Aegean Turkey

(English below)

Campsite in Erdek near Bandirma

Campsite in Erdek near Bandirma

Sunset over the Marmara Sea

Sunset over the Marmara Sea

Photo gallery

Am 12. Mai verliessen wir Istanbul auf einer Fähre nach Bandirma und erreichten die andere Seite des Marmarameeres nach knapp dreistündiger Fahrt. Beim Verlassen der Fähre trafen wir auf Pauline und Jo aus Lausanne, die ebenfalls Richtung Usbekistan unterwegs sind.  Zu viert radelten wir los, um uns auf die Suche nach einem Zeltplatz zu machen. Wir fuhren dabei auf unbefahrenen Strassen dem Meer entlang, es roch nach Pinien und Rosmarin und mit jedem Tritt durch diese bezaubernde Landschaft wich die Wehmut nach Istanbuls Abschieden mehr und mehr der Freude, wieder auf dem Fahrrad zu sitzen und so viele schöne Ecken der Welt zu entdecken.

Nach etwa 20 Kilometern fanden wir einen kleinen und beinahe menschenleeren Zeltplatz, wo wir unser Zelt direkt am Meer aufstellten und bei einem kühlen Bier, einem einfachen Abendessen und einem kitschigen Sonnenuntergang unsere Reiseerlebnisse austauschten.

Dinner time

Dinner time

Zu viert radelten wir am 13. Mai weiter dem Marmarameer entlang. Die zuerst friedliche Morgenstimmung wich schon bald dunklen Wolken und immer näher kommenden Donnergeräuschen. Als es stark zu gewittern anfing, verzogen wir uns unter ein Tankstellendach, wo wir uns mit einem Piknik stärkten (danke für die Minipic, Cristina, und die Toblerone, liebe Familie!)  und uns – wie gewohnt – Cay und Kekse offeriert wurden. Bei leichtem Regen radelten wir anschliessend weiter bis wir Biga, ein kleines und unspektakuläres Städtchen. Wir fragten paar ältere Herren nach einer günstigen Unterkunft, wurden aber erst mal zu einem Tässchen Çay eingeladen und mit Händen, Füssen, einem Notizblock und etwas Englisch, Deutsch und Französisch über unsere Reise ausgefragt. Es gesellten sich noch einige weitere Herren hinzu, die uns mit einem Auto schliesslich in eine Art Studentenwohnheim eskortierten, wo die Çay-Prozedur mit dem Direktor und paar Studenten von vorne begann und uns schliesslich sehr günstige Zimmer zur Verfügung gestellt wurden. Nach einer warmen Dusche und einem Köfte-Menu setzten wir uns in eine Bar und jassten den ganzen Abend lang – fast wie in der Schweiz.

Twister near Biga

Twister near Biga

Jass and beer - the perfect combination

Jass and beer – the perfect combination

A Korean cyclist coming the other way (600 days on the road, and maybe 5-6 years more he says...)

A Korean cyclist coming the other way (600 days on the road, and maybe 5-6 years more he says…)

Canakkale - Eceabat ferry crossing

Canakkale – Eceabat ferry crossing

Im Studentenheim wurde uns am nächsten Tag (14. Mai) noch ein ausgiebiges Frühstück offeriert und so genossen wir Oliven, Eier, Gurken, Tomaten, Käse und Brot, bevor die Reise weiterging. Wir radelten den ganzen Tag zu viert durch den teils starken Regen, trockneten und wärmten uns dann und wann mit einem Çay an einer Tankstelle und kamen so zwar mühsam, aber stetig voran. Nach knapp 100 Kilometern erreichten wir Çanakkale, wo wir uns erst mal von Pauline und Jo verabschiedeten und die Fähre nach Eceabat, auf der Halbinsel Gallipoli, nahmen. Dort sanken wir nach einem langen und nassen Tag schon bald in die Betten in unserer Pension.

Während des ersten Weltkrieges kam es auf der Halbinsel von Gallipoli zu der vor allem für Türken, Ausralier, Neuseeländer und Engländer bedeutenden “Schlacht von Gallipoli” und auch heute pilgern nicht nur Türken, sondern auch viele Australier und Neuseeländer an diesen Ort. Auch wir liessen uns am 15. Mai in einem Kleinbus voller AustralierInnen von Denkmal zu Denkmal chauffieren und erfuhren von einem türkischen Historiker einiges über die Kämpfe, die dort stattgefunden haben. Sicherlich ist das Gedenken an die Gefallenen ein wichtiger Akt im Geschichtsverständnis des eigenen Landes und teils sogar im Verständnis einer eigenen, tragischen Familiengeschichte. Allerdings befremdete mich diese Pilgerfahrt (sowohl der Türken also auch der Australier und Neuseeländer), die auf mich als einen all zu patriotischen Akt wirkte, auch etwas und so genoss ich es vor allem, per Bus von einem zum nächsten schönen Strand auf dieser Halbinsel chauffiert zu werden und war froh, wegen einer starken Erkältung nicht radfahren zu müssen.

Gallipoli

Gallipoli

Anzac Cove

Anzac Cove

ANZAC Cove

ANZAC Cove

Ataturk's message

Ataturk’s message

Lone Pine War Memorial

Lone Pine War Memorial

Lone Pine

Lone Pine

Gallipoli

Gallipoli

Am 16. Mai Frühmorgens  nahmen wir die Fähre zurück nach Çanakkale und radelten über hügelige Strassen und an tausenden von Olivenbüschen vorbei nach Assos. Ein starker Gegenwind und die steilen Strassen gegen Ende des Tages machten die Route anstrengend, dafür aber boten sich uns schönste Ausblicke auf die Ägäis und die Insel Lesbos sowie ein beinahe menschenleerer Strand in Kadirga, wo wir übernachteten. Angeblich sind die Strände in und um Assos ab Juni jeweils mit Pauschalreise-Touristen bepackt. Noch fehlten aber jegliche Touristen und so teilten wir den Strand und ein kleines Fischrestaurant mit paar Einheimischen, die sich auf die Saison vorbereiten, und verkrochen uns schon früh in unser Zelt um den Wellen zu lauschen und in Ferienstimmung einzuschlafen.

Bei friedlichster Morgenstimmung auf auf menschenleeren Strassen radelten wir am nächsten Tag (17. Mai) der Ägäis entlang und hatten mal wieder das Gefühl, die Welt gehöre uns ganz alleine. Kurz vor Mittag erreichten wir eine befahrenere Strasse und fanden einen Fahrradladen, in welchem wir einen neuen Fahrradständer für Paul zu kaufen hofften. Wir stiegen von unseren Rädern und sofort  eilten mindestens fünf Männer auf Paul zu, um ihm bei der Reparatur seines gebogenen Fahrradständers behilflich zu sein, während ich innert Kürze ein Glas Çay in die Hände gedrückt erhielt. Nach eineinhalb Stunden verliessen wir den Fahrradladen zwar an einer  Begegnung mit frendlichen Türken reicher und mit viel Çay in den Bäuchen, jedoch mit einem noch immer gebogenen Fahrradständer.

Die Weiterfahrt wurde wegen eines starken Gegenwindes zunehmend anstrengender und wir waren froh, gegen Abend das charmante Städtchen Ayvalik zu erreichen, wo wir in einer hübschen Pension Pauline und Jo wieder trafen, um fortan wieder zu viert weiterzureisen.

Am 18. Mai kamen wir auf flachen Strassen zügig voran, piknikten wie gewohnt und um der Hitze zu entkommen im Garten einer Tankstelle und erreichten unser Tagesziel, einen Zeltplatz in Bergama, bereits am frühen Nachmittag. Nach einer kurzen Abkühlung im Pool des Campings (was für ein Luxus!) machten wir uns auf, Pergamon, eine antike griechische Stadt auf einem 300 Meter hohen Gebirgsausläufer, zu besichtigen und von dort die Aussicht über eine weite, fruchtbare Landschaft zu geniessen.

Auch am nächsten Tag (19. Mai) waren wir – trotz zwei platten Reifen an Pauls Fahrrad – gut unterwegs und erreichten nach 90 schnellen Kilometern Izmir, die drittgrösste Stadt der Türkei, wo Paul in einem Fahrradladen endlich einen neuen und genügend stabilen Fahrradständer fand und Jo sein Hinterrad repariert erhielt. Den Abend verbrachten wir in Izmir, ohne jedoch viel von der Stadt zu sehen. Wir waren so müde, dass wir uns nach einem Kebab und einem Bier an der Strandpromenade bald schon schlafen legten. Ein freundlicher, aber etwas lallender Türke hatte uns bei unserer Ankunft in Izmir zu einem eher heruntergekommenen Hotel in einem nicht sehr vertrauenswürdigen Quartier geführt, so dass wir sehr erleichtert waren, als wir unsere Fahrräder am nächsten Morgen (20. Mai) unberührt im Eingangsbereich stehen sahen.

Morning light on the Dardarnelles

Morning light on the Dardarnelles

After lunch nanna nap

After lunch nanna nap

Looking down to Assos (Lesbos in the background)

Looking down to Assos (Lesbos in the background)

Rolling along the Aegean

Rolling along the Aegean

A break on the coast, Akcay

A break on the coast, Akcay

Uns stand ein weiterer heisser Tag bevor und wir beeilten uns, noch möglichst vor dem Nachmittag in Selçuk (Ephesos) anzukommen. Überall, wo wir eine Pause einlegten, drückte uns jemand eine kleine Stärkung in die Hand: Çay, ein Teller voller Lokum oder Schokoladenriegel. Wir sind nach wie vor überwältigt von der Gastfreundschaft und Grosszügigkeit der Türken! In  Selçuk, wo wir einen Ruhetag einlegen würden, verbrachten wir den Abend einmal mehr mit Kebab und Jass.

Um Ephesos, eine der ältesten, größten und bedeutendsten griechischen Städte Kleinasiens anzuschauen, schalteten wir am 21. Mai eine Velopause ein. Unter tausenden anderen Touristen und bei 32° besichtigten wir die vielen Ruinen und genossen es, unsere Beine nach fünf Velotagen etwas ruhen zu lassen. Morgen (22. Mai) verlassen wir die Ägäis endgültig, um uns langsam quer durch das Landesinnere der Türkei bis hin zur iranischen Grenze zu bewegen. Es erwarten uns einige Hügel und Berge, hohe Temparaturen und ganz sicher viele weitere schöne und interessante Begegnungen.

Aegean Turkey

After saying goodbye to Nina’s parents (12th May) and boarding a ferry, we arrived about 3 hours later on the other side of the Sea of Marmara at the port of Bandirma.  Upon disembarking, we bumped into another young couple travelling by bike.  Turns out Jo and Pauline were riding from Lausanne (in the French-speaking part of Switzerland) and are heading towards Uzbekistan.  We decided that we would ride together to the camping ground apparently located by the seaside not too far away along the coast.  After 10 days consumed by eating and devoid of bike riding, it was nice to get the legs turning again, and we cruised along in our 4-person peloton enjoying the breath taking views of the coast and inhaling the scent of pine trees and rosemary.  After a pleasant 20km of riding we found a basic but well-kept campground on the edge of a sandy beach (not that there were a plethora of other ones to choose from mind you), set up the tents, prepared a simple dinner and set about swapping stories from our travels over a beer, which began coincidentally within 1 day of each other 9 weeks earlier just 100km apart in Switzerland.

An excited tourist on the cable car to Pergamon

An excited tourist on the cable car to Pergamon

Having changed our plans and made the decision to head south along the Aegean coast instead of our planned route north along the Black Sea, we were thoroughly excited at the prospect of exploring such a historically interesting and important area of the world over the next few weeks. We set off together the next day (13th May) and headed further along the coast of the Sea of Marmara.  The sunny morning slowly gave way to darker clouds and soon afterwards we began to hear thunder.  A sizeable twister appeared above us and then the heavens opened up.  A quick dash down the hill (luckily) brought us to a petrol station, where we were able to seek shelter from the extremely large and numerous raindrops (SE Asia style).  With the storm showing little sign of abating, we decided that lunch was in order, so we packed out our picnic, and as we’ve found to be customary, within minutes complimentary çay and sweet biscuits arrived at our table.  Once the rain had slowed to a slight drizzle we set off again westwards and arrived mid-afternoon in Biga.  We sat down for a drink in a small tee garden and chewed the fat with some of the town elders in order to find out where we might find some accommodation for the night.  As it turns out there happened to be what was described to us as a student teacher house, and after confirming that this fitted our requirements we were escorted there by a carload of locals.  Upon arrival the director of the student house invited us (courtesy of another English student who’d been roped in to act as translator) to drink, what else, çay.  Following a 30 minute “meet ‘n’ greet” we were finally shown to our rooms so that we could enjoy a warm shower.  Feeling a bit more human again, we set off together for a dinner of köfte followed by a few beers in a bar, where we spent the rest of the evening playing Jass (a typical Swiss card game, not dissimilar to 500, for the Australian contingent).

Ancient theatre, Pergamon

Ancient theatre, Pergamon

A glance out the window the next morning (14th May) indicated another hardly inviting grey rainy day, but the buffet breakfast in the student house consisting of hard-boiled eggs, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, bread, butter and honey washed down with the national drink, tea, gave us the energy to pack our bikes and head off towards Çanakkale, about 100km away.  Intermittent to constant rain slowed our progress somewhat, but a generous sprinkling of tea breaks kept us warm and gave us the motivation and energy to keep pedaling along the Dardanelles, which we reached at the mouth of the Sea of Marmara.  In Çanakkale we said goodbye to Jo and Pauline, caught the ferry across the narrow strait separating Asia and Europe, and landed in Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula (and back on European soil).

Pergamon

Pergamon

A high school curriculum filled with the history of The Great War means that Gallipoli needs no introduction to any Australian.  The formation of the ANZAC legend, followed by the romanticism and subsequent commercialism of this same legend, has turned Gallipoli into a pilgrimage site vital to any European tour.  The hordes of Turkish tourists, all coming to idolise Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), the leader of the Turkish forces in the region during the Gallipoli campaign, and subsequent first president of the newly formed Republic of Turkey, suggests that a similar level of nationalistic fanaticism from the side of the Turkish people surrounding the events played out over 9 months now almost 100 years ago around a strategically important seaway also exists.  That this campaign sometimes gets mentioned as the last “Gentlemen’s War” somehow trivialises the slaughter during the fighting of so many men, young and old, and children.

View from Pergamon

View from Pergamon

Of course a visit to the Gallipoli Peninsula wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the battlefields and war memorials, and so we climbed into a small minibus (May 15th) filled with Australians and were driven around to the vast number of historically important sites.  A young Turkish historian (whose name unfortunately escapes me) spent the afternoon informatively explaining different aspects of campaign to us and tirelessly answering questions.  He’d spent many years researching the history of the battles; poring over pages and pages of official Turkish and Commonwealth Army documents and his infinite knowledge on the subject enabled him to portray the fighting for me in a different light.  Like with any war, truth always becomes the first casualty, and it was refreshing that our guide could present so much different evidence, which contradicts many of the widely circulating mistruths taken by so many people as gospel.  The only truth that remains is that sending people to war will only get them killed.  The most poignant thought is that a whole generation of people grew up without a father, a brother, a son, or a friend, both Turks and non-Turks.  Today, the Gallipoli Peninsula is bullet riddled as a result of it’s past, but incredibly stunning in it’s natural beauty.

4000km down and going strong...

4000km down and going strong…

The Swiss Peleton

The Swiss Peleton

The next day (16th May) a short early morning ferry ride (which gave us 20 minutes to eat breakfast on the deck) across the Dardanelles brought us back to Asia and Çanakkale, where we then continued south along the Aegean coastline towards our next destination, Assos.  Up and down long rolling hills past thousands of olive trees under an ever intensifying sun soon bought a sweat to the brow and every descent became a short opportunity to momentarily cool down and dry off a little.  Spectacular views were afforded to us back along the Dardanelles, and later in the afternoon, after climbing a few even higher hills, we were presented with an amazing view over Assos (including the remains of the Temple of Athena built high above the city in the 6th century BC) and the Greek island of Lesbos floating in the Aegean Sea.  We rolled down the hill into Assos, decided against the journey up to see the remains of the temple having heard that the work experience kid had had a crack at trying to reassemble it within the last 30 years, and kept going down to the coast at Kadirga Beach, where we hoped to find a campsite.  With summer still on the way and the package tourists still just dreaming of their summer vacation from their desks at work, apparently “preparation season” was in full swing but we found the only campsite (minimalist camping would be an understatement) ready to accept guests, pitched our tent, and settled into a seaside restaurant (also in the preparation phase) for a well earned cold beer and some freshly grilled fish to enjoy the last few peaceful daylight hours.

Ephesus

Ephesus

Amphitheatre, Ephesus

Amphitheatre, Ephesus

Peak hour down the main street, Ephesus

Peak hour down the main street, Ephesus

The Library of Celsus, Ephesus

The Library of Celsus, Ephesus

Knowing that the day would quickly become hot again, we set off early (May 17th) and continued riding along quiet coastal roads next to the Aegean.  At one stage we had to stop quickly for a çay and pide to escape a thunderstorm, but once the storm clouds had passed we continued further along the coast.  Shortly before midday we spied a bike shop, and stopped hoping to find a new bike stand for my bike (since the other one was slowly deteriorating to the point where the bike now stood at about 45° when parked).  Upon arrival I was immediately surrounded by about 5 staff (1 who had been working, the other 4 talking and drinking çay) who set about inspecting the bike, while Annina was requested to sit down and drink a çay.  One and a half hours later, with a stand that was still broken but somewhat reinforced and should get me to the next big town in Izmir where we were told we’d find better bike shops, we parted ways with our new friends (having shared many cups of tee and dried apricots) and continued on our way with a helpful tailwind.  Knowing that our route required us to make a 120° right hand turn later in the day back into that aforementioned tailwind, we stopped by the sea for a picnic lunch for a break and to top up some much needed energy for the challenge which lay ahead in the afternoon.  As the afternoon progressed, the intensity of the wind increased substantially and became extremely gusty, almost to the point where we were almost blown from the road.  We battled the last 30km against the elements into Ayvalik, and were relieved to find our pension and pack the bikes away for the day after 100km.  Here we met up with Jo and Pauline again and enjoyed dinner together in town, and since we had similar routes planned for the next few days, made the decision to continue on as a group for the next few days.

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

The next day (18th May) our group of four made rapid early morning progress and we stopped for lunch in a shady garden at a petrol station knowing that we only had 10km to ride in the afternoon to make it to Bergama.  Those last 10km in the baking sun after lunch proved extremely tiring after our relaxing midday break, but the sight of a swimming pool (pure luxury!!) as we rolled into the campsite in Bergama brought a smile back to everyone’s face.  After a refreshing dip, we hopped onto a dolmuş (small bus) and headed towards the town centre.  A cablecar carried us the rest of the way up to the top of the hill above the town, where the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon lie.  The views from the ruins alone, made it worth the ascent, however, the stunning remnants from a bygone millennia almost devoid of other tourists really were something to behold.

Ephesus

Ephesus

To avoid the forecasted heat the next day (May 19th), we got up early and packed our bags ready to go.  Finding that my front tire had a puncture wasn’t the best start to getting away early, and then inadvertently riding over a small metal hook later in the day and getting a flat tire on the rear wheel gave me the impression that the bike gods were against me today.  After almost 100km we found the neighbourhood in Izmir supposedly filled with bike shops, and set about locating one.  After finally finding one, I went bike stand shopping.  An elderly bike mechanic sold me on the virtues of the stand he had at hand, and within minutes we’d replaced mine with a new one.  We got my bike loaded up, put the stand down, and then SNAP, broken on the first try.  We had a short discussion (in broken English) looking at the different possibilities, and then came to the conclusion that a combination of the old and new stands might do the trick.  The mechanic set about grinding, sawing and screwing the two stands together, and then mounted it on my bike…5 days later it’s still holding so fingers crossed!!

We kept heading towards the centre of Izmir, and after stopping to check the directions, we were approached by a relatively unkempt gentleman smelling quite strongly of booze.  He asked if we needed help and having only made good experiences with Turkish people and their helpfulness, we struck up a conversation with him and said we needed a cheap hotel for the night.  After enquiring about our preferred budget, he set about leading us into the bazaar towards a fairly non-descript looking hotel in the red light district.  Following an unnecessarily long check-in procedure, where we happy to get under the shower to wash the sweat away.  We ate Turkish takeaway (döner kebap and chips) for dinner then enjoyed a beer sitting looking out over the bay on the edge of the promenade along with all of the other Izmir locals enjoying the cool of the evening.

Upon arrival in the foyer the next morning (May 20th), we were relieved to find all four bikes still calmly waiting for us.  Breakfast from the bakery on the street gave us some energy for the big climb out of Izmir, and a friendly tailwind meant we made fast progress towards Selçuk.  Every time that we had a break, someone appeared with a small gift, whether that be çay, chocolate bars or a plateful of Turkish delight.  A direction change brought with it a headwind and we were glad to arrive in Selçuk early in the afternoon after battling the heat and a headwind for 2 hours.  More köfte (Turkish meatballs) and more Jass were followed by an early night in bed.

A day off riding was planned for the next day (May 21st), but we still had to rise early to get to the ruins of Ephesus before the heat set in for the day.  Ephesus was an ancient Greek city, and later a major Roman one, boasting at one stage more than 250,000 inhabitants during the 1st century BC, making it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world at that time.  Although only 15% of the city has to date been excavated, the immense volume of artifacts and buildings give a good impression of the immensity of the city.  The famed Temple of Artemis completed in 500 BC, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is also located not far from Ephesus, although all that now remains is one rebuilt column.

Accompanied by busload after busload of arriving tourists (which somehow gave Ephesus an authentic bustling city feeling) we set about exploring the ruins.  Although located a little over 10km inland, during Greek and Roman times, the city was connected to the Aegean Sea via the Cayster River, which enabled it to grow to become such a large commercial centre.  A large earthquake in 614AD followed by the continuing silting up of the harbour (despite repeated dredging attempts) led to a mosquito plague and the eventual decline of the city.  The sheer size of the site as well as the number of remains of imposing buildings gives a good impression as to former importance of the city.

On Wednesday (22nd May) we will say goodbye to the Aegean coast, and head eastwards towards Pamukkale in Western Anatolia.  The central part of Turkey becomes quite mountainous, so we’ll certainly have plenty of work to do on the bikes.

Istanbul without bikes

(English below)

Photo gallery

Istanbul ohne Fahrrad

Die Tage vom 1. bis zum 12. Mai verbrachten wir in Istanbul. Es würde wohl Monate, wenn nicht Jahre dauern, um diese Metropole in ihrer Vielseitigkeit gänzlich begreifen zu können. Dennoch ermöglichten uns die zwölf Tage einen umfassenden Eindruck Istanbuls, insbesondere weil wir uns Zeit nahmen, auch weniger touristische Gebiete (z.B. Wohnquartiere auf der asiatischen Seite oder um die Chora-Kirche herum) kennen zu lernen.

Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Copper coffee pots

Copper coffee pots

Fisherman at the Bosphorus

Fisherman at the Bosphorus

Carpet anyone?

Carpet anyone?

Not exactly the biggest boat on the river

Not exactly the biggest boat on the river

Building with Roman, Islamic and Jewish construction year

Building with Roman, Islamic and Jewish construction year

View of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sofia

View of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sofia

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

View over Istanbul from the rooftop

View over Istanbul from the rooftop

Atatürk - a national hero (you can't escape his presence)

Atatürk – a national hero

Das Schönste an unseren Tagen in Istanbul war das Wiedersehen mit Cristina (3. bis 6. Mai) sowie meiner Schwester Sara und meinen Eltern (8. bis 12. Mai). Alle verwöhnten sie uns so sehr und ich war überglücklich, sie Teil unserer unvergesslichen Reise werden zu lassen. Der jeweilige Abschied nach solch intensiven, gemeinsamen Tagen fiel mir entsprechend schwer und so war ich froh, Istanbul zur gleichen Zeit wie meine Familie zu verlassen und mich bald schon wieder voll und ganz auf unser Reiseabenteuer einzulassen.

Um dem Verkehrschaos Istanbuls zu entgehen, bestiegen wir am 12. Mai erst mal eine Fähre, die Istanbul nach und nach hinter uns verschwinden liess und uns quer über das Marmarameer nach Bandirma führte.

Istanbul without bikes

From the 1st until the 12th May, a little less than two weeks, we enjoyed a revitalising break in Istanbul.  Due to its sheer size and diversity, it would take months, if not years, of living there for one to even begin to think about saying they have any idea about how Istanbul really ticks.  All the same, 10 days allowed us enough time to form an impression, and to also explore a few parts of the town not usually visited by tourists.

For all of it’s alluring and mesmerising qualities, the two highlights of our time in Istanbul, were the visits of Cristina (May 3rd-6th) and a portion of the Grädel family (May 8th-12th).  Our visitors looked us after incredibly well, and we had a fantastic time enjoying the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of the city with them all.  From our perspective, it was especially memorable in the fact that they then inadvertently became a part of our larger adventure.

Dinner with Cristina on the rooftop

Dinner with Cristina on the rooftop

Sunset over Istanbul

Sunset over Istanbul

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Packed in like well...sardines

Packed in like well…sardines

Rifle range with a view

Rifle range with a view

Çay time

Çay time

Carpets in the mosque

Carpets in the mosque

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Istanbul from the rooftop

Istanbul from the rooftop

Approaching sunset on the Bosphorus

Approaching sunset on the Bosphorus

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

Chora Church

Chora Church

Looking over the Bosphorus towards Europe

Looking over the Bosphorus towards Europe

Saying goodbye (again) was difficult, knowing that the time until the next reunion would definitely be longer than the last.  In this respect, we were both glad that the departure of Nina’s family coincided with us also leaving Istanbul and the continuation of our journey.  In order to avoid the traffic chaos of Istanbul (bike riding on the bridge over the Bosphorus being exceptionally favourably documented in many a bike blog), and having decided that our route would for now continue in a southerly direction along the Aegean Sea, we boarded a ferry on Sunday (12th May) with the bikes at the Yenikapı Port on the European side of Istanbul and set sail across the Sea of Marmara towards Bandirma.

Eastern Thrace and the Marmara Sea in Turkey

(English below)

Photo gallery

Die Region Ostthrakien und das Marmarameer

Am 26. April, kurz nach Mittag, überquerten wir die bulgarisch-türkische Grenze, womit wir die EU endgültig hinter uns liessen um uns dem asiatischen Kontinent mehr und mehr zu nähern. Unser erster Halt in der Türkei galt Edirne, der ehemaligen Hauptstadt des Osmanischen Reichs mit seiner imposanten Selimiye-Moschee und weiteren eindrücklichen orientalischen Bauten. Da wir mit den bepackten Fahrrädern auf unseren Gastgeber Murat (www.couchsurfing.org) warten mussten, verbrachten wir paar Stunden in einem der zahlreichen Teegärten, lauschten den gelegentlichen Imam-Gebeten, beobachteten das fröhliche Treiben und tauchten so langsam in die für uns neue Welt ein. Gegen Abend trafen wir Murat, der uns in seiner Wohnung sogleich mit einem Käsemacaroni-Abendessen bekochte und uns später zu noch mehr Tee (Çay) ausführte.

Enough said...

Enough said…

The Turkish bike lane

The Turkish bike lane

Market stall owner in Edirne, Turkey

Market stall owner in Edirne, Turkey

Edirne

Edirne

Military zone (interesting costume)

Military zone (interesting costume)

Mimar Sinan monument and Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Mimar Sinan monument and Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Domed roof of the Selimiye Mosque

Domed roof of the Selimiye Mosque

Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Nach einem ausgiebigen türkischen Frühstück (Eier, Oliven, Tomaten, Gurken, Frischkäse, Brot und Çay) mit Murat stiegen wir nächstentags (27. April) für einmal ohne Gepäck auf unsere Fahrräder und kämpften uns auf Edirnes Strassen unserem Gastgeber hinterher, der uns jeden Winkel der Stadt zeigte und trotz einigen Kommunikationsschwierigkeiten  – denn Türkisch sprechen wir beide leider kein Bisschen – ein hervorragender Reiseführer war und grossen Wert darauf legte, immer wieder mal eine Çay-Pause im Schatten einzulegen. Von den vielen Sehenswürdigkeiten überwältigt und der Hitze (32° C) erschlagen, genossen wir abends noch ein gemeinsames Nachtessen in Edirnes beliebtesten Restaurant, wo ausschliesslich die für Edirne typische gebratene Leber (Edirne ciğeri) mit Chillis, Brot, Oliven und Tomaten serviert wird.

Am 28. April verliessen wir Edirne und damit den äusserst gastfreundlichen Murat, radelten auf guten Strassen durch hügelige Landwirtschaftsgebiete und wurden immer wieder von Tanksellenwärtern zu einem Tässchen Çay herbei gewunken. Der uns entgegenblasende Nordwind nahm stetig zu, so dass wir uns am frühen Abend erschöpft in einer Köfte(Fleischbällchen)-Bude in Muratli niederliessen und uns nach einem einfachen, aber herrlichen Köfteteller nach einer Schlafgelegenheit, sei’s mit Zelt in einem Garten oder sei’s in einer billigen Pension, erkundeten. Jedoch blieben wir diesmal erfolglos und wurden auf das 20 Kilometer südlich und am Marmarameer liegende Tekirdağ verwiesen. Uns blieb nichts anderes übrig als uns mit unseren bereits sehr müden Beinen wieder auf die Fahrräder zu setzen und den Kampf gegen den Wind fortzusetzen. Knapp zwei Stunden später erreichten wir Tekirdağ, wo uns Meeresgeruch und –sicht die Strapazen sogleich vergessen liessen. Als hätte alles so kommen müssen, wurden wir gleich schon am Ortsbeginn von einem neugiereigen, türkischen Mountainbiker angehalten, freundlich begrüsst und anschliessend zum günstigsten Gasthaus Tekirdağs (und das war es wirklich!) geführt. Ein Spaziergang der Strandpromenade entlang und ein grosses Eis zum Dessert rundeten den Tag ab und wir liessen uns erschöpft in unsere Betten fallen.

Dank den vielen zurückgelegten Kilometern Tags zuvor, nahmen wir den Montag, 29. April, gemütlich in Angriff und so setzten wir uns erst mal in ein Restaurant an der Strandpromenade, wo wir ein ausgiebiges Frühstück genossen. Um 11 Uhr, kurz bevor wir abfahren wollten, schossen wir noch das alltägliche “eleven-o’clock-picture” am Marmarameer und wurden dabei von einer jungen Türkin auf unsere Reisepläne angesprochen. Gulsen war so begeistert von unserem Vorhaben, dass sie darauf beharrte, uns auf ein Tasse Çay und später zu einem für Tekirdag typischen Käsedessert mit Eis einzuladen. Gulsan ist Englischlehrerin und so konnten wir uns bestens unterhalten und vieles über die Gegend, türkische Musik und türkisches Essen erfahren. Mich freute es ganz besonders, mich auch mal mit einer Frau unterhalten zu können, da wir normalerweise eher von Männern angesprochen werden, die sich eher mit Paul und weniger mit mir unterhalten wollen.

Von Gulsen bezaubert und der türkischen Gastfreundschaft beschwingt setzten wir unsere Reise Richtung Istanbul (ca. 140 km) fort. Nach wie vor freue ich mich jeweils wie ein kleines Kind, mich dem Meer zu nähern und so radelte ich trotz stark befahrener Schnellstrasse überglücklich dem Marmarameer entlang. Bereits nach 50 Kilometern fanden wir ein Plätzchen für unser Zelt und verbrachen den Rest des Tages mit Lesen, Pikniken und Çaytrinken bei unserem Nachbarn.

Unsere Unterkunft in Istanbul hatten wir erst auf dem 1. Mai gebucht, so dass wir auch am 30. April nur wenige Kilometer zurücklegten, um uns am Nachmittag auf einem Zeltplatz am Meer niederzulassen. Allerdings fanden wir – trotz Einträgen in unserer Landkarte – weit und breit keinen Zeltplatz und und kamen dem Stadtzentrum Istanbuls und damit Geschäfts- und Hochhäusern  immer näher. Wir leisteten uns daher ein Hotelzimmer in Büyükçekmece, wo wir die farbenfrohe und lebendige Strandpromenade auf- und abspazierten, das unserer Meinung nach allerbeste Fischsandwich der Welt vertilgten und bei Sonnenuntergang Çay tranken und Backgammon spielten.

Turkish homemade roll-ups

Turkish homemade roll-ups

Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Edirne

Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Edirne

Annual week long oil wrestling tournament near Edirne

Annual week long oil wrestling tournament near Edirne

Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Bayezid II Complex, Edirne

Bayezid II Complex, Edirne

The Murat bike tour

The Murat bike tour

Çay

Çay

Am 1. Mai radelten wir erst auf vierspurigen, später auf einspurigen, dafür verstopften Strassen in die Stadt Istanbul hinein. Aufgrund des Feiertags schien die ganze Bevölkerung Istanbuls draussen zu sein: In den Parks und auf den Meerpromenaden wimmelte es nur so vor Familien und Freunden mit eigenem kleinen Grill und Çaykocher. Wir erreichten unser Hotel in Sultanahmet ohne grosse Schwierigkeiten, sperrten unsere Fahrräder weg und richteten uns im Hotelzimmer, unserem neuen Zuhause, ein.

Was für ein Gefühl, den ganzen Weg durch Europa bis in die Türkei und nach Istanbul auf dem Fahrrad geschafft zu haben! Europa kommt mir einerseits so klein vor. Anderseits sind die ersten paar winterlichen Wochen unserer Reise bereits in weite Ferne gerückt und unsere Herzen und Köpfe scheinen mit Erinnerungen an die vielen eindrücklichen, emotionalen, anstrengenden, vor Glück überwältigenden, kalten, müden und zufriedenen Momente schon jetzt beinahe zu platzen. Immer öfters fängt jemand von uns mit dem Satz “weisst du noch…” an, fördert bereits tief vergrabene Erinnerungen zu Tage und beide können wir jeweils kaum glauben, erst knapp zwei Monate unterwegs zu sein. Ich kann mir nach wie vor nur vage vorstellen, per Fahrrad durch Vorder-, Zentral- und Südostasien zu reisen, werde aber vor Freude auf unsere weiteren Begegnungen und Abenteuer ganz kribbelig. Gleichzeitig tut uns die fast zweiwöchige Pause in Istanbul gut: So können wir das bereits Erlebte auch mal etwas einsinken lassen, müssen uns nicht jeden Abend um eine neue Schlafgelegenheit kümmern und dürfen uns im Hotelzimmer so richtig ausbreiten ohne nächstentags gleich wieder alles zusammen zu packen. Auch kann ich den Beusch von Cristina, meiner Schwester Sara und meiner Eltern in Istanbul kaum erwarten!

Am 13. Mai werden auch wir Istanbul wieder verlassen. Zu entscheiden ist nur noch, ob wir dem Schwarzen Meer oder erstmal dem Mittelmeer entlang radeln wollen. Die Wahl fällt uns nicht leicht und Tips und Vorschläge nehmen wir nur zu gerne entgegen.

Eastern Thrace and the Sea of Marmara in Turkey

The day arrived (26th April) where our legs finally propelled us, like the preceding 3072 kilometers, out of the EU, over the Bulgarian border and into Turkey.  A fast-tracked visa (tourist tax would be more appropriate) lightened my wallet of 60USD (Nina being Swiss and all, just had to wave politely) and we were on our way through the Turkish passport control and standing on Turkish soil.  A lovely wide emergency lane running alongside the highway especially reserved for two weary cyclists greeted us – bike-lane luxury like we hadn’t seen for a while.

The first stop we’d planned in Turkey was in Edirne, which was a short ride of 20km from the border.  Edirne served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire during the 14th and 15th centuries and as a result of it’s wealth from this time possesses an array of impressive sites which we decided warranted a rest day for us, in order to better explore the city.  Courtesy of www.couchsurfing.com we’d organised to stay with a local, Murat.  After arriving early in the afternoon in Edirne, and knowing that our rendezvous with Murat wasn’t until in the evening, we set about copying what everyone else in Edirne seemed to be doing, sitting in the shade, either in a park or a café, and drinking çay (Tee).

Edirne ciğeri (thinly sliced calf’s liver deep fried and served with deep fried red chillies)

Edirne ciğeri (thinly sliced calf’s liver deep fried and served with deep fried red chillies)

The Old Mosque, Edirne

The Old Mosque, Edirne

Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Typical Turkish breakfast prepared by our couchsurfing host Murat

Typical Turkish breakfast prepared by our couchsurfing host Murat

One of the numerous poppies dotting the landscape

One of the numerous poppies dotting the landscape

Finally something slower than us on the road

Finally something slower than us on the road

Fields of Eastern Thrace

Fields of Eastern Thrace

Dessert with Gulsun, Tekirdağ

Dessert with Gulsun, Tekirdağ

Sea of Marmara

Sea of Marmara

Watermelons for sale

Watermelons for sale

The BEST fish sandwich ever

The BEST fish sandwich ever

Our "fish sandwich" restaurant

Our “fish sandwich” restaurant

Backgammon and çay by the sea

Backgammon and çay by the sea

Sunset over the Sea of Marmara

Sunset over the Sea of Marmara

Istanbul

Istanbul

Out of the hot sun, we enjoyed the few hours of relaxation, people watching, observing the hustle and bustle of a new town, hearing the imam’s call to prayer from the numerous loudspeakers surrounding every minaret of every mosque and constant honking and tooting of cars, buses, scooters etc.  Later that evening we met Murat at his apartment and enjoyed a Turkish inspired macaroni and cheese that he cooked for us.  The time following dinner can only mean one thing, more çay, so we set off to a local tea garden to enjoy the warm evening air and learn a little more about Murat and his thoughts on Turkey.

We struck gold having our day off in Edirne on a Saturday (27th April), since it meant Murat had the day off work, and as such we had our own personal tour guide for the day.  Murat, himself a keen cyclist, suggested that we make our way around Edirne by bike (the idea of a day on our bikes, free of all of our usual luggage, without any serious distance to cover sounded almost therapeutic).  The day was spent inspecting diverse Turkish war memorials from the Turkish-Balkan wars, crossing incredible (albeit bumpy) stone bridges (some dating from the 14th century) and gazing in amazement at the collection of mosques found scattered around the city.  The famous Ottoman master architect, Minar Sinan, created in Edirne in 1574 what he considered his finest work, the Selimiye Mosque, complete with the highest minarets (70.9m) in Turkey (luckily for the SVP he wasn’t employed in Switzerland).  The beautiful symmetry (and simplicity) within the mosque as well as it’s immense towering dome really do make it a sight to behold (not so surprising that UNESCO banged it into it’s World Heritage List in 2011).

Murat excitedly steered us around Edirne and it’s sights, and with Turkish efficiency found time for enough çay breaks in the shade, in order to combat the 32° day patiently baking the streets.  As the evening cooled down, we arrived at an Edirne institution (where a queue was waiting for us – always a good sign) to enjoy Edirne’s culinary specialty, Edirne ciğeri (thinly sliced calf’s liver deep fried and served with deep fried red chillies (ridiculously spicy) and yoghurt).  The ongoing fire in our mouths was only minimally soothed with Ayran (a typical Turkish watery natural yoghurt drink), so post-dinner we set off to do what people here seemed to do best – drink some more çay.

After Murat’s overwhelming hospitality, it was time to say goodbye to our wonderful host (of course not before he’d risen especially early on a Sunday morning to prepare us a Turkish breakfast), leave Edirne and head towards the Sea of Marmara (28th April).  A strong sidewind slowed our tempo, although the constant invitation to drink çay from all of the service station attendants we passed (had we accepted them all) would have slowed us even more.  Deciding that we’d had enough riding for the day, we slipped into a Köfte (Turkish meatballs) shop in a small village for some cheap and tasty dinner.  We were instantly surrounded by a least 10 young Turkish guys (only a couple could speak a bit of English) who interestedly asked where we were from, what we’re doing etc etc.  Coming so far via bike and landing in their boring town (their words), suggested to them that we were a little crazy, but it allowed us to enquire regarding pensions or campsites.  The resounding bad news was that there was definitely nothing where we were in Muratli, and that our best bet was to keep heading towards Tekirdağ.  With 115km already behind us for the day, the idea of another 20km to Tekirdağ was less than appealing, but we calculated that there were still another few hours of daylight left in the day, so we made the decision to keep going towards the coast.  The final 20km into a headwind left us exhausted as we arrived in Tekirdağ just on sunset (the final roll down the hill into the town after climbing hill after hill after hill was pure bliss).  A friendly local cyclist took pity on us, made a few calls, and promptly found us a cheap room for the night – once again the victims of incredible Turkish hospitality J

Thanks to our long than expected journey the day previously and our planned arrival in Istanbul later in the week, we had no reason to hurry along the coast of the Sea of Marmara.  By the waterfront, shortly after taking our 11am pic (29th April), a young Turkish woman approached us and struck up a conversation with us after taking an interest in our method of transport.  Gulsen, it turns out, was an English teacher in Tekirdağ, and she promptly invited us to come and drink a çay with her.  Following a few glasses of Turkey’s finest ruby syrup, Gulsen then insisted that we come with her to sample a delicious typical Tekirdag cheese-based dessert (since it was topped with ice-cream, I didn’t need much convincing).  It was interesting for once to hear about Turkey from a female perspective.  Generally on the street we’re approached by men, and following polite formalities and introductions, Nina seems to become somewhat invisible – this phenomenon will probably increase as we venture further east.  Nina especially enjoyed the time speaking to Gulsen about her life, people, education and politics in Turkey.  Sadly Gulsen had to go to work (although we probably wouldn’t have ended up leaving Tekirdag if she hadn’t), so we said our goodbyes and with fond memories of such a spontaneous meeting rode further east along the coast.

Knowing that we had 3 days to travel the 150 or so kilometers into Istanbul we were quite happy knowing that there were no long riding days ahead of us for a while.  After about 50 km we found a ramshackle campsite directly on the waterfront without any staff, were greeted by an elderly Turk who only spoke Turkish but seemed to direct us to set up our tent up the back of the site somewhere and settled into reading and lying around in the shade for the afternoon.  Later on in the day another Turk informed us that the campsite was actually closed but told us that since there were no staff anyway, we could just stay the night and head off again the next morning – no harm done (payment was rejected of course).  For all of the retired couples in the place, we were a bit of a novelty, so there were a constant procession of passersby greeting us and stopping by for a chat (German seemed to be quite widely spoken, with many of the couples having at some stage lived in Germany or Switzerland).  At sunset an elderly gentleman invited us to his hut to drink çay (what else), so we spent the evening learning Turkish words and communicating with lots of hands and drawing and pointing.

As we rode along the next day (30th April), the shoreline along the Sea of Marmara became increasing filled with apartments and holiday complexes, owing to its close vicinity to Istanbul.  Although campsites were shown on our map, less than 50km from Istanbul we soon realised that we were out of luck (those places that had existed had all been redeveloped into large complexes).  A little annoyed that we hadn’t anticipated the situation better, we set about trying to find the cheapest hotel possible in a sea of posh holiday hotels scatter along the seaside.

Once we’d found something within (not really, but the best we could haggle) our budget, we followed the masses down to the pleasant waterside promenade to enjoy a stroll in the fresh sea air.  Boats filled with the days catch were anchored along the promenade offering freshly grilled fish sandwiches.  After devouring one each, the only thing to do of course was order another.  We were both in agreement that it really was the best fish sandwiches we’d ever eaten.  Backgammon and çay filled the rest of evening of what was a very relaxing day.

Our apprehension levels were high with the knowledge that today (1st May) we had to navigate our way through the metropolis that is Istanbul.  In all of the blog entries we’d read from other bike traveller’s experiences in preparation for our own trip, getting into Istanbul really seemed to be THE downside to travel through Turkey.  Sitting happily now in our hotel room, I’m not really sure what all of the fuss is about. J  I think we struck it very lucky that May 1st is a public holiday (which meant much less traffic) and rather than trying to ride through the city along the main arterials, we stuck to the southern coast road so that we couldn’t really get lost (just had to keep the sea on our right) – maybe however I’ve spoken too soon, after all, we haven’t left the place yet.

Since it was the Labour Day holiday, everybody seemed to be outside enjoying the weather, families and groups of friend filled the parks along the coast cooking barbecues on portable coal grills, tantalising scents filling the air, lying around in the shade, playing football and just enjoying the day off work or school or whatever.  Without much hassle, we found our hotel near the old town, Sultanahmet, unloaded and packed away our bikes, and looked forward to seeing the sights in Istanbul over the next two weeks (sans Bike).

Hair today...

Hair today…

...gone tomorrow

…gone tomorrow

Relaxing in Istanbul

Relaxing in Istanbul

What a feeling, to have made it with our bikes the whole way across Europe, from Bern in Switzerland right through to Istanbul in Turkey.  Coming from Australia, I’m not sure how far we would’ve got there in just over 7 weeks, but these 3372km we covered have filled our hearts and minds with innumerable memories and experiences, which will stay with us for life.  Now that we’ve felt the warm of the Turkish sun, that first month of snow and cold seems like a lifetime ago.  We’ve both overcome so many hurdles, physically and mentally (and of course meteorically), but for us most importantly; we’ve immensely enjoyed the time spent together having our own adventure.

The thing that probably stands out most for us are the people we’ve come into contact with along the way.  We’ve been totally humbled and overwhelmed by the friendliness, warmth, generosity and hospitality of everyone (some already friends, some strangers but now friends) we’ve met and in a world where we sometimes find ourselves surrounded a little too much by cynicism and suspicion, it’s been such a refreshing experience and has reaffirmed our belief in the good of people.

Right now we’re excited about a two week break in Istanbul to let everything sink in a little, seeing Cristina this week, and then Sara and Nina’s parents next week.  In the next fortnight we’ll spend some time thinking about and excitedly planning our onward journey (tips and advice are always welcome), and of course drinking çay.