I “live” in Turkey, and the reason that live is in quotation marks is because I really don’t live anywhere.
After leaving Newport Beach in February of 2019, I became a permanent nomad, traveling with my girlfriend (now my wife as of June 17) and usually staying for six weeks at a time in different locations.
After spending a year in Europe, we went to Asia, then on to Mexico, where we got stopped in our tracks by COVID for 15 months. After we were finally able to break free, I visited several locations in Mexico and then finally to South America, Ecuador, and Peru.
I had an amazing motorcycle experience in Ecuador (which you can read about at https://revntravel.com/ecuador-on-two-wheels-a-pleasant-surprise/,) and Ecuador came very close to knocking Romania off the top of my list of my favorite motorcycle locations. I actually did get back to Romania to do something that I have been wanting to do for a long time: get a motorcycle.
I have not had a bike since about 2007, but since then I have rented in a dozen places throughout the world. When I was in Romania last time in 2019, I rented a BMW 750 GS from a rental outfit in Bucharest. That was probably one of the most exciting weeks of my life as we rode the Transfagarasan Highway, and I may share more about that in another piece.
Along with having a great motorcycle and a great road, I was also blessed with having a great motorcycle rental outfit, MotoRentals, in Bucharest. Since buying a motorcycle in the EU was not possible, I proposed to Sergiu Stoica, the owner, that I rent one of his bikes for a longer period of time than “normal,” which meant a year, maybe two, which he was open to.
At one time that was going to be the GS 750, but that got sold, so instead, I went small one, a BMW 310 GS, a smaller bike that I am used to, but I was willing to rent it for the summer, or longer, depending upon our travel plans.
Before we start on the good part of the bike trip, along with all the fun, first, a caveat of what to not do when you are in an unfamiliar country.
On the very first day of riding my new bike I needed to gas up. Without paying too much attention to the gas station pump I accidentally put diesel fuel in the tank. I won’t go into the longer ordeal of what a mess that was, but it required draining the tank, changing the spark plugs, flushing out the fuel system, and changing the oil.
Fortunately, it was not terminal damage, and it has been duplicated by many people throughout the world. Mixing diesel into a gasoline engine is just not a good idea. Make a note of that fellow riders!
From Romania to Antalya Turkey is about 1600 km and I needed to get my bike home. I estimated beforehand that it would be about five to six days, but I lost day number one due to the repairs necessary from my faux pas.
But finally, on a warmish day (40°F/ 4° Celsius) in March, the journey began. I am very much a warm weather person and especially a warm weather rider, so leaving in cold temperatures was not my choosing, but it was what it was.
Day one: Bucharest to Edirne. The weather was cooperative, although I rode through the remainder of snow that had fallen just a few days before. The ride through the country of Bulgaria was not that long as it is just 330 km from north to south, and I crossed the border check from Romania into Bulgaria late morning, and re-entered Turkey later in the day. After seven hours of riding I was feeling it, plus the cold did not help, and I was focused on making it to my target city of Edirne.
A fun fact about Bulgaria: it is the oldest country in Europe, established in 681. My original intention was to go to Varna, on the coast, rather than push on to Turkey, but between the cold weather and not wanting to dawdle, I decided to save that for another time.
Day two: Edirne to Canakkale. I was reminded by my fiancé, Kat, that Edirne had some of the most impressive mosques in Turkey, so, cold or not, I spent some time in the morning to check them out. And they were. Not just beautiful, but large as well.
It was very chilly, about 40°F when I left, and got even worse along the way. Going up some of the elevation grades brought me some concern and made me happy to come down the other side to lower elevations.
When I finally hit sea level and went along the peninsula paralleling the Marmora straight, it was quite lovely. Night number two in Canakkale was a pleasure, as was the experience of taking a 10 minute ferry (for less than $2 USD) and entering the city, which was vibrant with great energy. Along the peninsula I was watchful for the new 1915 Canakkale Bridge, which is the first bridge to cross the strait and cuts the ferry wait to mere minutes. As it was, I was two days early to ride the bridge and as I came near I pondered whether to take the ferry or try the bridge. Since I didn’t have a choice I enjoyed the brief ferry.
It’s interesting how we (or maybe just me?) get a vibe when we come to a new city. Some are just a regular city, but some have a unique energy and makes me want to explore.
Canakkale had that vibe.
When I got there I stopped at one of those visitor booths and asked, “What’s the top things to do here when I only have a few hours?” to which they responded, “There is lots to do!” When they reminded me that this was the area of the near-mythical city of Troy and there on the waterfront, just a few hundred yards away, was the full size Trojan Horse they used in the movie Troy, with Brad Pitt, I had to check it out. Ironically, I had just re-watched that movie a few weeks ago, so seeing that horse was a great introduction to the city.
The waterfront was energetic and full of life, and the exhibitor people also referred me to a hostel for all of 100 Turkish lira (less than $7 USD). It still blows my mind how affordable Turkey is compared to my old state of California.
After a nice dinner and conversation with some fellow English-speaking bike riders (we find them everywhere!) I slept well and left the next morning under cloudy skies, but slightly warmer temperatures.
Day three: Canakkale to Izmir. It was pretty boring, windy as hell, and quite cold, but warmed as early evening approached. I was glad for that since the city of Izmir, for whatever reason, totally turned me off and I decided not to stay there. It was like driving into Los Angeles. Lots of traffic, lots of tall buildings, so I gassed up and pushed on to Ephesus, not really what I planned, but since it was very high on my “must visit” list, I decided I wanted to be somewhere chill. And it was.
Ephesus is one of the most historic and iconic cities in the world and has a chapter in the Bible named after it. The actual city is called Selcuk, and this city also had a very nice feel to it. Even riding into town, there, on the right side on the main street, was an iconic temple over 2000 years old. They also had there the Library of Celsus, which I have seen in pictures. It is one of the few ruins that rises higher than one level and is magnificent in pictures. As it was in person.
Since I have been world traveling for over three years now, I sometimes get a bit jaded when I see ruins, temples, cathedrals, and such, since so many seem the same.
Not Ephesus. It is bigger than I expected and in pristine condition.
Kathleen, my fiancé, was a bit peeved that I was there without her, but I promised we would return together and spend a day or two there, which we will.
Day four: Ephesus to Fethiye. The ruins were a great way to begin, sunny, but also very cold, but it was the wind that gave me pause. With an unloaded weight of just 170 kg, or 374 pounds, the downside of a small bike, aside from the low horsepower, is the light weight.
As I was leaving town to head south, the wind was buffering me side to side before I even got into the mountains, where I knew it would get worse. I had to make a decision: the much shorter way through the mountain passes, about three hours, or the much longer way along the coastline, about six hours, which would hopefully be less windy.
I took the long way, as we bikers almost always do…but at least I had a good excuse.
The ride south from there was like driving through the landscape of California with mountains almost touching the surf. There are sections that felt like Malibu, and it was reminiscent of Santa Barbara north into Central California and Big Sur. It was really quite beautiful, but the difference is that in Turkey I could actually afford to LIVE in these places!
I made it into Fethiye late afternoon, loaded up my Bookings.com app, and found a great room steps from the beach for less than $20. My body was feeling the cumulative effect of four straight days on the road, so I bought some food, ate in my room, and chilled for the night.
At age 67 I had to admit I was proud of myself! Between the wear and tear of riding, in the cold, with the wind, it’s tough on bodies half my age! But knowing I would be home in 24 hours gave me a good focus and so I tried to ignore the temperature.
Day five: Fethiye to Antalya (home). Seriously, will this wind EVER stop? That was the question I asked myself the entire last day since it never stopped blowing. At least it was offset by perfectly clear skies, but even with cuffs protecting my hands, they were freezing, as were my legs and thighs. As clear as it was, the wind continued the entire 175 km trip home.
The overall trip was 994 miles (1600 km), and the final day was six hours on my new baby. Even with the cold, and the wind, I enjoyed the hell out of it as I went through several Turkish towns that I was curious about. I got to ride on some amazing roads that hugged right along the surf and gained appreciation of the Turkish topography.
Until now the top countries for me on two wheels were Romania and Ecuador. I haven’t seen much of Turkey, and it is a very large country, so look forward to more exploration. It is a motorcycle riders paradise.
The question I posed earlier, “Is the 310 capable of long distance touring?” has been answered, but there is another chapter coming.
In a few months Kathleen and I will reverse our direction, back up the Turkish coast, and enter Greece, where we will traverse all the way over to the Adriatic and into Albania. Our plans are to leave July 1 and estimate we will get to Albania in October. We will be carrying everything we need in a top box and a strapped on piece of luggage. We will encounter hot temps and possibly much colder ones.
Will my little 310 (I really need to give her a name!) make the journey? Come back in a few months and follow our travels.
Norm Bour was a business and travel writer for the Newport Beach Independent but left the USA permanently in February 2019 at the age of 64. His goal was to travel the world six weeks at a time, which he did, and wrote two books about his experiences. He visited 26 countries along with taking countless plane trips and many motorcycle trips. You can follow his journey at www.TravelYounger.com along with his Facebook blog by the same name.