Well I’m finally back on the road and have just finished my first little stint. I momentarily considered changing my route, heading south to Cyprus, but changed my mind yet again after realising the ferry to the island costs almost as much as a flight from London. I’ll save that trip for another day.
To kick off this leg of the trip a friend of mine also came over with me and this gave me chance to checkout some of the sights of Istanbul again. I won’t delve into this too much as this will be a fairly big post anyway but I’ll share a couple of cool little things.
Below are some graves from the graveyard at the back of the Suleymaniye mosque. I really like the little headwear on top of the gravestones, a Fez or Turban for the men and an ornate headdress for the women. As you can see spouses also share a grave.
I got quite a nice shot of some people doing their ritual ablutions at the side of the same mosque before going in to do their prayers.
On what was now my third trip to Istanbul I finally went into the Ayasofya museum (also called the Hagia Sofia). This building has a rich history, first as a Byzantine church (hence the Mary & Jesus at the top of the following photo), then as an Ottoman mosque and then finally as a museum in modern secular Turkey.
I also managed to check off a couple more items from my Istanbul fast food list that I am gradually working through. One of note is the Ishlak (Wet) Burger. This burger is dipped whole (bun included) into a spicy tomato sauce and the left in a steam filled glass box until someone buys it. It is truly delicious in that “I shouldn’t be eating this” kind of way.
The next day I caught a ferry to the city of Yalova, 50km south of Istanbul across the sea of Mamara. I originally wanted to cycle over the Bosphorus bridge that separates Europe and Asia but found out the walkways are closed due to numerous suicides. This meant I had to get a ferry across anyway and I decided that it would be un-ejoyable (and quite dangerous) cycling the 100km through the Asian suburbs of Istanbul on the 3 lane D100 motorway so chose to avoid them all together.
The road east from Yalova was still fairly busy (a dual carriageway) but was still a lot quieter. I had a renewed vigour to be more diligent finding free accommodation on this leg of the trip as my remaining budget starts to get smaller and was keen to start as I meant to go on.
I’d read online that petrol stations in Turkey have little picnic areas they will let people camp in so decided to try this out. Once it started to get a bit dark I started pulling into every petrol station asking to camp but evidently I wasn’t far enough out of Istanbul’s industrial belt as none of them had any grassy areas.
I was starting to get desperate as there wasn’t even anywhere decent to stealth-camp or any motels/hotels. Finally, as it had gotten fully dark, I pulled into a Shell station in Bagdat and after the forecourt attendants and manager had a hushed conversation they showed me a concrete area behind the building I could have. My tent isn’t free standing but I figured I could erect it if I tied the guide ropes to nearby telephone pole and my bikes handlebars. I thanked the guys and they went back to work.
A couple minutes later one of them runs back over and ushers me to follow him. I follow him into a small building that is being redecorated and he says I can sleep in here, even leaving me with the key so I can lock myself in. I wheel my bike in and thank him again.
Once I’d got everything setup the manager pops his head in and asks if I’d like some Chai. I follow him to the staff room of the petrol station and he asks if I’m hungry. I say yes and gesture I was going to go to the Kebab shop next door in a minute, he laughs and asks if I like Kofte (Meatballs) and Ayran (Buttermilk drink). I say yes and he gets on his phone and makes a quick call.
I wasn’t entirely sure what the phone conversation was about but once it was over we started chatting and I gathered that everyone that worked in the station were family. He introduced me to his uncle and, as seems to be the norm in Turkey, the conversation quickly turned to Football. They both tell me the teams they support and I’d only heard of the managers one (Trabzon) and not his uncles one much to his annoyance. The uncle looked away, faining offence, as his nephew burst in to laughter pointing at him saying “F*** you! F*** you!”. I couldn’t help but join in laughing.
Momentarily a scooter pulled up and handed the manager a plastic bag which he then passed to me. Inside was a huge Kofte sandwich and an Ayran. Delighted at the hot meal I ask how much I owe them and the manager starts laughing again saying “No, no, no!”. Unbelievable, what an end to the first day! After dinner I wandered off to my sleeping bag to rest.
Up the next day I carried on along the hard shoulder of the D100. I was prepared for this to be a pretty dull road for a couple more days before I get away from the built up areas of Turkey but as I was stopped at a traffic light, in the town of Hendek, a guy was shouting at me waving me into his shop.
I wheeled over and he invited me in to his antique shop where he and his friend were having lunch. I tucked into some chai with some bread and honey and my host, Ramazan, showed me a guestbook he has had signed by every long distance cyclist who has gone past his shop, incredible!
I ended up chatting with Ramazan for about two hours (through Google translate) regarding his interest in Ottoman culture and antiques (hence his impressive Ottoman style moustache). He was even kind enough to offer me somewhere to sleep for the night but I had hardly covered any distance that day and had a nagging desire to push on (In hindsight I don’t know why as I’m in no rush).
Later on in the day as I road through Gumusova two young guys waved me down and invited me for some tea (I could get used to this). After explaining where I’d cycled from, and chatting about what football teams they support, I asked if there were any cheap hotels down the road. They gave me directions to one and also told me the price locals pay (40 lira, £11). This was useful information as when I reached the hotel they quoted me a price twice as high and we eventually settled in the middle. (I later read online that a tourist who turned up in fancy 4×4 ended up paying £80 for the room I paid £15 for!)
The next day was what I’d been dreading. Turkey is one of the most mountainous countries on Earth and I was about to experience it at its fullest in the north of the country. In front of me was a two day climb from 160m to 1,350m over a 100km distance. They don’t build roads in Turkey like they do in Europe where they meander slowly up hills, here they just go straight up them for the most part as can be soon in the picture below, the start of the climb…
Halfway up the climb I stopped at a nice viewpoint and noticed a 7.65mm casing on the floor. When I dropped it back on the ground (wiping my prints of just in case) I noticed it was next to dead dog. Lovely.
I stopped further up and got a much better view down the climb. At one point some absolute scrote threw a beer can at me from a car, luckily he missed and I’m not the sort to let his actions affect my view of this lovely country.
After last nights hotel visit I was keen to save some money again and found a cafe that would let me camp in their covered picnic area. No free dinner this time but I did buy one from them so as not to be a total burden! One of the workers in the cafe said I could stay at his house but he gave me a bit of a funny vibe so I turned down his offer.
More climbing the next day but with less views to make up for the exertion. I was really feeling the climb and decide to make it a short day at 40km and stop at the town on top of the mountain, Gerede. Just as I approached the town I stopped to photograph some frozen ponds and I was doing so I heard a load of gunfire. Made me jump for a second before I spotted the hunters who are just out of frame in this shot.
A useful Turkish term to know is “Otel Ekonomi” which is the local lingo for “Show me to worst hotel in town please”. Some guys at a bus stop kindly pointed me towards the cheapest hotel in Gerede where I got a room for 25 Lira (About £6.50). As long as there is a shower warmer than freezing and a bed I am happy.
First thing the next morning I reached the very peak of the climb and got a snap in front of the sign marking the pass. Not that high by many peoples standards but this is the first official mountain pass I’ve ever cycled over. By the end of this trip I would’ve hit one at over 4,000m.
Immediately as I started to descend I turned off onto the D755 towards the historic Ottoman town of Safranbolu. From the blogs of other cyclists many just carry on straight on the D100 to the sea resort town of Samsun which I’ve learnt is a crying shame. The road to Safranbolu is so incredibly scenic, and the fact it is a 50km descent means you can really relax and soak in the view. Safranbolu is also incredible but I’ll get onto that in a minute.
I’ve also been playing about with some video footage on this trip and edited together a little video of some of the road so far (Leaving the ferry in Yalova, The D100 outside Izmit, Getting my bike upto 40+mph on the D100 as well as what riding the tunnels here is like). Turn off the music if you’re not a fan (it’s the band I’m in), I thought it’d be more interesting than 4 minutes of wind noises and car horns!
Once I cleared the tunnel in the video there is immediately a nice view down a little canyon so I sat to rest.
As I was resting I heard loads of commotion coming from the tunnel and had a peak down it to see an absolutely massive bit of piping being trucked through. There’s loads of wide loads on these road and they usually have one car as an escort but there were about three cars escorting it through as it barely cleared the roof.
Once through it pulled over and escort guys hopped out and started having their pictures taken next to it! It must have been a big load even by local standards. I had to join in the fun and got them to snap a photo of me by it as well…
The D755 carried on being beautiful, lots of people waving me on as I flew through their villages, I even got a salute from a well dressed old guy I passed.
When you finally reach Safranbolu it’s like stepping back in time. The entire town is a Unesco World Heritage site due it’s collection of wooden framed Ottoman houses. Virtually everyone of these houses has been converted into a guesthouse with the family living in a portion of it. I found a cheap one and checked in for a rest day.
I asked the owner what was good to see in town and he recommended the caves, which I’d never heard of, as well as the local Saffron flavoured Lokum (Turkish delight). He arranged a friend to drive me to the caves and once I stepped inside I was blown away. I’d had no expectations of them and was greeted by what I now know to be some of the largest caves in Turkey. I walked through a 400m section that has been illuminated. It’s hard to describe the caves so I’ll leave it to the photos;
I then went on the hunt for the Saffron Lokum and headed into the converted old Caravanserai in the centre of town. A Caravanserai was a place where traders could rest for the night for free, the extra services they purchased (food and water for themselves and their animals) supporting the place. They can be found littering the entire Silk Road from Istanbul to China and many have been restored into hotels as an homage to their original purpose.
I found a shop selling the Saffron Lokun (Safranli) and tried some. It has a very weird flavour, smooth at first with a spicy aftertaste with the Saffron colouring very visible in the middle.
On top of the great few days I’ve had I’ve just learnt that I’ve been approved for a visa for Iran! If you’ve ever looked into going to Iran you’ll realise that this is a bit of a lottery so I’m overjoyed! Hopefully nothing goes wrong when I apply for the visa itself in Trabzon in a week or so…
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I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.