Turkey 2009

To Turkey and Asia

In the past most of my bike trips were conceived in the pub, after a load of beer and whisky we would decide where our next trip would be, sometimes we remembered and it came off, sometimes we conveniently forgot. Istanbul stood out as a can do trip within the realms of a generous holiday entitlement. I took a Moto Guzzi 1100 Breva and my wife Fiona her Kawasaki Er6

After several permutations we came up with a plan, ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden in Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey then crossing over the Bosphorus into Asia briefly before heading back to the European part of Turkey at Gallipoli, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium before finally heading back to Holland to catch the ferry back to Newcastle

Having been through most of the countries before one of the main things to get organised apart from the obvious holiday insurance was to make sure my Insurer would cover me in those countries and issue a green card for them. We had been caught out in Bosnia and Serbia the year before when the lack of green card had cost us €13 and €85 respectively. Make sure before you leave “mainstream” Europe that you insist on a green card from your insurers or you will have problems at border crossings.

The outward trip

We  booked the DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden in Holland and then on 15th of May we were off. The run down to Newcastle was predictably wet and I never left the cabin that night due to an unexpected bout of seasickness, at least it saved us money on food and drink. The next few days saw us stopping in Germany with friends Tomas and Andrea, then camping in Austria and Croatia before having the luxury of a hotel in Sofia the capital of Bulgaria.
Water stop in Austria, hot hot hot

Our campsite in Croatia

Storks give it an authentic feel

Leaving Sofia the road towards Turkey was excellent and quiet, a motorway which bizarrely had posters advertising Depeche Mode’s forthcoming Sofia concert, I thought they had disappeared into obscurity along with bad 80’s hairstyles and shoulder pads but obviously they are still a major pull in Bulgaria. The scenery was really quite pleasant with snow covered mountains in the distant landscape and the quiet roads meant you could take time to look around.

Eventually the motorway just stopped and I took the inevitable wrong turning taking us around 20 miles off course before taking to the small roads all the way to the Turkish border, these were a mixture of good and Romanian type surfaces with the inevitable unmade sections thrown in. There was virtually no traffic at all on these roads or people for that matter, the villages all seemed deserted apart from the odd donkey.


Our departure from Bulgaria was thankfully easier than our entrance but then we had the Turkish border to contend with and of course the requirement for a visa. I had known that the Turkish visa costs £10 sterling, paid in cash in Bank of England notes, of course this was one of the things I’d forgotten so eventually had to pay in Euros at a not very good exchange rate so be warned

We exited the Customs plaza onto half a mile of unmade roads, welcome to Turkey indeed. The speed limit for bikes in Turkey on the main roads is only 70Kmh so it was a slow run to the town of Edrine, on the outskirts I stopped to do some filming, the town is dominated by three huge mosques and on the outskirts on top of a hill a huge prison surrounded by watchtowers, a very grim looking place indeed and brought to mind the movie midnight express, mental note to self, behave, behave, behave!
Almost there

I missed the turn off to Edrine and ended up on the toll road, luckily not too expensive but a 30 mile round trip up and down paying in both directions just to get back to where I started in the first place. Even though it hadn’t been a high mileage day (just over 200) we were both getting fed up and were quite relieved when we found the well hidden campsite. No food available on site so whilst Fiona put up the tent I cooked up dinner from our stock of provisions (always carry enough for a couple of meals, there isn’t always a Burger King available!) The site was taken over entirely by Dutch campers, some of whom invited us over for a beer so we relaxed whilst watching the sun go down on the huge Turkish flag dominating the skyline. We talked about our respective trips and they told us the night before they had been parked in a car park in Istanbul when in the early hours of the morning a gunfight had ensued between some bad guys and the police, the tour leader had bullets pass through his caravan. When the shooting stopped and they felt safe enough to go out, the tour leaders reported the new ventilation holes in his caravan to the Police, they investigated and found the spent shells inside the van, they seemingly laughed and explained it was OK as the bullets were theirs, when he went to the police station to get his crime number and report for the insurance he spotted the bad guys, none of them in good condition, justice Turkish style!

After enjoying a few beers and whiskies with our new Dutch friends we weren’t so early on the road for our trip into Istanbul. We got up, had breakfast and left at the crack of 12. It was a bit cooler now and there was a welcome breeze. No dramas at all and a good run straight to Mocamp our campsite in Istanbul, its actually about 20 miles from the centre of the City but as close as you’d probably want to be.

The very helpful and excitable caretaker met us and showed us where to park and put up the tent, he spoke no English at all but had obviously had the same teacher as many Brits in that he was from the school of if people don’t understand just shout louder, most amusing. A foray to the local market saw us with provisions for the evening and as we entertained ourselves in the company of Johnny Walker we reflected on this most excellent adventure so far, 2000 miles from home and fun most of the way, life on the road, simply magic!
Camping with this view, magic

The blue Mosque

The following day was spent taking in the highlights of Istanbul, the world famous Blue Mosque being our first stop, armed police seemed to be in evidence everywhere. Istanbul was well worth a visit despite the traffic and the most refreshing thing was that the hassle I expected from carpet sellers and street vendors was not there, very nice people and if you politely say no then they take that as no with no malice, a different experience than my visit to North Africa a few years ago. Car accidents  seemed to be happening every 10 minutes the sound of police and ambulance sirens seemed to me to be a regular background noise, competing with the calls to prayers booming out from the Mosques, I’m glad we took a taxi in but the standard of driving gave us a sense of foreboding for the next days trip through Istanbul and over the Bosphorus bridge into Asia.

The run on the motorway through the middle of Istanbul was as terrifying as we’d thought, car drivers are simply just not used to large bikes on the road and literally push you out of your lane, a three lane motorway becomes a five or six lane motorway depending on the volume of traffic and on how much of a hurry everybody is in, we did get some grief at the toll Booth just before the Bosphorus bridge, the attendant tried to rip me off, however he quickly aggravated my Latin temperament and realised he was on a loser. One regret was not researching this part better, there are several bridges over this gateway to Asia and on this one no place to stop and take the picture of the sign “Welcome to Asia”, oh well maybe next time. As we cleared the built up conurbation that is Istanbul (I measured it at 60 miles long and the population is reputed to be 18 Million) the driving got no better but slightly quieter so near death experiences were minutes apart rather than seconds.

The run along the Asian part of the Sea of Marmarus was excellent and we stopped in the town of Bandirma for the night after finding a small and friendly Hotel in the town square. The people were friendly and a pleasant evening was spent people watching, it was strange and interesting as a westerner to see the two sides of Islam, the strict believers or conformists with their wives out for a Saturday evening stroll wearing Burka’s, the more relaxed wearing more colourful headscarves and clothes and then the young girls wearing much the same as young girls here out for a Saturday night,.
Riding alongside the Marmaris on the Asian side
Bandirma, magic!
After Bandirma we headed to Canakkale to get the ferry back to Europe at Gallipoli. We were blasting down a quiet road at around 80Mph when I spotted the radar gun, despite braking heavily there was no way of avoiding being pulled by the Police. The roadblock consisted of the Radar gun operator the boss sitting in the shade with the car and another guy with a machine gun, we stopped and I was preparing to be fleeced when after some gestures between the three of them they said “Go” , we hightailed it out of there (trying to keep to the limit ) whilst all the time trying to convince myself we weren’t going to be shot making our getaway. I’d read stories of the police fleecing tourists but they obviously couldn’t be bothered that day.
 We stopped in Canakkale for lunch and were surrounded by about 20 school kids on a field trip to this very important place in modern Turkey’s history, they were pleasant, well behaved and full of questions about the bikes, our jobs and how much holidays we got. The girls in particular seemed impressed that Fiona had ridden her own bike there. Maybe that day we helped spark an interest in some of them to break out from the expected behaviour, get a bike and travel the world.
Waiting for a ferry across to Gallipoli

In case we forget!
We camped in a campsite in the Tarihi Milli park, it is an interesting area (full of WW1 history) and well worth a visit, the Coast road from Eceabat where the Ferry docks to Kabatepe is particularly stunning. As I stood in the Fort overlooking the narrow straight leading into the sea of Marmarus I wondered what madness was instilled in the Commonwealth leaders who hoped to storm and destroy the Turks here at Gallipoli, many Commonwealth troops and sailors lost their lives here and of course the hero of the hour Colonel Mustafa Kemel, later went on to lead Turkey as its first President and is still regarded as the father of modern Turkey.
Into Greece
The border crossing into Greece just past Ipsala was interesting, there was a large military presence at each side of the border, the countries separated (as is often the case) by a bridge, both sets of troops seemed to be goading each other, I suppose it keeps the boredom at bay.
We exited the border and then we were on our way first taking the motorway then turning off  onto what would have been the old main road which hugged the coast, petrol had come down now from an incredible £1.50 a litre in Turkey to a more manageable 85p a litre in Greece. The sun was shining, deserted roads and the sea shimmering away on our left, perfect motorcycling really. The Guzzi club in Thessaloniki came to meet us which just made the night there.
The guys came out to see us, the sling by the way is due to a wrist injury from doing an endurance ride on a Guzzi!
We made our way homeward across Greece to Igoumenitsa to catch the ferry to Italy in Ancona then headed across Italy North through France to Belgium Holland and home but thats another story!,
Barga for Ice cream

Monaco for Lunch
France for Champagne

Belgium for the excellent BBA cafe racer meeting 
We had done around 5000 miles in three and a half weeks but 3500 were done in the first two weeks. The bikes were excellent, no issues with either apart from the chain on the ER6 getting a bit dodgy half way up though France, oh and a headlight bulb. The trip was a good mix of camping and self catering in the field with the occasional hotel treat thrown in. A fantastic adventure which only makes you thirst for more. Get out and explore the world on your bike but be careful, its addictive!    


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