We left Istanbul on what was a historic day for our trip – We began our cycle ride across the varied and gigantic continent of Asia.
We are 45 days into the trip and 4000km is about to be reached. Over these weeks we have visited 9 countries, used 7 currency’s, spoke a few words across 9 languages, we have taken 5 days off to relax and recover in Prague, Budapest and Istanbul, visited the North Sea, Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Followed the River Rhine, the mighty Danuabe and crossed the infamous Bosporus. Now it’s time to cross the rest of Turkey, it’s a huge country. To the North is Ukraine, north east is Russia, Chechnya and Georgia, south is Syria and Iraq, then the one place of stability is Iran in the East!
It was yet another scorching hot summers day, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we should have left early, but instead at 11.30 we rolled out of Noah’s hostel headed for the ferry across to Asia. It is a car ferry but charges the standard Istanbul metro fare of 4tl includng bikes for free so its pretty cheap. The boat set sail and a part of me was wondering about when and from where I would see Europe again.
The Asian side was a pleasant bike ride following the Bosporus north, the heat was telling on us so we tried to track down rehydration salts. In a hot country this should be easy, but, no one understood either the sports connotations for needing them nor the diarrhoea enactments. Finally the third chemist brought up google translate and we got somewhere, we left with some Turkish ‘rehidration’ sachets, not the greatest linguistic leap you might think.
We left the Bosporus at Beykoz and headed uphill past an emptied out and broken down local bus. I suspect it over heated going up the hill much like we did. We hit the black sea coast past a place called Riva then to Cayagzi. The landscape felt very exotic and Asian with red/orange dirt under healthy vivid green forest dropping to the bays of the undulating coast. A bit further it turned to gravel and passed massive new developments for Istanbul weekend houses. The forest was rapidly being cut down and the area being destroyed which was a theme that sadly continued.
The road left the last part built house and dipped to a litter strewn picturesque bay, the climb up went inland and the gravel turned to hard mud. The few people replaced by Asian horned cows like those that roam in India.
It was feeling like an adventure in a new far off land. We followed this track through the forest and the constantly stunning coastal views. When the road eventually improved to rough gravel, a bay appeared with a few tents, we detoured down. First the smell hit us from rubbish in the woods then the beach was covered too. It was a shame because the bay was a stunning place to camp, we then noticed a flat patch of grass by the cliffs on the other side. Not being accessible by car meant the other side was much cleaner. While avoiding plastic jellyfish we even had a swim, the stars were amazing and given the remote track access we couldn’t believe how close we were to Istanbul!
The next morning a fellow camper offered us tea as we pushed the bikes back across the sand dunes, he was a Turkish ex London bus driver. The road was now better again and we quickly linked up to a paved road twisting between piles of logs and trees being felled to make way for more of the poorly constructed ugly concrete boxes that are destroying this coastline.
The scenery was less dramatic as we passed through to Sile, an unexciting place with a series of random university buildings on the outskirts.
The road was now a dual carriageway and although quiet, it was a bit unpleasant, so we carried on until seeing a campsite just before Agva that was obviously telling us to call it a day. Green bay camping sounds so pleasant, the reality was a run down place with scruffy chickens and a rickety bridge over a green stagnant river to the camping field. The promise of a quiet night and a shower led us to pay the over the top fee of 30tl. I think that’s the price for renting a whole family tent but we were fed up of communicating with the grumpy owner. The chap working there was very pleasant though, showing us a nice spot and reaching a power cable across for us to charge stuff and use WIFI. The beach was pretty clear of litter and remarkable nice, I spent the evening body surfing the sizeable waves before calling my mum on Skype with the WIFI. The beach was totally empty.
For an inland sea the waves have been pretty big here partly whipped by the frequent storms, up to head height at times whether this is normal I don’t know but I’ve never seen the Mediterranean this big. The currents in the black sea also seem strong, most beach’s have warnings and kids have been seen drifting out, only to be rescued by parents more than once. With the exit point close by at Istanbul I guess the currents are strongest here, the currents also bring the entire seas litter flow to this section so hopefully it gets better as we head east.
The night at the green bay campsite near Agva was another unexpected experience. After a young chap asked to borrow our power point for his I-Phone we were invited for dinner with a group of six guys from Istanbul. They we just eating BBQ meat so Marion ate first but it was a great evening learning about them and a Q&A session about us. Only one guy spoke English, all be it very impressive self taught English, so he very kindly translated all night long. The theme went along the lines of “he asks you if England is nice place to live” or “he asks you if you like Turkish football”.
For us it was an interesting insight into the Turkish opinions and culture. Only one guy had ever left Turkey and that was just into Batumi, hence why the interest in us and our lives. They worked in a variety of jobs: the translator just passed exams for the civil service, others drove buses, worked in shops or were students. We discussed opinions on topics from military service, President Erdogan and arranged marriages. We ate chicken with white bread, beef sausage, drank Ayran yoghurt and sipped wood stove brewed çay tea, all Turkish national favourites! The absence of beer on an evening lie this was a pleasant change, only one of them ever drank, but he was the dark horse who travelled to Georgia for the women too!
We bade them good night and retreated to the tent as they left to drive back to Istanbul. If any of you are reading this with google translate, thank you for a nice evening!
The next day we cycled east, as has become a common occurrence recently. Whose hospitality would we receive today? The road headed inland for 60km, up and down many hills, yet again, the tarmac itself was in various stages of upgrade to dual carriageway, from ground workings to fully finished in places. As we passed the town of Kandira we stopped in the park cafe to drink tea and eat our lunch of Borek and bread rolls, followed by a grape juice sausage filled with walnuts, these are great trail food. The grape juice is like a firm, set jelly around the nuts, with a string down the middle that I guess they use to dip the nuts in the jelly.
In the park a youth came across and asked us if we spoke German. It turned out that this dead ringer for Arsenal’s Mesuit Ozil, was Austrian but spent summers back in Turkey with family, a common theme we heard over and over, with French, Swiss, Australian, Germans etc.
We told him about our trip and he translated it to his Turkish friends and we laughed at their reactions as he spoke! We also passed a huge new national football training ground being developed!
We arrived late in the day to a small village near Karasa where the local shop keeper directed us to some vast flat sand dunes where we could sleep. After we arrived a small red tractor pulled up, these were the only vehicles able to cross the sand here. The guy spoke on the phone in the tractors Shadow, and watched as we swam. When we were back at the bikes he came over and tried to chat, but a lack of English restricted us. In the end he phoned a friend to translate, which was awkward as I suspect the friend had better things to do. Mehmet on the phone said “my friend asks what do you need? What help do you need?” I said “we’re totally fine, can we just camp on the beach here safely?” He said “what? Sleep on the beach? You English are crazy people, I will come and visit you in one hour” I responded a tad worried, ” is it not a safe place then?” He replied “yes its safe, just the mosquito’s everywhere and spikey plants”. The picture below was of Marion waiting for Mehmet.
I handed the phone over and they talked for a while. It was a nice spot with a Muslim family bathing, the women in fully clothed as is quite common along the coast here, another family turned up on a tractor to swim with their dogs too. To relieve the silent awkwardness of the chap sitting staring right next to us, I tried to explain where we had ridden from, but before the map was out, he had called his lethargic sounding friend Mehmet. “What is the problem, do you want food or tea?” He asked, I said “we are fine no problem I just wanted to explain we had ridden from Agva today.” He laughed and said you know the Turkish just trying to help, don’t worry I can now be there in 20 mins, do you need food?” This was silly now, “no we have everything” just not peace and quiet I nearly added.
As we waited marion tried her luck and asked the guy something, he straight away called a female English speaker to translate as I assume women can’t possibly take to men on the phone! We learnt our lesson and stayed silent, he said something about money and phone, it seemed he wanted money for the phone calls maybe, which was somewhat taking the mickey. Finally Mehmet’s little red tractor appeared and parked next to the others. We spoke for a while about us and the trip and explained all was good, he said it was a safe spot to camp and that two other tourists had previously visited the beach, a glowing recommendation! He said we should tell everyone about the village. I said I would, which is true but mainly to describe the hideous litter problem, so probably not in the positive way he wanted. It then felt a bit odd as the first guy, who was now silent and didn’t ask any translated questions other than how much money we were carrying. They then talked to each other and made some excuse about leaving, but they would be back later. It was getting dark and we really didn’t want to be visited later, so after they went we pushed the bikes back over the sand dunes to find another camp spot. We probably just bored them, but sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling, and we had a good nights sleep. Well other than the firework display in the middle of the night that was pretty close and sounded rather like gunfire, which freaked us out a bit.
We continued hugging the coast from similar town to similar town. The beaches were nothing special, either pebbles or grey sand with plastic and lots of people. The road had turned to dual carriageway which hugged the shore therefore further degrading any hope of beautiful beaches.
There was hardly any traffic at all, making the road projects seem like pointless white elephants, especially when so many people were filling their drinking water containers up from a village tap, then wheel barrowing it home.
The next campsite was in a place with no name in picture above, after the town of Eregli but before Zonguldak, neither were enchanting cities I should add, but the back roads between them detoured through some fantastic coastal scenery. We did get another puncture and these kind Germans driving to Tajikistan stopped to help out!
We were pretty much forced to camp in one bay after the descent down was cut into the rock face and insanely steep, the kind of steepness that makes vehicles lose traction either up or down, we took a quick picture of the dominating limestone cliffs around the small bay, fortunately it was just as a lorry too big for the road huffed and puffed up, squeezing dangerously close to the metal barrier. What happened when it met the Turkish vintage car coming downhill we didn’t see, but one thing was for sure, we weren’t attempting the climb back up until tomorrow!
In the bay there were other tents on the beach, a restaurant but no real campsite. We decided to cook dinner and camp on the beach when the crowds had gone. The water was warm and nice for swimming, kids were jumping from roacks and cliffs, while dads lit Çay tea stoves and fired up grills. The air was thick with wood smoke and the tantalising smells of tea, roasting koftes, chicken and spices, just as the sun was starting to glow deep red and slip below the horizon.
After cooking our pasta we waited only minutes before a tea was offered by a man and his daughter. Later we met some Turkish living in Paris and their cousins from Australia all staying at Grandma’s house in Turkey for the summer. It was good to chat in fluent English for a change while Marion chatted in French to the girls from Paris. The little Turkish cousin was totally confused about who was from where and speaking what!
Finally the crowds drifted away and the restaurant owner told us to camp in his garden/carpark, this was after asking if we were married I should add! The first issue was a cute kitten, that wanted playing with or else it tried to claw holes in the tent, now I have little time for cats and our patience grew thin an hour later when it was still inside the outer sheet ripping at the tent, kicking it across the carpark was getting dangerously close, just as mean I found a small girl to go play with it, she was happy and the kitten was possibly having fun being pushed down the slide! Finally after midnight the restaurant family packed the chairs away and settled down for the night.
After a bit of sleep I woke and wandered to the toilet in a sleepy daze. On the way the family, now eating, opened a coke and pulled a chair up to join them. Its 1am and I’ve cycled 80 hot hard kms, seriously, do I look like I want a full meal and coke at 1am. There was no escape I took some food to the tent ‘for Marion’, emptied it into a bag for breakfast then snuck off back to sleep ASAP. 1 hour later a car pulled up to play awful Turkish music at full volume, Marion was fuming having not slept the night before per the fireworks and tractor people, she bravely got up and told them to turn it down, in the UK they would be drunk, here who knows what had them on the beach at 3am. For the next hour the music went up and down and we failed to sleep. It was soon dawn and time for the restaurant to open and us to cycle off!
What better way to wake us up than a 600mclimb up roads so steep we had to push the bikes. At the top we were offered water from a car, then sitting in the shade an old man in a shop, who had been watching us, brought two huge ho e grown pear/apple things over. It was just what we needed and super refreshing, I haven’t seen one before or since. We soon found the dual carriageway again which was still being built and for the most part with no traffic.
After lunch in Zonguldak and much staring from tea drinking men, it was back on the nasty and hilly main road to the town of Bartin. It was a tough end of day getting to the coast and we were broken until the stunning views towards Amasra revitalised us.
This next stretch of coastline was simply superb and deserves its own blog post so I will end in Amasra. Its one of the mist dramatic coastal rides we have ever undertaken so I will write when we get nearer Georgia.
Turkey is great, hot, hilly but just so friendly. Sometimes the hooting and shouting from cars is not appreciated, nor the hotel owners being ‘friendly’ and yes many old men like a stare as we past but many like a chat over a tea just as much On the whole it illustrates how unfriendly most western countries are in comparison. It takes a bit of a mindset change for us British to not be suspicious and accept the welcoming offers, but then the country comes alive and it’s a great place to be riding for what we expect t be over three weeks.