The diaries - 17   

13 August

Yiannitsa - Greece


It's sometimes difficult to put into words what goes through the mind... my fingers won't keep up.  Reading some of the past updates I'm concious of the fact that maybe it comes across a bit 'yukki' when I'm talking of friendly people, smiling faces, warm welcomes everywhere etc. but, having thought about it for two full seconds, I can only say that without a doubt it is the people we have met that has made this trip of ours into the most unforgettable experience that it is. I make no apologies therefore for being 'yukki' !!




We rode through Turkey, and it's a Turkey that I've not seen before.  From the north east we climbed through the mountains and along some of the most extensive roadworks that I have ever seen in a country. Later, as we left Turkey, I can say that the whole country is undergoing major improvements, and that maybe 50% of our time there was riding on dust, shale, gravel etc.  Not too bad in its own right but, when the signing is non-existent, and the vehicles are left totally to their own devices to negotiate rubble, cones, boulders, two foot ramps, and other oncoming vehicles, none of which slow down whatsoever.... survival techniques kick in!  AND petrol is more expensive than in the UK !


All the time people are waving, flashing their lights at us, shouting "Welcome", smiling, grinning, shaking hands... yup... I know....  it's Yukki!


To Cappadoccia, central Turkey, where we see the houses hollowed out of the soft sandstone, rock formations beyond belief. Little houses with little windows, small doors, but hand-carved out of solid rock.  Unfortunately it has now become a very popular tourist attraction and tacky gift shops, numerous hotels abound... also spoilt by the fact that 'new' houses are being 'made' ... now this is 'yukki'!!


To Gocek and we meet up with my old friend Paolo Volpara and Selim Karadag.  These guys were instrumental many years ago in flying me out to Turkey (Istanbul) where we ran courses on advanced riding and survival techniques for several years.  I always said I would return on my own motorcycle, but I rather thought I would merely ride down here... and not via Mongolia!  We are installed in the Olive Garden Hotel, a fabulous small and private hotel, picked up, wined and dined.  We just hope that we can repay the favour one day...


Paolo takes us to his 'mountain home' and Sue is in her element.  I hope she tells you about it... the place is fantastic!  While at Gocek I change the TKC's and put the Continental 'Escapes' back
.  The TKCs have done 10,055 surefooted miles and still have 2mm left on them.  They never let us down... and I like 'em!  Even on the tarmac they feel good, but for Mongolia's sand and ruts, and Turkey's roadworks they were great!


Taking advice from Paolo, we seek out Sirince, a quaint old village for an overnight stay, and then on to Assos where Aristotle took his scholarship.  We rode down to the harbour and I got a right bollocking from Sue!!  The way winds down a cobbled road with a sheer drop of several hundred feet down into the sea, and then into the old harbour area where you have to negotiate cafe tables and chairs, cars, pedestrians etc. all fighting for the minimum of space, all on a three-in-one hill, with rough potholes and cobbles.  I could hear Sue from yards away, and saw one or two old dears blush!  THEN we had to do a fifteen point turn and return, but by this time people just dived out of our way.  We laughed about it later, but both agreed that we hadn't kept to one of our teaching principles.... "Never put your motorcycle anywhere that your brain wasn't five seconds earlier!"


We felt like traitors as we called in at Troy (why did I expect a large wooden horse to be standing there!) and didn't walk round the ruins. BUT Lady Luck was with us, for having a coffee next to the tacky shops, we bought a book on the Gallipoli Campaign and was told by the waiter that the guy who wrote it was sat at the next table.  He gladly signed it for us as we passed a pleasant few minutes with him.  We catch the ferry at Canakkale to Eceaba, and pass from Asia into Europe... and we're sad!   


But deep joy....


the ferry we meet up with Hikmet Doohan (that's right... Doohan) and he's riding a GSX 1000 in immaculate order, with the rear number plate tucked up underneath so that only a worm could read it.  He's a great guy and tells us of a 'home stay' on the Gallipoli Peninsula at a small village Bisyol.  We have communication problems... ie. us no Turkish, him no English, but we draw maps, pictures.  The home stay is run by his 'second pappy' and he has a small museum...


Along Anzac Bay there is a quiet reverence..... just a few people on what would normally be a crowded beach.  1915 saw some of the most intensive fighting of the First World War here on the Gallipoli Peninsula and riding along with the sea breeze, the hills to our right, and the sea to our left, we couldn't help but pay our respects to the kids that died here, for this was a young man's war where the average age was only eighteen or nineteen.  The Turks were a little older, in their twenties and thirties.  Along tracks and rough roads we arrived at Suvla Bay where many died.  Eric Bogle, a favourite singer or ours, sings of Suvla Bay and those that died on both sides. Again we were tearful... the next time I listen it will be a different song!


We had been told by Hikmet to ride into Bisyol and ask... we did, but he had made a 'phone call and, as we came to a stop, and without asking, we were led by a smiling 'old dear' to Bekir Alpaslan's 'home stay', and as we arrive down the narrow unmade road, the roar of the loud exhaust of a GSX 1000 turns up behind us. Hikmet is grinning like a Cheshire cat!.  Now here folks it could get 'yukki' so I'll keep it simple.  From Sheraton five-star hotels, camping in the Gobi, we now have a 'botanic shower' - a hose pipe thrown over a line under the grape vines next to the dining table and chairs, next to the well. Next to the well a large bucket with the bier and wine cooling under water.  We are made welcome, so very welcome.  A superb evening meal cooked by Hikmet and Bekir, a few biers, rakki, and all is at peace with the world. He has a small museum of personal finds, ranging from guns, knives, pipes, ammunition boxes (live!) shells, fuses etc.  Absolutely fascinating... and he'll serve a bier while you're looking round.


We are hugged by Hikmet and Bekir as we bid farewell, tears and friendship, I promised to send
a copy of the photograph I took of the pair of them.  No, I'll not send it... I'll take the photograph to them myself next spring.  The new 1200GS will want running in... "What ya doing Tom?"


From Turkey we pass into Greece - three hours in the hot sun to clear both border controls. Would have been five or six hours but we sneak up the back of the tape barriers and move to the front.... no probs.


So to Xanthi, our first stopover in Greece. Never before have I seen so many people enjoying themselves, eating out, drinking, all having fun.  It's 10pm and there are hundreds of people around... towns in Yorkshire are dead at this time, but this place is alive.  Shops are open, motorcycles and scooters everywhere... no helmets.  Well if they do carry a helmet it's on their elbow!  I often joke with Sue about women being able to do several jobs at once, while us men can only do one... but here I saw 'multi tasking' at its best.  A young woman, very pretty, tight jeans and skimpy T shirt, no helmet, long blond hair, accelerated round a right hand corner on her new 125cc scooter and, while accelerating hard... was texting on her 'phone in her left hand!


Leaving Xanthi we called at the BMW agent and was made welcome with a cup of coffee.  Saturday morning and the place should have been alive... but it wasn't.  He sells, at the most, about fifty 'bikes a year!


Along the southern coastline of Greece, through Kavalla and Thessaloniki and then here to Yiannitsa... a small and quiet town.  Maybe tomorrow we head for Macedonia or Albania.  Albania?.... the guy at the garage said it's dangerous in Albania, shouldn't go there, they'll murder and rob us!  Now didn't the Poles say that about Belarus, the Belarus about the Poles and Russians, the Russians about the Mongolians, Belarus and the Poles, the Mongolians about the.....


It's still a Long Way Home... and we're still enjoying every moment of this trip.



Hi folks - I am having a temporary mental block, can't remember what day it is, what town I am in - all I know is that time is running out for this trip and we still head West!

Turkey is a country I fell in love with - same feelings as for Kyrgyzstan, the pe
ople, the scenery. Some countries a person can feel instantly at home in and I felt that in Turkey.

Crossing from the east, through the mountains and down to the south coast at Gocek, a coastal road where one wrong corner and the drop into the Agean Sea would mean a severe ducking. Assos, where Mrs. Stotle's son Harry had a school of sorts. Troy, where Paris nicked Helen and started 10 years of wars. Would either of the lovers be impressed to know that the toilets in the car park by the ruins, instead of being Ladies and Gentlemen were now designated 'Helen' & 'Paris'?

I must confess here that we did not go to see the ruins of Troy. Having been to Efesus and wandering around the oldest bits of stone in Turkey and staying in Sirince - the oldest, best preserved village - Troy  stood no chance!

Assos and the drop down to the harbour will remain in my nightmares for ever. Cobbles, hairpin bends and literally hundreds of feet to drop down into the Agean with absolutely no protection, I just hoped and prayed I didn't meet a car on its way up,! The harbour at the bottom of the cliff has a narrow road along the coast to the camp sites. I scattered tables and chairs with reckless abandon, little did the diners know that one F650 and careful lady owner were totally out of control - worse was to come when we turned round and made our way back UP the hairpins, a fleeting apology to the man with the calamari down his shirt and I hogged the cliff side like there was no tomorrow!.


My bike is still struggling, cutting out at inappropriate moments, (usually going round bends,)so a fistful of revs is a must, this can lead to interesting experiences! I have to believe what Mick suspects, that a sensor has gone down, because she sure is running a little 'lumpy'!


Capaddocia is another area I would love to go back and explore. Houses cut out of the rocks, fairy chimneys, a landscape of unbelievable beauty. I walked, in full m/cycle leathers 2km around a valley, where a church, a winery and houses were still in use. It was hot and dry...... and please will somebody remind me in future..... motorcyclists don't walk!


We have probably bored you all to death saying time and time again how friendly the people are, how they wave and smile, and are eager to talk to us. Now I can tell you, they are really more interested in the bikes! We rolled into one town, were instantly surrounded by a group of young Turks who wanted to help us, question us and laugh with us. We spent perhaps half an hour with them at the side of the road. Later that evening, washed and changed, walking along the street, we saw the same group. They completely ignored us! We were two middle-aged has-beens, and not the ageing adventurers we saw ourselves as.

For the last 16 days, since leaving Turkmenistan on the boat to Baku, Mick has been ill. Not just a bit of a cold, but full-blown raging influenza, mixed with a good dose of malaria and a severe dose of the 'runs' (or at least that is how he describes it). Covered with insect bites too. I make light of it now, but at one point it was touch and go whether I dropped him off at the hospital and let them do tests on him and then ship him home. He writes in his diary that he just wanted to lie down and die - and I believe him. He was in a terrible state. Having to ride your bike when you really shouldn't is not good. All the purists out there will be horrified - dangerous! What is he playing at! Well, when you only have so long to cross a country you just have to get on with it. He rode behind me, not too far back, because then he would have to do his own thinking, but not so near that his limited reactions would have him running into me.

Now a woman can put up with this for a few days - but 16!!!!!  I had to navigate, find accommodation, food, petrol, spray chains, mop a fevered brow - come on now folks - all together - Ahhhhhh!! He is, you will be pleased to hear,  back to the Mr. Wheeler everybody knows!

One very moving part of our journey has been to the peninsula that saw some of the fiercest fighting in
the First World War, the Dardanelles and Suvla Bay. This part of Turkey, although it has some of the most beautiful coastline, is devoid of tourism. It is treated with great respect, almost reverence, the graves of those young Anzacs and Turks tended with devotion.


We both shed some tears and neither of us are ashamed to admit it.


A chance meeting with a motorcyclist on the ferry across the Straights gave us the opportunity to spend the night at a 'home stay'.  It was a fantastic experience.  A botanic shower. I have a photograph to prove that an esteemed examiner of the hallowed halls of the I.A.M. .........  !!!!

We are now in Greece and what a difference that a few miles across a border can make in cultures.

There are young attractive girls riding motorcyles and scooters, dressed in skimpy clothes, unheard of a few miles east. One girl riding a scooter, well leant over going round a corner, was actually texting on her mobile phone. (well, it has been proved that women multi-task better than men.)

Calling in at a BMW dealership (and Shaun at Rainbow Motorcycles could sure teach him a thing or two)  we joked with the young sales guy there about the Greeks' reluctance to wear crash helmets on the correct part of the anatomy, and about the lack of protective clothing.

'A Greek man cares about his image, he is macho, he has a good hairdo and he likes to converse with a pretty lady - how can you do all those things with a helmet on?' Being part of Europe they are complying with the law and carry a helmet 'only to keep the police quiet'  - most people carry the helmet on their arm - so in the event of an accident at least they have elbow protection!


Still several more 'new to me' countries to go through, Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia, but I am beginning to feel rushed. No time to explore, no time to visit the ancient sites, just a relentless journey west. Still lots of miles to go, we really needed at least another 3 months to do this part of the world justice, well...... there is always another year!


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