Haegan: The first few days after we left Istanbul were a really mixed bag. We saw some cool stuff but a lot of it was very stressful and difficult. We hadn’t planned as well as we should have and didn’t know exactly what riding in Turkey was going to be like. One of our biggest issues was with getting started late and ending up riding or trying to find somewhere to stay after dark. But at this point we have learned a lot about what we need to do in the future to prevent more of the really hard days we had to deal with. Turkey is not the easiest country to do your first real days of touring in, but we survived and things can only go up from here. We hope.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
We left Istanbul after spending just one full day in the city. Although we didn’t stay long, we both felt it was enough. The history of the city is amazing but being there is very overwhelming. It makes New York City seem calm and organized. In the morning we took a ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul and toured around for a few hours to see a bit more before we left. It was a slightly calmer than the Old City and fewer people spoke English. It was fun to wander around the streets and look in all the shops. We got lunch at little cafeteria style restaurant where we accidently tried liver. When we were selecting our food Haegan asked about a dish that looked like little pieces of beef and potato. The man pointed just below his rib cage to indicate the type of meat and before I could warn Haegan, he popped the piece of liver in his mouth. Oops. I knew I didn’t like liver but felt obligated to try because it was being offered. We ended up ordering a dish that had kofte (spiced Turkish meatball) with mashed potatoes and melted cheese. It was sitting in a pool of grease and sounded amazing.
t was, but only for a few bites. We were both overwhelmed by the density of the dish and only ate half. After lunch we headed back to our hostel to pack up our bags. After packing up and saying goodbye to the folks at the hostel, we made our way to the bridge to cross over to the new city.
I did not realize until we were leaving the hostel that Haegan was planning to ride through the city. I refused to ride from the hostel to the bridge as the streets were cobblestones, steep, and not at all straight. We walked our bikes through the crowded streets and I started to panic as I realized that eventually I would have to get on my bike and ride through the busy streets. Before getting on the bridge we got on our bikes and I nearly broke down. The car came so close and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the traffic. We missed our turn for the bridge and had to backtrack to walk across the bridge. There were many people fishing from the bridge and most had pretty full buckets of fish. Once we crossed the bridge I felt okay getting on the road, but still nervous. Once we started riding I realized that I really had nothing to worry about. It was so crowded that the cars were barely moving, and because driving in Istanbul is nuts, the drivers are much more aware of what’s happening around them. So it wasn’t bad. We made it out the city and rode along the coast. It was pretty windy but the ocean was nice and I was feeling a lot better about riding. Sometime when we were riding along the coast Haegan realized we left our towels at the hostel. It was silly oversight and annoying because they were nice quick drying towels. Lost item number one of our trip. It started getting dark and we decided to buy some groceries for our dinner that night. We stopped at a little market and Haegan went to the ATM to get cash. He realized that his debit card was gone. We tried to figure out where it had gone and could only conclude that it had fallen out of his pocket at some point. (Fastforward a bit: we never found the card but it has been cancelled, no funds were lost.) So, lost item number two. Thankfully I still had my card so we were still able to get cash and buy groceries. It was very dark by this point so we decided to start looking for a place to camp. We passed a bunch of places that looked like country clubs, and we decided that if we couldn’t find a place to camp we would come back and ask the staff at the club. We came to an aquaduct and noticed a fire station across the road. We had read in blogs that other people touring would ask at police stations and other public service building so we decided to give it a try. One of the firemen spoke English but he had just moved to the area so he didn’t know where we could camp. He told us to go to the market up the street and ask there, they might be able to help us. We didn’t find the market but we did find a high end bike shop where the owner directed us to a public forest. The forest was just down the road from the shop. The guards at the forest did not speak English but we managed to communicate with translation apps on our phones. The told us that camping was normally prohibited but they would let us camp in one of the picnic areas. We were very grateful and began to set up camp. I would like to note here that once we left Istanbul we noticed it was pretty windy. We figured it was from the ocean, the water looked pretty choppy. The wind continued even as we left the coast but it wasn’t terribly strong. When we were setting up the tent we started to really noticed the wind as it was difficult the set up the tent and our helmets kept getting blown off the table. Haegan got started on dinner and he realized that a few of the things he bought weren’t what he thought. The rice was actually long grain bulgur (apparently Turks love bulgur based on the number of varieties in the store – we checked later) and the “zucchini” was actually a cucumber. So we had an interesting meal of unidentified grain (we weren’t sure what it was at the time), red peppers, onion, and salt and pepper courtesy of Lufthansa Airlines. Camping food at its finest. While we were making dinner and eating, a group of cats started gathering around our table. It was dark so I’m not sure of the total, but I think there were at least six cats hanging around our table. I guess stray cats aren’t just in Istanbul. We cleaned up and headed to bed. The tent was noisy from the wind but we were both exhausted and slept soundly.
Sunday, March 8, 2015
I set our the alarm for 7:30, and that ended up being a smart move. Around 7:45 we heard a voice and footsteps around our tent. The night before when Haegan was talking to the guards I wondered if there would any miscommunication about our camping in the picnic area. Turns out there was. We couldn’t understand the man walking around our tent but we could imagine he was telling us we weren’t supposed to be camping. We got up as quickly as we could as started packing up. One of the guards from the night before came to the site and watched as we packed everything up. Neither of the guards were mean or impatient, they were actually very nice about the whole thing and we were just happy to have had a place to sleep. In our packing we discovered our tent bag was missing, it must have blown away in the wind. Lost item number three. Getting kicked out of the site got us an earlier start than we had planned but in retrospect, that was probably for the best. As we rode out we got to see the forest, it was beautiful and had tons of picnic tables. We found out later that Turkish people absolutely love picnics, but apparently aren’t so enthusiastic about camping. We went into town and found a cafe with pastries and coffee. The owner didn’t speak a lot of English but we had no problem communicating with him. Haegan got another simit (thin sesame bagel), and I got a croissant type pasty with sesames on top. It was amazing. We also had coffee, which we’ve found in Turkey that normal coffee is usually Nescafe… and it’s awesome. Haegan, who isn’t much a coffee drinker, likes it especially. We sat and Haegan figured out the route while I watched Turkish music videos. It was a tough job. We left around 9:30 and got started on our route which we hoped would take us to Çatalca, Turkey. We passed at least 5 or 6 areas that were just for picnics, table after table, some even had little huts. We figured that if all 15 million people in Istanbul decided to go on a picnic on the same weekend, there’d be space. After the picnic areas we came to a modern suburban area, which was nice because it had a bike lane. We came to another aquaduct and passed underneath.
We rode parallel to a highway and at one point were very close to what looked like a giant pit for trash. We figured it was probably one of Istanbul’s dumps. It smelled horrible. As we continued to ride through the area towards Çatalca, we realized that Istanbul has sucked all the resources from the surrounding area. We named this area Not Istanbul. It’s not a very scenic area, there is a lot of trash, a lot of fields, and a lot of trucks. Not long after we passed the dump, we were passed by a few trucks. I started counting after a while and in a span of about 10 minutes we were passed by at least 15 trucks. They were big dump trucks and we figured they were all heading to the same place. We rode among the trucks and noticed that they were turning around to get in line to enter the dumping/loading area. It was complete chaos. The trucks were two wide on each side and turned around pretty much wherever and whenever they could with little warning. Thankfully everyone was going slowly so Haegan and I quickly weaved our way out the mess. Normally, something like that would have made me very nervous, but because we just ended up in the middle without knowing what was happening, I didn’t have time to be nervous. I just had to focus on getting out without getting squashed. I know it sounds very scary (sorry Mum and Dad) but it truly wasn’t all that bad, just bizarre.
After the trucks we rode through a small city and after we found ourselves surrounded by farm fields. In the distance we could see many wind turbines and could still feel a pretty strong wind. It was nothing we couldn’t manage, just a little frustrating at times and made hills even more difficult. We were heading to Nakkas, a small town we saw on the map that we thought about spending the night or maybe just to get some food. The views were nice, although grey, and the wind remained constant. When I stopped to eat an orange (which was absolutely amazing), a woman stopped and talked to us. She only spoke Turkish so the only thing we were really able to tell her was that we were Americans and we were headed to Nakkas. She seemed very nice and I wished we could have been able to talk more with her. It’s been kind of strange to say I’m from America. Once we got to Turkey though we realized that people did not understand if we said we were from the United States, but quickly understood if we said we’re from America. Anyway, we kept riding ended up on the a dirt road and then found ourselves in Nakkas. Going from Istanbul to Nakkas was bizarre. It felt as though we were in a totally undeveloped country. It was a tiny farming village with shepherds and carts full of animal innards. So we left pretty quickly after indicating we were going to Çatalca, some boys pointed the direction we should go. After leaving Nakkas is when the wind started to get really bad. As we rode up a long hill there were gusts of wind that move me across the road into the other lane. The wind was strong enough to move me, my bike, and all my stuff, about 170 pounds in all, over about 6 feet. I was using all my strength to not end up in the oncoming lane. Haegan figures the gusts were about 35 miles an hour. So I got off my bike and walked. Even though walking on the side of the road was not super safe, it was better than losing control of my bike. Eventually we turned and had a nice tail wind for a while. About a mile out of Çatalca, I started to bonk. I had no energy left and we had climb a pretty steep hill before entering Çatalca. Fortunately, at the top of the hill there was a pizza place, which was exactly what we needed. I felt much better after the pizza (we didn’t know what we ordered but it was delicious). There were no hotels in Çatalca so while we were at the pizza place we booked a hotel in Kamburgaz, Turkey about 10 miles away, on the coast. This was a little daunting for me. Ten miles isn’t far, especially on a bike, but we had already ridden nearly 40 long, hilly and windy miles. My legs were tired and I was ready to be off my bike. We started off and found ourselves on a pretty worn road with nice farmhouses. The wind wasn’t as bad anymore. We both started getting a little worried that the hotel we had booked was scam because we couldn’t see any sign of a coast. The roads on the map were barely existent dirt roads and the street signs were either missing or didn’t match our map. The coast finally came into view and we made one of our last turns. We turned onto a dirt road and had the wind blowing to our left. The dirt road was deeply rutted and the wind made it very difficult for me to keep my balance. After a gust of wind that caused me to lose my balance, I had to stop. I had kept pretty good spirits until this point when I finally broke down. We had been on the road for nearly 6 hours, the wind was absolutely ridiculous, and the road was near impossible to ride on. I don’t know how many times said “absurd”, but it was a lot, and at this point the absurdity of the day beat me. Haegan calmed me down enough start riding again and not long after we made it to Kumburgaz. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to see the ocean.
We made to the hotel, which was very nice for the amount we paid for it. After a shower and clean clothes I felt much better, though very tired. Despite being so tired we got to talk with both our families and made plans for the next day. We reorganized our stuff and inhaled a giant plate of spaghetti, chicken kebab, and a basket of bread. We decided to ride to Çorlu the next day after finding someone to stay with on CouchSurfing.
Monday, March 9, 2015
We woke still tired and went down to get breakfast in the hotel restaurant (no extra charge). We went back to our room and slept a little longer, which was a bad idea looking back. Something we definitely need to work on is getting started on our bikes earlier. I’ll tell you more in a bit. I went to the market down the street to get snacks for the day. I picked out a few candy bars I’d never seen before and some oranges. When I was in the market I noticed the huge selection rice and bulgur and many types of cheeses. Oreos and Snickers are very popular in Turkey which I found interesting. Haegan and I got started on our bikes and were going at decent pace in the very beginning. We rode parallel to the D.100 which is a trunk road (a small highway). A few times we got lost in residential areas but we weren’t too worried because we didn’t have far to go to get to Çorlu. We got Silivri in good time and found ourselves in a medium sized pop up market. We parked our bikes and immediately an old man came up and tried to talk to us. A little while after a boy about six or seven years old came up and looked at our bikes. I told him we were American and responded with, “Ah! American!” and laughed. His response tickled me and I once again wished I knew Turkish. We walked our bikes through the market and then rode through Silivri. It was riding through Silivri that I realized that the chaos of the cities that had scared me before was now slightly comforting. After riding in the middle of nowhere for most the day before I welcomed the random and chaotic city streets. After Silivri is when things started going downhill (not literally). Haegan was doing his best with navigation but the map rarely matched the actual streets. We came to a residential area where the map showed a road that would take us to the coast. The road seemed to just be a path made by trucks for construction. We found a dirt road that looked like it might take us near the coast. It was deeply rutted and I had to walk most of it. nce we got to the end, we met a guard who told us we had to go back. Apparently the road was private property and so was the neighborhood at the end of it. I was getting a little frustrated but I knew Haegan was doing his best. Getting off track a few times set us back significantly with time and the navigation never really got much easier. We crossed over the highway to start moving north of the coast. We ended up on another dirt road, this one uphill with more wind. Not as bad as the day before, but still an added challenge. Still tired from the day before, and discouraged, I broke down much sooner. I was frustrated that navigation was so difficult, that we kept running into rutted dirt roads, we were not going to make it to Çorlu before dark, and we were truly in the middle of nowhere. n one of the dirt roads Haegan hit a loose section of gravel and fell. When that happened I really started to get nervous. He’s supposed to be the steady one, he’s stronger and much better at riding. I started to realize that if something happened while we were riding out there, we’d be in big trouble. I kept running the emergency number through my head, it became a little chant as we rode. We realized that best chance for getting to Çorlu was to ride on the D.100. It’s not a terribly busy highway, there are stoplights every once and a while, but it’s still a highway with buses and trucks and many of them don’t give a lot of space. When got on the D.100 my nerves caused me to pick up the pace and I was going at a good speed until I started to bonk. We barely ate that day, second bad decision after waking up late. We stopped at gas station and I ate the rest of our crackers. My biking gloves had caused me to lose feeling in my right thumb and I was started to get cold. We got back on the highway and suddenly all my energy was gone. I couldn’t stop crying and Haegan had to keep insisting I pick up the pace so we could get off the highway. It was bad, probably the most miserable I’ve ever been riding. My entire body hurt and it upset me that Haegan kept telling me to go faster when I felt I was going as fast as I could. I was also scared. Every truck or bus that passed too close caused me to panic. Even at the time though I could tell he was very stressed and just wanted us to be able to get off the D.100 as soon as we could. About two miles before Çorlu I noticed Haegan’s bags were falling off his bike. We pulled off and he realized his bag had broke. It was now impossible for him to go over any bump without his bags falling off the rear rack. We finally got off the D.100 and found ourselves at a four way stop, with no stop signs or lights. This is probably the best example of Turkish roads to explain the complete chaos of riding in the city. It was bizarre to watch as no one was hit, there were no accidents. It also made it completely impossible to go where we needed to go. After a bit of maneuvering, we made it through. We got to the Çorlu city center and found Mustafa, who had kindly offered to host us on CouchSurfing. We seriously lucked out. After the death march to Çorlu, Mustafa took us for dinner, gave us a place to sleep, and taught us some Turkish. We’ll tell you more about Mustafa and our stay with him in the next post.