End of my World Tour!

A quick update:

END OF WORLD TOUR!!!

OK, so I’m a bit behind on my blog (as usual), but I thought you’d all like to know my ‘Round The World’ Motorbike Ride is officially finally over…

Since my last post, I rode up though Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, San Marino and France.

I have mixed feelings on this ending, as I suppose most travellers do.  On the one hand, it’s great to see friends and family again, and great also to have completed such an amazing journey, but on the other I miss it! :).  But I really do realise how lucky I was to have been able to do so.

So, I arrived back in (not so sunny) England on Monday 24th November after 2 years and 2 months away (not counting a couple of quick returns for 2 of my brother’s weddings).

It was cut a little short (sorry Spain!) by a lucky job offer I received at late notice starting this Friday 28th Nov 2014, but it’s in Malaysia, so at least I can escape the British winter!

I stopped by WaterAid UK London office on the way home and met Senior Fundraising Officer Emma Blake (pictured sitting on the bike) and the team.

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WaterAid UK Offices – Senior Fundraising Officer Emma Blake practices her Round The World riding technique

 

So far my kind sponsors have donated £8,430 for this great cause, but I’m still hoping to meet my £10,000 target….  Many, many thanks to all those who’ve helped and supported me during my trip (too many to mention, but you all know who you are!), and if you haven’t sponsored me yet but would like to, it isn’t too late!

 

http://my.wateraidfundraising.org.uk/personalPage.aspx?SID=379433&LangPref=en-CA

 

I still intend to catch up with the blog soon (for anyone who may be missing it..) and the book will be out by Xmas…. 2045 at this rate!

 

Thanks for reading, safe travels and have fun! :)

 

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Route of The Tiger :)

 

Categories: UK | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Albania

Butrint National Park

There’s nothing like the feeling I get when I cross the border of a new country; being free and having an unknown road ahead of me just waiting to be explored.  I love it!  I was excited to get it once again as I crossed into Albania from northern Greece.

I had lollygagged around northern Greece before entering Albania, and so it was already getting late as I crossed the Vivari Channel on a small ferry/platform hauled across by wire ropes, guarded by old Venetian Castles.  This channel marks the joining of the Ionian Sea I had been so used to in Greece, and the Adriatic Sea that continues to the north.

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Ferry across the Vivari Channel, with Venetian Castle in the background

I was on my way to the coast and a place called Ksamil which I’d read was one of the nicest beaches in Albania.  It is situated in Butrint National Park, a large wetland area containing Butrint Lake and a host of unique landscape, archaeology and environment.  I got a great view of the area as the road climbed over a mountain.

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Butrint National Park

The weather was good and I thought I’d take the Tiger down a gravel track off-shoot, just because I could.  It was pretty steep and bumpy in places, but the re-born Tiger lapped it up.  Eventually I came to a dead-end, but there was nice views of the estuary, and was good fun to boot.

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Let’s see what’s down here!

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Nice views of the estuary

Ksamil

Shortly after I rode into Ksamil, an area dotted with picturesque, sandy bays.  If I’d thought Greek coastal towns were quiet out-of-season, then the Albanian ones were completely dead.  There was hardly anyone around, and it almost seemed spooky, as if everyone had been body-napped by space invaders.

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Ksamil – lovely, but deserted off season

The beaches though were indeed beautiful, and the water warm and crystal clear.

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Perfect water

However, I didn’t find anywhere ‘out of the way’ to pitch my tent, and didn’t fancy pitching in full view of houses and hotels, even if they were empty.  So, I rode on up the coast to continue my search.

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Exploring Ksamil’s bays

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Another closed-up bay

The Vivari Channel I had crossed earlier connects the sea to the largely freshwater Lake Butrint, and I had stunning views of the lake and the mountains reflected in its waters as the road climbed higher.  Because the connection to the sea brings brackish waters to the lake at high tide, it creates ideal conditions for mollusk farming, and I could see many of these farms from scenic viewpoints along the way.

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Lake Butrint and its mollusk farms

Beach Camping

I eventually found the perfect beach just north of Ksamil at Manastir, down along windy road that ended at a beautiful, secluded bay.  There was a beach bar and restaurant, but they were closed up for the winter, so I had the place to myself.  I imagine in the summer it would be a great place to have a meal and a few drinks.

I set up directly on the beach, had a swim, made dinner and then lit a beach fire.  The water was still lovely and clear, calm, and surprisingly warm.

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Getting dinner on

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Fire started – where did I put the steaks?

There was a nice, red sunset, and then a starry sky appeared as I lay listening to waves gently lapping against the shore.  Ii fell asleep quickly.

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Sunset – Manastir

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Night Night!

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Make a wish!

Sarande

Next morning I woke up to another calm, tranquil day, and waited for the sun to rise and burn off the slight dew covering the tent.

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Morning!

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Prefect beach camping at Manastir Bay

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And here comes the sun :)

Once packed, I continued heading up the coast to hunt for breakfast.

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In search of breaky

The coastal city of Sarande wasn’t hard to find, as it’s quite big, and in I dived headfirst, as I was hungry.  It was the first time I’d seen so many people and cars together in one place since arriving in Albania.

A slightly confusing one-way system took me right through the city bypassing the seafront, so around I turned and headed back in to find a café by the water.

Soon I was sitting comfortably at such a café by the marina, ordered an omelet and toast, and watched the world go by.

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Breakfast by Sarande Marina

A nice old gent came up to ask where I was from, and we had a little chat.  Turned out he was a local tour guide, and spent a few minutes answering my questions and giving me a few tips on places to go.  So far the Albanians I had met had been very nice indeed.

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Sarande

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Sarande

The Albanian Riviera

One great thing I loved about Albania, it had photos of the attraction you were about to pass on the side of the road, so you could look at it before you decided to visit or not.

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Bunec Beach sign – great idea!

I saw a sign for a beach called Bunec, and decided to take the long, twisty mountain road down as it looked quite nice.  It led to another lovely, isolated bay, and had a long cement pier I could ride the Tiger down, which is always fun.

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Bunec Pier

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… and crystal clear water

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Bunec Pier

The only other 2 people there were a couple of Czech travellers in a Volkswagen T3 Campervan, with a 10 month old baby and a dog.  They’d come down from the inland mountains to warm up, and told me it was lovely up there, but already getting very cold – down to freezing.  With this useful information I decided to keep to my original plan and stick to the coast, riding up the Albanian Riviera.  Maybe I would head into the hills later on if the forecast improved.

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Riding the Albanian Riviera

As I rode up the coast, popping into villages and exploring beaches along the way, the whole coastline remained very unpopulated and quiet.  Many of the buildings seemed to be under construction, and there were new hotels being built everywhere.

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Unpopulated beaches

The coastal road was, however, perfect.  It had everything – great views, good quality surface and no traffic.

Each time I saw a nice looking beach from the road, or on an advertising poster, I stopped by to take a look.  They were now becoming more pebbly than sandy, but were still empty and great places to relax for a break.

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Bay just south of Himare

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Pebbly beaches, but quiet and great for relaxing

Himare was a very nice beach town, very clean and quaint with nice looking hotels and restaurants.  It also had a wide, calm bay for swimming long distances.

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The lovely town of Himare

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Himare

Waves

I’d heard Dhermi was supposed to be a happening tourist spot, but again, like all the other coastal towns and villages I was passing through, it seemed like a ghost town.  The only people I saw hanging around were a few old people, the men always in jackets and pork pie hats with walking sticks, and the women always dressed in black.  They were friendly though, and it was nice to once again be waved at as I rode past.  I suppose there are just too many motorbikes in Greece for people to do this.

And so I had once again come from seeing thousands of fellow motorcyclists in Greece to being the lone biker.

Chickens

Chickens must be one of the most stupid animals on the planet, and Albanian chickens proved just as stupid as the others, as once again one flew/ran directly towards my front wheel as I passed.  I just managed to save carving chicken sashimi by an inch.

The road once again rose high into the mountains, offering more scenic views and fast twisties.

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The coastal road rose in and out of the mountains

In places the speed limit on the mountain twisties was only 30 km/h, which is really slow, so I gave this a stiff ignoring.  Needless to say, I was surprised when I saw a couple of Albanian Policemen hiding behind one sharp bend with a speed radar gun.  As it was an uphill stretch, I slowed almost instantaneously, and maybe they didn’t catch me as they let me pass, or maybe they were just nice to me.

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Some of the amazing twisties

On the way down a small, muddy track to another beach, I passed another sign for the old, abandoned Monastery of St Teodor.  As the track was getting narrower, steeper and muddier, I decided to give it up and visit the monastery instead.

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The track to Monastery of St Teodor

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Monastery of St Teodor

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View from Monastery of St Teodor

I was impressed at the number of Albanian villages built high up on steep mountain slopes.  Wasn’t it easier to build them down by the sea?  Perhaps they just hated fish and fresh seafood.

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Albanian village built high in the hills

I would like to come back to Albania just to see what it’s like in the high season.  They must get a lot of tourists, judging by the number of hotels and campsites around.  Down one (empty) coastal road they were even building a new ‘Eco-Resort’ at a place called Palase, where 2,062 years ago Julius Caesar rested his legion during his pursuit of Pompey (so I read).

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The empty road to Palase Eco-Resort

Vertigo

Then I almost got vertigo as the road climbed so high and steeply, I ended up in the clouds.

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The dizzying road up to Vlore

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… so high you soon reach the clouds

Along the summit the road passed through pine forests and by cosy mountain huts, opening up occasionally for some great views over the other side.

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Vlore Mountain Pass

It got pretty cold and I had to put on another layer.  Then the long descent into Vlore started.

Fancying a beach camp again, I started looking for suitable spots, but none were forthcoming.  I saw a potentially good place on my map, but as it was a few miles away I stopped for dinner at a kebab joint and then jumped on the (free) highway to get there faster.

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Vlore

Turning west at the unimpressive city of Fier, I rode for quite some time before I reached the spot at a place called Darzeze.  I was there just in time to catch a lovely sunset, but unfortunately the ground was a big tidal flat, and there were a few too many people hanging around to camp rough (gypsies?), so I decided to move on.

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A wooden bridge at Darzeze – nice, but no good for camping

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Darzeze Beach

Lazy

I spied another place on the map at Divjake, and started making my way towards it.  However, when I passed a cheap motel on the highway, I got lazy and decided to call it a day.

As much as I like camping, it can no way match the comfort of a lovely, warm, crisp, white bed, and a hot shower.

Strangely, the motel room had pictures of Egypt on the wall.  I wonder if there’s a hotel in Egypt with pictures of Albania on the wall?  I have seen this kind of thing quite a bit over my travels.

Divjake

Divjake looked great on the map, a green forested peninsula, so in the morning I went to take a look.  Turned out it was green and forested and had a huge, flat sandy beach.  However, you couldn’t say the beach was especially beautiful, being somewhat dark and hard, but it was good fun riding along it.

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Divjake Beach – Good fun to ride across

The tourist village there was, surprise surprise, deserted, and most of the shops, restaurants and hotels were boarded up.  However, this was somewhat different as it looked as though the place had been boarded up for years, not just for a season.

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Divjake – closed for the season/year

I rode on north up the coast towards Montenegro, my next stop.

There were loads of policemen hiding in speed traps all the way up.  Fortunately, they weren’t that good at hiding, and their yellow fluorescent yellow caps were easy to spot through the bushes.  If only all policemen wore those!

Just before crossing into Montenegro, I stopped for lunch at the sandy 3km beach at Shengjin.  As a un-and-coming tourist resort I had expected to see many hotels under construction, and although the beach was OK, it didn’t match the beauty of Albania’s southern beaches on the Riviera.

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Shengjin Beach – 3km of sand

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Nice, but not as nice as the southern beaches

By now the sunny weather had disappeared and the sky had clouded over.  I had a feeling I was going to get wet, so pressed on quickly towards the Montenegrin border.

And I was right – I did get wet.

Categories: Albania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

North Greece

Metéora

 

With a name that means ‘In the heavens above’, one would expect such a place as Metéora to be pretty nice.

It is an area covered in towering sandstone pinnacles formed 60 million years ago, just after the demise of the dinosaurs, shaped by weathering and earthquakes.  So dramatic are the structures, it could be called the Greek Cappadocia, although lesser known.  Well actually, just because I hadn’t heard of it didn’t mean everybody else hadn’t.  In fact I hadn’t heard of Cappadocia either, so what do I know?

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Metéora – spectacular sandstone pinnacles formed 60 million years ago, shaped by weathering and earthquakes

On six of these awesome monoliths stand six Byzantine monasteries, each perched on the top like prehistoric bird nests.

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One of the Byzantine monasteries perched on the top like prehistoric bird nests

I’d arrived in Kalambaka, a small tourist village at the foot of the mighty mountains, in the dark, so I had no clue as to the spectacular scenery that awaited me in the morning.  This is because, as usual, I’d made a late start (midday) from my hotel in Vouliagmeni, a southern beach suburb of Athens.

As I headed north I took the back streets and avoided the toll roads for two reasons:

  1. To save money (tolls in Greece soon add up to be quite expensive)
  2. To ride more scenic roads instead of the usually not-so-scenic motorways

The major drawbacks of this are:

  1. It’s much slower if you want to get somewhere
  2. It’s much slower if you want to get somewhere

When I started out it was sunny (as it was forecast), but the roads weren’t that exciting – they just followed alongside the toll road; this is where drawback 1 came into play.

Soon after that it began pelting down with rain & got colder, which is where drawback 2 came into play.  I wasn’t expecting this dramatic weather change, so I had to stop and wrap up.

Eventually the roads became more scenic, and twisted up and down Greece’s central mountainous terrain, weaving through towns and villages.  It would have been much nicer if the sun was out, of course, and I almost gave up and jumped on the toll road at one cold, wet point.

Top Tip:  Never stop for a photo in a remote Greek lay-by (like I did), particularly in the dark (which I fortunately did not do); certain people use them as toilets without having the courtesy to bury their waste, and they therefore resemble open sewers.

One nice thing about Greek drivers is that they are well used to motorcyclists and are very courteous on the roads.  For example, they always move to the side of the road to let you over-take with ease, even when there’s oncoming traffic.

Kalambaka

In the end I rolled into a dark Kalambaka at 6pm and found a restaurant with wifi so I could:

  1. Warm up
  2. Eat
  3. Search the web for somewhere cheap to sleep

I had planned to camp rough somewhere, but I hate camping in the rain (who doesn’t?).

Luckily there were loads of cheap hotels for around 20 Euros due to it being off season and there being a large number of hotels trying to get your business.  I chose one with the best reviews, as usual, and checked into a hot shower and an early night.

WOW!

In the morning I was greeted with glorious sunshine, and a big surprise when I looked out of my bedroom window to see a towering sandstone rock face right in front of me.

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View from up my street in Kalambaka

I hopped on the Tiger to explore and enjoyed riding around the mystical, heavenly place all morning, admiring the views.

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I rode around all morning admiring the views

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Metéora – means “In the heavens above”

Then I made my way up to a few of the rock-top monasteries.

The largest monastery is the Great Meteoron (or Megalon) Monastery, so I thought I’d at least better visit that one.  The ride up alone was worth the effort.

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The winding road up to Megalon Monastery

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The view half-way up

The Megalon was built around 1340 after St. Athanasios Meteorites ascended the highest pinnacle in the area.  It was quite a climb, but luckily for St. Athanasios he was ‘carried up by an eagle’, and after admiring the view at the top, he named it Megalo Meteoro (or ‘Great Place’).

After my Greek diet of Souvlaki and Mythos Beer, I was too heavy to be carried up by an eagle, and so had to walk up a long flight of stairs, but the view was definitely worth it.

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The Great Meteoron Monastery built in 1340 after St. Athanasios Meteorites ascended the highest pinnacle ‘carried up by an eagle’

On the way up there were also great views of the c, the next-door neighbour.

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Monastery of Varlaam, seen from the climb up to Megalon

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Breathtaking view from the top of the Megalon

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Some old Byzantine frescoes inside Megalon

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Monastery quota attained

Igoumenitsa

After I’d attained my quota of pillar stacked monasteries, I headed off one again on my trusty Tiger.  I fancied heading up the Albanian coast (as I’d heard it was nice), and so made my way to the Greek west coast at Igoumenitsa.

As the weather was closing in, I decided to jump on the Egnatia Highway (toll road) which went all the way to the west coast; it was still very scenic (passing snow-capped peaks along the way) but much quicker of course, and only cost a couple of Euros.

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No wonder it’s cold! Snow on the mountains along the Egnatia Highway (North Greece)

Beach Camping

Having missed out on camping in Metéora, I was determined to camp near Igoumenitsa, and when I saw good weather forecast, I headed for the beach.

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Arriving at Igoumenitsa at sunset

Just north of Igoumenitsa, which is a lovely port town full of lively bars and restaurants, I found beautifully secluded Ormos Valtou National Park, from where you could see the Greek island of Corfu a few miles offshore.

Unfortunately, there was no ‘rough’ camping allowed in the National Park, but there was an organized campsite (barely still open) that let me throw up my tent next to the beach for a couple of Euros.

The spot was perfect, and just what I needed after the rainy weather inland.

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How’s this for a perfect camping spot? – Ormos Valtou National Park

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Lovely Jubley!

Ouzo and Greek Dancing

Next door to my tent was a traveling circus called ‘Zirkus Lollypop’, run out the back of a transit van by Swiss Gentleman Hansa and performer Innes.  Hansa had been here several times before, and kindly invited me out with them into nearby Igoumenitsa for a spot of Saturday Night Entertainment.

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Turns out I was camped next to Travelling Circus ‘Zirkus Lollypop’ – and a great night of Greek dancing and lots of Ouzo was had by all :)

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The camp-spot

And it was a great night out indeed, where I learnt I was (in fact) a great Greek dancer (well, that’s what this Greek guy said), and particularly apt at the knee-diving foot slapping (until my knee gave way).

In the morning I also remembered why I didn’t drink Ouzo anymore.

Anyway, the Zirkus Lollypop gang do a great job helping to rehabilitate kids (among other things), so take a look if you’d like to know more, or run away with them (as I was tempted):

http://www.lollypop-galaxys.ch/zirkus-lollypop.html

Also on the campsite were a couple of poorly stray dogs.  One was so skinny I was sure it didn’t have long left.  I gave them half of my dinner and a couple of tins of tuna I had.  Poor things.

Glorious Sunshine!

The next day was glorious (except for my hangover) and the sun shone as though it were a summer’s day – not bad for November.  I didn’t waste the opportunity to explore the National Park and relax on its gorgeous beaches.

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Ormos Valtou National Park – nothing but silence…

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A shell (I think)

It was so peaceful I could literally hear nothing except for the soft lapping of the sea upon the shore.

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Glorious day!

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It doesn’t get much calmer than this

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Exploring Ormos Valtou National Park

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I took the opportunity to top-up my tan

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Deserted…

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Ormos Valtou National Park

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Igoumenitsa across the bay

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Well, time to make a start towards Albania I suppose!

I just hoped the great weather would continue as I rode north into Albania.

Categories: Greece | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Greece

Chios

 

I have always loved Greece; what’s not to love about the fresh, whitewashed walls tumbling down steep, flowered steps from the mountain tops and into the crystal clear, blue sea?

I rode off the ferry from Cesme around sunset and rode 10 km south of the main city and port, Chios, to where I had booked a cheap room at a lovely quiet beach called Agias Foteinis.  There wasn’t much there (including tourists), which was perfect for me, and I loved the small, friendly feel of the place.  I had 2 days before I needed to catch the 2nd ferry to Piraeus (Athens), so I took the time to relax and explore the island.

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My beautiful, quiet beach at Agias Foteinis, Chios, Greece

I ate in the same beach front Tavernas near my hotel for 2 nights, and the owner kept giving me free liqueur and small doughnuts covered in honey and sprinkled with caster sugar and cinnamon (loukoumades).  He was big, warm, friendly and funny, and the secluded beach setting was idyllic.  I’ve been to some wonderful places, but it really is hard to best Greece, particularly being the ocean-loving person I am.

Birthday

On my birthday (23 Sep) I also celebrated 2 years on the road (this trip).  My, how time flies!  Quite scary really….

I spent the day riding around the island exploring. Mavra Volia beach was especially dramatic in the stormy seas with her black, volcanic pebbles.

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Mavra Volia beach with her black, volcanic pebbles

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Mavra Volia beach – dramatic coastline in the stormy seas

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Mavra Volia beach – voted one of the nicest on Chios

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Strong southern winds had caused a bit of flooding

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I carried on searching for calmer seas

There was a strong wind from the south, so the usually calm beaches were rough until I got to the north facing beaches on the mid-west coast.  Here it was a different story, and at last I found the crystal clear, blue waters for which Greece is famous.  One bay in particular was stunning:  it had a little island in the middle, so I stayed there all afternoon swimming and relaxing.  I called it Bowen Birthday Bay.

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Bowen Birthday Bay

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This was more like it!

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Time for a swim!

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Lots of these dotted around the wonderful coastal roads

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Beautiful old houses of Old Chios

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A view from Chios Castle walls

The ferry to Piraeus left at 23:30 as scheduled and the wind died down to make it a smooth 7 hour crossing.  I bought an economy ticket (no cabin) but the reclining chairs were so comfortable, I slept quite well.  It was, however, freezing due to them having the aircon on full blast, and in the end I had to get my sleeping bag out.

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Chios Port – waiting for the night ferry to Athens (Piraeus)

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Safely onboard

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Farewell Chios!

Athens

We arrived in Piraeus (the port of Athens) at 7am, which meant I had 2 hours to kill before the Triumph dealer opened up, so I rode around the coast and found a nice, quiet beach to relax.  The sea was very calm and there were lots of early morning swimmers getting their exercise.  I thought it must be nice to live near there and start your daily routine like that.

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Early morning swimmers, Piraeus Beach

My very good friend from university, Evangelos, lived in Athens, and we had planned to meet up when he finished work.  He lived on the 2nd floor of our block at Southampton University where we usually saw him hanging out of our fridge eating all our food and drinking our beer.  He did work hard though studying law, and I did everything other than study hard for a BSc Geography degree (can you believe I only had 6 hours of lectures a week?!)  His hard work paid off though and he has gone on to do very well, and is now a partner in a major international law firm.

Triumph Intermoto Piraeus

Just after 9am I rolled up at the Triumph dealership in Piraeus (Intermoto) to the warmest welcome I could have ever expected.  I’d contacted them a couple of week’s previously explaining the Tiger’s starting problem, and they’d told me the starter motor had a well-known problem when it got too hot.  Other Greek riders had had a lot of problems with it in the summer heat, and Triumph would replace it under warranty.  Great news!

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The Triumph Intermoto Piraeus Team – Kostas, Evilyn and Vangelis (right to left)

A short while after I arrived, Elias Chatzigeorgio, founder and ace photographer of Tracer Adventure Club, arrived to take some snaps for his magazine.  He also invited me along on an adventure ride he was organising for 4-5 October – great!

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One of Elias’ photos at Tracer Adventure Club https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tracer-adventure-club/324565054311903

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, The Chairman of Eliofil S.A (the Triumph Motorcycles Distributor for Greece), Mr Nassos Eliopoulos, made a special trip down to see me and took me out for a wonderful lunch.  Then he announced they would conduct all work on my Tiger free of charge, and only charge me cost price for any parts required.  Wow!  It was really great to be welcomed and supported like that, and I can’t thank Nassos and his team enough.  It made me very pleased I’d chosen Triumph.  It’s almost like being part of one big family, and I have received a warm welcome at all dealerships I’ve been to, but particularly here.

The Triumph Intermoto Piraeus Service Centre was run by a lovely couple, Kostas and his wife Evilyn, and together with ace mechanic Vangelis, I left the Tiger in safe hands.

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Vangelis getting to work on The Tiger

Europe and The Future

Having reached Europe there was no doubt I felt the end of my World Tour approaching, but I was determined to eek it out for as long as possible, as reaching the UK meant decisions had to be made regarding dirty words like J.O.Bs.  I reckoned I could last until winter hit, and really enjoy touring Europe.  I was lucky as many of the people I’d met on my 2 years travelling had been from Europe, so I had an exciting list of people and countries to visit.

I also thought a lot about how my trip had started all those 2 years ago, and how I could and should have spent more time looking for sponsors to save financing it all myself; one if the down-sides of my laissez-faire approach to planning.  I had, however, managed to raise over £8,300 for Wateraid UK Charity, which I was very pleased with, and hoped to reach my target of £10,000 by the time I arrived home.

So with the Tiger under repair, I left to do a spot of sightseeing around the centre of Athens.  I planned to take the metro in from Piraeus, but Kostas insisted on dropping me off on his funky, very nippy moped.

As luck would have it, I was just in time to see the changing of the guards outside the Greek Parliament.  It was interesting watching their slow motion marching (almost like a cockerel mating steps), designed to protect their blood circulation after 60 min of immobility.

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Changing of the guards outside the Greek Parliament

I then wondered down to the National Gardens next door, and onto the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis & Parthenon.

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The National Gardens

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National Gardens

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Temple of Olympian Zeus

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The Arch of Hadrian

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The Acropolis’ Parthenon – under repair

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Slowly being restored

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Parthenon

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Amazing views from the top of the Acropolis

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Athens

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The Parthenon’s entrance

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Old amphitheater restored into a modern arena

That evening I met up with my mate Evangelos and enjoyed a good catch-up, as always, after far too long apart.

UK Visit

As the Tiger would take a few days to fix, this left me free to fly home to sunny Norwich, UK for my older brother’s Stag Adventure Weekend climbing Mt Snowdon & white-water rafting in Wales.  I’d originally thought I would be home with the bike by then, but all good plans are made for change!

I’d booked the flights a few days earlier, and it just so happened that the cheapest flight back was a Business Class seat on Serbian Airways (180 quid).  On the few occasions I’ve been fortunate enough to fly business, I think it’s one of the only occasions I drink wine at 5am in the morning (now I’m not at university anymore).  Somehow it just seems a waste if I don’t, being free and all.  I don’t normally like being fussed around, but again, business class flights seem to be an exception, as I love it!  So there’s me in my biker clothes that I’d been wearing for the past 2 days traveling (since the ferry to Athens) lording it up amongst smart ladies and gentlemen in business suits, supping Chardonnay in the early hours.  And guess what: the flight attendants even TALK to you in business class, and treat you like a human being – amazing!  The only downside is, it makes going back to ‘cattle class’ that much harder…

Needless to say, it was great to be back home again, and me and my 3 brothers had a great time on the long weekend.  Here are a few snaps if you’ve never been to Wales before.

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Me and my Bro’s in the (usual) Welsh rain, Snowdonia

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When amazingly, the sun came out!

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At the top – Mt Snowdon 1,085 metres (3,560 ft)

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As the route up was so easy (Miners Trail), we decided to make things interesting on the way down and go for the Crib Goch Route which followed this knife-edge arête

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Only when we got to the bottom did we find out this route is only for “expert climbers”, so I guess we are!

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Don’t look down Eddie!

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Incredible views though

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Easy! Here’s Paul, the Groom to be

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The route down

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Eddie the Mountain Goat

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In the pub for a well deserved beer (this is Paul’s normal attire, by the way)

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And a quick flight back to Greece!

Major Surgery on the Tiger

When I returned to Greece it was apparent the Tiger needed much more work than I had anticipated.  I had also been very lucky not to have lost my front wheel en-route, as my fall in Uzbekistan had slowly been opening up the weld at the seam.

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My damaged rim with the weld starting to split. Time for a new wheel!

Here again I felt lucky to be a Triumph owner, as the bulk of the work was approved by Triumph UK under warranty (that had just come to an end after 2 years).  I felt somewhat proud (and almost famous) when Triumph UK were already aware of my arrival in Greece and quickly approved all the warranty work.  I almost felt as though someone had been watching over me…. Did one of my Guardian Angels work for Triumph UK?

Here is a list of work I had done:

  • New starter motor (under warranty)
  • New clutch assembly (under warranty) – It had somehow become warped, which might have something to do with the number of clutches I’ve had (3)!
  • New pistons (under warranty) – damaged likely by the poor fuel in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and possibly particles through the air fliter (Mongolia?)
  • Cyclinder head & valve planing/repair
  • New tyres  – I went for Anakee 2’s all round as my Heidenaus were beaten up and I guessed most of my final European leg would be on road
  • New rear suspension  – Mine was occasionally bottoming out on large bumps, and turned out it was shot
  • Lots of free parts to replace broken parts (metal chain guard, new screen, hand protectors, mirror)
  • 70,000 km service – The last one was the 50,000km at Triumph (Britbike) Chiang Mai, Thailand, and since then the oil had been changed twice (Irkutsk and Almaty), as well as a new chain, sprockets, plugs, brake pads, air filter (K&N cleaned), coolant and radiator cap in Almaty, and a new clutch in Bishkek.

This was quite a list, and while I was waiting for parts I took the opportunity to do a bit of ‘bike-less’ travelling, including jumping on the ferry to beautiful Greek Island Poros.

Poros

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Lovely Poros

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Poros – only an hour away from Piraeus on a fast ferry

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The view from my cheap guest-house

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Kanali Beach

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Kanali Beach

Kiev, Ukraine

Making the most of cheap European flights and further delay waiting for more parts for my Tiger, I then jumped on a cheap flight to Kiev, Ukraine to visit the friends I had met in Batumi, Luba and Natasha.

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Kiev, Ukraine

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Luba and Natasha (sideways)

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Lovely view of the Dnieper River

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And at night

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The wonderful hospitality of Ukrainians – one of the best meals I’ve ever had – all cooked by Natasha (all washed down with copious amounts of vodka, of course) :)

Back in Athens

Back in Athens the Tiger was still on the operating table (this was when they discovered the damage to the pistons), so I was grateful to my old friend Evangelos for putting me up in on his couch for a large part of the ‘waiting period’, and his mate Katerina for being my selfless, expert tour-guide for a couple of days.

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New valves being prepped for The Tiger!

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Piston damage

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SO… back on another tour of Athens, down by the harbour

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Plenty of time for sunsets

 

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The Temple of Hephaestus, Athens

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The Temple of Hephaestus – one of the best preserved examples

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And again

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Caesar’s Golden Leaf Crown – National Archaeological Museum, Athens

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Did all ancient Greeks have small winkles? – National Archaeological Museum, Athens

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The battle between man and the Centaurs – Athens War Museum

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I thought about borrowing the pistons from this old Benelli

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The Panathenaic Stadium which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896

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My selfless, expert tour-guide for a couple of days – Katerina

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The lovely Chiliadou beach on Evia

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North coast Evia

Starting Problem

Once the bike had finally been put back together, it was somewhat frustrating and mystifying that the same starting problem was still there (it wouldn’t restart when the engine was hot).

Hmm.

Kostas and Vangelis deliberated for quite some time on this mystery, and changed the relay and battery, still with no joy.  They then replaced the positive cable from the battery to the starter motor with a thicker, good quality copper cable.

Bingo!  The new cable worked a treat.  However, a day later I discovered the problem was still there, albeit much less significant than before.  When the motor was hot (after riding in hot weather), she still could not manage an immediate restart, but the problem resolved within just a few minutes rather than the 30-60 minutes I used to have to wait.  I decided to live with it (as I was already back on tour in The Peloponnese) and monitor to see if it got any worse.  My next step will be to replace the earth cable (as recommended by several helpful people).

New Bike, New Gear

 

With an almost new bike I couldn’t wait to set off again after almost a month without The Tiger.  On my visit back to the UK I had also taken the opportunity to replace my ripped jacket and dry bags for new ones, so now even I looked new as well.  I also took a lot of things home to reduce my load, as now I was in Europe I wouldn’t need to be so self-sufficient.  It felt good!

The Peloponnese

 

A few days before I set off on tour again, I was lucky to have my original riding partner Miss Jessie fly back to tour The Peloponnese with me, so it was a good job I’d got rid of much of my luggage (so I could fit her bathroom sink on the back ;) ).  Having started the trip with me all those 2 years ago, and joining me for a bit in Thailand, it was good to get the old team back together for a couple of weeks.

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I don’t see many of these (sunrises), but I’m grateful when I do. On my way to collect Jessie from the airport

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The new load for the Tiger

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And I finally got around to adding a few more flag stickers

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Here we are in Nea Makri

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Catching the last of the sun

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It wouldn’t be Greece without harbours like this

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Catch of the day!

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Beautiful blue Autumn skies

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Crystal clear waters

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The advantage to travelling out of season – you can always get a seat!

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From Nea Makri we crossed through Athens to see the fantastic view from the top of the Mount Lycabettus (277m/ 908 ft) – the highest point in Athens

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Mount Lycabettus summit

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And here’s more of the view…

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The weather couldn’t have been any better

 

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Crossing the Corinth Canal – 6.4 km long and only 21.4 metres (70 ft) wide, separating The Peloponnesse from the Greek Mainland

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Beautiful weather!

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Straight over to the west coast and Navarino Bay for some beach camping

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It was great to get back to nature and beach camping!

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The stars are always better over the ocean

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:)

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Morning swim – it’s a hard life indeed!

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After a stressful morning I needed to rest a bit – Gialova Lagoon

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The simply stunning Voidokilia Beach – a perfect crescent

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The southern side of Voidokilia Bay

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Our own private beach – Glossa Beach

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Heading north up the Peloponnese coast we came across the Eiffel Tower, as you do

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Even simple meals are delicious in Greece – Souvlaki and Greek Salad

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Funny, you always end up with lots of friends when you have food!

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We camped on a beach near Zacharo, but got hit by a storm during the night! However, we survived, unflooded (just)…

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The stormy seas just missed us, but made for a beautiful morning

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Nothing like a brisk morning swim to wake you up!

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It was so hot, we evaporated…

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Looks like rain – time to move on!

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Hopping on the ferry to Kefalonia

Kefalonia

 

From The Peloponnese we jumped on the 1.5 hour ferry ride to gorgeous Kefalonia, where ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ was set and filmed.

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Kefalonia! (Poros, the port)

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Every corner had another beautiful view

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The south coast has amazing views from the mountains

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It’s important to keep yourself fit when biking (and Jessie always wanted to be taller). This was at Kefalonia Airport where once again a cheap flight was taken back to the UK for a quick weekend – my Brother Paul’s wedding… It’s all go around here!

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Agostoli Lighthouse

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Argostoli

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Riding up the west coast

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Kefalonia

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The north west coast

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This must be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! Myrtos Beach

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Yes, it’s real!

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Breathtaking – Myrtos Beach

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Myrtos Beach

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Myrtos Beach

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Myrtos Beach

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Melissani Cave – Inside the collapsed dome with crystal clear lake

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A boat was waiting at the bottom to take us into the cave – Melissani Lake

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Here we go!

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Inside Melissani Cave

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All too soon Jessie had to go, so off we went back to Athens airport. On the way we passed the The Rio–Antirrio bridge, one of the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and the longest of the fully suspended type.

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The bridge links the Peloponnese to mainland Greece to the north.

Categories: Greece | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cirali to Çeşme – Turkey

Onwards and Upwards

From my camp in Cirali, I only had 650km to ride until I reached Çeşme and the ferry that would carry me over to Greece (Chios Island).  Therefore, I took my time and enjoyed the twisty, scenic road that ran right along the coastline; I thought I would meander for a couple of days.  The Tiger was running well, despite the ongoing starting problem when hot; she did love those Turkish roads.

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The stunning Turkish coastal road

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Every corner I had to be careful to pay attention to the road to avoid over-shooting off another cliff

It was another gorgeous, sunny day, and I was again spoilt by incredible views at every corner, so much so I had to be careful to pay attention to the road to avoid over-shooting off another cliff.  As I rounded one bend I came across a stunning birds-eye view of Kas, a beautiful town dominated by a large yachting marina.

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Kas

There were a lot of expensive yachts floating around, accompanied by expensive looking hotels, but the whole place was beautiful; I put it on my ‘must visit again’ list.

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Yep, I could stay here!

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Kas’ coastal road

Further along the coast I came across the small but perfect Kaputas Beach.  It made a change to actually see quite a few people milling around, enjoying the sun under their beach umbrellas.

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Idyllic Kaputas Beach

Patara

One of the best beaches in Turkey is supposed to be the turtle sanctuary of Patara Beach.  I pushed on and arrived around 6pm, and hadn’t realised the beach closed at 7pm to allow the nesting turtles to lay in peace.  But that was fine, as one hour was enough to soak up the remaining sun and watch it set over the horizon.

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Patara Beach – one of the best in The World??

The 12 km-long Patara Beach is indeed beautiful, and it was actually voted one of the top beaches in the world by Times Online ‘Best of 2005’; strange how it could be ‘one of the best beaches in the world’ in 2005, but not since then.  Did it sink into a black hole from 2006-14?

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Just in time for sunset

Next to the beach are the ruins of ancient Patara, the old major naval and trading port of Lycia over 2,500 years ago.  I had a quick wander around but the light was fading, so I headed on up into the nearby village to look for somewhere to camp (unfortunately I couldn’t camp on or near the beach as it is a National Park and forbidden).

I spotted a camping sign and homed in to take a closer look.  Strangely, but not altogether disappointingly, it ended at a bar.  The friendly ‘Camel Bar’ manager came out to meet me and explained how he offered free camping in the small lot opposite his bar in a bid to boost custom.  Well, being a budget long-term traveller, I couldn’t really turn down a free camping spot with hot showers, so I happily took him up on his kind offer, even though I was slightly concerned I might be letting myself in for a sleepless, noisy night.

As it turned out, the bar wasn’t noisy at all, and as I was also the last one left in there, falling asleep was no problem at all.

In the morning I stopped by another old Lycian city called Xanthos.  Once the largest of all Lycian cities, the Persian Army invaded the city around 540BC.  Before the city was captured, the Lycians famously destroyed their own acropolis, killed their wives, children, and slaves, and then proceeded on a suicidal attack against the superior Persian troops.

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The ruins of Xanthos

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The old amphitheater

I had lunch while I was there and was immediately befriended by 2 stray dogs.  Of course I couldn’t resist feeding them a little, and wished I could do more for them.  I hate it when they looked at me ‘like that’!

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Oh, don’t look at me like that!

Ölüdeniz

Ölüdeniz was a place I was really looking forward to visiting.  I’d seen pictures of the Blue Lagoon there, and it looked like the most beautiful place in the world!  Unfortunately, when I arrived, I was 50 years too late, as it is now an endless conveyor belt of sun loungers and packed with tourists.  Shame!

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Ölüdeniz – One of the most beautiful places in the world spoiled by too many tourists!

However, the surrounding coastline was pretty much devoid of tourists, which suited me better, particularly the ride down to the beach adjacent to Gemiler Island.

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Exploring the coastline around Oludeniz

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Anyone fancy a ride on a Pirate Ship?

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The peninsula south of Fethiye

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Another beautiful day in paradise!

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The view from the other side of the peninsula towards Gemiler Island

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The beach at the bottom, with Gemiler Island in the background

Ölüdeniz is famous for paragliding, and if I did another one (I’ve already crossed a parachute jump off My List), then here would be a great place.  The views of the lagoon from above must be just amazing.

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Ölüdeniz beach

With the whole place rammed, there was no chance of remote, secluded camping, so I wandered into a beach resort to ask if I could camp there, only to be told there was ‘no camping anywhere along this coast’.  Oh well, I thought, but gave one last resort a try next door.

Bingo!  The friendly manager of The Paradise Beach Club offered me a quiet place for a fiver (including breakfast), tucked under a fig tree just in front of the beach, so I jumped at it.

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The only private camping spot in Blue Lagoon, Ölüdeniz

I’d arrived early, and so took a wander down the road into the small tourist beach town.  There was almost an endless stream of paragliders landing on the beach, which was fun to watch.

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One of the paragliders (top right) coming in to land

The club is a great little place to spend a day on the lagoon side of the beach, with a great bar, restaurant and fun, friendly staff.  Even better, before sunset all the tourists go back to their hotels leaving the beach empty and all mine!

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The morning view at my camp before the hordes of tourists arrived

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And when they went home, I was left with this (and a beer, of course)

I went for a run in the hills and afterwards enjoyed a quiet swim with the whole Blue Lagoon to myself.

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The Blue Lagoon – my own private swimming pool

Planning (for a change)

I’d had to book a cheap (Ryan Air) flight back to my home in England (Norwich) from Athens for the 25th September in order to attend my older brother Paul’s ‘Adventure Stag Weekend’, or else he’d kill me.  That only left me a few days to get to Athens and drop my bike off at the local Triumph dealer (to fix the starting problem), so I thought I’d better take no chances and arrive earlier rather than later.

So I rode the 400km from Ölüdeniz to Çeşme in one day, missing out a lot of beautiful coastline that needed exploring.  But I was quite happy with that, because now I have another reason to come back to Turkey in the future; I’m only a young whippersnapper after all!

Turkish Tolls

On the way to Çeşme I did my usual routine and stopped for lunch at a fuel station restaurant while my bike cooled down, and this one had excellent lamb kebabs.  Along the way, the coastline views had remained breathtaking.

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Nice to wake up to

Just as I was getting ready to go, a Turkish biker from Istanbul called Umit turned up on his KTM 1190.

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Umit on his KTM 1190

Umit was a friendly chap, so I decided to stay for another tea and have a chat.  And good for him, as he’d just packed it all in to ride his bike around the world as well, next stop Australia.  We swapped info & and a few stories, and then I followed him on the toll motorway (toll road) to Izmir, where he turned off and I carried on to Çeşme.

I hadn’t used the motorway up until then as there was a ‘no motorcycles’ sign at the entrance.  Apparently this was there to be ignored.

The toll booths weren’t manned, which meant (according to Umit) that I didn’t need to pay, and instead we just rode through the automated booths together.  It was funny though when the last toll booth alarmed with a racket and flashing lights as I exited to Çeşme!  I had visions of a police roadblock being formed ahead to stop me, but was somewhat relieved when nothing happened.   Phew!

Çeşme

Çeşme is a maze of tiny medieval cobbled back streets through which most locals ride their mopeds at breakneck speed.  I didn’t have a clue where I could or couldn’t ride, as some of the streets weren’t even wide enough for my Tiger!

After riding around in circles for a good while, I was totally lost, and so stopped to ask a couple of policemen if they knew where my hotel was.  As it happened, they did, and the nice policemen started directing me down a tiny lane.  However, even better, a local on a moped overheard us and told me to follow him; that’s how friendly the Turks are!

So off we sped through Çeşme’s crowded, tiny streets (me being very careful not to knee-cap anyone with my panniers) until we came to my hotel.  I thanked the guy profusely, who just waved and shot off, for had it not been for him I’d probably still be there looking.

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The Tiger parked outside the hotel in the tiny streets of Cesme

Lovely

Çeşme is lovely; really lovely.  It really is a place I would have no hesitation in returning to one day.

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Cesme street art

Full of yachts and swanky wine bars on the end of a scenic peninsula, there is certainly a lot of money around this city.  I had a quick look around for a rich wife, but couldn’t find anyone under 60, so I joined the normal people in a sports bar watching football.

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Expensive yachts and swanky wine bars

Poor Planning

Sometimes my poor (or non-existent) planning makes things difficult, as you might expect.  Entering Greece was one of those times, because I suddenly realised the day before arriving that I needed to get minimum 3rd party insurance for Europe, called a Green Card.

I called Umit and asked him if he knew where I could get one.  There was nowhere in tiny, touristy Cesme, but Umit found a place for me to try in the large city of Izmir, one hour away.

I hate riding into the centre of busy cities, but it had to be done.  The traffic was horrible.  To save anyone else the hassle of trying, a foreigner cannot get Green Card Insurance in Izmir.

I tried 2 different places and each said they could not issue Green Cards for non-Turkish drivers.  The second place also tried 10 other places for me, and the answer was the same.  So, I had lunch by the seafront and then fought my way back through the heavy city traffic to lovely, sleepy Çeşme.

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Izmir Waterfront – no Green Card here!

To cut a long story short, I eventually found Green Card Insurance online from an Italian company called Mototouring for a good price.  The nice guy at my hotel printed and scanned some docs for me, and I got it all sorted with minutes to spare before the ferry left.  Phew!  I won’t leave things like that to the last minute again – honest!  ;)

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Phew! Just made the ferry – Next stop Europe and Greece!!!!! I feel like I’m almost home…

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Goodbye Turkey – it’s been a pleasure :)

Categories: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkish Riviera

The southwest Turkish Mediterranean Coast is known as the Turkish Riviera, or Turquoise Coast, home to beautiful beaches, ancient ruins and waterfalls.  It is so beautiful Mark Antony picked it as his wedding present for his beloved Cleopatra.

From Cappadocia I rode south, up and down mountains and in and out of the rain, but it was nice and refreshing at least.  The road, as usual for Turkey, was incredibly awesome in terms of lack of traffic, quality and scenic beauty.  Good old Turkey, my friend!

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The awesome roads of Turkey

Then I hit the coast at a large city called Mersin.

Up until Mersin I’d been impressed how well the traffic flowed in Turkey, but soon that myth was cruelly dispelled!  Here, traffic was a nightmare, and in the middle of a traffic jam in the middle of town the Tiger decided to stall.  Then, of course, it wouldn’t start, so I had to push it to the curb and leave it for 30 minutes to cool down.  “No matter”, I thought, and took the opportunity to grab a drink.

Soon I was back on my way and escaped the worst of the traffic by taking the coastal route through town.  I’d noticed my oil level was low, and so on my way out I made a quick stop at a garage and topped it up (with the engine running, as I didn’t feel like waiting another 30 minutes).

It was a relief to find myself out of the busy city and back on the empty, rocky Mediterranean coastal road.  I followed it west through Erdemli and towards a small tourist enclave called Kizkalesi.

By now it was late afternoon, so when I spotted a campsite advertising by the side of the road just before Kizkalesi, I pulled off to take a gander.  When I saw a lovely little clearing surrounded in flowers next to the sea, I decided to pitch for the night.  In fact, I had decided to stay before I’d even seen the nice clearing due to the friendliness and openness of the lady owner who met me at the gate.

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Good place for a spot of camping, I think

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Yep!

After a quick pitch (which I have discovered means 20 minutes without really rushing too much), I changed into my boardies and took a dive off the camp’s home-made wooden pier.  The coastline was rocky, which meant the water clarity was exceptional.  It was also nice and warm, which is always good.

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Ready for a dive off the pier?

There weren’t many people around (I think I was their only guest), but they made me feel welcome and cooked me a delicious fresh fish for dinner on a huge pile of greens, which were the first I’d had in a while, and something I had been craving.

Roman Ruins

Next morning I rose earlier than usual, left the luggage in the tent and set off to explore the area; it’s always much nicer to cruise around without the weight of the luggage.

There are so many ancient ruins along the Turkish Mediterranean coast that most are not even regularly visited, or indeed sign posted.  Just down the road I found an old 2nd century Roman settlement and amphitheatre with great views over the coast.

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Ruins of a 2nd century Roman settlement

It was great being the only visitor at this incredible ancient site, and I took my time wondering around, looking at the 1,800 year old Roman mosaics and climbing up and down the amphitheatre.

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The awesome amphitheatre

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1,800 year old mosaic

Heaven and Hell

Further down the coast there was a place called ‘Cennet and Cehennem’ which means ‘Heaven and Hell’, so I expected a mix of free beer and trance music.  What I actually found were two huge sink holes (collapsed caves).

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Entering into the mouth of ‘Heaven’

‘Heaven’ was the biggest, and there were 400 steps leading all the way down into a huge, dark, dripping cave.  It was really slippery on the wet rocks leading into the cave, particularly in my flip flops, but it was worth the climb.

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I always thought ‘Heaven’ would look slightly different…

Next was the smaller ‘Hell’ sink hole, where Greek legend says Typhon, a fire-breathing 100-headed dragon, defeated Zeus, King of the Gods, and imprisoned him in the hole.  Two other Greek Gods, Hermes and Pan, rescued Zeus (thank goodness), who then went on to defeat Typhon and imprison him inside Mt Etna, the active volcano in Italy.  Poor old Typhon!

On the way back to the tent I had a huge, delicious local (late) breakfast called Kahvaltı, consisting of many small dishes, feta cheese, salad and bread.  I do love Turkish food!

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Turkish breakfast – Kahvaltı – Yum!

Kizkalesi

Onwards to Kizkalesi, I had a peek at the beach which was too touristy for my liking, but there was a nice castle on the peninsula called Korikos castle, and another out on a rock out at sea called Maiden castle.

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Korikos castle

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Touristy Kizkalesi

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A bit too touristy for me

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Kizkalesi

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The pier was sinking!

The Master Plan

My Master Plan was simple: ride along the Turkish coast to Izmir and catch a ferry to Greece.  It was only around 1,500km, so I aimed to take my time, camping at the best beaches I found along the way.  Good plan, eh?

Back on the coastal road I took my time riding up, down and around the mountains, enjoying the frequent stunning vistas that unfolded all around me.

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The Turkish Coastal Road – not bad!

The traffic again remained light, and the police remained suspiciously absent.  The one policeman I did see was driving whilst chatting away on his mobile phone.  I wondered what on earth I would have to do to get pulled over in such a country!

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I’m always careful not to get tooooo close to the edge nowadays

Alanya

Historically a stronghold for many Mediterranean-based empires, including the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, Alanya is now a busy holiday resort enjoying the beautiful sandy beaches.  I found a relatively quiet spot to camp at Perle Camping, just before the main resort started at the end of the lovely Kleopatra Beach.

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Kleopatra Beach, Alanya

The campsite had a great bar and restaurant, but wasn’t much of a campsite.  With little space to choose from, they squeezed me into a corner amongst their stores, but I didn’t mind.

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Room for a small one?

The long, wide Kleopatra beach was wonderful – one of the best I’d seen for quite some time – and I decided to take a jog along it to explore a bit.  Not long into the jog I discovered it was a mistake not to wear trainers, as the sand was so course it acted like sandpaper on my feet.  It was also soft and deep, which made it extremely hard going.  However, not wanting to give up, I ploughed on and eventually managed 30 minutes without collapsing into a heap and crying, which was lucky as there was quite a crowd.  The swim afterwards was worth it!

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Fancy a jog? Wear trainers!

Odd Eyed Cat

The camp had a resident white cat with one green eye and one blue eye.  Having never seen such a thing before, I was fascinated, but having looked into it I discovered these ‘odd-eyed’ Angora cats are quite a common sight in Turkey, and they are considered a national treasure.  The Turkish Government (with the Ankara Zoo) even started their own breeding program to preserve and protect them in 1817, and the program continues today.  Turkish folklore suggests that “the eyes must be as green as the lake and as blue as the sky”.

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Odd-Eyed Angora Cat

Wakey Wakey!

Turks like to stay up late drinking tea, which is fine, but that means they don’t get going until late morning.  This, of course, is not a problem unless you wake up early and want to have breakfast, as I did one morning thanks to the combined efforts of the local mosque and a cockerel.

At least the wifi was working, so I caught up a bit on this blog.

The restaurant eventually got going at 10am, by which time I was starving.  Again I had the huge Turkish breakfast, Kahvaltı, which is really good, but not quite as good as an English one!

I decided to stay another day, considering it was extra cheap and the beach was nice, and after a quick discussion, I agreed with myself.

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Another day on the beach – It’s a hard life

Cirali

Next stop along the coast was Cirali, and on the way a nice lunchtime stop was the wonderful Manavgat Waterfall – just one of many hidden Turkish treasures.

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Manavgat Waterfall – lovely!

Next was the large coastal resort of Antalya.  Interestingly, Antalya became the third most visited city in the world last year (2013) by number of international arrivals, ranking behind Paris and London.  And no wonder, judging by the number of huge holiday resorts that lined the coast almost continuously.  Not liking the touristy masses, I rode on through, but having researched it later I wished I had stopped to see the Düden Waterfalls which fall directly into the Mediterranean Sea – oh well, you can’t win them all, and they’ll still be there for my next visit!

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Oops – wrong way! ;)

Cirali turned out to be a bohemian hippy camp along a secluded beach.  Now this was the kind of beach I did like.

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Gorgeous Cirali Beach

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My kind of beach

I found another empty campsite at the quieter end of the quiet beach (Cirali Camping) and set up amongst free range hens and cockerels; I suspected it would be another noisy early morning awakening.

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A witch suddenly appeared and turned me into a chicken!

At the other end of the beach were the 2,000 year old ruins of Olympos, a former city in the ancient region of Lycia (before it was assumed into various other empires).  Here the beach was busier and there was a line of bars and restaurants serving great food & cocktails.

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2,000 year old ancient Olympos

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Olympos was beautifully situated on a river at the coast

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The Olympos end of the beach

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Looking towards Cirali

I was learning a lot about Turkey; I hadn’t realised how many beautiful and interesting places there were to visit, and I was only just scratching the surface.  I thought I’d better get a beer and lay on the beach for a bit to contemplate its majesty.

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Time for a beer, me thinks :)

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Cappadocia – Turkey

Cappadocia

I didn’t know too much, if anything, about this region of Turkey called Cappadocia, but I knew I must be there when I passed some really weird rock structures that looked like fairy chimneys capped with flame-shaped rock.  Funnily enough, they were actually called Fairy Chimneys.

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My first encounter with the weird rock formations of Cappadocia

Fairies

I took at turn-off and followed my map to the ‘Pashabagi Fairy Chimneys’.  They looked worth a wander, so I switched the bike off and went exploring.  I’d heard about the rock people of Cappadocia, and for the first time I saw some of the homes they used to live in, carved completely out of the soft volcanic tuff (solidified ash).  In some areas people still live in them.  Inside they provide a dark and cool escape from the heat of the summer sun.

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Pashabagi Fairy Chimneys

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An incredible place to wonder around freely

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Some of the rock dwellings that used to house early Christians

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Yep – it’s me!

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Inside one of the cool rock-houses

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They weren’t short of a Fairy Chimney or two

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The best thing was, you could ride anywhere!

Zelve Open Air Museum

Further down the road I came to the Zelve Open Air Museum and bought a ‘Museum Pass’ that gave me entry to several sights for a much reduced price; I thought I might as well disguise myself as a tourist whilst I was here.

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Zelve Open Air Museum

The large rock city of Zelve was inhabited right up until the 1950s, when increasing erosion eventually made their homes unstable.  Set across 3 valleys, the early Christians who lived here were later joined by Muslims, where they lived together in harmony for many years.   It had churches, mosques, a winery, flour mill and all the other mod-cons you’d expect in an ancient city dug out of rock.

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These rock homes were inhabited right up to the 1950s

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The flour millstone

Some of the rock homes were high up on the cliff face, and the inhabitants must have been pretty nimble to scale up the rock ladders carved into the near vertical walls.

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The inhabitants must have been pretty nimble to scale up the rock ladders carved into the near vertical walls

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One of the inhabitants was still there! And a good-looking fellow too…

Pigeon houses are a common sight, easily recognized by their small rock pigeon holes, where farmers collected the droppings of pigeons to use as an excellent natural fertilizer on their orchards and vineyards.

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See the pigeon-holes? Their poo was collected for fertiliser

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The old rock city of Zelve

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Inside another rock-home

Off-Road Exploring

The whole area of Cappadocia is like another planet – full of really weird rock formations I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.  These formations are the result of the erosion of softer sediments, leaving exposed the harder volcanic rocks below.

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Off-road exploring

The good news for an Adventure Biker is there are off-road tracks and trails all over the place.  Many local tour operators offer ATV tours, but I had my own 2-wheeled ATV, and had great fun whizzing over the undulating terrain of sand and rock.

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There were some great tracks’n’trails over sandy, rocky ground

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Off-road exploring

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Yep – I rode down here!

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Nothing short of Fabulous

After my day of intensive sightseeing, I was hot and needed a swim.  I dreamed of finding a cheap campsite with a swimming pool…

Well, someone must have been listening, because just a few miles away outside Goreme, I found exactly that!

Dream Campsite

It was perfect, and I couldn’t believe my luck.  Before I even unpacked, I quickly changed into my swimming shorts and took a dive into the heavenly, cool water.

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Pure Heaven! My campsite swimming pool

Goreme Waterpark Campsite was virtually empty, being out of season, but for me I think it was the best time to come (September); the weather was hot and sunny, but no too hot, it wasn’t too crowded with tourists, and the evenings were refreshingly cool.

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My tent right next to the pool

That evening I took the short 15 minute walk into Goreme and had a delicious Testi Kebab, a meat and vegetable casserole cooked inside a clay pot (from the days they didn’t have casserole dishes).

99 Red Balloons

Around 5am the next morning I was woken by what sounded like several jet planes taking off next to my tent.  I got up to investigate and what I saw was one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen, which I never thought I’d say at 5am in the morning:

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Jet engines taking off next to my tent at 5am

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I could have watched them all day

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Some got pretty close

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They must have had incredible views over the weird landscape

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More…

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Like light-bulbs lighting up the morning

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Who can go the highest?!

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Fab

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Hello! I had to jump pretty high to get this one

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Sometimes I think I’m a fab photographer! ;)

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Balloon and Moon

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99 Red Balloons

I later learned Cappadocia is one of the best places in the whole world to do a balloon ride, with reliable winds and incredible views across the Martian-like landscape at sunrise.  Many balloon operators also compliment your ride with champagne breakfasts.

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To get out they all had to jump in my pool! ;)

Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley is a 16km (10mi) long gorge cut into volcanic rock by a river in southern Cappadocia.

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Ihlara Valley

During the first centuries, the first Christians fled here to escape Roman persecution, and the whole area is still honeycombed with their settlements carved into the soft rock.

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Christians fled here to escape Roman persecution in the 1st centuries

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Walking along the valley river

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Riverside cafe

The man-made rock caves include hundreds of old churches, one of which is the Saint George Church I visited with its still visible frescoes.

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Which way?

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Saint George Church’s frescoes

Hidden Underground Cities

As well as hidden valleys like Ihlara, early Christians also dug hidden underground cities in order to escape persecution.  Around 30 have been discovered in Cappadocia, and probably more exist that haven’t even rediscovered yet.  I went to the largest one in Derinkuyu.  To be honest, I didn’t fancy it too much, as I’ve been in a lot of underground tunnels and they all look remarkably similar.  However, with this one I was actually pretty amazed.

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Riding to Derinkuyu underground city, with an old volcano on the horizon

The tunnels led deep underground into a rabbit warren of rooms connected by more tunnels which seemed too get smaller and smaller.  At one point I was crawling on my knees in the pitch black to access some deep tombs.  What short-arses they must have been back then!

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Derinkuyu Underground City

Only part of the old underground city is accessible by tourists.  It is immense.  To give you some idea, it drops down up to 60m (200ft) in depth and used to house up to 20,000 people together with their livestock and food stores.

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Venturing down to 60m (200ft)

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Some of the passages were tiny!

The underground cities had large round millstone doors they could roll over the entrances if they came under attack, although I’m not too sure how effective they were.

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Millstones protected the entrances

Rock Fortresses

At Uchisar and Ortahisar there are huge natural rock fortresses that were once used as Roman Castles.

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Uchisar Rock Fortress

I climbed the one at Ortahisar, giving an impressive view of the surrounding area from its 90m high summit.

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Riding to Ortahisar Rock Fortress

Many of the castle’s rooms hollowed out of the rock were connected to each other with stairs, tunnels and passages, although increasing erosion has made many of them unsafe to explore.

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Ortahisar Rock Fortress

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View from half-way up

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View from the top

At the bottom of the fortress I was invited to sit down by an old man to eat some refreshing grapefruit.  It was just what I needed, so I accepted, not minding if he ended up charging me something.

‘Crazy Ali’, as he liked to be called, had once been a tour guide and now owned a gift shop (outside which we were sitting), but his passion was poetry.  He showed me a hand-written book full of his poems and I took the time to read a couple; they were good.  I stayed and chatted for half an hour or so, and when I left he gave me a pile of postcards.  On the back of one he wrote: “Even in a short time you can make good friends”.  And he wouldn’t charge me anything.

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A good man – Crazy Ali

Göreme Open Air Museum

My final bit of sightseeing was Göreme Open Air Museum, which is basically a collection of old churches calved out of the rock in the 6th or 7th century.  The most famous one is called ‘The Dark Church’, some of which has collapsed, but has some of the best preserved 11th-century Byzantine frescoes in the word (which you weren’t allowed to take photos of).  The reason the frescoes are so well preserved is due to the low amount of light which penetrates the church, hence its name.

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Göreme Open Air Museum

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The Dark Church from outside

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Göreme Open Air Museum

Jog

Back at the camp I was getting spoilt with my daily swimming pool swims.  I also went for my first jog since my accident one month ago.  My conclusion = I was very unfit!  I was huffing and puffing all the way and couldn’t seem to catch my breath, but I battled on and completed 30 minutes.  I’m sure it will get easier; it usually does.

Being Saturday night, I treated myself to a night on the town, and then decided to spend another day there doing nothing by the pool.  Anyone would have thought I was on holiday!

Dogs

The only thing I didn’t like about the campsite owners was that they kept their Alsatian dog, Zavla, chained up outside and never seemed to take any notice of her.  The poor thing was out of water when I first found her (on a really hot day) and I fed her a massive 2 litres before she stopped drinking.

I bought her some beef slices one night and she almost bit my hand off.  Actually, she did catch my thumb!  But no matter how badly she appeared to be treated, I suppose she looked in OK condition (although a bit thin) and looked better off than the hundreds of stray dogs I’d seen roaming the streets without a home looking for any scraps they could find, so I didn’t say anything to her owners (fearing any form of backlash on the dog).

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Fancy a stay in a Rock Hotel? Just like The Flintstones!

One afternoon I asked the old boy owner if I could take her for a walk, as she was desperate for some attention and some exercise (she went crazy every time she saw me), and they let me.  I didn’t intend on running with her, particularly after my poor effort trying to jog the day before, but that’s what I ended up doing in my flip flops (which is easier said than done), as she just so desperately wanted to.  We ran for about 30 minutes in all, and then she was spent; she even turned around to go back on her own.

That night I bought her a pack of raw chicken drumsticks from the supermarket in town.  On the way back to the campsite to give them to her, I met another Alsatian, this one only a male pup, and made the mistake of giving him one of the drumsticks.  From then on, he wouldn’t leave me alone, and followed me all the way back to the campsite.

When Zavla saw me arrive with another dog, she went crazy and almost pulled the tree down she was chained to.  For once I was glad she was chained up, for I think she would have killed this poor other pup.  When I fed her the drumsticks she swallowed them all whole, almost taking my hand with them.  I had to drop the last couple on the floor to avoid losing my arm.

I went back to my tent and the pup followed me; I couldn’t shake him off!  I knew the owners would go crazy if they saw him, so I had to walk him all the way back into town where I’d found him.  I then hid, hoping he’d go away, but he kept finding me and jumping up me, thinking it was a game.  I felt bad, but I kept hiding until eventually he couldn’t find me and wondered off, leaving me safe to go back to the tent alone.

I could have stayed at that campsite for a long time, but I was on a time limit to get to Greece.  I had to leave my bike at the Triumph dealership there to get the starter motor fixed while I flew back to the UK for my brother’s stag party on 26th Sep.  That only gave me 10 days for the rest of Turkey.

Beach

I’d had a superb time exploring inland Turkey, but now I could not deny it was time for some sand and sea action.  I re-set the compass south and prepared for a trip down to the Turkish Riviera to explore her Mediterranean Coast.

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Off to The Beach! :)

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Turkey – Sumela Monastery & Nemrut Dagi

Rain (bad)

I was sure I was going to get soaked leaving Batumi, Georgia.  It was belting down when I woke up and the Internet forecast said there was 80% chance of rain and thunder storms all day along the Black Sea coast (where my route into Turkey took me).  It was hardly surprising considering this coastline is usually soaked in rain due to the presence of a high coastal mountain range, and I had already been lucky with the weather for the past week.  I looked at the map to see if there was another less wet route to Turkey, but there wasn’t.

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Rain over Batumi – I think I’m gonna get wet

I thought about leaving it for another day, but the forecast was rain & thunder all week.  “Oh well, I can’t win them all” I thought.

Sun (good!)

After breakfast I was surprised when the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Not sure how long it would last, I quickly loaded up and set off as fast as I could, making sure my holey ‘dry bags’ were well wrapped up in bin bags.

Border Control

Batumi is only 30 minutes north of the Turkish border and amazingly it stayed dry all the way.  The Georgian exit was very quick and smooth, as expected, but then I hit a long line of cars and trucks waiting to pass through the Turkish side.

The Tiger’s starter motor problem was very inconvenient at borders (and fuel stations), because when I turned the engine off it wouldn’t start up again until it was cold.  This usually took between 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the external temperature.   At previous borders I had kept the engine running, but at the last two the bike got really hot (although did not overheat) and coughed and spluttered as I rode away.  So this time I switched the engine off, guessing I would be in the queue for at least 30 minutes anyway, which would give the bike time to cool down.

I had assumed Turkey would be a doddle to enter, as it’s practically in Europe (well, west of Istanbul), but I was surprised (again!) to discover I needed a visa to enter.  So much for not doing my homework!  I also needed motor insurance, but luckily I could buy them both at the border for 20 US dollars each.

Turkey

An hour later I was through (customs didn’t even want to search the bike), and I re-joined the Black Sea coastal road towards Trabzon.  I was pleased to find the weather forecast had been completely wrong, and I was now riding in clear skies and lovely warm sunshine.

From the minute I was waved through Turkish customs, I continued to like Turkey more and more.  Everyone I met was very nice and polite, and the roads were good quality with hardly any traffic.  Most of the main roads were dual carriageway, which was the first time I’d seen such things for a very long time.  I felt I had entered a completely different world as I rode along huge, empty roads with the calm, blue sea on my right and green, lush mountains on my left.

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The Turkish Black Sea Coast

Trabzon is a sizeable city of over 1.3 million, but the highway ran right through the middle with hardly any delay or drop in speed.  I did see the occasional traffic speed sign, but nobody seemed to take any notice of them.

Here I swung inland and south towards Macka as I wanted to see an old monastery I’d seen pictures of, built high up in the mountains.

As I rode through small town Macka, my eagle-eye spied rows of chickens roasting slowly away on a rotisserie spit.  My mouth started watering instantaneously and I had to stop to buy one.  I also bought a fresh loaf of bread from the shop next door while my bike kept running outside so I wouldn’t have to wait an hour to start it again.

Sumela Monastery

Sumela Monastery is incredible.  Having previously heard nothing about it, finding wonderful new treasures like this is one of the reasons I love traveling so much.

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Sumela Monastery – built in the 4th century, carved out of rock

It was built by Christians in the 4th century, carved out of a sheer rock face in the Pontic Mountains 1,200m (3,900ft) high.  Legend says it was built after an icon of the Virgin Mary was discovered by two priests in a nearby cave.  The monastery was inhabited up to 1923 before it was abandoned, and has since become a museum and a popular tourist attraction.

The road to the monastery rose quickly up from Macka with rugged mountain views along the way.  It was high; goodness knows how they managed to get all the materials up there to build the monastery 1,600 years ago.  I would imagine it was not a good time to be a slave.

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The road up to the Monastery

The car park at the top of the mountain was 300m from the monastery, but the nice guard let me ride another 100m further on up a small cobbled path.  When I could go no further, I attached the shoulder straps to my tank bag (with all my valuables inside) and hiked the rest of the way up a cool forest trail that led to the foot of the monastery.

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…and the shady mountain path leading to its base

Inside you were free to wonder around the old accommodation, kitchen, store rooms and churches, where 18th century frescoes were still preserved on the rock walls.  If I had to be a monk, I could think of much worse places to spend my life.

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Entering the Monastery

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Everything is pretty steep on a sheer rock face!

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Part of the Monastery calved out of the rock

Onwards and downwards

On the way back down to Macka, I stopped halfway at a shady picnic bench by a river and cracked open the roast chicken I had bought earlier, along with the fresh bread and huge, ripe tomatoes – one of my favourite all-time meals!  Yep, life was good.

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You can’t beat a freshly roasted chicken!

After lunch I needed some fuel, so rather than start the bike, I coasted down the steep hill back into Macka and rolled into the first fuel station I met.  That at least saved me half an hour or more waiting for the starter motor to cool down again.

It was 645km to my next target, the ancient ruins of Nemrut Dagi, so I thought I’d try and get as far as I could in the good weather.  I rode south through Torgul, Kelkit and Erzincan and carried on south over some great, twisty mountain roads towards Tunceli.

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Nice, twisty mountain roads

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And great views

Time to Camp

Late afternoon I passed Pulumur, 500km from Batumi, and started looking for a place to camp.  It had been a while since I’d camped rough (Tajikistan was the last time), so I was looking forwarding to getting back into the old Japanese Special.

I joined a small, rural road that followed a river, and after a couple of false excursions, I eventually found a great camping spot on the river bank, hidden from the road down a small dirt track.  It was now 6pm, so I set up before sunset, had a refreshing bathe in the shallow stream, and cooked up the old favourite tuna pasta in tomato sauce.

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My first camping since Tajikistan

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It was a good spot next to a river and an old disused bridge

I was healing well after my accident, and my ribs were now much better.  The new skin was also healing nicely on my arm, although it was still very thin and I had to be careful not to break it by knocking it (as I had done several times, being so heavy handed) or get it sunburnt.

I slept well…

There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning (a good start!) to bright sunshine shining through your tent, knowing you have food, fuel, and a great day ahead of you exploring a new place.

I had breakfast, packed up and hit the road south towards Nemrut Dagi.

Lovely Central Turkey

I think I may have mentioned it before, but it was a real pleasure biking on Turkey’s pristine roads.  The highways continued to be 2 or 3 lanes each side, traffic was sparse (which meant I flew along), and there were plenty of awesome sights to admire along the way.

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The road south to Nemrut Dagi cut through some stunning scenery

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And great roads

In fact, every turn I made it seemed the views just kept getting better.

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And the views just kept getting better!

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Lovely Central Turkey

Even in the cities (which were few and far between), most drivers continued to ignore the speed limit signs and belt along at high speeds.  The city streets all seemed pretty new and well planned, and multi-lane bypasses meant you could speed along quickly without getting bogged down in traffic if you didn’t need to enter the city.

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More great views

Most of the time, I found myself riding though lush, fertile fields, and along the roadside there were frequent fresh fruit and vegetable stalls.  I stopped by one to buy some lunch, including a whole watermelon, and made my way down to the shores of a large lake to eat it.  Well actually I could only manage half of the watermelon before I became stuffed, but I gave it an admirably good go!

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Me and my watermelon down by the lake

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Unfortunately it was a bit shallow for a swim

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But it was a great lunch stop

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The Tiger posing

Nemrut Dagi

I took the turn-off to the archaeological site of Nemrut Dagi just before Malatya and climbed up and down over a series of mountains until I reached the highest one, Mt Nemrut at 2,134m (7,000ft).

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The road up to Nemrut Dagi

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There were great views along the long, twisty road to the top

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:)

The final stretch of the road, past the admissions gatehouse, was extremely steep over loose, rocky ground.  For a moment I feared for the safety of my 3rd clutch, but the Tiger made it OK.  From this height the surrounding views were unforgettable.

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And finally, the top, Mt Nemrut 2,134m (7,000ft)

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Mt Nemrut

At Mt Nemrut, the megalomaniac King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene built his own mountain out of rocks (as you do) in the 1st century BC and surrounded it with huge 9m (30ft) stone statues of various Greek, Armenian and Iranian Gods.  King Antiochus included himself in their ranks, for good measure, and he lives on to this day, albeit somewhat weathered.

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Mt Nemrut, hand-made by King Antiochus – crazy!

The statues were originally all in a seated position, but over the years, and perhaps due to vandalism, the heads have all been removed and now lay in various positions on the ground.  The colossal man-made mountain, though, remains intact, and is still thought to hide the as yet undiscovered tomb of King Antiochus himself.  I thought about embarking on an exploratory dig, but a guard blew his whistle at me when I stepped over a barrier.

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King Antiochus and The Gods

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These heads were originally on seated stone figures 9m tall

With few other visitors to this remote location, it was nice wondering around at leisure enjoying the history and spectacular views (the correct side of the barriers).

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Remote and spectacular

West towards Cappadocia

Carefully weaving back down the steep track, I had to back-track to the main road to Malatya, and then started the 540km ride towards Cappadocia.  I thought I could break the back of the journey before sunset.

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On the way back down from Mt Nemrut

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I took my time weaving down the steep, rocky track

As the afternoon wore on, I thought instead of cooking another pasta camp meal, I would have dinner at one the restaurants that always seemed to be attached to the fuel stations.  This was also very convenient, as it meant my bike could cool down whilst I ate, foregoing the need to delay myself.

My first meal in Turkey consisted of the famous Turkish shish kebab, salad, bread and tea – simple, cheap and delicious.  The waiter/owner was also extremely nice, and gave me a free roadmap of Turkey.  I started to like Turkey even more.

It was then I hit upon my great game-changing plan:  as so many fuel stations had attached restaurants with great, cheap food, all I had to do was time my fuel-stops with mealtimes, and my starter motor problem would become redundant!

By the time I’d thoroughly enjoyed my meal and extra helpings of Turkish tea, I’d left it a bit late to find a camp spot, as it was already getting dark.  Whoops!

I studied the map and followed a track that was supposed to lead to a river, but the river was dry.  I kept riding, searching for a suitable place to pitch the tent, but I was in an arable farming area and all the land seemed to be occupied by farms or crops.  I could have asked a farmer if I could camp on his land, of course, but I fancied somewhere more remote, so I kept riding.

It was now dark, but the roads were good and well lit, and I thought I may as well take advantage of the cooler weather riding at night.

I made good progress until 10pm, when I suddenly became really tired.  I was also riding towards black skies and a thunderstorm, so I thought I’d call it a day and hope the storm missed me.

With my eyes peeled for a suitable camping spot, at last I entered a mountainous area where I could see no lights either side if the road – a good sign that no-one lived there.  I turned off the main road onto a small gravel track and ventured on into the darkness.

Under the moonlight, I could just make out rolling hills to the right, so I pulled off the track and rode directly over highland rock, heather, thistle and moss until I lost sight of the highway and all signs of civilisation.  It was almost a full moon and very peaceful, and I thought I could have almost been in the middle of the Scottish Highlands.

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Found another great place to camp

I woke up early to a great view of the surrounding rolling heathland and watched the sun rise over the mountains as I ate bread and jam for breakfast.

Although it was a sunny day, the air was lovely and cool, being high up in the hills; perfect biking weather.  Out of the blue, a familiar thought crossed my mind, as it usually does: how lucky I was to be riding my bike through such beautiful scenery in such beautiful weather, with nowhere I must go and no deadlines to meet!

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I could have been in the Scottish Highlands

Fuel, Food and Showers

At lunchtime I chose a fuel station with a nice looking restaurant attached, and had a great lunch of lamb shank, beans, salad, fresh bread and Turkish tea, while my starter motor cooled.

However, this was no ordinary fuel station and restaurant – it was probably the best fuel station and restaurant in the world!  Not only did it have great food and friendly service, it also had a hot shower that was free to use!  This was exactly what I needed after my night of rough camping, and after lunch it was such a great feeling to be full, fuelled and squeaky clean.  I think I could have probably lived at that fuel station for quite some time.

Could Turkey get any better?  Well, yes it could: then I arrived in Cappadocia.

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Cappadocia next!

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Georgia – Batumi

Heading for the Seaside!

Tbilisi to the Georgian coastal retreat of Batumi was an easy 5 hour, 400km ride through the picturesque Georgian countryside.

I reached the coast just south of Poti, Georgia’s largest port city, and headed south.  I passed through several coastal tourist towns and stopped off to peek at the beach where I could.  The coast was lined with trees for much of its length, and the beaches were generally sandy.

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Back at the seaside!

In many places you could ride right up onto the beach itself.

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I thought about camping here, but it was forecast to rain

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It was nice to be on the beach again

As evening approached the sky grew overcast, so I raced to Batumi before it started raining.  I checked into TJ Hostel, a short ride outside Batumi, just before the sun set and watched it with a beer from the lovely view I had from a shared balcony.

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A good day’s work – arrived in Batumi alive and in time for the sunset and a beer :)

One of the things I love about Georgia is the great food, and that night I treated myself to a 3 course dinner at an excellent restaurant down the road – delicious Ostri (beef stew), Lobiani (bean filled bread), chicken salad and local beer – Yum!  I was pretty stuffed on completion, but successfully completed the mission.

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I could easily get fat in Georgia (but happy)

In the morning the clouds had gone and now I could see the full beauty of Batumi laid out before me from the height of our balcony.  I couldn’t wait to take a dip in the Black Sea which looked so beautifully calm and inviting.

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The stunning view of the Black Sea and Batumi from the hostel balcony

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The magic shared balcony where I spent so many a memorable hour relaxing, chatting and drinking Lemoncini (try it, it’s nice!)

I jumped into a taxi for the short ride into town to explore and walked along the coast.  Of course there was a Ferris Wheel – obligatory in any seaside town – and plenty of tourist boats offering booze-cruises and fishing trips.  I really fancied a booze-cruise, and set my mind on finding someone to do it with me.

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Batumi harbour, with giant Ferris Wheel and Booze Cruise Boats (I wanna do one!)

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Batumi’s giant Ferris Wheel

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Super smooth water down at the docks

The beach was nice, especially if you like pebble beaches, and the Black Sea crystal clear, warm and irresistible.

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Batumi Pebbly Beach on the Black Sea coast

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And again (not your typical Georgian woman bottom left, by the way!)

I liked the fresh, wide-open feel of Batumi.  There was plenty of space to do whatever you wanted; there were cycle lanes, tennis courts, table-tennis tables, giant chess boards and even snooker tables lined up all along the promenade.

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Sports galore!

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Batumi promenade is the place to get fit!

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I picked up a bit of work on the Pirate Ship ;)

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Batumi Pier

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Anyone for fishing?

Adoption

Just when I thought Batumi couldn’t get any better, I was adopted by two wonderful women from Ukraine – Luba and Natalia.

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Luba and Natalia – if I run off to Ukraine, this is why ;)

Luba was into motorbikes and one evening I found out she had been secretly posing for photos with The Tiger.  Lucky Tiger!

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Luba and her new boyfriend

I took her for a ride and she fell in love with the bike immediately.  From then on she would hardly let it out of her sight!

The Good Life

Over the next few days the three of us had a memorable time exploring Batumi and the surrounding area together, enjoying more wine and excellent food.

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Going out in Georgia is all about eating and drinking too much – my kind of night out!

You cannot come to Georgia and not try the national dish – Khachapuri.  Also called ‘heart attack on a plate’, it is a delicious (but heavy) meal of bread filled with cheese, egg and lots of butter.  Another famous national dish is Khinkali – steamed dumplings filled with anything and everything you can imagine.  Some Georgians have competitions to see how many they can eat (I was pathetic and only managed half a dozen).

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You cannot come to Georgia and not try this ‘heart attack on a plate’ – Khachapuri

One restaurant I definitely recommend is ‘Shemoikhede Genatsvale’, where we had the most delicious local food and wine in a great atmosphere; they even rolled out the Ukrainian flag for Luba and Natalia.

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The girls under their Ukrainian Flag, tucking into Khinkali, Ostri and beautiful Georgian wine

Early Morning Swims

Early every morning the girls would go swimming in the sea at the quiet beach at the bottom of our road, and every morning they insisted I accompany them.  This was great for me, because I’m rubbish at getting out of bed in the morning, and this gave me no alternative but to do so.

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Wakey Wakey! Time for your early morning swim!

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“OK!”

Luba always made a pot of fresh coffee to take down with us (along with their essential, life-saving Snickers Bars), which added an extra nice touch to the morning routine.

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Ukrainian Coffee on a Georgian Beach – lovely!

Soon I found myself almost a kept man, with breakfast and lunch being made for me daily (Ukrainian style), and great company for fun evenings out.  I must admit, I found it very hard to find a reason to leave, and ended up staying a week in blissful harmony.  I would certainly recommend two attractive Ukrainian women for any physical or mental ailment you may be suffering from ;)

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Getting ready to tackle another huge plate of Khinkali

Like the hostel in Tbilisi, TJ Hostel had a wealth of fresh fruit growing everywhere, particularly fresh figs and grapes.  Everyday Luba would run up the fig tree and throw down handfuls of delicious fresh figs to accompany our meals.  It seemed that everything was easy to grow in Georgia, and all down the road to the beach we passed kiwi, grapes, oranges, lemons, limes, walnuts, pomegranates and cornelian cherries (or dogwood, which I’d never tried before, and took some getting used to!)

Every night we would invariably watch the sun set over the Black Sea from our balcony, and they just kept getting better.

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Sunset over the Black Sea

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And then moon rise

Fearless Exploration

Because Batumi enjoys a humid sub-tropical climate – warm with lots of rain – they have one of the best and most varied Botanical Gardens I have ever visited.  Thinking I was not really a flower kind of guy, my Ukrainian minders dragged me along one day, and in the end I was really pleased I went!

If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss it.  The gardens consists of plants & flowers from all over the world and has them arranged in 9 different sectors, including Caucasian, East Asia, Australia, North & South America, the Himalayas and Mediterranean (tip: it’s easy to get lost!).

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Batumi Botanical Gardens

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Lovely views of the sea to boot!

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An Australian Pond (I think)

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Are you sure this is the right way?

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A Flower (of some sort)

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And another

Mtirala National Park

Another trip well worth doing is Mtirala National Park, which lies 25km outside Batumi in the Adjara Mountains.  Natalia caught a taxi with some other hostel guests, and Luba bravely perched on the back of her beloved Tiger.  The last 10km or so was over a very rocky (and steep in places) track, but both Luba and The Tiger coped well and survived to live another day (just) ;)

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The Tiger did a good job getting us there on the rocky roads, so we left her with some cows as a reward

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Exploring Mtirala National Park

As well as a very pleasant place to amble around, Mtirala National Park had a couple of nice surprises, the first of which was an incredibly beautiful waterfall with a large plunge pool at the bottom perfect for swimming (which we needed after the hot climb up to see it).

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A spectacular waterfall in Mtirala National Park – perfect for swimming!

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Mtirala National Park

The second surprise was the delicious pan-fried fresh trout, straight from the river, that the local park restaurant cooked up for us, along with several other delicious dishes (and a touch of wine, of course).

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Delicious dinner of pan-fried river trout, et al

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These lads had the right idea!

Booze Cruise

Not forgetting about the booze cruise, one evening I dragged the girls down into town and onto a boat for a cruise up and down the coast.  We managed to grab the sunset cruise, and so had the added bonus of watching the sun go down.

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One of the Booze Cruise Boats

The boat had a bar onboard, and somehow I ended up with a bottle of Georgian Champagne, which always goes down well.

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Champagne anyone?

Then we relaxed and watched the colourful array of dazzling lights switch on up and down the Batumi seafront as the ship slowly cruised back into port.  What else could you wish for?

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Cruising back under the lights of Batumi

Well, I actually wished for one more thing – a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel!

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All aboard the giant Ferris Wheel!

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Batumi under the full moon

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And more dancing fountains!

As usual, all too soon the time came to move on; the girls moved onto Armenia and I was going south into Turkey.  But that’s part of the wonder of traveling – good friendships made all over the world and shared memories that create a special bond.

Categories: Georgia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia – Tbilisi

Welcome to Georgia!

I loved Georgia the minute I reached the border and 2 custom officials waved me straight through with “Enjoy your visit!”  If only they’d handed me a glass of wine it would have been No.1 on my list.

The ride from Sheki, Azerbaijan had been an enjoyable one on good roads, skirting the base of the Caucasus Mountains with great views over the plains below.

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Georgian wine plains below the Caucasus Mountains

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Sunny, hot and wet – ideal for wine

I even managed to find a nice piece of gravel track to play on when I diverted north of the M5 in favour of a more direct minor road.  I crossed the border into Lagodekhi with no problems whatsoever, and followed the main road south away from the mountains and into Georgia’s wine country and endless vineyards.

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Heading south into Georgia

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Caucasus Mountains

Wine

Archaeologists have found proof that Georgians have been making wine for around 10,000 years (longer than any other nation), and anyone that’s been making wine for that long has to be OK in my book.  I can’t think of anything better than a Sunday ‘Sabre-Toothed Tiger’ Roast washed down with vast quantities of Georgian wine followed by a Mammoth hunt for next week’s dinner.

Although I’m not into religion, I would happily place a Georgian cross around my neck, mainly because theirs is made from grape vines and brings you good luck in choosing the right wine.  Having said that, you’d be unlucky to find a terrible wine, because all the Georgian wines I tasted were delicious.  And strangely, the more you taste, the more delicious they become; Halleluiah!

Wine is such an integral part of the Georgian lifestyle, they even have a famous hymn called ‘Thou Art a Vineyard’.  I agree totally, and if I had to convert, their wine religion would certainly be favourite.

Guide

I don’t usually go out of my way to find a guide in new places, but when I arrived in the capital of Tbilisi I thought I needed one for 2 reasons:

  1. I quite happily sup beer on my own, but Georgia has a huge variety of delicious wines that must be sampled, and drinking wine is a sport for two.
  2. I’d need someone to guide me back to my guesthouse after all the wine supping in part 1) above.

This is where the wonders of social media come to the fore, and in Tbilisi I was lucky on two counts: I found a great, cheap hostel with fantastic staff, and I also found an amazing guide.

Tbilisi Classic Hotel

Tbilisi Classic Hotel was a good find.  It was cheap, clean, well located and flawlessly run by Shiad from Pakistan with the help of young Mr James from India.  Both were fantastic people and couldn’t do enough for their guests to make them feel at home and comfortable.  James even helped me by filming the ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’ I’d been nominated for by 3 people – all done in the best possible taste for a great cause, of course.

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Mr James and I

The hotel was situated a short walk from the city centre, surrounded by fresh fig trees (I love figs!), apple trees, grape vines and an assortment of other fruit and vegetables.  It was like living in the ‘fruit n veg’ section at Tescos, and was a great place to spend 4 days relaxing and exploring the sights.

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Shaid and James at the fantastic Tbilisi Classic Hotel

Tbilisi

Tbilisi is a beautiful capital city.  It was founded on the Mtkvari River in the 5th century when it was part of the ancient Kingdom of Iberia, and it now has a population of roughly 1.5 million (almost a third of Georgia’s entire population).

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The Mtkvari River running through Tbilisi

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A random street in Tbilisi, just to show you what a random street looks like here

Fate had matched me up with Mari, a fun, friendly and knowledgeable local to show me around this picturesque, scenic and lively city.  Mari wanted someone to practice her English with, and I wanted a guide, so it worked out to be a perfect partnership (except now she speaks with a rooomantic Naarwich accent).

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The bestest guide in Tbilisi – Mari – and great fun to boot! (taking me up in a cable car)

Mari took me just about everywhere, including a trip up in a cable car up to see the city’s symbol – the Kartlis Deda, a 23m high aluminium woman symbolising the Georgian national character: wine in her left hand to welcome visitors, and a sword in her right hand in case they don’t like the wine.

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The Kartlis Deda – The city’s symbol: wine in her left hand to welcome visitors, and a sword in her right hand in case they don’t like the wine

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Tbilisi

After a morning walking around the city, it was time for lunch and my first foray into the magical world of Georgian wine, under the watchful eye of my chaperon.

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Lunchtime! And time for my favourite wine – Kindzmarauli

A bit more about Georgian Wine, in case you’re interested

Georgia has an ideal climate for producing fine wines, namely plenty of sun, heat and water.  Many of the best Georgian wines are produced in an area called Kakheti in the east, which I had ridden through on my bike.

If you think you’ve tasted most types of wine, but haven’t tried Georgian wine, then you are in for a shock.  For thousands of years Georgian wines have been uniquely buried in the ground inside double-walled clay jugs called Kvevri to undergo fermentation at ground temperature.  Sometimes wines are left buried for decades (when people forgot where they buried them?), but also wines can be produced much quicker in a number of months.  I liked most of the wines I tried, but my favourite was one Mari introduced me to – a delicious bottle of Kindzmarauli from Teliani Valley.

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Georgian wines have been uniquely buried in the ground inside these Kvevri for 1,000’s of years

Although the second largest wine producer in the former Soviet Union (after Moldova), Georgian wine is pretty scarce in the UK, as most of it is exported to Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  However, it is well worth seeking out.  I found it to be incredibly fruity and tangy (in my expert wine-speak), I assume the result of burying it in the ground and also commonly keeping the grape skins on.  Keeping the skins on after the crush also imparts a unique colour into Georgian wines, and often the whites almost appear orange or rose, which went well with the shirt I was wearing.

Back on Tour

Mari was fun to be with, and also liked laughing at my strange accent, so we both got on well and she didn’t have to run away after the first 10 minutes with some excuse (as she said she’d had to do on several previous occasions post-meeting tourists she’d offered to show around).

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Back on tour!

Mari even took me on a bus ride several miles outside the city to a small 3,000 year old city called Mtskheta, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The walls of 3,000 year old city Mtskheta, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world

While we were there, we thought we’d venture back through the years and took a horse and carriage ride through the old city and around the 11th century impressive Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

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Going back in time….

Then we thought we’d better get some more wine in.

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Nothing better at the end of a hard day’s sightseeing than a bottle of wine or 2

The evening is a great time to take a wonder around old Tbilisi town.  The array of colourful lights is mesmerizing, and there is a lively buzz from the crowds of locals and tourists wondering around the bars and restaurants enjoying the good food and good wine.  What more could you ask for?

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Tbilisi at night

There was even a musical dancing fountain.

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Tbilisi’s dancing, musical fountain – every city should have one!

Summary, if you need one

Before I came to Georgia I knew very little about it.  What I have discovered is a little known treasure, certainly amongst many people in the UK.  In summary, if you are into your wine, then put Georgia near the top of your list – immediately.  It is a beautiful country full of beautiful people, cheap, cheerful and just waiting to be discovered.

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Cheers from Tbilisi! :)

Categories: Georgia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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