Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Planning next year's trip

We thought we might go up to the UK next summer to catch up with friends and family. the original plan was to go in August until we saw this fabulous bike meeting in Ripley, Derbyshire. Looks like we'll be going up in June, now! Anyone else going?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Six Nations Challenge! Turkey for beginners

31/7/2010 - Modena to Slavonski Brod (Croatia)

 Ruby, ready to go

So, bright and early, at 6.20 am we set off into a bright, clear, sunny but fresh morning. The road was relatively quiet and we didn't hit any real traffic until we reached Bologna. Once past Bologna, there was another bottle-neck around Padova. Any further hold-ups and we skirted down the hard-shoulder; very naughty, we know, but at least it got us on our way. Why have a motorbike if you can't queue jump?
Once into Slovenia, the roads were empty apart from around major junctions. The only thing was that there was such a strong, cold wind blowing. It was really unpleasant and gave us terrible neck ache. Still, the wildlife on the way was interesting and varied, with an abundance of buzzards sitting on fence posts along the road, red kites overhead, a deer at one point, and we were now in stork country. We saw lots of other bikers on the way, too, with one group heading off to tour Turkey as far east as Lake Van.
We made good progress and arrived at our first overnight stop in Slavonski Brod in Croatia at around 17.30. The hotel management let us store the bike in a locked warehouse overnight, so we knew it would be safe. The weather was a bit damp and miserable and apparently Croatia had been having a really poor summer, with loads of rain and really low temperatures. I was glad we were heading south. We chose to have dinner in the "award-winning" hotel restaurant since there seemed to be only bars around, and the town was a bit dismal. I ordered turkey medallions in a mushroom sauce with noodles, except it came sans noodles. Claudio ordered a "Once Steak" (once a steak, now something else, entirely?) which was basically a flattened steak, coated in breadcrumbs, rather like veal. That was supposed to come with a potato salad, but actually arrived with a tomato salad. Oh well. We had a walk around the town and went to bed nice and early, ready for the continuing journey in the morning.
 Slavonski Brod

1/8/2010 - Slavonski Brod to Sofia (Bulgaria)
After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we were ready to manoeuvre the bike out of the warehouse. This proved a bit tricky and time-consuming due to a lack of space. Once out, we discovered the oil level was a bit low and the front headlight bulb wasn't working (spare bulbs, anyone? No, I thought not...). These would have to be attended to on our next leg in Bulgaria.
Due to all the pushing and shoving, trying to release the bike from the warehouse, we ended up leaving a little later than we'd hoped, and with over 700 km to do to reach Plovdiv, our next stop, I wasn't optimistic in us making it in time.
The journey down was pretty unpleasant. We were held up at every border crossing, and although the road was good, the scenery reminded me a bit too much of England on a dark, depressing cloudy day.
Once we got down into Serbia, it was quite depressing. Every time we stopped for petrol or a break, some youth would come up to us and try and scam us in some way or otherwise procure cash from us through dishonest means. It was really squalid and dismal in some places. Once we had passed Niš, the scenery improved and it now reminded us of Corsica, with a much more rural feel to it, but we got held up in some road works. By now we were running behind schedule and made the decision to stop over in Sofia rather than Plovdiv. This would mean that it would be too far to get to Çanakkale, our original destination in one go and we would have to make a further stop in between. We opted for Edirne, an attractive town near the Turkish border.
We finally arrived at the Bulgarian border and saw the group of bikers we had seen earlier on the trip. By now it was sunny and warm and everyone's spirits were lifted. Although there was a queue at the border, it wasn't excessive and we crossed quite painlessly. It was nice to see some other travellers, with the roads being so empty!
At the border, entering Bulgaria

The run into Sofia can only be described as terrifying. Apart from the busy road, we had to ride straight past a Roma shanty town, with kids and dogs running out into the road, attacking cars. It was absolute stinking squalor and we were quite unprepared. With me hyperventilating on the back, we eventually found a hotel. They let us leave the bike on the pavement outside the front window, with the promise that someone would be on duty all night. The staff were a little surly and unhelpful, but the hotel was clean and comfortable. We eventually managed to find somewhere to eat, the initial difficulty being exacerbated by it being an hour later than we thought. We'd added an hour and it was now 21.30. Not a problem in Italy to eat at this time, but obviously a bit of a challenge outside the city centre of Sofia. On our return, The hotel staff wouldn't let us use the internet and didn't have time to help us find a BMW dealer to get the oil and light problems solved, so we used their wi-fi and did it ourselves on our little phone. We found a dealer on the far edge of town on a new industrial estate and decided we'd get a taxi to lead us there.

2/8/2010 - Sofia to Edirne (Turkey)
So, after breakfast and reloading the bike, we managed to persuade the hotel receptionist to call us a taxi, explaining where we wanted to go and that we wouldn't actually be passengers. That all went according to plan and five minutes later a taxi drew up outside the hotel. We managed to follow the driver for what seemed like miles, all through back streets and past Communist era blocks of flats, to be spat out on a main road at the edge of a commercial area with car showrooms everywhere. We paid the driver and she went on her way with a big smile. Claudio dropped me off and drove around the car park to the service section entrance. On the way he dropped the bike, thanks to someone flying out of a side junction without stopping, just as Claudio was turning. At least he stopped and help pick the bike up. They were a friendly lot at the Beamer garage and sorted out the oil. Unfortunately they didn't have a spare bulb so they took one off another bike and let us have it for free. We bade them farewell and went on our way, which was facilitated by the fact that we were on the ring road and only had to follow it round to get on the motorway and continue south. Good job we didn't have to go back into the city! Phew!
Ruby being attended to

The roads were a bit of a mixture, quality-wise, but at least they were quiet, and the final push down to Turkey was really good. The border crossing on a Monday lunchtime was a breeze. There was hardly anyone there and the officials couldn't have been nicer. It was a really good introduction to the country and we were really glad to have finally arrived. We stopped to take a picture of the mosque that's just beyond the border crossing, then pushed on through the by now blazing heat to Edirne.
  At the border, entering Turkey

 Mosque, just inside Turkey

The traffic in Edirne was completely chaotic and street names were impossible to see. We were nearly cleared up by a speeding scooter. No one looks where they're going when they're driving in Turkey. We stopped a few people to ask them where our chosen hotel was and ended up going round in a series of circles. The thing with Turks is that they like to join in and "help", even when they speak no English whatsoever and have no idea where you need to go. Eventually an elderly gentleman who spoke French stepped forward to give us accurate and concise instructions on how to get to the hotel. He then proceeded to hot foot it to the hotel to help us check in. How kind. We parked the bike up on the pavement just over the narrow street where we were assured it would be safe, and checked in.
We spent the afternoon sightseeing. There are some beautiful mosques in Edirne and it's a town almost made for passing through on the way to İstanbul or down to the Aegean coast, but it's definitely worth stopping a while to admire the architecture. It's not really a touristy town, so there are no carpet salesmen jumping out at you every few metres. It was the capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1416 to 1453 before Constantinople became the empire's new capital. After a delicious traditional Turkish dinner, in a typical Turkish, three storey pub, complete with çay, we strolled around the town and ran into one of the members of the biking group we'd seen on the way down. This really tall, laid-back Italian KTM rider (see photo above at Bulgarian border crossing) stood chatting with us while the rest of the group left him to it. It transpires that up to this point their route has mirrored ours. This is where our paths diverged however, as they were now off to İstanbul and we are heading south to Çanakkale, or if progress is good, we may try and push on further. We'll see.
Selimiye Mosque
Old Mosque
An example of Edirne's interesting architecture

Main street by night

So, back to the hotel where we found that our room was just above the hotel's very own bar, complete with boom, boom, boom, boom, techno music. Terrific! I tried to sleep, but in the end went down to reception to complain. Of course they couldn't hear a thing down there and looked like they had no idea what I was talking about. They did, however, try and call the bar to ask them to turn the music down a bit as it was due to go on until at least 1am. It's the last thing you need after travelling nearly 350km and knowing you've got another long journey in the morning. They eventually turned the music down a bit and I managed to get some sleep. Claudio slept through the whole thing, including me going down to reception and then coming back into the room...

3/8/2010 - Edirne to Çanakkale
We set of after breakfast for Çanakkale and managed to leave town without incident or accident. Fortunately Turks seem to be late risers, so the town was really quiet. The road conditions were a bit challenging in parts as they're resurfacing a lot of the main highway, and where there's no main highway, they're building one. The road goes, completely without warning from smooth tarmac to rough tarmac, to gravel with lovely loose stones on the top! Just the job when you're two-up with a bike weighing around 300kg! Still, the journey was not without its charms, with a friendly Turkish driver asking us where we were going and wishing us a good trip, and the countless roadside melon sellers who waved at us when we went by. We were heading down to the famous Gallipoli Peninsula to catch the ferry across the Dardanelles. The peninsula itself has a really varied topography with some really bleak, windy parts, but a nice ride along the southern coast. We had a drink while we waited for the ferry that would take us via the alternative route into Asian Turkey.
Claudio and Ruby on the ferry
 Crossing the Dardanelles
Crossing the Dardanelles
Ruby was parked up on the pavement outside, next to a Harley. We had a look around the town and as it was so hot, had a much-needed ice-cream. Dinner later that evening was interesting. Although the food was good, the waiter was a bit hopeless. We had to ask him for bread, when normally it comes as part of the meal, and he then kept taking it away. We had to keep hassling the owner to get him to bring it back. We then had to ask for a sweet, rather than be asked if we'd like one. We eventually managed to eat all we wanted and headed off for another look around the town before heading back to bed. We decided to forgo the ruins at Troy and head on down to Selçuk, our base for visiting Ephesus. This is a 2 night stay, so a well deserved rest is on the cards!
Ruby with Harley outside hotel
View from the restaurant
Hopeful puss cat at restaurant!

4/8/2010 - Çanakkale to Selçuk
We managed to get off at around nine after a scare about losing the bike keys. We searched everywhere, but they were evidently lost. Fortunately we had the spare set with us. I had a look to see if they were still in the bike, and didn't see them. Claudio had a better look and found them in the seat lock where he'd left them the night before after taking off my sheepskin seat cover. There they were, completely untouched. I can't imagine a similar scenario in many other parts of the world...
Anyway, the projected journey time was between three and four hours, so we anticipated arriving just after lunch. Well, the journey seemed to take forever and a day. Every town we passed through had millions of sets of traffic lights, all on red. There were loads of lorries belching out filthy exhaust fumes that we seemed to get stuck behind in roadworks every few kilometres. It was really slow-going. We stopped for petrol, water and leg-stretching, and on one occasion when we stopped to check they tyre pressures, we were invited for a cup of tea and a photo call. 

A nice cup of tea and a stand up!

We managed to leave the valve cap at the garage, so Claudio went back for it. In the meantime, I stood chatting to some young soldiers at a training camp who were keen to know if we had a problem with the bike. Claudio returned and we continued on our way. Lunchtime arrived and we decided to stop at a roadside restaurant. We were shown to a table beneath a leafy terrace while young chickens ran this way and that. they made us the most delicious pide or Turkish pizza. After another cup of tea and a trip to the spotless facilities, we were off again. Part of our journey took us through İzmir which was an absolute nightmare. It is a huge city and the traffic was manic. We had to ask directions with the usual confusing and conflicting information. Eventually we got on the right road to escape from all that madness, but still had miles to go. The roads were really bad again and went at one point from tarmac to  water-filled pot-holed, non-existent road, without any warning. Ruby ended up filthy. It looked like we'd just done the Paris-Dakar when we'd finished!
Lunch time
Poor Ruby after a bit of off-roading
Poor Claudio after a bit of off-roading

After NINE HOURS, we finally arrived in Selçuk. We managed to find the hotel we'd selected from the guide and it was absolutely lovely. It was away from the town centre but near enough to walk in. After a much needed shower, we headed off to look around the town. Although Selçuk is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Turkey, due to its vicinity to the ancient city of Ephesus, House of the Virgin Mary and the 6th century Basilica of St. John the Apostle, which, some claim, is built on the site of the Apostle's tomb, the  vast majority of tourists only use Selçuk as a stopping point for Ephesus and don't visit the town itself, consequently it's really quiet and authentically Turkish. In town we met "Cheap Charlie", a really nice bloke who spoke really good English. I was looking for a brush for my sheepskin that was looking decidedly flat and was no longer doing its job properly. I saw he had a dog brush in his shop and thought that might do if I couldn't find a brush that is more like a carding brush for cats, mainly. He very kindly took us on a tour of likely shops in the town, on the hunt for something more suitable. I don't know what he was saying to the shopkeepers, but they kept producing floor scrubbing brushes. I know he used the word "kedi" a few times which is Turkish for "cat", so I can only imagine how Turks groom their felines... We finally arrived at a new pet shop where the owner was keen to describe how dry shampoo could be used in conjunction with the brush he had on sale to make your cat look gorgeous. It wasn't the kind of brush I needed, but he said he still had some unopened boxes and maybe there was something more suitable inside. I was to call back tomorrow to see.
We decided to have dinner on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. We had mixed meze, barbecued sea-bass, salad and fruit. All beautifully prepared by Mustafa. It was fantastic. We went back into town after dinner and spent some more time chatting to "Charlie" (Whose real name escapes me, although it did begin with "S"...). Claudio bought a tiny but really powerful LED torch. 

Ruins of İsabey mosque with storks nesting on top
View from terrace
View from terrace towards castle hill 
 Remains of Temple of Artemis from terrace
Viaduct with storks' nests in town

5/8/2010 - Selçuk / Ephesus
After a lovely breakfast on the terrace, again prepared by Mustafa, we asked whether the hotel provided a service to Ephesus. The owner said he had a friend who would take us. We waited and this friend duly arrived. He dropped us at the top entrance and arranged to pick us up at 11.30 at the bottom entrance. Ephesus is amazing, and it wasn't too over-run with other visitors. It was really atmospheric and the detail that still remains is astonishing.
 Tabby appreciating mosaic

Our friend was a bit late picking us up, so we cooked a bit waiting for him. Eventually he appeared and we set off to his carpet shop (uh-oh!!). We'd agreed to go because he has a family of Turkish Van cats that I was really keen to see. We met mum, dad (Rambo) and two kittens. We then got dragged into the carpet salesman schpiel. We were genuinely interested in the history of the carpets but never said we would buy one. We tried to say in as nice a way as possible, that we weren't in a position to buy a carpet at this time. He wasn't best pleased, and neither were we in his change of attitude towards us. Not a good sales tactic, insulting your potential buyers... Hey-ho. Off we went with a sour taste in our mouths. Still, the cats were gorgeous! We consoled ourselves with Turkish pizza and a trip to the Ephesus museum, both of which were divine. We also took a detour to the remains of the Temple of Artemis which you can see from our hotel terrace. There's very little remaining of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Mum and kittens
Remains of the Temple of Artemis
 Ruined hamam near hotel
We went to see if the pet shop owner had found a suitable brush in his boxes, but alas, nothing, so went to see Charlie, and I bought a dog brush. The sheepskin came up a treat. Fish dinner on the hotel terrace again which was just as lovely as the previous night, then off into town to show Charlie the before and after pictures of the sheepskin. We got accosted by another carpet salesman, but wise enough to resist his sales talk, we were instead treated to a potted history of his (unsuccessful) attempts to dodge his military service.

6/8/2010 - Selçuk - Eğirdir
Off we went again, just after 9, this time heading for Lake Eğirdir. It was another long journey with several stops for water, petrol, çay, courtesy of the ever-hospitable petrol-pump attendants. There was an interesting change in terrain to a more prairie-like flat grassland, with the strong winds to go with it. The people also changed. Friendly and smiley became even more friendly and smiley, and more women were wearing headscarves. After what seemed like forever, but was actually six hours, so still a long time, we rounded a bend and went over a hill and there was the lake in front of us. What a welcome sight. The main town of Eğirdir is so-so, but we were heading out to the island, joined by a 25-year-old, manmade causeway to the mainland. We'd already picked a pension from our guide but arrived five minutes too late. The last room had just been taken, but at least it was fellow-bikers that had pipped us to the post. We consulted the guidebook again and opted for another pension, away from the waterfront and located in a quiet, little square. It looked like they were also full, but the owner made a quick phone call, and we were told there was room for us after all. We were shown a lovely sunny bedroom in the owners' living quarters, and what we think happened is that they gave up their own personal guest room for us. That really set the tone for our all too short stay at this gorgeous little pension. We settled in, had a shower, and I went to sit outside. The elderly owner Huseyin was having a snooze in the shade on a cushion covered bench. Eventually he woke up and beckoned me over to sit next to him. He hardly spoke a word of English, and I speak no Turkish, but somehow we managed to have a nice little chat. I learned that he had three children, one of whom was a barber in town on the mainland, and their daughter was also living in town, and one of them was living in New Zealand. He lamented the fact that he didn't get to see the grandchildren very often and that it took 28 hours to get to New Zealand to see them. Presently, his wife, Esma also appeared and he went off to make a pot of tea. She sat down next to me and we had a similar chat, neither in English nor in Turkish, but somehow we managed to communicate. Esma was chewing on a cucumber and threw the end of it into the garden, except it bounced off a child's bike that was parked near the fence with a loud "boing!" We both creased up with laughter. We were then joined by the owner's brother and shortly afterwards by a fellow guest called Paul, from Holland. We all sat having tea while Paul entertained me with his travelling adventures. Claudio later joined us after his snooze.
That evening the owner, who is a retired fisherman prepared us soup, freshly-caught trout, gorgeous buttery rice and a tomato salad, followed by melon, which we ate under the pension's leafy terrace. Paul joined us and the happy chatting continued.
 Şehsuvar Peace Pension - an oasis of tranquility
 Other Guests
 Owners Huseyin and Esma with Esma's sister
 Lake Eğirdir
 Lake Eğirdir

7/8/2010 - Eğirdir- Konya
At breakfast the next morning, we were again joined by Paul. We also met the other guests who were a family from Barcelona and a girl from Korea. After breakfast, we shared a few laughs and some photos and said a very sad farewell, with kisses all round, to the wonderful owners of this wonderful little jewel of a pension. A really unforgettable experience and one of the highlights of the trip so far.
We set off at around 10, destination Konya. The road was quite good on this leg, with only one spot of off-roading. The scenery was stunning, from our departure from Lake Eğirdir, through orchards, olive groves, aromatic maquis-like scrubland, wheat fields, and windy, open steppe, flanked by mountains. We were offered tea twice en route, so that helped the journey along. People in this region live simply, but by no means poorly. Housing looks excellent, with all houses equipped with solar panels for hot water, a real feature of Turkey, in fact. The farm vehicles they had were for the most part new and all seemed to be modern, at least; all the kids we saw were well-dressed, everywhere was clean and everywhere, people were kind and helpful with lots of smiling and waving from the roadside.
We arrived in Konya after three hours; right on schedule. The city is vast and chaotic, and it was blisteringly hot. Our first choice of hotel was full, but we found another one close by and were given a lovely room. The air-conditioning was blissful after the heat outside. The receptionist on duty spoke excellent English and told us that there was a Whirling Dervish display on in town that evening and that we were very fortunate as this was the real deal, and not the usual display put on for tourists. Konya was the final home of Rumi, whose followers established the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam in 1273 in this city and who became known as the whirling dervishes. We visited the Mevlana museum which was absolutely heaving, and then headed up to the bazaar. There were some interesting shepherds' shops there, selling an assortment of bells and spiked collars that the sheepdogs wear to fend off wolves.
We returned to the hotel to check on the time and exact location of the Dervish show. It was at eight o'clock in the cultural centre, off the main road out of town. We decided we would eat afterwards. We set off for the cultural centre which is specially dedicated to the art of the Whirling Dervish. The show started at nine... It was very good, and I really don't know how they don't throw up after all that spinning, but I suppose practice makes perfect. When we finally left, just after 10 o'clock, it was too late to eat at the restaurant we'd earmarked earlier, so we decided to hot foot it up to another restaurant we'd seen mentioned in the guidebook as good. In the event, no one knew where the road was, even though it was in theory just off the main drag, and no one had heard of the restaurant. Even a couple of taxi drivers had no idea where we meant. By this time it was quite late and the chances of finding anywhere to eat had diminished to zero. We'd passed a supermarket that was still open on the way up, so decided to pick up some bread and cheese from there and take it back to our room for a by now nearly midnight snack. There was no bread, and the pieces of cheese were too big. Instead we chose crackers, crisps, cheese spread, yogurt and water. We also bought plastic spoons for the yogurt. It was a supper, of sorts. Unfortunately at the checkout, the cheese wasn't recognised and we had to leave it behind. Crackers and no cheese. We got back to the hotel and ate our picnic, along with some peaches we'd bought at the market earlier in the day. What a complete palaver. 
Mevlana Museum
Mevlana Museum
Mevlana Museum
  Mevlana Museum
Whirling Dervishes
Whirling Dervishes
Mevlana Museum from hotel window

8/8/2010 - Konya - Ürgüp (Cappadocia)
We were ready to set off just before nine, after breakfast. There was a small gaggle of bellboys in the lobby who were interested in my sheepskin seat pad. They were particularly impressed with my sheep impressions. We managed to negotiate our way out of the city which being still quite early by Turkish standards, was pretty quiet.
The landscape was a mixture of flat, scrubby grassland, where nomadic sheep-herders roam, interspersed with tiny settlements with rough mud and wood houses, presumably for the shepherds. We also saw tents surrounded by sheep. The areas of barren grassland were dotted with rich, green oases of irrigated, cultivated land. Fierce winds blew across these plains and the going was quite hard at times. However, after another really good run, and after only one bit of bad road where they're inevitably digging everything up, we arrived in Ürgüp in about three hours. Just in time for lunch for a change!
We managed to find our chosen pension, thanks to it not being located in the centre. It was really lovely and peaceful with a cave-type room located around a sunny, leafy courtyard, full of pot plants.
Our pension
 Our room

Our introduction to Cappadocia was so far amazing. I don't know hat it is with my sheepskin, but I had another mad exchange over it with the hotel manager. In the room there was a notice requesting guests not wash their clothes in the sink as the pension had a laundry service. Not wanting to get into trouble on our first day, I went and asked if I would be permitted to give my very grubby skin a much-needed wash. After a lot of bleating, baah-ing, and a sketch of the fleece, I was told there was a car wash up the road. Not quite what I had in mind, even if the bike was also filthy! He eventually followed me to the room to see said fleece and confirmed it would be okay to wash it in the shower. Phew!
After all this excitement we went to look around the town and find some lunch. We booked an organised tour for tomorrow so we could have a rest from riding. When we got back I had a go at washing the sheepskin. It was still filthy when I'd finished and the brush I'd bought from Charlie in Selçuk was about knackered as well. I found a spot out in the courtyard to let it dry. 
Later on we went for a walk up "Wishing Hill" and then for some dinner. Nice but expensive by Turkey standards. We then had a walk around the town where we were accosted by Adem who was to become our new best friend forever. He works at the café / restaurant associated with the premises where we booked the trip, which is in turn part of a very nice hotel just up the road from where we are staying. We had a cup of tea and looked at alternatives to staying over in Ankara. The traffic there has a fearsome reputation, and neither of us could face battling through a busy city, especially in the heat. The possibilities on the table so far are to head north to ancient Hittite country and then cutting north-west towards Lake Abant as planned. Alternatively we could stay in one of the quieter suburbs, just south of Ankara. We'll think about it.
 Wishing Hill
 Claudio, Adem, Wendy

9/8/2010 - Ürgüp (Cappadocia)
After breakfast on our own (the place seems to be deserted), we headed down to town to catch the minibus for our guided tour of the area. There were 14 of us in total; 2 Japanese, 1 South African and the rest French of different origins. 
Our first stop was Imagination Valley, where the rock formations look like various creatures and figures. Then we went onto Fairy Chimney Valley that has the rocks that look like mushrooms. These are formed by the soft, volcanic rock at the base being eroded by wind and rain but the top layer is more resistant so remains. We then went to the Göreme open air museum to see the rock churches. Next stop was a ceramics museum in Avanos. It made a change from carpets, I suppose and was very interesting. The detail that goes into some of the pieces is amazing and the people who work there work very long hours. It was strange because Claudio and I both felt really unwell in there and were both scared to tell the other. Eventually Claudio fessed up and I said, "me too!" "Do you feel light-headed?" "Yes." "Do you feel sick?" "Yes." "Have you got a headache?" "Yes." Better get outside then... Very odd. It was really damp inside the factory that was actually situated underground in a cave. The atmosphere was really oppressive, but it's strange we both felt exactly the same.
We then headed off for lunch. this was in a giant cave restaurant and the most touristy thing we'd done up to this point. The food was very nice however, in spite of the mass-catering. After this refuelling stop, it was on to Uchisar for a view of the castle and the shimmering volcano Mount Erciyes in the haze in the distance.
From here we went back to the tourist office and had a cup of tea with Adem. The subject of where to go next came up again, and we've pretty much decided to try and push north as far as we can towards Mudurnu near Lake Abant. After a shower and a rest we returned to Adem's for dinner. There was some subterfuge going on and it quickly became clear that they don't actually do any cooking on the premises. They seem to have a deal going on with the ice cream parlour up the road that seems to have a kitchen and chef upstairs. The food was really good, so no complaints there.
 Imagination Valley
  Imagination Valley
Fairy Chimney Valley
Fairy Chimney Valley
 Fairy Chimney Valley
Fairy Chimney Valley
Göreme Open Air Museum
Uchisar, looking towards Mount Erciyes volcano
Uchisar Castle 

10/8/2010 - Ürgüp (Cappadocia)
After breakfast  (on our own... again...), we decided to strike out on our own on the bike and do a circuit taking in some nice scenery, cave churches and an underground city. We set out, heading south through gorgeous green valleys and villages, quite different from the Cappadocia we were used to. We made a brief stop at a strange, deserted dam that we had to pay 2TL to see. There was a ruined snack bar there and not much else. There were some bee eaters though, the only ones I'd seen up to now. I also spotted a golden eagle overhead, so that was a definite bonus. 
 Damsa Dam (But there is no dam...)
Deserted snack bar, Damsa Dam
Some biker-chick at Damsa Dam

We carried on down towards Soğanlı, the site of more Byzantine rock churches. The road down was awful. It was a really steep hill downwards and they'd just resurfaced it, Turkish-style. That's to say with really loose gravel over a layer of tarmac. Not terrifying at all! When we arrived at the village, it was almost deserted. Apparently they do run day trips out of Göreme and Ürgüp, but since it's quite difficult to reach using public transport, if there are no tour groups you have the place pretty much to yourself. We had a look around the churches whose frescoes were unfortunately heavily vandalised. Why do people think we care about their names and where they're from? Do they think that this information is more interesting and important than the centuries-old paintings they destroy? It drives me mad, this kind of vandalism, but that's what people do when left to their own devices. Apart from the churches, there were some interesting cave dwellings, too.
 Karabaş Kilise (Black Head Church)
 Karabaş Kilise (Black Head Church)
Cave dwellings
Soğanlı General View
Soğanlı General View
 Karabaş Kilise (Black Head Church)
 Karabaş Kilise (Black Head Church)
 Entrance to Yılanlı Kilise (Snake Church)
Cave Dwelling
Soğanlı General View
Ruby, waiting to take us to our next site
Soğanlı General View

We headed back towards the entrance to the small restaurant we'd been encouraged to eat at by the owner on the way in. We had a gorgeous lunch there and met an Italian couple on holiday from Turin. He was a bike fan, while she was too terrified to take to the saddle. They were fun and really good company.
After lunch we set off towards Derinkuyu to the underground city. Again, there was hardly anyone there. We left the bike in the watchful custody of an elderly chap and his wife who sold small homemade dolls. The underground city, while not without its charms was every bit as unpleasant as the pottery in Avanos. We both emerged really glad to be out in the fresh air once more. The other downside of this little complex is that there are hordes of elderly ladies selling these wretched dolls and hassling and bullying you into buying them. I'm not a big doll fan and with space on the bike at a premium, I could think of at least a hundred things I'd rather spend my money on and attempt to fit in the luggage somewhere! We gave the chap who had been guarding the bike 10TL (the price of 2 dolls that his missus was trying to sell us), but this set the surrounding gaggle of women off something terrible. According to a little girl who was also present at the scene, one of the women had gone off in tears because we'd refused to buy a doll from her. It was a horrible mess but you have to have a hard heart and a thick skin sometimes. If we'd given another one of them some cash, then all of them would have come over. As it was we were surrounded! We finally managed to escape with a really horrible taste in our mouths. Also the headlight bulb had blown again. 
We decided to return via  Nevşehir to avoid having to go back up that gravelly road. We stopped for tea with Adem and chatted to an English couple who had just arrived after 13 hours on a bus from Fethiye. We then headed back to the hotel where we saw a big GS Adventure parked outside. Imagine our excitement! A young lad came out and he explained, in flawless English that he was here with his dad from Belgium. They were heading back to İstanbul so he could fly back to go back to school, while his dad continued on to Syria and Jordan. He said he'd tell his dad we were there. We went in and had a shower and sat about waiting for this Belgian fellow to appear. He didn't, so we went for dinner at Adem's. Theresa, the South African girl who was on yesterday's day trip was there waiting for a bust to take her to Olympus, a hippy haunt near the south coast. She was here on her own, using public transport to get around. She wanted to know if Adem was "the only gay in the village" a reference to the "Little Britain" character. Adem had already refused to kiss Claudio for a joke, squeaking in a loud voice, "I'm not gay, you know!!!" He's supposedly got a girlfriend in Denmark... He'd really wanted to take Theresa clubbing and thought she was sweet. Well, gay or not, he was sweet and kind and funny, and had to work 14 hours a day on a commission-only basis, bringing customers to the restaurant. Theresa caught her bus, we had dinner, and said our goodbyes to Adem and Şukran, who had been our lovely tour guide. Back at the hotel, still no sign of the Belgians...

11/8/2010 - Ürgüp (Cappadocia) - Mudurnu
Ramadan started at 2am this morning, and don't we know it. First it was the drummers in the street and then it was the calling to prayer. So far, I have had really few good nights' sleep here in Turkey, what with one thing and another, and this one was just about the straw that broke the camel's back. The novelty of the haunting and exotic call to prayer soon wears off after a week of 4-5am daily awakenings. Now Ramadan has started, these calls go on for much longer; long enough to wake you up properly and not just filter into your semi-awake dreamworld.
We got up and I was tired to death and missing the felines at home. We went for breakfast of hard boiled egg, cucumber, olives, tomatoes, cheese, bread, honey, jam and tea for the millionth morning running. Sounds nice, doesn't it, that breakfast? And it is, really, but perhaps just for a few days at a time, or just now and then.  This was the ninth morning on the trot and the charm was wearing thin, especially since the breakfasts we'd had on the way down to Turkey were on the whole similar. The only other person keeping us company was a sullen-looking Turkish woman sitting smoking, drinking tea and fiddling with her mobile phone. She wouldn't have looked up, never mind spoken had I not said, "And good morning to you!" in a somewhat sarky tone.
This hotel is lovely in that the rooms are nice, and unusual, and there are several flowery courtyards and a rooftop terrace. It's just that with this kind of layout it's fragmented and you never get to see any other guests. There was no chatting, or sitting with the owners, just us, seemingly all on our own. They could have arranged barbecues up on the roof like in Selçuk, but the barbecue up there looked like it hadn't been used in months. Physically the place was gorgeous but it lacked all soul and left me really disappointed, depressed and homesick.
The Belgian Adventure rider eventually put in an appearance just as we were getting ready to leave, as did two other guests, a young couple also from Belgium. They'd been there for 5 days, yet this was the first time we'd seen them. We chatted for a bit, swapping road stories, and then tried to leave. We had to manoeuver the bike past some twit who had parked his car directly behind us in true Turkish style. It was extra tricky because the hotel is situated on a really steep hill and there was also a slope where the bike was parked. It took three of us to get it to a safe starting position without fear of it falling over or Claudio not being able to get up on it. Mr Belgian Adventure rider wished us bon voyage "rubber side up!"
We finally got off at around 9.45 with the aim of trying to get as far as we could towards Mudurnu in the region of Bolu in the north. We stopped for some lunch and had a chat with some other bikers. On the way we passed a huge salt lake that is Turkish is imaginatively named Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake... Amazing, eh?).
We made really good progress and managed to reach the town of Bolu. Mudurnu, where we'd planned to stay was another 40km on, however. The road there was really dangerous in parts, with the stupid, dangerous practice of putting sand and gravel on a road as a temporary resurfacing solution. It is absolutely lethal on a motorbike and completely terrifying to ride on, especially going downhill as this one was. 
We eventually arrived at the hotel on the main road on the edge of town as recommended in our guide book. We checked in without any trouble and the place seemed largely deserted. The room was nice, with a lovely view of the forest from the balcony at the back. We walked into town, and the locals seemed quite curious of us, but smiled and spoke. There are quite a few amazing Ottoman houses in the town, some not yet restored, some some lovingly restored to their former glory. We were allowed into one of the mosques which was quite new and absolutely beautiful inside. We passed a shop that might be a likely candidate to have a bulb for the bike headlight. We intended to return in the morning with the old bulb to use as a comparison. We returned to the hotel for dinner in the adjacent restaurant, having not found anywhere to eat in town. It was now after sundown, and in theory we shouldn't have had any trouble getting some dinner, but the young chap who worked at the hotel seemed a bit non-plussed as to what to give us to eat. He showed us the menu and asked us what we wanted and then ignored that and served us up a bowl of over-cooked, half-cold, microwaved pasta, with cheese powder on the top and some sad-looking sliced bread. It was completely disgusting. A group of Turks arrived and were served nice bread, unlike ours and meze. I was hopping mad and on the way out wished them "bon appetit" and gave the young man who'd given us "dinner" a "look". I know it's Ramadan, but you can still serve us some bloody dinner, mate! This is the first case of being served crap food in Turkey, to be fair, but I was still annoyed. We think it's the woman who seems to own the place who's to blame. Let's see what breakfast brings...
We walked back into town, and now everyone was eating, of course, after the day of fasting. we spotted a restaurant, but it was all too late by now. Mudurnu is the chicken capital of Turkey and the whole town and surrounding area smells of roasting chicken... not necessarily a good thing... And so to bed, at 9pm, lest we get an early wake-up call from the mosque...
 Ottoman Houses
 Ottoman Houses
 Ottoman Houses
 Restored Ottoman Houses
 Ottoman Houses
 Ottoman Houses
 Ottoman Houses
 Yıldırım Beyazit Hamam
 Yıldırım Beyazit Hamam
 Yıldırım Beyazit Mosque
 Yıldırım Beyazit Mosque
 Yıldırım Beyazit Mosque

12/8/2010 - Mudurnu - Edirne
After the first half-decent night's sleep since I don't know when, we headed down for the not really not much anticipated breakfast. The waiter / bellboy / receptionist from yesterday was asleep in an alcove in the restaurant. He managed to wake up long enough to bring us a breakfast of sorts, however. It wasn't bad at all, but there was no çay. He then returned to his slumbers, slumped on a table near the kitchen.
We checked out and got petrol from the petrol station next door to the hotel. We went up into town to see if the shop was open that may have had a bulb for us. Not surprisingly, at this early hour of 8.30, there was no sign of the owner so we decided to get going and sort it out later on. The road back up to Bolu wasn't as bad going up as coming down, and we were soon on the motorway on the way to İstanbul.
We made really good progress up as far as İzmit, where the urban sprawl of that city soon became the urban sprawl of İstanbul. 40km out of İstanbul, the traffic was already really congested and the chaos was beginning. The queue to get over the bridge over the Bosphorus was horrendous; all the lorries, horns, accidents, exhaust fumes, heat... It took us hours to get over and I was close to tears through much of it. The heat was unbearable and even Ruby was getting a bit warm. This was the worst part of the trip by far.
Eventually we managed to break free and emerged out of the other side onto clearer road. We were keen to have a break and something to eat. To add to the misery, the place where we stopped after what seemed like miles only sold fast food. I don't eat any red meat anyway, but if there's one thing I loathe, it's burgers on the same lines as MacDonald's, with that ghastly gherkin in the middle and the soggy bun. Yuk, yuk and thrice times yuk! Since it's Ramadan, the usual soups and what-not were not available, so I ended up with a plate of chips with two paracetamol as a starter. I had to go on a search for a fork and some salt myself. I'd about had enough at this point.
We finally made it to Edirne after travelling in temperatures as high as 46°C, so that was rather super. Fortunately and miraculously as far as I'm concerned, Claudio remembered the layout of the town from when we first passed through. We went straight to the hotel where we had stayed on the way down, but were concerned that they couldn't offer us a quiet room. It didn't bode well when I asked for a quiet room and was shown the exact room where we'd stayed before and I was awake half the night with the noise from the bar below. We opted to continue our search and chose another hotel away from the centre. This hotel was apparently Edirne's first boutique hotel and one of the top hotels in the town. It was very nice, with rooms decorated in an Ottoman style. After the exhausting and stressful journey through İstanbul, we decided to stay for 2 nights to have a proper rest. We had a day in hand having not stopped over in Ankara, so it seemed like a good idea. It would also give us a better chance of exploring the town and get a bit of walking in and give our butt cheeks a bit of a rest! Niš in Serbia was to be our next stop, which is some way away and involves two border crossings to get there.
After checking in, we went into town for dinner. This was like pulling teeth, thanks to Ramadan. We'd decided to go back to the restaurant with the roof terrace we'd eaten at last time. This is how it went:
Us: Can we go upstairs? (to the roof terrace). Are you serving food tonight?
Waiter: Yes, and drink?
At this point, an English-speaking man appeared from inside and I ask again if they were serving food. "Of course", he says and disappears inside. So we sit outside with our drinks and wait and wait and wait some more. I catch the attention of English-speaking man who is sitting inside at the bar. He comes outside. "Are you serving food?" I ask again. "Of course", he says again. So I ask him what there is, whereupon he invites me inside to talk to the chef. "Do you want chicken?" Asks English-speaking man. "Not really", thinks I, but I don't think there was a choice as such so I said, "What about chicken kebab?" English-speaking man translates for the chef who nods his head. "Meze to start?" I ask. Translation, nod. "Salad?" Translation, nod. "Jacket potato with cheddar and branston pickle?" Not really, but it might have been worth a try! And so it was that we got a meal this evening. It was very good but I'm all chickened out, and Turkish yogurt doesn't agree with either of us, in a very inexplicable but nevertheless unpleasant way. Shortly after we'd finished, we got driven away by a plague of mosquitoes that were making a meal out of Claudio's legs, and mine too, except I usually get a reaction the following day. We headed back to the hotel for an early night. I was woken in the early hours by drums followed by howling from the nearby mosque.
Crossing the Bosphorus
 Selimiye Mosque
 Selimiye Mosque
Selimiye Mosque
13/8/2010 - Edirne
We had a really nice breakfast with sausage and omelette on offer! We had a great cup of çay, too. After breakfast we headed out to the Archaeology and Ethnography museum just round the corner. It was just opening and they nearly sent us away because they thought they had a power cut. We were just going when the lights miraculously came on. The museum was really interesting and we were the only ones in there!
From here, we had a look around the town, trying to find a wretched bulb for the bike. No joy there, so we headed out over the two rivers on the south side of town in search of a cup of tea. We found a gorgeous, leafy, riverside restaurant that was actually serving food and drink and seemed to be a retreat for Turks not practising Ramadan and in search of a hideaway to have a nice cuppa and a bite to eat! There was a beautiful view of Meriç Köprüsü, the newer of the the two stone bridges we had crossed over.
 Tunca River
Meriç River
Selimiye Mosque
 Pony and trap (not the one that tried to fit us up)
Riverside Restaurant
Fauna at the riverside restaurant
Riverside Restaurant
Meriç Köprüsü
Meriç River

Going back into town, we stopped to let a man and a young boy pass in front of us out of a field driving a pony and trap. Part way over the bridge they slowed down and the boy kept turning round and yelling something at us. A police car was coming the other way over the bridge towards us and the boy shouted something to the policemen who then slowed down when they were level with us. They beckoned us back over the bridge to a group of shady trees and four of them got out of the car. Meanwhile, the pony and trap two had legged it. The police didn't speak any English as such, but evidently wanted to see our passports. We didn't have them with us, though technically we should have. we told them they were back at the hotel and that we were on holiday. Of course the name of the hotel eluded me, being very long and very Turkish! Claudio showed them his driving licence, but I had nothing to show them. This is where a smile, a helpless shrug and a sincere apology come in useful. We asked if there was any problem, to which there was a series of shrugs and shaking of heads. We left them to it with smiles, "byes-byes" and waves all round. Bizarre. They seemed as non-plussed as we were by the commotion the man and boy had caused. One theory is that they'd told the police we'd done something and were basically making mischief for us, possibly using us as a decoy to deflect attention away from something they'd done themselves. We'd love to know what was said, but if they thought they'd get us into trouble, they failed miserably. Edirne is very close to the Greek border and I wonder if they thought we were illegal immigrants from Greece. The mind boggles...
Walking back towards town and the market, we saw a police motorcycle parked up and it was a Beamer! Who better to ask where we could get a replacement bulb? We walked over to a small group of policemen (again...), standing chatting nearby, who also didn't speak any English, but "polis" is police and "motosiklet" is motorbike, and armed with our old bulb, we somehow managed to explain what we wanted. Apparently the nearest auto-supplies shop was 4km out of town. The kindly policemen put us in a taxi, told the driver where to take us, and off we went. A quarter of an hour later we were back thanking our helpful, friendly policemen, armed with two spare bulbs. What a result! We were very proud of our morning's negotiating with the local bobbies and went off to treat ourselves to an ice-cream.
Later, back at the hotel, we sat outside in the garden listening to music similar to the music we'd heard in Konya at the Whirling Dervish display. Once again, we seemed to be the only guests.
We put Ruby's new bulb in, only to find the oil was low again. It's the heat, you know... We had a jaunt down to the nearest petrol station that was back near the river again to get some juice for the girl.
Back at the hotel, we asked about eating in the hotel restaurant that evening. The chap I asked looked well cheesed off. It's okay mate, we'll eat somewhere else... Meanwhile, for some reason, our room still hadn't been cleaned. I put after-bite on my 40 mosquito bites from the night before that were now reacting, sprayed up with anti-mosquito spray, and headed on out yet again towards the river, in search of good food, company and good humour. No NOT take your holiday during Ramadan, people! We finally arrived at a restaurant coming highly recommended in the guide to the following exchange:
Us: A table for two, please.
Waiter: (Rabbit caught in headlights face) To eat?
Us: Err, yes.
Waiter: Chicken kebab?
Me: Well perhaps if you have something else?
By now, three people had gathered and they called over a fourth, a waitress who spoke some English.
Waitress: Welcome.
Us: Do you have a table for two?
Leading us inside.
Us: Outside? (Everyone was outside. No one was inside at all)
Waitress: (Look of panic) Outside? On the balcony? (Think decking here, rather than balcony.)
Us: There perhaps?
Waitress: Okay.
So we sat down and two waiters gathered round us waiting for us to choose something from the menu. I went slowly on purpose. They brought us some water and changed the table number from 15 to 16. They then brought us some bread and changed the table number back to 15. They then took the water tumblers away that had been on the table, leaving only wine glasses of our water. Finally they brought the food, which was okay. Claudio finished first and they whisked his plate away from him and asked him if he wanted tea or coffee. I hadn't finished so he said "not at the moment". When I'd finished but was still chewing, they whisked my plate away from me and asked again if we wanted tea or coffee. Claudio said, "What about dessert?" They brought the menu back and gave it to Claudio who chose something and then to me. This was the usual order throughout the meal. I chose chocolate soufflé to be a bit awkward because I know they're tricky to make, and I fancied that anyway. "Nooooo Nooooo!!!" Said the waiter. "Half hour, fifty minutes! Choose this, fried ice-cream, it's very nice!" So I said, "I'll just have a cup of tea then." "A cappuccino?" Says the waiter. At this point, the waitress reappeared and I asked her what the problem was with the soufflé. It turned out I'd have to wait 15 minutes for it. Big deal. Of course you have to wait for soufflé, since they have  to make them fresh. I said that wasn't a problem and she said, "Okay, I bring tea now and we serve soufflé after 15 minutes." "Okay". Presently, an enormous soufflé appeared after 15 minutes, exactly. It was really nice but huge and I couldn't eat it all. I don't know if this is why they cleared away Claudio's plate but left mine... 
There was a quartet playing which was rather nice but a bit surreal when they struck up a rousing rendition of "Bella ciao", an Italian partisan song from World War II. Perhaps one of the highlights of the evening, nevertheless.
We paid and left. The meal was nice and it was fresher by the river, but what a palaver! We walked back to the hotel where there were a few people sitting outside. No one spoke.
A weird day. A weird couple of days,really. Must be because of Ramadan, but everyone seems a bit off with the fairies. The first time we passed through Edirne, it was buzzing and lively. Now it was really quiet and sad. The usual Turkish hospitality has all but disappeared. It all started up in Mudurnu.
Our room wasn't cleaned today, and this hotel is supposed to be one of the best in town. There was a bedside lamp with no socket anywhere nearby to plug it in. There was a mirror light in the bathroom that wasn't wired in, so it didn't work. The tap in the sink had only cold water and was loose. These are minor things, I suppose, but for a place that has attention to detail elsewhere in the décor and the furnishings, it grates a bit. I thought we were the only guests, but lo! I hear moving about upstairs. Hey, maybe we won't have breakfast alone tomorrow for the first time in five days!

14/8/2010 - Edirne - Niš (Serbia)
So, after breakfast alone again, we checked out on our last day in Turkey. We mentioned that the room hadn't been cleaned during our two night stay, and the duty receptionist said, "Minimum clean." I said, "No cleaning at all!" He tut-tutted and made a note of it somewhere behind the desk, out of sight. We set off and got petrol and had a really good run up to Niš. The border crossings were a bit busier and slower, but the good thing is on the return journey, you gain an hour when you leave Bulgaria. Even the scenery didn't look so bad on the way back up. The road works were all gone, too!
Niš was huge and we had to ask several people where the hotel was, leading to all kinds of confusion. Eventually we asked a couple and they were kind enough to lead us there by car. I don't think we ever would have found it otherwise. The hotel was great, with a pool and fabulous views out over the city. We had the most enormous dinner I've ever seen in my life on the hotel's balcony restaurant, and enjoyed a good night's sleep with no calling to prayer.

14/8/2010 - Niš (Serbia) - Zagreb (Croatia)
After a delicious breakfast (not on our own for a change), we set off for our final stop before getting home. We had picked a hotel on the outskirts of Zagreb to avoid the chaos of the city. Once again we made good progress and arrived late afternoon. Again the hotel was lovely, with friendly, helpful staff. They didn't have a restaurant that served evening meals, but what they did do, which we thought was a brilliant compromise, was allow you to order food from a local catering company who then delivered your meal to the hotel. You could then either take it up to your room to eat, or eat in the breakfast room. The menu was extensive, and already a little nostalgic for home, we both ordered pizza. They were delicious. After dinner we went for a quick walk around the neighbourhood. The houses were fantastic, as were a lot of the houses we saw in Croatia. So, back then for a nice sleep before the final leg home.

14/8/2010 - Zagreb (Croatia) - Modena (Italy)
After another tasty breakfast, we set off for the final leg. It had become quite chilly as we'd travelled north and I had to put on my fleece for the first time in the whole trip! We got caught in a rain shower, so out came the waterproofs. The closer we got to Italy, however, the warmer it became, so that bode very well. So, up and over, crossing the border at Trieste and once again heading towards the sun and home.
We stopped for lunch in a less than mediocre Italian service station with disfunctional toilet facilities and arrived home early afternoon. Bruno, one of our cats rushed up to greet us, and Misi, our other cat who is a bit deaf and hadn't heard us arrive was delighted to see us, too.
 Home, safe and sound. Bruno looks on...

So, an absolutely fantastic trip, all in all, and one that I feel went really well for a first time long trip. What would I have done differently? Made sure we had plenty of spare bulbs before we left... I wouldn't have worried about finding accommodation. Apart from three occasions, we always found space in our first choice of hotel. Where there was no space in the first choice, there was space in the second. I wouldn't worry about Turkish toilets. Seriously, they're some of the cleanest I've ever been in, and certainly much cleaner than here in Italy. Our Sat Nav wouldn't work for some reason but we had a really good map. Not always practical on a motorbike, but Turkish road signage is actually really good, so you can easily get about Sat Nav free. 
What I wasn't prepared for was the lack of sleep thanks to the calling to prayer from the mosques. It's not even enough to be some distance from the mosque (there are normally several, anyway, so you can't get that far away), because they have loudspeakers rigged up everywhere, so you can always hear it. I was in Turkey a few years ago and I found the call to prayer haunting, exotic and beautiful at that time. I also remember it not being so loud and intrusive, and it certainly didn't wake me up or prevent me from sleeping. I would also avoid travelling to an Islamic country during Ramadan. 
We came in under budget, so that was a major plus-point. With a bit more organisation, we feel we could have got costs down even further. The most expensive thing was petrol in Turkey. It was outrageously expensive. Food and accommodation were very cheap, and very good, however.

km: 6136