Departure and Europe
September 22, 2009 GMT
First Steps

Welcome to the 'Departure and Europe' category.

We are making our first tentative steps, a little slowly.

We spent two days in Dresden seeing a friend of Caroline's and two nights here visiting Terezin (a nazi concentration camp town) just north of Prague.

Not much time to find an internet place good enough to post photos, and no real photos anyway. Next stop is Prague, then Budapest, Romania, Bulgaria and the Black Sea coast, probably another week away.

We spend quite a bit of time repacking luggage, and repacking again, trying to get everything into easily-accessible places. Haven't started throwing anything away yet, but that will start soon I think.

More news as it comes in (as they say).

Posted by Ken Thomas at 06:22 AM GMT
October 11, 2009 GMT
Edge Of Europe

The day before yesterday we arrived safe and sound in Istanbul, after reaching the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast a few days before.

They say you should never return to places visited in the past. That Black Sea coast is just such a place. Anyone driving this way expecting to see the road skirting around endless empty sandy beaches, as it did thirteen years ago when Caroline and I were last here cruising along on a Ducati V-twin, will be seriously disappointed.
Our maps still show campsites dotted all along those beaches. But when we enquired at the endless concrete hotels now crowding out completely the old sandy coastline (with the road shoved back inland maybe a kilometre or so), the replies we received were all the same. Shrugged shoulders, waved arms, and sufficient words to confirm that all those campsites, and most if not all of the sandunes, have been covered with concrete and glass.
And not even providing employment for these local people. It's only the first week of October, the sun is warm and reliable, but everywhere is closed and empty. Closed hotels (many "For Sale"), empty apartment blocks, closed bars and restaurants, stagnant swimming pools, and a half-built-and-abandoned selection of all of these as well.

It's late in the day, and we pass hotel after hotel (having given up on finding a camping place), until we find one open. And then move on quickly into Turkey the next day.

That next afternoon we find another campsite by the road, but the road is being widened and the campsite is closed and almost flattened. So we continue to Luleburgaz. There's only one big 3-star on the main road through town but a large motorbike shop nearby. Here we are welcomed like old family with tea and the services of the young son of the owner who speaks perfect English. After the tea and hospitality, and the kind donation to our journey of some new luggage straps needed by Caroline and Beau, the shop's delivery driver leads us to the old town centre and their recommended hotel. All very nice.

Then next day......... an upset. Beau learns that his half-sister has suddenly died back home in Ottawa, so our plans are abandoned and new ones constructed. We find ourselves late in the evening at Istanbul Airport. Driving to Istanbul Airport is NOT like driving to Heathrow or Gatwick! Dodgem cars at Southend's Kuursal might provide a mere introduction to an attempt at a description.
But this gives Beau easy communication with family back home, and flights if he decides to go to the funeral. After much family discusion it's agreed he won't go to Ottawa so we fight our way through the airport hotel touts and find a place a shuttle-bus-ride away for the night. Also we find that the car park is well guarded and the guards point out a place were we can leave the bikes for free.

So here we are now in Sultanahmet, central Istanbul with a bit of time at last, and decent internet, to do an update.

Last night we met a young Australian on his way home from London on a Honda CG250. He left England the day after us and is an old hand at this sort of thing having done London to Egypt on the same bike 18 months ago. He's obtaining an Iranian visa here, we, Syrian visas. So it's likely we'll depart Istanbul for the south on the same day. We stay in touch.

So some photos.

Our camping somewhere in Holland:


Adrian and Lianna with their bikes (a CX500 and a Dominator), who kindly hosted us for two days in Cluj Napoca, the capital city of Transylvania. Adrian is a builder of custom choppers and kindly fixed a leak in the petrol tank on Beau's bike. They also showed us the sights of the old city of Cluj.


At first we put the bikes in the entrance-way to Lianna's apartment, which she had arranged for:


But later the smell of petrol told us this wasn't a good idea, it was the fire escape for ten floors of flats, so we parked securely in the garden just outside.

Departure from Lianna's home:


Transylvanian mountain village:


Misty Transylvanian valley scenery:


Transylvanian farmhouse B&B where we stopped early one day because of fog and rain on rough mountain roads:


One for the GPO veterans - Telephone cable jointing in the ancient city of Sighisoara (birthplace of Vlad Dracul, father of Dracula). Old hands will notice the way the neck of the lemonade bottle (Sleeve 13A if I remember correctly) is meticulously wired to a nail in the fence. All very neat.........


Romanian villager on the way to Tescos (yes they are in Romania). Buying or selling, we don't know:


In stark contrast, the concrete of the Bulgarian Black Sea resorts:


Next to our hotel in Luleburgaz was Sezgin Tyres. The owner, Metin, was very interested in our tyres and our journey, and told us stories of his stay in London in a Hyde Park hotel. He offered us new tyres which he just happened to have parked in the street. He thought that in Istanbul we may find someone who could fit them, but no luck so far.


Here in Istanbul, Caroline and Beau outside The Blue Mosque - looking for a tyre fitter:


Posted by Ken Thomas at 12:36 PM GMT
October 23, 2009 GMT
Beyond Istanbul

On the Monday after our arrival in Istanbul we headed off to the Syrian consulate where the information we had previously gathered was confirmed. That is, we need a letter of recommendation from our own consulate. The British consulate charges 68 pounds for this, a pro-forma standard letter which just needed our names inserting and printing off on the office printer. This is about three times the cost of the Syrian visa itself. The Canadian consulate charges slightly less for their letter.

So we took heed of all the reports of visas being available at the Syrian border and did some sightseeing instead. On our last evening we met Mustafa, one of Caroline's students from the English Language school back in Eastbourne, who kindly took us to tea.

Beau, Caroline, Mustafa and Ken.
Last evening in Istanbul

We departed Istanbul on Wednesday (14th October) for the south-west coast with John, the Australian we had met earlier on his way home from England on an old 250 Honda.
He had received his Iranian visa with minimum fuss so was all set to take his route through Pakistan and India.
Late that day we were on the Sea of Marmara at Sarkoy where a number of coastal campsites were shown on our maps, but again none existed, it was all new houses and apartments. We were a long way from any big towns and darkness loomed so we stopped at what appeared to be an old abandoned and derelict beach café with grass around it, enough for our tents.
The owner of the smart sea-front house next door said it should be ok to camp so we settled in, tents pitched a yard from the water's edge.
The narrow beach was all pebbles making it ideal for a little bonfire and John went back to the small village of Eriklice for supplies as we didn't even have water.
In the darkness, with food laid out and tea underway, a white van stopped on the grass.

White-van-man was an elderly gent who managed to explain he owned the land we were on. He tried earnestly to explain lots of other things that we couldn't make head nor tail of. But eventually there was talk of 'Euros', so we didn't make head nor tail of that either but offered him tea instead. He looked a bit non-plussed at first, then accepted and his mood subsequently changed. Maybe he had realised that, in the Turkish tradition, as we were the visitors to his premises he should be offering us the tea. So he relaxed, accepted some food by the light of our fire and did his best to relate his life story, or so it seemed.
Then he wanted to show us his establishment. He waved his arms around at all the space and the old café. He explained about the toilets - we don't know what - but he did manage to convey the fact that he didn't have the keys with him, nor to the other locked, warped and peeling door to what seemed to have once been the kitchen.
We moved on to the patio, full of rusty drinks cabinets and derelict furniture. Except for two magnificent-looking sofas under cover and in the dry. Leaning against one was an old battered pavement name-board.
"Dahmet Camping"
With the day's menu underneath!
Little wonder it was ok to camp here.

Back at the campfire, Dahmet the white-van-man said his goodbyes and stepped off into the night towards where he had parked. But a short while later returned. Lots of hand signs revealed he had left his lights on and needed a push-start. But first in the best Turkish tradition we passed round more tea.
His van started after a couple of pushes and with much profuse handshaking he was gone. We like to think that our impromptu visit will convince him that there are still travellers around who want camping at the water's edge and he'll be inspired to bring his campsite out of retirement.

And then..... we had the icing on the cake, which was even better than icing on the cake.

"Who wants ice cream for dessert?" Asked John as the flickering light of our campfire pierced the night and we finished the last of the bread, rice, Turkish salami and pasta.
He had secretly bought four Cornettos on his earlier shopping trip.
"How on earth do you keep them cold??"
Well, being Australian, John knows these things.
"It's simple mate! Y' just keep them together under a layer of pebbles on the beach. They'll stay cold for hours no worries."
What more could we ask for??

The next day brought the answer as it took us further down the west coast, beyond Edremit, where we actually found camping - outrageously expensive.
The third place we tried was up a long dirt road through dozens of olive groves, and actually had no camping anyway, only expensive bungalows. Retracing our steps we took a small track off of the main dirt road, through more olive groves, in search of an out-of-the-way spot to camp. This track ended at a pick-up van parked up against a little wooden footbridge over a stream.
We investigated, finding a remote farmhouse on the other side and a welcoming husband-and-wife, whose tractor wouldn't start.

Remote hidden farmhouse

We helped with that but couldn't work out how the tractor got there with only a rickety footbridge for access. Whereupon the husband let the clutch out and clattered away into the distance, to return some minutes later on the other side of the river next to the pickup van.
Now we discovered that he needed to get the tractor round there in order to use the tractor's compressor to pump up a flat tyre on the pickup.

With all that done, the serious welcome got under way. Irfan and his wife Sadria offered us camping in the large yard of the farmhouse. Vehicle access from where the pickup and our bikes were parked was back to the main track, down a side-track further along, across a ford in the stream and up to the yard.

Bikes lined up by Irfan's tractor after the river crossing

Dinner would be laid on in about an hour, by candlelight (no electricity) under a tarpauline roof on the patio (rain was on the way). There was plenty of water constantly gushing out of a two-inch pipe above a butler sink, that was fed from a spring up in the hills with rain that fell many months, or probably years, ago. The gurgling plug-hole of the sink sat above a small ditch that circled round the yard and flowed off into the stream.
In view of the sudden but esteemed guests, Irfan and Sadria wouldn't go home that night but would stay in the farmhouse on temporary bunks and have breakfast ready for us in the morning.

It turned out that the farmhouse, with it's wood-burning cooker in the outdoor kitchen, was just a day-shelter for these two olive farmers who actually lived about ten kilometres away.
Well, dinner was a very long affair, during which we learned all the minute details of each other's families, friends and jobs, and what Turkish farmhouse cooking is truly all about.

Sadria's kitchen

Sadria serving Turkish tea

Breakfast the next morning was similar, the centrepiece being a huge bowl of wonderful baklava that the four of us could not get close to finishing, despite the spirited encouragement of our hosts.

John, Ken, Sadria, a friend of Irfan, Irfan and Beau, around a magnificent breakfast table.

To cap all that they then compelled us to strap huge bags of apples and mandarins to our bikes before departure.

We did not, unfortunately, have a clean scoresheet with the river crossing that morning. Water about a foot deep, rocky, about fifteen feet across and well used by the tractor.
The previous evening it was no problem, but the night's rain had turned the steep and angled exit slope into a bit of a mud chute that caught out two of our number.
No names to protect the innocent, but the fully-loaded bikes that we had to pick up, one almost upsidedown on the slope - HARD work - were not in the ownership of an Australian, nor a grandad.........
After minimal dusting down we were on our way.

What with that extended breakfast, and the slow progress made by four together as compared to one on his own, John decided that Iran beckons and continued on his own way the following day. But not before grinding to a worrying halt on the motorway to Izmir. He had lost all drive, and no sprocket could be seen on the gearbox shaft. It was wedged inside the cover, obviating the need for a search party to walk back up the road looking for it.
The two small bolts holding on the Honda-style serrated retaining washer had dissapeared, along with the washer. The loosening bolts had ripped grooves on the inside of the cover before falling out completely.
"Aw, look at that mate! I wondered what that noise was the last couple of days! But no worries eh?" confessed John.
- sigh! -
With chain and sprocket back in place we wound some steel wire tightly in the groove on the shaft to form an improvised retaining washer, carefully twisting the ends. It looked pretty neat, as though it might last until the Iranian border at least. It lasted to well beyond Izmir where John left us and we await news of his progress.

John, our Australian Ice Cream Man, leaves us for Iran.

We are now in Dalyan on the south coast, camped right opposite the Lycian 'Tombs of the Kings' rock carvings of Kaunos.

Bike parked under the campsite verandah. Rock carvings on opposite cliff face across the river.

It's a bit of a tourist trap, where we rest awhile. For a week, for family visits.
At least, amongst the end-to-end tourist restaurants with their incessant touts, we have found an excellent Turkish pide house in a corner of the main square. And Café Betus (Betty's Café), a house next to the campsite where Betty serves some excellent Turkish dinners in her front garden.

As well as the Lycian ruins, Dalyan is known for nearby Iztuzu beach. Famously and strictly protected as a breedıng place for Loggerhead Turtles. There's a spectacular dirt road up to a spectacular view of the whole area at the top of Bozburun Hill.

Turtle breeding beaches from the top of Bozburun Hill.

There's an interesting shortcut on the way up, but even the 'go anywhere' TTR250 couldn't quite make it, sticking to the track instead.

Late next week we'll depart eastwards, maybe four days to reach the Syrian border.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 08:38 AM GMT
November 07, 2009 GMT
Land Of Contrasts

Turkey certainly is when it comes to its people.

We recently heard from John, our Australian aquaintance on his way home on his 250cc Honda.
He was robbed at gunpoint in central Turkey a couple of days after leaving us outside of Izmir.
We don't know what sort of robber it was, but it took place close to a police barracks. The villain was immediately apprehended, but it delayed John by a few days for all the legal processes.
What a difference to our time in Edremit!

We wuz almost robbed too. Then a day later one of us actually was robbed..... more later.

After departing Dalyan about twelve days ago we ended up in a campsite in the holiday resort of Kas. It had a most welcoming owner, and a full complement of most welcoming Turkish campers, who were there for Turkey's National Holiday weekend. They offered us various ingredients for our dinner as soon as Beau started cooking in the camp kitchen. Then they insisted we join them for dessert at one of their tables.
We learned they were a group of professional-types (university lecturers, engineers etc) from a hiking club in Aydin, near were John had actually left us for the road to Iran. They were walking sections of the Lycian Way and invited us to join them the next day.
There were two problems with that, they would be leaving to start their trek at 7am (an impossible task for us), and we wanted to continue our journey the next day anyway - Turkey is a big country to get across.
However, the next day was the start of a week of pretty awful weather right across Turkey - but not before a few of the Aydin Hiking Club, who were not walking that day, insisted we sit at their table for a full Turkish breakfast. After that the heavens opened, we abandoned thoughts of going further that day and were quietly relieved that we hadn't joined the hikers - our waterproof gear is meant for riding motorcycles, not walking, it's heavy!

At a break in the rain later in the day we set off, and found over the following week a series of very nice campsites all right at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. And some pretty wet weather that delayed us here and there.

The Greek island of Megisti, photographed from the road rising out of Kas climbing up the coastal mountains.

Tent and bikes a couple of feet from the waves of the Med, at the next campsite.

We met a Belgian couple on a BMW travelling the opposite direction to us who told us stories of floods and deluge up ahead, and the news on the TV in a campsite bar showed pictures of serious flooding and collapsed buildings in Istanbul.

A few more days of dodging the rain found us in Anamur, with tents pitched again right at the edge of the Med and the intention to take another photo to make you all envious. But the deluge restarted that night and well into the next day, not a chance of taking the camera out of its case. Battening down the hatches was the order of the day. It abated quite suddenly in the early afternoon but was followed immediately by a terrific gale of a wind blowing directly from the sea. The waves grew in size, rapidly pounding up the gently-shelving beach, heading for the tents. From the other direction a worried-looking campsite owner hurried towards us, and mainly in German exclaimed that, blown by this wind, the waves will indeed soon be tearing through our tents and we should move.
But by then the campsite was pretty well entirely water-logged, so at his suggestion we placed our tents in the bar area, being a large raised circular concrete floor with a substantial roof and no walls, open all the way round. Everything here, tables, chairs and other bar paraphenalia had been packed up and covered with plastic sheeting for the winter, so there was plenty of room for our tents under the roof.

Later as darkness fell the owner showed us the switch to turn on a flourescent tube above the tents, but electricity was not constant during this Mediterranean storm. The rain had returned, the wind stiffened, and the light flickered on and off like those in the nearby pancake cafe we had eaten in earlier.
The storm also seemed to control the mood of the owner. He was well into his 60s we think and since our arrival he had swung between being helpful to us, and bouts of cursing and shouting, at the rain, the water-logged ground, his dogs and sometimes, I think, his wife.
I don't think either of them were Turkish. He seemed to prefer talking in German even though he knew we understood neither that nor much Turkish. His wife looked like she was from somewhere quite a bit further south and east, maybe Iran or Georgia

Anyway, we had a sheltered night, the morning was sunny, so we prepared to leave. Funnily enough, the owner was in a foul mood, cursing the rain that had been blown into the bar area by the wind overnight, cursing his dogs again, and muttering in German about wanting extra money from us for the use of the light. But we didn't really understand.

With everything packed and ready to go we offered to pay, and discovered he did indeed want an extra ten lira for an evening's use of the flourescent light. That was 30% extra on the bill.
We checked our understanding of his German.
He shouted louder - an extra ten lira.
We checked to confirm it was for the light.
He shouted louder still - yes for the light.
He had the upper hand here, as he had our passports, but we checked and rechecked our understanding of his German, each time his blood pressure rising. So eventually we paid and received back our passports.

Then I invited him to the far side of the covered bar area where stood a full-blown engineering rotary saw table complete with all imaginable attachments.
The morning of the previous day this had been standing in a muddy patch of grass in the rain, and at a break in the downpour Mr. Elderly-Owner had asked, or rather in a most un-Turkish manner demanded, that the three of us help him drag it off the mud, lever it up onto a couple of planks of wood and thence onto the floor of the bar under the cover of its roof. It probably weighed a few hundredweight, over a hundred kilos in new-fangled measurements, requiring the use of six-foot long wooden posts by all four of us to lever it up. Nearby was a full-blown engineering pillar drill, under its own little shelter. The owner seemed to have a serious hobby of mechanics.

Now, after yesterday's huffing and puffing in the mud, the saw table stood in the dry under the roof of the bar.
I explained to Mr. Owner, in English, that the fee for the three of us for that removal job was ten lira. He immediately went half berserk, confirming his understanding of English, and refusing any such bill.
Together we explained that on non-payment, we'd return the table back to the muddy grass.
He went another quarter berserk.
He raised his fists.
Then he threatened to call the police, which was a godsend. We simply stepped over to the entrance of his mobile home, invited him in and asked him to do exactly that.
Caught off balance he picked up one of the six-foot poles and levelled it at us, whereupon I said never mind, we'll call the police ourselves.
Eventually his blood pressure must have reached danger level as we started to push the saw table towards the grass. He grabbed a ten-lira note from his pocket, thrust it at us and turned to shout abuse at every inanimate object he could see.
We made a dignified departure on our little motorbikes.
What a difference to our time in Edremit!

Not a very nice start to the day, but it could only get worse. We were aiming for the campsite in Adana, and at a petrol stop Caroline and Beau checked tyre pressures. All ok.
A while after that, following Beau, I thought maybe his rear tyre looks a tiny bit soft. But no, he's just checked it, it must be ok.
Entering Mercin a moped rider points at the back of Beau's bike while we wait at a red light. I assume he's asking "What country?"
No, that wasn't want he asked so he points more closely at the wheel.
The lights change, we all move off and I pull round to the same side as the moped rider for a better look.
-Gulp! - Beau's rear tyre is alarmingly flat!

By the time we reach the air line at the next petrol station it virtually is flat. And just our luck, the airline has a leaking swivel joint that lets more air out than in unless you grip it at exactly the right angle.
On Beau's rear wheel, the nut on the valve stem is tight, and the stem leans at a crazy angle when we loosen it. Lastly, just to complete the picture, the nut on the security bolt is loose. Must programme in those daily pre-ride checks!
But we inflate the tyre good and hard, and it seems to be holding pressure.
We're a long way east here, on winter time, and it's dark by 5pm, which is by now pretty soon. So our only option is to find a hotel pretty quickly - unlit roads are full of potholes, invisible after sunset.

After a little while we strike lucky with a remarkably roomy place, full of the usual Turkish welcome and well-lit parking right outside the windows of the all-night reception. And Beau's tyre is still inflated.
And still the next morning also.
But the valve stem is at a serious angle which must be corrected. So the wheel comes off, let all the air out, completely loosen the security bolt, dislodge tyre bead and we fight a few rounds on the pavement with rim and tyre until the valve is vertical once again.
Bingo, the whole thing holds air ok. We conclude that when Beau checked the tyre pressure the day before, the valve did not reseat properly - not an unknown occurrence.

Beau packs away tools and stuff into panniers, which involves placing a bag and a jacket on the pavement to make room.
There are a lot of children around here mostly well-educated who find glee in practising their English on us. It's a bit distracting, and in an unguarded moment an opportunistic child or adult, we know not which, surreptitiously makes of with bag and jacket. A disaster for Beau as one contains his camera and, most seriously, his PhD work on a couple of memory sticks. The jacket had some tools in the pockets.
The hotel staff help out, call the police, and the long process of statements and crime reports commences. For this, Beau and Caroline are escorted to the local police station and an English teacher from a local school is brought in as interpreter. Turkish police take crime involving tourists very seriously so Beau and Caroline are whisked off to the District HQ for a personal audience with the Chief of Police. He's profoundly apologetic and explains they have a good record of recovering belongings stolen from tourists. All this takes many hours, so darkness has fallen by the time they return to the hotel where I have had a pleasant interlude with the friendly hotel cleaner.

He was determined to explain something of great importance to me and had many attempts at making a start, none of which I could understand in the slightest. He refused to give up and it was hard work, for me anyway. Eventually we made progress beyond the topic of 'England', managing to convey that he wanted to know what town I lived in. Then, do people keep budgerigars there? Do I have a budgerigar? Do budgerigars in England speak English?
Now progress speeded up. He keeps budgies. Using the hotel's computer, here's a budgerigar website on the internet. He teaches his budgerigars to speak Turkish. Here's a video on the internet showing two of his budgies conversing in Turkish. He has many budgies that he's very proud of. Here's another video of them chatting.
Lets have some tea.
Police reports always take a long time.
And so on. All with sign language, a few oft-repeated Turkish words and a few spare hours.
He finished with "It's time for me to go home now. Hope those two aren't too much longer. See you in the morning." (All sign language).

The next morning we departed for what we hoped would be our last overnight stop before entering Syria, sadly without Beau's camera and university work but at least with air in his tyre.
We'd been in Turkey a long while and it was time for the next country.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:37 PM GMT

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