The unruly Turkey
On Thursday, June 23, we have nothing special on the program in Bishkek. After breakfast we decide to walk into town to see some of the sights that we found on the internet. First we come to the Ala-Too square which is about a 2 km walk. On the square there are beautiful flowerbeds and fountains that embellish the whole. Across the street is the statue of Manas on horseback, there used to be a statue of Lenin here but it was moved to a less prominent place after the independence of Kyrgyzstan.
We then walk through a park and end up in the Paniflov Amusement Park. In this amusement park there are still many attractions from earlier times, but also modern attractions with 3D glasses or headsets. Martin takes a ride in a 3D roller coaster, where the seat bounces up and down quite a bit, but the picture and sound are poor. Martin also experiences little to no 3D.
Next to the amusement park is the FC Alga Bishkek stadium, where some doors are open and we can get up into the stands to take some pictures. This could be a kitchen champion division stadium.
Then we slowly walked back to the hotel and on the way we enjoyed a sandwich for lunch at a Turkish restaurant. Back at the hotel we relaxed a bit and then made the blog of the past days.
The motorcycle clothing is now dry and we brought it to the hotel room. This morning we also had the laundry done by the hotel, which will also be finished by the end of the afternoon. So we can leave for Georgia with clean clothes.
Early in the evening we walked to Dordoi Plaza again to enjoy a nice meal on the top floor. When we want to walk back, it turns out to be quite a thunderstorm, so we stay for a while in the lounche bar on the first floor. After a while it gets a little dryer and we take a cab back to the hotel.
Tomorrow we will fly to Alma-Ata and from there to Tblisi. Hopefully the flights will go without any problems.
Friday morning, June 24, we got up at 7 am so that we had everything packed when breakfast started at 8. It is not that much work and at 7:30 we are ready. When we go to the breakfast room, there are already other guests there, so we can start right away. After breakfast we check out and wait for the cab with which we have an appointment at 8:30. At 8:45 we decide not to wait any longer and have the hotel arrange another cab through Yandex. The ride to the airport takes about 45 minutes and during the ride we were able to speak extensively with the driver via Google Translate. He scolded the politicians who are all mafia and only enrich themselves. In order to get a decent income he has worked in Russia in the past and therefore was able to buy an apartment in Bishkek. In addition, he kept his old house in Arslanbob where his family now lives. His son of 18 is in the army and his daughter of 15 is going to study. His hope is that they will find good jobs and then be able to support him and his wife.
At the airport we first have to wait until we can check in for our flight, the counters are not yet open. After an hour or so the counters open and we can hand over our suitcase with motorcycle gear and toilet bags. Then we go through customs and wait again for the flight from Bishkek to Alma-Ata to leave. The flight is a bit late, but it only takes half an hour. The plane is more luxurious than we were used to with an entertainment screen and we even get water and earplugs. In Alma-Ata we go through passport control again, but do linger at the airport. Outside at the airport there is nothing to do and the long wait before the flight to Tblisi starts. First in the departure hall, as security is not yet open. Later at the gate we drink a few beers, so we can doze off in the plane. This plane is again a luxury version, Air Astana appears to be a good choice. We even get a face mask and slippers and on the way a meal with a glass of wine. First we took a nice nap and then we watched a movie, so we made it through the 4 hours of flight time.
After landing we pick up our suitcase and exchange some money for the cab and the hotel. Immediately we are approached by a black cab driver who wants to take us to Tblisi and after some negotiating we are on our way. Around 22:15 we arrive at the hotel, put our stuff in the room and go have another beer. The motorcycles are still waiting in the courtyard of the hotel, so tomorrow we can get started.
Tomorrow the journey will be from Tblisi to Turkey, hopefully with a smooth border crossing and dry weather. After all, the forecasts are not too good. However, with our own waterproof motorcycle pants, winter gloves and waterproof bags, this should not be a problem.
Saturday morning, June 25, it is humidly warm in Tblisi. At breakfast we donate our suitcase to the hotel manager, he has helped us well all this time and we don't need the suitcase anymore anyway. Breakfast is good again and after breakfast we pack our bags. They are still in the garage of the hotel and it is now just a matter of making sure everything gets a logical place in the bags. We push the bikes one by one to the courtyard, where we fix the navigation and screw the window on Rob's bike. Then we go through the narrow door into the street and put the bags back on the bike. When we are ready to leave it gets a little tense, both bikes won't start. The starter motor turns, but they do not start. With a lot of smoke, Rob's engine starts first and just before the battery is completely empty, Martin's engine starts as well. We'll just have to blame the warm weather of the past few weeks in combination with the bad fuel that caused this. The rest of the day the engines start immediately as we are used to.
The ride goes southwest through hills and large plains towards Turkey. The border is about 230 km from Tblisi and we arrive there around noon. The tires are holding up well and we are getting more and more confidence in the bike with these tires and on these roads. We ride mostly between 1500 and 2000 altimeters and it gets colder, so we decide to dress better and put on our winter gloves. At the border there is a kilometers long traffic jam of trucks that want to cross the border, cars and motorcycles can luckily drive past. At the checkpoint at the Georgian side of the border we cannot show our motorcycle insurance for Georgia, which results in a fine of € 33 per person to be paid at the bank next door. For Turkey, only Martin needs an insurance and it takes a while to complete the paperwork, but after about 1.5 hours we cross the border again.
On the Turkish side of the border there is also a double row of trucks of 7 km long, so a total of 14 km of trucks wanting to cross the border. You can easily take a day or more for that. After the border we score a lunch in the next village, doner with rice and bread tastes good again. After we drive on, we stay high in the mountains. It remains cold and it starts to rain regularly. We consult a gas station and decide to take the main road to Erzurum, because in this part of the country lots of rain is expected tomorrow as well and it seems to get better from Erzurum on. Rob puts on an extra sweater and Martin with bags around the shoes take the 4-lane road for the more than 200 km to Erzurum. Fortunately this is a big road, because it keeps raining and we still have 4 passes above 2000 meters to take. In Erzurum we stop at a gas station and are advised to take Hotel Polat. This is in the center 4 km away and we drive there. They still have a good room for 300 TL (€ 18) including breakfast. They do not have a garage, but the motorcycles can stay dry at the main entrance. After checking in we take a nice hot shower, which helps us both recover from the ride.
In the evening we grab a doner joint for dinner and end up in a smoky pub near the hotel. Since we still haven't overcome the time difference of (by now) 3 hours with Kyrgyzstan, we go to bed early.
Tomorrow morning we'll see what the weather is doing and depending on that we'll make our plan.
On Sunday morning, June 26, it is still heavily cloudy but dry. Breakfast is, as often in Turkey, on the top floor of the hotel, where we can see that the weather is slowly improving in the direction we are going. The rain radar indicates that we should take it easy for the first part to Bayburt, so that we can ride behind the showers. This tactic works well, because we arrive in Bayburt dry, while the road there is still wet. After a short coffee/tea break, we continue along the original route we plotted. The road is very boring for a long time, a four-lane road that fortunately runs through a beautiful landscape, so we can still look around us. To score lunch we drive to the center of a small village, where we want to buy a loaf of bread at the bakery. The baker hears that we come from the Netherlands and spontaneously we get the bread donated. When we are eating the bread at the side of the road, we are approached by some older people and we get free tea as well. Using Google Translate we try as hard as we can to have a conversation.
After lunch the road becomes more winding and we enjoy not only the road but also the beautiful views. The landscape changes from wide fields to more rocky areas with beautiful views. Around half past 2 we have already driven 350 km and we arrive in Sebinkarahisar, it is still early but we find a hotel here so we can watch the MotoGP race at the TT in Assen in our hotel room. After this great race we get some beers and also watch the Moto2 race, where Bo Bendsneyder does very well with a 5th place.
Prominently above the village towers an old castle and later in the afternoon we walk there. It is a beautiful, but steep path which makes us notice that our condition has deteriorated. It is not at all touristy and there are no other people at the top of the castle, only on the way there we meet two people. From the castle you have a fantastic view in all directions and we enjoy it. The way back to the village is much easier because it goes downhill. In the village we go to the only pub there is, again on the second floor of course. The bars are never on the first floor, probably because drinking alcohol is forbidden by religion and you can't see who's inside. In the evening we had a nice dinner in a restaurant nearby, something else than doner or kebab but very good.
Tomorrow we drive further west, the weather seems to be better and the temperature should be 5 degrees higher. Let's wait and see what it really will be.
After having enjoyed another delicious breakfast on Monday morning, June 27, we get ready to leave. At the hotel, the hotel manager has told us we can exchange money, but at the front desk they are struggling with this for so long that we decide to just pay and look elsewhere for the exchange. Then the hotel manager comes after us because he wants to exchange dollars at the same rate as the bank. The people at the front desk will get a lesson in this later on. After the exchange we refuel the car and check the tire pressure and then we are ready to go. It has already become quite warm and the sweaters are taken off before we leave. The first part of the route is again on nice roads through the valleys of the mountains. Actually, it's only hills here, because a pass at 1500 meters is also indicated.
Just before noon the sky darkens and we decide to wait at a gas station until the rain has passed in the distance. Meanwhile, someone comes to refuel with his tractor and starts a conversation with us. He works as a technician in the elderly care and would like us to come and see his work. We politely decline, but we accept the offer of the gas station owner to drink coffee and tea. Meanwhile, the man of the tractor gets a phone call from his girlfriend and is urgently requested to finally come home. Then we have a chat with the owner of the gas station about this and that. He offers us to join him for dinner, but we decline. The weather looks much better and we want to make some miles today.
The detour we made in the route works out well, the roads are smaller and we ride through greenery. Occasionally a piece of unpaved road, but that goes well. 20 km from Niksar it suddenly starts to rain and soon it comes pouring down. There is no place to hide, so we have to brave this. The road is very slippery and the top layer is already worn away, so we have to ride very carefully. The brakes only go straight and even then we sometimes slide away. Fortunately, the rain doesn't last long but it does make us look for a hotel in Niksar to avoid getting even wetter. We are advised to take the Nuri Park Hotel in the center and we drive there. On the spot we are immediately directed to the back of the hotel, where we can park our bikes safely and dry. It is a fine hotel with spacious rooms and it looks neat. For 320 TL including breakfast we are the man (about € 18 for 2 persons). Later in the afternoon we walk through the city, drink a tea (together for less than € 0.25) and buy some fruit on the market.
We end up at a restaurant for a drink, also because it starts raining again. The restaurant looks fine and we decide to have our meal there as well, both had nice lamb. After dinner we walked back to the hotel and bought some beers to drink in the hotel. We ask if we can drink them in the lobby and the hotel manager reluctantly agrees. When we start our second beer, we are kindly requested to drink it in our room because he is afraid that others will see us from the street.
The weather for tomorrow is again a question mark, we are still in the middle of the low pressure area. Hopefully tomorrow will be drier and sunny, so we can make it to the coast of the Black Sea.
On Tuesday morning, June 28, we get up around 7 to have breakfast. It still looks gray outside and it's drizzling, a glance at the rain radar indicates that it will stay that way here for the time being, but that in our direction we're going to get dry weather soon enough and then it seems to stay dry for a longer period of time. This gives us a positive boost and we rig up our mechanical pack mules again. When we leave it has started to rain a little more and the first few kilometers are quite wet. However, it gets lighter and lighter in the west where we are heading and after about 20 km it is indeed dry. We refuel and clean the visor and then the day continues with regular sunshine. Sometimes there are some splashes, but that should not be named, it seems that every gray cloud wants to assert itself today.
Around 11 o'clock we stop for a cup of coffee and tea with a cookie. We immediately get acquainted with the neighbor who is a baker. Nice to be able to have a conversation together again via Google Translate and we promise to buy some bread from him before we leave. No sooner said than done, and after buying a cola as well, we hit the road again after first taking a picture of this sidecar.
We drive a beautiful route around a large lake, with a thunderstorm lurking but we outrun it. Along the side of the road at the outlet of the lake we see a stone table with chairs and we decide to stop there to eat our lunch in the sun. The last bit of bread is for the cows who are grazing there. Then we drive on again over beautiful roads, the sky is threatening left and right, but it remains dry. That seems to change when we turn into a smaller road, as soon as we make the turn to the north we look straight into an ominous dark sky. We decide to quickly turn right and keep heading west for the time being. Just to be sure, we stop in the next village to have a drink and see where the showers are heading. However, the showers seem to be sticking around and we get ready for a ride through the rain. When we leave, it does indeed start to rain right after the village, but after 2 kilometers it is surprisingly dry again.
Further to the west we drive more and more towards the sun and heat in the direction of Kastamonu, with which we have driven 370 km this day. Because it is only 3 pm, we decide to go north to find a hotel at the Black Sea coast in Inebolu. As soon as we turn north it gets darker and we will have a shower before we reach the coast. At that point Rob's engine light goes on that something is wrong, we have just started the uphill route. To find out what is wrong, Rob stops to turn off the engine and then starts it again. However, starting the engine no longer works, the battery is completely empty and there is an electrical problem. We decide to drive/walk back on the mini emergency lane, Martin in front with hazard lights and Rob behind him stepping on the bike. 100 meters further on the crash barrier is gone for a bit, allowing us to cross to the other lane and Rob to hang on to Martin's arm to speed up. He manages to start the engine and we quickly drive back to Kastamonu. More and more electronic parts fail and we just manage to get to a gas station. The nice pump attendant calls an acquaintance of his who knows something about motorcycles to help. A little later he arrives with his scooter. Meanwhile, we have removed the bags from the bike and the saddle. Meanwhile, it has started to rain, not just a little, but a huge downpour. Fortunately, we managed to get to the gas station and stay dry, otherwise we would have been soaking wet from top to bottom.
Restarting from the scooter to Rob's engine is successful with the help of jumper cables, which indicates that it is in the battery or charging voltage. The electrical part of the motor is intact, and all fuses appear to be in order as well. We decide to swap the batteries of Rob and Martin and drive to the Yamaha motorcycle store of a friend of Burak the scooter driver. We start Martin's bike with Rob's battery from the scooter and it keeps on running, so the battery is not broken. Just before we reach the motorcycle store, Rob's engine light comes on again, but we just make it.
It must be the alternator or the voltage regulator that is broken and the mechanic does an initial examination to determine the cause. Within 5 minutes he indicates that it is the voltage regulator and triumphantly holds it in his hand. The contacts are oxidized and the voltage regulator is broken. No time to fix it today, it will be tomorrow afternoon. The contacts will be cleaned tomorrow and a voltage regulator of a different type will be fitted. We are happy if they can do this tomorrow and agree. Serhat is the owner of the motorcycle store, but he can't come tomorrow morning because he has to go to the hospital for a brain aneurism. We wish him good luck with that exciting hospital visit, at that moment health is more important than a motorcycle.
A cab is ordered for Rob and Martin drives after him to hotel Kursunlu Han. This turns out to be an old Caravanserai that has been converted into a hotel. Beautiful ambiance and very nice to stay there, will be 2 nights. Martin's bike is parked in a parking garage a block away with a friend of the cab driver (everything goes through friends here). The manager asks not to lock the bike because the underground parking garage could fill up with rain and then he could push the bike out if necessary. The hotel is also the only place in town where you can drink alcohol. After all the consternation, it is nice to recover in the central courtyard of the hotel with a beer. For dinner it's a nice doner, again for less than € 5 for the two of us. While walking through the city we noticed that there are many old buildings here that date back to the Silk Road, we have time tomorrow to take a closer look. When we arrived in Kastamonu we also saw a castle on the hill near the city, which is worth a visit tomorrow. There is still a small party going on at the hotel of a group of friends who have drunk (too) much raki. Since this day was again tiring, we will not be bothered by that when we are in our beds.
So tomorrow is a forced rest day with hopefully some good news about Rob's bike in the afternoon. This will give us time to write a new blog. The weather seems to get better every day, so that is also to our advantage. By the way, everyone is telling us that the coastal towns at the Black Sea are suffering from severe flooding and that there is a good chance that the hotels are all closed down or partly washed away. See also this Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=5009081325870222 So we will have to change the route to something more inland.