Welcome back to Turkey! In the first part of this blog entry we talked about the geography and gave some impressions on this amazing country and its people and in this second edition we’d like to share with you all some other aspects which we enjoyed, or not, about our time spent in Anatolia.
The best thing about Turkey is, by far, you guessed right, its inhabitants! Across this land we have experienced a full spectrum of different types of people from all walks of life and most of them have left a deep mark in our hearts. Turks are not only friendly, they also love having guests and talking about all kind of matters with them.
Some of these were amazing Warmshower hosts which treated us better than family; they accepted our last minute requests, helped us to solve our many issues and took time to be with us and show us around. Just to name some of them, we’d like to thank again Inanç, Oguz, Gaye, Ece, Turker, Ibrahim, Kudret … They hold a special place in our hearts and, after many months, we still remember them on a regular basis.
Many many times, we were invited to sleep in someone’s home just as easily as we were asked our names. We have the feeling that people could understand the difficulty behind travelling by bike and over and over again we were hosted, fed and entertained in a way which has forever changed our understanding of what people meant by “Turkish hospitality”. Just to mention one; upon arriving to Incesu we realized there were no hotels in town. We were really cold and wet (it had been raining all day) and we were invited by a local shopkeeper to stay in his dusty warehouse. Suddenly, a man from the Town Hall (which was just across the road) approached us and asked if we spoke French. We said “oui” and a few minutes later we were warm and clean in his living room, speaking about politics, culture, and a lot more… and all in French!
Our time spent in this huge country gave us a deep understanding of the previously mentioned Turkish hospitality and has taught us a very valuable lesson on what it means to host travellers and share everything you have with them.
Changing subject, being a Franco/Italian couple, food holds a very important status in our lives and in Turkey we got much more than we could chew! Everything is delicious!! They’ve got an enormous variety of cheese, yogurt and milk (apart from good old cow milk, goat and horse milk are also ready available in most shops), fruit and vegetables, olives, lots of nuts, etc, etc, etc, all mega tasty and much cheaper than in Europe but by far the foodstuff that has marked us the most was Baklava. We had already tried this delicacy in Europe but there is simply no comparison with the one produced in Turkey, in particular in the south east. Baklava apparently comes from Gaziantep and while there we had the chance to visit the best Baklava maker in town (hence in Turkey, hence in the whole wide World) and we ended up buying a kilogram of it… literally! Shamelessly, I’d like to confess that when the Baklava was over we licked the box clean. Don’t judge us if you haven’t been there, we just love pistachio!
Still on food, breakfast in Turkey is simply a different dimension. Generally speaking, it consists of cheese (two or three different types), tomato and cucumber salad, a few olives and then some of the following ; jam, butter, tahin, pekmez (grape molasses), chocolate spread, cream and honey, eggs and fries. All accompanied by bread. However, while in Konya, our hosts took us to a typical local “breakfast restaurant” and it blew our minds; at the beginning everything seems ordinary. You are taken to your table and there everything looks normal, it’s set for four people just like anywhere else in the world. You sit. Tea is served and suddenly the waiter starts to bring little portions of the above mentioned items… all of them and more! It’s difficult to describe the variety of delicacies so I’ll just let a picture do the talking;
For the first time in our lives we experienced Islam for a longer spell of time while in Turkey and, overall, this was a positive experience. Although we found the fact that it’s impossible to escape from the calling to prayer 5 times a day (believe us when we said we tried but even in utterly remote areas we got the echo coming from somewhere a few kilometres away), for the most part we enjoyed learning about this religion, way of life and unique philosophy. It’s difficult not to agree on many of the teaching found in the Koran; respect and devotion are qualities which are difficult to criticise and yes, religion is a very personal matter but in Turkey we felt that religion is a much more personal choice than in other Islamic countries where it is much more imposed on society…
More on that in our next post …
Many, many Turks feel differently about this and state that the current government is slowly turning towards a more conservative model and it’s trying to change its status of laicity and maybe they’re right, we did see a lot of mosques being constructed while cycling through the country, but we didn’t spend enough time there to get our own opinion on this.
Construction, that’s another matter which we quickly noticed about Turkey; it seems that half of the country is under construction! Whether public or private works, not a day went by without seeing a sh*t load of construction trucks and building materials. Generally speaking, most of these were private residential buildings and business but we also noticed numerous large infrastructure projects being carried out especially near big cities. So at some point we cycled along new highways and train stations, once we had to go around a brand new dam and how can we ever forget the colossal airport near Istanbul which, at that time, was only a few days from its opening day.
This was most evident in the west of the country where most of the main cities are located and this brings us on to our next point; geopolitics.
You see, Turkey is in a strategic place on the map; bang in the middle of Europe and Asia, Africa and the Black Sea and, of course, sharing a big border with Syria, this landmass is as varied as it is BIG and, again, when you spend 3 months there slowly crossing it by bike you notice a lot of things which you might miss behind the windscreen of a car.
Even before leaving for Helsinki, many people warned us about Kurdistan and as soon as we arrived in Istanbul this became a predominant conversation topic; many strongly suggested not to go there due to its history of being a “hot spot” of political and military tension. But as we got closer we realised that it was safe and so we ended up heading to Iran on a East-South-East course and we loved it! People got even friendlier, the landscape got stranger (to our European eyes) and the food got yummier!
We already knew that we should be skeptical about listening to non-cyclists’ advice but when it came to this particular case, it even reminded us that, luckily, the world is not as the media depicts it and that your two wheels can take you almost anywhere you want.
We are glad to have visited South East Turkey, it would have been such a pity not going since its culture is simply unique and they both have so much to offer to cyclo-tourists.
If you are ever around there, don’t miss Van Lake.
So congrats Turkish people, you and your amazing country managed to make it to our Top 3 places to re-visit by bike BUT nothing is perfect right, there were a couple of things we really didn’t like about cycling there, here they go.
Firstly, trash; it’s everywhere! Not in urban areas of course, we wouldn’t want people to be bothered by it. Turkish cities are very clean and people homes even more but as soon as you leave an inhabited place it’s very likely that you’ll have to watch where you step! Ok, exaggerating a little but not so much actually. More often than not it took us next to no time to find a camping spot but we then spent ages working out where it was safest to place the tent for fear of glass cutting through the bottom.
It’s a pity really; uncountable times we had to force ourselves to look up to avoid seeing a sea of trash in the foreground.
And secondly, dogs. We heard many stories of cyclists being chased and even bitten. Luckily, this, being chased I mean, only happened to us once on our last day in Turkey, just before crossing into Iran, a few kilometres from the border (we almost made it through Turkey without that happening to us!) but this is not what we are referring to. What we didn’t like about dogs in this country was the fact that there are zillion of strays everywhere!! We were really impressed with the cat culture in Istanbul; the city is full of little “cat houses” where strays can go and would find food, but no one seems to care about dogs. It’s not a common site to see a dead one by the roadside and they would often keep us company when wild camping somewhere.
Turkey is definitely a place we will go back to, hopefully on our two wheels. It has everything you need to have a good cycle around and with a 90 days free Visa stay for EU nationals you really do have enough time to fully enjoy all of its extraordinary features and get a full immersion experience into its unique and many-sided culture and diverse landscape. Oh and don’t forget the food for pity’s sake!
We also have an amazing YouTube channel with lots of different videos (in lots of different styles) from the road; 421adventure on YouTube
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