Translated by: Balázs Németh
Turkey is not equal to cheap trousers, gold jewels and big Bazaars. It is a little European but more Asian feeling and it can’t describe just one short sentence. The country is full of attractions, cultural heritages and has a huge cultural shock which can’t available in other part of Europe, but everything depends on the point of view of a person. We had to get used to a lot of things because there are a lot of differences against Hungary. But this is the reason why we travel to other countries isn’t it? We want to experience such things what we can’t find at home. So let us see how we see the country of half-moon with Istanbul.
In Turkey the first settlement which was inhabited called Edirne. We had been shocked immediately from big noise, bustling and millions of people on the streets. As we experienced , they spent much time outside on the streets with drinking tea, talking to each other and walking than inside between the rooms in Hungary. It was a good point immediately. At home, people they watch TV against walking in a park with neighbors and relatives, friends. Turkey is much social country as we are. Something may depend on money, this social life of course not. There were Muslim ladies wearing chador or kerchief on their face as well. In Turkey they have an ability to wear or not to wear these items against other Muslim countries like Iran. Except, when they must wear it, because of very religious fathers. Although, after this urge they may also refuse to cover their face, if they are so brave. In this case the biggest thing what ladies get is a wigging not a rebuke by a morality police. We don’t know the impression of other people, but all of the mosque was different and impressed us from time to time. May Muslims have the same feeling about our temples? A person who invite others for prayer, called Muezzin. We were also interested in their song every time.
Turkey has a lot of opportunities regardless of the season of the year when we visit. It has four seas and several peaks above 4000 and one above 5000 meters. The Van-lake is as big as 2 of our states together. Hills are green with bare rocks, snowy peaks and azure-blue palm trees. Turkey is cleaner than Serbia and Bulgaria, not much but it is cleaner. There is a lot of trash nearby the main roads everywhere we cycled. It might be caused by truck drivers. We also saw a lot of pet glasses filled with something yellow liquid. It is disgusting. It is characteristic on the country side, that basically more generations live in the same house, many times more than 10 people. They build up flat-roof houses from adobe and brick in the villages. There are water heaters/solar collectors on the roofs on many houses. The infrastructure is not complete, but electricity is everywhere where we were. It is not just a gossip, just some places had flush toilet. If you can’t imagine this, we describe. It is a square shaped porcelain cup is dig in the ground and you have to squat above it. It is luckiness if you have napkins or toilette paper, because it was missed from many rest rooms. Bidet is everywhere or there is a jug with water or tap. In the countryside at the poor families there is not table, bed and chair. They sleep on the ground on wide feather beds like a cover. We had left Istanbul for 40 days, when I wrote the Hungarian version of this article. I slept for 3 times and Eni slept 5 times in bed for this 40 days. To be honest we do not miss the beds and our waists are also okay. The also solve the eating on the beds and on the ground. Everywhere we were after Istanbul, the family ate on the ground. They have a kerchief or a waxed canvas and they eat on it. We could have seen sofa at the richer families but the pillow is also a must for the meals. As we saw they don’t have an unused furniture without a reason, like table with statues and so an. They furniture style called “simplicity”. Sometimes it means nothing. The Turkish flag is everywhere in the houses. Do you know the meaning of the white moon and star on red base in the flag? We also did not know it before. It is the view of the moon and the starts reflected from the lake which was painted red from the blood in a war. It is a little bit cruel but beautiful.
I read somewhere that Turkey developed more during the Ataturk and 50 years after Ataturk, then 500 years before. This way was not stopped. It is the 17th richest city of the world. It is the mixture of past and future. We also saw several hundred year old streets and modern office buildings or housing estates. This city is huge. There are more people live here than in Hungary and it is 11times bigger than Budapest, the capital of Hungary. If was hard to believe. About the buildings… mosques are awesome. Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities what I have seen. If you would like to discover it, take at least 2 weeks for visiting. The transport is catastrophic. The drivers of transporter and taxi drivers do not respect nobody and nothing. The prices of the goods are variable. the region of visited places are the most expensive, but if you walk away some streets you can get everything 40-50 with percent discount. We say and try to keep this rule as “we go, where the locals eat and shopping. They don’t pay more for a food than its real value”
If you plan to go to Turkey by car, you have to pull up your socks. The big cities are the worse of course and the factor, that everybody is a beast on the road without forbearance. The kindest male also becomes a silly driver if he gets a car. In our literature, they would hit our mothers if they step off in front of the car. The problem is not really the chaos, but rather the complete deficit of civility on the roads. The chaos is much bigger in Iran. They do not let others come before them and push them to the edge of the road. The missed horn is as frequent as a leap year. We were almost hit by a car several times. It was not our fault. They have just come from the opposite way of one direction road. Eni has written in her article about Istanbul that they are standing on the horns all the time. It was so tiring if you hear the coming cars from your back and you do not know when they start to push the horn. There was all type of cars from old buses to newest cars. The most frequent cars are the Otocar minibuses with chrome color. The sentence that Allah is watching you („Allah Koruson”) was found able on each car. We guessed that they are not really afraid of that Allah watches them based on their driving moods. The basic types of passenger cars are Fiat, Renault and Peugeot. There is a type of old Fiat what you can not find in Hungary, but here they over lock this type as well. The motorcycles are so frequent. Usually they have 125ccm-150ccm Honda motorcycles and they rush on the roads 2-3 of them on 1 engine. They have slippers without helmet of course. The ages are variable. The youngest guy was about 13 year old. The quality of the roads is mostly good with big sidewalks like a bike lane. You should take care about dogs and sheepdogs. The sheepdogs are less friendly. The public transport and buses are okay with good prices. Railway is cheaper but slower. Airport is findable everywhere and because of the size of the country it is worth to travel by plane for big distances. The public transport is excellent in Istanbul and the “Istanbul card” for public transport is cool. We suggest is for visitors.
People and language
They are very friendly. Hungarians are liked in Turkey, something like sibling nation for them. We guess that they have different information about the 150 year of Turkish domination in Hungary. They may think that they had been invited in to Hungary to govern a country a little bit. But is does not make sense after 500 years. If someone doesn’t like them do not go there. Our country founder (Attila) thousand year ago was known as a Turkish man. We did not want to correct them. It did not happen that we asked something and they refused to do it because “just not”. If they had water we got some, if there was space for our tent we were allowed to set up. Lot of times we did not ask it was just happened that they bring some tea for us or we gained an accommodation. They love guests. We should learn it from them. Turkish language did not seem to be hard for us. They have many loanwords from Hungary. We learned the basics fast. Some samples for the words:
kücsük –kicsi (small)
kapö –kapu (gate)
sapka- sapka (cap)
sál- sál (scarf)
They do not really speak English and it won’t be better, because of the education. It is not must to learn foreign language. The government doesn’t think that it is an important issue against the common pray. We do not want to talk about politics, just write what we have heard. During conversation we recognized, that the high educated part of the people do not like the government, because they try to mix religion and politics together. This is the equipment to persuade religious people. The Prime Minister (Erduan) is not the most economical person. The new 1000 room palace with 2000 policeman guardians shows it. They feel that the country is not opened to the world. Atarürk tried to catch up other developed countries between 1923 and 1938. He cancelled the patrician casts and separated politics from religion. He is still popular. We saw his portrait hanging on the walls in many houses. Our experience is that there is a big stress in the country.
Prices and shopping
Turkey is not a cheap country. We have the same prices as home. May be the transportation is the only euro saving activity. we tries to solve our shopping where we saw the prices. We had an intuition many times they we are tried to be tricked. It was just a fear I guess, but Turkish people are famous for their “business skills”. Petrol is so expensive 460-500Huf (1,5-1,6 euro)
Food and tastes
If someone wants to lose weight, we do not suggest doing in Turkey, because he/she can’t stop eating delicious foods and sweets. We start the list with sweets. Baklava. We know some people who say it is too sweet. We don’t think it so. It is just perfect in our point of view. The chocolate is not the strongest part of Turkey but biscuits are the kings of the foods. We have tried 15-20 varieties of tastes and all of the flavors were perfect. These are findable in every shop in the range of 65-110gramm. The prices are between 0.75 and 1 lira. 1 lira is 110Huf or 0.33Euro. We ate 1 package every day during our trip. We can buy Ayran, which is a cold, acidulated drink like a yogurt. Coffee is not popular. Everybody drinks tea and drink 3in1 instant coffee. Tea stands in the middle point in the culture of Turkey. It is also a big part or ritual of social life. We found tearoom everywhere and when we go to somebody he will reserve a tea for us at first. One cup of tea is about 1-2 lire (0.3-0.6Euro), but we were also invited for a tea many times as kindness. Alcohol is not everywhere and if you find it is expensive. A beer costs 1.6Euro. They eat a lot of vegetables and bread for each meal. Some of the foods are served separated for the dishes and some of them are common. Some types of foods are köfte, bulgur, kebab, bread without leaven, yogurt and sheep cheese without a full list.
Turkey is a good start, if we want to get used to Asia. It is fully recommended if you go on bicycle to the other continent. It is easy available and it has enough difference against Europe, if you do not think about a holiday on the beach. Turkish people are very kind (basically on foot not by car) and they like Hungarians as well. Our name in their language shows it well, because we are only called similar in Hungary (Magyar) as in Turkey (Madzsar) and Iran in the world.
If you visit Turkey, don’t miss them: Istanbul (from start to end), Baklava, Ayran, one village on country side, get an invitation for a tea, Cappadocia, Antalya.
Translated by: Alexandra Fadgyas
What a long and tiring journey this has been. After 23 hours of being bounced about the train we safely arrived to Tatvan. The trip began in Kayseri. Our bargain train tickets offered us only a little compartment that I must say - was not at all very comfortable. The seats themselves were sufficient but due to the size caused us to wake up with our arms and legs completely numb. Needless to say, we did not feel refreshed.
By 5 o'clock in the afternoon we were standing in the station in Tatvan surrounded by local children. After thanking them for their welcome we jumped on our bicycles and made our way out of the town. The plan was to find a place to pitch our tent before nightfall.
Despite the fact that we were riding against the wind we were making good time. As we peddled our way further and further away from the town the landscape became full of crops and fields - not exactly an ideal place to make camp. We stopped for a moment to access the situation. What were going to do? As the sun set the wind began picking up as we watched the last bit of light touch the horizon. Now what? Honestly, we had no idea what to do. All of a sudden (whilst Balázs and I further pondered our predicament) a car pulled up next to us on the road. One of the passengers signalled us to follow them to a nearby village where we would be able to spend the night. How relieved we were to hear this. Quickly our happiness changed to curiosity as we wondered where this new adventure would lead us.
When we arrived to the village a bunch of kids approached and surrounded us. The welcome was so loud that even the parents came out from their houses to see what was going on. While we were pushing our bicycles on the road we tried to return all the smiles and waves that welcomed us. We took little boxes out of our pockets ( that we got in Kayseri) they were full of little colorful candies and gave a few to each child.
After few minutes a young man came to us from the crowd, greeted us kindly and then led us to his house. Some braver and older kids were still following us. A minute after we entered the house, the whole family gathered before us. The word family has a different meaning at this part of the world. Most of the times the entire extended family will live together under one roof.
They offered us a seat. We sat down on the floor and accepted a cup of tea. Whilst sipping our drink everyone introduced themselves. The young guy – who picked us up from the crowd- was the son of our host. Müjde – was his 17 years old sister. After a little chat we were officially offered accommodation at the house. Our host offered us a room for couple of days and also ensured us that we can stay longer -even for weeks- if we wanted to. Both of us were interested in the life of this tiny village, therefore we gladly accepted the invitation.
The village – Yocabasi- is located in a valley about 15 km away from Tatvan. It is surrounded by hills. There are only few parcels that are good for planting. Families with good financial means keep sheep and goats around the nearby mountains.
It is interesting that there is such large class differences in a small community!
Our host – Nejmetin’s house was very humble. We were cooking on the floor in the kitchen. There was only one little faucet from which we could take some water. It was connected through the bathroom. The only luxury was the electricity and the squatter toilet in this house.
The floor was covered with nice carpets in each room. We had to take our shoes off if we wanted to enter. Barefoot only on the carpets!
At lunch time the whole family gathers together and sits on the floor in a circle. Everyone knows their places. The head of the family sits closest to the fire. These people are deeply religious, therefore they asked us to wear long trousers and I had to wear a shawl as well. I would take a little note here: my Hungarian style of tightening a shawl gathered some appreciation among the women around, even from the older ones! :) A day had to pass for us to realize that the financial situation of our family was not as good as we thought.
The food at the house was delicious. Lunch and dinner were mostly made of vegetables. Only rich families can afford meat. Eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt can be bought in the village. Bread is made and baked at each house. It is the women's task to collect mushrooms and other consumable plants from the hills nearby.
We wanted to contribute towards the costs, but they refused us – saying that we are guests in their house and it is an honor for them. We tried different tricks how we could return all their kindness but they turned us down again and again. We finally managed to do something : We cooked then dinner. Rice- pudding. It was great to see that all of them liked it.
We found these people kind, funny and hospitable. Everybody has their own role and task around the house. A family usually has 8-12 children so they have to work hard to raise them. Müjde- the daughter of our host has a different idea about living her life. She would like to leave the village as soon as she can and go to university to study. She would like to be an English teacher and work in Istanbul for a ’brighter future’. She was enthusiastically telling us stories about her cousins who found their luck in the city and now own businesses, houses, big cars and iphones. We were speaking with her a lot, but we did not want to destroy her vision about the western world.
One night we were invited to a wealthy family for dinner. In their living room there was a flat screen TV and a sofa as well. They had eleven children. Three of them live in Istanbul and manage a successful construction company. Four of the children still live with them as they are still young. As tradition dictates we had our dinner on the floor along with a nice chat.
Even without having a common language it was easy to communicate with the kids and the young adults. We used our hands and some Turkish words to explain things. In return we learned some Kurdish phrases which were useful even at the western part of Iran.
We spent 3 days at the lovely village of Yocabasi. We did not have internet access and our phones were not working either. This place gave us the impression of stillness. As though time had stopped.
As we bicycled along the Van lake we had opportunity to experience the extraordinary kindness and hospitality of the Kurdish people.
On one occasion while I was making my way up a steep mountain a van pulled up next to me. Two men jumped out and offered to help bring me up to the top of the hill. At first I did not know what to say or do, I was pretty embarrassed, but then I put a smile on my face and kindly refused their offer. Balazs was 150 meters away from me and returned to see what was going on. The 2 men offered to transport us again, but when they saw that we are not interested in the ride, they left; Sitting back into their van with a huge smile on their face, tooted the horn and drove away.
Another time while we were setting up the frame of our tent close to the border of one of the small villages in the hills, we suddenly recognized a a man who was approaching us. Oh—we thought :( He must be the owner of the field and he wants to send us away. But, this was not the case. This man was making his way back home on the road and he spotted us from there. He came up, greeted us and offered us an accommodation at his own house. He was very serious about the offer because he did not want to leave until we said yes. We entered his house, where we received dinner and warm tea and we were offered a bed in the guestroom. We could feel that with each of their gestures they wanted to make us feel at home. We were grateful for the kindness of these strangers who welcomed us in their home like old friends. In the morning each of us received our own snack pack as well. There was cheese and bread in it. 'For the journey!' – they said.
As we got closer and closer to the Iranian border at some point we ran into a stormy weather. We had to stop and find shelter as it was impossible to ride the bikes. But again, we were saved by yet other Kurdish family who offered us some space at their home until the weather conditions became more friendly. We made ourselves useful at the house. I helped with the homework of one of the little girls. Balazs's favorite memory was when I was trying to teach the little girl how to read in Turkish. After the compulsory homework, there was time to play a little. Have you ever tried to play a game using a language that you hardly understand and speak? Try it! It's fun. J
By the next day the bad weather was gone and it was time to hit the road again The morning was difficult as we had to ’climb’ a very steep hill. We reached the highest peek of the journey that we had done so far: 2,276 m. After a long nice slope we arrived to Kapikoy where we crossed the Turkish-Iranian border. We had to wait a little bit at the crossing point to have all of our documents checked. Luckily, we did not have to wait for hours, we could pass the border within reasonable time. In our next blog you can read about our first days in Iran.
Translated by: Magicz Dávid
The 10 hours long busride started at 10 p.m., so we thought we will sleep through it, killing two birds with one stone, but it was impossible. The turkish coaches are far more comfortable than the hungarian ones, but to sleep sitting with hanging legs is not so great. Instead, we got some tea, and biscuits, and with the help of the busdriver, we fitted the bikes so professional, and it has cost nothing. It was a cold morning, when we left Aksaray, but a delicious breakfast could expunge it: boiled eggs with salt, fresh bread and ayran. In the first day we stopped in a caravan-seraglio, which was built between 1231 and 1239. It’s the third biggest seraglio in Turkey. The seraglio is the resting and sleeping place of the travelers. Man and animal could took a nap and ate something in these places. What a feeling, walking between 800 years old walls! If only they could talk…How many people have been walking in these halls. What massive walls! We can learn more about these places and the life between its walls from the hungarian orientalist, Ármin Vámbéry.
In the evening we set up our tent in the grassy back of a gas station. (We did it more than once during our journey.) We asked the employees, they are usually nice people. They brought us hot tea, that we accepted with pleasure, because it was getting colder and colder. The morning greeted us with rime. Fast breakfast, packing, and let’s go! After the sheltered place, the wind attacked us with its 18 miles per hour speed. The 39°F felt like 23°F, the ride was very exhausting. It’s not going to be okay we thought, meanwhile it’s started snowing, so we took shelter again at another gas station. The attendants invited us inside. They offered us hot tea, what we drank with our frozen feet pushed to a radiator. We started talking, after a while Abdullah and Fatih asked us to stay. There was no point in continuing our journey, instead we met two warm-hearted people. What we can do in a turkish gas station? Well; talking, drinking tea, eating, writing a journal, reading, showing each other family photos, then cooking dinner and eating it together. We was not bored, and we learned some turkish, but it wasn’t awkward at all to sit beside each other in silence. Meanwhile the snow was falling, what an April! We spent the night in the warm storeroom.
The other day, we thanked everything, and said goodbye to the boys, then we rode in the nice sunshine, and 68°F through the town of Nevsehir. We only stopped to get some snacks. After that, we reached the border of the national park. The waited rock towers could appear at any moment now. We reached a little village. Some part of it was carved from the rocks. We locked the bikes, grabbed our cameras, and started off on a little adventure between the mostly unhabited houses. It must been a fantastic job carving out the multi-storey houses. It appears that each and every person has it’s own room. I don’t know what this place should be called. It’s not an outside museum, because most of the rocks (I intentionally didn’t write houses) are habited, or used as stables. There weren’t any railings, or ticketcollectors, so we could wander through the whole place, we could enter anywhere, climb anywhere. It was so great! And of course the view was amazing!
We spent approximately an hour and a half in the village, so we started to get hungry. We made our lunch in the terrace of a closed buffet. Chicken and bulgur, with mixed salad and pomegranate. Sounds tasty, right? If you are on the road, and your opportunities are scarce in every way, it doesn’t mean you can’t make wonders. I must say, we don’t eat meat everyday, because they don’t know salami, and of course we can’t eat ham, sausage because of the blacklisted pigs. Well, they have some kind of though, spicy kind of a salami, but you can only eat it after frying it. We tried it for breakfast, not bad, but the hungarian stuffs are way more better. We tried a lots of different food from different places, but nothing compares to the hungarian foods. I don’t say that because of some kind of „great hungarian nationalism”, but because it’s a fact. Let’s get back to the meat: the other reason we don’t eat that much, is because it slows down our digestion, and takes a lot of energy. The vegetables, pulps, seeds and dairy products are working better. Endurance tourists with nothing but bratwursts: don’t throw any rocks at us. Meats are great from gastronomic point of view. But that’s it. There is protein in the meat, but you could get it from something different, and there’s no energy in it. That’s why. After lunch we continued our journey, and after a short distance, the „Cappadocia” unfolded. Maybe some of you know it’s rock formations, towers.
We found the perfect lookout, not a soul. The tourists were in the terrace of a „panorama caffé”. We took some photographs, the view was beautiful no matter where we looked. In front of us, the top of Mount Erciyes shone. We especially choosed this part of the country, to get a look of this view. We thought it was worth it, but we were only stepped inside it’s door.
We rolled into Göreme, the „Las Vegas of Cappadocia”. Here everything is about tourists, everything is for tourists, well at least for their money. Hotels carved from rocks, in the bottom of the rocks, in the top of the rocks, under the rocks… Restaurants in every style, souvenir shops, travel agencies and air ballooning everywhere. We found a camping, named „Panorama Camping”. Because we’re living on a strict budget, (not a secret, 3000 HUF (~10 EUR)) we don’t like to pay for accommodation. Well not like the midnight lady from the sofa, but we like to bypass the places where you have to pay. Well there was (and will be) times, when we stayed in hostels. It’s hard and also dangerous to camp in a city. But it costs nothing to ask about the camping, and there he was, the manager. His name is Ahmet, he inherited the business from his father, who started the campingsite 30 years ago. He greeted us with a big smile, said take a look around first, after that we can talk about money, because if we don’t like the place, we won’t stay there. There is truth in it, but it sounded like it could be a very beautiful view, if it’s expensive, we wouldn’t stay there. The view was truly amazing, probably the best in town, because the camping is in the hill, everything is below.
He promised us hot water, kitchen use, open terrace with bean bag chairs, where you can look down to the valley, and free wifi. Here comes the howmuchisit. For other people, he said the price is 30 lira/night, but since „we are nice people” he give us a discount: 50 lira for both of us. Well there’s something in that, we tought, he was nice also, not that headstrong, violent marketing type. Well, the 50 lira is twice our daily budget. Well it’s gone down to 40, then he called himself crazy, and offered us 30 lira. We didn’t had much part in the bargaining, Ahmet counted, I just told him completely honest that the first price is way too much for us. The 30 lira is not so bad. We had to go to the post office and the store, told him that we will think about it, and if we’ll find it cool, we’ll come back. He promised to keep the price. We sent the postcards, and talked about it with Eni. A hot shower would be nice, and there are the other things (view, toilett, kitchen, wifi), we should spend two nights here, and wander around the place, it’s messy with the packed bikes. We told Ahmet, there are two options: we stay one night, for the 30 lira, or two nights for 50.
He was cool, and also smart, of course we spent two nights. It was a good deal, you can’t stay around the Balaton for this price. We set up our tents in the upper „terrace”.
There was two tents beside us, and we thought Ahmet said it’s empty, whoever can rent it who don’t have a tent.
It was a mistake, setting up our tents there, we realized that in the night. We made a tasty noodle dinner, and met two old riders. The two sixty-something gents travelled from Germany to Asia and back, with their sidecar equipped BMW-dnyeper motorbikes. They were nice company, we talked a lot, drank some coffe, and shared experience, and introduced couchsurfing to them.
The night arrived with the residents of the neighbor tents. It was four teenagers, around the age of 18, who decided to choose the Panorama Camping in Göreme to avoid prohibition of alcohol. There is no problem with that, we were drunk at that age, but it was annoying that they were howling like some rabid dog, two feets from our tent. At first, I didn’t say a word, but later I had enough. I shouted that if they wanna have fun, pull each other down to the reastaurant, and do it there. Of course, in english, even if they didn’t have any language exam, they sure understood that. In the morning i thought that I’ll put the laptop with some tasty music beside their tent, but at least we must have some decency. The other day, they looked so repentant, and offered us their gas tank. In the daylight we wandered through some of the valleys, and stared at its rock formations. It’s unbelievable, what shapes the wind an the water can make. And with time, it’s all gonna vanish from the face of the earth.
We approached the Outdoor Museum with some concerns. So many people, like some sort of picnic! They continuously brought the tourists on buses. If weren’t like 500 people there, then nobody. We discussed wit Eni, that we’ll go to the gift shop, find a book about the museum, what’s in there. If we can see the rock houses, maybe they are still furnished, then no matter the mass of peoples, we’ll go in there. It looked like only stonetemples are taken place in the museum, for that we didn’t had any mood. Pushing each other in a line, with slow pace, no way. The readers who were there will tell us whether it was a good choice or not, we think it wasn’t a big loss. Instead we climbed up on a hill, made a picnic, and stared at the view, then read some books amid the grass. That night the turkish youngsters made the party quiet, so we could sleep.
We had a reserved accommodation at Kayseri, we found it on Couchsurfing. Emre greeted us kindly despite our delay. We had to share the room with two romanian cyclists, but we didn’t mind it at all. It was nice meeting them. The 44 miles ride was fast, we reached the city in no time. During it, we were amazed by the snowy top of the Mount Erciyes, and the thousands of faces of it.
Kayseri is a city of millions, and Emre lives in the other side of it, it took two hours and a half to find his place. He greeted us with big smile, also helped us with our stuff. He’s very cool, kind, talkative, informed, and a super philanthropist. He’s the most open host, we liked him immediately. For dinner we made some food, the romanian guys George an Pedru arrived just in time. We did it like the turks, sitting in the ground, eating from a small table. We asked the guys about their cycling adventures. We slept late in the morning, then had a slow paced breakfast with the guys (Emre and his housemates went to work).
The boys left around 1 p.m., Eni was taking a nap, I spent the afternoon cutting the videos (the video about Serbia was born there). In the evening we had a nice dinner and a talk with Emre, next day’s plan was visiting a little Armenian village, but first we wanted to buy our train tickets to the Lake Van. Midday we rode to the train station, where they told us that the train to Tatvan won’t leave tomorrow, as we read on the internet, but it’ll leave tonight. We had to leave out the Armenian village, and hurry back to home to pack our stuff to catch the train. We could only say goodbye to Emre on the phone, but asked him to visit us if he’ll come to Hungary. We caught the train without a hurry, even had time for a tea at a buffet, where we found a Turkey Lonely Planet book. The train arrived, we packed up our stuffs and bikes to the luggage car, and paid for it to the conductor. The tickets we bought beforehand (it was 56,5 lira for both of us, fair price), but we had to pay for the bikes on the train. The conductors were cool, they only counted 44lb, that was 22 lira, however the two bikes with all our stuff were around 220 lb. We searched our seats, (it was reserved) then off we go to East-Turkey! The 466 miles journey was 23 hours long, instead of 20, it was a little bit uncomfortable, but we could sleep, after midnight the train was half empty. In the morning we arrived to another world, big mountains, deep canyons, fast rivers were running beside the tracks. We met two turkish family in the train, they were also headed to Tatvan inside the Gölü (lake) Express. We offered them some candy and biscuits, for exhangethey gave us homemade ayran.
We arrived at 5p.m., everything is in order. We only have to find a place to spend the night, and we’re all good. The city was depressing, don’t know why, but we wanted to leave it soon.
We went up on a steep climb on a road, south side of the lake. Where we spent the night, what happened to us in the next week in this Kurdish side of Turkey, you’ll find out from our next article.
Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
So we cycled a lot from Edirne to the direction of Silivri and finally reached a small town on the coast. We arrived late at night to Gümüskaya. As only built up beaches can be found we couldn’t set up our tent on the seaside. In the middle of thinking about the next step, a middle-aged gentleman from a restaurant has just invited us in for a tea. We accepted the invitation with pleasure, one (German) word let to another, we must have been really sympathetic to the manager, because they already decided on the place where we’re going to spend the night. What is more, the handmaid has just escorted me to the kitchen, so I could prepare our dinner in normal circumstances. During cooking I learnt the Turkish names of the ingredients. Chairs and tables were already placed in front of the restaurant and a small stall as well, probably for the night guard. This hut was our place to stay for the night with two beds and a little table. We couldn’t dream of a better accommodation 20 meters far from the Sea of Marmara with full bellies, in a warm place. It was heaven for an exhausted biker
We could make our breakfast in the kitchen again, while the night guard was offering us tea and coffee continually, who slept in the kitchen because of us…We only realized it in the morning…He put some chairs together and slept on them… We had no idea how we could thank you for it, as we have never experienced such a gesture nowhere else before. The lighter with the Chain Bridge on it, hidden in our bag somewhere, popped into our minds. As the guard and the lady smoke, they might appreciate our little gift. We absolutely won’t forget the little town of Gümüsyaka.
Both of was very excited, counting the kilometers in our minds… We were cycling on undulating slopes, sometimes with heavy upgrades.
The most determining, complex and diverse experience of our journey so far: Istanbul. As we read other Hungarian bikers’ stories, it’s really not easy to take the city in.
Riding on road D-100 towards the center, you get the feeling that the peak hours traffic in Budapest is nothing compared to it. Cars steam in 4x3 tracks, tooting, overtaking and thrusting. Somehow we felt like it’s really serious as they were quite aggressive. Some of them has often rewritten the rules of the road and used 2 tracks as 3. Solid white line? Prohibition of overtaking? Right-hand rule? Red lights? Just let it go..!
We were trying to get into the center as fast as possible, but the 40 kilometers seemed three times longer on such a difficult track. New tracks joined to the main road from the right, where cars pulled out with 50km/h. Trying to stay at the edge of the road sometimes seemed like a scene in a circus, because drivers are simply unable to define people riding bikes on streets. Fatal error… Beginners and neurotic people shall only pass with a huge amount of tranquillizer or with parental surveillance!
I just really have to talk about the tooting habits of Turkish drivers. What do you do, if you’re a Turkish driver? You don’t need any reason to toot, because any situation can provoke you to push the toot: a pedestrian passing by, a car right next to you, another car that you’ve just passed by. Taxis probably have accelerators and brakes with toots installed on them, as they continuously push the toot. What do you do if you see a cyclist while driving your car? Of course you push the toot! The advanced drivers of Otokar (Turkish-made) cars have this special toot which is not the best sound you can hear. After several heart-attack close situations, we finally managed to escape from road D-100.
Besides the first night in a hostel, we stayed with Ahmet in Istanbul. Ahmet studies neurology. He works a lot and as he wants to make a carrier, he left the city of Konya and moved to Istanbul. He’s got better chances here.
Istanbul is a real two-folded city in every aspect. We experienced side by side the continuous vibration and the calmness of the place, the endless past and the modern 21st century.
After walking around on the European part of Istanbul, we came to the conclusion that it is absolutely a tourist destination, where everything shines a bit more and the prices of foods and drinks are much higher. The huge number of tourists is absolutely attended and this part of the city never sleeps. From Ahmet’s place on the 14th floor, we often watched the endless traffic. Thousands of buses, loud Otokar minibuses, cabs and cars were tooling along on the 2x2 tracks of the road. We saw some interesting solutions to by-pass the traffic. Huge green check marks and red Xs were used to let drivers know where exactly they can enter or which road has only one-way. This enormous crowd indeed requires some kind of guidance
The Asian part can be reached in different ways, we chose ‘feribot’ , namely the ferry. Time passes slower here. We could see cafés where old men were sitting around a small table, were drinking tea and played some kind of board-games or cards. Even the market was different: it was somehow more ‘original’ compared to the touristic ‘Grand Bazar’. Bazar-women were shouting behind or next to their counter, but some of them shouted from the top of the counter to lure the mostly local costumers. You can get anything here of course: clothes, scarves, jewelry, vegetables, fruits, spices, domesticities. During their tea brake with the neighbor bazaar-woman, none of them was screaming.
We met Arslan, the ex football coach on the Asian side of Istanbul. He studies sociology and history in Canada and in India. Currently he’s making a living out of fishing. After the really talkative and sporty gentlemen instructed us, he immediately invited us for a beer. Well, that’s what we didn’t expect! We didn’t reject the invitation and set off towards the beach. After passing a gate, we entered to the land of fishermen. Only fishermen or people invited by fishermen can enter. Arslan speaks English fluently and he loves telling stories, so we were listening to him. He was talking about today’s Turkey, politics, religion, traditions, Istanbul. We got to know which flows we have to take care of at the Bosporus and where is it worth to fish in the Black-Sea. In his opinion, you’ve only got to understand Istanbul when you already know the Bosporus. He likes fish and raki (Turkish shot, similar to ouzo). We missed fish, but tried the other!
We had an official program as well, as we had to arrange our visa to Iran. The invitation letter which we got from our Iranian friends made the process much simple. I put on the scarf and we went to the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul. We got a number and after Zsófi and Zsolt (biker couple from Dies Diem Docet), we were next in the queue. The administrator was very nice, took our papers and checked the invitation letter which already had the registration number from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After paying for the visa fee, we took the payment certificate back to the office then the administrator told us that the visas would be ready the following day in the afternoon.
We were aware of the fact that the city has so many places to visit that even 2 or 3 weeks wouldn’t be enough to see everything. We wanted to make the best out of those few days spent in the city, so we completed our own sightseeing tour with an official one, right after the official visa claiming process. We joined altogether with Zsófi and Zsolt to the tour, where we visited the most important sights in the city center. It was great to meet them again and share each other’s experiences. Istanbul was exactly the point where our journeys met. We said goodbye with a huge smile: See you somewhere in South-East Asia!
The following day we got our visas to Iran and took the subway to get to our lodging rapidly. We packed everything then set off to Otogar (bus station). We’ve already changed into Rambo-mode as we were already familiar with the local morals when it comes to traffic, but after the second crossroads we had to realize that few days are not enough to become fully trained. An exhausting 10 kilometers long way lied ahead, but we managed to get there for 19:30. Life on Otogara is something amazing. Locals told us that a lot of private bus companies compete for the travelers, but we weren’t prepared enough… The bus station is full of with the smaller or bigger offices of the companies and all of them got 2 or 3 newsboy standing in front of them and shouting the destinations. Can you imagine the situation when they saw us with the bikes? They literally raided us, explaining and showing every detail. Everything was ‘OK’, nothing meant a problem to them, though we didn’t understand too much from their offers which we were bombarded by. We were brave enough to start speaking to one of them. The other newsboys soon realized that they lost this round, so they started to look for other travelers. I stayed outside to look after the bikes, but after a few minutes Balázs came back with a huge smile on his face that we got the tickets to Aksaray and everything is fine with the bikes too! Wonderful! Let’s go to Cappadocia!
Translated by: Éva Bognár
We spent our very first Turkish day with sightseeing in Edirne (formerly known as Adrianople). Due to have been the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the city has a massive cultural heritage. The best known is the Selimiye Mosque, which had been built for 6 years before it was opened in 1574. The 2nd biggest mosque in Turkey is believed to be the most beautiful by many. It is very impressive even from the outside but our jaws dropped when we entered. Painted tiles, colourful bricks and mosaics all over. The interior is full of carved columns and carpeted with red. First we walked around to take some photos but then decided to sit down and enjoy the place quietly.
Any mosques are a wonder for anyone especially for those from a different culture like us. We were mesmerized by their beauty and never got tired of looking at them in awe. The city is full of tourists, mainly Bulgarians and Turkish. Just as we left the mosque we bumped into a lady who’s been living in Australia for 40 years and came as a tourist to see her home country. She offered her help to find an exchange and we had a nice chat with her.
We had a chance to visit a few more places including an old and sadly ruined Turkish bath, the pedestrian bridge we arrived on in the city the night before. The bridge was built during Hadrian’s era (who was, by the way, the founder of the city). We walked through a bazaar and saw the historical part of the town famously known for its wooden houses.
Well, if you visit Turkey, be prepared to eat all the time. Food is delicious here, furthermore we are prone to random “binge eating” due to the high number of calories burnt during cycling. We have eaten kebab – made from either goat or lamb, we weren’t quite sure though it had the typical barn odour - with salad, bulgur and lavash (Turkish flatbread) during the sightseeing.
By the time we got out of the bazaar, we were hungry again and were ready to eat. So… baklava! I’m sure people are divided into two groups. Those who love this rich and overly sweet pastry and those who don’t. We believe there is no middle way. Why would anyone eat anything they dislike? You can get the plain and the chocolate variety of baklava in Budapest, here there are much more. One may choose from 10 different flavours! They are different not only in their fillings but their shapes, sizes and of course, in their prices. Generally it’s between 16-22TRY/kg (1 TRY=115 HUF) for a standard baklava. If you after some special ones, you may need to pay 35-45 TRY/kg. We experimented with a few types, loved them so much, it’s hard to decide which one was the best. Our next way lead straight into a shop selling Turkish delight (aka lokum, sweet and fragrant cubes of jelly, made of water, starch and sugar) and our food experiment went on. We bought roasted chickpeas (called leblebi) without actually knowing what we ordered. It tasted creamy and a little bit nutty.
Honestly, the Turkish cuisine is hard to beat; we fell in love with it in no second.
On the way home I pondered getting my hair cut. It seemed to me Turkish men take pride in their appearance because the streets were full of hairdressers. These are mostly male Turkish barbers where the hairdressers are males, too. After bargaining for a deal, I managed to convince them not to touch my beard, no matter what they think, it’s good as it is. (Here, many of the young males have beards and they trim it regularly.) We had to wait a bit so we decided to do some people watch. We listened to their conversations, watched the men in front of a teahouse nearby (women were 2 floors above, upstairs, chatting on the balcony). The haircut was quick and professional (okay, they simply had to trim it to the same length everywhere), they paid a lot of attention to detail. They have washed not only my hair but my eyebrows, cleaned my ears with cotton balls and sprinkled me with a fragrant that wasn’t very welcomed by Eni. Indeed, the scent was closer to some cheap eau de cologne than to a Bulgari perfume. Feeling cool and proud of my new hairstyle, we set off for home. I guess I would have only needed a fancy upgraded Fiat (essential accessory for a cool Turkish dude on the road) to feel totally merged into local.
Our host was Egin, the owner of a professional bike store (Trakya bisiklet), who is devoted to build and support the growth of the local cycling community. We have met a few cyclers in front of the store (right underneath the flat) and we ended up having a small gathering in our place, together with them and a Romanian and Malaysian cyclist. We started a great length of discussion about trips, who went where and shared our experiences with one another. We really liked Eadi, the Malaysian guy; we hope we’ll have a chance to meet him again. Surprisingly, we enjoyed the company of Osman the most, the brother of our host, despite (or perhaps for?) the fact we had to play mime to understand each other.
We left the next day to cycle over to Istanbul and discover this buzzing, one may even say chaotic, country.
More experiences, impressions are the topic of the coming post.
Translated by: Marci Bekker
During our stay in Sofia the weather wasn’t very much in our favor. Even though there didn’t seem to be any improvement in the weather conditions despite the sunny forecast, we set out. Someplace up above, the sun must have surely shined, but we neither saw nor felt any of that. Instead, we were accompanied by a light snowfall on our way out from the Bulgarian capital.
We were heading towards Plovdiv and the first part of the way proved quite arduous. There was a lot to climb, but the traffic was low. We were yet to learn why everyone else chose the highway running parallel to our road. We took road number 8, which, from a settlement called Vakarel continued on in a catastrophic state. If I ever wanted to direct a movie about the apocalyptic landscape in the aftermath of an imagined World War III, I’d definitely use this road in it. Huge pits filled with water, cracked and rutted asphalt with depressions all over it, tree trunks sprawling across the road and beginning to be grown over with weed. Having arrived in Ihtiman, we played it safe by darting to the churchyard. They let us spend the night there – there was running water as well as a toilet. The latter was of the earth closet type, but wild camping doesn’t offer more comfortable opportunities either, so we have no reason to complain. We had a rather cold night, but our sleeping bags kept us warm. In the morning people started stirring about the church without paying us much attention. At the boundaries of Ihtiman a lamentable image awaited us. Scrawny horses grazing among plastic bags whipped around by the wind. Garbage. Everywhere. Again.
That day, to our great joy, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds once in a while, but spring was still a day away. We spent the entire day descending on the slopes of the Rila mountain range, which day, as regards the amount we pedaled, has remained Eni’s favorite ever since then. The scenery was spell-binding, with some peaks still covered in snow, the highest of them invisible from the clouds hanging above. We left Rila behind. The Rhodope mountain to the right (south of us) and the StaraPlanina mountain to the left (north of us) started growing high on the horizon. The two of them kept us company even two days after we set forth from Plovdiv.
With its 112 km, this was the longest ride so far. We loafed around Plovdiv for a while because our GPS went out of whack and led us in circles. Eventually we did find the hostel we were looking for, but we paid a high price for it as we had to jerk wheel our bikes up a steep, cobblestoned streets (with enormous, abyss-like pits in between). The little place called Hikers Hostel was very cozy – the owner received us warmly. Cleanliness and calm held sway over the place. Apart from us there were three Finnish and an English biker lodged there. We drank a welcome drink of rakia with the owner guy and headed to the town to forage out some dinner. The English bloke, Stewart, joined us and we found the occasion to share our biking experiences with one another. We admired Plovdiv being lit up at night; the old part of town is simply beautiful. If you are ever in Bulgaria, don’t miss out on it!
The next morning we squeezed in a little bit of sight-seeing before continuing on. We woke up to a genuine spring day, the coats were off at last. Plovdid is a treasure chest inside Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the majority of Bulgarian cities isn’t remotely as beautiful. They are shabby and reek of socialist architecture; not even Sofia cuts it, but Plovdiv truly is a relief. Having been inhabited for over five millenia, it’s not only Bulgaria’s oldest, but one of Europe most ancient settlements. We didn’t manage to leave the town until somewhat late into the afternoon on account of the stroll in the city, but we didn’t mind, it was nice to skip and bounce in the sun a little. After around 60 km we started keeping an eye out for some sort of accommodation, because the sun was about to set. Here, we are an hour ahead, and it stays bright until almost 8 o'clock. We first aimed for a little clearing behind a restaurant in a small village (Byala Reka), but the main road was rather loud and I had the feeling that we'd better move on. Eni didn't mind, that's how it is. If either of us has a sinister feeling about a place, we preferably just don't stay there. Around 2 km after leaving the village, we spotted a house roughly 500-800m off the road in the woods. We thought it'd be some sort of a ranch, they wouldn't mind if we pitched a tent, there's room galore. Afraid of dogs and leaving our bikes behind, we approached the house tentatively, each of us bearing a stick in our hands, which was still somewhat hidden by the trees. Dogs were nowhere to be found. We edged closer and noticed what it we’d spotted really was. A little church stood there with a small yard circumfenced by stones. On the verandah of the church a table with chairs. Budding trees, blossoming flowers, the chirping of birds. Not a sole around. By this time we knew it was worth leaving the roadside. It felt as if we'd cycled into the Garden of Eden. And there, we had every right to feel that. It was a magnificent place in the setting sun, emenating nothing else just calmness. We dined and tucked ourselves away to sleep. We were woken up by the shining sun and the songs of birds the next morning. We agreed that this must have been our top wild camping spot since we started the trip.
After spending half the day with sightseeing in Plovdiv, we couldn’t cover as much as we’d planned to. We had a room booked in Edirne, Turkey, but that seemed too far away for a day, especially given the elevation for that stretch. We pedal on as we can and we’ll see how it works out, just as we’ve always done – we thought. It was our first T-shirts and shorts day. We stopped in a small village to ask around for a grocery store. As we were receiving our itinerary, an old lady ran towards us clinging onto something in her hands. It was an Easter egg and some pastry with and a ‘happy holidays.’ We found the store, bought ham, bread and vegetables to the boiled egg and made an Easter feast of our breakfast with a week of delay, according to Bulgarian traditions (here, it gets celebrates a week later). We took out time with lunch, chatting over it, drinking coffee and eating the Easter pastry to it, enjoying the sun.
We were in the saddle all throughout the afternoon and got in the close vicinity of the border. Despite the fatigue, we thought it would worth a try getting to Edirne, since camping in the wild 20-25 km away from our accommodation wouldn’t make much sense, and in any case, it’s never advised in border regions. Before crossing the border, we drained out last levs into buying chocolate and a glass of water. We ran into a few Hungarian truck drivers, too. It was a peculiarly uplifting feeling to meet people from home. Thankfully, we were through with the border crossing pretty quickly. The Turkish border lady was a little perplexed for a few seconds as to which way New Zealand actually was, but we told her not to worry, from this point, we could really just go either way. We were a little afraid of the luggage inspection, because if they’d wanted to rummage through our bags, cramming our load back in would have taken a lot of time, but the guy thought a glimpse into our front bags would suffice and he let us go with a “Thank you, good bye!” The sun was going down over the horizon and it painted the roof of a mosque orange in front of us: we’ve arrived in Turkey.
We weren’t left alone on the other side either, as a trucks lined the road around 6-8 km long. I wonder how much time it took those poor guys to get across. A big racket, bustle and flickering lights welcomed us in Edirne. We were expecting to see a smaller town; instead, we found ourselves in a city with a population of 150 000. There were so many things around us, we didn’t know which way to look. We’d almost found the address we needed to go to, but the street just wouldn’t be discovered. A local guy the same age as us called Umut (meaning hope) came to our rescue and rode ahead on his motorcycle as our reconnaissance officer. And sure enough, we were fiddling around in the right place. He called our host on the phone and waited with us until they came to fetch us. Since he could speak some English, we started chatting about all worldly things in the meantime. Osman, the brother of our host came to get us and led us to the apartment. He was in his 60s, a kind man with no knowledge of English. As we spoke no Turkish, we could only communicate with our hands and legs flailing in the air, but we got by, somehow. (Before going on a world tour, it actually pays to practice on Activity, a lot!) He showed us the bathroom and our quarter and made us tea, true to Turkish traditions. We set up a new record this day cycling 133.5 km and climbing around 750m. After the usual pre-sleep activities (showering and brushing our teeth), we dozed off.
We were startled out of our dreams at dawn by the voice of the muezzin, which gave us a kick, but after realizing we are in Turkey and that there’s no problem at all, we snoozed back for a little more.