15 Dec 2011

The dash for home - and then to Spain

After leaving Bulgaria at miday on Saturday we drove half way through Romania and called it a day. Sunday we started early and drove 120 miles in Romania, through Hungary and Austria and well into Germany 730 miles later. We manged to pitch and pack in the dry, despite a megga storm overnight and carried on to Luxembourg. The original idea was to stay in Luxembourg but the weather was awful, so we filled up with fuel and booze and headed on towards Calais, stopping with just a couple of hours to go. Luckly we pitched and packed in the dry again (despite the lousy forecast) and managed to get an earlier crossing on the tunnel and drove straight to the pub in Granborough and pitched the tent for the last time (on this trip!) in the car park.

As we don't get the house back till Christmas we decided to fly to Spain ( hopefully warmer weather) until the 21st, but first had to extract the car and caravan from storage. The battery was dead on the car (and had to be replaced), it then failed its MOT and needed a new spring, and the water pump had packed up on the caravan, but by the eveniung we were all sorted and headed for Spain the following day.

Fortunatly the weather has been superb and is a good wind down, with a little walking, cycling and beers in the sun and reflection on the last months of travelling with no concern over getting the cruiser home (which is now safely tucked up in a barn in the UK).

2 Dec 2011

The last beer in the sun

Ephasus, our last stop in Turkey

A last beer in the sun in Turkey before heading to Bulgaria

The last sunset

A quick visit to Troy en route

Into the Bulgarian Mountains with Wildrovers 4x4

And over the top

And now the quick dash across europe and home.

24 Nov 2011

Heading Home

After a couple of we nights the sun came out again and has been quite hot in the daytime, unfortunately now that is all too short and once the sun goes down it gets colder and colder! We've had a few 2/3 day stops but now it is time to head home. We have abandoned the idea of going via the Croation coast and after a few days 4x4 in Bulgaria (staying in a farmhouse with a roaring fire!) we will head direct to Calais, crossing on the eve of the 7th. As we don't get the house back until after Christmas we have booked flights to Spain from 9th to 21st and then up to Chris's parents for Christmas and back to move the furniture back in from storage on the 30th.

We have not been slacking on the intrepid front though as we both went for a tandem paraglide, originally my 60th birthday present from Sarah, but Chris decided to come at the last minute (after negotiating a better price) and we both jumped right off the top of a 2000m mountain. Chris loved it and even did some acrobatics. It never occurred to me that there might be some similarity with a rollercoaster so the pilot had to take it very steadily down. That was my first and last I'm afraid, and the same goes for the parachute jump I always wanted to make, & I suppose space flight is out of the question too - I'll have to stick to the bike, and the cruise of coarse.



Chris being Intrepid

Ready for Take Off

Flying Like a Bird!

14 Nov 2011

Its Raining Again

Except for the last 3 day's sprint back across europe the long driving days are over and we are now taking a slow drive round the Turkish Coast to Bulgaria. It is raining today and cloudy yesterday but the 8 days before were in the mid 20's in the shade (mid to high 30's in the sun), blue skies and sunshine and we found a few nice beaches to camp on and a few old ruins to look at (and no I wasn't looking in the mirror!)

We hit the coast at Side, a town full of Roman ruins, some restored but a lot just sticking out of the ground all over the place. Chris particularly wanted to visit Side as she had camped here in 1976 on her way back overland from Singapore and wanted to see what it was like. Amazingly the beach she camped on is still pretty much the same as they have prevented building here due to the amount of ruins still not excavated.

After Side we gave Koray a call, he left Winslow a few weeks before we started our trip to come back to Turkey to open a Hotel and we said we would come and visit if we got to Turkey. Turns out it was Alanya and not Antalya as we thought, but they are quite close and Side is in the middle so no problem. We met Koray on the outskirts and he led us to the Hotel on his motor bike. We were expecting a small back street place, but turned out to be a 5 bed boutique hotel just beneath the Castle Walls with a fantastic view of the harbour and the bay and with a finish and attention to detail at least the equal of any 5 star property.

The evening before my 60th we camped at the Dragon Motel and camp site at Anamur (recomended) and met a Norwegian with a Russian wife staying at the Motel and toasted in my birthday with a bottle of Vodka and a glowing fire on the beach. Another protected beach but this time to preserve the beaches for the sea turtles to lay their eggs. It is not so much the building as the light as the mother turtle lays her eggs and goes back to sea, when the eggs hatch the babies follow the moon light on the sea and if there is any light on land they will go the wrong way. For this reason even the castle at the end of the beach cannot be lit up during the hatching season.

After Anamur we went back to the Centauera in Alanya for my Birthday, but just as well as it was high winds and rain by the time we arrived. According to the forecast we may get a little more rain tomorrow and the temperature is dropping even here, but should still be 18 to 20 and sunshine for the following 8 days, while we visit a few more sites including Ephesus and Troy and then up the Gallipoli Peninsular to Bulgaria.

The beach where Chris camped in 1976

Apollo Temple in Side

The Roman Amphetheatre at Aspendos

Koray' Hotel - Centauera

The garden at the Centaura overlooking the bay

the view of the bay from the garden

Koray with Chris at brakfast, Chris went traditional, but I

had sausage eggs, beans, tomatoes and onions - wonderful

On boat trip round the penincular (Alanya)

Views from the castle above the Centauera

The Ancient Shipyard, below the Centauera

I am invited to a wedding lunch whilst out on a bike ride! I was starving at the time and looking for somewhere to eat but stopped to see what the drum banging and flute blowing was about and was invited in - magic!

Anamorium - a 2000 year old City destroyed by an earthquake and in the main left just as it was and with very little restriction you can camber all over the ruins.

Mamure Castle, the other side of Anamure

3 Nov 2011

Famous for 10 minutes

After 430 miles across Turkey yesterday we are now 175 miles from the south coast. It is cold and wet here at 1000m but should hopefully be mid 20's and sunshine on the coast. We are back in the roof tent at last after 3 weeks in Hotels and hopefully now back in the tent for the next month or so. Camping at a truck stop, with a very nice (and very clean) little restaurant with Wifi!

After leaving Elista we headed down to Sochi and after 10 days of cold (we found out later that it was max 5 degrees for 5 days and -5 at night) we were amazed to see people in shorts and T shirts as we approached Sochi. Found a Hotel near the port and found it remarkably easy to book on the ship (except having to trawl round numerous cash machines to raise the funds to pay as they only accepted cash!

Sochi is a mess with all the building work going on and traffic is a nightmare, but the general oppinion appears to be that they will not be ready for the Winter Olympics!

Waiting for the boat we met up with a 4 car team of Chinise going overland from the middle of China to Poland via Turkey. Getting on the boat took ages and they insisted on us taking everything out of the vehicle and passing it through the xray machine. But the Chinese got it worse as they had the cars loaded on the boat when they decided they wanted to search again, had all the cars off, everything out and even removed one of the roof boxes after it had been emptied!!!

The sea was fortunately like a mill pond, even in the middle, and the bunk beds very comfortable so had a good nights sleep, despite the opressive heat in the room. As we had tea in the lounge one of the Chinese asked if they could interview us, turns out it is an joint expedition involving CCTV (Chinese TV) and a motoring magazine wanting to promote tourism. It is unheard of in China for people of our age to travel like us and they were facinated and promised we would be included in their 30 minute television program and featured in the magazine - fame at last. They also gave us one of the magazines and a really nice framed picture of the Monkey King.

After a long wait on the Turkish side we were through without hassle (except getting lost in the port on the way out) and off along the Turkish Black Sea Coast.

After 165 miles the sun was setting and after not seeing a camp site for miles we stopped and asked at a restaurant. They cleared a pile of wood and beckoned us into the garden, right by the sea, we pitched the tent, had a few beers, a delicious meal and the best bottle of wine since we left.

Next morning they invited us round to their home for breakfast and the discussion came round to ages, when they found out I would be 60 in 10 days the Mother and daughter disappeared and came back with a peice of chocolate cake with a candle on it singing happy birthday! They also gave us a bag of Trabzon (Turkish) Tea and a monster bag of hazel nuts picked from their trees.

We were tempted to stay another night, but the clouds were gathering so we decided to stick to the plan and head for the south.

Arriving at Sochi

The beach at Sochi

Sochi from the boat

A storm gathers over the Russian Black Sea coast as we leave

Interviewed by the Chinese on the boat

Arriving at Trabzon

The Cinese vehicles

The Chinese team

The view from our camp spot at the restaurant

Our hosts

28 Oct 2011

And so to Turkey

After a couple of attempts and with the help of a waitress we have managed to ascertain that the next boat to Turkey is on Monday 31st at 18.00 and I believe we and the car are booked on.

Trying to make the call from the Hotel was hopeless so I came back to the restaurant to check the number, in doing so I happened to point the cursor at a little green phone which said 'calling via skype!. I had forgotton that I had put £10 on skype in Mongolia to try to call the Kazakh embassy in Omsk, that failed and I forgot all about it.

The number rang but they only spoke Russian. I then converted the info on the ferry web site back to Russian, plus a little drawing of a car on a ship going across the water and called the waitress for help. She then had a long conversation with the booking office and job done.

It is 11.00 now and only just above zero, with ice on the car park and on the car, but Sochi is 16 today and Antalya is 25 so I might get the shorts and sandels back on yet.

27 Oct 2011

Sausage Mash Peas and Gravy

Boiled Guts and butter tea!

Now in Elista in Russia, half way between Kazakhstan and The Black Sea. Amazingly the population here is mostly Mongolian, still here from Genghis Khans days! Fortunately we have found a cheap Hotel, with the fastest wifi we have had since we started and serves proper russian food, apparantly it is the only place in town.

What a week, 1250 miles travelled from summer (35 degrees) to winter (5 degrees) on really rough roads.

The day after the last update the skies were blue (but the wind kept the temperature down to about 15) so I belted round Khiva for a few more photos before breakfast. Then up to Nukus to an art gallery of works rescued from the Russians and on up to Moynaq where there is an Aral Sea memorial with a number of rusting ships sitting on what was the sea bed, under the cliffs that once overlooked the sea - which is now over 100 miles away. Moynaq was once a thriving fishing village, with cannaries that employed 100's of people, all now closed down. I knew the Aral Sea was shrinking but it is now only 10% of what it was in the 60's (hopefully you will be able to read the photo of the plaque below.

Then to the border - Ye Gods!!! (it was going to be a lot stronger but Chris wouldn't let me). Lonely Planet says there is little traffic on this road - probably because they are all still sitting at the border. The Uzbec side wasn't too bad, 12 cars in front of us, but nothing moved for an hour. When they eventually opened the gates 3 cars went through but the driver of the 4th was missing and the rest were so close they couldn't get round - except me - so - nobody else wants to go? I will - and in we sailed. An hour later we were in no mans land, headed for the gate to Kazakhstan, but was waved to the back of a huge pack of 50 cars in no particular order. I walked to the gate, spoke to the guard and said 'Anglia, Tourist, can I come through?' With a shake of the head he disappeard. I hung around for 10 minutes and amazingly he returned and waved me through! Only to be put in another pack of 15 cars. Another hour went by (with none of the 15 moving) and we were then beckoned through with the two that had arrived in front of us (a Russian and a kazhak that appeared to be together. All in all it took 5 hours. Amazingly it cost nothing, after all the tales this is one area they could make money as I would have gladly greased a few palms to get thorough that lot.

Now dark we decided to push on to Beneu about 40 miles up the road (I use the term loosley as it was almost non existent) but it actually worked well in the dark as there was little traffic and the spots picked out the potholes better than the day time. Little traffic except the accident we came across, where 5 cars had managed to crash into each other! I think we only saw another 5 in the 40 miles and the 'road' was about 8 cars wide!. After Benau the road was so smooth it could have been a GP track and a couple of miles up the road we came across a cafe, that had rooms so there we stayed.

300 miles later we arrived in Atayrau and went round in circles trying to find the centre (Lonely Plane has a map of the centre with various Hotels but we couldn't get on the map). Finally we found a restaurant so I set off on foot to get bearings. When I go back an English guy (Shaun) had spotted the reg and was talking to Chris. He jumped aboard and took us to two Hotels but were both full, then he offered us his annexe and took us to his house. After moving the Hummer out of the way we parked in his yard, next to his MGB and outside his garage with his 1200cc BMW Enduro (which could clearly tell a few tales) and the Hovercraft he is building (the boats were garaged elsewhere). The incredible thing is that he left at 4am the next morning for the UK and left us with the run of the house!

Evan more incredible is that we asked if there was a Toyata Centre in Atayrau and turned out not only is the manager one of his best friends but was due round a couple of hours later to collect his gun, so the service was arranged for the following day.

After ordering in Pizza's he realised that the lady that looks after him when his wife is away had cooked two plates of sausage, mash, peas and gravy (real sausages from England!) and offered these to us on the basis that he would be in England the following day, Chris was reluctant at first but I had no such inhibitions and tucked in - bloody marvelous!

In order to avoid missing his flight (which apparantly he does on a regular basis) we all stayed up till 4am and after a number of beers we downed a half bottle of rum!!! (makes a change from Vodka) and played numerous board games.

It was just as well there was a Toyota Centre as we had had a little trouble starting for a couple of days (after always starting straightaway) but when they came to move it into the service area it wouldn't start and they had to jump start it.

As we had decided to stay another day we left it overnight and collected it in the morning, they had changed the oil and filter, fuel filter, changed the front pads (with a set I was carrying), checked the whole thing over and sorted out the starting problem and would accept nothing for it. Incredible!

Crossing from Kazakhstan into Russia was a civilised 1.5 hours and back on Tom Toms radar finding Hotels is no problem (when they have rooms). The skies are blue and the sun shining, but max temperature is 5 degrees with a bitter cold wind so we are not braving the roof tent for the moment.

We have visited the Kremlin in Astrakhan and a huge Mongolian Budhist Temple here in Elista (certainly much bigger than anything in Mongolia - makes us wonder why we went there at all) will be pushing on towards the Black sea, and hopefully warmer weather tomorrow.

Khiva in the early morning sunshine.

The Tower of Silence. Dating back to 3000AD and where Fire Worshippers used to lay their dead for the sun to bleach their bones.

Jan, a French guy we met in Bukhara and gave a lift to Moynaq, coming down from the Tower of Silence

The ships graveyard at Moynaq

A City? No a graveyard, in the middle of the dessert! Shame they don't spend as much time on the houses they live in!

Another graveyard

Ships of the dessert

The Kremlin in Astrakhan

The Buddhist Temple in Elista