samnstew

13 – 24 September: Into Turkey & the cross-roads from West to East.

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We arrived in Cesme, Turkey, around 9am, and amazingly we were docking, just as the GreenPeace Rainbow warrior was coming too.

It was a busy place, with so many Turkish tourists on holiday for the week, getting across to Greece. We got through OK; but with one MINOR problem, the bike was stamped in for ONLY 12 days, to 25 September, when our GreenCard insurance expires (we’d been delayed so long with all the mechanical repairs on Fritz)! So now there was nothing for it but a mad dash across Turkey…not sure if we can make it, but we definitely aren’t going to have a relaxing time being tourists in Turkey.

We were soon out onto the roads, first thing stopped at an ATM to get some Lira (seeing a truck crash into a small car pulling out!), then straight on the motorway towards Izmir – it was pretty deserted!!

We were so undecided what to do….Ankara was 700 km away, but we weren’t sure if the embassy was open this eid week?? In the end we decided we’d turn off at Urla, and head along the coast. The road surface deteriorated and holiday traffic built up, but we made it at far as Kusadasi. This wasn’t far off our route into Ankara (via Selcuk), and we headed to the Yat motel camping, finding it easily by the big marina (with an equally HUGE cruise vessel moored up). We were too tired to camp, and would need to move tomorrow, so we asked for a room or cabin. We got one for 140 Lira, ($63 AUD) with aircon and brekkie.

It was an older place and amazing to have such a spacious camp ground right behind the marina. We had a few things to sort out. First was a cuppa and sandwich from our supplies. Then half hour rest, before going to camp pool-restaurant for wifi, and looking at what we could do. Me on Visa options and drive plan, while Stew trying to track down new tyres. By 4pm, we’d done as much as we could & decided we do need to drive asap to Ankara (missing Pamukkale again! – maybe 400 km tomorrow!). After that we took the gear back to cabin, and went for a swim in lovely pool.

After getting changed we went for a wander round town – It was nothing like we remembered! Its such a busy tourist place now. We walked along the esplanade, with the usual waterfront shops and kiosks, even one guy selling balloons. Further up into town we found the old streets, lined with more offerings for the tourists, as well as some really old Turkish baths.

Back at camp we had a nice cold beer by the pool, before Stew set about checking bike tappets and top end, as engine was now cool. So far so good, no debris…..and the locals were so friendly coming across to talk. We then headed out for a kebab dinner, just in front of camp. It was awesome, so friendly, with families eating, and great fresh food. The kids at the table opposite were having great fun, mixing drinks with the left overs from their family group. We finished off the evening with a walk on marina roof promenade before heading back for the night.

Camp was quieter than we’d expected and weren’t up till 7.30am getting ready for the road again. We packed up first then had breakfast in camp…8,30am, It was really nice and fresh, a plate of boiled egg, feta, salad, and really fresh bread too. There was nescafe which was good too….and so we were ready for off by 9.15am.

We found the road out of town towards Aydin all good, and settled down for a long day on the road. There was quite a bit of new growth and developments as we passed some towns on the way, so many apartment buildings. And then we were out in the countryside, a huge wide valley between rolling and sometimes rugged hills and mostly farm lands, looking rather parched right now. But there were plenty of stalls on the roadside selling the produce; first fruits and melons, and then potaotes. We pretty much only stopped for petrol all day (3 times to fill up), and I did spot the huge white mineral tavertine outcropping of Pamukkale in the distance (we just didn’t have time to stop).

We made it to Afyon by 3pm, and looked like a good place to stop for the night (another 260 km to Ankara tomorrow). We’d noted down the only one cheaper hotel with parking we could find online, ‘Afyon Grand Ari Hotel’, and this was way passed all the big posh and new ‘thermal spa hotels’ before the old town. We were heading into a poorer looking area, and weren’t sure we’d find the hotel, but just bit further we spotted it…..Not so ‘grand’ these days, though it was next to a police station, so hopefully the bike would be safe outside, but we took everything into the room all the same. The receptionist and his young son (about 8 yrs), really didn’t speak English, but we managed to get sorted OK for a room and breakfast. In the room there were signs of some damage (broken window, and door lock replaced) – so we’ll be sure to keep things safe and not wander out tonight. I think business was down (With all the new developments up the road), and it looked like it was originally a double room, but now had 2 more single beds squeezed in too. But we had a great view out to Afyon castle, high on a huge mound of rock, just from our window. We got stuff organised, and made a brew to recuperate,

We were definitely in a much more traditional Muslim area, from the female dress we could see on the street, and the minerets starting their wailing by 4.30pm. So we both dressed moderately; long pants, Stew put his shirt on and I put my long sleeve top on, and we set off walk about, to see what food shops or cafes were in the vicinity. There wasn’t much really, and so much was closed up with eid holiday week. We were definitely in the older part of town, and we saw at least half a dozen mosques in our half hour walk, so no wonder when we tried the various small market grocers that were open none we selling any alcohol. There really wasn’t anywhere inspiring to eat either, just a couple of local kebab places, so we called back in the mini-market nearest our hotel, and bought a few supplies to make do for tonight. We got tonic and orange juice to drink, some fresh milk, which would be good for our tea, then for dinner we decided on a bit of tuna salad. We had a pack of tuna so just got some fresh tomatoes and some potato & veg salad, together with some fresh bread. And back at the hotel we managed to get the receptionist to get us online, so we settled in for the night. Stew could get some English TV news, which was good, and he was also checking for Ankara accommodation options too.

We managed to doze on till a bit after 7am, made some hot water and the tea was so much nicer this morning with fresh milk, as we also started to pack things away again. We wanted to get everything strapped back on the bike before breakfast, and getting down to the reception we found the only other people around were the receptionist and 2 kitchen staff. The street was really quiet too; no early risers here. By 8.15am we were all ready to go, and so headed down to the breakfast room – it was pretty surreal; the big dining area all to ourselves. There was a buffet area with quite a spread of food laid out, but not another guests about (the breakfast went to 10.30am, so I guess we were just too early!). We were glad to see there was nescafe on offer, and the food spread more Mediterrean than continental; the ubiquitous boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, cheese and cold meat, and fresh-ish bread. By the time we’d finished a couple more guests were making it to breakfast, and though little English was spoken, we smiled and said ‘teshukur’ on our way out. We were dressed and ready to go by 9am, and set out on the road towards Ankara. The morning was still rather cool, though the sun promising to warm things up in a while. We were soon on the main higway R-96, and incredibly again, so little traffic for the eid holiday week. It was such a good days drive again, hardly any trucks at all, and only a few coaches and local cars; pretty deserted really. I think all the locals had headed to the beaches and not Ankara. We could speed along at over 100 kph all morning, watching the vast expanses of agricultural land whizz by. And there were miles upon miles of granite/marble works…..they must supply the world, by the number of facilities we passed. Huge boulders of raw material, roughly huen into massive blocks, and then at all stages of development. The farmers were selling their produce along the roadside,  (huge cabbages) and as the land became more arable, the farming changed to flocks of scraggly sheep and goats. I’m amazed just how poor the air quality has been wherever we go. Though a bright autumn day, the visibility, as we have so often seen, was reduced to a milky haze. We’ve so noticed the massive population increases in our travels; road constructions, and housing developments on huge scales. So even away for cities and industry, manmade impacts are so very evident.

We stopped once for petrol having covered more than 100 miles, and by 12pm we were could see we were on the outskirts of Ankara, but still around 20 km to go! The city sign announced a population of just under 5 million (so small by mega city standards – but still pretty huge for us to navigate). I was roughly following the maps I’d looked at on the computer last night, as well as a dodgy GPS, on which I couldn’t find the addresses we needed. I did manage to locate a nearby ‘Kugulu Park’, but the road instructions were not helpful at all. Knowing we needed to be south of the centre, I took us in by sight really, looking for markers I’d tried to memories.

I saw we passed the signs for the huge University complex and knew we were getting close. I got Stew to slow down and keep heading in the right direction, and then I spotted Kugulu Park on our left. I directed Stew to take the next right hand fork, and crawling along looking for signs of a hotel. We spotted a guy just sweeping outside his shop, so we pulled over. I had my notebook, with the hotel name, ‘Astudio Apart’ on Gunes Sok written down, so I showed the man. Though not speaking English, he clearly understood, directing us to take the next right and then right again. ‘Teshukur’ we set off again…..and amazingly we ended up right where we wanted to be. There was an older, quite nimble guy outside, and he directed us in to an office to a young female receptionist who spoke quite good English. She was so helpful, even rang the Iranian Embassy to see if they were open in the morning. Yay, they were 8.30 – 12.30pm, and they were expecting us, once I’d given our name. So we decided it was a good place to stay till after the weekend, we had a lot to do. The apartment was 140 Lira a night, if we stayed 5 nights, or 165 Lira otherwise. We soon paid up for 5 nights, and got things unloaded. The apartment was great, huge with decent kitchen, bathroom, living room and separate bedroom. It was just what we needed after all the hassles of the past week, and not too expensive at all. Once we got everything unloaded first job was a cuppa, so nice, and as a bonus the internet worked really well.

So we soon settled in, having quite a lot to sort out. We went for a rekkie of the area, and were so pleasantly surprised we could walk to the Iran Embasy within 15 mins, Kugulu Park was a nice green city space to walk through, and on the other side was a busy vibrant shopping tourist street (Tuanli CD). There were a few small minimarket shops, and a bigger one that did sell beer and wine (I think we deserved it today). We got supplies to make dinner (potatoes and onions, to make corned beef hash with the tin of meat we were carrying), and breakfast, yoghurt, fruit and muesli. There was noting too interesting in the shopping otherwise, though I was looking for a light long sleeve blouse, and something to post for Lacey’s birthday. We walked around a couple of hours then headed back. We needed to do more online research; any place to buy tyres for the bike locally, location of a nearby post office, and I needed to see if I could download more maps for the Middle East for the GPS – it took us a while.

Between times Stew made us a yummy dinner, which we had with some local white wine, in the nice Swiss glasses. Stew managed to get some netflix going while I cleared and washed up, before also heading to bed around 9.30am.

Next morning, after all the delays, set backs and preparations, I really felt like it was just before ‘D’ day. We would know one way or the other how things would proceed, though even today we wouldn’t be finding out whether we would be granted a visa or not, just more information, from the actual embassy staff really. In the end Stew slept well, but I didn’t. I hardly felt that I got any sleep at all, so by the time Stew got up to the bathroom and make us some hot tea around 7am, I was seriously snoozing. Half and hour later, we made coffee and Stew had some brekkie and then we got ready with our things to head off to the embassy. We dressed in long pants, and I took my shawl too, and we headed out into another very quiet eid holiday morning in Ankara. The day was bright, but definitely on the cooler fresher side. We got to the embassy just before it was opening, and there were a couple of other people waiting too. All in all, it went as well as could be expected. Once inside we were asked for our visa authorisation and given a couple of forms to fill in. We sat down at a desk area, and had a look through the form. It was definitely more straight forwards than I had filled in previously, so we both did one again. At the counter, the friendly assistant checked out papers and passports. He didn’t ask for travel insurance or itinerary, just a photocopy of our passports (which I had). He gave us a ticket and said we had to go pay 100 Eu each, to the IS Turkyie Bank – across the road. It took a bit of finding; we ended up in one building on the 4th floor, before being directed further round on the street to the right place. We got a receipt for the cash, and then back to the embassy. The same guy took our papers, and passports again, and the cash receipts and our photos. He said to come back on Wednesday. We asked if it was possible Monday or Tuesday. He said definitely not Monday and Tuesday was a holiday for them. SO it would have to be Wednesday. If we were packed and ready to go, we could be at the embassy for 8.30am, and still make a good days drive. And it was doable to get to the border, with the few days we had – THAT is, IF we were granted the visa.

Well nothing more we could do, it was out of our hands now. We’d given it our best shot. Looks like we’ll have to find a few things to do over the next few days – in fact we did have quite a few things to do; sort out our finances, and sort out some tyres if possible, buy a few things too. Stew also wanted to do an oil change, so we needed to find some engine oil too. And I’m sure we’ll find some touristy things to do too. For now we headed down the quiet street towards to shopping area we were at yesterday. Stew fancied a coffee, in the early morning sunshine, so we walked into the first place on the corner of Kugulu Park. It was a bookshop with cafe outside, and walking in we found in was one very big bookshop. So we went for a wander first. The assistants spoke some English, so we were directed to the 4th floor for the English language section. We browsed a while, as Stew was on the look out for more reading material. In the end I spotted the 4th book of the Steig Larssons Millenium; a new writer continuing the saga of Lisbeth Salander. It was 64 TL, but Stew really fancied this one, and we also got another discount paperback for 10 TL. There was an English language local newspaper, so Stew got that and then we went to sit out in the morning sunshine on the street side; for coffees and Stew couldn’t resist having chocolate cake too. I heard another couple chatting in English on the table next to us, and commented that ‘Kugulu Park’ actually means ‘Swan Park’, and we had seen swans when we walked through yesterday.

Drinks finished we set off walkabout, and at a petrol station we were able to get 3 L, of engine oil, and in a discount store we bought 3 ceramic mugs for 5 L ($2 AUD), staying for another 4 night, and having tea and coffee out of proper mugs made so much difference. It was 5pm before we got back to the apartment, and both ready for a cuppa in our new mugs.

And so we passed a really pleasant and relaxing few days waiting in Ankara. As we had the nice big apartment, I was up for getting us into an exercise routine, before breakfast. Stew definitely enjoyed part one, and only began grumbling when we got onto the 30 sit-ups, then dips, press-ups and some stretches too. We did about 20 mins the first morning, but over the next few days Stew was up to 50 situps and 30 mins before getting bored, while I stuck out for an hour and got up to 100 situps, as well as some good balances and headstands. We really enjoyed having the cooking facilities, as the variety of eating out options is so limited. So we shopped for groceries, and made things like corned beef hash, pastas and curries. With good wifi we were also able to make a couple of skype calls and catch up with what was happening with Sairha and Lacey too.

As I said, one mission was to get some new tyres, and searching online we found a couple of places to try. They were over 5km away in opposite directions, and after I’d checked the maps, reckoned I could navigate us there, so it needed an excursion on the bike. It ended up a three day job, as initially we set off up the road passed, the Akakule Tower, and onto one of the city ring roads.

The first place had moved location to the opposite end of the city, and when we did find it in a new mega shopping complex it ended up being a ‘Harley only’ shop. Then I managed to get us to the Emek suburb, and locate the 4-44 moto shop – It was closed for the holiday!! So we had to go back again the next day. This time it was in morning rush hour, against the traffic flow on the big roads. We could see where we needed to turn, but we just couldn’t get there. In the end, I managed to navigate us back, through the backstreets by sight of the Sheraton Hotel. We parked up and we just got a taxi (20 TL each way). Thankfully the shop was open and the guys Torga and Bora, were really helpful. We couldn’t get tubless enduro tyres in the next day, so we ended up having to get a set of Michelin’s. They would be in the shop tomorrow after lunch, so we just left a 500 TL deposit (640 TL to pay). Before lunch the next day we headed off to Emek. This time, even though the traffic was hectic, we knew which lane we needed to be in, and soon made our way to the 4-44 motos. It didn’t seem like they had too many customers, but the tyres were here and Stew soon set about getting off the wheels. A weather front was really heading in, and the huge conker trees on the street were getting shaken violently, and raining conkers down too. Bora took the wheels for the new tyres fitting, while I read a bit of my book, and Stew entertained a friendly little cat. And then it was a bit of a faff to get the rear one to seat on the rim. The shop compressor helped that though, and Stew was soon putting the wheels back on.

We were also taking the old ones back with us, to hopefully carry as spares – we would definitely need to sort the packing out. We paid up, with thanks, and a couple of photos in front of the shop we were on our way back. It was already after 3 pm, but we were both in need of some sustenance, so we made a couple of sandwiches and a brew (Stew made chips, while I had egg mayo) and then headed out for a wander. The weather was much cooler and felt like a storm was still on the horizon, so we didn’t stay out. When we got back I thought it would be best to try get as much of the packing done as we could, to see how we were going to strap on the spare tyres! But Stew pointed out we needed to walk to the embassy tomorrow morning in our trainers, so I really couldn’t pack the back box!! So we both just got stuck into reading and finishing off our latest books – at least that would be one less thing to pack! We weren’t too interested in a big meal, having eaten the sandwiches so late in the day, and then the storm hit – the streets were drenched, and it was pounding down, and I didn’t feel like venturing out again. So we just made something from our supplies.

The next morning it was dry again and we went off walk about, and today as well as the post pack, we also took Stew’s motorbike boots: I’d spotted a small cobblers, at the top of Tunali street, when we walked about the other day – and he fancied seeing if he could get the soles re-glued, as they were starting to come apart. The roads were so much busier, now that the hols were over. Tunali street was choc-a-block, all double parked down one side, and the, rest only very slow moving; definitely faster to walk. We headed to the post office first – a bit of organised chaos by the looks of things; the ticket numbers didn’t seem to be working. We were pretty hopeless, not speaking the lingo. It was busy and the guy behind the counter didn’t look like he had any patience for a couple of English speaking foreigners, so we ended up paying 96 TL ($43 AUD), to post the small birthday package. Hope it gets there OK.

We did have the small Arabic phrase book with us, and that did help when we got the much friendlier cobblers. He managed to convey if Stew wanted the boots stitching – he did not, only glueing, and with a polish, we asked ‘de na ke’, (How much?) – 30 TL ($14 AUD), and much more reasonable than the $50 CAD we’d been quoted in Canada earlier on the trip. That job in progress, we set off back down the street, still keeping an eye out for a long sleeve blouse for me. There were definitely more shops open, and we did find one with Indian cotton tops outside. The shopkeepers were really friendly (It looked like a family), with a teenage daughter at the desk glued to her smart phone, and they spoke a bit of English. I had a good look, and in the end decided these were the best I’d seen, and selected two to try on. I picked a plain petrol blue collared long shirt, with some pin-tucks down the front. The sleeves were a bit short, but otherwise, it was lovely and light and would be fine with leggins or my long pants, and I could put a thermal underneath if it was cold. It wasn’t cheap at 38 TL, ($14 AUD), but was the cheaper of what they had in store. Yay, another job sorted. We then ventured back down Tunali street, calling off at the HSBC back for another ATM withdrawl, and then into the small second hand shop in the back of one of the small passageways. Stew fancied looking at a small knife set – and asked the price 600 TL, and really too much for our budget! Passing the supermarket again, we called in for fresh supplies; eggs, bread, milk and beer, and then we went to sit half an hour in the roof top cafe at the bookshop. Its such a lovely place to sit and read for a while.

Wednesday it really was D-day today…as we were heading back to the Iran embassy at 8.30am when it opened. And the decision on our visa application, would determine whether we would be driving East or West…….We were up earlier though, as Stew didn’t sleep too well – still worrying about the bike engine. He got up and made us some tea before 7am, and we did want to get as much of the packing done as we could before heading out.

The morning was cooler, and the sun was trying to break through the clouds, as we headed onto the street. The roads were still wet from the rain overnight, but hopefully no more rain today – the roads seem pretty treacherous when wet! Well our time in Ankara had been really pleasant, with a big comfy apartment to relax away from the busy street, and still close enough to wander around and savour the bustling city. Though too much globalisation as ever, (Burger King, Starbucks, Body Shop and the like) but we chose to wander the streets that still had remnants of the older small kiosks and shops. The autumn had brought the leaf turning colours and images of the huge chestnut trees that lined many of the streets, heavy and ripe with fruit, will be a lasting impression and reminder of the city.

We arrived at the embassy just before 8.30am, with already a few people at the gate, and the door was opened. It was definitely much busier than last Friday, and pretty much all the seats were occupied – we were the only white westerners in the place, and all the women came in with head scarves. One did come in without, but soon covered up. There was quite a mix of people, a family with 2 young boys, but mostly couples, and one older lady who was getting quite upset. We had a ticket number, and only waited around 10 mins to be seen. The guy recognised us (an unusual pair I imagine), and asked us to sit and wait. So we did, not sure how long it would be, as he went on seeing a lot of others. But half an hour later we were called back and given our passports, ‘teshekur’. We left and went out onto the street before taking a look – YAY, we had the visas. Single entry for 21 days (more would have been better, but 3 weeks isn’t bad), and valid till December – but we’d be there much sooner, we had to depart Turkey on the 25 September.

SO our route was now decided, and we were soon back at the hotel doing all the last packing and getting everything strapped to the bike. It did look a lot heavier, now with 2 extra tyres, but we’d managed to get them on pretty well. Last job was a cup of coffee, and I sent off a couple of quick whatsap, to the girls and Jason, just to let them know where we were headed.

We were ready for the road by 10.30am, so not bad at all. The young woman and older guy from the hotel, both came out to wave us off too. We’d had a good look at the map online, to find the best way out of the city east, and again we did really well, avoiding most of the heavy traffic – going up passed the Akakule Tower, and over onto the ring road. The morning was really quite fresh, and the state of the clouds were threatening rain. We were both glad we’d put our jumpers on, and even so we were only just warm enough for the days driving temperature.

We found the junction for the D200 – E88 road east, first signposted to Kirikkale, and soon got hemmed in by a jam of trucks – so much different to riding round the holidays last week! But thankfully the congestion didn’t last long, and we were soon on pretty decent and relatively quiet roads. It felt so good to be moving again, and Fritz was signing along wonderfully under the heavy load. Stew said the handling was still all good, even with the 2 extra tyres, and my seat-chair rests were also working well too. We settled down for a long day on the road, only stopping for petrol fills, (Nearly $90 AUD for the day!) and some refreshments – both enjoying the local cay. In fact the last petrol stop, the pump attendant gave us the cay complimentary. So nice.

We covered over 400 km, and mostly going up and down long hauls of 10% inclines, with wide vistas over the undulating hillsides and wide harvested farm lands. We made it to the outskirts of Siva around 5pm, and were on the look out for a hotel Stew had written down (though I couldn’t locate it in the GPS) – but we knew it was before you got into the town proper, and we were following the railway line, as we also knew if we got to the station we’d gone too far.

We were just thinking it didn’t look quite right, when I actually spotted the hotel name – Siva Sultansehir Otel, on a board on the right hand side. It was just set back of the road, and quite big and new looking – though there was no other name board embelished on the building itself. It looked like a business hotel by the clientelle milling around in the large foyer, as I went in to reception to ask for a room. Thankfully an older guy spoke some English and we were soon checked in for 120 TL, with breakfast. Though the place looked quite new, it was definitely not well finished or maintained. The lift didn’t work, so we were glad we only had to walk to the second floor – but we didn’t really feel like unloading all the bike.

We decided we could walk that in our bike gear, and would just cover up the bike and leave it fully loaded for the night. It was right in front on the hotel lobby, and away from the main street, so hopefully all good. Out on the street, we soon found the ATM and got another 500 TL (Hopefully enough to last). We walked passed several kebab-pide shops, a green grocer and small market – but no sign of any beer for sale, and we weren’t going to go looking tonight. We were both quite hungry, and decided we’d just eat a doner kebab before going back to the hotel room for the night. It was so good – the place was quiet, though some customers were coming in for take away, and the 3 guys cooking and serving were really friendly and helpful. There were tables set up inside and out, and it was nice enough to sit out so we did. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal; a plate of doner meat each, and fresh bread, then some mixed salad and chillies, and a tub of plain yoghurt drink. It was a bit early at only 6pm, but definitely the best option for tonight and quite a bargain too, it only came to 14 TL, pretty much the same as we’d paid for some cay and a cheese bake at the first garage stop today.

We were back in the hotel room by 6.30pm, and Stew made us a cuppa to finish off the meal. I still couldn’t get the computer online, so Stew ended up having to browse the ipad looking for accommodation at Erzurum – where we planned to get to tomorrow. It did look a bit tricky to get to some of the cheaper places (our budget range <60 AUD), but I sketched out a map and wrote down a few names. Interestingly, we were now in the winter ski resort areas. I’d already seen signs for skiing, and I’d noticed poles at the roadsides, used to indicate snow depth. Some of the hotels I browsed were actual ski resorts, but generally beyond our budget, and no point splashing out if we were only staying overnight. We both had a shower. It was really good and with big decent towels and toiletries too. Then I was putting music over the headphones and snuggled down before 9pm, leaving Stew to finish off on the iPad switch everything off.

I was sleeping really well, but Stew is becoming quite an early bird and not sleeping too well. The heavy rain woke him and got him out of bed around 6.15am ish, and then I was awake too, though I had heard the mulla’s singing well before dawn. The rain sounded really heavy, so not point in rushing up. We snuggled down and dozed another half hour before Stew got up and made us a cuppa. We both managed to get online this morning, and first thing was checking the weather forecasts heading east. It didn’t look too pleasant for the next couple of days: we were most likely to be getting wet and cold. Though it looked like it should bait here in Sivas by 9am-ish, and not build up in Erzurum till after 5pm. It was also wet for tomorrow too, and getting cold….down to below freezing at night and only 12 – 14 degrees through the day. I think we needed to get our extra layers out. I made a coffee though Stew didn’t want one, and then we went downstairs for brekkie. The hotel was really quite busy, mostly young adults looking rather like Uni students, and nearly all the women had head scarves on. Breakfast was a decent buffet, though the hot tea was rather stewed – the bread was really fresh, and there were boiled eggs and warm cheese pastries, as well as cheese and jams. Half an hour later we were uncovering the bike, and getting the tank bags on. It was very grey and gloomy, though the rain had stopped for now. We wanted to cover >400 km again, getting to Erzurum by the end of the day. There was no real navigating to do, as we were continuing on the E88 and then the E80 (which would go all the way to Iran). It was a tough but quite exhilarating day. We had such a mixed bag of weather; storms and heavy rain, beautiful rainbows, and good long dry patches too, but always threatening more rain. The scenery was quite spectacular as we were crossing high passes (ski resorts in winter), it was bleak and desolate with only pockets of villages between the bigger towns.

We got over 2000 m on three separate occasions through the day, and there were some gorgeous rock formations, and were still at 1850 m asl, when we arrived in Eruzum 7 hours later. The first high pass was the coldest, dropping to freezing and icy patches, and we could see menacing black low clouds all around. Stew pulled over so we could get our wet gear on, and he also wanted to get out his big gloves. It was black looking the way we were headed, and much brighter behind! Wé had to re-jig and strap the tyre round the sidebox, as it didn’t have any padding, as we were now wearing the wet gear. We set off a lot more snug and comfy. There didn’t seem to be too much rain, more a heavy low cloud base – but it still got us wet. The second high pass had a much rougher road surface, so that slowed us down too, and by the time we pulled in for some cay and more petrol, we’d only covered 200 km in four hours. But we wanted to press on and Stew was feeling pretty good. Thankfully the road surface improved loads (looked pretty new really, like they are building quite extensive new roads), so we managed to cover the next 200 km much more quickly. We did a last petrol fill, just 20 km out of Erzurum and I got the GPS out to see what hotel info I could get in. There were plenty of hotels, but not the cheaper ones I’d noted down. Best I could do though was get us to the street – and that really helped us. It was quite a big place, but not really cheery in the weather, and pretty much block after block of concrete apartments, and then when we got onto the allotted street, there was hotel, after hotel, after hotel (all 5 – 7 floors), with some small shops on the ground floor. None really looked like they had off street parking, though there was parking right outside. We pulled over by an establishment that looked our kind of budget (it had 2 stars by the name). A friendly receptionist had seen us, and motioning that we could leave the bike here OK. Well, they really did look all the same, so we went in for a look. It was 100 TL for the night, basic, but with wifi and TV it would be fine. And we really couldn’t be bothered looking further. We got checked in, taking the tank bags upstairs. The stairwells were quite dark, but there were great local photos on the walls, white with snow in winter. Next job was to get the bike covered up again (the canopy is really proving very useful), and it just keeps all the luggage out of view.

I’d seen a little minimarket round the corner, and also nipped off to buy some milk, and back in the room first job recuperating was making hot coffee and a couple of sandwiches. The internet was quite decent, and Stew even found two channels in TV in English (so we got some news), and we’d be able to do some forward travel plans and weather checking later. We then went off for a wander round the streets in the vicinity of the hotel, still in our bike pants and boots – it was quite cool. We didn’t get too far as it started to rain, getting quite persistent. But the quick reckie only revealed a load of lighting electrical shops, local delis (cheese and honey), several kebab and pide places and a couple of smaller market shops (no sign of anywhere selling beer – looks like we are getting in training for Iran!). We went in one mini-market just to get some fresh bread, cheese, and I picked up a packet of chips. Stew thought he’d take a soup too, in case we didn’t get out again. It really was quite soggy by the time we got back to the room, and the rain still pattering. We spent an hour online, looking at the weather, and the logistics of getting into Iran and where we could stay. Here in the mountains it was rainy and cold for the next few days, so it looks like we’ll be setting off in the wet tomorrow – but at least Dogubeyazit (the last town stop 40 km before the Iran border), was less than 300 km away, And the forecast there was drier for later in the day – so we can hope. I really didn’t fancy going out again in the rain, and after doner last night, didn’t really fancy another. Stew wasn’t too bothered either, so we just made some soup and bread, and Stew had a coffee and the last chewy bar for afters. I got the diary up to date and put the last few days photos on the computer, while Stew watched an episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ before starting on the 4th Millemium book – the girl in the spiders web. I’m sure he will enjoy it was much as I did.

It was a little noisy around the hotel, as other guests were coming and going using the lift till quite late, but music over the earphones pretty much sorted that out. We slept reasonably well, even though after it had gone all quiet, we were aware of rain all through the night. Thankfully it seemed to have baited by the time we woke up around 7am, and this morning I got up to make us some hot tea. Internet was a bit dodgy, throwing us off, so we didn’t get much. Stew had some jam and bread, then we set about packing. It was cold, and gloomy outside as we unwrapped Fritz from his overnight canopy. He was squeezed in between two bigger vans, and hardly visible at all really. We were just getting everything on the bike, when the reception guy came out and motioned if we wanted to eat (so breakfast was included – but it was too late now, and I didn’t really fancy sitting in the smoky upstairs lounge). We were really glad we’d put all the layers on again, and wet weather gear, as it was definitely needed to keep us warm and dry over the next 4 hours. We were soon out of the town on the road E80 to Dogubayazit, with not too much traffic and mostly decent roads, we could actually enjoy the ride and the scenery. So impressively bleak, yet quite beautiful, as we made our way through the mountainous region. Again we climbed over 2000 m, and really were very lucky with the rain fall. It looked like we missed showers in a few places, and we even had some sunshine for a while, lighting up the landscape. One place had a quite impressive fort perched on a high rocky outcrop, and we also passed a lovely old stone bridge crossing a river further in the mountains.

We did note that the jandarma presence was much heavier than in the west of Turkey, at each of the small towns we passed through. There were heavy armoured vehicles and check points (more coming into Turkey – so we weren’t stopped). The mountain villages do look a very hard place to make a living, mostly farming and keeping cattle, with the small villages all having huge piles of hay (presumably feed for the animals over winter). It was obviously very much poorer too; horse and carts evident, and we saw a few kids getting around on a couple of donkeys. The small buildings were quite drab and looked in need of repairs; even the mosques were not the sparking edifaces we’d seen elsewhere. We made it to Agri and down onto the massive plains, before we needed a petrol stop. Here all the pump guys came over to look at and talk a bit about the bike, and we were welcomed to cay again.

With all the wet roads and spray, we were really getting quite grubby, and Fritz was not looking to good either. We only had another 90 km to go, but we did hit the black skies, and got the wettest we had all morning. The visibility was really poor, with the low dark cloud base, so we couldn’t really see Mount Ararat as we were on the approaches to Dogubayazit. Hope the visibility improves before we head off – its supposed to be quite spectacular, in fact 2 huge volcanic domes, the biggest snow capped at 5200 m and the smaller still 3200 m. Its the mythical resting place of Noah’s arc, and the peaks are actually in Aremenia not Turkey, and are very significant in the local folklore. The town emerged from the plane, but was really no picture book – the roads were grimy with wet mud, and the concrete building blocks nothing appealing. There was all kinds of construction works going on, so it was more like a building site, work in progress. We didn’t really want to head into the centre, and we were looking for the Butik Ertur Hotel, which should be just off the main E80 heading into town. Online it looked comfy and decent for around $60, with off street parking too. We continued through and almost out of the other end, so Stew pulled over so I could check the map and sketch I’d made – I was pretty certain we’d passed it. We decided to turn round, and driving slowly to keep an eye out. We got to the main town intersection, and there was one hotel to our right on the road side, but then I spotted the Ertur Hotel sign on the other side of the road. It was a biggish (5 storey) brown building, and set further back off the road, so we decided we’d head there. There was decent parking in front, and we pulled in next to a French registered 4X4. Hotel staff were out to greet us, and we were welcomed inside. The man at reception spoke English which was great, and so we were soon organised is a room on the second floor facing back off the street. It was quite big, warm and toasty, and we were soon out of our bike gear.

There was a restaurant open till 8 in the evening (we think), and breakfast was from 7am (I’m not sure if there are any shops in walking distance, and we wouldn’t be going far anyhow). We thought we might as well just wrap up the bike again – I had thought is staying a couple of nights, but really the place just didn’t look attractive enough. We’d have a long run again tomorrow if we got over the border OK, and we thought we’d make our way to the Caspian Sea, and spend a few days relaxing when we got there. It had been a shorter drive today, which was good, and we were lounged on the big bed drinking hot coffee by 1pm. Internet was OK too, so we could get online and being browsing and making plans for Iran. Went for a wander down the street later, after a reckie in the hotel restaurant area; it looked pretty deserted really, and nothing interesting to see on the street either, except a coffin makers showing wares on the pavement.

There were a couple of small minimarket shops, so we called in one for a few supplies, in case the restaurant wasn’t open (we weren’t sure). We got some fresh bread, milk, chips, pack of biscuits and a couple of tomatoes. There was someone at reception when we got back, so we asked about the restaurant – and yes it was open. Did they sell beer – Yes 🙂 It was still to early to eat, so we had a beer in our room, with some chips and nuts, savouring it really. It could be quite a while before we’d get any more. We headed down to the restaurant area around 6.30pm. It had started to rain quite heavily again. There were a few other guests and the french group (there were now two vehicles and 5 people) were sitting out on the covered patio area. We asked for a menu, and though we were given a large book, the dishes available amounted to kebab and kofte, so that is what we had. We were also brought round fresh bread and chopped salad, and two more beers. It was a really enjoyable meal, and finishing up we walked by the french group and asked which way they were going. They were also heading into Iran, so they couldn’t give us any forward road info. So we wished each other good travels and headed up to bed. We were both pretty shattered even though it was quite early, and we soon snuggled into the nice big bed to listen to some music. We were awake early with the daybreak, even though it was only just after 6am, so plenty time for a snuggle. Getting up to make tea, we found hot water running this morning, so both had a nice shower in the very decent bathroom. Outside it still looked very cold and grey, definitely more rain on the way. I was just checking the computer, when found it had gone into an automatic update routine (Win10), so there was nothing I could do with it, except just leave it on !! We packed a bit of the bags, before heading down for breakfast which started at 7am., and then we were ready for off. We found the French vehicles had already gone. We did get to see a bit more of Mount Ararat – the bottom of the snow line, but the peak was totally obscured in a blanket of steel grey, as we headed towards the Iranian border……

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