. Wish I knew that when I left Side. I would have gladly made a few detours.

If you are anywhere near here I recommend a visit of at least a day including the museum and a trip to Perge (17km east) or Termessos or Aspendos or Karain Cave.

Here are my favourite images of Antalya.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:11 PM GMT
September 10, 2011 GMT
Patara

The journey out of Antalya was enjoyable. Good roads mostly following the coast and scenic. A smog like haze hung around for longer than I would have liked. Antalya and much of the Mediteranian coast is protected by mountain ranges making it difficult for the dirty air of the previous day to escape. It helps boost the humudity too. I experienced another February in Brisbane like day.

The southerly direction heading out of Antalya gradually changed to west and then north west. The humidity gave way to a dry heat. Another 38 degree day. But give me dry heat over humidity any day.

After stopping for fuel I pointed the Family Truckster towards Patara. It has two claims to fame. Turkey's longest uninterrupted beach and an old broken down city that was the birthplace of St Nicholas.

I gave the beach a miss (I didn't pack the budgee smugglers) and went instead for a walk amongst the ruins (seemed fitting). More as preparation and to set a benchmark for what I might encounter later in my journey.

Some kind ladies selling fruit next to the Museam shop looked after my bike but I didin't really fancy any of their grapes. An ice cream seemed a better option.

There was plenty of old stuff here spread over a large area. Somone with a longer attention span would have lingered and explored in more depth, looking at all of the ruins in the area. I focused on the theatre. This was kind of cool so I walked almost to the top.

I hope you enjoy my images of Patara's ruins.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:19 PM GMT
The Road to Marmaris

I hate it when something unexpected comes up. Sometimes I can take it in my stride, almost like I was expecting it. Other times unexpected events, particularly those that don't go my way, can take me to a dark place. Once there it can take hours to days to re-emerge from that downward spiral of negative thoughts. All totally irrational. But some things just get to me. Make me want to pick up my bat and ball or Family Truckster and go home.

I'm sure most of us have physical features or personality traits we don't like. Or perhaps some we wouldn't choose if given a choice. I have many. But also many that are good. Most days the good outwieghs the bad.

It was over 300 miles today. I was aiming for Datca. MapSource said this would be a 12.5 hr run from Antalya. Not possible absent roads I wouldn't want to take the Family Truckster on. Even at 30 mph it would only be 10 hours in the saddle. I backed in the roads and the average speeds to be much better than MapSource was predicting.

They were.

My usual plan on the road is a 2 hour stint straight up and then stop each hour of riding thereafter. Finding places to stop can be a problem or maybe this is just an excuse not to stop. Either way, my only proper stop other than for fuel and one other unplanned stop (more on this later) was at Patara.

Although hot, my break at Patara was all I needed for another long stint. I kept on past Fethiye (I was thinking of making a short detour to Oludeiz but the road was closed) and then to the turn off to Marmaris.

Here I found Turkey's motorcycle heaven. Although only about 10-15 miles of the road was finished (another section about the same length was still under construction) this was the equal of any road I've ridden on in western Europe. Finally I could get into a rhythm and the Truckster responded accordingly, taking me around flowing bends on the smoothest ribbon of dual carriageway I seen in a few thousand miles. And the views were worthy of such a pure road. The traffic was light so I used both the lanes at my disposal as I glided around left and right bends. Pure joy.

Marmaris seemed like a nice place and a gateway to Rhodes (Greece) but my destination was a little further west, only about 40 miles to go now.

About 30 miles out a motorist travelling the other direction flashed their lights. Radar ahead. I slow accordinlgy (I thought I was doing about 80 kph) although there are no speed limit signs to be found. Within a minute I am being flagged over by the Polis. I cannot believe this.

I've had enough. Now I feel like I'm being targeted. Let's not worry about all the other infringements (eg no helmets, not keeping right, not indicating etc etc etc), lets go for the guy on the big moto and foreign plates.

This may surprise some of you but I can be a little argumentative at times. This time I did not hold back. Part of my frustration comes from my language deficiencies and my total inability to comprehend the speed limits absent any signage of same.

Initially they tell me the speed limit is 70 kph. I ask for proof so one guy pulls out a book and then tells me its 80 kph. Apparently I was going 93 kph. If they can show me the sign the showing me the speed limit I will happily accept the fine.

They won't, so I don't accept the ticket. So they call the Gendarmerie. They rock up and I still don't speak Turkish and none of them speak Engish. I think they don't really understand why they have been called, none of them look older than 20. Perhaps they were expecting a homicidal axe weilding maniac but I hadn't quite made it to that stage, yet.

So they start flagging down passing motorists, tour buses etc to find someone who can speak English. Evetually a guy on a scooter rocks up and I exlain to him the situation and that I would also like them to take me to the police station so I can pay the fine and get on my way.

Seems I cannot pay the fine at a bank. I tried. But they would not accept it because I didn't have a Turkish identity number which is needed to process the payment. Maybe I can pay at the post office or a Police Station or at the border. The thing is there is a generous discount for paying early, about 25% I think so I want to do this, not wait until I get to the border.

They will not accompany to the Police Station and I have no idea where it is so eventually I shake all their hands, give them my impression of an intellectual mouthful, in English so they are none the wiser, and off I go. Fuming. Still not knowing what the speed limits are.

So tentative on the roads now. So disappointed that my magic minutes on the hyper road to Marmiris have been destroyed by super officious jobworths targeting easy money, not real risks. But not their fault. They are just following orders I guess.

All this took about an hour I guess. I hate the way I seem to want to push people to their limits. To their breaking point. Seems like its the only thing I have a natural flair for. But terribly counterproductive. I hate it but seem I cannot help myself in the right circumstances.

I dug myself into a dark hole for the rest of the day, probably more over my petulant behavour than anything else but it is frustrating. Hope I emerge from it soon. Turkey is a wonderful country. No need to let someting as trivial as a road tax levied unexpectantly spoil my experiences.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:52 PM GMT
Datca to Bodrum

On the road this would have been 150 miles. This morning the Family Truckster and I had a 150 miles off. We would let someone else do the work while we sat back and relaxed.

But first Datca. I arrived about 6pm last night and checked into a Tunc Pansiyon. My best value accomodation yet at around 15 euros including breakfast. It was all I deserved, as I'd already blown my cool and daily budget down the road a ways.

But no complaints. It was clean and I slept well. Sometimes it easy to get a bit carried away with unnecessary luxuries when the room is the place you spend the least time. Location is key.

I still had time for a walk around town. Nice place. Glad I stopped in even if only for one night.

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It was an earlier that than usual start this Saturday morning. The ferry for Bodrum left at 0930 and I needed to be there at 0845 to secure my place on board. For the first time on this adventure I packed before breakfast. It was a short ride north across the peninsula to the ferry port.

By 0915 I was onboard and the Truckster tied in. The ferry left right on time.

Two hours later we were backing into the port in Bodrum. I was the last one off.

One of my more pleasant mornings and in much quicker time than the Family Truckster would have managed on the road. But most of all, no fines or speed limits to stress about.

Hope you enjoy the photos from the ferry boat ride to Bodrum.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:45 PM GMT
September 12, 2011 GMT
Selcuk

It was only 113 miles from Bodrum to Selcuk. A nice ride too. No speeding fines today thankfully.

I had originally intended to use Kusadasi as my base for exploring the area but decided at the turn off to give the coastal town a miss and park up for a few days in Selcuk. I'm glad I did this.

The Wallabies Hotel seemed an apt choice given the World Cup has just started.

After a quiet Saturday evening of blogging I woke refreshed and met some fellow travellers over breakfast. R was Australian but now lived in London. He was also touring around on a motorbike - the Family Truckster of the day about 15 years ago. J was from San Francisco and using the more traditional means of planes and busses to travel around Turkey before heading to Italy.

We were all booked on the same tour to Ephesus that day. There was another Aussie on our tour also. Al was from Ballina and had been working as chef in the UK for the past 18 months before embarking on a lengthy tour that had already seen him in Jordan, Egypt, Isreal and Spain. He was also travelling alone, more in a backpacking style.

We all had a good time exploring Ephesus, Mary's House, a leather jacket factory, the Temple of Artemis and a rug weaving centre.

We met up again for dinner and discussed the sights we had seen earlier in the day, enjoying the Turkish cuisine, beer and red wine. The general concensus was bewilderment at how the Temple of Artemis made the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (there was very little left of it now - surely there were more impressive candidates than this!) and that our tour guide had a chip on his shoulder (he mentioned numerous times the artifacts stolen by the English and Germans that should now be returned).

Anyway it was a good day and a nice change to be driven around in excellent company.

So much so I've booked another tour for Monday.

Here are some images from today's tour.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:16 PM GMT
September 13, 2011 GMT
Selcuk Part 2 - Pamukkale

J and Al were on this tour with me today. Al would leave us at Pamukkale and take another bus overnight to Cappadocia. The bus ride took about 3 hours from Selcuk heading east via Aydin. It would be a long day with the bus due back in Selcuk around 1930. The bus also picked up some additional passengers for the return trip including M, another Aussie who had recently moved to London from Melbourne.

I'd seen photos of this place and it looked worthy of a visit. Going on the tour was a much better option to taking the Family Truckster out there for the day. I even had a Nanna nap on the bus on the way back!

There are two sights here; the gleaming white travertine pools and the ruins of the ancient city and healing centre of Hierapolis.

Our tour guide was knowledgable but lacked the ability to create in my mind a vision of this once great city, long abandoned (nearly 700 years ago) and in ruins due to centuries of earthquakes. Our guide did make us chuckle though when noting the was also a large cemetery nearby as a consequence of ancient visitors seeking the healing properties of the 36 degree spring water but unfortunately no healing took place.

Wikapedia informed me subsequently that travertine is a form of limestone deposited by hot mineral springs. There were plenty of people enjoying the sunshine and warm water in the series of shallow travertine pools that cascaded down the hillside. This was shoes off access only and an alert gentleman dressed like a security guard with a shrill whistle was alert to spot and reprimand anyone remaining shod or straying out of bounds. He sure did like that whistle.

This was high risk sunburn territory with the reflection of the limestone probably as bad as the direct sunlight. It was a very hot day also.

I gave the ancient pool a miss so I retain all afflictions such as "rheumatism, diseases of eye, derma, hearth and blood circulatory system, respiratory system, nerve and muscle system weariness, kidney and urinary system and post operation diseases". Maybe I should have gone for a swim after all!

There was not much left of the ancient city which was founded in 190BC. Lots of big stones lying around and some recent excavations were also apparent. It was impressive though and made me wonder what Turkey would be like today if not for the centuries of earthquakes that have toppled so many spectacular ancient cities.

M joined J and I for dinner that night in Selcuk and we were later joined by R who had spent the day in town. A couple of Raki's each ensured a good night's sleep.

Here are some images of Pamukkale.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:05 PM GMT
Selcuk Part 3

I had a quick wander around Selcuk this morning prior to breakfast, repacking and loading the Family Truckster. This is a nice town with remains of a Roman Aquaduct, Bascillica of St John and hilltop fort/castle all within a short walking distance of the Wallabies Hotel.

Unfortunately I'd explored less of this town than most I've visited. I'm glad I took a quick half an hour this morning to visit the ruins of the Bascillica. I'd not expected the significant amount of Christian history that exists in Turkey. In fact I've probably seen more Christian than Islam places of historical significance.

My three nights in Selcuk also reacquianted me with the tourist trail resulting in two most enjoyable evenings with excellent company over dinner. This does make blogging hard though, hence my efforts to catch up on my Selcuk adventures a little later than would have ordinarily been the case.

There were so many Aussies on the tourist trail also. On the bus to Pamukkale yesterday were four ladies from Adelaide, clearly all good friends, having a wonderful time touring by bus around Turkey on an independent basis. It was great chatting to them about their experiences and the places they were yet to get to. They were well organised too with everything booked before they left Australia, their trip planning commenced some 18 months ago and nothing had been left to chance. Such a contrast to my find a hotel when I arrive approach.

But Turkey provides so many approaches to travelling. My advice would be to steer clear of the package tours and take more of an independent approach, taking day tours on occasion. And get well east too. None of the Aussies I chatted with over the last few days were going further east than Cappadocia and very few were doing the Black Sea Coast. This is a shame. But such a big country is hard to get around if you are time constrained.

There are still places out east I should have gone to. For instance, when In Diyarbakir I was so close to Mt Nemrut but didn't go to see the gigantic beheadded statues.

If doing it again I would probably target Pensions more than hotels, due to the greater likelihood of meeting fellow solo travellers. But the reality is you need four weeks to get around this vast country just to see the major attractions. They are well worth the effort.

I bid R and J farewell as they were finishing their breakfast. Maybe I would run into them again. I hope so. They were good company. But I probably won't.

At 10:00 I pulled away from the Wallabies hotel, headed towards Izmir and some new rear brake pads.

Here are a few photos of Selcuk.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:56 PM GMT
New Brake Pads

It wasn't far from Selcuk to Izmir. I'd estimated it would take about an hour.

And happy days. Today I went through a radar and didn't get a fine. They were everywhere around Selcuk. I'd seen several while on the bus the last couple of days so was on alert. Just as well.

Not far out of Selcuk I joined the motorway only to have a warning light on the Family Truckster alert me to low rear tyre pressure. Luckily a petrol station was just ahead so I pulled over to put some air in.

On close inspection of the tyre I noticed a tiny leak in the repair I had made out east. I wasn't surprised as I recalled it was a rather large and odd shaped hole and at the time I wondered if the repair would hold. I put another plug in and took out the sharp blade included in the kit to trim the excess. For some reason the blade seemed blunt. I'd only used it once before. I pressed harder and tried again only to realise I had it back to front, with the sharp edge now cutting into my right index finger.

There was a small amount of blood but at least it was a clean cut that will heal quickly. A bit of a nuisance all the same but I can assure you it was sharp. Funny how much better it did work when I turned it around the right way! I pumped the tyre up and was on my way again with an eye on the pressure monitor to see if any more air was escaping. Luckily it wasn't.

Maybe I'll get a new tyre in Izmir.

I arrived at the BMW dealer right on time and shortly afterwards the Family Truckster was in the workshop and they were checking it out. I enquired about the tyres. They had a set but for 600 euros I thought I'd give it a miss. I have now done 5,000 miles since they were put on in Poland. They seem to be holding up ok. Apart from the repair they still look good with plenty of tread remaining.

I know it's a bit of a risk but I'll see how much further I can get before I replace them. The problem is you need the same front and rear tyre (different sizes of course). They come as a set. Unless I can get another rear tyre exactly the same as the existing one I need to replace the front one also, even though it's fine.

Fingers crossed I can get another 2-3,000 miles before replacing them. They will be cheaper in Europe also and I may be able to get one the same as I already have and defer buying a new front tyre.

I've already accepted that this decision may come back and bite me.

It didn't take long to replace the rear brake pads. In fact it took longer to print the invoice than it took to complete the reapir. Some problem with the computer I was told.

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Anyway, these guys were great so I'm not going to complain. In particular, Semih (one of the car salesmen) was suberb, responding to my emails promptly and acting as interpreter with the service department on my arrival. Thanks Semih, if I ever decide to move to Izmir I'll come and see you when I'm in the market for a new car!

I was on the road again around 1400. Not far to my overnight stay. Hope I can have a fine free day.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:01 PM GMT
September 15, 2011 GMT
Cesme

The ride to Cesme was a pleasant motorway blast of about 100km due west of Izmir with nice coastal views. Izmir is a big town, shrouded in a haze of pollution and humudity. As I escaped the city limits clear blue skies once again emerged, creating the perfect backdrop for the ocean and coastline.

Cesme is right at the end of a peninsula and the gateway to the Greek island of Chios which is only 8km away. This town of 25,000 inhabitants swells to over 300,000 in the height of summer. Luckily the busy season was starting to wind down and I found a bed for the night at the Sahil Pansiyon.

I had a good walk around the town and the marina. There was plenty of wealth on display here, nice boats of the power and sailing variety, and upmarket boutiques and restaurants surrounding the marina. It reminded me very much of the marina developments on the Gold Coast.

I settled on a restuarant overlooking the water at the opposite end of town from the marina and enjoyed some grilled fish and a Turkish salad. Fresh and cooked simply, my dinner was delicious.

I was reliably informed September is the best time to visit Cesme, when it is not as busy but the weather is still sublime. I can't help but agree. This is the kind of place you could easily spend a few lazy days doing very little. Maybe I should hang around? Have a look for yourself. What do you think?

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I'll decide in the morning.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 03:58 PM GMT
Made it!

I'd always wanted to come here. Many Australian's and Kiwi's do. It's almost like a pilgrimage. It was one of the main reasons for doing the trip to Turkey and I'd gotten there via the sceinc route.

At about 17:58 on Wednesday, the 14th of September I finally made it, after about 7,000 miles of riding since leaving London in late July.

My day started as usual and before too much of the morning had passed I'd skirted around Izmir and was heading north. There was plenty of competition for my attention today. My options included the Roman ruins of Pergamum, near Bergama, the coastal town of Ayvalik and even the legendary, ancient city of Troy.

I'd seen plenty of ruins and coastal towns by now, so I passed through Bergama, viewing the hilltop ruins from afar, and straight onto Ayvalik, via a nice backroad, where I stopped for lunch. But I kept pressing on, past the turnoff to Troy and onto Canakkale and a short ferry ride across the Dardenelles to Eceabat, and back into Europe.

By the time I arrived at Anzac Cove all the tour groups had gone. I pretty much had the place to myself, riding on most of the roads that follow the ridges of this dramatic landscape - some of which now mark the unbelievably short distance between the front lines of the fierce combatants that fought here so many years ago.

I only stopped once, at the Anzac Commemorative Site, where the dawn service has been held on 25 April since it opened in 2000.

I carefully read the plaques that feature here, each with a quote, a picture and background information. It was very moving and hard to believe that this now peaceful and most beautiful place had seen so much waste of human life almost 100 years earlier.

I'm glad I was here on my own. I could reflect in my own time without having my thoughts interrupted and without the many facts that will certainly be given during tomorrow's tour.

It's hard to describe how I felt. The people that gave their lives here are all unknown to me yet I felt so sad - like they were my close family or friends. But there is a sense a pride and patriotism that accompanied the sadness. I don't know if I would have been up to it had I been around at the time. This made me feel a little ashamed so I consoled myself with thoughts that maybe I would have signed up if all my mates were doing the same.

The ANZAC legend gets stronger each passing year and this is a good thing. I have known the story for most of my life but never really researched it in any detail. Now I know a little bit more about the campaign.

The tour I did on Wednesday afternoon was superb. I had the Turkish guide to myself for the 4 hours. He had all the facts I'd expected on a very Aussie focused agenda, but also shared with some Turkish perspectives which were nice to hear.

Sometimes it can be disappointing to meet a legend. Not this one. After seeing the terrain, hearing about the battles and seeing the grave sites I have even greater admiration and respect. I always knew what ANZAC Day stood for and that many of Australia's finest young men gave their lives and helped define the spirit and culture of a young nation. But having made the pilgrimage I now understand it a little better.

I thoroughly recommend a visit here to anyone. Not just those from Australia and New Zealand. This place is not the most important battlefield for the Turkish. But it was in many ways that start of the Independence movement that would see Turkey become a nation a few years later. It's the place where Turkey's greatest leader, Mustafa Kemel (later Ataturk), courageously directed the counter attack to the Allies offensive.

My words fall short in adequately describing what Gallipoli means to me as an Australian. And it is also hard to fathom why Australians are shown so much respect and friendship from the Turkish people.

During my time at Anzac Cove I found two very apt quotes that come close to explaining what this place means.

The first quote was spoken by Ataturk, during a speech of peace and reconciliation in 1934, and features on a memorial:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... you are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears: your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

These final words are from CEW Bean, an Australian war correspondent and historian:

"ANZAC stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat."

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:46 PM GMT
September 16, 2011 GMT
Eceabat

I'd expected to meet Aussies here. Probably three out of every four tourists staying in Eceabat are Aussies or Kiwis. Must be Oz/Kiwi overlead on 25 April.

I'd decided to stay at Hotel Crowded House. Seemed the right thing to do. Was a good place too and highly recommended.

No sooner had I parked the bike and there's this guy coming over to say hello.

His name, I quickly learned was Rodger. Rodger was full on proper country Aussie. From western Victoria no less. It was just so nice to hear him talk. I've lost my accent a liitle over the past four years. They couldn't understand me in the UK. So I learned to talk slower and clearer. But with Rodger, no worries mate. I could talk like an Aussie again. And it was so nice.

A couple of months back Rodger shipped his bike over to the UK and is now riding it back home to Oz. He'd only just arrived in Turkey and was taking some time out at the Hotel Crowded House for a few days before heading east across central Turkey then into Iran and Pakistan. Good luck with that Rodger.

But he's the perfect guy to excel at this challenge. Very capable, has practical skills and the right bike. But most of all he has the right attitude. She'll be right mate! I'll worry about that only if it comes up, and it probably won't. Risk management is not in Rodger's vocabulary.

We had some beers on each of the nights I stayed at Hotel Crowded House. The first night was a big one.

There were some Canadians there also. They were more specifically from Newfoundland, the easternmost province of Canada. One of the guys was researching the 49 soldiers from Newfoundland that had made the ultimate sacrifice at Gallipoli. He was planning to write a book.

Allister was great to talk to. I really admire what he is doing. His mate Cyril was good company also.

The Aussies lost 8,700 in the Gallipoli campaign and the Kiwi's 2,700. I'd never really thought about all the others. I was surprised to learn there were 21,200 British and 10,000 French killed in the campaign. There were also 1,350 Indians killed.

Staggeringly some 85,000 Turkish soldiers died protecting their territory.

The Allies wounded totalled over 97,000.

Another Aussie, Bill, a freelance journalist, now living on the peninsula, was having a beer with us also. He was most interesting, a good, old fashioned type of journalist and all round trouble maker. He has resided in Turkey for some years now.

Most importantly he directed us to the best restaurant in town. I had grilled fish again. So did Rodger.

We staggered back to the Hotel Crowded House and finished our evening with a couple of Raki's, which I decided I probably could have done without when I woke up at 10:00 the next morning.

Thanks Rodger. You're a top bloke. Don't change one bit and good luck with the rest of your adventure.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:24 PM GMT
Record Mileage Today!

It was my highest mileage day out of the 51 days I've been away. In fact I did about 450 miles (725 km) today. My previous best was 415 miles.

And it seemed too easy.

Can you tell I left Turkey today?

I did have a short distance to get to the border with Greece from Eceabat but this was plain sailing.

And the roads in Greece were noticably different. The Family Truckster was back in familiar territory and in 90pmh cruising mode on the smooth motorways.

I hadn't planned to go so far today but it was so easy. I was going to stop somewhere in Greece. But it was just too early to stop in any of the coastal towns. Not that they didn't look good.

My first stop of the day once making it over the border was Alexandroupoli. First espresso in a while also but I will miss the Turkish coffee (I feel like a traitor!). I was in a very trendy cafe where many beautiful people were congergating for lunch. Unfortunately I wasn't one of them and I probably stank. But it did give me a chance to program the GPS to as far as western Slovenia. It's close to Italy so many options are available from there back to London.

But today was a riding day. No stops for history lessons and unfortunately no chance to meet the locals. It was still hot most of the way but the roads were like heaven. On occasions I ventured off the motorway and followed the coast. It didn't matter what road I took they were all good. No wonder Greece is broke.

I kept going into Macedonia - three countries today. The roads here were not up to Greece standards but still fine. It's not a big country, only about 2 million people and just shy of 26,000 square km in area. I was following the wine route into the capital city of Skopje. Nice though not spectacular scenery and a few too many tolls towards the end of the day.

I got an hour back when I crossed the border but it was still over 30 degrees when I arrived in Skopje around 1730. There were people in the city centre everywhere. The semi finals of European basketball championships were on and Macedonia was playing Spain (I think). People were dressed in their country's colours and watching on TV's in bars . A big screen was showing the game in the main square and thousands of people were cheering every basket from their team (I don't know who won though).

No new friends tonight. I'm on my own. A chance to get my blog up to date.

Boy the Truckster went well today. It really is such a great machine to ride. Definitely built for Europe and it enjoyed being back where it belongs.

I can't wait for tomorrow.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:28 PM GMT
September 19, 2011 GMT
Skopje to Ohrid

Saturday's run from Skopje to Orhid was relatively short with a fair bit of Macedonian motorways to get to the country's most popular destination. So I decided to take the scenic route via Debar which was a little longer and skirted the Albanian border.

Before setting out I took a short walk around central Skopje. There is a fair bit of reconstruction going on so not much interesting architecture to see. It was all a little communist era looking to be honest although there were some great statues in the main square and a stone bridge which crosses the Vardar River to the city fort and the old town. I didn't make it to the old town but could see the Ottoman influence in the area surrounding the fort.

Here are some of the sights of central Skopje.

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After negotiatig the traffic west out of Skopje and several toll booths (they seemed to come up every 5 minutes) I finally made it only the scenic road. I made a good choice as the road surface was fine and the scenery pleasant.

It's nice to get off the main drag as often as possible, provided the surface is suitable for the Family Truckster and it is navigable to my intended destination. The first criteria was certainly met but the entire Western Balkans is a little bit hit and miss on the GPS. I have paper maps as well but in some countries only the major roads are displayed on the GPS. Luckily Macedonia was one of the better countries in terms of GPS mapping.

But today I did not have the scenic route programmed into the GPS. The road signs were fine and I found my way relatively easily to Debar with only a couple of stops to consult the paper map I always carry in the back pocket of my jacket.

Finding signs in Debar showing the route to Ohrid was tough though and as I headed out of town I soon noticed I was going in the wrong direction; north west instead of south east. Not too much time was lost, although on getting back into town I did pass down the middle of what seemed like a very busy pedestrian only market. No one really rushed to get out of my way and I got some funny looks , but no one really seemed put out. It may have been the most interesting thing to happen here in some time even! There is nothing touristy about Debar.

The rest of the way to Ohrid was plain sailing, but on my arrival finding the old town was again a challenge. But you always make it and I had my hotel of choice to myself. The downside was I had to pay the weekend rate, even though I would stay only one night. Never mind, I'd already sweated a gallon gettting there. I'd pass out if I kept on riding looking for somewhere else.

My host Ivan was most enthusiastic in selling the sights of Ohrid to me, suggesting I stay the extra day anyway since I would pay for it regardless. He gave me a map of the old town and pointed me in the right direction for the lake, churches and restaurants. It was very comfortable at Villa Forum and my one night stay was most pleasant.

As was Ohrid. But I'm getting lazy now. I did wander around but not as much as I could have. Or would have had I not been to Turkey. It's almost like I have seen these Churches and Mosques already, and the old towns have a Turkish bazaar feel to them. The Ottoman architecture I became accustomed to in Safranbolu and Antalya is recognisable to me now and on display in Ohrid. The arrow cobbled streets even have a familiar feel under foot.

The lake was nice though and being a landlocked country I could understand it's appeal to Macedonians. Many people were swimming or lying on deckchairs in the sun.

Here are my favourite images from Ohrid.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 03:45 PM GMT
The Route to Croatia - Part 1

This had been a dilemma for me even when planning the trip. I was still undecided on my arrival in Skopje.

There were two basic choices: via Albania or Kosovo.

I'd been recommended a route through Kosovo prior to leaving London. My insurance didn't cover me there though. I was apprehensive about Albania with thoughts of bad roads and bad drivers.

After heading to Ohrid on Saturday morning I was basically committed to the Albanian route. At least I had a green card for Albania. Ivan from Villa Fortuna confirmed I had made the right choice, but there still remain deeply held feelings in this part of the world so Iwasn't convinced.

It was a short ride from Ohrid to the Albanian border. I'd been a bit slack being Sunday and all - this is usually my day off the Family Truckster but not today. I hit the road around 10am.

Little did I know then it would be my longest day in the saddle.

The first border crossing went well. No problems getting into Albania and it was all main highways west to Elbasan and then north west via Tirana and Shkodra.

The GPS even had the roads I was going on. Until I got to the two major cities and then it was hopeless. So were the road signs in Elbasan and Tirana but I did get to see some on the less touristy parts of town.

But on the way there was some simply spectacular mountain roads to traverse - no complaints from me about the road surface or drivers, and the accompanying scenery was equally impressive. If only the air quality was better.

Pollution is a big problem in Albania. There is litter just everywhere. Some of the city streets and rivers stink. There was no blue sky. Sure it may have been a bad day or perhaps it is is due to geographical challenges hindering air quality, but this was like China (interestingly once a big influence on Albania). I passed a massive steel mill and saw an example of communist industrialisation at its worst.

But the things I'd feared most were simply not an issue. Roads were fine unless I ventured off the highway (only when lost) and fellow motorists were relatively well behaved. I actually enjoyed riding on the wonderful, twisty mountain roads through central Albania. Interestingly, I passed more touring/adventure motorcyclists in eastern Albania within an hour than I had seen in the whole of Turkey over 4 weeks.

Perhaps I'd already been conditioned by Turkey.

Rodger, the true blue country Aussie I'd met in Eceabat, had warned me to steer clear of Albania. On some points he was absolutely correct. Road signs showing directions to the next town are all but non-existent, making navigation challenging.

But, at the risk of insulting my new Turkish friends, the roads surfaces and drivers were better than my experiences in Turkey. There even seemed to be some regard for the centre line, but indicator use was minimal.

Soon I was crossing the border into Montenegro and headed for the Bay of Kotor.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:53 PM GMT
The Route to Croatia - Part 2

Montenegro hid it spledour from me at first.

Roads were not as good as Albania. Air quality poor. Blue skies nowhere to be seen.

But gradually it started to reveal itself to me. The rugged coastline at first. The the beaches and resort towns. And it has lot's of natural beauty to offer. This country is worthy of more time than I'd allowed. I was going to stay in Kotor but couldn't find the hotel of choice. So I kept going.

I'm a hard marker when it comes to stopping the Family Truckster for a photo opportunty. But here I disembarked several times. It was still hot too. But worth the hassle.

See for yourself. Such as shame it was so hazy. I just hope this was the exception and not the rule.

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But Montenegro had more to offer me yet, much to my delight!

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:25 PM GMT
The Route to Croatia - Part 3

The plan was simple. Skirt around the eastern edge of the Bay of Kotor and then reconnect with the coastal highway, cross the border into Croatia and stay a night or two in Dubrovnik.

After following the bay coastline for some distance the road started to climb. I was still headed north west so no problems I thought. The further I went the better the road got. This was almost brand new this road. Not on the GPS or the paper map.

But the best road of my trip so far. I can't even reference it so others can enjoy the experience. It was superb. Climbing at first to 1000m. And I had it all to myself. The Family Truckster was back in its element and gave me everything I asked of it - with plenty left in reserve. This road was every bit as good as the B500 in Germany's Black Forest.

All up from Kotor it took about an hour to travel the 35 miles to just shy of the border with Bosnia and Hercegovina (BIH), including a couple of stops for photos while I could still see the Bay.

At around 1730 I came to an intersection and pulled over to consult my paper map. There were some other bikers from Slovenia who had pulled over for a break. We chatted briefly. Left into BIH, right would keep me in Montenegro.

I went left and soon crossed the border into BIH. On crossing the border my GPS became a total passenger although it did tell me the straight line distance to Dubrovnik was under 30 miles. But very little of this country is mapped. I was on my own. Fingers crossed there are plenty of signs from here to Croatia.

The ride to Trebinje down from the ridge where I crossed the border was easy enough. Now if I just keep heading west or north west I'll be in business.

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How wrong I was!

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:33 PM GMT
The Route to Croatia - Part 4

Now I've never heard it said that all roads lead to Dubrovnik. Rome maybe. In the UK there are about a zillion London Roads headed to the country's capital.

And I can confirm that very few roads lead to Dubrovnik, especially from Bosnia and Hercegovina (BIH). The map showed there was one from Trebinje but there was no chance of me finding it. I'm blind as a bat without the GPS. And road signs were scarce. My directional instincts failed me completely. I really needed to go south west.

And there is some tough geography here also as I soon found out. There is a mountain range that pretty much forms the border between BIH and Croatia. And very few opportunities to cross the range. It's good how most borders in Europe are based on geographical features like rivers, lakes and mountain ranges.

But I could have done without this now. North west just made me follow the coast but on the wrong side of the coastal range following a massive valley that may have once been a major river to the coast. Now it was agricultural land. The scenery was spectacular though.

The map showed one way over to Croatia and the coast but not a major road. Then just a short distance south east to Dubrovnik. It was getting dark so I turned off.

It was a narrow road and clearly not a major thoroughfare. I reached the border and stopped to get my passport, green card and registration papers which were accepted by the Croation border police.

As I waited I glanced at my petrol gauge. It had been a while since I'd passed a petrol station. Not much left but enough to get me to the coast I figured.

The Border Police returned with my papers and informed me that I could not cross here. I explained my situation re low fuel and was informed this was not their problem. It was now dark and I did not fancy backtracking on a narrow road with a chance of running out of fuel.

I told them I would stay there and wait until the morning's first light and then head back the way I had come. For some reason this was not possible and one of the Border Police started to physically drag me back to my bike, ordering me to turn it around and leave immediatley. He would not return my papers until I pointed the bike in the opposite direction.

It was now almost 1930 and I'd been going all day having started riding at 1000, with only a 30 minute break on top of a mountain range in Albania for an espresso (they make the best espresso's in Albania). I was hot and tired. I'd had no breakfast and no lunch. It was now dark.

I could have done with another 5 minutes to make a plan but this was not possible. I pushed the bike until it was pointed east and on receipt of my papers I started to slowly backtrack not knowing how far it was to the nearest petrol station or if I would make it that far.

This was not ideal.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:12 PM GMT
The Route to Croatia - Part 5

There was no point feeling sorry for myself although I wanted to. All my concentration was needed to navigate the single track road to make it back to the main highway towards Mostar.

Just before the highway I stopped at a restaurant in the small town of Ravno.

I asked about petrol and learned I had about 20km to the next petrol station and then another 20km after that to a town that had a hotel. I can do that. No choice. Just have to. I hated myself for being such a whimp, so soft at the first sign of adversity.

I'd not ridden the Family Truckster at night much. I don't mind the cold but I generally ride in daylight.

But the Family Truckster has a trick headlight. You can press a button and change it from left hand side of the road riding to right. It points the headlight the other way I guess so as not to blind the motorists going in the opposite direction.

But because my bike is a UK spec it is geared to riding on the left hand side of the road. Some of the functionality of the trick headlight is lost when you change it right hand side riding.

I don't really understand this but apparently there is some type of gyroscopic gismo built into the headlight that keeps it pointed on the road ahead, regardless of the lean angle of the bike. Sounds good to me. But the gyroscopic functionality does not work when the right hand riding option is selected. No problems, I'll switch it back to left. I want all the light I can get and really couldn't be bothered about the cars in the other direction.

Because I have little night riding experience I don't really have a sound basis for comparison of the trick headlight on the Family Truckster. Once in Australia I was riding back from Sydney to Brisbane and an electrical fault shut my light, and eveything else, down completely when riding in the dark on the New England Highway at 100 kph. Not ideal.

I can assure you the light on the Family Truckster is great. I even enjoyed riding at night. It's like a computer game with red and white reflectors on either side of the road giving plenty of warning of the corners ahead.

The hardest part is remembering to turn the high beam off as another car approaches in the opposite direction. It's not much good with the high beam off but when it is, no worries. And you even get warning of the cars coming the other direction. Their headlights give them away well in advance of the visual notice you get during daylight hours.

The Truckster rescued me again in my moment of dispair. If only I was as capable as it is.

I ended up making it easily to the next gas station and took the opportunity to grab a chocolate bar to sustain me for the next bit to a hotel.

I consulted the map while I was stopped. Might as well aim for Mostar. There will be more hotels there as it is a bigger city. And a better chance of them being open when I arrive.

Not much further to go. Just ride for the conditions as you always do.

Good plan. Let's go.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:48 PM GMT
September 20, 2011 GMT
Mostar

I made it into Mostar about 2130. Better late than never I say.

I found a hotel near the old town. It looked ok so I checked in.

Mostar is not quite Dubrovnik but any bed at the end of a long day in the saddle is welcome. It was not that far really. Only about 365 miles (590 km) but it included three border crossings. Apart from stops for petrol or at borders I'd only stopped for about 30 minutes all day - do I'd probably been riding for close on 10 hours. This is a long time to concentrate on a bike. I'm just glad the Family Truckster is comfortable.

It didn't help that parking the bike at the hotel was a bit of a hassle. There was about 15 minutes of "put it here, turn it around, move it closer to the wall" before I was asked to move to a yard in front of a house about 400m away. At least it was secure but turning it around to get it out in the morning would be an issue. I was tad annoyed when I got back to the hotel, declining the welcome drink they offerred me.

Breakfast in the morning was fine at least and I had about an hour to explore the old town before hitting the road.

I hadn't seen much on my arrival the night before but in the daylight the effect of the war, now some 20 years ago, was still very apparent. In many ways the rebuilding of this town was a remarkable achievement, but I'd never seen deriliction of architecture caused by shelling before. I found it all a bit shocking really, but that's the recent history of this town and this country.

The old town was very reminiscent of Turkey and displayed a strong Ottoman influence. There were several Mosques in the area and a bazaar like souvineer shop zone leading up to the old bridge, now rebuilt since being severely damaged during the war.

But my attention was continually drawn to the buildings that had not been repaired. Houses, commercial buildings, and semi modern shopping centres, all lying empty with the fatal scars of war clearly on display. Maybe when the money becomes available they will be restored to their former glory. Right now this seems a long way off.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:00 PM GMT
Mostar to Split

It's been some time since I had to deal with anything other than hot weather. No rain since Romania. The 10th of August was the last day I donned the wet weather gear. Two and a half wet days out 54 is not bad going really.

But it was very humid on Monday morning when I set off from Mostar, headed for the Croatian border. And it was very windy. A storm was brewing.

I got to the border expecting a lengthy formal process to get across, given my ordeal and refusal the previous evening. But no. Sure they checked my passport and registration at the Bosnia and Hercegovina exit checkpoint. But I was simply waved through by the Croation authorities. They did not even see the colour of my passport to consider my nationality or credentials.

I would have almost preferred to have my bike searched thoroughly to justify the attitude of the jobsworths that refused my entry the day before. So much for Croation border security.

Soon after crossing the border heavy drops of rain started falling, stinging my face as I rode towards the coast.

A petrol station appeared ahead so I pulled over to put on the wet weather gear. It was still humid.

Then the storm hit. It was a beauty too, something we would have been proud of in Queensland. Thunder, lightening, strong winds, heavy, horizontal rain, lost power. Good thing I pulled over. I'll just sit this one out - let it pass. Some other bikers from Hungary had already decided the same thing. We chatted and shared our travel plans. They had no wet weather gear and were headed for the national parks in Montenegro.

It took about half an hour for the storm to pass. As soon as it did the sun reappeared and I got going. Before long I had a choice of Dubrovnik (left/south east) or Split (right/north west)

At the very last instant I decided to go for Split almost as a protest for not being allowed to get there the day before.

Plenty of new highways are under construction in Croatia so initially my GPS and signage was a little unreliable. Or perhaps my attention was just poor.

I was intending to travel along the coastal road but somehow managed to find the inland road yet again, which ran close to the border with Bosnia and Hercegovina. The coastal range continued to provid few opportunities to get to the Dalmatian coast. The roads were good though and I'd get another opportunity to ride the coastal road in the next day or two.

Dark clouds appeared over the coastal range and it felt like more rain. I pulled over for lunch to let it pass. It never ended up raining but the clouds accompanied me all the way to Split. On several occasions I considered stopping under a bridge or in a tunnel to put on the wet weather gear.

But I chose wisely and kept going without getting soaked, arriving in Split around 1600 and getting the last room available at my hotel of choice. Even managed to get a discount on the room rate first quoted. Good result and an excellent location within the old palace walls.

The evening was spent blogging in the hotel restaurant - I'd fallen a little behind as a consequnce of my poor navigation on Sunday afternoon.

So I explored the old city Tuesday morning. And it was superb. Finally, it felt like I was back in Europe. There are mostly Roman and Italian influences here. I wandered around the narrow, mostly pedestrian streets for almost two hours. It's simply not possible to find a bad view of this place. It is very photogenic. Have a look for yourself.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:16 PM GMT
September 22, 2011 GMT
Split to Zadar

Tuesday's ride to Zadar was relatively straightforward. Follow the coast north west to Zadar. No borders or crossing coastal mountain ranges. It did start to rain as I checked out of the hotel in Split. No problems. Will have an espresso while I wait for it to clear.

It wasn't heavy rain but enough to get me wet if it persisted and I didn't put my wet weather gear on. I didn't fancy putting it on - never do.

Once it stopped I got going. It was still cloudy but there was no more rain all the way to Zadar. Even though quite windy it was a nice short ride of about 100 miles. No motorways today, several small coastal towns and wonderful scenery the entire way. Islands lurked close offshore and sailing boats were abundant. The water looked clear and inviting and the intermittent towns had not yet been spoilt to lure tourists.

This was my only coastal stretch in Croatia even though I had planned to follow the coast from south of Dubrovnik. Never mind. You can never go on every road and there is nearly always something good about whatever route you take. I like variety too and enjoy mixing it up.

Zadar was another port town with ferry connections to Italy across the Adriatic Sea. It was much quiter than Split and probably not as prominent on the Croatia tourist trail. But this could be a good thing.

My plan was to catch the overnight ferry to Ancona in Italy on Wednesday evening so I went straight to the ferry terminal and booked my ticket. A upmarket hotel lurked close by and I was able to secure the last room they had and a late checkout on Wednesday. It was a little extravagent but a very nice hotel indeed and rare in Zadar in that it was located inside the old city.

Time to explore. Nice place Zadar and confirmed my view that the premier countries in the western Balkans are Croatia and Montenegro (although I didn't make it to Serbia or Slovenia). I boarded the ferry late Wednesday evening and was in my cabin and almost alseep by the time it departed at 10pm.

But have a look around Zadar.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:16 PM GMT
Italy and The Dolomites

I like Italy. Have been here a few times now. Twice on the Family Truckster's predecessor and once to go skiing. The coffee is simply the best and the food is great also, but no good if you are dieting.

The ferry crossing was smooth and I arrived on time in Ancona at 0700 on Thursday morning. The ferry was all but empty and disembarking took no time at all. Before long I arrived in Jesi, had an espresso and then made my way to Monte Roberto where I would see a new friend who I'd not met previously, although we had corresponded by email over the past couple of months.

It was a good meeting and we discussed some potential business opportunities of mutual interest for our complimentary skills. Certainly worth the detour for me.

After lunch in Jesi, I bid my new Italian friend farwell and headed north towards the Dolomites, past Bologne and Padova. All up I did about 360 miles today but the best bit was the last 50 miles.

The Dolomites are just superb for motorcyclists and the entire region is promoted as a summer biking destiation. The roads were smooth and twisty, the scenery was something else, the hotels biker friendly. The temperature fell as I climbed higher. There was still snow clearly visible on the uppermost north facing mountains. The 40 degree temperatures of eastern Turkey are now but a distant memory. Ever since Montenegro the change of season has been apparent. Autumn leaves will soon fall in preparation for winter snow. I just hope my summer riding kit is enough to get me back to London. I'm told it will be 5 degrees here in the morning. I'll need to layer up in the morning and will also leave a little later for my ride. I don't expect it to get over 20 degrees all day.

I'll stay here for at least a couple of days and try and bag as many of the mountain passes as I can. But my first taste has left me hungry for more. There were plenty of motorcyclists still on the road as I arrived late in the afternoon. I expect to see many more tomorrow. With good reason too. This is simply great motorcycling country - and anyone who enjoys riding should come here.

Tomorrow I'll stop and take some photos. As always the video will be running. I have so many hours to edit and upload now. Will keep me busy when I get back to London I guess.

But there is a cost of being back in western Europe. Everything is more expensive; accomodation, beer/wine and food. But the roads are great. The Family Truckster is back home where it belongs. I simply wouldn't want to be riding anything else on these great roads. It is a perfect match.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 09:26 PM GMT
September 23, 2011 GMT
The Dolomites

The Family Truckster is full of electronic gadgetry. The bag of tricks includes:

- Electronic Suspension Adjustment, with three settings adjustable of the fly (Comfort, Normal or Sport). When stationery it is also possible to adjust for the load ie one up, with luggage or two up.

- Three engine mapping settings, Rain, Road or Dynamic but these are only adjustable when stationery (I pretty much forget about this and tend to always stay in the Road setting).

- Heated grips and heated seat. I used to think these options were a load of old rubbish when I had a motorcycle in Australia but when it gets below 10 degrees the heated grips in particular are most useful.

- Trip computer showing average MPG, average speed, front and rear tyre pressures, oil levels, miles to go on remaing fuel, and ambient temperature (I usually have it set to display the ambient temperature but occasionally keep an eye on the tyre pressures).

- There is also a radio and an iPod dock with the ability to select tracks, albums, artists and playlists from a rotating collar on the left handlegrip in conjunction with 4 controller buttons on the left fairing. This interface is simply brilliant and relevant info on song, album and artist is displayed on the dash to assist with selections.

- Traction control which has actually kicked on a couple of occasions on this trip and essentially stops the rear wheel spinning too fast when traction is lost (say loose gravel or slippery roads). This is most reassuring and a excellent safetly feature.

- ABS brakes and central locking of panniers and top box.

- Adjustable front windshield.

- Plenty of warning lights to inform me when something needs attention.

With all this stuff it sounds like the dash must look like something from the cockpit of a fighter plane. But it's relatively simple and also the controls are easy to use although a little intimidating when you first take the demonstrator for a test ride.

The dash is fairly simple with two circular old fashioned dials for the speedo (miles and kms) and the techometer. Everything else is electronic including fuel and engine temperatutre gauges. Absent any warning lights the dash also displays the engine mapping setting, the suspension setting and the track or radio station selected.

All these toys give you plenty to keep you occupied on a long journey.

But not exactly what you want to distract you when riding in the Dolomites. The scenery is spectacular but the road demands respect and 100% attention at all times.

The hotel provided some information at dinner last night showing the weather forecast and a suggest route for motorists (cars or motorcycles). Over breakfast I programmed their suggested loop into the GPS.

Even though only 160 miles it was challenging riding with a few mountain passes over 2,000m including many tight switchback turns. It was great. This was only the second time on this trip that I had been riding without my luggage (the other time was when I visited Auschwitz with a dodgy rear tyre).

There were plenty of bikes out today. Everyone was behaving and it's always nice to acknowledge a passing biker with a left hand wave. I was overtaken only twice today. Both times they were Italian riders on Massey Ferguson 1200's. I consoled myself that these guys knew the roads whereas for me it was the first time. Those Massey Ferguson's do handle really well though and when cranked up and at high revs they really can get along in the hands of a good rider. No shame in getting passed at any time, no matter what the bike, as long as you can enjoy a beer at the end of the day.

As a biking destination the Dolomites are as good as anywhere I've been. And I've only done a few of the many mountain passes in the region. I have a book with me that shows the route for a days ride of just over 400km which covers 17 mountain passes, and even this is not all of them.

Even though today was all about riding I was constantly left breathless with the stunning scenery as I turned the next corner or entered the next town. Nothing about today's ride was dull or a chore. The Dolomites is pure biker heaven. You could spend a week here and hardly go on the same road twice. Today was a great day.

My photos don't really do the scenery on offer here justice, but trust me, it's great.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:30 PM GMT
September 24, 2011 GMT
East Again!

The Dolomites were so good I simply didn't want to tear myself away from them just yet. I checked out of my hotel in Arabba this morning and had two choices - east or west.

West was the logical choice as it would get me closer to London.

But logic rarely comes into choosing roads to take the Family Truckster on.

I'd always planned to ride across Slovenia from east to west. There are meant to be some good roads there. But my ferry detour to Italy a few days back made Slovenia a little tougher without significant backtracking. I hate to backtrack.

But the Dolomites gave me an excuse and I found the perfect compromise. A morning of several more Dolomite mountain passes and an afternoon in Slovenia before heading back into Austria and tracking west again.

It was a perfect morning with deep blue skies and not too much cloud hiding the spectacular mountain views.

This is the view that greeted me outside the Hotel Evaldo as I took my luggage out to load the Family Truckster.

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Heading initially north and then east it wasn't long before I'd been over Passo Campolongo, Passo di Valparola and Passo Falzarengo (here I stopped to get some photos) on my way to Cortina.

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I continued east to Auronzo and took in the Passo del Zovo before heading north at Paluzza, crossing the border into Austria via the Plocken Pass before heading south and back into Italy via Kreuzenberg Sattel. After about 150 miles I stopped for a toasted sandwich and espresso in Pontebba (nice town) around 2pm.

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It's not far to the Slovenian border from here. My Dolomites adventure is nearly over.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:15 PM GMT
Slovenia

The ride from Pontebba to the Slovenian border was suberb, starting with a fast road south following a mountain river, before again heading east into the mountains and over Passo Sella Nevea.

This road was probably the tightest of the day (to here at least) and included several short dark tunnels that incorporated tight corners. Up until now most of the tunnels had been relatively straight.

Heading further east past Lago Del Predil a right turn would take me up Passo de Predil to the border. I had all my documents ready for presentation and was suprised that no checks were made at all. It was not even manned. I just drove straight through but stopped for some photos, catching a glimpse of what lay ahead.

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My first taste of Slovenia more than justified the day of backtracking. Following an unbelievably clear mountain stream, the road had everything for the biker, with fast sections, tight sweeping bends, next to no straight sections and unbelievable scenery.

This was great fun.

Finally I started to head north towards the Vrsic Pass and onto the town of Kranjska Gora. There were 50 switch back turns to get up and over the Vrsic Pass. Some of these were very tight.

I'd done quite a few passes today and encountered many tight corners. The right handers are the worst as they are much tighter and on the really steep sections it is almost impossible to see if there is any traffic coming the other direction, meaning that swinging wide and using all the road is not a risk worth taking.

For the most part I'd handled the tight right handers ok with a couple of misjudgments that saw me swing wider than I'd planned, but on all occasions there was no oncoming traffic to contend with. For many of the tight right handers on Passo Stella Nevea and Vrsic Pass I'd had to resort to first gear and get the Family Truckster around them at a snails pace, barely enough to keep it upright at times.

Doing 50 consecutive switchback turns requires plenty of concentration, all the time looking ahead and through the corner you are trying to negotiate. You cannot afford to get your attention fixated to a point too close to the bike. This is what makes you misjudge the entry and exit speed and run wide or sometime almost stop mid corner.

The first time I rode a big bike on tight roads like these was terrifying. I was sure I'd drop it by either not maintaining sufficient speed through the corner by running wide off the side of the road or into oncoming traffic.

The more you ride these roads the more comfortable you get though I'm not sure my technique has improved that much. The balance of the Family Truckster is superior to my last bike even though it is heavier - it just feels like the extra wieght is lower down, which is preferable when taking tight turns at low speeds.

I refuelled in Kranjska Gora and much to my surprise it was the best priced fuel I'd encountered on the whole trip - and by some margin.

Before long I was crossing the border with Austria at the Wurzen Pass, again no stops or document checks.

I'd been in Slovenia barely two hours but I'll count this as as another new country for me. Probably my last new country on this trip.

And it was a great two hours. No regrets about heading east today. But maybe a tinge of regret about not spending more time here - maybe I should try and do the route I'd originally planned.

But it's just not possible to ride all the good roads on the one trip, even though I've done my best. I'll just push on west further into Austria and find a place to stay for the night.

Here are my favourite scenes (at least of those where I stopped to take some photos) from my Slovenian adventure today.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:56 PM GMT
September 26, 2011 GMT
Blog 113 - The Grossglockner

Unlucky for some but at least I made it past the century. Just to be sure I will do another blog before getting on the bike again. Not that I'm superstitious.

I ended up stopping for the night just outside of Hermagor, Austria. Just by chance I passed a nice Guesthouse; it looked inviting so I invited myself in to see if they had a room. They did, and also a nice restaurant where I spent most of the evening.

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After breakfast, I continued the long haul west. I'd planned my route the night before but would split the 414 miles over two days. This gave me time to traverse the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse.

I'd been on this road before as part of a tour to Austria. But it was worth another visit.

Enroute I enjoyed an exchange of pleasantries from an Austrian motorcycle policeman. I'd been fairly belting along at well over the speed limit and pulled over for some photos. He pulled up along side and advised me of the speed limits before asking me to take it easy and enjoy the scenery. All in perfect English. Maybe these guys could provide some training to the policemen in Turkey?

I continued in the fashion he had advised towards the Grossglockner. It is a private road and a substantial toll (19 euros) is payable on entry, with toll booths at either side of the pass).

But the Grossglockner is simply great and worth every cent. It was even better than I'd remembered, probably because I was not so scared about dropping the bike.

I went to the pass first then backtracked to the glacier before going over the pass and onto the Edelweiss Spitze (just shy of 2,600 metres) before heading back down the mountain to Fusch. From here to my overnight stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (just over the border in Germany) was relatively straightforward, although I did ride for a while with a couple of guys on Goldwings (boy could these guys ride - good fun!).

Here are some of the best views from the Grossglockner.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:23 PM GMT
Garmisch to Andermatt

Garmisch-Partenkirchen was a nice town. It took me a while to find a place to stay though. Either too far out of town or too expensive. Seems the good weather and Oktoberfest have extended the summer tourist season.

I finally settled on a central Guesthouse and after unloading the Family Truckster I had a wander around town. Too late for photos though but certainly worth a visit. This place seems to be a bit of a German winter sports centre and close to the Zugspitze which at all but 3,000 metres is the highest mountain in Germany (the Austrian border lies on its western summit).

These are the photos I took this morning.

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The ride to Andermatt was fairly uneventful for the most part, and lacking in the spectacular scenery of the past few days of the Dolomites, Slovenia and the Grossglockner. Never mind, sometimes you just need to get somewhere, to find the next breathtaking scene.

On my departure from Garmisch I was approaching a total trip distance of 9,300 miles (15,000 km).

The last 40 miles was the best today. Here are the views atop the Oberalp Pass (2,044 metres).

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The ride down from the pass to Andermatt was great. I arrived early enough to have a look around the town. Nice here.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:41 PM GMT
September 27, 2011 GMT
Swiss Alps

Another riding for pleasure day. The 147 miles travelled got me no closer to London. Just back to the same place I started the day - Andermatt.

There are some great roads and high mountain passes in the area. I took it easy and stopped frequently for photos.

It was cool today, less than 10 degrees when I set out but by noon it was most pleasant.

First up was the Furka Pass (2,431m).

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Next was the Grimsel Pass (2,165m).

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The third pass of the morning session was Susten Pass (2,224m).

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Next was the Nufenen Pass at 2,478 metres (I had to go over the Furka Pass again to get there).

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The final pass of the day was the St Gothard Pass (2,108 m).

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What a great riding day.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:21 PM GMT
September 29, 2011 GMT
Pushing West into France

I've been slack of late. Relying on scenery to carry the interest in my blogs. Sorry about this for those who find the commentary of interest. I have revealed very little of myself for some time time now.

But the roads and scenery have been great - I'm sure you will agree.

No need to complicate things. Let the scenery speak for itself. In my humble opinion this is more interesting than my stream of conscience otherwise known as the ramblings of a madman.

I missed a blog yesterday. The first time in over 60 days that I stayed at a hotel with no internet access. Most unusual. But it probably didn't matter.

I arrived way late. Even though I was enjoying the roads this was not the reason. I simply could not find a hotel to stay in. But I was perhaps a little fussy.

I ended up doing over 380 miles (almost 620km) through the French alps and many of the high profile ski towns of eastern France eg Chamonix . But I am carrying no paper maps of France - just relying on the GPS.

And this is where the GPS falls down - much to my dismay. No big picture overview.

I had stopped around 5pm in Guillestre but didn't like the hotel on offer so I decided to carry on to the next town - not knowing how far away this was or if any accommodation was available.

Now this is a very popular part of France - in winter that is. In late September, out of the summer high season, they are like ghost towns, and hardly any of the hotels are open.

Eventually I hade it over one of the highest mountains in the French Alps while it was still light.

There are two times of the day when the light is just right. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

When I made it to the top of Col de la Bonette (approx 2,800m) the sun was setting and the light perfect. I got some good photos.

It was still light when I got down to the first town the other side, but no hotel rooms were available. Well there was one. But the toilet was shared and outside the room. There was a shower in the room though. Strange this - I gave it a miss.

It can't be far to the next town. I'm on the Route des Grande Alps.

But it was. I'm glad I stopped for a pizza at the last hotel that told me they were full.

As I set out again, reliant completely on the GPS, it was properly dark. Isola was just up the road. They would have somewhere for me to stay. But they didn't.

So I pressed on through St Saveur Sur Tinee (no hotels open this I could find), now up a tight mountain pass.

Now I like a challenge. Both for myself and the Family Truckster. But this was one challenge I could have done without.

These mountain passes are tough enough during the day. But after more than 10 hours on the road and in the dark - I probably chose the wrong time to take on this challenge.

I went over Col de la Couillole (1,678m) at around 9pm, the darkness hiding the spectacular scenery that would have been on offer during daylight. Needless to say there were no other bikers, or many cars even for that matter, enroute at that hour testing their skills.

At 2130m I arrived at Beuil. A hotel room was available at the first place I stopped. They could have charged me anything. I was absolutely exhausted.

The later it got the more challenging it was to find a hotel. I was so grateful to find a room. I simply did not care less there was no internet.

More details and photos of the passes coming.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:22 PM GMT
Andermatt to Beuil

Even though I finished late this was always going to be a challenging route.

Heading west out of Andermatt at around 0900 I again went over the Furka pass but you've already seen that.

Next was Col de la Forclaz (1,526m) before crossing the border into France just after Le Chatelard.

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Passing through Chamonix Mount Blanc, Albertville and then St Michel de Maurienne my next pass was the Col du Telegraphe (1,578m) followed by the Col du Galibier (2,645m).

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Briancon was the next major town, I'd been here before when skiing in Italy and the foul weather had closed the slopes through lack of visibility (it is just over the border).

The ride to Guillestre was straightforward although I passed up the opportunity to spend the night here (probably a bad call).

Moving on (and losing a glove much to my dismay - lucky I carry two pairs) I went over the Col de Vars (2,111m) and then refuelled at Jausiers (I was almost on fumes by then!).

The next one was special. La Bonnette at 2,862m was the big one. The highest pass in Europe I understand. There was little traffic to contend with to my relief. The views were simply spectacular from the top of the alps but interstingly no snow to be seen.

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On the way down I passed over the Col du Restefond (2,678m) and finally in the darkness the Col de la Couillole (1,678m).

It was a long but memorable day.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 10:08 PM GMT
 



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