7th Apr 2011 – 4th Jul 2011
Thurs 7th April
We have been quietly planning this trip for some time! Probably hatched about 2 years ago as a “Lets go London to Beijing on our bikes”. Unfortunately the Beijing China bit has had to go due to the enormous cost. Essentially China requires that all foreign vehicles have a guide. We wanted to have 4 weeks crossing China so that meant minimum cost per day $150 x28 days = $4000 + and plus expenses, permits, licenses etc and growing! It was getting stupid however much we wanted to do it. We know that you can fly to China and buy a chinese bike and set off without any guide etc so they would be just ripping off those of us on our own bikes.Thus we are planning a return trip and doing a loop…outbound southerly route and homewards a more northerly route. It is going to encompass many of the “Stans” but not Afghanistan or Pakistan! We set off in a week’s time.We have had a fairly tricky time getting 7 visas, sometimes going to london twice in a week. Some of the embassies wanted visits in person, some had to have letters of invitation, one country required a road permit on the visa, some could be expressed, some not , some were cheap and some expensive! But we are almost there…daughter Emma is picking my passport up this morning from Azerbajan I hope!Clive is going on his old BMW adventure bike, the one that went round South America, whilst I have a newer bike with same size engine as my last. It is however shorter and lighter. I have new panniers!We will be setting off with three extra tyres each, loading us down to start with. Two knobbly tyres for the dirt roads and one spare road tyre. The latter is because we have some fairly worn out tyres on our bikes! You cannot buy tyres on the way except in Europe.Packing has begun in various “piles”.There is a link at the top of this diary which takes you to a web page that shows where we are via a new GPS thing we have. IT WILL NOT START WORKING UNTIL WE SET OFF. Once we do you should be able to follow our route. (We might test it out before we set off)
Fri 15th April
Had a practice run to Wells and back with the bikes loaded up. See photo!! Look horrendously overloaded but really its tyres. One will go in Istanbul and then the others when we run out of tarmac and put the knobbly ones on.
Sun 17th April
Woke early, more apprehensive about the trip rather than excited. On reflection this evening think that that is because the first week is through Europe which we have been to many times before . I will be excited in Istanbul!! My son Sam came up on Friday night on his bike and so this morning he accompanied us some of the way to Dover as he headed back to London. That was nice. We look very loaded with the tyres but once on the move all is well. Beautiful morning, apple blossom in Kent nearly in full flower and the countryside everywhere looking green. Yellow rape fields, as that comes into flower. I have not got my gadgets quite right…camera mount keeps moving and the camera sits all skew. I now have a video camera as well and I could not see if it was on or off and ended up filling its memory card with 1 1/2 hours of very boring motorway riding ( now deleted). This needs sorting!! Then I have the Spot gadget as well that has to sit somewhere so that it can see the sky ( satellites) Clive has the GPS whilst we both have maps. He has a better camera but it cannot be used from the handlebars. Thoughts were quite relaxed. What have I forgotten ( spare camera). Such a nice weather day to set off in…… Bum gets a bit numb before we arrive near Charleroi in Belgium, wrists a bit achy but all normal for day one.
Mon 18th April
Another beautiful day, cold however as we set off at 8.30am. Head off across Luxembourg and into Germany on motorway. Nothing interesting but a means to an end. …using motorways to get across Europe fairly quickly so we can enjoy the important bits later!! Clive says the motorways here are more enjoyable than the UK. Tried with the video again, this time using a remote turn on and off. Managed to get it completely wrong thinking on was off and vice versa. Third day of testing needed. We found that we are in a district of Germany called Swabia after we were offered Swabian food on the menu tonight. Food with sauces and spetzal seem to be favourite!!
Tues 19th April
After 2 hours we were entering Austria and off the motorway! Things were beginning to get more fun. Saw 2 birds of prey sitting on their posts and farmers were out in their fields. It would appear to be dry…like back home. Due to our /my meanness we stayed off the motorway in Austria as you have to buy a ticket for 3 months… So the main road beckoned and the Alps; snow covered still with plenty of snow looking quite fresh and not so high up .Our passes, the Fern pass and the Brenner pass were not very high and the weather was still so good that extra layers were not required. Nice roads, some traffic, and we had a good but quite long day ending up in Italy not too far from Venice. I am still struggling with the video camera. It won’t obey my thick gloved thumb or it is using more battery than the power supply from the bike. One way or another it is switching itself off!! Driving me mad. Bikes are doing great, tyres are sitting tight. This would have been quite different in the rain.!
Wed 20th April
It has been quite a swift transition in cultures from home to Germanic to Italian. Everyone so far been helpful and nice. Another, but warmer morning and we are off to Venice. NOT to sight see but to catch a ferry from the port. However this has to be such a great place to catch a ferry from as it leaves by steaming slowly past Venice including St Mark’s square. The ferry is going to take us to Igoumenista in Greece. For the price of an hotel room we have a very spacious cabin with sea view. The cost of both bikes and ourselves is less than petrol , motorway tolls, and another night, so this way is a no brainer.
Thurs 21st April
We arrive in Igoumenista about 2pm and set off into the greek mountains heading towards Thessalonika . The sun is shining ( but I hear it is just as good back home!) and it is about 21c. Lots of Judas trees with their gorgeous purple blossom. My mother says hers are in blossom too back home. It would seem that England is just as warm as here particularly if I tell you that there is snow on the mountain tops. Highest peak on the map is about 2300m so this snow is lying between 1500 and 2000m. So far south… Konistra is our destination for the night, a village up on the hillside. We immediately find a great place with rooms to let. It has a great view of mountains with snow on the top and lower slopes with the flowering Judas trees. The place is full of locals on their very noisy mopeds.Mopeds I guess, because petrol is the most expensive we have come across yet. Made a mistake thinking here would be cheaper petrol than Italy…wrong… Anyway the locals who live here have to go up and down steep hills on their little 50cc mopeds so they have taken out the silencers to improve performance. Even older ladies are riding noisy machines. No one has a crash helmet on either. EU equal laws?? We walk further on up the hill to eat. Clive a bit huffing and puffing but good for us both. Meet two boys, as one does, and one was a Pakistani and the other was from Guyana in Africa and they were together, in a little greek town! Find a greek restaurant eventually after 2 pizzerias and one crepe place. Slowly realising that I am on a bike trip….still feeling a bit unreal. PS. The video camera is behaving at last…think it uses more battery than gets recharged so had a flat battery the other day. It is being charged from the bike……….. But wondering where I am going to store all these big video files. Should have brought some large storage thing…..
Fri 22nd April Good Friday
Cold , 8c, but sunny as we set off for nearly two hours on a great windy mountain main road with no traffic. Realise later that possibly everyone else is on the motorway that is not on my old map. We thought it was because it’s Good Friday. Had a great stop for breakfast in a cafe with all the old men looking at us…omelette with sausages in it ( bit greasy). That was after we had ridden past snow at 1500m ! Later for lunch we stopped at some van parked on a bit of waste ground and had a roll and Coca Cola. All the men there were very friendly but were possibly not Greek but Bulgarian perhaps. Poor for sure, some of them: others lorry drivers having Good Friday off. Motorway again but probably for the best as we headed for Thessaloniki and then on to Kavala for the night. We popped on and off it. Decided tonight to head for Gallipoli instead of Istanbul. Then read the guide and found out that Anzac Day is Monday 25th April ie 2 days time.! Apparently it then becomes infested with people . Will we be able to slip through??
Sat 23rd April
Had a good local fish meal last night. This morning it is cold, 12c at sea level with a bitter NE wind. Greek countryside, small farms, quite green, some mess, plenty of scrap loitering round small holdings, few roaming dogs, no wind farms, no solar panels. All fairly laid back as we head to the border with Turkey. It takes about an hour the Turkey side. With a bit of guidance at the beginning we would not have had to go backwards to get documents. In the end our bikes were blocking a coach who had finished the process. 30 euros each to get through, 15 for visa and 15 for 3 months insurance . We head down the Gallipoli peninsular. It is bitter cold. Crops slightly more forward than UK. We want to see Anzac Cove but when we get to the turn off it is blocked by police. They are having some run/walk on the road and we must wait for 2 hours. We tried another way but could not get through so I am afraid had to skip Anzac Cove. Carried on and caught the ferry across the Dardenelles from Eceabat to Canakkale. This was a fast ferry across a small but very busy stretch of water. We were parked on the ferry next to the ambassador for Australia in his chauffeur driven vehicle with his wife. They grandly put the electric window down to speak to us ( and then wound it up again). Preparing themselves for Anzac Day on Monday. Asian Turkey. We have reached Asia!! I hate the dual carriage ways they have made of the main roads; a great scar through the landscape, of concrete road in a fairly straight line, by- passing all villages. The motorist sees nothing and it all comes across as so sterile. You get along fairly well but see only the bigger picture, no minutae. I think it happens less as we head east. The quality of the dual carriageway is not great. Suddenly after leaving Greece you realise this is different. On the carriageway are sheep being herded, children on bicycles, tractors and people, cars doing u turns.. The surface is very patched and bumpy. Roadworks everywhere…we have arrived in Asia. An Englishman chats to us in Canakkale. The weather is abnormal…you have our weather and we have yours.You should be having the NE winds and 10c and Turkey should be 20c and with southerly winds. ! Today is Childrens Day here…a holiday day. Lots of flags are flying and the navy is in town. We end the day in Biga, a town we have not heard of. We asked a moped rider to lead us to an hotel. We would not have found this ourselves. Old wooden building, high ceilinged rooms and good cheap meal with a serenading group!! Could not have asked for more..motorbikes in car park underneath.
Sun 24th April
Easter Day Happy Easter. Not much sign of easter here..instead we are woken by the wailing from the mosque. We leave our nice old room with the very high ceiling and head into the cold. It hovers around 10c all day. Sometimes we are quite high up ( end the day at 900m) but the same biting north wind is there. Lovely in the sun out of the wind. The petrol price is rather horrifying… as I had dreaded….its about £1.70 per litre. Turkey’s petrol was very expensive last time we were here too. It is a big country so many miles to do. We are now going along more slowly ( fuel economy too) enjoying the views. Road surface gets better, but dual carriageway cuts through the land. Great looking fertile soil and farmers are out on their quite small tractors. The land looks quite wet. A high range of mountains loom with plenty of snow on top and the weather threatens but then all change and the sun shines again. We stop and have a cup of tea in Eskisehir. A young man on a BMW stops and talks and then guides us to a motorbike shop for I am a little worried about how long my front brake pads will last. The shop take them off but they have no new ones. They assure me that mine will last for 10,000kms yet. Worry later!! A policeman on his bike joins us and we all chat. Along comes someone with cups of tea and we have a good time chatting/tea drinking . One photo and off we all go! Couple of rather concrete towns later and we find a spot to stay in Polatli near Gordion,( capitol of the ancient Phrygia ). It was commented on in the message board that modern travel entails electronics…this is very true for us as we do need to stay in touch for we are not retired! We also have communications between helmets to charge so each night there are things to charge up. We can go camping though…I can charge everything from the bike as it has two electric sockets. If only every charging lead and plug were universal! I carry a small bag of plugs and another with leads in. Hit lucky tonight on the eating front,,,found a huge municipal like cafe/restaurant, lots of waiters and good food though no alcohol….muslims!
Mon 25th April
We stopped for breakfast after a while. Large cafeteria by a petrol station which is usual for here. We were the only people but had 3 people waiting on us. Asking for an omelette the chef cooked it, the next man brought it (and the coffee/tea etc) and then the third man cleared away. All three were hovering around all the time. Chef was a bit bothered he had to cook for he would have rather carried on Japanese girls on the telly. As Clive will comment…jobs for the boys and demarcation of jobs is very prevalent amongst muslims. Apparently Turkey if finally tiring of its love affair with concrete. Many of their small old houses are left to fall into ruin while the people move into concrete blocks of flats or houses like boxes. But that has now slowed and some are realising the value of keeping their old houses going. The Ottoman houses are particularly nice. Ride across large expanses of farm land and rolling hills. Heavy wet soil , fields being cultivated but moorland above. We are high and cold all day, about 1000m and more. We head for Urgup in Cappodocia. This is a fascinating part of Turkey where people have carved out homes in little volcanic plugs. After much circling of the town …spoilt for choice on the hotel front…..we settle on one and are staying here for two nights.
Tues 26th April
Do a thorough tour of Cappodocia circling it twice on our bikes because at one point Clive’s bike got a flat battery because he had left his electric seat on! Think we have really done the area! Later in the afternoon we toured all the tyre changing places in Urgup till we found a suitable one and have now each changed one quite bald tyre for a slightly better tyre….for me that was the front and for Clive the back. Now we hope to do about 1500 miles till we put on our new “knobblies” that we are still carrying. If you ride on tarmac with them they wear out very quickly hence cannot put them on yet. Still the bikes are now a wee bit lighter. Weather was bitter first thing, 6c, but now much improved and sunny again.
Wed 27th April
Stopped to get some teabags last night from a shop selling dried fruit etc. Had some delicious looking Turkish delight in all shapes and sizes , some sun dried apricots putting hunza apricots to shame, and some amazing red jelly/delight thing made of pomegranate with pistachio nuts in it . Would like to have bought lots of things. It is warmer but the forecast is rain tomorrow, even further east. Enjoy today which we did. After Kayseri we never went below 1500m. Snow lay at 1800m; we went past Mt Erciyes which is 3917m all covered in snow and looking great; over a pass at 2200m and several other lesser passes; huge views and huge valleys bordered by snowy mountain tops. We did a bit of an intentional loop but managed to take the wrong road and did many more minor loops and many more miles than desired! High tech we maybe in some ways but we like maps and do not follow a GPS particularly. Getting lost is part of the trip and through several very rural villages we went today. One road got narrower and narrower until it ended in a muddy footpath. Back we had to go. Roads empty of traffic so once we were going in the right direction all was good. Very rural, not many people here ..the locals are all dressed in baggy muslim trousers, including the women, though some of them wear long skirts. All women in headscarfs. We head for some thermal hot springs at Kangal.
Thurs 28th April
I wrote this day up yesterday but something went wrong with saving! There still is something wrong with my computer so having to write instantly here. Between 8 and 9pm last night Clive and I went swimming in a thermal pool with a whole load of little fish who are remarkable for being able to live in hot water. This thermal place is a healing spot for psoriasis and other skin problems. The water has Selenium in it and the fish nibble away at your rough skin. They seemed to love our feet in particular and they did home in on any odd spot, excema etc.. It was vaguely uncomfortable with the fish hitting you like small electric shocks. Some fish were bigger than others. We have too long a day! We had set ourselves a goal a bit too far away. First bit of road was across some mountains on a secondary road. We managed to lose the way and did a bit of a wander at one point ending up going along a smaller and smaller road till it ended in a muddy footpath. Turn around! High tech we maybe but we do like maps and are happy to ask the way. This is big open countryside with huge valleys, huge hills, snow at times, green at times, brown, rocky. Locals are farmers, poor with probably tractors for transport. It was very scenic. Finally reach Erzincan, do some main road and then take off up the mountains again, after filling up with more expensive petrol. You are always asked ( at the petrol stations) if you would like a “chi”. Very friendly and free, sitting down at a table outside. The “chi/tea” is without milk and quite bitter without sugar. My sugar intake has risen! This final road of the day….the step too far…was a great ride, climbing passes over 2000m, huge snow clad mountains to our side and snow lying beside us (over 1800m). Eventually we reach Ipsir, hotels but no parking but back down the road a bit are some cabins (IDOS)beside a raging river and we hit success for the night.
Fri 29th April…royal wedding day.
We believe we have an easier day so set off leisurely after breakfast at about 10am only to be confronted by a dirt road, with construction lorries and a wet slippery surface to keep the dust down. Not the road we expected! The road is being diverted higher up from this narrow rocky defile of a valley because they are building a number of barrages across the raging river that accompanies us. Huge construction project. We took 2.5 hours to do the first 50 miles. Might seem rather hopeless but at one point we had to go through a dark tunnel newly constructed but with a road that looked like fresh, sloppy cement about 9 inches thick. I was very tense!!! The bikes wobbled around, it was darkish with lorries coming the other way. Clive in front put his hazard lights on which helped me as I kept my eyes on them. I did a big wobble at the end but survived falling off into a gravelly, muddy, soup. That would have been vile, in the dark, with the lorries. It eventually improved but we were with the construction project for over 100 miles.Twice we had to stop while they blasted the hill sides. That is where we learnt of this huge project to build 15 barrages across the rivers. The river beside us was raging, Clive called it violent and aggressive. It would certainly have given a rafter the ride of his life without stop for 100 miles.We have ended up in a cabin again, this time up in more mountains at 1500m.The view is lovely, like Switzerland but it was raining a bit as we arrived. We settled in and Clive managed to find BBC World news and so we have just watched highlights of the Royal wedding.
Sat 30 th April
We have had a few hiccups with the Spot gadget. Its batteries started running out yesterday…thought they would last a lot longer. Did bring some spares but not sure they were all okay but think its working now. Tried shopping for more lithium batteries here in T’bilisi tonight but none to be found. Alkaline it will have to be.Our cabin last night was good and off we went to Georgia. We climbed two passes on the way, the last one at 2550m being the highest so far. Road good, weather kind ( no rain),lovely scenery, border easy .Hard life at over 1500m with winter for at least 6 months. Poor, but with tractors, whilst the Georgians over the border had no tractors and were planting potatoes by hand in the fields. Whole families out helping. Our route to T’bilisi takes one of the main routes through Georgia so was most prosperous. Off that route/valley life is poor and tough. Many buildings look quite decayed yet are lived in. Huge great stone buildings horribly neglected yet used. Otherwise its green and beautiful, lovely tree clad mountains, pretty valleys. Nice to see trees after the bleak treeless mountains in Turkey. We got petrol, now only 85p per litre, half the price of Turkey.We went through a town we stayed in 6 years ago. We went past the hotel but it has ceased and we also checked out a large hole in the road where a grid was missing 6 years ago..very dangerous to motorcycles….it was still missing!!
Sun 1st May
Did not start that well with the hotel demanding payment in local money ( larats) whilst quoting a price in dollars last night. We have dollars but not many larats as leaving Georgia today. I am quite sure they diddled us.We reach the border with Azerbajan pretty quickly. Out of Georgia no problems but then spent over two hours in one office at Azerbajan side trying to get paperwork sorted for the bikes. We were fine, have visas, but bikes needed one little form filled in by us. He gave us two to do in duplicate. We made crossings out and so he sent us off again. Then he said I only needed one anyway. He wanted bribing I think…we watched plenty of bribes going into pockets…but he seemed nice enough at first so we didn’t. Much waste of time AND we found that the clock had gone forward another hour. That was 2 hours forward in two days. With the clock going forward we spent over 3 hours on the border.The funny thing is that we can stay in the country for 30 days but our bikes can ony stay here for 3 days!Set off in to rain. Green countryside, buildings much better, neater, better repair. Georgia is so full of decay. Azerbajan has oil and is richer. Several people riding horses though and donkeys are in use. Cars are sometimes poor/slow as in old Ladas! Plenty of them though.The road was under construction in places and the temporary road was horrid for us…not as bad as that turkish tunnel but nevertheless not nice. It was muddy wet stony dirt . The traffic was lurching slowly along, we got filthy and so did the bikes, see picture. It slowed us down considerably and what should have been an easy day turned into a long one. We had to endure several of these dirt sections which made us very dispirited as just when we thought we were getting along another muddy bit loomed.However the place we were heading for has not disappointed. I think the man at reception tried to put me off as I looked such a mess, wet and muddy. We are in an old, 17th century caravanseray. It has a huge doomed roof in one place which is very impressive. Outside it is once again raining!
Mon 2nd May
It rained in the night and was tipping it down as we had breakfast but had lessoned once we were all dressed up to set off. The bikes had been cleaned…Clive had organised it the evening before and they have done a good job. Our panniers had been so covered in grit the locks barely worked. The number plates were completely covered etc.In spite of the rain we had a pleasant ride through green wooded countryside a bit like France/Yugoslavia at times. Road was bumpy tarmac but improved, traffic light. All quite unlike how I had imagined. We stop at a cafe and drip our way in. I am the only female in a room full of men eating at tables…bit like a working mens club perhaps. However no problem and we soon have a bowl full of soup with meat bits, bread, plate of herbs (unchopped), and “chi”. We reach Baku and eventually find where the ferry to Turkmenbashi leaves from.” There might be a ferry tomorrow…turn up at 10am in the morning”; so off we go to find hotel for the night. We need to supply our own food for the ferry trip so shop for that.Baku is big, full of very modern and enormous buildings, plenty of fast moving traffic,and full of life. We manage to see the Maiden Tower and the old town, Fountain Square and some of the new buildings. I had imagined much more filth and ugliness…very pleasantly surprised.Azeris do not speak much english. Petrol is even cheaper than Georgia. Food is good if you like mutton!
Tues 3rd May
Amazingly we are already steaming across the Caspian Sea. When we were told to come back at 10am, I thought it would be the beginning of a long and possibly disappointing day. But all went along quite rapidly, ticket office…..hole in the wall place, ticket in quadruple, next mysterious office…..round the back,no uniforms, wanted money for the “bridge to the ferry”,$20, form/receipt in triplicate…..then customs, then get bikes (wow), ride nearly on board but no……into another filthy office check ticket, passport, photo….and then on, next to some railway wagons. Yes, this ship is so old it can carry trains, just like the ferries of my youth. Expecting no cabin we were pleasantly surprised and have some basic bunks and interesting shared bathroom with leaking water, no loo seat and cold water supply only. Still we are not disappointed..we expected worse. There were only 6 passengers, us, a french couple on foot, and two truck drivers. The ship was quite big but almost entirely full of railway trucks carrying aluminium from Georgia. It was very quiet, we did buy some hot food ( homemade burger and mashed potato was the only choice) and went to bed early thinking up at 2am as told. Ship came in to Turkmenbashi at 7am!
Wed 4th May
Not allowed off ship for about an hour…authorities have our passports! Eventually off load and after about 2 hours of the most ridiculous paper filling and lots of dollars later we are in. Our guide has turned up and helped. We have to have a guide with us just like Libya. Our itinerary has been noted and we cannot stray. IF I had not run out of time before leaving England and we had known to apply for the letter of invitation earlier, we could have travelled through on a transit visa and no guide. Now that we have a guide we will make use of him. We have just photographed the bits of paper generated this morning coming into the country. There are 15 bits from them and 4 of our own apparently necessary. WE HAVE NO MOBILE CONTACT. The rest of the day here in Turkmenbashi. Its warm. In the evening our guide, Dima, drives us around some grandoise development schemes and the town itself. We are ready for the next day…
Thurs 5th May
We have quite far to go to get to Ashgabat by tonight. We set off behind Dima in his Nissan. The road takes us through desert. It is a bit like the northern sahara; dirty in colour , some hamada, low line of hills to the left. The road does not have much traffic but the tarmac is repaired and bumpy in places, in others it is “swampy” and we bottom out on our shock absorbers now and then. Sometimes it is better and we make good progress. Hills move from left to right and we arrive at a little attraction..an underground hot lake. Off we go , into a cave and down and down a mass of steps into near darkness; change into bathers, and on down till we see the pool. It is bath temperature and huge, 60m long, 16m deep! It is so dark I cannot see the end. There are bats overhead.No one around to see that we can swim…! Clive is not looking forward to the climb back up! Onwards another 50kms and Dima shows me round a mosque whilst Clive waits outside. It is impressively big, beautifully decorated; built in 1995. Sunni moslems here and not many go to the mosques on a normal day. This one can take 5000 people. Dima takes us into Ashgabat via a road full of official buildings. They are quite amazing…modern skyscrapers,all of them white marble faced, wonderful shapes, lots of glass, vast,all with gold writing in huge letters depicting what they are…ministry this or centre for that etc. Shortly later we turn down another road which seems to be hotel road and enormous hotels stand alone on large plots of land. Our hotel has a vast entrance hall and our room is big etc. But things are not quite so amazing when you come to work things. Get into bed and there is no switch to turn off the one central light ( no bedside lights). The duvet appears to be single in size….few plugs etc. By night all these buildings are lit up…we have been trying to take night photos. No internet…it is tightly controlled…we can go to a state run internet cafe tomorrow but we must bring our passports and all that we do will be monitored. According to our Lonely Planet guide our hotel room could be bugged..careful what we say!!! All Turkmenistanis benefit from cheap petrol ( 6 litres for £1 for us whilst the locals receive 120 litres free per month per car), virtually free electricity, gas, and water. Subsidised housing. They do not need a vast income for the rest! Older people get looked after with a state pension. However there are negative points such as censored press, restricted internet, one mobile provider which does not allow our mobiles to work with it. We are here for two nights. More on Ashgabat…it was completely flattened in an earthquake in 1948. ( two thirds of its citizens were killed, 110,000)Rebuilt by Russians and now having another rebuild with oil money.
Fri 6th May
This hotel is so not me. First breakfast does not begin till 9am. We go down and it is served in the dreadful chinese restaurant of the night before where we had dreadful food. Did I want black tea? Yes, but with milk…no milk. I go up stairs to get our milk and cannot get in to the room …the key is faulty. As I go back down the swallows that are flying around inside the buildings crap on the stairs. The spaces here are so huge….cosy is not a word that could possibly be understood. Our large bed has a duvet that is big enough for one and does not begin to reach from edge to edge. We have now asked for another after a bad nights sleep. ( Better to be camping , Nick) . The stair carpet is falling off the marble steps because its stair rods are not maintained. Not the hotels, fault but we cannot go to the internet place because we need our passports and they have been taken away to be registered. They arrive back about 12.30pm. In the meantime we had gone for a photographic bike ride with me on the back taking photos of some of the buildings. One way and another we see a lot of the town by car in the afternoon. It is quite extraordinary with huge new spaced out buildings everywhere. Few people to be seen really in comparison to these giant buildings…is anyone in them, they look unused, unlived in but gleaming , shining and fantastic. All I feel however is that I want to see some local people. We see female students in green long figure hugging dresses with special scull caps and hair in plaits ( not young children but teenagers). The males also wear scull caps. Women are dressed in long figure hugging dresses too. People are kind, one man gives us a free ride in his car…one student also very helpful. He had come to university from the countryside and had wanted /expected to bicycle around but no one does and he said he was laughed at. So he had to use the bus like everyone else. I suppose I feel it needs about 2 million more people to give it some hustle and bustle….there is enough space! No mess…I need some chaos!!
Sat 7th May
We are not setting off till midday so I decide to go and look at some gold and white tower thing not too far away on foot whilst Clive goes off to the censored internet in the shopping centre by car/bus/foot. My tower is about one mile away. I hardly see a person except in cars or buses. Two gardeners watering and mowing. The huge buildings stand looking empty save for a couple of parked cars, Around them their gardens have regimented rows of plants and trees. It looks green and the birds are enjoying the trees and flowers…they are the only sound of real life. The cars are not in a jam, there is no hooting from anywhere, not even in the distance. No sound of human life. The “tower” is surrounded my bronze and gold statues and amazing fountains, a soldier and two guards stand motionless. I ask if I can take photos…ok. The huge tower is inhabited by the National Bank of Turkmenistan and the Museum of National Values of Turkmenistan. I see one person. I feel that this whole place is futuristic! We leave and head for the Darvesa craters in the middle of the Karakum Desert. On the way we stop at a farm so that I can see some Akhal-Teke horses. They are golden in colour and the pride and joy of Turkmenistan people. The farmer has camels, donkeys, cows and horses.Its messy but he has lots of horses in stables. Two are walked out for us to see and they are splendid horses….they win races! On to the craters…not that large, thought to be man made ie gas explosions in soviet times. One has water in it with gas bubbling up through it, one is muddy with gas bubbling like fresh water springs and the other is on fire like a hell hole! We set up camp near by. The guide provided the tents and some food. We arrived at the crater just as it was getting dark. It has been burning for 60 years.They threaten to stop it…we wondered how. It was an amazing sight and once back at our tents we could see it lighting up the sky like a small town.
Sun 8th May
Up early, camping! Off by 7.30am. Its warm and we motor northwards through the desert. Beautiful morning but not much to watch apart from the road surface which is bumpy and potholed. We arrive late morning at Konye-Urgench, an historical must see of Turkmenistan. An extraordinary tower/mineret stands in a kind of field along with various ancient mauseleums. They are pre 1200 AD. The town they were in was razed to the ground twice and then centuries of dust/soil has buried it 30 metres down. However it has become a pilgrimage site and bodies are still being buried here, all over the place. Turkmenistan is Islamist but with a great deal of animism, buddhist and zoroastrianism mixed in. Dima , our guide, was not a believer in all of this…nor us!! On to the border, goodbye Dima, and two hours later we are in Uzbekistan. We do not go far , get all in a twist finding an hotel in Nukus but eventually get lead to one Dima suggested in the centre. Go to bazaar to change money and end up with the most amazing wodge of cash for our dollars. Rate is 2400 to one dollar with notes of 500 (worth about 20 cents). We had to borrow a plastic bag….all the notes do not fit in a wallet!! Tonight meet first english man since leaving and meet two bikers from Ukraine. Mobile working again.! Not mentioned but seen ever since Georgia…..gold teeth. Nearly everyone seems to have gold teeth. You have never seen such mouths full of gold teeth. The poorest peasant must have an ounce of gold in their mouth!
Mon 9th May
Only a short distance today to stop at Khiva ( Xiva), famed and on the tourist trail for its totally preserved old city. We take a road across farm land having first negotiated an old pontoon bridge. See quite a few 3 wheeled tractors…strange looking…one wheel at the front. Flat land just like the fens, green, and irrigation by the river. After that, further away from the river, it is desert. Not as soviet style as imagined though some gaunt abandoned industrial buildings. People in donkey carts as well as cars and plenty in the fields, seemingly hand hoeing, weeding or thinning out, on their hands and knees in the beautifully sown fields. The crops are just coming through. They have had more rain than normal…contrary to back home. We find the centre of Khiva and planned hotel where we expected it!!! Take tourist walk . Think this country will be the cultural one and the next two the very scenic ones. It is cheap for us but the money needs carrying around in a plastic bag. Everyone is very practiced at counting notes….its is ridiculous. Hotels like dollars USD. Bikes behaving. Still on street tyres, still carrying the off road ones. Not needed any engine oil, 4500 miles. My pro oiler working very well on the chain…tightened it once.
Tues 10th May
We keep having certain problems with finding our way. We ask and ask but though most people friendly they point where they think we want to go and are very inaccurate to downright wrong. We ask lots but directions are hopeless. Consequently we took some wrong roads but we got back to the main road from Nukus to Bukhara/Buxoro in the end. The moment we did, the road deteriorated into a road under construction . For about 50 miles we bumped along avoiding potholes and other hazards. At 20 mph average we did not achieve quickly and today was a long day as we had to do 270 miles to reach Bukhara. There was no town at all between Khiva and Bukhara on the main road….just desert. Before joining the main road we enjoyed some green fields where women , men and children were busy hand weeding again. Possibly the potential crop are beans? They grow cotton round here but a cotton bush is a perennial. We have not seen any bushes though. Lots of old leaking , metal water pipes looping around. Very soviet style type of wasteful irrigation. More ancient tractors. Arrive quite late in Bukhara and somehow manage to get close to where we were attempting to go before enlisting the help of a taxi driver who took us to a different hotel than the one we were after!!It is hard to read the street map when street names are hard to find! The money continues to be a joke…the biggest note, 1000 “whatsits” is worth about 35p. Petrol fill up may cost 17,000. That is 17 notes to count!!
Wed 11th May
In Bukhara looking at the sights. Too many huge and lovely buildings to photograph…rather give up…perhaps should have videoed. We are enjoying this country. Perfectly civilised, has a tourist industry and is trying hard to please us. Tourism accounts for 20% of GDP. Sellers are not too pushy, the streets, and the whole country are clean of rubbish….amazing lack of rubbish. The only thing we found hard to find was an open cafe but eventually Clive spotted an unmarked doorway which was serving food inside. Big fat mama took us into the kitchen to choose our food which was good. We are being fed really quite well, far better than in Africa or even South America. Difficult to keep weight steady due to lack of exercise !! I enjoy our days off..walking! The evening meal was on a roof top with Uzbek wine made from Italian juice/grapes! Old Bukhara is quite unique. And of course there are the carpets…..one is wending its way home.
Thurs 12th May
Happy Birthday to Emma.
Short ride, 160 miles, to Samarkand. Most of the way the road is reliable, the countryside is green and there is more to see. Flat plain , fertile with water, farmland with quite big fields. Collectivised farming? Does not look like subsistence farming. More bottoms up hand weeding, ancient three wheel tractors tractor- hoeing the bean crop and donkey carts going to and fro. Women sweeping the gravel hard shoulder! This is a dual carriageway but people walk, cars come towards you on the wrong side, bicycles go anyway they like both sides, donkey carts, tractors, and cars doing u turns through the central reservation. Surface is great in places but quite bad in others. A great cavalcade of Toyotas from Dubai came through, we think heading to Tashkent to be sold on there. It would all be worse if there was more traffic but it is not too bad. Find hotel in Samarkand quite easily…we are improving!! Kind of backpacker place with courtyard with fruit trees in it….Mulberry, Pomegranite, Persimmon and Cherries. The cherries are ripe. Some type of Mulberry is ripe too..I had some for breakfast; they were white and smaller than our red ones but very good. We have seen lots of orchards today with big trees…all kinds of fruit. Also finally spotted some cotton bushes!
Fri 13th May
Had meal last night at the hotel with fellow guests/travellers. We are all independent travellers as opposed to those on tours. They seemed to be a pretty well travelled lot, especially a Swiss man on a bicycle who had bicycled from Baku to here. Spent 4/5 hours wandering around the sights in hot sun. Nice in the shade of the huge buildings. Wonderfully restored by the russians apparently. Bought a few postcards showing the before look. No doubt full of history, a little of which we have absorbed and a lot of which has gone over our heads. Ghengis Khan, Timor ( the butcher) and Ulegbek the scientist feature here, and did in Bukhara too. Mauseleums, mosques, and medrassas ( religious schools) are the notable buildings. Motorbike has to have a bulb replaced…did bring a spare…and my charger needed some soldering on a connection ( man in mobile shop did that). Ready to set off again!
Sat 14th May
Starts cloudy and a bit windy but this day hots up to our hottest day touching 38.5c at one point. Mercifully we are getting into the mountains again and the temperature was obviously nicer when we were higher. But we kept going down into the heat!! Last full day in Uzbekistan. The road is better than expected . We begin by heading towards Termis which is an Uzbek town right on the border with Afghanistan. As we join the main road from Termis to Bukhara and beyond to Turkmenistan, we see plenty of long haul trucks. ….trade with Afghanistan/stuff for troops/who knows what. There is also a train line here which has had a lot of money spent on it…for hauling heavy stuff through to Afghanistan?? We left this road to head towards the border for Tadjikistan. We have had to do a southerly loop because the border on the obvious road from Samarkand to Dushanbe is closed….the Tadjics and the Uzbeks are not so fond of each other apparently. The border there has been closed for sometime…its not recent. Donkeys everywhere, little Daewoo taxis everywhere ( take 6 people), women in their long dresses( or tunic top with matching trousers) working in the fields etc, men often hanging around, but some working! Though we go into more mountainous area into is very arid with oasis’s every now and again. Amazingly as I ride in 38c of heat I can look at mountains with snow on them! We end the day poised for the border. It is going to be a long hot affair…
Sun 15th May
We reach the border at 9.30am. All goes very smoothly Uzbek side much to our delight and surprise. We had been told that they would be very picky re money declared coming in etc, and how it tallied going out. We had been assiduousily keeping receipts…..On to Tajik bit..all fine to start with..thought we were there when the news came that we had to wait….for what? We waited for 1 and half hours for the one and only guy who could write some form for the bikes. We didn’t know whether it was some game or not. We felt they were nice people and that it was genuinely inefficient!. Once he arrived all was done in 5 mins. It was 3 hours after reaching the border that we finally entered Tadjikistan. Still a tarmac road. I had thought that some of our road would have been dirt by now. We are still carrying the off road tyres but they are going to be put on in Dushanbe. Small Daewoo taxis of Uzbekistan give way to Ford Transit van taxis. Old Ladas of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have disappeared in favour of a tiny Daewoo car. Same gangs in the fields hand hoeing the bean crop. Hand cutting grass…no strimmers etc. Same awful russian overland pipe work for irrigation, looping its way over roads, through gardens, along walls etc. Hideous. Women in same long dresses, bright coloured and with headscarves tied tight and bunched round the hair at the back. ‘ No ostentatious mosques, except in Turkmenistan. No calling at dawn from minerets as in Arab countries. No signs of men praying by their trucks etc. Islam has appeared low key…they have all been islamic countries. Alcohol, especially vodka is on sale!! We succumbed to vodka tonight…vodka and Sprite! We had had quite a time finding an hotel that had rooms and was the right kind of price, and had got VERY hot and bothered as we motorbiked up and down the same road for about the 6th time!
Mon 16th May
Woken by banging on the door at 7.30am. Guards of the car park at the back want paying..by us! $5 for watching the bikes in the locked car park!Breakfast included, we go off into a dingy little room considering the size of this enormous russian style hotel. We first get rice pudding to which we add the runny cherry jam; then a fried egg and a frankfurter. No knife so ask for one!Off to change tyres. After a few circles asking we are led kindly by a car to a major car cleaning/ tyre changing place not in a back street which is where we usually look. It took all morning as everyone was working hard on a continuous stream of smart 4 by 4’s wanting to be washed and have tyres swapped around. But we were in the shade and it gradually happened. We did the taking off and they changed the tyres…$5 for two wheels. Headed off for a drink with the bikes feeling rather strange. Then to a tour operator to ask about the road…pretty useless but we get picked up by two french Nato guys who also help start Clive’s bike whose battery was flat again!!!! They had noticed us the night before going up and down the road…under suspicion I am sure! All this in rising heat of 39c. We move from shade to shade! You may note..not much culture for us in Dushanbe. There is a spectacular buddha in the museum but it was shut today
Tues 17th May
My watch strap broke last night so without a watch..bit of a bore.We went for a drink in the Irish Pub with the french guys…Hugo and Bernard . It was good to chat with them and get another slant on Tajikistan and Dushanbe. Thank you for a good evening. Much chat and debate about our route to Khorog. There are two routes. Shorter one only open in the summer takes a higher path but is described in the Lonely Planet guide as bad. Some locals seem to indicate it is actually shut right now ( landslide ?). The other route is not properly marked on our map as a road ..it is indicated as a track, but we are told it is the better ,newer, road. 100kms further but if it is tarmac then we will go much quicker.The longer route it is. Our new off road tyres are soon put to the test as we do a fair number of miles on dirt /construction road. I feel much happier with tyres in use and not carrying them.We are always being asked where we come from. Amazingly here in Tajikistan they call England “Anglia”. So we are very happy to say we are from Anglia….very true indeed!Countryside now getting hilly, green covered but no rocky crags today. All is rather disappointingly shrouded in heat haze/smog /mist. We do not go high for long so are still sweating in the heat…37c or so today. Lunch is under the trees with a whole load of men having lunch on tea tables . Very friendly and kind and do not let us pay for our excellent plate of rice with carrot, salad, bread, plate of apricots and cherries, and tea. See some very colourful birds about the size of a parrot and some like bee eaters. The former were in holes in a cliff face.Get to Kulyab, petrol station had no electricity at that moment so petrol bucketed out of a 40 gallon oil drum ( obviously prepared for this kind of happening). Get to a huge russian style hotel with real russian dragon lady at reception. Managed to get quoted price ( exorbitant for what you get) down a bit. Room had no running water…they were also prepared for this with a whole line of coke bottles full of water! It has come on now.!
Wed 18th May
Hotel saga went on …water came on but shower would not work if you lifted it higher than your waist, cold only, and the loo trickled all the time. Then to cap it all when it got dark I realised that all 7 light fittings in the room had no bulbs in them. I had great fun getting the russian dragon on to that. They eventually produced one bulb!!! The we went out to eat , only to discover that this town was pretty basic,,could not find a cafe/restaurant and that it was very muslim and therefore no beer.Thorough testing of the off road tyres today..we did about 70 miles of dirt road all along the afghan border. Great fun looking at them on the path on the other side of the river that divides the two countries. Road then had 23 miles of wonderful new tarmac that we shared with wandering cows. Then some more bump, bumping along till we reached Kalaikhum. Had some food and a shandy hanging over a rushing torrent with thunder and lightning clapping around….we don’t want rain. Staying in a “homestay”.
Thurs 19th May
Met some french travelling much the same route as us in a pick up with a caravan type back over the buck . They have travelled a lot ( www.americaraid.com) I think. Woken in the night by late arrivals..2 japanese with 2 afghans and tajik driver. They came at 2.30am and left again at 5am!! So said our homestay man. What were they doing??? Spend all day following the border with Afghanistan and the river that divides the two countries. Very scenic. High mountains with snow. We slowly climb higher against the rushing river. Road is okay and we achieve about 25mph average over the day and reach Khorog after 7 hours. In parts the road was just two wheel tracks hanging very close to the river. Okay for us but not very nice for a truck of which we met quite a lot. Us, trucks and 4×4’s…that was all…no private cars. Weather was so so with the odd drops of rain. Later we ask again about the route ahead. We have been intending to do the Wakhan valley …it continues to follow the afghan border before leaving the river and climbing up a pass of over 4500m. Then it joins the Pamir highway. We hear that this road only opened two days ago and now there are thunder storms/snow. There will be delays anyway. I think we are thinking to give it a miss. The Pamir highway has a pass of 4200m anyway!!
Fri 20th May
I write this from what can only be described as a hovel!….we began the day wondering about the weather but after a visit to someone’s computer the forecast was ok and same tomorrow so no point loitering. Little did we know what Murgab , our destination town was like. So the Pamir highway. Its high..plateau runs at about 4000m. We do a pass of 4272m but no great ups and downs as we begin at 2100m and end at 3700m. Huge wide valley we start off up in, noting the first private vehicle that drove the Pamir highway in 1925, (sitting on a pedestal) just after the russians had finished the road. Great rocky cliffs, scree slopes and snow up top. As it turned out we did not need to worry about snow as the snow level was about 4000m. No where to stop, not a single petrol station, shop or cafe BUT we did find a “restaurant” courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide , as you would not have exactly realised. One single low whitewash building on the edge of the plain. Fish restaurant! A tiny holy spring produces fish! Off with boots to sit crosslegged as we get given potatoes and mutton and a plate of the fish plus tea and yoghurt and bread. Fish had been sort of smoked and dried. Clive did not really fancy it but it was okay. No doubt I was supposed to eat all the skin , bones, fins etc as well; but I didn’t. On we went…now got all cold weather clothes back on as it hits 5c up here. Majestic mountains, Pamirs to our right, very high when you think about riding along this plain at 4000m. I see my first Yaks far away but no Yurts….we are a bit early. Green/yellow plain and dry/arid rocky mountains with snow. No trees, no bushes. Saw some rather entertaining animals…chestnut in colour , like a large Marmot. Lived down holes. Have to look it up. Road is reasonable, dirt in places and pretty bumpy everywhere but we got along, meeting only trucks from China and a few 4×4’s. Near the end we saw two cyclists going uphill against the wind. Czech and German pair.! Arrived in Murgab. Very,very basic. Boy gets on back of Clive’s bike and takes us to this Homestay ( in the guide). It is a warren of a hovel. Charming people but there is no running water, no electricity ( oil lamps) and the loo is pretty unmentionable though I have taken a photo!! We are sharing this delightful spot with an australian girl who is suffering from altitude sickness. I go to buy water…shops are containers or bits of trucks all in a row.
Sat 21st May
We both slept badly! Clive’s bed springs were like a hammock; they also squeaked. He thinks his bed had bed bugs as he has bites. We had taken the precaution of using our silk liners. I did not get bitten but my liner is bigger. I needed the loo, but unlike Clive who could pee into a bottle, my trip entailed going through other rooms to the outside disgusting loo. They fed us ..but it was lung, and none of us ( australian included) could manage that… Camping sounds a very good alternative but outside it was about 3c as the altitude was 3700m…we were at least warm. With some relief we set off, petrol from a bucket again but seems to work.We climb the highest pass we have ever done 4655m. -2c at the top. Bikes doing really well except Clive’s battery which failed again on the border, which happened to be at 3900m and with a biting wind in the zero temperature. Out with my mini battery leads and we get it started. Border there was swift as no one wanted to hang around in the cold! Fairly muddy dirt road on the way down..glad we are after the rain and parts had got dry. Off road tyres doing the business the last two days. Met two motorcyclists ( first we have seen for weeks), belgium pair on BMWs and also a solo cyclist battling up a pass. More of those red marmot looking animals dashing across the road and diving down holes. They have a black tip to their tails. Bit more border formalities further down and then into Sari Tash in a small snow storm. All looked a bit basic again though a touch better. I look at two ( loos grim) and we finally opt for third as it has the cleanest hole in the ground loo…..all the way down the garden path amongst the animals. No loo paper….we do carry some ! Room good though with our own stove and mattresses on the floor. We are fed…its okay. We are still high, at 3000m. Due to the slightly uncomfortable accomodation we are keeping going to Osh. We have had no decent electricity let alone internet for a few days. This place seems to have one plug ( for the telly). Scenery has been fascinating as has the Chinese border. We have made it to the Chinese border! We travelled along side a fence for miles. Not where it should have been on our map but I did read somewhere that Tajikistan did cede some land to the Chinese….why?
Sun 22nd May
Snow on the bikes….a wee bit and it is freezing! Brush teeth outside as that is where the water is! Sun is shining though and off we go up another pass just outside town. It is about 3600m and muddy as the road is under construction with plenty of heavy machinery churning up the road. We pick our way carefully up, and then down with the odd slip but no falls and head into Kyrgyzstan. Goodbye to rocky brown mountains and hello to green mountain sides. Goodbye to chinese trucks driving along the Pamir highway and the Afghan road. Hello to bushes and trees, horses, lots of them…yurts, horse riding. It looks more interesting. Dogs….they have been roaming the roadside for a while but these seem quite keen on trying to catch us. We still have snow capped mountains in the distance as we descend to Osh at about 1000m. We strip off clothing gradually as we go from snow to basking in 26c. Found an hotel which is luxurious with our own bathroom and wifi!
Tues 24th May ( Mike’s birthday)
We are spending three nights here. Been tinkering with Clive’s battery which seemingly had dirty terminals etc. Tightened chain on my bike, checked the pro-oiler which continues to be excellent ( www.pro-oiler.com). Clive has lost one bolt and catch which is part of the mechanism that holds one of his panniers to the frame. We hailed the only bike we’ve seen and the rider has been most helpful. He only speaks russian and is part german. Anyway he went off with a bolt and catch to get a copy made….and succeeded very well. He even got us some stickers for our panniers. No one wanted any payment…all very kind. Thank you, Vladimir. We went to the bazaar this morning..it was a great disappointment to me as it was described as one of central asia’s best markets and as being “thunderous”. Not sure where that was because it was hardly that. Very ordinary . Not a patch on Africa’s markets for vibrancy. We did see what may have been signs of the violence a year ago ( June 9th,2010)…burnt out stalls and twisted metal from fire. I climbed a jagged and barren rock called Solomon’s throne. It has religious significance with mosques and mauseleums etc. It had a lot of steps up. Written up as taking 25 mins , I climbed up in 13 mins so that was good. Clive relaxed in the shade at the bottom. We walked back through the park by the river. Sounds lovely but it was overgrown, neglected, water running everywhere out of burst/broken gullies , and a very ancient but well used children’s funfair with all sorts of very old roundabouts , dodgems and wheels amongst the trees. Trees very nice and mature. Also hiding amongst the trees was an old Yak 40 aeroplane, real, and stripped of all engines, seats etc.
Wed 25th May
We ride through lovely green rolling countryside. Basic strip farming going on, hand labour, donkeys pulling wooden ploughs , horses pulling tiny cultivators, people hand hoeing. Fat tailed sheep being herded along the road. Cows looking well fed wandering along the verges with donkeys and the odd dog. Road is good, more traffic than we’ve had for a while. Old Audis and Mercs seem popular. No motorcycle/mopeds at all. Kyrgyzstan gives an air of more wealth than Tajikistan…this bit anyway. Cafes again, proper filling stations etc We opt for a detour for the night, about 30 miles off our route.Up we go to Arsalenbob.1600m up. Says it has homestays organised by CBT . A man was waiting as I got off my bike….he had been mobiled by his uncle that two tourists were on their way! Would never have identified the office…a single door in the wall. He told us which home stays were available . We opted for one that seemed to be by the waterfall. Off we go up a dirt track with man on Clive’s bike. Clive did well as it was gravelly, but I fell behind enough to not see which way they had gone. I was eventually found and made it! Homestay ok. We go for walk up by waterfall and admire the walnut trees. This valley is very famous for its 11,000 hectares of walnut groves. Now you know!! Also this village is 99% Uzbek, 1% Kyrgyz. Ethnic tension is not far away in the Fergana Valley. Someone said it will be good that we will not be around in June….there may be trouble. We were stopped by police today…not for speeding…they just wanted a photo of themselves and Clive’s bike!! We were asked tonight when we would like hot water. Hot water is produced by lighting a wood fire in a little iron stove in the bathroom wall. This fire , I realised, heated up a water pipe ( hot water for shower), heated up the bathroom, and heated up the little room next door which was a little sauna. All very homemade and ingenious; very grotty in looks but it worked !
Thurs 26th May ( Finn’s birthday)
We set off after a leisurely breakfast on one of the traditional tea tables and rejoin our route, bit it is full of traffic until we head up the Naryn river valley. Great road for motorbiking, good surface, sweeping bends and great scenery as we start moving up into more mountains as we head for Bishkek. There are 5 dams on this river each producing a skinny reservoir in the deep valley. We stop at Toktogul near the last and largest reservoir. Not quite as one would have imagined from the map…the town is a pretty sorry place. Spaced out with nice trees, but shops are quite often containers . Whilst not really rubbishy the whole air of the place is dereliction. Bits of old concrete, broken pipework, broken roofs, bricks, holes etc. It is not just here but in many towns. We search for milk and bottled water and come back with what we think is success for our english cup of tea. The lovely carton of milk is fresh milk, but fresh SOUR milk, and the ” non gas” water is gassy water!! I go out again and buy a tin of condensed milk! Its definitely better than sour milk in tea. At coffee break this morning we were again given the food and drink for free…because we were tourists. It is very kind.
Fri 27th May
Wake early after a disturbed nights sleep listening to crows/rooks/jackdaws in the nearby trees and drunken men singing karaokee in the hotel to very loud music. Their poor wives!! We have another great motorcycling day. The Lonely planet guide describes the Osh to Bishkek road as” a sequence of superlatives taking the traveller from the wide Fergana valley, up the deep Naryn River gorge, around the immense Toktogul reservoir , through the yawning Suusamyr Valley and over two 3000m plus passes .” The road was good/excellent, the views stunning and the great variations in temperature , 19c to 2c to 21c stretched us. We even had a 2.6kms tunnel. The valley was full of yurts and horses. Reached Bishkek and found our guesthouse. Weather pleasant rather than hot.
Sun 29th May
We wandered Bishkek on Saturday being pretty lazy. Quite hot today ….so sightseeing bit of an effort!! Big unkempt park, large government and museum type buildings, dull looking shops with the odd sign of brighter stuff to come. Having eaten in two very ethnic, but muslim so no alcohol, type places we opted for a brand new ( open only a month) restaurant and had a bottle of french wine to drink to the memory of my father whose birthday was the 28th May.Our guesthouse was one of the better spots. Operating behind closed gates without any signage, it was a little haven for foreigners with wifi included. Motherly lady and her family striving away. Goodluck to them at Radison guesthouse. No huge signs of ostentation in Bishkek except for a wedding party that swept by with a huge stretch limo and vehicles with blackened windows etc. ( Can’t have been government vehicles as the black cars had pretty pink ribbons tied to the door handles.)Off to Lake Issyk Kol. Second largest highest lake in the world after Lake Titicaca. 600m deep and 1600m up with the Tian Shan mountain range as a backdrop. Found ourselves a barely open holiday camp type place to spend the night in. We have been put in a “chalet”. The sheets look like they have been used, the telly doesn’t work etc. On the way,just before we got to the lake we had to pay some toll/fee of 1000 som for we know not what.Cars behind seemed to pay nothing. That amount of money is the approx equivalent of a night in an hotel . We were not happy and made a fuss..not something we usually do…holding up the traffic for a while.
Mon 30th May
Food was brought on a tray to our chalet. No choice..fish from the lake ( good but small….overfished). Breakfast also came on a tray. From quite far away! Rather amazing but all included in the price. We had walked round this “holiday camp” the evening before. We are the only people staying. All seemed in decay and we wondered when it would be full…people were working away at titivating the decaying buildings. How do poor people get rid of slabs of concrete? How can you move old concrete without large machines? It lies everywhere, huge bits, along with old bits of steel. Old concrete “walls”, falling down, surround this place and many other places. For a couple of weeks now we have not seen a cutlery knife. We eat with a fork and spoon…and fingers. Knives do not exist. Tonight I had a kebab…no knife to cut the meat!! Today was a pretty ride beside Issyk Kol. Green and pleasant tree lined road. Little traffic but bumpy surface on the patched tarmac. Karakol the destination. Houses along the way remind me of Eastern Europe. Individual in shape with odd dormer windows and turrets, fenced gardens. Part wood, part brick or concrete, tin roof, single storey. Tin roofs have been with us for several countries now. They glint in the sunlight and look good in the mountains. Horses, donkeys, cows and dogs..all keep us on our toes watching their every move …will they wander across the road?
Tues 31st May
Staying put because we cannot enter Kazakhstan until tomorrow. Our visa for Kazakhstan starts June 1st….we should have had it start earlier…a little mistake on our side. Look at wooden Jewish cathedral , 100 years old since last rebuild ( earthquakes, bolsheviks). Its rather nice. Then a wooden mosque, not quite so old but built with wooden nails. Looked rather like a cross between a pagoda and a mosque. After that I headed up into the hills and had a huge walk whilst Clive pottered in town. Having climbed up quite far I thought I would be alone but not at all; various people kept appearing on horse back and foot , making their way across the hills. Found huge flock of sheep and attendant watchers too. Watched dung beetles heaving balls of dung up hill! Lots of birds. Keen to have a great night out (!!!!) we headed off to a Lonely Planet choice. It had disappeared. It was cold so we wanted somewhere indoors. Anything with lights on also had blaring pop music. We headed into one and got offered a booth to eat in. It was quieter with a door between us and the music. The booth was decorated in 1920’s style/russian. The menu in russian we can make neither head nor tail of. We ended up having a whole chicken with raw onion rings as garnish with what we hoped was chips but turned out to be crisps. Two forks and one knife!! We left some chicken for the waitress and joined in the dancing briefly to the accompaniment of the loud music. The young were very enthusiastic and the boys were good at dancing.
Wed 1st June
Day began badly. It was raining though it did stop for a while. It was cold. Clive’s bike would not start…the battery so out with the jump leads and a car helped. ( My bike battery is a pain to get to). Off to the border in the Karkara valley with Kazakhstan. Road good gets worse to dirt. High green valley with subsistence farmers, odd yurt, horses. Rain on and off and cold so all clothing on. Get to border and it is closed…no one there and razor wire across the road. That was that. Lonely Planet guide wrong!! NOW we know that it got shut last year, something to do with the troubles last year with the Uzbeks in Osh. But this is Kazakhstan!! So we had to turn round and head all the way back to Bishkek. Rain stopped, dirt road quicker, but it was a long day of nearly 350 miles. Police finally got us..we have had some narrow escapes. Speed limit appears to be 40kms in town and 60kms elsewhere. ..pretty slow. They asked for 1000 som, Clive did not have that much so handed over what he had…it went straight in the policeman’s pocket, no receipt. We rang the nice lady “Vulia” of our nice guesthouse and she had a room. Tomorrow Almaty…we shall get there.!
Thurs 2nd June
Two Australians on bikes, were at the guesthouse, male and female! Going our way , we might meet up with them again. Back track to Almaty. We feel we would regret it if we don’t go there. So through the border near Bishkek and 150 miles back east. Yesterday we were just the other side of the mountain range border.! Arrive mid afternoon and have time to locate motorcycle shop for oil change which they will do tomorrow. Leave bikes there….. Clive announces that he has unilaterally accepted a job in Beirut which will last for several months. No discussion before he made the decision. Kazakhstan looks like it has huge open spaces. Good road here…watch speed police…but otherwise less roaming animals, more sophisticated cars, drier in this region and a huge lack of trees. Some trees by the road which rooks in particular were making use of for rookeries. They are quite large rather floppy birds and seem prone to being killed on the road. More road signs than we are used to, even ones telling us the ridiculously low speed we should be doing.
Fri 3rd June
Plod round Almaty following the Lonely planet foot tour. It is a very european city. It has plenty of trees, big buildings and modern cars. It is just a city! It was pretty hot . Nice tsarist cathedral. We went and collected our bikes later. They had been having an oil change in a bike shop we found. Clive’s battery had a broken cell or something inside it, hence it was not working properly. He had to have a new battery. Fill up with petrol causing chaos as we had to pay first then fill up…a most stupid system because how do you know how much you are going to spend/how many litres you need??
Sat 4th June
We are now heading west along the southern edge of Kazakhstan. We have a mountain range to our left which is the divide between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Unfortunately the snow capped bits are not very clear today as it is raining on and off. Showers are around and we put waterproofs on and off and on!
Once off the main Almaty /Bishkek road things get a bit bumpy but its tarmac so no complaints. At one point we take a short cut on a more minor road which quickly deteriorated into bad potholes in places. Clive lost his cool at one point when he, bag and bike took off. A few punches to the bag soon put the world to rights. Huge flocks of sheep with horsemen watching. Horses roaming the vast area of grassland. The valleys are farmed ,but then it is just grassland. Wildflowers abound. Nothing very rich round here, not like Almaty! Old tractors, horses cultivating, people hand hoeing.
Over 300 miles today and we reach Taraz. End up in vast Russian hotel in a suite of rooms. Total waste of space…we have a dining room , a sitting room, bedroom, shower room, fridge room !! For one night! We eat across the road in a cafe, and watch a stretch limo with a bride in, go by in a fanfare of horns.
Sun 5th June
Have to be out of our room by 8am…part of the price deal…but we could then have the inclusive breakfast!
Its hot today..rises to 34c. We ride along beside snow capped mts for a while until we move into the Syr Dayra Valley ..the major river that feeds the Aral Sea ( or used to!). Cutting on to today’s shortcut on a secondary road we are suddenly plunged into the steppes proper. Grassland as far as you can see. Cereal crops too. They are busy making hay with ancient cutting and baling machines all left over from soviet times and before. Occasional glimpses into sheds seems to show very ancient looking combines getting ready for the cereal harvest. They look very rusty. Tractors are really old…there has been no investment. Ploughs are sometimes 3 furrow but never reversible…very old fashioned. The steppes are green but in places lacking rain. Butterflies galore, crashing into us, poor things. Birds too, enjoy the unspoilt countryside along with the herders on horse back with their cows and sheep…fat tailed with a huge blob instead of a normal tail.
In the valleys honey vendors abound…. as they have in all the Stans. A few tea stops today until we reach Turkistan. This town has a very historical mausoleum. UNESCO site etc. Off we walk… Timor built it . Nice new hotel…
Mon 6th June
Looks cloudy but soon heats up and reaches a peak of about 37c. Countryside is dried up scrubby desert in spite of being part of the Syr Darya river valley.( the important river that runs into the Aral Sea but whose waters get so depleted up stream that not much water reaches the Aral Sea). Its pretty drab looking . See some endangered Bactrian camels …a real pointer that we have finished with mountains. The road goes from good to bumpy tarmac to small bits of dirt. It is all under construction. Clive reckons chinese contractors are doing the job. It will end up dual carriageway heading in a straight line through the desert….pretty boring! Today we are kept on our toes because of all the construction machinery and lorries buzzing up and down full or empty with shingle etc. We wave, they wave! Police are absent though occasionally we all play cat and mouse with what looks like a parked police car.
Kyzylorda is our nights spot. Find good hotel ( Samruk) near the remarkably nice WW11 memorial ( in Lonely Planet guide). Very friendly locals lead us to it in their cars.
Tues 7th June
Getting up early for a long day we had asked for breakfast at 7am. It was going to come to our room apparently. Bang, bang, on the door at 6.40am!! Luckily we were up…
The hotel owner’s son who speaks good english, lead us out of town and made sure we got on the right road. Thank you. We have crossed the river Darya and now on its left bank. Much greener and wetter and early in the morning find loads of groups of horses with foals standing on or near the road, or in shallow pools of water. Cows too seemed at home in water, all of them looking like water buffalo. Sadly we then cross back over and its desert scenery again.
Heading northwest to Aral, the town at the northern edge of the much reduced Aral Sea. We have another road building day, bobbing from tarmac to dirt. Sometimes dirt has been sprayed to keep the dust down…we are not keen on that as it makes it slippery. Sometimes the dirt has just been graded…that makes it rather too loose and soft for comfort. Sometimes it has patches of sand. Then along come the lorries in the opposite direction and we are enveloped in dust and cannot see for a moment or two. Its hard work and we have 280 miles today. If we camped more ( Clive not keen) then any distance will do, but hotels of any description are few and far between hence the mileage…nowhere between Kyzylorda and Aral.
Aral looks like a cowboy town, all sandy streets, sand blowing in the strong wind, and an outback feel. Only hotel is a russian number with 3 dragon ladies demanding the money before we have hardly settled in. Eat over the road in Korean restaurant!!
Two nights here to ready Clive before a possible two nights camping because there really may not be any hotels..
!Wed 8th June
Air conditioner is so noisy that it cannot run at night; nor can it run when we are not here as the plug or electricity supply are inadequate and we may catch fire. Plug getting very hot and burning smell at times. But it is so hot that it is nice to lower the temperature a bit! The hotel is a joke…from the outside you can see that the top floor has been left to decay and we wonder about the second floor…we are on the first. It has not got long. Dragon downstairs is jealous of my naturally curly hair…hers is permed and dyed!!!
Negotiate a trip to Zhalanash which is an old fishing village on the edge of the original Aral Sea. Now it is very much high and dry and this is where there was an old “ship cemetery”. As the water receded the ships were left high and dry in the middle of nowhere. To get there entailed a 45kms gravel road and then 5 kms of sandy road. Very glad we did not go on motorbikes. It was a very boring gravel road through desicated land. The fact the Aral sea has reduced has meant that the climate has changed around here. Much less rain, hotter summers, colder winters and nasty dust storms whipping up the salt laden sand from the old lake bed. This salty sand is then carried on the wind far away upsetting agriculture and humans. The russians had done chemical testing on an island in the Aral sea….as it all dried out, the chemicals have been blown around and definitely caused the death ,in 1988, of half a million Saiga antelope ( one third of the world population). Aral sea dropped by 14m and reduced hugely BUT the north part is now growing in size again ( due to measures taken) and one day Aralst the town may have a harbour again. The water is now 23kms away and at one point it was 60 kms.
We see old dried up harbour and rusting boats. Plenty of Bactrian camels in the shade of what was left of some ships at Zhalanash. And….I saw several hoopoes on the wrecks and in the desert. ( birds!).
We are otherwise resting, to get ready for a couple more testing days and camping!!! Clive is dreading camping. I am looking forward to it.
Thurs 9th June
Have dreadful night with stomach cramps. Hardly slept. It was that Korean restaurant ! Still felt bad in the morning but the thought of staying in that hotel for another day was enough and with Clive bringing my motorbike to the door, we were off. Sitting still was okayon the motorbike and the brain had other things to think about other than stomach cramps. Felt that the jolting around on the dirt road was good for stomach.
The day improved. I slowly felt better though tired and the road got better and better. We went a long way but Clive had agreed to camp and camp we did…by a reservoir near Aktobe. Absolutely idyllic and I am sure I will sleep well ! Clive even complemented me on the one saucepan meal I concocted!!
Fri 10th June
Yesterday we had left the desert after about a couple of hours and gone back into Steppe country, albeit quite dry still. The land stretches as far as you can see, fairly flat and green in colour. It is not all lush grassland but fairly scrubby wildflowers and herbs with some grass. Great for birds and wildlife. We see birds of prey and funny little mammals dart across the road. Today we have begun in this landscape, 1100m above sea level. It is amazing to see such countryside unadulterated by man…no people, no houses or industry , no electricity pylons…
The camping went well. Off to a good start but things deteriorate. We have big aims today…380 miles and expected yesterdays roads. We got 200 miles of dirt road of varying type. Huge dry mud potholes , big enough to hide a bike, sand, mud, gravel, broken tarmac, construction etc. We thank our lucky stars it did not rain on the mud section ( dry for us). It did rain later ( most unusual for the time of the year), and we did get a muddy bit where I dropped my bike trying to get from construction road to temporary road.
Poor lorries who could not negotiate the vast potholes took to the countryside on sandy tracks. They got along pretty well in a huge cloud of dust. We stayed with the broken road as we do not like sand! At one point when a sandy track was converging back to the road , we noticed that a lorry had got stuck , unable to go up the sandy incline to get back on the road. Three trucks, who we had been going parallel with, were just coming up to this point. Little did they know they were going to be held up by this truck for quite some time. We rode by….
It was tough. It one point we met a bike coming the other way. An english guy on a triumph. First english guy we have seen in weeks. He was riding all the way to Bangkok. Unfortunately he had dropped his bike in the muddy bit and broken off his pannier. He had had to abandon it and some of his stuff. When we got to that point we never saw it…..already disappeared.
With rain threatening we plugged on to Atyrau on the last 97 kms of immaculate tarmac. Whilst stopped asking about an hotel a guy in a car said he would show us ..very kind. Arrived to find it quite beyond our purse but another guy comes up..english this time. He says he can help and the result is that another english guy has lent us a spare flat for the night. We are now quite exhausted…. My bike has a problem. I have noticed a noise the last 24 hours and it is considered to be the front chain cog spindle. We will have to aim for the nearest BMW dealer…that will be in Ukraine.
Sat 11th June
We were so tired…thank you to Mike for the flat. We set off for the border with Russia. I ride gently and smoothly to try and stop whatever it is, get worse. We are heading west over the top of the Caspian sea and across the Volga delta as it reaches the Caspian. Dry desert in Kazakhstan but odd bits of water. We see Bactrian camels standing in water…they don’t really look right! They cross the road too, as do horses, cows and sheep. This road is better and faster and animals roaming are quite a hazard.
We reach the border…glad to get the bike into Russia at least. There are a very few BMW dealers in Russia and more in Ukraine but none in Kazakhstan. The border is infested with midges..everyone is slapping at them as they tickle and bite. Border formalities go well…Russia easier than before. How the border people can work with those midges I don’t understand.
Astrakhan…we entered a funny way and found ourselves riding through streets flooded with filthy muddy water. I went gently so as to not get too muddy. Clive got drenched by a foul bus going fast the other way. I realised after going through the water that the noise on my bike had stopped until things dried and it started again. It can’t be the spindle as it did not get wet. Got to investigate more….. Couldn’t find hotel and people not helpful until “Olga” turned up on a Suzuki sports bike. She lead us to one…..
Sun 12th June
Had the inclusive breakfast only to be given a bill! Apparently our double room for two people only included one breakfast!!
Outside we adjusted my bike chain and took off the worn out Pro oiler. Impossible to adjust the chain as I now realised that it had a tight spot and very loose spot….it was worn out but spindle probably okay. Did my best adjusting it and off we went. Astrakhan had an old centre inside white walls but we only saw it as we left. Pretty church roofs showing..love the gold onion tops. There were also some wooden houses with carved wood and old stone buildings that had once been lovely but were now decaying and totally out of favour. We understand this is the same across Russia…the old buildings are going. Hideous water pipes disfigure the “gardens” with the piped hot water.
Had assumed to be seeing lots of green and trees beside the Volga but not so on our left bank. It was arid and brown. Road pretty dull but I made solid progress at 55mph.
Midges and mosquitos abounded. If you stopped you were swarmed over immediately. Since I was going along slower than Clive..( just a bit!), when he stopped I carried on. On one occasion he had pulled over to the left side of the road ( driving on the right). I stopped briefly but began before him. As I pulled back across I saw a police car parking up. I went along for about half an hour but no Clive in sight. I stopped only to be attacked by midge/mosquitos. I hid my face beneath a neckie but they got under and bit me to bits. Nothing for it but to go slowly back on my sick bike. Clive appeared. He had been stopped by that police car as he pulled across the road “for crossing the white line”. They demanded 1000 euros! After much arguing he finally paid 500 roubles (about 18 dollars). So unfair.
Reached Volgograd and pulled up outside the Volgograd hotel. Half a minute later the two australians we had last seen in Almaty pitched up on their bikes! Amazing!
Reception gave us the names of three bike shops and mobile numbers.Its Sunday and tomorrow is a bank holiday. Anyway we ring one of the numbers. Speaks english… By 10 pm the bike has been looked at and taken to the shop. They can do a chain but perhaps not the sprockets.
Mon 13th June
By mid morning Nick and Lesley Poole from Norfolk ( www.pooleglobaltrek.com) have turned up. They have been in Russia and all the way to Mongolia and now on homeward leg. We have met in Norfolk and did know they might be able to meet up with us. Bike guys get in touch…chain will be done but can’t get sprockets. Chain will survive 2600 miles on old sprockets. Why didn’t I bring a spare set…because I thought it would all last! Nearly did. The 6 of us have a good chat and then sight see the WW11 statue to Mother Russia. It is huge and impressive. The weather is hot and oppressive .
The custombike guys are good to their word and we go and pick up my bike in the evening. New chain fitted. Much better!! Victor…thank you.
Back at the hotel we see there is an AUS reg vehicle and a GB ! We have not seen a GB for weeks
!Tues 14th June
Nick and Lesley are staying another day; Will and Kate, the british australians, are going the same way . First we tramp the town’s banks trying to change our Kazakhstan money into roubles. No one wants to. Back to hotel and Clive finds the driver of the AUS vehicle. He IS going the other way and is happy to buy our Kazak money! Hurrah!
We do very badly at finding the right road out of town and do two sides of a large triangle. Kate’s bike is a 250cc and though it goes along at a fair speed has no guts when overtaking. We leapfrog along the road through rolling farmland…such a nice change from desert. It pours with rain on us at one point…into water proofs, out of waterproofs. We stop just short of the border in a trucker’s motel. Its modern and newish and has lots of little cafes and shops on one side. We have a very good meal.
Wed 15th June
The border to Ukraine…begins badly! They ask for our customs declaration..we never filled one out when we came in. Slight panic that we had a problem especially as one guard said ” back to Kazakhstan”. Fishing around in my pocket I found the customs declaration for entry into Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan. That would do!! Did Clive still have his? Yes, he found it. One guy then spent about half an hour entering Clive’s details plus this form, on to a computer. He then asked for mine and then waved us elsewhere. He never did enter my details . We are through and so are Will and Kate, who now change nationality and become british instead of australian. They have both passports.
Whilst at the border I got a text from Lesley. Still in Volgograd, Nick was very ill with fever and sickness etc. Doctor called.
Ukraine is green, lots of nice mature trees and plenty of large fields with good crops. As we travel west the crops are further advanced. They look good, mostly weed free barley , wheat and sunflower crops. Maize then appears . Whilst tractor hoeing takes place, much of the crop is ” rogued” by hand . In europe this is no longer economically viable.
Road is fairly bumpy and weather is warm. Not great motorcycling, its just a case of doing the miles this time.
Fri 17th June
For two days the 4 of us have travelled west across Ukraine. It has remained much the same..trees, farmland and good weather. We camped last night, after shopping for food ; found a camp spot along side a huge sunflower field, with huge stag beetles on the wing near the wood. Clive not over keen but out voted. It was better than the not so brilliant hotel of the night before where we had decided to go for the cheap shared bathroom option. The alternative was a done up room with bathroom but totally overpriced . Tonight we have reached Vinnytsia. Hotel fine and town really quite lively. Will and Kate will now head towards Rumania whilst we head for Slovakia. They are now on their last leg all the way from Australia. www.wollongongtowoolwich.blogspot.com
Sat 18th June
We leave Will and Kate , hoping to see them in England , and head on west. Ukraine is friendly with nice and frequent cafes. Driving is a bit dodgy, police a constant threat but so far we have not been stopped…I write this with 150 miles to go!! Slightly less main road this afternoon and we see more horses and carts in use. Near each village the land is farmed in strips…similar to large allotments and there always seems to be common grassland where single cows graze along with goats, geese, ducks and turkeys. Its like England must have been quite some years ago. Old machinery and a lot of hand labour..you see old ladies wandering off with a large hoe in hand.
We stop for a drink and a wedding couple are there with photographer. Can they take photo with the bikes? She is all clean with huge white wedding dress, he is in a really tasteful shiny suit, our bikes are filthy and dusty, but photos are taken with bride and groom drapped over our bikes . Then he wants a photo in my crash helmet…!! Whatever makes them happy!
Stop in Zhydachiv,near Stryi. New hotel and there will be a birthday party here tonight….what fun!!
We are rather amazed at the bed linen…double bed has single sheet which barely covers the mattress. It was the same last night. Probably single duvet as well…………
Sun 19th June
Birthday party was for a 50 year old and they invited us in for a drink and food. The food was really good especially some stuffed fish.
We hope that Nick and Lesley have left Volgograd. We have been getting text updates on Nick’s recovery which seems to have been slow. Hotel breakfast seems to have given him the food poisoning.
It rains which is a shame as this is some of the best scenery we have seen for a while. We are skirting the Carpathian mts and we go up and down in the hills. The police finally have a real go at us and we get stopped twice.
The first time the police car was positioned between two old level crossings, each of which looked unused. However they both had a STOP sign and according to the police man we should have stopped and put our feet down before moving on in spite of the lack of trains! What a joke! It was pouring with rain and the policeman stood in the road telling us ” Look STOP” “You must STOP” “See STOP” etc and demanding our driving licences. He was getting soaked as we argued that we did not realise that that is what you had to do. We of course had waterproofs on. Then Clive gets in the car to further talk. They wanted about $70 . After a while Clive mentioned that this was not good for tourism and that seemed to do the trick and he gave up. Got off….
The second time was coming down a hill where apparently the speed limit on the bend was 30kms….crawling speed AND I had overtaken a lorry on a white line AND apparently Clive had failed to stop!! Gave them two sets of documents that we did not need and then Clive gets in the car to argue our case. They then said they wanted about $300 . At this Clive was so disgusted he just got out of the car and came over to me. So I approached the police car next and noticed one policeman with his head in his hands in despair! I got in and they had a go about the white line and overtaking. Then one pointed at my international driving licence and my date of birth. Yes, I said, I am sixty years old! At that he handed back our documents!! I think grey hairs did the job that time!
With 50 more miles still to go we did go carefully. Border was tediously slow but we are now in Slovakia. Some relief as my front sprocket really is very worn and our tyres, especially the front ones, have worn very badly and are probably not legal. However the bikes are now legally insured once again having been uninsured the moment we left the EU
.Mon 20th June
We hope it will not rain as we had some failures amongst our waterproofs. Clive’s boots leak..one badly where a dog once bit it. My left boot has started to leak. Clive’s anorak does not do the job. Think mine lets water in round the neck. …
It does rain, but only a couple of showers otherwise all is good. Time to reflect on where we have been as we ride the better roads towards Czech republic. The nice smooth roads are far less hard work. The cafes are brighter and more appealing. Road signs are clear and precise instead of being absent or spasmodic. There are advertising signs. Shops are brighter so you can see what they are selling. Road marks exist! We can understand the script/letters. Never quite mastered cyrillic script. We can now vaguely understand a menu instead of not at all. The police are probably consistent…at least they are not trying to hide…they have flurescent jackets on! I am not going to miss looking at deserts and do appreciate the pretty green countryside here with rolling hills and beautiful mature hardwood trees. Ukraine had nice trees too but not the tree covered hilltops as there are here.
We shall miss the full gold teeth smiles, miss having free cups of “chai”, miss a certain type of freedom, a certain challenge on the road, miss the cheap petrol even though it was probably watered down, miss the “open at all hours” shops and feasting our eyes on the brightly dressed women and the young girls in their high heels.
Heading for Brno and reach Slavkov u Brna, formerly Austerlitz, famous for being near the site of “the battle of Austerlitz in 1805 between Napoleon and a Russo- Austrian army. Napoleon won. It has a very splendid Austerlitz Palace which we wander round the outside of. We are in Moravia. Being in this village was entirely by chance….
Our front tyres are in dire need of replacement and my front sprocket is completely worn out . In Brno there is a bmw dealer and tyre places………
Tues 21st June
Find BMW dealer and in my bike goes for new sprockets. Usual dreadful layer of reception between you and the mechanics. We sit around in the “cafe area”. We need tyres too and there seems to be a problem here…they can’t source any. Then they can! We wander off to se if we can find some food on this industrial estate. Sit and watch a couple trying to hitch hike and think of the wonderful system they have in many of the “Stan” countries where you stand in the road with your hand out and hitch a ride with any passing car. ….for a fee. In towns it seems to work very well. Any private individual can stop and pick you up for a fee. If he is not going the right way then he will say so. Of course insurance plays no part in these countries whilst in England we have major problems with hire and reward insurance, and probably muggers etc, whilst there seems to be a lot of trust in the “Stans”: people helping each other out.
It was so easy the other day in Volgograd to get the chain done with Victor. You are dealing with the mechanic without the reception layer. Sitting here we do not know what is happening nor how long it will all be…..progress ha ha.
It was all done by about 3pm. Very nicely balanced tyres and my sprockets and chain all done and carefully marked. I thought the chain was a bit tight….
We headed for our next destination..the Kostince chapel at Sedlec near Kutna Hora. As has been usual for the last few weeks, rain showers loomed, but we escaped. First hotel full…horrors…but struck lucky in Kutna Hora.
Wed 22nd June
Nice place and 2kms down the road is one of the” Czech churches with bones in”. Felt it was about time we saw it. The cemetery got full in the middle ages and they started piling up the bones . Some artistic people/monks then made neat piles inside the chapel and even more artistic things like chandeliers from the bones. They think about 40,000 peoples’ bones are here. Certainly there were lots of sculls staring at you from everywhere….
We went early..luckily…. as by the time we left 3 coaches had arrived.
Its motorway now. Good new tyres and away we go and before we know it we are in Germany. Back into Euro land. We have used 12 different currencies on this trip ( and been to 20 countries). Find spot for the night in Roth, south of Nurnberg.
Thurs 23rd June
We spot our first british vehicle we have seen for a very long time . We overtake and wave but get no response at all…..oh well!
Clive wants to go back to a campsite we have used before near Landau. Why?? Its probably going to rain and is not that warm….We find it, it rains, but we manage to get the tent up. There is no wifi . We got more wifi spots in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine than we have found in Germany. If we do get wifi here they want to charge….hello to an “advanced ” country!!
Fri 24th June
Sunny start so we gradually dry all our stuff before packing it up. The night was okay though it did rain some more. Head for Namur. It rains again and is quite cold…weather worse than when we set off in mid April. We have now done a circle…. Follow Clive’s “Zumo” to find an hotel and strike lucky again with it when we follow a lead to an hotel on the banks of the Meuse. Run by Chinese just outside Namur just off the N5 called” Jardin des The” in Jambe district. Watch huge barge go through a lock on the Meuse.
Sat 25th June
Raining and cold ,11c. BUT we hear that tomorrow in UK will be hot so head off west towards better weather!! Short trip to Brugge via the middle of Brussels ( much to Clive’s disgust) for we went wrong and lost the right road through the middle. Naturally I liked looking at Brussels. Clive has never been to Brugge…I went a very long time ago. Found a B and B on the outskirts and motorbiked in to then walk around. Joined the tourists for a while. Weather improving.
Sun 26th June
Its overcast and rains. We get to Calais and it gets dry and a bit warmer. We cross the channel with the ferry booming its siren in dense fog….don’t lets sink at sea now….Two miles out of Dover and the fog lifts and it gets hot!! I reach London by mid afternoon to see my daughter and family. Grandson Finn is walking…
Clive has gone straight to Norfolk, coming back down to London later in the week when I will have disappeared to Bali for daughter’s wedding.
Mon 27th June
Reach home in + 30c hot sunny weather.
Clive and I have had a great trip. It has been interesting and I think different to our own preconceived ideas of Central Asia. We motorcycle well together but the motorcycling partnership has come to an end. Clive is off to Beirut having made his own decision to go and I have made my decision too….our partnership ends, amicably, and Clive and I will continue our lives separately.