The In and Out of Istanbul – 27th March to 8th April

Monday 27th March

We definitely had cycling plans for today but when we realised that it was cold and incredibly windy we decided a full rest day was in order.  So that was that.  Just one admin task still to complete – upload video clips from our cycle from Bodrum.  We’ve been inspired by Ed Pratt, a young Somerset lad, cycling the world on a unicycle.  Every week he publishes a video on FB.   Sadly (or perhaps thankfully)  we don’t have the IT to do this but we’ve asked Carl Broadhurst if he can weave his magic for us – so fingers crossed.

Tuesday 28th March

Kilitbahir to Gallipoli then Istanbul
Distance: 53.4 km
Average Speed: 10.47 kmh
Fastest Speed: 42.51 kmh
Total Distance: 11231.08 km

Much better weather this morning, not a cloud in the sky.  The wind is still blowing so it makes hard work of our cycle along the Dardanelles passage from Kilitbahir to Gallipoli. But it’s not too hilly, just a little dull.  As we leave Eceabat we visit one of the Turkish war grave sites from the First World War.

War memorial

After that we only stop in a one tea room village for a quick coffee stop.  As we cycle into Gallipoli there is a huge queue of trucks waiting for the ferry,  but we cycle past it and pop into the Otogar (bus station)  to see about getting a coach the rest of the way into Istanbul.

This will save us having to negotiate the famous Istanbul traffic. There are several coach companies that service Istanbul,  the first one we try says no when they see the bikes. But one of the other coach company touts sees this and says his will take us.  However the bus is in 10 minutes which leaves us no time to see Gallipoli itself. We could get a later coach, but a quick look at TripAdvisor and we decide not to bother with Gallipoli itself and so wait for the coach.  It’s a bit of a squeeze getting our trikes on the coach with so much luggage already on, but with a little wiggle and persuasion we manage. Time to relax and enjoy the scenery.  Mind you after our windswept day our faces are burning up on the bus!!

The coach is really great. There’s an attendant who brings free drinks, coffee for us, and snacks. He also keeps the coach spotless.  Each seat has a small TV and you can pick a number of films or TV programmes to watch (in Turkish!).  By the time we are rolling into Istanbul it’s dark, and the traffic is very, very heavy.  We pull into Istanbul international bus station; it’s huge. It takes a while for our bus to get to its slot then it’s time to unload.  

We have an audience, and one guy shows us how to get out of the station (such little gestures but so helpful).   Our route wants to take us on the busier roads but we need to stay off them so it takes a few fraught moments to ensure we wiggle through the back streets to our hosts’ apartment.  Thankfully they only live about 5 km from the station.  We finally arrive and after visiting two secure underground car parks we get the bikes safely parked.  Sahil and Yigit,  both students,  have kindly agreed to host us.  They cook supper for us and we chat. They point out places of interest for us to visit in Istanbul.   It’s soon past midnight. Time for bed!

 

Wednesday 29 March

Istanbul

We are up and ready for some sightseeing.   Yigit shows us where the tram stop is and how to buy the Istanbul card for use on the metro, buses and trams.  We jump on the next tram, they are very crowded,  people jammed in like sardines.   After about 7 stops we manage to extricate ourselves and we are at the Grand Bazaar.  But first breakfast and a coffee.

What follows for the rest of the day is a lot of walking and some glorious sights…

The Grand Bazaar

The underground cisterns

Gulhane Park

Views of the Bosphorus

The Blue Mosque

Hagia Sophia

Istanbul University Gates.

 

Our favourites were…

The Underground Cisterns.  This subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature fine carved capitals. Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days.

The Blue Mosque. İstanbul’s most photogenic building was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet I (r 1603–17), whose tomb is located on the north side of the site facing Sultanahmet Park. The mosque’s wonderfully curvaceous exterior features a cascade of domes and six slender minarets. Blue İznik tiles adorn the interior and give the building its unofficial but commonly used name.

The Grand Bazaar.  The colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is the heart of İstanbul’s Old City and has been so for centuries. Starting as a small vaulted bedesten (warehouse) built by order of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461, it grew to cover a vast area as lanes between the bedesten, neighbouring shops and hans (caravanserais) were roofed and the market assumed the sprawling, labyrinthine form that it retains today.

We get back about 8pm (another crowded tram ride) and then set about teaching  Yigit and Sahil how to play Nominations (card game) and have a laugh and talk about life in Istanbul.  

 

Thursday 30th March

Istanbul

After yesterday’s mammoth slog around the sights we are taking it a little easier. We get the tram all the way across the Golden Horn. First Daz spots Besiktas Stadium and decides to send piccies and text to Carl.  Then there’s Dolmabahce Palace (closed today because it’s a Muslim holiday) and then to Taksim Square.  From here we follow the Siraselviler Street to the Galata Tower.

 

The views from the top are fantastic.   We walk across Galata Bridge; it’s a mass of fishermen with tubs full of fish.

Once on the other side of the Galata bridge we stop by the fish boats and enjoy a fish sandwich or two! It’s very popular and the ornate boats where they fry the fish on huge griddles are very pretty.  There are lots of hawkers here trying to sell you stuff, some are very persistent!  

All the sights of Istanbul are amazing and wonderful.  The people are friendly and welcoming.  There is a heavy police presence on the streets, most decked out in full combat armour and automatic assault rifles. Armoured cars sit at all the main tourist sights. But it doesn’t detract from the city.  Our favourites were the Cisterns and the Blue Mosque.  It was also amazing to see the 360 degree view from high up on the Galata Tower.  

Back at the boys’ apartment we go out for a bite to eat, in a very small shop where an old man cooks kebabs on an ornate charcoal grill that fills half the space.  Then it’s back to the apartment and the lads dig out the Raki, and lay on a spread of traditional Turkish snacks to be eaten whilst drinking said Raki! More chatting and distillation of life in Istanbul and Turkey ensues.

 

Friday 31st March

Istanbul to Toprakcuma

Distance: 9.45km

We sleep in (did I mention Raki last night?).  When we are up we go to the local hospital to see if we can get a Typhoid injection.  We pick one of the many buildings on the hospital site and ask. We get sent to another part of the hospital.  But no luck here either and they send us to another hospital.  Fortunately it’s only 2 stops away on the tram.  Both hospitals have been very chaotic and busy, the first had several cats walking the corridors.   We finally get seen by a doctor, but she says they don’t have any Typhoid vaccinations and we should go to a special clinic.  Unfortunately she can’t tell us where to find one! We give up and go to Cemberlitas Haman.  Hurrah, we’re having a Turkish bath – at last.  We are shown to our separate bathing areas and both enjoy a scrub and wash from an attendant whilst lying on the hot raised slabs.  The amount of skin and muck that comes off is embarrassing, fortunately we’ll never see our ‘scrubbers’  again!  After a couple of hours of pampering it’s time to head back to the apartment but first we want to look at the old city walls.

We head back, pack up and say goodbye to our fab hosts and hope we can one day reciprocate.

Then we cycle to the coach station.  Another ‘cheat’ to get out of Istanbul without facing miles of built up area and horrendous traffic.

Everything goes well apart from a small argument about having to pay ‘cargo’ costs for the bikes.  We set off about 830pm, half an hour late, and then spend the next 7 hours on the coach as it goes from station to station.  Very tiring. We aren’t even allowed to sit together as they only had single seats left.

 

Saturday 1st April

Toprakcuma to Agasi Dana
Distance: 31.40 km
Average Speed: 7.36 kmh
Fastest Speed: 54.86 kmh
Total Distance: 11269.88 km

We finally arrive at our destination at 5am, not the 3am we were told. We put the bikes back together and cycle out of the small village to find a campsite.

We soon find an excellent spot of grass off the main road and set the tent up in the dark.  There’s frost on the ground now we are up in the hills, the temperature is about 2 degrees,  brrrr.  Sleep.  We get about 4 hours sleep. The tent is warming up in the late morning sunshine. We go back towards the village for brunch, rice and beans, a little bland but filling.

Then it’s time to cycle to Safranbolu – a World Heritage site.  It take a couple of hours, but we are soon on a hill looking down on the village.

We cycle down and park up so we can walk through the centre.

The City of Safranbolu is a typical Ottoman city, with typical buildings and streets, and played a key role in the caravan trade over many centuries. The settlement developed as a trading centre after the Turkish conquest in the 11th century, and by the 13th century, it had become an important caravan station. Its layout demonstrates the organic growth of the town in response to economic expansion, and its buildings are representative of its evolving socio-economic structure up to the disappearance of the traditional caravan routes and beyond.  By virtue of its key role in the caravan trade over many centuries, Safranbolu enjoyed great prosperity. As a result, it set a standard in public and domestic architecture that exercised a great influence on urban development over a large area of the Ottoman Empire.

 

It’s packed with tourists.  We wander around the narrow streets filled with shops and people before sitting in the sun and relaxing with a coffee watching the world go by.  Then it’s time to get out, which means climbing. And climbing,  and climbing.  

We knew there was a climb so didn’t buy any food or water, thinking we’ll get it once we reach the main road.  But there’s nothing. No shops, just more hills. No food, no water.  We stop in a little hamlet and manage to get water from an old lady.  Then we continue to climb; culverts and storm drains preventing us getting off the road to find level ground to camp on.  Finally there’s a turning and we can get off the main road and find somewhere to camp.   It’s not sheltered from the wind, and it’s still close to the road but we are too tired to do anything else   We set up the tent.  We’ve got some emergency rations, packs of noodles, but we can’t be bothered sitting in the chill wind to cook them.   We share our last 4 biscuits and crawl into bed.

 

Sunday 2nd April

Agasi Dana to Abdipaşa
Distance: 51.01 km
Average Speed: 12.66 kmh
Fastest Speed: 56.16 kmh
Total Distance: 11320.89 km

A really cold night for me disturbed by a car stopping nearby and a group of lads finding some entertainment at 2am in the middle of nowhere.   I have no idea what they were up to but I was relieved when they finally drove off.  For breakfast we have porridge and then continue our uphill struggle.  We’re stopped by a car full of Turks who want to take our photo (all this attention is going to Daz’s head).

After 1 hour we’ve managed 3km.  At least we’re resigned to the climb and enjoying the beautiful countryside and lovely blue skies.  We finally think we’ve hit the plateau and we’re looking forward to some real progress when we’re enticed onto a camping area by a group of 8 Turkish friends out for a Sunday picnic (they’re from Karabuk).  After they’ve played on the bikes and taken a load of photos they invite us over for tea and food.  Who are we to refuse (especially after the lack of meals yesterday!).  They proceed to feed and water us and then we have a game of volleyball and a spell of Turkish dancing.

They’re a lovely group of people and great fun.  After a lengthy break we finally have to say goodbye. Thanks Fatma, Sema, Nese and the rest.  And soon we’re rewarded by the most incredible downhill along the Ovacuma river valley.  It’s probably about 15km.

Then we have a gentle downhill along the Gokirmak River before finally finding somewhere to eat.  The cafe is empty except for us but we’re served fresh bread with honey on the comb, salad and delicious fish with a lovely crispy skin.  We’re so stuffed I don’t think I can cycle another kilometre but I manage to make some progress.  We stop in the town of Abdipaşa for provisions and find a camping spot not much further on.  Once camp is set up we have a good scrub in the river.  A lovely day indeed.

Monday 3rd April

Abdipaşa to Inpiri
Distance: 44.31 km
Average Speed: 9.34 kmh
Fastest Speed: 61.47 kmh
Total Distance: 11365.2 km

After porridge for breakfast we manage to cycle the steep rocky path back to the road.  After a short climb there’s an easy ride to Bartin.  We had a warmshower host here but since it was only lunchtime we decided to push on for Amasra.  Outside Bartin we pick up 2 cyclists, Volkan a university teacher from Bartin and one of his students.

Despite a long and very slow climb they follow us all the way with frequent photo sessions.  Finally there’s a lovely descent into Amasra apart from the very cold dark 1 kilometre tunnel. In Amasra our cycling escorts say farewell and a group of Turks start chatting to us.  One lady, Belgis, particularly fluent in English asks if we need anything.  We say, ‘ yes, coffee’ so she takes us to a government cafe where the drinks are cheap.  We have a couple of coffees and learn that Belgis is a geography teacher with twins aged 13.  After coffee she offers to be our guide and takes us around Amasra.  She’s lived her all her life except for her university stint in Istanbul.

She takes us up Amasra island to show us all the flowers in bloom, the castle and shows us views of the 2 bays of Amasra.  It’s a lovely little town.  She offers to host us for the night but we feel we need to do a bit more mileage before calling it a day.  We soon regret our decision because it’s a hellish ride up out of town.  The road is so steep in parts that we lose traction on our back wheel.  But finally we’re pretty much at the top.  We follow the coast line; Daz pausing to make 2 live video feeds.  We pass Belgis’ new school.

Currently the school is in the centre of Amasra but the government decided to build a new one about 10km outside.   We stop at a market stall for eggs and then have a fast downhill. My trike flies over one of the numerous lumps in the Turkish roads and my water bottle shoots out of its holder into the road and I slam on the brakes, 61kmph to zero in about 10 metres!!! I then notice my bike computer has also fallen off so we spend 5 minutes walking back up the hill to find it!!   Sadly we’ve stopped at the bottom of the hill and we can see this is followed by another climb and since it’s already gone 6pm we decide to find a campsite.   We break into to someone’s hazelnut orchard (by break in, I mean we simply opened the gate and pushed our bikes in.   But in Turkey these precious orchards are their livelihood so it’s a little naughty to go in but we’re always careful and clean up our mess after)  and set up camp.  Hopefully the owner won’t be too put out.  Scrambled eggs for tea and time for bed!

About an hour later we have some guests.  Daz goes out with his ‘charm offensive’, praying we’re not about to be evicted.  It turns out to be the ‘muktah’ (the local head man) and the Orchard owner (we think).  They’re happy for us to stay but ask us not to touch the hazelnut trees and to make sure we secure the gate when we leave.  

Back to bed and Daz is soon in the world of nod, gently snoring and I’m just about to drop off when I hear voices; and they’re very close.  I do my usual, pretend there’s no one there but soon they’re right outside the tent. I gently nudge Daz who finally wakes.  Initially we both plan to ignore these visitors, after all it is late – 10pm!  Sadly they don’t leave so once again Daz goes out.  Actually it’s only one man who claims it’s his orchard.  The voices – either he was on the phone or he was talking to us! Daz tells him the ‘muktah’ said it was OK and we’ll be gone in the morning.   He asks if we’re hungry and if we’re warm (all in broken English and sign language) .  We say we’re fine.   He’s about to leave but his parting gift is to offer Daz the use of his handgun – bit like the Browning pistols we used in the Army.  Bizarre!  Disappointingly Daz says ‘no’.  Missed a fab photo opportunity!

 

Tuesday 4th April

Inpiri to Hisar
Distance: 29.46 km
Average Speed: 6.67 kmh
Fastest Speed: 60.9 kmh
Total Distance: 11394.66 km

After our late visitor we had a quiet night but wake to a very wet tent.  We expected this to some extent because as we were setting up last night the moisture was already condensing on our bags and jackets.  But everything is really wet and there’s no sun on the Orchard and the grass is wet with dew.  If we wait for the sun to hit the tent we’re going to be here for hours so we move everything out of the Orchard on to the road where the sun is already shining.

It takes nearly 2 hours to dry everything and have breakfast.  Once packed we hit the road.  Big steep ascent (3.3km) followed by big descent (3.5km), I fear this might be the pattern for the day!

Yep, I was right, we had another 2km 10% ascent in 33 degrees heat followed by the same going down the otherside.  Except it’s freezing as we dip down below the coastal cloud/fog level.  And that’s pretty much it for the day.  Up and down.

We do stop occasionally, once with a road crew who are drilling core samples for the coastal road. They invite us for tea and biscuits.  There is evidence of huge landslides as we cycle along, and they are checking the geology to work out how to stop the landslides. They’ve come from Ankara and will spend 4 days on the job here before going home.

We’ve barely managed half our normal distance, with a very slow average speed, even outdone by a tortoise crossing the road in front of us.  We finally descend into Hisar and have some dinner.  We then ask if there is anywhere to camp and they point to a concrete pad next to the river and a boat yard.  In full view of the whole village we set up our tent.  There’s work still going on in the boat yard, sanding, banging and all manner of noise.

Hopefully they will knock it on the head soon and we can sleep!  But there are public toilets and running water so we have a good wash; the water is so cold it makes my head hurt (brain freeze?).

 

Wednesday 5th April

Hisar to Kuscu
Distance: 53.25 km
Average Speed: 7.86 kmh
Fastest Speed: 60.04 kmh
Total Distance: 11447.91 km

Another tough day but after yesterday’s performance we start a bit earlier and don’t give in to the temptation to stop for coffee or chai or any other excuse we usually find.  But sadly it’s pretty much a repeat; relentless climb, drop, climb, drop.  Mentally and physically it’s tough.

We try to distract ourselves by enjoying the beautiful spring flowers, birds, country folk and the views but for most of the day everything is shrouded in a seamist (but at least it isn’t raining – the usual weather on the Black Sea).  We do pass Gideros Bay, one of the most beautiful bays in Turkey, but sadly not that pretty in the mist.  It’s surrounded by boxwood, chesnut, oak, beech and pines and their colours are reflected in the water (not today!).

By 3pm we’ve made it to Cide (35km); neither of us expected to achieve this today.  We stop for a late lunch and coffee.  After food we push on; a huge climb out of Cide is enough to make us wish we had stayed put.  But once we hit the top there’s a plateau.  There is so much evidence here of landslides and at one point emergency repairs are underway because a huge section of the sea ward side of the road has fallen away.  It all looks fairly recent – scary!

We reach a village and ask some workmen if there’s a shop, no nothing for another 10km but they give us water so we’ll be fine for the night.  We reach our magic 50km marker and I’ve seen a covered shelter on the next hill.  It’s probably one of the picnic areas the Turks are so fond of.  We get there and attempt to put the tent up but it’s almost flying away in the wind.  We are on top of a hill and sadly, although there’s a roof the sides are completely open; I’m freezing now so goodness knows how cold we’ll be later.  Despite the fact the tent is almost fully set up, I refuse to stay.  We pack up.   We’re just on the brow of a hill so we head to the bottom and soon (well, after a little procrastination)  find a nice grassy spot.  OMG it’s so much warmer here!!!

 

Thursday 6th April

Kuscu to Akbayir
Distance: 26.18 km
Average Speed: 6.47 kmh
Fastest Speed: 45.10 kmh
Total Distance: 11474.09 km

OMG tough doesn’t cover it.  10% climb followed by 10% descent.  Rinse and repeat.  It’s so exhausting and after 2 hours effort we can look across the the valley and see where we started our descent, hit sea level and climbed back up again.

Today there’s no sea mist so at least we can appreciate the views but it’s a double edged sword; now we can see the climb ahead and the miserable progress we’ve made behind.  This is clearly the area for growing hazlenut (they’re everywhere) but also there’s a lot of bay trees in the hedgerows and we often see sheaves of bay branches on the side of the road and the locals collecting them.  By Akbayir, after 4 and a half hours in the saddle I feel so drained that I call it a day.  We do a big shop and ask the shopkeeper if we can camp nearby.  He points to the beach but then says he has pansyion (small hotel).  We have chai and discuss with Google translate.   He has a room we can have (no charge).  OMG, a bed and hot water.  Bliss!

Friday 7th April

Akbayir to Inebolu
Distance: 60.75 km
Average Speed: 8.31 kmh
Fastest Speed: 54.72 kmh
Total Distance: 11534.84 km

A comfy night and without the need to dry and pack the tent we’re ready to go by 9am.  Our lovely shopkeeper even offers us cay and breakfast but we’ve already had our porridge.

There’s a lot of cloud and there’s already been a rain shower but fingers crossed it’ll stay dry.  But the bad weather has brought with it a strong wind that’s on our backs most of the day.  It’s still very hilly but we make much better progress than yesterday.

We stop in Doganyurt for lunch; it’s market day so there’s plenty of men standing around staring at us.  The clouds have cleared and it’s a sunny, warm afternoon.  Mid afternoon we hit a small village and a cafe.  The proprietor suggests ‘cay’, so we stop for a break.  Bless his heart he doesn’t even charge us.  We push on to Inebolu but then struggle to find somewhere decent to set up camp out of the wind.  We’re both tired and frustrated with trying to find somewhere.  We head out of town and spot a fire station.

They let us set up in the garage with their fire engines.  They feed us.  We shower and play backgammon.   What a super nice group of guys and our salvation.

 

Saturday 8th April

Inebolu to Abana
Distance: 25.98 km
Average Speed: 9.56 kmh
Fastest Speed: 48.11 kmh
Total Distance: 11560.82 km

The expected rain hasn’t arrived, but it did rain in the night.   We are up and have breakfast in the firehouse whilst the shift change occurs.  We say farewell to our new friends and thank them again.

After packing we cycle back into Inebolu to have a look around. We have a list of the top ten Turkish sights on the Black Sea Coast.  Inebolu is number 9 and we are totally underwhelmed. There’s a nice little market and we stop for pancake and a coffee before heading out.

But just as we start out it starts to drizzle. By the time we have done 15 kilometers it’s getting worse so we stop in a little village and plonk ourselves down in a tea room.  We chat to a few people over the next few hours, play cards and we even get given a tray of food from some construction workers.

By 3pm the rain has slacked off and we go to pay for our teas and coffees… but it’s all been paid for, more Turkish generosity!   We manage another 10 km and arrive in Abana cold and wet.  Time for a hotel – a real bed, a decent shower and some creature comforts – surely we deserve it!!!

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