It has been a while since I last posted an article in my blog, and I feel it is becoming urgent to write before I forget. So I finally enter Turkey by the Erdine border, paying my first visa 25 Eur to a bored Turkish border office guy. I receive then my second warmshower reply of this trip. Baris will host me for a while in Istanbul. Perfect! I slowly discover the own characteristics of the country. Mosques, prayers call (even during the nights), Turkish delicious food (kebab, durum, ayran – a drinkable yogurt, which is so good after a rough cycle, … ). It was also really interesting to cross the first bits of land during the ramadan. Not everyone does the ramadan. I would say that it is roughly 50-50, among the young Turks speaking English at least. I finally reached Istanbul taking the bus for the last 70 kms. The megapole is a monster and jumping right away into a 17 millions people city, where the traffic is so dense, sounded too perilous to me. Here the drivers honk a lot. But it isn’t actually offensive, most of the time, they use it to show you their position and tell you that they are coming by one of your sides or back. Once used to it, it happens that it is not really hard to cycle in the city. You just have to pretend you’re a car and be careful at the crossroads, but I didn’t have any trouble. And slaloming through the cars during traffic jams reveal to be a lot of fun.
Baris is a software engineer living in Sisli, one modern part of the megapole, located in the north of the city. From there, I had an ideal position to visit the city. I had honestly never seen a place such as Istanbul. It is definitely a special city, surrounded by the Bosphorus, hilly on some part, and always full of people, cars, going everywhere, and disappearing into hidden tiny streets. I had a nice time with Baris, discovering loads of new turkish food, including great patisseries (baclava – pistachios cookies, sutlac – rice pudding, …). It was also nice to discuss with my host about bicycle touring, as he also plan to do a big tour one of these days. We also watched the Turkish and Belgian foot teams getting owned during the Eurogames. But we didn’t really care, I think we can say that we aren’t really foot fans. I then took the ferry to leave Istanbul, finally leaving the European continent to reach Asia. Direction Ankara. I crossed really unexpected nice hills while pedaling to the Turkish capital. That’s the beauty of travelling by bike, as you don’t skip any stretch you can sometimes discover really nice landscape, far away from any tourist. I was once stopped during a climb by Ferdiun, a poultry farmer working 20 km away, in Dedeler, a little town. After a quick chat he invited me to pass the night at his place. He also invited me to break the ramadan feast, but surprisingly his parents didn’t wanted to join as I wasn’t muslim. Quite surprising for me, but finally that’s not important, I had a nice time with Ferdiun, talking about so much different subject. About for example the really strong patriostism of the Turkish people.
One surprising fact for me in Turkey is the massive presence of the national flag. They are trully everywhere! Outside fuel station, or within the office desk, on the rear window of cars and trucks, on bikes, in gardens. You could also see a lot of references to Ataturk, a previous Turkish leader that has modernized the country about 100 years ago. He also decided to change the alphabet used in the Turkish language to the latin characters. The “father of the nation” is still an important political figure, the one that raised the country from darkness. Turkish people are definitely really proud of their country.
I then reached Ankara and its 4.000.000+ inhabitants. I stayed in a very nice Irish-Polish couple’s place, located in the campus of Bilkent University. Nora and Mihael are teaching English, as most of the course are taught in the language. We had some nice chat about the country and the challenges that face the country. Turkey seems on a turning point of his history. Caught between 2 continents, between modernity and tradition, religion and laicity, democracy and dictatorship. Concerning the last choice, it seems to me that Erdogan has finally decided to rule the country on his own way after the (his?) coup d’etat. If find it too bad, I think Turkey would be a paradise if ruled by a democratic and progressist government. The people are so nice here. Hopefully the future will get brighter for the Turks.
After a quick sightseeing of the Cappadoccia, a touristic area in the center, I took the bus to Trabzon to apply for my Iranian visa. I stayed for a week in Nurullah and Polat’s place, two engineer student from Black University of Trabzon. It was a nice stay, experiencing their easy-going way of life in a small cosy appartment, surrounded by (crazy) cats. I also met there two really nice french bikers, Pierre and Lucie, a couple cycling the Silk Road as well. They have a project with a children school in France. They stay in touch during the trip with the pupils (with their blog – les petits mollets dans la tete -), to make them discover new countries and give them the taste of travelling.
They finally proposed me to meet up later on in Erzurum to bike a while together. So it is finally with some companions that I would head to Iran…
To be continued… 🙂