21st May 2006 – 20th Jun 2006
Black Sea trip (3150 miles on the bike speedo)
Sunday 21st may
Wake up to forecast saying rain heading our way. Not raining however as we set off at 9.15am for Dover to catch ferry at 2.25pm. It did rain after Stansted but not too heavy. I realised after setting off that I had forgotten my driving licence but I do have my international one. Then worried as to whether I did have my passport! Checked at Stansted and relieved to see I had it!
Had never gone off on a long journey on my new bike. Now riding a BMW R1200 GS. Huge for me but lighter than my old R850R.Had never tried riding it with bag across the back and my leather rucksack. Didn’t work, so had to make a rapid change of rucksack before leaving home….purple one. Up into the roofspace to get it etc. Then one more thing… call divert is not working. BT not answering so have to give up and leave it to Mum. Clive all ready of course; He has been a day ahead of me all along.
Been very difficult getting things done before the off. Moving house, farming and a late spring delaying things in the orchard.
Calais to Charleroi in 2 hours. Rained on and off but could have been worse. Motorway dull but tomorrow we motorway all across Germany and then the day after the holiday really begins as we enter the Czech Republic.
Monday 22nd may
Set off just before 9am from our formula 1.Weather was looking like the day before…big potential for rain! We rode for about 3 hours and then the rain became serious and for the next 3 hrs it was not very nice at all. Clive was getting wet down his front because the water was coming in at the front of his neck. I had a damp bum and gradually getting wet round my neck and downwards. Feet and hands dry. Thankfully we rode through it and got less showers and a mostly dry road. We were heading for Nurnburg but in the end stopped slightly short and tried for a hotel in Schwabach; wanted 70 euros. After following various suggestions we ended up in a small place with one hotel (gasthaus) in the countryside which only charged 40 euros. Much better! The place is called Pruppach…., near Roth.
Temp has been around 13c in the rain but rose to 22c or so out of the rain. We have had a fair amount of clothing on since this was definately the lowest temperature we are expecting on this trip. We have not been that warm!
Tuesday 23rd may
Had breakfast, as it was included in the 40 euro price of room, before a late start about 10am.
Into the Czech republic and finally off motorway at Pilsen(plsen). We (the fault of both of us as I probably chose the wrong road and Clive would not stop and check at crossroads and junctions to see if we were on the right road), did huge circles as we cut across to Melnik, north of Prague. Lovely rolling countryside and pretty. Birds of prey struggling in the wind, crops, trees, well managed woods etc. Large ruined places. I finally capped a not very smooth running afternoon off by putting 4.5 litres of diesel in my tank before realising it wasn’t petrol. I already had about 8.5 litres of petrol in the tank but better safe than sorry we wheeled the bike round to the side and very slowly managed to empty out about 9 litres through a very slow running pipe! Stinking of petrol we then wheeled it back to refill. The lady at the desk had guessed but they had left us to it. We tipped the fuel on to a pile of leaves…She gave me a sweet when I went in to pay. The bike started and we got to Melnik finally. Found campsite by asking and booked a night in a barrel!
Miles 259 ( very convoluted)
Wed 24th may
Had day sightseeing Prague. Took the local bus. Then the efficient metro. Did well. The castle we viewed from the outside; we crossed the river Vlitara on the Charles bridge and then walked back to Museum. Pleasant weather,clean town and not too many tourists. Liked the old courtyards and big buildings.
Good restaurant on the campsite and local wine grown around Melnik was good. Another night in our wine barrel. Still cool weather…only 15c.
Thursday 25th may
Set off from our barrel home about 9am. Took Clive to see the Horin palace just north of Melnik. I was there in about 1994 with the children when we met Jo and Giles. The palace looked exactly the same. Still in need of renovation and still long grass where the lawn should be (where we had camped). Then we went on our way heading east for Slovakia. We had picked out a route on secondary roads. Flat farmland to start with…rape and corn growing. Very green otherwise. Road fairly full of traffic in parts but the further from Prague we went the prettier and nicer it became. Some wonderful woods as we entered Moravia and rolling hills. Onion topped church towers denote another religion (russian orthodox?). Big houses, as in germanic!. Stone built and quite often ‘end on’ to the street.
We had trouble trying to find a cafe to have a drink in. There were things called ‘motorests’ but few and far between. In Moravia we found it better.
Weather has continued cold…between 14c and 20c..very cold wind but it got slightly warmer as we neared Roznov, our intended nights stop.
Encountered some roadworks on the way. Clive hates deviating so I had my first off road practice on the 1200. Dirt, pavement, sharp holes and potholes!
As we pulled into the campsite , up came a motorbike, very beaten. It was Simon Newbound. I had read about him going round the world with his wife Monika, who is Czech. We stayed the night with him and they took us to a restaurant up the hill. Www.spiritsofadventure.com. He had finished his 4 year trip 6 months ago and was still feeling deflated and not sure what to do next. Longing to talk with brits….us .
Czech republic is cheaper than UK . A tea and coffee cost 80p. Petrol 80p.
Friday 26th may
Simon and Monika gave us breakfast and then Simon wanted to video us round town. So more coffee and videoing. Finally set off in rain ,and the same old 14c, at about 10.30am. Into Slovakia. Very pretty totally tree clad mountains and very pretty valley which we slowly climbed through. All spoilt by a busy road as it is the only road east. Slovakia seems a bit like Estonia. Its gives an air of thriving. Petrol a little more than Czech republic.
We plugged along the main road, at times being in big showers of rain. Finally topped the mountain divide near the tatras which were snow clad to our right. Cool when up high. The valley gradually opens out. We cut the corner from Spissky castle to Kosice. Here we came round a bend to see a hillside with some very poor people living there in old log cabins, children rough and playing in the dirt. They must have been Rusins, a small ethnic group of slavic people. There are more in the Ukraine. We saw more as we continued on. So much poorer than the rest.
Houses generally become smaller and are built closer together as we near the border.
Clive must have had something on his mind today..he rode without real concentration at times. We ended up a bit late trying to find an hotel that was in the guide. It was north of the lake Zemplinska Sirava at Kaluza. We eventually got there and found it was up for sale and closed! Nearby however was another and we were surprised to get a room for 900 korunas (30=1 euro), as it is a bit of a holiday spot by this lake. Weather clearing up possibly.
Saturday 27th may
Wake up to rain! But after breakfast it has stopped. Off to the border, still very overcast, but okay. Usual temp of 14c. This is our 7th day and the temp has not changed! At the border were masses of bikes from the Blue knights club..an international club for police of different countries. At first we thought it was a good thing that we could tag along at the end of the group but I am not so sure. The whole border was held up because of all the owners of bikes. I thought the car owners were very patient. There was a long queue and we had gone to the front. It all took about 2 hours and then we are into ‘real abroad’. First get some ukraine money..we had no idea of the rate of exchange but Clive did a small deal at 6 ukraine to 1 euro. It ended up as being fine. Petrol was 4 per litre so that means about 46p per litre.
Carpathian mts were green and tree covered . Road turned out to be excellent once we had sorted out a few lorries and we had good biking in top gear round big swooping bends. Got cold at the top. Houses here are wooden with tin roofs. Old ladies in black in the fields and beside the road. Some horse and carts. We stopped for tea at a scruffy building and 2 large ladies gave me excellent soup and Clive some kind of ham chop. Got to Stryi on the main road and then went for a less main road to Ternopil. Road became ‘interesting’. Some fast bits but also some bumpy potholes and chronic holes to some dirt patches. At last start to see life. One wedding party with their cake held aloft walking down the road was then repeated with more wedding parties. It is Saturday. Wonderful open countryside..no hedges, no fences. Begin to see stray dogs…not too many and they are mostly small and short legged , ‘easier to kick says Clive’. People watching their cows, tethered horses, goats,chickens everywhere and geese by the edge of the road with their young. Houses have railings around and are stone or wood with tin roofs. Hand hoeing on strip land but also begin to see some huge areas of one type of crop. Many people out on their land in the early evening.
Ornate churches .
We pushed on to spend night in Ternopil. Choice of two hotels, both expensive. Finally opted for a very basic room for £21 but ate for about £6. Wedding parties going everywhere.
Sunday 28th may
Its dad’s birthday. Another day at 14c. When is it going to warm up.? Twenty minutes down the road we got stopped in one of the many police checkpoints on the main roads. Said we were going 82kms. We thought we were allowed 110 on a duel carriageway which this was at that point. Anyway had to pay something. Clive did a deal at 100(£14) . No receipt, straight in policeman’s pocket. So we had to be wary after that as we were going to be on this kind of road all day. There was no other alternative route for this part. Hope more interesting tomorrow.
It was not so bad. Traffic probably not so heavy as it was Sunday. Lovely open scenery when you could see it. One can imagine steppes, windswept. One of the problems with the road was that it was tree lined so that it hid the view of the countryside. Wonderful hard wood trees though, especially birch. Every now and then there would be a brazier going beside the road where kebabs could be had.
Where it went through villages there were free roaming chickens, and geese; many had young. As yesterday, goats, cows and nice looking horses.
Strip farming rubbed shoulders with big farming… Hand hoeing on the strips. Many old ladies with colourful scarves in the fields. Hand milking in the field. Men with bicycles with greenery gathered from the side of the road …to feed what? Horses and carts with gathered wood.
Got to Uman. Did internet after being led to the best hotel in the Sofia gardens. Clive now making a fuss about taking smaller roads tomorrow. Heading for Kherson and not Odesa.
Monday 29th may
Had a quick walk into the park. Obviously beautiful. Clive not interested. Same temp! Clive gets us out of town and on to boring motorway for a bit. Then main road, then finally secondary road. So much better but we go the wrong way and I nearly have a major problem. A bicycle suddenly appears out of nowhere going across my road. Thank goodness I only end up clipping his back wheel. That goes pop and buckles completely.I do not wobble even and the man is fine.The man has some very strange specs on and it becomes obvious that his eye sight is very bad. Clive ends up hanging the bicycle with its bent wheel on the back of his bike; I take the man on mine and we continue to his village, quite a long way. There we deposit him and the bicycle and give him money for the back wheel. He does not/has not made a fuss and we depart. I believe his eye sight was to blame and that he had come across the road thinking it was clear. He wore some strange and enormous glasses with two lenses in the middle. He and I were lucky.
Soon later realised we had been travelling in the wrong direction and had to retrace our steps through the mans village!. Clive got fed up and was not that sympathetic.( He crashed badly with a bicycle in India and came off.)
We continued on, on secondary road to Mykolaiv…. Pretty good road surface and far less traffic. No police either and speed is not an issue. One village we went through had ‘wishing’ type wells still in use. Animals on tethers litter the roadside of the village. The road has a large grass verge before the house fences. No pavement ,just a path track. Big country. Lots of people seen scything the grass near the road and stuffing it into sacks which they load on to their bicycles or sidecar or trailer. Head on for Kherson. Join main road in the end. Find hotel Brigantina. Paul Howell comes to this place on business. He is at home right now though.
Today we at last turned south and I felt that when we reached the black sea the people had changed a bit. I think it is more of a mixture. Miles 277
Tuesday 30th may
It is warmer! Just a bit…one layer off. Into bank next door and then off to the Crimea. Kherson goes on for ever but eventualy cross the Dnipre, a huge river. We are in a snow storm of dandilion type seeds, I think from the poplar trees. They get on your face even with visa down , and tickle!
Passed a scoda towing a trailer, crabbing along the road, solid with cabbages stuffed into the car and trailer! Enjoying the sun for once as we stop for breakfast by the road in a new modern roadside stop. Clive enjoying pirodhys.
The north edge of the Crimea is flat. Fairly dull riding on pretty good secondary road brought us on south. Uncutivated land ,sometimes a riot of white and red(poppies), as well as crops, lowish trees ,lagoons ( but not many birds) and glimpses of the sea. Became pleasantly undulating as we approached Sebastopol. In Sepastopol we bumped into a Swiss guy going round the Black sea by himself on his bike. We wondered if we would bump into him again ( we do!)
We did Sebastopol and Balaklava. 2 boys led us up a track (which we would never have found) in Balaclava: so we got some good photos of the inlet. I tried to imagine the Crimea war, and all the heights etc. Above Balaclava we climbed directly up to 200m. Hard work for a foot soldier.
We then pressed on to Yalta. Got there about 7pm after a lovely ride along the coast road …no traffic. The biggest hotel in town is the Yalta hotel..2230 rooms! Its also the best value! Room 32 euro. Vast! Yalta like Monaco without the traffic. Had the worst meal however and the most expensive! Then Clive decided we should sample some vodka….
Wednesday 31st may
Have just eaten too much for lunch: soup with meat ,veg, spagetti and potatoes in it and a piece of meat stuffed bread.
We did internet at the hotel and left about 10.30am. Coast road, which is up in the hills(Krymski Hory) was great and when it became less main ,it was very bendy. Very scenic. Reminded Clive of Sardiinia. An unspoilt south of France perhaps. Road a bit bumpy but otherwise good with little traffic till we get to the main road to Kerch. Before getting to Kerch, Clive has a worrying moment as a cow suddenly decides to cross the main road in front of him. Woman then follows the cow into the road in front of me followed by a dog! We take it in our stride.
Still seeing lovely trees including white flowered accacia whose scent is wonderful. Dog roses in abundance. Green lush grass and grassy hillsides. Blue sea and dark sand/small pebbled beaches. Near Yalta we did not see any beaches; cliffs and rocks.
We come out of the hills and on to a flatish plain. Grassy hills, natural as God would have made! A few villages and we enter Kerch outskirts. Riding behind a tall white van I see a policeman pointing his batten at a car that was on the opposite side of the road. Car did not seem to stop so he then pointed it at us. Clive does not seem to think he did and we carry on. Lo and behold up comes a police car behind us. Pretends that he has got us on a speed gun when were hidden behind the van! Show papers etc. Off bikes etc. One policeman is taking photos of the bikes with his mobile . Then the other sits on Clive’s bike while the first one takes more photos. Then it is back to the business of getting money from us. We are catching the ferry to Russia so have hardly any Ukrainian money. Somehow we catch on that if we had something english then that would do. Out comes my purse of english change. In the end we delight him with a couple of pound coins and fifty pence pieces! Down to the port and we find that a ferry goes at 7pm. Various documents have to be got and the tickets. Small open air type ferry and it takes about 20 mins. Then we spend a good hour presenting passport etc over and over again. Friendly. We think they have never had Brits through here. They say they haven’t. Very little english. By now its nearly dark and we have 94k to the nearest town with an hotel, Anapa. Good road but about 5 miles down the road a police checkpoint wants to go through the whole process again! Corrupt we think. Loads of mosquitos as we wait. About 15 mins later we can continue. One more lot of police before we reach town. Find hotel in lonely planet guide but its full! Eventually get to another, people helpful, but all rooms everywhere hugely expensive £70. Food however no problem even though it is nearly midnight. Eat in trendy cafe next door. Hotel is good standard too.
Thursday 1st june
Began late. One reason was that we had not realised that clock went forward again…we are now 3 hours ahead of UK. Breakfast included so we only just made that…it was good. Then internet. It must have been about 11am when we left. Off to only stop in a jam about 5 miles up the road. Weather now hot. Sat, getting sweaty, waiting for a gov. minister to swoop by on the main road we were about to join. Then of course we had police at every junction!
Tree clad hills and a twisty road with very slow (walking pace)lorries grinding up the gradient. Undeveloped south of france again and a coast road in the hills going round every headland and into each bay. Green scene; women selling strawberries and cherries, walnuts and honey. Diesel belching lorries and bend on bend. Fun on the bikes but hard work getting the bends right and coping with the few lunatics. Took us far longer than thought to cover 200 miles but made it to Dagomy… And got a room (supper and breakfast included) in a huge tower block like place on the 17th floor. Seems to have a restaurant for each floor run by a ‘good lady’! Our room very hot and write this with bull frogs calling loud and clear from ground level. It was 33c today and is about 30c in this room.
Friday 2nd june
We read this morning before breakfast ( I had not got quite got to the paragraph in the book the night before) that entry to Abkhazia, on our route, was going to be a problem. Abkhazia is a breakaway region of Georgia and is muslim. No entry from Russia it seemed. Riding round and going lnland would take us too near Chechnya and Belsan (the school problem). But the guide said there was a ferry to Poti in Georgia leaving on fridays….today!
Set off to cover the few miles to Sochi port. Got ourselves to an international pavilion that dealt (it turned out) with cruises. Nice girl Maria, www.sochi-holidays.ru, spoke good english and took us under her wing. No vehicle taking boat to Poti today and no entering Georgia from Russia. So..only chance seems to be boat to Turkey ( trabazan) and then back track to take in Georgia. Go and have lunch. Would have been cheap except we asked for lamb which cost £10. The whole bill was £16 !
Told to go to ticket office at 3pm. A motley bunch is gathered. We do get a ticket but there is no positive time for the boats departure. It was going to be about 10.30pm but this is now doubtful. Have to report back at about 6pm. Its hot and we are sweating our way about in motorbike gear. Clive in leather trousers. He changes. The bikes are parked in full sun so not nice checking them out. I am amazed at the tight clothing girls are wearing in the hot sun. They must be as hot as I am.! Clive tries to change the remains of his Ukraine money but no one will change it: ‘its good for wiping your bum on!’ I go to a hole in the wall for the ticket money. You deal through a grill, rate on the wall and a calculator. They will only change euros or dollars..no visa card etc. There are ATMs however. Ferry not cheap. We sit in cafe in the shade and Clive snoozes.
Check at ticket office again and boat now going tomorrow am at 10am. This means we have to find an hotel. Go to train station to see if we can get a home stay(room). Problem with having bikes watched if we opt for a homestay. Bump into very nice couple…speak english …who help. Hotel moscow , in lonely planet guide deemed best. So we stay there. Go out to eat light meal..spent too much at lunch on the lamb but this time my red wine costs too much…can’t win. A russian teacher wants to chat…so we do. We had found a good local place.
Saturday 3rd june
Up early to get the ferry which was to leave at 10am. Took photo of bikes outside the Hotel Moscow, then 5 mins to port. Sorry, boat now leaving at 2pm-3pm. Go to office which says 6pm! Back to port and agreement with 6pm. Discuss delay with others including germans on bicycles. They tell us they have now waited for 2 days. We go back to hotel because we can use our room till 12 noon. Change and go swimming . Beach is pebbly and water is not that clean. Lots of jelly fish, small but non stinging, it seems. Very large lady on the beach in a very old bather.
Not exactly decent! The sun is very strong so cannot spend long here. Clive fascinated by all the shapes on the beach! No shade. Do internet and find cafe for lunch. As its saturday it is wedding day and it appears the cafe is opposite the registry office. Bride after bride appears with much tooting of horns, spinning of wheels; girls all dressed up, some in some strange outfits. Car alarms are set off on purpose, russian music is played and it is general chaos. The partying will carry on tomorrow as well. Clive enjoying the whole scene….pretty girls etc.
We hung around and hung around. At 5pm we went to the port yet again. This time a real crowd of people were gathering but no other vehicles it seemed. We had located the boat sitting elsewhere in the port. 6pm came and went. We all wait in the shade. Finally a woman comes out to check our papers. She then helped us through customs when it did at last all slowly start to happen. We were the only vehicles. They checked our luggage twice..two different sets of people! Finally the Apollonia 11 got under way about 10pm (not 6pm!). Ship was 42 years old. Cabin small with porthole that opened and a washbasin.
We then drank and ate, too much of both…and danced till 3am! Clive had got into the vodka and I had wine. We were a bit of a novelty for the passengers….some had probably never met an english person. We are always asked if we are german and there is surprise when we say we are english. There were 2 germans with bicycles on board and an australian (who did not want to talk with us!).Many other passengers were russian women returning to their turkish husbands after a visit back home; or were they prostitutes?
Sunday 4th june
The boat docked about 10.30am in Trabzon. We were tired and hungover. In the heat we had to queue with all the foot passengers to have our passport stamped. We were last because of the bikes…all the passengers were off the boat before us. That took about 1.5 hours. Then we sat and sat, waiting for some man to come re. the bikes. As the only vehicles we were a problem. Finally troupe off to a computer where details were slowly put in,in order to generate a number that was put in the passport and signed by 2 people. All very tedious. I was very thirsty with the heat and no drink to be had . Finally we set off about 3 hours after arriving in port. Straight past an accident…but the road is good and we cover some miles in the direction of Georgia, before Clive has to have a snooze. Stop in pleasant restaurant.
Dull,sad looking girl comes in with her muslim scarf on and I think of the contrast between her and the happy sexy ,laughing girls we had left behind in Sochi, Russia.
We had fresh fish for lunch..delicious. We had only seen smoked or salted fish in russia and ukraine. We had had problems with menus in russia as we could not translate the cyrillic script so did not always choose well.
The road runs right by the sea edge to the left and mountains to our right. Tree clad and with terraces of tea bushes. My first sight of tea growing. I noticed lorries carrying green leaves..tea leaves. The bushes are low and look like they have been cut by machine. The road is undergoing major improvements and we see lots of smallish lorries carrying large rocks for the road. No natural harbours here but each village has a manmade harbour. Horrid concrete blocks of flats with the odd older houses.
Going round a bend near Ardesen we are suddenly surprised by the sight of snow topped mountains. Here we are riding along in 30c!
Get to border quicker than expected and decide to go for it and get into Georgia. It is 5.30pm Turkey time(Georgia 1 hour ahead. ) have to get out of turkey first. Okay for me but problems for Clive. His registration number has been entered on the’ new today’ computer programme in two different ways…11cas and IIcas…one with number ones and one with i’s.
Eventually the problem is solved and on to Georgian customs. It is not so bad and we are through! Nearly dark we get to Batoumi and find hotel Beso in a back street. But room okay and very local restaurant downstairs next door. A girl with good english is very helpful. We ate for 12 dollars to music. The locals seemed to be dancing with each other for our benefit. I tried the local homemade wine and it was much as you would expect! This all happened very late at night ie near to midnight . Most places in England would have shut.
Monday 5th june
Had a walk round town. Not that attractive. Quite poor we think. But found internet cafe with new computers. And a good place to have some food. My tea however came from ceylon instead of georgia. Back to hotel ,packed up and set off for Borjomi via the main road that runs north of the border. Main road. Great start, lovely scenery. Cows wandering by the road side..lots of them. Later I saw a horse or two and a donkey, all wandering along the road. Ever present stray dogs too. At the end of the day we see wandering pigs.
We are beside a river,muddy coloured water. Groups of people ,esp men who have nothing else to do. Not much traffic. Stop for drink by way side shed. Quickly young men come, very friendly and burst into song for us. Good. So enthusiastic. No english though.
Road surface slowly deteriorates. What has been a tarred road has not been maintained. Becomes bad farm road as we climb up the mountain pass to 1900m. Pass patches of snow! The temp has been around 40c on the way up. One patch of mud is alarming and the odd stream flowing across the road. Possibly 50 miles of this. It takes us about 5 hrs. Odd bits of tarmac tantalise but not until last 60 kms does it improve. I have problem with one stream and Clive comes back to help me! Can’t do it!
Borjomi has several hotels but they all look grim. Go with guide and inspect Hotel Victoria . Has apartments inside that are not too bad. Outside of the building looks chronic and the archway through which we take our bikes round the back is rough. Owners helpful though and we eat good food in taverna down the road.
Tuesday 6th june
Back tracking a little bit so that we can exit Georgia via Vale. Its a red road on the map but we get on to rotten roads again and very poor villages. Rusty hulks of machinery etc but children modern clothed . Houses mostly stone, some wooden but life not helped by this appalling road. We didn’t go that far until we stopped and asked a cleric and he told us we were wrong. The map was wrong!! Back round the other way. Looked good ie tarmac but soon deteriorated. We were encouraged by modern turkish lorry lurching its way along and a couple of good cars. We really did not want to retrace our steps again this morning over this rough road. Bits of tarmac followed by large holes. We do have an advantage sometimes over cars but not if it gets wet or muddy or river beds etc. On we go, so slowly, about 15mph and finally see a fence..the border at last. Customs looks at our papers and then says there is a problem. We were booked out to leave via Sarpi instead of Vale which is where we are. (only 2 exits from Georgia to Turkey). They say that we must go all the way back to the way we came in ( over all that rough road!). No way we say. Then they say the phone wont work, the fax cannot send direct, ie the can’t contact Sarpi. Clive cleverly gave them a chance to ask for money and so in the end it was bribery and corruption that got us through. Turkey border was as normal and finally on we went. But only after a little nurse had stamped us through. Clive asked for his blood pressure to be taken so she did and said it was 100/60 (mine 110/70). Perfect!
Tarmac! Road good and wonderful. We are still in mts. Border was at 1200m and we climb up and down with snow lying at about 1900m. One high pass at 2468m takes us through to a high rolling plateau at about 1800m. Wonderful grassy mts with small villages here and there. They are cow herders and subsistence farming. Scrappy fields of barley. Many busy with making what looks like peat blocks for fuel. All neatly being stacked. Everyone busy with this task. Old houses low, stone,grass on roof. Electricity and satellites! Otherwise life much as it used to be. Went right round a large lake not on our map. Here a few nomads with large herds of sheep. Odd nice looking horses roam free or are tied. Some cows free to wander.
We now get on well with this excellent road and no traffic. The only damper was that it was showery and small showers rained upon us from time to time. Not bad enough for waterproofs though.
Kars is destination.
Wednesday 7th june
Left Kars with its mountain honey and cheeses. It was 1768m high. Met 2 bikers there coming the other way. One on journey round the world and the other going to Akaba apparently.
Lovely road on undulating plateau. Big cow herds, lots of grass, big green hills and snow capped mountains. One very high peak..Kosedagi 3432, looking like Ararat. Saw a flock of red rumped wheatears (at least I think so). Road became duelled at Erzurum in a big open valley with the mountains on either side. Not so nice as road carving its way through the countryside. People hand tilling their strip farmed field ,though several small Massey Fergusen tractors around. After Erzurum things change a bit as houses alter to tin roofed and more and more modern. Still see cow herders with lots of cows.
We are still high up and do not drop below 1200m all day; luckily as its hot with a burning sun even though there are some clouds around. Petrol horribly expensive, over £1 per litre. Hotels about £20-£25 for the room and lunch about £4.
Back in muslim country so women second class citizens and problems for us with alcohol. It was so much easier further north! Also people stayed up later at night..restaurants open later etc because they dont have to get up at crack of dawn for prayer.
Got to Erzincan which is a very lively town not in guide ( nor is this part of Turkey). Loads of hotels . Town has snow clad mountains on either side so maybe ski centre?. Found out it is modern because it was all flattened in an earthquake in 1939. Also a military training centre . Noisy night… as we have to keep window open because its hot and traffic and call to prayer at daylight (very early!) disturb us.
Thursday 8th june
We head westerly through the mountains dropping height after climbing to about 2000m after leaving the town. By lunchtime we are down to 500/600m. The everchanging mountains keep us busy…sometimes green with flowers and grass, sometimes bare and scraggy,sometimes tree covered with hardwood , sometimes firs. Strip farming in the valleys, all sorts of crops tended by hand with small gangs of women or family members. Sugar beet all hand hoed. Can’t think how fertilizer is put on as no tractor tracks. Every little farmer has a little red tractor…240s massey fergusens mostly. Some are decorated with a carpet on their bonnets. Little red tractors everywhere.
I think about all the unused land I have ridden by in the countries round the baltic and now Ukraine,Russia,Turkey. Small strips of farmland,maybe half hectare to one hectare, left to grow untouched beside cropped ones or much larger tracts of land as in Ukraine. Here there is much fertile looking land not being used. Then you get an area with strip after strip of sugarbeet. Looking good but all tended by hand including the harvesting which we saw last year. Corn crops can occasionally look good but again no ‘wheelings’ so how do they spray or don’t they?
I think too about the rotten muslim way of life . Up at dawn to pray, having to wash before praying! And no alcohol..womens lot an unhappy one, all covered up and not allowed to do this and that.
Houses change from having tin roofs in the high mountains to red tiles. Just as we neared here there were some old wood framed whitewashed mud houses.
The road has been reasonably good. Two down points; one the road building which is going on everywhere in Turkey and two, the tarry surface. They are duelling every road they can which spoils the character of the countryside.
We get to Amasya, a pretty place tucked in under a rock face and a river. Famous for tomb features on the rock face as in Petra. Our hotel an old ottoman house hanging over the river. The ottomans ruled here from late 1300’s to late 1500’s.
Friday 9th june
Climbed the steps up to see some Pontic tombs that are in the rock face above this town. The old town very lovely. We see more as we set off.
Read about the new pipe line that we have been following on and off since Georgia. It runs from Baku to Ceyhan . It apparently opened/started about a week ago. There will be a gas pipe too.
Nice road a bit shrouded in clouds and drizzle. But the clouds lift and it is not so bad as we had thought. Stop for drink and the nice looking spot/cafe only has the dreaded turkish tea to drink..no coca cola nor coffee etc!
Weather a bit dull and overcast. Not that warm 21c or so. See several storks nests and a golden eagle.Then we go through a rice growing region before Boyabot. Lots of paddy fields. We had gone along a big lake that was very dried up. Normal or not ,we do not know. From Boyabot we climbed another pass to 1376m in fog and rain and cold. It dropped to 10c and we had clothing for at least 20c. I had no waterproofs on my legs and thought Clive hadn’t either. He had! He kept going and so did I thinking we would get through it once down the mountain but it kept on raining. We were nearly at destination, Sinop, so plugged on. Needless to say we missed seeing some lovely mountain scenery in the fog. I was cold and wet, Clive was fine! Good hotel and we ate well ..fresh fish and beer/wine.
saturday 10th june
We rode 200 miles of twisty turny coast road. It took us 6 hours or more. It was great. But we then did another 100 miles before the day ended. Clive was crochety before we found an hotel eventually in a place further on than we had planned…Eregli.
Our coast road became quite narrow in parts because it was falling in to the sea in places! Bumpy with potholes sometimes and otherwise bumpy with repairs. Cows wander at will mostly; nice brown ones. Stray dogs also in abundance. Fantastic rolling green mt landscape as we drive round headland after headland. Poorish villages..in one I saw them beginning to butcher a dead cow/steer. The cow/steer was on its back, dead, on the pavement, and it was being skinned. Several people around. This was right beside the road. In another village we came round a corner to see a mosque all crooked like the leaning tower of Pisa but worse. We presume it had been heaved in an earthquake. People have been selling cherries by the roadside, yesterday and today. They are selling green cherries too….for pickling?
Old wooden houses and half timbered houses, still in use. Tortoises crossing the road…some fail like hedgehogs.
Our progress is slow but sure. We finally stop for lunch at about 3pm. Then extraordinarily, a motorcycle pulls up; its like ours..big. Its the swiss man we saw all the way back in Sebastapol in ukraine! What a chance meeting. We swop experiences of the road. Notice his Samsung video camera and helmet mount; looks good.
We plug on to Zonguldak. Its 7.30pm and this large place is not in the guide. We find an hotel but cannot park anywhere. We give up and ride on. Kozlu has an hotel but can’t find it and we drift on finally to Eregli which is more touristy and very expensive but its now 9.30pm and dark. Got to get it wrong sometime! We eat nice fish though in a restaurant nearby..with some wine and still in motorcycle clothes!
Sunday 11th june
Made our way to Istanbul. Only minor excitement was Clive nearly running out of petrol. We could have taken petrol from mine but a petrol station loomed into sight just in time. It rains.
The passing shower with thunder and lightning passes by while we get petrol and we do not get wet. Find our way to Turkmen hotel in Istanbul . Its fine. Having arrived mid afternoon we have time to shop. I need camera batteries charged and succeed. We eat and relax with the tourists.
It has not been that warm…we understand that it is hotter in England. Perhaps 22/23c today and UK its 30c. Strange! But a relief for being here…sight seeing in these temperatures is bearable. We do not do much as have been here 4 years ago….
Monday 12th june
Leave Istanbul and head for Bulgaria. We spotted the hotel we stayed in when we went round the world..the ‘sokulla’ pasa or something like that. Leave on motorway . I then gather that Clive wants to sit on this motorway and miss out a paralell main road. I take it leaving Clive to his boring motorway. It was a lovely road once I had joined it. Got to the cross roads with mine to find Clive had sent a message that he was further on. Find him. Have some food and then I have to go back for petrol as no more stations this side of border. Clive doesn’t wait so I have to try and catch up round bends. I am not happy.
Border up in mountains. Both sides pretty with forests but Bulgarian side best. Oaks of various kinds mixed in with grassy glades, really lovely; ferns border the road with uncut verges. Acacias, some beech etc. Road bumpy and potholed till we reach the sea when tourism takes over! The only vehicles we pass are horses and carts driven by lovely looking dark skinned people that remind me of Yugoslavians. There were horses and carts on the turkish side too..at one point I passed 4 in a convoy.
Get to Burgas. Resort town with large expensive hotel at its heart. We stay elsewhere for 58 lev…. 2.8 to the pound. Petrol much cheaper than Turkey..half the price. ..about 50p and turkey more than £1. Food cheap too..we have very good menu for 10 bulgarian. Can’t find any internet cafes and none of the many ATMs will take our cards. There are numerous change places open in the morning so will have to use them. How countries differ!
Tuesday 13th june
Get money changed , pay bill and set off. Within 10 mins we are putting on wet gear. Only in the nick of time as it deluges . We ride in the rain, and traffic,on mountainous twisty road. It is cold 15c and not very pleasant. Mercifully it stops and we get dry roads again. On through undulating landscape to Bucharest in Rumania. Stop in Varna (big port/ship building). Things are so european again. Nevertheless there are people with horses and carts/donkey and carts. Some subsistence farming but also big fields of corn crops.
The border only wanted to see our passports..so simple and we were waved out of Bulgaria and over the river Danube(?) on a high bridge. Usually it is such a hassle to even get out of a country. Romania..I have not been here since the 70s. Clive, though, has worked in Bucharest fairly recently so we plunge into the centre. Because the weather is not hot it is good for sight seeing and Clive leads us to the enormous palace of Chauchescu. It is impressive and I am impressed by all the fountains on the lead up to the building. Then Clive finds his old hotel which has been all smartened up. Stay nonetheless . Clive knows the shops round the corner etc. Go and eat in one of his old haunts!
Wednesday 14th june
Grey, cloudy, as it has been for days. 21c. Set off for Brazov the home of Dracula. Cross the flood plain of the Danube.(?) . Fields of some good crops and also bad,thin,weedy ones. Ancient small tractors with ancient implements . Much hand labour weeding maize. Horses and carts going down the edge of the duel carriage way. Unlike Turkey, who have routed their new duel carriage ways round villages, this one is put right where the old road was ,slap bang through the centre so splitting the villages almost in two. Life carries on beside the road in a fairly dangerous manner…horses,dogs,cows on tethers, and people, children etc..,all by the road. Many men and women hanging around with one or two cows on leads.
Just before going up the mountains we are put through 2 disinfectants…one a personal spraying of our motorcycle tyres! Discovered later it is for bird flu and has been going on for 4/5 weeks.
Finally the rain gets us in Brazov as we try and locate the Bran castle. Waste a lot of time but finally get there in the rain. We do the castle. It has been in full use to the present day and is in good repair etc.
Cut across country on yellow roads to get back on our route to Cluj. Bumpy and badly potholed in places but in others not bad. Lots of pairs of horses with carts; some horses ploughing with single furrow wooden plough. They are not heavy carthorses but nice looking horses. Villages remind me of France many years ago. Solid houses with gates so you cannot see in. People keen to wave and friendly. It seems most carts have been grass gathering….to feed what? Saw one man with a wooden rake. Many with heavy wooden handled hoes.
Bump bump through the villages and round the potholes. Lovely grassy hill sides with clumps of woods. Open rolling valleys.
Hit main road. Lorries, but good road surface and we push on for Sighisoara where we get an hotel way up a back road that was well signposted. Town has got some huge old buildings inc. a monastery. Rain held off but it has been cold 10c to 15c.
Thursday 15th june
Cloudy skies..again. At the bike however my temp gage says 14c the coldest for at least 2 weeks. Down the hill we go and there in the main street is a procession. Its 9.30am, thursday morning, and all the young in the town are parading with flower garlands in their hair, male and female. Its the end of high school apparently. We see similar in other towns. Good for an hour and then rain begins along with wet roads. Road is too heavy with traffic for real enjoyment but it has good sweeping bends and nice scenery, but one has to concentrate too hard on the traffic to really watch.
We do slow down in the villages and in one they were still using wells with a bucket on the end of a counter weight pole.
In another village, Luna, the horses and carts seemed to be licensed. One had a plate saying 1 luna and another 45 luna. The next place, Turda had a similar system. Lots of paired horses pulling carts; in good form and condition…usually. Saw one or two horses ploughing but only saw one pair of cart horses. Saw a pair of water buffalo yesterday pulling a cart.
Grass gathering seems to be a major occupation…in the horse carts, in sacks, by bicycle,by wheelbarrow etc. Cut by scythe, everyone is doing it. We have seen no lawns since leaving Slovakia. We have seen so much grassland that is not used. Vast areas of unused land. Verges untrimmed and untidy and land that is just not being used. Later ,on the flood plain it is more mechanised, and you then see hay stooks on the field.
I realise I have a back brake problem at some point..it judders . But brakes do misbehave in the rain. However, rain stops and once dry I suspect that my brake pads are worn out. 8500 miles..not normal for me. Try not to use back brake as disc looks unhappy. Confirm metal on metal later!. Countryside sweeping and pretty and all looks better in the dry.
Over the border we do about 40 miles and stop at Puspokladany finally ( after checking several hotels/motels) in a modern place. Smart bedroom 30 euros but breakfast inc and internet free. Nice to be away from the fast and dangerous overtaking of Romania. The car drivers of newish cars were not good..the lorries were well behaved.
Friday 16th june
Headed for Budapest and a BMW agent we have found on the internet so that I can buy new brake pads. Heavy traffic on a good but main road. Lots of overtaking. Land is like the fens…flat and wet and fertile. It needs draining better for the farming. In parts the farming looks good, in others very weedy and there are many non used fields. Pools of water stand around. We are in the Danube valley/plain.
Find agent fairly easily. Not that friendly but get brake pads. Go onwards to Vac by the river Danube and near a cafe do the brakes. Have huge difficulty in moving the pistons back in. Clive helps and we struggle together till we eventually succeed. Not right to be that hard surely. At least brakes can now be used.
Clive has ordered a pancake stuffed with meat for lunch..one each! Nice of him. Afterwards we cross the border into Slovakia on secondary road and it is very pretty both sides of the border. Carry on till we reach Kor….for the night. Strange hotel in an old soviet building next to a sport stadium. Room 24 euros (we have no slovak money!). Meal 11 euros. Clive and I discuss road ahead…he wants non stop motorway from here , I want one more day to see Vienna.
Saturday 17th june
The worst inclusive breakfast yet but better than nothing. Set off about 9am and head for Vienna on ordinary roads. Slip over border and hit Vienna about 12.30. We do not have motorway ticket..this is a bit disconcerting. We do very well and put bikes in side street little knowing the main shopping street was very nearby . Internet cafe, restaurant and a tabac to get the ‘vignette’ ( for the motorway) are all very near. Eat, shop a little and off we go. Bought a vignette ( only 4.30 €).
Its motorway now..home bound. Weather not as hot as yesterday,about 30c. Made walking round Vienna pleasant. In places before the end of the day its quite cold. Thunderstorm threatens but misses us. We reach Germany,first hotel 81€ ! Have to go on and find another..still expensive at 62€, near Waging.
Sunday 18th june
Wake up to cloudy skies…whats new? Breakfast included so have it!. Set off about 9.45am. Clouds threaten but situation improves throught day till we are roasting in 33c or so.
Its a busy summer weekend on the german motorways. A few stop/starts, lots and lots of bikes, no british ones for us to see. One british camper van and one coach on the move and some parked up Brits. We have seen no british vehicles for 4 weeks.!(since ukraine border and irish bikes). Camp near Pirmisen west of Landau, not far from Karlsrua Have a swim in a pond/lake. Very brown water but very warm in top 2 feet!
Goodbye to stray dogs, goodbye to wandering cows,goodbye to open grassland, goodbye to herders watching their animals and goodbye to horses and carts. Back in europe with a vengence.
Monday 19th june
Good dawn chorus but slept well in tent. Short rain shower with thunder as we get up. Tent very wet on inside…so warm! Dry it a bit in the sun, pack up and go to Permisens for internet. Find one in a gaming/gambling place that is open . Then off. A lot of roadworks slow the progress, one bit we crawled at 40mph for 16kms. Rain threatens and road is wet now and then but we are lucky. Plod on making good progress and arrive in Calais about 6pm. Stay in a ”village hotel”, like formule 1 but more central and private bathroom. Happened on it by chance. Then had end of holiday meal in Clives favourite fish restaurant. Had whole crab as a first course!
Miles 371. 6683
Tuesday 20th june
Buy some boxes of wine and catch ferry at 11.05am. Sun and cloud but not that hot. Our 4th ferry of the trip.
We finally reach home about 3.30pm. Virtually 7000 miles, 14 countries.
Miles 198 6881 miles