Istanbul: Burcu Ö.

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.

 

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From left to right: guy who’s name I forgot, Ayten, Me, Remi, Burcu and Silvia. Photo Credit: Burcu Ö.

Burcu photo by Berk Kotel

Burcu (Photo Credit: Berk Kotel)

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Photo Credit: Burcu Ö.

 

 

 

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SBK-Saray Bisiklet Kulübü

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!!

Thank you BSK!!!

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Edirne: Melih, Engin, Zahide and Trakya Bisiklet

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 dish which 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 A.

Melih A.

Melih on his steel horse

Melih on his steel horse

Zahide Ö.

Zahide Ö.

Tamer (left) and Engin (right) at trakya Bisiklet

Tamer (left) and Engin (right) at trakya Bisiklet

Tamer (left) and Engin (right)

Tamer (left) and Engin (right)

One of the master bicycle repair men

Sensei Tarik!!! One of the master bicycle repair men

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Radoslav K.

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.

Thank you again Radoslav.

 

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Radoslav with his steel horse

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Hostel Lavele and Mario

Visiting Sofia, Bulgaria wasn’t part of the initial plan. But saying that, I didn’t have have a plan since the beginning of this trip. The trail that I’m following through the Balkans (The Iron Curtain Trail), would lead me through east Serbia, west and south Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and finally Turkey. Sofia wasn’t on the trail, but being so close, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the city.

Alex, one of my travel companions on the Danube river, showed me his travel book about Bulgaria, so I would have some initial information about the city of Sofia. The book was written in german, so I didn’t bother to read it. I just took some pictures of the most important pages, in my case, nice hostels were I could spend a couple of days resting and working on the blog. From the different options that the book gave, I chose Hostel Lavele. And it was a wise decision.

During large part of my trip I’ve stayed in a tent. This becomes your portable home, always ready to set up, wherever and whenever. But it’s always welcoming to have a bed to sleep on. And when visiting big towns I mostly stay at a hostel. They have all the basic services you need (bed, shower, food), information of all what is going on in the city (the options are more alternative and budget friendly), you get to know a lot of interesting people from different countries and the staff is always friendly. Hostel Lavele has this and more. The location near the city center is perfect, you can get to all the places and activities by foot. And the atmosphere is very familiar, which gave me the necessary time and space to rest.

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I was well received by the hostels owner/manager Mario. He always gave me a hand when I needed help or some information. Mario being a bike enthusiast himself,  accompanied me to a local bike shop for some spare parts and gave me some tips on bike maintenance. When hungry I trusted him with his tips about the local cuisine. And he was always ready to share or listen to a story. Very insightful person.

You can follows Mario’s passion for bikes on the following facebook page “I love Cycling” And on his facebook page “The Armchair traveler”, you can read interviews of people that stayed at the hostel.

So you now know why the initial plan for staying 3 days became 6. Merci Mario for all the help and attention!!!

Mario

Mario

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A night out in Pernik

After arriving in Pernik, Bulgaria, I had no plans whatsoever to visit the town. Get something to eat and go to sleep was the main course of that night. I went to a small family restaurant that served some gyros. After enjoying my meal and drinking a cold beer, I called my parents to say that I arrived safe and well that day and give an update of my journey. I talk to my parents in spanish (with my mom) and dutch (with my dad, ok not formerly in dutch but in the dialect of our hometown: Antwaarps).

Some of the other guests at the restaurant heard me talking in spanish and they invited me to their table which a gladly accepted. When you are all day on the road by your own it’s very welcoming to talk to someone. Mony and mony (I think that their formal names are Simeone) and other guy who’s name I can’t remember. One of the Mony’s had worked in Portugal, so we communicated in a mix of portuguese and spanish. Italian and ingles formed also part of the mix. They gave me some great insights about Bulgarian culture and compared it with Mexican and Belgian culture.

It was a interesting night, so sometimes it’s best not to expect a lot and embrace the momentthe guys at Pernik.

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Buca and Sasha

After I left Zajecar to go to Knjazevac, I decided to take a road less traveled, instead of biking on the main highway. The road should have taken me through the villages of Sljivar, Leskovac and Lasovo. This was a difficult road but the surroundings were beautiful. After a couple of steep climbs and taking a midday breake, a truck stopped and the driver told me that the road up ahead wasn’t accessible. Surprised and feeling bummed I had to turn around and take the same round back to the point were I started.

After leaving Zajecar (again), tired and with the spirit a bit broken, two cyclist approached me and asked me where I was heading. With no plan anymore, they invited me to join them to the lake near Grliste. Buca and Sasha showed me a great place to camp near the lake, nearby a monastery and a fresh water source. They made sure with the locals, that I would be taken care of. I felt calm and secure, took a bath in the lake, had a good night sleep and was ready to hit the road again the day after.

Thanks again guys for your kindness.

Sasha and Buca

Sasha and Buca

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