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Old 06-28-2012, 04:32 PM   #16
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Map of Russia
May 10, 2012
Hello friends, to me is map of Russia, I buy in map shop. Not only is the map about 6 feet square and two-sided, but Russia is so huge that the map has to throw in many other countries for free – all of Scandinavia, half of Europe, Turkey, Iran & China, all of Korea & Japan. I have drawn the bike trip route on a photo of the map:



I’ve had to take a guess at some of the routes and in any case the route may change according to circumstances – the previous trip in 2010 had to frantically avoid going into Kyrgyzstan, due to a civil conflict. But as you see, we ride across Europe, across Turkey, ferry to Sochi in Russia then Volgograd and a little bit backwards to include Moscow, then just short of the Urals we go south to visit the ancient Silk Road cities of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara, a spectacular lake and canyon near Almaty then back into Russia and we come up to Novosibirsk, near the right-hand edge of the map.

At this point, we realise that the bloody map is FOLDED IN HALF and there is an equal distance yet to go! You see the large letters “R O S” at the top of the map? That’s part of “ROSSIJA”, and we are going to ride across all of it. So let’s turn the map over (which can’t be done while sitting down) and here is the other half:



At the left-hand edge of this half, at this point we will be about 65 days and 16,000 km into the trip. Carrying ever onwards – I do love motorcycling – we hit Irktusk, go down into Mongolia and do a loop there – pausing to buy a dinner for a friend of mine in Ulan Bataar – then eastwards along the M58 and sharply turn northwards (at a place called “Never”) onto the M56, Kolyma Highway. This executes a vast clockwise loop to come into Magadan; I’ll do a separate posting about that bit. The road ends at Magadan, we ship the bikes out from there by sea, and fly home via Vladivostok.


Day 12 – Istanbul at night
June 1, 2012
I’ll tell the story of today’s ride later, it’s 1am now, I went out after dinner and got these photos of the Blue Mosque (and its courtyard), St Sofia, and a back street. The location of the hotel is totally brilliant, 7 mins walk to the Mosque. The three men stricken with the beauty of the Blue Mosque are on the ride with me and the call to prayer is being sung, beautifully. Our hotel with row of our motorbikes, mine is on the right-hand end, let’s hope it is still there in the morning. City tour tomorrow, with proper pictures to follow.













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
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Old 06-28-2012, 04:39 PM   #17
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Day 14 – Safranbolu
June 4, 2012
We started the day by riding our bikes to the ferry terminal and taking the 15-minute ferry across to Asia! Now I’ll have to start a new catgeory for these posts.

Asia is a large island which we are going to cross from one side to the other. We’ve done Europe – I was at Land’s End just before the trip, so I can say I have driven across Europe from side to side – now it’s a whole new experience. European roads were generally good freeways, it rained a lot and there is an international culture. Turkey is all different, except so far the main roads have also been pretty good (the govt. has spent heavily on improving them).

Few people here speak English, all the signs are in Turkish ONLY, the weather is 100% sunshine and the drivers …. well they “use the whole road” when driving, except that they eschew the benefits of the marked white lines, I don’t know why the road authority bothers to paint those, or to put up signs for that matter as no drivers take any notice of either. They could also reduce the price of cars by not fitting any turn indicators. (Apparently Russia will be similar, with the added bonus that the drivers are all drunk).

So we blew along a decent freeway, with occasional bad bits and road works, to an obscure town SAFRANBOLU which is very old and famous for its saffron, and the curious architectural style of the houses. It is very touristy and consequently frantic and a bit spoilt, but we found a few back lanes to walk in and a quiet cafe to have a coffee and smoke a water pipe. The hotel is one of the best in town but nevertheless is rudimentary with thin walls, they could not give me a single room and I got kicked out of the shared room for snoring, so I spent most of the night without sleep (as did my erstwhile room mate) nevertheless I rode OK all the following day.

Behold the photographs, after me crossing the Bosporus the next one shows the hotel which is under a perilously overhanging cliff, high above the town. The third photo is the view of the town square from the hotel; the rest should convey the atmosphere and way of life we are now seeing.













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Old 06-28-2012, 04:47 PM   #18
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Day 15 – to Goreme
June 6, 2012
A day of riding on roads better than we thought … south from Safranbolu, passing just east of Ankara and down to the touristic area of Goreme (pronounced guh-rey-mey), near Nevsehir. Here we will get a day off. Today the roads were quite good but road works and unmade stretches can crop up with little warning. The scenery was mountainous at first, then gentle green hills with no trees, reminiscent of Mongolia; we are at 1000m above sea level for several days.

It was a tiring day for me because I snore in my sleep and last night at my request my room-mate kept waking me up. Eventually I left the poor bloke in peace and decided to sleep on the landing, but ALL the rooms came off that, and the walls were thin so I chose not to sleep at all, I surfed the web instead. Usually I get a single room, but in some places they simply can’t provide one. Nevertheless I rode for the whole of this day and due to caffeine and water consumption was never in danger of dozing off over the handlebars (which I did once, about a year ago – but I prefer to avoid doing so, as I do not like hospital food).

Anyway. The area about 5 km across with Goreme town in the middle is famous for its large conical rock formations, some of which have been hollowed out and lived in. Or, more realistically, pigeons were kept in the hollows. Our own hotel is meant to be a clump of caves – I’m in cave 101 (refer to George Orwell’s “1984″). Really it is a manmade building sprayed with cave-coloured concrete to give it a blobby sort of shape, but the effect is quite good.

Getting to Goreme is a big milestone for me, as when I lived in Britain I tried to get here 3 times, and failed. In 1973 I rode a motorbike from London heading this way, but it conked out in Italy. So I booked on a commercial tour for 1974, but the Cyprus war erupted and we got stuck in Greece. Then in the 1980′s I booked another tour but had to cancel. So now I’ve finally made it, and all the way on a motorbike to boot, and the area is more interesting and nicer than I had thought.

Here’s one of our bikes at one of the rocky outcrops (it is not my bike, it is Millsy’s bike, but you get the idea; Millsy parks nearer the edge than I do).


Here’s Goreme town centre


The view from the roof of our hotel, where we had dinner.




The same view at night, done as a time exposure with camera on tripod. In the above picture note the minaret, every town has at least one. The first of the five calls to prayer (Fajr) is when “white light” is first seen in the sky – well before dawn. An astronomer will tell you that “astronomical twilight” begins when the Sun is 18* below the horizon; other schools of thought go for 15* or 12*. Anyway … the result is that the muezzin in Goreme summons the faithful at 4:02 am. Every dog in town wakes up, and some of them bay like coyotes. As it is written, Abu Hurairah reported that Muhammad said, “No Salat is more burdensome to the hypocrites than the Fajr (dawn) prayer ….”

Finally here’s me with cafe owners on the road today, near Ankara. Tomorrow: hot-air balloon flight over Goreme!
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Old 06-29-2012, 07:53 PM   #19
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Day 16 – Goreme Balloon Flight
June 7, 2012
Day 16, June 4th, was a non-riding day but despite a tiring day yesterday I was up at 4am to go on a balloon flight. Actually getting up at 4 is easy because Fajr was at 4:02 and every dog in town bayed like a coyote (see yesterday’s post). We were driven to a flat area North of the town where many balloons were being inflated, a bizarre sight. Here’s ours, it takes 16 passengers so it is BIG, and we are hoping the logo does not say “Butterfingers Balloon Flights”




Then we took off and the pilot skilfully manoeuvred the balloon up and down to pick up winds in various directions and thus was able to steer the balloon in a circle. Our route is the blue track in this trace from my GPS tracker:


More about the GPS tracker in this post … the green & brown traces are the motorbike entering & leaving town, and the hotel is where the camera symbol is, so yes, we flew right over it. Here’s the typical lansdcape of this very limited but remarkable area:





We flew over Goreme town – our hotel with its 3 arches, and a ladder above them, is clearly visible between the pillars in the middle:





There were SIXTY balloons in the air this morning. We had to beat them off to make our way through … calculate, if each balloon has 16-32 passengers how much money is coming in …



The pilot landed the basket directly onto the back of the vehicle trailer, with a precision measured in millimetres, so we were spared the unseemly style of landing where the basket gets tipped over and you all get dragged through a muddy farmyard, etc. After a champagne breakfast the balloon was packed back in its bag, unfortunately one of us forgot to let go and got packed too:



Then we returned to the hotel for a day off – arriving well before breakfast began! It rained for some of the time during the day and I stayed in, snoozed, poked on the laptop etc then went out later with another bike rider, who was so taken by a rug being woven that he bought it, despite half it being wound onto the roller and thus not visible, and most of the other half not existing yet. The woman weaving it was sorting the threads BY HAND for each lay of the warp (across only 4-24 threads, but still). When it’s finished – 7 weeks more work! – they will post it to him. Sorry no picture, I do have movies of it though.

In the evening many of us went to a cultural show, with Whirling Dervishes, and dances from all sorts of subcultures of Turkey, many quite interesting, and of course a belly dancer who was very good and did all sorts of things whose feasibility one finds surprising. The Whirling Dervish dance was very good, but slightly spoilt by the entry of the dervishes among various waiters, late diners, the manager etc. In 1978 I was in Konya, an 8000-year-old city where the Whirling sect was started by Mevlana about 800 years ago; at that time and since 1924 the dance was banned as being subversive, but on grasping how many people want to pay to see it (and were probably getting it illegally – maybe the dusky ladies in dark streets offered “a whirl”) the govt relaxed the ban some years ago. No photos, as the dance is a religious act and it is not appropriate to take pictures.

Whew! Just for fun here is another silly GPS tracker trace, as the bike went by ferry across the Bosporus a few days ago. Note the location of the hotel, the Golden Horn at top left, the Bosporus Bridge at top right, and how the ferry manoeuvres to and fro as it comes in on the eastern side:
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Old 06-29-2012, 07:59 PM   #20
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Day 17 – Goreme to Amasya
June 8, 2012
Back on the bike again with just a brief stop to snap these even more remarkable rock formations just outside Goreme. The rock is worn away by rain (CO2 in the rain dissolves the limestone) but the boulder on the top preserves the rock underneath.



Shown below is a pottery wine jug in the traditional style of this area, the idea is you put your arm through the hole and sling it over your shoulder, and can then pour wine. You could never clean it out. And I don’t know how they make these, maybe in two symmetrical halves. Oh yes, this blog is so cultural today.




But back to motorcycling and we had another day on surprisingly good roads, with the occasional road works, but with several tunnels one 4 km long. Now the tunnels in Switzerland were very well lit, especially at the beginning, when you come in from the sunlight. However the Turkish tunnels are, well, dark. So dark that (with one’s eyes used to sunlight) even your own headlight does not illuminate anything and you wonder if the headlight is working at all. Then, in some tunnels to help people stay in lane, they put a line of cones down the middle of the road but there are no cones outside the tunnel, so their presence is quite a surprise. (I was in a car in Melbourne whose driver was afraid of tunnels; as we headed for the Mullum Mullum tunnel we regaled her with stories of the Great Roof Collapse of 2009. And of the incident when a petrol tanker collided with a truckload of anthrax spores that was stuck in the tunnel. And the trolls and beasts that live in the tunnel, and how very sticky the tarmac can be, etc)

The Turkish drivers are generally polite and helpful but there are some aggressive a**eholes, especially when you get near a city. Must be the stress of city life. When we enter a town, if it has traffic lights, they can show red and green AT THE SAME TIME and this is common on the pedestrian crossings also. It means you can go, or stop, as you wish, and guess which option people take …

Anyway I digress, we rode north from Goreme through Bogazliyan and Sorgun to Amasya. The riding was now at a more relaxed pace (80-100 kph instead of 110-130 kph) and there was time to take pictures, but the view although stunning were not really photograph-able. Today we had a mixture of gently sloping green fields, poplar trees and farm crops. After Sorgun, the town of Cekerek appeared as we came over a mountain pass, beyond a lake and would have made a cute photograph, had I been able to stop safely; then the town of Zile, also a very cute view. People at the Sadik Petrol Station at Zile (hi guys!) were very interested in us and the bikes; one of us has a little toy rubber ball, painted as a world globe on which we showed them our ride from London through Istanbul, Moscow and Magadan. They think we’re crazy!

Finally at 5pm we hit Amasya, another UNESCO preserved historical
village but also part of a major town. A river runs through it, with a sharp bend, and there are book stalls along the bank, with a vibrant social atmosphere that continues well beyond 11pm. On one side of the river a towering cliff has tombs dug into its face and a castle on the top; our hotel was under some of the tombs, its restaurant jutting out over the river. I could not get out until after dark to take pictures.





When trying to photograph the mosque I set the camera up on a tripod and paid all my attention to the camera, without seeing what had got in front of the lens … these are two of our tour leaders, ever anxious for our welfare:



Here’s another mosque, with tombs behind and castle on top of the hill:



Look at this, this is “the First Asylum in Anatolia where the patients with mental disorders were cured”. They don’t say what happened to the patients WITHOUT mental disorders. Or how the curing was done (by adding salt and hanging them over a smoky fire?). Or why they put up gates to stop people getting in. Or whether Anatolia was leading or lagging behind the rest of the world in the curing of the insane. But really it’s not a big deal, because if anyone ever got cured at all in Anatolia, then there must be exactly one asylum that was the first one where this happened, and here it is:



Our bikes in the cute narrow road outside the hotel:



The tourist guidebook to Amasya relates the following story, very likely apocryphal. The British once (no date given – maybe the war of Anatolia in 1919??) captured the town, took down the Turkish flag and hoisted the Union Jack. A mighty storm arose, with a fierce wind that tore the Union Jack from the flagpole and blew it into the river, where the foaming waters carried it away, never to be seen again. Stories like that, and the location of Amasya as the start of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish War of Independence, make the Turks very proud of this town.

Finally here’s the Full Moon as seen from Turkey. It is the wrong way up compared to how it appears in Australia (where, of course, it appears the right way up). You see the small black dot at 2 o’clock on the edge of the disk? That is Mare Crisium, and from Australia, where you stand up at another angle relative to the Universe, it appears at about 10 o’clock on the disk. In movies, if the full Moon appears, you can tell where the movie was filmed.
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Old 06-30-2012, 06:07 PM   #21
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day 18 – Amasya to Trabzon
June 8, 2012
Another nice riding day, firstly from Amasya down to the coast at Samsun, then eastwards along the coast to Trabzon. We stopped for lunch on a concrete area next to a garage, as usual; often we fill the bikes with petrol and/or go in the shop, but our lunch is cheeses and fruits on folding tables that come out of the support vehicles.

We booked into our hotel and went out for a nice dinner on the “beach” (actually, land extensions are being carried out here) with view of the Black Sea. Trabzon is a major port and trading post, even with connections to the Silk Road, the city has been attacked and destroyed several times throughout history. Down this eastern end of Turkey the Islamic culture is more prevalent. I think Trabzon was the town that refused to comply with an edict of Kemal Ataturk’s, that everyone had to wear a fedora hat. (So that you can’t pray, because you touch your forehead to the ground during prayer; he was trying to reduce the influence of Islam). They kept wearing their fezzes here, so Ataturk sent a gunboat and shelled the city.

Thus at dinner, there was no beer, only soft drinks but it turns out that we could ask for a beer, a boy was sent out who returned with 15 tins of beer, each tin carefully wrapped in newspaper which we had to retain in place. Who knows what beer it was, as we never saw the sides of the tins. The town we are staying in is Akcaabat, 13 km out of Trabzon, a town famous for its meat; they are also big on hazelnuts and cherries. I just thought you would need to know that.

Not only no pictures for this day – Day 18 – I have lost all track of the date and the day of the week, that’s why I missed my wife’s birthday, honestly – but there may now be a pause. Day 19 was a free day in Trabzon; today is Day 20 and I am spending the morning preparing to go on the ferry to Sochi, Russia – the sailing time is 12 hours but the whole process what with immigration, delays, and pratting about will probably take 36 hours, and who knows what Russian hotels are like, so I’ll post again when I am next able.

Day 19/20 – Hole in the ground
June 11, 2012
In the back streets of Trabzon behind our hotel, a team with an excavator had dug a large hole, for foundations of a building. The soil was clay and as we watched, the banks began to crumble into the hole. This picture is from a movie of the earth crumbling in:



Digging stopped but it was too late – the sides of the hole were vertical and came right up to the road edge and to a metre-high wall, next to a cafe, and were not shored up in any way. If anyone drove a car near the edge, it would surely fall in.



It began to rain (as is customary on this trip) and the men put a tarpaulin over the wall and that side of the hole. But to no avail -
because we returned the next day and now the hole contained (1) much rainwater and (2) the wall and (3) runoff rain from much of the surrounding hillside, generously pouring in.



Some of us had coffee in the adjacent cafe but others eschewed this opportunity, noting that the wall was already in the hole and the cafe would be the next thing to fall in, however this did not eventuate and we enjoyed very nice Turkish coffee and sticky cakes.


Men brought little pumps and were frantically trying to get the rainwater out. A boy standing in the rain was plugging and unplugging a domestic 240v extension lead, also in the rain. One pump worked well and was dumping a stream of water into the middle of the road, where it had gouged a hole right through the Tarmac into the gravel layers beneath.



But I’m sorry that I have no photo of this: An important-looking manager in a suit brought a much bigger pump. This failed to start and was moved to sit in a large deep puddle, so that engineers could tinker with the motor. The manager, as in so many cartoons, was helpfully trying to diagnose the problem by looking directly into the loose end of the hose, when the pump suddenly started, and emptied the whole puddle in an instant.
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Old 06-30-2012, 06:13 PM   #22
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Day 19 – Free in Trabzon
June 11, 2012
One of our bikes has a highly efficient air cleaner that requires special cleaning, using turpentine. So we added that to our shopping lists and six of us went into Trabzon, on this no-riding day, by domestic bus. It’s cute to have a mission to buy something ‘normal’ as you get to visit all sorts of ordinary shops and meet people. I needed an obscure male-to-male audio cable with different sized jack plugs.

And four of us needed chain lubricant, this is a highly specialised product basically a mixture of very thick oil and very thin oil, in an aerosol. You spray it on the bike’s drive chain, the thin oil evaporates and the thick oil stays in place, even as the chain flies around the sprocket and tries to throw it off. As the product is useless for anything else, no garages stock it, but one of us found a Yamaha agent and was able to buy four tins of it. Thank heaven for that … I have a spare chain, but I also have 20,000 km still to ride, much of it on dirt.

Back to the turpentine hunt (Turkish: terebentin) and we tried many paint shops, but it turns out that nobody in Turkey has it. Maybe it is forbidden by the Koran: Abu Hassani reported that as he was painting his house, the angel Gabriel appeared and said: “Do not use the turpentine of the infidels! Clean the brushes in synthetic thinners (Turkish: Sentetik Tiner), available from so many paint shops!”

By the way. I am reminded of a joke (oh … look out), there were two farmers leaning on a gate, “‘Ere Jarge, what did ‘ee give thy horse when ‘e had the Staggers?” – “Arrr, oi give ‘im Tarpentoine”". Two weeks later, same gate “Funny thing Jarge, oi gave moi horse Tarpentoine, an’ ‘e fell down dead.” – “Arrrh, oi’m not surprised, so did moine”.

We had more success in Istanbul searching for dubbin, to make shoes waterproof. Came across a whole street of suppliers for shoemakers, where we were taken from shop to shop, with much miming, grunting and incomprehension, but we finally found a man wearing leather shoes, and also a puddle, and then we became understood and were provided with a tin of dubbin, to our joy and the joy of the crowd that had formed around us.

But I digress and this day we walked around Trabzon, in not much rain. Went in a shop to look at maps and the manager of the washing-machine shop next door provided tea for everyone, despite any sales being unlikely. I got my audio cable, for $2. Here’s how Olives (of 100 different types) are presented for sale in the shops, and borlotti beans of many different types.



We had ice-cream in the town square under a mighty statue of Ataturk, as the muezzin called the faithful to the midday prayer.







O indeed, life could be worse and sure enough it began to rain, but Turkish rain is easy compared to the rains of other countries . . . We have been rained on, differently, in every country visited so far, including Liechtenstein. A policeman and some streeet cleaners let me take their photos.





We returned by domestic bus to the hotel, 13 km out of town, and a group went out for an evening meal. In the now heavy rain all restaurants were either closed or empty. We chose an empty one that had one tray of meat among the salads and vegetables in the display cabinet. “what’s this?” we asked and the manager solemnly replied “Dog”. Woof woof? Yes. Then dog, sheep and cow noises were made – what a spectacle – and he enthusiastically said “yes” to all of them . . . we recalled that Turks say yes to everything. Turned out it was probably DUCK, not dog . . . cue duck impersonations (or should that be ‘imduckations’) and much saying of “yes” . . . It got all too difficult, so we had the mincemeat. Well, maybe THAT was dog, who knows.

Back to my hotel room and my daughter Skyped me at 10pm, just as the evening call to prayer was blasting from the minarets. (One wonders whether real-estate prices are affected by how far away the nearest minaret is to the house). I stuck the laptop out of my window and in Edinburgh my daughter heard the muezzins of Trabzon calling the evening prayer. Magic, sheer bloody magic.
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Old 06-30-2012, 06:14 PM   #23
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Days 20 & 21 – ferry to Sochi
June 11, 2012
As we go further East, the pace of life becomes more relaxed … so a ferry crossing of the Black Sea, about 270 km, takes 14 hours sailing time but the whole process actually took 34 hours. We lost a whole day! (but the plans of the trip allow for this).

On Day 20 (June 8) we spent the morning shopping for fruit and drinks for the voyage. I put my purchases in a backpack made of tough, thin silky material that packs up to about the size and shape of a boiled egg. This is my AVOSKA, the word being a Russian one derived from AVOS meaning “perhaps”. All Russians (under Communism, at least) carried a string bag in their pockets in case they suddenly came across someone selling something useful. There was a joke that the first Russian astronaut to land on the Moon took his Avoska with him.

Checked out of our hotel rooms at 1:30pm, prepared the bikes and ourselves for riding – yes we needed rain clothing – and rode to the ferry terminal at 3pm. Had cup of tea while the bikes were admitted to the yard, then an hour to check passports and we were on the ship at 5pm. The waiting time was easy because some of us chatted with a submariner whose Turkish Naval submarine “GUR” was at the dock. Noah had an Ark, but our ship was the ERKE:



Now the ferry is supposed to sail in the afternoon, so you can see what is going to happen, or rather, not happen. It did not actually take off until 11pm, by which time we’d bought the evening meal (not bad, actually) and gone to sleep on the chairs or in the cabins. It being a 14-hour crossing we arrived at Sochi at 1pm the next day (Day 21). The crossing was calm (although one of us got seasick), the day was hot and we were exhausted. Dolphins followed our ship and spy-hopped in the water.

Now we got our free Sochi Harbour Cruise, as another ship was in our berth, when that sailed off we were able to dock and finally got ashore at 6pm. Then unloading the bikes took a while, and Russian vehicle import, customs and passports took a couple of hours so at 9pm we drove off … the hotel had mis-booked my room so it wasn’t really till 11pm that I got the use of it.

So Day 21 was sort of lost, but at least we’re now in Russia with all our paperwork in order. I went out with another rider to walk the night-time streets of Sochi, it’s a nice town and its conurbation (the mess of nearby towns stuck together) is the second largest in the world! after Los Angeles. But Russia does not really have much of a coast – half the Black Sea coast is in the Ukraine, there’s the Caspian Sea and Lake Baikal, a bit of coast at St Petersburg and the northern and Pacific coasts, vast but too remote to be of importance. Most Russians will never see the sea in their lives.

Day 22 will be a free day at Sochi, then on Day 23 we leave Sochi and the next time we see the sea (not counting Lake Baikal) will be at … Magadan.
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Old 07-01-2012, 09:25 AM   #24
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Bloody Brilliant !!
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Old 07-02-2012, 07:08 PM   #25
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Day 22 – Free in Sochi
June 12, 2012
Another free day, this time without having to live on a ship. (I am still not completely settled on land). This day we are in SOCHI, one of the very few Russian coastal resorts, the town has been refurbished and frantic work is going on because the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held here.

Having read in the guidebook that the mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana was scenic and nice, two of us (myself & John) spent the day riding there, about 50km from Sochi. Boy, were we in for a surprise as this “village” is exactly where the Olympics will be held. After being stuck in traffic all over Sochi itself – I took this photo of the town hall clock while stuck in a traffic jam . . .



. . . we got out down the coast to a town called Adler, from where a very nice new road leads up to Krasnaya Polyana (“Beautiful Glade”). However the road is infested with concrete mixers and much other construction traffic, the day was hot and dry and the road very dusty. I got dehydrated and need to tank up my body at every stop, now that the riding is hot (25-30*C). I need to buy a Camel-Bak (rucksack with water bladder), what annoys me is that I already HAVE one, but did not bring it as it is very awkward to pack and I can carry water in the tank bag, but the cameras have grabbed that place for themselves now.

When we got to the “village” it is about 10km long and 3km wide and there are a LOT of new buildings coming up. Here’s the new Olympic Village for the athletes -



Here’s the ski lift arrival hall, ready to go in 2014:



Diagram of the ski runs:



They are building a new railway line to this place! – with many bridges and other expensive engineering. John and I drove around, then we got a cable car to the top of one of the mountains that tower above the village:



and we had a beefburger in a cafe with a terrific view – of the Caucasus Mountains:



We came back down the same way arriving at the hotel at 5pm, there is a group briefing every night at 6 or 7pm, even on free days, the ride leader hands out maps of the next day’s ride and offers hints on safe riding (“don’t come to Turkey or Russia”, would be a good example). I went out on my own in the evening, and had quite a good chicken piece with bread, salad, bread and more bread, and a “Siberian Crown” beer, at a table on a pedestrian walkway beside the park. A statue of Lenin still stands in the middle of the park, and tomorrow’s hotel is in Ulyanovskaya Street (Lenin’s real name) so they are still a bit retro around here.

Our last pair of riders, from Britain, have joined us at Sochi (they wanted to take a different way here to see friends etc) and they are very welcome, especially with me because I am tired of being the only Pom in the group. I have the Aust passport and citizenship, but nevertheless still British FWIW and I speak with a Pommy accent, and I got my UK passport renewed so I could use it on this trip; mine is the only red passport among all the blue ones, and as a Pom I got a special quick entry to Bulgaria when everyone else had to wait). Anyway we are now at our full strength of 14 bikes / 18 riders plus the two 4WD’s and drivers, and the trip leader and his bike.

Sochi being about the nicest town in the former USSR (and in modern-day Russia) the Communist Party leaders all had their dachas (summer houses) here – Stalin, Beria, Malenkov, the whole in-crowd. Gorbachev was down here when he found he had been deposed in the coup of 1991. After Stalin died in March 1953, L.P.Beria had grandiose plans to build bigger dacha’s in the middle of Sochi, after dynamiting the historic buildings that were in the way, very like Ceaucescu did in Bucharest. But poor old Lavrentiy Pavlovich failed to keep in with the right crowd and as one history book has it, was “shot, removed from office, tried and sentenced”.

We had to advance our watches by 1 hour on entry to Sochi. The immigration desk had clocks for various cities, the Vladivostok clock was 7 hours ahead of us . . . we are going to ride across 7 more time zones (done 3 already). Oh, it’s 8 more zones – Magadan has its own zone, 1 hour beyond Vladivostok.

One final thing about Russians. They all know where Magadan is (we have been saying “Vladivostok” as our destination until now). And they all think we must be totally mad to go there. The famous folk singer Vladimir Vysotsky wrote a song “My Friend Went to Magadan”, it’s on YouTube.
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Old 07-02-2012, 08:37 PM   #26
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Fantastic report .....ochen herashow !!!!
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Old 07-04-2012, 04:38 PM   #27
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Day 23 – Sochi to Krasnodar
June 13, 2012
Another day, another batch of struggling with the Garmin Zumo 660 GPS device, which won’t boot up but after up to 50 attempts to re-boot it, sometimes it starts, but some days like this one it doesn’t. I can ride with no GPS and no music, but having paid $900 for it, I expected it to work

Other bike issues: I got some chain oil, thanks to Rhys who went out and bought tins for all the chain-driven bikes, my drive chain is now wonderfully oily and I am very proud of it. Meanwhile the headlight globe has blown, this is the first and I hope the ONLY thing to go wrong with the bike. I will get the bike serviced in Moscow; at the start of the ride it had 9588 km on the clock and had just had its 10,000 km service; at Moscow it will be 18,000 and the next service opportunity is Tashkent and there are NO MORE BMW PARTS for sale after Moscow.

Today is a bank holiday, well actually it’s tomorrow (Russia Day: June 12) but that’s a Tuesday so there is little traffic on the road. We took off through Sochi and northwards along the coast, a lovely little seaside town called Lermontovo looked just like a British seaside resort. The road was twisty but with a good surface and there were many lorries and slow vehicles, but the plus side is that after you’ve overtaken them (which is easy on a motorbike) the road is completely clear of vehicles for miles, until the next slow truck. Those long clear bits of road were Champagne Motorcycling. The weather is perfect, well a little hot at 30*C but OK if you are moving.

Stopped for petrol. Now this is a real hoot in Russia because you have to pay first. In all our countries from UK until Romania, you fill the bike yourself and then go and pay. In Bulgaria a bloke fills it for you, and you go and pay. In Turkey, a bloke fills it and sometimes you can pay him, but usually he writes out a bit of paper with your own rego number and the amount, gives it to a boy who takes it to the office, and you go in there to pay but they have already mixed up the bits of paper, which is why they write your rego number on it.

Now in a Russian shop, a bookshop for example, you queue up to look at the books, you grab the book you want to buy and queue up to get it wrapped, the wrapper bloke gives you a chit which you queue up to pay at a pay station, they give you a receipt which you take back to the bloke who has your book and then you get the book. Now for petrol, you go to the pump, take off the hose and stick it in your petrol tank; nothing will happen. Then you go into the shop and pay X amount of money. Petrol starts to flow up to the value of X, immediately and well before you get back to your bike. Apparently in some places the flow does NOT stop at value X, petrol then goes everywhere and THAT petrol is free. The result is that you cannot fill the tank, you have to guess how much you want and often someone ends up holding a ‘live’ hose and shouting “Anyone want some petrol?”

Here’s Hugh, showing the correct position to be adopted when paying, or trying to pay, or arguing about whether one has paid, for petrol:



Anyway. We rode 150km along the coast, as far as Tuapse (in Russian script: Tyance) which is a Heroic City of the Defence of Russia. The Germans attacked it fiercely in 1942 and FAILED to capture it, there were at least 125,000 dead and they are still digging them up, 4500 bodies have surfaced in the last 10 years. There is a dignified War Memorial in very good condition and I bet the locals go crapping on about their battles at every opportunity. 37 other cities have been granted the same honour and title … readers, none of you have any idea of the extent of the carnage around here of the 1941-45 Great Patriotic War (a term which is never abbreviated). There will be more about this as I go to Volgograd and sink back into an orgy of celebration of the Soviet/Russian people’s defence of their homeland.

From Tuapse we headed inland and soon reached Krasnodar, an unpreposessing city with a mixture of Soviet and modern buildings. Among these is a hyperbolically-structured water tower which I tried to find and photograph, resulting in my being late for the start of the next day’s ride, a story for the next blog. The temp rose to about 30*C in Sochi but here inland it goes up to 34*C and it’s OK when you’re going along, but no joke standing stationary in black clothing. I now wear: helmet, gloves, mesh jacket with armour plates, skimpy T-shirt, underpants, jeans with Kevlar lining, heavy socks and reinforced motorcycling shoes. It is not possible to wear less, well the T shirt could go but I need to be able to remove the jacket without causing a stampede (in the opposite direction).

Here’s our hotel in Krasnodar. The statue of a dancer, I dont know who she is but evidently the pride of Krasnodar:



Over the road is this building;



Old shutters on an old building:
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Old 07-04-2012, 04:44 PM   #28
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Day 24 – Krasnodar to Rostov-on-Don
June 14, 2012
There is a myth that Krasnodar was the original Potemkin Village, but sadly it is not true. The armies of Empress Catherine the Great conquered lands to the south, including Krasnodar which at the time was named Ekaterinodar (“Gift of Catherine”). C.T.G. said she’d like to see her conquests – her secretary Potemkin, later to be commemorated by a battleship and movie of that name, knew that the village consisted of hovels and worse. So he erected painted screens showing views of a NICE village, scrubbed up a few peasants and gave them clean wheelbarrows to push, and took Catherine through quickly and at night.

Krasnodar is surrounded by an agriculturally rich area known as the Kuban Steppe. Here people fled in the 1500′s and organised themselves into Cossack tribes. Stalin collectivised the area and conducted a particularly ruthless extermination of most of the inhabitants, then after that, World War 2 began and the Germans occupied the area. As we drove through the Kuban some people remarked on the pretty green fields and nice views, well there were not one but TWO massacres in this area in the first half of the 20th century and I saw mounds in the fields which I suspect are full of dead bodies. I turned my helmet music off and have now driven for some days in a respectful silence.

But I had a wonderful start today, we had fried eggs for breakfast (actually, COLD fried eggs) and having tried to photograph the Hyperbolically Structured Water Tower (and failed, due to not finding it) I came down at exactly 7:59 to the bike, bearing helmet, gloves, tank bag and top box, loaded it all up, started the engine, put jacket on and … the zip on the jacket stuck. Everyone else took off without me, but the two support vehicles remain and I had 3 lovely ladies fussing over the stuck zip. Two of them were kneeling in front of me … sadly, I have no photo of this. But now I am trying to sell the jacket to Millsy for $10,000.

We rode across an undulating landscape with rich green fields, in 34*C heat. This is the area of Cossacks and is the setting for Mikhail Sholokov’s book “And Quiet Flows the Don” and its two sequels, about life here before and after the Communist Revolution.

A typical day’s riding takes the following form. We get breakfast at 7 and then pack our duffel bags, which go in the trailer at 7:45, check out of the hotel and ride off at 8, or 9 on a slack day. We stop after an hour for petrol and/or coffee, stop at 12 for lunch (cheese sandwiches made with kitchen gear in the 4WD’s), take off for the afternoon and stop mid afternoon for tea or just a break. We arrive in the hotel about 5, have a team meeting at 7 followed by dinner, I usually get back to the room at 10, unpack, surf the web and write the blog, always till midnight sometimes 1 in the morning. Some nights I go out 10-12 if there is stuff to see that I missed from 5-7pm. We cover 300-400 km in a day but can go to 5-600 with ease.

Anyway we arrived at our hotel in Rostov early today, like 2pm, so we changed & went out for a beer along the Don riverfront. Here is the mighty Don River seen from a bridge:



There are lots of old buildings in Rostov, the first one below in terrible condition:

[







Some of us walked into the town market, and past the cathedral which has newly gilded domes:



I had a glass of kvas, a sweet cold drink made from fermented rye bread and sold at every street corner – unless, of course on a hot day like this, it is sold out



The sign says “Kvas exists” (we have kvas here) but no, it doesn’t



Local shawarma (doner kebab in a pancake) – what a big one



Motorcyclists discussing the weather forecast:
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Old 07-06-2012, 02:25 AM   #29
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The Motherland is Calling
June 14, 2012


Day 25 – Rostov to Volgograd
June 15, 2012
Another short day’s ride (280 km) and tomorrow is a free day! The road from Rostov goes north, then we took a branch eastwards to Volgograd. The area is awash with memorials to the Great Patriotic War and the Battle of Stalingrad. Every ‘shire’ (oblast) has its own war story. In this area, green and fertile though it be now, every inch was fought tooth and claw in one of the greatest battles of history. The Second World War, as we call it, was turned around here at Stalingrad. We first came across a monument to the tractors of the land:



Soon we came to the monument for the Tank Corps from this area, about 200km west of Volgograd; natty modernist style:



We left the River Don back at Rostov, but we crossed it again over this impressive bridge:

[

Now here’s today’s funny story. At about 40km west of Volgograd we came to a railway crossing – there was a 3km queue of stationary vehicles but we drove up along the side of the road. Came to a level crossing, and boy do they stop you skipping over it at the red light:



The train passed, it was 1 km long carrying petrol, and it went v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. In fact it went so slowly that it stopped, with half the train over the crossing and the other half not. In this picture you see about half the train:



After a few minutes the train began to go backwards, again slowly and it went all the way back so the crossing was again clear. We started our engines, in a touching display of faith that the barrier might come up. It didn’t, and after another 10-minute pause ANOTHER kilometre-long train appeared on the other track, and proceeded over the crossing, all the way this time. The first train’s engine then uncoupled and came forward 10 metres, and went back again and re-coupled, but just then the barrier lifted and we all shot forward without waiting the for the train to re-attempt another crossing. Oh, all this was in 38*C heat …

Drove into Volgograd and as always (except in Bucharest, where there was probably a good reason) our hotel is bang in the middle. The temperature here today, and at the end of our ride, is FORTY DEGREES. 100 metres away is the Avenue of Heroes, with perpetual flame:



These guys take their war heritage very seriously indeed and tomorrow we will go to the War Museum and complex. I already posted my photo of the Motherland Statue, with no words, as words fail me, this statue has obsessed me for 20 years and now I’ve seen it, on the same day my son Lars posts a picture of himself walking through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin (a feat quite impossible in the Cold War), bear with me as my spirit soars and flies around the room.

Will write up the Stalingrad Museum and all that stuff, tomorrow … we will be leaving at 5am to avoid the heat, and we are heading for a very basic hotel at Tambov, with probaby no internet.
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Old 07-06-2012, 03:15 AM   #30
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