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The Road to Istanbul


Night at the petrol station

Having made the decision to leave Greece and head for Turkey in search of a place to spend a few of the winter months before heading further east, we now find ourselves in Istanbul. WOO HOO!!! WE’VE CYCLED FROM GUERNSEY TO ISTANBUL! Sitting drinking coffee in our friend’s seventh floor apartment just off Taksim Square, sun reflecting off the busy Bosphorus in the distance, adhan bouncing around the city, everything a little more expensive than it should be… life could be a lot worse! After a very tasty final night in Crete, of moussaka, kokoretsi and plenty of raki at our new friends Eleni and Dimitiris’ apartment we took the ferry back to Athens and then a couple more ferries hopping over to Chios (a Greek island) and then finally onto Çeşme, Turkey. Pretty knackered after two nights of not much sleep we mounted our bikes for the first time in a few weeks and began chipping away at the 750km ride to Istanbul. The journey here was good. It felt good to get back on the road again after a bit of a holiday with the family in Crete. Crete is a beautiful island (that apparently and very surprisingly has a high ownership of AK-47s), where we quickly made some good friends, undid most of our healthiness by over eating and drinking and listened to some amazing traditional music. But we felt that if we decided to stop anywhere for the winter it had to be a city, and that city had to be Istanbul.


Cyclists in the mist


Bloody hell!!!!! Five punctures in forty eight hours!
The roads in western Turkey, at least the ones we have ridden on, have all been pretty good. For the most part the road surface is pretty smooth and more often than not with a good sized hard-shoulder (that unlike Crete, aren’t used as an extra lane). I’m not sure what was going on with Mary’s tires, but five punctures in forty eight hours! Although one of them was due to me being a little rough when pumping the inner-tube… ripped it clean off the wheel when I was pumping it. One really nice thing we’ve experienced about punctures in Turkey is that whilst we’re stopped on the side of the road fixing the bike, it proved to be a good way to meet people. During our first puncture break a very friendly couple approached us and insisted that if we needed absolutely anything just to let them know… minutes after they left another guy pulled up in his car, jumped out, beaming with smiles and handed over a couple of cold bottles of water and drove off… drive by thirst quencher. The next day, on another impromptu puncture break, some bloke walked straight up to Mary, took the wheel out of her hands and started at it with a pair of pliers (general advice for fixing punctures and changing tires usually advises against using sharp or metal tools as they can cause more damage than good. ((as I’m writing this bracketed sentence, criticizing the kind assistance offered by a complete stranger, I notice my own choice of tool in the photo above)). Quite a macho approach to helping the useless cycle tourists, but friendly none the less.


Fruity smile
Approaching a roadside fruit stall with the intention to buy just two apples, before I could say “no thanks, what do I want to carry a bag of really soft, squishy fruit on my bike for?” I was loading my bike up with percimmon, ayva, oranges and other over priced and over ripe fruit that we didn’t particularly want. Still, it turned out that we didn’t need to carry the burden of eating the food we’d paid for for too long, as it got smashed around on the back of the bikes so much, it had turned into rotten mush by the end of the day.


Camping in the coal shed


A luxury suit at Motel Petrol

Camping at petrol stations is cool! The first two nights we spent in Turkey were at an apartment owned by an extremely hospitable and friendly couple, Olcay and Sema, in Izmir. We got hold of them through the cycle touring hospitality website warmshowers.org. As I mentioned, we hadn’t had much sleep in the two days before arriving in Izmir, so it was great to get a couple of early nights in someone’s home. Thanks guys! Cycling into Izmir was a bit of a shock to the system. Very quickly we found ourselves on busy, arterial roads into the city. Smoggy, hectic and getting dark… we seem to keep arriving in cities at rush hour. Despite the traffic, we managed to find our new friends apartment very easily with the GPS, which was quite a relief. Anyway, back to petrol stations. Chatting with Olcay, he mentioned that in Turkey cyclist tourists often camp on the patches of grass in front of petrol stations. I guess there’s an element of security, if it’s a 24 hour garage there’s always someone around to act as a deterrent for potential bike theives. But also you have the added bonus of a toilet and a little shop… and to our surprise one of the guys from the first garage we camped at bought us tea right to our tent in the morning! It would be unfair of me to say for sure, but I find it difficult to imagine you’d receive this kind of hospitality at a garage in the UK. Picture yourself waking up after good night’s rest on the grassy verge outside a service station on the M4, the attendant gently saying “Good morning sir. How about a nice cup of tea before you go?”. Something to try. Our last petrol station night was quite a surprise. Cycling past a garage on the outskirts of Bandirma (a city on the south coast of the Sea of Marmara), drenched, stinking and covered in mud, we were waved over by some guys sat outside the garage. Within a few minutes we were inside their office, drinking tea, clothes drying on the radiator, being fed biscuits and cake from the garage shop and having a chat. We ended up camping in the coal shed around the back of the garage having been taken out for a slap-up feed of fresh fish and a few beers!


Mary and the law They were definitely smiling right up until I pressed the shutter release button.


GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. My tiger impression Filthy fingers seem to add that je ne sais quoi to every meal.

Notes from the road

- Anyone looking for a place to store their bikes for the day when you’re waiting for a ferry in Pereaus, Athens, we left ours in a 24 hour secure parking place just over the road from gate 7 of the port. Not the one right by the gate, you have to cross over the road. Not sure how useful this will be but here’s their business card. It was pretty cheap and our bikes weren’t nicked. What else could you want from a parking place?
- Generally good road surfaces on the main roads.
- Lots of trucks and coaches driving very fast.
- Friendly drivers who love beeping their horns and waving at cyclists. So much so they often kept waving and looking at us over their shoulders rather than looking where they were driving. Friendly/ curious to the point of potential danger. I like that… there something darkly amusing about being ‘friendly to death’.
- Plenty of good camp spots, especially the little patches of grass outside petrol stations.
- Really good bakery, snacky, street food.
- Loads of bloody dogs everywhere. A mixture of wild dogs that don’t seem too interested in us and other dogs (sometimes wild and sometimes collared) who seem to get really bloody angry when they see a bike pass. We’ve already mentioned this in the blog, as have every other cycle tourist, cyclists encounter aggressive dogs all the time. There are lots of different suggestions on how to deal with them. Not sure we’ve found a 100% effective way of dealing with them yet but stopping, staring at them, barking as loud as we can and sometimes waving my ‘dog-stick’ (that I whittled, and cut my thumb making, on a beach in Serbia) seems to surprise them and they lose interest. Just in case we’ve also got a couple of other backup defense systems. A can of over priced and out of date pepper spray I bought in a gun shop in Crete (they let us muck about with Russian machine guns whist we were waiting for the guy to go and fetch the pepper spray). Not sure how I feel about using pepper spray, it seems a little harsh, some might say over the top. It’ll probably end up leaking in my bag, blinding me or being used as a dare devil food stuff when we’ve had too many beers. I’ll keep you posted on this. Whatever the outcome, it’ll make for an entertaining post. We’ve also got a couple of AirZound bike horns on their way to us next week. Not that I’m scared (I am), but chatting to a couple of other cycle tourists who’ve ridden from Australia to Istanbul, Aaron and Jacqui, about their experience of being bitten by a rottweiler in south-east Asia, I think our dog experience has merely begun!
- Use warmshowers.org. So far we’ve only used it a couple of times to arrange places to stay. It’s also been a great way to get in contact with other cyclists to get advice on routes, places to visit etc… We had no idea before leaving Crete of the route we would take to get to Istanbul. Within a couple of hours of emailing someone living in Istanbul, through warmshowers.org, I had a friendly and very detailed email with loads of information on the various routes we could take. Thanks Kathy!
- Persimmons aren’t the most suitable of fruits to carry on a bike.

Film of ‘The Road to Istanbul’ to follow shortly.

Merry Christmas!

Discussion

14 Responses to “The Road to Istanbul”

  1. Pleeeease do something rash and inadvisable with the pepper spray. pleeeeease. it just seems made for self incapacitation. It must be so tempting to give yourself a little blast to see what happens.

    [Reply]

    Posted by dan | December 21, 2011, 2:07 pm
  2. Oooo sounds won.der.ful.

    How long do you reckon you’ll be in Istanbul for?

    Love,

    Elle x x
    P.S. Skype Ma at Christmas, you’ll make her day!

    [Reply]

    pete Reply:

    Hi Elle. A few months. Maybe until April. Fancy a visit? Speak to you on Sunday. x

    [Reply]

    Posted by Elle | December 22, 2011, 5:39 pm
  3. Hi. Just wondering if you were cycling just west of Bandirma on Dec. 16? While we are also touring, we decided to put our bikes on a bus from Bursa to Canakkale and saw outside the bus window two cyclists heading up a hill just after we left Bandirma. Was that you?? If so, your timing was great. It’s been raining in Canakkale almost non-stop the last week. Unfortunately, we’ve been in Canakkale longer than anticipated as we both came down with colds! Have fun in Istanbul.
    Zoe and Paul

    [Reply]

    pete Reply:

    Hi Zoe and Paul

    Yep, I think that must have been us. We had a bit of rain, but for the most part we were lucky with the weather… even had tail winds for quite a bit of our ride. Where are you guys headed? Get well soon!

    Pete

    [Reply]

    Zoe and Paul Reply:

    @pete, Hi again. We plan on finally leaving Çanakkale in the next day or so, heading south. Turkey is planning on implementing a change to its visa regulations on Feb. 1 so no one will be able to do a ‘visa run’ and re-enter the country right away. Instead, it will be similar to the Schengen visa for non-Europeans – you’ll only be entitled to be in the country for 90 out of 180 days. With this in mind, we plan on taking a ferry to Chios and re-entering Turkey by the end of Jan., thus giving us another 90 days before the new visa comes into effect. We are on the slow side and stop frequently! Zoe and Paul

    [Reply]

    mary Reply:

    Hi you two!
    Wow – thanks for this new information, we’d probably be in the dark about that until it was too late so we can’t thank you enough, really!!
    Hope you’ve been enjoying Çanakkale too – how was christmas there??
    Istanbul is great, we met a couple of other cyclists on the way in here who had ridden all the way from Australia!! Great people. Perhaps you’ll bump into them one day on the road!
    Enjoy riding south – we had some fantastic nights at petrol stations if you can believe it!!!
    Happy New Year too, and keep in touch:)
    Mary xx

    [Reply]

    Zoe and Paul Reply:

    @mary, Hi guys. Here are a couple of web links so you can check the visa info yourself:
    http://www.tourismandaviation.com/12467-turkish-visa-law-changes-in-2012.html
    and
    http://www.noonsite.com/Members/sue/R2011-11-29-1
    We’d heard the visa change was a possibility and that the British Embassy would keep people updated but so far that hasn’t happened yet. In any event, we are planning our visa renewal before the end of January. Better safe than sorry! It will also give us more time to figure out where to go after Turkey. Paul is a US citizen (I’m Canadian) and so at the moment both Iran and Syria are not options. All the best,
    Zoe and Paul

    [Reply]

    Posted by Zoe and Paul | December 23, 2011, 9:56 am
  4. All sounds fantastic and look at how many miles you have cycled – you are going to soooooooooo fit!

    Have a fantasic Christmas wherever you are…

    xx

    [Reply]

    Posted by Lazy Lee | December 24, 2011, 12:19 pm
  5. This is a very exciting journey. So ,what are you doing these days in Istanbul?

    [Reply]

    mary Reply:

    Hi Ayhan,
    Good to hear you are enjoying the blog! Istanbul is full of new things to see, smell and taste – great, we are loving it!

    [Reply]

    Posted by Ayhan | December 25, 2011, 11:30 am
  6. Hello my darlings!!!!

    Ah it is so lovely to hear/see that you are having an amazing time..and that you are safe.

    You mind those dogs, they sound scary!!

    Hope you have managed to find somewhere nice to stay and that you had a nice Christmas and New Year.

    Baby Mizen number two is yet to make an appearance, but I will tell him/her all about you when they arrive.

    Take care, lots and lots of love

    Lizzie, Spence and Freddie xxxxx

    [Reply]

    mary Reply:

    Oh Leakers maybe you will have a New Years baby!! It’s quite possible! Glad you saw the vid, it was pretty cool putting it all together, I think we’ll do them for other places in the future…once we get going again!
    Istanbul is brilliant, just trying to sort out somewhere to stay at the mo’….fingers crossed as we have found the perfect place – we just have to wait and see if we are the lucky ones to live there!!
    Have a great NY, love to all the other little Mizens and Blakes!! xxxxxxx

    [Reply]

    Posted by Lizzie Mizen | December 30, 2011, 1:42 pm
  7. HAPPY NEW YEAR!! XX

    [Reply]

    Posted by Elle | December 31, 2011, 9:22 pm

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