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Jof's World Tour: Take Two:

Trip miles so far 1668

By Jon Newey

If you’ve read my earlier blogs you’ll know that last month I tried - and failed - to get my motorbike, Tigger, from the UK across the Atlantic to Canada. I guess if it was easy more people would do it..... Arriving back home in Scotland I park Tigger back in his shed. I don’t unpack. It’s nice to be home but everyone is expecting me to be in Canada! I’m keen to maintain some momentum, I want to keep moving so I spend a few days decompressing and then I start planning the next stage of my travels. Take two.

Thinking about what happened, or didn’t happen, in Canada I dedicate some time to researching how to get a motorbike out of Toronto airport. This feels like unfinished business for me. I will be going back to Canada. Next time I go I intend to have all my ducks (or Canada Geese) in a row before I start. Toronto is still the best place in Canada for me to aim at because I already have most of the information I need for that. Never the less, I look into other options too, including freighting Tigger from Poland to Vancouver and flying to/from Montreal.

Eventually I decide that my return to Canada will have to wait until next spring. For this summer I decide to concentrate on going east instead, riding overland across Europe to see how far I can get. When I was in Ireland a few weeks ago I visited the westernmost bar in Europe (self-proclaimed, and ignoring any bars on the Canary islands, which are part of Spain and which may be further west than the west coast of Ireland....). So, having been to the westernmost bar I decide that my next mission will be to seek out its alter-ego, the easternmost bar in Europe. A quick internet search suggests that my target will be a bar in the seaside town of Constanta on the Black Sea coast of Romania. That sounds good to me. From there I can ride south over some fabulous mountain roads into Bulgaria, then east into Turkey and eventually cross the border into Georgia.

Georgia will be a fascinating country to visit. It is a country I know very little about but I know it has its own unique language, its own unique alphabet, some great roads and some fabulous scenery. I know that Russia invaded in 2008, that Russian forces still occupy two Georgian provinces, and that this is now a ‘frozen war’ which prevents Georgia from joining NATO. I’ll be safe as long as I steer clear of the contested areas. I imagine there’s a lot more for me to learn than these simple facts.

Navigating in Georgia will be interesting. My Garmin GPS will get me through most of Turkey but crossing into Georgia will take me beyond the edge of Garmin’s detailed mapping data. To find my way to Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, I will need to use or Google Maps on my phone. I decide to buy some paper maps to carry with me in case of technical difficulties. I buy a Reise Know How map of Georgia and am sufficiently impressed to buy similar maps of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Georgia is, I think, the furthest east I will be able to go. Travelling overland, the next countries along would be Russia (really not an option at the moment), Iran (not currently open to UK passport holders), Azerbaijan (where the land and sea borders are still closed since locking down for the Covid19 pandemic) and Armenia (parts of which are no-go areas if you ever want to visit Azerbaijan in the future). This means that, unless some things change over the next couple of months, once I get to Tbilisi I will stop, turn round and head back across Europe towards home. Like my visit to Canada, but for different reasons, a visit to central Asia and the ‘Stans’ will just have to wait for another time.

Having decided on a plan, I make a booking for myself and Tigger on the Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry leaving at the end of the month. I make a plan for my first few days of riding across Holland, Germany and Poland. I decide that once I get to Krakow I will pause and then plan the next steps, heading south and east from there.

Meanwhile I continue researching the Canada end of things. I discover exactly where I would need to go in Toronto airport to find the Border Security Agency office (Terminal 1, Level 1, next to the Relay shop if you ever need it). I learn that I will need to go there in person to be interviewed before I can get the customs-clearance paperwork for Tigger. They will want to verify that the motorbike is for my own personal use and is not going to be sold for profit. The existence of this blog will be a help to me there, so thanks for reading! That will leave me with the question of how to actually get Tigger out of the airport and out of the wooden crate in which he will be travelling. If I can solve that then I will still be left with the follow-up question of how to get Tigger back to the UK at the end of the Canada expedition. The few Toronto-based shipping agents I contact all tell me that they only deal with commercial cargo not personal items. For now I can get no further with my enquiries. I will need to tie up these loose ends when I get back home from eastern Europe.

I have a few weeks to wait before my ferry crossing. I mow the lawn. I walk the dog. I help my daughter to move house. I watch the coronation of King Charles III on TV (I shook his hand once when he came to plant a tree at one the projects where I was the Architect; I’m sure he often tells his friends about it).

Out of the blue I am interviewed by the ‘Scotsman’ for a podcast about another of my Architectural projects, Panmure House. It was the Edinburgh home of the famous philosopher and Economist Adam Smith. The project was officially opened by the ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown (I shook his hand too; I’m sure he often tells his friends about it, maybe even mentions it whenever he meets the king...). I’ll add a link to the podcast at the end of this blog so you can listen to it if that kind of thing interests you.

I take Tigger for a ride-out into the Scottish countryside, past Loch Lubnaig and Loch Tay, crossing over from Aberfeldy to Crieff.

I watch the Eurovision song contest. Apparently Georgia had a song titled "We Don't Wanna Put In" in 2009 which was banned because the contest was being held in Moscow. This year the contest is held in Liverpool because Ukraine were last year's winners, and now Russia is banned. And they say its not a politically motivated competition....

I watch the Le Mans MotoGp on TV. A few years ago a good friend and I had a memorably wet weekend at Le Mans watching Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi duking it out in the rain. We got thoroughly soaked on the way there, we got rained on all weekend, and we got thoroughly soaked on the way back home. Remember that Donald? Happy days! The TV coverage includes the news that the Kazakhstan Motogp race has been pulled from the calendar for this year. That was part of my rationale for wanting to get to Central Asia in the first place so it is all the more reason for me to give that part of the journey the proverbial raincheck....

Finally, I take a few shifts volunteering on the Blood Bikes. My local Blood Bikes group has a new Yamaha MT09 for me to ride called Rita. Rita replaces a BMW RT1250 that had a difference of opinion with one of the volunteer riders and has been ‘retired’ as a result (bike written off, rider ok....).

If you’re not familiar with the Blood Bikes let me tell you more. They are a UK-wide charity who use volunteer riders to pick up and deliver all kinds of things between hospitals and medical centres for the NHS for free. In Scotland the Blood Bikes don’t usually carry blood, despite the name. Mostly we’re picking up and delivering medications, but also surgical equipment, lost property, paperwork and various other items. Being funded entirely by donations the service saves the NHS both time and money. It also helps to free up hospital beds; Patients are free to go home as soon as they are ready without waiting for the hospital’s pharmacy to dispense medications for them because Blood Bikes can deliver their medications later, direct to their home. I enjoy the shifts, dodging the traffic in and out of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Falkirk, parking in the ‘emergency vehicles only’ spaces and getting waved through traffic jams by police and workmen. Sometimes we even get given free cake and chocolates by grateful NHS staff. The Blood Bikes charity is one of those great organisations where it feels like everyone is a winner!

One by one the days pass. Soon the day will arrive when I am ready to launch the next leg of my tour. Tigger is ready. I am ready. Eastern Europe beckons. Bring it on!


If you fancy listening to the Scotsman’s podcast about Panmure House

click this link

For more info about the Blood Bikes charity - including an opportunity to make a donation if you wish - click here

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Good luck on the next leg of your journey.

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