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Sitting Turkeys

iturkey_064Sleeping in the show-room

If you’ve read many other cycle-blogs then you won’t be surprised, in fact you’re probably expecting to read gushing reports of encounters with friendly and hospitable locals, tales of psychopathic dogs and beaming descriptions of stunning landscapes. I think we’ve successfully ticked these boxes, so no more of that… except for the next few paragraphs, and probably this whole post. With the exception of the kid who smashed a bottle in the road just in front of us, the two kids who threw stones at us, the three kids who gave us the *Turkish Schlap and the truck driver who gave us the finger, Turkey is one ridiculously friendly and hospitable country. In fact, if you’re tired of reading about other people’s positive experiences then I suggest to take your attention elsewhere.

Camping, puffed-out and Cappadocia

As we loaded our bikes for the first time in nearly four months, we both felt a little heavy hearted (and a little hungover) to be saying goodbye to the people who had quickly become our good friends and the place that was our home for the winter. Riding through the city, with an optimistic morning sun reflecting off the Golden Horn, the first of the Galata Bridge fishermen setting up their equipment, we were excited to get moving again. It felt like we were embarking on a new trip. We had decided to leave Istanbul the way we had arrived, taking the ferry back across the Sea of Marmara to a small town called Yalova. I would definitely recommend this to other cyclists looking to avoid the chaos of traffic when leaving Istanbul. Like clockwork, the famed Turkish hospitality began within minutes of finding our seat on the ferry. Before we knew it we were talking with a family who made it their business to give us our second breakfast and make sure we had a few extras for lunch. We were back on the road! 

Çay Guy

As well as becoming fluent, to read not to give, in offensive Turkish hand gestures we’ve also become very familiar with the ‘fancy a çay and a chat’ signal. As we ride past petrol stations (still a camping favorite), shops, cafes… anywhere groups of men are sat talking, if eye contact is maintained for longer than two seconds it usually results with a hand simulating a spoon stirring, followed by the drinking of at least fives cups of çay and a conversation about who, what and where?
For me it felt like the ride from Istanbul was the beginning of real ‘adventure’ cycle touring, although I’ve got a feeling I’ll be saying this with each new border crossing. It took us about eight days to reach Göreme, the tourist hub of Cappadocia. With it’s amazing wind carved rock formations and fantasy landscape. We spent a couple of days relaxing and site-seeing before beginning the six day ride north-east over the mountains (2200m passes… the highest since the Alpes) and up to the Black Sea Coast. The riding was physically demanding and spectacular. With the exception of having to walk our bikes through some busy motor-way tunnels, the ride across Turkey and up to the coast was all snowy mountains (still a lot of snow in April), full and fast flowing rivers and the optimistic green glow of spring. On our arrival to Turkey, during the two weeks we spent cycling to Istanbul, daylight hours were short and the weather was reliably cold and wet. Although we enjoyed the journey, we felt like we weren’t doing it quite right. Nearly every night we cycled well into the darkness and usually ended up eating cold, left-over lunch things. Having left Istanbul we made a conscious decision to try and modify our approach and make things a little more enjoyable. Wild camping next to rivers, in fields, inside car show-rooms, roadside mosques, cafe gardens… about an hour or two before the sun goes down, usually after a good eight or nine hours in the saddle, we’ve become pretty good at quickly finding a decent camp-spot. One of us puts the tent up and gets our temporary home ready for the night while the other sets the cooker up and makes dinner. Up and about at around 6.30am, equipped with recipes and tips from other cyclists, we have breakfast, now accompanied with filter coffee made in our mini-expresso maker, pack-up and get on the road. It always feels good to get going early, and it means there’s plenty of time to have a long lunch break and an afternoon snooze.

Perhaps a bit boring and technical for most people reading this post, but here’s a bit of info about, and a solution to, the problems we’d been having with our MSR Whisperlite cooker. For most of the trip we’d been experiencing problems with the cooker spluttering out and generally not functioning as smoothly as expected. Istanbul has loads of decent outdoors stores, and would have been a very easy place for us to buy a replacement cooker during our four months there… which we didn’t do. About five days into our journey to Göreme the cooker decided to stop working… completely. As far as I could tell, and I really tinkered about with the thing, I’m pretty sure the problem was that the plastic thread inside the pump that forms the fuel control valve got damaged. I think we’ve probably been over turning the fuel valve (beyond the specified 1.5 turns) over the last few years and thus caused the thread to become damaged beyond repair. Luckily we found a very efficient online MSR supplier in turkey www.alpinist.com.tr who sent us a new pump within two days. Since researching this problem I’ve found quite a few other people experiencing the same problem. Maybe it would be more durable as a metal component rather than plastic?

nturkey_098Truck drivers. This collection of pictures was hanging on the wall at a road-side tea house we camped at.

It might surprise you to know that I’m writing this post in the sixth floor apartment of our very kind CouchSurfing host in Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, a whole country away from our bikes. About a week ago, as a result of a chat with a Serbian cyclist we met, we decided to toss a spanner into our not so planned adventure machine. We decided that we would make an attempt to apply for tourist visas for Iran. Before we began our trip, whilst excitedly reading through the accounts of other people’s overland adventures it became pretty clear that the preferred route from Europe to Asia is to include a visit, under the Caspian Sea, through Iran, before heading back up into the Stans and into China. I have to say that it was mainly due to my pessimistic and apprehensive attitude towards British folk traveling in Iran that we decided to head for the more northerly route through Georgia and Azerbaijan, taking the ferry across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan, before joining the aforementioned route in Uzbekistan. Arriving in Trabzon, with plans to stay just two nights, enough time to pay a visit to the Sumela Monastery, we found out that this Turkish seaside town has a widespread reputation for being the place to apply for the coveted Iran tourist visa. It’s a complex and time consuming procedure, with no guarantee of success. Before we knew it we found ourselves waiting outside the consulate, drinking çay kindly offered by the security guards, chatting with a Swedish guy, another Brit and an Aussie chap. Optimistic that we weren’t the only Brits, pessimistic that the security guy said “problem” when we told him we were British. For citizens of some countries like Australia, Canada, Britain etc… to obtain a visa for Iran you first need to acquire an authorization code through an online agent. The cost and success rate of these codes varies wildly from £30 – £200, with a reassuring no-win yes-fee policy. We applied for the ‘express visa’ through www.iranianvisa.com, and are hoping to hear from them in the next couple of days. As happy as we are that everyone else who went into the Iranian consulate with us successfully got their thirty day tourist visas, we want one too!

Border crossing, Sameba სამება Cathedral and Adjaran khachapuri

… and so, rather than hang around Trabzon for an indefinite period of time (even though it’s a relaxed and nice enough city to spend a few days) we decided to leave our bikes with our very friendly CouchSurfing host and take a mini-break to Georgia. Our brief time in Georgia included listening to and watching a Georgian Choir singing at a packed and atmospheric service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi (thanks Sarah and David!) followed by a trip to the thermal baths. We’ve paid for quite intimate rub-downs and massages before… but this was something a little different. We left the bath house feeling squeaky clean and very relaxed, but also covered in bruises and haunted with a light feeling of remorse and possibly even an inkling that we may have been ever so slightly abused.

It’s both exciting and frustrating to not know the direction we’ll be heading next. The only real downside is that we’ve already paid for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan visas whilst we were in Istanbul… both with specific entry and exit dates. Time is ticking away! We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime I’ll leave you with Azerbaijan’s entry to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest Sabina Babayeva with ‘When The Music Dies’. By the way…. we’ve had an amazing time in Turkey!



*I’m not sure exactly what this means. Dan, Deniz, Flurin, Paige or Uğur if you’re reading this then please correct me if I’m wrong. It involves slapping your right fist against your left wrist, with your thumb poking through your index and forefingers, in an aggressive ‘f*ck you’ style. It translates as something like ‘I give you one’. Very friendly.


15 Responses to “Sitting Turkeys”

  1. Glad to hear that you love Turkey, we can’t wait until we get there and start cycling. We’ve already applied for our Iranian visas with the same company as you. Fingers crossed we all have success. At the moment we are still in the UK and having a few issues getting Indian visas! We love your photographs and will keep reading your blog and following your progress. Cheers, Nina, Brad and Tilly


    mary Reply:

    Hi Nina, sorry for not getting back to the last email..hope the planning is going well, the coast up to Istanbul from Cesme was pretty wet for us so it’s hard to comment if it would be better or not…I’m sure which ever way you choose you guys will have an awesome adventure. Getting up to Trabzon has been a fantastic ride also and the result of getting our Iranian visas to boot is brilliant. Good luck with yours too, and keep in touch xx


    Lara&Belgit&Sureyya Reply:

    Dear Mary and Pete,
    It was so nice to be a little part of your adventure on the road as you guys were passing from Erzurum, Turkey. Thank you both for bringing to our home such a positive life-energy and smiles (which in fact was not possible to understand from Pete’s face because of his huge beard :) during your stay.
    We wish you guys a life full-of- happiness around your adventure and beyond.
    Lara says that it is already night now, where are they? Why are they so late this time? You meight not ride if it is dark, she recommends, otherwise you may fall down from your bikes by bumping a stone or something (sleeping dogs and/or cats) on the road :) )
    Be safe, re-consider that Laos :)
    We hope to hear from you again.
    Live to ride, ride to live :)
    Greetings from Erzurum, Turkey.


    mary Reply:

    Thank you three for inviting us to stay! It was wonderful for us too! Lara is so sweet, I hope one day she will forgive us for speaking so much english while we were with you guys :) Thank you for the photos too – expect them up on the blog soon, we hope you are all having a good time in Izmir and that Lara is back to her usual self! Love and hugs from the road xxxxx


    Posted by incywincyrider | May 2, 2012, 9:48 pm
  2. Thats about right. Bora taught it me. I made a Facebook album with step by step instructions if that’s a help. Have a look in my photos.


    Posted by Dan | May 3, 2012, 7:04 am
  3. Hey you both,
    Great to see you’re both well and having the time of your life… even if a few potatoes have died at your expense. Strangely kinda liked Azerbaijan’s entry to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, think it’s a real contender, kinda sounds a bit like Sam Brown’s ‘Stop’a real classic (Aye right!). Really enjoying the bloggs, hope you get the Iranian Visa.


    mary Reply:

    JAAAAAAAM! So you’ll be stopping in for the Eurovision contest will you?!!
    We both really should have said this ages ago but THANK YOU SO MUCH for treating us to some beers and tantuni while we were in Istanbul :) You are a sweetheart and we really appreciated it!
    Hope all is well in the land of Jam, we think of the cock and bull crowd alot and will raise a glass to you tonight as we sip a beer while we still can…before Iran!! xxxxx


    Posted by Jim | May 3, 2012, 10:52 pm
  4. Hope your adventure continues and that you stay safe. I love reading your blog because it feels like you are talking to me
    Love you both so much
    Mum/Marian xxx

    PS Your YELVGM tried to put some money into the paypal account for your birthday Pete but had no luck!


    Posted by Mum/Marian | May 4, 2012, 10:40 am
  5. Hey Pete, hope you had an awesome birthday and that you got your visas ok! On the subject of hand gestures: you should start inventing some of your own, both friendly and not so friendly. That’ll raise a few eyebrows. Plus you should definitely try and get your elaborate way of signaling for the bill to catch on. It’s a winner. Love to you both, ta ta and take care!


    Posted by Ben | May 4, 2012, 9:47 pm
  6. ..Really? Iran…

    Elle x x


    Posted by Elle | May 5, 2012, 5:49 pm
  7. Great reading the latest in detail! What a life, eh? Love and safe travels towards new borders and beyond … with a new ( ancient! ) set of customs to get used to … not easy wearing big and baggy clothes and scarves on a bike but maybe this will be a time when needs must!!! Love you both and take care of yourselves xxx mum


    Posted by Mum - Jen | May 6, 2012, 5:32 pm
  8. Hey Mary and Pete

    Sounds amazing. Love the pic of Maz looking puffed out!

    Stay safe wherever you end up next. Can’t wait to hear about the next adventure.

    Lucy xx


    mary Reply:

    Luce! The photo – that’s pretty much my new look once I reach the top of a hill! Sat in a mauve coloured hotel room right now, Lawrence Lewellan Bowen eat your heart out, knackered, still in our riding gear, twin beds, crap game show on the tv, won’t look too closely at the state of the bathroom…time for a beer!!!
    Stopping for 1 or 2 days before going riding again so lets skype! xxxxxx


    Posted by Lucy buckley | May 6, 2012, 10:15 pm
  9. You are the hope for our globe
    Don’t give up nor despair
    There’s nothing you can’t repair


    Posted by abolfazl | June 28, 2012, 7:51 am


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