Cappadocia to Van
May to the 4th June
Since leaving Cappadocia we have certainly had a number of challenges thrown at us! We have also enjoyed some beautiful scenery and yet more wonderful people along the way.
Entering mountain villages we seemed to cause quite a stir and it was often hard to get through without exploding from the countless Turkish teas that were handed to us, even if declining; a tea still seemed to land in our laps.
Our first major breakdown occurred while climbing up one of the monsters; Mike heard a high pitched click and a snapping sound. On closer inspection we realised it was coming from the bottom bracket, with a few more peddles the whole unit had warped, bent and the pedals turned no more. It happened at midday and we had got about 30 miles past the large city of Kayseri, begrudgingly we agreed to turn around. After three truck rides, numerous bike shops and a lot of hand gestures, we were back at the scene of the incident, bike fixed and ready to push on.
Health wise, the last week has been tough for me. On two occasions I suffered with sun stroke which could of course only be resolved by seeking shade – very difficult in the bare mountain terrain. I have also been bothered for the last week by a stomach bug which has made cycling quite difficult and at times has left me feeling quite weak. Touch wood, seems to be on its way out now…
In other news, Mike recused a tortoise from certain death on a mountain road and put a new top speed in the trip record books of 47.4mph! Two explosions also raised a few hairs; namely Mikes tyre and my gas canister!
The past week has been spent travelling across Kurdistan, a region that spans Eastern Turkey, as well as parts of Iran, Iraq and Syria. The high military presence here is very apparent, with many heavily armoured vehicles patrolling the streets. One morning whilst we were having a wash at a water stop we had found in a grave yard, a tank and a second armoured vehicle pulled up. The solder that sat on the roof of the vehicle aimed his automatic weapon directly at us. We paused, unsure whether to dive behind a grave stone or to continue to wash our hair. Not wanting to tempt fate we continued to wash until they finally moved on. Whilst it was clear by the smile on his face that he had no intention of shooting us, it was completely unnecessary the way in which the ‘situation’ was handled and left us feeling very sympathetic for the way in which the Kurds are treated by the military.
We have now arrived in Van and are taking a couple of days away from the bikes to recover and make preparations for the coming weeks. There are now only 60 miles between us and the Iranian border, fingers crossed they will allow us through!
Istanbul to Cappadocia
12th to the 21st May
Being comfortable is something that makes us feel rather uneasy and so after a week of homely comforts in Istanbul, it was time to once again be released back into the wilds of turkey.
After cleverly avoiding another death road scenario by taking a ferry out of the city we arrived in Yalova and made our way to our first stop in Asia, Iznik. The town of Iznik is renowned for its ceramic tile painting, and situated on the edge of Lake making it a lovely place to stop to update the website. Our goal was to be in the National Park of Cappadocia by the 20th May to visit the ancient underground cities and spectacular rock formations.
Up until this point Jon had not had one single puncture and so late at night I snuck out of the tent to his pristine wheels to give him a small but manageable puncture to keep his skills in shape. This is what I thought I would have to do, was it not for the following days when low and behold a blessed four punctures was bestowed on him in the space of 2 days. It was now time for a tyre change!
It was on Sunday 15th May that we had our next adventure. We had just passed through the surprisingly large city of Eskisehir (pop: 680,000) and it was getting dark. In an outlying small village we stopped to inquire of a suitable camping spot for the night as none had presented themselves, and darkness was now upon us. The local man shouted to his family and before we knew it we had been directed to a lovely park where we were told we could camp. The Family that had been so much help then went ahead to buy us both a Cornetto and gave us a plate of homemade biscuits, but the generosity did not stop there.
The following morning they met at the park and led us to their house for a breakfast feast (about 6 courses). Digesting on their sofas they decided they would take us for a day out in their city. ‘But what about the miles?’ Jon said. He did not take much persuasion and so we spent a wonderful day in their company. Before we left their house that evening we were given another very hearty meal and Zerrin the young lady of the family baked us a cake for the road. It was sad to say good bye to our new friends, but the miles were not about to do themselves!
En route to Cappadocia, we past the saltiest salt lake in the world and endured a good thunderstorm every evening. We are now in Cappadocia and preparing to leave on the morrow for Van, our next port of call.
2nd – 4th May
Entering turkey from Bulgaria was defiantly the most noticeable transition between two countries we had experience so far. Turkey was considerably more industrialised and more developed with large corporations stringed out along the roads. There were an abundance of restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and shops for supplies and the internet that had been somewhat absent in Romania and Bulgaria (apart from the large towns and cities) was found everywhere no matter how small the village. Our first taste of Asia came as we entered the city of Edirne. The streets were alive with ordered chaos. There were stalls everywhere selling all kinds of goods and people bustling to and fro, it was hard to cycle through because of the shier volume of people that were spewing off the pavements onto the roads. As we entered the centre we witnessed our first Mosque. It was an enormous thing with numerous domes around one central super dome, and very impressive to someone who has only seen Mosques in the suburbs of Birmingham (and the small one in Hove next to the Lion and Lobster).
That evening we were to become accustomed to the Turkish hospitality which we initially though would be a one off but has continued ever since entering the country. The Turkish people have been so far the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Whenever we stopped in a town or village we were offered cups of tea, sandwiches, chocolate or Baklava and when we try to pay for the goods always looked offended and decline. When we asked a Turkish person for help or directions they are only too happy to go out of their way for us doing everything they can. The spirit of the country is summed up by the day we entered Istanbul, to date it has been the craziest and most eventful day of the trip and really demonstrates how amazing the Turkish people really are. The following extract has been taken from my own Journal and is therefore in great detail.
4th May 2011 (Micheil’s Journal) – 8 miles past Luleburgaz to Istanbul.
We awoke early to the sound of rain on the tent and it had been a rough night’s sleep. There had been a string of thunder storms during the night and torrential rain. The ground had become so saturated with water that the tent pegs had come out a couple of times. Inside the tent was mostly dry apart from the condensation that formed on the roof of the tent. Luckily the rain eased off for a brief period in the morning in which we could get packed up. We had camped in a field between wheat and rapeseed not far from the main road. The previous evening the farmer of the field had spotted the camp and had ventured over to see what was going on. I gestured that we wanted to sleep here the night. The farmer was more than happy for us to stay and was coming over to see if we wanted to have some tea and food with him and his family.
Finally on the road we plodded on. The intention was to get to a town 50km outside of Istanbul sleep there and get a bus or train into the centre in the morning. To cycle into Istanbul is to commit suicide. The road we were following (D100) becomes very busy with heavy traffic as it all bottlenecks towards the city. The advice was DO NOT cycle into Istanbul at all costs.
At lunch time we had arrived at a fairly big city and at a supermarket we stopped for food. I went in and was amazed and the array of food on offer. There was fresh fruit and vegetables I had never seen before Turkish sweets such as Halva and a whole counter for Baklava. I bought a box of Baklava and some fruit, not the healthiest snack but a tasty one. We sat outside the supermarket eating when out came the manager to see us. We thought he was telling us to move along from outside his store and so confused we got up. In broken English he said, ‘Don’t worry I manager, meat, come’ I was worried about leaving the bikes, ‘No problem’ he said. We followed him into the back of the supermarket where all the raw stock was kept, up some metal warehouse stairs and into the staff room. I was very confused but thought ‘why not let’s see what he wants to show us’. The staff were all sitting around a table eating their lunch and as we entered the room they all looked up at us smiling and giggling. We were told to have a seat and we were served with plates of food. It was a delicious beef and bean stew with rice. Best meal I had had in a long time, and we had bread and coke too! As we sat there eating they all seemed so happy to have helped us out and given us food. I asked the chef for seconds and she beamed at me, laughed and spooned another load into my bowl.
We left the supermarket completely bewildered by the Turkish kindness, their warmth and generosity. With spirits lifted and full bellies we thought that we had run into a spot of luck but that was only the beginning.
It was about 10km outside of our final destination for the day (Silivri) that the storms began again. The rain was coming down thick and fast and the roads soon turned to rivers. We did not worry too much because we knew we were close to a dry bed when a truck pulled up to offer us a ride. This was the second truck that had offered us a lift that day. The first one we refused because there was no reason to get a lift. This one though was empty, it was raining and he said he was going to Istanbul. We thought we would accept his kind offer and get into the city today instead of the following morning and skip our night in Silivri. We lifted our bikes onto the back of the truck and he strapped them down good and proper. He put newspaper down in his cab so we didn’t get mud on his floor and we were off. His cab was warm and comfortable and looking down onto the lane we had just been cycling in we could see why we might look vulnerable to a truck driver. He stopped at the next garage to buy us crisps and lemonades. He could not speak English but when we tried to pay for the goods he said, ‘No problem, no problem’. We knew that Istanbul is a massive place and that he most defiantly was not going to where we were trying to get to but that hurdle was to be crossed when it came. After about 45 minutes of driving we pulled into a truck stop and he said, ‘Finish’. The truck stop was situated on top of a hill next to a very busy road with no separate lane for a bike and crash barriers on each side to contain the traffic. It looked horrific cycling conditions and it was still raining.
Before we left we were taken into the truck drivers small wooden shed for tea. Inside, there were five or so truck drivers drinking tea and eating biscuits, bread, cheese and olives. For about half an hour we sat there drinking tea after tea and helping ourselves to food once again. They were all very friendly and one of them even offered us a place in his house for the night. We thanked him but said we wanted to try and make it into the city tonight. The place we were planning to stay was Sultanahmet where there was the Famous Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia Museum and the Palace. We said our good byes and got on our bikes again. At this point we did not have a clue where we were, how far out of Istanbul we were or what direction it was to Sultanahmet. To make matters worse my GPS was out of battery. Great!
After five minutes cycling on the road and we had nearly been knocked off five times. It was a death trap. We pulled in to the next petrol station to figure out where we were and how to get to Sultanahmet. In the Petrol station we asked for advice from the first person who could speak English. We learnt that we were still 30km from Istanbul which was bad news. It was getting dark now and the busiest most dangerous 30km lay ahead of us. The man offered us a lift but unfortunately his car was just too small for the bikes. Another helpful Turkish man went and bought us a load of maps from the petrol station and again would not accept payment. The lady in the petrol station also came out to give us coffee. The generosity of the people so far had blown me away.
Although we wanted to we could not stay in the petrol station for ever. We decided to give cycling another go. Not a good idea, it was as bad as before and just not worth the risk. We decided to try and get a bus and after getting advice from yet another helpful person we knew we had to take 2 buses and a tram to Sultanahmet. At the bus stop we had further help from a local who explained to the bus driver where we were trying to get to and that we had two bikes to get on. The driver and the people on the bus waited or helped while we got the bikes up onto the bus. I went up to pay the conductor but he refused to accept my money. This was beginning to get ridiculous; they would not let us pay for anything. One bus ride down two to go!
The next bus stop appeared to be a major bus terminal. The head bus controller came out to see us and explain that bikes were not allowed on the busses and it would be better to cycle. I said it was a problem for us to cycle because of the dangerous roads, he agreed. Again we were not sure what was going on but they seemed to be figuring out something for us. Then suddenly we were quickly ushered onto a very long bendy bus with three compartments and we were off. There was no one else on the bus and it did not stop at any bus stops. It was like we had our own private express bus powering through the Istanbul night. The bus dropped us off at the tram stop and would again not accept payment for the service, we were getting used to not paying for anything now so I thanked him and off we went.
It was now about 9:30pm and the rush hour was over. We got on the tram and there was plenty of space for our bikes and to our relief we could see Sultanahmet was part of the route. Ten stops later we were there. Arriving in Sultanahmet at night was spectacular. On all sides there were illuminated, enormous Mosques, small cafes, restaurants, Kiosks and parks. The streets were cobbled and quaint as this was the beautiful old town of Istanbul. We were very tired by this point and found a Hostel quickly, showered and went out to find some dinner. It had been a very long and eventful day but we had made it, Sultanahmet, our destination for the next week, and to enjoy our long awaited break!