Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Georgia cont...
Two options for the next day where to take the 350 km motorway to Borjomi or the 170km short cut up an A road to meet up with Tiffany, another British biker. The obvious choice was to take the short cut and after a quick consultation with the hostel owner, who assured me the road was good, it was off down the short cut.This was to become the hardest road travelled so far……
After 50K’s of broken tarmac the road decended into 70k’s of potholes, dirt track imbedded with bolders, mud and a few stream crossings thrown in for extra measure. 6.30 hours later I rolled into Borjomi, a little tired, a bit battered, but pleased to have survived the road with bike in tact. A good test for things that were surely to come in the stans.
A good section on the road to Borjomi
Lovely scenery, ugly road
The roads in Georgia are very similar to a farmers market in that around every bend you are treated to a herd of cows or goats wandering aimlessly in the middle of the road, this even extends to the outskirts of towns.
A view from the hometay window in Bojormi

After 4 day stop over in Tblisi and a failed attempt to reach Kazbegi in the north due to a landslide and it was time to head off to Azerbaijan and a date with a ferry to either Turkmenistan or Kaz.

Travellers at the hostel in Tblisi

The castle - Tblisi old town

The Baths - Tblisi


After crossing the boarder in less than an hour (a new record) and being asked for the 3rd time whether i knew Russell Crowe, it was off to Baku via an overnight stopover at Saki in Northern Azerbaijan. At the boarder i was told that i had to hand my bike into customs within 3 days of entering the country or face a large fine so there really wasn't much time to explore much of the country.

Azerbaijan is visiblymuch richer than Georgia with it's wealth driven from a booming oil industry which can be seem from the neat and tidy towns to the abundance fo fancy 4x4's being driven around the streets.

I'd heard stories from other bikers of the police corruption in Azerbaijan but encountered none of this on the route to Baku. In fact, the police gave me friendly waves and at one checkpoint they even tried to encourge me to pull a wheelie!

Northern Azerbaijan

Cows on the road to Baku

One thing i did manage to do was spend an afternoon on the peninsular North of Baku, infamous for it's environmental damage due to a poorly managed oil industry during the soviet era. I was frankly gob smacked at the rusting hulks and the huge oil slicks that seemed to cover both land and sea. I have never see a place, in all my life, that looks so down beat and environmentally damaged as the island at the end of the peninsula.

The Peninsula

The government building in Baku

Turning up at the 1000 Camels Guesthouse i noticed a familiar jacket on one of the beds and discovered Nathan (biker from the UK last seen in Istanbul) had turned up a couple of days earlier. With Ollie and Jenny also arriving with a huge thirst for beer after being starved of alcohol for 3 weeks in Iran it could only mean one thing..... The start of a trawl of the local bars.

The next day involved trying to get a ferry to Turkmenistan while all the others headed off to Kazakhstan from the same port. Hanging around at the port for 8 hours to buy a ticket and waving goodbye to the guys left me alone on the ferry for the 13 hour crossing of the Caspian Sea to a whole new world, Turkmenistan. The start of the stans was here.......

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


Cappadocia, a lunar landscape of strange rock towers and stone cliffs, first occupy by the Hitties followed by the Persians and then the Romans. The original arrivals burrowed in to the rock towers and cliffs to create their simple dwellings. The heart of the area is a now tourist town called Goreme which became my base for the next few days to explore the surrounding area.


Great places abound in the area with a visit to the underground city, the Ihlara valley (a stunning lush green canyon cutting through the dusty surrounding hillside) and a fantastic early morning balloon ride over Goreme being some of the highlights.

Goreme by air

Ihara Valley

The road to Ihlara Valley

Walking in the valley

Cave homes at Ischtar

The underground city at Derinkuyu is probably the peak of the Troglodytes burrowing activity. 75 meters deep spread over 7 stories it’s a veritable warren of passageways and rooms. It is said that several other underground cities in the surrounding area where all linked by 10’s of kilometres of connecting passageways, a true navigation feet in itself.

Some observations about the people of Turkey…….
The people have got to be the most friendly and welcoming race I’ve ever met, inquisitive, with a great zest for life and a fantastic sense of humour. A great example being when visiting the petrol stations. As well as the obligatory Chai (Tea) offered. I’ve been fed several times and even been offered free petrol twice! The later I refused. While fantastic, It can sometimes make buying petrol a time consuming exercise with questions about where I’m from, where I’m going and of course lots of questions about the bike.

A more infamous observation is the apparent infidelity in married men. I chatted to several hostel owners and despite most of them being married with children they still actively chased the female tourists with a real vigour. On speaking with some of the local women it was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and a statement of ‘they’re still young‘. There seems an almost begrudging acceptance from the women.

It was then time to get back on the road and head east to the rugged mountains of eastern Turkey.

I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect from Eastern Turkey. All I can say is that the last 3 days have been the best of the trip so far. Immense landscapes, friendly people and a total lack of tourists. I’ve seen 1 other adventure biker and 2 tourists since I left Goreme….The towns themselves tend to have a rough and ready feel, perfect for exploring and getting a real feel for life beyond the tourist traps of Antalia, Goreme and Istanbul.

Generally, when taking a journey you hit areas of scenic beauty that are fleeting. Eastern Turkey is different in that respect. I’ve spent the last 3 days riding through countryside that has been constantly awe inspiring …..from the grassy mountainous regions leading up to Nemrut, to the baking hot open grasslands of cattle country bordering Syria, to the central mountainous region of the Guneydogu Oroslar and the road from Ezurum to Barhol with the most incredible canyon lands you are likely to see anywhere in the world. Eastern Turkey is a scenery lovers dream.

The road to Nemrut


From Nemrut to the plains

Lunch on a petrol station forecourt

Heading north

Towards Barhol

Marked differences from the west, apart from the fact that it’s a much more impoverished part of the country, are an appearance of army vehicles and police and army checkpoints. Largely due to the problems with a fiercely proud Kurdish population fighting for the right to express their national identity. Beyond the problems of the past, things seem to be changing for the better with a new Turkish government taking a more liberal approach. The language is now openly taught in schools, there are Kurdish TV and radio stations and even a Kurdish run local government.The women are also more conservatory dressed, with headscarf’s being the norm rather than the exception.
I then spent a couple of days in the little trekking village of Barhol about 120k’s South of the Georgian border to change the front tyre, which was looking decidedly bald by now, and give the bike some general servicing and checks before heading off to Georgia. Barhol is a village with a ticking time bomb. The government are in the process of building a dam down stream which will raise the water level by 750 meters. This will mean relocating all the villagers to higher ground.

Barhol Hostel

After changing my front tyre to a new Bridgestone - Trail Wing, I discovered that I hadn’t bought the correct adaptor for pumping the tyre up again, Doh! A real school boy error but as is the way in Turkey there’s always someone close by to help out a stranger in need. Queue right stage….. the appearance of the hostel owner who quickly ran down the street and returned with an electric pump borrowed from his mate. With tyre inflated in seconds I was ready to head off to Georgia and say goodbye to Turkey.

If I was to sum up Turkey in a nutshell. Amazing history, culture, food, landscapes and most importantly the people. Friendly, generous and funny they make all visitors welcome beyond belief. I have to say it’s one of best countries I’ve ever visited and I’ll certainly be back. To all my friends, I recommend you ditch the other holiday destinations and make Turkey your next trip. Make sure you catch some of the raw East, it‘s amazing……


After a confusing border crossing, which involved been repeatedly sent back to an office by the boarder police to get a piece of paper (god knows what for) and the office insisting I didn’t need one as an EU citizen, the boarder guard finally let me into Georgia after much raised voices and expressions of frustration.
It was then a quick 15k sprint up to Batumi, a crumbing soviet style seaside town on the Black Sea, and an overnight stay at an aging Russian style hostel that had seen better days. Once kit was removed from the bike, the owner took me to my room for the guided tour which included instructions on how the shower worked. This included a demonstration where by he started flicking the open fusebox type switches on the wall with dripping wet hands as I looked on horror and backed away to the door expecting him to fry himself. Luckily he didn’t burst into flames and with a sigh of relief I said goodnight.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Greece and into Turkey...

Greece Cont…

While wandering home after a final meal on Thasos I bumped into a young guy near the campsite and we started chatting about where we come from and what we do etc. He was telling me about the 18 months service that all Greek males are required to do from the age of 21. The shocking thing he talked about was his time in the commandos, the Greek elite fighting forces. He showed me the cigarette burns and cuts on his arms that he sustained during his interrogation training, a sobering reminder that there are still many differences between the countries in Europe.

Welcome to Turkey….

After a relatively smooth boarder crossing the first sight that greeted was a guy on donkey with a big smile on his face and a wave, a great start to a new country……

The difference between Greece and Turkey is immediately apparent in the change from the barren rockiness of the Mediterranean to lush green fields and a 10 degree temperature drop. Known as the food basket, the SW is the agricultural centre of a country which is one of the few countries in Europe that grows enough produce to self-sustain it’s own population.

It was getting late in the day so a quick blast up the road brought me to a stopover at Tekirdag to sample the regional speciality of cheese meatballs which prompted the start of my love affair with the greatest of all Turkish exports, the kebab.

The Eighth wonder of the world, the kebab

Istanbul, the gateway to Asia. The city formerly known as Constantinople, named after the Emporer Constantine during a 1000 year Roman rule. A huge city built around the mighty Bosphorus Strait among rolling hills. Constaninople a Christian enclave until the ’infadels’ were finally overthrown by Mehmet II from Edirne and turned Constantinople into Istanbul and the predominately Muslim state we see today.

The traffic! Istanbul has got to be the craziest place I have ever ridden. It has been said that the traffic in Istanbul is akin to driving in India. The eagerness of the locals to get from A to B is done with the most aggressive driving I have ever seen with an anything goes attitude to the rules of the road. After getting lost several times and observing 3 crashes I finally made it to the hostel in the centre of the old town, centre of the tourist district, with nerves slightly frayed and a huge sigh of relief.

The old town contains 2 of the truely magnificent buildings of the world. The blue Mosque with it's spectacular domes and towers and Aya Sofya, previous a Christian Church converted to a Mosque and finally a museum which it remains to date.

The Blue Mosque in all it's glory

The blue Mosque at night from the hostel window

The Blue Mosque main hall

Proof of Aya Sofya's Christian past

.......and it's conversion to the Muslim faith

The sounds from the main square, where both stand, evoke a feeling of eastern mystery as the call to pray reverberates from the towers of The blue Mosque and other surrounding mosques. Magical.

The hostel is a great little place, cheap, friendly and loads of backpackers to chat with and while away the hours.
Over the preceding days two other bikers turned up from the UK, Leon and Nathan which started the quest for the reasonably priced kebab and several days heavy drinking. One afternoon chilling out outside the hostel a Canadian girl had us in stitches over a Turkish sauna (Haman) her male friend had received. He was told to get on all fours and had been vıgoursly scrubbed everywhere, i litterally mean everywhere, by a male masseuse. Maybe the Haman experience was one best to be avoided. :)

Once spare tyres were purchased and a parcel received from home it was goodbye to my new found friends and off to the East, Asia awaits.

Further updates to come ın the next few days.