28th of April. We're at the gate of Asia, in Istanbul.
All is well. We spent the last three weeks in the company
of my father who rode his Harley with us from the North
of Spain to Istanbul. Since he is unfortunately not
as systematically on vacation as certain other people,
he had to part from us here, leaving with some regrets
about not having the time to ride on with us, as well
as the intention to join us again.
left from Ampuriabrava on the 5th of April, heading
for Montpellier, Baux de Provence, Le Lavandou and on
to Cannes. I spent three years in Montpellier as a student,
so it was quite a pleasure to revisit old haunts and
entertain Ellen and my father with some previously unreleased
horror stories about my admittedly exemplary student
existence. In Baux, we met a group of friends from Luxembourg,
continuing the next day with a bit of a hangover (all
quite in line with tradition), concluding the french
part of the trip in Cannes, where we were very warmly
welcomed by my aunt and uncle at their summer residence.
Cannes, we rode into Italy, another one of the very
much anticipated destinations on our trip, to a large
extent because of the Italian food and wine. We were
not disappointed. Pisa, Florence, Siena and Tuscany
in general are every bit as spectacular as we expected,
the wine was good and the riding pleasant. For spirited
riding, we can recommend the Chiantigiana to Siena,
the S73 to Montalcino, and the Via Appia between Potenza
and Matera. Unfortunately, there were way too many tourists
everywhere which tended to spoil the pleasure somewhat,
but especially during the Easter Days, this is probably
difficult to avoid.
is the city that wins the prize for some of the most
hair raising driving ever witnessed : The quantity of
scooters buzzing around like mosquitoes combined with
the rather dubious quality of driving make riding a
motorcycle in Florence during rush hour an experience
not easily forgotten. On our way south, we visited Naples
and Pompeii, before arriving in Brindisi where we caught
a boat to Patra, Greece.
Ellen nor I had ever been to Greece, so the country
was a fabulously pleasant surprise. The riding in Italy
had already been good, but the riding in the Peloponnes
(the southern part of Greece) was spectacular. It's
worthwile planning two weeks just to explore the curvy
backroads, tiny mountain villages and spectacular scenery.
Next time, hopefully. We continued to refresh our knowledge
of classic culture by visiting ancient Olympia and Mt.Olympus.
We even managed to sneak in a bit of hiking and religious
history at the St. John the Baptist Monastery near Stemnitsa.
The region is so rich in history as to make it difficult
to decide which sites to see, but considering our timeframe,
we like to think we did a reasonably decent job. Culture
still makes us thirsty, just in case anybody wondered,
although we really cannot recommend Ouzo (or Raki, for
that matter) as a thirst quencher. Evil liquids.
ride through Northern Greece was uneventful, a bit rainy,
and very windy. We liked Thessaloniki, mostly because
of its very active nightlife. From Thessaloniki, we
rode in two days to Istanbul, concluding the ride through
the South of Europe with quite exactly 5.000 km covered,
bringing the total distance to 42.000 km in almost nine
Istanbul, following a recommendation from a friend in
Luxembourg, we were received by a Turkish architect
named Halit Er, who went out of his way to make our
stay as enjoyable as possible, taking us to the untouristed
restaurants full of happy local Turkish people singing
and dancing, and showing us the sights. At age 77, he
still managed to wear Ellen and me out, during a one
day cultural marathon through some of Istanbuls major
museums and a visit to the Bazaar. At the Bazaar, his
influence convinced one bazaari, an old acquaintance
and proprietor of a fabrics shop, to offer Ellen a silk
velvet tissue she fancied as a gift.
will stay a few more days in Istanbul, as there is still
much to see. From here, we plan to ride to Cappadocia
and on to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Following reports
from Iranian friends, we decided not to ride through
Iran as the political situation has been deteriorating.
In Azerbaijan, we will take the ferry to Turkmenistan
and ride east. More good times ahead.