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May 31 2008

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European Wander ’08

Part 4

Plovdiv to Selcuk – Bulgaria, Turkey – about 600 miles

4th Map

16 June

Plovdiv – Eceabat, Bulgaria. 252 miles.

We left Plovdiv rather late in glorious sunshine, so decided to remove the inner linings once again. What a relief we did as it was a very warm ride. We followed the main E85 eastwards heading towards Istanbul. Once again the signs were mostly in Cyrillic, but we soon got the hang of what Istanbul looked like so only took a wrong turning once and that was quickly resolved.

Roadside stalls

Some of the numerous stalls along the roadside

Riding along in the sunshine I suddenly felt a sharp jab on my right wrist. Then another. Damn, I was being stung!! I started flapping my arm around trying to dislodge the yellow and black peril that I could see was stuck in my sleeve. We’d disconnected the intercom as it has a short that is causing an annoying crackling but Kevin quickly realised there was something wrong as I don’t usually wriggle that badly and pulled over to let me continue my dance on the side of the road! Looking at my arm I think I’d had about 6 stings but luckily it either wasn’t a wasp or I’m not very susceptible to their poison. A quick dab of Anthisan and I was fine.

We continued and then came to the Turkish border at Edirne. There we had to queue for passport control, then buy visas, then queue again for Customs. This one was a very slow moving queue and it looked like they were searching all the cars. We had a very pleasant chat to the guy in the booth who stamped Kevin’s passport with the details of the bike – we’d been allocated no. 77777 and he commented with a huge smile on his face that it was a very lucky number. I didn’t realise that ‘lucky 7’ is reasonably universal. After our hour and a half at the crossing we were on our way again.

Entering Turkey

Entering Turkey, aka Cape Canaveral

Turkey…this was a big topic of debate at the initial planning stages of our trip. Kevin was really keen to go and I really wasn’t. He’d tried to encourage me by showing me trip reports from other people who had ridden over here but actually that highlighted some of the problems I was keen to avoid. I had read about really bad roads and that car hire companies won’t cover any tyre damage because of the roads and then the photos on the reports showed pillions on foot as the terrain was so bad. It didn’t sound like a place I’d be happy in. Eventually I chatted to one of Kevin’s online contacts who is based in Istanbul and he reassured me with regard to the roads and language. He was also really helpful in outlining a route that would be both interesting and avoid most of the really bad roads. So here we are!

We followed the main road east until the E87 then turned south to ride towards the Gallipoli peninsular. The countryside was not at all how I had imagined it to be (I think I expected it to be like Egypt for some reason!). Actually it was very pleasant, with rolling hills covered in fields or pine forests. Eventually we saw the sea and it was a lovely turquoise with the sun shining on it. Perfect!

Turkey Landscape

Turkey, aka Buckinghamshire

We stopped at a Burger King to fill up on junk food in case we can’t find anything else better 😉 and I was able to get some Turkish currency. Finally we made our way into Eceabat and tried to find the hotel. Luckily we weren’t far from it and one of the staff wandered out and led us in. The view from our window is of the Dardenelles and the port.

Hotel View

Hotel View

17 June Eceabat

Today was allocated as a sightseeing and relaxing day. We had booked a tour of the Gallipoli areas of interest with TJ Tours (who own the hotel we’re staying in). A nice relaxed morning catching up on sleep, emails, organising washing and getting some drinks was followed by our trip which started at a very civilised 12.30.

Over the next few hours we visited many ANZAC cemeteries and had a very interesting insight into the campaign from our Turkish guide. He gave us an overview with a map and then, as we moved round the peninsular, showed us ‘on the ground’ where the places were. The sea was lovely and clear, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and it was very difficult to imagine what it must have been like for those soldiers of both sides – one trying to move up hill to take over the position of superiority and the other defending their position.

Typical terrain

Typical terrain

ANZACs were expected to climb up this. The terrain is sheer. It wore us out just walking round in the heat with our shorts and tees – we can only imagine what it was like with full kit and being fired on. In the Winter, soldiers froze to death here.

Brothers in arms

Brothers in Arms

The picture above shows a Turkish (the guide called them Ottoman) soldier carrying an ANZAC soldier to safety. Apparently the ANZAC soldier was injured and calling for help. The Turk raised a white flag then walked over to the soldier, carried him back to his own lines then walked back to his own side…. Our guide also told us that the two sides’ tunnels and trenches were only about 8m apart in some places and that they shot each other to pieces during the day then in the evenings chatted to each other!

K and L in water

We were very hot by now so went for a paddle in the beautiful, warm, clear water

The very thought-provoking tour ended and we went back to the hotel. We visited war graves earlier in the year at Ypres and all we can think when we see them is “What a waste of young life”.

Grave

Enough said

18th June: Eceabat – Ayvalik. 174 miles.

Last night we met a couple of blokes – Andy and Graham – who are riding round on BMW’s as well. Graham (in the middle) is away for 3 years, Andy (on the left) for 18 months. Kevin was jealous! We had a good chat with them and they advised us to pick up the ferry from down the road as it’s quicker and cheaper, so that’s what we did. Guess who we met on the ferry? Yes, our new friends from last night. They were lucky, the ferry had just thrown the ropes and started out when they arrived and the captain reversed back so that they could catch it.

AGK on ferry

Andy, Graham and Kevin on the ferry.

Our first stop was Troy. It was very hot as we wandered round with our bike boots and trousers on. We were able to leave our helmets and jackets with the man on the gate who also gave us some leaflets. The site is quite spread out and apparently in places has 15m of building rubble as each new generation started from scratch – as the mud bricks were of no value they were just flattened and used as foundation. Of course we had to climb up into the Trojan horse that has been there for 30 years. Who knows, perhaps in 2 thousand years they’ll find our photo and write an epic poem about it!

Troy

Kevin’s there somewhere!

We were then planning on riding down the coast road, but missed the first bit. Never mind, we found it eventually and had a nice ride sometimes along side the sea, but more often than not in the countryside. It was very brown and much more how I expected Turkey to be. We stopped for a quick break and drink along a deserted road. Suddenly it was like Piccadilly circus, cars and trucks coming in both directions. One even stopped right behind us! We were really surprised when a woman got out of the truck, went to the back and came up to us offering us a handful of apricots and courgettes. We declined as politely as we could, having no room in any of the boxes for anything else and we didn’t want to waste them. She walked back to the truck, then her husband was trying to get us to take them. They weren’t after any money, it was just a kind gesture. We felt rotten turning them down and hope that the smiles and gestures of ‘full’ meant they weren’t offended.

Our next stop was at Assos, a village on the top of a mountain. The roads were large cobbles, or stones if you prefer! We rode up as far as we could and stopped at a small cafe where we had a lovely cold drink and spring rolls (yes even Kevin had one!!). We then left our stuff with the guy in the cafe (whose English was excellent – Kevin commented on it and was told that he had graduated from Tourist School) and had a wander round the ruins of a 6th century BC temple to Athena which was discovered and partially rebuilt. The views from the top of the hill were stunning – the ancients certainly knew about ‘location location location’.

Athena's temple

Athena’s temple

Stunning location

Stunning location and view

Once again we had some interesting roads. I would say that the Turkish roads are better than most of the Bulgarian and Serbian roads we travelled on; however there are quite a lot of roadworks going on and we managed to ride on about 20 miles of roads that were in various stages of reconstruction ranging from just having the gravel and tarmac spread to the top coat of gravel staring to bed in. The Turks also subscribe to the Kiwi spread it and leave it philosophy and leave it to the poor motorist to finish the job. This can cause some rather thick lumps of gravel but I have to say the bike is handling it all with aplomb.

Tarmac

Seconds after I took this picture the truck driver dumped the rest of the tarmac and it went all across the road, much to his mate’s (and our) disgust!

Kevin’s first thought when we stop at a new hotel is ‘Jack Daniels and Coke and/or a really cold drink’. Tonight was no exception and I wandered off to find the bar. I got the drinks but was stopped at the lift to our room and told they could only be drunk in a public area so I gave them a choice – I take it upstairs or they do a refund. I think the thought of all that administration made them change their mind. Not a good start and what a strange idea; this is the first time we’ve ever been told we can’t take a drink to our room. I’m sure the hotel was fine if you were a family on one of these ‘all-in’ deals but as we’re two middle aged people with minds of our own who enjoy choice and a drink it wasn’t to our taste. Shame as Kevin was desperate for a rest and wanted to spend 2 nights here. Never mind, we’ve booked the next hotel and will move on tomorrow.

19 June: Ayvalik to Selcuk (Ephesus). 197 Miles

Whew, what a hot ride today has been!

Hot road

You never know what you’re going to see!

We left at about 10.30 and made our way on a coast road which was pretty but also came through a very ugly industrial city which surrounded a large oil refinery. You could taste the oil in the air which was thick with the fumes. We took the route to a place called Foca, hoping that the days cut off our lifespan from breathing the poison would be worth it. It was. We stopped for a petrol break and they had a jet wash so we decided to give the bike a treat. We were ushered to a shaded seat and while a nice man jet washed the bike another nice man brought us some tea which we supplemented with an ice lolly and some water. Very civilised!

We thought we were making good time, but then got caught in Izmir, a seemingly innocuous place on the map, but which in reality is a huge sprawling metropolis. Eventually we found our way to the right road and spent the last 20 miles or so on the motorway – that was a relief all round, especially to the bike which was getting rather hot. The black tarmac seems to radiate the heat back. A lot of the smaller roads that don’t have too much white gravel on them are melting away – you can actually smell the tar burning. When it’s breezy it’s like being in a huge fan oven and the motorway information board showed 39 deg C. Our cold water which was straight from the ‘fridge this morning and had been buried in our pannier was actually ‘warm’ as opposed to just not cold when we unpacked it.

Hotel

Our lovely hotel!

Our hotel here is lovely. It’s set in the village which is overlooked by an historical mosque and St John’s Basilica. The mosque has speakers on its minaret and the calling to prayers is quite musical. We’ll explore tomorrow when we are planning to visit Ephesus.

Kevin’s back is giving him a lot a grief at the moment so we’ve booked in here for 3 nights to give it a rest. He says he doesn’t want to go anywhere near the bike for the next couple of days.

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