Istanbul

One thousand miles of Turkey.

We left the city of Istanbul on Sunday July 24th, rested, refuelled and raring to tackle the next stage of the adventure: taking our newly changed route, crossing the mountainous region of Turkey along the Black Sea coast and in to country number 14, Georgia.

Our honorary Turkish grandmother on night two out of Istanbul wearing my cycling helmet, which she was fascinated by.  

Our honorary Turkish grandmother on night two out of Istanbul wearing my cycling helmet, which she was fascinated by.  

 

From day 1 of this stage we were hit by some of the steepest and most unrelenting hills as we climbed our way inland from the Bosphorus strait. We then spent the coming days following the coast, hopping from seaside town to seaside town, dipping inland wherever the winding and unforgiving road did so. We quickly came to realise that because of the terrain, our previous target of 100 miles a day was distinctly unrealistic. We were maxing out at 60 miles or so, meaning progress felt slow to say the least. The people we have met along this part of the journey have by far been the most friendly, generous and welcoming of the entire journey, which has been the saving grace of this whole stage.

 

Our first taste of this generosity came on our first night out of Istanbul. We pushed our way through a tough day of cycling the hills in 35 degree heat to make the seaside town of Şile by nightfall. After asking around a bit we found the person with the authority to allow us to camp on this particular section of the beach, which didn't prove too difficult. After a few minutes the same man came back to us and said, "If you like, you can stay indoors. I have an apartment." He then proceeded to let us stay in his apartment overlooking the beach whilst he went out for the evening and stayed in his caravan. Kindness and generosity of this kind continued, however so did the relentless hills and heat.

One of the incredible roads through the valleys in the Balck Sea coast region.  

One of the incredible roads through the valleys in the Balck Sea coast region.  

Another real boost to our morale came on Friday, when we met a group of four cycle tourers, near the town of Araç. Two were from Bulgaria and two from the UK (one even from Norfolk, might I add!). They had started their journeys separately as two pairs but had joined forces when they had met a couple of weeks prior to bumping into us. It was so refreshing to be able to converse in English rather than in sign language again for the first time in a while, not to mention comforting to know that there are other mad people out there on similarly crazy journeys. Although our onward paths are now in different directions we would love to one day catch up with Tim and Jess, Ivan and Todor, to share a beverage or two and hear about the rest of their adventure.

From left to right: Todor, Ivan, George, John, Tim and Jess.  

From left to right: Todor, Ivan, George, John, Tim and Jess.  

Two days later and we were back on the coast, joining up with the relatively new E70/D010 at Samsun. To say this road was a cyclist's dream would be the understatement of the year. A perfectly flat, impeccably tarmac-ed road with a huge hard shoulder following the coast for over 300 miles? Yes please. We have now crossed the border into Georgia and are in the city Batumi, where we will take a rest day and explore this fascinating little coastal city.

Path through Georgia - The enlightening path.  

Path through Georgia - The enlightening path.  

Now that we have conquered this incredibly tough stage, a whirlwind thousand miles of cycling, India and Southeast Asia awaits. Next, because of the visa issues already discussed we fly from Tbilisi to Mumbai to start the Indian leg of our journey, where we will follow the coast down to the southern tip and then back up the other side to Kolkata.

Thanks for reading!

John

Conquering Europe, Asia awaits.

Leg 1 complete, just in time to make our own Brexit from Europe.

 

Once again it has been a while since we wrote a blog, and as in the past an apology is due. Discipline has been a hot topic of conversation between the saddles and when it comes to taking time out to write on this blog, certainly more discipline is needed.

 

Just two weeks a go we were crossing the Danube and leaving it for the last time, it had acted as our guide from Vienna, through Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and finally Romania. Though we would not be seeing it to the sea, but instead leaving its banks in search of the flattest route across the Balkans, the vast range of mountains tearing across mid Bulgaria.

 

Romania had proved tough, not just another country we spouted off on our ever extensive list of European countries we had to cover before the excitement of Asia began, but a challenge we had not prepared well for. Crossing the Serb-Romanian border was pleasant and easy, welcome back into the European Union.

 

A privilege we take for granted in Western Europe is the ease and freedom we have to withdraw cash in almost every town and village we pass, Romania was a far cry from this and 25 miles without an ATM and only Euros, Dollars and Dinar in our wallets meant we had to dig in, battling the heat and hunger of the afternoon. Our grace came in the form of 5 fine gentleman of Pristol, congregated around the vine sheltered entrance of the village shop. Their kindness was refreshing, and so was the water they bought us. 2 loafs of bread and a half a kilo of pâté later, we were rejuvenated and it wasn't long until we were able to extract some fine Romanian Leu.

The shop in Pristol, and our kindly donated loaf.

The shop in Pristol, and our kindly donated loaf.

Apart from the night time hazardous occupation of burning fields close to polyester tents, Romania remained trouble free; desolate but trouble free. We learnt our lessons and stocked up on money, food and water, not much could stop us, not even the enthusiastic dogs.

A short ferry brought us across the Danube and into Bulgaria, a country we had been warned about a few times in Romania, one remarking it was "full of mafia, don't go there", but isn't that what everyone says about their neighbours!? I for one wouldn't trust a Welshman as far as I could throw him!

Taking a ferry across the Danube, leaving Romania. 

Taking a ferry across the Danube, leaving Romania. 

The first 15 minutes disproved their worry, as we bared witness to a rather casual affair. No more than a scuffle in a lunchtime cafe left one man bleeding at the gut and another wielding a machete. At least the Mafia would have done a cleaner job. Onwards we went, passing through the old Tsar strong hold of Veliko Tărnovo. Perched at the foot of the Balkans, a grand city still holding onto its splendour amongst the valley entrance. Climbs awaited us, our first serious vertical challenge, heads down and feet pumping we made the summit ready for a cruising descent to the Turkish border.

Jumping the queues we crossed the border to Turkey and celebrated in Edirne with the most pleasant pigs intestine sandwich one has ever unknowingly had (Kokoreç if you would like to google it). We camped up and enjoyed a warm evening in the tent. Blissfully unaware we enjoyed breakfast the next day, just grabbing wifi to feed our narcissism and see how many likes our last Facebook post received. This is when we became aware of our unpleasant situation, without knowing we had been lucky to cross the border last night before an attempted military coup took place in Istanbul and Ankara. It seemed like not a soul cared in Edirne, but following the advice of the FCO and to keep our mothers happy, we booked ourselves into the nearest hotel.

24 hours passed, and it was like nothing had happened, even the television stations were showing repeats of the scenes from two nights before as they struggled to make any sense of this peculiar situation. We couldn't wait like lemons and had to crack on, no news is good news right? We jostled the frantic roads of Istanbul and made it safely to the Galata region of the city, business was as usual, but unfortunately for the punters the tourists weren't. This left us with the keys to the city and we fell in love, Istanbul we shall return, but first we have to tackle the Black Sea Coast.

nb. We have been attempting to acquire an Iranian visa through the planning process and during the ride but have come thus far empty handed. Therefore we have had to change our route and we now head to Georgia, via an adjusted route to avoid Ankarra as advised and take a route planned with the team at the bike shop in Istanbul.

Possibly the best bike shop since the UK?  

Possibly the best bike shop since the UK?  

All the best, 

 

George

Update: Recent Military Coup in Turkey

Some may be aware of the attempted Military Coup that took place last night, 15th July 2016, in Istanbul and Ankarra.  

 

We entered Turkey in the early evening of yesterday and reached the town of Edirne before sun fall, where we camped on the outskirts and entered the town this morning. Since finding Internet and reading the news we have following FCO advise and booked into a hotel for the near future while we monitor the situation in the Istanbul and the capital.

 

Istanbul is a 2 day ride from our location, around 155 miles, and though this will slow our progress and add time to our record, we feel this is the most sensible and safest option we are presented with currently. 

 

We will update this blog with any more information we receive on the situation.

 

George and John  

 

News Source:  http://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-europe-36811357