Now here is something you may want to try for yourselves. In the UK, and possibly elsewhere – who knows. Christmas brings with it the horror that is the brightly coloured paper party hat. Wear it for a few hours and then take it off. Now, occasionally you will catch yourself reaching up to adjust the hat. There is a PhD waiting to be written about why it feels that it is still there. I am only mentioning this now as I have been having the same thing with my sunglasses recently. Pushed onto my head whilst I drink a tea, they have more wisely made their way into my handlebar bag. Yet they feel like they are still on my head, and catch myself reaching up for them. I need to know why, and the WWW. is less than helpful. Any thoughts?
If I had sat down to write this blog even a day earlier, it would have been an unceasing moan, possibly a rant, and certainly a bore to read. You have been saved, and should be grateful. I stayed away from the MacBook Air until I managed a more measured response to the long list of cock ups that have occurred betwixt China, and here in Turkey. I will give you just a small flavour in an abridged version.
On arrival in Istanbul airport, we only have 1 bike. I am numb. My worst nightmare, ( does that assume that you have a ‘ best nightmare ? ‘ ) all enthusiasm has drained away. We wait around for 2 hours, popping back to the carousel now and then, even though our flight number has long since dropped off the display. There is paper work to be filled in. I try to put across to anyone who may be involved in lost property, the serious nature of the loss. ” Round the WORLD, only one bike like it, unique, hand-made, 33,000Km! “.
Google map has the habit of making hotels look close to where you want them to be. The taxi takes ages to get there. It is such a small hotel that there is no one on the desk. The owner takes a chair out onto the pavement, ” do you like my office? “. Which is why the next night we are pacing up and down after midnight waiting for the lost bike to be delivered.
1.30am it gets to us, and I am up at 6.00 to check out the health of my bike. It has several large scratches and two big dents. It, and I look appalling. The bike gets put together and we go into Istanbul, which is every bit as dazzling as you imagine. Every place we want to look at, we actually find the queues for it before we find what we are looking for. We just wonder around.
You will need a will of iron, or be riding a bike to not buy a carpet during your stay in Turkey. The art of the hawker, the street trader of tat and exotica, has reached an art form here. We had it explained with the following story. ‘ in New York or London, if a man steps forward and pulls a knife on you, there is a problem. In Turkey, he is just trying to sell you the knife ‘. They will be charming and persistent in five or more languages.
May 1st and we put the bags onto the bikes and set off for our tour of Turkey. We are stopped by a Police officer before we have got 1Km. Just down the road we need to go are 15,000 people poised to begin celebrating May Day. Facing them, are a few thousand Police in riot gear. There is no way to get to the Asian side of the Bosporus and we have nowhere to stay.
Two hours later and we are sitting in a nice, but horribly expensive hotel’s lobby watching the riot. Water cannon and tear gas. All they need to use is dog poo on a stick, and people would move. There is an upside to the crap day. I am, for the first time since Malaysia, looking forward to breakfast and a buffet of pure joy.
We sit and eat breakfast. My plate gets prematurely taken away and replaced by the waitress three times. A loudspeaker next door competes with the call to prayer from half a dozen mosques. It is playing a hopelessly slow, and very electronic version of Santaclause is coming to town. Turkey, the home of Santa until Coca Cola, the Germans and Scandinavia got hold of him and Christmas. It should be poignant, but fails.
We spend a day at a bike shop. We have crossed back into Asia as we came across on the short ferry ride. The bikes both need some TLC to repair what the roads of China and Turkish Airlines have done to them. We settle back as the hours pass and the bill rises.
20Km to the next ferry and it is mostly along a promenade. I am now rating the Turks up there with Poles for their love of barbecue and all things grilled outdoors. We ride and occasionally slalom through hundreds, and possibly thousands of barbecues. We end up at the ferry terminal too late for the trip in daylight.
Next morning, we are on the 9.15 ferry. This is all to get a bit of a jump on the urban sprawl and industrial bits of Istanbul. It feels great to be turning a wheel. Which is just what I am saying to Esther 6Km up the road. ” I can not get my big gear “, is her response. The thing that makes it do this has been broken by the rather brutish adjustment at the bike shop. Back across with the ferry etc etc.
We line up, much later that day at the ferry terminal. Fog has descended, and eventually the word comes that all sailings are canceled. Todays progress is in negative kilometres. There is a saying, it is bleak enough to be Scottish in origin, ‘ if we didn’t have bad luck, we would have no luck at all.’
Of course, we do get going and the sun shines down and we are on the right side of the Aegean Sea. We have jumped down the coast to Yalova, and I suggest that you do the same. It is a Spring morning and already the air is warm and full of aroma. Swallows are flying and dogs have already found shade.
A climb challenging enough to search out the form that we have lost since we last turned a pedal in China, and then we have found a perfect road along the shores of Lake Iznik. Now 34’c and the heat is brewing up a perfume, part olive, part blossom and hints of tarmac. Birds call with an enthusiasm for Spring, and a new year of being a bird.
A remote village, this will be the first of hundreds to come for us. We sit with the men ( it is always 100% men ), and drink a glass of strong dark tea, followed by a second and then a third. There are three such bars and the men will have rotated between them, seeking shade as the sun has arced across the azure sky. Payment is refused ‘ My pleasure ‘, and a gesture to the heart – this is repeated time and again over the days ahead by identically thin, gap toothed and stubble chined barmen. They have the kind eyes of a faithful dog.
Wild camping by the lake and the unhappy week or two melt away a little. There will always be the barking dog to ruin a perfect spot. This one is well rested and puts in a full shift. I like dogs less by sun rise. Frog chorus begins, there must be thousands.
It is a brutal climb straight from the sleeping bag and into the mountain. The switch-backs are too steep to stay onboard and soon enough we are looking back at the lake as a receding smudge of light blue then grey. There are trees forming a dense and scrubby forest and the call of a cuckoo ( I am taking this as a second species in one Spring ). In the first 8Km we climb and push a 450m a hard ascent onto a fertile plateaux of cows, goats and corn. The fields are small and there are a few low houses.
This is quite unexpected. But then we round a corner and a new range of mountains is in front of us. ” Snow! “, Esther cries. Now that is unexpected, and riding on the thermals above us are dozens of Storks. They are pulling tight arcs, trying to spiral up and over the peaks. I guess they are going north into Europe to nest on Christian Church towers.
We dive down, the road surface trying to separate the bits of the bike from each other. This is rough. I am pulling on the brakes, eight finger wrapped around the Shimano levers trying to scrub off a little of the speed. It ends in a second big climb and this time there is grass scrub and the sound of a bevy or exaltation of Larks ( I looked it up ). It lifts the spirit and so does the waves from passing drivers. It is always a full blown wave and not the single finger lift from the strearing wheel of back home. It is silly, but it helps.
There is also water. There are taps and basins along the roadside even in remote locations and is a custom of Turkey – they are clean to drink. We were just going to pick up a few things in Bilecik and move on. But the end of the ride throws some unrelenting climbing at us. Weak will or what, we book into a cheap hotel. It is a vibrant town and has the Asian habit of getting into the swing at 9.00pm. The out of town store and the big chains are not yet here, and the towns are all the better for it.
8.00 in the morning and the locals are in T-shirts. Not a good sign, we want them in coats and wrapped up from a morning chill. We have a long ascent on the usual testing surface. It is actually cool enough to be chilled in my ultra light jersey. Posting cards turns into two teas and a 30 minute chat and route discussion. We love the way that waiters will have a wide patch and bring tea on trays even across the busiest of roads. I will count the teas one day soon. I am awash by the end of the day.
As ever, the truly back breaking and spirit crushing manual labour is done by the headscarfed women. They are bent double, hoes in hand doing the finger tip farming. The guys will be nearby at the wheel of an old tractor. It may even be parked up under the shade of a tree. We wave and greetings are returned.
We pull into a village and away from the main road. You know there will be good food and plenty of it. It advertises ‘ Fast Food ‘, and we are back on our bikes at just over the hour. The landscape is becoming dryer as we leave the coast behind. We are on the 11-26 to Inhisar, and have a panoramic view from 740m of chains of mountains. We climb and then there is a massive descent as we throw away 500m of height.
The tyres are sizzling on hot tar and we hope for the best. The road levels out and we stop for a tea. The usual gathering of old men in old jumpers and waistcoats. There is a walking stick at every table and they look like they have not moved since breakfast. This is Calti and I doubt you will ever come this way and watch the men talk, and pass prayer beads between dark stained finger and thumb, which is a bit of a shame.
I have this world theory that is coming together. The poorer a country, the less economical vibrant, the greater the number of sugar cubes that you get with your tea or coffee. It is as near a makes no difference, a straight line fix. Talk is of the murder climb that lies ahead for us.
We find the perfect wild camp and within 5 minutes a dog appears. She sits and watches as we put up the tent. I give her biscuits, she looks more hungry than we are. By the end of the day she has had half a loaf of bread and other dog uncertain stuff such as olives. She is such a wonderful dog and I take some time trying to make her yawn ( a thing that you can do to dogs and chimps and of course other people ). It fails, she has a poor attention span.
We have the sort of deep sleep that only comes with being in a remote tent and knowing your tax return is in. The morning is perfection in all directions except the big hills ahead. The road must find a way through these sharks teeth of peaks but it looks impossible. We climb and fall and for a short and blissful time, ride along a river. I have nothing in my legs today, not a thing. Granny gear when the altimeter says 4%, so things are far from fresh.
We stop in a village and soon the talk is of the monster climb. 50% is scribbled in our book. I know this is rubbish, but it must be a brute. More tea is bought and talk of a bus option. All around us there are National Geographic faces. I parked the bikes by what I thought was an abandoned house but now I hear a baby cry inside.
We go on, and stop in the village of Karaoglan. Again, there is tea and talk of the hill and we conclude that a bus will be the plan. The bus turns up after an hour or more, but it is too small for us plus bikes. Back for more tea and a wait for the next bus, which may or may not be bigger. Village life comes and goes. We get introduced to all.
We wait, and this time the bikes are on and we are wedged between them. Straight away it is clear this climb is up there with the great climbs of cycling. Within 13Km it rises 1,000m. I try not to look at the road ahead, but without it I feel sick. Thank goodness we are becoming more intelligent these days, this would have broken us.
We are deposited into the outskirts of Turkeys fifth largest city, Eskesehir. It sits on a high and dusty plain, which it has done for a few thousand years now. It is the hectic side of busy and could spill over into manic without trouble. We stop for a tea and are treated to a plate of free cakes.
China feels like a thousand years ago, and certainly not part of the same journey. The climbs here are tough, and the heat of the day builds quickly, but it is all logical and knowable. The food is wonderful, that is for sure and the people are doing their very best to topple the USA from prime position in our ‘ most friendly place to bike list ‘.