- Japan, the land of the rising sun and thousands of people.
- Japan to South Korea and hopefully a Motorcycle.
- The Cost of International Shipping.
- South Korea and the race to the Ferry.
- Vladivostok to Khabarovsk, Welcome to Siberia.
- Khabarovsk to Ulan-Ude, Sunshine and Snow Storms
- Ulan-Ude to Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island, Cold & Water Makes Ice.
- Welcome to Siberia the Video.
- Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar and from Winter to Summer.
- Ulaanbaatar to the Gobi Desert Complete With Fire and Ice.
- Bayanzag to Arvaikheer, from Flaming Cliffs through the Middle of Flamin Nowhere.
- Arvaikheer to Tsetserleg, Magestic Waterfall, Stunning Valley and an Insect Infested Lake.
- Tsetserleg to Lake Khovsgol and a third kind of storm.
- Lake Khovsgol to Ulaangom via the Northern Route, Rock, Sand, Rock, Sand Water.
- Ulaangom to Ulgii via the Northern Route, a Rock Graveyard and No Bridge Too Far.
- Mongolia the Video
- Ulgii, Mongolia to Almaty, Kazakhstan, With a Little Bit of Russia Thrown In.
- Almaty, Kazakhstan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, A Canyon, Beautiful Lakes and Nothing But Spectacular Mountain Ranges.
- Osh, Kyrgyzstan to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The Pamir Highway, Best and Worst Road Travelled.
- Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Aktau, Kazakhstan With a Big Hot Chunk of Uzbekistan Thrown In.
- Aktau, Kazakhstan to Batumi, Georgia, Four Months, Most of Asia and 20,000 Kilometres Down, Over Half Way There.
- Batumi, Georgia to Idelivo, Bulgaria and a Beautiful Turkey In Between.
- Bulgaria to Berlin and the Beautiful Balkans.
- Three Part Video ‘The Stans’
- Berlin to Barcelona, An Eagles Nest, Stunning Mountains and a Leaning Tower.
- Barcelona to London, Sun, Sand and Plenty of History.
- Loose Ends
So after nearly 2 months on a leisurely cruise my bike finally arrived home just before the new year. It had been cleaned very well by Motofreight in London and had no issues with Australia’s strict quarantine and collecting it from the freight forwarders was a easy process.
The bike looks like new and after reconnecting the Battery it fired up first time, ready and waiting for the next one.
I have also finally finished the last two videos, hope you enjoy them.
When I arrived in Barcelona it was Sunday, the temperature was in the high twenties (Celsius) and due to a Triathlon closing the main roads the traffic was chaotic, this was my initial view of the City. After finding some fuel and lunch it was time to get out and head south along the coast.
Spain just like France and Italy have Tolls on their major Freeways and they are difficult to avoid. I have been trying to avoid these mainly because on a previous trip I’ve had problems paying with my cards and been left stranded in the queue and had to turn around. Unfortunately between Barcelona and Valencia I couldn’t find any alternative so I gingerly rode up to the gate where the ticket comes out of the machine (and pay when you leave the Tollway). And surprise surprise no ticket came out of the machine and by then 3 cars had lined up behind me. As this gate was fully automated and the help button spoke to me in Spanish there was nothing left to do but politely ask the drivers to reverse so I could turn around. I rode to a nearby building and eventually a guy came out to help me. It turns out these gates have two ticket dispensing slots one lower down for cars and one higher up for Trucks, due to me being on a taller than average motorcycle the machine thought I was a Truck and the ticket was sitting in the dispenser about 2 metres off the ground….this is a first but there will be no more automated Toll Roads for me, I just can’t handle the stress.
Eventually I arrived in Valencia and found a Hostel in the middle of the City to stay for a few days. My bike was now due for another service and as I intended on travelling south along the coast of Spain, catch a Ferry across to Morocco and head to the UK through Portugal it was important I get it done here. Valencia is a modern city, was easy to get around and the weather was warm so it should be easy to spend a few days here while the bike is serviced.
The Main Square in Valencia.
A Parade along one of the main streets.
I had arrived in Valencia on a Sunday so on Monday morning I rode down to the BMW dealer to find that it was closed due to a Bank holiday. I hadn’t been able to contact the Dealer to book the Bike in and was hoping they may have time to fit it in over the next few days. The next morning I rode back down there only to find that they were completely booked out for the next two weeks. The service Manager was a good bloke and after trying other dealers in Spain who were also booked out he agreed to at least change the Oil and Brake pads which should keep me out of trouble for a while.
The same day I had confirmation from the Bike Shipping Company that they had a Container leaving for Melbourne in the last week of October which was a little early for me, however the following one would not leave the UK until late January or early February 2018, add on 7 or 8 weeks shipping time and I wouldn’t see my bike until around April next year (missing the whole Australian Summer). For the first time during this trip I decided to substantially change my plans and head North to France instead of south to Morocco, I would also miss all of Portugal but this is a good reason to come back….
The next morning I left Valencia and headed north through the middle of Spain, the scenery and the weather were spectacular, I was liking Spain a lot.
I found some nice quiet roads with hardly any cars on them and then some dirt tracks through the mountains where I decided to set up camp for the night next to a ruined Farm House.
The next morning I continued north and found a old Castle on a Lake which had been turned into a Café, a perfect spot for morning tea.
Further north at the end of a long day I found a great campsite overlooking a deserted Lake, it was warm and quiet, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Not sure if this town is trying to tell me something…. (Does Rio mean ‘You are a’ in Spanish)?
As I got closer to the Cantabrian Sea on the north coast of Spain the land just dropped dramatically off a Plateau, it was as if I was riding down a Mountain that I didn’t remember riding up. This is the Carretera Santander Vinaroz which drops dramatically towards the sea near Santander and causes a massive change in the weather. Southern and Central Spain had been warm and dry a lot like Central Australia but at the bottom of this road the weather was very humid and wet all in the space of a few kilometres.
Down near the coast it was again time to look for a place to camp. I followed this track through some patches of Jungle and found an OK place beside the road, I didn’t expect much traffic here.
After a warm humid night with some rain thrown in it was time to get going, but first I needed to find some breakfast and this did the trick.
Later that morning I crossed the border into France and headed up the west coast until I arrived at La Dune, a very nice seaside village that reminded me a lot of home.
I had heard of a massive Sand Dune here somewhere and I thought that La Dune was it until I was riding further up the road and found this… Dune du Pilat.
I rode into Arcachon a little further north and found a nice Caravan Park to set up camp in for the night then rode back down to climb the Dune. It didn’t look that hard…until I got closer.
It was a pretty tough climb in the soft sand but I survived to see this at the top.
Getting down was a lot easier, just run but make sure you don’t fall on your face as you wouldn’t stop until you hit the trees at the bottom.
The next day I continued travelling north towards Normandy where I paid a visit to Omaha Beach made famous from the D-Day landings by the allied forces during WWII.
Overlord Museum just near Omaha Beach.
The beach itself was not what I expected, it looked just like any other beach and not the steep unclimbable cliffs that you often see in the movies.
The nearby US Memorial and Cemetery is very well set out, is free and well worth the visit.
I spent a few hours wandering around here and even though the story has been told over and over I really didn’t expect so many white crosses.
The weather was turning cold again as I headed north and it was getting more difficult to find out of the way places to camp. I found this on a small track just outside a village in Northern France just before dark, beggars cant be choosers……
The next morning I rode into a small village in Northern France called Pozieres.
This small Village in the Somme was the scene of one of Australia’s most costly battles 101 years ago, it was taken and lost a number of times resulting in over 30,000 Australian casualties, from a Country at that time of just under 5 million people.
The French people living there at the time regarded the Australians as their saviours for eventually liberating their Village and they still have the original Australian flag flying in the centre of town.
Next stop on my small Battlefield tour was another small Village in Northern France, this one is known as Fromelles. This was the location of Australia’s first major Battle in France during WWI, it was over quickly and was a massive failure for the Australian’s who lost over 5,500 casualties in less than 24 hours. The Memorial and Cemetery have only been set up recently as a result of a mass grave being located near the Village where a large number of Australian Soldiers were buried and largely forgotten about until a few years ago, many have still not been identified.
Just north of Fromelles near the Belgium border I found a quiet place to camp, this would be my last night in the tent and it was cold and wet.
The next morning I tried to find my way out.
I rode through Belgium skirting around Brussels and ended up in Bruges for lunch.
Later that night I found an average motel in Dunkirk, France not far from the English Channel and settled in. Early the next morning I rode down to Calais where I boarded the Train going under the Channel to the UK.
First time I’ve ridden my bike on a train that’s goes under the sea.
In around 40 minutes I was on dry land and in the United Kingdom….
Where after over 6 months I was back on the right (left) side of the road which took a bit of getting used to.
The traffic in London in the rain was something to experience.
There is no better place to end a Motorcycle trip than the Ace Café in London and the Burger was a heart stopper…….literally.
So after lunch I rode the short distance to a Hostel I had booked and settled in for the night. The next day I dropped my bike off at the Shippers and got it ready for the trip back to Australia in a week.
I still had 5 days in London before my flight left so I became a walking tourist………. except for the bit where I took the Hop on Hop off Bus.
Big Ben is undergoing some major surgery.
Even though it was freezing cold there was no shortage of tourists walking around.
And patting horses.
London Tower where a few people have lost their heads over the years.
Buckingham Palace, not sure if the Queen was home or not…
Tower Bridge where they still raise the centre platforms once a day, just for the tourists.
The changing London skyline.
St Pauls Cathedral.
So after a week in London it was time to fly home….after a 7 hour stop over at the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia.
After 6.5 months and over 35,000 kilometres through 30 countries from Tokyo to London I was finally home. The bike would arrive back around mid December and after getting me all of this way with only two blown Headlight Globes deserves a rest and some TLC.
I have experienced a lot of firsts during this trip and met a lot of great people and made some life long friends along the way. This ride has given me many great memories but strangely the places where I was truly out of my comfort zone seem to be the lingering ones.
This was my fist major ride away from my home country and others who have done these types of trips either say “Never Again” or “When do I leave?” I think I fall into the second category, it is good to be back home and see family and friends and not need to pack up and ride nearly every day but one thing I am sure of ….this is only the beginning.
So after 4 days in beautiful Berlin it was time to leave and start travelling south where the weather should be a little warmer…hopefully. Berlin was a great City, very easy to get around, friendly people and plenty to see but it was time to move, so I jumped onto the nearest Autobahn and rode south towards the border with the Czech Republic. After a few hours I was across the invisible border and into Prague. I found a cheap Hostel parked the Bike and headed off into the City to find out what all the fuss was about. Welcome to Prague.
The centre of this Medieval City looks very similar to others I have seen on this trip, but Prague is full of cars and people and is very busy. Its also not cheap as I found out when I sat down in one of the Restaurants to have dinner. This is the Central Square and is a very popular place.
The narrow streets are easy to walk around but not so if you are trying to ride or drive, my GPS guided me into the city when I arrived and I immediately got lost in a maze of small narrow streets some which are one way and some which from the looks of the pedestrians I think are not supposed to have vehicles in them……
Prague was a nice place but I think I’ve seen too many Medieval Cities now it didn’t feel special, maybe I needed more than one night there to appreciate it more.
The next day I rode out of Prague and headed back into Germany to find the small Town of Neckarsulm near Heidelberg in South Western Germany. This is where Till and Carolin lived (The couple I met in Kyrgyzstan and rode with through Azerbaijan and Georgia), they had invited me to stay for a while and I was looking forward to catching up. So a few hours on the clogged up Autobahn and I found their place and settled in for a few days rest. It wasn’t all relaxation, I put on a new front Tyre which Till had ordered for me, the original had over 24,000 kilometres on it and could easily do another few thousand but they are so much cheaper in Germany. I also gave Till a hand changing his very worn out rear Shock on his Africa Twin, this had been ‘repaired’ a few times as it collapsed in Kazakhstan and again in Georgia but they managed to ride all the way home on this ‘Frankenstein’ Shock.
Neckarsulm is home to the famous NSU Motorcycle Museum and Till gave me a guided tour. They had other bikes as well as NSU and this one, BMW’s original Adventure Bike the R80GS was the favourite, my bike is a direct descendant and I would love to find one of these in Australia but that is not easy.
After a few days of relaxation and Bike maintenance I reluctantly left Neckarsulm.
And headed east towards Bavaria where I found this little shack on top of a hill. This is the Eagles Nest which was built for Hitler during WWII and is a stunning building primarily because its perched on top of a high Mountain with virtually 360 degree views and they lifted all of the materials up there by crane from the narrow road about 100 Metres below. The building is used as a Restaurant now but you can still go up there to have a look without eating at what is a very expensive Restaurant. I had to leave my bike down at the Village below and catch a Bus to the top just like a common Tourist but it is well set up with numbered Buses all running in sequence precisely on time, typically German.
The Tunnel leads from the Car park to a lift which is the only way in or out.
The view from the top is spectacular, what makes this ironic is Hitler was apparently scared of heights, didn’t trust Elevators and only came here a few times, ah Dictators, History would be pretty boring without them?
Later that afternoon I crossed another invisible border into Austria where I found this nice quiet and relatively cheap Camp Ground to spend the night.
The next day I dropped into Hohenwerfen Castle not far down the road, this is one of the most famous Castles in Austria and was where they filmed ‘Where Eagles Dare’ in 1968, its also been used as inspiration in one of the Call of Duty games so my youngest son wanted me to go there and find a Zombie…
The only way in is a sort of Cable Car which runs up from the Car park below, this used to be an old fashioned Cable Car but was rebuilt around 10 years ago.
They have a Birds of Prey show which was fascinating but scared a lot of people when the Eagles swooped down on them.
So I didn’t find any Zombies so it was time to head south again and ride the Grossglockner Pass which is close to the Italian border. After paying around $40 AUD for a one way trip over the Mountains and putting on some extra layers of clothing it was time to climb again.
There was quite a bit of snow up the top which would no doubt get heavier until they closed the road in late October. It was slow going due to the slippery road but the views were just stunning.
Nice place at the top for an expensive Cappuccino.
After yet another fantastic day in this part of the world I found a nice out of the way dirt road and set up camp.
The surroundings were fantastic and even though it was very cold I had a great nights sleep.
The following day was a slow cruise through the rest of Austria and past the Dolomites in Northern Italy into the Stelvio National Park where after a few hours of riding around I found what is probably the most scenic Camp Site yet.
All set up and nothing left to do but admire the view.
The following morning the sun came out and improved what was already a stunning view.
Then it was time for one of the big ones, the Stelvio Pass, but first a Coffee at the Café below, you can’t do these things on an empty stomach.
Made it to the top, the sun was shining, there was hardly any traffic and a fantastic experience which can’t be missed if you are ever in Northern Italy.
A small amount of snow just to make it interesting.
I then headed towards the Swiss border and decided to camp before contemplating another series of famous Mountain Passes in Switzerland. Same procedure, find a small road then another road off that, preferably a dead end and there is your quiet and free camp for the night.
The next morning I crossed into Switzerland and headed for Andermatt where I had a hearty but expensive Breakfast before tackling the first of four Passes, Susten Pass.
Then it was Grimsel Pass which stood out because of the lake and the colour of the water.
Third in line was the nearby Furka Pass which had two spectacular roads running down from each side of the Valley.
And finally the lesser known but equally picturesque Nufenen Pass.
Having all of these spectacular Mountain Passes all so close together combined with the friendly people and courteous drivers quickly elevated Switzerland to one of my favourite places from the entire trip so far, if it wasn’t so expensive I could quite easily live here.
So after the order of Switzerland it was time for the craziness of Italy again. I headed south east for Lake Como but first had to navigate through a few busy Swiss towns and then the manic traffic of Italy. It was a long day and a long ride but I finally made it into Mandello del Lario on the banks of Lake Como where I found a nice Camp Ground for a few days.
I had planned on visiting the Moto Guzzi Motorcycle Museum just up the road but its only open for an hour a week and not on week ends which was when I was there, only in Italy could you get away with these opening hours. A photo from the outside will have to do.
After a few days of catching up on things and eating lots of Pizza it was off to Venice to continue my Italian Tour.
Venice was one of the busiest tourist areas I had been to and it wasn’t peak season, walking around the narrow laneways dodging people was very tricky.
I managed to catch up with a few old friends in Venice for dinner and just got the last ferry back to the Camp Ground on the mainland at midnight, if I missed that it would have been a rough night on a park bench somewhere.
The next day after around 4 hours of riding on confusing Freeways I was in Florence which was busier than Venice, something I didn’t think was possible.
I stayed in a small Camp Ground just outside Florence, which was cheap and you could catch the bus into the City for a few dollars to save the stress of riding in. After two days exploring Florence I headed west for a few hours to have a look at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Yet another Italian City full of Tourists, but I was entertained by all of them trying to get those ridiculous photos of each other holding the tower or trying to push it over, it was quite a laugh.
Pisa is not that big and doesn’t really have any other attractions other than the tower so a few hours there was more than enough then it was onto the Motorway and into the mayhem of Genoa.
I managed to find the Ferry Terminal in Genoa and bought a ticket for the ferry to Barcelona leaving the next day. Then I found a nice quiet spot in the hills behind Genoa and set up camp for the night. The following morning I slowly rode down to the ferry Terminal and waited patiently for the Ferry to load.
Some of the Ferries have awesome paint jobs.
Later that Afternoon we left Italy bound for Spain.
After a rough night sleep on a seat of the Ferry I arrived in a very warm Barcelona, it was certainly a lot warmer in Spain, something I was looking forward to.
I finally have enough quality Internet to upload Parts 3, 4 & 5 covering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, hope you enjoy them.
Moto Camp in Bulgaria is the kind of place you can stay for a long time if you are not careful, it has a never ending stream of Overland Travellers coming through the gates. Shortly after I arrived Nick turned up from the UK riding a Royal Enfield, he is riding it to India through Iran and Pakistan to go to a Royal Enfield Festival in Goa, what a fantastic trip. Jeff and Sally from Australia arrived later that day on their way to the UK after a year long ride through South America and Europe so what should we all do….let’s go for a ride then?
We managed to find the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party in Buzludzha high up in the nearby mountains which is another weird place popular with Motorcycle Travellers. Construction began in 1974 and it was formally opened in 1981 but in the late 1980’s the fall of communism saw it become a derelict building, slowly since then it has decayed and become very unsafe so internal access has now been cut off.
I enjoyed Moto camp a little too much, the first time I tried to leave I left my phone behind so ended up staying another day. The next day it rained so I decided to stay another day, its just that kind of place. So after 5 days there I left with Nick, Jeff and Sally and we all went our separate ways a few kilometres down the road.
Ivo at Moto camp had organised a new rear Tyre for me so I rode into Sofia to pick it up, when I got there the guys fitted it straight away and it was a lot less expensive than at home. I put the old tyre on when I arrived in Mongolia so this one has lasted over 14,000 kilometres and it could have done 2,000 more so that is excellent for a rear tyre on a bike like this.
Then it was south towards Greece. When I reached the border I expected the usual delays and uncertainty but now I realised I was really in Europe. I handed my Passport to The Bulgarian Officer who stamped it and handed it to the Greek Officer who stamped it and it was over in less than 10 minutes. As the sun went down I found this peaceful Lake in Northern Greece and set up camp.
The following day I headed south west towards the small town of Kalambaka in Northern Greece. I have my GPS set to avoid Toll Roads and the added benefit of this is it takes you through some of the most scenic and peaceful Roads and Villages. This part of Northern Greece was full of high Mountain passes and the Toll Roads cut through numerous Tunnels below but I was happy meandering through these small roads and old villages.
The town of Kalambaka which is a maze of crazy streets and laneways sits right below some amazing rock formations.
Not far from the town is the area known as Meteora where there are Monasteries built high up on these rock formations. I had read about these when I was planning the trip and they did not disappoint. There are 6 different sized Monasteries all built on the rock formations and are all UNESCO Heritage listed. They all have small suspension stairways to gain access and all still rely on a ropes and pullies to lift larger objects up from below.
After spending a few hours here I headed west towards the coast looking for a camp site hopefully on the beach. When I arrived at the coast it was either full of people and houses or not accessible from the road so I eventually found this place in a small valley far from any towns. During the night I could hear animals of some sort running around in the dry river bed, they weren’t small but I’m pretty used to this now and slept through most of it. At 5.00 a.m. I woke to the sound of a pack of wild dogs barking, growling and howling all around my tent. It was still dark but I could hear at least 6 dogs and they were all surrounding my tent so I tried putting on the torch and making noise but that just made them angrier. I thought OK I have camped in some of what people think are the most dangerous areas and never been worried but now I’m about to become breakfast to a bunch of Wild Dogs in Greece. My next tactic was to just remain silent in the hope they would get bored and go away, this worked and after around 30 minutes they were gone. I slowly climbed out of the tent at around 8 o’clock and packed up. As I did I noticed animal bones and carcasses of Sheep and Goats lying in the rocks of the River Bed, it looks like I accidently camped in there feeding ground, maybe they thought I was going to steal their leftovers.
After a short ride and a quick Greek Breakfast I arrived at the Albanian Border which was also an easy crossing. The Green Card Insurance I have for Europe is not recognised in Albania so I had to pay 13 Euros for Insurance for 2 weeks even though I would only be in the country for a few days. I rode along the stunning coast of Albania towards the Capital Tirane.
The road hugs the coast line and climbs steeply in some parts to provide a fantastic Panoramic view and a place for Para Gliders to leap off in the hope that they land safely somewhere below.
Towards the north of Albania I left the Coast and headed inland to the town of Fier where I stayed in a nice and cheap Hotel for a couple of days to rest, catch up on admin and wash my clothes, this is no holiday, there is always something to do.
After a couple of nights in Fier I rode north towards the Montenegro Border.
The Border crossing was another easy one, this time 10 Euros for Insurance and I rode the bike through the pedestrian access because they told me too, things are still a little adventurous here.
I rode north to the small town of Kotor nestled at the bottom of a clear blue water inlet near the coast. Kotor was still very busy with tourists and traffic so I continued around the waters edge to a small Village of Risan.
After a great early dinner I explored some tracks behind the Village to find a place to camp. The road started to climb.
This looks like a great place, and it has a view.
So now time to relax and watch the sun go down over the Adriatic coast.
In the morning I was relieved to find I was still perched up on the cliff top and had not rolled off in my sleep.
After packing up it was time to ride back down again.
My next stop in Montenegro was Tara Canyon in the North of the Country. It is an Alpine area and has snow in the Winter but all the Chair Lifts and most of the Resorts were closed now.
It was a fantastic Place for a ride and to camp with virtually no one else around, perfect.
A nice breakfast and coffee at this small Café and all for a few dollars, Montenegro is not only beautiful but it’s also not an expensive place to Travel, I would love to come back here and spend more time exploring.
Once through yet another very easy border I rode to the southern city of Mostar to see the iconic Mostar Bridge.
Mostar is an old Medieval Town and for centuries men have shown their courage (or Stupidity) by jumping from the highest point of the Mostar Bridge.
I only spent a few hours in Mostar as it is very touristy, particularly around the Bridge and it cost me 5 Euros just to park the bike in the street. I headed North East and within a few hours I was in the Capital of Bosnia Herzegovina, Sarajevo. This city has had its fair share of historic moments, in 1914 it was on a street here that the Austrian Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which lead to the outbreak of WW1 and in the early 1990’s the city was besieged for 1425 days during the Bosnian War.
After Sarajevo it was a long ride through Serbia including the capital Belgrade during peak hour thanks to my GPS with a sense of Humour until I arrived in Sibiu, Transylvania (Romania). After finding a great Guesthouse it was time to explore this part of Romania with the first stop Bran Castle. The Castle was originally built in around 1377 and has had numerous occupants over the years including one of the Queen Victoria’s but it has become famous because of one that never even came here, Count Dracula. The story of Dracula is mostly fiction based around a real character known as Vlad the Impaler but there is no evidence that he ever came to this Castle, which hasn’t stopped thousands of people coming here and the nearby Village of Bran every year, including me.
Village of Bran.
Bran Castle, its a lot smaller than I thought.
On the way back to Sibiu I took the opportunity to ride up and down the Transfagarasan, or better know locally as Ceausescu’s Folly. It was built in the early 70’s by the Romanian Military to provide easy access to the south of the country if the Russians Invaded from the North but it is said to have cost the lives of hundreds of Military personnel who had little experience with Road construction. It is now one of the most popular roads in the world for tourists and gets extremely busy particularly on weekends, which happens to be when I got there but it wasn’t too bad.
Then it was back to Sibiu for the night.
A random new Apartment building in Sibiu.
The Trasilvania Pension (Guesthouse) where I stayed was fantastic and not that expensive.
The next day I headed north towards Hungary and eventually Poland. Romania was not what I was expecting, it was relatively modern, the roads and Freeways were good, the people were friendly, although a bit reserved at first and it was not that expensive, its another place I would like to revisit one day.
The Romanian/Hungarian Border was my last real Border Crossing as I knew them, once I was into Hungary it was truly part of the EU not a little each way like most of the Balkans. Both Hungary and Slovakia would be countries I would only travel through to get to Poland but both I would like to see more of one day. Hungary is another one of those places which has its own currency but is in the EU which can make it confusing if you don’t have their currency, although some places will take Euros if they have to.
After searching for a while for somewhere to camp I found this abandoned Hostel at the end of a dead end road which was perfect, although during the night I could hear what I think were bears in the nearby forest but I lived so it wasn’t all that bad.
The next day I found a nice café for breakfast and continued on through Slovakia and into Southern Poland. I arrived in the small Polish town of Oswiecim late in the afternoon and not long after I settled into a Guesthouse the rain started and continued all through the night and the next morning. The weather was noticeably cooler this far north and I was glad I travelled here now rather than any closer to winter.
Again Poland is another country which is part of the EU but has its own currency and most places won’t take the Euro so I went to the ATM and withdrew enough Zloty to get me through about a week in Poland.
The next afternoon the rain stopped so I took the opportunity to walk through the Town Square to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Museum around 3 kilometres away.
The Museum was busy with lots of bus loads of Tourists but it worked pretty well. You can only enter with a guided tour which was much better because there is so much information you would miss if you walked around alone. One thing I hadn’t realised was the Concentration Camp was divided into two parts, Auschwitz closer to town and Auschwitz II Birkenau around another 5 Kilometres away, luckily they ran free buses between the two.
The Infamous Main Gate with the ironic “work will set you free” written above it. I had only seen video and photographs of this gate but it was a lot smaller in real life and near the centre of the camp not at the main entrance as I thought.
This area was used by the SS for regular Firing Squads, there was a Courthouse on the right where no doubt they had a fair trial…..
Before being lined up against this wall and shot dead.
This was the only Gas Chamber in Auschwitz, the remaining and larger ones were at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The tour takes you through the inside and you can clearly see the holes in the roof where the Gas canisters were dropped through and the furnaces where the bodies were burnt straight away.
Then the tour moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau further out of the town where the mass killings were part of the daily routine.
The trains loaded with people were driven straight through this front gate.
Once inside there were a number of Railway Platforms where the people were unloaded, quite a few had already died on the way and had to be removed from the carriages and burnt.
The remains of 3 massive Gas Chambers at the end of the Railway Line. They were destroyed by the SS to try and hide what had occurred here before they evacuated the camps to escape the Russians.
The Interior of one of the sleeping areas, they would have around 400 people in these areas packed in without any access to washing facilities or toilets during the night so they quickly became infested with rats and lice and either very hot in the summer or very cold in the winter. A large number of people simply died in there beds during the night and the bodies not removed until the following day.
Coming here was near the top of my list when planning this trip and as disturbing as it is it was well worth while. I knew some of the history of this camp but what I didn’t know was that more than 70 % of the people arriving on the trains, particularly at Auschwitz-Birkenua were simply led straight to the Gas Chambers and executed then their bodies burnt the same day as arriving If someone was sick or not capable of working the SS Doctors directed they be lead straight to the Gas Chambers. Many of the victims were Women and Children, the SS had also decided that if the mothers were executed the children would lose the will to work so they just executed them all.
1,100,000 Jews alone were rounded up and brought to these two camps and after 4 years around 1 million of them were either executed or died from disease or poor health, it was truly a massive slaughter yard set up the same way we do with animals. Apparently there are some people that don’t believe that this ever took place, coming here would change their minds in an instant.
The following morning I left Oswiecim and rode west towards the small village of Klodzko where I stayed the night. This was a pretty little Village in the Lower Silesia area of Poland which was once part of Germany and prior to that part of Prussia and has had its fair share of unwanted Invaders including Napoleon and his French Army at one stage.
Just behind the Village is the Klodzko Bastion which is an old fortress high up on the hill overlooking the Village. Built in the 17th Century most of it still stands intact and somehow survived intensive bombing during WWII, the Fortress is quiet big in size and was well worth the visit.
View of Klodzko from the top of the Fortress.
One of the many tunnels inside the Fortress.
The Old Town in Klodzko has many narrow streets and laneways to get lost in.
The next stop on my list in Poland was Poznan to catch up with a few new friends who I’d never met…..
Sheldon is originally from Australia and started on his own Motorcycle trip nearly 7 years ago. He met Ewa who is from Poland and now they have decided to settle down here and get married, well Sheldon is still trying to get used to this idea. He has travelled all over the world and his Blog is a great read:
Sheldon and Ewa kindly offered me their couch for a couple of days and were fantastic hosts, they did everything for me…… I took a day off from riding and went along with Sheldon in the car to Poland’s capital Warsaw, which worked out well as I hadn’t planned on going there but now I’m glad that I did.
The next day as good as it was staying in Poznan with Sheldon and Ewa I had to move onto Germany, in particular Berlin. I had booked a Hostel close to the City as I planned on being there for 3 or 4 days. What worked out even better was that Till, who I had met first in OSH, Kyrgyzstan and again in Kazakhstan was there visiting his sister, so I got a very informative walking tour of Berlin.
These Beer Carts go around the Column with people peddling them while they drink Beer, I would love to see them get off after going in circles for a while with a few beers under their belts.
View from the Victory Column.
My Tour Guides Till and Karin outside the Reichstag,
The Reichstag which is once again used by Germany’s Parliament was virtually destroyed by bombing during WWII and was made famous when the Russian Soldiers planted their flag on the roof after the invasion of Berlin. Today it has been rebuilt and has a fantastic glass dome which you can walk to the top of, unfortunately you need to book in advance so I didn’t get a chance to go inside.
The historic Brandenburg Gate which ended up in No Mans Land when the Berlin Wall was built and no one could visit it from either side of the City.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
These are the only ‘tall’ buildings in Berlin, I had expected a much larger city with plenty of Sky Scrapers but Berlin has less population than my home town of Melbourne and is planned out very well with wide streets and plenty of large parks in and around the City, so far it has been one of my favourite cities during this trip, I will come back in the future.
A Section of the old Berlin Wall and Museum.
The famous Checkpoint Charlie which was one of the main access points between East and West Berlin during the 28 years the wall was up and where a tense standoff occurred between the Russians and Americans in October, 1961 that threatened to start WWIII. Now its just a typical American tourist attraction with Actors dressed up as Soldiers, a MacDonald’s close by and Selfie Central for all the tourists.
The Wallyard Hostel where I stayed, great Hostel, relatively cheap for Berlin and has more Australian than…..Australia.
After four hot and humid days in Batumi I was happy to be leaving the crowds behind in Georgia and heading towards country number 13, Turkey. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the border after nearly being crushed by an erratic Georgian Bus Driver. It was very humid and had started to rain heavily at the border but luckily the Georgian side was easy and straight forward and then into Turkey. By then there were a group of Russian Riders and a couple from the US with me so they directed us all up to the front of the line into the covered area out of the pouring rain. I needed insurance which was at the next booth and around $32 US later I had my Insurance cover and my Passport quickly stamped and it was welcome to Turkey. The entire crossing took around 50 minutes and as I rode out into Turkey the rain stopped and the sun came out, this was promising.
The roads were perfect, from a single lane of pure madness in Georgia to six vacant lanes of well maintained beautiful Bitumen in Turkey hugging the Black Sea Coastline.
I quickly found an ATM and withdrew some local cash and at Trabzon on the coast I turned and headed inland towards the Sumela Monastery. After a great Breakfast at a Hotel on the way I arrived at the National Park that houses the Monastery, I paid my 6 Lira and rode up the tree lined road towards the cliff faces. Unfortunately I was told that the Monastery was closed until September 2018 due to constant Rock Falls but I could still drive up near it for a photo.
Sumela Monastery is a Greek Orthodox Monastery nestled in a steep cliff 1200 metres above sea level and was completed in 386 AD, it has since been renovated numerous times and in 1923 was abandoned entirely by the residing Monks. Since then it has been a popular tourist attraction in Central Eastern Turkey.
Instead of returning the way I came I found this gravel track to explore.
It climbed up the side of a Valley and I found myself back on the top of the world again, I was really loving Turkey.
I thought I had made a wrong turn and ended up back in Mongolia.
The track continued to climb over 3,500 metres and the air cooled dramatically.
Small villages each with their own Mosque were nestled in the Valleys and on some hill tops.
A lot of the houses in Turkey proudly fly the Countries Flag.
I then disappeared into the clouds.
Either this is the Stairway to Heaven or he has run out of cash to finish the second floor.
I had one of the best days of the trip so far riding through these Mountain Ranges that I never knew were here, life was good and the weather was cooler it couldn’t get any better. I found a nice quiet place to set up camp early and had a great night sleep.
The next morning it was more of the same, endless stunning Mountains with good quality tracks cut into the side and more exploring to be done.
I noticed a sign to Karaca Caves so I headed up the road to have a look. It was virtually empty so I parked the bike and went inside. For 8 Lira I could walk through the underground caves which were millions of years old. Unfortunately I could only take photos outside.
But I borrowed this one from the Internet.
Then it was back onto the beautiful roads and fantastic tunnels heading south west towards the Cappadocia Region, next destination the Fairy Chimneys.
One thing I had noticed about Turkey is the people were so friendly and helpful, these young guys were working at a General Store and after organising food for me we all sat down and talked for over an hour.
Later I stopped for lunch at another store and these guys invited me to sit with them in the shade and even made me a nice cup of coffee, none of them could speak English but you could tell that they were proud to be looking after a guest in their country.
Later that day I stopped off for fuel and found this great Restaurant next door. Kadir has lived in many countries all over the world including Australia where he ran a Kabab Shop in Sydney Road Coburg (Melbourne, Australia). After having a great meal and a good chat I headed off again, so far Turkey has exceeded all of my expectations.
In a nearby city I stopped at the Traffic Lights and noticed that the Poles holding the lights up had lights of their own, notice the red lights continue down the poles to the ground….
And when they turn Green so do the Poles, this would look great at night and is a fantastic idea.
I finally arrived at the Fairy Chimneys near Yaprakhisar which was one of the busiest places I had been to in so far in Turkey. The unique Fairy like formations have been formed over millions of years as a result of Volcanic activity and erosion, they have been used for centuries as housing and even a Church was hollowed out of the solid Basalt. Now they are a popular tourist attraction complete with Donkey and Camel rides.
Most of the day gone it was again time to find a nice place to camp, this will do very nicely.
Nearly all of the small villages have ornate Mosques which sound out the call to prayer at various times of the day.
A local Waterfall I stumbled across.
After a long days ride another roadside camp on the way to Ankara.
I arrived in Ankara looking to get a service done on the bike as it was now due and I wasn’t sure where I could get it done further west. After getting lost in central Ankara I eventually found the BMW dealer out near the Airport. Even though I hadn’t booked I was hoping that I could get the service done the following day but to my surprise they said they could do it that afternoon but I would need to wait for a few hours. No problem, they gave me coffee and even let me eat lunch in the staff only cafeteria which was free and the cost of the service was cheaper than home so I could afford a new pair of gloves to replace my holey ones. By 5 p.m. the service was done and the bike washed and ready to go, then the heavens opened and it poured rain.
I wanted to visit Istanbul but I wasn’t keen on riding into a City which is around 200 kilometres long and has a population of nearly 15 million people. So I planned on heading to Bandirma, a smaller city on the south coast of the Sea of Marmara. I found a nice cheap hotel right on the waterfront near the Ferry Terminal….perfect.
As soon as I got off the Ferry in Istanbul I was confronted by a familiar face, what could I do, I couldn’t refuse a Chicken Burger combo and a Coke, I haven’t seen one of these since Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The city was not what I had expected but it was very easy to get around and with plenty to see and do.
The traffic on the freeway which runs through and under the city was not as bad as I had thought.
I had a great day exploring Istanbul but after a two hour Ferry trip back to Bandirma I was ready for a early night. The following day I woke to heavy rain so I booked another night at the Hotel, you can’t rush these things, I’m on holidays after all…..
The following day the weather was perfect so I left the nice comfortable Hotel and headed towards the Gallipoli Peninsula. The road to Canakkale was perfect yet again and I was there in no time, I then caught a small ferry across the Straight to the Peninsula only a few hundred metres away.
The Ferry arrived at the small town of Kiltbahir within no time and I was off north towards the Gallipoli Peninsula National Park.
I had to stop when I saw the Boomerang Café in Eceabat but unfortunately he wasn’t serving lunch only Beer, it was a little early for that so I pushed on into town.
In the town I found this memorial on the beach front, it depicts the Bombasirti Case or Bomb Ridge Case. This was a battle I had never heard of during the Gallipoli Campaign where the opposing front Trenches were only 8 metres apart and when they sent soldiers on both sides into these Trenches their life expectancy was around 3 minutes…….
I then rode out to the National Park itself and it is very well set up, clean and easy to get around and importantly it is a memorial which shows great respect to both sides.
Lone Pine Cemetery is on the top of a ridge not far from Anzac Cove and was the location of one of the bloodiest battles with many of the bodies from both sides still not identified.
Some of the Trenches have been restored but many were destroyed either during the battle or in the years after.
The Beach at Ari Burnu just south of Anzac Cove looks peaceful….now.
A Concrete Bunker remains nearly intact on the side of the road.
The beach at Anzac Cove where just over 102 years ago thousands of young soldiers waded ashore not really having any idea what they were in for. After 8 months of fierce fighting it was clear the allied campaign had failed and the Australian and New Zealand forces were evacuated from the beach with no loss of life, this was the most successful part of the whole campaign.
Cemeteries like this one at Anzac Cove are scattered all over the peninsula and according to official records over 36,000 Commonwealth Serviceman are buried or commemorated on Gallipoli.
I spent most of the afternoon at Gallipoli and even though as an Australian I am aware of what occurred here it is still very difficult to comprehend what it would have been like for the soldiers on both sides. There are thousands of men’s graves scattered around the Hills and valleys many younger than my eldest son and as history clearly shows in the end absolutely nothing was achieved.
It was late in the afternoon when I left Gallipoli so I headed around the Coast to look for a quiet place to camp.
Just when I thought I wasn’t going to find anything I stumbled across this right on the waters edge, it was perfect and no one else was there.
The following morning I continued around the Coast through some great tracks with fantastic views.
Then inland towards the Bulgarian Border. I didn’t need a Visa and I had my Bike Insurance so this Border should be simple…….around 10 kilometres away from the Border the cars had come to a stop and many people were out of their cars standing or walking around. I thought maybe there had been an accident so I rode along between the rows of cars to find the traffic went all the way to the Border itself, so I lined up with hundreds of others in the hot sun.
I had noticed that many of the cars had German Number Plates and then I realised that it was coming to the end of the summer holidays in Germany and it looked like half the country was here trying get through this one border. After 3 hours I eventually got to the front on the Bulgarian side only to be told that they wouldn’t accept the copy of the Insurance I had on my phone and I had to go back to Turkey and have the original mailed to me. I patiently explained to them that this was not an option as I had been cleared out of Turkey, they then decided that they would hold my Passport and I would need to go to the last checkpoint and buy more Insurance. So in the end I had to buy another months worth of Insurance for 50 Euros which I already had so I could show them an original piece of paper that they only glanced at because as I was repeatedly told this is the law in Bulgaria…and I thought the Asian countries would be the difficult ones.
So once through I continued on as I wanted to make it to the Moto Camp in Northern Bulgaria where I would stay for a few days and also collect the original of my Green Card Insurance…which now I didn’t need…then I got my first flat tyre of the entire trip.
The 3 inch nail that had found its way into my rear tyre.
By the time I had fixed the puncture it was after 8 p.m. so I set the tent up on a track beside the road and went to sleep, tomorrow was another day (Of Course).
The next morning I packed up and rode the last 100 kilometres to the Moto Camp through some very nice Mountain Ranges.
Moto Camp Bulgaria, a very nice place to stay right up there with the best Overlanders accommodation.
I arrived in Aktau on Saturday with the intention of getting on the Infamously unreliable Ferry to Baku, Azerbaijan. The Ferry Office was closed on the Saturday so I decided to wait until they opened first thing Monday morning. My first big mistake is assuming it works this way in Kazakhstan as the Ferry arrived from Baku at around 3 a.m. on the Monday morning dumped off its cargo of random cars and trucks and turned around and was gone by 5 a.m. The only way I knew the ferry had been and gone was by talking to a couple of competitors from the Mongol rally who had arrived at the Hotel after getting off the Ferry.
Ok not much I can do now so Monday morning off I went down to the Ferry Office which was now open, here I ran into a Norwegian guy who had been here for two weeks trying to sort out a paperwork issue with his bike, he had seen three Ferries come and go……..
Wednesday morning they tell me, come down at 10 a.m. they wrote my name and Hotel phone number down and said they would ring, I said I would be here at 7 a.m. on Wednesday anyway, I can’t afford to let another one slip past. (Tuesday morning I even rode down to the Office again just to make sure the Ferry hadn’t docked).
For the next two days I walked around aimlessly in the heat until I got sick of the over 40 degree days and retreated to the Air Conditioned Hotel and by Wednesday morning I was past being bored. At 7 a.m. I was at the Ferry Office again only to be told “No Ferry today”. Ok back to the Hotel.
At 9 p.m. they ring the Hotel and ask me to come down and sort out the paperwork, I couldn’t get on the bike quick enough and was there at 9.15. When I got there I found Till and Lin who had ridden all the way from Beyneu with a broken rear Shock to try and make the Ferry. So after all the paperwork was completed and tickets purchased they told us to come back at 5 a.m. I rode straight back to the Hotel packed my bike and was back at the Ferry Office at 11 p.m. the only way I was leaving this Ferry Terminal was on the Ferry and I would make sure I was on the next one. Luckily they had a 24 hour Café so we didn’t have to sleep on the Footpath, we all bunkered down here waiting for the Ferry.
Dawn came and we were allowed to ride through into the Loading area, finally no turning back now. This is the contents of the Ferry waiting to enter Kazakhstan, more Mongol Rally cars.
Our Ferry journey would only have 7 passengers and we would share the ride with 61 John Deere Combine Harvesters worth around $300,000 US each which was a good incentive not to sink the ship before we arrived in Baku.
Most of the 7 passengers of the ill fated voyage, 1 Japanese Cyclist, Till, me, the stranded Norwegian guy and Lin (Caroline) taking the photo. A Kazak Logistics guy who would look after the Harvesters and another local traveller make up the massive passenger list.
And the full passenger list (Japanese Cyclist taking the photo).
All tied up and hopefully they would be in the same position in around 35 hours.
So after around 15 hours waiting at the Ferry Terminal we were on board the Ferry known as Mercuri 1. There used to also be a Mercuri 2 also covering this route across the Caspian Sea but she sank a few years ago taking the lives of 43 People with her, I was hoping our valuable cargo at least would ensure our safe delivery to Baku.
It’s fair to say Mercuri 1 is not the newest Ferry going around in fact I would say it had its best days in the sixties and the Russian influence was evident.
Even though there were only 7 passengers they tried to cram four of us into these tiny cabins, leaving literally hundreds of cabins vacant, so we quickly convinced the staff that we needed a Cabin each. My top of the line cabin complete with Air Conditioning or more accurately a Port Hole Window which was rusted open.
To be fair the ships crew were all very friendly and helpful and they fed us all good meals during the trip. It was still hot particularly during the night so not much sleep was had and more walking laps around the top of the ship to take advantage of the minimal breeze. The Fire Safety Plan was an old paper drawing written only in Russian, why didn’t I learn Russian before this trip?
Once the Ferry docked we could finally leave and start the usual circus of arriving into a new country, luckily there were people around to tell you which office to go to, who to see and who to pay. By the time all of this was done it was nearly midnight and we rode off towards the bright city lights of Baku eventually finding a good little Hostel right in the middle of the city. The Hostel looked like this the following day (Hostel is the brown door on the right under the two Balconies).
Baku was like a breath of fresh air, it is a modern city with everything you could want, or think you want, people were very friendly and most spoke some English so we decided to spend few days here before heading off into the unknown.
Our first stop each morning was the small café two doors up for one of the best breakfasts I have had in a long time.
Bigger than Tajikistan’s……..apparently.
A bit of licence from the design of the Sydney Opera House maybe?
Just when I was settling into life in Baku it was time to put on the hot Motorcycle gear and head towards Georgia.
The traffic was crazy on the way out of the city and yet again it was nearly 40 degrees early in the morning. Once out of the city the desert starts again, eventually closer to the Georgian border pockets of green start appearing.
Till’s bike needed some welding as the poor old Africa Twin was literally falling apart, three spots welded up all for around $3, which ended up being far too much as they all broke within 24 hours…
Last stop before the border to use up some of our Azeri cash.
The Azeri side of the border was busy but seemed to flow well and we were through in around an hour. The Georgian side was like riding through a Toll Gate, stop at the window show your passport, no visa required and no search, within 5 minutes its “Welcome to Georgia enjoy your stay”, OK then I will. After that they have a shop for food and drink and a Money Changer to get some local currency, very well set up.
The landscape in Georgia is very different to Azerbaijan and is very Green and Humid which is no doubt why its one of the biggest Wine producing countries in the world.
After some dinner at one of the local wineries it was time to find somewhere to camp, Till had spotted a place alongside a River a few Kilometres back so off we rode and set up beside the River along with thousands of ants. Then it was time for a cool swim as it was still really hot and to top off the night a Beer or two by a nice roaring fire mostly to keep the Insects away.
The following morning we rode out through a very steep Gravel track made more difficult by some idiot who had bogged his car right in the middle of the steepest part, then it was back to the Winery, well it was on the way….
This is the Winery where yesterday we met Bruno from Belgium, so far the only other Motorcycle rider we have seen since getting off the Ferry in Baku.
My new favourite drink, Pear flavoured but they call it Lemonade for some reason only the Georgians know?
On the way we had to get our fix of Dirt and Gravel roads, this should do the trick…
Then some brand new roads made just for us…..
As it was yet again another hot day we decided to head for this Lake and try to find a Campsite and go for another swim, looked good from here.
Ok, the Camp site is around the back of the Lake, now how do we get there?
After a short trip around the Lake only to find that both the Camp Sites and the Lake full of rubbish so we headed back to the road. On the way Till’s rear Shock completely gave in, the bottom mount had been welded in Kazakhstan but now the Spring had snapped and his bike was out of action, that last bit of Dirt and Gravel had taken it’s toll.
Till limped along the Dirt roads until we found a Guesthouse nearby to stay the night. Luckily the guys who ran the Guesthouse had a welder and managed to weld a metal ring around what was left of the Spring. After a great meal and a good nights sleep the plan was to continue heading west and hope that the Spring and Shock held on until Batumi on the Black Sea Coast.
Turned out this was overly optimistic and didn’t feel right so Till and Lin decided to ride the 60 Kilometres into the Capital Tibilisi to try and find another Shock. After Lunch I headed off towards Batumi leaving Till and Lin to ride the remaining 20 Kilometres into Tibilisi.
The roads in Georgia are generally good but the drivers here are some of the worst I have come across, dangerous and fast with little respect for Motorcycles. Once again on single lane roads the oncoming traffic would just pull out onto your side of the road to pass another car and expect you to get out of the way. But worse still this was also common with cars heading in the same direction, you could see them coming up behind you and knew they couldn’t get past so they would just try and push you over and force their way in beside you. I was getting a little annoyed with this and now there is one small car driving around Georgia with a dent from a size 12 Motorcycle Boot in his right side door.
I managed to get to the town of Kutaisi before the heat and drivers got to me so I decided to call it a day and find somewhere to stay. Kutaisi is a Medieval Town with narrow Cobblestone Streets and Laneways running in all directions but after a few circles I found a nice Hostel where the Owner let me park the bike in her Garage. After a quite night and a good meal I packed up to leave and found out that the ‘Nice’ Hostel Lady wanted 60 Lari ($32 AUD) for a bed for one night, yesterday it was 6 Lari which I thought was too cheap, $32 for a Hostel is more expensive than Tibilisi. I begrudgingly paid her 40 Lari and learnt my lesson, so from now on I will get people to write down these costs as it seems in Georgia there is a little bit of profiteering from Tourists going on.
It wasn’t panning out to be a good day all round and as I tried to get back on the Highway towards Batumi it got worse. For some inexplicable reason the four lane Highway to Batumi was only open towards Tabilisi with ‘All’ four lanes running in that direction so every entry from my direction was closed. I have no idea why anyone would do this and neither did my GPS and it kept trying to direct me onto the Highway, so I ended up riding around in large circles for over two hours and even travelled backwards for over 40 Kilometres before I found a way towards Batumi. This was one of the detours I ‘had’ to take, I thought I was back in Kazakhstan agian.
The dangerous passing continued, this was an easy one most of the other close calls I wasn’t worrying about turning the Camera on.
Finally arriving in Batumi on the Black Sea where it was in the high thirties and very humid and even started raining slightly.
Batumi is a holiday town and was nothing short of a Mental Asylum with ridiculous Traffic all doing whatever they wanted, pedestrians walking in front of everyone and no one really worrying about red lights or any road rules at all. This believe it or not is a Roundabout in the Main street, I don’t know what the rules are here with Roundabouts but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
So if you can’t beat em……..
I had decided to stay further south in Gonio rather than the mayhem that was Batumi and I eventually found the Hotel I had booked, turned the Air Conditioner up full and relaxed.
Gonio is only 6 Kilometres from the Turkish Border and even though the Power and Internet at the Hotel kept going on and off it was a good place to catch up on things and relax before heading into Turkey. I can’t say I’m a fan of the Pebble Beaches but the food and Beer were good.
My apologies for the blog being so far behind, mainly due to my laziness and unsuitable internet, but primarily just my laziness. I am writing this in Bandirma ,Turkey near Istanbul and will try and get the blog up to date before I leave here.
After traversing the Pamir Highway for a week it was time to find a nice place in Dushanbe to rest and regroup for a few days, the Greenhouse Hostel was just the place. After driving around in circles for sometime I stumbled on the Hostel hidden behind two massive steel doors with a large Overland Truck parked out the front the only clue. Alot of the accommodation is hard to find in this region as they tend not to have signs and the maps me App I’m using is hit and miss with its accuracy.
I checked into the hostel and got a good bed in a Dorm with Air Conditioning and Breakfast for around $8 a night, you can’t beat that. The Hostel was full of travellers, some Backpacking, quite a few Cyclists and also a few Motorcycle Travellers, it was a very social place and after a week by myself it was great to talk to other people and swap stories about the road ahead and behind. Till and Lin who I met in Osh arrived a few days later and we were trying to work out how I passed them on the Pamir as they left Osh two days before me.
While I was here in Dushanbe I also needed to sort out my Uzbekistan Visa, I already had my Letter of Invitation but I needed to collect the actual Visa from the Uzbek Embassy here, sounds easy enough…..
I jumped in a Taxi with Till and Lin as they also needed a Visa and headed off down to the Embassy on a warm 37 degree day. I had read about this Embassy and what a circus it was when you needed to apply or collect your Visa. As an Australian to get a Visa for Uzbekistan you first need to obtain a Letter of Invitation, easy enough online through an Uzbek Travel Agent and costs around $70 US but takes up to two weeks. I had applied in Almaty Kazakhstan so my Letter had arrived by email, all I needed to do was pay for the Visa itself and collect it, but first I had to get into the office.
Every day local Tajiks go to the Embassy to get short term Visa’s for Uzbekistan sometimes there can be over a hundred people waiting out the front, today it wasn’t as busy but there was still around 50 people waiting in the baking hot sun. So the only way in was for all three of us to just push our way through the crowd holding up our passports and the Security Guard would let us in, mainly because they make more money from foreigners so we get preferential treatment….fair or not I didn’t really care at that point.
So after getting in without being seriously Injured I handed over my application form and was told to wait for an hour, unfortunately Till and Lin had to wait a week (Germans and some other nationalities don’t need a Letter but they then have to wait a week) only in Uzbekistan……..
Two and a half hours later they called my name and I crowd surfed back into the Embassy and was handed my Visa… after I gave them my hard earned $75 US of course.
Then it was time for a walking tour of Dushanbe starting with the massive Flagpole, Tajikistan apparently has Flagpole Envy as Baku in Azerbaijan has built a taller one…
This just might be my new mode of transport, I think I could fit the bike in the back…
The courtyard of the Hostel and the main hub where everyone gathers and swaps adventure stories usually over Pizza and Beer.
So its time to leave the comforts of Dushanbe and head into the hot wild west of Uzbekistan. I’ll be riding with Michael from Ireland for a while until he turns south and heads through Turkmenistan….if his Visa comes through. Lottie (Hope I’ve spelt that correctly) is from Scotland, her and Ryan are about to embark on the Pamir Highway in a day or two going the opposite way.
Off we go through the tree lined streets of Dushanbe.
North towards the Mountains, we couldn’t cross the most direct Border as it was for locals only so we needed to go a few hundred Kilometres out of our way but the scenery was worth it.
Into the first of a series of Tunnels where I learnt very quickly NOT to wear sunglasses as you can see bugger all and you cant really stop to take them off without getting run over by something bigger than you……
Then into the Infamous Anzob Tunnel, otherwise known as the Tunnel of Death…..
(No I didn’t make that up either)
A large Piece of the Concrete roof has dropped onto the road, luckily in the other lane, not so lucky for them though.
The Tunnel is just over 5 Kilometres long and was the only way from Dushanbe to the Uzbek Border as the Azob Pass (the old Gravel road over the Mountains) was closed due to a Landslide. There has been some works done on the Tunnel over recent years but even with new lighting it was still very difficult to see, the Carbon Monoxide from Cars and Trucks was thick in the air and there were constant large pools of water on the road, I was glad to see the light at the end of the Tunnel…..
Then the ride through the Valley was spectactular.
Except for this guy who looked like he took a short cut down the mountain and wasn’t having a great day…..
No matter where you go in the world you will always get held up by one of these….
Signs of a recent Landslide, they don’t do these in a small way here….
So after a long hot day of riding we found a quiet Campsite not far from the Uzbek Border and had a visitor over for dinner, although he wasn’t keen on my freshly fried Chips.
The next day the hot sun got us out of our tents very early so we packed up and headed for the Border.
On the Tajikistan side we had to sort out a small issue with Michael’s Customs Document, when he entered Tajikistan they had written 15 days for his bike to be in the country when it should have been 45 as they did with mine. As he had been in Tajikistan for 17 days the Customs guy wanted $70 US for each day he was over($140 US). This smelled like a scam to get a Bribe so I politely and calmly explained that it looked like the Customs Officer at the other Border had made a ‘slight error’ in filling out the form as we had both entered via the same Border, also as neither of us had $140 US it was a bit of a stalemate…..that’s until they gave in and waved us through with a “Hope you enjoyed Tajikistan” and big smiles on their faces, patients won the battle yet again…….
Then it was onto the last window to have our Passports checked, where a large crowd of people were huddled around a small window, when the window opened they all pushed and shoved to try and get in first, no queues as usual. We waited for sometime as more locals turned up and just walked around the group and pushed to the front beside the window. One local man turned up and pushed through with a stack of Passports and put them through when the window opened, he then went away and came back with another stack and tried the same until one local women had a brief but loud chat to him and he walked away sulking. After waiting for over two hours I decided to do things their way so I grabbed Michael’s Passport and as soon as the window opened I pushed towards the window and reached over the crowd and threw both Passports in the window just before it closed. As our Foreign Passports have chips in them and are easier to check we had them both back in less than 10 minutes and we were free to have a go at getting into Uzbekistan.
At the Uzbek side it was a little more orderly and after about an hour of going aimlessly backwards and forwards to different people we were through to the waiting arms of two Money Changers…..
The currency in Uzbekistan is rather unique and can be tricky without doing your research. The official rate for $1 US is 4 Uzbek Sum but on the street the rate is at least double ($1 US = 8 Sum) so you would be mad to change your money at the bank, this is all done under the noses of all the officals and it’s just accepted.
So money changed I now had a massive stack of Uzbek notes and we were let loose onto the roads of Uzbekistan where you quickly become the centre of attention. There are very few Motorcycles in Uzbekistan other than travellers so you need to get used of being a moving tourist attraction really quickly, everyone is very friendly which sometimes gets dangerous on the roads when people want to look at the bike or talk to you in traffic.
This eastern side of Uzbekistan is flat and hot and has a lot of Market Gardens growing mostly melons of all types, and did I mention it was hot, over 42 degrees and that would become the norm is Uzbekistan.
The other thing you need to get accustomed to are the numerous Police Checkpoints on the roads as they can become very tricky if you are not careful. They are set up with two stop signs around 30 metres apart so I guess the theory is this slows the traffic and if the Police want to stop you they just point at you with a red wand. The first one we arrived at not long after the border and as we slowed to a stop one of the Police waved us through, then they stopped us at the other side of the checkpoint and told us we didn’t stop at the stop sign fully and we needed to pay a fine. I was getting used to this and knew where it was heading so after taking our passports and licenses they got the fine book out and put the pen to the page but didn’t write, you would think they would change thier methods abit, then they said we pay a fine to them. At first I politely asked them for a warning as this was out first time with one of these checkpoints, they replied no and we needed to pay a fine now. I knew they wouldn’t give in so I replied OK I have no money yet as we only just entered the country (if they had of checked my tank bag they would have seen the stack of cash I had picked up at the border) so please write out the fine and I’ll pay it in Samarkand when I go to the bank, knowing full well I wouldn’t pay it at all. This is not what they wanted to hear so this went back and forth for another 20 minutes until they also gave in handed our passports and Licenses back and told us to go.
The roads are still manic and crazy and the drivers spend most of the time on your side of the road but at least the road conditions are not that bad.
Alright let’s get as much hay on the truck as we can, doesn’t matter if the trucks rolls, it will be OK….
After another long hot ride we arrived in Samarkand where we negotiated the laneways to try and find a Hotel.
We eventually found a decent one for a reasonable price, parked the bikes and got out of the hot motorcycle gear and headed to town to explore.
The following day we ventured into the city again and had a tour of the Registan, which means ‘Sandy Place’ as when it was built the whole area was a sandy trough in the Desert. The Registan has been used over the years for a variety of things including a University and more commonly as a Bazaar and Market. It consists of three separate Medressa’s one finished around 1420, the second around 1636 and the third and baby of the three in around 1660 and due to the Sandy foundations and a number of massive Earthquakes over the years many of the walls and Minarets are still out of plumb (Not vertical) even though they have been through a number of restorations.
And then a trip down the tree lined tourist strip to the Bazaar where Michael organised a SIM card and I picked up some washers to repair a bracket on my Plastic Chain Guard which had broken on the Pamir.
The following day Michael still had not heard if he has been granted a Visa for Turkmenistan so after another day of R&R in Samarkand we headed off west towards Bukhara.
If you think the money situation is strange in Uzbekistan getting Petrol is even weirder. To explain it simply Uzbekistan has excessive supplies of Natural Gas therefore around 83% of the countries vehicles run on LPG and conversions cost around $300, so who needs petrol….well us foreigners who bring our Cars, Trucks and Motorcycles do and unless you know about it you will end up with a bit of a shock when you drop into the Petrol Station to fill up. To get around this problem some of the locals buy up any of the Petrol that gets into the country and store it in 5 litre Vegetable Oil Bottles in there Garages, until a hapless tourist arrives and then is forced to pay an exorbitant cost for it, this is known as Black Market Fuel and is the ONLY way to get Petrol here.
We were told by the Hotel Owner that we could find some around the corner, just look for the empty bottles on the side of the street, a sign that they have Petrol for sale. As we rode into the main street I spotted a couple of bottles on the side of the road next to a Melon stand so we stopped and spoke to a couple of kids who were running the stand. Sure enough they had petrol stooked away at the back of a nearby shop and within 5 minutes we were filling up with petrol from 5 litre Vegetable Oil Bottles on the side of a busy street with the help of a couple of 10 year olds.
I had been warned about the quality of the petrol as most is only 80 octane and most modern vehicles need at least 92 or 95, I had bought a bottle of Octane Booster in Kazakhstan for this very reason, so a little in with the dodgy Petrol and the bike ran perfectly.
So all fuelled up we headed off into the 43 degree Desert, next stop Bukhara.
After a long hot ride we found a Hostel that had been recommended to Michael and settled into an air conditioned room.
Bukhara is a nice small City with a series of narrow laneways and a Central ‘Old City’, its a little touristy but the scenery is good, the restaurants even better and due to the heat during the day the place comes alive at night.
The next day we went on a walking tour of the city with Charles, a French guy staying at our Hostel, even though it was a little warm (Bloody Hot) it was good to be off the bike and walking for a change.
Welcome to sunny Bukhara, guaranteed to bake you if you stand still for too long….
We also caught up with four young Norwegian guys who I had met in Dushanbe and then again at our Hotel in Samarkand, so we all went out for dinner at the local Italian Restaurant and had Pizza, as you do in Uzbekistan, what a mixed up world……
After a few days in Bukhara It was time for me to move on to Khiva. Michael stayed on in Bukhara as he was still waiting to hear about his Turkmenistan Visa and if he got it he would enter there from Bukhara. I later found out that he had to fly overnight to Tashkent and go to the Turkmenistan Embassy only to find that they had approved his Visa but didn’t bother emailing him, that is they way it works they don’t seem to care if tourists come or they don’t, if they only knew how much money they are missing out on….maybe one day things will change.
So the night before I left we took the opportunity to source some Black Market fuel. After a few attempts at Petrol Stations I found a guy who jumped in his car and said follow me…In any other place you would be cautious but as is the daily routine here he led us straight to a guy selling Petrol on the side of the road and with a shake of the hand and a wave he was gone. This was our Petrol Station for today….
It was time to say Goodbye to Michael, its been great riding with you mate, good luck for the rest of your trip and I’ll see you in Australia.
It started off a cool morning but it was soon well over 40 degrees and reached 46 degrees for the 450 odd Kilometre ride to Khiva.
And not a lot to see except for this bridge which seemed important enough to have around 20 Police guarding it.
I got into Khiva only just finding some Petrol at a house along the way, if you see the bottle just go knock on the door and say” Fill her up please”. I stayed at a great little hostel recommended to me by Olga, a Russian girl I met at our Hostel in Bukhara, Charles was also staying here and he and Olga had organised a tour of some Ruins for the following day so I put my hand up for that for something different.
Some of these old Adobe Forts were built in 400 and 500 and some were more intact than others mainly due to their age and the effects of the wind.
This one was a great playground for some of the local kids.
Some more modern Adobe buildings nearby, for those not sure of What Adobe is it is a mix of local Clay and water with Straw or Hay used as a reinforcing agent, good for dry climates like Uzbekistan not so good if it rains a lot as it can wash away the walls of your house.
And this one had a bird living in it.
The last one we visited had been partially restored and showed just how they built these originally with local Clay Bricks and a final coat of Adobe, except this time they used a Concrete Footing instead of rammed Earth, I guess it means this restoration will last longer than the last one.
It was a long and hot day reaching over 46 during the afternoon, every time we got out of the car we would be covered in sweat by the time we got back in, just as you cooled down it was time to tour the next one. At the end of the day we dropped Charles off on the highway so he could get a lift to Nukus further west and then dropped Olga off at the Airport for her flight back to Russia. It was after 7 p.m. by then time I got back to the Hostel, enough time for a quick meal and sleep so I could get moving early in the morning to avoid some of the heat.
The next day I was gone before 7 a.m. It was already over 35 degrees and true to form it was 46 by lunchtime. West of Khiva there is not much but Desert and flat straight roads until you reach the sizable town of Nukus, which I decided to skirt around and keep going west. As Nukus was only around 200 Kilometres from Khiva I had planned on getting Petrol at the next town of Kungrad, I would nearly regret that decision.
As I was riding into a massive headwind my fuel economy was a little worse than normal and as I rolled into Kungrad I had around 100 kilometres before being empty, certainly not enough to make it to the next fuel in Kazakhstan over 400 kilometres away. After trying three Petrol Stations only to be told repeatedly “No Benzine in Kungrad” I started to get a little worried. I didn’t have enough to get back to Nukus and I couldn’t go any further west without fuel, I was considering a Hotel for the night and a taxi back to Nukus to buy fuel but just then I remembered the I Overlander App. This App allows travellers to enter things like Camping Places and also luckily Black Market Fuel. I found only one marked for Kungrad so I set off down a bombed out dirt track full of dried mud to where the marker was. Here I found a group of old men sitting in the street discussing world events but they couldn’t help me find Benzine (Petrol), just then two guys appeared from nearby houses and jumped straight on their phones to hunt for petrol. Thankfully this guy found some at a friends house so he jumped on the back of my bike and within 15 minutes I had a tank full of the dirtiest and most expensive Petrol yet, but beggars cant be choosers……
Back on the road towards the Kazak Border and hopefully some better quality fuel, strangely the bike chugged along like it was nothing even though the fuel must of been causing problems.
West of Kungrad it gets drier and flatter if that is possible and with nothing to look at other than Gas Fields it was head down and on towards the border and out of Uzbekistan as quick as possible. Around 100 Kilometres before the Border I met up with two riders from the Czech Republic and took on the Border formalities with them. After around two hours we were through into Kazakhstan and onto the worst road I had encountered for a long time which ran like a dirt and sand rollercoaster full of potholes all the way to Beyneu.
It had been over 13 hours since I left Khiva and I had ridden around 700 Kilometres, I found the first Hotel in Beyneu, didn’t ask how much it was, had a shower and a meal and fell asleep in seconds.
It turned out that the Hotel was very good and pretty cheap so after a quick breakfast I took on the last 450 Kilometres to Aktau to hopefully catch the Ferry across to Baku Azerbaijan.
On the way I met these four German guys coming the other way, we exchanged information on the respective road conditions and I managed to swap my remaining Uzbek cash with some Kazak and Azeri money which will save me looking for an ATM straight away when I get there, after nearly four months on the road you pick up a few things……
Other than a flat dusty desert this is the only time the scenery really changes as the road drops onto a lower Steppe so there are no photos of this section, just imagine flat boring desert.
The last part of the road into Aktau is being duplicated and as is the way in Kazakhstan there are no signs or barriers to tell you what to do, cars and trucks just end up driving everywhere, where there is a gap just drive in it, it was just like dodgem cars but with serious consequences, I couldn’t wait to get out of Kazakhstan…..again.
It was Saturday when I arrived in Aktau and the Ferry Terminal was like a Ghost Town, I couldn’t get any information so I rode into town and checked into a nice Hotel the Germans had recommended to me and will try again on Monday morning.
At least Aktau had a beach, well sort of, this is where I would wait….and wait….and wait….