After a rough first few days we were feeling a little bit down on Turkey. It wasn’t easy riding, our maps didn’t show us what the roads were actually like, and we were exhausted from riding in the wind. We decided that we needed to find a place to stay for the night. We made a Couchsurfing profile and sent out a few requests for places to stay. We quickly got a response from Mustafa, who lives in Çorlu. Even with the late notice, he said he would be happy to host us. After our difficult ride into Çorlu (which you can read about here) we met up with Mustafa. We walked back to his apartment got changed into some clean clothes and he took us to a shopping center to get some quick food. We went to a fast food-ish restaurant to get Iskender which we both thought was delicious, but Mustafa said was only so-so as far as Iskender goes. Sorry for the lack of photos of food, we are trying but always end up eating it before remembering to take a picture. We’re improving though. We had a great night talking with Mustafa over coffee back at his house. He offered to let us stay with him a second night and we decided a rest day would be a good idea after the last few days. The next day we didn’t do very much. Slept in until noon, showered did laundry, etc. We did wander out for another delicious Turkish meal of tavuk şiş (chicken skewer) and pilav üstü döner (thinly sliced beef over Turkish rice) and tried acili ezme (which we think is the Turkish equivalent of salsa).
Most Turkish food we had has been grilled or cooked the way gyro meat is cooked, on a vertical broiler, and often served with spicy grilled peppers (which I, Haegan, love), Turkish rice (which is one of Autumn’s favorites), and bread. We began to search for a possible bus or train to Edirne which is right by the Turkish-Bulgarian border, but were thwarted by our lack of Turkish, the website’s lack of information, and the fact that all train service to Edirne has been momentarily cancelled due to construction. It was quite frustrating. That night when Mustafa got home from work he informed us that he had solved our bus problems. There are tons of buses in Turkey, but almost no timetables online. We could take a 2 hour bus to Edirne departing every 30 minutes from just 2 km down the road. Mustafa had told some of his friends that we were staying with him and, baffled by the fact that we were riding our bikes across Turkey, they wanted to come meet us. We went up the street to a restaurant and met three of his friends, Özay, another Mustafa, and Şükrü. None of them knew more than a few English phrases so Mustafa acted as translator all night.
They had a lot of questions for us, especially Şükrü, so we did our best to answer through Mustafa. It made us really wish that we knew more Turkish so that we could get to know them better, but we still had a good time, lots of laughter. They ordered food for us and soon we were eating. First we had more acili ezme with flatbread and something kind of like cheese dip. Şükrü also insisted that we try mercimek köftesi which was ok I thought but Autumn did not like at all. We also tried this strange red cabbage drink that Özay recommended. Neither of us really liked it. Cabbage juice and spices just don’t make for a drink I like. Then, after we had already eaten quite a bit, they brought out the main course. Three huge platters of lenger kebap, a combination of many different kinds of kebap. Doner, tavuk, adana, şiş köfte, and a type of köfte coated in ground lentils and fried (think corndog), to name just a few. Şükrü told us we couldn’t leave until we finished the whole platter. We tried our best, but couldn’t quite do it.
Needless to say it was all delicious, and we were stuffed. After dinner we had çay, a tea that is incredibly popular in Turkey. After that we walked over to a cafe in the downtown area to get coffee (you might be starting to notice a Turkish theme here…) Autumn got a real Turkish coffee which is very strong and I had some more çay. It was explained to us that Greeks will often claim that they invented “Turkish” coffee but that we shouldn’t listen to them, it is indeed Turkish. We also met up with some more of Mustafa’s friends at the cafe. Pembe and Ayşen who both went to university in Edirne. Ayşen spoke remarkably good English for someone who had only been studying for a year, and Pembe had recently started an English class. Once they asked, Autumn and I realized we both needed to slow down a little bit because we naturally talk pretty fast. We talked with them and showed everyone on our phones where in the United States we lived and they told us about Turkey and Edirne and about life in Turkey.
After coffee we walked to a club that usually plays live music but being that it was kind of late and a Tuesday night Mustafa’s friends had to go home to get some sleep. So Autumn, Mustafa, and I went in and listened to the DJ’s there. It was an interesting mix of remixed traditional Turkish music, dubstep/electronic and bits and pieces of American music, which Autumn and I found rather amusing. After an hour or so we headed back to Mustafa’s place to get to sleep. We talked for a bit about traveling and then said our goodbyes as Mustafa would be headed to work before we were up. We had a great time staying with Mustafa and are really happy to have gotten to know him!
Getting to Edirne ended up being remarkably simple. We packed up, rolled a few km down the road to the Otogar, stopping to grab more delicious Turkish pastries on the way, and got on one of the mid-sized buses. Cramming all our gear and bikes into the cargo space, which was no easy feat, but we managed. After a few stops at other Otogars to pick up more passengers we arrived at the Edirne Otogar, a few km outside the city. In our rush to get off the cramped bus (Autumn’s knees hit the seat in front of her and she is only 5’ 3.5” on a good day) we forgot to grab the bungee cords that hold Autumn’s sleeping bag and bedroll onto the bike. So Autumn went to find some halat (rope). She ended up on the phone with someone at the Edirne city center station who spoke English and said they would send us some on the next shuttle in 45 minutes. So we sat and waited, mad at ourselves for forgetting things, but happy with the kindness of the people we have been encountering. I decided to go get a cup of corn from a vendor (yummy and buttery) and as I crossed back to where we were waiting, I happened to see the ticket taker from our bus. I got him to come over with me to the bus and found the forgotten bungee cords! We were back in business. We got on the D-100, which is not nearly as bad in the daytime, and headed towards the city. After a few km of nice riding a car pulled over in front of us. The man who was helping Autumn at the station got out and gave us some bungee cords. We had forgotten to tell him we found ours, and he had driven 2 or 3 km to bring us some! We were once again humbled by people’s willingness to go out of their way to be helpful. Even though we didn’t need them we decided to keep the bungee cords as a sort of symbol of the hospitality we received in Turkey, and they are now decoratively wrapped around Autumn’s bags.
We stayed at the Tashan Hotel in Edirne for the two nights we were there, and it was lovely. The hotel used to be housing for employees of the Üç Şerefeli Mosque across the street.
It has a great little courtyard and our room had a nice view out over the busy little street below. As soon as we got there Emre, the manager, invited us to sit down and have coffee. (Nescafé is the staple coffee in Turkey) He told us about a few of the many great sites to see in Edirne and we talked a bit about how overwhelming Istanbul can be. While we had been on the bus Pembe had gotten in touch with a friend of hers in Edirne named Hakan to see about us meeting up with him and getting a bit of a tour. After we unpacked and relaxed a bit we went out to get dinner with Hakan and his girlfriend. After dinner we walked around to look at a few of the mosques all lit up at night and ducked inside the Selimiye Mosque for a few minutes before prayer started. The mosques are amazing at night, the minarets glowing in the dark. The Selimiye Mosque is considered one of the best examples of Ottoman style and was designed by Mimar Sinan, one of the greatest Ottoman architects. It is considered his masterpiece. We agreed with Hakan to meet up at 10:00 the next morning for a tour around the city. As we found out over dinner Hakan is actually a professional tour guide and owner of Edirne Tourism. When Hakan arrived we were talking with Emre and he invited Hakan to join us for another cup of coffee (I had already had 2 cups of çay with breakfast, try to keep count) They talked for a bit in Turkish, very quickly I might add, and we headed off to see Edirne with Hakan. Our first stop was the ruins of an old Ottoman tower and even older city walls dating back to Adrianople, about 2000 years ago. Inside the wall are three pottery oven pits of around the same age. It’s incredible to stand next to something and know that what you are seeing has been seen by people for 2000 years. The other incredible thing about these ruins are the fact that they are just sitting right in the middle of a city. Just go through a little gate and you’re walking among ancient ruins.
After the ruins we caught a bus across town to the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II Health Museum, which is a part of the Trakya University. The complex was built in 1488 and housed a mosque, and a soup kitchen, but more importantly one of the most significant hospitals and medical schools of the time. Over time the hospital became focused on psychiatry. As early as the 1500’s the hospital was using sensory therapy including music, water sounds and aromatics to treat patients with mental illness as well as using occupational therapy. Pretty forward thinking for a time when bleeding people as a cure was common in Europe. The complex has now been restored and turned into a health museum about the time period. The different rooms contain realistic dioramas and decor to show how they were used. We toured around both the hospital and medical school for a while before getting another coffee with a professor of Hakan’s on the way out. I could write pages about each of the places we saw but I’ll try to keep it reasonable and let the pictures do some of the work.
Next we walked by a Greek synagogue that we couldn’t go in because it is in the process of being restored.
We walked out to the edge of town to check out the old bridges across two of the three rivers around Edirne and saw where the sultans would go to watch the sunrise.
At both bridges the water was quite high and covering the road at the bridge, Hakan explained this happens regularly in the spring because of a dam that is let out up river. We had to hitch a ride through the giant puddles both ways. We met up with Hakan’s business partner and friend, Tolga, and drove up to the hill overlooking Edirne to go to the Balkans War Museum. The bunkers from the war are now an exhibit showcasing artifacts from the war as well as photos and and strategic information.
Later, Hakan and Tolga took us to meet their friend who works at Arslanzade, a local candy store where they make stuff like marzipan, cookies, turkish delight, and lots more. While we waited for Recep we were offered tea and coffee again, to which we obliged and also tried a few of their products including some authentic turkish delight. After coffee we got to go downstairs to see where they make everything. Recep told us that they make up to 150,000 boxes of candy every day! We even got to taste a fresh batch of cookies as they came out of the oven. On our way out Recep gave us a few boxes to fortify us while we ride which we are eating as I write this! We headed from there to The Old Mosque. The Old Mosque is a fairly small mosque as Ottoman mosques go, but of all the ones we have seen it is my favorite. Inside there is large calligraphy on the walls over 8 feet high and the ceiling paintings are some of the most intricate we have seen. The 9 domed mosque is very colorful and everywhere you look is amazing art and craftsmanship.
After all that it was time to get some lunch (sorry, forgot the pictures) but we got chicken doner sandwiches with spicy peppers that were wonderful. We also tried Ayran which is a drink that is basically watery yogurt, it was ok. After lunch we walked by The Old Mosque Bazaar where Hakan seemed to know everyone. One of the vendors outside gave us Ottoman sugar which is melted colored sugar wrapped around a stick and rubbed in lemon juice. I liked those a lot.
After walking through the bazaar Hakan and Tolga had to head to a meeting so we said our goodbyes and thanked them for the amazing tour. It was a pretty non-stop day so we just wandered around, bought some snacks and wrote a few postcards before being invited to eat homemade lentil soup with Emre and his girlfriend. A great example of the wonderful hospitality we have found in Turkey: Emre said we should just try it, but then insisted on me “trying” three full bowls with bread and cheese.
Although we had a rough start, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Turkey. It may not be the best place to start your first bike tour, but the amazingly generous people and awe-inspiring history made it well worth it. A special thank you to our hosts who made our time in Turkey so memorable. We’re excited to come back someday and explore the rest if the country. Know that if you ever have a chance to come to the states, you have a place to stay.
Note from Autumn: First, I’m 5’4″ on any day, even if Haegan doesn’t believe me.
It was my idea to start the trip in Istanbul, and when we’re riding those miserable days I seriously regretted pushing for Istanbul. Once we got to Çorlu though, as Haegan said, it all became worth it because they people we met were so great. I loved the history of Edirne, and I loved the conversations we had with each of our hosts.