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compassexpeditions 06-21-2012 04:17 PM

Road of Bones 2012 Expedition
 
Thanks to Steve Roberts for his entertainling blog and photos from the Road of Bones Expedition...Steve has been blogging for one month now so the future posts I will be updating for 5 days in a row to catch up...Enjoy!

Road of Bones – Itinerary
Behold the 2012 ROAD OF BONES expedition, led by Compass Expeditions, London (May 20) to Magadan (Sept 1) by motorbike. 15 motorbikes, two 4WDs and 3 ride leaders. We will have about 75 nights in nice hotels and about 25 nights in bush camps.

Our route – subject to changes if we encounter problems – is:

London, Rouen, Lauterbrunnen, Salzburg,
Budapest, Timisoara, Sighisoara, Bucharest,
Nessebar, Istanbul, Goreme, Trabzon,
Sochi, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd, Moscow,
Suzdal, Kazan, Samara, Aqtobe,
Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Ferghana,
Bishkek, Karakol, Almaty,
Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk,
Khovsgul, Tsaguun Nuur, Tsetserleg, Ulan Baatar,
Chita, Neryungri, Yakutsk, Magadan,
then fly to Vladivostok, and home to Melbourne.

The “Road of Bones” is the 1200-km stretch between Yakutsk & Magadan. We will do that over 7 days, much of it in bottom gear (I see it was “6 days” in the first draft of the itinerary).

So this trip is very like the “Long Way Round” trip done by Ewan Macgregor & Charley Boorman in 2004, but it has been made into a sort of guided tour by Compass Expeditions Ltd, who run it every 2 years. The journey is about 28,000 km in length, covering 12 countries, and thus giving rise to numerous hassles with visas, which Compass Expeditions have ably sorted out.

Apart from re-visiting Istanbul, Moscow and Ulan Bataar I will see very many wonderful new places: Sighisoara, Volgograd, Suzdal, Samarkand, Tashkent, Ferghana, Bukhara, the Aral Sea, Irkutsk, Chita, Yakutsk and finally Magadan, which lies resplendent on the northern shore of the Sea of Okhotsk (I’ve been on the southern shore, in Japan). I was in Moscow in 1970 for a few days, I have some rudimentary Russian, and I’ve already done the entire 13-day Mongolia segment on a 4WD trip in 2006, including the National Games on July 11-13 each year – an amazing spectacle.

Among hundreds of web pages about the places on this trip, you can search on “Magadan” or “Road of Bones” in Wikipedia. I will return home in mid September after a week in Vladivostok.

Um, yes, there is rather a lot of it – I have drawn most of it in the post “Map of Russia” – but I want to jam this trip in while I am still young. I will compose, and add to, a list of personal Trip Highlights as I go along.

Most of the 15 bikes are 1200cc BMW GS, but my own bike is a new BMW F650GS (800cc twin water-coooled engine), unmodified but with numerous accessories.

Day 1 of 104
May 21, 2012
So we had breakfast at the Ace Cafe, and took off at 9am – it was 10*C but 13*C at Folkestone. The Channel Tunnel train is interesting, very well organised and we were in France by mid afternoon – but it was 10*C and windy! We stopped for a late lunch, I was shivering with cold so I raided the long-term storage bag and took out some Siberian clothing. We stood there in full motorbike gear (warmer) clutching our sandwiches thinking that there will be colder lunches than this one … Spectacular new road from Calais down to Abbeville, then on to Rouen which has a magnificent cathedral. . Tomorrow 8am start, on to a little town in the east of France.

http://i.imgur.com/M0OFC.jpg
Day 1, here we are at the Ace Cafe ready to ride out:

compassexpeditions 06-22-2012 09:40 PM

Day 3 – Into Switzerland
May 23, 2012
Well Day 3 was as bad as Day 2 for most riders; a bike conked out with a wiring fault; it was repaired but the group had another 12-hour day. We all know these sort of things are going to happen on this trip. I rode with 3 other bikes and we went off as a separate group, but we took a wrong turn and missed a lot of twisty roads, however we rode on freeways instead, and in Switzerland the roads are perfect. We had lunch at the Swiss border – you can pay in Euro, although the Swiss adhere fiercely to their own currency.

The weather this morning in France had been low cloud, mist and rain and 10*C but on entering Switzerland it cleared and we had terrific views of the Swiss countryside, lakes and mountains. Interlaken where we stay tonight is wonderful, there’s a huge high waterfall at one end of town (house prices must be cheaper under that); here’s me by the lake, the main street (note the waterfall), and the view from my hotel window.
<a href="http://imgur.com/aAXaq"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/aAXaq.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

Our group of 4 got to the hotel at 5pm, but the support vehicles had been working with the broken-down bike and did not arrive till quite late, and of course they have all our clothing, computers and stuff in them. Here’s a picture of the two supporting 4WD’s when they were parked in Rouen.

<a href="http://imgur.com/AyWhK"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/AyWhK.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

Now at 11pm I have the first chance to get to the internet today, but the hotel network is down and reception is unmanned, so both the Day 2 and this Day 3 posting are going to be late; sorry, but this is going to happen quite a lot. Tomorrow we leave at 7:50am, so we can get to Salzburg early enough to go out and see it. Today was 380 km, and tomorrow will be about 584 km but mostly on freeways. We have to get on, there’ll be one free day at Budapest but we need to push hard, as far as Istanbul.

Day 4 – Salzburg
May 24, 2012
Remember I said that things could not get worse than Day 2? Welcome to Day 4. We rode from Lauterbrunnen, via Interlaken, Zurich, Memmingen (a big junction in Germany), Munich (in the 5pm rush hour) into Salzburg. (This was the group of 4 bikes – the main procession were going to go via Innsbruck on more scenic and slower roads, but we preferred the freeways; we arrived 8pm and now at 9pm they haven’t arrived yet; I hope they are OK). We went through Liechtenstein, so the overall trip will be 13 countries not 12. Oh, and Germany – 14 countries.

We lost a bit of time with a couple of minor repairs to two bikes when we started; I went to that waterfall, it’s a 275m drop and the water is wonderful to drink. We set off, the temp was again only 10*C so we rugged up again, and with wet-weather gear as it keeps raining – I wiped the bike down, had breakfast and when I came back out it was soaked again. We rode through Swiss Rain – very intense stuff, not like the French foggy/drizzly version – beautiful valley scenery (wheh we could see it), then into Germany where the land was flat and the weather sunny and the temp rose to 27 degrees!! And us in Arctic gear … anyway we dried our clothing out as we went alonng pretty well.

The German freeways have a 130 km/h speed limit (as do the French ones, but 110 km/h if it’s raining which is a good idea) but some Germans obviously miss the days when there was no limit, so when you see a car coming up behind you, it will arrive much sooner than you think! We cruised at 120-130 km/h, wonderful roads again, then into Austria, and after a bit of a good run on dry roads we saw a black sky ahead and wet-suited ourselves up just in time. Whoosh!! Austrian rain is much heavier than even the Swiss stuff, there were hailstones, 4 sets of torrential rain each about 15 minutes, so dense you could hardly see the road, I didn’t bother with the wet-suit trousers and boy, did I get soaked. The freeway suddenly jammed solid and I got away with turning off it, through some villages and back onto it after the holdup. Arrived in Salzburg very tired and wet, but the main group is not here yet so they’ll be even tireder and wetter I do hope they are all OK.

Despite having seen the magnificent Swiss and Bavarian scenery I don’t have any photos worth showing for this day. This is not a tour of Europe … we have to move along! Today 580km but all on freeways – tomorrow a similar day, on to Budapest.

Day 5 – Hungary
May 25, 2012
A fairly (and thankfully) uneventful day for our group of 4 bikes, we left Salzburg at 9 and drove on excellent freeways all day via Vienna to reach Budapest at 4pm . . . 540 km, but it was easy. (Another group went up in the mountains, a far better ride but longer and much harder work). The Hungarian freeway is new and even better than the F/D/A/CH/FL ones (FL = Liechtenstein). The scenery, ever magnificent, flattened out as we crossed Austria but the hills near Budapest are cute, with scattered single houses.

It rained on and off, the Hungarian rain is different from the Austrian stuff, now isn’t that interesting. The Swiss roads have many tunnels, and in rain the wet road goes 500 metres or so into the tunnel, spread by cars and also they would bring some air in. When the rain stops, the outside road surface dries out very quickly but in the tunnel it stays wet! Some tunnels are 5 km long, you think they will never end.

The temperature has gone up to 20-25*C so your riding clothes dry out after a storm, if you keep going. But after the rain has stopped, the road is still wet for 15 minutes and all the vehicles spray up dirty water. When you’re on a motorbike this can be quite a problem as your visor gets dirty and although you can wipe it with the gloves, you can’t really clean it. The vehicles are interesting, a never-ending procession of lorries from Austria and Hungary (of course), but also Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, and a few from Moldova. They can’t go in the outside lane so they are interesting to observe as you cruise safely past them at 130 km/h. With a such a smooth ride the bike uses less petrol, 25-26 km/L instead of 21-22. (25 km/l = 59 MPG)

All these countries have a good idea, they make the visitors buy a road tax sticker that is valid for 10 days. It only costs $5-$10 but you are appropriately paying for the use of their roads, which are indeed very good (the Swiss sticker is $50, but their roads have many tunnels and bridges and I reckon $50 is reasonable).

Sorry no photos again today, however tomorrow is a REST DAY in Budapest and I should snap something worthwhile. I can use the day to dry out my riding gloves, socks and boots, and I’ll get the hotel to clean the used clothes (they will probably charge extra). Five of the group of 19 people have fallen sick or need to work on their bikes & have stayed behind in Salzburg for today.

Day 6 – Free in Budapest
May 26, 2012
Having done 2500 km in 5 days, all of them rainy and two of them 12 hours of riding, we get a day free in Budapest. Lovely sunny weather today but of course Budapest is so wonderful that you need every spare moment to see even half of it in a day, luckily for myself I was here with Barbro in 2007 so I could choose my favourite place, which was the Heroes Square with statue of ARPAD and other semi-legendary founders of Hungary, and – somebody ought to do this, and the Hungarians have – a statue raised to the famous author “Anonymous”.

A few of us climbed up the cathedral tower, 302 steps, and got this view of Fishermens Bastion (over the river in Buda) and the main drag of Pest.

In the Museum of Terror (which is pitched mostly for younger Hungarians) there’s a huge room with woven carpet depicting a map of Russia with the main Gulag prison camps marked. Where we came in to the room, the carpet showed the Black Sea and where we’ll be riding in Turkey and around Sochi/Rostov. Then we noted the size of the room!! And sure enough, down the other end of the room, far away, there’s Magadan. So, tomorrow, onwards into Romania and there’s only 99 days left, we’ll be riding at a more relaxed pace now, but on more basic roads. The weather should be good from now on, but when that Siberian precipitation starts to fall on my head I will wistfully look back to these 5 wet days we just had in Europe.

Oh, and today is my Birthday! – as a result of which I have received this very useful gift from some other riders.ut my riding gloves, socks and boots, and I’ll get the hotel to clean the used clothes (they will probably charge extra). Five of the group of 19 people have fallen sick or need to work on their bikes & have stayed behind in Salzburg for today.


<a href="http://imgur.com/l7oVO"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/l7oVO.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
Budapest from cathedral

<a href="http://imgur.com/1msRr"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/1msRr.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
Arpad

SPOT tracker location link
May 26, 2012
One of the other bikes has a SPOT tracker which reports its location in real time, and THIS LINK stores the whole history of where we’ve been so far. Note this is where Don’s Bike has been, not necessarily where MY bike has been! Don’s Californian rego plate “LHR 2 GDX” is based on the airport codes for London and Magadan. I am running two trackers, but I have to recover the data later on the computer, they both fail at times and the result is nothing like as neat as Don’s, so, please click on THIS LINK and enjoy Don’s data. Thanks Don!

compassexpeditions 06-22-2012 09:43 PM

Day 3 – Into Switzerland
May 23, 2012
Well Day 3 was as bad as Day 2 for most riders; a bike conked out with a wiring fault; it was repaired but the group had another 12-hour day. We all know these sort of things are going to happen on this trip. I rode with 3 other bikes and we went off as a separate group, but we took a wrong turn and missed a lot of twisty roads, however we rode on freeways instead, and in Switzerland the roads are perfect. We had lunch at the Swiss border – you can pay in Euro, although the Swiss adhere fiercely to their own currency.

The weather this morning in France had been low cloud, mist and rain and 10*C but on entering Switzerland it cleared and we had terrific views of the Swiss countryside, lakes and mountains. Interlaken where we stay tonight is wonderful, there’s a huge high waterfall at one end of town (house prices must be cheaper under that); here’s me by the lake, the main street (note the waterfall), and the view from my hotel window.
<a href="http://imgur.com/aAXaq"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/aAXaq.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

Our group of 4 got to the hotel at 5pm, but the support vehicles had been working with the broken-down bike and did not arrive till quite late, and of course they have all our clothing, computers and stuff in them. Here’s a picture of the two supporting 4WD’s when they were parked in Rouen.

<a href="http://imgur.com/AyWhK"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/AyWhK.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

Now at 11pm I have the first chance to get to the internet today, but the hotel network is down and reception is unmanned, so both the Day 2 and this Day 3 posting are going to be late; sorry, but this is going to happen quite a lot. Tomorrow we leave at 7:50am, so we can get to Salzburg early enough to go out and see it. Today was 380 km, and tomorrow will be about 584 km but mostly on freeways. We have to get on, there’ll be one free day at Budapest but we need to push hard, as far as Istanbul.

Day 4 – Salzburg
May 24, 2012
Remember I said that things could not get worse than Day 2? Welcome to Day 4. We rode from Lauterbrunnen, via Interlaken, Zurich, Memmingen (a big junction in Germany), Munich (in the 5pm rush hour) into Salzburg. (This was the group of 4 bikes – the main procession were going to go via Innsbruck on more scenic and slower roads, but we preferred the freeways; we arrived 8pm and now at 9pm they haven’t arrived yet; I hope they are OK). We went through Liechtenstein, so the overall trip will be 13 countries not 12. Oh, and Germany – 14 countries.

We lost a bit of time with a couple of minor repairs to two bikes when we started; I went to that waterfall, it’s a 275m drop and the water is wonderful to drink. We set off, the temp was again only 10*C so we rugged up again, and with wet-weather gear as it keeps raining – I wiped the bike down, had breakfast and when I came back out it was soaked again. We rode through Swiss Rain – very intense stuff, not like the French foggy/drizzly version – beautiful valley scenery (wheh we could see it), then into Germany where the land was flat and the weather sunny and the temp rose to 27 degrees!! And us in Arctic gear … anyway we dried our clothing out as we went alonng pretty well.

The German freeways have a 130 km/h speed limit (as do the French ones, but 110 km/h if it’s raining which is a good idea) but some Germans obviously miss the days when there was no limit, so when you see a car coming up behind you, it will arrive much sooner than you think! We cruised at 120-130 km/h, wonderful roads again, then into Austria, and after a bit of a good run on dry roads we saw a black sky ahead and wet-suited ourselves up just in time. Whoosh!! Austrian rain is much heavier than even the Swiss stuff, there were hailstones, 4 sets of torrential rain each about 15 minutes, so dense you could hardly see the road, I didn’t bother with the wet-suit trousers and boy, did I get soaked. The freeway suddenly jammed solid and I got away with turning off it, through some villages and back onto it after the holdup. Arrived in Salzburg very tired and wet, but the main group is not here yet so they’ll be even tireder and wetter I do hope they are all OK.

Despite having seen the magnificent Swiss and Bavarian scenery I don’t have any photos worth showing for this day. This is not a tour of Europe … we have to move along! Today 580km but all on freeways – tomorrow a similar day, on to Budapest.

Day 5 – Hungary
May 25, 2012
A fairly (and thankfully) uneventful day for our group of 4 bikes, we left Salzburg at 9 and drove on excellent freeways all day via Vienna to reach Budapest at 4pm . . . 540 km, but it was easy. (Another group went up in the mountains, a far better ride but longer and much harder work). The Hungarian freeway is new and even better than the F/D/A/CH/FL ones (FL = Liechtenstein). The scenery, ever magnificent, flattened out as we crossed Austria but the hills near Budapest are cute, with scattered single houses.

It rained on and off, the Hungarian rain is different from the Austrian stuff, now isn’t that interesting. The Swiss roads have many tunnels, and in rain the wet road goes 500 metres or so into the tunnel, spread by cars and also they would bring some air in. When the rain stops, the outside road surface dries out very quickly but in the tunnel it stays wet! Some tunnels are 5 km long, you think they will never end.

The temperature has gone up to 20-25*C so your riding clothes dry out after a storm, if you keep going. But after the rain has stopped, the road is still wet for 15 minutes and all the vehicles spray up dirty water. When you’re on a motorbike this can be quite a problem as your visor gets dirty and although you can wipe it with the gloves, you can’t really clean it. The vehicles are interesting, a never-ending procession of lorries from Austria and Hungary (of course), but also Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, and a few from Moldova. They can’t go in the outside lane so they are interesting to observe as you cruise safely past them at 130 km/h. With a such a smooth ride the bike uses less petrol, 25-26 km/L instead of 21-22. (25 km/l = 59 MPG)

All these countries have a good idea, they make the visitors buy a road tax sticker that is valid for 10 days. It only costs $5-$10 but you are appropriately paying for the use of their roads, which are indeed very good (the Swiss sticker is $50, but their roads have many tunnels and bridges and I reckon $50 is reasonable).

Sorry no photos again today, however tomorrow is a REST DAY in Budapest and I should snap something worthwhile. I can use the day to dry out my riding gloves, socks and boots, and I’ll get the hotel to clean the used clothes (they will probably charge extra). Five of the group of 19 people have fallen sick or need to work on their bikes & have stayed behind in Salzburg for today.

Day 6 – Free in Budapest
May 26, 2012
Having done 2500 km in 5 days, all of them rainy and two of them 12 hours of riding, we get a day free in Budapest. Lovely sunny weather today but of course Budapest is so wonderful that you need every spare moment to see even half of it in a day, luckily for myself I was here with Barbro in 2007 so I could choose my favourite place, which was the Heroes Square with statue of ARPAD and other semi-legendary founders of Hungary, and – somebody ought to do this, and the Hungarians have – a statue raised to the famous author “Anonymous”.

A few of us climbed up the cathedral tower, 302 steps, and got this view of Fishermens Bastion (over the river in Buda) and the main drag of Pest.

In the Museum of Terror (which is pitched mostly for younger Hungarians) there’s a huge room with woven carpet depicting a map of Russia with the main Gulag prison camps marked. Where we came in to the room, the carpet showed the Black Sea and where we’ll be riding in Turkey and around Sochi/Rostov. Then we noted the size of the room!! And sure enough, down the other end of the room, far away, there’s Magadan. So, tomorrow, onwards into Romania and there’s only 99 days left, we’ll be riding at a more relaxed pace now, but on more basic roads. The weather should be good from now on, but when that Siberian precipitation starts to fall on my head I will wistfully look back to these 5 wet days we just had in Europe.

Oh, and today is my Birthday! – as a result of which I have received this very useful gift from some other riders.ut my riding gloves, socks and boots, and I’ll get the hotel to clean the used clothes (they will probably charge extra). Five of the group of 19 people have fallen sick or need to work on their bikes & have stayed behind in Salzburg for today.


<a href="http://imgur.com/l7oVO"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/l7oVO.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
Budapest from cathedral

<a href="http://imgur.com/1msRr"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/1msRr.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
Arpad

SPOT tracker location link
May 26, 2012
One of the other bikes has a SPOT tracker which reports its location in real time, and this link http://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?...04fac59d8a10a3
stores the whole history of where we’ve been so far. Note this is where Don’s Bike has been, not necessarily where MY bike has been! Don’s Californian rego plate “LHR 2 GDX” is based on the airport codes for London and Magadan. I am running two trackers, but I have to recover the data later on the computer, they both fail at times and the result is nothing like as neat as Don’s, so, please click on the link and enjoy Don’s data. Thanks Don!

Steve SA 06-22-2012 11:15 PM

:lurk

Keep it coming

stamp 06-23-2012 04:13 AM

im in :lurk

zandesiro 06-23-2012 12:51 PM

:lurk:lurk

X Banana Boy 06-23-2012 06:15 PM

Excellent. I am in!!

compassexpeditions 06-25-2012 04:22 PM

Day 7 – The Adventure Begins
May 27, 2012
Day 7 = May 26 and this is where the trip really starts. After 2,500 km on very nice freeways from London to Budapest and on to the HU/RO border, the road into Romania becomes single-track each way, passing smack through the middle of the towns, there are farmers with horses & carts, and old tractors with bizarre dangerous agricultural implements pull out in front of you. The lorries, confined to the slow lane on the freeways, now overtake one another, using the single lane in the opposite direction to do so. Driving is of lower quality, and some drivers are markedly aggresive. The villages have 50kph speed limits, and even on the fast stretches of road I will never again get the bike up into its 6th gear.

Holdups of 15 minutes frequently occur on the single-track road, one today was caused by a new bridge girder being temporarily placed across the road before adopting its usual “on the bridge” position.


Here’s four of the riders: Hugh, Millsy, Michelle and Bernard, holding up the traffic while they try to work out how they got there with only 3 bikes
<a href="http://imgur.com/Q4CRZ"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Q4CRZ.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

But this is the holiday we set out to have – obscure roads, remote communities, different ways of life, driving not so easy – and most of the remaining 98 days will be like this. We are trying to work out how to stop and TAKE PHOTOS of things, because if you stop the other bikes will keep going on so how do we manage this? And there will be no more tanking along at a sustained 130 kph, just as well as I have cooked my drive chain, in the picture below note its rusty colour, oil-free texture, and on the sprocket the teeth have become annealed with the heat. Tomorrow I’ll have to beg some oil and lubricate it. Yes I do have a spare with me, but I have covered only 10% of the distance!
http://i.imgur.com/nydBis.jpg

So today we are in Timisoara, a large industrial city. Many Romanian towns have magnificent central squares and civic theatres and the like. Here’s an ornate building in our city centre – look at it full size and note the bullet holes, at the top of the front facade, either side of the central thingy; there were evidently snipers up here in the revolution of 1989.
http://i.imgur.com/YeysYs.jpg

Here’s Timisoara main church and the memorial to the town’s Heroic Martyrs of the 1989 revolution, with fresh wreaths.
http://i.imgur.com/y1vDTs.jpg

Inside the church the priest was intoning wonderfully, a few people stood transfixed to the spot and the interior, chandeliers and altarpiece are covered in gold. This is an Orthodox chiurch and only the priest gets to be near the altar, you can’t go near and a screen separates the altar from the main space. Look at this, just imagine the atmosphere. I was impressed, even though I’m not religious.
http://i.imgur.com/FDI2ks.jpg

Tomorrow on to Sighisoara for two nights, a well-preserved medieval town (so it may not have internet)

compassexpeditions 06-25-2012 04:49 PM

Day 8 – Romanian Rain
May 28, 2012
Today we set off for a comparatively short day, only 340 km, but some of it on concrete roads in poor condition. And some kamikaze drivers in cars have appeared, there were some close calls especially when traffic is crowded. I nicked out before breakfast to photograph Timisoara with nobody about, this is the main square but I cannot show the magnificent ornate buildings on all 4 sides:
<a href="http://imgur.com/EA1qh"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/EA1qh.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

Here’s a little park in the back streets, a religious statue in bad condition, but it must have survived all the years of Communism. And in a fortnight they are having an election, with candidates and free speech and stuff – a relatively new experience here:
<a href="http://imgur.com/OaAsn"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/OaAsn.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

Back to the hotel, these are the main stairs; the rooms and corridors from Communist-era hotels are great cavernous spaces devoid of all character. (My hotel tonight is built like that, but is brand-new … they must like that style)
<a href="http://imgur.com/Fp80O"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Fp80O.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

The first part of the ride today was flat, then we went up into some minor hills at a place called Blaj. We passed a house with a nice carefully-tended garden with pond and gnomes, and other garden ornaments including an aeroplane. I wonder what my wife would say if I put one in our garden … and how did they get it there, fly it in? Here’s me at the viewing point before entering Blaj:
[<a href="http://imgur.com/eRVCF"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/eRVCF.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
<a href="http://imgur.com/dJG36"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/dJG36.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

The rain set in, and unlike the French, Swiss or Hungarian rains, all of which I know and love, Romanian rain is steady and continuous. It rained as we rode, it rained as we waited outside the hotel for the others to arrive so we could book in, it rained when we went out for dinner, it rained in the night and at breakfast-time it is raining now. (I have poor wi-fi in my room so am sending this from the lobby). Sighisoara is a very well=-preserved medieval hill town and fortress, and if it stops raining today I’ll go and look at it, but meanwhile here’s a picture of Sighisoara’s strikingly painted cathedral. In the rain.
<a href="http://imgur.com/yuaiL"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/yuaiL.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

compassexpeditions 06-25-2012 05:07 PM

Day 9 – Rest Day in hotel!
May 28, 2012
So, toddya is, a REST DAY, here, in Sigish … Shigsh …. Gishhigh … Sighisoara! Is in darkest wettest Transylvania! and you geusss what, it rain allday, so I sttay in t6he, ghotel room and get drniks from the Minni Bar! And do muchj toaqsts to An glo Ronamian freindhsip, oh yes, Look, is beautiful view of old city in rain, here is it, even if see onyl two spires, oh yes;::
<a href="http://imgur.com/GE2af"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/GE2af.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

and this view, through Window! Because I not go out in rain, I enjopy Use of miinibar but, when it come 4′clock i finsih drink (cheers) and go out and get wet picrtures annyway,, even if rain, oh yes indeed …. look, here is puddle showing Translyvanian rain, what is verry typicAl for tnhis area, I like very much view of it. Is very tuoristic. You look:
<a href="http://imgur.com/vqgsF"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/vqgsF.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

Now you readers wait, soon it come 45 oclo’ck and I find. ranicoat an d go make photo of actual SIGHISOARA visit personally in rain!! Mayeb i get cofee first, is ver’ good … You know is interesting histroy, was plauge in 1603 kill 2000 person and then 1673 it all burn down. (so was it not rain then, no no(. And maybe ‘interesting’ wrong word … I not think Sighisoarans stand in rain coughing from plague and say, Oooh look, old historic medieval city on fire, this very interesting. Cheers …

Day 9 – Sighisoara
May 29, 2012
Well it never stopped raining, but from 5pm the rain became sort of ordinary, so I emerged from the hotel with camera under raincoat and walked around the historic town. There are some cars (and motorbikes) but not many – here’s a general view and a typical street:

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The main square. As with the much bigger town of Timisoara, the buildings on all 4 sides of the square are like this:
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There is a very long straight stairway in stone, walled and roofed in wood all the way up, leading to thechurch on the hill:
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We are in Transylvania, don’t forget. Tomorrow we will look at Vlad the Impaler’s castle at Bran, which reportedly is hopelessly touristy. Here’s the very atmospheric graveyard at Sighisoara:
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Finally, here is a door handle:
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poolman 06-25-2012 07:22 PM

There have been some amazing ride reports on the trip from Europe to Magaden, some under seriously challenging circumstances. I expect the Compass group won't be taking on the BAM or Old Summer Road, but the challenge of safely guiding a group to Magaden under any circumstances is daunting. I am very curious to see how this works out for a tour, and will be following this thread with interest.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>

I wish the best of luck to you and the group for a safe and successful completion of your intended journey.<o:p></o:p>


.

compassexpeditions 06-26-2012 08:30 PM

Day 10 – Vlad’s Castle
May 30, 2012
So up with the lark for another day of riding, and it is STILL RAINING – we had to leave in the rain – it has rained continuously for 48 hours, they should call this place Soggysoara. Rode into Brasov, road goes through a few villages, some farmers still run horse & cart (pneumatic car wheels on the cart) – most drivers are very kind to us, but there are a few speed maniacs.

From Brasov on to Bran, famous for its castle which is associated with (a) the royal family of Romania (b) Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count Dracula. There are displays on both these topics, the Romanians would rather attract attention to their royal family but visitors want to see the vampire stuff. Apparently there are several castles with similar claims to fame … anyway we saw & photographed this one. In pouring rain. Here’s the crown & sceptre of the local royals:
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The enclosed courtyard of the castle. This was a peaceful place but outside, indeed the whole town, is awash with tacky tourist stuff.
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Suits of armour, 17th century or so. If you go out wearing the armour displayed on the left, don’t forget the crossbow.
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Early wooden curtain in the castle window. Nobody casts a silhouette on this one:
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Compass Expeditions laying on their daily lunch, in the castle car park. Yes it’s raining.
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We moverd on and THE RAIN STOPPED. Went over a stunning mountain road with views comparable to Switzerland – here’s my colleague Rhys, with his F800GS motorbike at a roadside rest stop.
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In the afternoon we blew into Bucharest, well, actually, we didn’t – we went around the entire southern half of the Ring Road, as our hotel is way out to the east. The Ring Road has traffic jams, but we can ride along the dirt at the side. People standing selling plastic shoes (all the same make), umbrella hats, a chainsaw, and, er, there are ladies evidently selling something …. Wild dogs are everywhere, the junctions have no traffic lights or traffic guidance whatsoever, and the stench of the city dump …? So we won’t be going into Bucuresti, capital city though it be, with Ceausescu’s Palace and possibly other sights, although none come to mind. Tomorrow on to Nessebar in Bulgaria, possibly without any rain; the hotel tonight is nice but here’s the view from my window:
<a href="http://imgur.com/o3qRP"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/o3qRP.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

compassexpeditions 06-26-2012 08:36 PM

Day 11 – Thalatta,Thalatta
May 31, 2012
Rode from Bucharest, back along a quarter of the Ring Road and down the Highway #5 to the Bulgaria Border. Tonight we are in Nessebar, just north of Burgas and a well-preserved Roman and Medieval site on a promontory. Very touristy, but there are oodles of ruins to look at. Oh, and today it rained – just two thunderstorms, but enough to continue the trend that it has rained every day so far. Tomorrow: Turkish Rain, as we slam into Istanbul with its diabolical drivers and 13 million people.

Xenophon relates in his Anabasis – to the despair of schoolchildren such as myself 50 years ago when I had to translate it from the ancient Greek – don’t kids learn the classics nowadays? – how the army of 10,000 went all over Asia Minor fighting difficult battles and generally having a hard time – I bet it rained every day – and one day on the march they came to a high point and the men at the front got all excited and eventually Xenophon, who was marching somewhere near the back (probably very wisely) made out what they were shouting: “Thalatta, Thalatta”. The gist being that on a sea, one can build ships and sail home. And so today we came within sight of the Black Sea, and as proof I adduce this picture:
<a href="http://imgur.com/OacN9"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/OacN9.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

… which is the same sea that Xenophon’s mates were shouting about. I have never seen it before. Actually, it is only black at night; in the daytime at the edge it is a slimy green colour. Soon we will see the Black Sea from the actual place where Xenophon saw it, at Trabzon. Then (apart from what’s left of the Aral Sea, and the huge Lake Baikal) there’ll be no more seas until the Sea of Okhotsk on Day 102 – and what a sight that will be.

Here’s the view from my hotel window: these are Roman ruins
<a href="http://imgur.com/mu5vJ"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/mu5vJ.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

Some more photos of Nessebar. The first one shows the entry to the town; the second one shows a church built in the 13th century and used up until the 19th; the last one shows a church built in the fifth to ninth centuries and the dome is still standing! (Guess which building the girl is painting a picture of)

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compassexpeditions 06-26-2012 08:51 PM

Day 12 – Into Turkey
June 2, 2012
I have time now to write about yesterday’s ride from Bulgaria to Istanbul. Woke before dawn in Nessebar, there was a wonderful suffused pre-dawn light on the old ruins of the town, birds singing, view of the Black sea and NOT RAINING. After breakfast we drove off, lovely scenery of rolling green hills very like Southern England, the road was rough (unmade, or concrete with potholes) but we all enjoyed the ride very much. Soon we hit the BG/TR border, a process which I will now describe.

First we came to Passport Control leaving Bulgaria – several stops and getting off the bike – then to Customs where we are exporting our bikes from not just Bulgaria, but out of the EU, so we have to show vehicle rego papers and they have to check that the bike matches the papers. This took 20-30 minutes (as I recall) but you ain’t seen nothing yet. Driving a few hundreds of metres across a Schengen Zone (no man’s land) we come to Turkish passport control = this requires you to buy a visa stamp which costs 15 Euro and they will take only hard currency. We stick the stamps in the passports, then at another window we get the stamps stamped and hey! We are in Turkey.

But not the motorbikes! To import these we need to get Turkish insurance (even though we already have insurance), this costs 9 Euro and takes like 20-30 minutes to prepare for EACH BIKE. The official’s computer conked out and he had to do one all over again … we also had the problem that one of our bikes has come from Vanuatu, which none of the officials have heard of so they claim it does not exist. Eventually, we all get our insurance. Then we register the bikes for use in Turkey – showing the insurance, and we are spared paying visitor’s road tax, but cars have to buy a sticker for that – and having registered the bikes we go to another window to get Customs approval to import them … when the official has returned from his lunch.

So far so good and it has taken only 3 hours, but nothing went wrong on this border … imagine the delay and carnage when there is a problem! But it was all worthwhile, because as we drove off we rounded a corner where another offical stopped each bike and checked passport, insurance, import permit and rego – all of which were now perfectly in order, so Istanbul here we come!

We rode along quite good Turkish roads and freeways, across flat or undulating green countryside, 30 km from the city centre the housing began and 20km out there were high-rise blocks – packed across the visble landscape. The guide book says Istanbul has 10 million people, another aource says 13.5, officially it’s 16-17M but the locals tell us it is 24 MILLION PEOPLE. The roads are good but very crowded as we get nearer the centre, but we kept all 15 bikes together in a tight formation and with good leadership from the Compass Expeditions guide on the front bike, we all arrived safely and directly to the hotel – which is only 5 minutes walk from the Blue Mosque, it is that central.

To our amazement the very centre of Istanbul, which features the Blue Mosque, St Sofia, Grand Bazzar, Topkapi Palace etc etc – has all been nicely paved with bricks and made traffic-free, with green parks etc – a few months ago, and they are just now finishing it off. Someone in authority must have had buildings dynamited to free up the space – and when finished, the precinct will be a world-class tourist attraction, rivalling and IMHO even exceeding the Taj Mahal in its magnificence. Another post later, I have taken 250 photos today and have some paperwork to tidy up first.


Day 13 – in Istanbul
June 3, 2012
I made the most of the day off and saw a lot of the stuff on the city centre, which is being refurbished at fabulous expense and will be ready for the northern summer tourist season. There are a dozen worthwhile pictures so I’ll have to leave them as a mess at the bottom of this post.

We were taken on a tour in the morning, beginning with the blue mosque built in the 1600s. Very impressive, of course, held up by great stone columns inside and the Sultan got special permission (from who?) to have six minarets (no other mosque has more than four). From there on foot to the Topkapi Palace, pretty good but not as magnificent as the palaces of Rajasthan that Barbro and I saw last year.

The Hippodrome is simply a long paved area with two obelisks and an octagonal thingy at one end. The central obelisk is one piece of granite, stolen from Egypt and erected here in the 4th century, one wonders how they got it upright.

We hoofed around the streets near the Grand Bazaar and found ourselves in the streets where shoemakers buy their raw materials. Great atmosphere, men at work everywhere, we bought a wonderful Turkish lunch at a corner cafe. The muezzin intoned the midday call to prayer, and everyone rushed to pray, a van drew up and handed out carpets which were laid on the pavement, some of the richer men brought their own mats.

On from there to the Grand Bazaar which is all pretty silly, my friend bought several belly-dancing costumes (for his partner and her friends, of course). I forgot to mention that yesterday, at the border entering Turkey, the Customs people pulled out our duffel-bags to inspect and opened one of them, guess whose, yes it was my underwear that was exhibited, but it could have been worse, if I’d had a belly dancing costume in the bag. Anyway, out from the silly Bazaar at gate 2 – a spot where I stood as a much younger man in 1972 – to view the Basilica Cistern. Of all the cisterns under Istanbul … This one is huge, and very well presented for tourism.

Finally I went to the St Sofia mosque, now a museum and they charge you $10 to get in so there are not many tourists. On entry I passed along a passage, already very impressive and when I came to the central space … Well I stood stunned for a long time and my jaw dropped. This mosque is BIG, like 55m high and there are NO PILLARS supporting the roof. And it was built in 537 – for a thousand years it was the biggest cathedral in the world. It is bigger than the Blue Mosque and more impressive. I would say it is more impressive than the Taj Mahal, but that has a nicer setting around it.

After all that, I was so tired that I spent the evening at the hotel, and today (day 14) we drove to Safranbolu but I am now running the blog a day behind.
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Recalling day 4 – into Salzburg
June 11, 2012
Recalling day 4 – into Salzburg
I have time on this Black Sea crossing (the ship is parked off Sochi and will be stuck out here for 8 hours; more on this horror story later) to process some of my GPS traces, this one among them:
<a href="http://imgur.com/PBpIx"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/PBpIx.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>


This shows my entry eastwards into Salzburg but the story behind this line on a map is as follows. We left Lauterbrunnen in heavy Swiss rain, I have waterproofs but the feet and hands get soaked, then the weather brightened and the gloves and shoes dry out as air passes over them. We were congratulating ourselves on the lack of rain in the afternoon, despite a Big Black Cloud looming. Our route aligned itself to pass under the cloud, which thus loomed more and more, and when we were 72 km from our destination a thunderstorm hit us. The four of us in our group all stopped, frantically put on our rainwear and took off again.

Swiss rain was pretty full on, but Austrian rain takes the prize – and the Austrians are so organised that they put road signs on hilltops where thunderstorms are likely (or, possibly, are permitted). To my horror I saw I had forgotten to put the cover over the tank bag, the camera was about to get soaked so I stopped, put it on in 15 seconds and zoomed off again. The other three bikes duly missed me and pulled over to wait, about 4 km up the road, but stupidly I overtook a bus so I did not see them, nor they me (I forgot the rule that you stay in the slow lane when isolated, for this reason).

So I stopped to refuel, the rain abated and I took off alone, but altogether that 72 km went through FOUR separate thunderstorms. The second storm was amazingly intense, and had hailstones in it. I pulled into the next fuel stop to get my act together, under whatever shelter I could find. On every ride we all carry a map of the day’s route, and the address and GPS lat/long of the destination hotel. I now entered these into my GPS, which I had not generally been using as I don’t have the detailed maps – Salzburg is shown, for example, but with only 3-4 main roads.

I had to convert decimal degrees to minutes, yes I stood outside in a thunderstorm multiplying 0.8153 by 60 in my head, then I took off into the pelting rain and hail. The temp was low (10*c) so the helmet visor does not de-fog when you breathe, so you have to leave it slightly open, whereupon the rain gets in on both sides of the visor, and on your spectacles, and if you want to wipe it off the internal surfaces you have to lift the whole visor, getting a full faceful of weather.

Then guess what, the whole freeway promptly jammed solid, there must have been a collision up ahead, the cars were stationary all the way across a valley, up the next hillside and over out of sight, and there was no room to ride a bike up the side or through the middle. As I sat there on the stationary bike in the rain and hail, isolated wet and lost except for an X on a bare GPS map, I despaired … but then I took strength from the thought: They said there would be days like this, and maybe even worse with no freeway and no hotel at the end, only a dirt road and a tent, which I will have to put up myself. Come on you Alpine rain gods, let it rip! Bring it on!

Just then, I saw that 4 cars ahead there was a little country road exiting the freeway. I took it and followed some other cars, but one by one they peeled off, and just as the last one left me there was the freeway again, up ahead of the obstruction and all clear! I rode neatly into Salzburg and found the hotel by turning such that I always got nearer the X on the GPS. When I came to where the X was, there was the hotel, and the other three bikes arrived at the same time.

Mozart never had a motorbike, but he had plenty of worse problems than mine. And when he was my age he’d been dead for 27 years.

jerdog53 06-27-2012 07:08 AM

ok.......:lurk


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