Destination Istanbul - strangers are just friends you haven't met yet

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Don T, Jun 23, 2015.

  1. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    The 25th of May my girlfriend Katrine and I set out on a journey where one of the objectives was to visit Istanbul.

    The route and schedule wasn't set but the rough plan before leaving home looked like this:
    Fastest route south to The Balkans - follow The Adriatic Coast all the way to Greece - onwards to Turkey - visit/explore Istanbul - back home through Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Poland.

    Katrine and I have traveled together on two wheels many times, but on this trip a few things would be new to both of us.

    First of all we didn't bring camping gear. It meant a lot less luggage and this time of year finding vacant accommodation shouldn't be a problem. Besides that accommodation would be cheap in most of the countries on our route.
    We did bring sleeping bags though in case someone should offer us a couch to crash on.

    Secondly we had installed intercom in our helmets. After more than 20 years with total privacy in my helmet I was curious to try it out on a trip like this.

    Last but not least it would be the maiden voyage abroad for the F800GS Katrine bought back in 2013 (her first non Japanese bike) - and as you all know taking a BMW on a longer journey can be... adventures :evil
    As the previous 3 years I would be riding my 650 V-Strom.

    OK - enough of the introductions - let the journey begin...
    #1
    Leegaard likes this.
  2. Roland44

    Roland44 Been here awhile

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    Sounds good, subscribed :D
    #2
  3. mrpete64

    mrpete64 Been here awhile

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    Your V-Strom will get you there. I had a 2012. I also had the BMW 800 GS.
    I sold the GS in three weeks after I got it. I "hated" the heat on the right side pouring over my delicate white Danish skin.
    #3
  4. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Part 1: Southbound

    We left home early in the morning and 2 hours later after a 45 minutes ferry crossing we hit the German autobahn. No speed limits and light traffic made it easy to cover distance in no time. After lunch we left the autobahn and continued on smaller roads.
    Late in the afternoon after a good days riding we arrived in Erfurt where we had taken Mathias (panamericana2012) up on his offer in the Tent Space Thread.


    Mathias and his wife Isabella turned out to be excellent hosts and we had a great evening together. They showed us around down town Erfurt, introduced us to "Bernd das Brot" and offered us ice cream from the best vendor in town before making us a tasty BBQ dinner including the famous Thuringian sausage which was really good.

    After dinner we shared beers and stories with Mathias mostly as the narrator as he has done some really interesting trips - especially his 9 month/55.000km Pan-American adventure back in 2012/2013.

    The next morning Mathias send us off with a hearty breakfast. It had been a real pleasure to get to know him and Isabella. I hope that one day they'll give me the opportunity to repay their hospitality.

    It turned out to be an uneventful but nice day of riding.
    Early in the evening shortly after crossing the border to Austria we reached the town Wels where we stayed for the night at the charming old brewery "Gösser Brau" that was turned into a hotel.


    Breakfast on the ferry to Germany
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    Passing through the Harz Mountains
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    Arrived in down town Erfurt
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    Sight seeing with Mathias and Isabella
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    Bernd das Brot
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    Downtown Erfurt
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    Mathias (with his trusty steed) sending us off in the morning
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    Southeast Germany x 3
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    Entering Austria
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    Gösser Brau
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    #4
  5. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Part 2: Entering The Balkans


    In the morning we were back on the bikes early.
    As the weather wasn't ideal with showers and low temperatures we avoided altitude as much as possible as we passed through Austria crossing the eastern outskirts of the Alps.


    On the south side of the mountains the weather got better and we had a pleasant ride as we entered first Slovenia then Croatia.
    It was still early in the afternoon when we arrived at Plitvice Lakes National Park.


    We had originally not planned to visit the park, as it should be an extremely crowded place, but Mathias in Erfurt had told us it was worth a visit despite the many tourists.

    The night before in Wels I had booked a room at a highly rated guest house inside the park.
    The place "Villa Nena" turned out to be a real gem.
    It was perfectly located in a quiet and idyllic spot only 100 meters from the highest waterfall and 5 minutes walk from the lower lakes which is the most famous part of the park.


    After a quick change of clothes and a drink offered by Nena the landlady we set out to explore the park. We were in for at treat!
    The lakes and waterfalls were amazing and there was not nearly as many visitors as we had feared. Often we had the walkways and trails all to our self.


    When we several hours later returned to the guest house we were greeted with a lovely dinner and cold beers.

    We slept like babies that night.


    Passing through Austria
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    Plitvice Lakes National Park (the first picture is taken 1 minutes walk from Villa Nena)
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    Villa Nena's backyard
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    Nena at work in her kitchen
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    The bikes tucked in for the night right outside the door

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    #5
  6. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Part 3: The Adriatic Coast


    We left Plitvice the next morning and continued south until we hit the Adriatic Coast just south of Zadar. From there we followed the coast through Croatia - then Bosnia - then Croatia again.


    Late in the afternoon we arrived in Dubrovnik where we checked in at a guest house with a view over the harbor.
    The place was really nice and the guy who ran the place turned out to be the perfect host. First of all he moved his car to make room for our bikes in his garage. Then he offered us a drink gave us a map of the city and spend 20 minutes explaining the what, where and how's of Dubrovnik. Finally he gave us a lift to the old center of town and told us to call him if we needed help of any kind.

    We spend the rest of the day exploring the old town on foot. We had a good time and enjoyed a nice dinner before taking an late evening stroll back to the guest house as dusk settled.


    The next day we continued along the coast. First through Montenegro and then into Albania.

    This was our first visit to Albania and our initial impression wasn't exactly positive. The people we talked to was nice and friendly, but the country oozed of decay. Especially the emaciated dogs and cats rummaging through piles of garbage along the roads, brought Katrine in a bad mood.
    Traffic in Albania was a story in its own. A good example was when we on a freeway outside of Tirana encountered a horse drawn carriage going in the opposite direction in the fast lane.

    In the afternoon as we left the coast and headed inland towards the mountains things started to brighten up a bit. Less people meant less garbage and we had the first glimpses of the beautiful countryside that Albania also has to offer.

    We called it a day when we reached the town of Gjirokaster which is an UNESCO World heritage site. The old part of the town was really charming and we found a nice (and very cheap) hotel next to the town's only mosque. After a good dinner and a nice evening walk through the winding and steep streets of the old town we hit the sack.


    Heading for the coast from Plitvice
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    The Adriatic Coast in Croatia
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    The Old Town of Dubrovnik
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    The evening stroll back to the guest house
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    Looking over maps and planning the next days ride on the guest house terrace
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    Our fantastic host
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    Katrine having breakfast on the terrace
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    Getting the bikes ready in the morning
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    One last look back at Dubrovnik
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    Montenegro
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    Near the border to Albania
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    At the hotel in Gjirokaster
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    The bikes parked just below our balcony
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    Evening views from the balcony
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    Gjirokaster
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    #6
  7. StinkyCheese

    StinkyCheese Red or Green?

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    Great RR and beautiful pictures.

    :clap:clap:clap
    #7
  8. El Dudeness

    El Dudeness Been here awhile

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    Well - it seems as you beat me to it :D

    Will be looking forward to following the rest of this RR as we've litteraly must have passed each other on the way when we went the other way round.
    #8
  9. El Dudeness

    El Dudeness Been here awhile

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    Long lost relative perhaps?? :evil
    #9
  10. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Thanks for taking us along and sharing all those gorgeous pics :thumb
    #10
  11. NW2EC

    NW2EC Adventurer

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    Those pictures are amazing!
    sub
    #11
  12. Saso

    Saso Happily sporting the DRD4 gene

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    Fantastic! 'Been waiting for this - looking forward to more! :freaky
    #12
  13. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Thank you for the positive feed :norton

    The pictures so far is just the tip of the iceberg and besides that I have some on-board video for the upcoming episodes that just needs to be shortened/edited.

    Much, much more to come -I'll try not to keep you waiting to long...

    Cheers
    Tonny


    PS. El Dudeness - that guy was an exact duplicate of "The King of Ryomgård" to a degree so that it was scary :eek7
    #13
  14. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Part 4: The Greek connection


    A short prelude -
    Last year I was contacted by a Greek guy here on Advrider who was planning a trip to Romania with some friends. I had done a lot of off road/enduro riding in Romania every year from 2009 to 2013 and shared some tracks, waypoints and good advice with him.
    After he returned from the trip he send me a thanking note saying that the info I had shared with him had been valuable and that if I ever visited Greece he would love to buy me a beer and show me around.
    Prior to this trip I contacted him and we agreed to hook up when Katrine and I got to Greece.



    We left Gjirokaster early in the morning and before long we crossed the border to Greece. From the border we followed a route suggested by my Greek connection Alex.
    The route would show us some of the fantastic scenery and good riding Greece has to offer. The destination for the day was the small secluded village "Agrafa" situated in the mountains of northern Greece. It's only possible to reach the village by gravel and dirt roads - and quite a bit of those when coming from the north as we were.

    As we were having lunch in the small mountain town "Metsovo" (another recommendation by Alex) I received a text message from Alex saying that him and his wife were on their way north from Athens to meet up with us in Agrafa.

    The rest of the afternoon was spend on really interesting roads that just kept getting smaller and less paved. The last 2 hours of riding was spend entirely with gravel and dirt under the tires. The scenery was fantastic. As this was Katrines first time riding serious gravel/dirt roads on a big bike the going was slow, but she loved it and even the numerous hairpins didn't put her off.

    When we finally arrived in Agrafa we were warmly welcomed by Alex and his wife Despoina who waited for us at the terrace of the guest house where he had booked rooms for all of us. After a well deserved dinner and cold beers Alex showed us around Agrafa which is one of his favorite spots in Greece. I understand why. Conversation flowed easily and it was late before we finally called it a day and retired to our rooms after a fantastic day.



    Entering Greece
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    Lunch in the town square of Metsovo
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    Riding through the mountains of northern Greece
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    A short video showing how the roads deteriorated


    The last part of the days riding
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    Alex greeting us on the terrace in Agrafa
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    Nice guest house
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    Having an evening stroll
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    #14
  15. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Part 5: Greece


    We woke up to a crisp clear morning in the mountains. After a late breakfast and another walk around Agrafa we hit the road together. Alex and Despoina had invited Katrine and me to come and stay with them in Athens before we continued to Turkey. The first half of the days riding was on small roads - first gravel later tarmac - through the mountains. The last half was mostly on the freeway.
    During the ride we had a nice coffee break in the mountains and a lunch stop by the sea.


    It was late in the afternoon when we finally arrived in Athens. Alex and Despoina's flat was located right next to the Olympic stadium in the center of town. When the bikes was securely stored away in a garage next door and Katrine and I was installed in the living room we set out with Alex as a guide to explore the ancient city.
    It was a wonderful evening and it was late before we got back to the flat.



    The next morning after breakfast and an exceptional good cup of coffee I followed Alex to a traveling agency to buy tickets for the evening ferry to Chios. Meanwhile Desponia and Katrine went for a walk around the neighborhood. When everybody was back at the flat we made ready for a day at the beach.
    Alex and Despoina had asked some of their friends to join us and soon we were riding through the traffic of Athens. Katrine had decided to be pillion passenger for the day.
    On our way to the beach we stopped for an ice cream.
    The beach Alex had picked for the day was a small secluded one down the coast from Athens. After a couple of hours at the beach and in the water it was time for lunch. We got back on the bikes and went to a seafood restaurant on the coast.
    The food was very good and the company even better. Katrine and I really enjoyed hanging out with our new friends.


    After lunch we headed back to Athens to get packed and ready to leave for the ferry.
    Alex and Despoina guided us to the harbor and we said our farewells on the dock. It was emotional to say goodbye to the people who had so welcome us into their life's and I'm sure that we will meet again.
    The boarding procedure was chaotic but before long the bikes were securely parked on the car deck and we had a late night dinner in our allocated seats.
    After dinner we settled in for the night crossing.


    Chilly morning in Agrafa - waiting for Katrine to get ready for breakfast
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    Our bikes had got company during the night
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    Morning walk in Agrafa
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    Leaving Agrafa


    Continuing on (mostly) smoother roads


    Coffee break in the mountains
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    Lunch by the sea
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    The helmets was chillin
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    Arrived in Athens
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    A night out in Athens
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    Homemade breakfast with really good coffee
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    The view from the balcony
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    Heading for the beach
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    Ice cream break
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    Beach time
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    Lunch in good company
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    Ready to board the ferry from Piraeus (Athens) to Chios
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    A late night dinner aboard

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    #15
  16. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Part 6: Turkey


    5 am we arrived in Chios just as dawn was breaking.


    The first thing we did was to pick up tickets for the 8 am ferry to Cesme on the Turkish main land. The ticket office was located a short ride from the dock and easy to find. With the tickets well in hand we had time for a relaxing breakfast at a morning restaurant across from the harbor.
    The crossing from Chios to Cesme only took about an hour so around 9 am we sat foot (or rather tires) on Turkish soil which was a first for both of us.


    The weather was nice and the riding easy but soon it got apparent that Katrine hadn't slept enough during the night to be fit for riding.
    Around noon we did a pit stop at a Burger King that besides whoppers and milkshake could provide us with free wifi. We took out the map and the Ipad and soon we had booked a hotel room in the nearby town of Salihli.


    Salihli turned out to be a nondescript town and when we arrived we had some difficulties locating the hotel but the locals was extremely helpful and soon we found what we were looking for.
    It turned out to be a very nice hotel and especially the guy at the desk did everything in his power to make us comfortable. For one thing he made room for the bikes in the hotel's laundry room without us asking.


    As far as we could see we were the only foreigners - not only in the hotel but the entire town so we drew a lot of (friendly) attention wherever we went. We spend a few hours walking around town and had a nice dinner before we returned to the hotel. It was still early in the evening when Katrine had to give in and call it a day. I stayed up looking at maps and planning the route for the next day.

    When I had finished creating an interesting route on small roads through the mountains I went out to the balcony to have a smoke. To my surprise it had started to rain and there was thunder and lightning on the horizon. The weather had been pleasant since we crossed the Alps and I hadn't been checking the forecast for several days. When I got back inside I did just that. The weather forecast for the mountains the following day promised heavy rain and a serious drop in temperature - time for a new plan.


    Katrine was well rested the next morning and after a huge breakfast buffet we were back in the saddles. Instead of going north through the mountains as I had first planned we tried to circumvent them on a more western route. The weather was nice in the morning but before long the rain caught up with us and the next 6 hours was spend in a downpour.
    Late in the afternoon just as we approached Istanbul the weather cleared up.


    The night before I had booked a room at a hotel in "Beyoglu" on the western side of Bosporus near the oldest part of the city. Beforehand people had given us numerous warnings about the traffic in Istanbul - now we had to pass through the entire city from the Asian side.
    As it turned out the traffic wasn't that bad. There was a lot of traffic and endless lines of slow/non moving cars but we found it quit easy to navigate between the cars and keep the bikes moving. Before long and without any incidents we arrived at the hotel.


    We spend the evening hanging out in the neighborhood, eating dinner at a really good restaurant just around the corner and making plans for the following day's exploration of Istanbul.


    Early morning in Chios
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    On the small ferry to Cesme
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    Leaving Greece behind
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    We noticed that the deckhand had secured one side of Katrines bike to the wheels of a truck :eek1
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    Freshly made coffee and tea served in our room when we arrived at the hotel in Salihli
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    Clean parking
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    The convenience store next door
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    Salihli
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    The weather started out fine the next morning
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    After 6 hours in the rain we needed a break and found this shop/restaurant selling and serving local products from the surrounding fields and farms. We had goat (only option) with olives, cheese and salad.
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    First night in Istanbul
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    A street vendor making popcorn the old fashion way

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    #16
  17. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    Part 7: Istanbul - The gateway between Europe and Asia


    Breakfast was served in our room.
    Next thing on the day's schedule was getting our laundry done. As we arrived the day before we had noticed a small laundry shop next to the secure parking where we had left the bikes just down the street from the hotel. It turned out that they could have our laundry ready the same evening. Perfect.
    With that out of the way it was time to explore Istanbul.


    The city was relatively quiet in the morning and we had a nice walk down to the historic center of Istanbul on the other side of The Golden Horn from where we were staying.
    First stop was a visit to The Blue Mosque. Bare feet and proper attire required - legs and shoulders covered and besides that Katrine had to cover her hair with a scarf. Nice place but not really impressed.
    Next up was a visit to The Grand Bazar. That was interesting. The place had just the right bazar "vibe" and the more than 500 years old building added to the atmosphere.
    Noon was approaching and we needed a break from the hectic street life - time for a traditional Turkish Bath.


    We chose Cemberlitas Hamami which is the second oldest Bath in Istanbul and the oldest that allows both men and women - strictly separated that is!
    We paid for the "Sultan Treatment".
    First I stripped and donned a loincloth. Then I was placed on a baking hot slap of marble. After awhile when I was really sweating and started to think "OK - are they going to cook and eat me..?" a bath attendant poured water over me and gave me a thorough scrubbing which involve some pain and a lot of suds. When my attendant decided that I was clean and more scrubbing would leave my skin in tatters he gave me another rinse. Feeling very clean I was then passed on to my next attendant who gave me a massage - this part involved a lot of pain but was just what my body needed after several long days in the saddle.


    Afterwards I met up with Katrine in the lobby. Her treatment had been similar to mine but had included less pain and more pampering. Very clean and relaxed we found a place to have lunch. It was difficult to stay awake while we waited for the food.

    With full bellies and still finding it hard to stay awake we then headed down to the harbor to grab a sea bus to the Asian side of Istanbul as we wanted to visit Maiden's Tower.
    The tower is located on a small island in the Bosporus offering great views of Istanbul's waterfront. We then returned to the European side with another sea bus and walked back to our hotel. Before we returned to the hotel we remembered to pick up our now clean and dry laundry.


    The rest of the evening was spend packing and having another really good dinner at the same restaurant as the previous night - the food had been so good that we just had to come back.
    It was easy to fall asleep when we finally hit the sack.


    Checking on the bikes in the morning - they was safe and sound under the watchful eyes of the security guard.
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    Another one who apparently felt safe and sound at the side of the street
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    Cakes and sweets are very popular in Turkey
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    Other pictures from the morning walk
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    The Blue Mosque
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    The Grand Bazar
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    You can buy rugs everywhere and almost everyone is trying to sell you one.
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    Cemberlitas Hamami - the Turkish bath
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    The lobby
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    It's not allowed to take pictures inside so I have borrowed some from the internet to show you the interior of Cemberlitas Hamami
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    Crossing the Bosporus
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    A politician walked around the sea bus talking to people - an election was was coming up while we were in Istanbul.
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    Maiden's Tower
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    Views from the tower
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    A pack of dolphins passed by as we visited the tower.
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    From the walk back to the hotel
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    More campaigning going on
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    WTF..?
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    Gypsies running a scam on one of the shopping streets - small cute kid draws attention, an older kid keeps watch and someone you don't see do the real work.
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    Another outstanding dinner

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    #17
  18. NW2EC

    NW2EC Adventurer

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    Enjoying your RR; keep them coming!
    #18
  19. Don T

    Don T Bike Addict

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    899
    Location:
    ᛏᛅᚾᛘᛅᚢᚱᚴ - Scandinavia.
    Thank you NW2EC.

    Only about half way through the trip so there are much more to come.

    Summer has finally arrived here in Denmark so besides work and other boring stuff I have a lot of riding to do - but I'll try not to keep you waiting too long.
    #19
  20. MassiveLee

    MassiveLee Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2013
    Oddometer:
    1,611
    Location:
    Montreal
    Very nice report. Thanks very much for taking the time to write and document it. :freaky

    Lee
    #20