Friday, September 28, 2012

Beautiful Antalya

I didn't exactly get the best feeling whilst driving down to Antalya. I was tired, tummy bug and driving at night. All guaranteed to make you grumpy. When I arrived at my hotel I simply went to bed.

Next day I was determined that I'd have a nice day but had to get my tyres fitted, hopefully they turned up at the garage on Saturday morning. Sadly, they didn't. I'd have to wait till Monday now. Another two days delay. With that, I had no choice but to enjoy the days there, and I did.

Rengin, Andrew and Jacqui

I met Andrew and Jacqui from UK, lovely people, Andrew is called the Colonel as he was in the army and the name has stuck. Jacqui flies with Thompson all over the world. We were all staying at a beautiful place called the Kaucuk Otel run by one of the nicest people, Rengin. This is not her day job though, she works as MD for a large banking group in Istanbul. She pours her heart into this place and it shows. The staff are all lovely and I feel I could stay here for weeks.
Kaucuk Otel Gardens

I've bumped into some really nice people here. Whilst wiring up some new lights on the bike, a local man saw that I'd prepared to change the engine oil. He went away and returned with tools to do the job. Before I know it he's changing the oil for me. How good is that?


My Mate Jeroen in Iran has a broken KTM and asks me to check with local dealer in Antalya for some parts. When I get there I see they are also dealers for Triumph. This is rather surprising as according to Triumph website, there is no support in Turkey. I buy a new oil filter and a spare chain. Anyway, I can't help Jeroen as it would take 3 weeks for the bits to arrive. I ponder the idea of staying ... , nice place to stay but I must go.
Up to the local bike shop and thankfully the tyres arrive. The owner then shows me where to have fitted, drives across town and leaves me at tyre fitters. Another kind chap!

South Turkey coast on way to Iran

So that's it. No more reason to delay, lets Go Iran! So the next few days are easy across south coast then up to the border.

Rough camping for beginners.

Hardest decision and other more important things.

I haven't mentioned before. I have been struggling with a black cloud hanging over. My dad has been I'll.  He was diagnosed with cancer in May. I flew over to UK to see him and spend some I've together then. We never discussed it  but since I was heading off on this trip, I felt it may have been the last time we meet.

I received the news that he was admitted to hospital and wasn't good. Tonight I talked to him over the phone in hospital. Just before i dialed him I struggled with what to say. This was the most horrible and wonderful moment. I'm not feeling wonderful. Imagine you could have a chat with your relative just one more time.

With this in mind I'm pondering if I should go to see him or not. I suspect he might tell me to bugger off on my trip.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Up there? No problem. Down there! No worries mate

OK its stupid o'clock in the morning and the bus driver seems to forget me but in the end all is good and we set off to blow up some balloons. None of this childish stuff, real hot air balloons.

Now I must admit, a few of us were showing signs of apprehension getting in the basket, myself to some extent a little. Forget all that! Once this ancient craft lifts off, it's the most serene flying experience you could imagine. Although I'm still sort of tired and slightly grumpy from dodgy tummy,(the Imodium seems to have worked so far). This suspended basket drifts upwards in silence (with exception of the the noise from the occasional gas burners) in such a gentle and relaxed way. No one is stressed, if anything, any trepidation is long gone on the faces of the other 8 passengers. Amazing experience..
David from Gold Coast

David is the Aussie pilot. He's shows us that its easy to hug the contours of the valleys. We're a few feet from the edge of many of the weird shaped rocks and hills below us. We can ascend amazingly quickly as well. No worries mate.
I'm still in Goreme, a weird and wonderful place where some houses have been  carved out of the rocks. The strange upward rock formations are lava deposits from the nearby extinct volcanoes, eroded by millions of years of weather.

Goreme from the sky

I've also made a momentious decision. Well it's not that major but I've been pondering this since I hit bumpy roads of turkey. I've decided to lose as much weight as possible, no not me, thats well overdue. Lose some weight of my noble steed. I reckon the bumps and extra weight are going to wreck the suspension so when I get to Antalya it's all being sorted and stuff sent home.

So anyway, I'm way behind schedule so decide to take a long drive to Antalya, 8 hours. It turns out much much more. My faith in trusting the maps loaded to my gps is lost after it attempts to take me 300kms  further north than I need to be. Its getting late and the GPS says arrive 11:30pm. That can't be right.

So I stop roughly half way to see what the problem is. Then when I try and fix the now failing touch screen and start the bike. Nothing happens.

The alarm immobilizer thing has done its job. Immobilized me and alerted everyone in 50 mile radius that I'm stealing my bike. This is at the side of a busy road, it's hot, I'm not feeling well and the f$%kin bike won't start.

I throw a tantrum, my sunglasses, gloves and swear a lot.

Suddenly, this guy appears from the nearby gatehouse of a restaurant cafe complex with a chair and a cup of tea for me. He says, "here, you sit. sugar"?
I'm gobsmacked and speechless. I'm just standing there staring at my gloves and glasses he's picked up for me.

puzzled security guy with tea
If I saw some foreign nutter throwing stuff around whilst dancing to the police siren sound, I'd stay well away and report him to the authorities. Not this guy. "here, you sit, have tea" and walks away.
I add the two sugar cubes, sit down and sip tea whilst staring at my dead bike.
Thats lovely but tea won't start the bike. I'm still getting my head round this weird situation.

Anyway, a cup of tea, a desperate phone call to my support crew in Australia and UK. (my wife and the guys at Youles in Manchester) I've been given the instructions on how to remove and bypass the alarm system.

the bloody alarm system
I hack the bloody nuisance alarm thing and connect the wires. Check and double check. The guy offering tea wants to help but I have to assure him I know what I'm doing. So why so nervous when turning the key for the first time then? I decide to record on video some more swearing and hand the camera to the tea guy. I turn the key and it works! I'm elated.

Meanwhile I'm I baking heat, feeling I'll from my tempestious Turkey toilet tour and now dizzy to boot. I really don't feel good but the engine running makes me feel a lot better, even if I don't seem to have much strength left. I need a rest but have 5 hours to go, according to  my gps. This will be hard.

I thank the tea guy for his amazing kindness and carry the chair back to the gatehouse with tea cup. I better get a move on.

I hate riding a bike in the dark. It gets dark.  Now I've learned the wonderful 7000k super duper blue light bulb I bought in Ankara is as good as a candle in a brown ale bottle. I cant see a thing. The roads have faded markings so their whereabouts are a guess. I have to keep close to the other nutters in white transit vans to stay alive on the road. Then again maybe it's safer I stay away from them. Many times I gesture obscenities to the others behind me keen to get a ride on my back seat. I'm going at 150 kph and these guys have to get home for a nice cup of tea and a kebab before it gets cold. I swear they are 2 inches from my back wheel.  I also swear a lot.

I coax the gps to find me my hotel, booked earlier that morning. I'm so pleased to see the wonderful crisp sheets of white Andrex in the bathroom. However, the pure white sheets of the bed linen worry me and I have scary thoughts about how I will explain to the chambermaid next day that I've not been well. Vegemite and chocolate come to mind.

Despite all this and not feeling the best, I have the most wonderful time in Antalya, meet the most amazing people and make one of the the most difficult phone calls of my life.

Keep going or not?

Friday, September 21, 2012

You could have got visa here

I'm in Ankara. "You could have got your Iran visa here". Much easier and quieter city. Too late for that now, I'm here and on another quest. New tyres. Unfortunately it's Saturday night, shops now closed and wont reopen till monday. Bugger it, another day delayed.

So I take the time to catch up on some things but Im still anxious about having to drive back to Istanbul again.

Monday morning, I have my plan. I have several bike shops I can visit but the first one comes up with the goods. They don't have my tyres in Ankara, no one has, but they can ship in for me. In fact the owner suggests I get them sent to my next destination. Great that will do me, I can carry on travelling and hopefully all will be well later in the week. They even have new LED lights to replace the cheap hong kong ones that lasted about 2 weeks.

Yigit Yildiz my savour
The guys in the bike shop had "Sons of anarchy" leather waistcoats, which troubled me a bit, but then realised they were the nicest blokes, and helpful too. So Yigit's boss recommended I head to Anatayla where he will forward the tyres and other bits too. He has a contact there that can fit them for me. Problem solved then.

So Im heading south to a weird and wonderful place called Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.
head to Cappadocia first then Anatlaya later in week.

So I'm chugging along quite happily listening to music. Pink Floyd stereo wandering sound effects around my head. I come around this bend and get an image of this. Moomin land,  Clangers, or Star Wars. If I was on strange drugs I'd be "wow man! look at those martians"! or something like that I imagine.
These lumps have been carved out as houses, people live in these. Great idea if you're keen with pick and shovel, it makes sense. The rock is so thick, they stay cool in hot summer days and help stay warm in the bitter cold nights here.

Lovely spot, although its full of bus loads of tourists from all over Europe. I meet someone from Perth Scotland, then another couple from Perth Australia. There I was thinking I've travelled the back n beyond to seek out new life, new civilisations, but the place is full of day trippers and camera snapping kebab munching coach riding adventure seekers.

Cave bedroom
I decide to slum it again and get my self a cave for the night. Its not much more expensive than camping and its bloody hot outside so cave dwelling makes sense. I feel all sort of at home here.

The staff of this place are more than helpful and I'm impressed with their hospitality. I find the local beer shop, a place to crash on the verandah and catch up with lovely couple Andrew & Louise. They live in London although Louise is originally from Melbourne.

I subject them to hours of waffle, a sort of therapy for me, I haven't had a good chinwag for so long and before I know it 3 hours pass. This is proof to me that I need people contact more than I thought, not just, "Hello", "Goodbye", "How much"? etc but a real conversation with people who appreciate the same. At least I hope they do. Tongue in cheek I thank them for the therapy session and they head off to dinner, later than planned I think.
It's hard to be funny to someone when they don't understand your culture or language. I think its important to laugh a lot and believe having very simple dull conversations are meaningless unlesss at work for example. Anyway, strangely enough, after this I feel a lot a happier and crash into bed earlier than usual but I'm quite happy .... until 2am

The uncooked chicken kebab I ate earlier in Ankara has overcome my digestive system and I'm up sitting on the toilet with eyes half shut wondering why it took so long to poison me. This repeats every hour until 9 when I admit to failure sleeping and get up. Not as if I've really went to bed.

I did manage to get out today and managed to make it around some of the tourist circuit whilst carefully planning strategic toilet stops. After 2pm I'm strangely knackered and head back for a break from the heat and for a seat on my favourite porcelain. This sets the scene for the rest of the day.

Its now 10pm, I've managed to eat some fruit which hasn't exploded out the other end. I have emergency imodium at the ready and anti-biotics in case it gets worse. I might need it tomorrow as I'm up at 4am to take a different ride.

Up there? No problem! Down there? No worries mate!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stuffed in Turkey?

I saw a Turkey, well a lot of turkeys in cages on the back of a truck just after I crossed the border. This one great big Turkey was staring at me. I've never been stared at by a Turkey. I spent the next 50 kms thinking about this Turkey and the fact I was now in Turkey. what the hell are you thinking Steven?  Plug in some music for god's sake! My old beaten ipod gives me "George Michaels "Last Christmas" Honest!

That was last week.

This week;

I gave myself a slap! I've been in a weird state of mind of late.

I find myself on this amazing adventure and all I can think about is all sorts of crap like new tyres, leaving on time, arriving on time, worrying about the bike, getting caught tortured and killed by Taliban, (well yes that is acceptable surely), will my wife leave me, will my business go down the plug hole, will I get all video good enough for national TV, will I crash and die, will I get bored, will you get bored ..... the list goes on and on.

Ted Simon said to me, "I learned to stop worrying, all will be okay"! When will I think this way Ted?

For those of you who don't know Ted Simon is the bloke who in 1973 drove a Triumph Tiger around the world, taking 4 years to do so and wrote a well celebrated book, Jupiters Travels to suit. He was brave enough to do the same in 2004 and pops up in Long Way Round, in Mongolia. (If you don't know Long Way Round, where have you been?)

Ted and me have two things in common, I'm taking a Triumph Tiger (allbeit a newer sportier model)  and we both like good quality red wine. I could add that Ted seems to have beautiful women follow him everywhere he goes but that's where my rock star status ends.

If someone else was riding with me they'd say "Seriously, you have been a bit of a pain in the arse and need to fix your attitude" Agree. I do. I'd put it down to being alone for too long or something but for some reason I've seen the dark in all things of late. So I have come to the conclusion that I need a really challenging off road section where I come blasting through the dust like a hero on his bike to save the damsel in distress, or perhaps just get through the dust without falling off perhaps. I need that sort of day when I can feel good about acheiving something. All I've done so far is drive. I may as well get a bus.

view from my cheap room
Ah! I have to tell you, I'm sitting with a glass of wine. That's not unusual but I'm in a hostel next door to my hotel. It has a sign in the bathroom saying "Don't put paper down the toilet"! Where the hell are you supposed to put it. I ignore the sign and nothing horrible happens. Talking of horrible, that reminds me. My first arrival into Albania was scary, well, the petrol station toilet was. There was this horrible smell. As I was busy in the loo I realized what the smell was. The bucket next to the toilet hole in the floor was full of paper. The top paper faced me and it was all used. The shiit faced me and transmitted the smell directly to my face. It was the most offensive thing I've come across but I had the choice. Stop peeing? No , first thought was ... Go with the flow so to speak. The smell was still horrible and I shut my eyes and held my breath but the shiit covered paper still faced me from the bucket. I nearly vomited.

Anyway, enough of that. So I'm getting frustrated with being stuck in Istanbul and I'm going to head to the North coast, the Black Sea and then perhaps onto Ankara. I hope to pick up some new tyres in Ankara. They don't need replaced yet but they will in Iran and I doubt I'll be able to ship replacements into Iran bearing in mind all the trade sanctions at moment so I'd better do now.

In my haste to get out of the city, I forget that East of here many parts and equipment are  not easily available. I'll be stuffed.  I find this out when I settle at my hotel and hear from many people telling me to pick up in Istanbul. No, I don't want to drive back there again! I ponder this idea for a while but decide in the need to progress East, I reckon I can maybe pick up tyres in Ankara. I'll try that, meanwhile aware that I may yet have to drive all the way back, 500kms!

Ankara. "You can pick up visa here"!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gallipoli and no worries

I seem to have planned it all wrong. I should have drove into Istanbul, picked up visa for Iran then kept going. As it turned out I dropped in my application on the Tuesday and was told to come back Friday. All very good, so I have to sit around for 3 days. I shrugged off the numbers of armed police outside and went on my way to make other plans.

Anzac Cove
I thought it would be good idea to visit Gallipoli on the West coast. This is the place where several thousand Australian and New Zealanders died in 1915 at the start of the great war. There were plenty of others, Indians & British who fell but at that time the sheer numbers of dead and injured were shocking the Australian nation. I'll spare you the history lesson, but still to this day, Gallipoli is close to the hearts of every Australian, for all the wrong reasons. See more here

Hotel Crowded House

However, in my eyes, at this time  I found the place to be beautiful, calming and pleasant. I even met a few stray kiwi's and aussies there. It was hard to comprehend this beautiful place was a battle ground for so long. Weird atmosphere.

As its late I need to find somewhere to sleep so I drop into a place across the water called Canakkale,  in the Anzac hotel of course. Sounds familiar, nearby there's another hotel with a familiar name.

View of the Ferry from a nice bar
This means a short ferry ride across the water which is great. On the way I meet up with some guys travelling from Scotland on a bus trip, touring the region. They tell me that they are heading home after a few days.
I can't comprehend going home in a few days, it will take me so long to get home. I stop thinking about it and settle at the end of a long day with a refreshment looking out on the estuary. I know I seem to spend most end of days with my feet up and a cold beer. Its the best thing sometimes!

Anyway, back to Istanbul, I head for Iranian embassy on Friday. I walk straight in and I'm handed back my passport complete with visa. Brillaint! It gives me a window of 90 days to enter. This means that I could have applied in Australia and would not have had to piss around here for 5 days! Ah well, just put it down to ... whatever you want to Steven.
Ah, I must mention, on Tuesday this week I was told, a suicide bomber attacked a police station just along the street from the Iranian embassy, hence the police presence everywhere. I never heard a bang, the place is simply too busy to hear anything. Don't think anyone else noticed either.

Lovely view but something wrong

So on Friday afternoon, I leave Istanbul for the last time and head North East to the Black Sea. I end up in a seaside town, a bit shabby perhaps but seems cheap enough for me. $40 for a room on the beach with verandah. Lovely.

However, Im starting to worry about something else though. Some of the roads here are not so good. Most motorways are fine but the rest can be in any state. In a car, this is not too bad but a bike depends on traction to stay upright, and to keep me alive hopefully. Some roads are great, brand new and perfect surface, some so polished they resemble a granite kitchen top, scary should it rain. Some however would be better being dug up and left that way. I've come across so many sudden potholes, lumps, bumps, kerbs, rutts that its shaken me to the bone. The bike has really felt it. With every bang rattle and clang I feel the bikes pain. How long till something breaks. This is not a machine designed for corrugated surfaces and it lets me know its not. After a few days I've learned that when stressed, the right pannier, opens by itself, also the secure top box was found to be hanging on by the lock part only. This is only after a few days on some bumpy roads. How the hell will it cope with Pakistan? I will need to rethink this a bit. This adds to my worries and I wake up through the night at 4am trying to solve it. In the end I solve nothing by 7am when I fall asleep again to waste a couple of hours getting up late when I could be moving on. I'm worried I'm falling behind even more.

The next day i realise in my haste to get away from Istanbul that I will now find it hard to obtain new tyres for the bike. No big deal you think but the tyres will be bald by the time I reach the Pakistan border and they cannot be sourced there. This means I must get them in the next town, or heaven forbid, drive back to Istanbul. how stupid am I? I ponder over this for too long and in annoyance at myself and perhaps the need to move one, decide to continue onto Ankara. There must be bike places there.
I arrive Saturday night. The shops are shut Sunday so another long wasteful wait. Monday morning I get to see if I have to drive back West 500kms or not.

I have noticed I seem to be worrying a lot now. I should be enjoying every moment. This isn't right!

Stuffed in Turkey?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Istanbul and Iran Embassy tour

Time to get the much mentioned Visa for Iran. I leave my lovely hotel aiming for the embassy on the other side of town. Unfortunately a web site stating opening hours 2-4 in afternoon were wrong. come bac tomorrow. Ah well. lets got see some sights.
Cruise ship tourist mode: ON
Heres some pics:

hotel has nice rooftop pool

Next Visa and Gallipoli

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Istanbul without a map ..... or a clue

Border crossing into Turkey requires a visa and insurance. They are fairly inexpensive so all good. I also buy a prepaid card for toll roads. Takes an hour and I'm through the border. Simple dual carriageway all the way to Istanbul where the fun begins.

Welcome to Turkey

I've been trying to put together the best description of traffic here in Istanbul. I've been pondering, 'Delhi on steroids' or 'Roller coaster where you have to keep your eyes open', Istanbul traffic, the place to kill yourself'.

I've got it now though, I know how to squeeze my overloaded bike through every narrow gap at high speed on whatever road, in whatever lane and with a sick grin on my face. I'm not sure if I'm doing it correctly as I don't hear any horns beeping at me. Is it because they think I'm a friggin nutter let out for the week on my overloaded touring bike. They've seen Midnight Express and reckon I'm on drugs too?

This was not the case the other day when I first arrived here;

The story so far..
I book a hotel that looks pretty good on the Asian side (East) of Istanbul. I get free wifi at a coffee stop and book a room and yup, there's a ring road that can take me there according to my phone map thing. Easy.
I put street details into GPS but it fails. OK, I head there anyway and will use my stored map on my phone. Great idea. I'll be in my room showered, at the roof top bar before 6pm and feeling good with the world.

Here's what happened....
As you approach Istanbul on the motorway the cars, buses, vans, scooters and everything else except donkeys speed up. Its like someone shouted 'GO'! and I missed it. Fine, I can handle that. Then comes my first hickup. The Garmin GPS does not have Istanbul maps at all. a road stops at the sea an thats it. So now I'm following signs, no problem I'm thinking, this is the old way to do it, easy. No its not. I manage to follow wrong sign to wrong entry to wrong road going wrong way to wrong bridge. Magic. Then the traffic stops. Im stuck in hot traffic, fumes, bike fan cuts in to add extra hot air to the already hot air. It sends me some more fumes. So eventually I get fed up with lark and get impatient, dodging lanes, finding small gaps to squeeze through to get to where ever I think I should be going. I filled up with petrol about 100kms ago so dont need to worry about fuel. or do I?

I break free from the jam and turn onto a road I believe is taking me across to the area I'm heading for, great! Then the ramp starts to turn and I realise this on/off ramp is turning back 180 degrees and will need me to fight the jam all over again. Arrgghh ! I repeat this manoeuvre several times, but I'm better at this, I can cut through traffic like a local but still being stuck in queues. Its now starting to get dark and I'm getting more stressed. Then the fuckin petrol light comes on with no way to get to petrol stations on these roads, or none I can see.

After another hour of this going up an on/off ramp only to turn around again, I accept that I may well have to sleep by the side of the road somewhere tonight. Ah! a petrol station on my road. Fill up and that's one stress gone. I look at my phone map, no internet but its still storing location. Battery has less than 3% left. More swearing, followed by some swearing. The petrol station guy steps back as he thinks I've lost it. The phone goes blank and switches off now because I've shouted at it in public.

I try to ask for directions. Stupid idea, anther waste of turning down a road to a loop back. I look for taxi to hire to lead me there, I ask one guy with window open in queue, he ignores me, he's keen to go home and couldn't give a shit about this lost biker. He winds his window up. All we need now is rain I depress myself with this wee gem for a bit.

I know what, I'll load up my laptop and look for map to load. This works, although interesting looks from cafe crowd as I turn all 21st century in the street with lcd screen aglow and cables to bike and GPS.

This finally solves my problem although I still manage to take a wrong turn and head across a bridge I know will take me another 20 mins to turn around. I don't have any swear words left, or perhaps I've come to terms with knowing my fate.

Welcome to Istanbul
I arrive at hotel around 9:20, 3 hours after I was supposed to. A taxi tries to take the space I'm about to park in. The abuse he gets from me makes the taxi reverse all by itself, I'm in no mood for anything other than comfy slippers, a pipe and a rocking chair, or a beer.

It didn't rain.

I'm now qualified to drive anywhere at any time.

Beautiful City Istanbul

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Greece maybe broke but there's still plenty spray paint for sale

Lake near loannina
After leaving my new friend Wolfgang, another goodbye. I wandered fairly slowly through the hills on the bike, enjoying the quiet roads with little traffic, stopping for the odd photo and a small video part or two. I'm in a calm state now, the madness of yesterday's rush through Albania, now gone. No pressure to get anywhere really. Now I have no worries but as usual, I'll find something to bother me.

I'm now getting the edge of western civilization as I know it and things are going to start to change drastically. 

I start to think about the middle east, and Turkey. I can stop thinking about the film Midnight Express. Have you seen it? Scary for visitors to Istanbul. I have also been having some weird dreams involving being banged up abroad. Yes, I've seen that too. I'm sure it will all be fine and I'l avoid being locked up in some dingy jail, the worst they'll get from me is sarcasm, is that illegal here?

I'm wondering how comfortable I'll be, on my own, on my bike all alone. I'm sure it will be fine, won't it?
To keep my mind occupied I decide to make a "to do" list of things to do whilst in Istanbul. Oil change, check chain, tyres ordered or replaced but amongst all this most important item is the Iranian visa without which this trip is screwed.
Along with the visa I need a "letter of invitation" I have a letter, well I hope I do its an e-mail. There is many travel agents who take the money for this service and don't give you anything usable, dodgy people apparently. I hope mine is ok or I'll have to spend maybe 1-2 weeks here waiting for new application to be processed. I can't afford his time. I'll know if its ok when I get to the embassy.

another road sign vandalised
Anyway My first impressions of Greece are good ones. Lovely people, lovely food, beautiful countryside, wide easy roads. However, one thing bothers me. Im heading for a seaside town for lunch but as I pull off the main highway, I'm put off by the graffitti on all of the road signs. It's not sprayed everywhere, walls etc, mostly road signs. Even in the middle of nowhere, road signs have some form of mess sprayed on top. Is it a warning to tourists in some weird language. I risk it anyway.

I drive to Kavala on the coast of Greece. It resembles a hot Blackpool to me so I head inland for somewhere slightly nicer. A lot of the place looks as if it has seen better days. However I find a lovely wee hotel in the hills in a place called Krinides. The hotel is beautiful, sitting atop a hill looking over the town. The price is way too cheap. As it turns out the food is absolutely brilliant, the rooms are stunning and the owner and staff couldn't be nicer. A real genuine 5 star hotel if ever there was one. The Philipeio Hotel is named after Alexander the great's father who was from this area. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff here. Truly amazing. 
View of Krinides from the Philippeio 

My wallet is full of useless currency again, my pockets have change no one wants but we're now back on Euro's. Everything else I call dim dams. Makes it easy to remember. Get weird looks when I offer dim dams mind you.
So... in all a few easy days. Hardest thing I had to do was wash my underwear but you don't need to know too much about that apart from they will need to be clean for the up and coming Istanbul traffic.

Have you been terrified on a roller coaster but were made to keep your eyes open?

Next: Istanbul without a map!

Monday, September 10, 2012

"They'll take your bike and sell your body for sex"

Montenegro -one of several cruise ships moored
Montenegro is very similar to Croatia, beautiful countryside, less affluent perhaps and some more litter. Pretty much the same and nothing much to say really.

Then I meet Wolfgang. Wolfgang is from Austria and is en-route to west coast of Greece on his BMW for a few weeks. We end up in same hotel and chat about Albania. Someone said to me "They'll take your bike and sell your body for sex", they might have referred to someone else's body but I'll go with that for now. "Maybe it's best we go together, safety in numbers and all that"! So we decide to get away early in morning and charge across this unknown land to Greece. I'm not too bothered either way but as I'm falling behind in schedule realise this might be an opportunity to catch up.
Wolfgang & his GS1200

We cross the border and the first thing we notice is deterioration in the roads. There is piles of rubbish lying around. The people don't seem to care. There are toilet smells of the dodgy tummy kind. There are cars spewing oily smoke. Hang on, this is familiar, but its not Asia its Albania.

We work out that we can reach Greece before 5pm tonight if we keep up the pace. I'm scanning hotels and towns as we travel, wondering if I had a breakdown, would i want to stay there. I don't relish the thought and prefer to think about getting out the other end today. This is not the stuff of adventurers Steven. Then I pretend to myself that it wouldn't bother me either way. Yes I'll go with this thought for now.

Petrol stations everywhere
One thing is clear here, you will never walk far to get petrol if you run out. every 1 or 2 km it seems, has a new sparkling petrol station. The petrol isn't much cheaper so it must be good business. Even in the middle of nowhere, small villages and towns have petrol stations to rival any busy motorway services in the world. Then there is the smell of oil. Is it from the truck in front, my bike is leaking? No it's the countryside. I've failed to notice that the small steel towers dotted around the place are in actual fact oil wells. This dawns on me as I pass a small lake contaminated with by products of oil, or full of oil, or full of something. It didn't smell too good.

The roads are interesting too. We have 200 kms of fast dual carriageway. Then 200 kms of small narrow winding roads, then 100 kms of fast dual carriageway etc. We have roads under construction, gravel, pot holes, puddles. Some bends have melted to form blobs, especially on the mountainous sharp hairpin corners with sheer drops to one side. Very comforting. Then there are the cars. Brand new dealerships alongside the many petrol stations, Mercedes, BMW, even Opel. There are many UK registration plates. Like an idiot I wave to several of the drivers as they must surely recognise my UK plates. They don't wave back. Why the hell not? Then I realise in my idiocy that the "Snap on" tools van registered in Bradford was not brought here to supply tools, the 5 series beemer from London was not on temporary holiday. This is the place where stolen cars get amnesty it seems. The plain faced drivers and passengers don't smile much.

Stop at petrol station for coffee
We get our first taste of off road riding. Short and gravel, but long enough to realise my Tiger is NOT an off road bike. Its OK staying up for the moment, the tyres grip enough. But the suspension is way too hard and short to take on the really rough stuff. I'm pretending its OK as Wolfgang on the more suitable agricultural GS1200 has his first off road experience and seems to like it. I just stand up, try to look as if I know what I'm doing and carry on. I will have to pick and choose my route through Pakistan very carefully or lose all nuts and bolts and equipment from my steed. (I'm thinking about softening suspension and other technical stuff now)

With one hundred kilometres to go to the border we come across gravel. This is the main route to Greece? Surely not! we must be on the wrong road. but both of us check our maps and it is indeed the main road. I don't fancy another 100 kms of this stuff. Holes, gravel, puddles and slow moving oily trucks. Horrible. We'll never get there before dark sets in. I don't relish the thought of setting up camp in one of these rubbish strewn fields surrounded by oil, car thieves and apparent sex traffickers.

Passing another petrol station

It lasted for 10 minutes and were were back on reasonable tarmac. I wasn't worried at all! Huh :)

When we enter Greece were rewarded with fast winding roads suitable for landing a 747 with room to spare. Greek man;"You drive through Albania OK, they not steal your bikes"? "Oh No of course not", we joke, "didn't believe that for a minute" we add.

We find a lovely wee hotel near a beautiful lake. Cold beer solves all, pizza for tea and I'm fast asleep before 9:30.

Greece is skint but can still afford spray paint.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Camping in Croatia

When you cross a border, you learn that its safest to drive slowly, whilst you pick up on the driving habits and attitude from others. Italy taught me to watch my arse. Get out of the way quickly. Croatia has taught me to do all the above but ignore the ridiculously slow speed limits. I assumed 60 meant 60kph. The drivers here seem to add  a '1' to the '60'.

View from my tent
I'm still feeling a bit down after saying goodbye my wife again so plump for the comfort of my tent in a campsite on the coast. I'm impressed with the low cost of things here. I buy a cheap bottle of wine and pour most of it down the drain. It may be cheap at $1.50 a litre but petrol  is more expensive and probably tastes a lot better. Then I discover Croatian Cabernet Sauvignon. $5 and on a par with the most expensive Australian Coonawarra or French Burgundy. Delicious, especially with the local cheese. Heaven!

I've secured a beautiful spot which looks out on to the Adriatic sea and decide that I should drop in for a swim. Drop-in, is exactly what happened, trying to tip to around the boulders, I slipped on my right foot, bashed my left toe on a rock and split the nail, fell on my arse in shallow water whilst a crowd of Croatian beach sunbathers watched in amusement. Well I think they were amused, no one seems to smile much here. I've lost all dignity but try to look as if I don't care. No one believes me.

If I'm not entertaining the locals with my beach antics I'm trying not to drop my overladen bike in the gravel. Why is there always a crowd watching when you make a mistake turning your bike. I didn't drop it but managed to look a bit of a tube recovering from a near miss. Definately not cool. The locals still don't laugh, maybe they understand.

I head south on the coast roads and discover Europes best kept secret. This is absolutely amazing countryside, scenery, endless empty winding roads, beautiful seaside villages and ports.
As I drive the route towards Split I'm bowled over by this country. This is better than France, nearly as good as Scotland surely. Hmmm OK maybe not that good. :)

Beautiful Croatia

Heres another thing.
In Italy, France and Croatia, the people and culture grow up on two wheels, they understand. The car and truck drivers make way, move over, allow you to pass. They are apologetic if they dont see you coming up from behind. Even parking is easy. Cars pay for each space, bikes (and mostly scooters) are given the best places to park at no charge. Hey Australia! Wake up!

Happy again!
I just wish the Croatians would cheer up a bit. I have finally!

Oh, before I forget. I entered a naturalist campground by mistake, not that I've got anything to hide but I do wish some people would put clothes on. I nearly dropped my bike with shock. It wasn't full of beautiful beach babes and handsome hunks, more chunky middle aged chunks and spaniels ears. I did consider joining in for a bit but decided I would probably fit right in.

"They'll take your bike and sell your body for sex in Albania"

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I have it in my hand

Finally. At last. I have the bit of paper in my hand. My long lost Carnet de Passage has finally arrived. We meet in romantic Venice. Its so nice that the carnet has flown my lovely wife over as well.

I've driven up from La Spezia, mostly on Autostrada to save time after leaving the mountainous regions . It's bloody hot and I'm struggling to cope. How on earth will I deal with this in Pakistan? I've resorted to removing my jacket and gloves to try and cool down. I can't remove my new boots which are surely designed for the arctic. My feet must be glowing red by now.

A few watering stops and a break in the weather help me all the way to a nice hotel in Mestri. Nearby Venice is 10 minutes by bus and a Mestri hotel room is about a third of the price. Makes too much sense to me. I take my boots off and nearby, some small creatures die.

Lorraine flies in tomorrow morning and I'll be there to meet her. She has my long awaited Carnet de Passage document, the paperwork I need to get into Asian countries.

So this is my first time in Venice and Venice by day, well, not very impressed really.There are lots of people being busy, busy. endless confused tourists dragging suitcases on wheels around side streets. Canals in between old run down buildings, rubbish in bags and bins awaiting the garbage boat. We've walked for ages in and out of the continuous maze of small back streets, tired out we head back to our hotel unimpressed, perhaps too tired.

I was going to leave with the impression that Venice was crap. Have you seen a nightclub through the day? Same thing, looks crap but when dark falls, the place comes to life.

Venice transforms into a magical place at night. Music playing, food cooking, lights, atmosphere, smiles and happy. It takes me a while to realise this place by day is totally different by night. I actually get it now. Lovely place.

Through the day, the water taxi is crowded, hot and smelly. By night it becomes a romantic cruise in cool air whilst you pass along the canals, windows glances of chandeliers, book cases, lights glimmering on the water. I attempt to try and capture it on my camera but it doesn't matter really. I love the place now. What a change a day makes!
We simply wander around Venice. That's all we needed really.
I've had a brilliant time with my wife  but sadly, it comes to an end in the morning.

This trip has seen lots of goodbyes. I'm slightly miserable now. She leaves in a taxi for the airport as I pack the last of my gear on the bike. The heavens open and piss an entire lake on me just to add to my misery.

The rain falls like never before, I get soaked trying to put on my waterproofs. Then when I set off, soaked, with waterproofs over, the rain stops and under the blazing sun I'm a one man steam sauna. God is really taking the piss here!

Naked Camping in Croatia..