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Going backwards to go forwards – Istanbul and beyond

Going backwards to go forwards – Istanbul and beyond

Well, I’m really apprehensive to say this, but it looks like the day to leave Georgia has finally arrived. It’s onward (or backward rather) to Istanbul. This has happened numerous times, so I’m half wondering about what’s next! If you want the full listing of attempts to leave Georgia:

– head for Russia to China but China tour is cancelled
– ready to leave for Turkey but the fuel pump isn’t working
– prepare to leave for Turkey but heavy storms hit Batumi
– leave Georgia for Turkey but the border closes

As we can see, anything can happen! Let’s wait and see before I get too carried away eh?

Crossing the Border (the 2nd attempt)

Chasing mountains, dropping bikes and getting dirty... doing what I love most

Chasing mountains, dropping bikes and getting dirty… doing what I love most

Reaching the Georgian/Turk border of Sarp for what feels like the 100th time, the sky decides to paint me in water. The relentless rain has been carrying on for almost two weeks, although the worst of the storms have passed for now. I sit on trumpet, waiting for rain to stop slapping me in the face and the customs guy to hurry up and stamp passports.

Unsurprisingly, again I’m left waiting in no mans land, but only for a half hour this time around (read this article about the last time I was here). With enough time to have an unpleasantly cold shower, I finally get into Turkey. With the rain waving it’s cold middle finger in my face, I use my rain gear as my only defence, we get going for Samsun.

Two hours later, I pull up and refill the gas tank with the Georgian fuel I took in my 7 litre jerry can. The fuel prices appear to be inadequately expensive in Turkey compared to the cheap Georgian lari refills. While all this is happening, I stick my freezing hands right into the engine bay, to warm up my fingers and get some feeling back into my hands. I down a crappy coffee from an espresso machine, and get on the way shortly after.

Halfway there

Thessaloniki - the final destination

Thessaloniki – the final destination

Just over halfway of the 550km to Samsun and the rain is still waving it’s long rude digit at me. The wind has decided to have some fun and is now blowing ocean spray at me as well. Somehow, it’s all kind of nice anyway, my wet gear is holding up well, I’m as dry as a sun bleached bone under it all.

Looking at the wet weather from inside my helmet, I feel quite safe and warm, excluding my fingers which feel like they’re frozen to the handlebars. It’s great to be back on the road, riding along the black sea to Samsun, even if I am going backwards. At least I’m actually going somewhere!

A large portion of contentment washes over me – I’m moving again. It really doesn’t matter what direction I go anymore, as long as I’m going somewhere. There’s something quite comforting about being on the move again, although I’m still not sure why. Well, whatever, it feels good!

Samsun

I arrive in sun drenched Samsun after about 8 hours of riding. Evidently it’s been raining here all day too, but the weather decided to pull it’s finger out and lather us all in gold for a while. Trumpet rumbled in appreciation, she seems just as delighted as me that the weather has turned up for a while.

Looking around for my couchsurfer Ecem’s place, I get a bit lost and loop the block a few times looking for a number that doesn’t seem to exist. Both gps, and maps.me aren’t helping much. I park and go for a wander and find the building – well actually it’s just a large patch of grass with rubbish all over it.

I look around, and I spy a girl on the phone 3 floors up observing my movements. Not sure why, but I wave at her anyway. She just smiles and keeps observing me and talking on the phone. She looks like she knows something I don’t… Another girl comes running up to me – oh hey its Ecem! I’ve found the place.

Ecem is quite the bundle of joy – we have a good laugh with her housemates over home cooked cabbage soup, fried cheese and oven roasted vegetables. I haven’t eaten all day so I dig right into the cabbage soup – it reminds me of my grandfathers great ‘moluhaya‘ soup. Hot food after a long wet day is a blessing.

The four of us head out into the cool evening, for cheapish beers and a basket of fries with mustard. After trading a few stories and swapping adventures, and another two baskets of fries, we head back ‘home’. Before bed, I give my customary ‘how to speak Australian’ (yes, the more I travel the more I realise it really isn’t English) to much laughter, before crashing out on the couch.

The first two fifty

Samsun to Istanbul is around 731km (thats an odometer measurement), so I wake up bright and early and am packed by 7.30am. The sky is blue, the sun is out and things are looking good. Ecem is up to see me off, and we chat over cups of coffee. My phone has stopped working and won’t charge, so no music for me today.

The first 250 kms is all gravy baby. Sunny, blue and virtually no one on the road. My fingers are really not liking the high altitudes though, so after stopping for a complimentary tea (turks really are a good bunch) and a chocolate bar, I slip on my gore-tex arctic gloves. Oh wow… the warmth makes me squirm in excitement.

Before long, large clouds of grey have massed directly ahead of me. I decide to check out the weather before I put some rain pants on. Within 5 mins it’s snowing. By the time I’ve pulled into the closest petrol station and pulled on my rain pants, it’s now heavy snow and dropped a few more degrees.

I’ve only ever ridden I in snowy conditions twice before, and that was in the cedar forests offroad in Morocco – with road tires it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Well, I’m on tarmac so it should be ok. Here goes nothing! I just ride along as normal, treating the falling snow like rain. It stops about 20 minutes later.

Can’t feel my toes

After a short adjournment from the snow, it starts again, this time much, much heavier.  My windscreen is covered in ice, as is my barkbusters handguards. Frost has built up all over my panniers, so that it now looks the panniers have been laminated in glass.

I have to keep wiping my visor every few seconds to clear frost and snow off just so I can see. The middle of my visor starts fogging up even with the fog protector on, so I turn my head a little and look through the right side of my visor instead.

Can see barely anything now except white curtains of snow falling. I’ve slowed down from the 110kmh I was riding in the lighter snow to a mild 50 kmh. I stay to the middle of the right lane with hazards on, and to be frank, I’m a bit scared of all these massive trucks around me. There is barely any cars on the road, just semi trailers and me mostly.

It gets colder and I can’t feel my toes anymore. Looking at the edge of the road, I see a thin film of ice has now formed. Cool, this is probably the scariest thing I’ve done for a while. With nowhere to go but forward, I plod along, singing ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ to keep myself in good spirits. Still can’t feel my toes.

Still can’t feel my toes

I was happy to get to the relative warmth of Istanbul

I was happy to get to the relative warmth of Istanbul

The downhill begins and bugger me does it get even whiter! The snow is falling thick and fast, piled half a meter high on just about everything. Luckily, all the semi trailers are keeping the road slushy and ice free. I thank them all underneath my helmet. Finally, a petrol station appears after a few more kilometres and I pull in for some petrol, coffee and a cigarette.

Everyone is quite friendly at the shell station, they invite me inside the staff room and put a chair right in front of the overwhelmingly warm heater. Oh man, this is bliss! I do some squats to get some blood pumping into my frozen toes, and I’m wondering if they’ve fallen off because I still can’t feel them.

Ten minutes and a ‘3 in 1’ coffee later, I wander out with my toes just beginning to wiggle. There’s another rider here on a 650 Bmw something from Greece. He tells me he’s trying to make it all way to Greece today. That’s at least 1000km from when he left Samsun – and it’s already 3pm. Definitely doable if his toes don’t fall off.

The snow lasts for another 100kms, where finally, rain begins again. All the ice starts melting off Trumpet and I can finally see a little more, although constant spray from the vehicles in front of me is the problem this time. 150kms later, I stop at the Shell, have a cigarette and drink a coffee. I can feel my toes now. YES!

Into Istanbul

Istanbul

The rain dies off in the last 70kms or so, and the road begins to dry up. Before long the overly huge city of Istanbul appears, as does the annoyingly bad peak hour traffic. Luckily, they have shoulder lanes, so I follow a police car all the way up and over the Bosphorus bridge. Yep, Istanbul is still just as big as it was last time. Seems almost astronomical.

Before long I’m properly stuck in peak hour traffic and worry about burning my second clutch out. I speak to another guy on his suzuki, and he tells me the European football is on tonight, Besiktas is playing against Napoli. That explains all the flares, smoke and singing. Hordes of fans in black and white are striding down the street singing at the top of their lungs. Istanbul is loud!

Morning breaks, and I’m rewarded with a beautiful view of the Bosphorus from my hostel roof. A free breakfast of eggs, sausages, bread, salads and sweets is served up. Not a terrible place to stay for 8 euros a night. I realise my shoes have been left behind in Samsun, so I wander about Istanbul in my sandals instead. My toes don’t appreciate it.

Running Errands in Istanbul

Shuteye kitty

It’s off to the Iranian Embassy in Istanbul today, time to apply for and pick up my Iranian visa. After a brief half hour, and a ‘hello again’ chat with the security guy and the visa dude, he tells me to come back tomorrow to pick my visa up. Thank you very much (for how to apply for an Iran Visa read this article I wrote).

Then it’s off to pick up a new pair of shoes (Vans Authentics of course, small sized, durable and easy to pack). I wander about Taksim before meeting up with friends Kabir and Zeynep, for a few beers and some syrian food. 8 lire later, feeling full to the brim, I’m ready for bed. The 5km walk back to Sultanahmet helps put me to sleep quicky.

The following morning, I’m up bright and early, I go to pick up my visa, and my phone which I had repaired yesterday. Right after my two lazy errands it’s off back to bed to sleep the rest of the day. ‘Take it when you can get it’ is now my first option when travelling.

I finish packing early morning in the hallway to avoid waking up my ridiculously loud snoring compatriots, and surprise surprise, it’s raining again. It’s finally the next step of the journey and the last chapter of the backward steps – on to Thessaloniki.

Istanbul to Thessaloniki (600km)

I stayed close by the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, Istanbul

I stayed close by the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, Istanbul

I spent an hour escaping the busy Istanbul roads, I don’t know why they bother with the motorway tags, it doesn’t speed anything up anyway. There’s 10 lanes to exit the city, but because the network of roads is so badly attuned for 15 million people, most of whom drive like it’s a demolition derby, I end up trying not to kick people’s mirrors in… or gesture in impolite ways at them.

Sure enough the rain sticks it out with me all the way to the Turkish/Greek border, where for some reason, it feels much colder then this morning. Not one customs officer seems to want to endure the cold weather, so they just ask me the usual questions while sucking down lungfuls of tobacco in their heated offices. With a hello, 2 questions and a stamp, I’ve waved into Greece. The weather warms up instantly.

Here we are, at the finishline of the last backwards step in Thessaloniki. It’s all forward from here. No more backtracking… for now anyway. My spare parts await pickup in two days, as do all the goodies from my sponsors at Wheels of Morocco and Motoaction. All I need to now is finish this entry, and relax. – a job easily done.

Next week – join me as I leave Thessaloniki and head through Turkey (for the 4th time), this time along the coast of Gallipoli, onto Pamukkale and Cappadocia, and then back into Iran.

Back into Greece

Back into Greece