Road of Bones 2012 Expedition

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by compassexpeditions, Jun 21, 2012.

  1. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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.

    [​IMG]
    Day 1, here we are at the Ace Cafe ready to ride out:
    #1
  2. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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&#8217;s a picture of the two supporting 4WD&#8217;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&#8217;ll be one free day at Budapest but we need to push hard, as far as Istanbul.

    Day 4 &#8211; 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 &#8211; 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&#8217;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 &#8211; 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&#8217;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 &#8211; I wiped the bike down, had breakfast and when I came back out it was soaked again. We rode through Swiss Rain &#8211; very intense stuff, not like the French foggy/drizzly version &#8211; 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 &#8230; 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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;ll be even tireder and wetter I do hope they are all OK.

    Despite having seen the magnificent Swiss and Bavarian scenery I don&#8217;t have any photos worth showing for this day. This is not a tour of Europe &#8230; we have to move along! Today 580km but all on freeways &#8211; tomorrow a similar day, on to Budapest.

    Day 5 &#8211; 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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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 &#8211; 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 &#8211; somebody ought to do this, and the Hungarians have &#8211; a statue raised to the famous author &#8220;Anonymous&#8221;.

    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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;s Magadan. So, tomorrow, onwards into Romania and there&#8217;s only 99 days left, we&#8217;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! &#8211; 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&#8217;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&#8217;ve been so far. Note this is where Don&#8217;s Bike has been, not necessarily where MY bike has been! Don&#8217;s Californian rego plate &#8220;LHR 2 GDX&#8221; 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&#8217;s, so, please click on THIS LINK and enjoy Don&#8217;s data. Thanks Don!
    #2
  3. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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?id=47a04fac59d8a10a3
    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!
    #3
  4. Steve SA

    Steve SA Adv Wannabe

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2007
    Oddometer:
    54
    Location:
    South Africa
    :lurk

    Keep it coming
    #4
  5. stamp

    stamp Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2012
    Oddometer:
    67
    Location:
    London
    im in :lurk
    #5
  6. zandesiro

    zandesiro In rust we trust....

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2010
    Oddometer:
    828
    Location:
    Polygyros, Greece...
    :lurk:lurk
    #6
  7. X Banana Boy

    X Banana Boy stuck in the office

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,960
    Location:
    St. Louis
    Excellent. I am in!!
    #7
  8. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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!
    [​IMG]

    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.
    [​IMG]

    Here’s Timisoara main church and the memorial to the town’s Heroic Martyrs of the 1989 revolution, with fresh wreaths.
    [​IMG]

    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.
    [​IMG]

    Tomorrow on to Sighisoara for two nights, a well-preserved medieval town (so it may not have internet)
    #8
  9. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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>
    #9
  10. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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&#8242;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:

    <a href="http://imgur.com/x18NX"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/x18NX.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    The main square. As with the much bigger town of Timisoara, the buildings on all 4 sides of the square are like this:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/7PI60"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/7PI60.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    There is a very long straight stairway in stone, walled and roofed in wood all the way up, leading to thechurch on the hill:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/Qa0s3"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Qa0s3.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    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:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/4Iez9"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/4Iez9.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    Finally, here is a door handle:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/upOlY"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/upOlY.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
    #10
  11. poolman

    poolman Gnarly Poolside Adv.

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2010
    Oddometer:
    757
    Location:
    Darnestown, MD
    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:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><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>


    .
    #11
  12. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/4na2e"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/4na2e.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    The enclosed courtyard of the castle. This was a peaceful place but outside, indeed the whole town, is awash with tacky tourist stuff.
    <a href="http://imgur.com/dXi5p"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/dXi5p.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    Suits of armour, 17th century or so. If you go out wearing the armour displayed on the left, don’t forget the crossbow.
    <a href="http://imgur.com/yY0Ut"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/yY0Ut.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    Early wooden curtain in the castle window. Nobody casts a silhouette on this one:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/Qyiaw"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Qyiaw.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    Compass Expeditions laying on their daily lunch, in the castle car park. Yes it’s raining.
    <a href="http://imgur.com/TBOno"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/TBOno.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

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

    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>
    #12
  13. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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)

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

    <a href="http://imgur.com/wyw6G"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/wyw6G.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    <a href="http://imgur.com/opWn1"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/opWn1.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

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    <a href="http://imgur.com/cyzm7"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/cyzm7.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
    #13
  14. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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.
    <a href="http://imgur.com/DkyUH"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/DkyUH.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

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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.
    #14
  15. jerdog53

    jerdog53 Crop Dusting Everywhere

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    6,562
    Location:
    80122
    ok.......:lurk
    #15
  16. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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 &#8211; 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:

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

    I&#8217;ve had to take a guess at some of the routes and in any case the route may change according to circumstances &#8211; 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 &#8220;R O S&#8221; at the top of the map? That&#8217;s part of &#8220;ROSSIJA&#8221;, and we are going to ride across all of it. So let&#8217;s turn the map over (which can&#8217;t be done while sitting down) and here is the other half:

    <a href="http://imgur.com/2PMZc"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/2PMZc.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    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 &#8211; I do love motorcycling &#8211; we hit Irktusk, go down into Mongolia and do a loop there &#8211; pausing to buy a dinner for a friend of mine in Ulan Bataar &#8211; then eastwards along the M58 and sharply turn northwards (at a place called &#8220;Never&#8221;) onto the M56, Kolyma Highway. This executes a vast clockwise loop to come into Magadan; I&#8217;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 &#8211; Istanbul at night
    June 1, 2012
    I&#8217;ll tell the story of today&#8217;s ride later, it&#8217;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&#8217;s hope it is still there in the morning. City tour tomorrow, with proper pictures to follow.

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

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

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    <a href="http://imgur.com/9lxGM"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/9lxGM.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    Day 12 &#8211; Into Turkey
    June 2, 2012
    I have time now to write about yesterday&#8217;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 &#8211; several stops and getting off the bike &#8211; 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&#8217;t seen nothing yet. Driving a few hundreds of metres across a Schengen Zone (no man&#8217;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&#8217;s computer conked out and he had to do one all over again &#8230; 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 &#8211; showing the insurance, and we are spared paying visitor&#8217;s road tax, but cars have to buy a sticker for that &#8211; and having registered the bikes we go to another window to get Customs approval to import them &#8230; 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 &#8230; 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 &#8211; 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 &#8211; packed across the visble landscape. The guide book says Istanbul has 10 million people, another aource says 13.5, officially it&#8217;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 &#8211; 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 &#8211; has all been nicely paved with bricks and made traffic-free, with green parks etc &#8211; 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 &#8211; 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
    #16
  17. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    Day 14 &#8211; 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&#8217;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&#8217;ve done Europe &#8211; I was at Land&#8217;s End just before the trip, so I can say I have driven across Europe from side to side &#8211; now it&#8217;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 &#8230;. well they &#8220;use the whole road&#8221; when driving, except that they eschew the benefits of the marked white lines, I don&#8217;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.

    <a href="http://imgur.com/Px3Mq"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Px3Mq.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

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    #17
  18. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    Day 15 &#8211; to Goreme
    June 6, 2012
    A day of riding on roads better than we thought &#8230; 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&#8217;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 &#8211; 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 &#8211; I&#8217;m in cave 101 (refer to George Orwell&#8217;s &#8220;1984&#8243;). 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&#8242;s I booked another tour but had to cancel. So now I&#8217;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&#8217;s one of our bikes at one of the rocky outcrops (it is not my bike, it is Millsy&#8217;s bike, but you get the idea; Millsy parks nearer the edge than I do).
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    Here&#8217;s Goreme town centre
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    The view from the roof of our hotel, where we had dinner.
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    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 &#8220;white light&#8221; is first seen in the sky &#8211; well before dawn. An astronomer will tell you that &#8220;astronomical twilight&#8221; begins when the Sun is 18* below the horizon; other schools of thought go for 15* or 12*. Anyway &#8230; 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, &#8220;No Salat is more burdensome to the hypocrites than the Fajr (dawn) prayer &#8230;.&#8221;

    Finally here&#8217;s me with cafe owners on the road today, near Ankara. Tomorrow: hot-air balloon flight over Goreme!
    <a href="http://imgur.com/AqDLs"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/AqDLs.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
    #18
  19. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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”

    <a href="http://imgur.com/YCkEf"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/YCkEf.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>
    <a href="http://imgur.com/Q7cwH"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Q7cwH.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    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:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/d4d2e"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/d4d2e.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    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:

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    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:

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

    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 …

    <a href="http://imgur.com/QnQ6T"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/QnQ6T.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    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:

    <a href="http://imgur.com/Lgs2W"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Lgs2W.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    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:
    <a href="http://imgur.com/YQFar"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/YQFar.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>
    #19
  20. compassexpeditions

    compassexpeditions Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    180
    Location:
    Our Hub is Ballan, Australia
    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.

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

    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.

    <a href="http://imgur.com/2XYSD"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/2XYSD.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>


    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.

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    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:

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

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

    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:

    <a href="http://imgur.com/ypu4e"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/ypu4e.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

    Our bikes in the cute narrow road outside the hotel:

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    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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    #20