Tag Archives: Turkey

Turkish Delightful

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).

We really liked Turkish food

 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.

Dinner with Mustafa’s friends

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.

So. Much. Food.

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.  

9:30? Perfect time for coffee!

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. 

Right across the street from the hotel.

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. 

Looking dorky in front of old stuff, our specialty.

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.

Always making weird faces
Ceiling of the platform
Flooding all around the rivers, a regular occurrence
In the bunkers
Leading down to a bunker for soliders
They were all sunk very low into the hillside
You can see Greece and Bulgaria in this picture. And two weird teenagers…
All men in Turkey have to serve in the military for at least 6 months. (unless you pay to get out of the obligation)

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. 

Dorky.
Dorky.
The ceiling of the platform
The ceiling of the platform

 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. 

The bunkers
The bunkers
They were all sunk deep into the hillside
They were all sunk deep into the hillside
Leading down to a bunker
Leading down to a bunker
If you are a Turkish man you must serve in the army for at least 6 months
If you are a Turkish man you must serve in the army for at least 6 months
In this photo you can see Greece and Bulgaria. And two weird teenagers...
In this photo you can see Greece and Bulgaria. And two weird teenagers…
Ottoman Sugar


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. 
 

Ottoman Sugar
Ottoman Sugar

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.

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The Adventure Begins

Autumn: We did it! We made it to Istanbul! Our adventure has finally begun after months of anticipation. Both our flights went smoothly, we had no problems with our hour long layover in Frankfurt. We even had time to scope out the airport Haribo selection. We had no luck sleeping on our first flight but managed in a short nap on the flight to Istanbul. Once we got to the airport the chaos began with trying to find the right passport control station. It was pretty simple getting to the baggage claim, but we had a quite a time getting all four of our boxes. Haegan’s box broke and he thought he’d lost one of his shoes. Thankfully all pieces were present and intact when we opened the boxes. We had tough time with the carts, first finding carts and then getting new carts when our first was taken when we weren’t paying attention. Once we got outside the first thing that hit me was the number of people smoking. It seemed as though every person waiting for a taxi was smoking, something I am not used to in the States. Haegan assembled the bikes in good time the taxi waiting area. We loaded up the bikes and set out in search of the tram. We managed to get on the right tram but got off a stop too late. We redirected ourselves, but when it came to train line change, we decided to walk instead of ride. Rush hour had begun and we realized there was no way we would be able to fit with our bikes on the tram. The decision to walk was a good idea, the actual walking was a little difficult. We walked nearly two miles uphill through pedestrian (and vehicle) packed sidewalks with our 50-60 pound loaded bikes. Once we got to the hostel we were warmly greeted by the staff and other travelers. We got settled and then ventured out to find food. Once we walked out of the hostel we realized just how close to Hagia Sofia the hostel is. We ate at what seemed like the Turkish equivalent of a diner, it was fairly similar to Mediterranean food. After dinner we were completely exhausted, but managed to stay up a few more hours to get adjusted to the time change. I was thinking today about doing things like navigating the trains is much more of a process here because we don’t know the language. It is not impossible, or really even that difficult, it just takes more time and concentration, and it’s lot easier to mess up. Overall, yesterday went pretty smoothly and I’m so glad to be here. Starting in Istanbul was definitely jumping in the deep end, but we’ve had a great time.

Haegan: Day one of crazy sightseeing. So much to see, so little time (and money). I’ll try to do a quick recap of the whole day. We got breakfast at the hostel (bread, dried apricot, and apricot for me) and set off to see as much as we possibly could. We started off with (what else but) the Hagia Sofia (30 turkish lira) or Ayasophia as it is also known. It’s everything you would expect and then some.

The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia from the balcony level
Hagia Sophia from the balcony level

1700 years of history makes for a pretty amazing place. We saw ruins of the second church (of three) from the mid 400’s as well as the current Hagia Sophia and the tombs in the same complex. I don’t really know how to put it into words. The artistry and the engineering are both incredible. The main dome is over 56 meters across and standing in the main prayer area the building is overwhelming. There is so much space and so much happening visually that it takes a long time to take it all in. The mosaics in every building we went to see are amazing: thousands of tiles making up murals that once stood over 10 feet high. Although a lot hasn’t survived the 100’s of years, an amazing amount has and the preservation efforts have kept the mosques bright and colorful. In the same complex there were four or five tombs of sultans and other royalty, each with their own feel and tons of great artwork. All of the buildings constructed by sultans have a similar domed roof style and lots of arches/intricate masonry work. After that we decided to grab some food. We had bagels from a street vendor for one turkish lira I got a thin crispy seasame bagel and Autumn got a bagel with nutella for two turkish lira (40 cents and 80 cents) and then went to a little restaurant to grab some kotfe which are like meatballs, they were served with rice, vegetables, and some garnish. They were quite tasty. At the restaurant we met a guy from Texas with his girlfriend from Prague and chatted a bit about our trips. He gave a great overview along with a map of what they were doing while they are here which prompted us to add a few things to the day’s plans. Fortified we set off again. First the Blue Mosque: It was a little different because the Hagia Sofia is a museum, but the Blue Mosque is an active mosque. That means people are in and out five times a day with the call to prayer. During prayer it is closed to the public and because it is an active mosque there are fewer visitors, and a few more rules. All it meant for us was that Autumn had to cover her head and we had to remove our shoes before entering.

stained glass in the blue mosque
Stained glass in the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque was about the close for prayer when we got in so we didn’t stay very long but similar impressions to the Hagia Sofia but without in-progress restoration as everything was already in great shape because the Blue Mosque is in much newer (early 1600s…hardly new). From the Blue Mosque we headed straight to the Basilica Cistern. There’s a fairly small and unassuming building where you buy tickets, 20 turkish lira each, and go through a metal detector before heading down the stairs. As we found out, a cistern is a holding place for water brought in via aquaduct. This cistern was built for the Great Palace of Constantinople in the 6th century. It’s dark with ilumination coming only from lights the bottoms of the columns. Along with the two foot deep water on the bottom it has a very cool eerie feel to it. The cistern was built from recycled columns from other buildings so they are kind of random and different from one another. At one end there are two Medusa heads supporting two columns, one sideways and other upside down.

Medusa Head
Medusa Head

There is also a column called Hen’s Eye with eyes and tears carved into it, supposedly to recognize the slaves who died in the building of the cistern. From there we caught a tram (a light rail system runs through the streets of Istanbul) to the Suleymaine Mosque. All the public transit we’ve been on the has been awesome, every 5-7 minutes and only costs 4 turkish lira (about $1.60) but the downside is they are always packed! No space to even breathe. The Suleymaine Mosque is visited by fewer tourists than the Blue Mosque but equally if not more intricate and beautiful. I really liked the fact that is was less busy and with no line to get in. They layout was remarkably similar.

Another intricate dome
Another intricate dome
Autumn checking out the mosque
Autumn checking out the mosque
The Suleymaine Mosque
The Suleymaine Mosque

We decided to squeeze one more site into our already full day and set off in search of the Grand Bazaar. After wandering through small, steep, winding roads that we are now becoming used to, we got to the area outside the Bazaar which is packed with shops, some only about 5 square feet of space for the shopkeeper to occupy, goods spilling out everywhere. We saw hundreds of fabric shops with anything you can think of and then ended up on a whole street of lingerie before finding our way into the Baazar. Imagine a mall in a building over 500 years old. The inside is just as hilly as the streets outside and even more packed. People are smoking everywhere and some parts are pretty dimly lit. It was overwhelming to say the least.

the grand bazaar
The Grand Bazaar

We finished the day up with some awesome Turkish pizza from around the corner from our hostel. While I’ve been writing this post we met some cool people staying at the hostel, au pairs from Austria and Peace Corps members from Moldova here in their time off. In the first two, days here a few things have stood out to me. One was seeing police standing around with fully automatic weapons, Autumn pointed out how many cats are always wandering in the streets here, and realizing how different it is to be somewhere with a very different language. Getting used to not understanding much of anything said around you and not being able to read most signs is pretty strange. One thing that has made the whole experience so much easier is how kind everyone has been. Even though sometimes people have no idea what we are saying and we are just as confused, people have been very helpful. After someone took our luggage cart when we looked away, an airport attendant got us two new ones for free. When we got lost on the trains a nice man explained in the English he knew how to get where we needed to go and the security at the train stations let us take our bikes on board even though they weren’t really supposed to. So far it’s been amazing and I can speak for us both in saying it has been a great way to start the trip.