Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Back home - I need a holiday!

A quick update.
For those who wanted route information for the Scotland Motorcycle Tour, I have updated the daily entries with the track covered for each day.

Also - here is a combined track showing all days as a single track. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A brief sojourn in Istanbul or Trouble in Taksim

Our return (Celeste and Guy from Israel, myself from Scotland) to Istanbul happened to coincide with the largest protests in Turkey for many years. Despite the prosperous economy, there is a level of disquiet amongst the secular Turkish community, concerned at an apparent rise in Islamic/religious tendencies in government circles and decision making.
The initial protest in Taksim Square was over the ripping up of one of the last green spaces in Istanbul to be replaced by another shopping mall to be built by a company with close financial ties to the ruling party.
A small protest by a few hundred environmentalists was brutally broken up by baton wielding police supported by water canon and tear gas. A total over reaction that soon escalated as thousands of secular Turks took to the streets in response. A recent decision by the government to try and restrict alcohol sales, as well as the widely reported official chastising of a young couple for displaying public affection - i.e. kissing also helped provoke a public backlash in the western used secular towns and cities.

Our accommodation is just a few km from Taksim, and although we have not been directly affected, the impact of the ongoing protests can be felt. On our first evening, after dinner Guy and I walked up Istiklal Caddesi (Street) - one of the main boulevards leading to Taksim Square. Large numbers of banner waving protesters, were returning from the square, chanting and singing. The atmosphere was charged, and there was fresh graffiti daubed on many shop fronts - particularly those of international brand names. (Istiklal Caddesi is a shopping precinct - full of brand name boutiques.) Despite this, we noted that many local shopkeepers came out and applauded the protesters as they passed.

Yesterday we took a day trip by ferry to the Prince's Islands. An archipelago in the Marmara Sea. In the past used as prisons and places of exile - in more recent times as holiday destinations. They have the unusual feature of having no private motor vehicles. Only official vehicles e.g fire engines, ambulances etc. Public transport is by foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. On the way back we stopped at the spice markets to pick up some Turkish delight. A very pleasant day, finished at a restaurant round the corner.

Today we (Celeste and I) made a pilgrimage to the Museum of Innocence - created by Orhan Pamuk as an extension of his novel of the same name. Evocative and effective. Returned to collect Guy for a late breakfast before heading to the Old City. A tour of the Grand Palace Mosaic Museum to view the remnants (still stunning) of the old Byzantine Palace mosaics. A quick pass through the Arasta Bazaar for some last minute purchases before repairing to the Cooking Alaturka Restaurant for our prearranged late lunch. Splendid! A late afternoon tour of the Underground Water Cisterns was a final highlight of touring the Old City.

Writing this blog on a rooftop terrace just below the Galata Tower with Istanbul spread out below in the twilight. The Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue and Suleymaniye Mosques all lit up.  A fitting finale to our time in Turkey.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Farewell Portpatrick and Farewell Scotland

And so we reach the end of the 'Tour de Scotland'. Ten great days of riding and enjoying a truly beautiful country - despite the occasional 'blizzard'.
A sad farewell to Portpatrick - surely one of prettiest small harbours in all of Scotland. A sad farewell to J&C - most gracious of all hosts.
A quick blast up the highway (and occasional byway) back to Cupar and the return of my trusty mount. Posing for the requisite publicity shots, then delivered safely to my hotel near the airport.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sorting and repacking, catching up with email and watching TV coverage of the 'excitement' in Turkey.
Dinner at the hotel where I met Ben & Jo, a delightful young couple from Edinburgh having a weekend away from their kids courtesy of grandparents. They picked my Australian accent. They had been to OZ on a working holiday before they had children and were keen to talk about life in Australia. Ben's mother was born in OZ, and they are seriously thinking of migrating.
An after dinner single malt with my new friends - then to bed.
Posting this over breakfast. 12:00 noon flight to Istanbul - yet another adventure.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A day tour round the SW

Today is my last day in Portpatrick. A day of relaxation. Tomorrow I head off up the highway back to Cupar to drop the bike before a last night in Edinburgh.

Yesterday I managed to clock up over 200 miles touring around the south west. I only had one specific destination I wanted to visit. The village of Lochmaben where my grandparents had run a pub for a couple of years during my childhood. I have good memories of times spent there. Holidays and a period of time when my mother had shipped myself and my brother off to her parents during the later stages of her third pregnancy. I don't remember how long we were there - but it was long enough to be enrolled in the local school. Only 80 miles from where we lived at the time, but I remember the difference in accents being so strong I felt I was in a different country.
First stop on the days tour was the Mull of Galloway - the most southerly point of Scotland. Mostly along secondary roads the ride was slow. An excellent view out towards Ireland in the west and south to the Isle Of  Man and England. Surprisingly for such a remote place, there was an excellent cafe with wall to ceiling glass looking out over the cliff towards Ireland. Coffee was above average as well!

Backup through the rolling green hills and crossing the main Stranraer Dumfries highway I took the scenic route to Lochmaben via the Galloway Forest Park - an area covered in Sitka Spruce plantations. Although nowhere as rugged as the highlands - beautiful in it's own way.
Again travelling on secondary roads, the rate of travel was slow and I only reached Lochmaben after lunch. Visited the loch behind the Crown Hotel - the pub run by my grandparents. Where we used to play as kids is now a caravan park. Spoke to a couple of campers who were fishing the loch for Pike. Naturally they wanted to know where I was from and why I was in Lochmaben. They were suitably impressed when I told them the last time I'd been standing there was probably back in 1960/61 - the best part of 50 years before.

Into the Crown hotel for a commemorative half pint. When I told the young woman behind the bar the same story - she just said 'Oh aye?' and carried on cleaning glasses. After I'd finished my drink and had a look around the beer garden out the back overlooking the loch - (hard to know what my grandfather would have thought of the idea of a Scottish pub with a beer garden) - I said goodbye to the barmaid and said I'd see her in another 50 years. 'Not if I can help it!' she responded.

Wandered up the street and stopped in at Crolla's Cafe - I remember getting ice cream there as a kid. The two women behind the counter (sisters) were much more responsive to my story, claiming to remember my grandparents. As they were about my age, I'm not convinced - I think they were just being polite. In any case they made a good cheese and tomato roll and an excellent cup of tea.

Leaving Lochmaben I retraced my route, bypassing Dumfries and heading back through the Galloway Forest Park. Continuing south I headed through an area called The Machars - an area of low lying or mainly level country - full of farms and rolling green hills demarcated with dry stone walls. At the southern point of this peninsula lies the Isle of Whihorn the home of St Ninians Chapel. Reputedly the first place in Scotland converted to Christianity. According to one of the locals at the Steampacket Hoterl - "Aye - an' it's been doonhill ever since!"

Returned back up the west of the peninsula along a perfect road with little traffic, with the sun warm on my left hand side as it started it's slow slide into the twilight. Back in Portpatrick by 7:00pm, time for a quick pint down at the Harbor Pub before doing some series catching up with this blog and sorting out photos
Today was much more leisurely - a slow chatty breakfast, then into Stranraer to visit family and help Janet & Campbell with the shopping. Back to their place for lunch and typing up this blog entry. Tonight I'm taking them to the local restaurant for dinner, by way of thanking them for their hospitality and generosity not only to me, but other family members who have passed through here over the years.
Tomorrow I will do a long fast run up the highway past Glasgow and Edinburgh back to Cupar to return the bike. Then a night in a hotel at the airport before flying back to Istanbul for a few days before the long flight back to OZ. Looking forward (of course) to being with Celeste again and catching up with Guy.