|06-14-2008, 01:24 PM||#92|
Joined: Oct 2006
Location: LaMirada, SoCalifornia
Definitely my kind of RR . thanks for the great pictures and interesting stories. I recently made the bad decision of going through the Nevada desert on seemingly endless, boring, highway from Idaho to California . Just hated it. I remember asking myself what would happen if anyone would accidently ride over a tortoise on the road . I never saw a tortoise nor a camel. You're really an amazing adventurer going through those deserts. Anyway, really loveing the report. Can't wait for the next post!!!! And thanks for all your efforts.
No regrets when I'm 80
R12GS wasted 2yrs dreamin about it.
|06-15-2008, 11:03 AM||#93|
Joined: Apr 2006
North from Damascus
I set off for the Levantine coast at Tartous via
Tartous old and new:
So I leave Tartous and ride north, trying to find a village on the coast where I can rent a room and get dinner.
Most places, like the
Hotel al Kaleej:
By that stage I am hankering after a swim, but first I had to go back to Tartous to change money – Al Kaleej like most places I saw in Syria does not do credit cards, and can’t change USD for S£.
While I am back in Tartous I check out the inappropriately named ‘Grand Hotel’ which is faded but friendly but decide against it as, despite the grand cornice, there is nowhere to swim.
Once I have found a bank and changed money, I cruise along the front, looking for lunch, and I am hailed by 2 guys on the terrace of a restaurant.
I fall in with a bad crew
I walk up to the terrace and start to order lunch. I am invited to join a small group for whom lunchtime consisted of Scotch or arrack. I declined the offer of whisky (bike-riding in mind) but join them to share lunch, which a selection of dishes spread across the table.
They were good company. The oldest of the three guys tells me he used to live in the
The 'bad crew':
This gent returned courtesy of FBI
The fish-monger (left) and the singer (right of picture):
I could see my afternoon drifting away in an arrack fuelled discussion of everything under the sun. So after a delicious grilled fish (the first fish I ate in
The sea at Al Kaleej
Sunset at Al Kaleej:
Before I turned in the hotel staff insisted that I park the bike in the restaurant as it would be stolen otherwise. Hard to credit given all there was was a deserted beach, and the bike had survived the streets of
From Tartous to ‘who knows where?’
I started the day with no idea of where I wanted to end up – which is not conducive to a clear ride. I was reluctant to leave
Marqab castle from below:
This was up a steep hill (and so little visited despite its eminence– but one marvels at the efforts of the builders to transport materials.) Looking over the adjacent Mediterranean, I wondered at what those knights had thought about far from
A Crusader's view West across the Med (minus the sheet of corrugated iron and the brown pollution haze, most likely):
And across the hinterland:
From there I set off on a weird trip across tiny, mountain-top roads to the citadel of Salahuddin (Saladin to Europeans). It is difficult to approach up steep roads, and the masonry involved is breath-taking. Inside there is more renovation. The water-reservoir is vast. The lower keep is enormous, and impregnable due to weeds and undergrowth, but the view beyond is fine.
Try scaling that:
When petrol is cheap, you can run these:
From here I end up crossing the mountains o a view across a magnificant plain - the fields are all neatly parcelled like a kid's drawing:
I had started the day thinking it was time to enter
I buy dates for the trip. Three types are displayed – all imports, from
And the Citadel dominates the City.
I wander around the market, and for about 4 Euro equivalent buy a sheepskin to go on my bike-saddle - I reason this will be better in the heat than just the BMW plastic seat.
When I get back to my hotel room I am interrupted by Chinese singing from the wall. I track it down to a garisgh illuminated picture on the wall, with lots of digital numbers.
This has to stop...so i unplug it and this triggers all sorts of Chinese songs, so finally I take the fuse out and this silences it!
I need a good sleep as tomorrow I head for Turkey.
simondippenhall screwed with this post 06-15-2008 at 11:39 PM
|06-15-2008, 02:20 PM||#95|
Joined: Apr 2006
The scoff-law returns to Turkey
Another day of vacillation; I left Aleppo thinking I would head up to inland Turkey, perhaps through Kahra manmarash to see if the guide book I left was still there (!). It was very hot but the entry to
A little dog in Turkey (Husky ancestors?)
I stopped at a roadside café to ponder my direction, and decided to hold a focus group with the guys who insisted on buying me cay. It was very clear, even though we had no common language, that the group thought I was barking mad to be taking the inland route when I could ride along the Anatolian coast. They told me to just ignore the
My council of advisers at a petrol station near Antakya. As well as guiding me to a much better route across Turkey, they treated me to cups of tea, and offered lunch:
And indeed they were right!
The motorway drive alongside the Med was dull, but I was given tea when I refuelled, and freshwater at another stop. Turks are fabulously hospitable.
My first stop was at the deserted Olbios resort perched on a hill with a fabulous pool and beach. At 35 Euro including dinner and breakfast, and a room with seaview balcony, it met the bill. After a few hours of hot motorway it was good to dive in the pool. There is virtually no-one staying at this large hotel, a hangover from the national holiday last weekend when the place was humming. Talk about good timing by Yours Truly!
The (welcome) pool at Olbios
There are so few people that the dinner buffet is in fact a table service, and then I retire. The night is slightly marred by a dripping air-con system, so I wake up with a wet bed (pillow end, BTW) and worry if the staff think I have become senile and incontinent!
The beach where I swim at sun-rise
It is tempting to stay another rnight but the gorgeous Anatolian coast beckons. All morning I follow roads which curve and turn back on themselves, often polished smooth by the heavily-laden lorries which struggle to make it across the mountains. At many corners there are people selling local produce, and the sea is a wonderful aquamarine.
The coast also has its share of ancient castles, but at this stage in my trip I have become blasé and just admire them as I pass by.
Another stop for cay and map-reading (note the new sheepskin seat)- whenever I produce a map, it generates a group of bystanders who want to help and are very interested.
Then the coast levels out and turns into a sprawling mass of overdevelopment, many big hotels cut off from the beach by a major dual carriageway…reminiscent of the excesses of the
By the roadside there are so many banana stalls that I conclude the palms I have seen are banans palms, so I stop to confirm this and to buy a few for a snack. The wizened, semi-albino old man who sells me these says indeed they are from here, and proceeds to over-charge me royally.
As I eat them I am disappointed by their lack of taste and resolve to stick to imported ones in future! There are also many little cooking stoves at intervals along the road – to my enduring shame, I did not stop to find out what, but think it may have been corn.
A cook-pot by the road:
When I get to
Garden Pansyon, Antalya:
The City is rather touristy (although pretty quiet at this time, surprisingly) but is attractive nonetheless.
I enjoy a gorgeous sunset and a couple of cold beers, and manage to ignore the excess development on the facing cliff-top. The mountains opposite have an unusual shape and change hue as the sun goes down. Also recce out a couple of more attractive small hotels in case a future visit a deux should occur.
Sunset on Anatolia:
Not many photos of this day as I was focused on keeping going, after a night of ‘revenge of the
I climbed on the bike, skipping breakfast and headed North. I went through Afyon, whose grand castle is less interesting than the town’s name which means Opium, and upon which a lot of its wealth was originally established. Apparently the police still check that the locals haven’t been milking the local poppies! The heat and my fatigue meant that I decided to kkep going.
The castle of Opium (Afyon)
I felt so weak that I had a quick nap in a bus shelter in the middle of nowhere,, descending from the mountains. Despite my feebleness, the back-roads I took were interesting and empty. I find that riding at <50 mph, you take in a lot more of your surroundings!
Thye bus shelter where I took a nap:
I called at a day at
The thermal hotel was adequate, and in fact I was at the centre of the town’s evening walk, where thousands came out and promenaded up and down the kilometre or so of the main avenue. I did not see any other non-Turkish people, surprising only a couple of hours away from
That night I slept well and woke feeling much more like a human, and ready to tackle the hurly burly of
I stop to refuel...never alone:
I had called a recommended hotel who said they were full as were the adjacent hotels, which made me apprehensive. Nonetheless I wanted to revisit the city after a visit some 20 years ago, so I resolved to plunge in anyway.
Out of Asia...into Europe:
Crossing the Bosphorus - approaching the bridge in thick traffic:
Crossing the Bosphorus and re-entering
My light room at Mavi Guest house
ships rounding the horn:
Boiled wool hats (similar but more colourful than the dervishes' hats
Part of the souk:
It's Friday night...People love to fish off sultanahmet:
old Istanbul wooden house
.........next instalment...into Bulgaria, the EU's latest and most lawless member...........
|06-16-2008, 05:16 AM||#100|
Joined: Apr 2007
Outstanding write up Simon, so many good informations you provided, nice stuff .
Keep the good picies coming and for the info, the dude and his girlfriend that you met on KTM ADV 990 s by the Baghdad caffe, are informed about your thread
|06-16-2008, 01:09 PM||#101|
Joined: Apr 2006
I visit Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque – both fabulous, made me glad I bothered despite a certain ‘sight-seeing’ weariness, although the Blue Mosque was full of chatty and flash-photographing tourists, so lacked the calm and serenity of the big mosques of
That evening I meet up with Orhan of this parish, who had given me helpful advice on the trip across Syria, and indeed recommended that I do not bother to enter Egypt as the paperwork and customs, and the three day ride to Luxor, probably outweigh the enjoyment. I followed his advice. He is slightly late as it appears there are 2 Mavi guest houses in Sultanahmet, sharing the same ownership.
Orhan tells me he hopes to visit Scotland so I show him some photos of my recent visit. I warn him the West of Scotland has close to 300 cm of rain a year, just a bit more than Turkey!
Next morning it is time to leave Istanbul – although this later than usual as the Mavi guest house, which distinguished itself by a genteel slovenliness, managed to have a really late breakfast schedule of 0830, and then to run 15 minutes late on that schedule! (When I quiz them on timing they are very fatalistic, and acknowledge that 08h30 is a kind of Herculean target that may not be attainable in reality!).
Getting out of
As I passed Kirkareli the road rose into the mountains and it started to cloud over, and then to rain. The character of the villages and the landscape changed, became less Turkish. This was the first rain I had seen since
Suddenly it has got all green:
The character of the villages changes, people were less warm than in the Turkey I had crossed:
When I came to the first village, I found it so depressing that I took no photos. It was a bit like
Not long into Bulgaria I see my first Zastava:
I decide to be brave and take the yellow ‘second grade’ road across the mountains to Tsarevo on the Black Sea, thinking I may then work my way up to
The forested mountain is beautiful and the 2nd grade road makes me fear for those who take 3rd grade roads. I am bouncing all over the place, avoiding potholes and having a great time. (In writing this, I reflect this may be what has given me my first bike problem, revealed in
I hardly see a soul over the 50km trip, but do see a river-side off-road trail that would be great for my offroading-god friends, Tim and Rob!
A tempting riverside trail:
When I get to Tsarevo it’s a charming little seaside resort town, and the Sunset pension offers a fastidiously clean room with bathroom and sea-view balcony for all of 11 Euro, no breakfast.
Little evidence of non-Bulgarians in this resort. On the doors and lamp-posts, recent deaths are commemorated:
I stop for a delicious fresh salad
The town is full of people who have been to the beautician and I soon discover that it’s high school graduation ball that evening.
Prom goers (including false tan and tattooes!):
There is not much to do but wander around and observe the locals, who do the same to me!
I don't think this guy is a local but I felt such an impressive outfit (esp the shorts) deserved a photo:
I told you it was lawless - I don't think this sign means 'No gundogs!'
I have a street named after me.
The old links to
Black Sea sunset
The next morning I head off for
Sofia deserves a separate chapter.......
simondippenhall screwed with this post 06-17-2008 at 11:09 AM
|06-18-2008, 08:34 AM||#103|
Joined: Apr 2006
Sofia and on to Serbia
As I ride across Bulgaria toward Sofia I see a mixture of sights.
The old (methods of transport)
The new - building a new castle?
Some people live in much less grand surroundings:
The old - remnants of past factories and industries
I stop for lunch here
and, despite the appearances, have a delicious home-made chicken soup which sets me up for the rest of the day.
As I approach Sofia I see bikini-clad women standing by the road, who no doubt are part of the Ministry of Tourism sent to greet weary travellers. (Sorry, no photos!).
I end up in this hotel in Sofia, which is a dump and a bit of a rip-off - smelly drains, useless service, barred windows in the room and all for 40Euro!
and no doubt little changed inside from the 1930's when it was built:
However my bathroom has a big bath and seemingly-unlimited hot water, so I have my first bath in a good while - and then throw my rankest clothes in there to soak!
Sofia itself is an attractive city, dedicated now to Wild West capitalism, with Macdonalds, sex shops, and Hummers
It's a huge contrast to Istanbul, which I left only yesterday morning....here all the women have tight, revealing clothing, and have spent a lot on hair treatment and the rest.
Even the assistant in the internet cafe is dressed like a night-club hostess.
As I walk along the main street, a small, fastidious-looking and tidily dressed man asks me the time. I not ehim following me and think he may be a missionary of some sort eg Jehovahs Witness or Mormon.
Later he approaches me shyly, and I await the 'repent your sins and embrace the Lord' homily. Instead he passes me a card, offering the sexiest women in Sofia for 50 Euros. Very surprised I thrust his card back at him as I decline his offer!
I spot a couple of cars with little window oports to fire a gun out of - saves the trouble of winding down the window in a gun-fight, I guess!
There are also some noble sculptures from the past - I am not sure if this is finished or being dismantled?
And quite a few buildings built for use rather than beauty:
I explore Sofia that evening and the next morning the hoteol comes up trumps with a vast breakfast, which I eat to a musical accomapniment of Delilah by Tom Jones, who clearly has a following with the rather elderly waitress.
I head for Serbia, and debate the wisdom of going to Kosovo........
As I approach the border I meet some Slovenian bikers, who have been through Serbia but not Kosovo so can't add much there. They are the first bike travellers I have spoken to since Damascus!
It's clear there will be a few more carts on the way North
This commemoration of two young men even (morbidly) carries a picture of the bike, an MZ by the looks of it.
Next time...Kosovo or not?
|06-18-2008, 09:08 AM||#104|
Joined: Apr 2006
I took a ride through Kosovo today.....
The ride through Kosovo was an experience out of the ordinary. I checked twice with the Serbians who confirmed that I could re-enter
The day started ordinarily enough, with the exit from
The decision point came at
So I decided to wash my hands regularly, and fill the bike tank with petrol in case I need to leg it.
As I rode the long road down toward the crossing point, past Prokuplje (where they had discontinued sign-posting and closed the road thru town as if Kosovo was no longer of interest) there was virtually no traffic and a sense of foreboding grew.
The deserted road to the Kosovo border
A wrecked church and sinister crosses...although I think there may have been a more mundane explanation
The border was heavily armed, including KFOR tanks. My itinerary was discussed, and approved, and I got a UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) card telling me I had 30 days to get out.
The border was definitely high security...managed to sneak this photo:
I had to buy insurance for my day in Kosovo, something the Serbian authorities had been untroubled by.
The Albanian influence was immediately apparent, both in the language and in the proliferation of car washes (here called AUTO LARJE) that I had last seen in
The driving styles were also pretty ropey. Everywhere the red flag with the eagle, the new Kosovo flag.
Pristina was my first destination. It’s in the middle of a lot of reconstruction and is a bit of a building site.
I tracked down a KS (for Kosovo) sticker in a shop – the guy asked for 1 Euro but a compatriot, when I questioned this, shamed him into giving it me! (Maybe they recognise that the EU has piled a fortune into the place already and small scale profiteering was out of order!).
I meet a fellow-Irishman:
Almost immediately I spotted a KFOR Jeep from the Irish force and introduced myself. The sergeant (seconded from Irish Navy believe it or not!) reckoned things were improving and people were getting on with rebuilding. The countryside was covered with KFOR and UN vehicles – I saw French, Pakistani, Spanish, German, Nepali during the day.
The road signs were also a little different.
I had no urge to stay long in that building site so headed North to Mitrovice.
At this point Serbian flags started to appear more frequently and when I visited an ancient monastery the Orthodox monk told me: ‘Thank God there are no Shiqperi here (ie Albanians) and the UN mission is not much good’.
The monastery in Kosovo, with Serbian flag flying.
No guns in this monastery!
I stopped and had a Coke and chatted with some young men who were friendly but there seemed little doubt where their sympathies lay.
I decided that I would continue on up a fabulous winding mountain road, alongside the River Ibar.
The crossing back into Serbia was a multi-cultural experience as I met UN soldiers from Nepal, Pakistan and Spain.
Back in Serbia, I maintained progress on the winding mountian roads, racing the declining sun.
At one point a Serbian policeman stepped out waving a little stick with Stop on it. I decided to treat this as a friendly salutation and waved back to him as I sped by. Judging by his face, that was not what he wanted! After that, I kept my eyes open for any interception points where the police might try to stop me.
About 40 minutes later I was flagged down by a policeman. He told me to wait while he went to his car. I wondered if this was to get the 'cuffs, or to summon reinforcements for this renegade on the BMW. He came back with 2 copies of a motorcycle safety leaflet (in Serb language only) and wished me a good ride!
The unidentified castle in the mountains - note the long shadows and I begin to doubt I will make Belgrade that afternoon. Time to replan!
A mountaintop castle I passed was not identified. It ended up taking me until about 6.30 pmto get to Kraljevo, and I concluded it was not worth keeping on for Beograd as I had been in the saddle since 8 that morning when I left
Petar the biker king of Kraljevo
His bike...he had just switched frrom a Blackbird because he wanted to bring his kids on the back
Biker breakfast was a grilled sub, followed by a big bread roll filled with chocolate spread. As my digestive system was not fully recovered form Ottoman’s revenge, and I had eaten a vast carpetbag steak the previous night, I struggled.
Two members of the biker group the Kraljevo Kings:
I asked Petar if he went biking in Kosovo (90 minutes away) and he was off-hand in his reply…before admitting that ‘it was easy on the road but hard in the heart, as Kosovo was historically at the centre of
He told me most Serbians wanted to be part of the EU, felt they had been painted blacker than they were. Also the Albanian government were all gangsters in his view.
When we counted the countries I had biked in on this trip, he subtracted one, saying ‘Kosovo will never be an independent country, never say that Simon!’. Clearly Serbs (and he was a very mild and generous one) have a deep investment in their history.
Petar also told me he had biked to Turkey the previous year...they had all been heavily fined for speeding (240 Euro!). Importantly, the police had written the fine into their carnets so that they were made to pay as they left te country. Another reason why a carnet is expensive !
My first bike problem!
That evening I spot oil on the front mudguard and trace it to the RHS fork seal which is weeping oil. I think the fine Bulgarian roads have to take responsibility for that one! I bind it up with a plastic bottle (to stop it flowing down) and some tissues and rags (to absorb any flow of oil).
The engine oil level has suddenly shot down also - unrelated- and I put in half a litre of 10/40 which I have been carrying for 5000 miles!
Overall the bike has been marvellous--until now I have had to do nothing, not even pump the tyres, and all this deapite pretty mediocre roads.
After breakfast, Peter took me to Zica monastery outside Kraljevo in the morning – here 7 kings of
Zica monastery near Kraljevo, Serbia:
Then Peter rode out with me to get me on the right road to Belgrade, avoiding any motorway. Kraljevo was a pleasant interlude, including a telephone chat with their Serb mate in London (Wulcan?) whom they woke at 6.45 am so he could speak to me, poor sod! Their enthusiasm was affecting.
simondippenhall screwed with this post 06-18-2008 at 09:20 AM
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