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.

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