We leave the Gallipoli Peninsula and Turkey with fond memories: we have covered the country from from one side to the other, seen amazing sites, met wonderful people, ridden great roads and complained about the heat from time to time, something we will miss looking at the weather forecasts for Europe, some 10 to 15 degrees celsius cooler. We have a couple more days of greater than 30 degree celsius weather then out come our winter woollies. You have to remember that we have basically avoided the colder weather since we set off on our first RTW trip in June 2014. We have become used to warmth.
Turkish Immigration is straightforward, Customs however want to X-Ray Anne’s bike, not mine I hasten to add, with the machine they use to X-Ray trucks – that will be a new experience. We weave through the parked trucks to the X-Ray office, closed, walk back to Customs. Here I am told that it will open in five minutes, then a van arrives with the official, probably late for work. I am motionned to follow the van, on foot no thanks, I hop in next to the driver. Probably not making him happy. We get Streak up on the ramp, X-Ray on, we wait, he wants to try another X-Ray machine. I tell Anne to wait while I take Streak back past Customs and Immigration to the X-Ray machine on the Inbound side of the facility near the exit back into Turkey and as he has Streak’s motorcycle passport you follow. You do start to wonder if they have seen something, has someone put an illegal item in the bike while it was parked overnight?
Into the X-Ray machine for Streak, and wait for me. Then the X-Ray officer I have been dealing with leaves with his colleagues. More waiting, then a new X-Ray officer comes out gives me the Motorcycle Passport, “tell Customs Ok” that’s it. I get to ride back using the open gate to avoid Immigration and Customs, come in from the other side and tell the Customs officer its all Ok and we are done. Strange process, at least we will be able to find Streak in the dark from now on, hopefully we will not set off any radiation detectors that may exist in ports going forward.
Back in the EU, a simple check of our EU passports and we enter Greece, what will the process be like for UK Citizens post Brexit, more complicated I suspect, but that is for the future. We also have a single currency, the Euro, no more converting one dada to another and finding various notes and coins in pockets after we have crossed the border. Open highway, good road, four lane highway, but where are the petrol/gasoline stations and restaurants? There are none on the A2 highway between the Turkish border and Thessaloniki. In Turkey both facilities dot the highways, we see signs at exit points and eventually hunger for food and fuel have us off the highway to a delightful local garage. In Greece it seems they have kept the facilities in the towns and villages, not shut them down and moved them onto the highways as other countries have done.
For lunch we find a small village with a great seafood restaurant, we are enjoying the wide range of Greek food on offer. We have a long day but reach the town of Kozani, west of Thessaloniki having covered over 550 km. / 340 ml. A strange oneway system gets us to our hotel, which I thought was on a continuation of a one way street, lucky Anne is around to save me from denting the bonnets of passing cars!
The road to the Albanian border is brand new, not even on the maps, which causes some confusion for the GPS as we appear to head into the middle of nowhere. The Customs and Immigration between Greece and Albania are a breeze compared with the seemingly mindless paperwork we have encountered previously. I have given up documenting borders, all too easy here. All we need is insurance and it always seems the next window sells insurance we are told until finally ‘Yes we sell insurance’, should have guessed by the words ‘Best Albanian Insurance’ above the window. We are all set.
Albania has a nice feel, and maybe not as arid as the Greek side. We leisurely wind our way towards the capital, stopping for coffee at a small roadside cafe. Here we meet Johnny, a local who speaks excellent English, plus Albanian and Greek. He is studying Journalism and has a great desire to learn and travel. As we travel more and more young people have been exposed to so much of the world via the internet and want to get out there and explore and learn and experience the same sort of opportunities that we take for granted.
Large cities have less and less attraction for us, especially riding Streak and Storm. Tirana, sadly, does not disappoint: masses of traffic, impatient drivers and pedestrians interweaved with them. Anne always takes into account when booking a hotel the ease of riding into and out of town. This makes it a little easier for me navigating on the GPS. We arrive successfully, but plan to leave early to avoid some of the more interesting driving behaviours of the locals.
Checking the forecast weather for tomorrow, rain rain rain, we decide to spend two nights in Tirana instead of moving on. The day is punctuated by frequent showers but we use the intervening time to explore the fish market, main square and the old underground bunkers used by the leadership in the Communist era.
The bunkers have been turned into a museum charting the history and activities of the police and security forces since the start of the 20th century, with emphasis on how they watched monitored and enforced the Communist Governments desire to control the population and weed out and brutally punish any supposed or falsely accused dissidents, saboteurs and traitors. So sad to see pictures of those individuals who suffered at the hands of the police.
A sobering reminder of what lengths authoritarian regimes will go to maintain power.