Kebab Route - 25,000 Kilometers Through Western and Central Asia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by igorshen, Nov 5, 2018.

  1. igorshen

    igorshen gypsy soul

    Joined:
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    The original plan was to go to Mongolia for the Naadam festival, the big nomadic party. But not having done my homework or even looked at the map closely before the trip, I did not allocate enough time for all the places I wanted to visit. Three months were barely enough for getting to Mongolia and back, but not much more. So I decided to focus on what is there between Serbia and Mongolia - The Stans.

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    Outline of the route.​

    I had to skip Turkmenistan and Afganistan, the former because of visa and the later for obvious reasons. The rest of the Stan countries were welcoming for tourists and quite popular among overland travelers - backpackers, bicycle riders, motorcyclists and car/truck drivers.

    Pamir Highway is the main draw, but the area has much more to offer - scenery, culture, history, food and friendly locals, to mention just a few.

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    Rila monastery in Bulgarian mountains.

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    Plovdiv's old town.


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    Canakkale - city between Gallipoli and Troy.

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    Kebabs, the ubiquitous food all over Central Asia.

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    Pristine and deserted beaches on Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

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    Ballooning is just one of many activities to do in Cappadocia.

    After visiting some monasteries and mountain resorts in Bulgaria a short ride through Greece got me to the Turkish border. I crossed into Asia at Dardanelles, near Gallipoli.

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    Crossing Dardanelles.

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    Some of the carved rock outcrops used to be churches and many are hotels today.

    SW Turkey is littered with archeological sites - prehistoric, Greek, Roman and Christian. I visited a few - Ephesus, Troy, Pergamon and Mt. Nemrut, but there are many more to be explored on another trip.

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    2000 year old toilet with sewer system in Ephesus.

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    Broken statues at Mt. Nemrut.

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    $15 a night - Turkey offered the best bang for the buck in terms of accommodation.


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    Konya - center of Mevlana order and pilgrimage site for Sufis.

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    Ceiling of a mosque in Ankara.

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    Crossing the Euphrates river.

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    Preserved fruits and nuts in Armenia.

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    Suspension bridge in Southern Armenia.

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    Monument to the Armenian victims of the genocide in Yerevan.

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    UNESCO heritage city of Tbilisi.

    In Caucasus mountains of Georgia, I rode one of the most scenic roads anywhere - Dartlo road.

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    Nearing the top of a pass on the way to Dartlo.


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    Caucasus mountains.


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    Outdoor gallery in Caucasus mountains.

    After a few days in Armenia and Azerbaijan, it was time to cross the Caspian sea and start riding Central Asia. Caspian sea ferries have no fixed schedules. They depart when there are enough trucks to make shipping company money. All other vehicles are just tagging along.

    I met 6 other motorcycle riders and many bicycle riders at the port. Never knew this route was so popular with bicycle riders. I'm still baffled how they ride 300+ km of desert in blistering heat without any stores, restaurants, gas stations or even trees.

    Logistics tip:
    There are no longer any offices or even information booths at the old port in Baku for the RORO ferry to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (contrary to what dated info can be found on the web). One has to go to Alat (about 70 km south of Baku) to buy the ticket and then wait. Alternatively, one can keep on calling daily about the next departure. Once the company is sure of the departure, it is important to arrive at the port at the time they specify. There is a small but fairly well stocked store right next to the ticket booth, with prices same as in the city. They are building a new port building, so things will probably change soon.

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    Baku port - Are we gonna get on the ferry or not?

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    Finally, boarding the ferry to Kazakhstan, after 8 hours of waiting.

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    Getting sunburnt on the top deck of the ferry.

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    The crew trying to keep cool in the middle of the Caspian sea.


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    Caspian sea sunset.

    24-hour ride on the ferry without AC is followed by a 6-8 hour immigration and customs ordeal (in our case, 7 hours). I decided to spend an extra day in Aktau. I used the time to relax, change oil and get canisters to carry extra fuel for long stretches of road without gas stations. Summers in Kazakhstan can be brutally hot, well over 40 degrees Celsius. Winters can be just as brutal (down to minus 40 degrees Celsius).

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    Aktau beach promenade.


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    Starting the long desert ride to Uzbekistan border.​

    From Aktau, it was 500+ km of desert riding to Uzbek border. Uzbekistan is still opening up after years of not welcoming tourists. While still complicated, it is much easier to obtain Uzbek tourist visa than it used to be. I applied for it in Ankara, Turkey and picked it up two weeks later in Baku, Azerbaijan. Consuls in both cities were very friendly and went out of their way to help me (and other travelers). In Baku, the consul issued me visa on a day that the consulate was officially closed - a uniquely pleasant consular experience!

    Uzbek tourist visa tip:
    Nowadays, it is easier to obtain Uzbek visa, but the approval takes up to two weeks. To alleviate the problem, Uzbek government allows applicants to submit visa application in one consulate and pick visa up in another. Alternatively, one can pay a tourist agency to send a letter of invitation. With this letter a visa can be issued on the spot.

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    Dried up Aral sea ship graveyard is one of the main attractions in NW Uzbekistan.

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    Stickers from various overland travelers left on a restaurant in NW Uzbekistan.

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    Tourist yurts in central Uzbekistan.​

    Uzbekistan was at the cross-roads of various silk routes. Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand were among the largest and most important cities of the world at the height of the Silk Road. The old parts of these cities are beautifully restored and buzzing with tourists from all over the world.


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    Khiva square.


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    Khiva hotel.

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    A unique mosque in Bukhara.


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    Minaret basking in late afternoon sun.


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    Samarkand.

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    Central Asia's spices at a Tashkent market.

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    Tashkent is the only city I've seen that loves YOU.

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    Rustam - Tashkent mechanic.
    Maintenance tip:
    While planning the trip, I spent a lot of time searching internet for mechanics and spare parts in Central Asia. I couldn't find much. It seemed that the consensus was that outside Almaty, it is impossible to get tires and other spare parts. Google clearly does not give decent results for this part of the world. Every capital has got at least one motorcycle mechanic and all of them can get pretty much any part given an advanced notice (7-10 days). Here are mechanics I met:
    Tashkent: Rustam +998901683707 (map)
    Dushanbe: Azik +992934540003 (map)
    Bishkek: Ramis +996555433043 (map and map)
    Parts usually arrive from Russia. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia have trade agreements, so parts will be cheaper if picked up in these countries because there is no extra import duty to pay.

    I ordered new tires and a battery in Tashkent and had to wait 2 days for the shipment to arrive from Almaty. I rode deep into Uzbek's Tien Shan mountains towards Kyrgyzstan while waiting for the package to arrive.

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    Rugged valley in NE corner of Uzbekistan.
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    Azik mounted new tires on my bike in Dushanbe.


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    Tajikistan is full of beautiful, deep gorges.


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    Endless switchback leading to 4,000+ meter pass.


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    The first of many beautiful passes on the way to Dushanbe.


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    Abandoned, desolate Anzob pass.


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    The rockfall that makes Anzob pass impassable for anything bigger than motorcycle.

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    Camel or horse milk?

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    Nuts and dried fruits at a local market.

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    Minefield warning along a road in Tajikistan.
    #1
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  2. dave6253

    dave6253 GCBAR Explorer

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    Wonderful!

    (A bunch of the photos are not showing.)
    #2
  3. igorshen

    igorshen gypsy soul

    Joined:
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    Thanks for the notice. Hopefully photos show now.
    Between advrider.com not allowing upload and google photos not displaying images in other web sites, it's hard to get photos to show.
    #3
  4. cyclopathic

    cyclopathic Long timer

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    Just started reading thanks for the report!
    #4
  5. simondippenhall

    simondippenhall Simondippenhall

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    Great report...I shall be following


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  6. dave6253

    dave6253 GCBAR Explorer

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    I can see them all now. Amazing photography. Thanks for sharing. :lurk
    #6
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  7. simondippenhall

    simondippenhall Simondippenhall

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    What is the maximum range you think you will need between fuel stops ( and how many litres is that for you?)


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    #7
  8. igorshen

    igorshen gypsy soul

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    The Pamir Highway- Bartang valley and Zorkul lake

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    Cars DO go over this bridge.


    While the Pamir Highway is the main draw for most people heading this way, in reality, it's not particularly scenic, especially the high altitude section - baren, wind-swept mountains with few yurts here and there. Valleys are more scenic and more pleasant to ride through. I found out about Bartang valley and Zorkul lake only a couple of weeks before arriving in Tajikistan. As soon as I saw photos, I knew I had to ride through those areas.

    Bartang valley branches off the main Pamir highway and is really a short-cut. But it's a rough road through the upper reaches of the valley, so there is very, very little traffic going through. When I rode through, it was impassable for 4-wheel vehicles. Police at a checkpoint told me even motorcycles couldn't go through, but I had already met another rider who went though a couple of weeks earlier, so I took my chances.

    There were few rocky and flooded sections, but the real fun started after Gudara, the last village going up the valley. Landslide covered roads, creeks running down the road, rocky river crossings, all without a soul around. I spent two days in the valley and I saw only one bicycle party going the other way. It's a desolate area and you're on your own. It was mentally challenging not knowing what was ahead, especially since I couldn't not carry enough fuel to backtrack (I carried 15 liters of extra fuel), but the rewards were well-worth the stress. Below are some of the photos from Bartang valley.


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    One of few bridges in Bartang valley.


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    Scenic and desolate Bartang valley.


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    One of the last villages of Bartang valley.


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    Even lifting the bike alone was a challenge.


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    A pass before the last village of Bartang valley.


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    There are some challenging river crossings after the last village.


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    No speed limits!


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    The first flat of the trip, luckily near a checkpoint, so some guy came to help me with the tire.


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    This rockslide makes Bartang valley impassable for anything bigger than a motorcycle. There was a section only a foot wide!


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    One of many rocky river crossings.


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    Windshield rattled off before I got out of the valley.


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    Second flat on the desolate Pamir highway.


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    Ran into Bulgarian riders I had met on Caspian sea ferry, 10,000 km earlier.

    I rode back to Khorog on Pamir highway. After a 2-day rest, armed with a permit for Zorkul lake, I headed to Wakhan valley. This is the usual alternative route for overlanders who want something more than the standard Pamir experience. The road runs along the border with Afghanistan. There are some small towns and hot springs before the main road heads back north to the Pamir highway. At this point, I split and followed Afghan border towards China - the Wakhan corridor. Pakistan's mountains were within walking distance at this point. The area wasn't as scenic as Bartang valley,but it was pleasantly devoid of people. I had the whole place to myself.


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    Ominous clouds but no rain, luckily.


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    This ankle deep creek marks the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.


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    Snow-capped mountains are in Pakistan.

    After a brief visit to hot springs in the middle of nowhere, I felt I had enough of Pamir and Tajikistan and was ready for Kyrgyzstan. So I rode straight to the border. I ran into a Polish guided group that I had been running into for the previous 4-5 days. We exited Tajikistan together and I decided to spend a night in no-man's land.

    Next day, I entered Kyrgyzstan. The green pastures with horses and cattle were a welcome sight after weeks of desert and barren mountains. Internet was another thing that was hard to find in Tajikistan, but readily available in Kyrgyzstan. Another half day of riding got me to Osh, the NE end of the Pamir highway.

    Even though my friends warned me about the police, I got stopped twice the next day while riding to Bishkek. They had hi-tech cameras with radars and there was little I could say about speeding. Some cops were more, some less greedy. As a rule of thumb, they seem to ask for 5 to 10 times the price of regular ticket. One cop that stopped me just for a chat was outraged when I told him how much the police crew before him asked me for. He insisted on talking to them and straightening things out.

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    My camp between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.


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    The good cop, just wanted to take a photo and chat.


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    Switchbacks on the way to Osh.


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    A kid with his donkey.



    #8
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  9. igorshen

    igorshen gypsy soul

    Joined:
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    There were stretches of 500+ km without gas stations. With the extra fuel I carried I could go 700-800 km. If in trouble, locals could probably sell you fuel.
    #9
  10. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the rr!
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  11. Square1

    Square1 Been here awhile Supporter

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    Wow, what a great trip!
    Thank you for taking us along!
    #11
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  12. igorshen

    igorshen gypsy soul

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    Tian Shan Mountains and a Long Ride Through Russia

    I started the trip with two spare tubes, front and rear and used both of the rear ones. I couldn't find spare tubes anywhere in Tajikistan, Osh and Kyrghyzstan's capital Bishkek were the closest places where I might get lucky. I found one tube in Osh, oversized, but better than nothing. In Bishkek, I found the right size, but the rubber felt stiff, almost crunchy. I figured I could make it to Russia with two spares and deal with any potential problems there.

    Bishkek is a quiet, yet convenient city with all conveniences one might need - restaurants, markets and malls. I visited Dordoy - one of the largest markets in the world, quite some experience.

    I also met few other riders in MotoHouse, who had some work done on their bikes. There is a bar/restaurant and a guesthouse on site. If you're looking to meet some local riders, head there around 4-5 pm.

    From Bishkek, I backtracked a little, over a scenic pass and headed to lake Songkul. It sits high up and it's rather cold. I woke up covered in frost. But it was interesting to meet local nomads and see their yurt.

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    High mountains and big glaciers of the Pamir range.


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    Approaching Songkul lake at 4,000 m above the sea level.


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    Curious kid came and invited me to his family yurt.


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    Dinner inside the yurt.

    After a cold night, I needed some warmth of lower elevations. I followed advice of a french rider to take the scenic southern route and ended up in Naryn - a small town with comfortable accommodation. From there, I had the option of going to Karakul lake using main highways or back country roads along the foothills of Tian Shan mountains. I chose the later and loved it. Very few people, some rough sections and breathtaking scenery.

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    Big sky Kyrgyzstan.


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    Some exposed and rough sections.


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    Snow-covered peaks mark the border between Kyrgyzstan and China.


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    High plateau on the way to Chinese border (need a special permit to get to the border).


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    Even at the end of July, it was cold at this high pass.

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    The road to Enilcheck.


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    By the time I got to the eastern end of Kyrgyzstan, I had been already two months on the road. It was time to slowly start heading west. I crossed into Kazakhstan NE of Issyk kul lake (one of the largest and warmest alpine lakes in the world). I visited Charyn canyon for a few hours on the way to Almaty. Almaty is a big and modern city, perfect for a few relaxing days before 2,000 km of nothing through Kazakh desert.

    I got fleeced by the police on the way to Astana. That was the 4th speeding ticket of the trip (one in Uzbekistan, two in Kyrgyzstan and one in Kazakhstan). Dealing with the police is getting old. I need to ride slower, but 60 km speed limit on long stretches of nothing is hard to respect.

    Astana is a new capital with funky architecture. It is lacking history, but comfortable and convenient enough for a day of rest.

    I crossed into Russia near Chelyabinsk and rode through Ural mountains. Even though not very high, these mountains are cold and rather scenic. I dreaded 4,000 km of Russian and Ukrainian plains before the next mountain range - the Carpathians in Romania. I visited several big Russian cities with interesting history - Ufa, Samara, Saratov and Voronezh on the way to Ukraine border.

    After a minor police shakedown right after crossing into the Ukraine (the guy wanted money for me being "drunk" even though I didn't have anything to drink, but eventually backed down), I was in Kharkiv, a major Ukrainian city (it was the capital of Ukraine for a few years).

    The highlight of riding through Ukraine was a visit to decommissioned ballistic missile command center and a tour of the silos.

    Odessa, a Black sea resort city founded by Russian empress Catherine the Great, is well-worth visiting. I walked around the old town with inexpensive restaurants serving tasty food, seaside promenade and grand boulevards and visited churches and museums.

    Even though Romania and Ukraine share a long stretch of border, there is no crossing near the Black sea. The shortest path is through Moldova and a renegade district of Transnistria. After the disintegration of the Eastern block, this part of Moldova decided to carry on communist ideas. Today, it's an independent part with its own currency, military, border control and government. Quite an interesting place to visit.

    Moldova is most famous for world's largest underground wine cellars. People from all over the world go there for wine tasting.

    I was nearing the of the trip. But instead of heading straight to Belgrade from Romania, I went down south to meet with the Bulgarian rides who I had met on the Caspian sea ferry 20,000 km earlier to celebrate safe return home.

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    Double rainbow over Kazakh prairie.


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    Astana's landmark tower.


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    Camping in northern Kazakhstan.


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    Outside Russian air base.


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    A typical Russian church.


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    Ballistic missile "satan".


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    At the missile launch commands.


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    My favorite drink of the trip - readily available everywhere.


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    Rockets on display in the center of Dnipro, Ukraine.


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    Saratov - the city where Yuri Gagarin learned to fly and where he landed after his first trip to the space.


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    Transnistria - still a part of the USSR.


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    Celebrating safe return home in Bulgaria.



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    License plates from some of the countries visited.

    Trip Summary
    In numbers:

    • Miles ridden.............................................. 25,000

    • Days on the road...................................... 80

    • Dollars spent............................................. 3500

    • Flat tire repaired....................................... 2

    • Most kilometers ridden in a day............. 900
    • Speeding tickets...................................... 4
    • Bouts of diarrhea..................................... 1


    Favorite roads:



    Favorite stays:

    • Rilski mountains in Bulgaria

    • Villa in historic heart of Antalya, Turkey

    • Camping in Caucasus mountains near the border with Russia

    • Camping at the mouth of Bartang valley
    #12
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  13. cristiano

    cristiano Been here awhile

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    Fantastic trip in some of my favourite countries: thank you for reporting
    #13
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  14. antipode

    antipode Wanderer

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    Great RR and beautiful photos.
    Thanks!
    #14
  15. Lornce

    Lornce Lost In Place

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    Fantastic journey and photographs. Just Wow.

    :thumb:thumb:beer
    #15
  16. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

    Joined:
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    Thank you for sharing! What a trip, and you are an excellent photographer.

    A question about the distance you rode, is that indeed 25.000 miles? In 80 days, that is over 300 a day, or 500km. That is impressive, considering the road conditions.
    #16
  17. Cyclenaut

    Cyclenaut Been here awhile

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    Great RR and images
    #17
  18. LumpyOne

    LumpyOne Been here awhile

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    Another great RR Igorshen! Glad to see you out and about again and those pictures are amazing.
    #18
  19. twowings

    twowings Comfortably Numb... Supporter

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    This is one of the most beautifully-photographed RRs I've ever seen...stunning scenery!
    #19
  20. radmeister

    radmeister Been here awhile Supporter

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    i was just going to send the link to your thread to Lornce, but he has already discovered it. WOW!
    #20