We have now been almost 3 months in Turkey and, to tell you the truth, we are not staying longer because our Visa “only” lasts 90 days otherwise I’m sure we would have taken a few more detours in this vast and varied land. Our time in Anatolia is coming to an end and there is so much to tell that we have decided to write two separate posts on this amazing country. Today we will mostly share with you geographical information about our way through this huge country, what we saw with our eyes and our impressions about cycling here.
There will be another post about its people, culture, traditions, more anecdotes, etc … but you’ll have to wait a little for that 😉
So, Turkey, the remnants of a huge empire which at one point was so powerful as to threaten Europe and also the place which wrongfully gave the name to the ugliest animal in farms is simply … not what we were expecting! We had prepared ourselves mentally to face dry, barren, flat lands but hell, we couldn’t have been more wrong! Let’s find out …
Of course, as soon as you cross the border you know you have left Europe; everything is different but actually, we were positively impressed; the roads were in a much better condition and safer than we expected and ice cream was cheap. Upon “checking-in” at the border at Ipsala we stopped for lunch at a small picnic area and we were invited to tea and yogurt by some super friendly truck drivers. If only we had known that that was only the first of many many many free teas we would be offered.
Another quick fun fact about the border; we stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture with the road sign of Turkey and we asked the soldiers there if it was ok and they were really nice and friendly … another pre-conception broken right from the start!
European Turkey, that is the part of the country which is on “that” side of the Phosphorous, is highly agricultural but also very modern. There we had the honor to visit and stay at an amazing Bicycle Academy in Lüleburgaz, a city whose mayor believes that this means of transportation is the future, for example.
Our approach to Istanbul brought us to the coast of the Black Sea which inspires owe and respect. We spent two peaceful days in the Cilingoz National Park which was refreshing since we had been sharing the road with vehicles for about a month and there, in a Mediterranean climate, we found dirt mountain paths, lonely beaches and no through traffic.
We won’t spend too much time talking about Istanbul because we firmly believe that you should absolutely visit this city before you die but we do believe that the following is relevant; although it seems to have a bad reputation we found it really safe both from a touristic and a cyclist point of view. When you are in a big foreign city things can seem dodgy at times, this is certainly true of Istanbul, but at any time did we feel threatened or did we find ourselves in a difficult situation, on the contrary, we were always a few steps away from someone who could help us whatever our need. Another thing about Istanbul is the sheer size of it; we often say that it would definitely be interesting to live there for a while and that 6 months might allow enough time to know it with some intimacy.
Initially our plan was to cross the country in about 6 weeks but we hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that we really started to like Turkey a lot. Earlier in our trip we had realized that we hadn’t made the best of our 30 days Russian Visa so we decided to make a “small” detour towards the West Coast which is where a lot of archaeological sites are. And so, just like that, we went the opposite way, and haven’t regretted it.
There we found lots of nature and places to wild camp, an extensive network of roads and many interesting cities, ancient, new and old, to discover.
So far on this trip we have often commented on the lack of challenging mountain ranges (we mostly define ourselves as mountain bikers) and between the Marmara Sea and Izmir we finally got our fare share of climbing. Most rivers in this part of Turkey flow from to east to west, which has of course shaped the valleys in this way too, resulting in 421Adventure daily having to reach a small mountain pass in order to get to the next way point … and loved it! This would bring us away from big cities and more into wild natural spots filled with small settlements where it’s much easier to observe the local culture and encounter open-hearted, kind people and, of course, also makes for a more enjoyable ride.
Much could be said on our time spent there but by far the most astonishing place we visited is Bergama. Having lived in areas which belonged to the Roman Empire most of our lives, we are well acquainted with ruins. In some parts of Europe all you have to do is dig hole to find 2000 years of history, but Bergama is different; it’s an Acropolis built at the top of a lonely hill in the middle of an incredible valley like you never seen before. There we lodged in a beautiful 18th century restored Greek house which made our experience more genuine.
We were amazed at the difference between the countryside and the modern cities; at times it felt like our 4 wheels could take us back and forth in time !
Along the way we decided to visit two places which are quite unique in the world; Pammukale and Capadokkia. The former is a hill which is covered with pure white calcium and which has, since remote times, been used for its thermal waters. The latter is a huge area which seems like something from another planet and has in fact been the scenario for many films such as Star Wars. We had a small break there, we gave our bikes a well deserved rest and went exploring using only our legs. We loved it not only because we felt like real little explorers but also because the universe reunited us with some old fellow cyclists we had met along the way. And so Sweden, Italy, France, England, Malasia and Egypt talked, laughed, hiked and shared stories, food and even caves … and it was amazing !
Sadly we all had to leave and as we got deeper into Turkey we met friendlier people and the landscape changed slowly then drastically and not just geographically, also politically; as we approached a controversial part of Anatolia military presence because stronger and the temperatures got lower so we stopped camping.
Similarly to birds, the colder weather drove us further south and we discovered new landscapes; finally we could appreciate some resemblance to the Middle East as dwellings became smaller and less “European” looking. As we approached the Euphrates we could feel the ancient Mesopotamia creeping around every corner, on the top of every hill and even in the vegetation.
Most Turks will tell you that the South East is safe but “just for the sake of it, please stick to the main roads”. However, we eventually got sick of the main road. Yes, it feels safe if you don’t mind cycling with trucks and busses, but once you leave that main road is when you really start to live Turkey. This goes for all the country by the way, not just Kurdistan or the areas near the Syrian border. We very seldom used those famous main roads and we’re still 100% convinced that there is no better way around. When you get away from the petrol stations and the industrial estates is when you get to see awesome, breathtaking landscapes and villages and you meet real people; the ones that should be more common on this planet of ours.
As we crossed the Tigris we realized that there was only one thing left to do; climb our last mountain range here in Turkey to 1800 metres, flank Lake Van with its crystal clear waters and its many snow covered volcanoes and leave this beautiful country which will forever live in our memories.
You can also find us on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube where, among many others, there are also two awesome videos about our time spent in Turkey. If you don’t follow us on any social media sites but enjoyed reading this blog entry, please consider following us as this will enable us to grow and will keep you updated on our progress, publications, etc.
And please don’t forget that part of our adventure consists of fundraising and raising awareness for two incredible NGOs so please help us to spread the word and, of course, if you’re feeling generous, donate here; DONATE