Cold Turkey, warm People

Posted on 2019-01-14

[We initially wanted to title this post 'Going cold Turkey', but it wouldn't have actually worked as a proper pun as we weren't going cold turkey on anything - this country has everything, but it's just cold in winter (who would have guessed?). So we ditched that idea...]

We're writing this blog post while watching the snow fall outside our hotel in Istanbul. The relatively warm weather we still enjoyed in Greece has definitely ended, and northerly or easterly winds are now blowing cold continental air against the direction of our route. Here in Istanbul, it is actually our first time seeing snowfall on this trip, though we had already seen some snow on the ground here and there on our way here. From Ayvalιk, we cycled along the Aegean coast to Akçay, then turned inland to Balιkesir, and then north to Bandιrma for the ferry across the Marmara Sea to Istanbul. We have mostly followed big and rather boring roads, and it has been raining a lot, so cycling has not really been so much fun in Turkey so far.

A very tired Heiko on the road from Akçay to Balıkesir

A very tired Heiko on the road from Akçay to Balıkesir

What lifted our spirits though, were our encounters with people in this country, be it our Couchsurfing/Warmshowers hosts or random interactions on the road. Just within the first few days of entering Turkey, we have been welcomed by more hosts than any of the last three countries we have been in. We have been fed (which is more than we ever expect from hosts - usually we try to make food for our hosts instead), and given a warm place to rest (which feels like a luxury! Most of the places we have stayed in since reaching the Croatian coast did not have proper heating). Even potential hosts who were unable to host us often offered us alternatives, such as asking their friends or finding us a cheap place to stay. We feel very well taken care of in this country!

Then there are the random encounters. The man who pays for our çay (tea) and simit (bagel-like bread) in a small village cafe. The police officers at a gas station who corner us after we use the toilets there, giving us coffee and snacks and making us sit and chat with them (with the help of translation apps) for half an hour in their office at the back of the station. These encounters are what made our days memorable.

Our ferry into Istanbul followed the coast of the city for a long time before reaching the downtown ferry terminal. Istanbul is a vast city of more than 15 million people, but we spent most of our time in the small touristic centre of the old city. Most of the touristic highlights were just a short walk from our hotel: The massive Hagia Sofia church/mosque/museum, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapι Palace, the Grand Bazaar, and more. We took another interesting free walking tour and then spent the rest of the time exploring the area by ourselves. We also took a short ferry trip up and down the narrow Bosphorus strait, that provided views of the bridges across it, and palaces and other impressive buildings on the coastline. We even saw some dolphins!

In front of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya). Originally built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in 537 AD, it was converted into an Ottoman imperial mosque in 1453 after Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. With the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey, Atatürk secularised the building and it opened as a museum in 1935. The Byzantine architecture of the Hagia Sophia has inspired the design of many other Ottoman mosques after it.

In front of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya). Originally built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in 537 AD, it was converted into an Ottoman imperial mosque in 1453 after Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. With the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey, Atatürk secularised the building and it opened as a museum in 1935. The Byzantine architecture of the Hagia Sophia has inspired the design of many other Ottoman mosques after it.

15 July Martyrs Bridge, the oldest of the three bridges across the Bosphorus

15 July Martyrs Bridge, the oldest of the three bridges across the Bosphorus

P.S. We are finally finishing this blog post as we reach the Black Sea coast, that we will be following the all the way to Georgia. Leaving Istanbul, we took a ferry to the Asian side, and then cycled straight east along the Marmara Sea (and then some) all the way to Sakarya, before turning north to the Black Sea. We have taken so long to finish this article because we have been hosted again every single night between Istanbul and here, and we have not found any time for mundane activities like updating this darned website 😛. In Sakarya, we stayed in Sakarya Bicycle House, which is run by the local bicycle club and provides free accommodation to visiting bicycle tourists. We had a very interesting evening with some of the club members.

On the 100th day of our trip, we stayed at the Bicycle House in Sakarya, a meeting place for the local cycling community, that also provides free accommodation for passing cyclists. We met with several of the club members in the evening.

On the 100th day of our trip, we stayed at the Bicycle House in Sakarya, a meeting place for the local cycling community, that also provides free accommodation for passing cyclists. We met with several of the club members in the evening.

P.P.S. If you do nor hear from us in the next few weeks, don't worry, we have probably just been abducted by some friendly Turkish people, and are being stuffed with food and drinking çay in some warm place :D