All posts for the month June, 2015

Eceabat to Istanbul

Tuesday 30th June

Distance travelled today (approx) – 300km.

Refueled the bike in Eceabat, before heading north to Istanbul. The service station attendant offered us a tea but we’d already put our helmets back on so we politely declined and got rolling just after 10:00am. Took the D550 north past Gelibolu (Gallipoli) before veering right and picking up the bumpy D120 back-road to Sarkoy on the coast.

My hope was to pass along the hills called the Tekir Dagi as I’d read that they were the strategic objective of the assault on Gallipoli, and I wasn’t disappointed as the road first ran between the base of the cliffs and the Sea of Marmara, and then it climbed up into the mountains and at times seemed to almost fall off the cliffs into the sea below. Whilst the GPS was telling me that this road was unsealed it was beautifully sealed and an absolute pleasure to ride on.

We passed through a number of sleepy fishing villages before getting into a more coastal holiday region near Tekirdig, and it’s here we joined the dual carriage 110 running toward Istanbul.

I’d intended to stay on the more minor of the major roads but we got sucked onto the main E80 about 20km west of Istanbul and had a roller coaster ride into the this city of 14 million people, most of whom were out driving their cars this afternoon and few if any know how to drive safely. At times I rode down the breakdown lane as this was safer than being on the road, as lane markings mean absolutely fuck-all over here and collecting a motorcycle must score bonus points as some drivers seemed to almost target us deliberately.

The GPS peeled us off the main road and the manic driving abated for a few seconds whilst I was on the off-ramp, before long we were back on another shitmixer of a road, just now we had other things to contend with like trucks being serviced on the road and other obstacles. Again the GPS encouraged me to turn onto a smaller road, and we ended up riding across a confusing array of back streets that defied gravity – they were so steep I couldn’t even contemplate trying to turn the bike up onto them, so I baled out and tried to approach our hotel from another angle.

Finally pulled up outside the hotel as shown by the chequered flag on my GPS, but the hotel name didn’t match up with what we had booked via that morning and when Karen investigated we found out we were at the wrong address – I’m still learning how to read the way addresses are written here in Turkey. The hotel manager contacted the other property, explained our dilemma (I’d got us lost – just by about 500m – but in this spaghetti road system that’s as good as 500km), and the other hotel kindly cancelled our booking and we lobbed in where I’d pulled up, as quite honestly I’d had enough of the drivers around here and my good nature was wearing a bit thin.

the staff of the Emerald a Hotel helped us carry our gear to our room, and we’ve booked in for three nights – I fought so hard to get here I’m going to stay for a while, plus I need a chance to chill out before I go riding out there again. Parked the bike in a secure, undercover car park across the road, and after a shower and change into our off-bike clothes we walked a few hundred metres up the road to Taksim Square. I recognised this name as it was mentioned in an ABC news article just a few days ago.

Heaps of people were walking around the square – it’s obviously a popular place for both tourists and locals alike. We had a cheap but enjoyable and filling dinner in a restaurant just around the corner from the square, and Karen bought some small Turkish sweets as a ‘thank you’ for the hotel staff who helped us out this afternoon.

We’ve booked onto a 1/2 day walking tour of the ‘Byzantian Relics’ tomorrow morning, and will see some fascinating sights including the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, so check back tomorrow and see how our exploration of Istanbul worked out 🙂

Gallipoli, Turkey

Monday 29th June

Approx distance ridden today – 150km.

Karen and I had a pleasant breakfast at our Gune Hotel (I had Nutella on the freshest of breads whilst Karen had the traditional village breakfast featuring olives, cheeses and salamis), and then we went for a walk around the nearby markets to see the market life. It was fascinating watching the fruit and vegetable merchants hand-polishing each and every tomatoe with a cloth. We went to buy some bananas and cherries from the kind man who’d given is some bananas yesterday afternoon and we shared a cup of tea with him, but when we went to pay for our fruit he declined our offered money.

After loading the bike and a final farewell to Aladdin and the fruit seller – we’d given Aladdin our growing collection of loose change in the hope he may be inspired to travel or maybe just collect coins – we headed back to the D550 and south toward Gallipoli.

As it was approaching lunchtime I turned west off the main road and headed down a bumpy backroad to a coastal fishing & holiday village, and we pulled up at a little shady restaurant overlooking the beach. We got chatting to two young couples on holiday from their jobs in Istanbul – they are heading towards Greece, both of the guys ride bikes, and one guy said that the GSA is his dream bike, so we had a lot to chat about. Karen and I shared a delicious lunch of roast chicken and salad – the vegetables in the salads here in Turkey are so fresh it’s as if they have just been picked, and as we started to gear up to leave the young couples walked over and insisted on a round of photos with the bike.

After heading further down the main D550 towards Eceabat and a couple of false starts we found our way west, heading out to Anzac Cove. Without a detailed map and unable to read the Turkish signs it wasn’t easy to find our way there.

We stopped first at an area where I could see some large maps and informative panels, and from there I could get my bearings. We remounted and rode slowly up the coast to Anzac Cove – a narrow strip of beach that looks so peaceful. A bit further up the coast we stopped at the large comemorative site and read the placards there. We’d been leap-frogging one of the many tour coaches a few times and the coach driver gave me a large scale fold-out map of the area – a thoughtful gesture and one really appreciated.

I was quite surprised by the number of tourists and tour coaches – it appears to be a booming industry. The coaches and coach drivers were all local but they sported some Australian names – Crowded House Tours, RSL Tours, True Blue Tours etc – marketing for a purpose I guess.

We rode up to Lone Pine Cemetary, and had a contemplative walk around. One grave was marked with the inscription “He has changed his faded coat of brown for a shawl of white.” This soldier was 20 years old.

Karen was a bit incensed that no Australian flags were flying anywhere  – the only Australian flag we saw was inside the memorial tomb at Lone Pine, and this was a contrast to the war graves and memorials we had seen France and Belgium as they were flying German flags alongside their own flags.

We continued along the one-way road and stopped at a memorial featuring a gigantic Turkish soldier, and we had a welcome drink of cold water from one of the stalls nearby as we were cooking in the hot afternoon sun.

We bade farewell to Anzac Cove and headed back to the eastern side of the peninsula. Low on fuel I headed south to Eceabat, then suggested that we stay there for the night, rather than ride north as I’d originally intended. We cruised slowly through the dusty town and arrived at the ferry port, overlooked by the Grand Eceabat Hotel.

Karen arranged a room for the night and secure parking for the bike, and then after a shower and change of clothes we walked around the block and then along the beachfront, which was all restaurants and souvenir shops. Some of the restaurants had quite tacky names I thought – I wouldn’t dine at ‘Restaurant 1915’ on the simple principle of things.

Across the road and overlooking the beach was a chilling sculpture – a life size replica of the trenches, with statues of Turkish and Anzac  troops facing off against each other just metres away. Next to this huge sculpture, complete with bomb casings, was a large diorama of the peninsula, showing the location of the battlefields, cemeteries, and resting places of ships sunk off the coast. Overlooking these two features was a massive sculpture of perhaps a dozen Turkish soldiers, towering up and over the dioramas, and busts of the Turkish military leaders who led the defence. Turkish military pride runs deep around here, judging by the signs we’ve seen. At the same time, it was humbling to see the number of Australians and New Zealanders who have made the pilgrimage to Anzac Cove, and their pride was no less palpable.



After a “village” breakfast at the Devin Spa Hotel (included in our room rate of 42.50 Euro) we packed up the ANIMAL and hit the road. We had originally planned to head north for about 550km to Motocamp….where well known HU member, Doug Wathke, and his Bulgarian girlfriend, Polly, have set up MotoCamp Bulgaria which is a hotel, café and campsite for bikers and the first of its kind in Eastern Europe. It is located in the small village of Idilevo at the foot of the beautiful Stara Planina mountain.  However, when we worked things out it was going to be a big ask to get there and back to the Turkish boarder in the timeframes we needed due to our Green Card Insurance for Europe running out….and Vince had heard about huge delays at the border which further compounded the problem….we decided not to chance it. We sent our apologies to Polly, who had already booked us in…..maybe next time! More info can be found at

So we just gunned it for the border instead…..which was about 4 hours to cover about 300km. Sure enough the border was packed……there was at least 5 km of trucks backed up….people were out of their now stationary vehicles…..the car line was not quite so bad….maybe about 2 km or so…..but a group of patched up bikers from Turkey were weaving their way through the traffic and so the ANIMAL tagged along…. we were lined up about 5 or cars back before we knew it….Brilliant. I dismounted and got our paperwork together……Turkey is the first place where we need to get our Carnet du Passage completed and stamped. The passport and customs people from Bulgaria were no problem…just stamping passports and waving us through customs ……then onto the Turkey boarder. Again a little bit of a wait….but nothing tragic…passports stamped but customs were not keen to deal with our carnet…..I insisted that it was important and we needed it done….I had even filled it all in for them ……all I wanted was a signature and a stamp….eventually they sent us to another building….and the girls there were nice…..Vince had warned me that our rego papers were out of date (the renewal had happened on line and we don’t have the actual current documents)….so I did some distraction talking to the girls asking them if they had been busy and saying what a lovely country they must have since so many people are lined up to come in etc….they softened and smiled and told me about some places I must go see……and luckily the expired date was not detected……everything in order…..a sticker with a barcode was put onto the ANIMAL and as we passed through the final customs inspection point we were scanned and sent on our way. I was pretty pleased with myself… borders can be difficult and stressful…and as we travel further East…..more complicated. All up it took us about an hour and a half…..brilliant! Vince was really chuffed with how things went as well….he says I’m just the bomb! It will be his turn to do all this when we get to Iran and Pakistan….as they won’t want to deal with a woman… it will be all up to him!

Now in Turkey, we then did a further 200km to arrive at Uzunkopri for the night, stopping enroute at Edrine for lunch. We were sitting at a little cafe when another biker arrived…..he was passing through on his way home (he is Croatian but lives in Germany)….saw the ANIMAL and had to stop and say hello. He was a highly entertaining fellow called Mato. He chatted to us at length about his many travels and made us a gift of a sticker for the ANIMAL, as well as a Croatian flag sticker. We gave him a 2 up adventures sticker which he immediately put onto his own bike. He was a lot of fun.

In Uzunkopri we stopped at the first hotel we saw…. the Gunes Hotel….at the tidy sum of 100 TL (Turkish Lera)….we had three single beds to choose from in a very old and shabby room, overlooking the markets frequented by scavenging dogs and cats. The ANIMAL was parked in the alley beside the hotel which the owner assured us was safe! (Despite our concerns she was still there, unharmed in the morning.)

After freshening up we took a short walk through the streets and market where we met a young boy, with a long unpronounceable name, whom we have nicknamed “Aladin”. He was helping in a stall with a man….who we established was not his father….and when I asked to take his photo it became almost a family snapshot. The shop owner gave Vince and I a banana each….they were really yummy. No one could speak English and we of course can’t speak Turkish…..but none the less it was a lovely interaction. We told him, as best we could, that we would come back in the morning and buy some cherries to take with us.

We found a small cafe and Vince had dinner…..I shared a little of it….as my tummy was still not that great, and I didn’t want to upset it more….what I did eat was delicious….the food in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey is all fantastic….so fresh and tasty….it makes me question the quality of what we get back home.

We had an early night, as Vince was in quite a bit of pain from the long ride today….tomorrow should be a shorter day.

Not really… actual “hunting” even though our Guides were from the Hunting and Fisheries Association….just a Bear Observation Tour in the Mountains outside of Devin (Bulgaria)….but more about that a little later!

We were in Trigrad overnight and had a late start (Vince wanted to sleep in) followed by our breakfast which we did’t realise was included until Katia (our hostess) had her husband come and fetch us. It was unusual….salami and cheese with Chai tea ….but I am getting a bit better at trying new things now. Katia had taken a shine to me and introduced me to her daughter in law and baby granddaughter (Katerina) who is just 10 months old. We took some photos much to their delight, including some of her with us. We said goodbye like old friends kissing on both cheeks as they do here in Bulgaria, before heading off to the Devils Throat (see link below), a nearby cave. However, no one spoke English and the cave seemed to be closed except to Bus Tour Groups….so we didn’t actually end up going in (

We then headed directly to Devin, only a short 25km ride where we booked into the Devin Spa Resort (42 Euro for a double with breakfast). Situated in the very heart of a natural phenomenon – the Rhodopean massif, at 710 m above sea level, in the center of the town. The SPA Centre of the hotel combines the unique therapeutic advantages of mineral springs, for which the town is known. I had a hot stone massage whilst I was there and it only cost 29 Euro….very relaxing for my aching muscles after some long ride days. Vince caught up on emails, and then went for a walk into town to chase up some batteries for the SPOT (as they have gone flat after 3 months of daily use).

The Bear Observation Tours have been running for around 6 or 7 years and we are the first Australian’s they have had. Our meeting time was 5.oopm out the front of the hotel and our guides, Danny (who spoke some English and has been a guide for around 10 years) and Vladimere (Guide Leader for about 25 years) were waiting with their beat up Suzuki Vitara that had seen better days. We had already agreed on the price of 150 Lek (about 75 Euro) for the tour in total. I was a bit surprised by the condition of the vehicle but we piled in with Vlad driving, Vince in the front and us girls in the back. Danny’s English was very basic but we asked a few questions about what to expect….it soon became clear that we were ill-prepared. It was a 40 min 4 wheel drive adventure up the mountain, with flashbacks from my recent experience in Albania. Vince was in his element enjoying every minute. Then we had a 20 min SILENT hike up a steep mountain track that eventually disappeared into the scrub…and as we followed our Guides, who were obviously fitter than us, I found myself getting stabbed in the legs with stinging nettles and other jagged plants and of course then it started to rain! Whose bright idea was this one….oh wait a minute MINE!

We eventually came out into a more open clearing but still had a steep climb up to the Hide. I was bursting for the toilet, and so was Vince, but we just had to hold on… total for the next 5 hours! Once inside the Hide we had to sit SILENTLY with binoculars (loaned from Danny) looking. From 6.00pm – 8.00pm nothing happened. The most entertainment I got was watching a mosquito bang itself repeatedly against the glass pain in front of me. It would occasionally leave the glass and fly around me….I made a silent deal that if it left me alone it could live….but one bite and it would be squish time! Luckily it left me be…but I found out later it did bite Vince on the finger. Around 8.00 three wild dogs appeared and scavenged around but then left. I was getting really bored and decide to ask to go around 9.00pm if nothing had happened. But as 9.00 approached a male deer (around 9-10 years old) appeared and we watched him for a while…. a female also appeared fleetingly but I only managed to see her running off. Another hour went by and I was at my wits end….I couldn’t really talk to Vince but at 10.00pm managed to get the message that I wanted to go….It was now pitch black and I don’t see well at night (so I could not have seen any bears by then if they had come)….I was highly stressed about 1. getting back along the almost non existent track down the mountain, especially after the rain and on the steep incline and 2. although we hadn’t seen a bear we knew that this was the territory of at least three, a female, adolescent cub and a male ….we might not be able to see them but I still didn’t want to be dinner on the way home! Danny and Vlad had to give us flashlights … as we hadn’t realised we would need any…. it was less arduous physically going downhill….but slippery in places due to the rain….I was so happy to see that clapped-out Suzuki in our flashlights. Another gruelling 4×4 decent down the mountain for 40min with my bladder about to burst….and I had also been having some tummy trouble….so that was a further worry…but we were then happily back outside our hotel. Danny told us as we had not seen the bears they would reduce the price by 100Lek, but Vince and I agreed that that would not be fair….and the proceeds help support the bears….so we actually ended up giving them 160 Lek….as we didn’t have change.

Lesson learnt….when embracing an adventure opportunity…..check out ALL the facts first…..even if there are language barriers…..FIND A WAY so you can BE PREPARED!

Noisy guests in our hotel (50 Euros including breakfast) managed to keep me awake most of the night and after breakfast we thought we could get a quick start to the day….only to find that Greece is an hour ahead of Albania, so instead of 8.00am it was already 9.00am. I have had to use two tie down straps to hold my jacket together as the zip is completely buggered. After yesterdays issues with my senna falling off and my braces whipping my neck in the wind because my jacket couldn’t close I thought it best to secure it somehow….Vince says it’s a new line of Adventure Riding Lingerie ….NOT!

It was only about 40km to the Greek border, so after refueling it wasn’t long before the Greek Officials were questioning us…..Vince because he no longer looks like his passport photo (all hair, moustash and beard)….I was also asked to confirm our relationship as married….otherwise all uneventful and we were soon waiting for the other officials to stamp our passports. It was very convenient as one side of the office stamped us out of Greece and the other stamped us into Bulgaria. A short ride later and we were at the Bulgarian Customs, but the saw our Aussie Passports in my hand and just waved us through….no searching for the ANIMAL! Not that we have anything to hide …its just less time consuming not having to unpack and repack panniers, dry bags etc.

We stopped in a small village just after the border called Marino Pole and managed to buy a couple of soft drinks and chocolate bars….the prices were in Lek but they allowed us to use our Euros (2 for the lot) as we didn’t have any local currency.

We rode along the 198 scenic route which took us through to Dospat, but we stopped a little short at a local cafe near Osina to have a toilet break and some lunch…..although the owner spoke little English, we were able to sort out lunch of Mussaka with a delicious yoghurt side. Two serves, drinks and break cost us all of 12.50 Euro … as chips here! (And afterwards Karen thinks it was actually only 12.50 Lek, so she paid double perhaps).

We continued on towards Teshel, but there were no hotels there, so we headed South to Trigrad, as we saw a sign. This took us through the scenic Trigrad Gorge and past the Dyavolsko Garlo (Devils Throat Cave) and the turn off for Yagodina cave (8km out of Trigrad …part of the Buynovsko Gorge. Much of the traffic involved horse or donkey drawn vehicles….and of course we still had to watch for livestock. The biggest issue was the quality of the roads….Vince says every now and then they build a bit of road around a pot hole in Bulgaria….some of the road had subsided on the mountain side and there were many large cracks and areas where the road was sunken….a good reason never to ride at night!

A local woman flagged us down and tried to encourage us into sleeping in her house for 30 Euro, but we managed to politely fob it off and continued on our way. The hotel we had seen the sign for could only accommodate us for one night and we were hoping for two, so we backtracked to an earlier hotel we had seen ….and they too could only give us one night. Katia (sic) our host spoke no English but took quite a shine to me….she thought I was 16….way too young for Vince (haha)….she is 57 and was keen to know our ages (which we wrote down for her)….another local who spoke some English helped explain. The hotel was lovely and only cost 40 Euro for the night. We had a meal there, with a few drinks and it cost us only 21 Euro for everything.

There is a project supporting Brown Bear Observation out of Devin with a small centre near our hotel….we made contact with the organisers (Danny) and have booked a tour (150 Lek about 75 Euro) for us to hire a Jeep and a Guide and we will go tomorrow around 5.00pm for the Observation …we get to go to the cave and to stay in a hide and watch the bears…..sounds great…we can’t wait!

We woke up early again today, perhaps 05:15am or something like that, so after catching up on a few emails we walked across the road to the beach and had a refreshing swim in the sea, before returning to our beachside apartment and sorting out our packing. It was nice listening to the little village start to wake up and come alive as we sorted out our things. Breakfast was included in our room rate, no choice was given and before long we were presented with a spicy sausage omelette and coffee outside the restaurant below us. Whilst seated outside I watched two guys whiz past on a scooter, the pillion dragging a small swordfish along side him, held on tightly by its pointy nose.

After loading our bike and riding it back through the restaurant and out onto the street, we headed south towards Sarande where we would leave the coast and head inland towards the border crossing into Greece.

The coastal ride south was scenic and enjoyable – the road twisting and turning along the hills overlooking the sparkling sea. Occasionally we’d enter small villages and get squeezed down to a single file road that wound its way around the houses, before opening up as they dropped away behind us. In some places the road dropped down level with the sea, and we could see people fishing off old jetties.

The road climbed up over a range and then dropped down on the inland side, with the temperature rising accordingly and the land looking more barren. The landscape was quite surreal, as if we were looking at an ancient sea floor that had been folded up and twisted on its side. We dropped down to the plain and quickly picked up the main road running south – the SH4, and we followed this out to the border with Greece.

The midday sun was beating down on us as we queued patiently behind a small line of cars waiting to be processed by the Albanian border guards, and after our turn we followed the cars down the road a short distance to the Greek border entry. A couple of tour coaches had already pulled up here and I could see that a Greek customs officer was getting all the passengers to offload their luggage, and was signalling for some items to be taken away with their owners for further inspection.

Whilst this was happening Karen was receiving sightseeing tips and other useful bits of information from the Greek border person processing our passports. At all previous border entries Karen has been able to remain on the bike and hand over the passports and green card, but at this station she needed to alight and go visit a booth adjacent to the line of cars and motorbikes. With a bit off practice we now have a workable system in place – we ride up close to the checkpoint and I stop short, allowing Karen to get off the bike and get our passports and green card out of the top box. She then remounts and we ride up together, sometimes she ends up walking through the boarder, and once we’re through to the other side we stop and replace things back in the top box.

A small cafe just beyond the Greek checkpoint beckoned us for lunch, so we pulled over for a drink and a chance to look over our maps. Karen’s getting really good at not being too sure about what food she’s buying – now she just points to something and orders, and so we both enjoyed a cheese-filled pastry for lunch, and a coke.

Without a map of Greece we pulled together a bit of our Albanian map and a bit of our Bulgarian map to work out a plan. Unfortunately our time is running a bit short so we knew we could only spend two days maximum in Greece – nowhere as much as required, so rather than try and squeeze too much in too short a timeframe we opted to blast through north-west Greece and whiz through Thessaloniki enroute for the border crossing into Bulgaria.

The road improved as soon as we started riding away from the Albanian border, and when we got to the A2 heading east it was fabulous – if you need to do some big miles and still have a scenic view then the A2 is a great choice, as this road wound its way around and through the hills, before dropping down to a valley, only to re-enter more hills. We passed through heaps of tunnels carved in the hills, dropping down from the A2’s 130kmh speed limit to the 100kmh limit in many tunnels, and we had this high speed road all to ourselves for most of the afternoon.

At one stage Karen’s jacket unzipped itself in the wind and so we pulled off the motorway to find a fuel stop, though as I’d misread a sign we ended up cruising a few km down a side road before finding a dusty little servo. I didn’t need any fuel so we just bought a couple of drinks and a packet of wafers from the vending machine inside the small shop, and the owner had to shake and shove the machine to get it to dispense the wafers as they jammed just as they were about to drop. We enjoyed our snack and drinks at a small table outside in the shade, and the servo owner came and offered us a plate of fresh cherries, which we gladly accepted and munched down quickly as they were delicious and refreshing. He couldn’t speak any English and we can’t speak any Greek, but we both thanked him for his kindness and shook his hand, and then we rode away, both of us with crushed hands as he had the strongest handshake I’ve ever felt! The generosity he showed was really touching, and Karen and I chatted about this as we rejoined the A2 and bolted towards Thessaloniki.

Whilst our initial planning – performed months ago now – had identified Thessaloniki as a suitable overnight stop, I was keen to avoid the mayhem of a large city and so used the GPS to plot a course bypassing the city and sending us north towards Serres, the last decent-sized town on the Greek side of the border crossing with Bulgaria. The afternoon wind howled across the flat plain and constantly buffeted us, causing me concern as we were now mixing it up with a fair bit of traffic on our three lanes of road heading east to Thessaloniki.

Most of the traffic took off-ramps that led into the city, whilst we swung north and headed towards Serres. It had been a long day up to this point and Karen would have been happy to have found a hotel nearby, but we had to knock off the last 60km into Serres before the GPS found a hotel nearby for us to check into. Signs pointed to two adjacent hotels, the Alexandra and the Acropoli, and we followed a short road out of town and up a hill to the hotels. The Alexandra looked old and tired and was all boarded up, but just above it on the hill was the four star Acropoli, and for fifty euros we checked in for the evening and unloaded our luggage before riding back into town to find a restaurant for dinner.

We could see a few restaurants on the long main street as we rode along it, but they were all on the other side of the road so we looped back and pulled up outside a suitably Greek-looking restaurant. The owner could speak some English, and we ordered some Greek salads, souvlaki (for Karen) and meatballs (for me). The food was delicious and so fresh. Karen went to pay the bill (20 euro including drinks) and came back with complementary ice creams – the generosity of the Greek people we’ve met today has been lovely.

Back at our hotel it was time for a quick dip in our spa before bed. It had been a long day with approx 500km in distance clocked up – including about 80km of low-speed, technical riding along the coast and hills of Albania and a lot of high-speed riding, and some strong cross-winds to contend with, and we were both a bit worn-out, but the big push today has set us up for an easier day tomorrow as from Serres its now only 40km to Bulgaria. We’ll need to come back another time to explore Greece and do it justice.

I feel a bit compelled to describe the SH2 Motorway we rode on yesterday morning from Vore to Durres. This road offered some great safety improvements over the old road that ran alongside it, like the central barriers that seperated the oncoming traffic in an effort to reduce the risk of head-on collisions, but other safety devices have also been installed to improve the drive.

The road has a speed limit of either 90kmh or 100kmh (take your pick unless you’re driving a BMW or Mercedes as then no limits apply apparently). Where servos have been placed on the motorway, instead of having a slip road to exit the motorway, a 60kmh zone applies at the start of the servo apron.

Occasionally we could see overhead pedestrian crossings arching over the motorway, and these often signalled a ‘Dangerous Crossroad’. As we approached these crossings a sign announcing the ‘Dangerous Crossroad could be seen, and the speed limit would drop to 60kmh and then within a few metres 40kmh. A radar attached to a digital display showing your speed and a smiley or sad face would reward or admonish you depending on your detected speed. The central barrier had been removed at these crossroads to allow farm traffic and other vehicles cross the road.

The speed limits change so frequently on the roads here – motorway included – it’s hard to understand the rationale that’s been used to determine how fast you should be driving.

Then again, sitting on the roadway out the front of hotel in Himare under an umbrella enjoying a Tirana beer and watching all the scooter riders zip by without a helmet, and watching the cars roar down the short section of beachside road makes me wonder if road safety is just an afterthought over here …

Albanian Riviera

We had an early start today – it wasn’t deliberately intentional, but the road noise had started to intensify outside, and so we were up at 05:15am, and packed-loaded and on our way by 06:15am. Christoff and Christian had recommended the Logara Pass on the coast south of Vlore, enroute to the beaches of Himare, so we headed west to Durres so we could pick up the scenic SH8 and follow the coast south.

Karen was keen to get an early start to try and avoid some of the head-on drivers that we’d encountered yesterday, and by-and-large we had the roads to ourselves, even though we did get squeezed out by a big truck who didn’t just merge into our lane – he just took it over. With that said I’d had a 50/50 feeling that he’d drive over the top of us so I was anticipating the move, and so we just eased back and gave him the road he wanted. Might is right over here, and trucks rule the road.

The local police were out in force early with their magic sticks (so called by Doug K (of HU fame) because the police wave their sticks at you and money magically appears), but they ignored us and we ignored them.

The road we were on changed numerous times from a pot-hole roller coaster to a smooth highway, with rural sections and rough sections and city-centre sections and little village sections all melded in together.

We stopped just short of Fiar for fuel and a coffee, but it was only 07;15am and the cafe attached to the servo was closed, so after refilling we pushed on. Albania has about one servo for every man, woman and child in the country, and if you run out of fuel its only a short walk to the nearest servo. We rarely could not see a servo either up ahead or in our mirrors.

Passing through Fiar Karen spotted a cafe so we pulled over and had a nice croissant each, and a coffee (grape juice for Karen). Fiar is a large city, and the road system and uses were quite chaotic, with cars and pedestrians shooting out from all directions. We made our way slowly out of the city and down to Vlore, which again was a chaotic jumble of streets and traffic and people.

Just south of Vlore the buildings fell away, replaced by trees and mountains as we entered the Jogora Pass. The climb up was steep and bumpy, with potholes in the road making the hairpin bends a challenge. Once we’d crested the pass however the southern side was smooth and scenic, as it overlooked the sea. We descended the pass and followed the coastal road, passing locals selling honey and oils at their roadside stalls, and slipping through sleepy villages perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

We kept on the main road as it skirted the back of Himare, slowed down by a funeral procession ahead of us, and once we’d passed that we continued south for a few km til we came to a small bay, with a few hotels and restaurants looking out over the water. It was almost midday so we parked up and grabbed some spaghetti for lunch, with a Tirana beer (for me) to wash it down, and some cold and unpalatable red wine for Karen. The restaurant has a hotel above it that overlooks the beach, and for 30 euros we’ve checked in, unpacked, and we’re ready to go for a swim and relax for a while – a well deserved treat after our big off-road adventure yesterday and our early start today.

Tomorrow’s plan is to ride the 50km south to Sarande, before heading inland towards the border crossing into Greece, so maybe 120km in total before we get to the border, and then we’ll ride on until we’re ready to stop. As Karen said this morning – “We’ve got a tent so we can camp wherever we need to!”

We had an interesting breakfast at our hotel in Andrijevica …my scrambled eggs ended up as an empty omelet…. where our new friend and owner of the hotel, Slobor, gave us his personal service and oversaw his staff to ensure our every need was met….he really treated us like Royalty. He even came to see us off as we loaded up the bike and set off for the border with Albania. Even with his limited English and our non existent language skills we formed a great bond.

We headed South East to Gusinje, where we got a little bit confused as the GPS was not picking up the roads correctly and we took a wrong turn….but instructions from a helpful local (again with no language skills but lots of pointing to place names on Vince’s map) we were soon on our way. The Border Police from Montengero were charming and even offered to take our photo at the border with our bike, and one even posed with me as well. The Albanian Border Police were less social, but we had our stamps in our passports and our green card returned without too much delay. Less than a Km from the checkpoint the bitumen disappeared into gravel! We had been told roads in Albania were not that great….luckily this only lasted a few hundred metres and we breathed a sigh of relief….they were just tricking us! Little did we know what was to come!

Back on the bitumen we quickly reached the junction to Vermosh and the scenic road to Shkoder (our interim destination). We took the turning for Shkoder and quickly found ourselves on an unsealed, rocky forest track carved in the side of a mountain and leading to the village of Lepushe. It was a bit hair raising for me on the back of the bike, which just ate up the road much to Vince’s delight. We stopped in Lepushe for a cool drink and I went to the toilet ….only to discover it was quite interesting……it’s really not my day today!

Back on the bike we continued down the rocky road, where it quickly deteriorated into the road from HELL!……. Vince was excellent in his efforts to negotiate the steep inclines and descents with our sure footed precision machine, through what can only be described as mountain rock track (the photos make it look much tamer that it was!)….with large and small boulders as well as areas of almost tiny ballbearings!!!! Well, all Adventure Riders will tell you it’s not a matter of IF but at matter of WHEN……the ANIMAL went down with us on board – first time ever! Luckily neither of us was hurt as we were travelling very slowly, and she sustained no damage either. I managed to slide out from under her (my legs well protected by the crash bars and panniers) and then Vince could get off. I was wondering how we were going to get this heavily laden bike up again when suddenly from around the corner sprung, Marchin (sic), a highly energetic Polish rider who was around the corner and heard us go down. Between he and Vince the ANIMAL was soon upright and ready for action! With limited English we established that Marchin was also headed for Shkoder and was experiencing the same shock over the condition of the “scenic road” indicated on our maps….so we agreed to ride together and help each other out. I chose to lighten the load a bit and walk through the ballbearing section (truth be told I was shaken up from the fall and needed some time out to keep my shit together and not burst into tears).

Back on the bike we continued until we reached an area where there had been attempts at roadwork, and it went up a steep gradient with soft soil. Vince’s footing slipped in the soft soil and the ANIMAL went down a second time, but again neither was hurt. Vince then decided to walk the heavily laden ANIMAL up… took the three of us to get her up to the top through the soft dirt, rocks and rubble….(my biceps from pulling her from the front are killing me today 24.6.15)…. But we got her up! Vince thought it funny to keep telling me this will be what it will be like in the Himalayas in India……..and it took me all my time to keep it together…..this is the scariest day I have ever had on the bike …..I just wanted out of there…..I even double checked I had the emergency number for global rescue in case we needed evacuation….that’s how dangerous I considered it and how scared I felt ….. but I knew it was impossible to turn back we had to press on …so I just had to put on my big girl Bridget Jones Knickers and get on with it! “Drink a glass of harden up Princess and get over it!” Of course for Vince it was a day in the park…..he was as cool as a cucumber…..although he did admit afterwards that his heart was at his mouth at times. He told me afterwards he was proud of me, I did great and I appeared very calm……but I can assure you that was only on the surface!!!! Vince was very pleased with how the ANIMAL performed, especially 2up and fully loaded. He said she did better than he could have done on his DR650.

We got held up at further roadworks where we had to wait for a truck and two catepillar drillers/loaders to move off the single lane track for us to pass. Marchin, always the gentleman, gave me a LION bar….it was delicious. We continued on our way and Vince had to backtrack at one point to check on our new companion who had disappeared behind us, but he was just making a necessary pit stop! We finally reached some bitumen, after 30km of rocky crap taking close to 3 hours…..we bade farewell to our new friend and he gave me a kiss on my hand goodbye. We have affectionately nicknamed him “Tigger”….as he was so animated and energetic….at one point as he remounted his VStrom 650 … literally jumping onto it! He was a great help to us…..the Universe sends you what you need when you need it ….and we needed him today! Top Bloke!

Vince and I stopped at the top of the mountain pass to look back on the sealed section of road…..I could have kissed it! We headed South towards Shkoder, dodging all of the oncoming cars and buses driving on our side of the road as they manically overtake each other with no room…..often we found ourselves three abreast on what should be a dual carriageway…..we are learning fast…..the rule is the bigger you are the more road you get!!!!! Totally crazy drivers here……my stress level was through the roof…..Vince commented on how calm I was……I said “It’s not calm….it’s gone beyond terror and I’m now entering a catatonic state!!!! (LOL).

We were shocked at the number and frequency of petrol stations, car wreckers and Car LAVAZH (wash) throughout this part of Albania……it’s all about the car…..agriculture sits side by side with progress as you have to watch out for cows, goats and sheep… well as crazy traffic! We found a hotel and restaurant (as part of one of the petrol stations) and decided to call it quits for the day…..we got to stay for 20 – 27 Euro (2800 Lek)….Albania is very cheap! It was basic, but clean and we were both exhausted! I did notice that all of the staff and patrons at the hotel and attached cafe/restaurant were young men – I haven’t seen a lady in public in Albania as yet.

Vince’s Notes: the GS really impressed me today. I’m not a particularly good off-road rider and today I was I punching well above my weight, but the GS is so manageable and tractable it forgave most of my mistakes and just powered through the conditions. The one slip we had was at low speed – probably just walking pace, and on a steep descent with loose rocks I locked up the rear wheel as its suspension unloaded coming up and over a large rock and it then tried to overtake the front wheel, spinning us into the ground. The bike laid itself nicely down on the ground. It would be fair to say that the riding conditions today were the toughest I’ve ever encountered, yet even two-up and fully loaded (so approx 500kg in total) the bike handled like a surgeon’s scalpel. At times I was telling myself that Bully and Howard could ride a GS in these conditions and so the bike could handle it and therefore it was all up to me to ride it correctly. Karen was fantastic as my pillion – she was amazing on the back, cool as a cucumber as we slithered and skated down the rocky tracks. And I have to say – I’m such a fan of the Continental TKC80’s – they really paid off today. When the going gets tough I like to know that I’ve got the best tyres fitted for the conditions – just one less thing to worry about 🙂 Not so happy with my GoPro though – I had it switched on but it didn’t record anything – subsequent testing has suggested a glitch to do with the combined video+photo setting as its locking up occasionally when saving a still image. Further investigation is required I think.

Woke up to a sunny morning in our apartment in Kamenari overlooking the sparkling Bay of Kotor and spent a little bit of time on the ‘net and packing the bike waiting for breakfast to be prepared, and then with a fond farewell to Dragan and a couple of photos we headed towards Kotor, enroute for Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.

Many people just whiz straight thru Montenegro – with a coastline only 240km long that’s not too hard to do, unless you get caught in the 10:00am traffic jam in Kotor. The road was packed and there was no room to slip ahead with all the oncoming traffic, even though we saw a few scooter riders try this approach, so instead we crawled into Kotor, and just as we reached the docks near the old city the road opened up and we were able to get out of town.

Rather than take the main road to Podgorica I’d plotted a bit of a scenic route, which turned into quite an adventure ride as it led us high up into the mountains overlooking the Bay of Kotor via a series of 28 hairpin bends. The road was sealed and the view spectacular, and we both enjoyed the road. Cresting the peak of the mountain range we dropped down on the northern side towards the old royal city of Cetinje, a bustling hive of activity after the sparse villages and forest roads we’d taken to arrive at this town.

From Cetinje the road became a highway, but the posted speed limit was still very low so we just idled towards Podgorica, stopping a bit out of the city to get some lunch at a roadside cafe, and some supplies from the small supermarket across the road. Once we’d restocked and remounted, I tracked down a servo so we could fully fuel up before we headed north up a scenic road I’d seen on the map, that tracked high up into NE Montenegro before curving south and meeting a border crossing into Albania. Cristoff and Christian – two riders we had met recently – were very enthused about the riding in northern Albania, so the route I’d plotted was designed to drop us right where we wanted to be when we crossed the border.

The GPS had us head through the centre of Podgorica which was a less than relaxing experience as cars were coming at us from all directions, but we got out of town safely and headed north towards Bioce, where we peeled off the main road and took the scenic route North East to Matesevo. The narrow scenic road followed a canyon for kilometres, and whilst the ride was slow it was also very enjoyable. Arriving at Matesevo we had a cooling beer at a small bar that resembled something from the Wild West, before turning east and heading to Andrijica, a waypoint on our way to the border post.

The road flowed through a scenic valley and was a pleasure to ride on. At one point, we came around a corner and a local girl was standing in the middle of the narrow road, offering up a tray containing pots of berries for sale. We bought a pot for two euro, and carried in our way. Arriving late in the afternoon at Andrijica it was obvious that we wouldn’t make the border before it closed for the evening, so we checked into an imposing soviet-era hotel in the centre of the small town – the Hotel Komovi.

Slobor (sic), the owner of the hotel, helped me park the bike in his large shed out the back of the hotel, alongside the two KLX250’s he has for himself and his son to ride. Slobor was a lovely host, and when he saw via our passports that we are Australian he was in raptures – as his married daughter lives in Perth WA with her Australian husband and one year old child, and his son has spent a few months visiting Perth. He was so rapt he phoned his son and then passed me his mobile so I could chat with his son for a while.

Slobor, Karen and I enjoyed a drink together in the beer garden outside the front of the hotel overlooking the road, though as he was finishing a course of antibiotics he only had a water, and then Karen and I went for a stroll along the Main Street, soaking up the ambiance of the old buildings and wacky architecture.

We had dinner in Hotel Komovi, and chatted with Slobor a while longer, including catching a bit on the TV about the Tara Canyon – one of Montenegro’s natural wonders and the largest canyon in Europe, before retiring to bed, exhausted but satisfied after a most excellent day.