We entered Turkey by ferry into Bodrum, which is a little South West port town, from the Greek Island Kos. Our plan was to cycle up to Istanbul to apply for India visas.
Our initial reaction to Turkey wasn’t brilliant. The evening was damply hot and dark under a last quarter moon, and there seemed to be litter everywhere, smashed glass bottles glimmering dimly, dangerous to our tyres. It was 7pm and the road was full of psychotic drivers on their way home. As we biked to find a campsite in the dark, we saw groups of dogs snarling at unfortunate locals and tourists.
Overbearing, tacky restaurants spread right out of the small town Torba, all along the coast with tables sometimes even out on jetties. Not a happy sight for a couple of tired cycle tourers wanting to free camp. We ended up on a rocky crag above the coastal road, for lack of any proper space. We had been thoroughly spoilt by Kos Island: loud traffic and dogs were a shock.
The next morning we had navigation problems getting past a hotel’s private beach. We rode on chuntering about the commercialisation of the coastline, outraged that to use the only good beach in area we (and presumably local people too) would have had to get a week’s accommodation.
Our conclusions about Turkey from that first 12 hours, however, were as erroneously awarded as Lance Armstrong’s Tour De France medals. Turkey’s a wonderful place to cycle tour.
The mountains we crossed were arresting beautiful, rising between 1500 and 2600 metres above sea level which made cycling challenging but rewarding. Between Soke and Salihli there are two mountain ranges to cross with pancake flat valleys in between. On the mountains, wild figs trees with fruit the size of apples grow lushly as if from a private oasis instead of barren rock.
As the mountains rise, the foliage gets greener and heavier. In the evening the temperature would drop to reasonable. We stopped on a mountain overnight and the city Odemis lay lit up, blinking like a motherboard as we made tea on the trangia. The next morning’s descent was on reasonably well maintained roads, hairpinning down to the next city.
Turkish towns are often a little deprived by European standards, but are crammed with industrious activity, vegetables and fruit presented with architectural prowess, traditionally dressed women on motorbikes, graceful mosques, waiters in the streets taking plates of chai to thriving businesses. It was the school holidays and groups of kids were friendly and interested in the bikes. They chatted in a bit of English and then were told by adults to leave us to enjoy our meals in peace when they got too boisterous. Turkish people as a rule are polite, intelligent and understated, and are the only other nation so far we have found who are as obsessed with tea as the English.
The Turkish are also are startlingly generous, almost to the point of embarrassment for two British cyclists. We had farmers finding us camping on their land ushering us in for breakfasts; a cafe in which we were presented with Turkish Delight, melon, pumpkin seeds, and tea free of charge when the maternal owner realised we were on bikes; shop owners swapping items for better quality goods or calling to us as we rode past to give us bottles of cold water; famiilies approaching us on mountains and giving us bags of grapes, plums and crisps.
Now, i’m writing this in an apartment in Istanbul where we are staying couch surfing with our wonderful host Ayse, who seems to want nothing more from us than some dinner every night and maybe some English comedy off our hard drive to watch while eating.
Istanbul I will save for another post, but it’s full of surprises. It’s the second largest populated city in Europe but despite this feels safe and friendly.
Photos tagged 'Turkey'...back to album list