Monday 23rd May
Sinop, Turkey, 670km from the Georgian border
Around 60km from Burgas, on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, I pulled into a garage to refuel the bike.
Dusk was fast approaching, the sky was a kind of purple-blue-grey hue and, with the temperature starting to drop, the only memory of the hot daytime sun was the smell of the heated earth in the flat fields around me.
The bike refuelled, I pulled on my favourite thick, blue riding sweater. I sat down on the kerb by the fuel pumps to eat the ice cream I’d just bought, only for the solitary garage attendant to motion to me over to a set of red plastic table and chairs on the edge of the forecourt, next to the entrance to the shop.
He looked like he was in his mid-fifties, skinny in a way that suggested that he’d always worked with his hands or on his feet, with dark hair. We managed to some kind of brief conversation around the usual questions, with a mixture of guesswork and hand signals.
Seemingly oblivious to the thousands of litres of petrol beneath of us and the multitude of No Smoking signs, the attendant pulled out a cigarette from his top pocket and lit it. As I munched away at my ice cream, bemused, I wondered whether an explosion might be picked up from space.
My thoughts were focussed on two things. First, about the journey ahead, hoping that an annoyingly intermittent electrical fault that occurred a few times the week before, didn’t rear its head again and, secondly but arguably more importantly, about the fact that I had discovered that Milka now sold ice creams – yet we didn’t have them on sale back in the UK as far as I knew.
Just over 72 hours later, with the bike running just fine and some ‘get out of trouble’ spare parts from the UK in my pannier bags, I was in Turkey.
The Turkish Black Sea coast is not necessary famed for its good motorbike riding. In fact, I didn’t want to ride it on this trip. In 2015, I’d ridden the 500km long dual carriageway section from Samsun to the Georgian border en route to Sydney. It was hot, dusty and dull. And at this point I had yet to develop my love of riding alongside huge articulated trucks. So I planned to get the ferry service from Bulgaria to Georgia direct instead.
The problem was, however, that by the time I reached the Bulgarian Black Sea coast that evening, and despite that day’s journey, I was frustrated that I seemed to have spent more of the last week sitting around waiting for parts than riding. And I wanted to see if the electrical fault reappeared in circumstances I could control, rather than waiting until I got up some mountain in Georgia. I also didn’t fancy sitting around twiddling my thumbs on a boat for three days, whilst paying almost £500 for the privilege.
So instead I decided to ride there, doing as much as possible on back roads and dirt trails, following the line of the coast. Reaching Georgia by the end of the week was still my priority but it was time to make things a little bit more interesting.
Crossing the border, green rolling hills were shrouded in thick forest, with dusty dirt tracks winding their way through remote villages with old wooden houses.
Purple Rhododendrons littered bushes edged the route, which dipped in and out from the neatly kept coastal resorts on the coast east of Istanbul, with their well kept beaches. Cloudless skies met a deep-blue sea and sandy beaches, with razor sharp lines that could cut glass.
And Turkish breakfasts with their fried pastries, white cheeses, omelettes, bread, honey, cucumbers and tomatoes kept me fuelled, as well as the odd spicy sujuk sausage sandwich and endless amounts of çaj thickly laced with honey and sugar. The latter was liberally fed to me for both payment and hospitality at cafes, petrol stations and, on one occasion, even a butcher’s shop, along the way.
And lamb shish and köfte, of course. ALL the lamb shish and köfte that you could ever eat.
All of this continued until 45km west of Cide, maybe 500km east of Istanbul. Then it was an hour or two so of twisty, windy paved road, ducking and diving up and down, keeping you permanently entertained as it hugged the coastline, up there with the best of them, maybe even the likes of the Pacific Coast Highway in California or the Great Ocean Road in Oz.
For those two hours alone, all the efforts to get there had been worth it.
Then the road became straighter and flatter. The landscape more industrial. The international smorgasbord of homicidal trucks had returned. And the dual carriageway leading all the way to the Georgian border began. The rain clouds had been threatening for the previous day or two, but only now the heavens opened.
As I sat taking shelter in a cafe on the waters’ edge, I ate a rather sweaty looking gozleme pancake, with some rather suspect looking pale lamb mince filling. The cold, wet weather meant that other than an old man sat opposite me, the place was deserted.
I decided that I’d had a good run of it. It was now time to jump on the highway to make it to Sinop for the night, and the mountains on the Georgian border beyond.