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Turkey, Georgia and Armenia

Turkey.  I’ve not spent much time here.. I’m searching for pastures new … I’ve still got the mojo no-go feeling .. I need a kick in the eyeballs .. a stiff new scent up the nose .. something to grab my attention.. but right now I just need to stay alive.  We get to Istanbul and head for the old city.  This place seems to be about 300% over populated .. the thermometer has gone into the comedy zone and my bladder is on lockdown to stop me loosing any more fluid.  The Bitch is unhappy again and I don’t blame her.. tiny tight streets that it’s impossible to filter through.. creeping and crawling … sweating and swearing through the maze.  I don’t stall it this time but it’s feeling nasty .. like it’s running on 3 cylinders .. yes .. I know … thanks

The Hotel is right next to the Blue Mosque and the calls to prayer are going out as we arrive… drawing the faithful out from the cool sanctuary of the shadows.  We follow the crowd .. follow the call .. follow the sunset ..

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We walk down to the water and look across the Bosporus .. look at Asia.. look at our future..

“Shit loads of history round here” .. I’m sure that’s how they start all the bus tours.. everyone and his wife has been through here and left something to be remembered by.  A nice atmosphere and a real melting pot of people.  The only downside is the constant pestering.. the length of my temper is directly opposite to the air temperature. I just give up at the first hurdle .. the first restaurant .. the first place I can find cold liquid and try to replace the 50% of my bodyweight I lost on the way in.   The 50% that is currently dipping out of my leathers and making the hotel room smell like a gym changing room..

This trip is a lot earlier in the year than I would normally go as I need to get back in time for my baby girl’s wedding.  Consequently its a LOT hotter than usual.  I’m happy with the cold.  I’m never happier than when I’m covered in goose pimples, my tummy banana has run away and hidden in its cave and my nipples could pierce armour plating.  The heat is different, especially as its now pushing 40 degrees.   I’d much rather sweat than bleed though so I’ll just have to get used to it.  I’ve done it before but it takes a while to get used to it.  Milk is the secret.  Milk is the secret to everything..  and I can still find it here.. on the black market .. I just have to check it’s not camels .. or horse.

We have a rest day here but the next day is a long one so my buddy buggers off to Ankara to split it in two.  I haven’t shaved in a week and my whiskers are in danger of getting tangled in the wheels.  I’ve promised myself a shave at a proper Turkish barbers so I hunt one down, dragging my beard along the pavement behind me.  These blokes know what they’re doing .. I think the average Turk’s face is like the Forth Road Bridge .. they have to shave them in teams .. one barber at a time is not enough and they just end up chasing bristles across their face..only to find another wave of stubble where they shaved 2 minutes ago.  I’m a one man job though .. an easy job .. he could probably do it with his eyes shut .. perhaps not though .. not this time .. I’m not quite ready to die..

He spends more time rubbing cream into my face than I usually spend on the whole deal .. this would cost a fortune back at home, I’d have had to sign a dozen wavers, he would be wearing high vis and safely goggles and the walls would be covered in small signs from B&Q with pictures of decapitated bodies and blood .. but out here he just puts in a blade and goes straight for the jugular.  My face is super smooth.. it feels like cling film .. almost slippery smooth .. but he’s not happy so back out with the cream for round 2 .. and then the wax.  I don’t think he’ll be happy until he sees my skull.  Wax all over my ears and under my eyes… then he gets 2 ear buds dips them in the bowl and sticks them up my nose .. JEEEEEEEEESSUS …

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For years now my hair follicles have been emigrating from my head and relocating in my nostrils .. so pulling them out involved him putting his feet on my cheeks and yanking with all his strength.. the result.. well I won’t scare you by showing you what they looked like .. he just took them into the kitchen and put them in a cup of hot water and gave me this .. maybe they’re all made this way ..

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These 2 were clean shaven when I came in 20 minutes ago ..

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Next day I go for a walk round the city.  A lot of the pleasure of these trips comes from taking pictures.  Today it’s not working.. you can’t force it .. I get really frustrated .. and lost.  I like getting lost though. I don’t get lost enough.. even though lots of people tell me I should ..

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Out of Istanbul.. across the bridge .. and into Asia ..

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and… and  nothing .. I’m really surprised how sparsely populated Turkey is .. and blank .. get out the city and just you and the tarmac.. and nothing..  except the wind. Turkey likes it’s flags.. the bigger the better.. and the wind enjoys playing with them.

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No matter how hard I think I cannot remember anything about the ride that day .. nothing .. my mind obviously didn’t see anything worth wasting memory on .. not until the sun stated falling and the landscape was brushed with soft yellow light ..

I was really low on fuel, out on an A road and there was just nothing and nobody about anywhere.  I hoped the GPS was lying to me.. or I was going to be walking.. I’m going over a new bridge and I see what looks like an abandoned fuel station off the road with no obvious path to it.   I’m not in a position to pass up any opportunity so I get off the road, ride through a small abandoned village and under the bridge .. just follow my nose.  Get to the station and there is a light on.  Someone appears and looks at me like he hasn’t seen a human for weeks.  The pump is working though .. the fuel is probably 40 years old .. and leaded .. but who cares..   I go to put my helmet back on but he gestures to me .. would I like a drink?  Why not .. I follow him out through a derelict shop to a small kitchen where he makes me some tea..  we go back to the sofas and just sit in silence for 20 minutes watching a film on a grainy TV set.. I think he just wants company.. I think he’s the only person for miles around .. its times like this that makes trips for me.  Nice tea too ..

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We shake hands and nod .. smile and wave .. and off into towards the setting sun

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I’m meeting my mate in Cappadocia, the place with the caves and the balloons.  It’s well hidden though and you don’t see it until you’re right on top of it.

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Looks like a bad case of rock worm to me… Cappadocia though is tourist central as you can imagine.  I meet up with my mate and he drags me to his cave .. I like what he’s done with the place ..

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We’re taking a day off here to have a ride around the different locations. I’ve been on the bike 1 minute.. I get to the bottom of the road and turn right.. something felt weird .. something isn’t right .. so I stop.  I see shit and happens .. or the Fuckall brothers .. running away and falling over themselves laughing .. Oh… brilliant… IMG_2361 IMG_2360

The day the Ktm designer decided where to put the ignition switch he obviously left his brain in a bin.  The switch is in the yolk in front of the bars.. so when you move the bars .. if you’ve got anything other than a single key in the ignition.. like a keyring for example (what WAS I thinking) with another key on .. then .. if you’re luckily enough to be carrying the Fuckall brothers .. things can get wedged like a shove penny machine and just snap the top of the key off .. which is nice.  Fuck I’ve only been away a bloody week ..  I CAN start the bike with the stub and some pliers as long as I hold the fob close to the ignition .. I really fancy doing that for the next 6/7 weeks .. out with the spare… when I get hold of shit and happens ..

So .. off we go .. again .. there are houses built into the rocks, there are houses built right on the tops of rocks, and someone recently discovered a set of underground caves 6 storeys deep too.  I went to level 1 and freaked out .. it was like running about in someones bowel.. all dark and tight and smelly.. impressive though

We wanted to go up in a balloon but the wind is still blowing hard and looks like it will be for the next few days so we take a Turkish bath instead.  You have a quick sauna then you’re taken into a big room where a health and safety inspector would run out of ink in 10 seconds flat.  The room is about 200 degrees for a start, full of fat blokes in skirts .. singing.  That’s a health and safety issue right there.  In the centre is a raised square area where soap is liberally applied by aforementioned fat hairy singing blokes.  The whole place is tiled, it’s all sharp square edges, and the it’s awash with soap bubbles.  It takes all my concentration to walk 2 meters to my allocated fat bloke without my legs going all ‘baby giraffe’ on me…  once you reach the safety of the table you can just relax .. listen to the singing .. look up at the amazing tiled ceiling with the suns rays casting tunnels of bright light through the steam .. and get liberally soaped by a fat bloke .. go on .. you know you want too.. then into a big communal bubbling bath for a while where you can fart with impunity.  Lastly you can be beaten and stretched and tortured for an hour by very angry man who has sharpened his elbows on an angle grinder and just loves making people scream.  I’d recommend it.

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Get up and out.. into the blankness.  The camera isn’t interested.. it’s just not worth trying when it’s in this mood.. We’re heading north to the black sea coast and we’ve a way to go.  Going to take a while.  What we really need is a delay.. seems shit and happens are riding with my mate today .. fuck they’ve been busy ..

We get stopped by the police at a checkpoint.  We’re all legal and stuff .. insured .. international licences .. should be absolutely no problem.  I’m first .. I’m through .. I look round and the policeman is on the phone .. that’s not a good sign.  Problem 1 .. someone has entered his plate as a O not a 0.  This happens all the time.  I have a 1.. and it’s often an I on the documents.. Problem 2 is they have his number plate down as a car.  Maybe they only saw it from behind .. it’s an easy mistake to make .. anyway, this causes mucho problemo..

About an hour and 50 phone calls to various official offices later, the details have been updated and we’re on our way again.  Time to get some squiggles on my helmet ..

IMG_2437 IMG_2429 IMG-19Fuck this is dull… sooo soo soooo dull .. I’m riding with one eye open to save the other from the pain of looking at it .. we get stopped for speeding .. just to relieve the boredom ..

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You have to have these null days .. you have to have the yin and the yang.  I’m a spoiled twat right?  Yes I am.. I know I am .. but it doesn’t help. We get to a petrol station.. running late.  There are a load of old men sitting having a chat and a fag. One of them speaks really good English.  He’s a dentist and specialises in teeth tourists.  We’ve been looking at the map and decided we have time to skip into Armenia but there are no border crossings from Turkey.  I ask him why … he talks a big intake of breath and off he goes .. full rant .. I wish I’d taken more notice in history lessons .. then I’d have kept my mouth shut.  10 minutes later .. I wish I’d never asked … 30 minutes later .. I really really really wish I had been born without any ears ..

By the time we get to the coast its getting dark.  The town we’re at is built on a 60% angle.. I think it was originally built on the level then tilted .. all the roads are at hideous lean angles, regardless of their direction.  Come to a turning and the left peg is nearly touching the road, but put your right foot down and you’ll be lucky to touch tarmac.  Scares the shit out of me.

I’m feeling really restless and I don’t know what I want.  I get like this sometimes on these trips .. just passing the days .. head in a spin .. like an addict looking for a fix .. and Turkey isn’t doing it for me.   IMG-8 IMG-9
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Follow the coast road east.  I’ve no doubt I’ve not seen the best of Turkey but I’ll really not miss it.   Just time for a few more squiggles and we’re out

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Get into Georgia and it’s immediately a different world.. and a much better one.  The second we’re through we’re set on by the hawkers.. insurance .. yes .. you .. random bloke .. yep .. I’ll just hand you my passport and V5 and some dollars and you can disappear into a random hole somewhere round the corner and sort it out for me while I sit in the shade and drink.  You .. you look trustworthy .. change this funny money into your funny money will you .. I should really check it .. but my bothered-ometer just isn’t working in this heat.  Luckily my documents come back to me 15 minutes later together with some pink paper covered in writing I don’t understand.  Perfect.

We get up the coast a bit and stop at the first beach for lunch.

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And I take a quick dip in the Black Sea to cool off .. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh .that’s better..

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One of my riding buddies mates has recommended a route across the south of Georgia towards Armenia so we head into the mountains to Khulo looking for some relief from the heat.  Take the a nice twisty road up to Khulo and look for a bed.  The place is dead but we’re still told the hotels are full.  It has quite an unfriendly atmosphere about it.. strange stares and quiet when we walk past .. but I like that.  Gives some of my 6th, 7th and 8th senses some exercise.. we end up down the road out of town in hostel perched on the mountainside.

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Take a wander about and look for something to eat.  Go into a shop that looks like the last delivery was sometime in 1940.

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The only place we could find with stuff not past it’s sell by date was the off licence

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We’re off to Armenia.. the road up to Khulo was as good as advertised .. I’m looking forward to more. The second we leave the town the road turns to proper shit and stays that way for the next 2 hours.  Very steep and very loose .. like my bowels.  It’s Georgia FFS, what did I expect.  Still, nice views when I can take my eyes off the road.

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By the time we get to tarmac the bikes are really tired .. time for a little lie down ..

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Get into town and go for breakfast and the feeling is the same as in Khulo.. but if you persist long enough you’ll get a smile .. sort of ..IMG_2598 IMG_2602

We’re heading for the Armenia border.  Looks like there are 3 to choose from, but we go for the closest.  The road is up. We perch on a thin strip of tarmac as we try to go against the trucks.. the BMW gets its bum fondled by a trailer and nearly goes over the edge …

IMG_2630Get up to the Armenia border.  Is it open?  We were prepared for queues but we’re the only ones here.  Not another bugger in sight.  Go in and bang on a window.. wake up the guard.. get a sleepy stamp in my passport then go for some insurance.  They’re all sat around eating their dinner.  I rub my stomach .. 2 hands pop out through the glass .. one has my insurance .. the other has a sandwich.. that’s a first:)

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We’re headed down to Yerevan, one of the worlds continuously inhabited cities .. bet you didn’t know that.. I didn’t ..  We’re only just a few minutes inside, always the most dangerous time, and we’re pulled for speeding.  The locals are living in poverty with fences made from crashed cars but the police can still afford radar and video.  It’s a nice clip to be fair .. some good fast overtaking .. I wonder if I could buy it off him for my blog .. he starts by showing us the chart of the fines and we’re at the top.  This is where he would usually smile and get his buddy to sit in the back so I could put the money in the slot and we could be on our way .. usually..

This bloke is different.. he really wants the money.  I wasn’t expecting that.  He’s getting quite wound up about it .. and me offering him £20 hasn’t helped.  We haven’t got any more cash so he phones up someone at headquarters and get an earful.  We’re threatened with the removal of our driving licences until we pay .. we need to respect the law .. even though there are locals driving past us with their feet to the floor and smoke pouring out the back like a challenger tank.  We go to plan B,  just go quiet.  He’s really pissed though and starts shouting down the phone and getting all red in the face.  His little mate has to take over before he explodes.  We explain that this is all the money we have, and we’re leaving tomorrow, and eventually they take the £20 I offered him in the first place .. and get no ticket .. WTF was that all about .. proper good cop bad cop ..

First big town and it’s been proper pissing down. The roads are awash.  There are huge 6ft x 4ft open metal grills in the road taking the floodwater, and bikes if you’re not careful or you approach them at the wrong angle.  Where is that health and safety bloke .. .  I’m pulling away from some lights and a huge dog comes running out from the side of the road.  It’s times like this that can finish the trip in an instant.  It’s not just playing, it wants a piece of me.  I brake hard and hit the back of it and it lets out a big yelp and stumbles straight into the path of a oncoming car .. game over ..

Get to Yerevan and into the city centre.  Nice city, and a complete contrast to the countryside.  We’re staying in an old ground floor apartment block.  The landlord tells us not to leave things within reach of open windows as they’re likely to go missing.  No chance of bringing the bikes inside so they have to take their chances chained up outside. It doesn’t feel at all threatening and the locals are really friendly. We take a wander round the square in the evening amongst all the locals.  Feels a lot like Russia, everyone out for a walk and a chat.  I like the feeling round here.

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I’m up early, just in case I have to start filling in a stolen bike police report but they’re still there.  Stretching and yawning in the early morning sun.

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