TURKEY TRIP

JUNE 2005

ALL PHOTOS

Go to my ALBUMS from my HomePage to view these photos and movies in a different way or to download the entire folder.

PHOTOS - a SELECTION of the ones I took.

This is the entire story, including E-Mails I sent home while on the trip.

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E-Mail sent prior to trip

TURKEY 2005-06-08 PRE-TRIP

If you are getting this, it is because at some point you said you like getting my trip reports. If you would rather not get these, let me know and I will take you off the list.

A few months ago Mike Kneebone, president of the Ironbutt Association sent a message out to the Ironbutt community saying that he was going on an organized motorcycle tour starting in Turkey. He invited anyone that wanted to go to contact the tour organizer. I thought it would be interesting but I already had a trip planned with Irene and her family. I could not go to both. Irene suggested I go to Turkey. Was she trying to tell me something?

I looked at the price and where the trip was. Sounded unique and not too expensive. I AM CHEAP, as many of you know. I contacted the tour company and said I was in, then let Mike know. After that, I converted the price in Euros to US Dollars. Yikes!!!!! My cheap genes started to quiver. Then I added the cost of flight, gas, tolls, etc. My cheap genes fainted. With luck, they will not wake up until after I get home.

My estimates are that the total cost of this trip will be quite a bit more than my December trip will be. In December I am planning on buying a bike in Argentina and riding around South America for a month. Of course, the hotels on the Turkey trip will probably have toilet seats.

I am not exactly an "organized" tour kind of guy. More of a "gee, I wonder where this road goes" kinda guy. I suppose I will survive.

The basic itinerary is:

June 09 Thu - Fly from Boston to New York then on to Istanbul 
June 10 Fri - Land in Istanbul, Turkey and stay at a fleabag, er, economy hotel. 
June 14 Tue - Meet up with other riders and stay at group Hotel (complete with toilet seats)
June 15 Wed - Ride to Solonica, Greece ~390 miles 
June 16 Thu - Ride to Ioannina, Greece ~220 miles 
June 17 Fri - Ride to Saranda, Albania ~62 miles 
June 18 Sat - Ride to Berat, Albania ~124 Miles 
June 19 Sun - Ride to Durres, Albania ~62 Miles 
June 20 Mon - Ride to Tiraan, Albania ~25 Miles 
June 21 Tue - Ride to Cetinje, Montenegro (former Yugoslavia) ~124 miles 
June 22 Wed - Ride to Dubrovnik, Croatia ~93 miles 
June 23 Thu - Free day in Dubrovnik, Croatia 
June 24 Fri - Ride to Nis, Serbia ~280 miles 
June 25 Sat - Ride to Plovdiv, Bulgaria ~186 miles 
June 26 Sun - Ride to Istanbul, Turkey ~250 miles 
June 27 Mon - Fly home, getting home about 10:30 PM   

As you can see, this is no ordinary European Tour, nor is it one of my normal Ironbutt style rides. Max mileage day is 390, with one day as little as 25 miles. Lots of borders to cross. Lots of interesting culture, architecture and food.

I doubt I will be spending any time writing trip reports until I get home, but I will put this all on the web including photos after I get home.

See you soon.

"Few men who have liberated themselves from the fear of God and the
fear of death are yet able to liberate themselves from the fear of man."
--Lin Yutang

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The following is my first E-Mail home, from Istanbul.

TURKEY 2005-06-14 ISTANBUL

I made it safe and sound. Just met up with the others at the group hotel. Big difference from the Hostel I stayed in the last four nights. Gonna take some getting used to being waited on etc. The Hostel was a nice place with great people. No air conditioning but it did have a toilet seat. It cost the same amount per night to stay there as a meal in the restaurant here costs. Different and very interesting people staying there. One day I was watching Home Alone 2 in Turkish, with four young Polish girls, two Turkish men, a guy from Canada and someone I think was French. I am so embarrassed when I see the kinds of culture that makes it from our country to others.

For the most part I just walked around Istanbul seeing the old buildings and historic areas. I did tour one "New Mosque". Actually, that was the name. New Mosque. Of course, new is 400 years old. Only in Istanbul would a 400 year old building be called new.

While trying to find one church in an obscure part of Istanbul, some children tried to help me get there. They brought me to a church after much walking, but it was not the church I was looking for. A man there chased the kids away (they wanted money) and said he would take me there. He wanted to practice his English. The gun on his hip made me a little nervous, but what was I to do. He brought me back to the church, which was a long walk away. He did not actually know where it was, but he had better luck asking. I don't know if it was the gun or the fact that he spoke Turkish.

There are two subjects you never talk about when in a foreign country: Religion and Politics. So what did this man insist on talking about? You guessed it. Hey, he had a gun, who was I to argue. Mostly I let him talk. He actually had many interesting things to say. When we got back to the Police Station, Oh? Did I mention he was with the Police? Anyway, I was offered tea and felt it was rude to decline. After the tea, we talked more about the two subjects. From the things he said I cam away with these points: Muslims hate George Bush, but don't hold that against the citizens of the states. Many Muslims believe that George blew up the Twin Towers and the Pentagon just so he could have war with Iraq and kill Muslims and take their oil. Almost everyone in the States are Christians. Christians are not hated, but Christianity is not a true religion.

There were many other things we talked about, but I eventually had to leave. As it turned out, after I left, I looked at my book ad realized the police station was at the entrance of the next place I wanted to go. It was a place you usually can not see much of for security reasons, but I probably could have gotten a great tour from the Officer. I decided not to go back, since I did not have a lot of time left and it would have taken a long time with all the talking and all. I really wished I had more time.

Anyway, I will write when I can.

Bob L

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THE STORY

-Finally I am getting around to putting my notes together for you all to see. Sorry it took so long. I decided not to write this as my typical day to day journal. Too cumbersome and my notes are too long and mixed up. I have that info if you need details to plan a trip. What I have here is as simple of a summary of places and events as I can muster. I have never been a man of few words, but I will at least try to keep this interesting. Of course, truth is flexible, isn't it?

-For those of you on the trip, I apologize in advance if any of my descriptions of events, locations or a phrase I use matches something you said. As they say, Plagiarism is the greatest form of flattery.

-And for anyone that is especially particular about information being accurate (Bob) I have deliberately inserted inaccuracies so that you can pick them apart.

A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE TRIP

-I flew to Istanbul, Turkey and spent four days seeing the sites in this city. Then I took a 12 day motorcycle tour organized by MotorEast. We rode some great roads almost every day. We saw some great historical sites every day, lots of old buildings etc. We ate great food with great company everyday. We all got home safe. We rode through Greece, Albania, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Bulgaria, returning to Istanbul. There you have it. Any further reading is at your own discretion. I will not be held responsible for injuries incurred due to falling asleep and hitting your head on the keyboard.

-Below is a list of the miles and kilometers traveled per day and for the trip.

DAILY MILES

......  km     km     miles  miles
date..  day   trip     day    trip>
14-Jun   18     18      11      11 
15-Jun  627    645     390     401  longest day
16-Jun  433  1,078     269     670 
17-Jun  157  1,235      98     767 
18-Jun  313  1,548     194     962 
19-Jun  141  1,689      88   1,049 
20-Jun   55  1,744      34   1,084  Shortest riding day
21-Jun  261  2,005     162   1,246 
22-Jun  179  2,184     111   1,357 
23-Jun    0  2,184       0   1,357  This was a free day in Dubrovnik
24-Jun  558  2,742     347   1,704 
25-Jun  321  3,063     199   1,903 
26-Jun  446  3,509     277   2,180								

CURRENCY

The value of various currencies compared to the US Dollar

1 Albanian Lek     = 0.009938 US Dollar 
1 Bulgarian Lev    = 0.62429 US Dollar 
1 Croatian Kuna    = 0.16837 US Dollar 
1 Euro             = 1.23000 US Dollar - Greece and other places 
1 Serbian Dinar    = 0.01463 US Dollar 
1 Turkish New Lira = 0.74019 US Dollar 
1 Turkish Lira     = 0.00000074 US Dollar 
1 Yugoslav Dinar   = 0.01463 US Dollar   = Montenegro and Bosnia I think.                                     

-The Turkish Lira is interesting. There is the new and the old Lira. The switch was just done this year. With the old lira 1,000,000 Lira is worth about $.74 US Dollars. With the New Lira, 1 Lira is worth about $.74 US Dollars. You can imagine the confusion since both currencies are still used. Counting your change after a transaction can be an experience.

MILES PER GALLON

-I only checked on a few fill-ups, but the bike I had averaged 38 Miles per gallon. Some of the bikes were getting in the mid to upper 50s. Gasoline was averaging a little over $4 per gallon.

MORE INFORMATION

-If you are interested in more information on riding in this part of the world, the following links may help.

www.ommriders.com One More Mile Riders, Ironbutt style riding in Turkey
www.outdooralbania.com The Albanian tour group.
www.motoreast.com The tour company I rode with.


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2005-06-09 Thu Home to somewhere over the Atlantic

-Left Home about 7:15am to fly to Istanbul.

-The flight on Delta SUCKED. Crammed into the plane. There was a kid behind me who was banging on the seat, climbing on the seat, coughing, screaming, poking the seat, and making a real nuisance of herself. The mother did little.

-There was an older woman sitting next to me who I think was Muslim. She did not want to talk (she did not speak English). She really seemed to want to be left alone and have as much space as possible. She did not once go to the bathroom the entire trip. I took a half a Benadryl and was able to get enough sleep. The food REALLY sucked. Barely food and it gave me a ton of gas. Maybe that is why the woman next to me did not want to talk to me.

-On TV the other day I saw an interview with an airline executive. One of the things he said was that "our food is better than in the past and that obviously people like it because they eat it." Did it ever occurred to him that people eat it because it is all they have to do and it is the only food available?

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2005-06-10 Fri ...to Istanbul, Turkey

-Arrived at Attaturk airport around 11am local time (4:30am EST). My luggage was not there. They claimed all the luggage had been unloaded but it turns out there was one container they had not gotten to yet. Delta!

-Customs etc. was a breeze. It cost $20 for a Visa, it was $80 for Canadians. I wonder what they did to deserve such an expensive Visa?

-Ikbal from Motoreast picked me up and brought me to the Paris Hotel and Hostel. This was the place I chose rather than the group hotel for the four nights I would be in Istanbul prior to the rest of the group getting there. This was a nice enough place with breakfast and taxes included for $19.50/night. The room was basic, but it had a shower and a toilet WITH A SEAT and two beds. Came with towels and soap etc. It was clean, but old. I stayed in a room with a window and a private bath. Some of the rooms only had windows that opened into the hallway. I think there may have been rooms that did not have windows at all. You can find cheaper, and you can find better but this was a good compromise. In contrast, the Group Hotel, called the Blue House, our special rate was $100/night, it has air conditioning, two beds, shower, towels, soap etc. Except for the A/C it provided basically the same amenities, just higher class and quality, of those I got at the Hostel. Except the Hostel also provided 24 hour free coffee, tea, etc and beers were around $2 for a liter, compared to the Blue House beer at $7 per 12 oz beer. Oh, and the Hostel had a nice deck on the roof to hang out on and watch the ships go by.

-You meet much more interesting people at a Hostel than you do at fancy hotels. At fancy hotels, even if the people are interesting, it can be hard to relate with how they travel. It is easy for me to relate to people who are traveling on a shoestring, even if I do not really travel that way, it is much closer to my style than staying at $150/night hotels and drinking $7 beers.

-Once I settled into my room I walked, walked, walked around Istanbul. The Blue Mosque, The Hippodrome, etc. I could go on and on about each and every place I went, but I wont. If you want that kind of info, buy the Lonely Planet Guide Book.

-Ate at street vendors and had a great dessert for my meals. Beers, food and dessert cost less than a beer would have at the Blue House.

-During the four days I was at the Hostel I met a number of interesting people. I met an older couple from South Africa who were just finishing up a tour of Turkey. I also met Mar, a Canadian woman, who is writing a historic novel on Malta. During the four days I was there I also met a number of interesting people. Jesse and Sandy a young Canadian couple who just finished a tour of Turkey. Llew, another Canadian who was just finishing up a year long round the world tour. Then there were the four young Polish women who were there for a Cartography Conference. As well as a number of others. Interesting people and interesting conversations.

-Was in bed by 11pm (3pm EST), so I was up for 34 hours, minus a little sleep I got on the plane.

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2005-06-11 Sat Istanbul

-It rained and thunder stormed a lot first thing in the morning, then stopped. Sounded like we were being shelled. We were not, I checked. This was the only rain I saw on the trip.

-I was having breakfast with Mar from Canada. I was asked by one of the Hostel workers if she was my Daughter. How embarrassing. Well, OK, she did looked young enough to be my daughter.

-Breakfast at almost all hotels in Istanbul (and most of the trip) consists of Boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, jam/butter/cream cheese. Some places put out a lot more, but these are the staples. Yogurt is also a staple. They make it in a lot of different styles, thick, thin, as a drink. It is always plain, but there is always fruit and things that can be added. It is very good and is good for digestion, especially if you are in an area where you are not used to the food.

-Went to the Grand Bazaar. Very interesting place. You can get pretty much everything you could ever want there. You can buy every brand of clothing, you even can buy the labels from every brand in case you want to make one of these brands, as well as the cloth. Some of these "fakes" are actually real, but they are overstocks, irregulars or cancelled orders.

-At the Spice Bazaar you can buy everything. Afghanistan Saffron, India Curry, Turkish Viagra....

-Saw a copy machine on wheels, with a generator underneath. You could copy documents, get ID's made. Licenses, passport, whatever. I suppose if I lost my passport it would be easier to get one here than at the consulate.

-There were other Bazaars around, including ones where the locals shop. Some pretty good prices, but not great. There was even a shop where you could buy Handguns, rifles and shotguns. There was a brand called Volaires or something like that. Probably of Russian design. There was also a number of Winchester rifles. Somehow they did not look as well refined as the ones I have seen here. Gee, do you suppose they are copies?

-Istanbul has over 500 Mosques. Mosques receive their electricity for free. Any house built within 100 meters (I think) of a Mosque is protected, so if you build an illegal house near a mosque, they can not tear it down. Also, you might illegally tap into the electricity of the mosque.

I WAS ROBBED!!

-I had a back pack that I have had for years. It was falling apart. I really did not think it was going to survive the trip. While walking around today, the zipper finally broke for good. I could not even keep a bottle of water in there, it kept falling out. I was going to throw it out, but decided to play a game. I would be super careless with it and see if it would get stolen. I thought it would be interesting to see how it is done. The only thing in it was a little bit of water. I had heard that Istanbul was a very safe city. Istanbul is safe, but as with any city, there is some crime. I started putting the bag down where it was out of my sight when I was seated. I would put it down when talking to a shop keeper or when looking at things. I was carrying it with one finger most of the time. I don't know if it just did not look valuable or if there really is very little crime, but I could not get it stolen. I was getting tired of carrying it, so when the opportunity arose, I assisted in it's theft. I was entering the Suleymaniye Mosque. There was a man at the gate, that said "no backpacks" and pointed to one on the ground near his feet. You could see in this guys eyes that he was a scam artist. This is the kind of guy that makes you keep a hand on your wallet. I, of course, put the bag down, trying not to look at him in the eyes so that he could see I was playing a trick. I walked around the corner, waited a couple of seconds, then went back. The man was not there, what a surprise. I walked out to the street. He was no where to be seen. I am still not sure how he could have gotten out of view so quickly. It was a long street and I don't think there was any doors or alleys to duck down. This should have made me happy, but somehow it upset me. Strange. Even though I was trying to get robbed, it pissed me off when it happened. I can't imagine how angry I would be if I was actually robbed of something valuable. As it turned out, I played a trick on myself. There was a hat in the backpack. I forgot I had it since I don't usually carry one but it looked like rain when I left. I did not remember it was there until late in the day. It was not valuable, but still, the fact that this thief actually got something from me that had any value was not good.

-I still think it would be interesting to gather a bunch of broken cameras, junk back packs, waist packs etc and go to these kinds of places and watch how the criminals do their stuff. There would be some danger in it, and it probably is not a good idea to give these guys any more practice, but it would be interesting to see how they do it.

-Had dinner at an inexpensive outdoor Cafe. It was entertaining to watch them drive away potential customers. People would walk by, stop and look at the menu. Almost immediately they were pounced upon by the waiter, who would try to convince them to eat there. That drove them all away. The only people that stayed were the ones that somehow saw the menu while the waiter was busy. You would think that they would eventually catch on that this sort of behavior is bad for business.

-Sat outside and listened to at least 5 Mosques compete on the call to prayers. Very interesting sound. There was a guy early in the morning, somewhere outside my window that sounded excellent. Like singing. It did not sound like he was singing over a loud speaker, so maybe he was just singing the call to prayers on his own.

-I slept pretty good, until 2am when some guy was moving barrels on the street. Then later there were drunks on the street arguing plus other noises that kept me awake. Then the call to prayer woke me up, but this one sounded like it was not over a speaker and sounded very good. In the future, I think bringing a small, fan or radio to provide white noise would be a good idea.

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2005-06-12 Sun Istanbul

-Did some more walking to interesting old places.

CARPETS

-In Istanbul, there are many men trying to sell carpets. They harass you, compliment you, say you look Turkish and that they thought you were Turkish, invite you in for Tea. Sometimes this is annoying, sometimes entertaining. I was told by a traveler that I should really experience at least one carpet "sale". When I was trying to find the Mosaics Museum a carpet seller guided me through the back of his store, directly into the Museum and led me to the entrance to pay. This guy was low pressure. He said that after I saw the museum, if I wanted, he would show me carpets. When I came out of the Museum, he left me alone. He did not bother me, only asked me if I liked the museum, then let me leave. I decided this was the salesman for me. I went back, said, I would be interested in seeing his shop.

-I thought the shop was the little one he was standing in front of. Wrong. In Istanbul, things are seldom as they first appear. He led me down the street quite away, into a large, high class building, to the third floor. Here, he let me sit down and called another man to help me. The first man left. I was surrounded by what appeared to be very expensive carpets. In walked a man straight out of The Godfather. Tall slim man with greased back hair. Immaculately dressed with expensive cloths and jewelry. We sat down, and he offered me coffee, tea, etc. I chose Turkish Coffee, since I had not yet had any. We talked about my trip, motorcycles, religion, politics, Istanbul, New York, etc. This guy claimed to have shops in New York, London and many other places. He said he wanted to visit the United States. He wanted to visit only two places: The Grand Canyon, and Harlem. Harlem????? I never quite got the reason for that. Anyway, we were talking about anything but carpets. Sitting sipping Turkish Coffee out of tiny cups. Somehow it felt like I was involved in a multi-million dollar drug deal with the leader of the Columbian Drug Cartel. What about the carpets you ask? The conversation eventually circled around to carpets. I was taught everything I never wanted to know about carpets. How they are made, where they come from, how to spot a good quality carpet, all the differences in styles and quality. At least 20 carpets were rolled out for my viewing. I must admit, some of them were quite nice. To get the full effect, I showed a tiny amount of interest in two. We bargained, after I explained to him that I was not likely buy anything. I mentioned that I would have to think about it, and ask my girlfriend for advice in colors as I was not sure which would look best in our house. We bargained for price, and we came up with what I assume was a very good price. Much less than I thought they would be. I could return them or exchange them if I did not like them. They would be shipped for free. I could call anytime. I could deal direct, or through one of their other shops in the States. He let me go, with a promise that I would be back if I decided that I really wanted a carpet. Yeah, like I want to spend over $1,000 dollars on a couple of rugs. I prefer to get my furnishings at the dump.

-Turkish coffee is excellent. It similar to Expresso, but made different. It also tastes better in my opinion. The only problem is that there is a thick sludge at the bottom that you really don't want to drink.

-I missed the Whirling Dervishes. Today is the only day that I was there that I could have seen them. I remembered a little late in the day. I could have made it, but I thought they were too far away from where I was at the time. I saw on the map the next day that I would have had time to walk there, not to mention cabs etc. I will have to make a point of seeing them next time.

-In the evening I sat in the Hostel common area. As I said before, I watched Home Alone 2 in Turkish, with four young Polish girls, two Turkish men, a guy from Canada and someone I think was French. One interesting point is that the twin towers were fairly prominent in the movie. The movie was made before George blew up the towers. (see first Istanbul article)

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2005-06-13 Mon Istanbul

-Up kind of late. I had trouble sleeping. It was very quiet on the street but with the occasional loud noise. It would have been better if I had been on a busy street. I think it would be a good idea to either get a loud fan for these kinds of places, or get a radio that could be set between stations to play static. Of course, it could have been the coffee I have been drinking. I am a decaf guy, but good tasting decaf is impossible around here. I can see already that I am going to have to wean myself off of caffeine when I get back.

-Stopped for some awesome pastry for breakfast, rather than the typical Hotel breakfast.

-Istanbul is an amazing city. European, yet not European. There is a mix of cultures here like no other place I have been. A very cosmopolitan city, but with a mix of new and old cultures. Even in individual families you can see the changing cultures. I saw a couple of older women (as in not teenagers) fully covered in black Burkas walking together with what I have to guess is the teenage daughter of one of them. The daughter was in tight jeans with a tasteful, but sexy top. One other interesting cultural clash was a woman of unknown age, fully covered face and all, in a black Burka. Traditional right? Well, the woman was carrying a large handbag made of nicely tooled black leather. The back of her Burka was slightly higher than the front so that you could see her brightly colored high healed shoes. And she walked with a very sexy wiggle. I never thought a woman could look sexy in one of those things, at least this early in the trip, but there you have it. Of course, by the end of the trip, I started to notice that sheep walk with a wiggle.

-Of course, there are other cultural clashes, such as a 1,500 year old Mosque across the street from a McDonalds. Speaking of McDonalds, they were scattered around but were not real popular. I saw one in Bulgaria in a city with a full size Ronald sitting on a bench outside. It would have made an interesting photo, but there was no one nearby to take it. Another great photo op, also in Bulgaria, was on the side of the Highway. There was no safe way to stop, but if I had been alone, I would have turned around to get it. It had one of the biggest Playlands I have ever seen. On one side of the building it said McDonalds. On the other side, in Cyrillic letters it said, what must have been McDonalds. Didn't even look like writing from this planet. I will have to get the photo the next time I am in Bulgaria.

-I got myself into a conversation with an "Official" type of person over Tea one day. Much of the conversation was normal and interesting, which I of course will not talk about here, that would be no fun. I found out some other interesting things, at least one man's view of the world. :

-"Turks hate Arabs." [many Americans think Turkey IS Arab]

-"Neil Armstrong and Jacque Cousteau are now Muslim." [I checked this out, it is a web hoax. It is often included with a hoax that Michael Jackson is a Muslim. What Muslim would want to admit that???]

-He asked me if I was married, a very common question. This is actually the first one I am usually asked. I am considering getting a wedding ring and just answering YES to that question. Maybe I can invent an entire family. 2.3 kids, dog, cat and a house in the Burbs. Anyway, I told him I had a girlfriend and that we lived together. He smiled and asked me about the other ones. I said something intelligent like "Huh?" Well, something I did not know is that all American men have at least 4 girlfriends. One to go out with, and 3 to have sex with. He obviously has never really met an American woman. Who could handle more than one? Who would want to?

-He gets a lot of his information from TV and by talking with others on chat rooms. Ahh yes, the Mis-Information NET. The place that anyone in the world can reinforce whatever idea they have just by doing a search.

-I did learn one very useful bit of information. In the Hostel I tried the Turkish Tea. This was free, and after trying it I could understand why. It is kept on a special stove, at about boiling temperature, ALL DAY. The tea leaves are just left in there to steep every last remaining bitter element out of it. I tried a cup and it took me 5 beers to get rid of the flavor. After agreeing to have Tea with this gentleman, I started having flashbacks of my earlier sip. I guess I made it wrong. Watching the man I learned that you are not supposed to drink the tea straight. The crap, er I mean tea in the pot is like a syrup. You put some in your cup, then add hot water and then sugar or whatever you want. I have to admit, when done correctly it was very good. Did I mention I have been having trouble sleeping?

-This guy tried to get me to go with him to a "tourist" place that is not well known. It is an old Jail, which is very dark and you need a flashlight, and there is a lovely Tea House near the entrance. He really wanted to take me there, explaining that you need an escort. Not sure if he was just trying to show me something interesting that not too many tourists get to see, or if he felt that since I ONLY had one girlfriend, that maybe I would enjoy going someplace dark with him.

-I stopped at a motorcycle shop and found some boots I liked at a reasonable price, but they did not have my size. I also found a brand of Motorcycle helmet I have never seen. "Safebet". Says it all I guess.

-Had some beers etc and went out with a group from Canada. We had a great time. The restaurant was interesting as were the people I was with. We were walking around looking at menus. Some of the people were short on cash and did not want to spend much. One place looked pretty good, outside seating but just a little expensive. A guy, I think it was the guy from the carpet shop, started trying to sell us. He said, for $xxx he would give us "blah blah blah" It started sounding good, but we decided to shop around first. Then he says "but wait, I will also give you blah blah blah" He tried very hard, was very entertaining, and in the end gave us a great deal. The food was also excellent. Everyone was happy.

-Afterwards we went back to the hostel and drank a few more beers. I did my usual playing of the devils advocate. For those of you fortunate enough to never having seen me do this, let me explain. Whether it is interesting or whether I just look like a jerk depends on the amount of alcohol I have had and the temperament of the victim, er participant. It is all in good fun. What I do, is take the opposite side of an issue. It does not have to be something I know about, nor does it have to be something I care about. Sometimes I might be arguing for something that I am actually against. You get the picture. Anyway, the victim in this case had a great attitude, knew what I was doing and we had a great discussion. I don't remember what the subject was, and there is a good chance I did not know what the subject was even while we were talking. Hey, if everyone agrees on a topic, how interesting can a discussion of said topic be?

"It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument."
--William Gibbs McAdoo <

-Hence the reason I sometimes do so well at this kind of discussion.

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2005-06-14 Tue Istanbul

day=11 miles Trip=11 Miles

-Met up with the US contingent, Tom, Mike and Bob. All of them are Ironbutters. The four of us represent those from the US on this tour. Later in the day we met the others. There was Poalo, the tour leader, originally from Italy now living in Istanbul. Then there was Omer, from Turkey. His wife is from the US so he has a US passport, very handy at border crossings. Zeki is also from Turkey. Then there was Ian, from England, now living in Istanbul.

-the four of us from the states went to get the bikes from the MotorEast office. Bob already had his bike. We discussed the rules, how the trip would go, got our packages etc. We had all already met Ikbal, the woman who runs Motoreast. Today we met Paola. Paolo is a very interesting man. An Italian, he has an incredible passion for history. He is very knowledgeable and loves to share this knowledge. He is also a lover of Philosophy. As the trip progressed, I learned that there are actually two Paolo's. The first one, helped us get through borders quickly, got us checked into Hotels quickly and kept us all together and moving. This was the serious, no nonsense Paolo. I would not want this Paolo angry at me, although we never really saw him angry. I don't know if even the serious Paolo gets angry. The second Paolo is the gentle Paolo. He is always smiling, cheerful and able to lighten the mood of anyone, no matter how grouchy they are.

-After picking up the bikes and bringing them to the hotel, we went to a great restaurant and met the rest of the group, as well as having a wonderful meal and conversation.

-My bike is an Italian bike made by Aprilla called a Caponord. It is an enduro, or dual sport bike. Basically a street bike set up with a suspension similar to a dirt bike. Good for all kinds of roads and conditions. It fit me very well and I really liked the bike. It had an excellent engine. It's handling was excellent, although the front end was fairly light. I found that it was easy to break the front tire free in a stop. I don't like skidding the front tire on a bike, very dangerous, but it became routine on this bike. I also tended to scrape the side stand. All in all an excellent bike for me.

-The food here, and for the entire trip was great. Lots of fresh fruit and veggies available, and lots of meat. One thing that was prevalent was yogurt. This was especially true in Turkey but was seen everywhere. This comes plain, with things such as fruit on the side. It is sometimes thick, sometimes thin. There is a drink made from the stuff. It is amazing the variety of flavors you can get from such a simple food. Also, it is good for digestion. I always eat some live culture yogurt before going to a strange place. It helps your stomach adjust to the different bugs in the food. If you travel, there are different bacteria etc. in the foods. These are not necessarily bad. There is bacteria in our food too, just not as much. Unfortunately our food is heavily pasteurizes, homogenized and deflavorized. Our bodies have trouble adapting to different bugs because of this. Yogurt seems to help get our adaptive glands going again.

-Ian, our British representative, made a comment about American food. He said that the portions are huge, but there is not flavor. To this I say to him: Is not grease, salt and sugar flavors? And if you have a lot of food, it adds up to a lot of those flavors, right?

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2005-06-15 Wed Istanbul to Salonica, Greece

day= 390 miles Trip=401 Miles

-Before we got out of Turkey one of the BMW's broke down. Just started misfiring and running like crap, eventually dying and not wanting to start. Eventually, after fiddling with wires and hoses and connectors it started and ran fine the rest of the trip. Spooky.

-The Turkish border crossing was fine. The Greece crossing was pretty shitty. Did not take a huge amount of time, but it still took more time that it should of. Paolo's Italian seemed to help though.

-Today's ride was mostly 2 lane highway in the first half. The second half of the day we were on some great roads, high speeds, with curves, passing on curves and solid lines, splitting lanes in the towns. All this seemed to be accepted by the locals. This was true for most of the trip. What I noticed on this trip, whether it was city driving or mountain roads is that there are two rules for the road that all drivers try to follow: Don't hit anyone and don't let anyone hit you. I wish these rules were followed in this country. In the places we rode, people in cars were actually driving, unlike in the US. No cell phones, coffee cups or fiddling with a laptop. If you are in a car, you are driving and nothing else. How else could you follow the two rules?

-For the most part I found the drivers on most of the trip quite good. The traffic was chaotic at times, but it all seemed to work out. You still needed to watch out, as it was not like driving in the US.

-The people in most of the places we went in Greece were not happy looking. In fact, they looked miserable. This was the only part of the entire trip where I would have to say I did not like the people. To be fair, I never actually met anyone and we only saw a small portion of Greece, but I saw few that looked happy. This was in stark contrast to the rest of the trip. I have talked to others that have spent more time in Greece and many agreed with y assessment of the look, but said the people often are happy, even if they do not look like it.

-The hotel was fancy, but kind of weird. The window shades were on the outside of the windows, and looked like they might be bullet proof. The town was not especially nice, but not a bad place either. It was just a place we were passing through.

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2005-06-16 Thu Solonica, Greece to Ioannina, Greece

Day=269 miles Trip=670 miles

-Many of the roads today were like riding the Alps. Beautiful mountains, twisty roads. The highest pass was 5,500 feet. Some of the roads were slippery due to diesel and the way the road surface was made. We were passing trucks on blind corners at decent speeds with the help of the rider in front. Very exciting.

-Went to Alexander's families tombs and a monastery.

-We stopped at the Meteora Monastery. This is a monastery built on the tops of giant rocks. This was quite a site. In the olden days, the only way to get to the Monastery was to get in a basket and be hauled up. Now there is a road to them. This was a fantastic site.

-We did not get to our destination until 8pm and had dinner at 11pm.

-I did see one happy person today, a sheep herder on the mountain pass. He was smiling and waving.

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2005-06-17 Fri To Saranda, Albania

Day=98 miles Trip=767 miles

-This is not your typical organized tour. Most tours are completely planned down to the last detail. The areas have been well scouted and there are few surprises. Many tours give you optional routes and let you ride off on your own to explore, as long as you arrive at the designated hotel at night. Most carry your luggage on a van so that you can pack as much crap as you want. Not this tour. This tour is an expeditionary tour, really. The tour leader has not been to most of the areas we are going to. This tour is special. This is a better way of doing "adventure" touring than those completely organized and controlled tours. This is not a tour for everyone. It suits me fine.

-Pretty much the entire trip was an exercise in extended group riding. You would leave as a group and stretch out the line up to a couple of miles. Ian usually led at the front since he was amazing at finding his way. Paolo would be at the end making sure everyone made it. When the lead riders came to an intersection where it was not obvious where to go, they would stop and wait. When more riders showed up, they would wait while the lead riders went ahead. This worked out well, you could ride at your own pace, and not have to worry too much about getting lost.

-I was wondering if I would like being on an organized tour. After taking this special trip, I would say yes and no. I have trouble paying high prices for fancy accommodations and meals. Frankly, I am cheap and most organized tours are hideously expensive. Some of the things that were an incredible help were also somewhat missed. When you travel on your own in other countries you deal with different currencies, change money, buy gas and try to figure out how to get proper accommodations. All this is hard but rewarding work. Because of the way the group was to work, what was not included in the trip was taken out of a common fund. We each contributed some amount to the fund and gas and other common items were taken out of this. This is necessary when you have a group like this so that you do not spend a hours at the borders and at stops while everyone changes money or tries to figure out how to pay. It made it easy, but a lot of the personal interaction was missing.

-Another thing about the trip is that almost all the pre and day to day planning is removed. The guide keeps you on the right route, lets you know what is interesting at each stop, and basically makes it so you don't have to think. Also, borders go much smoother. My guess is that we were able to get through the borders as a group, on average, as fast as any one of us would have if we were alone. Going through this many countries in this short amount of time would be very difficult on your own, but if you had the time I think it would be more rewarding to do it that way.

-Would I take an organized tour again? The short answer is yes, especially if it was more like this one than the kind where they wipe your but for you. The long answer is "It depends". The cost is prohibitive. I get more vacation time than most rider and can do more adventurous travel on my own. If I had very little vacation time, then tours would look like a much better deal. One thing is for sure, my travel budget will not allow me to do another of these tours anytime soon.

-The border crossings into Albania was not too bad. Greece was a bit of a hassle as usual. Just after entering the country, we stopped for gas. The gas station was also a bar. Never a good sign. We were warned that there is a lot of drunk driving in this country. I did not see any signs of it, but that does not mean much.

-At the border of Albania we were to meet our guide. Since Albania was such an unknown, our tour leader hired a guide. Albania has not been open to tourists for very long. No one in our group spoke the language. No one had been there. Our guide's name was Gent Mati from Outdoor Albania. He brought his Toyota Landcruiser. More importantly, he brought his girlfriend Laura. Laura is a beautiful former model with a wonderful personality. She really brightened our stay in Albania and I noticed that all the guys behaved much better during the time Laura was with us. Gent is an Albanian and Laura is from Holland, if I remember right. Gent conducts white water rafting excursions through www.outdooralbania.com.

-The group stopped at a National Park called Blue Eyes. The main feature here is a spring that is blue due to the cold VERY deep water. One person told me divers had gone down 60 feet and had not hit bottom. A few of us took a quick dip. As I said, it was cold. There was a group of students from a high school there on a class trip. We talked to their teachers, then a group of pretty young girls practiced their English on us. They were pretty, but if I was not told that they just graduated from high school, I would have guessed them to be Sophomores in high school, they looked so young. A bunch of them wanted their pictures taken with us.

-Sarande, Albania is a nice coastal town. Lots of building going on. We stayed at a fancy place right on the coast called the Hotel Butriati. Went for a swim outside the hotel, although they would not let us leave with a towel. Of course, no free internet, no free anything. It seems like the less I spend, the more free deals I get. The Hostel in Istanbul had free Internet, free coffee, tea, apple tea, juice, and all kinds of things, plus cheap beer if you wanted.

-We went out for a great dinner, then went to get coffee on the Promenade. Most of the towns we stayed in had some area where people go to walk around with their family and friends and to see and be seen. They all dress nice and show off. All very respectable.

-One thing I noticed on this trip was the beautiful women. Yes some physical beauty, but something else. A way of walking and dressing and even the look on their faces. They tend to stand straight and not slouch. After a lot of discussion I have determined that a lot of it is the difference in lifestyle. Most Americans are in a hurry. They go from their home to their car to their office. Women often try to dress in a businesslike manner. When they walk they tend to be in a hurry and tend to either plod or pound the pavement. I realize this is a serious generalization, but bear with me. In the countries we went to, women often dressed in a very feminine manner. Classy good looks. Seldom do you see revealing or tight fitting cloths. Even when you do, most of the time it is still somewhat classy. But more important, when a woman, man or family is out in public, it is important to them what others see. I think, to these people, it is important to look good. It shows that you are doing well. It also helps men and women find a suitable mate. Even young girls and men walking around seem to follow these rules. Nice looking, classy cloths. Similar to this is the way they walk, hold themselves and the look on their faces. They look happy. They look like they would be fun to be with. Not that you do not see this in the US, but it is not as prevalent. People here dress up to look nice, but not all the time. And you won't often see American Families walking together around the town square. Just walking around to make sure they are seen. Even in a lot of the farm country people appear to be concerned about their clothing and appearance. It was a sharp contrast going from Istanbul to the JFK airport, and then into Boston. In istanbul it was classy looking, unhurried people. In Boston it was plodding people with a serious look trying to get somewhere quickly. Of course, me, I am just a slob, period.

-One style that was scattered across the trip was women wearing thin white pants. The cut and all generally was classy. The material was such that you could count their freckles. Red thongs are popular under these.

-In Albania, everyone has a Mercedes. With no exaggeration I can say that at least 80% of the cars we saw were Mercedes. I think they give them away in cereal boxes.

-There was a lot of garbage in Albania. Mostly put in piles, but sometimes just scattered everywhere. One Albanian said it was because they were like Eagles. If you have ever seen an eagles nest, anything that they no longer want in their nest they just push out of the nest and leave there. A better description was from a younger Albanian. He said that most of Albania, until very recently, was agricultural. If you were on a farm, you did not have what we would call trash. You went to the market with a straw or whatever shopping bag. Things might be wrapped in paper, which would either be reused or thrown in the fire. Most of your garbage was apple cores and things like that. These you could just throw out anywhere or give to the animals. This is unfortunately how many people treat their soda bottles and other trash. This may be quite true, but I have been in other areas that were agricultural that did not have so much trash. I think a lot of it may be due to the countries recent history. A certain lack of pride and caring develops in some people. As with many bad things, only a small percentage of the people have to do it to make it look like everyone does it.

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2005-06-18 Sat to Berat, Albania

Day=194 miles Trip=962 miles

-Some very nice, narrow roads. One vehicle wide in spots. Quite exciting when you are traveling at high speeds on a bike. Yet another perfect day weather wise.

-There is tons of building in this area. In ten years, maybe less, this place will be unrecognizable. For as much building as is going on, there is almost as much destruction. Old or illegal buildings are just torn down to make way for new ones.

-Saw a bunch of old oil wells on the road into Berat. Not sure how productive they were, but almost all of them look like they are out of use.

-We went for a ride to see a canyon. We were told to be careful because the local kids use this road for racing. The best I can figure is that they race goats on it, because the road was in terrible condition. The best parts were the unpaved parts.

-Stayed at the Hotel Tomorri. An old, Soviet Era hotel. Best in town? Possibly the only one in town. This was the only large Hotel I saw in town. You would think it would have hot water. Our room had hot water, in a dribble. Some rooms had no hot water at all.

-At least part of the reason for Albania's economic troubles can be attributed to a country wide "Pyramid Scheme". For those that are not familiar with these, it works something like this: I get you and 10 of your friends to invest a chunk of money. I show you a 10% return. You tell your friends about it. They invest. Only a small percentage of the investors will pull their money out or ask for their interest. There will be plenty of money for them. They tell their friends, who invest. Now I start giving them 15% or 20% or more interest. More people invest. I pocket all the money, except for the small amount that people ask for back. Then I skip town and leave you and all the investors with nothing but paper statements that are worth nothing. Can you imagine an entire country doing this? The Government was thought to be behind some of this. In 1996 around 70% of Albanians lost their savings, over $1 billion in total.

-All over Albania there are Igloo shaped concrete and steel bunkers. There are 700,000 of these things built after 1968. Some say there were rover a million of these things. There were also some big ones dug into hills, that had trains behind them to carry ammo I guess. They were supposed to be for defense. One or more soldiers would man these bunkers with machine guns. Also for defense, all vineyards were ordered to put arrows on the top of all support poles, to injure any paratroopers. As our guide's father said "We did not have houses, no trains, no cars, but we had 700,000 bunkers." To say that the people were bitter is an understatement. As I heard it, during some conflict or another, the American military "accidentally" put some missiles into some bunkers. They blew apart with ease.

-This is a nice town with a lot of people walking around the town square. Families and pretty young girls. There was a Bumper Car set up in the square. We went out for a great dinner. I even tried Lamb's Balls. Not bad. By 10:30 there was almost no one in town. There were old women sweeping the street with old style straw brooms. Some where just sweeping back and forth, not actually sweeping the dirt anywhere. The next morning we saw a truck type street sweeper cleaning the street. I guess clean streets are pretty important here.

-Today and in much of Albania we saw cops everywhere. At least on the main roads going into the towns. One time, they stopped some of our group for overtaking illegally. They let us go and radioed ahead and we were guided to our hotel by a series of police.

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2005-06-19 Sun Durres, Albania

Day=88 miles Trip=1049 miles

-In the morning we saw the Castle in Berat. Nice place to visit. Lots of history and old buildings. At one time in the Citadel there was 40 churches. The paintings here were incredible, but many had their eyes scratched out. In the past, some people believed that the eyes of the saints cured blindness and all kinds of maladies. They would scratch the eyes out and mix the paint with oil.

-We stopped at Apalonia, and toured the amphitheater. We also had a "Fresh Chicken Dinner". One of the riders saw a pasta and chicken dinner on a table and thought that would make a nice lunch. We all agreed and we ordered it. After waiting almost an hour, we found out that this was a special dinner normally ordered in advance. Yes, it was fresh, we saw them bringing the live chicken inside. It was very good, but did not fit into our time schedule. So much for a quick lunch.

-Many of the areas we rode through were very poor. Much of it farm country. The people still farm the way my grandmother did, with horses, scythes, and pitchforks. These people looked very happy. There are lots of mules and donkeys too.

-We stayed at the Hotel Adriatik - This was a fancy hotel on the beach. They did not like bikers. It looked like we were the only ones there. The final ride in was a huge traffic jam. Weekenders leaving the area. No one was following any traffic rules so we did not either. Gent drove the Toyota in the oncoming lane, side of the road and I think there was one point we were driving down the sidewalk. I am not sure how he got that truck into some of the spots that he did, but he is one hell of a driver.

-The beach here was fabulous. Swimming was great, although you had to walk a long way before it was deep enough to swim. This would have been a nice place to spend two days at. The weather was perfect. A little hot while in traffic, but otherwise perfect.

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2005-06-20 Mon Tirana, Albania

Day=34 miles Trip=1,084 miles

-This was the longest days ride yet, in my opinion.

-On the way out of Durres we stopped at the Amphitheater. This was found not that long ago under some houses. They relocated the people and have been excavating ever since.

-The ride into Tirana sucked. The road in was boring and crowded with lots of cops. The traffic in Tirana was bumper to bumper. One big traffic jam. And it was extremely hot. Getting across the city the next morning took over an hour.

-Gent drove a few of us around town and we had coffee at a man made lake. We met Ilir Mati, Gent's father. A very interesting man who also acts as a guide in OutdoorAlbania.com He did not speak English, but he did speak Italian, so Paolo translated. He was going to give us a private tour of the museum in town, but it was closed. He walked around town with us. The buildings were very colorfully painted. One of the Mayor's, I think, decided to make the ugly Soviet Era buildings more tolerable by having them painted in bright colors. It works well enough. This town is growing too fast, but they are also improving parts of it. Hopefully they can keep this up.

-Stayed in Tirana at the Chateau Linza, outside of town. It had a good view of the city.

-We had dinner at Laura and Gent's restaurant. There we met some Albanian Bikers with their hopped up bikes. Laura sang and played the guitar. I drank Raki. Paolo got advice from the bikers and from Gent's father. We met Gent's sister. All in all a great time.

-The Taxi ride back to the Hotel was a trip. An Albanian Taxi driver, in a Mercedes, listening to rap music.

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2005-06-21 Tue Cetinje, Montenegro

Day=162 miles Trip=1246 miles

-In the morning, Ian realized that he did not have his expensive digital camera. This included the memory cards with all the great photos he was taking. We re-lived the night before and we were pretty sure he had it when he got into the cab, but not when he got out at the hotel. Gent called the cab company, or driver, and the driver said he had it and met us in the center of town. Try that in New York City. Remember, Tirana is the capital of Albania. Maybe we were just lucky. The number on the cab was 77777

-We deviated from our original plans and followed the coast in Montenegro. Nice roads and scenery. A stunning coast.

-We stopped at a castle on the hill that had never been captured. Took some photos. Laura sat and entertained the local kids with her guitar playing and singing.

-Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to our lovely guide and her boyfriend at the border. The borders were relatively painless, since we had Paolo. Relative being the key word. The only real problems we had on this trip for borders was Zeki's passport. He had all the right paperwork, but the border guards made it tough for him. There were a few instances when a "Special Fee" had to be paid. I learned that these are not exactly bribes. If you try entering the US and you do not have the proper paperwork, you are likely to just be sent back to where you came from. In these countries, a special cash fee, paid to the border guard usually takes care of it. I also learned that you should not make the sound of a shotgun at the border. A flock birds flew over the guard shack and one of the riders held his hands up like he was holding a gun and made shotgun noises. One of the guards almost jumped out of his boots.

-The change in traffic was sudden and obvious. Gone were the big Mercedes and good drivers. Here we had fairly bad drivers and a lot of small cars, many Italian.

-Here, well I think it was here, is another right hand of St. John the Baptist. From what I can tell, he must have looked like a caterpillar, considering how many right and left hands are on display in different parts of the world.

-We were stopped for going down a "pedestrian way". We had also been stopped earlier for passing on a solid line. We were actually stopped a number of times during this trip, but were always let go. One time we were stopped and the officer approached looking pissed, he said something in German, and we spoke in English. When he found out we were American, he smiled and let us go. I don't think they like Germans.

-Stayed at the Grand Hotel in Cetinje, Montenegro. The Hotel was, uh, interesting. The lobby was very nice, with a large, hardwood check-in desk. The keys were attached to a large, embossed leather key fob with chrome doo dads on the ends. Everything about the place made you think it was a very upscale place. When we got to the room, opened the door, we were looking into a closet. This room was about as deep as a regular room, but at half as wide at beest. There were two short, narrow beds against one wall. A tiny TV and a broken fridge. The bath was well worn but clean. There were people in our closet that sounded just like our neighbors. Nothing wrong with the room but the contrast to the lobby was comical. It made me burst out laughing and I could not stop for a while. I was told this is typical of a Soviet Era Hotel. From what I could tell, this is the only big hotel in town, although there might have been small ones.

-We had dinner at the hotel. No one was very hungry after snacking but a lot of food was brought out anyway. The food was very good, the restaurant a little weird. It was very bright. The ceilings had to be 15 feet high. It was not really decorated. Kind of like eating in a gymnasium. The restaurant manager was very proud of his place. The food and the service was something to be proud of, the location, well, ya can't have everything.

-After dinner we walked around the city. There was a main street where the young people walked back and forth or sat at cafes and watched the others walk. This area had so many beautiful young girls we were thinking about staying. We came to the conclusion that there are so many pretty girls here because of non pasteurized milk. That must be it.

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2005-06-22 Wed Dubrovnik, Croatia

Day=111 miles Trip=1357 miles

-Rode over the pass. What an incredible ride. Incredible roads and scenery. Much of it was a two way road that was one lane wide, with only one real drawback, lots of busses. These busses barely fit on the roads without other traffic. Made for some interesting surprises. Lots of beautiful girls and happy, smiling, waving people.

-Zeki is a fairly new rider, the newest of our group. If I remember right he has about 2,000 kilometer experience on a Sportster. This is his first long trip and he did it on a large and powerful BMW. He did quite well. He is riding better than many riders I know that have many years of experience. Zeki received very good rider training, which really shows. Good training can not completely substitute for experience, but it can be the equivalent of a lot of extra years of experience. From now on, anytime an experienced rider says he does not need training, I am going to think of Zeki. In fact, additional training has been a low priority for me, but not anymore.

-Now that Laura is gone, we are all acting like typical men on vacation together. I nicknamed us Paolo's Dog's because of they way that we, er I mean they act when they see beautiful women.

-We stayed at the Hotel Adriatic. This was near the water with a "beach" nearby. It was not a especially good hotel, but not terrible. At least for those of us that had air conditioning. Some of the rooms were worse than others. It was in a pretty good location, overlooking the water, and there was a nice walkway to take where you could jump in at any point.

-At night we went for dinner at a fantastic restaurant near the old town. Afterwards we walked in the old town. This is a walled city that is just fantastic. Incredible to see at night. This is set up for tourists, but is a preserved ancient city. Once called the Pearl of the Adriatic. This city was shelled by the Serbian Army. There was no strategic value to this, it was just mean. If I remember right, 70% of the buildings received some damage. Damaging a world heritage site like this is criminal.

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2005-06-23 Thu Dubrovnik

-We stayed two nights in Dubrovnik

-Today was a free day. Tom and I went to the old city and walked around the wall, then around the interior of the city. What a fabulous place. We sat at a cafe and had a few beers and watched the people walk by for almost 3 hours. We went back to the hotel, after I picked up a few beers at the store. It had not occurred to me at the moment how I was going to keep them cold.

-Back at the hotel I took one of my beers and went to the so called beach. I was feeling tired even before having any beer for the day, and after the walk and beers I just wanted to nap. I found a chair and umbrella on the concrete beach, finished my beer and people watched. There was one woman next to me who had decided that this was a topless beach. What is it that makes the people you least want to see topless decide that it is OK to go topless. I laid back on my chair and promptly fell asleep, despite the smell of raw sewage. I was there for about an hour and a half when some guy asks me if I had paid 40 kuna for the chair and umbrella. It turns out it was not the hotel's beach but a private beach. I declined to pay and went for a walk around the bay. The walk around the bay was nice. There were all kinds of places you could walk down to the water and sit on the rocks or swim. It was getting late so I went back to the hotel.

-We met and went out for pizza near the hotel.

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2005-06-24 Fri Nis, Serbia

Day=347 miles Trip=1704 miles

-Mostly Highway today.

-Stopped at a toll booth and were not given a ticket because the machine malfunctioned. When we got to the exit, we were kept there because they wanted up to not only pay the toll for the entire length of highway, but also a fine. The serious Paolo came out and eventually saved the day.

-Rode through Bosnia and into Serbia. In Bosnia, we are warned not to go off the road since there are a lot of mines still left in the country. Not sure if there are any in this area, but we did not do any hiking. The first town we went through in Bosnia was very nice. Nice gardens, flowers, smells, nice happy people. The roads today were very good with no traffic. On entering Bosnia, there was a Hand Written sign on a wall: "NATO FUK OFF"

-In our group, every body spoke English, except Ian, who spoke British. By the end of the trip Ian's English was improving. I was learning a little British too. For example, in the list of things you should bring, it said that we should bring a torch for Albania. I brought one, but in the entire trip I did not find one thing I should light on fire. It turns out that a torch is a flashlight, not a flame on a stick. Who knew. Between the different members of the group there were many different languages spoken, which helped us get along in different areas. If I remember right there was English, British, Turkish, Italian, Russian, German? and I think Bob spoke Ancient Greek which would have come in handy if we were traveling through here 1,500 years ago.

-The town square in this town was interesting. An ancient castle, families on horse carts, monuments to Russian? war heroes, modern stores, banks, Casinos and more, all in the area of the square.

-Stayed at the Hotel Ambassador. No Air Conditioning. Nis is not a bad city, but a little poor. There is a castle within sight of the hotel. We were way up with a nice view of the town square. We took a long walk to get dinner. Quite an interesting place. The son of the owner of the restaurant spoke enough English to take our order. The owner was wacky. Kept leaning against me to take our orders like he was going to fall over. There was a large family there celebrating something.

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2005-06-25 Sat Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Day=199 miles Trip=1903 miles

-In the early morning I took a short walk to the castle, then up the street through the flea market. There was a field of sorts that looked like a huge flea market, but it was a traffic jam getting in. The stuff that was available on the street was real junk. Pieces of broken locks, computers, electronics etc. But there was also new farm hand tools, left over army junk, and other interesting things. It would have been interesting to go into the main flea market, but it opened too late.

-We left and headed to Bulgaria. It was an easy crossing. There were lots of traffic cops here, and lots of Traffic Girls. Girls on the side of the road, smiling, waving, swinging their legs.

-We stayed at another Soviet Era Hotel. This one was again nothing special as far as the rooms go. Not bad though. It actually was fixed up rather nice. This one had air conditioning also. Although it only worked for 10 minutes at a time. We never did figure out how to make it stay on. With the windows open it was very loud outside. The hotel was in a very bad part of town. I saw a number of nicely dressed women entering the hotel but not checking in. We thought they were going to the health club, but I looked in it and there was no one there. Maybe they were traffic girls.

-We went to dinner at a nice place outside in the old section of town. Very good, and interesting foods. We walked around the town at night. For the most part it was unlit, except for a Roman/Greek amphitheater. The area looked a little dangerous at night, with some drunken kids, but we survived.

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2005-06-26 Sun Istanbul, Turkey

Day=277 miles Trip=2180 miles

-The line for the Bulgarian border crossing was easily 5 hours long. This was not even the truck line, which was longer. We stopped at the end and the serious Paolo came out. He bypassed the line and rode to the front, stopping one car so that we could squeeze into the line. This did not sit well with some of the cars, but it worked out. There were very few cars actually making it through the border. It was similar in the other direction, but only on the Bulgarian side. There were tons of lines on the Bulgarian side, with no movement. There were only a few lines on the Turkish side, but they had people in and out fairly quickly. It's almost like the Bulgarians were trying to make it as difficult as possible. This is the reason it is nice to have a guide, there is no way we would have realized we could go to the front of the line like that.

-Stayed at the Blue House Hotel again.

-We went to a great restaurant and had an incredible meal. Unfortunately the weekend traffic was so bad that Omer and Zeki could not make it. They were sorely missed.

-I was told before I left that everyone smokes in Turkey and the other countries I would be in. There was actually less smoking that I expected. A more important note is that the smoke was not very annoying. The guys that smoked on our trip asked if it was OK if they smoked near us. I never minded because, even when I was eating, the smoke was not bad. Having the smoke blow directly into my face was not annoying, even though in the US, even walking into a house where someone is smoking bothers me. I was told there is less nicotine in the tobacco also. Again, not sure of the validity of this, but it easy to believe.

-Cell phones are everywhere in all the countries we were in. I saw this in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize when I was there also. But, even though they are everywhere, you do not see people often driving while talking on them or even while walking. In the US, you see tons of people with a phone glued to their ear. From what little I could tell, phones were used for short calls when needed, not to spend all day talking about nothing. My thinking for the prevalence of cell phones, besides the inherent convenience, is that it is easier for a country to increase the number of cell phone towers than it is to run more phone lines.

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2005-06-27 Mon - Istanbul to New York City

-I never was forced to use a squat toilet. Every toilet had a seat. AND toilet paper. Better than I can say about Mexico.

-Back in the US, there was a loss of the class and style of Europe. Almost every one was rushing and rude. Poor posture, dumpy, sad looking. I would love to see some of the European life style come over here, if it could be done without losing the great parts of this country.

-On the plane home, there was a man who did not speak good English that said something to the effect that he recognized me from photos his son, who is in the military, sent him from the border. Not sure which border.

-The Turkish airport was simple enough, although we had to deal with American Home Land Security people (TSA, Transportation Security Administration). Not a problem, just another step in the process.

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2005-06-28 Tue - New York City to Boston and Home

-See next section for how I DROVE back from JFK

-If I had taken the flight they assigned me, I would have gotten to Boston at 4:30 and to home around 7:15pm. In actuality I got to Boston about 1pm and home about 4pm. 38 hours in transit.

-All in all it was a great trip. I would like to get back there soon, see the rest of Turkey and the surrounding countries. MotorEast has a tour with Ted Simon in the fall around turkey that I would love to do, but I can not. There is also a fall tour to Syria etc that would be great, but again, maybe in the future. A really interesting trip might be Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran. Won't be happening anytime soon, but I can dream can't I?

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How I Hate Delta

-This is E-Mail I sent out after my ordeal with Delta in New York.

TURKEY 2005-06-28 Back Home, Finally

Well, I am back home today, Tuesday June 28. I know I was supposed to be home yesterday, but a funny thing happened on the way to the office.

First, I had a great time on the trip. There was a great group of guys on the trip. The roads were great. The food was great. The scenery was great. The hotels had water and toilet seats. Life is good. We had no trouble navigating, thanks to a large extent on Ean from England who somehow found his (our) way through cities, towns and villages. I had no trouble on the trip until the trip home. This is not a very creative story, but Hell, I just got home. Leave me alone! I will get into the trip in greater detail in later e-mails, but for now let me tell you about DELTA Airlines......

ALL times are in Eastern Standard time. I got up at 11pm Sunday in Istanbul (6am local) Left for the airport at 2am Saturday. The flight to New York was fine. I had emergency exit seating so I had plenty of leg room. Got into New York by 4pm, it was just a bit foggy. Had to wait until 7pm for my next flight. I knew I was in trouble when many of the flights started changing times and gates. Many planes went out late. Mine did not. Mine was cancelled. Lovely. It was the last plane out. Ummmmmmmm. I was able to schedule a flight for 6am the next day. I was going to sleep at the airport, but there were two other travelers that had called the number that DELTA gave us. Remember DELTA? This is a story about DELTA. They were talking to the recommended hotel, which Delta said would give us the best rates. The JFK Hotel. Remember that name, it is quite relevant. I decided that $95 would be money well spent to get decent sleep and a shower. I thought I would get to work early enough to put in a full day Tuesday.

The Courtesy Van did not show up. We got a cab, which the other gentleman quite generously paid for. For some reason the cab drove around to the side of the building, rather than the front door. I think he was worried about his reputation. Thick bullet proof glass at the desk made me think that maybe I wished the cabby had gotten lost. But it must have been safe, there were a lot of couples coming and going. A lot of them were checking out while we were checking in. Hmmmmm.

Anyway, the hotel was a perfectly acceptable $20 hotel. I am not sure how much they charge for an hour, but I think we were charged for at least 24 hours.

When we got to the airport in the morning, they had already cancelled out flight. There was a young German woman with us that really needed to get back to work in Boston. DELTA, remember DELTA? DELTA scheduled us for a different 6am flight. Unfortunately it was a flight for the next morning. After much, errr, discussion, I was booked on the only available seat that day, a 3pm flight on one of DELTA's affiliates. So what are the chances that this plane would leave at all???? The woman, Michal, suggested sharing a rental car. Seemed like a good idea, except I did not have my bags. DELTA said they had them, but I had a hell of a time finding out where they were. Turns out they went to Boston last night without me. Creeps. We eventually found a rental car that we could take one way, for about $120. Did the ride, much of it in the rain. Mostly uneventful. I dropped her off at her apartment. She paid her share of the gas and car, and I went to drop off the car. Got lost in Boston, but still got to Boston 4 hours before my DELTA flight got there. Yes it did go. I did not really have to spend the money on the car, but it was worth it not to take the chance. Can you imagine waiting in an airport for 9 hours, expecting your flight to get cancelled at any moment.

Besides, I did not pay for the car. I actually made a profit. You see, in New York, AVIS (not DELTA, but they still deserve all capital letters) asked for a visa card from both drivers. We were told that we would pay when we got to Boston. When I got there, I dropped the car off and was given a paper. When I got to the airport I realized it was not a bill but rather a receipt. In Michal's name. So she paid her share, AND the entire bill. I came out with cash in my pocket. What a great day. Fortunately, Michal had the sense to give me her work number and e-mail in case there was a SNAFU. The situation will be corrected.

Rant begins....

So anyway, back to DELTA. I understand that there was bad weather. They can not do anything about that. But they provided no help, no information. There was no mention of the flight being cancelled until 20 minutes after it appeared on the board. Even then, it was almost impossible to understand the words coming out of the speakers. They had no real back up plan, no suggestions other than trying to find us flights the next day. No real information. Could not even get a straight answer out of them why our flight was delayed. A couple that was there each asked the desk and received different answers. The next day there was a line out the door and around the building. There was no one outside to ask to get info. No way to know what line to wait in. No way to find out if we even had to wait in a line. Fortunately I learned on this trip that bikers don't have to wait in lines, we just move to the front of any line. All that screaming you hear are people cheering us on. Michal spoke very good English but she could not understand the DELTA people she spoke to. Neither could I. I decided to help her while I was getting info. I bypassed any lines and found someone to ask, but they were hard to understand. DELTA had phones you could use, but no sign saying that they were there for info. I asked a woman at the desk and she was quite nice and told me to use the phones. You pick them up and nothing. No sound or anything. 10 minutes wait and nothing. Someone picked up the phone next to me and got an answer in seconds. When he was done I tried that one and got nothing after 5 minutes. I tried the woman at the desk and she told me I had to use the phones (she was quite nice actually). This time I got an answer in seconds. I could barely hear the person on the other end. This is when I found out I was rescheduled for the next day. THE NEXT DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When I was done, the phone lady said Michel had to use one of the phones (she had been waiting 10 minutes for an answer). I said NO, you will talk to her now. I can be so forceful when I don't have to look them in the eye.

Final outcome. I had the late flight today and Michal had the 6am the next day and the two of us drove to Boston for about what my flight cost from Boston to Turkey cost more that just a flight from New York to Turkey.

Anyway, as I said, just another boring traveler's story. Once I adjust to the time zone I will put out something more interesting.

"Nothing causes self-delusion quite so readily as power."
--Liu Binyan