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The Yalova ferry ride was too quick – as soon as we’d closed our eyes into extra moments of dulled consciousness, our arrival bleared monotonously from the loudspeakers, causing consciousness to be relit and our machinery forced into movement. – – we made it to Izmit and were stopped by Emine (a German of Turkish heritage) and Ayhan (her fiancé) who introduced themselves originally as Eucalyptus and Koala, but due to Ayhan’s heavily Turkish accented voice, we missed the joke!! They were deeply impressed with TanNayNay and wanted to know where they could purchase a similar beast for their own future world bike travels.
We mentioned we weren’t sure where to stay so they took it upon themselves to find us the perfect place. After pooh-poohing a “cheap” teacher’s hostel ($40 per night is easily double the absolute most we’ve paid anywhere but was a bargain in our hosts’ eyes) they showed us the perfect place to pop a tent in their very own small neighbourhood. We rode after them – the car aflame with blinkers and headlights and slow speeds all through the tangle of roads of inner Izmit, arriving at a cafe, a market and eventually Emine’s home. They regretfully noted they’d like to have us stay but for fear of retribution from nosy neighbours and complications of their future German/Turkish marriage, they couldn’t – we luxuriated in their home, cooking vegetarian curry and enjoying the company until darkness had taken hold of a good few hours. Our camping spot was well hidden and quiet – a good night’s sleep was had and Ayhan even popped past at 7:30 am on his way to work the next morning.
No particular goals guided us through the next day – an unscheduled stop at a local dentistry hospital informed a lock-jawed Kat that she had a wisdom tooth infection and needed the jolly thing extracted but luckily not there and then. Alee waited outside and watched in horror as small child after small child walked out crying, holding bloodied tissues to their small mouths and Kat witnessed a drug-free extraction inside. With a five-day antibiotic prescription and time limit for getting the calcified bone out in hand, we rode hastily away.
Meeting More Nice Folk
Next, we were stopped by Ali who bought us çay and a warm hearty lunch and delivered extremely useful advice on our travellers’ doorstep: when on the road, whether by bike or car, go to restaurants with the most trucks parked outside – truck drivers are well known to vote with their patronage, if the food is fresh and fabulous then they’ll return and spread the word. Don’t be swayed by buses – the tour companies have shonky deals to share profits with particular service station restaurants regardless of reputation. Our wheels spun ever onwards and we were continually called over to the side of the road with offers of çay, water (su) and conversation.
A hotel in the middle of nowhere was our sleeping space – we accidentally coerced the managers into letting us have a good price on a room by trying to set up our tent next door. Sneaky. After an accidentally warm night our ride the next day again rewarded our serendipitous stopping. Düzce officially has the best bread in Turkey – a bakery called Saray just left off the main highway provided us with pillowy, chewy, satiating Turkish bread straight out of the baker’s oven, perfectly balanced sweet savoury simits and böreks, well filled with sumptuous flavourings. Delicious. A pharmacist in Bolu told us where to stay just out of town and the Yildiz Hotel was perfectly tempered in air and water temperature, and had clean cute cats spilling from every orifice – Alleykat’s idea of a perfect place to stay.
Our longest day on TanNayNay entailed lots of climbing, being rewarded for said ascent by finding shelter at a restaurant in Gerede while the heavens snowed for a convenient forty five minute period and ceased in synchronisation with Alleykat feeding to our full and exiting the restaurant. 133 kilometres into the ride and our goal town materialised in front of us – Kat was pinging on the back of the tandem with a mixture of knee pain, euphoria, riding in the darkness induced thrills and the sense of arriving ‘home’ we stayed a night in the freezing cold town of Cerkes. It was warm as toast inside a hotel that looked like a bin (but wasn’t too bad at all once through the doors)!
Bloody awful is what best describes riding into a head windy, hail-y snowstorm. After 30 kilometres of this experience, knee pain and tooth pain to add to the sheer pain in the neck of ‘bloody awful’ riding, we pulled into a service station to try our hand at a second round of hitchhiking. A man who spoke a little English negotiated with the first truck driver in our sights and in no time at all we were truckin’ our way the next 340 kilometres (or three days riding) to Samsun on the Black Sea coastline. Our second hitchhike was with our second truckie named Hussein and after a little iPad assisted translation, three and a half kilograms of hazelnuts (‘findik’) and some seriously surprisingly coloured rock face we arrived on the outskirts of Samsun.
Sheets of rain made a wet bed around the shelter of the bridge we’d stopped under. We were greeted warmly by seven or eight local boys who spoke a little English (an amount probably equal to our Turkish!) and then braved what was now more a feathery down of rain and rode into the centre where after a little exploration, we landed yet another reasonably priced hotel complete with a noisy, kindly, çay-making, back-room-inviting family.
The next day Kat got her jaw, tongue, eye and shoulder numbed for 20 lira – and 15 minutes later received a wisdom tooth extraction at no extra cost! After two nights in Samsun and some pretty cheap food and pretty disappointing baklava, we headed to Fatsa.
Experiencing Turkish Hospitality
40 kilometres before we stopped for the day, we encountered the most welcoming town in Turkey where every single person waved and smiled and said something encouraging; five or more invites for çay along one stretch of road and a very generous restaurant owner who liked bike riders and have us a good price, we think! In Fatsa we planned to camp in a little oasis just past the town, we’d managed to wrangle TanNayNay and all our belongings in black bags down a steep incline and we’re just about to pop the old tent when we were discovered! For more details about our Fatsa adventures with Turgay and whole host of other new friends and some truly incredible Turkish hospitality and youthful enthusiasm, CLICK HERE.
After leaving before we wanted to, a rainy day ahead of us lead us to Giresun and the worst indoor location we’ve stayed so far – for $16 we had a dingy little room with no heating (eventually an appropriated bar heater), no shower and a few crazies thrown in for good measure. After a leisurely next morning, Kat couldn’t face another night there, we moved in search of greener pastures up the road (even if it was snowing as we saddled up). The heavens closed their doors and smiled at us for 35kms to Espiye (where we felt fine about stopping for the day as it promptly began slushing – snowing and raining simultaneously – the moment our wheels stopped, thank you riding gods), where a much better (read: had a shower) hotel and new friends at the hotel. Namely, Tolga, who spoke very good English (despite his protests of the contrary).
Importantly, we made a decision here – instead of heading inland and up hill to Erzurum, where we’d been warned many of the passes would be closed and those that weren’t would be snow covered and quite dangerous due to sharing the roads with trucks driving on thin ice – we would continue along the Black Sea coastline and enter Georgia and then cross into Iran from Azerbaijan. This was also due to a clerical error – our trip is only very loosely planned in large chunks of time but we’d recently booked in a date to see Kat’s parents in Uzbekistan and had begun the visa process (which requires strict specified entrance and exit dates) but somehow in this process we’d managed to gain a month – we had almost four weeks of time unaccounted for BUT we couldn’t stay in Turkey (our visas were almost up) and we couldn’t enter Iran (visa dates again!) so the only real solution lay further afield. The wilds of Georgia and Azerbaijan, two countries we’d barely heard of it was to be.
Turkey’s Best Pide
We stayed in Espiye a little longer then we planned, made a video about TanNayNay and went to Giresun for a much better night than the first one we’d spent there, drinking at the Fly bar and making friends. For lunch on our final day we sampled two examples very famous pide (there’s a yearly pide festival in Espiye, that’s how famous it is) which was in fact the best we’d had, discovering that butter is perhaps the secret ingredient in the North and East of Turkey where the pide was better as a general rule.
From Espiye we headed gladly toward a guaranteed couch surfer’s house in Trabzon, no more hit-and-miss money spent on hotels. We had koftë for the first time along the way and our light stopped working just in time for our first real ride at night on freeways. Dangerous move, Alleykat.
Trabzon: Another Cycling Un-Friendly City
After calling Zeynep, our CouchSurfing host from Skype in a fancy ‘sahlep’ cafe on the outskirts of Trabzon, we headed to our meeting place of the entrance of the airport. In the dark, on a freeway, up a massive hill, merging in heavy peak hour traffic; our hearts in our throats, our bike scraping the barriers along the freeway and our lives held tightly in tandem hands before completing the lightless, light-headed lightfoot to our destination.
The beautiful vision named Zeynep managed to locate us (after we wheeled around for a little bit) and took us a short distance to her magical flat with her sister Ayse and flatmate Bushra.
They made us feel at home immediately, even their cat Sanço liked us! Over the next five days and nights we managed to have a ball as well as making headway for our future travel. Priorities, priorities: after making friends we set in motion actions to sort our Iran visas, made new bike-rider friends (who of course were both in the Iran Consulate at the same time as us) JP and Jaques. These Frenchies got their Iran visas in one day (ours was to take three). That evening we four (Zeynep, JP and Alleykat) had the best Sahlep in Turkey, went for a nice evening nargile-and-çay session on the hill and then had our first çigköfte (a spicy vegetarian durum-wrapped delight) for dinner that evening. Delicious.
Alleykat hung out in Trabzon in various locations (Zeynep’s apartment, the sunshine, the Iranian Embassy, a few different levels of a terraced park, the famous sahlep cafe and all around the streets. One evening we joined in on an apartment party with potent Turkish raki and a full raki spread.
The Mystery Tour
One day we went on a magical mystery tour – a relatively plain-jane journey which began with plans to visit the Sumela monastery, and did include the touristic traipse up the hill, a four hundred metre scale of a Mountain and a short perusal of an impressively Fresco-decorated monastery, BUT… also included a random 350km round-trip hitch hike to Uzungöl with two kind men from Bolu on a nine day holiday around their country. We finally ended up back in Trabzon much later than expected but with a famous place visit under our still slightly confused belts.
On the penultimate night we hung out with an admittedly strange collection of people including Jaques and JP’s new CouchSurfing host, who all partook in red wine drinking and the red Thai curry Alleykat pretty much prepares for everyone. The final night was an intimate dinner for Zeynep and Alleykat finishing with a Turkish coffee at a fancy coffee house. We were sad to leave, but had probably taken up too much time, space and energy belonging to Zeynep and her household so we bade them a warm goodbye and left by 11am in the radiant sunshine.
Cycling In Çay Country
Next, we rode to the infamous çay town of Rize (and failed in our many attempts to take a çay fields photo along the way), stayed in Efes hotel and made new friends at the botanic gardens over çay. Camel and Ali took us for some local music which was fortunately accompanied by backgammon, nargile and our first kiwi çay (Will and Selina, we finally drank some!) but unfortunately came with food that cost us more for this very small meal that what we’d spend on food for two days!
On the road from Rize to Hopa we succeeded at the çay fields photo and were of course lucky again, in typical ‘travellers-in-Turkey’ fashion: after pausing at a supermarket (admittedly to find wifi to perhaps locate a place to stay) Savas, the manager of Migros, introduced himself to us and convened us into his managerial for çay and coffee.
After imbibing various beverages we were invited (we may have suggested it after they lamented “ah, NEXT time you come to Turkey, you must stay with us!” assuming we had a hotel pre-booked as most tourists would have. Cannily we innocently shared our lack of hotel and soon we had a new place to call “home” for the night. Within minutes of the decision, were being taken to the local Hopa Independence Day festival and then back to Savas’s place where we met Deniz his wife, and Iiet his son, who’s name was fitting because he would eat or “iiet” everything!!). Deniz had cooked us a feast, including a full goat’s head (filled with trepidation and a little taste of bile, I tried some cheek and gum, Alee tried tongue and jaw – both with limited success). The rest of the food was incredibly good, we were spoiled – the grey, unoccupied goat is reserved for special occasions. Savash’s colleague joined us for our second Turkish raki table (more food and very good quality raki) where we five enjoyed each others company. Bed was very comfortable, we slept like babies, with thankfully no noise from the resident baby.
An Average Ride to the Border
Knowing we only had 37kms to ride across the Georgian border, the next day was extremely slow; we luxuriated our way through a very late Turkish breakfast and then picked up TanNayNay (whom we’d left at Migros overnight) and left after photos and were on our merry way (complete with our very last simits) by 1pm.
Naturally, our last day in Turkey was appalling, Turkey clearly didn’t want us to leave but if we insisted on going she was going to throw all she had at us. We were bashed in the face by a heavily-pawed beast of a headwind, rode a terrifying two and a half kilometre long tunnel with no lights on us or TanNayNay (read Alee’s recount HERE) and a little shit of a kid threw rocks and dirt into Kat’s face making true contact with her right ear and eye. Kat wanted to kill him or at least demand satisfaction from a family member, but we rode on.
Crossing the border was a much more monetarily cheap and time costly affair than we’d planned for, but soon it was 3:30 Turkey time and 5:30 Georgian time and that meant it was time for Alleykat to say goodbye to Turkey. We will return some day!
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