No.8. Turkey...and Greece.
ASIA. I'd finally made it. I rolled off the ferry at Bandirma, found the main road heading south and did just that.
Hot and dusty. Just what you'd expect the Dusty Highway to be. Barren land for mile after mile. Maybe I should have taken my time and gone along the coast road. It's just that I'd had an idea I could be celebrating my birthday on Rhodes with my sister and her family. Looking over the map on a Petrol station forecourt I realised that if I got beyond Izmir that night, got a very early start I could just make the 9.00am ferry from Marmaris to Rhodes. HA! I could be enjoying my first glass of Ouzo by lunchtime! I apologised to the Turkish Tourist Board and got my head down....
Click here to see the full story
The sun was already low as I rode around Izmir and, as darkness fell, I pulled off the highway at Tombali which looked promising for an overnight stop. Nope. Turned out later to translate as ‘Never had an hotel – never will have.’
'Avoid riding in the dark at all costs'. I’d read somewhere. Hmmm. Too late. I rode cautiously west along the old road to Selcuk expecting to ride into the back of an unlit truck or be pulled off the bike by packs of marauding dogs. Or riding into the back of an unlit dog for that matter. Nothing happened and I managed to find myself a room. Over a dinner of stuffed peppers and rice in a cobbled square I read that that the Rhodes ferry sailed every day except Sunday. Tomorrow was Sunday. Whatever. The Lonely Planet had been wrong before.
5.00a.m. Still dark. Still cold. I retraced my steps to the highway and accelerated up the slip road as the sun broke the horizon. A beautiful, unforgettable moment - and double points because it was my birthday.
8.00a.m. 50kms to go. Three hours of breathtaking scenery and I was going to make it. I plunged into the outskirts of sleeping Marmaris. I raced through the town desperate for 'Ferry' signs. Nothing. The sea front. Left or right?? Right...no just a marina. Back. 8.45. Go! Go! GO! YES. The ticket office. Still closed but I'd experienced that before. They'll wait till the ferry is right here, mooring up...
Any biker who's raced for a ferry will know the sensation of a fizzing brain. Mine fizzed.
'Are you for ferry?' I looked up, shading my eyes. The voice came from the first floor. A man in his dressing gown.
'Yes!' I said, pulling out my paper work, relieved.
'Tuesday. Car ferry is once a week - on Tuesday.
I leaned forward resting my head on the dials.
Click on MORE below to read ' the rest of the story.'
Over tea he went through the options.
A.Wait in Marmaris till Tuesday or B. Head back up the coast to Bodrum, take the ferry to Kos then on to Rhodes. Later in the trip I would have been more relaxed with this choice and would have simply found a campsite and fallen asleep lounging around until the Tuesday ferry turned up. But these were still early days and the gritty biker in me opted to get back out on the road.
Later that day in Bodrum, sipping a cocktail in a beach bar – alone and feeling sorry for myself, I’d rung my girlfriend Celia, and we’d made plans to meet up the following week in Fethiye, southern Turkey. My spirits lifted.
I argued my way out of Turkey and into Greece (insurance documents that weren’t green) and finally rode down off the ferry into the heat of Rhodes port. This felt so good. I’d flown to Rhodes a few times with my wife Julie – great cheap package holidays - but there was something about riding all the way here….
An hour later I pulled up outside the portals of Hotel Bacchus and was tugged from my bike by a manic nephew and niece.
‘Uncle Simon! Uncle SIMON! You’ve got to come and see the pool!...our room!…the beach!…everything!
I was surreptitiously fitted out with an ‘All inclusive’ wrist band and was led, at speed, to the restaurant and bar.
I ate, drank and was merry till the early hours in an atmosphere that made me think of a land locked cross-channel ferry. Sunburned Brits shouted at waiters ‘More drinks,mate!’. The same sunburned Brits shouted at their kids who raced around with wide Cola-charged eyes. The kids shouted at each other.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?’ I asked, naively, pointing at my watch.
‘Nah! We’re on HOLIDAAAAY!’.
I spent the following day being pulled in all directions by fizzy drink-fuelled kids, buried alive and forced to ride an inflatable banana, while their parents lounged on sunbeds, chatting and drinking ‘inclusive' beer.
Stuffed with an ‘inclusive’ dinner, we made our way to one of the bars. By midnight I was ‘getting on well with Christine, an attractive woman from Cheltenham, when she was suddenly pulled from her bar stool by her three tired young children. I thought back to Devonshire holidays when I’d been allowed to join my parents in the evening for a milk shake – if I was lucky. ‘Seen not heard’. That’s what I say.
‘Uncle Simon, your dancing is really sad, ’ quipped Saffron, my niece. Time for bed.
‘Uncle Simon? UNCLE SIMON! Are you awake yet? When are you going, cos we want to go to the beach?’
I’d fallen asleep fully clothed and somehow got my tongue stuck to the floor – or that’s what it felt like. An hour later, I peeled the last small boy off the loaded bike, kissed the girls, shook mens’ hands manfully and set off. Heather and co were leaving the following day so I’d decide to find myself a shady beach-side campsite for a few days before getting back on the trail.
‘There are no campsites on Rhodes, sir’ said the pretty girl at the Lindos tourist information.
I must have stood there open-mouthed because she repeated it again as if to say ‘We no longer want your kind on our island’.
Right. Got the message. Back to the bloody port and run the gauntlet back to Bodrum because ‘The car ferry to Marmaris is…’
‘Only once a week’, I butted in. ’I know. Kos then Bodrum it is then.’
Tickets bought. Ferry boarded. Rhodes faded into the twylight as we steamed east again.
Posted by Simon Roberts at 04:43 PM
No.7. Bulgaria..and on to Turkey
Applications for publishing deals (for the book) are now winging their way to the Literary agents of London town. Don't hold your breath - this could take some time. Got any tips? Advice? Queries? Like to be added to mailing list? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Right. Where were we? Bulgaria.
After a bedbug-ridden night in an overpriced hotel in the border town of Giurgui, I left Romania and crossed the Danube for the last time into Bulgaria. Monday and another new country. I liked that. This is what I'd come away for.
Clear blue skies and sunshine. Perfect motorcycling weather for a fair-weather biker. I took the road south east to Varna, then on towards Burgas. After miles of high plains the horizon suddenly dropped away and the sparkling blue of the Black Sea opened out before me. Another 'Made it!' moment.
The campsite at the beach resort of Sozopol was my kind of campsite. Shady, a few metres from the beach, a fine cafe/restaurant with an attractive waitress. Perfect.
I chatted to her about my trip - the route, the drama, the excitement, the dangers...She was impressed. So impressed that she introduced me to her father, the owner of the cafe, who didn't seem quite so enthusiastic.
I left early the next morning, after a non-existent holiday 'romance', heading for the Turkish border.
click here to see the full story
'Green card?' demanded the surly border guard.
'No. This is the new insurance papers' I smugly replied handing him my white paperwork. 'I was told there was no longer a need for a green card.'
'No green card. No Entry into Turkey', said the guard looking for the next in the queue.
'What?!' A cold shiver went down my spine. This is serious. These guys are not going to let me in. My trip is over. I sank onto a wooden bench in the office. What the hell was the next move?
Click on MORE below to hear the rest of the story...
I talked and pleaded with any official who would listen. An hour passed. Phone calls were made and heads were shaken. Finally, having worn through the knees of my biking jeans, they came to a settlement whereby I took out an 'additional' insurance for Turkey. I kissed the official's shoes and paid up.
Turkish roadworks. Epic. They take the old surface off for twenty miles at a time and you're left with miles of unpredictable gravel and sand. Cars and trucks race by - on both sides - and leave you choking in their dust. Contact lenses? Who needs them.
Dark rain clouds were sweeping in from the south as Istanbul finally came into sight. My pristine 'Istanbul to Kathmandu' Lonely Planet recommended the area of Sultanahmet as the best area to base myself for a few days. All I had to do was find it.
I'd done my best to memorise the 'run' into old Istanbul at a motorway cafe where they'd tried to charge me £9.00 for a cup of Nescafe. It was with this knowledge I plunged into the ring roads of the city.
Nothing sharpens the senses more than a run into a foreign capital at the end of the day. Fast moving motorway traffic...intersections...low sun in your eyes...names of places that weren't on your map...Left...Right..Wrong. It was only a matter of time before I'd spiraled into a busy quarter of the old city. The wrong one.
At 8.00pm I gave up wrestling with the choked streets of the old town in my desperation to reach Sultanahmet. Glancing down an alleyway a neon lit 'Hotel' sign called to me...I settled for the Hotel Sleez, 'near' Sultanahmet and a tiny airless room.
The following days were spent savouring the delights and characters of Istanbul. Breakfast...The Blue Mosque...BMW...the cafes of Sultanahmet...BMW...a man who'd painted his Mercedes as a one man Peace campaign... freshly grilled fish on the quayside at Eminonu...and finally BMW again - new tyres and oil change.
There was more to see but, once again, the Dusty Highway was calling and the following morning I scrambled onto the ferry crossing the Sea of Marmara heading for the windswept town of Bandirma, the Turkish mainland and the road east. I headed south.....
Posted by Simon Roberts at 04:53 PM