Sunday, August 27, 2006

Budafest!!

After 19 days on the bike and about 2000km (I don't have a cycle computer so i'm guessing) I arrive in Budapest on the 25th August. First impressions of Hungary, bad roads and alot of rubbish thrown around the place. I suppose my impressions were tainted abit by the fact it was a grey, wet day. Hopefully the south we be nicer. Looking foward to a couple of days rest.
Budapest is a big, big city and not very friendly if you're on a bike. Again i'm thinking, why did I leave Bratislava? But...it's also the weekend of the Budapest Parade.






















































Sod sightseeing and looking at gothic eastern architecture. This is much better. I hope all of Hungary is like this.

Down the Danube

There is a traffic free bike lane that runs the length of the Danube river from Passau, Germany all the way into Hungary. Alot of people rave on about it. It certainly is pretty in parts ,but not everywhere. It passes through all kinds of annoying diversions, through a nudist area east of Wien and even skirts an oil refinery. Anybody can try it at any level, any daily distance. I passed old ladies, little kids and entire families as I cycled down and some of the old ladies were even as fast as me. Love it or hate it I'm glad it exists. As a quick, easy and safe way to cover distance you can't beat it but after 4 days stroking the pedals down flat, endless bike path I was glad to get off. At least you can garuntee a wash every night.





















































Slovak at last. I wasn't plannng on stopping in Bratislava but after seeing it from the border with Austria I was intrigued.
I was glad I did stop there. It's a great little city. You can cycle right off the Danube into the centre without facing any traffic..in how many capital cities is that possible? Historic, beautiful, colourful, not too busy and nice people. If you haven't been yet.....go there.





































The Slovak half of the Danube bike path is alot different from the Austrian side. Gone are all the tourists. Infact everything is gone. You will not see car or person for hours at a time. The occasional boat goes down the river. The view up the canal is endless and after 6 hrs of cycling out of Bratislava I could still see the city on the horizon behind me. At this point I'm thinking, why am am leaving Bratislava if it's so good? I guess its an obessive need to cover distance.

Germany

Germany was an unexpected highlight. The countryside was beautiful and good camp spots always easy to find. It took 6 days of glorious unwashed squalor to cross. I never thought it, but Germany will take some beating.


























Look at the size of the bike lane on this road! This was normal for Germany.





















This workers hut on a vineyard was an ideal camp spot.
Heres the view from the hut. The perfect camsite?















My rear rack broke after only 1000km. This boot lace fix seems to have worked well so far.
























Tent walour.



Some good luck for the trip from Thailand.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Calais to Luxembourg





















France.


Geared up for one of many wet days through France.














The French countryside is lovely but every so often they build some huge monstrosity in middle of it.


These Belgium bikers are performing much better since I gave them a few pointers.


My tent, it's crap, but then a scouse friend gave it to me. Cheers Kingey!


Heavy metal man!














Luxembourg and the first proper bed of the trip. I was lucky to meet this german bike mechanic. Here he is giving the bike a quick tune up. Thanks Patrick.

Kiddi to France














Giving the bike the once over the day before departure.


















Man and bike ready for the off.














The not so nice road to Redditch.














A much nicer road through Oxfordshire.













The quickest way to Dover is straight across London. Don't bother trying to plan some complicated route around London, just go straight through it. There are plenty of bike lanes, it's flat and the best way to experience the sights, sounds, smells and noises of London are on a bike.



Getting very hot and sweaty battling through London rush hour.










Queing up with the trucks to get on the ferry.









Calais: Why the French allow it to exist is beyond me. I spent hours trying to get out of this hell hole but kept coming up against the motorway. Then the sun started to set and it started to rain. I had no other choice but to pitch the tent in a clump of trees about 5 meters from the motorway. The worst campsite ever? This was view from my tent in the morning.
The only way I found to escape was to pound 5 km down this motorway in the early morning.

Making my Way



After years spent thinking about it, dreaming about it and reading about other people doing it, its time to try and do it myself. This blog is about a bicycle ride from my home town, Kidderminster in England, to somewhere east of here. Route and even destination are unplanned, I've called this blog Kidderminster to the Caspian because I have some idea to get to Baku, Azerbaijan but where i'll end up and how I get there I don't really know. Winter is coming and the world seems to be falling apart so who knows.

To answer some questions I always get asked. I will be travelling alone, cycling about 120km a day and mostly sleeping in my tent.
Istanbul was always going to be my first destination. This map shows the general idea. Day dreaming will only get you so far, I can say that after 3 weeks on the road the hardest thing i've had to do was to actually leave.

Visas, Boats etc

VISAS
This is meant to be an idiots guide to Central Asian Visas from Istanbul. Hopefully you can avoid all of the ballache I've gone through. Cycling here was a doddle compared to tracking down far flung embassies in all corners of the city.
It all applies to a British passport holder. All fees are payable in USD. Have the exact money ready beforehand to avoid the inevitable farce that you will have trying to change money at the last minute. I'll update this as I go along.

Georgia: Visa on arrival ^__^

Azerbaijan: Need a visa before hand. The Azeri Embassy in Istanbul is in 1. Levant. Take the metro there from Taksim and just ask directions.
Sumbol Sokak 17
1. Levant
+902123258042
Its open Mon - Fri until 1.
No LOI required but you need a passport photocopy and 2 photos. Pay 40USD at the local bank for a 1 mth single entry and pick up the visa in 2 working days.

Uzbekistan: Need a letter of invitation first (LOI) from a tour company, business etc in Uzbekistan. Got mine from stantours.com. Cost 37USD and took 10 days to issue.
The embassy is in Istinye in the far north of Istanbul and its hard to find. You'll have to take the bus. When you get off the bus keep walking north until you pass a kind of dock on the right side. Turn left up a steep hill away from the Bhospourous. At the top of the hill turn left, keep going 300m past a shop and you'll see it on your left.
It is open Mon, Wed and Fri 10-12
Sehit Hall
Ibrahim Caddesi
N923
Istinye
Istanbul
+902123232037

You fill the forms out outside and wait to get called in where I had a small interview with the guy there. Go to the local bank and pay the fee. 80USD for single entry (ouch) more for multiple. I asked nicely and the gut agreed to give me more flexible entry/exit dates than were stated on my LOI. Come back later that afternoon to collect the visa. Thats right..only one working day. If your LOI is all in order its pretty straightfoward. It just involves waiting around 6/7 hours while someone sticks a piece of paper in your passport.

Turkmenistan: Embassy is in Yeshilkoy in the far east of Istanbul. Take the train from Sirkeci (Platform 2). Its takes about half an hour. Its a 5 min walk from the station. Just ask Directions.
Gazi Evrenos Jadesi
Baharistan Sokak 13
Yeshilkoy
Istanbul
+902126620221
Open Mon-Fri 9-12 and 5-6

Getting a full tourist visa requires all kinds of jumping through hoops but it is possible to get permission to transit through Turkmenistan.
They will not consider your application until you have a valid visa for onward travel. Uzbek, Iran etc etc. They will fax a copy of your passport and onward visa to Ashgabad for approval, which takes anything from 5 to 15 working days. Once approval has come you return with your passport, fill out the forms and get the visa. 51USD to get it in one day. 31USD for a three day wait. They were very clear with me that the transit visa would only be valid for 5 days. No more and no less. I've heard of people getting 7 days from other embassies. I left Istanbul with the plan to return to pick up the visa but no word ever came back from Ashgabad on my visa so I guess it was refused. I think it was because of the travel restrictions announced for independance day celebrations in October. I have since met people that got a transit visa no problems for October from the Tehran embassy so dont really know. I think you can get a LOI for the transit visa beforehand and then they issue the visa in one day (ask stantours). A tricky one. If I did this all again then I would arrange a full tourist visa, guide etc etc before hand, it is worth the bother.

Kazakstan: Got mine from Baku. Easy. I asked nicely and they issued it in 30 mins, should be a same day service. 40USD for 1 month single entry. Tried to register my visa in Aktau but the immigration police said "nyet" and told me to go away. No need to register in Aktau then, not sure about other ports though.
Got my second Kazakh visa from Tashkent.
Embassy open 9-12 everyday. Need a photocopy of your passport and Uzbek visa. 65USD for same day service. Less if you can wait longer.
23, Ckekov Street
+99871 156165423

Chinese: Got mine from Tashkent, easy.
Open 9-12 Mon, Wed and Fri
79, Akademik Yahyo
Gulomoy Street
+99871 1338088
Next to the Turkish Embassy in the Embassy district.
80USD for a same day service, 50USD if you can wait a few days.
On the application form I listed every (eastern) Chinese city I could think of, asked for 60 days and got 60 days no problems. Was tempted to ask for 90 days but didn't want to push it.
Get there early as it gets busy and have fun filling out the application form, it's only in Chinese and Russian.

Caspian Boats
I took the boat from Baku to Aktau but I think this applies to all the boats between Baku, Aktau and Turkmenbashi.

Tha Aktau port is about 1 km north of the parliment building, right after the train tracks..ask directions. The ticket office is just past a security gate opposite the Lenin mosaic.

There is no timetable for these boats they come and go when ready but I believe the Baku->Turkmenbashi boat is alot more regular than the Baku->Aktau boat. Expect about one departure a week for the Baku->Aktau boat. You can't buy a ticket until the day of departure. Go to the port daily until they confirm the departute date and when you can buy a ticket. Do not mention your bike or let them see your bike until you have a ticket. They tried to charge me for my bike at the same rate they charge for trucks i.e. 1.8m bike = 1.8m truck = expensive!! I had a very heated arguement with them about this and it nearly ended in a fight but I still paid over the odds. Once you have your ticket go back to your hotel, get your bike and then cycle right past the ticket office to customs where no one will care about your bike.
Passenger ticket should be 60 USD. Boat should take 18 hrs but be prepared for it to take over 2 days and take plenty of food. My boat had a restaurant but I wouldn't count on every boat having one. When I got on the boat they wanted more money from me for a bed. I told them that I wasn't paying another penny to anyone and then they just showed me to a berth so the bed is included in the price. Don't be fooled by them. If you are a women travelling alone ask to be put up with the female staff, it can get abit heated onboard with all the testostorone and vodka.