I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Friday, 24 October 2014

'Allo 'Allo! .. EUROPE


Saturday, 11th October

There is an old saying - 'Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.'

Every schoolboy knows about the legend of the Trojan Horse.

As the story goes ......

A long time ago, there was an ancient city-state called Troy, which was protected by a high wall built around the city. Greek warriors had been trying to breach the wall for about ten years but could not find a way in. The Trojans weren't able to drive the Greeks away. A classic military impasse.

Odysseus, a Greek general, had an idea. His plan was to build a huge wooden horse and leave it outside the city gates. Then, the entire Greek army would pretend to leave, as if they had finally admitted defeat. But the horse would be hollow; thirty Greek men would be hiding inside.

As the Greek army appeared to sail away, the people of Troy rushed outside, cheering. They found the horse and dragged it inside the gates to keep it on display '.. in triumph and glory.'

That night, while the Trojan people were sleeping, the men concealed inside the wooden horse climbed out, set fire to the city, and opened the gates. Sneeky Bastards! The waiting Greek army seeing the fired city (the signal) charged through the gates.

And that was the end of Troy.

But where the hell IS Troy? I never really knew .. did you?

Well, it's about 80 km [50 mi], just over an hour away, north of Babakale (the westernmost point of the Asian Mainland); a little inland from the Turkish coastline .. and across the Aegean Sea from ancient Sparta.

Troy (Troia) was our next stop after leaving Babakale.

Troy still hasn't been unearthed completely yet, and the excavation work continues to this day. It is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO sites.

The inevitable amphitheatre.

Hey, you've seen one .. yuv seen 'em all!

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Troy was once a harbour city, but the site now lies 5 km inland from the coast due to the alluvial material carried by the River Scamander, which filled the bay, turning it into fertile flat farmland.

As I gazed across the farmland I couldn't help but think of the 2004 epic movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, and Eric Bana as Hector. You know the one, the movie that nowadays is usually screened on ITV3 or Five USA at 11:00pm, typically on a Thursday, right after the main headline stories of Newsnight have about finished .. and just after the missus has gone to bed. You switch channels to watch Troy .. for at least the third time. At 2:00am - if you manage to stay awake that long - and after that extra half bottle of red wine .. you eventually crawl into bed, greeted with the softest of grunts. I think we've all been there.

This (above pic) is precisely where, I liked to imagine, that Achilles (Brad) arrived alone in his chariot at Troy's walls and calls Hector (Eric) .. "HECTOR" .. out to single combat. At first the two warriors appear evenly matched, but Achilles eventually defeats Hector and drags his body from Troy's walls to the Greek camp in a gesture of spite.

Achilles was always going to win of course, being slightly better looking, and let's face it .. having a much cooler name ('Brad' vs 'Eric' = No Contest)

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About 30 km [18½ mi] to the north of Troy brought us to the shoreline city of Çanakkale, where we rode straight onto the awaiting ferry that crosses the Dardanelles Strait* to the Gallipoli peninsula.

*Links the Aegean Sea (Mediterranean) with the Sea of Marmara (and the Black Sea beyond) effectively seperating Europe from Asia. 

Mid-afternoon: halfway across the Dardanelles, parked-up on a steel deck, travelling at 16 km/h [8.6 knots] to our lodgings, the Hotel Ejder, 4.7 km [3 mi] across the Strait in the township of Eceabat on the eastern shore of the peninsula.

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 More History:

During World War I, the Dardanelles Strait, which connects the Mediterranean and Black Sea, was the stage of a year-long battle between Britain + France against the Ottoman Empire.

From April 1915 to January 1916, a joint British and French operation, known as The Gallipoli Campaign, was mounted in an attempt to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (now Istanbul) to secure a sea route to Russia. The attempt failed, with heavy casualties on both sides.

The doomed campaign was the brainchild of Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who thought it would end the war early, by creating a new front forcing the Germans to split their army still further in order to support the under-rated Turkish forces.

The Battle of Gallipoli was a bloody disaster of the first order .. and definitely not Winnie's finest hour. Nuff said.


The assault commenced on April 25th. Within a week the ANZAC* forces suffered 6,554 casualties, including 1,252 killed in action.

I was quite determined to visit what has since become known as Anzac Cove. Having travelled extensively around Australia and New Zealand over the course of the last eight years, I have grown very aware of just how important April-25th, 'Anzac Day', is to these two countries.

The 25th April 2015 (next year) will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the troop landings at Anzac Cove, most of whom were contingents of ANZAC.

When we visited the place it was peaceful and eerily quiet; in complete contrast to what it will be like next April-25th, when this remarkably small cove will be brimming with reverent aussies and kiwis, all there to commemorate one of the most important places and national days in the 2015 calendars of both Australia and New Zealand.

*Australian and New Zealand Army Corps

Later that day, we pushed on .. all the way to Istanbul - the 'Queen of Cities'.

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A Nice, But True Story:

In February last year (2013), I changed my rear shock absorber when I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a more robust custom-built alternative, as Honda's stock unit wasn't up to the job of hauling all our excessive weight.

I decided to retain the replaced shock just in case the new one was faulty; an extra 6 Kg [13 lbs] of ballast that I really didn't need, what with all the other unnecessary items like:  spare wheel bearings, tyre bead breaker (totally irrelevant for tubed tyres), medical unlikelies, travel iron, various Duracells, Duracell recharger, disposable undies, portable bidet, inflatable work-out weights, a hair dryer and other essential hair and cosmetic products - and an Italian restaurant-sized pepper mill (really) .. that we typically carry with us when on the road.

For some reason, which I cannot re-call now, I carted the original Honda shock unit for nearly two months and thousands of kilometres; up through Thailand, around Laos, Vietnam and into Cambodia. I guess I simply forgot it was still there, in the bottom of the rack bag .. just minding its own business.

During mid-April (2013) when we eventually arrived in Siem Reap, north-west Cambodia, to see the Angkor temples, I read an 'SOS' plea for help from an on-line Turkish acquaintance (Mehmet) for and on behalf of a Turkish couple (Hakan & Şandan) who were stranded in Kathmandu, Nepal, with a busted motorcycle shock absorber. They were riding exactly the same make and model of bike as mine, a 2005-06 Honda XL650V Transalp .. coincidentally also exactly same colour.

It was an easy decision to look into the logistics of somehow to ship my 'spare' shock absorber to them asap. DHL (Siem Reap branch) required a whopping 160 US dollars to do the job. Then, just before sending the unit (via DHL) another travelling Turk, Evgin, happened to be backpacking around SE Asia and also read about Şandan & Hakan's predicament, and without hesitation he volunteered to interrupt his travel plans and hop on a bus from Thailand back to Cambodia (he had only recently been through Cambodia) and personally deliver the shock unit to Kathmandu, which was his next intended destination in any case.

Result: about a week after broadcasting the SOS, Hakan & Şandan received my old shock unit and soon afterwards they were on their way again. A nice ending to what at the time was quite a dilemma for them.

This is Mehmet's account of the episode, which he posted on his Facebook account

'Two beautiful people - Keith and Evgin - co-operated to help us. We don't know them before, and they don't know each other either. But just for helping us they came together. This should be the real soul of travellers.

Both of them just has very limited time in Cambodia.

After learning our [Mehmet, Şandan & Hakan] problem with the rare shock absorber Keith has tried to find someone to send us his spare one just as a gift before leaving the country. At the same time, he was searching alternative ways (like shipping) to send.

And Evgin, a backpacker just passed from the border to Thailand early in the morning. But after chatting from Facebook, without any hesitation, he has decided to change his way to Cambodia again and travel for 3 hours to get rare shock absorber that Keith has tried to send us.

Fınally, in the evening they have met and Evgin has got the shock absorber from Keith.

Story sounds incredible, but real ... we are so lucky to find them. They found us actually.

Evgin and Keith, thanks a lot for your solidarity, wish to meet you (face to face) somewhere on this incredible world.'


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Monday-13th & Tuesday-14th

Istanbul, Turkey's most populous city (14 million), located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea.

Autumn is very pleasant time to visit the city; during mid-October it was neither cold nor hot - average temperature was quite perfect at around 25°C - and it was mostly still sunny, though during the nights it was just a tad chilly on occasions.

Finally, we met-up with Hakan & Şandan, who were kind enough to host us in their Istanbul apartment during our three days in their city. A Top couple.

And Mehmet, the great co-ordinator. A Top bloke.

The famous Sultanahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque) in the old city.

The five of us, friends together, after such a long wait - at the entrance of the Blue Mosque.

We took a tour inside the Blue Mosque - carrying our removed footwear, of course - lit by natural light from more than 200 stained glass windows.

We all went to the Grand Bazaar, which is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.

And also wandered around a couple of spice bazaars.

Gawd knows the varieties of different tea leaves available in the bazaars, including 'Relax' and even 'Love' teas.

.. and herbs & spices, most of which I had never even heard of. The aroma of it all was close to overpowering at times.

.. and of course, tons of Turkish Delight.

The Süleymaniye Mosque located on the Third Hill (of seven, just like Rome), near the southern bank of Istanbul's Golden Horn inlet waterway. It's the largest mosque in the city, and one of the best-known sights of Istanbul. The main dome is 53 metres [174 ft] high and has a diameter of 27.5 metres [90 ft]. At the time it was built (1558 AD) the dome was the highest in the Ottoman Empire.

Incidentally, there are around 3,000 mosques dotted around Istanbul.

Inside the Basilica cistern, an underground reservoir built by the Romans.

Locals fishing for their supper from Galata Bridge.

Tram-trolley on Istiklal Avenue. We took a ride on one from Taksim Square (where the recent fatal protests took place) to Beyoğlu Tünel. It reminded me very much of San Francisco's cable car trolleys.

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Wednesday-15th

After saying our farewells to Hakan & Şandan shortly after breakfast, we were back on the road by 9:15am, struggling through the conjested Istanbul traffic to start our 510 km [317 mi] ride to northern central Bulgaria.

We originally planned to make our way into Greece from Turkey, then Albania ~~> Macedonia ~~> before finally reaching our ultimate destination of Sevlievo in Bulgaria, where the bike was always going to be stored for the winter months. Regrettably, however, I had to cut the trip short to get back home quickly to deal with some urgent business. We therefore rode straight to Sevlievo from Istanbul instead.

About halfway, around lunchtime, we reached the Bulgarian border ...


.. and the The European 'Schengen Area', which functions (mostly) as a single country, including Bulgaria, for international travel purposes.

As European citizens we had reached 'home' as far as border controls are concerned. No further need for costly visas from now on .. all the way to England. YAY!

Oddly, Ireland and my country, the United Kingdom, are not fully committed to Schengen - and maintain opt-outs. Should we apologise for this stubborness to our fellow Europeans? I personally think not. Of course, the Channel acts as a natural barrier to the free-flow of traffic in any case.

On our way through the Bulgarian countryside to the township of Sevlievo, and for the first time in ages we were actually riding through proper hedgerows. 

.. and from the colour of the leaves and foliage, it was clear that we were well into Autumn, with winter just around the corner.



What did we make of our brief time (3 days) in Bulgaria? Well, it reminded me very much of what Cornwall was like .. 40 years ago, which is no bad thing. Stuff is bloody cheap, actually reflecting UK prices from four decades ago.

Absolutely charming goings-on during market day (Fridays) in Sevlievo. Click-on the forward play arrow above to get an idea of the atmosphere.

Property? It's easy to pick-up a substantial farmhouse-type property that just needs a little TLC and time spent on it .. for around GB£5,000.

Grub and victuals? The food is simply wonderful. Fabulous fruit and vegetables. You can buy two HUGE bowls of homemade chicken soup (with half a chicken in each bowl, really!), accompanied by massive fresh bread rolls;  followed by meat stew, plus two portions of chips and a green salad; all washed down with a pint of beer and a bottle of local red plonk .. all for about 10 quid.

Oh, and we're over there pinching their jobs too. Example: the guy who taxied us the 190 km [120 mi] to Sofia Airport the morning of our departure .. was a British expat.

Bike cleaned, battery removed and coolant drained. Put into hibernation for the next 6-7 months.

As I mentioned above, we cut short this trip, by about 12 days, as I needed to go home to take care of some important business that had been brewing (badly) since our depature for Tbilisi on Saturday, September-20th. Besides, I needed to see my new granddaughter again (born 18th September.)

I've never flown with the low-cost airline 'easyJet' before, but from Sophia Intn'l Airport it's the obvious choice, offering cheap direct flights to both London Gatwick and Stansted airports.

easyJet was the 26th carrier that has flown us around the world since starting these travelling escapades back in November 2006. Money well spent? You bet it has been!

 

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."

Saint Augustine of Hippo
Christian theologian and philosopher (354 - 430 AD)

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As I write this final post for 2014, I am back home in Cornwall, without question England's most idiosyncratic time-rinsed county. A tiny corner of the world for the pleasure traveller, the holidaymaker - and the dreaded second homer.

Back home to Cornwall's wild interior, the storm-beaten coastline, which never fails to reward the path-strayer and persistently nosy; where the scars of its tin mining history and china clay digging - are like those of nowhere else. My god, I'm so lucky to belong here.

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Thank you for visiting my blog. Sorry if I've rambled on a bit with my narrative on this particular leg of the journey .. but there is always too much to mention.

I'll be back in Bulgaria next Springtime, probably sometime during May, to continue the ride across to western Europe. By this time next year - late October 2015 - one way or another .. we'll all be back home.

You know, I really don't want this trip-of-a-lifetime to end.

Until next time.

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From Ellen's journal: click on this link →  Homeward Bound from Bulgaria

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