Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Journey's end

We have arrived in Athens after a delayed departure from Chios because of the late arrival of the ship. We didn't sail until about 1.30 am and the rush to get everyone onboard meant that they didn't check tickets for passengers or vehicles. Tickets were simply torn in half without being examined at all.

Our ferry has arrived at last

All berths were fully booked by the time we'd  made our booking a couple of weeks ago so we spent the night in allocated reclining leather seats in the 1st class lounge. There were so many snorers that neither of us got much sleep.

On our arrival at Piraeus at about 8.00 am we headed for the taxi rank where Gail explained to a driver that we needed him to take her to Hotel Tony near the Acropolis and that I would be following on the motorbike. The plan worked well, it cost only 20 euros and saved us the trauma of navigating our way through morning rush-hour traffic with a lousy map.

The hotel is great. Part of it has been refurbished and we have been given a suite that sleeps 4 and has a kitchen/dining area, fully equipped, all brand new, and a bathroom with a shower big enough to have a party in. There's plenty of room to sort out all our gear.

Our bike ride has come to an end and so has this blog. Rory and his daughter are in Heathrow airport at the moment awaiting their flight to Athens and I have spent most of the afternoon checking over and washing the bike. Gail and I will be spending the next 3 days exploring Athens on foot while our trusty steed heads back to the UK via Bulgaria, Romania and western Europe.

Every day between 35 and 60 people have been reading this bog, 50% in Australia, 30% in the UK, 10% in the USA and the rest scattered across the world. I don't know who you are, apart from family and friends who have kept in touch by email. The original purpose of the blog was to keep our large family and friends informed of where we are and how we're going, but it seems that other people have been interested in out travels too. I hope you have enjoyed it. If you have any comments feel free to let me know by sending an email to

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Greek island of Chios

The reason we had to come to the Greek island of Chios this morning is to catch the ferry tonight on to Piraeus the port for Athens. It’s is in Athens in two days’ time that we hand the bike over to Rory M. who is riding it back to the UK while we travel on by air to Australia.

Before we could get on the boat we had to go through the excruciating process of Turkish border control again. This time the bike papers were examined by a total of 7 people, all of whom gave the impression that they didn’t quite know what they were looking for and why, and not one of them checked that the bike was the one described in the registration and insurance documents. The bike was the only vehicle going on the ferry and they had to find someone to unlock the dock gates so we could board.
It took about an hour and a half to cross the 8 km stretch of water and when we landed we found that the heat had followed us, as instead of the 27 degrees they were getting a few days ago, today it is in the mid-30s.

As the ferry leaves at 12.40 am tonight we have blown the money and booked into an air-conditioned hotel so we can shower and have a rest before boarding. We also bought a map of Athens in the hope of planning our route from Piraeus to the hotel that we have pre-booked in Athens but the narrow streets near the Acropolis appear to be very complicated.
After lunch and a snooze we got back onto the bike to explore the two villages that the Lonely Plant Guide says are very interesting, Pirgi and Mesta.

Pirgi is unusual because many of the houses and commercial buildings are covered in geometric patterns and motifs that have been created, when I had a good look at them, by painting onto plaster or possibly wet concrete render and then chiselling out the pattern to leave the painted remainder sitting proud of the dark background.

Mesta is a medieval village that is the centre of the islands mastic industry. Mastic was the original basis of chewing gum before the chemists found a way of synthesising it. It is tapped from the trunks of the mastic trees in a similar way to rubber, from what I have read. When the Turks invaded the island the residents of Mesta were apparently spared the slaughter because the Sultan of the day was heavily into chewing mastic, as were the women in his harem, and ordered that its producers be protected. We didn’t have much luck finding out about mastic production and we still aren’t quite sure what a mastic tree looks like, though this might be one going by a picture we saw in a book, more of a bush than a tree, but a shop in the village sold mastic cosmetics, wine, toothpaste and soaps. They probably make them from old chewing gum!!

 The village is very picturesque with narrow alleyways and terraces of stone houses.

The island itself is a mass of scrubby hills and low mountains with villages scattered mong them. The beaches we saw arent very impressive - mainly pebbles. This is the view from our hotel bacony. Our ferry will leave tonight from the far corner of the harbour.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Last notes on Turkey

As this is our last day in Turkey, some general comments:
The whole country is one huge road works at the moment. Turkey has one of the worst road casualty rates in the world and before coming here we heard that Turkish drivers are terrible. Our observation is that they are no worse than anywhere else but nobody wears seatbelts, small children ride unsecured in the front seats, only 1% of motorcyclists wear helmets and some of the cars in rural areas are in very poor condition. No wonder the casualty rate is high.

We have seen three Turkeys: the tourist  areas where the majority of people speak some English and the dress is casual; the industrial and agricultural towns where nobody speaks English though some can speak German , everyone lives in apartments and dress is conservative; and rural Turkey on the minor roads where nobody speaks English, dress is very traditional and people are working the fields with small hand tools, sometimes a dozen people in one field bent over working in the heat using implements  that we would use for tending a small flower bed.  Apart from the presence of the occasional tractor the scene has probably changed little since Roman times – including the goat herds, donkeys and pack ponies.
Apart from in the tourist areas the demarcation between men and women is stark. The men gather at every opportunity to drink tea, not alcohol, and to chat, but the women meet at their door steps  or on a carpet outside someone’s doorway to chat. The genders seldom mix socially from what we have seen. Gail initially found the groups of men a bit threatening, and I understood what she meant, but we found that if they talk to you or if you start a conversation with them they are really nice and friendly people. It’s probably like peoples’ misconceptions at home about gatherings of teenage males on street corners. The people in this country have without exception been very welcoming, though they do find the concept of two retirees riding around on their own on a “huge” motorbike very strange. Perhaps it’s just that those groups of men don’t know what to make of us and particularly Gail; which is quite understandable.


Roman Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor and had over 250,000 inhabitants. A fertility avatar of the goddess Artemis was worshipped here and devotees constructed a temple in honour of her. Today 18% of the former city has been unearthed after 150 years of excavations. Most of the buildings collapsed in an earthquake in 264 AD but archeologists are slowly finding all the bits and piecing them back together again.

We left our hotel at 7.30 am with the intention of covering the 120km or so by 9.00 am and beating the coach tours. What we didn't know was that a huge cruise ship full of mainly Americans had arrived on the coast and they were arriving by the busload to see the best preserved classical city in the world.

It was a tad crowded!

Temple dedicated to Hadrian

Roman toilets. Water ran in the channel in front that you used to wash yourself
 clean with a sponge or cloth on a stick as they hadn't invented toilet papyrus.

The city library which was reconstructed using the original materials in the 1970s

Most interesting of all were the Roman terrace houses on a hillside. They were destroyed by the earthquake but many of the frescoes and marble floors are partially intact and they have found thousands of fragments of the marble wall linings that were in many of the rooms and are piecing them together and reattaching them.

Piecing together the marble "wallpaper"
Original frescoes
Mosaic floor
After an hour and a half we'd had enough of the crowds and it was getting very hot again so after a fresh orange juice at a cafe near the entrance to the complex we set off on the bike for the port town of Cesme where we catch the ferry to the Greek island of Chios tomorrow morning. We  opted for the autobahn instead of the minor roads this time because of the heat and it gave us a chance to use the toll card that we bought the day we entered Turkey but hadn't needed so far. Stopped for lunch at a restaurant next to one of the autobahn services and had a excellent meal. In fact some of the best meals we've had in Turkey have been lunches at highway-side restaurants, certainly as good as quality restaurants at home at a fraction of the price.
The autobahn took us past Izmir, which is a huge city, and through some lovely countryside and occasionally close to the coast as we rode west through the Cesme peninsula. Cesme itself was a pleasant surprise, much smaller than we expected and a quite attractive resort town apparently very popular with Izmiries and becoming increasingly popular with foreigners.
Hotels are expensive here but we managed to negotiate the price from 150 lira down to 120 lira. We wanted to visit the large castle but it is closed today for cleaning work. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012


A relatively short ride this morning from Pamukkale to Afrodisias, which is a small ancient town built up by successive settlements from around 5000 BC. When we got there we had to pay 5 lira to park and were then transported in a tractor pulled carriage the 500 metres to the entry gate of the historic site.

From the 6 century BC it was well known for its temple to the Goddess of Love Aphrodite, the construction of which was paid for, along with a number of major buildings, including the huge stadium, by an ex-slave of Emperor Octavian, Caius Julius Zoilos, who had made a fortune from something that is now a mystery.
The monumental gateway to the temple has been reconstructed using 85% original blocks.

The temple itself was torn down by the Byzantine Christians and rebuilt into a church in AD 500 recycling the building materials.

Next door is the Bishop’s Palace. He must have lived well at his parishioners expense.

The stadium is huge, and one end was a gladiatorial arena with tunnels from which the combatants emerged.

We have seen lots of theatres elsewhere but this lovely little one is made of marble instead of limestone.

The last impressive building is the Sebasteion, a temple to the deified dead Roman emperors. When it was a complete building its 3 storeys were covered with friezes showing scenes from Greek myths and the exploits of the emperors, 70% of which have been found and are in the museum on site.

A few km down the road we came across an excellent restaurant where we stopped for lunch. We were serenaded by the proprietor on a mandolin and the walls were covered in antiques including old flint-lock and bolt action rifles which I was allowed to play with.

We thought that this pace might turn out to be expensive as there were no prices on display and we had shared four delicious dishes between us but the whole meal cost us only the equivalent of 17 aussie dollars.
When we left there the temperature felt like it was creeping over 40 again and we were wilting fast so we were on the lookout for an air-conditioned hotel. We checked out and rejected a couple of places before settling for a room in a rather run-down business hotel in the town of Nazilli. Tomorrow we’ll be going to the final place on our “to do in Turkey” list, Ephesus, which is said to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Pamukkale and Hierapolis

The tour minibus picked us up at 9.30 am. Three young Aussie backpackers on board, two Brazilians, two Chinese, two Koreans and three east Europeans. First we went to see some iron rich springs where the water bubbles out of the ground at 46 degrees C and the iron is deposited as a red concretion. There were a few people soaking in the hot pools which are supposed to treat all sorts of skin conditions and have been used for that purpose for thousands of years.

Then we walked through what remains of the ancient city of Hieropolis which was a Roman spa town and then a Byzantine one. We entered the town through the necropolis or graveyard via a Roman road that is 2200 years old and still has the original paving stones though it is in about the same condition than some of the roads we rode on yesterday.

Our guide explained the 3 types of tombs that were used by the Romans, sarcophagi, house type and tumuli.

The rich had their sarcophagus placed in a high plinth.

House type that was used a a family tomb

Tumulus type also used as a family tomb

Then we walked into the old town via the town gate. Most of the town has been destroyed by regular earthquakes. There was a force 6 on the Richter scale just yesterday.

The large building on the left past the gate was the 2nd century latrine (toilet) and the bathhouse where everyone entering the city, rich, poor or slave had to bathe because of the high proportion of people coming to this town with infections and conditions that they hoped would be cured by the mineral waters. The bath-house was an attempt to control infections.

In another bathhouse in the old town is located a museum containing various treasures they have found in archaeological digs on the site, including some very ornate sarcophagi, pottery, sculptures, friezes, etc.

Walking out of the other side of town we came to the calcium carbonate springs of Pamukkale. This water is 36 degrees C and again it has been used for thousands of years as a health cure, particularly in Roman times when there were 15 bathhouses.

The calcium carbonate comes out of solution as it runs over the slopes and forms the white rock called travertine. Today it is visited by thousands of tourists every day. The name Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish, so called because the travertine looks like cotton wool.

By the time we finished the tour and went for the late lunch that was included in the deal the temperature had soared to 43 degrees C.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Road to Pamukkale

It was already over 30 degrees when we left our Patara hotel at 8.30 am but it felt much cooler once we got rolling and the wind was blowing through our vented jackets. We could have travelled to our next destination, the calcite cliffs at Pamukkale, on highways but after about 60 km of a very scenic ride along the coastal highway we turned onto a small road that the map showed as a scenic route with plenty of twisties north through a mountain range. It was certainly that.

It started as a 3 lane road, 2 uphill and one down, with no other traffic, but it reduced to one each way and suddenly almost disappeared completely where there were roadworks or a landslide and we were sent on a 2 km diversion onto a single lane dirt track covered with crushed jagged rocks some of them as big as a brick. Much of it was up and down steep slopes with blind hairpins. On one of the steep downhill hairpins Gail had to get off the bike to see what the slope and surface were like round the corner as there was a sheer drop off the side and I wouldn't have been able to stop on the loose rocky surface once I committed to the bend. After the event it was great fun but it was a bit of a struggle at the time.

Back on the bitumen it continued as a one and a half car width, steep, winding road that had to be taken in 1st gear for several km. At one point a stoat took one look at us and decided we were going so slowly that it could skip across the road safely just in front of the bike. The first time I have seen a stoat in the wild.

On the descent we went through some small villages with the locals cutting fodder for their animals from the road verges and piling it on to tractor trailers or pack horses or donkeys or carrying it on bundles on their backs. We couldn't take photos because it would have been too intrusive. It felt like we were riding through their backyard.

Reached our destination in the early afternoon and after knocking back one hotel because it was too expensive we found a nice one for 60 lira. In fact we have now decided to stay two nights and to do a bus tour of the calcite cliffs and the ancient city of Hierapolis tomorrow. This the view of the calcite cliffs from the main street, but we'll know more about them tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Turkey Roast

A hot and humid day from the moment we set out. 25 km each side of Antalya there was a pall of yellowish haze over the mountains to our north and the road ahead, probably due to the pollution from the city and the traffic, combined with the humidity. Once we got west of Antalya the road ran through another tourist belt with hotels and rental apartments on our right and umbrella festooned beaches on our left.

Mountainous terrain then followed, with some long tunnels through rocky hills that ran steeply down to the sea. It would have been very attractive if not for heavy traffic, stupid overtaking by car drivers and the pollution.

As we went west we left the traffic behind and it got better and better. Some marvellous mountainous country but the photos are a failure because of the haze. Was stopped by police for suspected speeding but when he saw the size of the bike he waved us on with a smile and the comment in English "take it slow" as large capacity bikes have a higher speed limit than the small ones.

snow capped mountains through the haze

For many kms the road has been cut into the rocky slope over crystal clear water
 so flat it looks like glass.

Detoured off the highway to look at the 1st century rock tombs at Myra and yet another Roman theatre, with carved theatrical masks carved on some rocks nearby. 

In this part of Turkey they grow huge amounts of vegetables in plastic green houses that cover vast expanses of land, sometimes 10 square km or more. Here is the view from one hilltop and this is repeated again and again. That's the sea and then the sky in the distance through the haze.

Lunch in a small restaurant in the main street of Kas. The best meal we have had in Turkey and one of the cheapest. On to the small village of Gelemis near Patara where we have found a very upmarket room in a brand new hotel for 100 lira (AU$60) including breakfast.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tourist Coast

Just 5 km out of Seydisehir where we stayed last night we started climbing up into rugged mountains with conifers growing on every shallow slope and in nooks and crannies on the rock faces. The map shows it to be a scenic route but we didn't expect this. The mountains went on and on for about 60 km and at one point, marked on a sign as 1829m above sea level there were patches of dirty snow near the road. It was difficult to get photos because going up they would heve been into the rising sun and going down the other side towards the Mediterranean it was very hazy.

Sudenly we came out onto the busy coast road and headed west towards what a German couple in Cappadocia had told us was a nice small town, Side. What a shock. Side is commercialised coastal development on steroids. Not our scene at all. We stayed long enough to have a look at the 2nd century Roman ruins and the 6th century Byzantine hospital and then moved on.

Roman theatre undergoing restoration work

What is left of 6th century hospital

 2nd c Roman city gate

The place is full of sunburnt and peeling Scandinavian and German tourists and the prices of everything are at least double what we have found elsewhere. The beaches are covered in rows and rows of beach umbrellas, the shops are full of tourist junk and there are replica "pirate ships" doing cruises along the coast.

Moved along to Aspendos to have a look at the largest Roman theatre that is still in use. It was being prepared for an opera production tomorrow evening. Built in 161-180 AD it seats 15,000 according to the blurb on the sign and 8,000 according to the brochure. Perhaps the 2nd century Romans were thinner than present day opera buffs. A very impressive building.

Had lunch at a riverside restaurant nearby. Mediocre food at Side prices. By now we were soaked with sweat and  took the waiter's recommendation of finding a pansiyon in the next coastal town of Belek.

Found a cheap pansiyon just outside the town centre. Wandered into town and found it to be a weird place, obviously aimed at tourists with pedestrianised streets, artificial roman ruins and very expensive tourist shops with prices in euros.