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  • In Red Square, Moscow, Russia...
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  • On the road in Trakai, Lithuania...
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  • Transalpina Pass, Romania
  • In Romania...
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  • In Evinos river reservoir, Greece...
  • Curving...
  • Montenegro...
  • Croatia...
  • Bosnia i Herzegovina...
  • Bosnia i Herzegovina...
  • In Graz, Austria...
  • Keeping notes of the trip, in Montenegro...
  • In Ljubljana, Slovenia...
  • In Bled lake, Slovenia...
  • On the road from Bled lake to Bohinj lake, Slovenia...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse, Austria...
  • In Bohinj lake, Slovenia...
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  • In Triglav National Park, Slovenia...
  • In Kaiser Franz Josef Hohe, Grossglockner, Austria...
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  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse Pass, Austria...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse Pass, Austria...
  • Crossing Nockalmstrasse Pass, Austria...
  • Heavy rain while crossing A1 Highway in Croatia...
  • Curving in MotoLeonidio Race...
  • In a Gas station in Serbia...
  • On the road...
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  • On the road in Belarus...
  • In Minsk, Belarus...
  • In Russia...
  • Borders Belarus - Russia...
  • On the road in Russia...
  • Riding in Moscow, Russia...
  • In Red Square, Moscow, Russia...
  • In Red Square, Moscow, Russia...
  • On the road in Russia...
  • Crossing a bridge in Latvia...
  • On the road in Latvia...
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  • On the road in Trakai, Lithuania...
  • In Trakai, Lithuania...
  • On the road in Poland...
  • In Automotodrom Brno, Czech Republic...
  • In Automotodrom Brno, Czech Republic...
  • In Trigrad Gorge, Bulgaria...
  • In Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria...
  • On the road in Armenia...
  • Military Road - Georgia...
  • Silk Route - Armenia...
  • In Tabriz - Iran...
  • Caucasus Mountain - Georgia...
  • Military Road - Georgia...
  • Flame Towers - Baku (Azerbaijan)...
  • Genocide Memorial - Yerevan (Armenia)...
  • Kandovan Village - Iran...
  • Kazbegi - Georgia...
  • Military Road - Georgia...
  • Tatev Monastery - Armenia...
  • Iran...
  • Tbilisi - Georgia...
  • Yerevan - Armenia...
  • On the road in Azerbaijan...
Print

Iran & Eurasia (June 2019)

Written by Thanasis Vavaroutas. Posted in Expeditions

Click here for the map - route of the trip…

Preparation

I had begun to explore Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan,  in the distant 2013... Then the plan was to drive around the Black Sea. As I started driving off the coasts of Bulgaria and Romania, and as I was about to enter Moldova, the right cylinder of my motorcycle rested in peace, just outside the city of Galati, so I stayed in Bucharest for about two weeks. until My motorcycle spend two weeks at the BMW dealership...

So my dream and a pending tour of the countries I mentioned before were left unfulfilled for me ... But it was time to restore this anomaly that deprived me of the joy of that trip. I included Iran on this road trip along with these three countries! The degree of difficulty has gone high, including Iran in my plans, due to the bureaucracy for entering in that country, regarding the issuance of a visa and the Carnet de Passage (CDP).

I had in mind Hossein, an Iranian guy who lives in Urmia (in northwestern Iran), who was doing the necessary arrangements for motorcyclists in order to enter in Iran without having issued a CDP from their country, for a fee. I met Hossein through the Horizons Unlimited forum and also through Facebook as well...

After I had the initial plan of the trip in my mind, I spoke with my friend Gregory, with whom we had travelled together to the Balkans in a previous trip and we knew each other as drivers, but also as friends. He liked the idea of a different experience on this side of the planet and having just bought his new baby, the BMW GS 1250 Adventure, wanted to drive it east!

June is not such a hot month for the area we would be traveling to (comparing to July and August), and thereafter both of us were ok, we decided to start the trip in the last day of May ...

So I started planning the route on Google Maps and also communicating with Hossein about our entry into Iran. I read several articles by other travelers about entering Iran and while I was initially planning to enter from Turkey to Iran (Bazargan border station), I read that the process was more time-consuming and costly, so I concluded that the best entry point to Iran was by Armenia, from the Nordooz border station.

Hossein asked for $ 500 if we would enter from Turkey and $ 350 if we would enter from Armenia... Our exit from Iran would be from the Astara border station to Azerbaijan.

So we began in mid-February to gather the necessary documents for Hossein, who through the Iranian Foreign Ministry would issue us the Letter of Invitation (LOI), which is required for the visa to be issued by the Iranian Embassy in Athens.

The documents we sent to Hossein (via e-mail) were:

1. A 3x4 passport photo

2. Copy of passport

3. Application for LOI

4. The registration document of the motorcycle

5. A picture of the motorcycle

We also signed an agreement for our cooperation with Hossein, and sent him a deposit via Western Union, and by the end of February we also issued a travel insurance for the time we would be in Iran, which is required to get a visa. The cost was 30 €...

So as you understood, our entry into Iran was the big issue of the trip, and more trouble would come...

I spent a lot of midnight oil reading afterwards... A Lonely Planet book and several sites had a lot to offer in the '' build '' of the trip. After I decided about the route, I started to pick the places of interest that were close to our route.

An important element in travelling is the civilization and the culture of each country and what to look out for in our presence there. Each country's history helps you understand its culture at times.

Also, the price of gasoline in the countries you travel to, is another important factor that plays a key role in your travel budget. Prices were therefore well below the price of gasoline per liter in Greece. In Turkey it was close to 0.95 €/lt, in Georgia 0.70 €/lt, in Azerbaijan 0.65 €/lt, and in Iran the water was more expensive than gasoline... The only expensive country was Greece where the price was just over 1.60 €/lt...

Another thing that played an important role in the low budget of the trip was the exchange rate of the Turkish Lira, as we had to travel about 4,500 km in Turkey. Half of the trip was back and forward in Turkey... So the Turkish Lira was at its lowest comparing to Euro!

The trip took 22 days with some tight day-schedules in some of them. We would like even more days to spend time on our tour of Iran, but we left it for another trip. We always leave something to have a reason to go back...!

Regarding Georgia and Armenia, no visa was required, while for Azerbaijan it was necessary. In 2013 I issued a visa for Azerbaijan through the embassy in Athens and it cost me 90 €, and now we will issue it electronically via e-visa and the cost will be lower.

Since I knew the dates of the trip, it was important to book the hotels where I knew we would be on standard dates. That was... in the capitals of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan where we would spend two days in each, and in Iran as well. Also the first and last day of the trip would find us in Istanbul, so I had to book a hotel for them too. By late February I had booked all the hotels I was interested in and the result in reducing the cost of the trip was amazing! Three months before reservations were made... On the travel expenses at the end of this article, I will write about the costs, so you will find the cost of the hotels...

I went from Patras (where I live) to Athens to visit the Embassy of Iran (after a pre-arranged phone call) in order to submit my application for a visa. Everything went well with the process at the embassy and the staff member told me that in a week or so, I would receive the visa electronically in my mail.

In Athens I made a stop at my sponsor, Makan (Motorcycle accessories and Rider’s gear) and got almost all the things I needed for my trip! Maria and Meletis, always support my travels!!!

Also, since we are talking about my sponsors, Michelin has responded positively to my e-mail, sponsoring a set of Michelin Anakee Adventure tires. All this thanks to my friend Dinos Petris!!!

The maps (concerning Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan) for our GPS (Garmin's OEM) were prepared by my friend Harry (AKA Siraxanz), who has my gratitude for the help he gave us! As we will see below in the text, during the trip, we discovered the difference between Garmin's standard Navigation maps and OEM's Guidance maps...!!!

I have also prepared maps (via Google Maps) with our daily routes, on which I added various information such as currency rates, gas prices (depending on the country where the route was), sightseeing places etc. which I always plasticizate them, because in the transparency of my tank bag, they can get wet from rain and if they are just plain paper they will dissolve...

The calendar says April 6th and there is still no answer for Gregory's visa to Iran... The bureaucratic procedures (and not only), go there very slowly... something we will justify in our presence in Iran...

At the end of April Gregory applied a new application for LOI which was approved and Gregory with his documents went to the Iranian Embassy in mid-May to get his visa! We even had a plan b for the trip if Gregory didn't succeed to get a visa... So 15 days before the trip we had our visas for Iran and Azerbaijan too!

A new problem that emerged in mid-April, one and a half months before the trip, was concerning our entry into Iran... An old Iranian law that had been abrogated in recent years until it was implemented came into force again... So the law says... No entry permitted into Iran on over 250cc motorcycles and 2,500cc vehicles!!!

I was reading in Horizons Unlimited (forum) but also in Facebook, that quite a few motorcyclists tried to enter Iran and they stuck at the borders!!! That worried us enough, but traveling is always a bet... I hoped that in  Nordooz border station we would had any problem, and Hossein would be our passport to enter in Iran!

A few days before we begin our trip, we went to ELPA (Automobile Club) and we issued our International Diplomas, to cover all the countries we would drive through... And we paid 90 €...

Two weeks before the trip, I noticed that the battery in my motorcycle was ready to die, and I had to change it before traveling. So in early May the genuine battery of the motorcycle, after five and a half years of operation, gave up and I replaced it with a lithium battery that I purchased from MAKAN. So the motorcycle with a new battery and after a service and a last check was ready for riding!! !

Before the D-Day we were both ready! The road was waiting for us and the impatience for our first ignition had overwhelmed us!!!

 

          Travel Log...

      Day 1  31-5-2019         Patras → Xanthi (670 km)    

                                                                                     Average consumption 6.1 lt/100km

            So, the time for the first ignition was on! Friday noon we started our journey with Gregory to travel in new countries (for us) with different people than we had ever known before... We crossed the Harilaos Trikoupis Bridge (Rio - Antirrio), and we continued on the Ionian Highway. The kilometers were gone quickly until we made our first stop at the Ionian and Egnatia highway junction, for a coffee, a smoke break and a refueling... When we got back on our motorcycle, the weather looked pretty overcast on Pindos mountain. The rain started before the city of Metsovo so we stopped in a parking lot in a tunnel and wore our raincoats... I love when the temperature it is at its high and I have to wear my rain gear because of the rain!!! It brings a bit of a sauna, something like a steam bath... but there is no choice! So we drank the bitter glass, but fortunately for a few kilometers. By the time we reached the city of Grevena the rain had stopped...
            We stopped for a few minutes at the toll station in Malgara where we had an appointment with my friend Harry (a KTM owner) from the city of Veria, where we had a chat for a while and we continued on our way to the city of Xanthi. Driving in Egnatia highway is boring but thanks God it is a fast and safe road to drive. We arrived in Xanthi shortly after eight in the evening and settled into the Paris hotel where Gregory had booked. After refreshing, we went downtown for a walk and later for dinner and tsipouro (something like ouzo)!!! Xanthi is a vibrant city, with a lot young people (most students), to have flooded the streets and cafes and taverns. It was Friday night and the city was hot!

We went to the old town and after a few strolls to get to know the city, we drank a coffee and then following the instructions of a local guy, we ended up at a tavern where we tasted tsipouro and wonderful snacks!!! That is how the first day of the trip ended!

As for the hotel... decent room, clean, while breakfast was below average! It would be better if we had made the reservation without breakfast and eat cream pies to a shop next to the hotel! Next time!

 

     Day 2   1-6-2019      Xanthi → Istanbul (400 km)    Avg. cons. 6.2 lt/100km

 

              At eight o'clock in the morning we said goodbye to Xanthi and we followed the road to Egnatia highway, heading towards the Kipoi border station... Just 400 kilometers away from Istanbul.

We arrived pretty quickly at the Greek border station, and we passed the control on the Greek side. We made a coffee stop at the Greek Duty Free shops. At the Turkish border station there a lot of traffic, but it was moving. The control process has increased in more check points than I remember the last time I crossed the borders, so it was more time consuming. This process took us more than half an hour until we reached Turkish territory...

The route we took was borders - Ipsala - Kesan - Tekirtag - Istanbul. All the way there were speed cameras and a few kilometers away, patrolling by police... At some points on the road where there were downhill slopes we went up and when we got to the top we saw a police van with a spped radar and a police car below waiting for the offenders... It was very important to pay close attention to speed limits in Turkey to avoid further issues... After a few kilometers of driving in Turkey, Gregory became an expert in recognizing the speeds radars and police roadblocks and soon he became the lead in most kilometers we drove in Turkey. A speed control sign on our way was either a small sign on the asphalt to the right of Speed Road Radar or a car parked to the right of the road with a radar mounted on its dashboard...

The route to Istanbul was quite familiar as I had done it several times in the past. We arrived at Raymond Hotel shortly before noon. The hotel is located in Sultanahmet district, close to most of the city's historical monuments such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi etc. We parked our bikes outside the hotel and we didn't have to pay the parking lot in the municipality, because that day was free because it was the last day of Ramadan...

We checked in our room, refreshed and headed out into the streets to guide Gregory in Istanbul, as it was his first time. Our first stop was Topkapi, one of the most impressive clusters of Ottoman palaces, which lies behind Hagia Sophia and is visible from almost everywhere in the Bosporus and the Gulf. It was originally called Yeni Saray, meaning "new palace". It was founded by Mohammed the Conqueror, while its first part was built between 1472 and 1478 and lived there until his death in 1481. We took a walk in its gardens, taking some pictures, and Gregory decided to visit of Topkapi for the next time he will be in town with his spouse! We walked up to Hagia Sophia which is right next door. Gregory took a ticket (60 Turkish Lira) and entered in the historic monument of Christianity. I waited in the square until Gregory finished his tour. I have visited Hagia Sophia 4 times in the past so I was ok...

            Later we visited the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) and then the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı). It takes several hours for someone to go inside the bazaar to say I saw something... We didn't have enough time so we took a short walk through the bazaar and then we went first to Galata Tower and then to Taksim Square and Istiklal pedestrian street. I tried once again deliciously stuffed mussels and we had dinner in a parallel street of Istiklal. It was the night of the grand finale of the Champions League, and Liverpool fans were gathering in a bar nearby, with their presence very noticeable!

With a nice dinner accompanied by Yeni Raki we ended our evening in Istanbul...

 

Day 3         Istanbul → Ankara → Cappadocia (760 km)       

                                                                                  Avg. Cons.  5.3 lt/100km

              After a nice breakfast at Raymond Hotel, we loaded up our motorcycles and departed... Direction South! First stop at 08:00 in Hagia Sofia for a some pictures. The policeman in charge of the area refused to ride the motorcycles to the square in front of Hagia Sophia, so we continued our way to Ankara, where we would take a short stop – a tour in the center of the city - and then continue for Cappadocia... We passed the underwater tunnel Avrasya (under Bosphorus) and we found ourselves in Asian Turkey! It's weird to have the feeling that you have the Bosphorus over you!!!

When we reached O4 highway, an unpleasant surprise awaited us... It was a Sunday morning and it was the last weekend of Ramadan. Thousands of Turks in their cars had poured into the streets and flooded all 4 lanes of the highway... Stroke! Their driving manner was a madness!!! Extremely aggressive! At some point started to rain and we stopped under a bridge and put on our rain gear... We got very hot due to the high temperature (32°C) wearing them and after 45 minutes the rain stopped and delightedly we took them off. Driving up to Ankara (450 km) broke our nerves. There were 20 km traffic jams in some places! Accidents, run out cars etc...

At 14:00 we entered in the capital of Turkey, in Ankara. I can't say that I was excited with what I saw. I think Istanbul is infinitely more beautiful city. We left our motorcycles in the parking lot of a hotel I had found before starting the trip, near the main pedestrian street of the city. A lot of people there too!!!

We got a snack and a refreshment, strolled and we got our bikes to continue towards Cappadocia. We had another 290 km to drive. We put gasoline for the second time in the day at 7.1 TL, ( 1.1 €/lt).

The road for the rest of the route was two lanes per direction (D750 to Aksaray and D300 to Goreme). The asphalt was in fine condition, but still there was a lot of traffic! We hoped that the following day, which was Monday, would not face traffic towards to Erzurum...

From Ankara to Cappadocia the route was in a flat terrain and the road passed through large crops and the scenery was quite beautiful. From Ankara to Aksaray we had to our right - as we were heading South - a large lake, which added more beauty to the landscape! But our minds were elsewhere! In what our eyes would see in a few hours... At six in the afternoon we had reached Goreme and our senses were over excited! For me, Cappadocia was on my bucket list!!! And here we are! In front of this miracle of nature!

Cappadocia is called "the lunar landscape of Turkey"... Cappadocia means the country of beautiful horses. One of the most beautiful areas of the western Asia. There are hundreds of underground states, cave churches and incredible porous stone formations that fascinate every traveler. I had booked our accommodation in Goreme, which is in the homonymous valley and is the heart of the tourism industry in the area with its 360 churches and 30 famous underground cities. We chose to stay in Göreme because it has a particular morphology, such as the "fairy chimney" rocks but still retains the feel of the village, unlike Avanos for example which we found it quite touristy. Entering in Goreme really takes your breath away, a non-earthly landscape, only by seeing it with your own eyes can you realize what nature has created. You just feel like you live in another planet, in another universe. Our eyes couldn't look at what nature had created! Every now and then we stopped to take pictures from the landscape. Some with the motorcycles in front of the landscape and others with the motorcycles and the landscape in the background!

As soon as we entered in Goreme we started looking for the Ufuk Hotel Pension that I had booked. It took us five minutes but we found it easily... Our accommodation could not be said that disappointed us (average to bad, with very little room), but it was for one night only... The 23€ we paid for a double room was very cheap compared to what we would pay for another hotel in this area.

We gazed at the landscape from its balconies, took our bath to take the sweat of the day off us and refreshed ourselves, and went down to the village... After all, we did our walk, we bought some souvenirs and we found the restaurant that would take care our stomachs. We enjoyed our dinner, and after we walked again and gazed at the luminous lunar landscape! Perfect!!!

We went back to the room where I had to start to work... I had to transfer all the data from the cameras and cameras in an external hard disk, which I always carry with me on my travels. After that procedure I had to charge everything... including my helmet’s intercom... Every next day I had to be prepared to take pictures and video again...

 

Day 4           Cappadocia (Goreme) → Erzincan → Erzurum (750 km)

                                                                                           Avg Cons. 4.8 lt/100km

         The most impressive tourist attraction in Cappadocia is the hot air balloons. Every morning, around 6 am, dozens of hot air balloons rise from the ground into the sky of Cappadocia.

We woke up at 5am waiting to see them adorn the sky, but we were disappointed! No one got up...  That was something we left for the next time...

We got ready early because we had several kilometers to drive... We saddled up our motorcycles and took a stroll around the area to see it with the morning sky colors. The scenery was... perfect!!! A put a check next to Cappadocia (in my bucket list) and that was only just the beginning of the trip!

We followed D300 motorway all the way to Kayseri and then D260 to Erzincan in the first part of our daily route. A very nice road with two lanes in each direction with barrier separating the two directions. After Cappadocia our route to the Caspian Sea was all at high altitude. Our course was continuously in mountainous plateaus and mountains! The route became even more beautiful from Erzincan onwards, which was at 1200 meters above sea level until 1900 which was at, the city of  Erzurum. Gregory the leader kept us within the speed limits. The paradox was that, at some point from the Erzincan to the Erzurum, we saw a car parked on the sidewalk of our direction with his front towards the upcoming traffic, and at that moment we were driving at 100 km/h, below the 110 km/h speed imit. We were stopped by a Turkish policeman a little further down the road and he wanted to give us a ticket because as he said that motorcycles should be driven 20 kilometers less than the upper limit... Which means, up to 90 km/h!!! After a little chat with the policeman we continued our way without any ticket.

The day was quite hot, with mercury reaching 34°C, even though we were driving through the mountains, where in some peaks there was still snow. I could say that the route to Erzurum was quite interesting with no traffic! Splendit! Shortly after 6 pm we arrived in Erzurum, where we stayed at a hotel we had found before we started the trip, but we hadn’t booked it because we didn’t know how the day would be going for us.

We checked in our room, refreshed and went out into the city. A city of 400,000 people who were living the Ramadan’s last evening... Walking downtown, I got into a barber shop and got a shave... At the same time Gregory was searching to find an exchange to change some euros to the local currency. The Euro - Turkish Lira exchange rate was divine! 1€ = 6.5TL!!! In the distant 2014 I had lived at 1 € you were getting 2TL... and the gas price at 1.8 €/lt...

We walked to the center of the city, were there were a lot of people in the streets, celebrating the end of their religious holiday, and a little later we went to an open-air bazaar that was set up in the central square. After a few walks around the bazaar, we walked at a kebab restaurant where we tried Shawarma, the equivalent of Greek Gyros, but Shawarma was oriental with a slightly different recipe. Big and tasty, but a little bit spicy...

 

Day 5           Erzurum → Aktas border station → Tbilisi - Georgia (750 km)

                                                                                                    Avg Cons. 4.8 lt/100km

        We left from Erzurum at 8am heading to Aktas border station (after Cildir), to cross Georgia, a distance of 290 kilometers to the border. The route was very beautiful! Impressive mountains with red colors, plenty of vegetation on the plateaus and all at an altitude that at some point reached 2,400 meters! It was like Switzerland! Incredible setting! The best track we drove in Turkey!!!

And as I mentioned Switzerland... at a stop we had with Gregory in a cafe-restaurant, about halfway up to Aktas, we met a Swiss guy, about 70 years old, who was going alone with a Citroen to Iran for vacation! I admired him for his courage and for the adventures he had lived in his life. He told us about his climbing Ararat mountain and many more stories! I wish I’ll be healthy and have the strength to live up for a lot adventures!!! We greeted and exchanged wishes for many and trouble-free trips!

From Erzurum we followed the motorways D950, D062 and D955 which took us to the Aktas border station. I'll say it one more time... Great route!!! It is well-known that from Turkey nobody cannot enter in Armenia and vice versa because these two countries have closed borders because of political differences. So, if anyone wants to enter in Armenia from Turkey, has to go through Georgia. When I was planning my trip, Google Maps took me to Akhalkalaki (Georgia) after Erzurum, via the Türkgözü border station. At one point I read Themis' wonderful travel on gsmotoclub forum, traveling to the area and reporting that a new border crossing had opened between Turkey and Georgia, Aktas... That's how we saved about 90km thanks to Themis! Definetely we saved time too, since Aktas had no traffic... With the information we share on our trips we help each other!!! A big thank to Themis Char for all the information he shared with us!

After motorway D955 and leaving behind the village of Cildir, we followed D010 which, following a wonderful route, passed us by Lake Kartsakhi and took us to the border station. From afar it smelled like new... (Georgia on the Turkish signboards, referred as GURCISTAN) By concise procedures we passed the Turkish checkpoint and went to Georgia... And there we were. Only one customs officer found it difficult to find the details of the motorcycles listed on the licenses, but all went well. We put two internal suitcases (from the side panniers) through the machine (X-Ray) so they could see if the machine was working properly... haha! We exchanged some Euros in Georgian currency (Georgian Lari) in the customs building. The green card is not valid in Georgia, so approximately 400 meters to the left of the border, there is a gas station and besides an insurance office, and there we got motorcycle insurance. For 15 days, we paid 20 GEL, about 7 €.

Just before we started to drive again, the weather was heavy and began to chill... We were in the mountains... The weather is always volatile, even if it is summer and the temperature is 30 ° C like at that time... After a little thought, finally we put on our rain gear...

We started driving our first kilometers to Georgia. The road (at 1,200 altitude) passed through small villages which, were very poor... We are talking about cursed poverty... Green landscape and the road with the broken asphalt, which demanded enough attention for its puddles, passed us through beautiful canyons, with the river accompanying the road on its way! The biggest problem on this route when we were crossing villages where the road was awful! Riders, suspensions and tires on this route up to Borjomi were tested. On this road we saw many old Iranian truck tankers, which started from Iran, crossing Armenia and Georgia and selling Iranian oil to Turkey! This is the result of the embargo on Iran...

Before Borjomi we stopped at Aspindza for a snack and a beer at the unique Chiko Rest cafe, which was great. It was the perfect cafe - restaurant in the perfect spot. We enjoyed the moments and we continued in our route towards Tbilisi to cover the 150 km that separated us. After Khashuri we followed the E60 and the road condition got better...

Georgian drivers are dangerous because they drive very aggressively and driving in Georgia requires great care!!! Also something else that we noticed and we were very impressed is that Georgia has left-hand drive and right-hand drive cars!!!

At seven in the afternoon we entered in Tbilisi. Our goal was to enter in Armenia through the Sadakhlo border station in the northeast of Armenia and cross the Debed Gorge and then head south. That was why we did this cycle... The best place to stay overnight was the Tbilisi which we would visit it again after a few days. So we started looking for a hotel in Tbilisi so GPS didn't help much since the maps were OEM as we said and when we searched for a hotel it didn't exactly drive us, and we were scouting... There was a bit of traffic and eventually after 3-4 rounds, we found a hotel (Amadeus Hotel) near the center at an affordable price and we stayed there...

After checking in and a shower, we went out into the city and I enjoyed the famous Georgian wine, and Gregory tasted local beer in a restaurant (Pasanauri) by the river Kura. That is how our first night in Eurasia ended!

*** A note concerning Turkey... In many restaurants, cafes etc there is no WiFi due to the policy of the government of the country...

 

Day 6           Tbilisi (Georgia) → Sadakhlo → Debed Gorge (Armenia) → Sevan Lake

→Yerevan (300 km)                                                                                   Avg. Cons. 4.7 lt/100km

The route to the Georgian-Armenian border (Sadakhlo border station) was only 75 km, and is completely indifferent, poor and the road was provincial. We didn’t find a descent place to drink a cup of coffee...

We crossed the Georgian Border Crossing Point and entered in the Armenian checkpoint, where at the first control the police checked our passports, drivers’ licenses and the registration of the motorcycles. We continued to the second checkpoint in which the customs officers didn’t deal with us at all and told us to exit... Gregory exchanged some Euros to Armenian Drams at a bank in the customs area and we continued to the last checkpoint, to get out... There, the policeman asked us for a paper, the declaration, which we had not been given and no one told us to get it from the customs! A lad, a customs official, guided us back to the customs building and explained to a customs officer behind a counter what to issue. So after we got hold of the declaration that was writing infos about the motorcycle, we went back to the exit gate again... So the declaration was an important document, which we had to give back to the customs upon leaving the country! So we headed to the exit, and shortly before leaving the customs area, we noticed that there were offices to get a motorcycle insurance. We were asked for 16,000 Dram while on Themis Char trip, I had read that he had paid 2 to 3,000 Drams for 15 days insurance. So they were asking for 16,000 because as they told us (in the office) they made us health insurance etc... I refused to continue issuing the insurance, we got our motorcyclesand we drone to the exit checkpoint. We showed the declaration document, the bar opened, and we went right across to where there were kiosks - offices that used  as insurance offices to get insurance. We got insurance for the motorcycles at a cost of 3,000 Drams for a 15 day period and went on the road that led to Debed Gorge. The whole border process took about an hour...

The road (M6) to Debed was miserable!!! The asphalt pavement broken with several potholes, bumbs, and in some spots where the road was under construction, we drove a regular Off-Road route over large stones and gravel which had not been laid and pressed... After those points we were alert looking out for what the asphalt road reserved for us and after Neghots we turned left (headed south) to visit the Haghpat Monastery. Up to that point I can't say that the route impressed us...

Haghpat Monastery, also known as Haghpatavank, is a medieval Armenian monastery. The monastery was constructed by Saint Nishan (Surb Nshan) in the 10th century and was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it represents the great flourishing of Armenian religious architecture. Its unique aesthetics was developed by mixing elements of Byzantium and the traditional region of the Caucasus.

We left our bikes outside the entrance, and entered the monastery's yard and toured its interior. At one point, I found myself in the library of the monastery (no longer a library) and noticed some holes in the floor that were being like buried cupboards. I asked a guide who had a group under her supervision, and she explained that, in these holes the monks were placing the manuscripts to preserve them... Respect!!!

After completing our visit to the first of several monasteries we would visit in Armenia, we continued on the road M6 through Alaverdi to Vanadzor. The road just after the junction with Haghpat became a racetrack!!! Incredible! We drove fast, we curved a lot and the gorge was very beautiful. We were compensated for the initial inconvenience! I believe that it is a must for a motorcyclist visiting Armenia to cross the gorge.

We stopped at Vanadzor to catch a breath after it had reached around 3pm and it was summer, close to 30°C... We got a salad for lunch and a beverage, refreshed and continued on the M4 to Sevan lake. The road to the lake had several patches on the road but at least it had no holes. The route at an altitude over 1600 meters, in a lush landscape, not wooded, but with low vegetation and small villages sown on the plateau with high mountains still on their lips, to delimit the area! One issue that requires attention when driving to this corner of the planet are cows that are not only fat but cross the streets uncontrollably and are a source of danger in some cases, because you don’t know where you will be face to face with one of them or all the herd... Probably after a curve...

We arrived at Sevan Lake where the scenery was beautiful, with the lake surrounded by mountains, and 1,900 meters above sea level!!! This lake is one of the largest lakes in the world in ahigh altitude!

We filled our eyes with beautiful images, took some pictures and continued on the M4 motorway to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, which was only 65 kilometers far away. From Sevan onwards, the M4 has become a normal highway, with a barrier in the middle, but... at some points it had openings and some drivers were comfortable turning around the highway...!!! We were both photographed by a speed radar, but only the front and not the back where is the motorcycle’s plate, so... no problem!

We arrived with the assistance of GPS near the center of Yerevan and paid a taxi there to get us to the hotel we had booked, and this is what we said, because OEM Maps do guidance rather than navigation... The taxi guided us at our hotel, the Republika Boutique Hotel, which was very good, with underground parking and it was right in the center of town! A very good choice! At 8pm we went for a walk in the center and the enlightened city looked beautiful! The women, very beautiful with their unique Armenian characteristics...

We strolled downtown, admired the buildings around Republic Square, walked through the square with the beautifully colored fountains row after row, saw the sculptured tree on the facade in Kamar business center and wondered a bit. Armenians were taking a stroll in the center of their capital. At one point, the music coming from Republic Square caught our attention and we were drawn to it. Crowds of people had gathered around the Singing Fountains and in front of the Armenian History Museum. The music was playing and the colorful fountains were following their pace. We enjoyed a combination of spectacle and music for a few hours there with the Armenians, and then we headed to the Northern Avenue and ventured to the underground shops under the pedestrian... We continued walking until the end of the pedestrian street, at Freedom Square, which overlooks the imposing Opera House. Several outdoor restaurants and cafés were in the surrounding area. We walked around with Gregory and walked back to Republic Square to end up at a wonderful Armenian tavern named Baklachoff, where we were delighted with its decoration and its delicious local cuisine. Just delicious!!!

After this food festival we ended up at our hotel, which was not too far away. We had a great day and we went to bed, but we couldn't sleep right away... Something like stories from the past and the jokes we told each other, got us awake for a while. Gregory. We stayed awake for quite some time and when the time came we were left in the lap of Morpheus...

 

Day 7    6-6-2019              Yerevan (Armenia) 

What to say about that day... We lived a lot of experiences!

Our day started at 9 am in the morning. We left from our hotel on the bikes to visit Garni Temple and the Geghard Monastery, which are very close to Yerevan. We first put on GPS the location of Garni Temple and at the beginning calculated the distance to 21km, then it recalculated the route to 42 km... Ah!  these Garmin OEM maps!!!

Driving our motorcycles we got out of the center of Yerevan, and our GPS passed next to the dumb of Yerevan, with those pleasant smells that accompanied the landscape, and then drove us to places unknown and barren... Nevertheless we saw one sign indicating that we were heading right to Garni... What worried us is that this road was abandoned and didn't have the traffic it should have from tourists visiting the temple... We asked two people who were in front of us during our route at nowhere, if we go well for Garni and the affirmative answer led us to continue on this road... The road was getting worse! After we got used to the puddles, the lintels and the breaks on the asphalt, soon the road became gravel with water puddles and deep puddles. In a steep downhill section of the road - I had to stand still to keep the bike upright next to the end of the road and below it was the continuation of the road, 10 meters lower, resting on one leg... The other leg was in the air because underneath it was a bottomless puddle!!! Gregory, who was following me, saved the situation. He parked his motorcycle and came to grab my motorcycle and then I was able to get off and roll it a 2-3 meters ahead, where I was able to get on and continue... Gregory = Power!!! Eventually after a few kilometers we took the road that we should have taken from Yerevan and continued on to Garni. The GPS played a little with our safety in that track... All right! After a few minutes we arrived at Garni and we parked our motorcycles in a small parking lot in front of the monument. The attendant urged us to leave the jackets on the motorcycle (because it was hot) and assured us that he would take care of them by himself. The Armenians are very friendly and the fact that we are Greeks but also Orthodox like them, made them very friendly to us. They also were seeing the Greek flag that I had hanging on the back of the top case and those who didn't know it asked where we were from.

Garni Temple is a 1st century Hellenistic temple near Garni in Kotayk province of Armenia. It is the only pagan temple in Armenia that survived the country's Christianity in 301 AD. King Tiridates I probably built it in the first century AD. in honor of the Sun God Mihr (Mithras).

The Garni Temple is a brilliant example of classical Hellenistic culture. With its design, a rectangular structure, externally surrounded by 24 columns symbolizing the 24 hours of the day. It is the only known Greco-Roman peristaltic building in Armenia and the only such building to be preserved. The ancient temple and nearby Geghard Monastery (located 7 km southeast) are in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today it is one of the main tourist attractions in Armenia.

The ticket cost less than 3€ and several groups had already arrived and were trying to get in line to get through the front door. I entered, and the temple did indeed resemble Ancient Greece! What can I say, Greeks are everywhere but unfortunately they tell us about our ancient ancestors only and not about the achievements of modern Greeks... I took beautiful pictures and later I found Gregory waiting for me at the yard of the temple. We drank some water to cool it down a bit because it was hot... June!

After our visit to Garni we got our motorcycles and drove towards Geghard Monastery. In the middle of the route, I noticed a lady with her little daughter kneeling on the balcony of their house and baking their own bread... a thin baked dough. Her daughter made the dough and Mom opened it and baked it in the oven that was 'buried' on the balcony floor!!! There was a ceramic dome on the floor that was the oven, and the lady put the delicate dough on a kind of pillow and lowered it with her hand into the oven and glued the dough to the oven wall!!! In two minutes, it was ready and untied it with her fingers from the side of the oven. They left me to take some photos and record the procedure. We salute them and we were ready to continue our way to the monastery... At that moment a car stopped with three men who got off to buy bread stopped. Then one of them asked me where we are from. When I replied that we are from Greece he told me that we had something in common. I wondered what this was... and he replied to me... Byzantium... the Turks got it! So I asked him where he was from and he replied that he was Russian... Orthodox nationalities are suffering with our lost homeland too!!!

Geghard Monastery is a unique architectural structure in the Armenian province of Kotayk, partially carved in the rocks of an adjacent mountain with steep cliffs.

While the main chapel was built in 1215, the monastery complex was founded in the 4th century AD by Saint Gregory the Illuminator in the site of a sacred spring in a cave. Thus the monastery was originally called Ayrivank, which means "the Cave Monastery". The name commonly used for the monastery today, Geghard, or more fully Geghardavank, meaning "Monastery of the Spear", derives from the spear that Jesus had injured during the Crucifixion allegedly brought to Armenia by Judas the Apostle (in Armenia is called Thaddeus), among many other relics. It is now held in Echmiadzin.

The impressive towering rocks surrounding the monastery form part of the Azat River Gorge and are included with the monastery in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Some of the churches in the complex of the monastery are built of stone from the rocks, some more than small caves, while others are more complex constructions, with walls and rooms deep within the rocks.

The combination of all of these, together with several khachkars located there, make up a unique attraction, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Armenia.

Many tourists were already in the monastery and the small parking lot was a bit of a problem for the visitors... The scenery surrounding the monastery was amazing! We went up to the entrance gate of the monastery and entered in the outer enclosure. There was no ticket to enter in the monastery. We toured the monastery sites, took some pictures, and after visiting the most of the monastery sites, rode our motorcycles and returned to Yerevan by the right road this time...

It was noon when we arrived at our hotel... We took a shower and went out into the city because we still had many things on our list to visit... We started with a coffee myself and Gregory with a cold local beer to relax a little bit and we walked to the church of St. Gregory the Illuminator. Saint Gregory Cathedral is the largest Armenian cathedral in the world. The huge cathedral is a complex consisting of three churches: the cathedral (main church) and the chapels of St. King Tiridates and St. Ashkhen. These two royal personalities were Saint Gregory's important assistants in the conversion of Armenia into a Christian state.

Impressed by the size of the cathedral, we walked up to Vernissage, the great open air market, and wandered amongst the kiosks selling traditional Armenian handmade faux jewelry, various crafts, souvenirs and various other products. We made a few strolls through the market until we found the souvenirs we wanted to buy from Armenia... Completed and at that we took a taxi and after negotiating the price, we went to the Armenian Genocide Memorial just outside the center. Taxis are pretty cheap in Armenia I could say.

 Tsitseranakaberd hill houses the Armenian Genocide monument and museum. Chicheranakaberd means the Tower of the Swallows. We arrived at the Monument and the taxi driver offered to wait for us until we would finish our visit and returned us to the center. The well-known monument is dedicated to the memory of the 1.500,000 victims of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. Pedestrians cross the tranquil park next to the trees that every official visitor grows by planting a tree. We stood in front of the monument. Twelve tall, circular stone columns tilt slightly inward, as if bowing to the lime flame that lights in the center of the monument. Next were flowers left by visitors. I could say that the feeling, which flooded my heart, was almost like the one that overwhelmed me in my visits to Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps! We left a little bit sad but the taxi driver made us feel better... He understood that we were from Greece because his roommate as told us he had been in Greece for several years and even called him to talk to him! We had a conversation with that guy through the cellphone, and he asked us how many days we would stay in Yerevan and if we needed anything to help us!!! He even gave us his phone number in case we needed something to call him! I have no words to describe how friendly Armenians are!

We asked from our friend - the taxi driver - to take us to Cascade. Cascade is a trademark of Yerevan, a monumental architectural and natural complex with huge stone steps and waterfalls leading up to Haghtanak Park, with the most beautiful views of the city. Just below Cascade is the Cafesjian Center for Contemporary Art (also known as the Cafesjian Museum of Art), which is an art museum in Yerevan. We spent some time in the area and after filling our brains with beauty and art, we headed to our hotel for a shower (over 30°C today) and some relaxation...

Just before leaving the hotel for a night walk in the city, I had a discussion with the hotel manager about Armenian cognac. The bartender served me a glass of Ararat 10 years old to try and I fell in love!!! Such a fragrance, such a taste, just does not exist! It woke up all my senses!!! Unfortunately I couldn’t buy (from Yerevan) a bottle to take with me to Greece since the next country we would go to was Iran and alcohol was strictly forbidden in this country. While things were difficult for us to enter in Iran, I didn't want to have another thorn...

Of all the Armenian spirits, brandy is the most popular product. Armenia prides itself on Armenian cognac with pride because of its superior quality and the positive reception it enjoys wherever it is presented. It is no coincidence that it was the only species that William Churchill enjoyed. Stalin is said to have often complained that Churchill was more interested in the next cargo of Armenian cognac than the outcome of the war. The British politician was receiving 300 loads of Armenian cognac annually.

After this tasting we went out into the streets to enjoy Yerevan by night... We walked for a while and then we ended up back at the tavern we discovered the night before. Once again we fell in love with Armenian cuisine!!!

 

Day 8       Yerevan→Khor Virap → Tatev → Meghri (380 km)       Avg Cons. 4.8 lt/100km

        If the day before was a good day, what can I say about that day? It was the best driving day!!! (So far...)

We started shortly after 9am, leaving behind the beautiful Yerevan that stole our hearts !!! Our goal was to reach the village of Meghri, a few kilometers before the border station to enter in Iran... We headed south and our first stop would be the Khor Virap Monastery. It is worth mentioning here there were no tolls in either Armenia or Georgia (before we entered Armenia). Khor Virap was just 45 kilometers from Yerevan.

Khor Virap is a monastery of the Armenian Apostolic Church located in the Ararat Valley of Armenia, near the border with Turkey, about 8 km south of Artashat, in the province of Ararat. Khor Virap, meaning "deep well", was the residence of the Armenian Catholic. Khor Virap's remarkable position as a monastery and place of pilgrimage is attributed to the fact that Grigor Lusavorich, who later became Saint Gregory the Illuminator, was originally imprisoned here for 13 years by King Tiridates III of Armenia. Saint Gregory later became the king's religious mentor and led the activity for the Christianization of the country. In the year 301, Armenia was the first country in the world to be declared a Christian nation. Opposite the monastery and within a very short distance is Mount Ararat!

When we were  in elementary school, we heard from the teacher the story of the Flood and about Noah. When we were glad to learn that his Ark, rescuing all animal species, straddled Mount Ararat, we asked: And where is that mountain? In Armenia, the teacher replied. We didn't know where Armenia was, nor did we ask. It was a mythical, distant land. But now Ararat is no longer in Armenia. The mountain did not move. The country's borders have been moved and Ararat now belongs to Turkey since 1921 with the demarcation of the borders after World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire...

The Biblical term Ararat consists of two conical parts, the Masis (5.165 meters) and the Sis (4.300 meters), and has played an important role in shaping the ethnic identity of Armenians. It remains particularly popular, although it has been owned by Turkey for decades. From the monastery the fence that formed the border between Turkey and Armenia, which separated us from Ararat, was clearly visible...

We left Khor Virap and I was left full, not only because I visited the monastery, but I saw Mount Ararat in my life! We continued south along the H10 motorway to our next stop, the Tatev Monastery. A distance of 210 kilometers from Khor Virap. A mountainous route where in many places we found herds of cows using the road network on their way... Altitude nearly 2,000 meters. The scenery was amazing with the mountain peaks still holding snow on their peaks. The plateaus are lush and in some places full of flowers. Dreamy places! Just before turning right for Tatev, the sign pointing to the Khndzoresk Bridge escaped our attention... The 160-meter-long, 14-ton bridge joins two villages, the old with the new Khndzoresk divided by a gorge. The swinging bridge has oscillations and leads you to the old Khndzoresk located on the opposite slope of the mountain which is full of caves that have been inhabited since the 13th century... We left something for the next time we will be in Armenia...

There are two ways to get to Tatev Monastery. The first was to drive to the monastery and the second was the Wings of Tatev... the longest aerial cable car in the world. The cable car starts from the village of Halicor in the Syunik region, located in the south of Armenia near the border with Iran and is 280 km from Yerevan. It passes over a spectacular, lush canyon whose the highest point is 320 meters and reaches 11 minutes at a speed of 37 km per hour on the green hilltop. There is the medieval Tatev monastery complex. It was included in the Guinness Book as the '' longest continuous double cable car route '' in the world.

 So we preferred to taste the cable car experience. We arrived at Wings of Tatev and parked our motorcycles in the large and comfortable parking lot and went to get a ticket which costs (round trip) 7,000 Drams (about 14 €). We entered at the cabin that would lead us to the monastery and once it started we were starting to live a truly unforgettable experience! We flew over mountains, canyons and rivers until we reached Tatev!!! Here I must say that a significant portion of Wings of Tatev's income goes to the restoration and maintenance of the monastery.

The magnificent Tatev Monastery was built in the 9th century AD. and played a very important role in the life of this area. It was the most important cultural, spiritual and scientific center of Armenia. In the 14th-15th century there was a School of Miniatures. Saint Gregory the Illuminator, who spread the word of Christ throughout Armenia, is buried here in a small church built in 1295. Our tour in the monastery did not last more than half an hour. What struck me more than the impressive view of the visitor from the monastery was that there was a monk in the catholicon of the monastery, blessing and reading blessings to those who approached him with devotion for this purpose.

On our return to the base of the Wings of Tatev where we had left our motorcycles, in the cable car we met Elina, a female Armenian tour guide who was kind enough to explain to us several things concerning the monastery and the surrounding area. We told her that we were Greeks and she was excited about Greece and her intention to visit the island of Santorini...

The magic part of the route started after Goris, where at some point and after a sign pointed to us that we followed the Armenian Silk Road. And there as well the route was through lush green mountains with low vegetation and their peaks still with snow... We were driving at 2,500 to 2,600 meters above the sea level! Our jaws dropped from the stunning landscape we had in front of us! I can't count how many times we stopped to get a photo. At a point we overpassed a convoy of trucks from the Armenian army and with our stops we had to pass it again 5 or 6 times in total!!! It was a reminiscent of the Alps but we were in Armenia! At one point we stopped to immerse ourselves in the landscape, and next to us was a car stopped by two men and a girl and all of them had crashed on our bikes... One of them told us he was Iranian and when we told him that we would visit Iran, he invited us at his home in Tehran. Very friendly and hospitable!

The route from Goris to Meghri is highly recommended!!! The asphalt was not the best but it is worth driving to these places! All along our route, Armenians were greeting us by their cars like Iranian truckers as well.

We arrived at our accommodation in Meghri at 9pm. Martin, a Swiss motorcyclist with a Honda Africa Twin and three other French women were already there because they restored an old church in the area. Martin had attempted to enter Iran 15 days earlier but was not allowed to cross the border because his motorcycle was over 250cc. We had a conversation with Martin and as he told us would try again the next day to join us in Iran. At that time he had contacted Hossein and it would have been (rather) easier. He would cross Iran to go to the Pamir highlands... We stayed up late with Martin and Anouk (one of the three French women) drinking homemade vodka offered by the owner and discussing various issues. Our sleep was not so nice in the room which they gave us. The mattresses were miserable and Gregory had very hard time...

 

Day 9         Meghri → Nordooz → Jolfa → Urmia (340 km)              Avg  Cons. 4.4 lt/100km

         We woke up at 6 am to get ready and we started at 7am with Martin to cross the Nordooz Armenian border station, which was only 10 kilometers far away from our accommodation. In 20 minutes we were done with the procedures at the Armenian border station and headed towards the Iranian border. We crossed the Aras River, which is the natural border of the two countries and reached the first Iranian control post. So we left Armenia behind (which had stolen our hearts) and we were trying to get into Iran. In the company was also added an elderly couple, Michele with his wife, French travelers on their motorbikes, who were also heading to the Pamir highlands... Passport, visa and motorcycle registration were the documents were asked by the first control. The French went first to give their documents, and there came the first stroke! Their visa for Iran had expired and they had not realized it... They traveled to Georgia and Armenia without caring about their Iranian visa and thought everything was ok, but when it was their time to enter in Iran it was already expired! There was no possibility to get a new visa on the spot. We contacted Hossein to help them with the visa issue, but nothing was possible to be done at that time. This negligence ruined their trip, because they had to cross Iran in order to travel to Pamir... We were very sorry for them. It was our turn to pass the check and luckily everything went well. We were told to go to another building on foot, to issue us entry papers to the country. There we found the Hossein’s agent who joined us where we had parked our motorcycles and he opened the gate bar and we drove them outside the building where the process would take place. So Mr. Bahman (the agent) took our papers (passport, visa and motorcycle’s registration) and would give us a transit permit to enter Iran rather than Carnet de Passage, because we would not spend many days in the country. After waiting there for 3.5 hours to finish, we had time to observe the scenery at the Nordooz border, which was amazing! The two border stations are thus located within a basin crossed by the Aras River and this entire basin is surrounded by rocky mountains. Perfect!!!

After we got the documents in hand, we gave the rest of the money to Mr. Bahman, greeted Martin (who also got the paperwork to enter Iran), and wished him the best for his trip. We got our motorcycles and went back to the first building to exchange money before leaving the customs office. Incidentally, no customs officers carried out any checks on any motorcycle. Our goal was to get the documents concerning our entrance in the country... So we went to exchange money and Gregory exchanged 50 € for 6,500,000 Rials...!!! All of sudden we felt rich!!!

So after pocketing them, we got on the motorcycles and headed for the exit gate. There we showed our documents and the bar opened and we were in Iran! After too much work, paperwork, anxieties about what to do, and expenses, we succeed to get into Iran. As we walked out of the customs office, crowds of people like bees were roaming around the buses, shops, a big mess! We passed this patch and took the road (12) to Jolfa. The route up there passed us through imposing rocky mountains, dry from vegetation but very beautiful. Half way up the asphalt was not the best but afterwards things got right... Before Jolfa there was a checkpoint, we reduced our speed but no one stopped us for check. The important thing about riding a motorcycle in Iran is that you have to drive EVERYWHERE on the right lane and demands great attention to the speed limits!!!

We stopped at the city of Jolfa where we refuel for the first time in Iran. I put 25lt and paid 250,000 Rials, close to 1,80€!!!!!!!! Do you know the song that says I will stay here for ever??? Meanwhile in the tank still had remained 5lt in and I had already covered 490 kilometers! After refueling we decided to have a snack because it was noon already and we had some kilometers to drive ahead... We found a fast food in the city, which was something between sandwich - pizzeria - kebab, and we got a sandwich and a Coca Cola. In the meantime, there were quite a few people outside gathering around the motorcycles looking at them... When we finished our lunch... we got out and their first question with two English words they knew, was how much the motorcycle cost! We greeted them and continued on the road to Urmia where we would stay in the Hossein guesthouse.

We had two alternative routes after Jolfa to Urmia. The first was to go west and visit the Armenian monastery of St. Stephen, built in the 9th century and listed in the Unesco World Heritage Sites. The second was straight to Urmia. Since it was already late at noon, and the option of going to the monastery would add another 100 kilometers and more time for our visit there, we preferred to continue to Urmia in order to arrive at a reasonable time and have time to visit the sightseeings of the city.

So we continued at road 11 to Khoy and the road was... a two lane highway and very good quality of asphalt!!! But the scenery after Jolfa was different... a little bit flat. So getting out of Jolfa there was another checkpoint and they stopped us there. The chief there asked for the registration of the motorcycle, my passport and customs papers. After checking them, he gave them back to me and he told me that everything was ok. We continued on our way, and 70 kilometers before Urmia we made another stop to drink something cool after a bit of heat and hydration. We stopped at something in a café-restaurant and the local motorcyclist enthusiasts gathered around the motorcycles.

We arrived at Urmia at 5pm and with the help of GPS where we had put the coordinates of the Hossein’s house guided to the right spot. Just a little before the house, Hossein's younger brother, Araz, was waiting for us, and he led us in front to an iron door, which when opened, led us to the yard of a house... This was the guesthouse! Hossein's house!!! His parents were also waiting for us, and after we were greeted, they brought us water and sweet treats. The conversation was done through Hossein's 14-year-old brother, who was speaking quite good English. Hossein himself was not there, he was on a trip to Turkey... We were welcomed into a bedroom with a bunk bed (presumably Hossein's room...) and after refreshing and changing clothes with the company of Araz we went downtown.

Urmia, a city of 750,000 inhabitants, is at an altitude of 1,350 meters. From the moment we entered the city on motorcycles you did not foresee that it would fascinate us as a city. Quite poor, and the people on the streets seemed poor. At some point while we were walking down the street with Gregory, I found a bookstore and went in to buy a pen because my pen, writing in my travel diary finished. With the help of Araz I asked how much it cost and I paid the magic amount of 3 cents of euro!!! Speechless!

We entered in the old Urmia bazaar and wandered its narrow corridors observing the merchants' products, but if anyone has visited the Istanbul bazaar or walked through Marrakech souks, it is not easy to be impressed! The highlight of our visit was that our little guide guided us up from an inner narrow staircase to the roof of the bazaar and we walked on the roof of the bazaar! Beautiful experience!!! However, Urmia was a poor and indifferent city. I wouldn't recommend it as a choice for a future traveler. The only thing that made us excited the most, was the lake of Urmia that we would cross the next day to reach the city of Tabriz...

After wandering around the city, we asked from Araz to take us to a restaurant that makes good kebabs to eat for dinner, and our little one guided us to a restaurant whose decoration reminded me something of a previous century and we were the only customers in the restaurant and the waiters were a little indifferent... Anyway, we had a descent meal and we thanked Araz for his choice. Not something extraordinary though...

After dinner we returned to the guesthouse (haha) and asked Hossein's father to look at the paperwork given to us by the customs, if there was any insurance for the motorcycles, which didn’t exist. There should have been insurances because we had agreed to and paid for them to Hossein... There was a speculation that there was no problem, and that we would have to drive more carefully by Hossein’s father... Even though we had paid for insurance in the package we agreed on with Hossein, we had no insurance...

Something else important... the Internet in Iran is too slow and Social Media are banned. So those Iranians who are interested in Facebook, Twitter etc, make a VPN connection. So in a discussion I had with Araz about this topic he installed a VPN (trial) program on my iphone so I had communication with the outside world...

 

Day 10         Urmia → Kandovan Village → Tabriz (200 km)           Avg.  Cons.  4.4 lt/100km

         In the morning we woke up and discovered that Hossein's family was sleeping in the kitchen of the house on the floor. We felt a little uncomfortable I could say, but these people feel blessed to be able to make an extra income from the guesthouse, which is not at all detrimental to Iranian data. Hossein's mother made us breakfast with fresh hot bread (thin dough) that his father brought us, we thanked them for the hospitality, we saddled up our motorcycles and, with his father as a guide, we went to an insurance company in the city to get an insurance for the motorcycles... The girl who served us (she of course wearing a headscarf and other accessories of Muslim culture) asked for our passports and the registration and started the process. The internet crashed a couple of times and the process took about three quarters to finish... When it was over, she put the insurance in a leather wallet and handed it to us in a ritual way, holding it with both hands. We thanked her and we were ready to leave. Each insurance cost 9€ while when we negotiated the price with Hossein before starting the trip, he asked us € 35 for each!

At last we were able to leave Urmia at 10 o’clock... We headed to the bridge that crosses Lake Urmia. There was a toll but the clerk waived to us to pass free. It was the only toll we found throughout our presence in Iran. There was a military checkpoint on both ends of the bridge. I had read that the lake is the 6th largest lake with salt water in the world, and that it has a very reddish color, but in our passage over the bridge we didn't see anything remarkable... This lake is at an altitude of 1,250 meters!

The road (16) after the lake was the worst of those we had driven up to that time in Iran, with the exception of the first kilometers after the Nordooz border to Jolfa... After crossing the lake we continued on heading to Tabriz, but first we would visit the village of Kandovan, where people lived (and some still live) in the caves created by nature on the slope of a mountain at an altitude of 2,200 meters... The name Kandovan comes from word kando meaning beehive. Kandovan, located 50 kilometers south of Tabriz, is famous for its troglodytic houses, carved in cones, like huge ants of volcanic rocks, some of which are still inhabited, though they are at least 700 years old. The landscape brought in something from Cappadocia but human intervention was awful for the landscape. Many cables and many columns distorted the natural beauty of the landscape. We left our motorcycles on the main street of the village, in front of the shops and walked the uphill alleys, next to the caves, some of which were used as houses and others as storage. The crazy incident happened when we parked the motorcycles, where a car parked in front of us and a gentleman with his little daughter went to the back of the car and opened the trunk and pulled out a sheep!!! At the time we rode and when we returned to our motorcycles to leave, many people approached us and tried speaking poor English to ask us different things, such as where we are from and of course the dominant one... how much do motorcycles cost... All of them were very friendly, and they wanted to take photos with us, but also with motorcycles.

We left Kandovan behind and headed down to Tabriz, where when getting close to the city was a lot of traffic and the Iranians had made the 4 lanes (per direction) of the road 7!!! Driving among them in some cases was out of the realm of our imagination... Sometimes we felt threatened by the possibility of an accident.

A few kilometers out of town, we put the hotel's address on GPS and successfully led us to our accommodation, which was in the center of Tabriz. As we were searching where the hotel entrance was, a taxi stops next to us, the driver comes out (about 35 years old) and comes towards me and starts talking to me in Greek...!!! I was surprised that someone was speaking my language there! That guy lived and worked in Athens (Greece) for 10 years, so he learned to speak Greek! He was willing to help us with anything we needed but we had already found the hotel and after thanking her, we were greeted and exchanged wishes. We were in a rush to check in our hotel and we didn’t think to tell him to come over in the afternoon to have a coffee or a drink. But the good God had other plans... Our hotel (Sahand Hotel) was very good, with its own parking lot and it was right at the center of the city!

Tabriz, is a city of more than 1,500,000 people, and it is on 1,400 meters altitude. We started our exploration of the famous old town bazaar, which was not far from our hotel. The Grand Bazaar is known as the largest indoor bazaar in the world and the oldest in the Middle East. For centuries, the endless maze of architectural wonders, combined with the colorful charm of traditional goods and the aroma of oriental spices, captivates visitors to the bazaar just like us. This complex was one of the most important international trade hubs between the 12th and 18th centuries and continues to serve as the economic heart of northwestern Iran.

Many explorers and writers throughout history, including Marco Polo, have praised the Tabriz Bazaar as a remarkable part of their adventures. While on the Silk Road, thousands of caravans from various Asian, African and European countries passed the Tabriz Bazaar daily, making it one of the most flourishing shopping hubs in the world for centuries.

In 2010, UNESCO declared the Tabriz Bazaar as a World Heritage Site. Enchanted!

We walked out of the bazaar and walked down the main pedestrian street until we reached the main street of the city. At one point, I went into a shop to ask him where I could find Iran's stickers to add to the collection on the panniers of my motorcycle. He led me to a gallery a few meters below and there we went into a shop and met its owner, Ramin. He didn’t speak English at all but with the international language of pantomime I explained what I was looking for. Ramin sat down at that moment and made the stickers to the size I was looking for. Gregory was looking for a souvenir porcelain Iran-themed saucer for his collection, and Ramin, with the help of other neighboring shopkeepers, set it up! This is how the talk of pantomime began and then the translator was used on his cellphone and we got a better level of understanding. He asked us what sights in the city we were going to visit and he started showing us some sights from his city with the help of his computer. We suggested if he wanted to join us for a tour in the city and later at night to have dinner all three of us... So, even though it was six o'clock in the afternoon, he closed his shop and joined us. After guided us to the downtown attractions with the necessary explanations for each via Google Translate we arrived at the newly built Tabriz metro to reach Elgoli Park, just outside the city center. What attracted my attention was that the last train wagon had signs labeled '' Women Only '' and in fact I saw only women dressed traditionally with headscarves and burgs...

The lush park covers a large area and in the middle there was an artificial lake. Many people enjoyed their walk shortly before dusk and our walk there was very relaxing...

After a long walk in the park, Ramin took us to an outdoor restaurant where he ordered the city's specialty soup (Ash reshteh), which contained vegetables, beans, lentils, noodles and some other ingredients that I couldn't clarify. Tasting required us to try this soup, which our Iranian friend told us is extremely nutritious. I ate a few tablespoons and I can't say it was in my taste buds so I left enough room in my stomach for the kebabs we would eat later. Gregory, said that he liked it a lot!

After that experience, our Iranian friend called a taxi (which is very cheap in Iran) and we went downtown again to the right place for a good kebab, the famous Tabriz kebabs that I had read so much. We chose a table to sit instead of specially designed carpets where the locals eat frantically, and after a while the waiter came and Ramin ordered kebabs and with them three bottles of sour milk which as he told us was a must when eating kebabs. Gregory and I, we didn’t like the sour milk and after drinking a few sips to avoid offending our friend we ordered Coca Cola... As I said, in Iran there is no beer with alcohol... The kebabs came along with large thin pies, from which I cut small pieces and put kebabs in them and a few of the accompaniments such as chopped onion and roasted tomato. When we did, we wrapped it up a bit and put it in our mouths... The truth is that we succeeded to eat it properly!

But one thing I could say for sure to this point of the trip. From Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Iran that we had crossed so far, Armenian cuisine had been top choice. The Iranian cuisine didn’t make us very excited...

After we were done with our dinner, we greeted Ramin after thanking him for what he had done for us and for the time he had given us. We gave him an open invitation to host him in Greece whenever he will decide to come and we exchanged phones, e-mails, etc. I think with Ramin's help we saw a lot in the city but we also learned a lot about it and can confidently say (now which is the end of the trip) Tabriz was the best of the three cities we visited!

 

Day 11            Tabriz → Ardabil (220 km)         Avg. Consumption 5.2 lt/100km

         We got breakfast at our hotel, loaded our motorcycles, which were waiting patiently in the parking lot and headed for Ardabil. Only 220 kilometers in the schedule!

As soon as we got out of Tabriz, we followed Highway 2 at the beginning, and after Rd16. Highway 2 continue south and leads to Tehran. At Highway 2 we found a toll station, but as soon as our turn came, the clerk waived us to pass by without paying. Our route seemed uninterested...

We arrived around noon at Ardabil and quickly found a room at Sabalan Hotel, one of the hotels I had noted to check up to our arriving in the city. The hotel had an open space but guarded parking lot.

After a shower and a refreshing at our room we went to the city center to visit its sights and get to know it. It was three in the afternoon when we were out on the streets and there was not much traffic. It has had enough heat so I could say...

Ardabil, a historic city with 560,000 inhabitants, is known for its silk manufacturing and carpet making tradition. Ardabil rugs are considered among the classics of Persian production. Ardabil is also known as the World Heritage Site and the site of Sheikh anti-Din Sheikh. Situated on the Silk Road, it has great economic prosperity. The city is built on a flat landscape, run by three rivers and is at an altitude of 1,260 meters! South of the city, and a few minutes away from the center, is the picturesque Lake Shorabil. Also to the west of the city and a few kilometers away is Sabalan, Iran's second highest mountain, at an altitude of 4,800 meters!

We started our tour in the city and first we paid a visit to Shaikh Safî ad-Dîn mausoleum, where the ticket was 2€. A building that has been designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco. This adorable complex captivates you both externally with its blue tones but also internally where the decoration of the walls is dominated by wood and gold. Inside the main building, there is the elaborately carved wooden sarcophagus, which was worth a few minutes of our time to admire what is ultimately housed in this huge worship complex.

Impressived by the Mausoleum we continued our tour of the city and went to see the Pol-e Jajin and Pol-e Ebrahimabad bridges over the river Baliqli Chay that crosses the city. They were highly recommended by a local merchant who was speaking very good English and had his own shop outside the Mausoleum. So we walked there with the help of the map we had picked up from the hotel, but I can't say we were so much impressed... But we were not discouraged and continued our tour in the famous Ardabil Bazaar. We went into the bazaar and walked in the corridors between the spice shops, the fruits, the nuts etc etc until we reached the place where the carpet shops were. We saw carpets with elaborate designs that looked like real works of art to me! I wanted to get two mats from Ardabil, a city so famous for its rugs, so we entered in a shop. The dealer... was rushing to serve me. Other shopkeepers gathered at the door of the shop were curious to hear the bargain. So, in case I didn't buy from that shop and go into theirs to have a point... The shopkeeper then asked me for a little mat $ 125 and while waiting for me to start bargaining I thanked him and we left him astonished. I have bought 3 large carpets from Morocco (they sent them in my home via DHL...) on my trip there. So I knew very well how to bargain! Then it started with a first price of 4.800 € and finally after 5 hours bargain I got them 900 €! And the shipping cost included... So, we went out of the gentleman's shop, we didn't go into another shop that was in the same corridor and when we turned into a vertical corridor we entered into a shop of a very decent gentleman who welcomed us and from there I bought two mats (1.00 x 0.60m.) that I wanted for a souvenir from Ardabil... for 5€ each... Satisfied getting what I wanted, we took a souvenir picture with the owner. He was the one who suggested taking a picture because as he said we had to show in our country from whom we bought the carpets!!! Excellent!!!

After this entire long walk, we went to our hotel for a little rest. Entering in our room we were hit a little by the smell coming out of the Turkish basin in the bathroom... I generally hate the Turkish basins!!!

We cached our breath and left the hotel to go to a restaurant I had found during the preparation of the trip, from information I had derived from Internet concerning Ardabil. Gregory arranged for us a taxi, and he also paid the price (taxi is cheap in Iran) and our taxi driver carried us to the Shah Abbas restaurant as we requested. The decor of the restaurant was very beautiful and I think that was exactly what every visitor would expect in a traditional Iranian restaurant. The food was perfect!!! For two main courses, two salads, bread pies and 3 soft drinks we paid 8 €! When we entered in the restaurant, there was also a group of men sitting on a loft covered with carpets and pillows. They were smoking hookah and chatting cheerfully. When we entered in the restaurant we greeted them and they also paid their respects. At some point the waiter served them a birthday cake with candles lit and we realized that one of the guys had a birthday party. Once we had finished our meal, one of those guys got up and brought us a piece of cake and explained that two of his friends had a birthday at the same day and were celebrating it! They asked us where are we from and they were very friendly to us! Throughout our trip to Iran we felt welcomed and the Iranians are a friendly and hospitable people who made us feel welcome. We didn't feel uncomfortable or insecure at any time.

 

  Day 12       Ardabil → Astara (borders) → Baku (Azerbaijan) (370 km)   Avg Cons. 5.1 lt/100km

         As the wised man say... Α good day stands out from the morning, and certainly our day didn't start well! Our hotel (Sabalan) cannot say that it had the best reviews on the Internet. But we chose it because it was in the center, it had parking and its price was descent. Other hotels in the center of the city had no parking for motorcycles and it would not be a good choice to go to a hotel without parking as motorcycles would fall victims to the curiosity of Iranians and could cause damages... So we had to choose Sabalan...

The room was good, spacious, recently renovated but with the smell of the toilet there was a problem. In the night when we fell asleep, next door to our window, the Iranians demolished an old building and continued the excavation to build a new building overnight! All this until the morning with headlights... Probably some illegality was going on because the police had arrived in the morning, but it was too late! Our ears and our sleep were torn apart...

So the next morning when we got down to the reception to check out. The receptionist sent a groom to check our room... and he returned with a face towel with which I had wiped the visor of my helmet... and it was a little dirty from the dust and maybe from some insects that had clashed on it... So they started asking me at the reception why the towel was dirty!!!!! I was speechless by this situation! At one point I told them that I wiped my face that was dirty by motorcycling... And with that issue that ended smoothly, we got our motorcycles and left Ardabil behind us.

We followed the Rd 16 to the Iranian Astara (after the border there is the Azeri Astara...), and the road was quite serpentine (especially the last 50km of the total of 85 on the route), the asphalt road bad at some points and with plenty of bumbs. So Road 16 brought us down from the 1,260m altitude to the level of the Caspian Sea. We arrived in Iranian Astara and were expecting to see some signpost that would lead us to the border with Azerbaijan, since we said that GPS with OEM maps only provides guidance... We were driving around until we found a gate at the border station! Every time we stopped to ask someone there were gathering instantly too many people and everyone was trying to help out, without speaking English! All they knew was to ask how much the motorcycle costs... They said dollars and showed the motorcycle... How many times have we heard that phrase!!!

Asking and asking again, we found ourselves at the gate I mentioned above. When we stopped with Gregory, suddenly, out of nowhere, millions of people gather around us asking to exchange money with us, touching our uniforms, our motorcycles, taking pictures etc.. At one point, I went to ask if we would cross the borders from that point on and then an employee informed me that we had to go to another gate for the vehicles to pass. When I let them know that we didn't know where it was, that there were no signs and we didn't know how to go, then another employee was willing to take us on his motorbike! While we were waiting for him, suddenly someone got on my motorcycle, behind me and I thought he was the employee who would take us to the other gate and go with my motorcycle... Until I realize what was going on, I saw the employee on his motorcycle! Again I thought the guy behind me was his colleague and he would come to the gate... until he told me in the middle of the route to get him off in front of a cafe !!! I came to slap that guy, but I cooled down my nerves...

Anyway! After this mess we arrived at the right gate at 09:30, by the shore of the Caspian Sea!!! There we looked for Rassoul, the Hossein’s agent who would prepare the documents to cross the border. When we asked a guy outside the customs office for him, somebody called him and after a while a guy around 30 appeared. He took our documents and started the process... We had our motorcycles in a parking lot of employees shortly after the entrance to the customs area and we were waiting. After about two hours had elapsed since we started the procedure, I saw him puzzled and asked him what was going on. He replied that the Internet had crashed and there was no system to finish the process and don’t worry etc. Etc. At some point when he left to go to an administration building I had a chat with an employee who was processing our data on the computer and I treat him a cigarette. European cigarette... He explained to me that there was a conflict, which were trying to solve. On our way to Iran at the Nordooz border station they had put some codes and barcodes, that were not compatible with the system in Astara...

With the help of the manager in the adjoining building from where we had parked our bikes, who had been watching us waiting all these hours, this issue was resolved. It was already four o'clock in the afternoon and Rassoul had gone and passed us on to another dispatcher, Jafez, a guy around 30-35 who  didn't speak English as well! Pantomime! So having the documents in hand, and with the conflict problem solved, he told us that we had to go to another building that was for transit / TIR entrances, where we would do another process, put some stamps on the documents and go to exit gate to get out of Iran. The delay, the heat and the dust, from the trucks and trailers passing by as we waited, had made us nervous strands! In distress, we rode the motorcycles and went with Jafez to that building...

We entered in the building and there were only two clerks inside who were watching a soccer match between the National Teams of Iran and South Korea... on a computer screen! When Jafez told them what we wanted, they said it was over and that the staff who would make the documents for us had gone for the day... tomorrow again! Jafez suggested that we could stay at a hotel in Iranian Astara and continue the process the next day! I replied that this is not gonna happen because my visa was expiring at that day and that we had to leave the country asap!!! In the meantime, I had a friendship with the two officials who were watching the game and when I told them that I was from Greece and that the Iranian soccer player, Karim Ansarifard (the chief of their national team and an idol in Iran) was playing for my team Olympiakos, in Greece, I was overwhelmed and even offered me tea and they returned the  monitor for me, to watch the game together. As we continued watching the game an employee from transit/TIR department came in and after seeing the motorcycles he went to our dispatcher and told him furiously that the motorcycles are over 250cc and that they shouldn’t have entered in Iran and that the working time was over and we would do the procedure the next day... He even told Jafez which hotel to book for us to stay in the evening and that the motorcycles would stay at the customs office and go to the hotel by taxi!!!

The time had already reached 5 in the afternoon. I talked about the problem with my friends - besides - we were watching the game together, and they urged Jafez to go to the General Director of Customs, asking him to help us by sending an employee to complete the process to leave. Jafez and Gregory went to the Director’s office and explained to him the problem we were facing and he told them to wait in the transit/TIR building and he would find an employee to send. It was 6 o'clock and no employee was shown... At one point an employee called Jafez and told him that he would come at 10 o’clock at night to make the documents as long as we would give him 10€! We agreed on that and we had to wait more... We arranged with Jafez to go with Gregory out of the customs to buy something to eat because we were starving, and Jafez would after go to his house to have dinner, and shortly after 9 pm he would come to wait with us the employee to come... Gregory came back with sandwiches and soft drinks who bought and we got a little strength!

Around 8 o’clock Jafez appeared with a tall guy around 40, who as Jafez told me was the Executive Director of Customs... and that with 50€ he would arrange the situation to let us leave !!! I told him ok, and the guy asked for our documents and without having to do anything at the transit/TIR building, they got on the motorcycle with us and headed towards the exit gate!!! He spoke to a guy there and we went on the motorcycles to the last counter where we gave our passports, motorcycle registrations and our visas to the employee behind the counter, sealed them and returned them back to us! We gave the money to Jafez and after thanking him... we greeted Iran at 20:30 (after 11 hours of suffering)!!!

We headed to the Azeri border station and arrived at the checkpoint. The whole process there took about 30 minutes. When we were finished I asked the Officer who checked in to call the Boulevard Guest House hotel I had booked in Baku via booking.com and informed them that we would be there by midnight. The hotel owner told her that he tried to call me shortly after noon, and since I didn’t reply he canceled the reservation!!! (I had no call on my cellphone!) The lady in the customs had an argument with the owner about his behavior over the tourists (we were the tourists) and the guy was ready to find us another hotel. A few minutes later the hotelier phoned at the lady's phone and in a conversation I had with him, he told me that he had booked us at the Soffia Hotel in Baku's Old Town for the same money. As I said describing the day... A good day stands out from the morning! We thanked the staff at the Azeri border station and took the road connecting the border station with the highway that would take us to Baku. When I got on the motorcycle to get started I felt like I was awake at that moment and I was feeling pretty relaxed and happy!!! The first few kilometers, it was in the dark, and at some point I saw silhouettes moving in the middle of the road... They were cows! Luckily we didn't hug!

We came out on the E119 highway, which had two lanes per direction, the asphalt was very good and had no tolls. There were enough photographic radars to control the speed. Twice, even when we were slightly above the limit, the flashes shone! But the pictures were only from the front, so we didn't panic... With a brief stop we arrived in Baku shortly before midnight. Time switching has also helped. Azerbaijan has +2 GMT while Iran has +2: 30 GMT. So we earned half an hour... We entered in the beautifully lit Baku with its imposing buildings, the masterfully illuminated Flame Towers with lots of graphics, which stole our eyes as we drove by the coastline that was part of the Formula 1 track! At one point we stopped and asked how we could find our hotel in the old town. And who did we ask? The taxi drivers of course! With just a couple of questions we arrived at our hotel so this endless and adventurous day ended!

* Here I want to say that there was no time to lose my faith that we would cross the border on that day! I was convinced we would succeed!

** Also, Karim Ansarifard, the Iranian soccer player, was our passport on this adventure! Saying his name and being Greek and playing in my team at Olympiacos, we won the world and opened many doors!!! Incredible ??? And yes, it’s true!!!

*** With this situation at the Iranian border, we drove the Astara → Baku route at night... The schedule was... on the way to Baku, to pay a visit to the Gobustan National Park with countless rock paintings (petroglyphs) from the Neolithic era, located 65 km south of Baku. In 2007, Gobustan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the quality and density of rock art in the park, which depicts primitive people, rituals, hunting and battle scenes, the fauna and flora of the area and lifestyle in the pre-season as well as the sun and the stars.

The Gobustan area is also known for its nearly 400 mud volcanoes, more than half of them worldwide. Mud volcanoes, rather than lava jets, eject mud!

We missed these unique sightseeing because of our adventure... It doesn't matter! Next time! We always leave something for the next trip...

 

Day 13                            Baku (Azerbaijan)

         Soffia Hotel was very good and the room excellent! A spacious room with fridge, air conditioning, WiFi and breakfast! Fine!!!

After getting our breakfast, we headed out to the cobbled streets of the old town. The capital of Azerbaijan has a population of 2.260.000 inhabitants and it is by the shore of the largest lake on earth, the Caspian Sea! Baku consists of the central (new city) and the old city. The city was founded in the 6th century AD. The fortified center of the old city has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We started our tour in the city with a nice coffee we had been missing for a few days and then our first stop was at the Maiden Tower, which is 29 meters high, is made of stone and is the architectural symbol of Baku. It was built in the 12th century as part of the fortified city and is registered with UNESCO. We explored the monument, took some pictures and then we walked to the cable car station to go up to the Flame Towers and to the memorial of the victims of the Soviet invasion. Walking up to the station we admired the magnificent buildings on Baku Boulevard, and the wealth that was visible even on the underground passageways with escalators was crystal clear and lined with marble. Show me the money!!! (petroldollars)!!!

At the cable car station we paid for a 4AZN (Manat) 2€ roundtrip ticket and in less than five minutes we were in Dagustu Park and watching the city from above! Great sight to see Baku stretching beneath you and Caspian hugging the city with its modern constructions along the coastal avenue! We walked the 'Avenue of Witnesses' with the monuments of the fallen Azeris who fought the Bolsheviks and Armenians in 1918, the Soviets in 1990, and the Armenians in the Nagorny-Karabagh War, and we reached the Eternal Flame Memorial. Across the Memorial there are the three helical skyscrapers that look almost out of town, the Burning Towers (Alov Qüllələri). With a height of 190 meters and a futuristic architectural design reminiscent of Dubai, they were built in 2012 and house mainly oil and motor companies. After missing a day dedicated to Baku due to our adventure in the Iranian border, we had to visit as many attractions as we could in one day... We had a break for a snack and a beer at the Hard Rock Café and then we went to the Museum of Carpet, located on the coastal town. The building... unique in its kind all over the world, where Azerbaijan's carpet-weaving tradition is projected into a spectacular... folded carpet building!

            After our visit at the Carpet Museum we went up to the old town and we visitedto the Shirvan Shahs Palace. It is a complex of sandstone palaces, which was the seat of the northeast Azerbaijan dynasty in the Middle Ages and housed the rulers of the Azeri capital. The 15th-century UNESCO-listed complex features a palace, a mosque, burial dunes and a mausoleum, making it one of Baku's top attractions in Icheri Sheher.

After a few kilometers on foot, it was past noon and it was closing in the afternoon. We returned to our hotel to get some rest and refresh ourselves because the day was quite hot! In Baku we had something to worry about. When we checked in at the hotel, the receptionist asked us if we would park the motorcycles there, that is, in the Old Town and we answered yes. He then informed us that the Old Town is surrounded by a wall and has bar-side entrances and exits, which control the vehicles coming in from cameras. Thus each vehicle for its stay in the Old Town is charged with 1 Manat per hour. The motorcycles would stay for over 36 hours in the old town and we would have to pay over 18€... In the night we entered the Old Town, we passed through from a small entrance that had a bar but no camera and there was a guard... So the next morning we would check out if we had to pay for parking...

We relaxed a little bit in our room and after a while we headed for the city's most commercial street, Nizami Street, where old Russian mansions have been transformed into shops with branded fashion houses. We took a walk there and then downhill to the beach. It had soured for good and the people (locals and tourists) were casually roaming the Caspian waters. The 5.5 km-long Baku Boulevard is one of the favorite meeting places for locals to stroll around Dənizkənarı Milli Park and have a drink at the outdoor café. It hosts museums, theaters, sports centers and monuments. Baku is a city oriented to the joy of its inhabitants.

I couldn't resist not putting my hand into the Caspian Sea... Gregory tried to take a picture of me but it was a dark spot so we failed to capture the moment! After nine o'clock in the night when the Flame Towers lit up, we found a good spot and we got some incredible pictures with the lights playing like flames on the Towers, and the country's flag being ornate on the three Towers! So artistically finished, we took the road to a restaurant we had checked in downtown to soothe the growing anxieties of our stomachs!

A full day, that filled our eyes, our minds and our souls with incredible images, was over!!!

 

Day 14      Baku → Ismailli → Gebele → Sheki (Azerbaijan) (300 km)    

                                                                                              Avg. Cons.  4.4 lt/100km

        We got our breakfast at the hotel, loaded up our motorcycles, greeted our receptionist friend Assim and headed out of the Old Town with the question of what would happen about the parking... We got to the exit, the bar raised and the employee showed us the exit without paying anything. Now I don't know what happened... either the motorcycles have not charge for parking or they didn’t have data for the entrance of the motorcycles... Anyway, we drove to the new city and stopped at a nice cafe nearby the seaside and in front of a nice park and enjoyed our coffee before heading north!

The road for 130 kilometers to Muğanlı was a highway (M4), but then we continued to the provincial R8 to Ismailli and to R9 then to Sheki. The first few kilometers from Baku, the route was between low hills, where the vegetation was low and yellow due to the summer... Exiting Baku to the countryside I saw the endless paddocks on the side of the road that covered the poor houses without the main infrastructures that simply demonstrated the great inequality of wealth. At the same time I even realized that even on the road we were moving it was showing up European car models still coexist with the Soviet "Lada" and "Volga". We followed R9 to Ismailli with one lane in each direction and a fair quality of asphalt passing through beautiful landscapes. At some points the trees along the road covered him, and at others it was so dense that the sunlight did not penetrate them.

After Gebele (or Gabala), and a short distance after the village of Zaragan (on the R9), we stopped at a provincial tavern by the road, in the woods. Name? Palid... With the waiter, Seymour, we tried to get in touch with the pantomime at first, but because we didn't get it, I went into the kitchen and picked out from the fridge the meat for BBQ and show them what appetizers to serve us... After some time, Seymour thought and started working on Google translate and the conversation went up a level... The meat they cooked for us was the best BBQ we ate in Azerbaijan!!! It is known that in the northern part of the country meat roasting has become an art and only the northerners possess the art of BBQ...

We arrived at Sheki early in the afternoon. We found the accommodation I had booked with the help of a guy driving a Lada Niva. A simple room for just a sleep and a bath, and nothing more...

Sheki is located in the northwestern part of Azerbaijan, at an altitude of 700 meters and has a population of 70,000. It is a city surrounded by mountains and has an incredibly rich historical past.

 We refreshed and got out of the room. Gregory arranged for a taxi to take us to Xan Sarayı. Five minutes drive was enough to reach Xan Sarayı. The visitation time had passed and the security was persuaded to let us tour the exterior with a cigarette... We passed the gate of the wall surrounding the palace, built in 1762 by Khan Hussein as its administrative and governmental center of  Xan Sheki. From the courtyard, we had a great view of Sheki and we admired the details of the palace's architecture.

After our short visit to Xan Sarayı we went downhill to Karavansaray. This building is the remnant of a time when merchants traveling on the Silk Road stopped at Sheki with their merchandise. So the Khans built an inn at Sheki to offer them shelter and a reason to travel there. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the largest caravanserai in the Caucasus. It still functions as an inn and a restaurant, though not for traders and caravans of some other age...

After our visit to Karavansaray we walked a bit further down and after buying some local sweets selling in the shops on the road in front of those two sights, we sat down at a side cafe and after we were sweetened, we had a refreshing drink and we returned to our accommodation by a taxi. Taxis are quite cheap in Azerbaijan and the price is negotiable...

 

Day 15         Sheki (Azerbaijan) → Lagodekhi → Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) Georgia → (370 km)

                                                                                                                 Avg 4.5 lt/100km

        We woke up early in the morning, and since the accommodation didn’t offer breakfast, we prepared to leave. At 07:30 we left Sheki behind and followed R16 all the way to Zaqatala and then M5 to Lagodekhi border. We crossed the borders and entered in Georgia without delay (about 30 minutes) and continued to the provincial road 843. After the border we began to see various signs pointing the way to various wineries and 50km after our entrance in Georgia we decided to visit one of them. In the village of Kvareli there were two large wineries side by side. The road passed us through vineyards until we reached the two gates of the Graneli and Khareba wineries. We chose to visit Graneli because we could have the motorcycles on our sight. Graneli had designed a space in its backyard as a restaurant and I have to say it was very nice. The restaurant inside the main building had a very nice decoration that combined stone with wood and various winery tools... We chose a table outdoors and ordered a snack and of course a Graneli red dry wine... It was too good I have to confess!!! After all, Georgia has inherited wine in our planet. Grapes were grown in this area 8,000 years ago!!!

After this respite, we continued vigorously at provincial road 843, which shortly after the village of Akhmeta began to change from asphalt to gravel... From that point up to Tianeti the asphalt road was followed by a mountainous forest gravel road, which was under reconstruction! Heavy machinery worked to improve the road. So, only half the width of the road was allotted for use and we started to dance on an ugly gravelroad! The scenery was fantastic and those 30km from Akhmeta to Tianeti were great!!! After all, the hardest routes are the most beautiful! Gregory, though who he didn’t had much experience on gravel, was... GREAT!!! Provincial road 843 is highly recommended!

We made our next stop at a café-restaurant near the artificial lake Zhinvali, where tributaries of the Aragvi River meet and their waters with different colors mix, sailing at the same time without mixing! Nice and weird sight!!!

After stretching our body a little after our gravel experience, we continued north on E117/ს3 and a few kilometers later, we came across Ananuri castle at the end of Lake Zhinvali to the north. This castle-monastery stands imposing on a hill and has the lake unfolding at its feet. The view is unique! Built between the 16th and 17th centuries, it was a defensive outpost that blocked the path from Darial Canyon. A powerful feudal lord of the Georgian Middle Ages - Aragvi Eristavs, owned it. After a short stop in the castle we continued to cover the remaining 90km to Kazbegi (or Stepantsminda as it was renamed). Where we started after a while it started to rain... We wore with happiness (of course!!!) our rain gears and continued on Military Road... The most amazing track we traveled in Georgia!!! We were driving north on Jvari Pass with the majestic Caucasus on our right, and the Aragvi River to add more magic to the landscape. The wet and winding road was demanding our senses to be on alert! We had to contend with the scenery... we didn't know where to look! We had literally fallen off the jaw of the beauty of that landscape! We didn't know what to capture with our cameras... we were stopping for a while because one spot was better than the other and then we were stopping again for more pictures!!! The GoPro cameras were constantly recording videos...

We reached Gudauri and the altitude was 2,200 meters! Gudauri, a small village, serves ski lovers in the winter with its slopes. It is certainly no competitive to European ski resorts, but this is what Georgians have, and they go. We continued our route to Kazbegi and the scenery didn't stop surprising us! The rain had covered the puddles on the pavement and at some point as I was crossing an 18 wheel truck, I fell into one... and I felt that the wheel was going to break... Fortunately I came out unharmed. In such a case if you are a little relaxed it is very easy to lose the wheel out of your hands...

Shortly after Gudauri, the Kazbeg Mountain also appeared with its peak at 5,000 meters... We felt a bit like those who do free diving and make a few decompressions when they rise again! And so we were making constant stops to '’digest’' all this beauty. Around 6pm we arrived at Stepantsminda village where I had booked Hotel Kazbegi. We asked the police officers at a patrol car which was in the central square and they showed us where it was. Almost next to the square... Beautiful and newly built hotel. Very nice room with views of Kazbeg Mountain and Gergeti Trinity Church. The hotel also has its own parking lot so our motorcycles also found their place to rest... That hotel was a good choice, reasonably priced and recommended for future travelers in the area.

The village is located in a basin surrounded by the Caucasus and the Kazbeg Mountain. It is only 11 kilometers away from the Russian border and the altitude is 1,700 meters... The view is amazing wherever you look! Fortunately the day was good and there were not many clouds so the visibility was good!

We took a shower, refreshed ourselves and went out for a walk in the village. There was not much to see in the village, but the surroundings. It was evening and our stomachs were starting to complain, so we went to the Khevi restaurant (we got recommendations for it) to alleviate these disorders. Georgian red dry wine for me and a local beer for Gregory. The food we ordered was very tasty. Khachapuri (like peinirli) was great, and its other appetizers were delicious as well! That is how our evening ended in Kazbegi, with a clear sky which we were even closer to him ready to touch him...!!!

* I put Military Road into the Top 10 Motorcycles I've ever driven!!!

** The Caucasus was introduced to me from a young age through Greek Mythology. Zeus had chained Prometheus up there and as if that was not enough, he had put an eagle to eat his liver every morning. This was the punishment of Prometheus who stole the fire from the Gods and gave it to the people. So here I am! Another check on one of my bucket list...

 

 Day 16        Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) → Gergeti Trinity Church → Tbilisi (190 km)

                                                                                                       Avg. Cons.  4.4 lt/100km

        The day started early in the morning... At 5 am I had woken up and the view of the Kazbeg peak as well as your monastery was breathtaking. The snow-capped peak was not covered by clouds and looked crystal clear. The twilight gave a unique color to the landscape! Unique Moments!!!

We got our breakfast at the hotel and headed up to Gergeti Trinity Church (or Gergeti Tsminda Sameba according to Georgians). It was only 5km away from the village and the ride was amazing! As we were driving up, we couldn’t miss to see the village below and the view was unique! What could I say, I was so stunned by that beauty...

The monastery is of the 14th century and is built on top of a mountain. We parked our bikes at the base of the monastery and went up to the building. Many visitors were in the area at that time. Some of them had reached the monastery on foot. After finishing our tour of the area, we got our motorcycles to reach the Georgian border with Russia. We reached the border passing through a tunnel and started our way back to Tbilisi. Before Gudauri we stopped at the Russian –Georgian Friendship Monument. You see the semicircular building (a semicircular slab of cement I would say, with various painted representations) that exacerbates the friendship of the two countries, and you think about the problems that these two countries have had in their relations over the years and how ironic the story looks in this building... The monument is of old construction and has begun to appear strongly damaged by the influence of weather and time. But aside the irony is really impressive! Inside there are representations concerning the friendship of the two peoples and their history. With the magnificent mountains in the background and the Devil's Valley below, the monument certainly looks impressive!

Here's a breakdown of the beautiful routes... The route from Ananuri castle to the Georgian-Russian border (commonly Military Road) was the best of the trip. Second comes the route from Goris to Meghri in Armenia. The asphalt pavement on Military Road wasn't at a good condition and at some points the potholes were ready to swallow us...

We arrived in Tbilisi passing through the pitch... A few kilometers before we entered in the center of Tbilisi, a crew did road construction and scattered all over the width and length of the wet pitch! Even though we tried to avoid it by driving on the side of the road, it went everywhere! On the machine, in uniforms, just about everywhere!

By the time we entered Tbilisi, the heat was intense and the mercury had climbed to 36°C... We were lucky to find our Hillside Guesthouse Apartment (booked by booking.com ) quickly. Central, next to Freedom Square and Marriot Hotel, with indoor and secure parking. I said we were lucky because a few minutes later we arrived, police closed all the main streets, because there would be a demonstration in Freedom Square. The demonstration lasted for an hour and the demonstrators holding an umbrella (some form of protest) flooded the square and the streets leading up to it.

The lady owner of the Apartment, guided us to our room to leave our belongings and freshen up. After a refreshing shower, we were ready to walk downtown and visit the sightseeing of the city.

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, was founded in the 5th century AD. by Georgian King Vachtang Gorgasali. The population of the city is just over one million. The river Kura passes through Tbilisi, which was named after the Persian king Cyrus the Great. Its architecture reflects its history and is an interesting blend of medieval, neoclassical, art nouveau, Soviet and modern buildings.

We first visited the parliament building and then walked to the Old Town and found ourselves outside the strange building that house Rezo Gabriadze's Puppet Theater. Crowds of people, lonely tourists and groups, had flocked to see this strange building. We waited for the opportunity to take some pictures and when we thought that we had achieved our goal, we walked a few meters further down the square of Europe and the futuristic glass Bridge of Peace that has divided the Georgians for its architecture. Some believe that it is very modern and does not fit into the aesthetic of the city. There is also the cable car stop that goes to the castle for a panoramic view of Tbilisi.

 We took the cable car after waiting a bit in the queue, and went up to Narikala Fortress and the statue of Mother Georgia, which are on the same hill. The roundtrip ticket cost 6 Lari (GEL), about 2€. I can't say I fell in love with the castle, but the view of the city from this point was unique! We saw a 20-meter-tall statue depicting a woman wearing a Georgian dress and holding a bowl full of wine for those who come as friends and a sword in her right hand for those who come as enemies!

After returning to the base of the cable car, we went for a walk on the Peace Bridge which, as many say, looks like a sanitary napkin. But its construction over the Kura River is impressive! It is recommended to take a walk in the night when it is lit. It's impressive! Passing through the old town again, we returned to our room for some rest.

In the afternoon, after getting information, we took a taxi to the Avlabari district, where there was an Armenian Market and I bought a bottle of Armenian brandy Ararat... I was so repulsed that I couldn't buy it in Yerevan... but at last I succeed to buy one!

We continued our tour to the old town and we noticed the presence of the police everywhere. Pedestrian patrols, police cars at large intersections, etc.

The city provides free internet via WiFi network, ‘Tbilisi loves you’’...!!! The city was very clean and the presence of Russian tourists was intense. Anyway, they live next to Georgia... But in general we saw a lot of tourists and a few motorcycles (mostly from Georgia) circulating in the city.

Another thing that really impressed us was that the strays in the city were cluttered!!!

In the evening we ate at Pasanauri restaurant by the river and I could say that it was a good choice. Georgian wine of course for me and local beer for Gregory... We tried Khinkali, a kind of dumpling with meat, which wanted a special way to eat it and not dissolve it and I could tell it was quite tasty...

 

17th day                                Tbilisi (Georgia)

        We had a good rest after a good night's sleep, and in the morning I jumped across from where we were staying and bought some donuts from Dunkin Donuts for our breakfast. Gregory had a great idea we implemented... We washed our motorcycle uniforms in the laundry of the apartment and we got the dirt and most of the tar out of them. There was so much heat outside that they dried out very quickly!

After settling in, we walked out to the city and our first stop was at the Georgian Patriarchate, which was on its way to the puppet theater. Then we took a taxi and went to Sameba (Holy Trinity Cathedral), the largest cathedral in the Caucasus. The church was completed in 2004 and was built in honor of the 1,500th anniversary of the Orthodox Church of Georgia. Definitely imposing!!! It was Sunday there was a church service that coincided with the celebration of the Holy Spirit and had a large number of peoplel who attended the service. We lit a candle, toured the temple, and took a taxi down to the city center again.

We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of the city... we spend the rest of the day rolling around and we ended up in a traditional tavern that had a dance with traditional Georgian dances...

 

Day 18            Tbilisi → Gori → Kutaisi → Batumi (390 km)           Avg. Cons.  4.4 lt/100km

         We left Georgia and our lovely Apartment (which I highly recommend), and got our way to Gori, Stalin's birthplace. First we followed the b1 highway, and a little later E60. Gori was only 90 kilometers from Tbilisi and we arrived in the small town of Gori without delay. Gori, a town of 50,000 inhabitants, is known as the birthplace of the Soviet Union's leader... The signposts headed to the Museum dedicated to Stalin. Stalin still gives bread to his fellow villagers today, having become the No. 1 tourist attraction in his village. I don't think Gori has anything else to exhibit...

 Outdoors is the wagon used by the leader of the Soviet Union during his travels to the territory of his country. Also a huge two-storey building in the lush city center houses Joseph Stalin's route from the house where he was born and the theological school where he was enrolled to become a priest, at the top of the Soviet pyramid and in a prominent place in History. We toured the sites and I have to admit that I didn't want to visit Gori showing interest in the butcher of history, who in his passing as the supreme leader of a great country killed, tortured and exiled millions of innocent people... The truth is that curiosity was what motivated me to go but also that Gregory wanted to go. Anyway... we did that too! After our visit we stopped for a coffee in a café near the museum for a short break and the friendly coffee owners welcomed us to their place.

We continued on highway E60 towards Kutaisi, and after 150 kilometers of driving we entered in Kutaisi, Georgia's second largest city with a population of 140,000 and the descendant of ancient Colchis, where Jason and his argonauts came according to Mythology for the Golden Fleece! We entered to the city center and stopped at the Kolchis fountain, which adorns the city center and features 30 statues depicting animals such as lions, deer and horses. We photographed our presence in the city with our cameras and found a nice cafe-restaurant for a snack and a beer...

After Kutaisi we were greeted with a bad surprise, as we found that the highway had ended there, so we continued on to a provincial road passing through villages, with lots of road work, traffic at some points, and plenty of heat... Kutaisi was 170 kilometers away from Batumi where it was the end of our day trip...

We arrived in Batumi at 4 pm, where we would spend our last day in Georgia. We stayed at our hotel (Family Hotel), a newly built hotel run by the family owner, with very nice rooms and in a very good price. We refreshed ourselves to get off the sweat out of the day, the result of a particularly hot day on the motorcycles, and took a taxi to take us down to the city's seaside.

Batumi, a city of 150,000 people, flanked by the Black Sea is Georgia's summer resort. It is known for its beautiful coastal avenue (Batumis bulvari), a strip of a verdant park that stretches in the coastal zone of the city. So we found ourselves there and after drinking a coffee in the backyard of a nice coffee shop opposite Sheraton, we started walking to the seaside. The swimmers on the beach enjoyed their swim and we enjoyed our walk. With the trip we forgot that the holiday season had come and some people had started to swim... When the time came, we would go to the beach will be black in the neck, face and sleeves in the hands and white in the rest of our body, looking like the fly in the milk...

Walking around, we saw tall buildings near the beach stand out, giving an air of innovation, a sign of the last decade in the region's development. The Ferris wheel stands out, where one can see the city from above, the iconic Radisson Blu hotel building, the Batumi Tower (pointing to a mini Empire State Building) and a mini-wheelhouse with 8 cabins. (!!!) and the Alphabet Tower. Some of these buildings are up to 130 meters high! We continued our stroll by admiring other buildings of different architecture in the city center, and headed to the central square called Europe Square. Decorated with Belle Époque-style buildings, it is quite different from the city's seaside front. In the middle of the square rises the statue of Medea, the daughter of King Aeëtes, who holds the golden fleece in her hand. And Batumi claims to be the city of ancient Kolchis...

Nice and impressive buildings in Batumi!!! Walking around a larger circle than downtown, however, we saw many poor buildings and homes. And of course we saw Soviet-era apartment blocks and houses that had their semi-open balconies or balconies with shingles to grow the house! In front there was nice buildings and luxury and behind of them the poverty...

In the evening we ate Shaurma (something like a Gyros), which was very tasty and filling. Gregory, who was looking to exchange money when he saw a queue of locals waiting outside that shop..., discovered this particular grill house. With local beer accompaniment, it was a perfect combination! After our hunger strike, we took a taxi and returned to the hotel to rest, as the next day would be full-loaded with several kilometers and several hours of driving...

 

Day 19             Batumi → Trabzon (Trabzon) → Samsun (Samsun) → Tosya (780 km)                                                                                  Average consumption 5.1 lt/100km

        We had decided to leave early in the morning, as we had to cross the Georgian-Turkish border beyond the many kilometers he had to drive that day. The Sharpi Border Station was just 15 kilometers from Batumi and “a few minutes” drive brought us to the border. At the Georgian border station the process took about 15 minutes, and we were not given any check on the panniers. In contrast, in the Turkish border station, we were delayed for about 45 minutes because the lady at the counter made it difficult to get through the system the information concerning our motorcycles... When we were done with the paperwork the custom’s officers didn’t open to check our panniers.

The motorway (D010) after the border towards Trabzon was very good, with two lanes in each direction was going next to the Black Sea. Up to Samsun we continued on to the D010, and the speed limit was 110 km/h, which was falling when we were entering in urban zones at 50 km/h and this was quite often. We were crossing the desolate Pontos, where Greeks were living in old times... The route I could tell it was very nice.

We had decided to cover as many kilometers as we could from Batumi to Istanbul (1,250 km in total), so that we would have fewer miles to Istanbul the day after. Our goal was arrive to Istanbul as early as possible, to spend as much time as possible on walks around the city and relaxation. So we decided to try to get to the city of Tosya that day, so we would have less than 500 kilometers the next day.

We made a stop just before Trabzon for a snack and a soft drink and just before Samsun on a tire shop to fill some air in the tires. The owner and the employees were very eager to serve us. They also found the proper nozzle so I could put air to the motorcycle’s tires. We thanked them, greeted them and continued on our route.

The road after Samsun became even better and the asphalt was great!!! After Samsun we left the seaside route and driving to motorway E95 at first and then to E80, we entered to the inner land of Turkey. The massif mountains along the route were very beautiful and became more impressive after Osmancik and up to Tosya.

At one point we were stopped in a police block that had been set up by two police officers, but without any impact as we were driving very carefully and the tracker Gregory was detecting the blocks! The older of the two policemen was probably bored where they stood, and stopped us for a relaxed chat and a cigarette. They were ok! Very friendly!

At 6 pm we arrived in Tosya having gained an hour, since Georgia is one hour ahead of Turkey. Tosya, a small mountainous town of 25,000 inhabitants, had nothing special. Quite poor and '' away '' from other cities we saw in our passage through Turkey. We found a small hotel in the center, and booked a double room for just 17€, just for a Shower and a sleep. We refreshed and went out just for a walk and a dinner and then back to the hotel for relaxation.

 

Day 20            Tosya → Istanbul (490 km)                 Avg. Cons.  5.6 lt/100km

          At 7 am we had departed from Tosya... What made the difference that day in comparison with the previous time (at the beginning of the journey) we used the O4 motorway was that the first 350km was without traffic, while 20 days ago it was impassable!! ! The speed limit was 120 km/h and at some points we increased our velocity a little bit more... At one point a speed camera had captured us but at that time we were only 10km above the speed limit... We didn't face any issue with this incident...

Entering at the suburbs of Istanbul the traffic increased and we drove again under the Bosphorus driving into the Avrasya tunnel. After arriving on the European side of the city, we didn’t have any delay on our arriving at Raymond Hotel. At noon we were in our room...

We took a shower and our tour in Istanbul started with a sweet in Hafiz Mustafa! Stable value!!! After we were sweetened, we continued with a visit to the Spice Bazaar, then to Yeni Camii, which was under renovation and then we walked at the seaside towards Dolma Bahtse Palace. We made a stop at Tophane Palace which was on our way and... we got a coffee next to Dolma Bahtse with a unique view... the Bosphorus! We walked long enough to visit all those sightseeings and on the way back we decided to use the tram .. We stopped at Gulluoglou pastry shop in Karaköy to buy authentic baklava sweet and we returned into our rooms to leave it.

Later on we got a dinner in a restaurant and our day ended with a late walk!

 

Day 21            Istanbul → Patras (1060 km)                  Avg. Consumption 6.4 lt / 100km

          It was the last day of our trip, and many kilometers had to be driven - as usual - the last day! We departed from our hotel at 4 o’clock in the morning and got out of Istanbul in time dt! The road to the border was well known and in the middle of this route there was a rain, which we encountered with... our rain gears of course!!!

Shortly after 8 am we had reached the Turkish border station and the check-in was formal and quick. Only one car found in front of us! Very quickly we crossed Turkey's natural border with our country, the Evros River, and found ourselves on the homeland, Greece. We had a little delay in the Greek border station, but we got out relatively quickly and found ourselves driving on an Egnatia Highway. We continued onto the boring highway to our homes. In the afternoon I said goodbye to Gregory on the Rio - Antirrio bridge and both continued in different routes to our homes. Another beautiful trip, a nice adventure was over... If I had already thought about my next trip? Yes, I already knew this before starting that trip!!! My mind always travels and makes plans! I will definitely travel to Iran again and I will explore it more, as I aim to get down to the Arabian Peninsula... Plans!!! As I was writing these lines, I learned that the law that banned motorcycles and big cars was lifted in Iran! This gives many people the opportunity to travel and meet this beautiful country and its hospitable people without problems at the border! Perfect!!!

Another trip came into my mind and my soul! It is certain that at some point I will visit this part of my mind and recollect the beautiful moments that I have lived as well as incredible images coming from unique places!!! Within these miles we have met new cultures, different people with different habits of our own, and a lifestyle that does not meet Western standards... It is a great feeling to know something new for you! It always appealed to me! It doesn't matter if you like it or not... It's important to have a view of what's there. It doesn’t mean that you will adopt any of them. It's important though getting to know them! And we definitely met something new and different!!!

Gregory, my co-traveler, was a worthy companion and friend throughout the trip. As I said in the foreword, we had both traveled abroad before, and we knew each other quite well, both motorcyclists and as friends. We didn’t encounter any problems in our time travel. We were both ready at the time we had agreed and our drive was in the same style and with the same logic. Beyond the motorcyclism, we both wanted to get to know the places we visited, and our only difference was that Gregory didn't like... eating lamb... lamb is widespread in Muslim countries meals... Uhhh! Let's have some differences!!! So Gregory was perfect throughout our trip!

The motorcycles did not encounter any problems during the trip. Everything went perfectly! All I could say was that I saw a bit of valvoline tear from the shaft ring on the back and in the front suspension forks I saw that they were a little wet at the top. The truth was that the motorcycles went through by ugly road surface conditions in some spots. (I think that was normal...) There were some points where the forks were very compressed.

My Michelin Anakee Adventure tires that Michelin Company sponsored for my trip were perfect. They responded comfortably and provided security on all surfaces I drove. Whether on asphalt with low adhesion, on wet roads or on gravel, their operation was trouble-free and always provided me with a sense of security. And the important thing is their condition! Upon on my return home, I found that after 9,000 kilometers of life, their weariness gives an impression that they have used for 4,000 kilometers only!!! It offers a longer life than any tire I had put before on my motorcycle!

The rider ‘s equipment provided by MAKAN Trt was perfect!!! What could I say about Touratech rain gear (Jacket and pants), KLIM (Marakesh) gloves, Touratech "Adventure 2" Rucksack and Salomon shoes for my explorations in the city the landscapes we visited! MAKAN Company always supports me on my travels!!!

I traveled with three video cameras. Two GoPro 5 and a Contour Roam. For photo cameras I had my Sony DSC-HX60V and a DSLR, Nikon D3200.

So for those 21 days, the cost of lodging has reached 260 € for each of us and the cost of gas for 8,750 km, it was the amazing amount of 425€! The toll from Patras to the Greek-Turkey borders was  21.50€ (including the bridge toll) and the same amount for the return home. Other expenses for food, entertainment, etc. are subjective and depend on every individual’s budget. Throughout the trip we did not encounter any danger and didn’t feel insecure under any circumstances.

Now I have to live with the memories of that trip (and the older ones), but also with plans for the next one!!!

 

And don’t forget... "We haven't done our best trips yet!!!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bulgaria (May 2018)

Written by Thanasis Vavaroutas. Posted in Expeditions

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Lake Trichonida (January 2018)

Written by Thanasis Vavaroutas. Posted in Expeditions

Details.... coming soon....

Click here for the map...

 

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SouthEast Serbia (August 2017)

Written by Thanasis Vavaroutas. Posted in Expeditions

Click here for the full map of the trip...

 

Click here for the route in SE Serbia...

 

Not one, not two, but three times I faced an accident on this trip... So many years and so many kilometers on my log, it was the first time I had so many difficult issues with possible collisions... One near Kladovo in Serbia and two more in the city Orsova in Romania...

  But let's take things from the beginning... One of the nearby places (I live in Greece) I hadn’t explored was South-East Serbia. I had gone many times west, "driving up and down" the E75 the Serbian highway), and several times I had visited Nis which is located in the southeast part of Serbia... Nevertheless I never went east, so it was something that I had noted in the back of my mind... I had read about Iron Gates on the Danube, for lakes that are "planted" in green mountains, for vineyards that fed their delicious wine, France and California and furthermore even the USA in times when they were not produced due to natural disasters (in USA) and for castles dating a from the time of the Roman legions. The beauty of the Danube river, however, is the undisputed beauty of the region, the natural border of the Serbia with Bulgaria and Romania ...

 What else does a motorcyclist want? Aha! And a low budget to travel... Essential for the times we live...

 It was time with high temperatures in Greece in the last days of July, and with my girlfriend Efi we believed that in the mountains of Serbia we would find a little bit of coolness... I had prepared the trip for a couple of weeks before leaving, the moto was ready of service and tires and all that left to us was to prepare our personal stuff... How do women (even if they have the experience of traveling on a motorbike) get 10 outfits more than they need is always a mystery, which hasn’t been solved by the experts!!! The inner suitcase of Efi with a little difficulty fitted in the side large metal pannier of the motorcycle... I always put my stuff on the small side pannier where the various necessities for the motorcycle ( tyre repair kit, electric pump, tools and various), and our rain trousers and jackets as well...

 Something different that had this trip compared to my past ones was that we would go quite loose and the real trip would start from Lake Vlasina Rid in Serbia... On the daily routes I had planned to drive 200 to 300 kilometers in provincial roads... But the first and the last day of the trip would have been several kilometers to be covered as always... 

 

Day 1                          Patras - Surdulica (Serbia) 760 km

 In the dawn of July 29th, Saturday we departed from Patras (Greece). The time on motorcycle’s display was 4 o’clock in the morning when we passed the "Harilaos Trikoupis" bridge and followed the Ionian Highway. A few days ago, the Menidi part of the Ionian Highway, which was under construction, was ready. It was a dangerous point on the old National Road, which is not part in our route anymore... The new highway was superb! It was six o‘clock (in the morning) when we stopped for an espresso at Stop & Go coffee shop, before entering in  Egnatia highway. Efi found the opportunity and got a nap for a quarter of an hour after that she was ok... The cafe was full of Serbian tourists whose their bus stopped for a break on their way to Lefkada Island, where they would spend their holidays. Our brothers! Yes, Serbs brothers with Greeks! Identified by my many trips to Serbia...

Egnatia Highway was “covered” quickly and easily, and after the toll of Malgara, we turned left for the Evzonoi Greek border station. We arrived at the borders shortly after nine o'clock, and after a short stop we departed to get to FYROM. The check at the borders was a routine, and we continued on the highway. We found a lot of traffic because it was holiday season, and several people were travelling to Greece, while the same time many other tourists leaving Greece to return into their homes after a short break of their daily life, enjoying the beaches of our country (Greece). The temperature had begun to rise, and the delay at the border stations and tolls on the FYROM highway became tedious... the cost of tolls in FYROM was costing 1.5 euros. I usually pay in dinars that have been left to me from my previous trips in the neighbouring country. Efi, after having taken her nap, was now cool and began to "play" with the camera and filming our crossing in FYROM... With a conservative driving, the crossing of the neighbouring country takes more or less about two hours. The total crossing of FYROM is 180 easy kilometer, but it just needs attention for police... It was almost noon when we stopped on the border of FYROM - Serbia... There was again a traffic jam, but not so much as in the previous border stations...

 After we entered Serbia, we stopped at the first gas station for refueling and coffee... Then Marios and his girlfriend arrived there on a BMW GS Adventure LC that had departed from Karditsa (Greece), all the way to North Cape!!! We chatted about the route of their trip. I told him some of my experiences from my trip to North Cape in the distant 2010... what to be aware of and about sightseeing. That couple was very well informed and had prepared a great trip and from what I saw through Facebook, as we were friends there, they were enjoying every kilometer and everything went perfectly. Awesome!!! After we exchanged wishes for our trips, we were greeted them and they continued their day route to Belgrade while we left the E75 at the exit for Vladicin Han.

We continued our route to Surdulica where we booked our accommodation for the first day. After about 10 kilometers from our exit from the motorway we met the Markov Konak Guest House. We got from the motrcycle’s panniers our necessities for the day and we got to our room. After the necessary refreshment and a short nap, we met the family who owned the accommodation. The son of the family, Marco was the only one who was speaking English and so there was the necessary communication channel. He was also a motorcyclist who brought us even closer as our nationality as well. (I told you that Serbians and Greeks are brothers in soul!) Mark pointed out to us that we could go to Surdulica for a coffee. We arrived in the center of the town of about 12,000 inhabitants. We left the moto in the beginning of the pedestrian walkway and we walked to the center. We enjoyed our coffee and watching the locals that had gone out for their afternoon walk... Poor people, with enough Roma to walk among them. The town had nothing special but was quite neat and clean. We paid less than € 1 for a coffee and we felt the provincial difference from urban centers... Paying coffee at such a price makes you feel rich in these times we live (economical crisis etc.)... We returned to our hotel and sat in the restaurant where with Marko's help we ordered for dinner. What else; Serbian specialties... Pleskavitsa and Karatzordjeva... I asked Marco if they serve ajvar, and Marko explained to me that it was not its time, and is usually served in winter and spring... Next time wmaybe we will be lucky! (Ajvar is a pepper-based condiment made principally from red bell peppers and oil.)

 We slept like birds and the next morning we loaded the motorcycle, we took our breakfast, we paid the sum of 20 €, we thanked our hosts and we gave them an appointment for the next time we would get this route again...

 

Day 2      Surdulica - Vlasina Rid (Lake) - Stara Planina - Knjazevac (Serbia) 230 km

We left Markov Konak behind and headed back to Surdulica's center for a morning coffee and to get an idea about local’s Sunday morning routine... We enjoyed the morning chill and our coffee and a little later when the sun started to rise enough and warned us for a warm day, we get in the moto and departed for Lake Vlasina Rid, which was the first stop of our day trip... I drove about 20 km to the lake at road 40 at the beginning and then we continued at 231 - in a forested area all the kilometers - which led us to the shores of the lake. Lake Vlasina Rid is one of the largest in Serbia and was created by the rivers Vlasina and Vrla. It is surrounded by mountains and is at an altitude of approximately 1,200 meters. The Serbs had flooded the shores of the lake, enjoying their Sunday's excursion and others spending there their summer vacation! The view was very beautiful and our trip just started from a stunning scenery!

After some drive around the lake we continued on road 231 towards Pirot. A beautiful route through a forested area descended us from the 1200 meters altitude, where we met road 39 which guided us through small villages and rivers (where the locals were swimming) which led us to the town of Pirot of 40,000 inhabitants. We looked for the central square, and sat under the shade of a large plane tree (and an awning...) in one of the coffee shops that existed there. Next to a Greek-speaking group of people who just heard the language, we started a conversation and exchanged impressions of the place. They were working on the construction company of Aktor and were building the highway that starts from Nis passing through Pirot and crossing the Serbia-Bulgaria border will end in Sofia. It was already noon and I ordered a beer, Nikšićko. We always try the local products!!! It was very hot at the time (close to 38° C), and it was what the best to get away my thirst! Efi's beverage and my beer were complimented by our compatriots, and after we greeted them, we got on my moto and got the road to the Stara Planina National Park ... 

Stara Planina in Serbian means old mountain and is an extension of the Carpathians separated from them by the Danube river. Its highest point is at 2,170 meters altitude. So I started to drive through narrow streets and some dirt pieces to get to Zavojsko Lake on the fringe of the mountain. The nature? At its best!!! Bright narrow streets that passed through a dense forested area where it was sparse and where we met small villages that made us wonder how they live out there in winter... On our way we met a wooded plateau with a waterfall that attracted our attention to since several locals had set up for a picnic... Pots over improvised fireplaces were preparing their lunch... Beers in the streams with cool running water froze them, ready for consumption when the time would come. The kids were playing around and the big ones were enjoying their conversation... We just took a break there to live a little bit of this beautiful set up... A very pleasant break I could tell! Although our routes were mountainous, we didn’t find the coolness that promises the altitude... We hoped that in the Serbian mountains we would find the coolness that would make us forget the 38s and 39s deegres of Celcius, that mercury reached for several days in Greece... but it was an illusion! Heat and there, on the mountains! 

We enjoyed the moments there and continued following road 221 to the city of Knjazevac... We arrived in the afternoon and started looking for the day's accommodation. We eventually ended up at the Timok Hotel, which looked like a remnant of the communist era with an effort of renovation and reformation... The employees at the reception during the check-in asked us over the passport and a document that they gave to the visitor when I entered the country, something I experienced during my trip last year to Belarus and Russia... It took some time to let them know that this is no longer due... It was Sunday afternoon and in the ball room the hotel hosted a wedding celebration. The volume of the music at high levels, the people well dressed suited for the occasion and the joy was everywhere. 

After we settled in our room, we went to town to have dinner after arriving late in the afternoon and we were starving... It was difficult to find a restaurant at that time of the day and we ended up in a tavern where there was an event on, for a baby’s birthday, which the Serbs celebrate with all splendor! All well-dressed, and at a moment we concluded that it was a baptismal celebration until the waitress explained to us... 

Knjazevac, a small town of about 30,000 inhabitants, crossed by Timok River and its pedestrianized side of the cafés, is a pole of attraction for the locals. The youth prevailed I could tell! There is no low birth rate as there is in Greece. We enjoyed our coffee in one of the cafes and we went back to our hotel get some rest and be ready for the next day. The feast in the hotel ball room was at its high, and it was over before the sun rose... Timok was the most expensive hotel in the trip. We paid 28 € and I think we have paid a lot (not a good value for money)... 

 

Day 3        Knjazevac - Resavska Pecina - Kucaj Pass - Bor (Serbia) 220 km

We got our breakfast in the hotel and we found some difficulties to check out because there was only one employee to cover all the positions (receptionist - waiter - bartender, etc.)!!! We loaded our stuff on the motorcycle and we went to one of the cafes by the river to drink a coffee... So relaxed... It was 11 o’clock when we got on to the moto and departed for our day route!

We followed road 217 towards Sokobanja, a narrow road that guided us through a narrow passages to the village of Sokobanja. On this route, we met some locals walking or on tractors who were walking to their jobs or to their farms. A distance of 38 kilometers in which the steering wheel in my hands looked like a compressor! There were so many holes on the asphalt that had been patched and so many of the patches that had been placed over the old patches that the moto were dancing on the road. There, I’d tested the front suspension and the forks which I still haven’t visited BMW service for the recall on GS rings on forks... 

After the village of Sokobanja we followed roads 218, 421, 36, 255, 390 and 160 that led us to Resavska Pesina, one of the oldest caves explored in Serbia. It is estimated that is 80 million years old and is one of the most visited in Serbia. I had also visited the cave of Diros and the cave of Perama in Ioannina (both in Greece) and so I expected to see something of lesser value. It was nice and it was worth visiting if somebody is in the area. The entrance ticket cost 300 Serbian Dinars, about € 2.50.

Near to the cave was the Veliki Buk waterfall near Lisine and we got the road to there... A short distance of 13 km. All the routes in this area were just great!!! Through narrow roads that snaked through forested and big cultivated areas! The joy of a motorcyclist! JUST PERFECT!!!

 We drove on gravel, which brought us close to the waterfall and in the parking lot of a beautiful tavern... The temperature was 38°C and it was late in the afternoon and our stomachs were protesting... So, we settled down in the tavern and we enjoyed the delicacies of the Serbian cuisine accompanied by local beer, of course... LAV this time... 

It was about 6 o'clock when we departed and we had some way up to Bor... 72 km away and we had to drive through Kucaj Pass... We got road 389 that would lead us to Bor where we would stay overnight. The narrow road with enough patches in several places, through a very beautiful route, took us to Kucaj where there were no high mountains but the whole area was covered by a dense forest. The road full of curves and the moto didn’t hesitate to bend in the turns and the engine to work with pleasure. Until to Bor the route was amazing and highly motorcycling, if I could say it that way... A few kilometers before we arrive to Bor we found on our left Lake Borsko, composed with the landscape that surrounded it a very beautiful ensemble. The inhabitants of Bor enjoyed their swimming there, and along the coast there were hotels, which shows that the place also had local tourists. We made a stop there even though we were only 15 kilometers away from the city because we had burst out of thirst and dehydration is not a good advisor when you drive... Of course I was dried up my bottle of sparkling water...

Eventually we entered in Bor at eight o'clock in the evening. We found our accommodation, which cost us 22 € and was impeccable, near the entrance of the city. In our trips, we look for accommodation, that will offer Wi-Fi, so we will be connected to internet and to get information about the weather weather etc... In addition to this, if the accommodation will be perfect if offers a closed parking lot for the motorcycle! 

We left our stuff in the room, freshened up and I drove to the center of the city. Bor, a city of 130,000 inhabitants, has the largest copper mines in Europe and the mines opened in 1904!!! I set the GPS to lead us to the city center. When we arrived, we saw policemen blocking the main boulevard on which pedestrians strolled. We learned that in the afternoon hours the city's main boulevard is given to its residents and not to their cars. I parked my motorcycle, I put the lock on the front brake disc for safety and we also walked in the city moving in this human-stream of locals. In Bor, the intense presence of youth has come to our attention. Beyond adolescents, families with several children and babies in their trolleys were able to ride. And there I once again thought that our Greece (and Europe) is getting older...

 After a light dinner, I went to get my moto, to go back to our room. I wore my helmet, got up, put the ignition on, and when I started to go the moto fold and fell down on my left foot. I forgot to unlock and remove the locker from the front disc brake... I fell down and the pain in my finger of my left foot was extreme. I was an attraction for the people who were passing by... I stopped the engine of the moto immediately, unbolt my leg and as I got up, I raised the moto with difficulty because of my pain. Some hacks on the engine sidebars and on the left hand only... Fortunately, I was wearing my Salomon shoes (they have a very good protection), otherwise I would had more damage to my finger which was the most wounded from the fall... I took the lock off the right disc brake and drove to our accommodation. I always put the lock on the right brake disc because the ABS sensor is fitted to the left and in such a case as that one the damage in ABS would be serious... 

We went back to our accommodation to check the condition of my finger... What concerned me about was the next morning I had to wear my boots... My nail had already begun to blacken and the soft toe of the finger had hurt. I also noticed that I had hit a little on the upper arch on my left foot... Efi took care on my pain and with an express treatment I slept with the wish to be better next morning...

 

Day 4      Bor - Negotin Wine Route (Serbia) - Decabalus Statue -               Drobeta (Romania) 245 km 

And of course in the morning, despite my pain, I wore my boots! The day included an exceptional route, through the wine road in Negotin... 

After we got ready, we went to a coffee shop for breakfast... It was 10 o’clock when we left the city of Bor... Efi was impressed by the huge trucks used in the mines, which were an attraction at the entrance of the city along with huge tires. She wanted to take some photos before leaving the city... We got to road 37 to Zajecar, a joyful country road and after in road 35 we were in a narrow alley that passed through large cultivated land (corn and sunflowers as most) and by some forested areas. Beautiful route, under a blue sky and a lot of heat again... Then we followed road 398 at a point and then the road 169 that leaded us to the first wine village, Rajac. Through a very narrow road covered by the trees that surrounded it we went up to the hill where wine cellars were located. The place that was revealed in front of us was extremely impressive. A small State full of scattered stone-built cellars that accommodated the barrels of wine in them! A wine little village! We looked for the reception but it was not possible to find something like that and we ended up in a cellar where it was for the staff. We enter in it, and a lady welcomed us but she didn’t speak English... We got together with the well-known method of pantomime. She served us and we tasted a delicious wine and while we enjoyed that nectar, a guy was added to our company, who, as he told us, was a musician and had visited Greece several times. We talked about how tied our people are and after we talked about a lot on other issues, we thanked them and I drove downhill to visit the next wine village...

So I followed the road to Smedovac, which was the next village... The road passed through vineyards and as it was August, the villagers were getting ready for the harvest... We got uphill again and after we passed the village, we followed the signs to which the winery was. We passed the village and after that we were again in a place full of cellars (some of them with wood-carved doors...), old barrels to decorate the outdoors... Dionysian atmosphere! We didn’t find a living soul on the premises, so we sat on a bench, outside a cellar where was shaded and cool and we enjoyed a snack that Efi prepared for us... An issue was about the wasps that annoyed us, but that didn’t prevent us to enjoy the moment! We filled up “our batteries” of mind and soul and went downhill to Negotin. We had several kilometers still to cover for the day and it was already afternoon...

 After a short time of driving we arrived in Negotin where we stopped for a coffee break. We relaxed a bit, took a breath from the heat (again the thermometer was around 38° to 39°C) and we departed to the direction to the town of Kladovo, which was near to the bridge over the Danube river connecting Serbia and Romania and there was the border station. We stopped by Kladovo to buy a bottle of water and to quench our thirst and then we continued towards the border. We would enter to Romania to visit the Decebalus statue that was almost opposite where we were, and we would return back to Serbia to continue our trip, north alongside the banks of the Danube. After Kladovo I began to drive alongside the majestic Danube River... Just before we turned to the direction of the bridge, in a straight line, a white VW Passat which was in front of us and as no other vehicle was coming from the opposite direction, I attempted to overpass it and while I was a few meters behind that vehicle, I notified him through my horn to take me into account, but despite the warning the car started to drift to the left and it was a close call which could drive us - at least at the ditch – besides the road...

 After getting a shock with his unexpected move, which almost brought him a few centimeters away from my motorcycle, we passed the control at the border station and we entered in Romania. The statue is located north of the city of Orsova, about 35 km from the border we passed. Again, I was driving with the Danube River to my left and the spectacle was at least seductive. After we passed Orsova in less than a half of an hour, we found ourselves in front of the statue... Decebalus' head has been carved on the rock and for the history he was the last king of the Dacia region (present-day Romania) during the 1st and 2nd century AD and had fought against the Roman Empire. The monument has a height of 40 meters and is carved on the side of a rock on the Iron Gates, on the banks of the Danube river. It is the tallest rocky sculpture in Europe... We tried to took some pictures even though the sun was on the opposite side of us (behind the statue)...

 After seeing this, we decided to spend our night in Romania and the next morning to return to Serbia and continue our trip north... So we chose to go to the city Drobeta-Turnu Severin, about 50km south of the memorial of Decebalus. We arrived there at dusk and still was enough heat and humidity because the city is on the banks of the Danube. We found a hotel that cost us 18 euros, but it was our worst choice throughout that trip... It doesn’t matter, shit happens. Something to remember...

 Drobeta - Turnu Severin, a city of 100,000 inhabitants, is located south of the Iron Gates, next to the Danube. After we left our stuff in the hotel and freshened up, I drove the motorcycle into the city center and first of all to drink a coffee... We ended up in a nice square - a park called Tudor Vladimirescu and we drank a descent coffee because we had a few days to drink good coffee...

 As we walked over the city, I could say that I was not impressed of the city and it would not be my choice to visit again this place...

 

Day 5 Drobeta (Romania) - Djerdap National Park - Pozarevac (Serbia) 185 km

When the sun rose up in the morning, we picked up our stuff, we saddled up the motorcycle and we went back to downtown to have our coffee. We ended up to the same cafe, we drank another descent coffee and the day started beautifully. 

When we were done with our morning coffee, we departure towards the border station we crossed the day before, to return to Serbia, which was only 15 kilometers away. We entered back to Serbia and I drove north (following road 34) to Djerdap National Park, which stretches on the Serbian bank of the Danube for about 100 kilometers! It is Serbia's largest National Park and is the place where the deepest point of the Danube is, but as well the narrowest, just 150 meters of width! It was an awesome route! Djerdap on the left and the Danube river on our right! We traveled beside the Iron Gates, a series of canyons at the border of Serbia and Romania, with a total distance of 134 km!!! We didn’t see many motorcyclists on the way but a group of some excited Italians who were also going north.

We arrived at the medieval castle Golubac that was on our way. In fact, we have passed under it, after a tunnel has been dug under the rock where the castle is, to continue on the road! We stopped for a coffee break next to the river to enjoy the view...

In the evening we would stay in Pozarevac, a town of approximately 50,000 inhabitants, where we will join our Serbian friends Ernest and Jelena (from Zrenjanin) and also our friend Adrian who would come from Braila, Romania, to travel all together in the next part of the trip... We arrived at our destination at noon, but the heat of the day, the fatigue from the hotel yesterday, made us go straight to our beds with the A/C running to create the perfect conditions for resting... So that nap didn’t leave us to visit the archaeological site Viminacium, located near the village of Kostolac. Viminacium was the capital of the region during the Roman Empire, and many finds of that time, such as tombs, sarcophagi, statues, ceramics, etc. have been discovered and exposed in the area. But as we say, on every trip we leave something to visit in our next trip!

After that refreshing nap, we went to the center of the town to drink first of all a coffee... After we drank our coffee, we strolled on the main pedestrian street and around the center to check out the place... A poor town, with descent people and enough young people! In the evening it was a Champions League match on... and so we set on a café to watch Olympiakos playing at Karaiskakis Stadium (in Greece), against Partizan (of Belgrade)! As I mentioned before, Serbians are brothers in soul and spirits to Greeks, but I didn’t expose myself when Olympiakos scored a goal because I didn’t want to try out our brotherhood with the Serb fans of Partizan... For the history, the match ended 2-2 but Olympiacos took the qualification after having won the first match in Belgrade...

 Our hotel, Boem, was a very good 3* accommodation, which cost us 22 € and its restaurant was very good!!! Its courses were perfect, and the waiter had visited Greece several times and was preparing for his next holiday trip to one of the Greek islands. At the hotel we met two couples of Greeks who visited the area spending their holidays. A bit noisy are Greeks abroad and they made their presence distinct in the hotel...

  

Day 6          Pozarevac (Serbia) - Craiova 330 km 

We drank our coffee, we took our breakfast and we departed to find our Serbian friends... So we made an appointment in Banatska Palanka, 30 km away from Pozarevac. We followed road 372 that led us to Ram to cross on a ferry the Danube river and go out to Banatska Palanka. The ticket was 5€ ... We enjoyed our little cruise on the Danube river and at the same time we had a chat with the passengers of the other two cars on the ferry. Almost everyone had a relationship with Greece and enjoyed our presence there!

 Our cruise lasted 15 to 20 minutes until we got off at Banatska Palanka. Our friends waited at the dock and, since we were warmly greeted, we went to an adjacent café - a tavern where other 3 Serbian friends from Belgrade would be travel with us. Even though it was close at noon, we drank a beer with them - to get to know each other - and we talked about various motorcyclism issues and we were ready to depart for Craiova (Romania)... We got the road to Bela Crkva and from there to the Kaluderovo border station to enter in Romania . Having completed the procedure, we got road DN57, and we traveled south this time, as our trip had reached its northernmost point and from there the descent began... Road DN57, then, was the road that would lead down to Drobeta, where we stayed overnight two days before... That time I drove next to the Danube river on the opposite side... Awesome! I drove along Danube in Serbia and I drove as well in Romania, so we had a complete view! The route was perfect on the Romanian side of the Danube! The heat enough, and the coffee and water breaks necessary! We passed again from the statue of Decebalus, through Orsova and through Drobeta as well. In some point there we left Danube river (for the moment) and continued onto road E70 towards Craiova. That route had nothing remarkable to offer... We arrived at Craiova at six o'clock in the afternoon with the temperature hitting red close to 40°C!!!

Our hotel was booked before we left Greece and Ernest booked there as well, just to be all together. So at Hotel Euphoria I booked for two nights at 23 € a day... The accommodation was quite large, with an indoor guarded parking lot for the motorbike (in courtyard) and quite clean! Best value for money! My friend Adrian was waiting for us, as he had arrived earlier in Craiova on his moto. On the previous day, he had traveled from Braila (Romania), entered in Bulgaria, and from there went to cross the Bulgarian-Serbian border, but the Serbs didn’t let him to enter in Serbia and return him back, so instead of coming the day before in Pozarevac that we had an appointment he went straight to Craiova and waited for us... Romania as well as Greece belongs to the European Union and a European citizen could pass through the use of ID Card. That's why I claim on this subject, always carry your passport!!! It is the most valid document to travel! 

Our Serbian friends were exhausted and stayed at the hotel for some rest, so along with Adrian and his girlfriend Simona, we went to the center of the city, which was, only ten minutes walk from our hotel. Craiova, a city of about 300,000 inhabitants, is located in the southwestern part of Romania, and it was a city that I had never visited in many trips I had made to this country. I could say that I have visited most of Romania's cities and the very first time I visited this country was in the distant 1982... Different times then...

We walked in the center of the Old Town, on the main pedestrian street and around. The graffiti painted on walls of old buildings, in electricity distributors etc.  drew the attention of the visitors and give a cheerful tone to the city... In a square on the pedestrian street there was a set up of a giant screen and a lot of people had gathered there, to watch a football game. We drank our coffee, walked around the city, had our dinner and we returned to our hotel to find our Serbian friends. The conversation about motorcycles and travels was long, and at some point we said goodnight because everyone would leave the next morning except Efi and me, who would stay another day in Craiova. Ernest and his friends would ride to Tranfagarasan Pass and Adrian with Simona would return to Braila...

 

Day 7        Craiova 

Just the two of us (Efi and I), got our breakfast and got back downtown again... 

We walked on the pedestrian streets of the city, and relaxation in Nicolae Romanescu Park, a real oasis of green! Coffee, nice food and a walk! This was the last day of our trip...

 

Day 8         Craiova (RO) - Oryahovo (BG) Sofia (BG) - Patra 1020 km

  We woke up a few minutes after five o’ clock in the morning... Our panniers were ready from last night, so we only had to wear our gear... Early morning wake up to catch the ferry at Oryahovo, which was 80 kilometers away from Craiova.

 It was still dark when we left from the city, and we got road 55 in south direction and at half past six, we were in Oryahovo, where we crossed the Romanian border station. We purchased a ticket for the ferry and fortunately we managed to get aboard the ferry... It was full! On the ferry I also met a Romanian who, with a BMW GS 650 accompanied by his wife, where traveling from Craiova to Thassos island (in Greece) for a vacation. While we crossed the Danube River for the last time (on this trip), the sun rose and made our day shiny! Sunrise will crossing Danube river... awesome!!!

 On the Bulgarian bank, we passed the checkpoint at the border checkpoint and continued our way to Sofia with a stop for coffee break in Vratsa... We followed road 15 to Vratsa and from there road E79 and motorway A2 to Sofia which abstained 180 kilometers from Oryahovo.

 We didn’t enter to the center of Sofia because we had no time and we had several kilometers till Patras. We chose to get the Sofia’s perimeter and stopped at a gas station at the beginning of the A3 motorway to refuel and for a coffee.

 The A3 motorway after Blagoevgrad became the well-known and dangerous road E79. I hope that the motorway will continue till the Greek borders in the near future...

 At 11 o’clock we felt the waves of heat on our faces... The traffic jam was big in the Bulgarian border and in the Greek border station as well! August holidays were on! The calendar pointed... August 5... It is my pleasure to see tourists visiting my beautiful country to spend their holidays!

 So we crossed the border station at Promahonas. From that point and later the road was well-known... We got the Egnatia Street Highway and with a usual stop in Grevena city for tsipouro and snacks. We arrived in Patra close to 7 o’clock in the evening, returning to the absolute heat... Another trip was over with always the expectation of the next trip!!!

 

I had planned the journey with great care, avoiding almost entirely the motorways (except for going) and thus gave us the opportunity to see the province of the SE of Serbia and led us through fields, through the pleasant smells of the meadows and many times I found myself cutting off speed so we could better see the rivers or a valley we were passing through!

My girlfriend Efi, was fulfilled with amazing images from the superb Serbian nature, the majestic Danube and the streets of wine at Negotin! She is unstoppable and always ready for new challenges! 

My motorcycle once again I could tell that is the ultimate driving machine!!! On my bike, I always feel secure, safe and offers me enjoyable kilometers! 

The budget of the trip was absolutely small!!! The cost of the fuel was about 200€ while our accommodation for 7 nights cost 156 €... Perfect!!!

 

And do not forget...

 

We have not done our best trips yet!!!

 

Print

MotoLeonidio No 6 (April 2017)

Written by Thanasis Vavaroutas. Posted in Expeditions

Details coming soon...

 

Click here for the full map...

Click for the map of the event

 

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