Ch ch changes!

Yassas!

Total distance biked: 3226 km

Since our last post we have entered our 9th country of the trip and have sadly said goodbye to Turkey – easily our favorite country so far. We are now nestled in Athens staying at our BeWelcome (a newer/smaller/non-profit version of CS) host Nico’s place.

Ben, Andreas Greg and I enjoying a delicious brunch food circle together at Nico’s (he is taking the picture).

We left Turkey on a high note in regards to both biking and company. Our ride into Izmir turned out to one of the best city entrances we have had!

Amazing bike path into Izmir

After a great tailwind and an unexpected bike lane along the entire coast of the city, we arrived at Tugce and Cem’s place where we settled in (after some necessary showers..) and got to know them. We discovered their love of Harry Potter – they are the most devoted fans I think I have met yet, and watched the 6th movie after a hearty dinner together. It felt like a little bit of home away from home. The following day, Tugce guided us around the city at a leisurely pace as we enjoy some Turkish coffee complete with fortune telling, and lunch at a pretty hipster place (the vibe reminded me a bit of the Foundation in Vancouver including slow service). You can order two things 1) pasta or 2) manti which is a turkish type dumpling dish. We made pizza that night – something Greg and I have been missing about our life in Vancouver – and finished off our stay with them with full bellies having shared lots of good conversation and knowledge of each other’s countries. Thus we filled the missing gap Greg and I had felt after not staying with couch surfers in Istanbul.

Tugce and Greg looking over Izmir from the free historical elevator

Our ride to Cesme was easy and particularly scenic as well which made for a great last full day of biking. Confused? Keep reading to hear about our new change of plans for our trip!

At some point over the last few weeks, Greg and I started to feel like maybe our original plan to bike from Vienna and back in 3 months (or until the weather got so bad that we had to stop) was maybe not the best. All other bikers we have met so far on this trip were generally heading east towards Istanbul and beyond to follow the good weather and generally no one had any strict time frames. I started to think, “maybe we are doing this wrong”. Generally our pace over the past two months has slowed due to a concious decision on both of our parts to take more rest days in an attempt to be less tired and enjoy more of our stops. Unfortunately our looming deadline of winter as well as our hopes to make it to at minimum Sarejevo by the end of November by passing through the most mountainous terrain we have seen yet were making our tummies feel a bit nervous and un-excited about the task ahead.

While sitting in the town of Assos having just decended what was one of my favourite stretches of biking I stated – why not take the winter off biking and then come back and finish the trip after? From there we formulated what is now the new plan and have now solidified the last piece of the puzzle by finding a place to store our bikes in Athens for the winter. In summary:

-Leave our bikes with Eleni, a rock star couch surfer, who has amazingly offered to store our bikes for as long as we want in her garage. She doesn’t own a car so she has ensured us it is no problem or inconvinience to her. We will head there tonight and leave the bikes and camping equipment with her.
-Make our way back to Vienna via Thessaloniki where we hope to spend a few days olive picking at a nearby grove and then likely head to Sofia, Bulgaria. There are currently no international trains in or out of Greece so a bus to Sofia followed by either train or flight is looking like the best option.
-In Vienna we will hopefully reunite with Johanna, Paul and our backpacks (yay a few more clothes!)
-From Vienna we will make our way north towards Russia where we will obtain visas
along the way and then carry on with our original plan to take the tran-siberian railroad to Beijing and then explore South East Asia for a while. In this new plan we will have a slightly reduced time frame in this area of the world and will definitely not make it to Nepal. We have agreed this will have to wait until another trip entirely (maybe a Nepal/India adventure).
-With the goal of April 1st in mind, we will fly back to Athens, pick up our bikes and continue on our original route through the balkans, up along the coast of Croatia towards Slovenia and then make our way over to France where we hope to cycle at a casual pace (some train will likely be required). Our end location at this time is to make our way to visit Stuart and Anita in Brighton by mid to end of June! If we are lucky they may even join us for a leg in France.

This means that the minute we start biking again, the weather and mostly the hours of daylight only get better! On the down side our muscles will get a rude awakening after 5 months off when we set off straight into the mountains! On the bright side for me – I can burn off the beer, bread and generally tasty foods I will undoubtedly gain in the next few months…:)

And now back to Greece where we have been for the past 5 days – first on the island of Hios where we did some fun local scrambling and now Athens.

The top of our scrambling route (we came up a different/easier way..)

We hadn’t originally planned on coming here but the boat to Thessaloniki was having engine problems and no one knew when it would be fixed so we hopped on a ferry here. We spent a lovely morning in Piraeus swimming in the clearest water I have ever seen where we met a lady who swims at that spot every day of the year! Yesterday we wandered around the acropolis which was a first for Greg and a second visit for me. It brought back some great memories of my trip 6 years ago with the one and only Lindsay Vine. It’s hard to believe it has really been that long.

View from the Acropolis

We also visited the olympic stadium area which is quite near where we are staying right now. It was one of the most unusual places we have been yet. It is essentially a ghost town of athletic facilities. With the expection of the indoor pool where there seemed to be a swimming lesson going on, the entire complex is completely deserted and run down. It was really sad and Greg and I weren’t sure how to feel about it but it was definitely a surprise to say the least.

The Parthenon – almost an identical picture to one I took 6 years ago.

Our next big adventure involves an attempt at the 2917 m summit of Mt. Olympus (don’t worry it is completely non technical) so stay tuned for what we hope to be a successful trip report on that.

Love and hugs to everyone,
Lindsay

Turkey

Facts

Turkey has a population of about 75 million people and bridges Europe and Asia by way of the Turkish Straits (the Bosphorous, Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles). The capital is Ankara but the largest city is Istanbul (anywhere from 13 to 20 million people depending on who you ask). The currency is the lira. Cost of a visa for Canadian travellers: $60 USD. Cost of a visa for Irish travellers: $20 USD. Cost of a visa for New Zealander travellers: $0 USD.

Route

Our exact route and tracks can be found here.

Generally, our route took the E87 from the border to the town of Kirklareli. It then followed the D020 and then the D010 to Sariyer on the Bosphorous following a track from an Aussie couple. To Sariyer the route is generally hilly and quite tiring as a result. Just before Sariyer we rode through a nature reserve that was pretty and had a small associated cost (around 2-3 lira). This route avoids the reported chaos of the D100 but still ends with about 30 km of heavy traffic along the strait into the heart of Istanbul.

We decided to cross the Sea of Marmara to Bandirma by ferry (Cost about 45 lira each including a surcharge for bicycles). We then reached Canakkale mostly by the E90. The traffic isn’t fun but many sections of highway are under construction and we were able to ride on the sides closed to vehicular traffic on days-old pavement. Smooth.

From here we followed as close to the coast as possible on the minor roads until Kucukkuyu (just east of Assos). The riding continues to be hilly with some significant climbs. If following our gps track, try to find an alternate route from Troia to the coast. Our route spends several kilometers on terrible cobbles and is followed by about 8 km of rough unpaved roads. The roads are generally good quality and the views as you turn the corner from south to east are simply stunning.

Here we were forced back onto the highway (E87) until we could cut the corner at Akcay for 15 km before returning to the E87. There is a wide shoulder so the traffic is not dangerous, just loud.

We reached Bergama on an old pass road through Demicidere. Here you pass through the Kozak forest and, if you follow our route, you will reach your highest elevation (715 m). The first couple of climbs are long and extremely steep. This is some of the most tiring riding but is probably preferable to the busy, albeit flat, highway route.

From Bergama to Izmir there is little choice but to follow the highway (E87). The shoulder is almost always wide except through the towns of Aliaga and Menemen but the traffic is loud and scenery uninspiring. We dreaded coming into Izmir but the city has cycle paths for almost the entire length of the waterfront. Shoot for the shore and you’ll pick it up, just don’t be in too much of a rush due to variable surface condition and pedestrian traffic. Our gps route puts us on the forbidden freeway for about a kilometer (oops) but where it starts to follow the coast is on the cycle path.

From Izmir we cycled to Cesme along the D300. There is very little traffic once you get out of the suburbs of Izmir and the riding is absolutely gorgeous. There are a few small climbs but the highest is only 250 or so meters. Our riding in Turkey ended here as we took a ferry to Chios (absurdly priced at 20 euro each).

Fun with a Minor

Total distance biked: 3 077 000 m

This post has to cover a lot of ground since Lindsay last posted about Istanbul. In the last week and a half we have travelled down the west coast of Asia Minor starting in Bandirma and currently in Izmir. We have seen the ancient ruins of Troy (an unexpected surprise), we have gotten communicable diseases (probably from Stuart), we have been threatened, and we have had a lot of fun.

Headwinds and Hills

The hallmarks of the bicycle riding in this 500+ km stretch have been headwinds regardless of the direction we are riding in and endless hills including our highest elevation yet (715 m on the way to Bergama). What it has not included is even a hint of rain. Basically a lot of struggle in the glorious sunshine and gentle heat.

Generosity of the People

The hospitality of the locals has also continued with my first taste of a fig along with some apples courtesy of a roadside fruit stand. This incident is not alone. We have been invited for tea several times (invariably by old men), given tomatoes, and right now we are staying with some couchsurfing hosts (the ultimate in generosity).

Rest and Relaxation

We spent a day at a beachside resort (we were two of seemingly four guests) recovering from our respective colds and watching the Aegean sea after a particularly restless night (see below). The resort (Agora Otel) had a very friendly proprietor and he allowed us to pitch our tent on the lawn for a paltry 24 lira and we could use the restaurant (nearly always empty) for internet and resting. There were also numerous animals including the illustrious Mr. Meowsers, Baroofus, and Marley.

Anna-dora from Germany. In 1975/1976 she rode her bıke from Germany and through Asia.

We also had a short day on our way to Bergama where we spent the afternoon in a guesthouse rumoured to have the largest trading library in Turkey. We had some much-needed solo time and enjoyed the luxury of two beds in the same room (starfish time!).

And now for the two standout memories from this part of the trip.

1) Having a gun pointed at us in Çanakkale.

We were late leaving the city so we never really managed to do just that. Instead, we set up our tent at the top of a hill next to a parking lot that saw a lot of comings and goings even after dark. This put us both a bit on edge. Soon after falling asleep, our tent was illuminated by a brilliant white light accompanied by shouting. I peered through the crack at the bottom of the tent and spied a police car and someone holding a flashlight. I decided I should get out and talk to them. As I unzipped the fly and started to crawl out, in my underwear of course, I made a discovery that lead to me exclaiming to Lindsay, “Oh my god, what do I do? He has a gun!”. I followed this up with panicked shouts of, “English! English!”. Soon the gun was lowered and a five minute conversation with the gunman (a.k.a. police officer) ensued, one half in English and one half in Turkish. After some frustration, the officer wrote a phrase in our book and seemed to signal that we needed to leave. His partner drove over and in a stunning display of indifference told his partner we could stay and they left. A mostly sleepless night later we found some WiFi and translated the phrase. Apparently, “This is not a safe place”.

Here is a puppy to cheer everyone up after that exciting story.

2) Kozak Cafe

On the road between Kemerköy and Bergama the light was dying and Lindsay had been eager to ask someone for somewhere to sleep instead of wild camping (we still haven’t wild camped since Çanakkale). We stopped at the Kozak Cafe in Demircidere and inquıred where we were offered the use of one of their cushioned gazebos in the outdoor eating area for the night. We were quickly included in the family activities such as peeling walnuts (İ peeled, Lindsay ate). İn return for the generous offer of a place to sleep we ordered a bit of food and wine which promptly. But the food dıdn’t there. Soon we were also feasting on barbecued fish, melon, tea, and grapes. İn the mornıng the feasting continued with homemade bread, cheese, olives, and an assortment of sweet and savoury sauces. When we left, the bıll was 60 lira (about $33 Canadian), a very easy price to swallow despite the distended nature of our abdomens. İn the unlikely event you pass through this part of the country, be sure to stop and look for the Canadian postcard in the window.

Lindsay in her nest at the Kozak Cafe.

Tomorrow we leave İzmır for Çeşme and the Greek island of Chios. Turkey was an amazing place to visit and is the country we are most likely to visit again.

The famous clock tower in İzmır.

The Grand Bizarre

Total distance biked: 2494 km

Having spent 5 full days in Istanbul I can now say that I may have absorbed at maximum 10% of what the city has to offer. I think you would need a minimum of a month to even come close to understanding this great city. Even 10 % deserves it’s own individual blog post as it is by far the most interesting and diverse city to which we have been.

I will start with our adventure entering the city itself. Anita and Stuart (herein referred to as Stunita) had told us about a GPS track they found that was a calm and scenic route into the city. We all decided that rather than take the crazy D100 highway we had heard so many horror stories about, or take a bus into the city which none of us really wanted to do, we would opt for this option. However, it would seem that no matter what you try, the entrance into the metropolis of Istanbul will never be peaceful. We had planned on camping on the Bosphorous (the waterway which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara) and lesiurly riding in the next morning to the city. Unfortunaly, we missed our last camping oportunity so we ended up outside the only hotel for many kilometers where they charged a minimum of 100 euro per night and the hotel clerks were less than helpful. In the end we split from Joe, Anita and Stuart and headed into the city in the dark along the coast road. Day or night this ride would not have differed much as it was lined with fancy clubs, restaurants and hotels that lit the path the whole way along. It was a stressful ride in but really actually quite beautiful as we got to see both bridges to Asia lit up in the night sky. As we pulled into the Neverland Hostel – a place a fellow biker had recommended, we were pleasantly surprised to see that Stunita had arrive only minutes before us! We hadn’t really wanted to split off from them but all agreed traffic was easier to tackle in smaller groups. So moral of the story – even if you try to avoid the craziness or Istanbul, you should really just accept that it will be an interesting ride and go forward with an eager attitude.

Now back to the city itself. There are several aspects of Istanbul that have stood out in my mind as being particularly interesting or unique:

Tea: We have been to several cities such Vienna who claim to be big coffee drinkers, or have the best coffee etc. Turkey definitely takes the cake for being the most serious country about drinking tea. Everywhere you go there are men sitting drinking tea, young men carrying trays of tea on the streets, the offer of tea exists at the end of every meal and you can even have tea on the ferry! We have been enjoying the unlimited tea at our hostel as well. Even Stunita admitted that the Turks blow the British out of the water in terms of their love of tea!

Tea time with Stuart and Anita

Food: The food in Istanbul has been very interesting to try! Specifically Greg and I have been testing all sorts of street food such as Doner/Kebab, Fish Sandwiches, massive stuffed potatoes filled will all sorts of ingredients, baclava, more burek, flatbread stuffed with chees or meat (Gozeleme), and Turkish delight! We were especially pleased with the last item. We both had it in our minds that turkish delight would be gross but to our surprise it actually is delightful!

Kumpir: Turkish stlye stuffed potato

Cats: We have been to quite a few cities where there are a lot of cats but here they seem to be particularly prevalent. It’s hard not to stop and pet them since they are so cute but then you notice that actually they are a bit mangy. There is cat in the hostel that has been fun to play with too:)

Where’s Waldo?

Mosques: They are everywhere and they are so beautiful! The novelty of them hasn’t worn off on me yet and I am constantly trying to snap pictures of them. The Blue Mosque was especially impressive but alas we weren’t able to go inside as we had dressed inappropriately (ie: shorts) when we were there. There is something really magical in my opinion about standing outside one of the most famous mosques in the world as the call to prayer is blasting in your ears.

The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia as seen from a ferry boat on the Bosphorous

People: This is not specific to Istanbul only but we really have expreinced wonderful hospitality, friendliness and genuine interest from the Turkish people. We have been given all sorts of free tea, extra courses at the end of meals, big samples of helva and tons of exuberant smiles and hellos. Greg spent a full 30 mins talking to a store owner’s brother about his life after buying a pair of slippers. Shop keepers are definitely pushier here but in most cases it just provides a bit more entertainment when winding your way through the endless Bazaars.

Hills! If I ever thought Vancouver or Seattle were hilly cities, man I was wrong! This city contains some of the steepest streets I have ever seen. I walk up them thinking wow, I have no idea how even a motorcycle would get up this just as I am almost run over by a car screaming its way up the cobbled path barely wide enough to accommodate one lane of traffic. It has been fascinating just wandering all the little offshoot streets that lead to tea houses, terraced restaurants, boutiques or rows upon rows of doner shops.

Trying to capture the steepness of the roads…

One of our regrets in the city has been that we didn’t succeed in finding couch surfing hosts. Turns out it is quite difficult as so many people flock to Istanbul everyday. The couch surfing community is huge here but we got a lot of replies  simply stating they were already hosting. In the end we stayed at Hostel Neverland the whole time. We enjoyed the massive breakfast buffet, endless tea and coffee, great lounge atmosphere and kitchen but we feel we missed out on the different perspective one can only get through staying with locals. Luckily we still have about 10 days in Turkey as we head toward Izmir on the west coast.

Here are a few more pictures. We are trying to set up a flikr account but it is really hard to upload using our tablet so you will have to stay tuned. Sorry!

The Blue Mosque

Galata Tower at night

 

Opposite Thanksgiving

Total distance biked: 2483 km

This morning we are sitting in a hostel in Istanbul having finished a 10-day unbroken stretch of cycling.

We left Bucharest on the 27th of September by bicycle instead of the bus as we had arrived. Even Romanian-speakers (i.e. our couchsurfing hosts) were unable to find the bus schedule for service to the border town of Giurgiu. The ride is extremely flat and straight and almost completely devoid of towns making this possibly the most monotonous section of riding but the prospect of entering a new country is motivating. We crossed the “Friendship Bridge” into Bulgaria around noon and were surprised to see that we had to present our passports even though both countries are in the EU.

Welcome to Bulgaria

That night in Bulgaria we stayed with a couchsurfer who had contacted us first by seeing our profile on the site. As he showed us to the separate apartment he has for surfers he mentioned that he hadn’t been inside since Stuart and Anita left. The same Stuart and Anita we had met in Serbia and were planning on catching up to near Varna.

After one night, and a farewell drink by the Danube, we headed for the Black Sea coast. In Varna we had contacted a prolific host, Niko. Niko was unable to host us but set us up with another host, Ivailo, who accepted us even though he had never met us and had only met Niko on Skype. Ivailo gave us a tour of the part of Varna south of the inlet and Niko arrived in time for an hour-long meeting in which he tipped us off to a place to camp on the beach.

Moonlit skinny dipping.

We set off from Varna in the early evening for the relatively short cycle to Kamchia where we swam in the Black Sea for the first time with only the illumination of a full moon. Lindsay had the idea to moon the moon making this one of the most memorable moments of the trip.

The next day saw us break the 2000 km mark as we climbed our first mountain pass en route to Burgas and a reunion with Stuart and Anita. The following days were marked by beautiful wild camping spots and cycling as a group of four while making liberal use of Stuart and Anita’s stove. This lead Stuart to ask us, “What do you do when you aren’t with us?”.

In the border town of Malko Tarnovo the position for solitary frenchman (a role previously held by Jean) was filled by Joe. Our party wound our way to within 5 km of the border with Turkey and early the next morning entered the nation which bridges Europe and Asia south of the Black Sea.

Turkey lurkey

The most noticeable change when entering Turkey was the attitude of the people. It seems that every second car honks like crazy and yells encouragingly out the window to you. We also experienced the hospitality Turks show to travellers. On Friday, henceforth known as “Freeday”, Lindsay and the  Brits went to an internet cafe while I minded the bikes. In the course of my duties a man handed me a cup of tea and refused payment. The use of the computers in the internet cafe was also complimentary. Later in the day, we encountered a Hungarian cycle-tourist who had started in Georgia and seemed a bit bewildered to run into such a large group. During the usual exchange of pleasantries a car driven by a single older man stopped alongside. Without a word or a change in expression he handed three plums to us through a crack in the window and quickly followed it up with three more before driving away. Now we were all a bit bewildered by the kindness that had been exhibited.

Smooth roads in Turkey.

We’re now in Istanbul having arrived three hours after sundown but I think a discussion of that ride needs a few more days to marinate. We will spend our Thanksgiving weekend inside of Turkey instead of the other way around and then push on into the Asian side.

Minarets and bicycles.