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.

11 thoughts on “Eastern Thrace and the Marmara Sea in Turkey

  1. Now listen here, as you know we were already jealous, and now your Turkey stories have pushed us over the edge with the memories flooding back of our month in Turkey back in 2005 – particular the fish sandwiches which we also loved. You need to get serious though as stopping at only 2 is poor form for 2 carbon craving bike riders !! 2 weeks in Istanbul sounds great so enjoy. You have to do the Turkish bath experience, but based on ours get ready to get pummelled ,and when they have you basically naked & feet up around your eyes get ready to get asked for some extra $’s – hard to say no… Paul – beard back on we think (sorry Annina). Coldest day in Melb yesterday so far this year so enjoy the sun. Bye

  2. Wow, you know I love Turkey it was my favourite destination from our time traveling!! I could almost taste the BBQ fish sandwiches and feel the atmosphere as I read your blog. We regret that we didn’t make the long journey to go to Mt Amet ( I think that was the name, where there were giant stone heads on a Mountain.) I know you probably don’t want to go up another mountain but if you get there post some photos for me. ( our kombi was struggling at the time and we didn’t think it could make the journey. Have a great time chilling out. Janette x

    • Hi Janette (and of course the rest of the Malabar Court gang),

      You’ve popped into my head a few times since we arrived in Turkey (knowing how glowingly you talk of the place and all), and all of the expectations you’ve set have, to be honest, really been exceeded.

      Mt Nemrut is definitely on our provisional list of places to go (a couchsurfing host in Serbia who’d been really raved about it), but as you said, we’ll have to assess the “another mountain” factor and hold a team meeting with our legs (they might be in a similar shape to your combi back then) once we’re a bit closer.

      Love Paul and Annina xoxoxo (David doesn’t get any after his last comment)

  3. Hei ihr zwei
    Wir lesen und schauen eure Beiträge mit hochgenuss. Immer wieder mal ein lauter lacher oder ein ‘wooow’ fällt uns von den lippen. Es macht richtig spass zu lesen und Lust selbst aufzubrechen. Machts ganz gut und weiter so ihr zwei.
    Beste grüsse aus der nun endlich langsam auch frühlingshaften heimat.

    • Hey guys,

      Schön von euch zu hören. Wie ihr gelesen habt, geht es uns super. Wir freuen uns natürlich sehr, dass ihr unsere Reise mitverfolgt. Vielen vielen herzlichen Dank für die Hochzeitseinladung. Leider schaffen wir es nicht dorthin, um mit euch feiern zu können, aber wir wünschen euch viel Vergnügen beim Vorberieten während der nächsten Monaten.

      Viele liebe Grüsse aus Istanbul,
      Paul und Annina

  4. Liebe Annina, ich nenn Sie mal so… komm endlich dazu, euren tollen Reisebericht zu lesen und die Fotos und Videos zu schauen. Nun, der Start Eurer Reise scheint glücklicherweise “Schnee von gestern” zu sein. Ich wünsche Euch weiterhin eine erfolgreiche Reise mit vielen erlebnisreichen Eindrücken.
    Marcel Chatelain-Ammeter

  5. hi Anni an Paul , its nice to see you are going well on your journey . As I said before I admire your energy and adventrous soul . I follow your blog and photos. Its nice to hear from you with this way. I am happy to met you. Take care of yorself and enjoy your trip. Lovely 🙂 Gulsen

  6. What a massive achievement! You can clearly ride (and type) faster than I can read which speaks volumes for your commitment and energy!!

    Not sure what I was doing in June but it clearly would not have been anywhere near as exciting, adventurous or warm.

    Daryl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s