Güzelyurt is one of those villages they oversold me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice picturesque village with some antique Greek houses, but for me it was not worth the detour and climb. It was difficult to find a camp spot, because the village is situated on a mountain. There are plenty of hotels but they didn’t fit my budget.
Until I found the Osmanoglu hotel, a family run business. They allowed me to camp on the small green patch in the courtyard. At the moment I was the only guest of the hotel and had some personal time with the owners. They bought a couple of years ago the old Greek house and restored it so it could function as a hotel. They do all the work by themselves, cooking, cleaning, repairs, and so on.
The owners were very nice and indulged me with one to many çays.
The town of Kaymakli is located in the Cappadocia region and is known for the underground city. It lays between the Ihlara valley and Göreme National Park. I had planned to wild camp nearby the city so I could visit the archeological site early the next morning. As night started to fall I searched for a good camping spot, as I was cycling near the highway I didn’t find one. The area was surrounded with agriculture fields and open areas. As I was nearing the city I saw a small apple tree garden next to a bricks manufacturing company, I decided to ask the owner if I could put up my tent in the garden.
I went to the office and the task of explaining my intentions was a bit more difficult tan expected. First I tried to explain in English but nobody understood a word of what I was saying. Then I used the “Point it” book I carry with me, and that didn’t help. Luckily one of the guys let me use their computer so I could type in Google translate what my intentions were and then it was OK. I could camp in between the stacked bricks, out of sight and out of the wind. The Ünal bims brick manufacturing co. is a family run business. Two generations of Ünal work there. I met all the family while pitching up the tent, the father, the sons and their children. Everybody curious of what I was doing; where I came from; where I was going… When everything was ready they left me so I could have a good nights rest.
The next morning they had prepared breakfast for me, scrambled eggs, bread and çay. And I was set to continue with my trip. Sadly I can’t remember their names, nor did I take any pictures of them. But the memory remains. The only thing I can share are the pictures I took that night.
It took me three days to cycle from the city of Sakarya to Ankara, the capital of Turkey. During those days I wild camp twice, one day nearby the village of Damlar and the next day near the village of Çayirhan. The weather was still warm and the surrounding sites pleasant.
Before I left the city of Sakarya I contacted a couple of potential warmshower hosts for my stay in Ankara, without any luck. People were responding to my request and apologizing that they couldn’t host me. The timing was just bad; it was the start of the Kurban Bayrami (Feast of the Sacrifice) and a lot of people were on the move visiting family and friends to celebrate the holiday. A brief summary for those unfamiliar with this Muslim holiday:
The Kurban Bayrami is the second of two religious holidays celebrated by Muslims worldwide each year.
The Feast of Sacrifice commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah.
The festival lasts four and a half days. A goat or sheep of minimum one year old is sacrificed (it can also be a cow, a camel or a ram).
The meat is to be divided in three parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy.
The day I planned to arrive to Ankara started with a stop in the town of Beypazari. I needed to stock-up on some food and drink a nice cup of çay at a bakery. The place had wi-fi, that gave me the opportunity to search on-line for a hostal in Ankara and track the route on my GPS. I tried my luck and contacted other warmshower hosts, without expecting much responds.
When reaching the urban area around Ankara I though that I almost had reached my destination, but It took another 40km to arrive to the hostel which was not there anymore. The place was out of business. Frustrated, I started looking around the neighborhood for an alternative. I stopped at a coffeehouse/bookstore to ask the owner for help. He gave me the address of another hostel nearby. I asked him if I could use his wi-fi connection so I could load the google map on my smartphone. Once connected I saw that I had received an email from warmshowers. Evren G. graciously agreed to host me at such short notice!
I stayed at Evren’s home for 2 nights. I must say the time I spend there was the highlight of Ankara.
Evren is a bicycle and sports enthusiast and nature lover. When we were talking about our bicycle touring experiences you could see her eyes spark while she was showing me her pictures of her past trips in Turkey. She is the mother of two wonderful kids. The youngest, Kuzey, is a very energetic child, I called him speedy gonzalez. The oldest Ekin is on the other hand a relaxed kid, acting very mature for his age (11yrs when I met him). To save for buying his own laptop, Ekin was working after school hours as a waiter at a local coffeehouse. I learned some basic Turkish from Ekin, he took the time to explain himself with some basic examples and using whatever material he could find to communicate with me. Children have a way of simplifying their ideas, while we “grownups” tend to over think it and make everything a bit more complicated than necessary.
The days past for me walking around Ankara visiting the few historical places the city has to offer. At night I had some pleasant conversation with Evren’s flatmate (shamefully I forgot her name) and her boyfriend Osman. Drinking raki, we talked through the night about the customs of our respective countries, religion and our travels. While interchanging ideas, I noticed that we all have the same dreams and fears. I also got to know how passionate Turkish people feel for Atatürk (founder of the Republic of Turkey). I commented to Osman that I had visited the Anitkabir (the mausoleum of Atatürk) and that it had impressed me. I found it a bit to big and nationalistic (in all countries you will find landmarks like these to encourage national identity). Saying that, Osman was a bit surprised about my remarks, and took the time to explain the importance of Atatürk in Turkey in the past as well in the present. During my stay in Turkey I noticed that a lot of the old and young strongly belief in the ideals that the “father of the Turks” represent.
My host in Ankara was fantastic, she took the time to talk to me; share food and joy; she even washed my clothes and sewed a button back on to on one of my pants! I felt very lucky and grateful. I hope she can go on a lot of bicycle tours, and that at one point I can show her the same kindness she showed me!
After saying our goodbyes it was time to hit the road again.
When going on a bicycle tour, and time is not an issue, you don’t have to take the shortest and easiest way. Most of the time the easiest road will be dull and unsatisfying. When asking people which road to take they will recommend the easy one. This is not a bad thing, they are trying to be considered and helpful, taking care that you get to your next destination without any problems.
On the other side of the coin you also have the intrepid, the ones that will send you through places that you only can access with a 4x4WD. Sometimes it works to go through those roads with your touring bicycle. And after all the sweat and cursing, you will be satisfied and glad to have gone off the beaten path. And in other moments, you just have to return and take the alternative road.
And then there is the path that forms before you as you go. The one with the least expectations, the one that will give you that WTF feeling, make your curse, test your strengths, make you feel in awe and in the end put a big smile on your face (maybe not on the same day, but for sure days or years later).
This has nothing to do with my hosts in Sakarya, just sharing something I’ve learned the last couple of months, which I know sounds very cliché. But now, instead of reading about it, I had the opportunity to experience it.
After leaving the city of Izmit, I decided to take the the secondary road to Sakarya. I traveled along the countryside and saw some nice rural villages..
I had contacted Murat through the warmshowers website a night before to see if I could stay at his place for one night. All very last minute. As I didn’t receive a reply in the morning I decided to just pass the city of Sakarya and camp somewhere along the road. When I arrived at the city I decided to quench my thirst for a sugary drink in one of the local bars. The waiters of the place bought me a drink and aloud me to use the free Wi-Fi. Loading my emails I saw that Murat had replied, I was welcome to stay at his place if cats weren’t a problem. This was a bit of a problem for me due my allergies for the furry critters. But as long that I don’t pet them there shouldn’t be any problem.
I was well received by Ugur, a friend of Murat , with whom I had a nice chat. He spoke very good English. That wasn’t the case with the other fellows I met later that night.
Ugur took the time to tell me his life story. He’s a twenty-something who had recently graduated and got married. His passion are mountaineering and diving. He’s a certified diving instructor. He shared me his experience how to dive safely, the best way to camp and what to eat during trekking excursions. I added his recipe of pasta with tuna and sweet corn as part of my camp menu. At the time, Ugur was going through some stressful moments. His wife was granted a PhD in The Netherlands so he was trying to get a visa so he could join here (I don’t now how that worked out).
After our talk we went to the nearest shopping center and grabbed some fast calories from Burger King. There we where joined by some friends of Ugur and Murat, also passionate mountaineers. After dinner they gathered at Murat’s place to play a “first person shooter” game. Which didn’t interest me for the moment.
One of the guys start talking to me, looking interested in my trip and the kind of gear I was carrying. After I enlisted everything and their purpose he simply responded that I earned to much money. I tried to explain that the gear I carried was in function of the length of my trip, my personal interests and perceived quality. His answer was the same: “you earn to much money”. I just stopped explaining. I still don’t know what he wanted to achieve with his remark, I it made me feel a bit guilty. I just concluded that he was trying to make me appreciative of what I had. I tried to see this as a lesson and not as criticism.
The night ended with Murat and I sharing our interest of music. Youtube was a great tool for showing our favorite musicians. Murat recommended bands, such as: Baba Zula, Baris Manço, Cem Karaca, MFO, Jehan Babur, Erkan Ogur, Mogollar, Kâzım Koyuncu, and many others… I shared some songs from Mexican bands such as Café Tacvba and Caifanes. People really seem to connect to these bands. With Belgian bands it’s a bit more difficult. Gorki’s song Mia and music by the band Hooverphonic seem to be favorites.
The next day I left without taking the usual picture from my hosts. Ugur had to take an early bus to Bursa and Murat was sleeping. I left after saying goodbye to a sleepy Murat.
My next destination was Ankara.
I end this post with 2 videos of what I think is one of the most interesting Turkish bands I’ve listened to.
On September 30th 2014, day 67 of my trip, I left Istanbul and started on the Asian part of my journey. All looked still the same on this continent…
It all started well that day. As usual, I took my time. Before leaving in the morning, I spend what time with my host from Kadikoy. And after having breakfast and say our farewells I started pedaling.
The first 30 km were a joy. I cycled near the shore of the Sea of Marmara. The weather was fine, the roads were free of traffic and flat, until I reached the city of Kaynarca. Bye bye calm seashore and hello heavy traffic!!!.. The D-100 highway to the city of Izmit was nerve-wracking, the shoulder of the road was very narrow, a lot of trucks, noise and the industrial landscape, made this part of the road a bit unpleasant…
The ride was also a bit longer than I had expected (but that happens very often). Once I arrived to the city of Izmit I followed the road to the home of my warmshower host according to route the GPS (iPhone app. Pocket earth) had laid-out for me… And as I learned that day, it doesn’t give you the best road to follow: steep climbs (where I had to dismount and push the bicycle) and some pointless turns, made the last kilometers very tiring. The dark of night caught up with me and I was late (I know that a lot of my friends would say: “well, no surprise there”). I was glad that Magsud was still waiting for me at the rendezvous. His smile and calmness, made me feel relaxed and welcomed from the first moment.
Magsud H. is a twentysomething computer engineering student at the University of Kocaeli. Originally from Azerbaijan, he moved to Turkey to continue his studies. He shares an apartment with his friends Sinan and Fatih. As a great warmshower host, he gave me a place to rest, shower and eat, topped with some great stories and insights of the daily life of university students and Turkish culture.
Magsud is an avid cyclist, having already done several short bicycle tours… In the summer of 2014 he had planned his first big one: a bicycle tour from Kocaeli to Baku. But due family affairs, he had to cancel his trip.
The night I spend with those guys (and some other friends of theirs) I got some new insights in the life of Turkish university students, their aspirations and challenges. So recognizable but also so different to my own experience.
The night passed with good beer and laughs. The beer was a bit difficult to get around their neighborhood. According to Turkish law, selling alcohol near schools and places of worship is prohibited. And retailers are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. That is a big bummer for 18+ students, and for me.
My hosts were very considered and left me to my own, and so I had a good nights rest. The next morning the first to wake up was Fatih, he prepared breakfast for us all. Everybody was at the table, sharing…
After taking some pictures to support our memories and saying goodbye I got on my bicycle feeling a lucky man. Thankful for having met such great guys!!!
“Magsud I’m looking forward to read, hear and see the stories of your journey”… For everybody else I share with you a video that Magsud filmed during his bicycle trip between Kocaeli and Ağva and an other from Kocaeli to Sapanca.
End of September 2014 I arrived in Istanbul together with Alex and Remi. Nothing prepares you for the traffic in Istanbul, it’s unforgiving for cyclists. The stories were right and we experienced it first hand. It took us more than two hours to get from the west part of the city to the neighborhood nearby Sultanahmet. Even with lot of traffic congestion’s we had to be sharp not to be hit by a car. Drivers in Istanbul are not used to share the road with cyclists. As Remi put it : “I just discovered that I have a new power, I’m invisible for cars!“. And so it felt. Even if you are right in front of a car, the driver will not give in and keep on riding. This stressed me out a bit. I was so relieved when we arrived at the hostel. We stayed at the Sinbad hostel, a cheap option with very basic services. Could have been cleaner and cozier, but it suited our needs.
The first days I felt a bit tired and opted to stay-in and investigate what I needed to arrange for my visa for India, which I finally didn’t get due incomplete documentation (proof of residence, solvency certificate and flight tickets). Also, after 4000 km my bicycle was in need of a revision, so I researched were I could find a decent bicycle shop, being Bisiklet Gezgini (situated in Kadikoy district) the perfect option. The remaining days I enjoyed being a tourist.
Being bored of staying at the hostel I tried to find an alternative with a couchsurfing or warmshowers contact, but I wasn’t successful. Knowing that I was looking for a host, Zahide whom I met in Erdine, helped me out by looking for a contact through a facebook group called couchRail. A group that is formed to help the young (and not so young) Turkish community to travel in their own country. Building upon the tradition of cooperation and socialization tradition within Turkey. So I met Burcu Ö, whom agreed to host me for a day. So I packed my stuff and head out to the Kadikoy district. I must say, this is by far my favorite place in Istanbul, away from the main touristic sights and hectic parts of the city.
Burcu (who is currently working as an architect) welcomed me and shared some of her favorite spots around her home. In the evening, Remy and Silvia (a Cameroonian lady I met at the hostel) joined us for dinner and some drinks.
Later that night I got to meet Burcu’s flatmates: Ayten and her sister. The evening ended with sharing our favorite music and Turkish coffee reading. According to the girls my future seemed promising. The next morning I was indulged with their company and typical Turkish breakfast. And then it was time to say goodbye.
Along the trip Burcu has helped me out a couple of times by vouching for me on the couchRail group and translating some of my requests for finding a host. Such a nice and interesting lady. Whom loves to travel and to share.
All of my respect and gratitude for Burcu. You will always be welcome at my home, where ever that might be.
From left to right: guy who’s name I forgot, Ayten, Me, Remi, Burcu and Silvia. Photo Credit: Burcu Ö.
After cycling a couple of weeks on my own I met up with Alexander and Remi in Kirklareli. We had cycled together the eurovelo 6 and decided to share the road up to Istanbul. Our first idea of riding along the coast of the Black Sea seemed a bit to difficult and uncertain, not impossible, but when you ride a fully loaded bike, you think twice about taking that dirt road into the mountains. So we went from the coastal town Kiyiköy back inland passing through the city of Saray where we had lunch. A couple of kilometers after, our merry group got a bit separated so I stopped to regroup. And then the group became a bit larger.
We met on that brief stop the members of the SBK-Saray Bisiklet Kulübü. They were coming back from one of their weekly bike trips and saw us on the road. They approached us and they were very kind to invite us to drink some çay (Turkish tea) and eat some ekmek (bread) with fresh cheese.
Mehmet (one of the club members), spoke english and served as the groups translator. The questions they asked us have become so common now, but at that moment it helped to put my trip in perspective again.
Where are you from?
How many languages do you speak?
How old are you? really!!!!
Why are you doing this?
Isn’t it very hard to travel carrying all that weight?
What is your job?
Do you have sponsors? How do you pay for this trip?
Do you like our country?
Have you had any problems or dangerous encounters (dogs included)?
Our brief encounter came to an end and our ways parted. Short, but oh so memorable!!
My first encounter with Turkish hospitality was in the city of Edirne.
Edirne is located in west Turkey near the country borders of Greece and Bulgaria. I entered the town through the Greek border city of Kastanies, escorted by an elder Turk that spoke german.
The city of Edirne is known for the Selimiye Mosque, which is built between 1569 and 1575 by the architect Mimar Sinan, and is considered as one of the highest achievements of Islamic architecture.
The city has a large bicycle community and the nicest of warmshowers hosts. My first contact with the community was with Melih A. through a warmshowers request. Reading his profile I felt that I really had to meet him to learn from his several bicycle travels that have taken him through Europe and Russia. Even though his class schedule didn’t allowed him to host me at first, he assured that I would have a host by contacting Tamer Y. owner and manager of trakya bisiklet.
When I arrived to Trakya bicycle shop I was warmly welcomed by Melih and Engin and Osman. This was my first experienced with Turkish hospitality. They really are a bicycle family. I felt immediately comfortable and treated with familiarity. A planned two day stay became three days, and if it wasn’t because I had to meet up with some friends in Kirklareli, I would have stayed longer. The first night I stayed at the apartment that Melih shares with fellow university students . He shared his stories and pictures from his bicycle trips and introduced me to basic aspects of Turkish culture. If you want to meet Melih and see where he’s going on his bicycle, check out his wordpress blog.
Day one in Edirne started with a typical Turkish breakfast. Melih invited me to a place where we ate menemen (a traditional Turkish dishwhich includes eggs, onion, tomato, green peppers, and spices). Here I learned the Turkish custom to share the dish. After stuffing myself with Turkish delights and taking my luggage to Engin’s place, I went to visit the Selimiye Mosque and other places of worship in the city center. The day ended sharing some beers (being Bomonti my favorite Turkish beer) with Engin and Melih and… We talked about life and politics (the latter not being my favorite topic). On that night I also met Zahide Ö, she had just arrived from here bicycle tour through Iran and was eager to share her tales, which you can read on her blog. She has a true adventurous spirit.
The next day Engin prepared a magnificent breakfast. After that are tummies were full I had a discussion with Zahide about the gender roles within Turkish society (after she declined to let me help here do the dishes). Afterwards she showed me around Trakya Üniversitesi, where she’s getting a degree in finance. It was nice to get to know the local student life through here.
The night ended with food, wine and traditional music. Engin invited us to his brothers retreat where we enjoyed fried fish catched in the Aegean sea and drank wine from the brothers vineyard. Engin’s friend Secat played the saz and sang some of those very sad Turkish folk songs. Engin was very kind for sharing his home and time with me.
The day after I parted with a smile and confidence to continue my trip. Even I only stayed for a few days, I can say that I have good friends in Edirne.
I wish my hosts in Edirne all the best and hope to welcome them one day with the same kindness as they have shown me.
Melih on his steel horse
Tamer (left) and Engin (right) at trakya Bisiklet
Tamer (left) and Engin (right)
Sensei Tarik!!! One of the master bicycle repair men
The warmhowers community has been so great to me. Not so widespread as couchsurfing, but the hosts are very understanding to the needs of their fellow bicycle traveler.
Traveling through the south of Bulgaria, following the Eurovelo 13 (Iron curtain) trail, my options for finding a warmshowers host were limited. Luckily there was Radoslav who lives in the town of Kardzhali in the Eastern Rhodopes in Bulgaria. He agreed to host me for one night.
Rado is a self employed computer programmer, his office is based in Kardzhali. We met at the city center, at one of the open-air restaurants the town has to offer. I felt very relaxed and welcomed at Rado’s home. He invited me to a gathering at the home of one of his friends. It’s always interesting to know how people in other countries socialize. So different but also so the same. Being there I was confronted with the fact that just a handful of the present guests spoke English. I don’t find this a problem. I enjoy to hear the sounds and emotions of a foreign language, without always knowing the meaning of the words. Talking to the people who spoke English, I got to know the dreams and challenges of the Bulgarian youth. And with the Bulgarian economy not doing so well, they have quite a few challenges.
The next day I left Kardzhali content and grateful for meeting Rado. I took the alternative path to the town of Ivaljovgrad that he showed me. It was a good proposal from a good host.
This is a brief overview of the road that I have taken so far. Beautiful mountains, enchanting lakes, mysterious valleys. The points show the places where I set up camp or enjoyed the luxury of a soft bed.