Alan on a HP@ from Holland to South Africa
Well, this is almost as fun as hearing about MIke and Danny going off to shoot at inflatable plastic turkeys.
I mean where else can you go roaring along at high speed on a big german motorbike down an almost empty three lane highway in the sunshine???
Without any police around either, at least none I saw.


OK, the fun lasted until we got into Istanbul city limits, then the rabbit was on the other fencepost, so to speak.

Well, can do that from past the Bulgarian border to Istanbul.
The Turks must be very proud of the highway.
And here I thought I'd be dodging potholes and big trucks all the way.

I decided to ride on from Sofia to Istanbul in one day: ISLAGIATT (remember my moto: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time).
Started a bit late with the time zone change loosing me an hour sleep and a late night too (dinner then a pint in the Irish Bar with some british who are living here).
Then took advantage of the wifi in the breakfast place to plan the next part of the trip.
And I AM the only person in the whole four story hotel.
Amazing.
So I get good service: I am "The Guest".
There were four maids waiting outside the room for me to leave so they could work.
Three waiters at breakfast.
The receptionist, hotel manager and the bell boy all at reception helping me checkout.
Owner came by to say hi.
Shees, a bit of overkill.

All surprised I was going and not staying for the Metallica concert that night.
Eh, what concert I asked.
Ah well, I have them on my iPod.

Sofia to Istanbul:
Left about 12h30.
Not too hard to leave town, altho the SAME deal with the signs.
I mean if you think about it, it is really silly.
Locals don't need signs cuz they are locals.
But visitors do, and don't read the local language, especially if it's not even using the same alphabet as I do.
So why have signs that the only people who need them cannot read them????
Go figure.

Thank heavens for Mr. Garmin.
If he goes down I have only Zen.
Well that and some big maps from Michelin, but not so hot on city street detail in Sofia or Belgrade.
And just try reading a big Michelin map of 2m by 2m on a motorbike riding at 80 km/h down a busy street.
Hah.
OK I could slow down or stop but then where would the fun be in that???

The road is straight: E80 all way to Istanbul.
In fact that's basically the route from The Hague.
Get out of town and head on the road that's going South East.
There's only one.
And just keep going: to Germany, Austria, Hungary etc.
They try to confuse you with changing numbers etc and a few little detours, but from Holland to Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey it's all been more or less the same road.
And getting in (and OUT) of cities is tricky, even realziing you are IN the city when they call it something you aren't expecting.
Like "Vienna". I mean I'd thought the Austrians call it that.
But no, i's something quite different.
I was thru it before I realized that the big set of buildings, airport and whatnot WAS Vienna.
Again, same deal as the funny signs.

But actually finding the main way is not so hard.
Even an idiot could do it....

Well, I guess point proved there, no need to rub it in Mr. Whip.
I DO have my brighter moments.

OK, the road disappeared a few times into little single lane things, but that's just so it's not so easy that EVERYONE can think they can just hop on a big German motorbike and ride to Joburg.
LOTS of trucks too.
Good to have a big bike to pass with tho.

Passed an old Russian fighter jet in the middle of nowhere: up on a pedastal.
That is the JET was on the pedestal, not me.
Very strange.
Wonder how that got there????

At the Turkish border it was very officious with LOTS of checkpoints.
But everyone very friendly and laid back.
One guy flips thru my passport and says I need a visa.
OK I say.
I knew that.
Go to building 92 he says.
So I go past everyone else and thru immigration etc.
Nobody stops me, maybe I am in stealth warthog mode?
My big bike is now invisible????
Should I stop? Maybe just go for it?
But I see building 92 and go there and buy a visa stamp: 15 Euros.
Good deal.

I go back, past everyone again.
Get it stamped.
Guy there is surprised at my UK passport not having any machine readable strip: doesn't look impressed.
Is a bit soggy too, despite a ziploc bag (lots of rain).
Stamps it tho.
Says all is done.
Really?
Really.

So go past everyone.
Get to last gate.
Almost out.
Girl looks at soggy passport without readable strip.
Says I need something else for the bike.
Bikes need passports??
Well no, needs import stamp.
So back to another building.
Only truck drivers there.
They tell me to go to another building.
I go there.
There I have a big chat with a guy about where I'm going.
And where I'm from.
And why I'm going there.
And no, for the 1000th time I am not planning on getting there for the Final Game.

Asks for my bike papers, and price of bike etc.
Is for customs import.
I say I have a carnet.
Really he says, surprised.
Yes, you want to see it?
Sure why not he says.
I'm happy to finally show it.
I go back to bike and dig it out.
All 500 pages of it.
He looks thu it, even less sure than me about how to stamp it.
He decides he won't bother: too complicated.
I agree.
Just puts one stamp in my passport: done.

He asks me am I british.
I say, well er yes.
I mean he IS holding my (soggy and non-machine readable) UK passport (altho front writing is worn off so cannot read that).
He asks me who is the british prime minister.
Eh????
Dang.
I don't know, altho I know it just changed.
Blair I say,hoping he doesn't know.
Is now a bit complicated about how I have UK passport, but he's not stressed.
Wasn't a trick question either.
He was just being friendly.

Wishes me a good time in Turkey.
Says be careful, but eat all the food.
Very good food.
I say OK.

I pass the girl at the last checkpoint and am in Turkey.
A new country for me.

Roar off down the highway.
GREAT highway as I said.
Three lanes, good surface.
Some trucks but they keep out of the Warthog Lane.
I go about same speed as most cars: about 140 or so: OK I do go a BIT faster.
But I am the Warthog.
Once I am passing and lights appear in rear: FAST lights.
FAST car coming, I move over JUST in time to avoid joining the driver in his front seat.
Three guesses who passed at over 200 per hour.
Yes, you're right.
Mr Audi.
Cannot escape him.

Is sunny until about 30km from Istanbul: very organized landscape.
Crops, buildings all look quite new and well, organized for lack of a better word.

Arrive in Istanbul.
Is starting to get dark.
Is raining.
LOTS of traffic: pretty aggressive.
Well OK, REALLY agro.
But not as bad as I'd heard: I've been in worse I guess.
Still, the people who have described Istanbul traffic as hectic haven't driven in Luanda, or Joburg maybe.

A bit tired, but after two quite hard days riding I guess to be expected.
Hmmm.
Budapest to Belgrade.
Belgrade to Sofia.
Sofia to Istanbul.
OK: three days hard riding.

The rain makes it a LOT harder.
You have to concentrate MUCH MUCH more.
Cannot see very well.
Usually windy too.
Slippery roads.
And colder.

After Mr. GPS gets me to not quite the right place I find the helpful counterpart of the Serbian boy and hand him the cellphone to figure out directions from Mine: my host for the night (booked thru the website).
Him and girlfriend very helpful and give me good directions.
So I find Mine and her garden apartment.
Great place.
Park the Beast locked to a nearby mosque fence (it was NOISY at 4 AM this morning!!).
Go off and have kebabs with Mine.

So far so good.
About to leave Europe.

Alan
P.S. The guy fixing the pothole has a LOT of work ahead of him, in Istanbul???
Job for life.

Posted by Leafrican on Tuesday 03 August 2010 - 22:00:35printer friendly create pdf of this news item
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