Route: Dogubayzit - Erzurum - Erzincan - Amasya - Istanbul
Distance cycled: Margo - 23,000 kms Ben: 24,600 kms
24 hours after leaving Dogubayzit in the East of Turkey, the bus arrived in Istanbul. It had been a long, uncomfortable journey without much sleep. I washed my face in cold water then set about reassembling my dismantled bike. I then set off on my bike through Istanbul bound for my next Couch Surf host's house. The distance across the city was huge and after almost 20 kms I arrived at the port of Kabatas. I was headed for Buyukada, the biggest of the Prince's islands which sit in the middle of the Bosphorus. The bus had crossed the Bosphorus bridge so I was now back in Europe. It wasn't how I'd imagined coming back home but I was here nonetheless. The 1 hour boat ride to Buyuk Ada was wonderful and very cheap, offering great views of both the European and Anatolian(Asian) side of the city. Arriving on the island I discovered that cars were forbidden. Amazing. The main form of transport on the small island was bicycle or horse and cart. The island was also teeming with very friendly cats.
Tugba arrived to greet me and I was introduced to her 8 cats. We spent the first few days sharing nice food and swimming in the sea every day. 2 days later though I borrowed a ruck sack and headed back into Istanbul for the weekend as I had two very special people to meet. Craig and Russell just happened to be in Istanbul at the same time as me. Smashing. After 5 minutes together we all agreed it didn't feel like 2 years since we'd seen each other. Craig treated me to one of Istanbul's famous fish sandwiches down at the Bosphorus then we headed to Gulhane park for a beer. Then it was off to Taksim, the main area for entertainment and nightlife to check into our hostel. Craig used the remainder of his 2 week old bag of Bulgarian wine to make a rather sophisticated cocktail called Calamacho(red wine and coke). That boy has class and no mistake.That first night we ended up at a reggae night with two of Craig's Turkish pals and rolled into bed after 4am. Our culinary highlight was the cheap and cheerful cafe round the corner from the hostel where we could buy a bowl of lentil soup with as much free bread as you could eat for only 1 lira. Their pita pockets were also very nice so much so that Russell managed 4 in one day. As we watched the sun go down over the bosphorus with a few beers I realised how nice it felt to be with real friends, people who know you instead of people you just met 2 days ago in a hostel. As Craig told me all about how him and Russell had been up for 50 hours dancing in a cave by themselves in Cappadocia a few days ago, I was happy to see he hadn't changed a bit. I said goodbye to them the following morning and made my way back to fantasy cat island. Istanbul was amazing really: hectic, colourful and bursting with life and culture. It was nice to go back to peace and quiet though.
|Don't know what they're protesting about but down with that sort of thing anyway|
|Russell models some politically incorrect biscuits|
Ice cream trickery in Istanbul............................................................................
I took the boat to Kadikoy and was met by the lovely Lutfiye, my second Istanbul CS house. She lived in a nice area on the Asian side. Back at the house I met her husband Ogun who lived in Germany until he was 14 and now translates books from German to Turkish for a living. These two were really great, such a cool, happy and interesting couple. Ogun took me to Kilyos at the Black Sea on his motorbike to go swimming for the day. It was my first proper ride on the back of a bike and I absolutely loved it. I also managed to get them hooked on our favourite comedy show “Peep Show”. I could tell they had a warped sense of humour like us and so would probably appreciate it.
|At the Black Sea with Ogun|
|Lutfiye enjoying a shiatsu|
|Learning Turkish whilst cycling|
|First of many baguettes|
After the overwhelming kindness of Iran, Ben was somewhat disappointed to spend his first few days in Eastern Turkey being pelted by stones. Some of the Kurdish kids were very badly behaved indeed and Ben wondered what he had done to deserve such a welcome. The ride was mountainous with stunning scenery however which was something to be cheerful about. The unexpected hostility was short lived thankfully and by the time Ben reached the town of Erzurum, the stone throwing kids seemed a million miles away. Eastern Turkey seemed a pretty rough and poverty-stricken place nonetheless. Ben was disturbed by the fact that women were nowhere to be seen. Most of them seemed to be locked up indoors somewhere and the few that he did spot, ran a mile on his arrival. To Ben, the women seemed repressed, overweight and deeply unhappy. This was a far cry of course from the well-educated, outgoing women we had met in Iran. The men in this male dominated society whistled at him as he rode past as though trying to summon the attention of a dog and seemed to spend all of their time smoking and drinking tea. Ben wasn't too impressed sadly.
|Drying gear off after another downpour|
|Hiding from the rain|
|Friendly mechanic who helped Ben|
As they rode across Turkey the hills were constant and the wind constantly changing. Ben introduced Kevin to the art of drafting and holding on to the back of slow-moving lorries.On a big pass, they would pull into a layby as a lorry approached to prepare themselves for the lunge towards it. Sometimes poor Kevin would miss the lift and would have to slowly wind his way up the huge pass as Ben disappeared into the distance making the most of his free lift. The roads weren't always great and some were truly appalling. They bathed in rivers and feasted on fruit and vegetables from roadside allotments. They had very little money so pinching a few veggies seemed forgivable. The free fruit was magnificent however and they ate like kings every day from the bulging apricot, apple and plum trees by the side of the road. During their 15 day trip they pretty much lived off baguettes during the day and Kevin being a chef cooked delicious food most nights for them both.
|A good campsite is worth a little extra effort|
They unsuccessfully tried their hand at fishing one night. On the same night yet another thunder storm came and the river they were camped beside almost tripled in size. In Turkey, it was easy to get clean drinking water just about everywhere which saved them a lot of money. As they traversed across Turkey they noticed that women were still nowhere to be seen. Very disturbing. They had to question what sort of society keeps it's women hidden indoors all the time. They still came across some naughty kids who pestered them for money but things had definetely improved since Eastern Turkey. The pretty town of Amasya was a highlight for them both. As well as being incredibly scenic, a nice man also gave them free peanut butter and cheese after they bought 6 eggs. After eating a full tub of ice cream to themselves they set off again.
|Cats on a hot tin roof|
|Another free tea stop|
|Ben and Kevin get signed up for a local Turkish football team and given a free strip and a room for the night|
|Free shot on the go carts|
|Free fruit was plentiful|
|Kevin's sunglasses broke so Ben made him these|
They spent a fun night camping in a petrol station with some super generous bikers riding to Mongolia who spoiled them rotten. The weather was wild. At the top of hills it would be raining and foggy and at the bottom, warm and sunny. 150 kms from Istanbul the traffic started to get really busy. On their second last night they camped in a city allotment where friendly locals brought them bread and fruit. They had cycled almost 1600 kms on the same road, the E80 all the way from Eastern Turkey so it seemed ridiculous that only 1 km from the Bosphorus bridge the police told them they couldn't continue and had to walk back. Walking against the busy, oncoming traffic was of course more dangerous than continuing on by bike but the copper wasn't having it.
|Camping with their new biker pals in a petrol station|
Ben and Kevin had became so close in these last 15 days, sharing an unforgettable experience together. Cycling touring with someone is certainly a good way to get to know them. I was happy for them both that they had met up with each other, it was meant to be. Also, as you can see by the photos the Turkish people turned out to be very friendly after all.
|Ben helps a stranded motorist change his tyre|
|Kevin makes a new friend|
Meanwhile I was still at Ogun and Lutfiye's and Ogun decided it would be great to surprise Ben and Kevin by meeting them out on the highway as they headed into town. It didn't work out quite as well as we'd hoped due to a series of mis-timings and wrong turns but in the end I saw two familiar silhouettes coming towards me and at last got to hold up my sign.
After lunch at Ogun's, Ben, Kevin and I got on our bikes and made our way to another Couch Surf host's in another part of the city. It had been really hard for me to find a CS host who would take all 3 of us and the bikes but in the end, Franklin Orosco was kind enough to put us up. Franklin, an american ex-pat, living and working in Istanbul, was an absolute angel. As soon as we arrived, he showed us into our beautiful room and introduced us to his cat Scoobie. He then disappeared into the kitchen appearing shortly afterwards with some danish pastries he'd made himself. We spent 3 days getting to know this wonderful man who had many interesting and inspiring stories from his life to share with us. He was the perfect host in every sense of the word and whatsmore we enjoyed his company too. Franklin enjoyed telling me about his trip on a Calmac Ferry to the Western Isles. I truly hope he'll come again to Scotland and let us return the hospitality.
|Ogun and Lutfiye|
|The Blue Mosque|
|Iranian cycle tourist|
I was determined to try and cycle and felt hopeful as we headed out of Istanbul. It was really hard for me because Ben kept talking about how great it was to cycle with Kevin and how fast they'd gone and how much progress they'd made in a short time. I knew that the next part of his ride with me wouldn't be like this. Due to the sciatica in my left leg I generally had to stop every 30 minutes to walk about for 5 minutes to get the feeling back into my leg. I knew this would slow down our progress a lot. Whatsmore, I just couldn't and didn't even think it wise to try to do big days like I did before. 50 – 70 kms a day seemed reasonable for someone with my condition, half of what we used to do. I believed that in the future with the right physical therapy and some rest I would return to being the great cyclist that I was. It was still hard for me though and the whole thing frustrated and saddened me.
|The Bosphorus bridge|
|Swiss cyclists heading to Istanbul|
|These nice men bought us lunch|
The Turkish people on this leg of the journey gave the Iranians a run for their money for kindness and hospitality. An offer of a cup of tea was never far away and every day someone offered us lunch or dinner. It was the middle of Ramadan at this point and as we sat outside a mosque in the town of Vize, a Turkish man speaking to me in fluent German offered us two melons despite the fact that he would not be partaking of the fine fruit himself. I was truly seeing the best of Turkey, a side you would never have the pleasure of seeing as a tourist in Istanbul.
|Endless supply of free tea|
|Having a bad day|
|More friendly folk who fed us|
|Excuse me pal, your shirt's on fire|
|Despite their bad reputation amongst cyclists, we found Turkish dogs to be very friendly beasties|
It was dark when we arrived in the town of Edirne near the Bulgarian border and we had trouble finding a place to camp. There was not a soul in sight at the mosque and all the parks were far too busy to make for a sensible campsite. In the end we camped in the forecourt of a 24 hour petrol station where the super friendly staff brought us sausage and tomato sandwiches and of course....... tea. The following morning we said our goodbyes and cycled back to town to change the last of our lira. Ahmet, a friendly English speaking Turk called us over for tea in a cafe. He spoke fluent English and told us he was a doctor at the local hospital. I soon realised that we had probably met Ahmet for a reason. Although it was not his specialist branch of medicine, he knew a lot about neurology and vertebral discs. He told me in no uncertain terms that continuing cycling even after my break was risky and asked me what meant more to me, finishing this bike ride or having a healthy, happy future with a working body. I decided there and then that I would cycle to our next Couch Surfers in Haskovo, Bulgaria then get off the bike.
|Camping in a garage forecourt|