The weather is fine and my bags are packed. A few trips downstairs and I can begin loading all my stuff on the Family Truckster. Pannier inner bags provided a bit of a struggle but everything is on now and I'm ready to go.
A quick detour west to meet my new travel companion Aussie Joe - running a few minutes late but not a drama for getting to Folsktone for the train to Calais.
We arrive right on schedule and have no problems checking in. Before we know it the train is leaving.
We are headed to Leuven in Belgium (home of Stella Artois) mostly on motorways today. A little boring but good for getting out of western Europe. Fairly uneventful but did include a stop to refuel ourselves. By mid afternoon we arrive at our lodgings for the evening (a very good choice by Aussie Joe). Close to everything, very comfortable and a knowledgable host. A good base to explore this university town and its amenties.
Exploring Leuven was thirstly work and we quickly found a suitable establishment to partake of some of the local amber fluid.
Another walk around town before dinner revealed more of Leuven's architectural highlights.
Moules and Frites for dinner and then another gentle stroll back to the hotel before having an early night.
I'm feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep and an excellent continental breakfast.
Bikes packed and AJ and I go our separate ways for the day, planning to meet up again in a few days.
I head off east on the motorway towards the German border but a missed turn takes me past the Stella Artois brewery before I'm back on course. A quick stop for lunch at Adenau - spare ribs from a well kitted out mobile vendor,
followed by German cake and coffee
No time to look around as I have many miles to cover today, so back on the bike and off I go.
I encounter some rain on the way to Wertheim, causing me to stop and put the wet weather gear on. Luckily the rain did not last for long and I was soon able to remove my mobile sauna. I made it to Wertheim around 1700 and stopped to stretch my legs and reflesh for the next stint. Looks like there is going to be a big festival/party in the old town over the weekend. Lots of temporary bars, foodstalls and stages for bands.
While enjoying an espresso I chatted with a couple of Aussies from Rockhampton who were mid way through a European tour.
Always good to hear an Aussie accent and seems we can be found almost anywhere - you don't even have to look hard to find us.
Back on the road around 1800 hoping to make some good time for another 100 miles. Great roads and perfect riding conditions but my progress was thwarted by roadworks and detours.
By 1930 I'd had enough riding for the day and decided to find somewhere to stay the night in Rothenburg. Trip Advisor was consulted and I was soon on my way to a hotel in the old walled city.
After checking in and unloading the Family Truckster I head out to explore the old city. There are many cities like this in Europe but wach is still fascinating and I never tire of seeing them.
Total miles today 411 (661km), cumulative 671 (1,080km).
I was hoping to make an earlier start today so I packed my kit up and prepared to check out of the hotel only to be advised that breakfast was included in the overnight rate.
No point leaving on an empty stomach so I settlde down in the restuarant for a coffee and some pastries. No sooner had I sat down when someone enquired in their best German of my ability to speak English so he could ask me a few questions about my motorbike (I had all my riding kit on).
Another Aussie couple travelling through Europe - so we chatted about Australia, motorbikes and where we'd been and going to for a while.
It was another 170 miles from Rothernburg to Klatovy (Czech Republic) to make up the shortfall from yesterday. This was in addition to the 241miles originally planned for today, taking in some historic sights in the Czech Republic.
I finally got going and had a few motorway miles to do first up in order to make it to the Czech border. Almost as soon as I made it over the border it started to rain lightly. Not wanting to get my riding kit soaked I pulled over in a small town and pulled on the wet weather gear. This proved to be a good move even though I was thinking the rain wouldn't last that long or be too heavy.
The change from Germany to the Czech Republic was very noticeable and extreme. The B roads were quite poorly surfaced and all the signs (advertising, place names and road signage) was unfamiliar. But the first time new country for me so I was excited.
By the time I reached Klatovy the rain had well and truly set in for the day. I stopped for some soup at a cafe/bar on the plaza and planed my next move.
My planned "scenic" route was another 241 miles and the GPS was showing this would take nearly 6 hours in good conditions. With the conditions suitable for neither riding or sight-seeing it was a simple decision. Another motorway slog to make to Prague in the shortest time and safest route possible.
A quick look around Klatovy's plaza for some photos.
I couldn't put it off any longer so I put all my kit back on, took it easy on the motorway and made it to the hotel in Prague mid afternoon - looking like a drowned rat but at least dry on the inside and with dry luggage. AJ beat me there by 15 mins and was already enjoying his welcome beer from Kristina our host for the next few nights.
When touring by motorcycle it is a luxury to stay more than one night at the same place. The constant packing, loading the bike arriving at the next hotel, checking in, unloading the gear and carrying it to your room can become a bit tedius. Each night the following comes off the bike:
- left side pannier inner bag with laptop, maps, travel guide books and plugs/cables
- waterproof roll bag (this sits on the back seat of the bike) with my clothes etc
- camera bag from the top box
- GoPro video camera and mount from where ever it has been mounted for the last few rides of the day (this usually goes inside the camera bag so I have less things to carry)
- helmet (to charge up the bluetooth headset)
Of late I've also been taking the GPS off so I can download my tracks for a more permanent record of where I've been.
If it has been raining I may also need to bring in my wet weather gear to allow it to dry out properly before packing away again for another rainy day.
About the only thing that stays on the bike is the left pannier inner bag which contains some tools (don't know what I would do with these if the bike broke down anyway!), a puncture repair kit and 12v tyre pump, some cable ties and duct tape.
The challenge at the end of a long day in the saddle is to get all this stuff into your hotel room in one trip. It is possible but not without a struggle.
With two whole days in Prague and no luggage to repack and reload, my biggest worry was where to leave the bike. At the recommendation of Kristina from the hotel, and following much nervousness on my part, the bike was left in the open air car park oppostite the bus station. At least there was some shelter that the bike would fit under to keep it out of the rain. I was assured the car park was manned 24hrs a day and the bike would be left within view of the attendent. Reluctantly I parked up the bike, activated the central locking (yes my bike does have this - activated from the key fob) and turned on the alarm. I said goodbye to it on Saturday afternoon - planning only to return on Tuesday morning to pick it up and move it to the hotel so it was handy for the morning loading routine.
This is how it looked when I left it.
Anyway, no point worrying about it now. Can't watch it all day - and always trust the advice of locals. Unless of course the locals are part of a motorbike scam!
Fingers crossed it is still there on Tuesday morning when I need it again.
Of the two full days I had in Prague I spent Sunday wandering around the tourist areas. On Monday I stayed in the hotel and caught up on emails and got this blog up to date (only got the go ahead from Grant of HU the previous day).
The thing about Prague and other great or iconic cities like it is there is just no view of this city that hasn't already been photographed. Many before me have worked all the angles and photographed the wonderful buildings, bridges, monuments, statues and streets much better than I ever could. Nonetheless it was good to wander around this city I have heard much about and never before visited.
Before I conclude with a some of the typical tourist snaps of this wonderful city, I would like to share one photo which you may have never seen of Prague before. It is my favourite photo from Prague.
And so on with the other shots that many will recognise. Maybe I should have spent more time wandering around but I did get to watch the F1 GP in Paddy's Bar with a bunch of Irishmen - and it was a very good race!
Up early to pack and the weather is looking promising. After two days off the bike I'm looking forward to putting in some miles again today. It could be a long day if I make it to Slovakia as planned. But I want to see some Czech towns on the way to my overnight stop in the Tatra Mountains.
Everything is charged up - helmet, phones, camera, GoPro HD etc so time to pack everything away and take a few items at a time downstairs where it can wait while I go and get the bike.
It's a nice sunny morning and at around 0730am as I walk around the corner to get my bike out of the carpark - it's still there with no dramas. Always trust local advice.
A short drive back to the hotel and I'll park it up outside on the pavement while I have breakfast and load it up.
I say farewell to our host, Katrina, of the past couple of days. Her advice and knowledge of Prague have been great - plus she speaks about 5 languages fluently (I am so envious of this).
I bid farewell to AJ and we exchange our individual plans for the next few days. Likely we will catch up again in Poland. It's almost 0930 - time to leave now.
The routes were planned some time ago and are all loaded in the GPS. Today I'm planning to take my routes C2 and C3. C2 takes me west through the Czech Republic to Zamek Kromeriz and C3 from there to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia - about 400 miles all up if I feel like going that far.
I recall some intersting towns were planned on the way - with minimal motorways.
First stop is in Kutna Hora, courtesy of the local police. Seems like about 10 other cars I've gone down a road that I shouldn't have. Very scenic though but I tell the officer I don't understand and I never saw any signs, honest. Off the bike and out with the license and passport - a good time for some photos too.
Seems the combination of an international drivers license and Aussie passport are too much for the local law keepers so I was asked to move on - good result. I even got a police escort out of town (well there was a police car in front of me for a few miles - but this sounds way better). I saw more police around Kutna Hora than I had all the way there from London!
Some more miles covered and soon I'm arriving at the town/city of Litomysl. Looks interesting - maybe I'll stop here, take some photos and stretch my legs. I'm glad I did - see for yourself why.
Back on the bike and some time later I arrive at Zamek Kromeriz. Again very interesting - but I feel like I missed the best bits of this city. That's the problem with high mileage days. Can't stay too long at any one place. Coffee, water, quick walk around, some photos and back on the road again. A bit like travel lottery - just have to cross your fingers that you get a couple of jackpots from all the miles travelled.
Anyway - here's the highlights of what I did see - let me know what I missed out on if you've been there.
I left Zamek Kromeriz around 3pm with still a further 164 miles to get to the Tantra Mountains region of Slovakia. Seemed like I had only just made it to the Czech Republic and had thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay. But a new country beckoned.
It wasn't long before I was crossing the border into Slovenia - I hadn't expected the roads to be this good. Good weather, good (traffic free) roads and a great bike are all you can ask for on a trip like this. Good time was made in spite of a few wrong turns. Scenic too.
Got to my planned overnight stay (no bookings though) only to find they were booked out. Back on the bike and my inquiries at another 3 guesthouses by the lake yeilded no success. It's starting to get dark now and I'm getting hungry. This game of not knowing where you will spend each night is both exhilarating and stressful. But in the back of your mind you know something will always work out,
I stopped at another guesthouse this time a little further away from the lake. No accomodation available but I'm welcome to have something to eat in the restaurant. Good feed too - and good value.
I logged onto their WIFI and found a hotel room about 30 minutes away - so I booked it online. On settling my bill for dinner I was informed that the guesthouse
had a late cancellation and I could stay the night. I was devasted - this place looked great (see for yourselves) -
and a beer would have really hit the spot after a long day!
Back on the bike and a 30 minute journey ends up taking 45 minutes thanks to another wrong turn (the GPS maps just don't match the roads in these less populated regions of Eastern Europe).
Finally at around 2030 I made it to the hotel in Dolny Kubin. Nothing memorable about this place on riding in other than that the circus was in town. Hotel was uninspiring but I had somewhere to stay. The only consolation was I had covered some of the next days journey - so an even shorter day tomorrow than the 160 miles planned.
Will have a walk around in the morning and check this place out some more - but here is the view from the hotel room
Travelled today - 415 miles (668km). Cumulative - 1,336 miles (2,150km).
It's easy to think now that if this is the worst I have to deal with on this trip then everything has gone well.
The breakfast at the hotel should have been a sign - but I did not heed it (cold mushroom half-an-egg omlette and soggy lettuce garnish).
A quick morning stroll around Dolny Kubin provided little inspiration for the day ahead. The hotel looked worse on the outside than it had from the inside.
Maybe I should have stayed and gone to tonight's circus performance.
But please don't get the wrong impression about Slovakia - maybe I just stumbled across one of its less spectacular towns. Most of everything else I saw and experienced was great - I just have no photos of the better parts (but plenty of HD video).
So less than 160 miles today north to Krakow via Auschwitz. If all goes well I'll be at Auschwitz just after lunch - visit the museum and be in Krokow late afternon and catch up again with AJ.
The route is programmed to keep me off the motorways as much as possible and off I go.
First couple of hours were fine and very enjoyable. Seemed like I'd hardly been riding any time and I crossed the border into Poland (another new country for me).
I'm ahead of the GPS ( ie should arrive in Auschwitz before the GPS suggested when I set off) and thinking about how I will spend the evening in Krakow.
It seems like there is plenty of logging in this part of Poland. I'm occasionally slowed down by trucks laden with freshly cut trees and there is much evidence of logging as I travel through the forest. There is a left turn coming up - as I prepare to make the turn I see a sign that looks like it says the road is closed. OK - I'll keep going straight and hopefully hook up further along. Ten minutes later the road is getting narrower and the surface poorer. But I'm headed in the right direction - so I keep going.
Around another bend and the gravel on the road turns into a gravel road. A no go zone for the Family Truckster. So I gingerly turn it around (not easy on a narrow road with a heavy bike) and head back.
Maybe that original road was not closed? Let's give that a go. Sadly I was wrong. My initial interpretation of Polish road signs was on the money. There is no way through here either so another 5 point turn beckons - made even harder by fact that half the road is covered with the dirt excavated from the section under repair.
So I back track even further - knowing I have to head north east to get to Auschwitz. Back on an A road now and there's a sign for Oswiecim - I think that is the Polish name for Auschwitz - so let's follow these signs. Good call. The GPS picks up the route again and I'm on my way.
But getting low on petrol now. The low fuel light is on and I have about 30 miles of petrol left. GPS is telling me to turn left. I look right and see a sign for a petrol station 500m to the tight right. I change the indicator and wait for the traffic to clear from both directions. I turn the handlebars a hard right and ease the bike forward ever so slightly preparing to take this very tight right turn.
And then the moment we all fear. Heavy bike, tight turn and slow speeds.
The bike starts to overbalance. Not now - not here!
I put my right foot down - more in hope than anything else - but prepared to jump off if I need to. No need to have it fall on me - I'd never get out from under it on my own.
But my leg holds it up. Unbelievable! I thought I'd dropped it.
Short haul to the petrol station now - time to have a break and get my breath back. That was so close - never been that close to dropping the Family Truckster before.
I refuel and park up the bike so I can get a coffee.
Twenty minites later and time to head to Auschwitz - not far from here - maybe another 30 minutes.
I walk out to my bike. What is that on my tyre?
Worn through to the steel belts.
I knew I would need to replace them soon but was planning to do this in Romania. Probably the extra weight has sped up the squaring off process. Plenty of tread left on the edges. Need to ride more bends and less straight lines!
Better get these replaced. But where?
I wasn't sure how I would feel today. I had researched the history of Auschwitz last night to prepare myself.
This place held a certain fascination with me. Part of history, forever, but chilling and clinical with ruthless efficiency.
The Auchwitz museum was a 30 minute ride away. Took it easy of course. Even cars passed me - how embrassing!
But there was something wrong with today. Blue sky and warm, hot even. I should be going to Auschwitz in the depths of winter. With grey skies and snow on the ground. Would be bitterly cold also. Somehow the sun masked the true terror of this place.
I pulled in to the carpark around noon and was confronted by thr number of people visiting. I suppose it is summer holidays in Europe after all.
I lined up for a ticket only to learn that tour guides were mandatory. Ok so be it. I normally fly through museums in about one quarter of the recommended time.
We are given headphones and a device which allows us to hear Aggie our guide. I'm in an English guided group of course and Aggie is a local. There are over 20 people in our group. Some other Aussies too. I could tell by their accents. But no chatting today. It just does not seem appropriate or respectful here where over 1 million people died. The whole site is a memorial to their suffering. It is not hard to be respectful in this place.
I have my camera but I'm unsure about taking photos. I take some anyway - of the buildings mostly where the prisoners were accomodated if you could call it that.
We start in Auschwitz I - a former barracks of the Polish army before Poland was invaded. The buildings remain in good condition - some are undergoing renovation. The electric fences and barbed wire serve as a constant reminder of the purpose of the camp.
Aggie is pure Polish and wants this to be an education for us today. She knows the history well and has spoken with several survivors. It is her job now to pass on their story and she pulls no punches.
I sense Aggie wants us to know that many Polish people also died in this place. The museum is contained in several of the buildings and we pass from one to another. Evidence is presented in addition to photos. As we see the piles of personal belongings on display; shoes, suitcases, shaving brushes, spectacles, Aggie reminds us these were real people.
We learn about the selection, the concentration camp, the prison within the prison, and the gas chambers and crematorium. I was so ignorant.
Some places we are asked not to take photos out of respect. Other places I simply choose not to.
The tour of Auschwitz I took about 2 hours and has now concluded. We take our seats on a bus for the 3km ride to Auschwitz Birkenau.
On arrival I am immediately overwhelmed with the scale of this site - and the single railway line running down the middle of the camp. Some 25 times larger in area than Auschwitz I, this "factory" was the ultimate operational scale up. I had not realised that many of the buildings and all of the gas chambers and crematorium (there were 4 on this site) were scuttled towards the end of the war. Only a relative handful of the over 300 buildings remain. Aggie shows us around some of the remaining barracks (little more than stables) before walking the length of the railway line to the ruins of the gas chambers and crematorium.
The lesson is over about three and a half hours after it began. Our teacher's mission is accomplished.
I head back. It sure is a warm day.
Can't wait to get the bike kit off and have a walk around town.
As I wander aimlessly I reflect on the day. What sticks most in my mind is the enourmous pile of human hair in the museum, removed from those gassed prior to cremation and sold to industry to make into fabric. And the photos of the prisioners that lined the walls in one of the buildings I passed through today - clothed the same and heads shaved as an act of dehumanisation - reducing them to numbers.
I'm not sure if it was the heat of the day, the thought of the journey in front of me or simply a mark of respect or yet another mid life crisis - but probably a combination of all the above. I entered the local hair salon and asked for a number 2. I like it.
Apart from building excellent bikes, BMW have an extensive dealer network through Europe. Some will claim that you pay a lot for the badge but it is moments like this when you really appreciate the investment in a new BMW.
My GPS is a Garmin but comes badged as a BMW Navigator IV. Main difference is the price - but today the BMW dealer locator only available on the Nav IV version was all the justifcation of the extra cost I needed.
So my tyre is worn and needs to be replaced. It is a simple matter of pressing a few buttons on the GPS and I am given details of all nearby authorised BMW dealers. Distances range from 30 miles to 60 miles. I pick the closest and cross my fingers the tyre will last the distance.
The GPS directs me there - but typical of this day I must have selected the "via roadworks" option. What should have been an easy ride turns out to be a series of stop and go signals where roads are reduced to a singe lane.
But getting closer now - can see the chequered flag on the GPS but as I arrived at the destination there is no sign of the BMW dealer. Luckily a few signs with the BMW logo direct me to what must be their new premises - about half a mile away.
I made it but will they have or even be able to source a new set of tyres?
The staff here are great - would I like a coffee, cold water, here is the wifi password etc. Dominik is the Service Manager and he informs me they have not had to replace this size of tyre before so they do not carry any. He get's his staff to start ringing around to see what they can come up with.
Some time later Dominik advises they have sourced some Michelin's of the right size - they will be here in 2 days time. So I have an unexpected stay in Bielsko-Biala for at least 2 nights.
Dominik points me in the right direction for the Centrum (it is only 3 mins up the road) and tells me the tyre will be ok but I should take it very easy. Come back on Friday around 11am and they will fit them.
I head off figuring there will be a good selection of hotels in the centre of town.
About 90 minutes later and after several failed attempts to locate accomodation using the GPS I finally pull into the President Hotel. I had passed this about 5 times already in search of something more modest but by now I just wanted to get out of my kit (it is the hottest day of the trip so far) and explore what looks to be an interesting city.
Checked in and showered I head off to the old part of town. It was a perfect afternoon - still quite warm but nice to be walking aound in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.
This seems to be the way with travelling. One of those average days turns into something special. I would never have come to this town if not for the need to replace my tyres. But it is delightful. The hotel is excellent, right in the middle of town and not much more than I wanted to pay anyway. Close enough to the Auschwitz Museum that I can get there on the bike tomorrow, my two nights here are sure to be most pleasant.
And they were.
Here are some of my favourite images of Bielsko-Biala.
Fingers crossed the tyres arrive on Friday so I can reconnect with KG.
But then again, even if they don't I'm sure another pleasant but unexpected adventure will materialise.
I'm writing this while waiting for my tyes to be fitted by the BMW dealer in Bielsko-Biala.
Shouldn't be too much longer now and I'll be on my way.
It's been a few days now since I left AJ in Prague. He's got an Aussie mate shadowing him by train at the moment so no doubt they are have a good time.
We have been in contact though - sms and email.
ME: Back tyre worn through. Trying to source new tyre about 60 miles out of Krakow (3/8/11 14:26).
ME: Stuck here until Fri. When do you plan to leave Krakow? (3/8/11 18:27)
AJ: 3 Nights in Krakow incl tonight, will be good to connect soon (4/8/11 00:02)
AJ: G'day mate, I see from your blog that you will be in Krakow later today ... we're planning to do the concentration camp tour tomorrow so will book you in? See you later. Cheers (4/8/11 09:40).
ME: Tyre arrives tomorrow with luck. Will find out mid morning. BMW dealer here was great but they have not had to supply/fit and of this size before. I went to Auschwitz today. The tour (mandatory between 1000 and 1530) takes about 3.5 hours but well worth it. My guide was very knowledgeable. Maybe will get to Krakow tomorrow night if all goes well. Cheers (4/8/11 19:19).
AJ: We're about to do the Auschwitz tour today. I leave for Romania tomorrow morning, so if you're in Krawow today it will be good to exchange plans. We're staying ... almost adjacent to the town square (5/8/11 08:20).
I'm not sure what blog AJ was reading! I will let you know if he sees this post.
Don't you always feel great when you treat yourself.
Sometimes the treat is out of necessity - to enable you to carry on.
Before it happens you are concerned about the cost - will it be worth it. Can I afford it. But afterwards you always know it was worth it and overdue.
Today the Family Truckster was treated to some new shoes. Michelin's no less. When my safety is at stake only the best will do.
Don't they look great!
And also a trip to the cleaners. Like new again!
Time to hit the road the road and get to Krakow. Wonder what AJ has been up to?
So what is the quickest route to Krakow?
GPS is prgrammed and off I go. Turns out to be a motorway slog. Even two tolls to pay.
But I make it there in good time. Some roadworks to negotiate but before I know it I'm at the hotel where KG and Serpy are staying - they are doing Auschwitz tody and will be back later this afternoon. I check it out before going in. Looks a bit dodgy but AJ has been on the money so far so I'll give it a go - it is in a prime location. They have a room available. It takes about 20 minutes to explain the 5 keys I'm now armed with - each colour coded. Could be confusing after a few beers.
Time to explore this city which I know little about.
Wow. Never thought it would be like this. One of Europe's best kept secrets. Here are some of my favourite images.
Have sent a text to AJ letting him know I'm in town. Wonder what time they will be back?
As I wander the streets I find myself back at the plaza near the hotel. It's a hot afternoon in Krakow and all this walking around has made me thirsty. Time for a beer. I deserve it!
Some outdoor tables under unbrellas looks a good spot. And to my surprise there is AJ and Swampy. Their text alerting me to their arrival was not noticed - distracted by the sights of Krakow.
It's good to catch up again and swap travel tales.
Serpy sure knows his rugby league. How good it is to talk about the footy after some time out of Oz.
We wander a short distance to a part of town with some street stalls for something to eat before heading back for a cleansing ale before we we retire for the evening. This place looks great day or night.
We bid farewell to Swampy in the morning. He is on his way to Rome then London before heading back to Barcaldine.
It's just AJ and me - the adventure is just beginning.
Sorry for the delay but the first video is now available - www.youtube.com/watch?v=XerkQ_9dh9g.
Hope you enjoy!
It's a little harder to get out of bed this morning. Maybe one too many beers.
But this can be no impediment to todays plan - south to Slovakia.
I'm looking forward to the roads today - should be some twisties once we hit Slovakia. AJ reckoned last night that he could take me in the twistes - good luck! He could be the best rider in the world but his Junior Massey Ferguson (F800 GS that is) is simply no match for the Family Truckster on decent tarmac. He can take the JMF places I won't dare do but unless he plans to go off road then he's no chance.
Makes for some good light hearted banter though.
AJ leaves the navigaion to me and off we go. More traffic than we expected getting out of Krakow and through most of Poland for that matter. The cities are the worst but every now and then my roadworks locator helps slow us down on what should be fast roads.
It's not a big mileage day today so we hope to arrive in Poprad early afternoon.
Before we leave Poland we make a stop for lunch. A quirky place and the soup was good.
The farmers in the region are hard at work preparing for the coming winter.
The eastern Tatra Mountains in Slovakia are good fun. The road surface is pretty good also. We pass through a ski resort area. No snow this time of year but plenty of hikers or naturists.
It's not what you would call a clear day but no rain at least.
We arrive at Poprad on schedule and find the centre plaza and look for a hotel. There is one upstairs from a restaurant/bar just near where we have parked the bikes.
The receptionist must have failed Hospitality 101 several times but for 24 euros each for single rooms you can't expect much. It was surprisingly comfortable and was nice to have a shower once I shed all that heavy and hot riding kit. It was noticably warmer and more humid today. At least we can ease into the conditions in Turkey.
A few cold beers hit the spot and we settle in for the evening.
Safety is paramount when I ride. I have good kit. My suit has body armour, my Daytona boots are excellent for touring, plus gloves and first rate helmet.
It takes some time to get ready each day but I don't ride without it.
My helmet is a flip front style but when riding the chin bar is in the down/locked position. I do like however to feel the wind in my face so ride with the visor up as much as possible. This is possible when wearing sunglasses at speeds up to about 60 mph. Any more than this and the wind forces the visor down anyway.
I was enjoying riding through Poland yesterday morning and at a gentle touring pace which allowed me ride with the visor up. Next things I felt a sharp paid near my left eye. A bee or wasp had missed everything and slammed right into my face. It felt like I copped a sting also.
You learn to take things like this in your stride and it's not the first time I've felt the force of a bug in the face.
Over the next 10 minutes the pain of the sting faded and I continued enjoying the Polish countryside.
I could still feel a little pain at the end of the day and was surprised there was little evidence of my bee/wasp encounter.
When I woke up this morning though the incident was clear and this is how it looked at our first riding break mid morning.
It continued to swell during the day and here's how it looked after dinner tonight.
Hopefully the swelling will start to go down overnight.
Sorry I'm a little in arrears on these but will do my best to catch up over the next couple of weeks
Hope you enjoy it.
Waking up I can still feel that my eye is swollen - but hopefully it's starting to reduce now.
A quick look in the mirror
But what if I take the sunglasses off?
Oh no - it's actually worse!
Can I still ride today?
AJ is up early. Knocks on my door about 30 mins before we were due to meet. Seems he could be in for an uncomfortable day with plenty of stops. Not quite the imagery I'd been hoping for. Hope it is manageable for him.
Or is it a cunning plan to get me to slow down to the pace of the JMF? Yesterday he said it was running rough in the morning. Then the front tyre was an issue in the afternoon. Of course he'd have spanked me in the hills yesterday if not for these problems. Lucky for me as I couldn't have taken the embarassment of chasing the rear of the JMF!
Much to AJ's relief the bikes are just as we left them the night before. We are packed and ready to go.
The road out of Poprad is good. Tight corners and a little greasy as a consequence of some overnight rain. Lucky both AJ and the JMF are off colour as it could have been another embarassing day. We stop just before the descent for some scenic shots.
No signs of AJ soiling himself so far, for which I am very grateful. And no dash off to woods to inspect the local funghi. Maybe those pills he took are up to the task.
After not too long we cross the border from Slovakia to Hungary. Another new country for me - the first of two today.
These are unmanned. We are not stopped. This structure now serves merely as a poorly maintained monument to a different era.
We press on through Hungary via the cities of Miskolc and Tokaj. Just before Tokaj we see a winery and make a stop for lunch - soup again today.
Another hour or so and we have our first real border crossing into Romania. Not part of the Shengan area so out with the registration docs and passport. AJ goes ahead to clear the path then cannot find any of the documents requested. By the time his panniers are emptied through and his docs located a long line has formed. Hope Romanians are patient. Plenty of time for me to get the requisite paperwork.
Farewell to Hungary
but I'll still claim it as a new country for me even though no overnight stay.
Hello Romania -
I am though in less than a minute but now have to wait for AJ to repack his kit. Plus it is hot so he's taken his jacket, helmet and gloves off also. Plus he now tells me we have to stop again another 10 minutes up the road at the money exchanger. I am soaking from sweat inside my suit as I wait with all my kit intact.
AJ leads the way to the money exchanger. We pass through the first town where the money exchanger should be but there is no sign of it so we stop - can I find one on my GPS he aks. It is absolutely boiling - over 30 degrees now and humid as Brisbane in February. I can see a storm brewing in the distance.
This kind of temperature used to be a doddle for me when in Oz but after a few winters in the UK, about 20 degrees and no humidity is about all it takes before I break out in a sweat wearing only shorts and a t-shirt.
I check the GPS but it only shows banks and ATM's. I'll just wait here while he rides around town looking for the money exchanger. Ten minutes later he is back.
My torture is at least over now and we move on.
But the possible threat of rain ahead is now of concern to AJ. This I can understand this as it is never something I look forward to. But some years in the UK have taught me that if you enjoy riding then prepare for rain. If you don't you would perhaps only go out twice a year. When I rode in Oz I would not even think about going out if there was more than a 2% chance of rain. Maybe I'm made of harder stuff now.
We are only 5 miles out of Satu Mare now and it look ominous. Some large drops of rain are falling - slowly at first but now getting harder. I just don't want to get my suit wet - these take more than an overnight stay to dry out - and there is nothing worse than riding in wet kit.
Two and a half miles to go - there is a petrol station just up ahead. Better pull over to take some shelter and see what happens with the weather. If nothing else we can put the wet weather gear on for the short distance remaining - I don't want to hang around here for too long.
AJ dismbarks and carries on like a pork chop about the rain, the mud on his helmet from the spray off my back tyre and just about everything else! He sure doen't enjoy like the rain. But who does? Sometimes you just need to tough it out and get to the hotel no matter what. I hope the rain holds so we can continue - so near and yet so far.
About 5 minutes later there has been no rain so I reckon it will be ok - we should make a move for the hotel. Not far to go and no need for wet weather gear.
Reluctantly AJ follows me - I'll never hear the end of this if we get wet now. And this is possible. I sense he only follows me because he has not programmed his GPS with the location of the hotel.
But we make it under very heavy skies and park right out the front of the hotel. Job done.
Check in, carry bags up two flights of stairs, shower, cold beer and a walk around town.
A miserable afternoon - pity for my first day in the Czech Republic. It started to rain just as I crossed the border from Germany.
Good to be on the road again after a few nights in Prague. Big miles today. Slovakia is the goal.
A long but enjoyable day even though accomodation was an end of day challenge I could have done without.
I'm starting to catch up on the videos now.
Each full riding day I record about 2-5 hours of footage which is edited down to around 5 mins.
It is not possible to video all the days ride but there is plenty of film left on the cutting room floor.
If there is anything you would like to see that you think I have edited out please let me know.
It's raining this morning. My eye looks like a "cut me Mick" job. Will it be ok to ride like this?
Check out is not until noon so we have some time to see how the weather shapes up.
I think about going to the pharmacy to get an eyepatch so I don't scare the women and children of Satu Mare. I'm not sure how riding with one eye effects your perception of depth. But I decide not to more on the basis of how would you ask for this in Romanian anyway. Does "Polly want a cracker" or "shiver me timbers" translate? I bet "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" does!
By mid morning the rain has cleared, the bags are packed and the bike loaded. It sure is steamy now after the early rain and I sweat gallons just getting everything ready. The eye is much the same but fingers crossed it improves during the day.
AJ and I have different itineraries through Romania so we bid farewell and I'm off east. AJ heads south. We might catch up again in Bucharest so AJ tells me the hotel he has booked just as I pull away. He'll be relieved to get some respite from me I bet!
Not long out of Satu Mare and I learn about the hazzards of the horse and cart. No, not the rhyming slam variety, I mean literally. There are plenty of them. Cars pass them with either a wide berth or hesitation - and this can cause problems for motorcyclists no matter what direction said H&C is going.
They are kind of quaint though. Mostly a single horse but somethimes there are two. Always full grass and whetever else has just been taken from a building site. Must be mandatory to carry a minimum of 5 people at all times. And it does seem they have right of way.
The roads so far have been ok. I'm sure worse are yet to be experiened. My first stop in the hills has attracted the interest of the local law enforcement officers. As I am parked they pull their police van in behind me.
No problems - they are just interested in the bike. But not as much as I am interested in his pistol! He took great delight in showing me the bullets. His English was pretty good and he was kind enough to have a photo with me.
It's always nice when someone shows an interest in your bike - no matter what bike you own. The common question in Romania so far is how fast does it go? When the police guy asked this I informed him about the speed I have had it on the unrestricted Autobahns in Germany. Everywhere else I always travel at the speed limit of course.
After our chat I'm off again. It's not a big riding day today and before long I pull up in Borsa - my scheduled overnight stay. Not much here bit I have a quick wander around and find somewhere for a coffee.
Luckily for me the Motel Rodna does not appear to want my custom (reception is closed) so I head a little further down the road, refuelling for the next days ride on the way.
Just a short way out of town I come across a nice guesthouse so I pull over and make enquiries as to the availability of a room for the night. They can accomodate me so I unload my kit and head upstairs to my room for a shower (AJ told me they always give bikers the top floor and he is right - they seem to take delight in watching you carry your kit up as many fights of stairs as possible). Today I'm also early enough to do some clothes washing - just the essentials - hope they dry by the morning.
This is a very nice place and the cheapest of the trip so far. About 19 Euros and another 3.50 euros for breakfast. Beers were 0.60 euros for a 500 ml bottle and a bottle of wine was just over 3 euros. Good internet access in the dining room so all was well. Did the blog and a couple of videos.
It's starting to get dark, I need more afternoon sun to dry my washing.
An early night is calling. Hope you enjoy the scenery from the guesthouse.
Mileage today 117 (188 km), cumulative 2,098 (3,376 km).
The alarm wakes me. I can hear rain. Heavy rain.
Breakfast at 0830 is good - an omlette - will keep me going all day. It is still raining and seems to be getting heavier.
My washing is still damp.
Three other bikers from Luxembourg also stayed at the Guesthouse last night. They are heading west. Opposite direction to me.
We swap opinions on the weather. No problems for me to stay another night here. But I am keen to explore more of this fascinating country. How many more horses and carts will I see today?
We recover our bikes from the out the back and park them out front ready for loading.
They are ready to go and make a start before me.
A local asks me about my eye. It is much improved now but still a little swollen - should be back to normal tomorrow. I tell her it was from an altercation with a red hot poker. She seems to understand though offers no sympathy.
As I am about to load my bike the rain starts again. I wait for another two hours.
At 1300 I set off with light rain falling. My wet weather kit is on from the outset. I thought about heading off without putting it on but I made a good call. I ended up keeping it on all day.
Another low mileage day but made tougher with the conditions: bad weather, deteriorating roads and cows. Horses and carts clearly stay out of the rain.
The first 45 miles were the worst. But I took it easy and made it with no problems.
Not that you don't have some moments.
Other bikers will understand this.
Those milliseconds when you are not as in control as you like. Either too fast into a bend, cars going the opposite direction on the wrong side of the road, gravel on a bend, potholes just where you don't need them, cows lurking on the side of the road, rain in your eyes, visor fogging up, wet roads.
I had them all in that 45 mile stretch today.
Potholes were the main problem. I think they are best taken front on ie upright. If the front wheel is even slightly turned this could spell trouble. You try and miss as many as you can. But some you just can't. Hang on tight and hope it is not too deep. Rain fills potholes - hiding their secrets, concealing their danger.
I had some moments today.
But the Family Truckster took it all in its stride even if I didn't. Most modern bikes are way better then their riders abilities unless you are Casey Stoner. Traction control, ABS, adjustable suspension - bring it on I say. If it keeps you upright then why not have it.
A modern bike and respect for the conditions is a good start to a long tour. Conditions need to be evaluated constantly. They can change quickly. I did have one pure road surface today and the road was dry. 7.4 miles of sweeping bends. And didn't I enjoy it - I made the most of it. Almost didn't take the turn when the GPS said so. It was over so soon.
Some nice scenery today.
I stopped a few time to take photos but did the whole route to Bicaz from Bosra without taking my helmet off. One break for a coffee and a choclate bar - the helmet stayed on.
Sometimes conditions like this can be a blessing. For the first 45 miles I did not get past 3rd gear. Most of it was in second and sometimes less than half of the speed limit. Nothing about the road surface was taken for granted. My speed was appropriate for the conditions. The occasional half road closure due to a wash out was easily negotiated at this speed.
I never enjoy riding when it is raining. But it is a good skill to have for when you need it.
Made it - time to find somewhere to stay.
No music today - hope you enjoy the ride with me.
On a trip like this you go through the whole range of emotions. Some days good, others not so good. On a bike there is plenty of time for reflection. I like the solitude and independence. Sure you rely on other motorists. You can be so unlucky. But you can also make your own luck.
For me riding my motorbike is all about escapism. Running away from reality with the wind in your hair (and hopefully no bees in your eye).
A machine does not let you down deliberately. Buy a good one, maintain it, and it goes unconditionally. Place your trust in it and it will take you where you direct it. It will carry you thousands of miles in relative safety if you ask it to do this. But don't abuse the power it has. It can bite you.
But look after it also. Be kind. No need to ride it at its limits.
Roads also take you somewhere. Sometimes the destination is not as important as the journey. But machines and roads are honest. They are what they are and we all take them for what they are. Some are smooth and others are rough. But you get what you see. No surprises. Some tight bends but you can prepare for these. You always get to see around the corner if you approach it the right way.
Sometimes on a journey the desire to escape from reality is interrupted. Could be a thought, an email, a phone call, a chance meeting.
Mostly they take you back to a time you want to escape from. From people who want to make up history and events as it suits them. Back to the times when you were let down by the people you put trust in.
But this is life. This is reality. People are not machines.
This blog serves to document my feelings while I am away and to share with others my experiences. Highs and lows. New countries and bee stings. Great roads and potholes. The good and the bad. My perceptions are my realities. And a record for me to reflect on later. When true reality beckons again.
Tomorrow is another day. I will rely on my machine once more and there is always a road to take me somewhere.
I pulled over in Bicaz to consult the Lonely Planet guidebook on nearby accomodation. Slim pickings and not much going on anyway in this small town unless you are a naturist. I set the GPS for my next destination hoping to find somewhere on the way. Sometimes you can just fluke a good place - like I had the night before.
It wasn't long before the GPS was telling me to turn right down some obscure side road off the main highway. I must be going the wrong direction. I was.
This happens on occasions.
Just as I realised this I saw the Vila Fortuna - restuarant and guesthouse. A quick u-turn and I'm shortly pulling into the main gate. Looks ok from the outside. Not much else around and I can get a feed there also. It is all looking promising.
The evening goes well although a cold shower did not get things off to a good start. Refreshed I head downstairs to the restuarant. I'm connected, videos saved, photos saved, daily blog done and emails checked and replied to. The meal is acceptable and the wine better than I had expected.
Outside the rain is steady.
All of a sudden the lights go off. Must be some kind of power failure. Someone goes around to a few tables lighting candles. Power is back on. The off again. It's like I'm in Africa.
The power comes back on and seems to have stabilised now. Internet connection is lost so I'll retire for the evening as see what is on TV.
My room has a double and a bunk bed. The lock is designed to frustrate - I never got it on the first go. Stranger still is the frosted/coloured glass panels in the room door.
I watch Discovery channel for a while then turn the lights off ready for sleep.
The light from the hallway is beating in through the frosted/coloured glass in the door right into my eyes.
Rain is still falling.
The hallway light goes off - thank goodness for this. Maybe now I can get to sleep. But no - just another power failure. Before long the power returns and my nightlight keeps me company all night.
I wake up at around 9am. Rain is still falling - surely it will clear soon.
Let's have some breakfast and check out the weather foreacst. The water is hot this morning for my shower at least.
My laptop accompanies me to the brekfast table and I order a coffee and omlette. No internet connection still.
The rain continues to fall.
This provides a good opportunity to review my travel plans through Romania. Maybe I should go to Brasov. It wasn't on my original itenerary but looks good in the LP guidebook. Will only add another day before making it to Bucharest.
Hotels are researched (using the LP guidebook), new routes programmed and uploaded into the GPS.
Time to pack.
It is still raining.
I carry my kit downstairs and hand back my dodgy room key. Can't say I'll be sorry to leave the Vila Fortuna - I won't be recommending it. There could have been a cyclone passing through and I'd have still left.
I load the bike.
It is still raining - but fingers crossed it is clearing in the direction I am headed.
My wet weather kit is on for the second day running. I leave around 11am.
As I say farewell to the Vila Furtuna the rain seems to get heavier.
New tyres and I'm on my way to Krakow. Great city and well worth a visit even for one day.
Tolls are such a pain on a bike!
Rain is difficult on a motorbike. Road conditions are challenging. Field of vision is limited. Grey skies cloud judgements. Cars are more difficult to predict. Man holes and paint on the roads can spell disaster.
But life is tough. How many of you would want to swap with me? I'm not going to. Rain is a test. Time to hone your skills. To find out what you are made of.
There were times today that I was challenged. Not by my riding skills but by my mental strength. Could I keep my concentration up - could I keep the bike upright?
Today I passed the test. It was a tough test today. Better road surfaces but rain that wouldn't let up. I did enjoy some moments of respite. On the few occasions a dry line emerged I made the most of it.
The cars frustrated me today. Mostly Dacia's and some Skoda's. There were still horse and cart to contend with. But somehow the Dacia's and Skoda's were less predictable. They slowed when not expected. The Family Truckster does not pull up quick in wet conditions.
The highlight was a duel with a DHL van. Boy that guy could drive. He was on my hammer for some time. His lights in my mirrors. I don't experience this often. Better let him pass - he knows the roads better than me. I'll fall in behind - learn from him.
But the roadworks were my saviour. So many half road washouts today. Stop/go signals - both manual and automatic. I could sneak up to the front of the line - be frist off when the light changed to green. But the DHL van got me again. In no time. I doubt he even noticed me, but I would like to think I helped him pass the time to the end of his shift.
Another stop/go signal at a half road closure. I got past some trucks this time. Never saw the DHL van again in my mirrors.
Bicaz Gorge was the highlight today. I had read about it. Was confident my route would take me through it. It did not disappoint.
But the naturists were disppointed. They remained true to their calling under their rain suits. I could see them waiting for the sun to emerge so they could disrobe. It wasn't too cold today. Are they alergic to rain perhaps?
When I left Brisbane more than three and a half years ago it was dry. Water restictions were in force. The grass was brown around Newstead house. It doesn't take much rain to make grass green. Brown grass is wrong.
It was then I learned water was precious. Not to be taken for granted. I don't want to see brown grass again. The grass is green always in the Europe. Why? Because it rains.
It is part of the UK culture to complain about the weather. Sometimes the weather can be average. But the seasons are a delight. Four of them. Each distinct from the other. They drag you through the year. We never got this in Australia. Just two in Brisbane. A hot season and a less hot season. Some cold mornings sure. But not proper cold days when it is dark at 4pm and you need to wear a thick coat and gloves. Dark when you leave for work in the morning. The Tube a cosy refuge.
When I feel like complaining about the rain I think of the brown grass at Newstead House.
It is better that I appreciate the fine days more, and don't take them for granted.
But two days in the rain are hard going. As I arrive in Brasov, I think enough is enough. I will stay here until it stops raining. I've had enough of the rain stinging my face, like hundreds of piercing pins and needles, as I ride with my visor open to stop it from foging up. My gloves are soaked today. Most of the inside of my helmet too.
I don't dare look at the weather forecast.
I'll just open the curtains in the morning.
The new day will determine my destiny.
Please let this rain stop.
I'm well and truly back on the Romanian tourist trail.
My chosen hotel has a very business feel to it. It is like many I have stayed in before. Also lacking in character and soul. Impersonal.
But they have a room, the bike is right outside and I'm desperate to get out of my wet kit. Hopefully everything will be dry again in the morning although my gloves are about a million to one. I have another pair that will do.
I enquire at reception if they have an umbrella I can use as I wander around town. No they don't. Figures. Looks like I'm destined to spend more time in the rain. It's still falling but is a little lighter now.
Maybe the rain subdued my impressions of Brasov. It's nice but seems to try too hard. If I had seen it on a sunny day I may have felt differently. I understand this is a good city from which to visit Dracula's Castle and other out of town sights. I did have a nice traditional meal though.
But judge it for yourself.
There's nothing wrong with Brasov but I really don't want to spend another day here.
When I wake up in the morning the skies are still grey. The roads wet.
But it's not raining. And it looks like it could be clearing.
What should I do?
It doesn't take long for me to pack, check-out and load the bike. By the time I'm out of Brasov the roads are mostly dry.
And what a treat this first stretch is. Apart from the dubious overtaking abilities of the Romanian motorists this mornings ride is exactly what I'm looking for. The tourist trail roads have obviously received a greater spend per mile than the other roads I've recently been on. Not quite up to the standards of Spain or Germany but not far off and the best for me in Romania to date.
The bike sounds especially great today and the new tyres so secure on these good and dry roads.
On several occasions I am forced to slow considerably and drive to the extreme right side of the road as another miscalculated overtake from the oppostite direction confronts me. The are usually on corners. Drivers thinking their cars are faster than they are. Or maybe that my bike has the speed of a horse and cart.
Whilst startling when you round a bend none were really that close. But I could still do without them.
Some days you just ride better than others. Its like most things in life really when it all just seems to click. Today I was making the Family Truckster do exactly as I wanted. No sliipery roads or potholes to dodge. No raining stinging my eyes. This is the sort of journey the Family Truckster was built for.
What a contrast it was to the previous two days. It was a good call to leave Brasov. And the day just got better the longer it went on.
Sighisoara was my first stop shortly after midday.
I enjoy a nice lunch and set off on the second leg of the day to Sibiu.
I like Romania. The money is plastic like it is in Australia. No pictures of the Queen though. Just some former dictator. It's only 21 years since the end the communist regime.
There remain some outdated heavily industrialised areas and very little organised or large scale agriculture. I passed through one town today famous for its high level of pollution and lead, known previously for having the highest levels of infant mortality in Europe. Apparently they cleaned it up in the nineties and now they even have white snow!
The older generation are streotypical. The ladies are large and wear scarves. Aprons over their dresses. The men wear hats as they drive the horse and cart - many walk with a cane.
But the future of this country lies with the younger generation. And they look the same as those from any European country. There is wealth here. But still much poverty and subsistence living outside the major cities. The old way of life still exists for many.
I passed many Dacia's today. Some were classics, others the latest models.
They must be alright these cars. Their lastest model is called the Logan. Woodridge was the preferred name but the accountants knocked it back because it had too many letters.
This was my favourite Dacia of the day though - there's nothing this car could not manage.
Tomorrow I pass through the town where Dacia's are made. Can't wait.
The mullet is also making its reappearance as a fashion statement in Romania - or perhaps like many parts of Australia it never went out of fashion.
The other thing Romania is famous for is its dogs. Now I like a good mongrel dog. No inbreeding, generally healthier, live longer. But these strays that are everywhere would have to be the ugliest dogs I've ever seen. So ugly they defy any sort of breed identification.
Unfortunately they also become road kill.
The other day I thought I saw a dead bear on the side of the road but it was a big mongrel dog. In Australia we have kangaroos but here its dogs. They must have an army of people employed to clean up after them as I have not seen too much "mess" from them in the towns. With all the dogs and scores of cars I've seen parked by the woods there it appears that "dogging" is very popular in Romania.
Sibiu is my favourite Romanian city to date. I parked the Family Truckster in the centre of the old town and looked for a hotel to stay in. After walking around town I stumbled on a great place just off the main Piata. Yes they have a room, internet access and the price is fine. I'll take it. What - on the 4th floor? and no lifts? The exercise will do me good.
The hotel is about 500m away from where I left the Family Truckster. I'll just go and get it and park it our front.
The hotel does not appear in the GPS and I do not recall the name of the street. Half an hour later I am still riding around in circles trying to get to the hotel. These old towns are an absolute maze of one way streets, typically with a central traffic free area. A London cabbie would even struggle in Sibiu.
Evenutally I went through a pedestrian tunnel and the wrong way up at least three one way streets but I made it.
Romania (absent the rain) is a great place. Here are my favourite shots of Sibiu - I like the roofs with windows that look like eyes watching over you.
Tomorrow is a big day. This should be special. The Transfagsrasan Road.
This road is famous. One of the most scenic and best driving roads in Europe it is claimed. Right from the outset this road had been on my radar.
The days started out perfectly. Great breakfast including two generous slices of chilled watermelon. I'd seen roadside vendors throughout most of Romania selling watermelon and wondered if they were any good. I'm a bit fussy about them. Will devour almost an entire one if it's right but won't give it a second look if not. This one was almost the perfect watermelon.
The weather couldn't be better. Clear blue skies in all directions. Temperature ideal for touring. GPS is set to my pre-planned route and I'm off.
About 30 minutes out of Sibiu I stop to refuel as I doubt there will be many petrol stations on the Transfagarasan Road (7C). I can see the mountains that I will soon be riding over in the distance, their peaks shrouded in white cloud. They look spectacular. Better get some photos while I'm stopped.
D'oh! Some damn fool forgot to recharge the camera battery and it is completely flat. This is not good. I take some shots with my phone. Will just have to make do with it today.
That's very average.
Maybe I can get some charge into the camera battery when I stop for lunch at the top of the mountain. Good plan - time to get back on the bike.
The road surface is very good and there are a surpising number of trucks going in both directions. The road follows a river so is reasonably twisty in parts and the scenery is interesting but not what I would describe as spectacular. And when will the climb begin? And why are there so many trucks? And why aren't there any other motorcyclists?
It is still an enjoyable ride and maybe the climb and spectacular scenery comes soon.
I stop in Ramnicu Valcea to consult my paper map that had been marked up for me with routes recommended by a motorcycle tour guide. I'm definitely on the road suggested but it is highway 7 otherwise known as the E81. The 7C is further east but almost parallel to where I've been riding!
And worse still I'm now past the sothern end of the fabled 7C. I've missed it completely. I've come all this way and missed the one reason for choosing a route to Turkey through Romania.
It's not quite midday so plenty of time left in the day.
Time to make a plan.
It is about 30km east to pick up the 7C at Curtea de Arges. It's an enjoyable ride with a good concentration of horse and cart to contend with. Three motocyclists going in the opposite direction give me the customary left hand wave. It's a good sign that I'm finally headed in the right direction.
At Curtea de Arges I turn left onto the 7C, bypassing the centre of this small town. No time for sight seeing. I have only one purpose now. No more turn off's, just stay on this road and go over a mountain pass which is almost directly north of my current position. At the other end of the 7C I'll be a stones throw from Sibiu where my morning began so well.
The 7C takes some time to get going though. A few more small towns pass by and the road starts to follow another river. The campers and naturists start to appear. There are guesthouses and food stalls by the roadside. The road starts to twist and climb. This is more like it.
The first landmark of note is Lacul Vidraru. The road crosses over at the dam wall and follows the eastern side of the lake. The road surface starts to deteriorate with many potholes camouflaged by the filtered sunlight making its way through the forest canopy.
The actions of other motorsists become unpredictable. The slow unexpectedly and go in any direction to find the smoothest possible path through what has now become a pothole minefield. There is no respect for the centre line which s regularly crossed. Corners are getting tighter and the road continues to climb.
I'm now acclimatised to this type of road and this is heaps easier than if it were raining. I try to give the cars a wide berth and make steady progress up the mountain. Other motorcyclists are making their descent. Taking the left hand off the bars to give them a wave while negotiating a tight bend could be trecharous - but it is courteous to respond to their friendly gestures.
Most of the bikes are of the Massey Ferguson variety although a couple of sports tourers and cruisers appear from time to time. Definitely no sports bikes. This road is just not good enough.
After some time the road improves. The traffic thins as I climb past 1,500 meters and emerge from the forest. The views are spectacular. Not far to go now.
A tunnel some 800m in length takes me through the very top of the mountain. As I emerge from its darkness street stalls selling food and souveniers appear. Pedestrians, cars and motorbikes are everywhere. There is a cafe but parking spaces are scarce. Clouds envelope the mountain and then clear for a few moments to reveal the spectalular beauty of the mountain lake and rugged summit.
Time to give the Family Truckster a rest and get that camera battery charged.
Seems like a few days since I put this video on You Tube but forgot to post it here.
Hope you enjoy it. This was a fun ride.
Some more of the roads of Slovakia - just south of Poprad.
Finally in Romania. I'm keen to explore this country.
Day 2 in Romania - it's like Melbourne weather.
Still some good bits though.
Same route - different edit and music.
Which do you like better?
I'm fed and watered. The camera battery has made it to 14% in the time allocated. Enough gas for some photos.
It's another 30km to the northern end of the 7C. I decide to keep heading north for a ways and then I'll turn around and try and get to Bucharest for the night.
I've taken plenty of video footage today which I will edit and post at the soonest oppurtunity (I'm nearly caught up with the backlog now).
I descend to 1,250m and turn around to do it all again in the opposite direction (heading south).
It's quite a road, but is it the greatest driving road in the world as some claim?
Without doubt it is a great engineering achievement. All these high mountain roads are. In addition to the Transfagarasan, I've also been over the Stelvio Pass, the Timmelsjoch, the Grossglockner and some great mountain roads in the Picos de Europa region of northern Spain.
They are all spectucular. There is simply nothing in Australia to compare to these great mountain ranges.
As for great driving roads my recent experience with the B500 in Germany would have it near the top of my list, ahead of all these high mountain passes.
Its not that high mountain passes aren't a thorough test of your riding skills; mostly average road surfaces, often challenging climatic conditions, motorists with the desire to stop unexectedly every few miles without any pre warning of their intentions.
The fear of dropping the bike on a tight switchback/hairpin bend or miscalculating your speed coming into a blind corner and veering into the path of oncoming traffic or worse still, going over the edge, really means you can never test the limits of your machine or skills as some may on a pure drivers road like the B500.
But I'm not going to suggest these high mountain roads aren't all great. But how can you claim one is the greatest? Everyone will have a different view mostly driven by nationality or which ones they've done.
But have a look at these pictures and judge for yourself. Better still, come and travel on these roads by whatever means you prefer. No pictures, stills or video, can properly convey the steepness of these roads, the sheer drop only a few metres away from the roads edge and the magnificence of the scenery.
This was without doubt a great riding and travel experience.
I understand completely those people who prefer to travel without any means of communication. No laptop, no visits to internet cafes, not even a mobile phone. It is possible and absent pressure from others to let them know you are safe many adventure tourers would even recommend this approach.
I'm at the opposite end of the scale though and I'm always in search of a free internet connection to stay in touch with those of you who remain in the real world.
But today I wish I had none of this technology.
Emails are for the most part a delight to receive. I have received many since my trip began of support and encouragement for my travels and honesty. For this I am most grateful.
I do think emails in the corporate world are the single most overused method of CYA. We all know only the first 2 lines at the most ever get read but we like to state our position just in case something goes pear shaped so you can pull it out later and say "I told you so".
I've been terribly guilty of this. Some would think I was being paid per email word. Some of this is due to my training as an auditor where you are taught to document everything.
Emails also can be one dimensional and convey little empathy. Absent a reassuring voice calmly speaking the message conveyed they can be easily misinterpreted.
There have been times when I have put my own spin on an email I have received due more to my relationship with the sender than its contents. I jump to conclusions and look to fire off a reply justifying my position. It is only on reading the email a few more times that I realise I was way off track.
Emails can also bring you back into a situation you have been wanting to move on from. A few simple words can expose unhappy feelings or refresh long forgotten bad memories. Take you back into the feelings we try to escape from.
For me there is a fine balance between feeling good about myself and feeling bad about myself. I'm not completely insecure but I like to be liked, as we all do. Many others are better when confronted with personal negativity than me. They simply don't care based on who it is coming from or their ego is so large they find it simply unbelievable anyway; they can convert truth into pure fantasy in their own minds. They can quickly move on as though they live in a house with no mirrors. I am envious of this ability.
I'm more reflective than that. Way too much. But hey that's me. The micro analysis of my actions is exhausting and once it starts its terribly difficult to just stop. Then it's easy to become negative about everything. And I hate being wrong but when I am, and this is often, I have no problems saying so and apologising, hoping this will bring closure, enabling me to move on and bring an end to the micro analysis.
The experts claim there are two responses to stressful situations. Fight or flight.
I like a good intellectual stoush. Some may say that I just like to argue. I would put it that I simply want others see things from a different perspective. Seems I always want to take the other side of the debate regardless of what I actually believe or feel.
But this is tiring. I just don't want to argue any more. No more fighting for every inch - not for the moment. It's flight for me now. Get on a big motorcycle and travel thousands of miles to new countries. And tell family and friends of my adventures and my feelings on the way. Something for me to review and reflect on when I have to rejoin the real world.
An email today took me back to another time when my sanctuary was invaded and made me feel like I had nowhere safe to go anymore. There is no worse feeling for me. The loss of sanctuary is debilitating to the point where I just want to get away from that place as fast as I can and not have anything else to do with it.
Another low point on the road today.
I've come down a long way from the heights of the Transfagarasan. I'm not even sure if this blog will be published. I think that tomorrow I'll realise I have over reacted and am just way too sensitive. But today this is how I feel. And my feelings are all I have now - my reality.
Tomorrow is another day. The sun will shine and my bike will take me to new places. Hopefully not just in a physical sense.
Weather was miserable but Bicaz George is spectacular in any conditions. Watch for the yellow DHL van.
I was so glad to make the hotel and escape the rain by the end of the day.
Hells Bells will this rain stop.
Hells Bells what a great road.
Romania is good.
It was after 5pm when I made it back down the 7C to Curtea de Arges. South on the rest of the 7C for another 25 miles would get me to Pitesti. Bucharest was then in easy reach a further 70 miles away on the A1 motorway.
Two hours should do it, then find a hotel and park up for a few motorbike free days.
It had been a long day with more hours in the saddle than originally planned due to my flawed navigation. But I'd done nearly all of the Transfagarasan in both directions.
Unpredictable motorists had been the theme all day. Suddenly slowing, stopping or changing direction. The Logan drivers were out in force. It was indeed a perfect day to put the Logan through its paces on the 7C and maybe even test out the autopilot.
I was moving with the traffic on a straight strech of the 7C between Curtea de Arges and Pitesti. I was behind yet another Logan. This time a van type variant. It was mid blue.
Vans, trucks and buses severely limit your ability to read the road ahead. Even when you pull back some way your field of vision is massively restricted. My preferred tactic is to pass them at the first opportunity. Better to have no cars around you. Open road is the best.
So here's the dilema. Overtaking opportunities were limited due to cars in the opposite direction and a restricted field of vision. We were moving along at a good clip but I really wanted to get into Bucharest that night.
As I was reflecting on my day I momentarily took my eyes off the mid blue Logan van in front of me. Only for a second, probably to look at the fuel gauge. And not to play with the gadgets on the Family Truckster.
But sometimes a second of lapsed concentration is all it takes.
As my attention was restored to the mid blue Logan van I was greeted with a sight no motorcyclist ever wants to see with short notice.
Three cars in front someone was turning left and had completely stopped to wait for the traffic to clear. It's not like there was a street there or anything on this stretch of road that would keep you alert to a possible left hand turn. But this was happening and to my horror the mid blue Logan van had already commenced to brake suddenly.
My initial thought was there is no way the Family Truckster would stop in time. Fully laden we are probably about 450kg. I was hopeless at Physics at school but something this heavy travelling to 60 miles an hour is going to take some pulling up when all you rely mostly on the front brake and relatively skinny tyre. I was already preparing myself for a closer inspection of the rear of a mid blue Logan van than I would ever have envisaged. There was no room to swerve - I was preparing for an impact.
At times like this everything seems to happen in slow motion. I hit the brakes harder than I have ever needed to before. Part of the licence test is an emergency stop but there is no van stopping in front of you at the time. I've never before needed an emergency stop like I do now.
To my absolute relief the Family Truckster responds.
There is no skidding thanks to the ABS brakes. Half way through I sense I'm going to be right. In the end I pull up with some metres spare. My racing heart had already slowed somewhat by the time I come to a complete stop.
What a machine. And after all the hard work you'd been through that day, riding up and over the high mountain pass - twice.
And that is why I have always and only had BMW's. For the safety. I'm not saying another bike wouldn't have made this stop but I will never know. The extra cost proved a wise investment today. I was already in awe of the engineering of this machine, now even more so. When I really needed all that technology and precise German engineering it did not let me down.
After a few deep breaths I begin to regain my composure, knowing how close that was to disaster. Eyes forward for the rest of the way to Bucharest.
The rain of my early foray into Romania is well and truly behind me. As I enter the outskirts of Bucharest at 1930 the temperature remains in the high twenties.
The traffic is still thick. Mostly people trying to get out of town after work before the long weekend. Sixties style apartment blocks line the widest of boulevards as I head south towards the centre of town.
Hotels are programmed in the GPS this time just to be sure. As I ride past where they should be I do not see them. It's hotel roulette time again. My luck has been in today so I spin the wheel.
Booking.com is my weapon of choice and comes up with the Hotel Marshal. I book for three nights using my phone. It is not far - the GPS is programmed and off I go.
The Family Truckster glides into the carpark at around 2000. Job done it can rest now until Monday.
As I am unloading the bike I am greeted by a member of staff, offerring to help me with my bags. This sets the tone for the weekend. I am made feel so welcome in this boutique establishment. It is geared mostly to business travellers so is all but empty on the weekends and the room rates are adjusted accordingly.
My bags are taken to my first floor room. This is a luxury not having to carry everything up four flights of stairs.
After shedding the stench of a long riding day I make my way to the restuarant in the hotel gardens. This is most pleasant indeed.
The waiters are very attentive, finding somewhere for me to plug in my laptop. Nothing is too much trouble and Adrian shows an interest in my journey through Romania. We chat when he gets a chance, there are other diners to attend to.
After dinner I am joined by another hotel guest and we chat over drinks. Ryan is Canadian and spends half the year in Russia working as an Agrologist. He is good company.
I chat with Adrian on several other occasions during my stay. He has a real pride in his country and this is infectious. But he is like most of the people I have met during my travels in Romania. They are fiercly patriotic and with good reason. Romania is a wonderful country.
Saturday and Sunday gives me an opportunity to wander through the streets of Bucharest. It was most enjoyable but very hot. I'd better get used to this though.
The Palace of the Parliament is incredible. The second largest building in area in the world. Only the Pentagon is larger. Whilst impressive is sort of seems out of place, almost wrong.
I hope you enjoy some of my favourite scenes of Bucharest.
I never studied history at school. Now I wish I had. It facsincates me. Particularly this history of Europe. My entire knowledge comes from places I've had the opportunity to visit and also a couple of history books written by Geoffrey Blainey (A Short History of the World and A Short History of the Twentienth Century).
Unless something can be added or subtracted or presented as a diagram I find it hard to remember it. The changing borders of Europe as mapped over time is what I need to supplement any narrative on European history otherwise it will not be retained in my pea brain.
My Romanian adventures have again reinforced my shortcomings in world history.
I have now posted three pictures of a statue that intrigued me but which I knew nothing about. Yesterday I sent an email to my new Romanian friend Adrian asking if he could help explain the relevance of the statue to Romania.
I'm sure you have seen it and some will know its history and meaning. Maybe there are some who like me were unaware.
Here is Adrian's reply:
"The monument you asked about is the begining of the Roman empire. The two babies are Romulus and Remus, the two brothers which started the Roman empire. They were found by the wolf female and she took care of them. That monument is important for us because it speaks about our history and latin origins."
If you want to learn more about Romulus and Remus as I did here is somewhere to start http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus
I recall a sketch from Monty Python (now I am showing my age) often referred to as "Oscar Wilde" where the comment is that ".... the only thing in the world worse than being talked about, is NOT being talked about."
In this day an age we can all command an audience and post whatever we like on the web. But who really reads or even believes what is written on the world wide web?
I would suggest there is a correlation between the ease of publishing and the rise in unreliable public information; inverse to the people that read or even acknowledge same.
I have been the subject of untrue statements posted on the web. I was very upset about this at the time. But once it's there what can you do about it? Answer: nothing.
And the thing is, not one person who knows me has ever called me to ask me about these claims. I doubt with all the gigabytes of information out there if any people I care about have even seen these lies.
We all like to think untrue claims will smear our reputation; and we think of reputation in a global sense. To think this way for most of us is to have tickets on ourselves. Perhaps one day it will come home to roost but I doubt it - unless it is true of course.
But I know the truth and that is all that matters because the people that care about me will have to make their own minds up. And I know they are solid people who will make judgment on all the facts at hand. Not just what is posted on the web.
We all want our 15 minutes of fame. Sometimes it is more than what we bargained for; even if it is only in our own minds.
This might be as close as some of you may ever get to experiencing the thrill of riding a motorcycle on the Transfagarasan.
So I'm going to share with you all the video I have - unedited. Every pothole, Logan driver and magnificent view.
Some of the 7C is just a normal road; I have spared you this.
Part 1 starts just below Lake Vidraru. From there you get every mile I have got to the top. After a short break I continue north descending in the clouds from 2,000m to around 1,250m before turning around and doing it all again - this time headed south.
There are 8 parts to get over the top of the mountain (You Tube has a 15 miniyte time limit per video - don't worry they are not all that long). I'm still processing and uploading the return trip to Lake Vidraru.
I hope you enjoy the films. Here's what I have managed to upload so far.
Adrian suggested that I visit Constanta. I'd planned to visit the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria. But why not in Romania also. Always trust local advice I say.
It was a short journey from Bucharest. All on motorways. Good thing too. It was hot. Got to 35 degrees on the way there on Monday. Even turned on the airconditioning!
One of the highlights of the trip to Constanta was crossing the Danube at Cernavoda. This town also has a nuclear reactor which supplies about 18% of Romania's electricity. I went right past it - never been so close to a nuke before!
Two nights have been booked at Hotel Cherica using booking.com. I am welcomed as I park the Family Truckster out front and my bags are carried upstairs.
It's still early in the afternoon and my room is not quite ready so I am upgraded to a double room. All the rooms in this hotal are nice.
I shower and head out to walk on the beaches and streets of this once thriving coastal city. The old girl is showing some signs of age but still has good bones. It would be great to visit again following an urban renewal which is sure to come. This once grand city deserves to be that once more.
I crossed the border into Romania under threatening skies on the 7th of August. It seems like a lifetime ago now. I have experienced so much. I have learned many things. I stayed longer than originally planned. Romania was good. I thoroughly recommend that you visit.
Another easy day today. Just under 100 miles. And I'm heading inland to avoid the coastal traffic.
An hour into my journey I cross the border. Farewell my new good friend. Hope to see you again soon.
Another new country for me.
Since leaving the UK almost three weeks ago I have passed through the following countries:
Still plenty more to go. I can't wait!
I hadn't planned for this. Tyres yes. But Romania has provided me with a farewell gift I wasn't expecting.
Look closely. Can you see it? The wheel rim is out of shape. It has a flat spot. Several actually.
I never even realised until someone helping me out at the hotel this afternoon pointed it out to me. It has probably been like this for some days - at least since the Transfagarasan last Friday.
I couldn't tell there was a problem when I was riding though.
BMW Roadside assist was alerted and I also consulted the guys that service the bike in the UK. No guarantees but should be ok if I keep an eye on the tyre pressures and go easy into the corners - and no high speed stuff. I can do that.
I told you the roads were challenging in Romania.
My plan is to take it to a dealer in Istanbul. Not sure what they will suggest but my guess is they will replace the front wheel. Maybe it can be fixed. We'll see.
I'll keep you posted.
Come over the top and down the other side though the clouds with me.
My overnight stay in Bulgaria was in the Black Sea coastal town of Varna. Another maze of one way streets had the GPS working overtime looking for my programmed hotel. I seemed to be going down dead ends that showed as through roads on the GPS time and time again.
It was hot also.
The heat when riding at motorway speeds is bearable. The constant flow of air through the open vents in my riding suit stops me from overheating.
But take the speed away and add a few push the bike turns in narrow dead end streets and its easy to overheat.
After 20 minutes of going around in circles I gave up, headed for the main road and stopped right out front of the Hotel Modus. Looked very contemporary, great central location and under cover secure parking for the bike. Costs a few euros more but I would have melted if I kept riding for too much longer.
As usual the staff spoke excellent English and were most helpful, even pointing out the unusual shape of my front wheel rim and then ringing up a few local businesses that might be able to take a look at it.
After logging the issue with BMW Roadside Assist I went for a walk around the beach and the town. The population of Varna swells considerably in the summer months and there were plenty of holiday makers also wandering around the many pedestrian only streets through the centre of town.
After enduring the heat for a few hours I made my way back to the hotel to find some air conditioning. I settled down in the restaurant and tried some of the local delicacies ie beer, white wine and red wine. And of course a great meal which was throughly delicious.
Emails answered, blog posted and a full belly after to much Bulgarian food and wine, I retired for the evening to my comfortable bed and prepare for tomorrow's journey to another new country - Turkey.
Here are some photos of Varna.
So as to avoid the likely traffic I rejected my planned route further south along the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and programmed the GPS for the quickest route to tonight's hotel in Edirne, a short distance over the Bulgarian border.
Not a huge mileage day but still just over 200 miles to cover, mostly through Bulgaria. And the uncertainty of the border crossing into Turkey.
Even though I was in the country just 24 hours, I liked Bulgaria and some of the roads on my first run of the day were enjoyable. I was taking things easy of course due to my front wheel issue. Keeping an eye on the tyre pressures monitor just in case there were signs of loss of pressure.
For this trip I am carrying a small electric pump (it plugs into an outlet I had wired up directly to the battery) so small losses of pressure could be managed. There was also the fallback to BMW Roadside Assist if I didn't feel comfortable continuing.
By taking the quickest route chances are you will get mostly motorways so mostly good road surfaces.
I ended up with a real mixed bag. Some twisties and some motorways and some roads little better than goat tracks.
I stopped at a small town about half distance to stretch my legs and rehydrate. This was really in the sticks.
Another 70 miles and I'd be at the border. Is was this leg that I experienced the worst roads Bulgaria has to offer, mostly due to a detour required by roadworks.
The Border crossing was not too bad with about 5 checks, 2 in Bulgaria and 3 in Turkey and a short walk to get a Visa. I think all up it took about 30 minutes so not too bad. There was a huge line of trucks at the border as this is the major route between Europe and Asia. The entire border complex was very large. English was not widely spoken.
Through the border I was now only a short motorway run to Edirne where I would spend my first night in Turkey. Boy these roads were smooth. I hope Turkey can continue to live up to this superb first impression - but somehow I think the best roads in any country are reserved for motorways leading to borders. I'm expecting some rough stuff once I head east out of Istanbul.
Having experienced no loss in tyre pressures all day I pulled into the hotel around 3pm. And I mean literally, as I drove through the lobby doors through into the inner courtyard of the Hotel Rustempasa Kervansaray.
My room was small but clean and for 30 euros would be fine for the night.
Time to explore.
Although technically I'm still in Europe this place feels a million miles away. It's amazing how much the landscape, architecture and people have changed in the last 200 miles.
And this town is buzzing. No obvious signs that it is Ramadan. People are just going about their usual business it seems.
I'm expecting to see this a lot in Turkey, but Edirne's skyline is dominated by the domes and minarets of the three huge Mosques that are all within a short distange of each other.
Pedestrian walkways dominate the centre of town and are lit with many coloured lanterns at night. There are several fountains that provide a cool oasis to the heat of the day.
Small motorcycles seem to have the run of the place, including the pedestrian zones. Helmets are optional and one way streets seem not to apply if on two wheels.
As darkness falls I go looking for something to eat. I mostly go for the local or tranditional dishes and tonight is no exception. With a small cafe recommended serving local spicy food I am shown a table in this extremely small but busy restuarant. They turn the tables over super quick. As soon as you finish they start preparing the table for the waiting diners before you have even left your seat.
There are no menus. None of the staff speaks English.
Just a set meal that everyone is having called Edirne cigeri which is thinly sliced calf's liver deep fried and eaten with dried and pickled chilles. Bread is served on the side with tomato and raw onion. Well I ate most of it and particularly enjoyed the chillies. The bread was very fresh. But I did what all the locals seemed to be doing and my stroll after dinner revelaed several other cafes that also specialised in this local favourite. Maybe next time I will ease myself into the local way of eating with a Turkish Salad.
Nice city. Here are some of my photos.
I mean, a big bike. You feel like you own the roads. Cars disappear in your mirrors and traffic rarely slows you down like it does in a car.
But maybe this does not apply to Istanbul.
The highway is very good all the way from Edirne. A toll road infact and I buy a pass which should last me a few more tolls should I find myself on another one.
I'm still taking it easy but going about 10% over the posted speed limit. Cars are flying past me with a regularity I've not experienced before.
It's 150 miles to the BMW dealer. the outer limits of this colossal city greet me 40 miles out from my destination next to the Bosphorus Straight. There are high rise real estate developments everywhere. Cranes are abundant on the skyline. The traffic is slowing, getting thicker. This place just feels huge, much bigger than London.
On consulting with Wikipedia I learn the population recently was 13.3 million and it is the third largest city in Europe behind London and Moscow.
Having ridden the Family Truckster in London, Paris and the Italian Lakes I hadn't given any consideration to the challenges of Istanbul.
It was terrifying. Cars passing me inside on the hard shoulder, going for gaps I would not take a sportsbike through. No one gives an inch. Horns are blasted frequently. There is no driving charity in Istanbul and it had nothing to do with my GB plate.
Although choked with traffic the roads were good and provided simpler navigation for the GPS than some of my recent experiences. I got to the BMW dealer in one piece and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got off the bike.
This Is the only BMW Motorrad dealer in Istanbul. What a huge complex, selling and servicing both cars and bikes. This was an impressive business on a grand scale.
I found the Services manager and he took a look at the bike. After consulting with his mechanic he said the front wheel needed to be replaced. I had expected this. They could get one by early next week. This will work with my timing.
Whilst there I got talking with a couple of other motorcycle adventurers - one an Austrian who had three days to get back home and the other a local motorcycle tour operator and riding instructor (bikemyworld.com). These guys had been so many places and we swapped tales of the mountain passes we had each done. There actually weren't many places these guys hadn't been and I felt like such a novice. At least I was able to tell them I'd driven (albeit in a car) over the Andes (4,000m) enroute from Santiago to Mendoza. This seemed to impress them as neither of them had been to South America.
Nearly all the stickers on his top case represent the high mountain passes the tour operator has been over. The guys gave me some tips on places to see in Turkey and also the route back to London. I would have liked to chat with them for longer.
My taxi pulled up. The Family Truckster could stay at the BMW Shop. Better this and much safer than me riding to Sultanahmet and leaving it out the front of the hotel.
Or so I thought.
The taxi journey was even worse than riding the Family Truckster. He made good time and must of thought I'd give him a tip if he could drive faster and change lanes more than anyone else going in our direction. When we got to Sultanahmet he had no idea where the hotel was and asked me in Turkish which way to go. In the end he resorted to stopping in the general vicinity and asking people on the street, much to the ire of the cars he was holding up. Seems like street directories and GPS have not made it to Istanbul's taxi drivers.
I think it's the time of year in Bris Vegas when the Ekka is on with its thrill rides and showbags.
This was the scariest ride I've ever been on and the second huge sigh of relief at the day when we pulled up outside the hotel. But he made it without any bumps or scrapes much to my surprise. A couple of times I thought we'd smash into another car or barrier for sure. These guys are just so skilled at turing normal 2 lane roads into 3 or 4 lane roads.
So if you think you are a good driver come to Istanbul and put your skills to the test. Or better still, go for a ride in a taxi.
Distance today 152 miles (245 km), cumulative 3,405 (5,480 km).
I've had the good fortune to visit many of the world's great cities including New York, Paris, Bejing, Sydney, London etc. Of course there are some I'm yet to get to so I am not a leading authoriity on great cities of the world by any means.
Istanbul, in my humble opinion, would have to rank in the top two or three great cities of the world.
On Saturday I caught a ferry from Europe to Asia, had a walk around and some dinner, then caught a bus back to Europe. The fares for this trip would not have been more than 6 euros. And all the time I remained in the same city.
This place also oozes more history than most cities can boast and water views that are probably second only to Sydney's. There's an old town and a modern business district. There are traditional bazaar's and the latest high fashion shops. I doubt there is anything you could not buy here. Narrow, winding, cobbled streets and modern freeways.
I'm staying inside the original walled city close to the Marmara Sea and the Golden Horn. This is a popular tourist area. My hotel luckily is in more of a residential section. It is not far to walk to the popular tourist sights. There are so many hotels and restuarants all around and many European tourists. The most commonly heard languages apart from Turkish have been Italian, German and English. There are also many American accents among the tourists.
I've done plenty of walking over the past few days. Down streets that look interesting, around corners that may reveal more of this city's hidden secrets.
I have done some of the tourist sights also. They are popular for good reason. The food has been excellent and not expensive. Ramadan has not created any impediments.
Still a couple more sights and restuarants to get to tomorrow with luck.
On Wednesday fingers crossed the Family Truckster will be ready and I'll head out of Istanbul to explore more of this fascinating country. But if not, another night or two in Istanbul is just fine by me.
There are many photos which I will post over the next couple of days. To start with let me share the views from the terrace on the top of the hotel.
I doubt there are any mice in this city. Or rats for that matter. If some did try and sneak inside the city walls I doubt they would last long.
The cats would make short work of them. Cats are everywhere. Just as Romania had its dogs, Istanbul has an abundance of cats. And not pet cats.
I was enjoying a nice meal tonight alfesco. The entertainment was provided by about 7 cats looking for any morsel from my fellow diners. Every now and then they would be chased away, only to scamper up a nearby tree, or onto the busy street, but they soon returned. One was bold enough to jump up on an empty chair next to one diner. I think he was rewarded with a scratch but not any food.
They are all a bit on the skinny side. I like my cats to be well fed and lazy. There are no fat cats in Istanbul.
Here are some of my photos from my first foray into Sultanahmet last Saturday.
I spent quite a few hours on Sunday planning my route through Turkey and programming the GPS. It was another perfect day when I arose after a big day of exploring on Saturday and it was very pleasant on the hotel's 4th floor terrace, so I parked up for a few hours armed with paper maps, Lonely Planet Guidebook and the most important thing of all.
The advice from a local. And not just any local.
merCAN is a fellow K1600GT rider i.e. he has a Family Truckster just like me. I had seen a post from him on a K16 forum and had sent him a private message asking for advice about where to go in Turkey.
We'd exchanged emails for the past couple of weeks and on my arrival in Istanbul he'd kindly invited me to join him and his wife for dinner.
He lives on the Asian side of town in the outer district of Umraniye. He'd given me coordinates of where we could meet assuming I'd be on the Truckster. But absent the Truckster this was a much more difficult proposition. Or perhaps not given my experience with the traffic on Friday.
By early Staurday afternoon I thought I'd better start making the journey to Umraniye for our scheduled rendevous at 5pm. But I had little idea of where it was or how to get there. So I asked someone trying to sell me a a Bosphorus River cruise. He was great. He pointed me towards the correct ferry terminal and told me to catch a blue mini bus when I got off.
The ferry was the easy part. And a great way to get move from one continent to another.
When I disembarked there were more buses adjacent to the ferry terminal than at the bus depot in Brisbane during a bus drivers strike. How do I find the one going to Umraniye? I just started asking the bus drivers and eventually found the right one. But there was something they were trying to tell me. I couldn't understand though. Luckily another passenger spoke English and told me I'd have to change buses - he would let me know when to get off.
So the bus set off. The bus driver was unreal. Not only did he have to negotiate Istanbul's insane traffic but he was also taking fares and giving change back to the passengers. But not while stopped. No this would be far to simple and timetables would not be achieved.
The bus driver would set off as soon as the new pasengers were onboard, only taking the fares and giving change whilst weaving in and out of the traffic, AND, the bus was a manual. Seemingly he never took his eyes off the road and never missed a sliver of a gap that he could force the bus into. And all the while a serpent like right arm would reach back, accept money and somehow determine how much he'd been given and how much change was due before reaching back with the always correct change. Eyes forward all the time.
Health and safety in Australia or the UK would surely shut this type of operation down.
The other thing I couldn't quite work out was bus stops. I couldn't see anything on the side of the road designating the bus would stop there. People just seemed to get on and off where they felt like it. There was no bell on the bus to alert the driver. It was as though he had a sixth sense. Every now and then he would stop and always people would get on.
But like most things I don't understand that seem like organised chaos, it worked. It seemed like only I had no idea what was going on. This was probably the case.
It was quite a long journey, close to an hour before I was advised to get off and change buses. But what bus to change to and where to get it from?
I again asked a few bus drivers if they were going to my final destination but unfortunately they weren't. Pointing from one suggested I needed go in a different direction and after 10 minutes walking I did find the bus that would get me to where I was meeting merCan. About 15 minutes later we were shaking hands talking about our experiences.
My paper map was presented together with a highlighter. Roads to ride and
towns to visit were soon marked. He knew. He'd been there on his Family Truckster.
Over dinner I received even more valuable information regarding hotels and restuarants.
Plus I got a lot more.
I got an insight to what people in Istanbul do on a Saturday night. I got to see the most fashinable street in town. I got to spend time with locals and do what they were doing. And learn more about Istanbul and Turkey and its people.
Thanks merCAN. This was a most wonderful experience and I am truly grateful.
merCAN put me on another mini bus headed for Taksim Square with instruction on how to get back to Sultanahmet. It always sounds easy when someone tells you.
Another longer than expected journey but this time I arrived back in Europe via a bridge. It was most spectacular and the ride was just as I had prepared myself for before embarking. I'd never heard a van engine rev so high for so long. I bet the driver was bitterly disapponited by the rev limiter, all the time thinking about how he could disable this safety feature before his next shift.
On arrival at Taksim Square I had a general idea of the direction I needed to head but it was easy. Just follow the many thousands walking along Istiklal Cadessi.
According to Wikipedia the English translation is Independence Avenue and is an elagant pedestrian street approximately 3km long visited by nearly three million people in a single day over the course of weekends.
This I can believe. It was 10pm and absolutely teeming with people. All the way from Taksim Square to the Gatala Tower.
It was an enjoyable walk. May as well continue walking all the way back to the hotel - make P proud, even though my pace was not quite breakneck speed.
I made it back to the hotel around 11:20pm.
There are plenty of them in Istanbul. Seeming endless vendor stalls selling rugs, jewellry, clothes, spices, sweets, kebaps almost anything you can think of. The Grand Bazaar is a labyrinth of covered narrow streets that you could spend days in where all the vendors are your friend and enquire about your country of origin.
After sunset the part time vendors simply set up anywhere they can find space on the footpaths hoping to attract tourists looking for more bargains.
Here are some images from the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.
I always find that taking the red tourist buses is a good way to see a city. They take you further than you can walk and provide commentary about interesting architecture and history. These hop on, hop off as much as you like in a day red buses are in most major cities around the world. Istanbul is no exception.
The bus was yesterday. I hadn't realised how large the original walled city of Istanbul was.
Today was a 2 hour cruise up the Bosphorus and back. No commentary but plenty to see in this major shipping channel to the Black Sea.
It's a bit lazy but sometimes you don't want to work or think to hard.
The boat trip was excellent value for 5 euros but I thought the red bus a bit of a rip off for 20 euros. The bus is hampered by having to travel on major roads rather then the narrow, interesting streets of Sultanahmet. I'm glad I did them both as they each provided a different perspective of this wonderful city.
I'm aprehensive about telling this story. It's not as though the guys weren't trying. But it wasn't one of their better customer service experiences. And I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression about this wonderful country and its people. But it is somewhat amusing reflecting on it now even though it wasn't at the time. And this did really happen.
It began Tuesday afternoon.
Not having heard about the status of the new front wheel for the Truckster, I made a call about 5pm.
Could I call back in 10 minutes after they find out?
Sure. Not sure why they have an aversion to calling me? It's not as though they know me well or anything.
After 10 minutes I call again.
Did I take my bike with me on Friday? This is from the guy who called the taxi to take me to the hotel after helping me take my luggae of the bike before I handed him the keys. Don't tell me they've lost my bike!
Clearly the wheel has not been replaced yet.
I remind them I am leaving Istanbul on Wednesday morning. Did the wheel come in? I ask.
Yes, on Monday.
So why haven't you replaced the wheel and done the safety check then?
I thought you would call me to tell me to do it.
Clearly most of our conversation of Friday last was lost in translation.
And BMW will not replace the wheel under warranty.
I had kind of expected this but was very disappointed all the same. Not much I can do though. I need to replace the wheel.
They will replace the wheel and do the safety check during the late shift tonight.
OK. Thanks. Will be there at 10am Wednesday but I want to discuss this warranty issue further.
I arrive right on 10am courtesy of a perfectly timed transfer organised by the hotel staff. Was actually a pleasant ride and not a whte knuckle job. I think a combination of a much better driver and going against the traffic.
My bike is nowehere to be seen. They go and get it for me. Nice, they washed it. Good.
They explain the bill to me, comprised of the cost of the part and labour. I ask about the safety check, was it done. Yes. Did they check the oil. Yes.
It was about 4,000 miles first time around that the oil level got low in the Family Truckster and needed a top up. At almost 4,000 miles since the last service I kind of figured it would be getting low again. I don't carry oil with me. Maybe I should.
But you have not charged me for any oil on the bill.
Yes, we felt sorry for you.
Thanks. But it is all ok?
Yes we put some in - not much.
And everything else ok?
In the UK BMW usually provide a checklist showing the items checked and results etc. Nothing is given to me. Maybe they just don't give the customer a copy. Ok.
I spend 25 minutes chatting with the Service Manager, trying to convince him the wheel was defective. He is pleasant but does not give an inch. Just wants to blame Germany. Says his mechanics had a look and is due to hitting potholes but they put the case forward to Germany with photos anyway. With the tyre on or off I ask. He doesn't know. I tell him its likely with the tyre still on as looking at it now with the tyre off its not good.
Funny how the back wheel has not suffered any damage (well nothing was reported on the safety check) yet would have tracked through the same potholes though.
I pay the bill so I can get on my way. You know how everyone thinks BMW's are expensive to maintain? Well normally servicing costs are not bad at all - most reasonable infact. This bill was shocking.
I keep the old wheel as a souvenier.
I'll drop it off at BMW personally on the way back to London to see what they have to say.
I'm finally on my way heading east out of Istanbul.
It's not a big mileage day today so I take it easy. I saw all of the roads that Turkey has to offer in a 100 mile stretch today after I got off the Eskisihar-Topcular ferry. The good, the bad and the ugly.
I took it very easy on the ugly and bad. Don't want any more souveniers.
Coming into Inzik I notice a Check Oil warning light on the display. This is just what I need.
I pull over and call the guys at BMW Istanbul just to confirm they checked the oil. I also put the bike up on the centre stand and check the oil level myself on the dipstick. It's low alright. Can't see any oil on the dipstick.
Maybe I'm doing something wrong. I do it again. Same result.
Now I am certainly no mechanical genius but I did have some BMW guys in the UK show me how to do this last time it was low and I pulled in to buy some oil to top it up. I was pretty sure I was doing it right.
I let the Service Manager know how reliant I am on BMW to keep my bike running properly and now have some concerns as to whether the safety check was done at all.
He suggest I pop into their service centre in Bursa and they will check it out again - no charge. In the meantime if I feel like the oil needs a top up get 10 W50 grade. Bursa is the next town I pass through so it sounds like a good plan.
I find the nearest petrol station and ask about oil, but they don't have the right grade. The Check Oil light has not reappeared since my stop so I press on to Bursa keeping a close eye on the display in case it decides to come on again. It doesn't.
I arrive at the dealer around 4pm and someone takes my bike into the garage to check it over.
Can I watch how he checks the oil to see if I am doing it properly?
No, my manager will not allow it.
Ok, so I'll wait.
About an hour after I arrived the bike is outside and I ask that we check the oil together. They tell me they put in a small amount.
Up on the centre stand and out with the dipstick. Still no oil coating it.
The mechanic says he checked it several times. Not sure what he was checking. Maybe another bike.
So I ask him where it went then.
He has no answer.
Back into the shop. This time I am allowed out the back.
This time they do a complete oil change. Ok but it probably just needs a top up. No we do oil change.
More than an hour passes. Several people are looking at it. There is a lot of discussion. Probably about how it is late and they want to go home. Can't they do it in the morning? No, this customer is a big pain.
They come and tell me it is ok now. Out with the dipstick again.
Hooray! Finally there is oil on it.
There's a good chance they have not seen a bike like mine here before. merCAN told me thinks only 3 have been sold in the whole of Turkey.
But hang on. Checking the oil is hardly rocket science - even I know how to do it.
At just after 7pm I pull out and head into downtown Bursa. It is still over 30 degrees and the traffic is an absolute nightmare. Stop, start for almost 40 minutes. The Family Truckster does not like this one bit. The temp gauge is rising.
Then all of a sudden, jackpot. I hit the top of the guage and a red warning light starts flashing at me. Normally the warning lights are yellow. Red must mean it is bad. I pull over and let the bike cool down.
It's been a long, hot day. I hope the hotel has a room available.
After 10 minutes, the traffic, the engine and I had cooled sufficiently to continue the journey to the hotel in Bursa. I only had another 2-3 miles to go.
It was well positioned in the heart of the old town just near the central markets. They had a room for me and undercover parking for the Family Truckster was available just around the corner.
It was late by the time a ventured out for a walk and to find some dinner. It had been a long day and this is probably the reason I didn't really warm to Bursa. Just wasn't there long enough to have a proper look.
Culturally this was a world away from Istanbul. Much more traditional and family/community oriented in comparison to the big city. But this is true all over the world.
Families were dining outside, music and children were playing. Laughter was everywhere.
I had an early night and ventured out again in the morning to take another quick look around in the daylight.
Here are some images of Bursa.
The Family Truckster is loaded up and I treated my boots to a shoe shine. Time to hit the road, heading north east.
I can feel it's going to be a good day.
I saw today over my 300 mile journey the future of motorcycle touring in Turkey.
This country will be the rival of Spain or Germany in 5 years time if they manage to escape the European recession and continue an apparent investment in road infrastructure.
There were some bad roads today but mostly due to incomplete upgrades. The roads that had been fixed were superb. Long sweeping bends with the odd corner that just tightens up a little to keep you on your toes. And spectacular and very non-European scenery. Hardly any long, straight sections.
Out of the distance covered today maybe only 10% was very difficult. At one stage I was even behind a grader spreading loose gravel over a soon to be newly refurbshed road. The Truckster fishtailed around a bit in this stuff. It was hard to know what speed was optimal for the conditions but in the end no speed was.
If these roads were all complete, I would recommend todays route to anyone. In particular the D160 from near Murdurnu to Bolu was great fun and so was the D100 right after Bolu until I rejoined the E80, with the road surface as good as you would find anywhere in the world.
Another very scenic route only periodically interrupted by roadworks was the D755 heading towards the steel mill of Karabuk although the roads in town were extremely slippery, like they were covered in talcum powder, even though they were bone dry. The back wheel of the Truckster locked up a few times even though the ABS was working hard. Have not had this happen before even on wet roads.
Everywhere I go now the Truckster is drawing attention. People give me the thumbs up when stopped at the lights, truck drivers wave encouragingly as I roar past them.
Not far now to my over night destination of Safranbolu.
I was made feel very welcome on my arrival in Safranbolu. It seemed everyone was happy to offer whatever assistance I needed.
And good thing for me too.
This is an incredibly pretty place, said to be Turkey's most thoroughly preserved Ottoman town. I've not seen architecture like this before, mostly houses, some in a poor state of repair but many tastefully renovated.
Notwithstanding, at the end of 300 miles on the Family Truckster, my initial reaction was this is the most motorcycle unfriendly town I've ever visited. The combination of narrow, steep streets rising up from the valley and the cobbled paving of smooth stones, uneven and generously spaced, made it almost impossible for the Family Truckster.
I had a hotel in mind, courtesy of the Lonely Planet Guide book, but it was completely inaccessible. Half way around an uphill corner I decided not to proceed. Turning the Family Truckster around almost proved to be as much of a challenge as the hill itself. The bike would not roll backwards and the front wheel would not turn due to the wheels settling in the spaces between the stones.
Cars were beginning to back up in both directions but there was no honking. I could feel their sympathy as I struggled with the weight of the bike. Either this or they were waiting for me to drop it - and I almost did not disappoint them. At one stage I had to get off the bike completely just to get me breath and composure back.
Eventually I parked the bike on the main road at the bottoom of the valley and walked to find a nearby hotel.
Next phase was to move the bike closer so I could unload my luggage. Then I had to turn the bike around again (this time with the assistance of a fellow tourer on a KTM from Switzerland) and ride it up a short hill into the hotel car park.
It took over an hour from the time I checked into the hotel to when I finally parked the bike. I just hope the downhill run today is easier to negotiate. This is how the terrain looked on my return to the hotel after dinner last night.
But absolutely worth all the effort.
A Massey Ferguson would be more suitable in this town. I genuinely had difficulty walking around the streets in a pair of thongs.
I would recommend that anyone coming to Turkey make a visit to Safranbolu.
Take a quick look around for yourself to see why.
I slightly altered my planned route today and immediately headed north out of Safranbolu to Amasra, on the coast of the Black Sea. It had been recommended and also got a good report in the Lonely Planet guidebook. Was a nice ride there too - through forest covered hills and devilishly twisty roads.
The detour was definitely worth it - have a look at this place.
Leaving Amasra around noon I had a further 200 miles (320km) to get to Sinop, heading east following the coast. The GPS said it was a three and a half hour run and on the maps the road looked good. I was looking forward to this.
Imagine a hybrid of the Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne and the trip from Cairns to Port Douglas in far north Queensland, but absent the apostles. This had rugged coastline, sheer cliffs, forest to the edge of the sea and a mini Transfagarasan rollercoaster of a road. At sea level one minute and then more then two hundred metres above the sea the next.
I had been concerned about traffic slowing me down today but there was little.
Shortly into my journey it became apparent that the GPS was dreaming if it thought this road could be done in three and a half hours.
Due to the elevation changes and the frequency of tight bends this was going to be a second and third gear day. There were some intermittent roadworks but nothing worse than yesterday and the Family Truckster was gently eased along several short gravel stretches.
Just under half way, after Doganyurt, things changed for the worse though. Here some obscure version of road surfacing was taking place. It went on for 10 miles. There was a layer of 10mm aggregate on top of compacted road base. To the Truckster it was like trying to run on marbles. Changing direction was treacherous on the tight downhill sections. At times it felt like a dog trying to run around corners on glossy floor tiles.
The 10 miles east of Doganyurt took 40 minutes and included yet another grader.
Around 4pm I made it to the half way point at Inebolu and stopped for a coffee. I consulted with a local regarding the state of the road the remainder of the way to Sinop. He said it was good but perhaps he though I was asking if that was the road to Sinop.
After a great start there were more roadworks to slow me down. But coming into Sinop the surface was excellent and I was able to improve my average speed for the day.
But enough complaining already.
These guys can build roads. The I've seen enough evidence of this now. The bones, corners and perfect camber is there, all it needs now are the finishing touches. In six months time the surface will be superior to most B roads in the UK but far more scenic and challenging. At 200 miles it is a full day's ride. I finally made it to Sinop around 6.30pm as the light was fading. In all, it was just over six hours time in the saddle from Amasra.
After I stopped feeling sorry for myself on the bad sections, I was glad I pushed on and made it all the way. I can now say I have ridden one of the great coastal roads of the world. And I did it before the road was fixed up nice, and on a road bike, not a Massey Ferguson.
Where the surface was sound this road was fantastic providing a true test of rider and machine. The view is so good you do not want to take your eyes off it but you daren't take them off the road. The best I could manage were some stolen glances in those few moments when the road straightened out a little, before I prepared for the next corner. When the coastline and the sea opened up in front of me it was special.
Wait until they finish fixing the roads then do this ride or even drive the road in a car. But maybe wait until next summer.
I saw many signs today indicating chains were required when the roads were icy, a reminder that even though hot now, this may not be a good winter road unless you want a real challenge. As for me, I'd stick to the warmer months.
I'm taking a day off today and indulging in all that Sinop has to offer to recharge my batteries.
It is Day 31 and my journey to date has put 4,130 miles (6,647km) on the Family Truckster. And I'm still not at my furthest point away from London.
Out of the 31 days since I left London, I have been on the road for 21 of them, slightly less than I had expected but new tyres in Poland and the new front wheel in Istanbul have probably cost me 2-4 days. On average I have covered 197 miles (317km) per riding day. Again less than expected but a couple of low mileage days in Poland have made it a bit lower than it otherwise would have been. This should increase from here and maybe end up around 250 miles per day for the whole trip.
I've had two over 400 mile days, but only one day in the 300's, six days in the 200's, 9 in the 100's and three less than 100 miles. These stats make it sound like it has been easy riding. However daily averages have been on the decline since I left western Europe. It defintely does get tougher the further east you travel.
Fuel consumption has averaged out at 41mpg or 6.8 l/100km - the Family Truckster can get close to 50mpg under the right conditions. Average speed is 45mph.
I think it will take me another 5 riding days and 1,000 miles to get to my furthest point from London meaning I will have around 5,000 miles to make it back.
I'll have to make plans for the 12k mile service. Hope the tyres are good all the way back to London. This will be touch and go.
Just a few more stats about the bike for those who are interested (maybe BMcK and PR- I don't really understand all this stuff myself):
Engine type: l-c inline-six
Valve train: DOHC, 24v
Bore x stroke: 72.0 x 67.5mm
Fuel system: BMS-X EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed (no reverse gear)
Claimed horsepower: 160 bhp (120Kw) @ 7750 rpm
Claimed torque: 129 lb.-ft @ 5250 rpm (85% at 1,500 rpm)
Claimed top speed: 155mph/248kmh
Red line/Rev Limiter: 8,500 rpm (I rarely get over 6,000)
Range: 220 miles/350km (I have done 250 miles on a tank several times on this trip)
Frame: Aluminum bridge-type frame with single-sided aluminum swingarm
Front suspension: Duolever with ESA II
Rear suspension: Paralever with ESA II
Front brake: Dual BMW four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with part-integral ABS
Rear brake: Two-piston BMW caliper, 320mm disc with part-integral ABS
Rake/trail: 27.8°/4.2 in.
Seat height: 31.9/32.7 in.
Wheelbase: 63.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 6.3 gal/24litres
Claimed curb weight: 703 lbs/318kg
The day off in Sinop has been great. More on this soon.
This could just be the friendliest place in Turkey.
This would arguably make it the friendliest place in the world. I'm certainly not going to suggest anything less after the day I've had today. I still have many miles to travel in Turkey - but Sinop will be hard to beat.
Everywhere I've been in Sinop the people shine. They make you feel so welcome. How I wish I could speak their language so I could engage more with them. And this is genuine. They are proud of their town. With good reason too.
The day started like most others. Breakfast in the hotel, included in the room rate of course. Tomato, cucumber, cheese, bread, olives, coffee or tea. Who needs more? There is cullinery genius in the simplicity.
A stroll on the pier and a local resident asks me the time. I show him my watch.
I just hate that I have no language skills. It's just part of being Australian I guess. We have no borders and simply don't learn or need these skills. And speaking English makes you lazy. Well me anyway. I wish it were different but I have a mind like a sieve - I just cannot remember the words.
My new friend Ali walks with me some. He likes fishing. He is in the right place. His English is good but every now and then we don't understand. But this doesn't matter. My Sinup host for the day is excellent company. Rightly proud of his home town.
It's another spectacular day. Warm and blue skies. The Black Sea is sparkling like a jewell. Fishing boats intermitently disturb the pond like surface. The only south facing city on the Black Sea, there is not one view of this town that doesn't look good.
Our brisk walk out of town along the coast is most enjoyable. Ali explains many things to me. Teaches me Turkish but I am a poor student. We catch a mini bus back to town.
He has friends everywhere. We visit some of them. He always introduces me and I shake their hand. He explains I'm from Australia. There is a mutual respect there I will learn more about later in my trip.
We visit his friend at the number one barber's in Sinop. He has photos of fish he has caught in his shop. I get a haircut - why not if he is the best in town. And he is the best I can confirm, although number two's all over is probably not quite the challenge he is capable of.
Next we go for tea, and then Turkish coffee. It is a holiday here today, many people like Ali have the day off. Tomorrow also.
He then shows me the city walls/fortifications. These are old and most impressive. Must have been a hard life when these were built.
Then we go to the local newspaper office and I am introduced to more people who match Ali's hospitality.
Then we go for a short ride on the Family Truckster to get it washed. He has a yet another friend here to and the is no charge to wash the bike. Is there anyone in Sinup Ali does not know?
We return to the main part of town near my hotel and on the way Ali points out the best Turkish bath in town.
I'd been wanting to experience a Turkish bath since getting to Turkey. Now was the perfect opportunity. Ali shows me through the Hamam. It is so hot. But I decide to stay and have a massage. And it was great. I feel re-energised afterwards. Everyone should do this.
Ali meets me again at the hotel. He is going fishing later this afternoon.
Time for me to stroll down there now to meet him to see if the fish are biting.
I'll show you around Sinup in my next post.
Some images from a most relaxing and enjoyable day.
PS. Ali says hi!
Ali was there to farewell me from Sinop this morning. I sort of knew and hoped he would be. He brought one of his sons with him and he helped me start the bike. Gave it a good rev too.
Ali was also bearing gifts for me, including a ship in a bottle, tesbih, and some cold water. He had made my stay in Sinop truly memorable.
Earlier while loading up the bike, Gordon, a spritely 75 year old from Bristol, stopped by for a quick chat after seeing my GB plates. He was travelling alone, by bus, and we shared stories of local hospitality, places to visit and our experiences with hotels (concluding that hotels and B&B's in the UK are a rip-off!). He had already been east, now slowly working his way back to Istanbul and warned me of some more roadworks not far out of Sinop.
Armed with this information I set off. There were some roadworks, but they were nothing compared with what I'd already been through.
On joining the main coastal highway coming into Samsun, all roadworks disappeared. Dual carriage and good surfaces accompanied me the rest of the day. These were fast roads too although they did suffer from a slippery, terazzo like surface in the cities.
I ventured off the main highway at Bolaman to take the old coast road to Ordu via Persembe. This stretch of road was great and should not be missed. It was a shame not to see more motorcyclists out enjoying this road on such a great day. If this sort of thing existed in the UK it would have been jam packed with sports bikes, tourers, cruisers etc.
Here are some images of Persembe.
After battling the highway traffic through Ordu it was a short run into Giresun, known for having Turkey's finest hazelnut planations nearby, the destination of my overnight stay.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I should reach the most easterly point of my journey along the Black Sea coast, and venture into the Kackar Mountains.
I was up a little earlier today and was on the road at 9am. My last day on the Black Sea coast road. Traffic was light and the road surface excellent. Just the conditions the Family Truckster was built for to eat up the miles in good time.
Even though a major highway this road is not like the motorways in the UK. There are almost no straight sections as the road follows the coast only occasionally passing through a tunnel. It's not completely flat either with nice undulations to keep it interesting.
On reaching the outer limits of Trabzon, I was waved over by the local Polis. Unfortunately this was not for social reasons, it was purely business, and I was going over the speed limit. The Polis officers were very professional but spoke no English. Passport, drivers license, insurance papers and registration papers were all presented. They wrote me out a ticket but could offer no details in English on how I was to settle the fine.
I asked another motorist who was also pulled over if he spoke English. Sadly he didn't although when the Polis were not looking he did motion to me to rip the ticket up.
Fair cop I though, better take it easy as they will surely have another speed trap on the other side of town. Sticking diligently to the 100km speed limit I was devastated when flagged down again - not half an hour after the first fine.
I've now been riding a motorbike for about 5 years and have not had one speeding ticket before today. Now I have a double whammy!
They tell me I was doing 104km and that the limit on this section of road is now 90km. Speed limit signs are all but non existent on Turkey's highways or at least those I've now travelled on. Occasionally there is a sign reducing the speed limit coming into a town or where there are traffic lights but nothing tells you when the speed has increased again.
This was most frustrating and getting quite expensive.
The officer this time spoke good English. I asked if he could prove my speed was 104km and show me the sign reducing the speed to 90km before I would acknowledge the ticket. I explained my previous ticket a matter of minutes earlier, suggesting I had learned my lesson and was riding within the speed limits.
Eventually he got sick of me, particularly when he also could not explain how to settle the fine. I thanked him and shook his hand before heading off slowly. Cars passed me for the next hour and I so no signs indicating the maximum speed limit - this was most embarassing!
Passing through Rize and Pazar was uneventful and at Ardesen I left the hghway and headed south for the mountains.
This was a great road with nice sweeping corners, not too tight, and a pure surface. It followed a fast flowing river used for white water rafting, with thick forest and steep slopes on both sides. There were several spectatular waterfalls on the journey and also at Ayder.
The surfaced road ended at about 1,300m so I stopped for a coffee and to plan the rest of my day.
That was so good, I think I'll go down it now and keep trucking on towards Uzongol.
Going back down the mountain from Ayder was just as good. Soon I was heading west along the Black Sea coast road. This was the first time in over a month I had gone west. I'd better get used to the sun in my eyes though. I have a couple of days going south after Uzungol but then it's pretty much west all the way back to London.
I stopped just before Of to take one last picture of my travel companion. We first became acquianted in Romania and then again in Bulgaria and we'd been side by side in Turkey for the last 4 days. It will get much hotter from here without its cooling breeze. The temperature never really got over 30 degrees when it was with me.
Roadworks reappeared on the way to Uzangol so this ride was not quite up to the standard of the earlier journey up the mountain to Ayder. When complete it will be an equal with more rugged scenery, again following a rocky stream up the mountain, with a couple of tight switchback turns thrown in just before Uzungol (1,000m) for good measure.
I found a hotel for the night and took a walk around the lake. Great spot here and popular too. Here's why.
It was cool here once the sun set. I expect it to be skinking hot tomorrow once I get down the mountain and further away from the coast.
Distance travelled today 277 miles (446km), cumulative 4,645 miles (7,475km).
It started out so well.
Another perfect day, typical Turkish breakfast, bike loaded and on the road before 9am. I was planning for a big day today. On roads that did not even feature on my GPS. Local inquiries had led me to believe it would be ok on a motorbike, about 30km of dirt road.
Even though the 30 km estimate turned out to be 30 miles (almost 50km) I didn't mind. The views were worth it as the gravel road peaked at just obver 2,500m. Some local young riders even asked me to stop so they could be photographed next to my bike. The northern side was lush in stark contrast to the southern side of the range which was drier.
My first break for the day was in Bayburt a mere 77miles from Uzungol, yet it took about two and a half hours to get there.
Just a short stop for a coffee and a chat with some locals. Just about everyone asks where I'm from. I managed to communicate some brief details of my trip in German (of all languages) with one of them who was fluent. They even paid for my coffee.
My next target was Bingol via Erzurum, most of it in excess of 1,500m elevation. Scenery was superb and the roadworks almost taunted me to come back and ride through this country again when they are complete.
Good roads were often interrupted by roadworks and gravel roads. About 15 miles out of Karliova a noticed a red warning light flashing on the display. It was a loss of rear tyre pressure. I had a puncture about as close to the middle of nowhere as you could get.
I calmly stopped the bike on a firm, level surface, dismounted and put it on the centre stand. It didn't take long to find the puncture. Must have been a sharp rock as nothing remained in the wheel.
Fortunately I had prepared for such an occurrence and had a repair kit and pump with me.
I had never done this before but followed the instructions and inserted the plug into the hole with the tool provided and finished by trimming the excess protruding from the hole.
Next the pump was attached to an outlet I had installed, attached directly to the Family Truckster's battery, and the tyre was inflated.
The tyre pressue was a little low but good enough to get me to the petrol station in Karliova. After refuelling, I searched for the air hose but they did not have one.
So out with my pump again. By this time I had attracted quite a crowd who were keen to ask all sorts of questions about my bike and me. The most commonly asked question about the bike is what did it cost. They even made me a cup of tea while the pump did its stuff. It's not super quick but it certainly does the job.
Time to get going again so I shook hands with all the onlookers and they wished me well for my journey.
I'd lost about an hour all up with the puncture. But this was much less time than it would have been if not for the repair kit and pump. This stuff was not cheap but proved to be a good investment.
I hope I can make it to Diyarbakir before dark.
Sometimes the simplest things cause the most grief.
Getting to the hotel should be simple on arrival at the outskirts of town. I mean, it's been a long day, hot, roadworks, the hotel is in the GPS, easy from here.
But no. Might be me. But this is the toughest part of the day. Don't worry about speeding fines, punctures etc, finding a hotel in any old city is hard work.
The GPS is more of a hinderance than a help. Particularly in Turkey. The GPS is just not up to it. I think I'd be better off without it. But only after a point. Up until then I'll still take it.
For two days running I've really struggled. One way streets, narrow lanes, streets that are no more than stairs. Hotels nowhere to be seen. This should be easy.
For two days running I've just given up after half an hour and gone to the nearest hotel I could see. Stuff the GPS. It's hot. I'm tired. I just want to get off the Family Truckster.
Some days the "old town" hussle is worth it. Yesterday maybe not. No disrespect to the people of Diyarbakir but it hasn't been a highlight. The trip there yes. As the sun was going down. The changing colours. Sun in your eyes one monent and shade round the the next corner. Suberb. Wonderful country this. But hot. It was still over 30 degrees when I finally made it to the hotel last night at 19:30.
Today it got to 40 degrees. Plus you need to factor in the kit I'm wearing and the heat from the engine. Very warm.
But today it was worth every bit of it.
Batman (yes this is the name of the city), was my first stop to refuel the Truckster and have a coffee.
Then on to Hasankeyf. This was somethong else. Might not be around in another few years - there are plans for a dam all through this region. If it goes ahead this wonderful city will be lost. It's hard to believe.
This is also the most easterly point of my journey and probably the furthest point from London. I'm on my way home now!
Mardin was not far. Almost took me as long to find a hotel as it did to make the journey from Hasankeyf via Midyat. I had to stop three times in Mardin to get my bearings. This was hard work but definitely worth it. This place is special. Under an old fort high on a hill overlooking the plains of Mesopotamia.
I simply lack the skills to adequately describe this city with words. Lucky I have a camera. Have a look at this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More to come.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I'll decide in the morning.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But Montenegro had more to offer me yet, much to my delight!
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.
How wrong I was!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's not far to the Slovenian border from here. My Dolomites adventure is nearly over.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The ride down from the pass to Andermatt was great. I arrived early enough to have a look around the town. Nice here.
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).
Next was the Grimsel Pass (2,165m).
The third pass of the morning session was Susten Pass (2,224m).
Next was the Nufenen Pass at 2,478 metres (I had to go over the Furka Pass again to get there).
The final pass of the day was the St Gothard Pass (2,108 m).
What a great riding day.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I was still exhausted when the alarm woke me on Thursday morning but managed to pack my kit up and drag myself downstairs for a simple but enjoyable breakfast (the cheeses were excellent).
Yesterdays long ride took a lot out of me. The concentration required on the tight roads was taking its toll. My body was also beginning to ache. My knees get a little sore on the Family Truckster on the long days but yesterday my hands were bad, my right thumb in particular. Could be the onset of arthritis - who knows (probably P)?
The view from my hotel in Beuil was peaceful and the hotel looked most quaint in the early morning sunlight.
Today I took it easy and found somewhere early - no need to push hard every day. This part of France is nice so I'll stay in the area and leave it until Friday for the big push towards Spain.
Not far west from Beuil was the ski resort town of Valberg - it looked nice - but I pressed on to Guillaumes and then south west through Les Gorges de Daluis. Now this was some different country to what I'd previously seen of France. Some parts were even vaguely remiscent of Capadoccia. There was one very scenic stretch of 17 tunnels cut though the red rocky gorge, high abaove a river below.
I was enjoying the ride so much I neglected to stop for photos. Shame about that. It was most spectacular but I did have the Go-Pro HD video camera running so I have some great video footage of this part of the ride. A tourist brochure I picked up at the hotel in Beuil described this region perfectly as the "Colorado of the Alps, hidden in the back country of Nice ... a spectacular deep and narrow red canyon unique in its kind ... " It was all of this.
France is a huge country and I've explored quite a bit of it now. It continues to throw up the unexpected and offers far more than Paris, the Tour de France, skiing, champage, wine, rich food and stinky soft cheeses. These alone are reason to come, but this vast country of 551,500 square kilometres is incredibly diverse in scenery with abundant natural beauty, culture, style and history.
The other highlight of the day was travelling on the Route Nepoleon. Even though I managed only a small section of the total 330km on offer from Canne to Grenoble it lived up to its claims as a great motorcycling road. I will have to come back and do all of it another time.
There is nothing remarkable about Digne-les-Bains - except its location. On the Route Napoleon, and an hour and a half from Nice ie beaches, and the Alps ie skiing. This could just be the perfect place for to live.
As I push further west towards London it becomes time for reflection.
I've been on the road for more than 9 weeks. I'm accustomed to my own company now - and are used to passing the time absent interaction with others. Not that the people I've met on the way weren't important. Sharing a meal with another peroson should not be taken for granted. Certainly my interactions with the locals and fellow travellers were memorable, and the highlights of the journey. But most nights I dine alone and this blog has become my converation of the evening - mostly one way - even though the email feedback received along the way has motivated me to keep going.
I didn't set out to find anything really but just to experience new countries and cultures. I didn't become a hippie or take illegal substances (none were even offerred to me), nor get a tattoo or body piercing (there were plenty of shops enroute offerring thses services).
Maybe I know a little more about me now, and most of all what is not best for me.
This has been a journey of research and experience. Of learning. To find my passion.
Many people never get an opportunity like this. To disregard reality for 10 weeks and to live for the day, tonight's hotel room, tomorrow's road. For this opportunity I am grateful and hope I am better for it. Time will tell.
But the longer you do it the scarier it gets to return to reality. To conform to the norms expected of you.
The next great road to ride continues to be a goal. Even though I've now done over 10,000 miles on this trip there are many more roads, countries and places where I'm yet to go.
I now realise I've never really been good at anything.
My lack of natural talent has been hidden by loud talking, arrogance, bluff or top quality kit. But deep down there is a lack of confidence, anxiety about acceptance, about not fitting in, not being good enough and hyper-sensitivity to criticism. My self relection is a burden - but it is me.
The Family Truckster is a great example - I get the best and most powerful touring bike, to compensate for my lack of riding skills. But they still passed me on their Massey Fergusons. But it doesn't really matter does it? Yes to me in some ways even though I tell myself it shouldn't.
There have been plenty of other Family Trucksters on the road since I made it to the Dolomites. They are certainly itimidating beasts. When they pass you in the other direction or when they come up behind you. The headlights are most distinctive - and because they are so big, there is simply no other bike with quite the same road prescence.
One passed me the other day - I couldn't keep up. And he had a pillion. A much better example of a skilled operater on great kit. Not a pretender trying to be something he isn't.
There is a movie with Clint Eastwood featuring a line where Clint's character says " ... a good man knows his limitations ...". I know more about mine now. And I'm not ashamed of them really - they will be what they are.
Even after 9 weeks I don't tire of climbing aboard the Family Truckster. Even though I'm a little sore at present it is still an absolute pleasure to be in control of such a precise, powerful and highly engineered machine. To make it do what I want it to.
Perhaps I am a control freak after all. But it doesn't hold against me the way I simply ask it to do what is was engaged for.
When all is on song it is such a delight. Being in-sync with the machine and the road it a great experience and everything just flows. It's like everything happens in slow motion, the next turn is apparent, brakes are hardly touched and the sound of the engine revving is pure. There is hardly a moment when the bike is vertical but it is just so stable.
But even in these moments I am only using about 2/3 of the capability of the machine and I'm not sure why. It's not due to the speed limits, sometimes the conditions dictate temperance, but mostly I'm tentative, holding back, scared of something.
Perhaps this is why I haven't come off the bike yet. But riding the Family Truckster has almost become a metaphor of my approach to life. Try and stay in the middle ground and don't push the limits of what could be possible. Do what is right and what others expect, not necessarily what makes me happy.
The problem is that on those few occasions I have tried to do something different in life or career it has backfired. Sometimes this has just been bad luck, but poor judgement has taken me there on occasions also. Poor judgement on the road could have dire consequences.
Tomorrow is another day. Perhaps I will give the Family Truckster some more gas or see if I can get my knee down in the corner. But perhaps not. Either way I will give it my best and enjoy the experience.
After all, a good man knows his limitations. And my best may be better than some others, but certainly good enough for me.
The first 250 miles of this ride was simple. Another short section of the Route Napoleon before a motorway blast west loosely following the Mediterrainian Coast.
I've got to hand it to the French. Their motorways are great - and not completely boring like those in the UK. If you need to get somewhere quick in France take the motorways. There are plenty of tolls though - but they are not as frequent as they are in Macedonia. And they are all automated - no people to collect your money. But paying tolls when riding a motorcycle is a pain. Gloves make eveything hard. They make you super clumsy. I take mine off when there is a toll to pay or else it's impossible. Sometimes the cars behind me back up - but that's their problem.
There were quite a few tolls today but they were worth it. I made it almost right across the south of France to Carcassone by 1330. Time for a break and a sandwich, then the Pyrennes.
Today was another high mileage day. I did about 380 miles (610km) by the time I parked the bike up at the end of the day. But the last bit was in the Pyrennes - my first time in this part of the world.
The climb was gradual - not like the Alps which are immediately steep. And the scenery was different. France is very diverse. Before I knew it I was at 1,600m.
It was a shame the road surface was not better. There were elements of Turkey here and caution was necessary - meaning the last 100 miles took much longer than suggested by the GPS - but these roads were trecherous - almost like the locals had put fine gravel on the corners to slow the bikers down. If this was the case they had achieved their desired result.
And it was hotter today in comparison to my recent experience in the Alps. High 20's most of the way. And with only winter gloves now it was a little uncomfortable. Sweaty hands are terrible, making the gloves almost impossible to get on or off. I'll have to get a new pair of summer gloves if the temperatures stay like this.
Finally I got to the border with Andorra. Wikepedia describes this as a principality but I'm not sure what this means. I'll take it as a new country. It's only small but first impressions are good. The road surface is first class, like in Spain. There are plenty of ski resorts and tunnels like Austria. But this place looks more modern and very clean - it must be incredible in winter when covered in pure white snow. I went through one tunnel and skipped the next to be rewarded by a high mountain pass.
Not far now to the capital Andorra la Vella. I'm looking forward to this. Some pictures tomorrow.
Imagine the biggest duty free shop you've ever seen. Or maybe like at a big international airport once you clear customs and security.
Well, multiply that by about 100 and you have Andorra. The capital, Andorra la Vella is simply a small town comprised of many duty free shops. Electronics, prefumes, cigarettes, high fashion brands. Andorra le Vella has all of this in abundance.
But something else also. Something you will not find in duty free shops or in airport shops. And that is motorcycle shops. On my way out of town today I saw what seemed like a whole street of them, selling parts, helmets, leather suits - almost anything you could want.
And I did. I got some new summer gloves.
And this prices were good too. Just like the electronics shops. In a bar I saw a cigarette vending machine selling packs for about one quarter of the price in the UK, not that I got any.
But this city is more than that. There were not many locals but plenty of day trippers from France and Spain. I'd come back here - probably to go skiing. There were sculptures, public spaces, plazas and parks. Not much history although there is an "old town".
But most of all, like all of western Europe it was spotlessly clean. Eastern Europe has much catching up to do in this regard. There was no litter anywhere.
So I had a day off the Family Truckster and simple wandered around town. It is very Spanish and the official language is Catalan. But everyone spoke English - lucky for me.
Here are some of my favourite images from Andorra la Vella.
It wasn't far from Andorra la Vella to the Spanish border. I'd long wanted to ride through the Pyrenees and had several routes already plotted in the GPS software. I opted for the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, heading west to Pamplona.
Traffic was fairly heavy on Sunday morning and the ride to the border was a slow one. The traffic headed to Andorra from Spain was much heavier though, with a long line of cars waiting patiently at the border.
It seems they stop all vehicles departing Andorra for Spain, probably to check that any duty free purchases are not in excess of allowed limits. I pulled over in case they wanted to search the Family Truckster but was waved through.
I'd ridden in Spain before and was looking forward to reacquainting myself with high quality road surfaces and polite, motorcycle friendly drivers (they all move over to the far right of the road allowing bikes a clear and swift passage).
It wasn't long before I was on a typical Spanish road. Even though I was in the mountains these road were not as steep or tight as they had been in the Dolomites and the Alps. But there were some great sweeping, fast bends begging for me to get my knee down. Today, particularly after stopping for an espresso in Sort, I was in sync with the terrain and road, and riding well. This is when it is most enjoyable. Within the first 100 miles I'd been over three passes of 1,700m, 2,000m and 1,600m.
There were a few sections of switchback, hairpin turns but not too many and because the terrain is not as steep, the turns are not to tight and in many ways a doddle compared to what I'd ridden in the past week or so. Perhaps I was well practiced so at least it felt like I leaned the Family Truckster over further, even though I didn't quite get my knee down.
Even though I enjoy the high Alpine passes like the Stelvio, Grossglockner, Col de la Bonette and Col du Galibier, I probably like riding the fast bends a little more. Spain has more of these on offer and a few tight, high bits also just to make sure you are on your game.
The scenery was very different to the Alps also. Not better or worse but just different. No unmelted snow adjacent to the roads but I recall seeing something that might have been a glacier in the distance - but only once. Even though Spain is broke, it seems they can still maintain their roads and keep petrol taxes low. When you take into account Spain's great food and good value accomodation (in Western Europe at least), it could still be the premier motorcycle touring destination in Europe.
The road from Sort to Vielha was fantastic and had absolutely everything. I'll come back here again one day to do this ride again, and to experience the French side of the Pyrenees.
I hadn't really set a target destination for the day. I planned to just ride and stop when I'd had enough. At around 1540 I stoped at Broto to consult the map and consider the location of my overnight stay. Jaca perhaps - it wasn't too much further.
I arrived there at 1635 and saw a sign for Pamplona - only 107km. That's not much more than an hour. I always wanted to visit Pamplona, so I'll press on. Can still make it with enough light to have a quick look around.
And I need to get some photos for the blog.
I hadn't stopped much today even though the scenery was excellent. Once for coffee late morning and then for a late lunch. But after so many days, all these mountains were starting to look a bit the same to me. So no photos of mountain passes or scenery today. I didn't even stop or later research the names of the passes I crossed. I just wanted to enjoy the riding experience. How slack have I become!
Not that they weren't worthy of the same respect and attention I'd given the Dolomites or the Alps.
At least I had the video running so I have a record - just give me some time to catch up on the editing and posting on You Tube.
I took the short road to Pamplona from Jaca - more like a motorway but at least there were some good bends from time to time. And I passed a huge dam; Embalse de Yasa, also known as the Sea of the Pyrenees.
I arrived in Pamplona arounf 1750 and within the next 30 minutes had selected and checked into my hotel for the night. By 1900 I was out on the streets walking around.
Pamplona is famous for the running of the bulls and I'd often seen the images of this highlight of the annual San Fermin, held in July, broadcast on the TV news in Australia. Not that I would ever have the courage to run with the bulls.
So I had a mental picture of what Pamplona would be like. But it was so much more. This is a very old and large fortress city. The old town has narrow cobbled streets lined with 3-4 storey buildings on either side, occasionaly making way for a plaza or square. When the bulls thunder through these narrow man made canyons it must be terrifying with nowhere to take cover.
But as with many cities I've passed through in the latter stages of this adventure, I simply haven't allowed enough time to take in all the sights and history on offer. After it became too dark for photos I parked up in a bar for a few beers and then wines - at the same time sampling several Pincho's, a Basque version of Tapas, but typically spiked with a skewer or toothpick.
Pincho's are great and much better value than Tapas in my view (I had tapas for lunch in Andorra la Vella). At about 1.50 or 2.00 euros each these cost little more than a packet of nuts/chips and 3-4 are all you need. I'm a big fan and had them for lunch yesterday, dinner last night, lunch today and dinner again tonight. They are great with beer, wine, coffee, water etc - why haven't I heard of these before?
So, true to form, I've written more today to make up for my absence of photo's. Here's a few gimpses of Pamplona - defintely worth a visit to this part of the world. I certainly be back.
I really should have got up earlier and taken another short walk around Pamplona. But I didn't. I slept until 0800 and was packed and on the road around 1000, distracted by Top Gear repeats on the TV dubbed in Spanish.
Bilbao was the target today - or thereabouts. But my GPS programming let me down today. I should have split the route from Andorra la Valla into two smaller routes to be sure I passed through the roads and towns I had wanted to.
Unfortunately it ended up being a motorway slog - but good Spanish motorways - so I ended up missing Hondarrabia, San Sebastian and the coastal road to Bilbao.
I stopped enroute and contemplated a detour but ended up heading straight for the ferry port. I'd booked the ticket last night so it was locked in now. Tuesday at 1030 the ferry would leave headed for Portsmouth. By early Wednesday morning I'd be back in the UK and only a few hours from London.
Perhaps being a little anal, I just wanted to see where I'd need to be in the morning. And it ended up not being where the GPS took me to. Apparently it had recently moved. This knowledge could be the difference between making or missing the ferry. As far as I'm concerned this validated the recon mission.
The ferry terminal is some way out of Bilbao, and much closer to the coast (this makes perfect sense). Bilbao is a big city and likely worthy of more attention than I'd allowed. But I was on the home straight now. No distractions.
Now I needed to find somewhere to stay tonight, close to the ferry port. I took the coastal road west towards Santander. After about 30 minutes of coastal meander with nothing promising on offer I arrived at Castro Urdiales. Now this place was more like it. Only about 20 minutes to the ferry in the morning on the motorway, nice town right on the Bay of Biscay - perfect.
After settling into to one of the few hotels in town (this was a little surprising but at least they had a room available and parking for the Family Truckster), I took a walk around town. Here's what I saw.
I left the UK on 28 July and since leaving the train in Calais the Family Truckster and I have travelled 10,883 miles (17,514km). We been abroad for a total of 68 days of which 51 have been spent riding at a daily average of 213 miles (343km).
Enroute, we passed through the following countries:
Netherlands (transit but only just and confirmed by the GPS tracks)
Czech Republic (3 nights)
Poland (3 nights)
Slovakia (overnight again)
Romania (9 nights)
Turkey (29 nights)
Macedonia (2 nights)
Bosnia and Hetzegovina (overnight)
Croatia (2 nights)
Ferry (1 night)
Italy (2 nights)
Germany (overnight again)
Switzerland (2 nights)
France (2 nights)
Andorra (2 nights)
Spain (2 nights)
After tonight, my last on continental Europe, I will have another night aboard a ferry in transit from Spain to the UK.
When I return to London on Wednesday afternoon I will have been away for exactly 10 weeks - just what I told P I'd allowed for (lucky guess, that's all).
So in summary, 21 days to reach Turkey, 29 days in Turkey and 20 days to get back to the UK travelling through 21 different countries, 15 of them for my first time.
And the star of the show was the Family Truckster. Even though I had to replace the front wheel, it did not miss a beat. Mechanically and electronically it was faultless. The new tyres I put on in Poland will be replaced on my return to the UK with all but 10,000 miles on them in tough conditions including high temperatures and a bad puncture (there is still a slow leak). There are a few scratches but this is to be expected. The 3M paint protection I put on before my departure was a good investment although it appears I have scratched through this in a couple of places through my carelessness more than anything else.
You simply cannot take a bike on a journey like this if you are scared of scratching the paintwork.
It hasn't had a wash since Antalya in Turkey on day 43. It looks a bit tired now with about 500 species of bugs smashed all over the lights, windshield and fairing but it should clean up ok and look as a good as new again. Some sections of the paint protection film may need replacing as they have bubbled and lifted, but only a little. No rush to get this done.
Even though I don't want to count my chickens yet, I've made it unscathed. No real days of sickness (one day in Capaddocia I felt a little average) or worse, injury. The bike and me remained upright all the way (touch wood).
The most used tech was the integrated Navigation and audio system. I would never have made it all the way and not died of boredom without it. Next was probably my camera - a Sony NEX-5 compact DSLR camera, closely followed by my phones (HTC and Samsung - Android Smartphones) which helped me find hotels on numerous occasions enroute. Finally but by no means last was my HP Laptop and Go-Pro HD video camera.
Then there were the phone apps I used, Booking.com and Tripadvisor were the most useful from a touring perspective but also a handful of others than enabled me to stay in touch with news and friends.
Over the course of the trip I have all but filled up a 1TB external hard disk that I brought along specifically for the raw digital media. I probably have between 150 and 200 hours of HD video which I plan to edit and post on You Tube to show other touring motorcyclists the fantastic roads and scenery Europe and Turkey has to offer.
Also invaluable was my relatively low tech puncture repair kit and electric pump. It really got me out of trouble in the middle of nowhere in Turkey. I will probably carry this with me wherever I ride now.
Somethings I carried weren't worth the space they took up as it turned out but its probably good that they weren't. In different circumstances they may have been as critical, so I would probably choose to carry most of them again.
I have a certain amount of pride in completing a journey like this, even though many of the hard heads will say I did it the easy way. All on-road, not venturing into 3rd world countries, staying in hotels, new bike, good dealer network, lots of unecessary trinkets, too much junk etc.
I don't really care - each to their own. If you want to make it tougher then great for you. I have still achieved something that a few years ago I would have not even thought about and many would not undertake - but it is easily achievable.
A very good friend of mine once said about university that the only prerequesite for graduation was enrolment. This is true. I think the same can be said about a trip like mine. Once you make a start you are bound to finish it in one way or another. But unless you start the trip will always remain in your dreams.
I remember my first trip to the continent a few years back. It was an organised tour to the WW1 battlefields in France and Belgium. I was so scared and on reflection such a novice rider. Just riding on the other side of the road was just about more than I can handle. But now it is second nature. It's much easier on a bike then in a car anyway as all the controls are the same - you just need to remember to start out in the right lane and then just stay within the lines.
My riding continues to improve and I know my way around most of Europe now but there are still some new countries out there for me to visit. I doubt I'd want to travel through Africa though on a Massey Ferguson. Just not enough safety nets in this part of the world but all respect to those that do it. I'm a bit soft and know my limitations. I'm happy to stick to surface roads.
South America would be good and possibly middle Asia also. But I'm not about to start planning my next motorcycle adventure as soon as I get back to London.
I have some different adventures and challenges that will require my attention and focus for the next few months in the same way as I needed it to ride in the dark in Bosnia and France and on the terrible road surfaces in Turkey. There will be some borders that will not let me pass and darkness may cloud my judgement. There will be wrong turns and sometimes the GPS will lead me astray or even not have details of the roads I plan to travel on. But in the end you always make it to the hotel or back home, and I am confident the next adventure will be as succesful as the last - I wouldn't have it any other way.
I arrived safely at the ferry terminal this morning with plenty of time to have a chat with a few of the other motorcyclists who were also waiting to board. It's always good to hear stories of where people have been and the most interesting was a couple who'd been travelling around Morocco on a Massey Ferguson. It sounded a lot like riding in Turkey although they did some off road riding also.
Anyway, the wait gave me the chance to get some photos of the very dirty Family Truckster, including some shots of the dash and switches/controls on the handlebars.
It's not long now before it will be clean again though!
The ferry's engines have just started up so I'll be on my way very soon. This could be a very long and boring day but time to edit some videos I guess.
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Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!