KM START = 17,614
(Trip = 7,232 )
KM END = 17,861 (Trip
Trapani > Marsala > Agrigento > Licata
today is on a weight watchers mission, and manages to instantly shed 15kg from
his bike and post it off back to his home in the north of Italy. Slimmer of the
week! Unused items such as a tent, sleeping bag and various bike spares are in
the cull, and while he is in the post office mailing it all back I get a chance
to observe a day in the life of a Trapani school student. If you are a 16 year
old boy and reading this, then my advice is to do all the paper rounds and car
washes you can this summer, jack it all in, move to Trapani and buy a scooter.
You will have no end of gorgeous Italian girls chasing after you asking for a
ride is pretty uneventful, but when we stop for lunch we realise that a momentus
occasion has passed. Pierpaolo has managed to set a personal and possibly a
national record by being the first Italian to go without pasta for 34 days
straight. This is swiftly corrected and the Sicilian offerings do not
massive fan of the Fiat 500, its nice to see the car on the roads here in its
natural element – I feel like an automotive David Attenborough, observing them
crawling along, tooting their horns and seeing the older members of the flock
succumb to the ravages of Italian Chrome (rust).
the Valley of the Temples, but we’re not really in the mood for paying 10 EUR,
getting off the bikes and trudging around for 2 hours to take pictures of the
buildings. There is a hotel on the road with a decent view, so we take the
cheapskate option of going up the drive, taking a stealth photo and then peeling
out. Been there, got the photo. The archaelogists amongst you may cringe.
Not much elso
on the roads or beaches and we come to rest that night at the Hotel Bastardos,
currently trading as the El Sombrero. The mattress is like a sponge with the
springs poking through to provide cut price accupuncture – not that 60 EUR /
night is really cut price. But by virtue of its location (the only hotel within
100km) it gets our business.
So no great
roads and no amazing beaches today, but all is forgiven because of the wonderful
Sicilian food and wine.
KM START = 17,861
(Trip = 7,491 )
KM END =
18,197 (Trip = 7,827)
Licata > Gela > Catania > Taormina
One of the
more forgettable mornings of the trip. Accupuncture from the mattress (foam
hammock would be more appropriate) last night, combined with the roar of trucks
going past on the highway means we have enjoyed a combined sleeping time of
approximately 47 minutes. This is not coincidentally the running time of an
episode of Chuck Norris in “Walker – Texas Ranger”. All the Italian
episodes of TV shows are dubbed, and the idea of something getting lost in
translation is frightening because there ain’t a hell of a lot to start with!
above us are swelling and darkening, and before too long the rain starts
chucking it down. Now we don’t have the film crew of Ewan and Charley, but if
we did then I certainly would have rejected the script of it had this in it.
June.....Sicily..... its meant to be sunshine and olive oil and fishermen waving
you off from idyllic sea side villages. Send this rubbish back for a rewrite!
hour on a bike means plenty of time for reflection and pondering. It’s during
this deluge that the concept of another trip reaches zygote stage of
development. Thus far, the trip has been relatively easy – save for the
cuisine of the Tangier – Sete ferry. Either a) we are born rugged adventurers,
able to take on any problem thrust upon us and brush them off nonchalantly or b)
the world is actually quite easy to travel on a modern motorbike, explaining the
growing number of people embarking on their own 2 wheeled jaunts. The question
comes to mind “How would I do something more challenging and unique?”
The Long Way
Down is Ewan and Charley’s answer – a ride from Scotland to South Africa
which I believe is currently in progress. Basically the classic overland route
through Africa – an amazing trip, but something that could do with a fresh
twist. Riding on the roads in Italy and the Vespa Ape always brings a smile to
our faces. For those of you who are not familar with this vehicle, its the
mutant offspring of a scooter that slept with a pickup truck. A 3 wheeled ute,
about 7 feet long, powered by a
50cc scooter engine. We see them buzzing around small towns, either dropping off
groceries, or with an older couple squeezed in, driving somewhere to see the
sunset. Instantly its apparent that its not something born for the off road, and
with 50cc its not exactly going to set the highways on fire either, but when
your hands are soaked to the bone and the wind is marshalling the rain into any
remaining dry areas of your body, the benefit of a roof seem to override the
other design shortfalls.
larger wheels, beef up the engine to about 250cc and I think you have the
makings of a genuine continent muncher. Strap all your gear and spares in the
back tray, fit a small stereo in the cab and hey presto, theres your workspace
for the next 4 months. And with something so completely daft and photo worthy,
the sponsors will be clammering to get their logos all over it. North Cape of
Norway to Cape Town South Africa....the concept of Cape to Cape In An Ape evolved.
A whole day of
riding through ordinary roads in perpetual rain has dampened our spirits and
clothing considerably, but the overnight stop of Taormina in the Gardens of
Naxos does well to offer us some hope. Its a beautiful, well touristed town on
the cliffs, overlooking the beaches below with wonderful buildings placed
artistically throughout the cobbled streets. All newspapers at the hotel are
commandeered and stuffed into our boots in the hope that they will be dry for
KM START = 18,197
(Trip = 7,827
KM END =
18,674 (Trip =8,304 )
Taormina > Messina > Villa San Giovani > Cosenza > Maratea
The idea of
the Ape seems less insane as we peer out the window – its coming down in
sheets and there are no holes of light in the grey sky above. All in all, Sicily
has been a slight disappointment. We were expecting beaches up to the standard
of the Sardinian ones we saw last summer, but they were not forthcoming and
would have been of little use in conditions that would prompt Noah to put in
The ferry to
Calabria is a quick shift, and when we land we instantly climb up into dryer
skies on highways that peer down 1000 metres to the rocky coast below. The
terrain makes us feel like an ant in a giants rock garden, with huge granite
outcrops coated with trees that grow like two toned moss on the surface.
the region of our stop tonight, is again a surprise for me. It´s a place where
Pierpaolo spent many of his boyhood summers so he knows the area quite well, but
I am amazed to find myself driving through chalet and pasture villages that
would not look out of place anywhere in the Swiss Alps. A snaking 30km road
leads us down to the coast, where we find a fantastic hotel for the evening. We
may curse our luck that the rain has followed us throughout Southern Italy, but
sitting back on the balcony with a cold beer in our hands, its wrong to feel
hardly done by. In Maratea we are watched over by Christ the Redeemer from a
hilltop above. His dad is putting on a show tonight, where hills in seven shades
of blue are foreground to a tecnicolour sunset utilising the full spectrum of
colours in natures palette.
One of the
reasons we have stopped in this part of the world is so that we can visit
Pierpaolo´s grandfather, who lives in the village of Lagonegro. This region of
Italy is quite prone to earthquakes, and there are many houses in town with big
cracks running down the sides. It is however Southern Italy, so there is
uncertainty as to whether the cracks are from the earthquakes or from nextdoors
unauthorised excavation of the foundations while sneaking on the extension last
lovely 26 year old raven haired Romanian girl is looking after Grandpa, and for
a 98 year old lad he´s doing pretty well. As boys in southern Italy, we are
made a bit of a fuss over, and
Marcela is only too happy to prepare some lunch and do our laundry for us – an
act of kindness (lunch) and bravery (laundry).
aunt and uncle come around in the afternoon and take us out to dinner at Lago
Sirino. Then an early night at Grandpa´s house. It has all the good feeling of
being a kid staying at your grandparents house in the holidays...the musty room,
the old comfy bed and the soft flannel sheets. Deep sleep comes quickly.
KM START = 18,674
(Trip = 8,304 )
KM END =
19,331 (Trip = 8,961)
Lagonegro > Taranto > Brindisi > Patra (Greece) > Elea
Having come up
the foot of Italy, today is the day where we cut across the ankle and to the
other coast to catch the ferry to Greece. It´s a nice road through the high
mountains, spoiled only by Taranto, a dark and soiled oil refining town where
the fumes in the air invade my helmet and give me a feeling of nausea.
A final shower
of rain ushers us onto the ferry, which is mostly filled with truckers and a Con
Tiki bus tour of 18-35 year old Americans. There is one car we spy, absolutely
packed to the gunnels and towing a trailer that is similarly sagging under its
load. Its got UK number plates, and driving it is a couple that have fully
signed up to the glut of get rich with overseas property programs.
He´s a fully
inked and singleted Bull Mastif, with the girlfriend looking like Keith Richards
the morning after. They are chatting with an elderly English couple on the deck,
and I can´t help but hear snippets of conversation like “It´s just like
Spain was 4 years ago” and “When Turkey joins the EU, prices are going to
rocket”. They are on a mission to buy and renovate houses in Turkey, which may
or may not be a good money spinner, but the sentences they use sound exactly
like those used by an excessively optimistic estate agent with a selective
understanding of the EU expansion program.
sleeper cabin and at lunchtime the next day we arrive in Patra. Our target in
the Pelepponese is to go down south and meet the mother of
a good friend of ours. James is Australian but his mother is from Greece,
and like many Greeks she makes the pilgrimmage back home to her village every
year to be with family and escape the Australian winter. The village of Elea is
a wonderful non touristed spot, and James says his Mum is on standby ready to
cook Pierpaolo and I a feast when we arrive. An offer too good to refuse.
The coast to
Constantine is a reminder of colour for us. No more grey skies and ordinary
beaches – tracing the northern
coast the waters are deep azure and some Mediterranean sunshine throws sparkles
on the surface. It feels good already to be back in Greece. Then the road cuts
inland and we roll through foothills and then across the mountains from Tripoli
to Sparti. The riding is wonderful and quick.
I have never
eaten badly in Greece, and lunch again preserves this record. Initial
impressions of the roadside cafe near Sparti don´t look too promising. A
grizzly looking chef with a 3 day old growth is man handling a large joint of
pork, shovelling chunks of it onto plates. Being Greece this is also an
opportune time for him to be having a smoke, with fag ash miraculously being
kept separate from the meat. But the pork is delicious and the tomatoes and
olives in the salad are exploding with flavour.
The road from
Sparti to Molai is a picturesque saunter through endless olive and orange
groves. This is the country of the famous Kalamata olives, and it actually looks
like the air brushed landscapes they put on the exported tins, jars and bottles.
But along this stretch there are stark reminders of the dangers on the road. It
is Greek custom when someone dies in a road accident to erect a small temple or
monument at the scene, usually with an inscription, a photo and perhaps some
flowers. There are many along this road, and the concentration of them act as a
kind of rally hazard warning system. If you see one near a corner, then it´s
pretty standard. Two monuments and it might be sharper than expected.... three
or more in the same area then it is time to consider dismounting and walking the
bike slowly round the next bend.
Molai to Elea
is an 8 kilometre donkey track, and at the end of it we are on top of the small
hills at the edge of the village, looking down towards the port. Port consists
of 6 fishing boats, all under 20ft, 1 cafe and 1 restaurant. James house is easy
to find and when we get there, his Mum, aunt, uncle and Grandmother are all
sitting on the verandah enjoying a whisky on ice sundowner. Park the bikes
outside and meet Kiki (his Mum), who quickly welcomes us into the house and
pours us a drink.
people in the modern world like to make a statistically significant correlation
between long life and the consumption of olive oil, with their testing
population drawn from Meditterranean countries. I would not be surprised if
these analysts are on the payrolls of certain Olive Oil companies. The idea of
long life and one magic food or vitamin that can give it to us is complete tosh
– the answer is right here in front of us. Give me a Greek village, good food,
afternoon conversation, perhaps a wee tipple here and there and ZERO STRESS then
I may also live to 100. Stress is the key variable, and here there is not the
welcome drink we take a stroll down to the seafront, soak some sun on the beach
and have a Martini Bianco at the bar above where the boats are moored. Since we
finished work 5 weeks ago, we have been on the road logging kms pretty much day
in, day out, but for the first time here we can actually feel ourselves kick
down a gear and get in a state somewhat close to relaxation.
When we get
back to Jame’s house, we find his Mum has prepared a full table full of food
for the visitiors. Kiki and grandma may be all sweetness and innocence, but they
combine as a well drilled tag team and proceed to continually shovel food onto
our plates when our guard is down or when out of eyeline. While this is
happening, her brother (a priest) comes around from the other side of the table
with a bottomless carraffe of wine and fills our glasses, effecting a kind of
hospitality pincer movement. Their execution of the strategy is perfect, and we
go to bed tonight thinking how it was so worth it to make the 600km detour to
come down to this part of the world.
KM START = 19,331
(Trip = 8,961)
KM END =
19,620 (Trip = 9,250)
> Sparti > Constantine > Athens
I think I have
beaten Kiki to the bakery thismorning to get the pastries, but as I choose what
to bring back to the house she rolls in and bullys her way into paying for them!
Fresh coffee at breakfast and Grandma pops in to say goodbye – very sweet
considering its a bit of an effort to get over to the house (she’s in her
90’s) and also cannot speak a word of our language. The hospitality down here
has been nothing short of fantastic, and Pierpaolo and I are sad we cannot stay
a few more days to soak more of it up.
“never the same road twice” philosophy, we retrace our route back to
Constantine. Like listening to a Led Zeppelin album backwards, riding the same
road in an opposite direction is a totally different experience. Not that there
were subliminal messages in the road signs advocating the worship of Satan –
but the inversion of the previous days corners, cambers and view of the horizon
result in a ride different from the one we remembered the day before.
and despite the nerves caused by cars flying past at Grand Prix Speed and
commuting motorcyles in 200km/h tuck shooting between the lanes, there is the
good feeling of coming back to a city we both know and love. One of the reasons
we can afford a smile tonight is that we have dug deep in cash and frequent
flyer points and splurged on a night at the Hilton, one of the best hotels in
the world. Rooms overlooking the Acropolis and a rooftop bar with the best
sunset and most glamorous clientele in the Mediterranean – it makes the night
spent on the floor of the Berber tent seem worth it all.
I have called
on a great friend, Evi, to see if she can find a place where the bikes can be
serviced, and in her usual “anything is possible” style, she already has the
mechanics on standby and the tickets for our next ferry crossing all sorted and
under control. The bike shop, VGR-Team Yamaha (firstname.lastname@example.org)
seems to be the storage depot for every 2 wheeled motor racing trophy in Greece,
with father (track) and son (enduro) enjoying plenty of success in their
careers. A family run business with terrific service – it’s a pleasure to
leave the bikes with them for the evening and head up to the famous Galaxy Bar
on the top floor of the Hilton.
It’s all too
comfortable at the bar chatting with Evi, looking out onto the ruins with
cocktail in hand, but Pierpaolo manages to extricate himself from his seat and
meet up with Fortis, a guy that used to drive us to the office each day when we
worked in Athens in 2005. We wish each other a good night and talk about plans
to meet up by the pool tomorrow sometime after the evening’s refreshments have
9th and 10th
KM START = 19,620
(Trip = 9,250
KM END =
19,644 (Trip = 9,274 )
> Piraeus > Kos > Bodrum (Turkey)
mattress was a few shades better than the one I slept on at the Hotel Bastardos
in Licata, no doubt about that. A divine sleep in and a poolside club sandwhich
for brunch – life in Athens is pretty damn good!
Evi takes us
up to the motorbike shop in the afternoon where the bikes have had a full blood
transfusion and fettle so that they can stand up to the next 10,000km thrown at
them. The team in the shop are again wonderful, and after taking some pictures
of a gorgeous 1978 BMW R100 they just restored for the managers missus (how many
bikers dream of a relationship where bikes get ADDED to the garage and not
REMOVED!) its off to the port of Piraeus to catch our ferry.
Its only been
a short time in mainland Greece but we leave with big smiles on the dials –
these guys really know how to look after guests and they do it in such a
Our ferry trip
is to Kos, where we will spend a night before boarding a short 1 hour ferry to
Bodrum, Turkey. The ferry offloads us unceremonially at 5AM in the morning –
early enough to catch the streams of people staggering out of the bars in town,
but not late enough for us to avoid a breakfast menu of either kebab meat or
synthetic Twinkies. Daylight swells across the cobbled streets, revealing that
the girl that bloke was snogging probably was not a supermodel as he originally
thought, and the fact that we have, by accident, found ourselves in a pretty
cool place. The walled entrance to the old town has a gargantuan bougainvillea
growing from it, resplendent in both colour and scale. Cats are the custodians
of village life here, and the pace of life here appears to rumble along in a way
that meets with their approval.
Filling out a
day and an evening here is easy, and between the beach, the cafes and the
restaurants, 24 hours glide by without fuss.
of our departure, we stump up 130 EUR for the 1 hour ferry to Bodrum (ouch!)
land in Turkey and fall victim to the customs police. There are things you can
only find out when you are on the road, and unfortunately the motoring
definition of “Europe” is one of them. The customs officials here are
perhaps one of the few people in this country who will resist Turkey’s bid to
join the EU, stating in no uncertain terms that our European stated coverage on
the insurance policy does not cover us for driving beyond the gates of this
Now all these
details were checked thoroughly before we left on the trip, and our Insurance
Policy was extended to cover Morocco, Turkey, the Ukraine and other countries
bordering the EU. A phone call to the UK helpline confirms this, but Mr Uniform
here insists on seeing documentation specifically stating Turkish coverage which
at 6PM on a Sunday our English company cannot provide.
obvious the guy is working an angle to extract some cash from us, and
conveniently he says that he can help arrange insurance for 15 EUR per bike. A
bit of protest from us stating that we already have insurance, but he is on the
phone trying to line up some for us, but with no luck as everyone has buggered
off home for the night. In the end we come to an arrangement whereby we leave
our documentation for the bikes with him and ride off to the hotel, and tomorrow
we can come back and he can get the bikes insured for 35 GBP each. Didn’t he
just say 15 EUR?! Oh shit, he’s seen my UK passport and has me figured for a
daft tourist with wads of cash to liberally plough into his retirement fund.
On our way to
the hotel, we meet a Danish guy on a BMW F650 who has travelled all the way from
India, clocking up 44,000 km along the way. Makes us feel like bantam weights!
Poolside room at the hotel, dump the bags and head out to grab some dinner at
one of the many harbourside restaurants.
The port of
Bodrum is in a magnificent setting with deep blue waters, old stone retaining
walls and a backdrop of cypress green mountains. Our Lonely Planet guide states
this is the Monte Carlo of Turkey, and by looking at the boats that are moored
here its a very easy connection to make.
A set price
dinner of magnificent fish and a bottle of wine is pure delight, but when the
bill comes it all seems a bit too Monte Carlo. 60 EUR a bottle for the house
wine, a domestic Turkish offering from last year is optimistic to the point of
delusionary. And 30 EUR of unordered extras. Bastards! Everyone seems like they
are trying to stitch us up in this place. This all comes as an unpleasant
discovery for me. We have been pretty well guarded throughout the trip in North
Africa – to now get taken for a ride twice in 2 hours in a country I have
trodden in 4 times before without being ripped off, well its all a bit
discouraging. We haggle the bill, give the waiter his victory and resolutely
avoid any spruikers efforts to sell us 35 EUR Tickets to the flash but empty
clubs in town.
A thimble of
Martini Bianco and a sheesha pipe with Pierpaolo in a lounge bar, and I reflect
that either a) Bodrum is a beautiful yet unrepresentative part of Turkey, or b)
that the whole country stands downwind from the Euro and now everyone has caught
a waft and wants a piece of the action.
KM START = 19,685
(Trip = 9,315)
KM END =
19,842 (Trip = 9,472 )
birthday today, and I can think of better ways of spending it than trying to
arrange Turkish motoring insurance. But needs must, and in the next 90 minutes,
Pierpaolo fixes the computer network at the insurance office and we walk out
with our insurance certificates costing 4 EUR each! The people in the office are
lovely, and it feels doubly good not to be giving the customs officer 1 cent of
surprised and dejected that we have figured out his insurance selling scam, but
presented with all the required and requested paperwork he has no choice but to
give us our documentation and wish us good riddance. Good riddance it is,
because as we are packing our bags onto the bikes at the hotel, the Danish
Swimsuit Modelling Team checks in for 5 days and promptly strip down to dental
floss bikinis and take their perches by the pool. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
road riding North of Bodrum is spectacular for the first 20 kilometres. A lovely
blend of cambered corners, set above a sea of glistening molten sapphire with
corn blue skies our roof for the morning. After this it turns into a pretty
ordinary highway, but the gnarled ashphalt is monstrous, and we feel it shaking
the bike and grinding its teeth on the tread of our tires.
Pamucak is billed by the Lonely Planet as an idyllic setting, one of the best
beaches in Turkey with beach bungalows instantly reminiscent of those on the
southern islands of Thailand. Well I guess that all depends on what sort of
pancakes the author was eating for breakfast each morning on Koh Samui. The
campground bungalow spot has a very surly po faced Czech couple now running it,
and despite it being completely empty and recommended at 20 EUR in peak season,
they are doing their best to separate us from 50 EUR for a night at their
establishment. Nice try fellas, but neither
of us are in the mood for being ripped off by crap amateurs.
1 kilometre up
the road to the newly built Turcu motor club and everything gets a lot better.
The owner is a super keen biker and genuinely welcomes us into his clean
premises with helpful staff buzzing around but not intruding. The place is brand
new, but there are dogs with
wagging tails, some newly arrived cats, a few tortoises, peacocks and some
horses about that give it the feeling of being run by someone with a soul.
A trip down to
the beach to confirm that the Lonely Planet has oversold it, but still an
ordinary day on the beach beats a good day in the office. That is until the wind
comes. By the time 5 knobs on quad bikes come down and start throwing up even
more sand to pepper our skin with, we are wishing for the days of a keyboard and
meetings where people say “We are where we are, but let me run this up the
flagpole...”. A good dinner, some cold beers and even a complemetary ice cream
from the boss (one of the staff had to ride 5km to get it!) and the good vibe is
once again restored.
KM START = 19,842
(Trip = 9,472 )
KM END =
20,248 (Trip = 9,878)
> Izmir > Troy
pretty much panned in our guide book, but our 100km trip up the road reveals a
large but interesting and well situated coastal city. We have come here to meet
a friend of mine, Tugba for lunch, before pressing on up towards Gallipoli
tonight. Navigating our way to the meeting point in town is a frightening
proposition without a decent map of the city, but a guy in his fifties at
a bus stop on the outskirts of town is going in that direction and offers
to jump on the back of my bike and guide us in. Offer taken!
Lunch on the
waterfront is great, and by the time we have finished and looked at the clocks a
few hours has passed with many hundreds of kilometres still to ride in the day.
We say our goodbyes and continue the journey north.
city and the countryside, the Islamic mosques make a huge impression on us. In
North Africa, these buildings were a simple display of Tetris shaped Bauhaus
minimalism, but the ones here in Turkey are all beautiful fluid geometry with
exquisite ornate detail on every square inch.
The road is
good but the kilometres are hard fought, and by dusk it becomes clear that
despite our best intentions we will not make it to Gallipoli tonight. We change
our objective to the ancient city of Troy, and the last 100km is a roller
coaster ride up and across a coastal mountain range. Riding with a cocktail
worthy sunset on our left we can make out what appears to be beautiful coast
line, but the enveloping darkness veils the beauty of the landscape like a
strategic bed sheet in a Hollywood sex scene. You can sort of make out what’s
going on, but can’t see the interesting details.
Its 10:30 PM
and pitch black when we get to Troy – the restaurant we pull into is just
about to close, but he stays open and his neighbour has rooms for us for the
night. Hip hip hooray! We are pretty knackered, so decide to quickly check in
and go check what’s on offer at the restaurant.
Not just food
it appears! Stop me if you’ve heard this setup before...walking in the front
door we are greeted by the sight of 2 bored looking girls in glittering spray on
skirts. Material must be expensive in Turkey as these waitresses can’t afford
much of it, and the meagre amounts of fabric are struggling to contain their
leaping cleavage and the general disinterest of their body language. There’s a
guy up front - tonight’s entertainment - sitting with a keyboard on a desolate
stage, and a table of 4 local cab drivers throwing up thick plumes of cigarette
smoke into the air. A man who could well be John Prescott’s long lost
Bulgarian brother comes up and suggests the chicken wings might be good for
dinner, as it’s the only thing the “chef” can find in his freezer tonight.
this would be cue for any normal person to excuse themselves as they are in fact
scheduled to be meeting their friends in the place just down the road. But this
looks like our only chance of food in the next 12 hours and the taxi drivers
look to be drinking, praise Allah, cold beer so we go for the wings and beer
option in the sketchy surrounds.
and Mr Prescov comes and sits down and starts chatting with us (well Pierpaolo)
in the only languages we have in common, German and cigarettes. He assures us
the chicken will be wonderful, but later tonight there is a big party with lots
of beautiful girls here, and we should stick around and meet some of them and
see if we like them. Amazingly enough he happens to have the phone numbers of 2
of these girls and starts phoning them trying to get them to come and join us at
the restaurant. The synthesiser cabaret restaurant brothel concept is certainly
an interesting business proposal, but tonight that’s about as far as it goes
with us, so we fabricate some story about how we are here in Troy for 3 nights
and tonight we are feeling a bit shattered (that much was true at least) and
perhaps we won’t make the desired first impression on the beautiful ladies.
for all you travellers to far flung lands – NEVER say you are in town for one
night! If you would like to better acquaint yourself with the physique of
attractive ladies, the “just here for one night” line is the pheremonic
equivalent of spraying dog shit all over yourself before stepping out the door.
And to any local hospitality opportunist out there, you may as well tattoo
“Shag me for all my money” on your forehead. The prospect of being in town
for a few days means that a hasty one night stand metamorphoses into a more
respectable “brief fling”, and that the bar owner shouldn’t rip us off
tonight (or kill us, in our case) as we will be sure to come back and frequent
his fine establishment over the next days and piss away large sums of foreign
currency into his tills. This was our lesson in Bodrum and will rank as my
second greatest learnig of this trip, number one being the declaration of my
Latvian nationality when asked “Where you from?!” by annoying street
the food is good, but the Bulgarian Bulldog is doing his best to stall our exit
by giving us free beer, cigarettes and peanuts so salty they give you an
unquenchable thirst for the free beer - which sure enough will result in a
predictable spiral of decline. Just before we pull ourselves up from the seats,
one of these “beautiful ladies” arrives and sits down at our table.
Thankfully there is a language barrier more insurmountable than the Berlin Wall,
as she speaks no English, Italian, French, Spanish or German. We do a few studio
yawns, excuse ourselves and say we look forward to coming back tomorrow night
– yes, book us a table for 10PM, that would be lovely...
to our bed, Pierpaolo and I are laughing hard at the night that was –
Pierpaolo explaining that the word “Troia” in Italian actually means
prostitute! How fitting.
KM START = 20,248
(Trip = 9,878)
KM END =
20,641 (Trip = 10,271 )
> Cannakale > Gallipoli > Istanbul
“How was the
party last night?” asks the owner of the pension over breakfast. “The food
was great!” I reply, being as obtuse as humanly possible.
evident that we will not be basking in the archaelogical wonders of Troy for the
next 3 days. Sure, there is a great amphitheatre and an authentic reconstruction
of the horse they wish they didn’t let in, but with both of us having been to
Rome and Pompeii, what’s on offer here feels like a pale imitation of what we
have already seen.
Looking at the
postcards of the ruins in the shop (cheaper then shelling out 10 EUR entry and
saves the hassle of walking in 35 degree heat for 2 hours), it hits you that the
Romans either knew how to party, or were a bit miffed at having to surrender
their city while it was in perfect working order. The amphitheatre is the only
recognisable building left, as on their forced departure they trashed the city
like a coke fuelled rock star does a Walldorf suite. Trashing an amphitheatre
with 80 ft marble seats 1 ft thick? Think we’ll put that one in the “too
destination today is to cross the straight at Canakkale and drive through the
war fields of Gallipoli. Turkey and Australia share a unique relationship in
that we are probably the only 2 countries in the world that looked each other
down the barrel of a rifle 90 years ago, but can now share a beer and admiration
for all those that gave their lives on both sides of this battleground.
As they say in
comedy, timing is everything. And today I am thankful that my entry to this part
of the world sees me enjoying 32 degrees, a pleasant breeze rolling off the sea
and a ride across a well vegetated landscape. Back in 1915, a timing error of 90
years, I would have probably been busy comparing trench foot with my colleagues
and having my navel blown out my arse if I dared to peep my head above the
choking mud. Generation X, you never had it so good, so take your Slipknot and
Cannibal Corpse branded teenage angst and send it straight back to the record
companies from whence it came.
We stop for a
swim 80km out from Istanbul, and when we get back on the bikes we find we are
sucked into the vortex of this massive city sooner than expected. 50 kilometres
out and the buildings start clustering in clumps, giving the impression that
this city of 16 million people is like a US cinema sized bucket of popcorn, with
whole suburbs spilling over the rim and onto the surrounding floor. 16
million...just think about that number for a moment and what it means... it’s
boggling! Like the entry into Athens, the cars are flying past at supersonic
speeds, a favourite being the Merc’ed Turks – wealthy businessmen in late
model black Mercedes with dark tinted glass and an aversion to applying the
brakes or rules of the road.
We arrange to
meet a good friend of mine Berna, and she guides us back to her flat 15 minutes
from the old centre of town. We go out for dinner in Sultanahmet, and it’s a
pleasure to watch Pierpaolo’s reaction as he sees Aya Sofia and the Blue
Mosque for the first time. Bats are circling the spires of the Blue Mosques
minarets, and it results in a scene that is truly mesmerising. Your first visit
to Istanbul is something that stays with you for life.
just as I remember it – good fun, great atmosphere and a lack of the
hospitality hustlers that Bodrum shelters. Dinner is superb and at home we meet
up with Berna’s flatmate Lefi, have a nightcap and share a good babble. We
feel truly welcome here, and the city has opened its arms to us – tomorrow is
a rest day for us and we both look forward to rummaging around this town and
drinking it all in.
REST DAY – ISTANBUL
Istanbul is a
city custom made for embarrasingly under researched travellers such as
ourselves. There is so much to see and soak up within a 1km radius of Aya Sofia,
all you have to do is start from here and endeavour to get as lost as possible.
You may not know exactly what you are seeing, which band of invaders built it or
what its original purpose was, but its all inspiring and exotic, and extorts the
requisite number of “wows!” expected of the great sights of the world.
But before we
set off on such a mission, there is business to attend to and meetings to be
conducted. Despite our growing skill and fondness for avoiding gainful
employment these past 7 weeks, both Pierpaolo and I have sadly left ourselves
open to the idea of holding down a job some day in the future. As such we have
been taking phone calls along this trip from the IT recruitment sharks in
England, who have dug up our CV’s
on the internet and are keen to place us - at exhorbitant commission - with
various unsuspecting clients.
Now the secret
in any game, whether it be employment, real estate, selling cars or dating is to
give off the illusion that what you have to offer is highly desirable and in
great demand, and should the prospective bidder posess such great insight as to
make you an offer on your wares, then maybe, just maybe it might be their lucky
day and perhaps you will entertain the idea of transacting with them.
someone rings you enquiring as to whether you are available for work, it’s
never a good idea to say “Work? Oh please! Me and my mate have been fart
arsing around on bikes for 2 months through Africa and the bits of Europe you
can’t pronounce – we’re skint soon and gagging for cash, whaddya have?!”
No! No! No! That simply won’t do!
In fact there
is a total art to feigning employment and desirability, as anyone who has seen
the antics of George Kastanza in Seinfeld can espouse. Those long days on the
bike when you can’t answer your mobile phone metamorphose into “critical 5
hour project meetings” and the background noise of trucks coming on and off at
the ferry ports, if overheard by one of the recruiters in a phone call, are
explained as “trucks in the dispatch area of the warehouse where we are
providing post go-live system support”. Yes, always best to bluff it that you
are extremely busy, but today you will oh so generously grant them 2 minutes of
your time and listen to what they have to offer you.
Today I have a
second interview with a company, so I have to find a spot with similar
background noise to a very important and efficient running IT project. An empty
internet café does just perfectly. Phone introductions are all done easily
enough, but then the interview is run for the next hour by a fellow with an
Indian accent thicker than week old dhal. There are only so many ways you can
phrase “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that – can you please repeat the
question for me?” without giving the guy a complex and hindering your chances.
Pierpaolo is laughing in the chair next to me, either at the sorry site of me
trying to stay professional in a Monty Pythonesque interview or the desperation
of our situation – that we are unemployed and being interviewed (and
subsequently rejected!) by an outsourced Indian IT organisation. Well I will
have a laugh at Pierpaolos expense in about 4 hours...
Enough of that
– time to get our heads above the ground and see the wonders of the city. The
Blue Mosque is as good a starting point as any, and we head towards the entry
with mouths agog and chins dragging on the pavement. For me, this building
represents the point where the tangible world (physics, maths, geometry and
beauty) collide magnificently to celebrate the intangible world of religion. The
scale and the detail of everything here is boggling – there is a picture of
Pierpaolo standing by an enormous marble pillar, one of about 12 holding the
domed roof closer to the heavens above. Its about 80ft tall, and diameter wise
Pierpaolo looks like a grissini propped up against a giant redwood.
Underground Cisterna, one of the enormous water storage facilities built by the
Romans is next visited – like an enormous underground Olympic pool, hewn from
stone, beautifully lit and providing wonderful cool reprise from the swelling
heat outside. Interesting to read that when this was built it was filled not
with local water, but with water carried in from forests 26km outside of the
town. The lads working on that part of the job must have felt that they were
trying to fill a lake with a thimble.
“must visit” sight is the Grand Bazaar, kind of like your Westfield or
Lakeside shopping centre, but in a 1000 year old retro stylie. To our surprise,
the hawkers and the traders in here are the least annoying of all the markets we
have been to on the trip so far. Our general disinterest in their knock-off
Diesel clothing, overpriced carpets and Real Madrid football shorts is met with
a polite shrug and a smile... I do love Istanbul! The brochures and guides claim
that the Grand Bazaar has an atmosphere similar to that of 1000 years ago when
the great traders offered the wares from their global wanderings to an astounded
and appreciative clientele. Whether or not Marco Polo came back from the East
with saffron, pasta and fake Louis Vuitton luggage sets is something the
historians are yet to agree on.
At the exit of
the Grand Bazaar, its Pierpaolo’s turn to go through the interview farce...I
think today he’s pretending to be working at the head office of a large
Pharmaceutical company in the UK. In a bustling street he manages to find a
quiet spot where we can talk semi intelligently to the recruiter. But you are
never far from a mosque in this town, and sure enough after 30 seconds his cover
of the quiet UK office is blown apart by the muezzin calling the population to
prayer. Now for those of you who have not heard this rallying call, it’s a bit
like a baritone cow singing to the heavily amplified and distorted tune of an
Air Raid Siren. I am in tears laughing up the road from him... its too loud to
have any semblance of a conversation, so he and the interviewer agree to call
back when that strange background noise (Fire alarm? Broken photocopier?) has
died down a bit.
Berna has organised something nice for the afternoon, so we go and meet her and a friend, Fetiyeh, after work and then head down to the water for a sunset cruise on the Bosphorus. Unsurpisingly the sunsets on cue, throwing out the usual Skittles colours across the horizon – then it’s a 10 metre shuffle off the boat and into one of the harbourside restaurants for a superb fish dinner washed down with a bottle of white wine. As far as evenings on the road go, it doesn’t get any better than this but we try our luck and decide to go and seek out some live music too. A small Blues club in Taksim is chosen and for 90 minutes we have a few beers and listen to a fantastic band doing a mixture of Turkish classics (surprisingly enjoyable) and some great interpretations of some rock and jazz standards. The lead singer is one of those lucky sods that wakes up every morning loving the prospect of going to work – his voice is flawless and soulful, and by the time we have chomped down our 2AM Taksim burger (an essential dietary supplement to ward off the impending evils of excessive alcohol consumption) we are in a taxi home to spend our last night in this amazing city. It all seems over too fast and that we have only disrupted the surface molecules on what this place has to offer.