Karen and Compass, Phe and Me
On Roads Without Lines
Book 2, by Graeme Robin
The following few pages contain a preview of Book 2 with a few snippets from just four of the many countries we visited in Eastern Europe. Book 2 itself has 300 well presented pages and 600 photos and is available as an e-book or as a PDF file or as a physical book. For more information on availability and prices please click on the link to my publisher, Perendale Publishers, in England:
'On Roads Without Lines'
About Me I was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, but lost her to a dreadful cancer 43 years later. I felt as if the world had stopped. Life was suddenly not as precious as it had been. I didn’t care that much. But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought an old car. Then a GPS. Then a compass. That made four of us – Karen (the robot voice on the GPS) and Compass (just that), Phe (for Fiat - a 1993 left-hand drive diesel sedan) and Me. Suddenly it was not “I” but “We”. It was “Karen and Compass, Phe and Me”. We started to drive around Scandinavia, Iceland, the Arctic Circle and into Russia all the time on minor roads, avoiding the major roads and highways as far as possible – in other words, “On Roads Without Lines”. We were just wandering around on winding, single lane roads often unsealed, through small towns and villages, seeing the people at their normal everyday lives and work. Trying to get a feel for each country – trying to put a tag on it. I took a lot of photos and kept a daily journal. So a book evolved: Book 1 Had this suddenly put meaning back into my life? It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the first four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time behind what used to be called the “Iron Curtain” and another book evolved: Book 2 It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the second four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time around Spain, Portugal and Morocco and another book evolved: Book 3 It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the third four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time to Italy, the Middle East and the Balkan Peninsular and another book evolved: Book 4 All have been marvellous experiences of discovery - so good that I would like it to continue for the rest of my life! How long is this old bugger going to last!
To Estonia and the Baltic States
Turkey and Georgia
Thats all folks
The Cost of this Journey
Karen and Compass, Phe and Me
INTRODUCTION TO THE FOUR MAIN CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK
Hello, my name is Karen and I am the Australian female voice that is built into the Global Positioning System that he bought in Belgium last year. He could have chosen a male Australian voice or even an English voice but he chose me – and I am pleased that he did because it has been a lot of fun. I don't think he likes me as much as he likes Phe because I hear him talking to her sometimes, especially when I make a mistake, (well, we are all human aren't we?), and lead us into a church graveyard and he tells Phe, “Karen is a nerd” or “Karen – what a drop kick.” Most of the time he is very complimentary when I lead us all to the exact address without any U-turns or mistakes. Sometimes it is very difficult to find a particular youth hostel at a certain street address in large cities like Vienna, Prague or Moscow. I do get cross with him though when I tell him to “make a U-turn,” and he doesn't and so I tell him again, and he still doesn't take any notice, and then a third time I tell him and just to spite me he presses the “MUTE” button. Gee! That makes me s-o-o-o mad. I can hear all that is going on but I am unable to voice my opinion. One day in Norway last year, I knew that we were going in the wrong direction and must have said, “Make a U-turn” at least twenty times until he imposed the gag and turned on the mute. We must have travelled for at least thirty minutes before he saw a lake that should not have been there and decided to switch me back on, did a U-turn and said, “Sorry, Karen!”
Hello there, my name is Compass, and I also come from Belgium. I joined the other three at the beginning of our travels but I don't think they like me very much because they reckon I always point to the north. Well, it is not my fault that our car has all of that steel in her dash-board. The steel attracts my needle and no matter how hard I try I just cannot pull it away from pointing north. He should have bought a more up-to-date car with a dash-board made of plastic and then I could easily show them a south or west or even nor-nor-east sometimes. I work okay in the back seat but he doesn't want me to be there where he cannot see me. It's just not fair!
Karen and Compass, Phe and Me
Hello, my name is Phe. Well, that's what he calls me. My full name is really 1993 Fiat Tempara 2-litre turbo powered diesel manual sedan. I like “Phe” better too, don't you? Being a Fiat, I was born in Italy but spent all of my early years in France until, in 2007, I ended up in the car-yard of The Left Hand Drive Place in Basingstoke in England. I had been there for a while, stuck down in the back corner with another cheap car, a Citroen I think, while all of the glamour pusses like the Mercs and Jags were up the front doing a good job at keeping likely buyers from reaching the Citroen and me. Then one day in early June, this lovely young fellow came down the back and said to the grumpy old man with him, “This is just the sort of car you need, Graeme.” The Grump didn't say much and didn't even kick my tyres, but after they talked for a bit the two of them got in, and with Colin the boss, took me for a spin around the block. Colin and the nice young fellow drove me well, and it was good to get out and feel the breeze again after all those weeks cooped up at the back of the shop, but when the Grump took the wheel we were all very, very, very scared. He couldn't drive a car very well, especially one with the steering wheel on the left. How we got back in one piece I don't know. My front right tyre hit the gutter at least four times and he missed the gears more times than I could count. Anyway, they disappeared into the office and didn't come back so I sighed with relief and settled back into my corner of the yard. That was Saturday. On Monday morning, first thing, I was being all spruced up ready for a Roadworthy Certificate and to be picked up by the Grump on Friday. I was not a happy chappy! Well, that is how it all started. He took a long time to get used to driving a left-hand drive car and a long time to get used to driving on the right-hand side of the road. Nevertheless, it is all fine now and I like him a lot. I think he likes me too as he often tells me, “Phe, you are my best mate this side of the equator” and I know that he means it. Every morning he pats my dash-board and says “Good morning, Phe” and tells me where we are going on that particular day. He says, “Sorry” every time we hit a bad pothole or when he crunches the gears. Nice! I didn't like him when we first met and he didn't like me either, but all of that has changed and it will be sad for both of us when, in November, he gets on a plane to fly back to Australia – and to his other car. I will get shoved inside a stuffy old barn over the winter in England waiting for his return in June. Oh well, that's life!
G'day, my name is Graeme, or “He” or “Him” or “Grumpy,” depending on who you have been talking to. The story of my life was pretty straight-forward up until 2006. I was born in 1937, and married Barbara in 1963. We have two daughters and one son, all of whom are married and also have three children each. All of our lives changed dramatically in December 2006 when we lost Barb to a sudden and deadly cancer. It was devastating. She and I had been best mates for forty-three years and we had been through good times and tough times together. As the vows said, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for all the days of our lives” – and that's the way it was. There had been plenty of “blues” but also plenty of good times. We had been a close and loving family for all of those years, and when she was taken from us the hole that was left in our lives was just so huge that none of us had any idea how to fill it and start over again. There is nothing unique about this story – it happens to so very many people throughout the world every day of every year – but that doesn't ease the pain. I didn't cope with it very well. On the 8th of May 2007, I left for a tour of Turkey with a bloke by the name of Hamit Ozturk, who was born in Turkey, but has lived and worked in Newcastle, in Australia, for 30-odd years and each year he takes a small group of Australians back to his country of birth. It was a great experience and one I would thoroughly recommend. In my case I was anxious about travelling alone for the first time in many years but that worked out fine. In the back of my mind I wanted to buy a car in Turkey after Hamit's tour was finished and set sail north to Scandinavia. Well, that didn't quite work out, but I did finish up in England on my nephew's doorstep and he helped me get to the Left Hand Drive Place in Basingstoke where I met what was to become “my best mate north of the equator!” Yes, I didn't like her much at first, but Italian-French sheilas tend to grow on you and so we set sail across the channel to Brugge in Belgium – our first stop.
Karen and Compass, Phe and Me
First stop, all right! That was when the reality and enormity of the job ahead struck me. I could only speak English and this was a huge barrier. I was armed with a mobile phone and a world directory of the Youth Hostels International, so in theory all I had to do was to ring ahead and book a relatively cheap bed in a youth hostel for the following night. Great! Get to Brugge. Now where is that darned hostel? I parked Phe and started asking directions. Four times I did this and the last time was barely fifty metres from the address, and I still had to have it pointed out to me. It worked out reasonably well in Brugge as all the people I had asked spoke good English, but how would I cope in places where English was not so good? The answer came almost by accident. Before leaving Dover I had bought an electric fridge to keep the milk (and beer) cold, but when it was plugged into the cigarette lighter socket – no workeeee. I pulled out the lighter socket and found that it had no wires behind it. (I knew this bloody car was no good.) There was a Bosch centre in Brugge, and while waiting for the bloke to rewire the lighter socket, I asked about Global Positioning Systems (GPS), or as others call them, “Satellite Navigation” (SatNav), and after a very short while became the owner of “Karen,” who is the most amazing piece of technological equipment ever devised to help a 70-year old dope find his way around the world. It's beaut in three ways. Firstly, you just type in the address and she will take you there. Secondly, once you are settled into the hostel or hotel you can go for a scenic drive around town, or look for a supermarket, or whatever, and when you are finished just press the button and she will bring you back home. Finally, it is often extremely difficult and frustrating to find your way out of a town, especially if road signs are thin on the ground or are in a language other than English – but Karen always comes to the rescue – no worries! But then, I have always been taught to “hedge your bets” – so I bought a Compass!
CHAPTER THREE Ukraine
Monday 28th July
I was knocking on the door of the Ukrainian Consulate in Warsaw at just after eight o’clock and, of course, had to wait on the footpath until they were ready to let me inside. All went very smoothly except that the sheila inside got stroppy when I asked her to write the words “Hotel George” on a piece of paper in Ukrainian. “Why would I do that?” she demanded, but did it anyway. It may help me find the place when we get to Lviv. I am concerned about getting Phe over the border without car insurance, as the British “green card” gives her comprehensive insurance in all EU countries but specifically excludes Ukraine, Georgia and Greece amongst others. I asked “stroppy” and got a curt reply, “Get it at the border.” I then started to ask her what currency I would need but her look had me crawling back into my shell. However, I did make an effort to get some Ukrainian currency at the last major town in Poland. The first bank, no English and no idea. The second bank, a little English but no Ukrainian notes, just wanted to give me euros. I was running out of banks and of ideas, so I approached a young bloke just walking along the street with his girl friend and, lo and
Karen and Compass, Phe and Me in the Ukraine
behold, he could talk to me in the only language that I knew. He directed me to the office of the HSBC, but this didn’t work out either as it was a loans’ office and not a bank. The young fellow running the HSBC office took the bull by the horns though, locked the place up and put me into his car and drove me down the street to a Kantor (money exchange), where I got 280 Ukrainian uah for my 130 Polish zloty. He told me on the way back that he was single, thirty years old and was leaving HSBC after only a few months to go selling Opel cars. I wished him good luck, shook hands and said good bye. Two friendly encounters. When we got to the border there were a lot of trucks but only a few cars lined up,so it wasn’t a long wait before it was our turn to “do our thing.” I was handed two identical forms, both of which needed to be filled in. Maybe carbon paper is a prohibited import. I must say though, that it was a great help when I was given an example of the same form which had the answers (not the questions) written in English. The bird in the glass booth took a long time scrutinising Phe’s papers but eventually we both got the stamp and no mention of the green card or vehicle insurance. Exit! I asked Phe if she had ever been to the Ukraine before and I think she said, “No” and I think she also muttered, “Drive carefully!” We definitely need a road map with Ukrainian language that coincides with the road signs. In the early days of our travels I made the mistake of buying road maps in England and they had the place names written with English letters, which is good for pronunciation but impossible when comparing the map with street or road signs, and similarly impossible when shown to a local trying to help out with directions and who cannot decipher the double Dutch on the map. I asked Karen if she knew any of the roads in Ukraine and she said “Ukr....who?” So she is now back in her box. The first petrol station had no road maps, the second and third also only sold fuel, and at the fourth the man came out with a smile, and when I showed him what I wanted said, “Prada, prada,” which I think means “keep on going straight ahead.” So I did and drove around a bend into a small village. First of all I asked a shrugger. Then into a grocer’s shop and a young lady who didn’t even know the word “English” leave alone any of the language itself, but she did recognise the road map I was brandishing for what it was. She walked me up the street a hundred metres, through a partly built brick wall and into a “nick-knack” shop where she then promptly left me to it. The shopkeeper found four different types of Ukrainian maps from under the counter, so I bought two of them. Show-off! Profound thanks and farewell followed. Also stopped and did Anyone can see that this is the shop that sells road maps of the Ukraine. the same to the grocer-lady. sheila - a female of any age and appearance = not a derogatory term stroppy - angry, augmentative
...and just one of the many friendly experiences in Bulgaria...
CHAPTER SIX Bulgaria
Wednesday 10th September
It was an easy run down the coast road, dropping in at the lovely, and not over-run, seaside holiday town of Costinesti and then on to the shipbuilding city of Mangalia – both still in Romania – before crossing the border, all of a 10 minute ordeal. Phe said, “I have never been in Bulgaria before,” or I think that is what she said, but then, I can’t speak her language – I didn’t wake Karen up to ask but her as I know what the answer would have been. As usual, when entering a new country, I am on the look out for some cash, a map and a SIM card for the phone, but it was such a lovely day, and barely midday, so we left the main road and took the first turn to the left, back onto a secondary road right next to the Black Sea. <insert photo 113,5 <insert photo 129> We followed the beautiful coast as much as we could to the first town of any size at all, called Balgerevo, all the way keeping an eye out for a bank (for Bulgarian money) and a petrol station (for a map). The SIM card can wait. But at Balgerevo there was a small building on the side of the road that had bars on the windows and door. Must be the bank!. But it was closed and locked up. On the opposite side of the road was the one and only grocer shop plus a sign saying “Free Internet”’ so I went in there. It was the library and the lady set me up to look for any emails etc.
Only a little time on the Internet, then back to Phe, and I noticed that the bank was now open. Beauty! But it wasn’t a bank, it was the Visitor Information office servicing the country that I had just come through and which turned out to be a national park of some note in this part of Bulgaria. The solid, middle-aged lady in charge of the place was just s-o-o-o enthusiastic about her job of explaining the features of the Kaliakra Cape area, the ruins, the history of the ruins, the sea birds and the fish – you just had to love her. But it was all in Bulgarian – no English at all. Every time I was losing the track she would be onto the computer and putting in the Bulgarian word and Google would pop out the English equivalent. Excellent, but a bit slow. Finally, I asked if there was a bed in the village, by using the always successful trick of bending my head to one side to rest on both hands and shutting the eyes. She grabbed me by the elbow and marched us both outside, locked the shop and off down the road maybe 200 metres to an ordinary house on a regular block of land shouting out, “Sasha, Sasha.” But Sasha wasn’t home right now, so over the fence she went into the school yard still calling out, “Sasha, Sasha.” Only a couple of minutes and back the two of them came (and back over the fence) and a couple of minutes later I have a bed for 20 lev. I have absolutely no idea how this converts to my own currency. Trust. So we do our deal but I have no money and need to drive another ten kilometres to the nearest town, Kavarna, where there is a bank. No worries. Got cash from the bank, had a haircut, bought a map and a postcard for a friend back home, and back for a beer on the table and chairs outside my room well before the sun went down. insert photo 132,133>
I had no sooner sat down outside to have a beer, than Sasha and Christo were there with their home-made grape brandy, plus a cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, grapes, peppers, (all from their garden) and bread for the three of us. And my contribution of hot salami and cheese was a hit. Why?
Sasha is a teacher at the school next door and Christo makes joinery from his shed out the back. He has no English at all and Sasha only the very basics. Communication is difficult but not impossible .
The first night at the truck stop in Romania was marvellous, and so has been my first encounter with the folk from Bulgaria. Will it continue? I hope so. My bedroom was large, quiet and comfortable, the toilet was okay and the shower was not really flash but good enough. All in all, a whole heap better than that rotten hotel yesterday. I decide to stay two nights.
...and then in Georgia...
Karen and Compass, Phe and Me in
Had a good chat to Vivian this morning and he suggested a looped trip today through the village of Gremi where there is a small palace built in the 1600's for King George the 8th and a chapel built during the following one hundred years. Just outside the tiny village of Gremi I visited the small palace and ancient church perched up on an outcrop of rock. The service was about to begin in the very small chapel with a congregation of maybe twenty people – all standing, as the Orthodox churches don’t give you pews to doze off on. I was barely inside the doorway at the back but was aware the “doorkeeper,” a large man, was giving me a black look. Quite un-Christian I thought, so I stuck to my guns, but when the priest started the service I felt it would be better if I wasn’t there and turned to leave. I was then shuffled very gently into the “museum” next door and was asked to pay 1 lari for a trip around the 6-metre square building. The museum man had enough self-taught English to show me the bowls, old spear heads, bows and arrows, cannon balls, muskets etc., all going back to early centuries. After having a good look at all the exhibits and listening attentively to his narrative, I went outside for a look at the view of the surrounding farming country and vineyards and was joined by the museum man and then by the big doorkeeper who had no English at all. We chatted for a while, then the big doorkeeper disappeared to return only a few minutes later with a tumbler and a plastic screw-top bottle of fruit juice. He poured a tumbler full to the top and offered it to me and I accepted. Right! Not fruit juice! It was an okay red wine from the vino cellar below. What makes this encounter so memorable is that he gave me the rest of the bottle, plus an apple and two lollies. I took out my wallet. Protests of “No! No! No!” How could it be better than this?.........Bad Lands?
...then an observation in Turkey...
Harvesting potatoes by hand. There looks to be two men and three women â€“ perhaps an extended family?
I have never seen cabbages this size before â€“ how can they make them so big?
There are lots of police and soldiers around today, way more than I have seen on the whole trip so far. I know that the Turks are called up for army service as eighteen year olds and are in uniform for more than twelve months, and that there has been problems between the army and the Kurdish people for many years. We may be in the middle of Kurdish territory right now. We came through a town this morning that had an army barracks opening onto the main street. There were high walls and barbed wire around it but what did surprise me was the sandbagged machine-gun post sitting right in the middle of the road outside the gates. Around midday today the reality of it all was brought home in a very vivid manner. We were tootling along on a divided highway when we came around a bend and there were soldiers with rifles on the embankment just above the road. I did a U-turn and came back, taking a few photos on the way. <insert 3622,3624>
A squad of a dozen soldiers had rifles trained on between thirty and forty people sitting in the ditch with their hands on their heads. There may be a woman and a child involved, too.
Karen and Compass, Phe and Me in
In this second photo, the soldiers are searching each person, one by one. All of these people must have been crammed into the white truck as there was no other vehicle at the scene.
It’s okay for me to wander around this country as if I own it, even though I don’t, and I really have no idea of what’s happening on a daily basis, good or bad, happy or sad, truth or lies. When I get home, I will read the papers and listen to the news and may be able to fill in many of the gaps in this ignorant mind of mine, but in the meantime I should respect the fact that this is their country and I am extremely privileged to be able to do what I am doing in it. <Insert photo 3632,3631>
The old: four women are pulling up the beet, cutting the green tops with machetes and two others are loading the truck. I would love to know what the man is doing with the fire.
The new: a mechanical sugar beet digger scoops up the beet plus a couple of inches of soil, cuts off the green tops and drops the earth and rubbish back onto the ground, then the cradle lifts the beet up into the truck.
Have had a good run today, driving almost due east and sort of parallel with the Turkish border with Iraq and Syria, towards the city of Sivas. When we get there, to Sivas, we will turn left and head almost south to meet up with the Mediterranean Sea near Adana. But that’s for tomorrow. Tonight’s bed is at a lovely motel just about seven kilometres short of Sivas. Warm, dry, wonderful shower and a beaut meal in the cafe next door. Saturday 18th October
The most startling thing that happened today was in nature’s contrast. Couldn’t get away at seven as I had intended as Phe had a windscreen that was frozen with ice – it was such a heavy frost and still frosting. Then, that afternoon, we were on the Mediterranean coast and a road-side sign told us it was a hot 34 degrees! The most colourful thing that happened today was at the town of Saimbeyli where we got caught up, pleasantly, in a parade which had everything the town had to offer including school kids, young and old, (carrying the obligatory pictures of Ataturk), and the school band, the fire engine, the council’s front-end loader, even the garbage truck, and of course the police brass band. <insert photo 3655,3656>
But my favourites are the old codgers in their national dress, with daggers in their hands and the crutch of their trousers half way to their boots.
Karen and Compass, Phe and Me in Turkey
And don't you love this bloke with all the medals and the big moustache?!
I did a bit of cheating when we got to Adana and used the motorway for the last half hour or so until I found a nice little pension at Erdemli which will be a beaut place for the next couple of nights. Going to have tomorrow off. Do nothing all day. Two nights at 35 lire a night and the pension has a kitchen (of sorts).<insert photo 3668,3673>
Sunrise and we are looking over the Mediterranean from the window of the pension at Erdemli.
Thank you for getting this far. I hope you have enjoyed what you have seen and maybe it has whet your appetite for the real thing to sit on your coffee table. If you are still interested and want more details then please don't hesitate to contact my publisher, Perendale, by clicking on the link below. Once again, thank you - Graeme Robin.
'On Roads Without Lines'
Published on Mar 28, 2011