A night spent “sleeping” in the snow, mere kilometres from the Turkish border gave us the early morning impetus to start our day with a wintery border crossing. Our reception into bicycle touring Turkey was far from frosty. Sure, our weapons of choice are as different as two machines can be: the peaceful bike and the powermongering gun, but the guards and Alleykat smiled, greeted and waved to each other the whole three kilometres along border control. With €45 price tag on each our heads (of all nations, Australians carry the most expensive passports in Turkey) we figured the next three months had better be worth it.
Bicycle Touring Turkey
On our way in, the wind played with us, hip and shouldering us from the north (our left) and threatening to relieve us of our balance every time a truck came lumbering enormously past. But luckily before too long we’d reached Ke?an and were greeted by a set of busy roads and a man yelling to us with what appeared to be a platter piled high with doughnuts balanced on his head. He smiled at us with a variety of teeth, gold and stubs and handed us each a round of bread covered in sesame seeds – a simit. Our mouths were open, full of gratitude and surprise before he held out his hand and stated “two Turkish lira”. As we’d already touched the simits we could hardly put them back but with no Turkish money on us yet we alighted from his presence a little heavier with furrowed brows and a little lighter without a Euro. As it turns out, the simits were fabulous and probably worth more than we paid, given the sheer plenitude of sesame seeds imbedded into this slightly sweet round of bread.
We left behind the extremely cold day after checking into a super warm hotel which thawed us enough to brave the chill again and get our first taste of Turkey. Taste we did – for 1.5TL (Turkish Lira) we were served a sizeable kebab and experienced the first of what would be three months of unrelenting Turkish kindness and genuine interest in us as travellers.
Turkey beckoned us in further, we left her doorstep (avoiding our toothy simit seller on the way) and rode our bikes up her hallway to Gelibolu: sneakily on newly asphalted sections of highway, away from the proximity of trucks and motorists, most of whom were happy to see us and egged us on during our illegal tryst.
At the ‘Istanbul 2’ Hotel in Gelibolu we were welcomed by a man who sounded more Californian than his ethnic Turkish. Our afternoon was spent wandering the small local streets and almost being robbed by ‘whole food’ shop owners: 30TL for 1kg of rolled oats! We thought the price read 3.0TL but were proved wrong when the time came to pay – after we’d been lubricated from our hip-pocket-reflex with walnut and cranberry stuffed figs, çay (tea, black and sweet) and other small delicacies – we walked out feeling lucky and found 500g of the same product for 4.70TL just around the corner in a local supermarket. That afternoon at a local cafe for locals, we dined on our first çorba (soup) which tasted exactly like my nana (and your most culrinarily gifted grandma) had made it. Rich buttery, meaty pide (Turkish boat-shaped pizza) filled us up, along with spicy durum (wraps) with ayran (Turkish yoghurt drink) and of course çay to wash it all down. Our first taste of Turkey and we were gobbling for more.
Christmas For Alleykat
Christmas Day 2012 was a non-event in Turkey; of course, the country is 90%+ Islamic, Christmas doesn’t feature on their calendar! After being pawns in the game of ‘who can make the foreigners feel most welcome’ between Hotel Istanbul 2 where we were staying and Hotel Istanbul, their big brother hotel next door, we spoke to our families at their various Chrissy celebrations via Skype and then got on with our average normal day of riding bikes.
A History Lesson On Gallipoli
The winding, ocean accompanied, gently undulating 40kms to Eçeabat was completed in the sunshine. By the time we got to TJ’s in the main town for ‘ANZAC’ tourists, and had devoured borek and çay for a hearty lunch, we felt very Christmassy indeed. That evening, as is tradition in TJ’s and indeed in every hotel along the Gallipoli Peninsula, we watched ‘Gallipoli’ (the one with Mel Gibson).
The very kind hotel owner sorted a Gallipoli tour for us the next day. We were picked up and whisked along the peninsula’s roads along with Christina Kastrakis (a Ukrainian American) and two other Aussies. The tour guide was pretty thorough but the driver was a pain – too boisterous for words – and kind of syphoned away any haunted and deeper feelings some of the areas (the graveyards, or the cove) maybe otherwise would have carried. Christina was lucky to be touched by some of this ‘feeling’, and spoke to us of her contact with the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster and the abhorrence for war she shares with us and so many. We spent an evening together with Christina and enjoyed her kind, insightful and adventurous spirit.
Getting hosted by a CyclingAbout fan!
The next morning we’d crossed the Dardanelles by ferry and were met by Ibrahim. Ibrahim had been following our website and watching us gather distance and approach his home town of Çanakkale and had contacted us some weeks earlier inviting us to stay with him while we were there. He has a project (and website) of his own dedicated to making movies about the world’s most bike-friendly cities. That afternoon with our new friend and our bikes, we met Nesrin, Ibrahim’s mum at her flower shop, ate Turkish doughnuts and of course drank çay. We rode the eleven kilometres from the centre to their lovely apartment (a distance Ibrahim’s family think he is mad for riding to and fro as often as he does) and were soon set up in a warm room and had in front of us the largest display of delicious food we’ve been presented with in our lives. It was clear Ibrahim’s family wanted to feed us scrawny travellers up!
Three nights we lapped up the hospitality of this kind family – we were cooked for, introduced to family, had our Turkish-coffee-ground-fortunes told, were taken out to meet friends (the lovely Ali who spoke English to rival our own), were provided with a comfy bed, warm showers and endless kindness, food and çay. We only just managed to return some kindness in the form of dinner – Thai green curry, our “go to” dish – which fiercely tingled the lips of Ibrahim and his relatives but was none the less enjoyed by most!
Through Ibrahim’s hook-ups, we were interviewed by the local news team, however disappointingly (perhaps most for Ibrahim who was almost distraught!) the cameraman/interviewer had little or no clue how to interview people on a windy day and thus the interview was rendered unusable. Perhaps this video of us removing Alee’s ganglion cyst makes up for it…
Too quickly it was time to go, the bike loving Ibrahim rode with us for the first ten kilometres giving Kat a break from her bike (there was some serious swapping going on, where Kat realised the brilliance of a slightly more upright position). With the strength tail wind that blew us from Çanakkale to Troy and beyond, you’d have thought us cats, squirrels or foxes (such large, bushy tails!)
Troy And The Trojan Horse
Troy is a site steeped in history and has a number of films of varying quality made about this. Similar to this variation in quality, Troy itself is of undulating interest. I think knowing the history better would have enhanced our experience, but to us unfortunately a majority of the seven layers of Troy looked more like seven layers of dirt and grass – it is amazing how famous and renowned places like this can simply fade into the past so easily, all it takes is a few years of dirt carried by the wind and a place dripping with both the bodily and brain juices of many historical figures is buried until historians uncover it once more.
Lucky Alleykat’s On New Years Eve
A few more windy days took us to Ayvalik, 120 kilometres or more completed on our last day of 2012. Arriving without a booking took us to a closed hostel but luckily we were overheard by some Turks who invited us to stay in their hostel a few metres up the road – albeit a closed hostel also, but where else are owners to live during the winter?! Soon we were invited to celebrate the changing of the year with them and had stuffed ourselves into our first dolmu (like a taxi and a bus and a hop-on-hop-off San Franciscan tram mashed into one little vehicle) and spent the evening at a wine bar on the little island Namik Kemal with some of the members of GreenPeace for the region and some very, very good wine. The last half an hour was spent frantically dolmu?-ing our way back to the main city to hear a live band play out the evening with a mixture of English and Turkish pop songs. Happy New Year 2013!
Further south on the coast we encountered our most ferocious dog attacks thus far – a number if them we were outstandingly lucky to have only seen them as aggressors and not attackers (they were chained up) but some were so enthusiastic about attacking us that there were fences jumped and squeezed through. Dikili was next where a cheap pansion brought us together with two new Turkish friends – using Google translate (given that neither party spoke a word of the others’ native tongue) meant that the language barrier was merely a challenge: we got to know these fellows and their histories, interests and families over four hours and endless cups of tea.
More Doses Of Turkish Hospitality
We had a Couchsurfing host waiting for us in Izmir so the next day of riding was more or less to a timetable. On the ‘less’ side of things, we paused in Menemen at Haydar’s cafe, where it turned out we were the first ever foreigners inside. We were of course given free food and çay, and used Haydar’s phone to try to call our Izmir host, Serhan as the CouchSurfing website was down. Unfortunately, we didn’t make contact and instead made about fifteen new Facebook friends and left for the busier section of the journey into the heart of Izmir. At about 20 kilometres from the centre, the crazy combination of too much traffic, too many attacking/barking dogs, tunnels too busy and everything too much for Kat, we decided we could take the train to avoid all of it. Foiled by the free rides for bikes on trains from 8pm until 7am (a great system except at the wrong time where bikes aren’t allowed at all) Alee took the reins and forged an extremely around about way into the centre and through to Bornova where we were to meet Serhan at the metro station.
Before we reached our goal we were stopped by a man on a motorbike – Semih, a push-bike riding veterinarian – who saw us and chased us down to offer us a place to stay with him. After finding out we had a host already, he gave us his email and some extremely helpful navigation advice. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop us from getting lost (and accidentally trespassing onto an army base!) but it helped us a whole lot and we arrived half an hour early for our rendezvous – where it turns out we were waiting at the wrong end of the metro station!
All was forgiven quickly as Serhan took us sheepish Alleykats to his lovely apartment through the backstreets. We tied our bikes to the rails of the first-floor stairwell (and made jokes about it every time we went up and down, pretending to be residents frustrated at tourists carelessly leaving their stuff everywhere) and made ourselves well at home.
Izmir With So Many New Friends!
Our five nights and five days in Izmir were entirely full of new friends, new food and new fun. Serhan and his housemate Vahdet not only took us in, but took us out a number of times (we ate durum and pide and kebab and çorba (soup) and breakfast and simit and baklava and even managed to cook for them once or twice) we also went to a couple of bars – to a Couchsurfingparty and a local hang out, we went to restaurants and cafes and the city via the metro, bus, dolmus and car. They treated us like brothers and made our time enjoyable and easy.
We also met friends of Ibrahim’s, Izzet, Alican and Hasen. They were full of life and love and wanted to make our time in Turkey even better so more food and more çay was had, more going out and more meeting up was done. We met friends of theirs and girlfriends of theirs and are now all friends together. There was time for a good few city tours, with our new friends of course and also – a couchsurfer named Alper who took time out of his own schedule to show us around his favourite parts of the city, offering us language tips and couchsurfing tips too.
The Incredible Efes Ruins
It was too soon time to leave and we were on the road to Selçuk (the town married to Efes or Ephesus, the age old city). As we pedalled up, we noticed the enormous amphitheatre from almost 20 kilometres away, carving a great grey scoop into the hillside. We stayed here a few days in order to do some ‘proper touristing’. We wandered all around Efes for most of an afternoon and were thoroughly impressed by the size of the place and also by the reconstruction of some of the structures – many criticise this move, saying it detracts from the authenticity of the place, but we felt it gave tourists and historians and good way to understand more of how it must’ve once looked, the sheer scale of it, and to gain a better understanding of the rich history of the place.
A Trip To The White Terraces
We also did a full Pamukkale day – we opted out of the guided tour, but travelled in a bus with the other fly by night tourists and made the three-hour journey into the hills (a trip of a few hundred kilometres that would have taken Alleykat a good number of days in and out). The day was minus one degrees centigrade – you can see our chilly but charmed experience below:
In Selçuk we had the misfortune to stay at a hotel run by a creep – who took far too much liberty and made our stay uncomfortable. We figure he might be a part of the Selçuk mafia because he seemed to know everyone and have connections all over the place. We (Kat) didn’t expect to be taken advantage of in Turkey, but even in the kindest, most good hearted of places unfortunately there exist bad eggs. Our touristy stay ended on a high though, Alee the heroic bike mechanic flipped Kat’s handlebars (a process that took about two hours in the freezing cold no less!) to adjust the seating position to one similar to Ibrahim’s – a move that Alleykat hoped would help combat Kat’s back pain.
Back On The Smooth Turkish Highway… For A Day
On the road again (much less back pain today, thanks!) and the intrepid explorers were searching for a warm place to stay – we found a little supercheap hotel above a restaurant. The room was toasty and the restaurant below served what must have been every worker in the town a hearty dinner of outstandingly delicious food, we felt well rewarded for surviving our encounter with the less than savoury Selçuk hotel character.
40km into the next day unfortunately meant the end of cycling for Alleykat – Kat’s back was unmanageably sore and so it was time to hitch hike as far as we could. A very kind truck driver (the “ok, this is the very last one” truck that drove past) picked us up and dropped us half way to Fethiye, our goal for two days. We figured now that we’d made it this far, we may as well keep going and tried to hitch hike again.
This time our fortunes were less golden and the sun sank on our attempts. We ended up paying through the nose for a bus trip the second half of the journey – this was a little on the nose because the company was a smaller one and had poached us from the larger ones, forced us to miss one round of journeys, wait an extra hour and a half and then pay double and a half for our tickets. ‘We’re never doing this again’, was Alee’s very angry response. Awkwardly we knew we had to take a bus from Fethiye to Istanbul (‘nup, we’ll just ride’ was all that came out of Alee’s tightly clenched jaw on that subject).
Getting Looked After In Fethiye Before Giving Farming A Go
Soon, thanks to a warm welcome into a warm restaurant and warm tasty food, once we’d arrived in Fethiye, our frustrations were forgotten and our Couchsurfer Gökhan had agreed to let us stay from this night, instead of the next as we’d originally organised. After getting ourselves thoroughly lost in the dark around the winding, steep streets of the “dodgy part” of Fethiye trying to get to McDonalds (our meeting point), arriving to find Gökhan not there anymore given we’d taken so long, we relied on Turkish kindness (strangers let us use their phone) and finally met up with him and got set up in his little apartment he shared with a man named Ramazan. Here we stayed for two nights with them, toured the city, drank our first sahlep (creamed tapioca, divine!) and went to see a few live bands at a beach bar and a bar call The Car Cemetery.
The day we were due up in Dikencik, on the farm we’d organised to do a farm stay at, we managed to leave very late due to the assumption that climbing to 800m over 25 kilometres wouldn’t take us long, and also due to being cooked lunch by Gökhan (manti, which are Turkish ravioli eaten with yoghurt, garlic and spicy chilli sauce). By 3:45 we were getting out onto the road, knowing that our sunset curfew was at 5:30 and with fingers crossed that the GPS coordinates we’d been given were right…
Bicycle Touring Around The World
01. Bicycle Touring The Netherlands
02. Bicycle Touring Belgium
03. Bicycle Touring Germany
04. Bicycle Touring Austria
05. Bicycle Touring Italy & Slovenia
06. Bicycle Touring Croatia & Bosnia
07. Bicycle Touring Montenegro
08. Bicycle Touring Albania
09. Bicycle Touring Greece
10. Bicycle Touring Turkey Part 1
11. Bicycle Touring Turkey Part 2
12. Bicycle Touring Turkey Part 3
13. Bicycle Touring Georgia
14. Bicycle Touring Azerbaijan
15. Bicycle Touring Iran Part 1
16. Bicycle Touring Iran Part 2
17. Bicycle Touring Iran Part 3
18. Bicycle Touring Turkmenistan
19. Bicycle Touring Uzbekistan
20. Bicycle Touring Kyrgyzstan
21. Bicycle Touring South Korea
22. Bicycle Touring Japan
23. Bicycle Touring The Philippines
24. Bicycle Touring Cambodia
25. Bicycle Touring Vietnam
26. Bicycle Touring Laos
27. Bicycle Touring Thailand
28. Bicycle Touring Malaysia & Singapore
29. Bicycle Touring Australia