Mt. Kailash

Mt. Kailash

Friday, 27 July 2012

Meandering through Russia

On my last night in Georgia, I met up with fellow overland biker, Marko from Suomi. His trip is several years. Hats off to you Marko; a pleasure to have met you. Ride safe! Before leaving Tbilisi I changed my rear brake pads (trying not to use my rear brake for the last couple of days wasn't my best idea) then headed north along the Georgian military road over the Caucasus mountains to Russia. Great ride over a dramatic mountain pass and still the weather is clear. In fact, I have barely seen a cloud since Hungary. The road was poor over the top of the pass, but that didn't last long and almost before I knew it, I was in the queue to enter Russia. As it is a pretty remote border, there wasn't too long to wait and the process seemed pretty straightforward. Got to Vladikavkaz with time for a wander and then some Russian beer. The next morning I found an Insurance office and got some motorbike insurance (1 month for about 20 quid). Good job too; on my ride to Stavropol, I was pulled over by the ANC (well, that is what the Cyrillic looks like to me). The gendarmes were friendly enough, but wanted to see all my documents. I produced my freshly bought insurance certificate with a flourish. The policeman seemed almost disappointed that all my papers were in order, but he shook my hand and I was free to go. The roads in this part of Russia were a bit dull, but at least the Russians are generally better drivers than the Georgians. Over the next couple of days as I meandered towards Astrakhan, the scenery became flatter and more desolate. Long straight stretches into nothingness. This is far more how I imagined things. Really enjoyable riding. And the Russian petrol is seriously cheap. Stopped for half a day and a night in Elista, "the only Buddhist state in Europe". Notwithstanding I thought I left Europe a while ago, Elista was an interesting place. At first it looked like China had been transplanted to south Russia. The faces (to me) looked distinctly Chinese. They are actually Kalmyk, but there must be some sort of genetic link to the east? There is a big Buddhist temple in town and Buddha and Lenin compete for statue space. Now in Astrakhan for sone new tyres for my bike, then onward to Kazakhstan (insert favourite Borat joke here).

Soundtrack: Hawkwind - Distant Horizons

China crisis..........Mongolian madness

Had some news that might put the trip in jeopardy. China has now banned trans-Xinjiang province self-drive (but intra-Xinjiang is OK?!?!) just as we were due to arrive. The Chinese, being Chinese are absolutely intransigent. So after much back and forth between all group members (a task in itself, as we are scattered throughout Russia and various `Stans), and many possible solutions. The most practical amongst a spread of impracticalities is a ride from Kyrgyzstan through Xinjiang to Mongolia to get to UB for a new aChinese visa and then re-enter China at Erenhot. A Mongolian detour? Hmmmmm? The only other practical solution would be to junk China (tempted!) and freight to Bangkok and carry on around South-East Asia. But, this would mean my tyres leaving the ground and the blog being a misnomer, can't have that! Soundtrack: Rage Against The Machine - Bullet in the head

Monday, 23 July 2012


Relatively short run along the Black Sea coast to get to the border with Georgia. As I set about trying to spend my last few Turkish Lira at the border, an identical bike pulled up beside me. Nacho! Finally ran into each other after a couple of weeks of near misses. So, we crossed into Georgia: very efficient. So much so, that I didn't realize I had been stamped into the country, still thinking I was being stamped out of Turkey! No sign of anywhere to buy moto insurance. Hmmm? Anyway it was on to the seaside town of Batumi. Nacho had booked himself into a dorm, which I don't do anymore (I NEED my sleep!).

Didn't really like Batumi, so I saddled up the next morning towards Tbilisi. The roads weren't great, there was a vicious wind to add to the intense heat and the Georgian drivers are, er, somewhat "interesting". This made for an intense, tiring ride. At one point, signs to Baku and Tehran appeared. I am not in kansas anymore!! I was going to stop at Gori (birthplace of Stalin), but the white line fever took hold and I carried on to Tbilisi. Good move: there was beer festival on in town. 1 pint for 1 Lari (about 40p). And a decent Chinese restaurant. As I have been wandering around today (a rest day with a slightly foggy head after the cheap beer last night), I noticed a rugby pub, which is tonight's diversion sorted! I like Tbilisi.

Probably head north toward Russia tomorrow, spending a night in the mountains around Kazbeg before crossing the border. Probably.

Soundtrack: Bob Marley - Keep On Moving

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Kemaliye Stone Road

Left Goreme about 9ish for the long ride to today`s goal. The Stone Road at Kemaliye. As I am moving further east in Turkey, the scenery is getting better. By the time I reached Divrigi it was very good indeed. Stopped to see the old World Heritage Mosque and Hospital and then headed off in search of the Road. Now my GPS and I don`t always have the easiest of relationships. It has sent me down a rocky, narrow hikers mountain track (in Colmar, France), swearing blind it was a good sealed road! (Out of spite, I am sure). That was forgiven today. I just punched in Kemaliye as a destination intending to ask someone there where the Stone Road was, but my GPS took me down the actual road en route. It was a spectacular ride. A section of rough cut tunnels and gravel track following the Euphrates (well, according to my GPS!) as it meandered down a steep valley. No barriers and sheer drops made for an intense ride. "Awesome" is a much overused word, but here it is fully justified. If you find yourself in Turkey on a bike: ride the Stone Road!

Soundtrack: Nick Cave ─ Good Good Day

After spending the night in the small town of Kemaliye, I headed north-east towards the Sumera monastery. Again, some spectacular riding roads over the mountains, including some unscheduled dirt roads (GPS taking the piss, again!). The monastery was in a stunning location, but at 30 TL to get in, I contented myself with the view from outside. Ended the day in the coastal town of Trabzon. Now, I don't know if it was because it was Friday, or the start of Ramadan, or another reason, but beer could not be found in Trabzon. This may or may not have influenced my decision to head to (Christian) Georgia the next day.

Soundtrack: Faithless - God is a D.J.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


"Rest" day in Goreme. Decided to walk through some of the valleys around Goreme rather than renting a bike (!) to do it. First mistake: it is still way too hot to be wandering around this landscape, beautiful though it is. Second mistake: losing the path and getting lost. I followed what appeared to be the track, but it petered out into nothing and rather than doing the sensible thing, I ploughed on eventually doing a big loop and ending up on the path I was on; but this time I followed it the other (correct) way. Lost an hour and way too much fluid in the process. On balance, I would rather be riding my bike! This tourist thing is too much like hard work.

Soundtrack: Stuart A Staples - That leaving feeling

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Feeling hot, hot, hot...............

So, it was farewell to Istanbul and hello stage 2 of the trip. Managed to get to the ferry port on the second time of asking (missed the turning the first time round). Smooth quick and comfortable voyage to Bursa (in Asia!!); although you weren't allowed on deck during the crossing so had to make do with a window view of the Sea of Mamara. The temperatures have been climbing; today hitting the 40 somethings, even the locals say it is unseasonably hot. It is actually cooler to ride with the visor down to keep the hair-dryer blast of heat from hitting you in the face.

Keep moving, always keep moving; don't let the heat catch up with you. Had to stop eventually, in Ankara. No Troy, just couldn't bring myself to go west, so eastwards again, inching closer and closer to the sun. Ankara was a bit weird, but just a night stop before heading to Goreme and Cappadocia. Shorter ride today past what appeared to be a lake dwindling into a salt flat. Maybe there is something to this end of world 2012 stuff after all!? No let up in the heat, although when I arrived in Goreme, I was told it was cold here last week; not so now. Satan has taken up residence with all his fiery minions. At least the beer is cold. Another day playing tourist tomorrow before plotting where to next.

Soundtrack: Hawkwind - Fahrenheit 451

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Last day in Istanbul today. I have booked myself and the bike on the ferry to Bursa for tomorrow morning. It was pretty cheap by Istanbul standards and will save me the time and hassle of fighting my way through the city traffic. Still not entirely sure where to go from Bursa. I fancy Troy (if only to get Brad Pitt's autograph), but that would mean heading west, which would be going against the grain. So, I may head for Cappadocia, as that is at least in the rıght direction. I will probably decide once on the ferry.

Istanbul has been good, though something of a drain on the budget. Even the cheap places aren't really cheap and it wıll be good to get back on the bike after a 2 day, 3 night break from the ride. Something of a milestone as tomorrow I will officially be in Asia. I did actually cross the bridge to Asia today as part of my guise as a tourist for the day. Quite impressive as bridges go, but it didn't "feel" any different on the other side. Officially Asia, but not the bit I am familiar with.

Soundtrack: Ozric Tentacles - Bizarre Bazaar

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Bulgaria (land of cats) to Istanbul (more cats)

From Bucharest it was down to the Bulgarian border, another cursory passport check before hitting the road to Burgas on the Black Sea coast. The road started off good but degenerated into miles and miles of roadworks and gravel. Slow going and very hot. But it was good to see the landscape changing. That is the good thing about this kınd of travel, you get to see how places and things fit together. You don´t jump on a plane in one place to be spewed out in another with no notion of context.

Bulgaria is big on cats, they are everywhere giving you the big moon eyes every tıme you sit down to eat.

To Istanbul. Took the wrong road from Burgas to the border. Longer and in poor condition. Oh well! The fırst "proper" border; with visas and motorbike insurance needing to be bought. Very straightforward though, except that they had run out of Turkish Lira at the money changers at the border. Had to find a bank (and some petrol, I was running on fumes at this stage) in the first town. Then the long hot run to Istanbul. The traffic in the city lived up to it´s reputatıon, absolutely manic but bizarrely fun.

Cats are everywhere here too. At least one is using my motorbike seat as a bed (judging by the amount of fur appearing in my sheepskin seat cover). I should be grateful that they are only using it as a bed!

Soundtrack: Hawkwind - The aubergine that ate Rangoon

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Transfargasan goodness

Rain greeted me as I prepared to leave Budapest. It was short lived though and then it was the long slog across Hungary to Romania. The Hungarian scenery, although very rural was quite flat and uninspiring. No mountains to break the monotony of the (albeit very good) roads. That all changed once over the border in Romania. This was the first border where my passport was checked; it was very cursory though, didn`t even have to take off my helmet. While the scenery became better and better, the roads deteriorated. Gave my new suspension a good work out. Long ride today ending at a town called Deva.

Soundtrack: Nick Drake ─ Road.

The next day was time for the famous Transfargasan road. I was stopped by the police en route. I wasn't speeding (honest!), just routine, wanting to see my documents; but once he realised this meant getting into my heavily fortified panniers, he lost interest and just wanted to know how fast the bike could go. Of course, I never ride fast, so I couldn't tell him. Once at the Transfargasan, it didn`t disappoint. Superb ride up and over the mountains along some great twisty`s with spectacular views. There is something about mountain roads. Sheer pleasure! I intended to stop for the night in Pitesti, but I couldn`t find the hotel I had researched; by which time I had passed through Pitesti and was only 60 motorway miles from Bucharest. Sod it, it will save me time tomorrow. So, Bucharest: what a toilet! I am sure it has nice bits, but I am in a part of town apparently populated by winos, drunks and alcoholics. Wouldn`t mind, but I cannot find a bar anywhere, so I can`t even join in. Anyway, Bulgaria tomorrow (if my bike survives the night!)

Soundtrack: Citizen Fish ─ Over the fence

Monday, 9 July 2012

Ever Eastward

From Ulm in Germany, I decided to head away from the monotonous motorways of Germany towards the mountain roads of Austria. Took the quiet back roads to get there. Much more interesting. The weather was still a little threatening, but it stayed mostly dry. As I got closer to Austria, the frequency of passing bikers increased. In particular, the numbers of the Beemer 1200 GS rose to epidemic proportions. It must have been over a hundred in the course of the day, it became mesmeric, seeing the same bike go past again and again and again and................Didn't see a single other XT Tenere. Much more exclusive model! Ended the day in Salzburg in the obligatory Irish bar. Not really feeling the trip at this point; western Europe is pretty uniform in many ways, so ever eastwards!

The following day dawned to clear blue skies and soaring temperatures. Now that is more like it! A stunning ride over the mountains towards Graz before heading into Hungary. The landscape and culture are changing, and I am feeling the trip now. Ended up in a place whose name I won't pretend to be able to pronounce, about 100 kms short of Budapest. So it was a short ride the next day to play tourist for half a day in Budapest, a city I know nothing about. My research didn't extend that far. I am staying in a street full of bars, which is nice. Currently in the mid 30s, damn hot, so I may have to make use of the aforementioned bars. Just to keep hydrated, you understand. Heading towards Romania tomorrow (that is where the Romans came from, right?)

Soundtrack: Pink Floyd - Set the controls for the heart of the sun (although my headphones have broken, will buy new ones in Budapest).

Friday, 6 July 2012

That's me down the road....................

Finally set off. Day one: Met some other bikers on the chunnel, a few Harley guys and one bloke on a Triumph (Sprint?) planning to ride down to Pamplona for the bull run. He was hoping to get there that night. The train didn`t get to Calais until about 2:30! That is proper hardcore riding. My day was from London to just outside Luxembourg. Cold comfort to know that it is not just the UK having a terrible summer; some of the rain in Belgium was almost biblical....."and yea, the Lord said: the roads shall be rivers and the fish shall have dominion over the earth". I survived the deluge and made it to the Belgian-Luxembourg border.
Soundtrack for the day: The Cult - Rain (what else?).

Day 2 saw me arrive somehwere in Germany (2 days - 5 countries). Mercifully dry today despite dire weather warning for Belgium (I guess the Germans would not permit such rainfall). Foolishly, I stuck to the motorways for most of today; surprisingly slow with constant roadworks and traffic jams. Lesson learnt, small roads are the go. Heading to Austria tomorrow for some proper mountain roads.

Soundtrack: Subhumans - Motorways