Got myself the electronic toll card for Turkey motorways… went by myself, while the rest of the team went in two groups. Team player, me. My experience – relatively smooth. Apparently the other two groups’… not so much. Lesson learnt – being a team player is for suckers.
Saw some stuff… – Topkapi Palace – walked around that, seems like the old Sultan’s knew how to live. Fairly difficult to get a good single view of the whole thing, but wandering around took some time. Incidentally, a very, very large part of the complex comprised “The Harem”. – Hagia Sophia – didn’t go inside that, just admired it from the outside. Large. – Blue Mosque – likewise… looked at it from the outside, had a quick look inside the central square, but balked at the queue to enter the actual inner Mosque. – Spice Bazaar, and surrounding pseudo-market/bazaar. I saw at least three stalls which sold the logical combination of grooming products (electric shavers, etc), and knuckledusters. – Grand Bazaar – no brass-knuckles for sale there – just a very large collection of shops, all selling the same things. – Suleymaniye Mosque – went inside this one, all very nice. Even the small seperated “Women’s Areas” gated off at the rear of the worship area had lovely carpet.
Our final night – we had a very nice, very expensive dinner at some fancy-ass restaurant. Very good views of Istanbul, very good food, good wine, and a ridiculous bill at the end of it.
So – the last few posts have all been titled rather boringly… “nearly out of Europe”, “almost leaving Europe”, “So so close to being out of Europe”, etc, etc. Similar to headlines in the UK for the last year or so, and presumably the next year or so. That’s as the first 9 days of this trip have been towards one goal… “Get Out of Europe”… and I think that’s finally ticked off. Hopefully, from here on in – the schedule is a little more relaxed (relatively), and seeing more interesting things – rather than just clocking off hundreds of miles on motorways.
Got up early – strap all the spare tyres to the bikes (for some customs/import reason – the van isn’t allowed to take them over the border… but the bikes are, and we loaded them back into the van immediately over the border (within sight of the border/customs)) ~35 miles of standard Greek highway, to get to Turkish Border. Sat around and waited, for a couple of hours… while the paperwork was processed rather slowly ~140 miles of boring Turkish motorway… better driving than Albania, but I did see one vehicle driving down the motorway in the wrong direction ~20 miles of just riding through Istanbul
Two days “off” now… .three nights in the same hotel… a lot of “stuff” to catch up on. Tomorrow, give the bike an inspection, try to re-pack the “seldom-used-stuff” pannier a little better. At some point – try to sort out this bloody laptop… buying a brand new bit of kit just before travelling – not smart And I guess catch up on a few other things – accounting/tax-stuff, finally paying for the “extras” for this trip, paying any other bills, maybe a facebook update, and maybe even extract a few decent video clips from GoPro footage thus far. Doubtful, though – as primarily – I’m going to go see some stuff.
Started the day with some Tasty-Twisties, then got on the motorway to just power through and get as close to the Turkey border as possible. Rode past/around Mount Olympus, got the GoPro finally attached to the helmet – so footage from here-on-in should have a slight corner obscured by my helmet, rather than a big fly-screen/wind-shield in the picture… once/if I finally get some time to put together some publishable video clips.
~95 miles of mostly rather nice twisty roads, past Mount Olympus, through Macedonia, and a heap of switch-backs ~245 miles of super boring, super empty, Greek motorways.
An awesome day – so much twisty roads, one that I did a U-turn just so I could do it again. Then getting a bit “off-route”, including a bit “off-road”… but all awesome roads, as long as I knew I’d get there in the end.
~45 miles of just getting to the Albania-Greece border… where the poster proclaimed “Equal Penalties for All Corruption” – as I watched several obviously wealthy friends of the police skipped the queue. ~20 miles of Greek motorway – empty, as they’re all heading the opposite direction, into Albania, for the Greek Easter Weekend ~125 miles (plus ~20 miles for “off-route” (ie: getting lost)) of awesome, amazing twisty greek roads ~20 miles of empty Greek motorway ~30 miles of some final twisty roads approaching the village we stay in
Approaching the place we’re staying the night – I wasn’t really expecting it… turn a corner, and I see the Meteora rock formations, which we’re staying right under – in Kalambaka. Rather impressive. Such good roads – didn’t really stop to take many photos, but Northern Greece really is rather a nice spot – very different to the typical image of Greece.
EDIT: Whenever anybody makes a comment about “in that hotel two nights ago”… everybody else has to think about what that hotel was, where it was, etc. Our trip-memories have become the 24-hour news-cycle. Mine – even worse. As I was writing the above, the only thing I could remember about the day was the last – the getting lost in the afternoon. Earlier… Dog-watch: made friends with 2 dogs at the border; later, on a ride off-route, and off-road – ended up at some hermit’s house on top of a hill, with guard-dogs… one of which bit into my lower jeans, and tried (very nearly successfully) to drag my off the bike… I then patted one of the puppies, obviously in training to be a guard-dog, as the owner came out and was probably even more upset about my petting of his guard-dog-in-training, than he was about my intrusion into his solitude; and even later – came across a herd of goats crossing the road – probably about 2 hundred strong… I waited them out, and at the end, were the “goat-dogs” – herding the tail of the herd… one of which was rather curious about me, and friendly. Also – probably other stuff happened.
25 April — Croatia – Montenegro – Albania, 245 miles
Still racing to get out of Europe… and another fairly long day. “Only” 245 miles (plus the extras when I went a little off-route into central Tirana) – but two border crossings, and a ferry.
~24 miles of “just get there” roads to Croatia-Montenegro border – where I got the first actual passport stamp ~75 miles to ride across Montenegro, plus a wee ferry ride. Some stunning coastal views, and not-so-stunning inner-countryside Entered Albania – where the locals seemed confused we were lining up with the other vehicles… “just ride down the pedestrain aisle” – seemed to be what the sign language was saying – so yeah, sure ~145 miles of riding amongst Albanian drivers. All I can say is… good practice for when we get to Asia, I guess… a nice little sneak peek for those who have never seen Chinese driving.
My introduction to Albania was coming around the very first bend, and seeing a reasonably (dangerously) sizable rock in the middle of my lane. So, I veer slightly to one side. Then see the rock is still right in my path. Realise it’s a turtle (or tortoise) – crossing the road, and veer slightly more to avoid. A very nice twisty pass over a range for the last part of the ride, before we settled into our hotel in Pogradec, on the coast of Lake Ohrid – another World Heritage Site ticked off, I believe.
24 April — Croatia – Bosnia&Herzegovina – Croatia, 147 miles
A shorter day – with a wee sleep-in, on the bike by 8:30, for some more coastal roads, a pass-through Bosnia & Herzegovina (which bisects Croatia) – before returning to Croatia, to spend the evening in the rather impressive Dubrovnik. The old town of Dubrovnik is rather spectacular… I believe it is also known as King’s Landing – for those who watch TV. NB: Of all the border crossings I’ve done thus far – not once have I been asked to take off my (full face) helmet… but today the Croatian border guard – refused to even look at my passport – just opened the barrier as I rode up to the window.
~106 miles of Croatian coast road ~6 miles of crossing over the section of Bosnia&Herzegovina which reaches out to the coast And then another ~35 miles of Croatian coast