Setting a speed record across Turkey
Istanbul is an amazing city and probably our favorite ‘big city’ so far of the trip. But with only 3 days to cover 1300 km and one final border crossing, it was time to make tracks East tout suite. In a vain attempt to avoid rush hour traffic like they encountered entering Istanbul, the Ricks packed up and left the city at dawn. A few wrong turns later they were thick in the fray of Constantinopolitans going about their daily business. Slow progress, mostly on highway shoulders, eventually bore the Ricks out of the sprawling eastern suburbs of Istanbul and into the rural countryside south of the Pontic Mountains heading towards Ankara.
Hillsides covered in leafless trees and a wall of snow-capped peaks between them and the Black sea were a constant reminder of the changing seasons. Limited by their visa, the Ricks only goal was to make it to Batumi, Georgia as quickly as possible to not risk a hefty fine for overstaying.
This route kept them inland until the coastal resort town of Samsun. Here the Ricks spent the night and Kit had the chance to walk around a bit off the bike, observing what nightlife existed in Northern Turkey.
Before we knew it we were heading east again, sights firmly set on making it to Georgia. Along the way we passed many Turkish cities nestled between the Black sea and increasingly taller mountains to our South. Most were just smaller copies of Samsun; resort towns packed with high-rise hotels, now mostly vacant in the off-season.
Seemingly mere hours from the border and Batumi, the Ricks decided to attempt the border that night. Certainly there would be less traffic this late in the evening?
We knew something was up however when we began passing a 10 km long line of trucks waiting to get across. It turned out the border into this famously bureaucracy-less (at least as far as borders and customs was concerned) country was only a single lane with almost a dozen stations to be navigated. Like many borders before people insisted we take our motorcycles to the front of the line and for us the process was shorted to only about and hour and a half.
As the hour was quite late we went straight to the BnB we booked, only briefly marveling at the increase in bright lights and garish decorations but noticeable decrease in the quality of the local infrastructure. Only the morning would reveal the extent of the extravagance downtown Batumi possessed. A city built around gambling and tourism, much of it from more conservative neighbors like Turkey. In the clear morning Batumi almost looked some Caucasian attempt at duplicating the grandeur of the French Riveria.
At this point Kyle and Kit parted ways. Kyle made his way straight to Tbilisi to start on his long laundry-list of jobs in an attempt to get them done in time to make opening day in Gudauri. Kit, tired of their break-neck pace the last week, opted to take a slower route and stop in a few Georgian cities along the way.
Kit meandered across the plains of Eastern Georgia and through an arm of the lower Caucasus where there was still snow on the ground. Eventually he dropped into Gori, an ancient town a few hours from Tbilisi notable for being the birthplace of Stalin as well as an important strategic location of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008.
Learning about one of the few statues of Stalin to survive Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization program only to fall to Georiga’s de-Sovietization program in 2010, it was not so hard to imagine Russian jets flying overhead to bomb nearby strategic targets here just 10 years ago. Certainly the history of this country was still well intertwined with its neighbors, despite the strong independence of the Georgia people.
In the middle of Gori sat an even greater reminder of this region’s long history as an strategic crossroads between Mongol, Turkish, Arab and Slavic (to name a few). Rising from a rock spire in the center of the otherwise flat town, the fortress of Gori sits like a crown. Originally constructed in the middle ages, the remains lit by night were an amazing sight as well as a popular vantage point over the small city.
With snow forecast for the high elevations of Gori in the next 24 hours, it was high time for Kit to make his final motorcycle day of 2017. Riding through the cold, blowing rain into the heavy traffic of Tbilisi that afternoon, a few months off the bike sounded not a half bad idea. Throw in some skiing and speed-flying and these next 5 months might not be half bad…