Catha's Seat

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Days 65 to 69: The (strangely like) home straight - Turkey

The border crossing into Turkey gave us only one choice - motorway riding. Luckily it was pretty quiet and our first views of our destination country were complemented by an exceedingly beautiful sunset.

Photo by EA Gow
Following the main road into Kesan was ghastly. An unfriendly route with a potholed hard shoulder drove us through an area thick with industry, the associated smog clinging close to the ground due to the cold. All reports had indicated that most people in Turkey would speak English - not true where we were. Dog tired we barely managed to negotiate a room and ate whatever they brought us in the restaurant we chose. 

Glorious sunset just over the border into Turkey. (Photo by EA Gow)
The smog meant we woke feeling like we had smoked 40 cigarettes. It wasn't just us feeling rough - Scott was showing signs of ageing; his tyres battered, scarred and the chain stretched such that I needed to remove another link.

More main road towards the port of Tekirdag, with terrible surface and our favourite headwind. We were cheered up by what must have been the most support from drivers we had in one day, totalling up to 30 or 40 honks or people leaning out of the windows hollering and waving.

After a spate of difficult afternoons - drowsy after eating too much lunch - we employed the "Snackegy" or snack strategy. Regular eats 4 or 5 times during the day's ride. Worked a treat but slowed us down a bit. 

All the way from Bosnia through to Turkey we noticed that Nescafe had eeked out a strange market. In western Europe I cannot imagine anyone ever going out for an instant coffee. In these countries, however, it was on every coffee menu and very popular too, even though it often had a higher price tag than Turkish coffee.
Tekirdag had a bit of the British seaside resort about it. There was a small funfair, a chap selling candy floss, a promenade etc. They were pushing on through even though tourist season was well and truly over - the funfair had europop blaring out, but no rides moving and the candy floss man walked around aimlessly wrapped up in a thick trenchcoat and woolen hat. Arms laden with bags of food ready for a snack we noticed 4 cycle tourers pedalling off in our direction. Normally we would chase after them to make an encounter unfold but we just looked at each other with a knowing nod of "nothing is going to distract us from our food"!

It was almost sunset by the time we pulled out of town looking for a place to camp. The city sprawled along the coastline, too much inhabitation for us to pitch up un-noticed. Just as we had picked out a spot off the road to aim for we saw the 4 cycle tourers up ahead. With new vigour we pedalled to catch up with them and the guy at the rear, Francois, hung back to chat with us. It turned out that they had mostly been asking around to find places to stay and tonight they had been told there was a hotel on the beach that may give them a room for free in low season. We asked if we could join them, even if we had to pay for a room, and Francois seemed positive.

When we caught up with the other three however one of the gang, Paul, had already gone in to broker a deal. When he returned he explained that he had secured a place by saying they were on a charitable mission - the way he said it, made it sound to me like this was something they had made up just to get in there. The staff were trying to sneak them in without the boss knowing and two more people was going to tip the balance over. We were told that the beach just next to the hotel was a good spot and we slipped off to check it out whilst they continued their negotiations. 

The beach was perfect. Nicely secluded it obviously wasn't used much out of season as white plastic furniture was scattered everywhere, half submerged in the sand. After a much needed beer to accompany the sunset we constructed our camp complete with sun loungers and dining table.

Relaxing on our Moon-loungers. (Photo by EA Gow)
Francois came down to the beach all flustered. He explained that they had been smuggled into a room and told to stay in there until the morning. To come out and see us he had to jump out the window. We agreed to meet on the beach for breakfast. 

Chef cooks up a Coq au Biere at our makeshift beach kitchen facility.

Al fresco petit dejuner with the French guys was great. We shared tales of our respective trips and it turned out that they were actually on a mission. They are travelling the world looking to raise €17,000 to pay for a disadvantaged child to have life saving heart surgery in France and also interviewing doctors around the world about conditions / treatment available for young heart condition patients - a very worthwhile cause so please check out

They had been fishing along the way and over our coffees they showed us some pictures of their various catches. Back to business though and with 4 more continents of travelling to go the guys were taking the direct route down the coast to Istanbul on the main road. At less than 110km (i.e. an average day's riding) it certainly seemed tempting, but we followed our plan and ducked inland to approach our final destination from the backcountry hills.

Breakfast on the beach with the French Guys - left to right Alex, Francois, Romain, Paul, Remy and Me.
Pulling out of Corlu we really hit the slums. There seemed to be a positive vibe with people hollering and waving and a couple of kids started running behind us. One surprised me as he almost caught up and I saw him holding onto my solar charger. I smacked him on the wrist and with a gut reaction shouted "get your mits off". He tried to imitate what I had said and flashed a cheeky grin. 

At lunchtime Scott really showed his "tyredness" with another pinch puncture, although this time it was more serious - the tube was now sticking out of the worn gatorskins. This called for a major overhaul with the front tyre moving to the back and the thin spare folding tyre on the front. The roads leaving Cerkezkoy didn't help, having to weave a course through a thick patchwork of potholes. 

And then we reached Istanbul..........

Yes - we were also somewhat perplexed - we were still 80km away on the map!

80km outside of Istanbul! (Photo by EA Gow)
We ended up in a thick wood outside Cayidere that was just like woods in Kent. Low trees and muddy tracks. In fact the scenery on the way into Istanbul was incredibly familiar - just like home. It had been difficult to find our nightly stash of booze and what we did get came at a steep price. We chose a bottle of Turkish wine that looked the part - good label, an established vineyard since 1932. It tasted like wine tastes on the way back up if you've had too much - we couldn't believe they had been in business so long!

A night in the woods and another camp cooking triumph. Vegetable curry with buttered bulgar wheat. We found the kofte meat spice mix worked a treat. In the right hand picture check out the solar panel - this power solution was a kind gift from the team at powerPerfector when I left - many thanks to them for a fantastic and practical present.

The landscape coming into Istanbul was strangely familiar, like the rolling downs and arable land of our shire; Kent.
On day 68 we decided we should stay just outside Istanbul. Ideally a high point so we could sit for our final breakfast watching the sunset over our destination. Our research on Google maps had showed a high point with and an open green space to be just beyond Arnavutkoy. After an impromptu stop for a second lunch at the Rolls Royce of kebab shops it was starting to get dark and the roads were filling up with rush hour traffic. We obviously looked lost and a nice chap on a Dominos pizza scooter stopped to check we were all right. This was somewhat ironic considering that we had fantasised about ordering a pizza out to where-ever we ended up rough camping that night!

The top of the hill was not very inviting at all - actually it was an army training base with men and machine guns making it very clear that we wouldn't be camping there. This was obviously why there was such a large green space in the urban sprawl. We managed to duck down just behind the hill into a forest. We had our worst meal yet and in the absence of any beer shops we resorted to mixing the famous Ouzo we picked up in Greece with sticky soda drinks, sending us a little crazy. We set our sights on an early morning to find our vantage point before sunrise.

The Rolls Royce of kebabs. Lovingly prepared and cooked over an open flame the kebab master first skewers the meat with a fine prong slicing underneath allowing him to toast the individual portions to perfection before serving. Unfortunately, having not asked the cost upfront, it came at Rolls Royce prices. (Photo by EA Gow)
At 5am on the 27th November 2012 we set off on our last leg - the infamous superhighway ride into Istanbul. The main road was 3 lanes by now and we hoped at every hill crest of the approach that there would be an end to the army base and a suitable lookout point.

It wasn't to be and we ended up at a park next to the Golden Horn with the sun already high in the sky. We sat in the park, cooked up our coffee on the stove and ate breakfast while the early morning joggers passed giving us understandably strange glances.

With plenty of time before our planned meeting time at the flat we were renting, we made our way slowly towards some of the main tourist attractions to get some good photos. We stopped off to give the bikes a power wash, took a route through the backstreets of Fatih and then navigated the crowds in the bustling streets around the Grand Bazaar. 

We were heading for the Blue Mosque and Ayasofia and with so many minarets sticking up around the place we thought we had got there a couple of times before we actually did.

When you see the Ayasofia though, you know where you are - and there we were; at 11am on the 27th November 2012. 2,892 miles at an average of exactly 12mph. 2 months and 5 days after I started, 44 days on the bike - an average of 66 miles per day. A top speed of 40.02mph........and luckily not a sore bum in sight!

Yep - definitely arrived in Istanbul - in front of the Ayasofia (aka the Hagia Sophia). (Photo by EA Gow)

My trusty shorts - £5 from Primark back in 2009!

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