Date: September 2019 Duration: 3 days Distance: 709km
I begin the tour in Thessaloniki, Greece. The bike had been shipped here by Bike-on-Board in Düsseldorf, saving me 2,000km of motorway riding to reach the start point. My luggage, helmet etc, shipped with the bike and I flew out with just hand-luggage for a couple of nights in Greece before I collect the bike.
Day 1 – Monday 26 September
From Thessaloniki it’s 400km on quiet motorway before I reach the Turkish border. Traffic in my direction is very light and I’m through the border in about half an hour. The other direction is another story, I pass over 5km of traffic queuing to leave Turkey.
The actual border has an armed soldier from each side, on their respective sides of the river. There are more armed soldiers as I progress further towards the Turkish border control.
Fortunately my documentation is all in order and I even have an Insurance Green Card which covers me for every country on this trip, including all of Turkey. The British biker in front of me isn’t so fortunate and has to spend considerable time purcuring insurance.
Once safely in Turkey, the motorway becomes a regular single-carriageway road and I ride the remaining 150km to Gelibolu, on the Marmara Sea. Tonight’s hotel was pre-booked, less than 1km from the ferry terminal which will take me to Asia Minor.
Day 2 – Tuesday 27 September
The ferry crossing takes about ½ hour. Today’s goal is Iznik, formerly called Nicea where the Nicene Creed was agreed in 325 CE.
Although I avoid all motorways, I have little option but to remain on the big roads until I hit the city of Bursa. From here, there is a small road which will take me over a mountain and descend into Iznik overlooking the lake.
I have shortlisted a couple of hotels in Iznik. The town is not particularly busy and I find myself a room and secure parking for the bike, in very little time in a hotel beside the lake.
Day 3 – Wednesday 28 September
Motorways in Turkey are tolled. In most cases you can pay in cash at a toll both, but this is not possible in Istanbul where only OGS/HGS is available. Undoubtedly any unpaid tolls would be collected at the exit border, along with a fine.
While in Iznik, I visited the Post Office (PTT) to setup a HGS account. As expected nobody there could speak English but another customer who having seen my German registered motorbike parked outside, offered to translate into German – fortunately many Turks can speak German.
The OGS/HGS system has not been designed with motorbikes in mind. The system uses a smart card which is scanned at the toll barrier. This card must be visible. Quite how you’re supposed to do that on a motorbike is not clear. I place the card in my mini-tankbag, which has a small transparent pocket on the top in which I usually store a sheet of paper with route plan.
I ignore my SatNav while heading to Istanbul, or rather I do not bother to program it. I have a much better route in mind which will take me along small rural roads through the mountains, depositing me a few kilometers from the Osman Gazi Bridge.
The remainder of the journey to Istanbul is as expected, on motorways which get progressively more crowded.
The hotel in Istanbul is pre-booked after some research. As I have absolutely no interest in riding in the old city of Istanbul, nor traveling from hotel to hotel searching for accommodation in what could be over 40° of heat, I have booked a 5* hotel 3km from the Old City, located on a tram line and also less than ½km from a motorway junction, with underground parking.
The SatNav is now programmed however the Garmin attempts to route me through the tunnel underneath the Bosphorus straits. Unfortunately motorbikes are not allowed in this tunnel and the police direct me to the Bosphorus bridge.
The motorway cuts straight through Istanbul, more new-world than old-world Europe.
Today’s riding was deliberately short, around 200km with most of it on motorway. My aim was to arrive in Istanbul around lunchtime with the aim to do some site-seeing.
As expected and planned, I spend my afternoon visiting mosques and mosques which used to be churches.
Day 4 – Thursday 29 September
I have set myself a target to be in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transdniestria) for Independence Day on 2nd September. That gives me four days to travel from Istanbul through three countries; Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova. Therefore from Istanbul I head directly to Bulgaria, leaving the motorway as soon as practically possible.
The region north-west of Istanbul, european Turkey, is quite honestly rather uninteresting but the roads are quiet and more fun than the motorway.
I plan to exit Turkey using the small crossing north of Kirklareli. The road from Kirklareli is entirely devoid of traffic for over 20km until I am within 4km of the border crossing.
The traffic waiting at the border crossing is backed up for 4km. Fortunately the police direct me to overtake the lot of it. Reaching the front of first queue, I speak with the driver of the car waiting to enter the border control zone. I see from his car’s registration that he’s from the same city in Germany as myself. He tells me he’s been waiting in the queue for two hours and been sat totally stationary for the past one and a half hours.
As a typical impatient biker, I ride around the closed barrier, into the border control zone and straight to passport control, overtaking another dozen cars.
I overtake the further queues of cars, however I do make the mistake of accidentally riding through the final Turkish exit control. The guard is quick to run after me before I reach Bulgaria. I turn around, apologize and all is good – he’s probably having a boring day, checking one car every 10-15 minutes, due to the delay caused by Bulgarian Customs checking every bag in every car.