Birthday Visit Weekend!

Eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited: finally the day came for Kathi’s and Wolfgang’s arrival to celebrate our upcoming 30th twin birthday! After crossing Istanbul’s numerous hills for the third time now to change for our new common apartment we went to the airport to finally enfold them in our arms and also shed one or two tears 😉

Turkish Lunch
Turkish Lunch

The “taksi” drive back was a really special experience in itself and showed us one again that the level of insanity of the ordinary Turkish driver should not be underestimated. Another nasty surprise was awaiting us when we came back to the hotel: due to a breakdown of the local water supply the whole quarter had no water for an indefinite period of time.

cay time
cay time

We made the best out of the situation and directly visited the famous and indeed impressive Blue Mosque & Spice Market and arrived just in time at the Galata Bridge for enjoying a golden sunset behind the hills of Istanbul and another delicious excursion to the fish-market, yum-yum 🙂 By the time we came back to our apartment water was back again, unfortunately not only was it coming out of the shower but also the wall setting the whole kitchen under water! What would life be without surprises?

cistern
Basilica Cistern
Hagia Sophia 2
Hagia Sophia 2

We spent the next days visiting (nearly) all of Istanbul’s great architectural and cultural highlights but took also time for various side trips to the extraordinary Turkish cuisine, a relaxing morning in a traditional Hamam (a truly unique and unforgettable experience) and some extensive sister-chatting.

cartoon baggage handler

The day when they had to leave came far too fast and in exchange of all the wonderful things they brought us from home we managed to get rid of almost 10kg of luggage including Gui’s big camera – he is missing it already – and our trailer (which has turned out to be quite bulky on narrow roads and made the bike handling much more complicated)! Thanks to Wolfgang’s artistic drawing skills everything arrived home without the slightest damage 🙂 We had a great time together in Istanbul and it was the best birthday present ever to especially come to visit us here for celebrating, thank you sooo much little sister!

Istanbul, Part I

Right on our first days in Istanbul we got started doing all the paper work for our upcoming visa applications. After applying online with an agency for our Iranian visa we headed early in the morning to the other end of the city to queue up in front of the Uzbekistan consulate. Unfortunately the guard at the door was unable or not willing to understand a word of English but somehow we figured out to put our names on a grubby paper list on the gate and sat down prepared for a long waiting time. After a couple of hours another guy showed up and based on his lightly lost facial expression and his pale backs of his hands it was obvious that we just met our first cycle companion!
Nick from Great Britain is also on the way to China by sharing biker stories time was passing by fast, when two other cycling couples from Switzerland showed up! Suddenly the boring and annoying waiting time turned into a rewarding and amusing exchange of experiences 🙂

After we were eventually allowed to squeeze our application forms through a tiny, metal-grilled window into the hands of an ill-tempered and daunting officer (10 working days process time, it’s not required to let the passports), we decided to make this visa-day complete by accompanying Nick to the Tajikistan embassy at the opposite end of Istanbul. Nearly 1.5h sweetening hours later, cooped up in a packed bus, we had the pleasure to experience the complete opposite visa application procedure when we entered the Tajikistan embassy: the door guard was snoozing with his crocks shod feet up in front of a TV, languidly signaling us to pass, the employees were friendly and happy to welcome foreigners to their country and embassy. They were even close to serve us tea while we were waiting in comfortable leather chairs in a perfectly tempered room and half an hour later we had our first visa sticker in our passports! Time to celebrate this successful day with more chai and the best cheese-cake of our life 🙂

Fish & Nick
Fish & Nick

Thanks to Nick we also discovered our favorite dinner AND lunch place for the next couple of days: the fish-market! The fish sandwiches there were as cheap as delicious and Martina was happy to hoover up tons of these little fried sardines several days in a row 🙂

big bicycle service guy
big bike service guy

Together with our new bike friend we also explored the deeps of Istanbul’s bicycle shop district where they sell and repair everything, except the one little thing you were looking for 😉 It was exactly on this day that we had our first technical incident since the beginning of our trip when on the way home – after we had spent nearly the whole day in hundreds of bike shops – Martina’s chain all in a sudden broke – bad karma or sabotage?


Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque 1
Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque

But as always, nothing happens without reason. This unplanned interruption made us stop directly in front of a mosque they were about to close but a few people were still stepping out after their evening prayers. When we asked if we could have a quick look inside the Imam himself switched on all the lights for us again and showed us around not without several hints what we must not forget to take pictures of. To our question for the meaning of the artistic calligraphies all along the walls he answered by singing them for us since this is the only proper way to express their message. It was a truly magical and intense experience far from the typical touristic sightseeing visits.

Alexandropolis – Istanbul

Unlike Thessaloniki, Alexandropolis was a surprising nice city and we enjoyed a little ride in the center the next morning before leaving the last big Greek town on our way behind us and making a start on the last 40km before the border crossing. The constantly strong headwind made these last kilometers, that were leading on a busy road through boring and desolate rolling hills, quite a challenge.

good bye GreeceAfter spending all our remaining European roaming credit for a last call home , we eventually said Goodbye to this wonderful country that welcomed us with so much hospitality and unforgettable scenery and rolled through no-man’s-land to the Turkish border. The border crossing went without any troubles and soon we set foot on Turkish ground for the first time.

Since we had read a lot of negative reports about approaching Istanbul by bike we were already thinking about taking a train or bus at the next big city. When we then saw an empty truck passing by right after the customs check we didn’t think twice, stopped him with friendly but determined waving and asked for his destination. In broken German we figured out that he is on the way to Istanbul and open for the idea of giving us a ride 🙂 For Martina it was even a premiere since she has never been in a truck cabin before!

Ready to Load
Ready to Load

After the first 50km it was already clear that we took the right decision: the roads were crowed with speeding trucks and the service lane, our only hope to survive on this express way, was regularly used to avoid one of the hundreds of knee-deep potholes.

The driver, who was working all over Europe in the last 20 years, was really friendly and took us to several gas stations to proudly show off with us in front of his colleagues while serving us our first Turkish Chai. Late after midnight we were finally approaching Istanbul where, according to the driver, Istanbul’s traffic “lunapark” begins… Like all the others, he started to drive his 33 tons truck like a go-kart, constantly changing lanes wherever a little hole in the traffic jam opens, forcing his way with deafening honking and Turkish cursing. Clearly there was no time for discussing our exit point and before we knew what’s going on, we crossed the Bosphorus and were just able to sneak a glimpse on the sign “Welcome to Asia”. Slightly concerned about this rapid development, we tried to encourage him to drop us at the next highway exit. When he vehemently refused we started to feel more than a little queasy. He rejects all our further suggested dropping points with “no good, no hotel, no problem” and we slowly figured out that he intends to bring us to his company’s parking place. When we finally reached the garage after crossing a labyrinth of suburb alleys that took all the pitiful remains of our sense of direction he explained us in his broken German: “sleep here, ferry tomorrow”. Undoubtedly he had the best intentions and he actually was a trustworthy person but nevertheless the whole situation gave us a weird and creepy feeling. But without any choice, in the middle of nowhere at 3 o’clock in the morning, we came to terms with our inevitable fate and got ready for sharing an uncomfortable and sleepless night in the truck cabin.

helping truck driverThe next morning the whole crew – together with the smell of gasoline and old motor oil – welcomed us warmly with sweet chai and incredulous questions about our trip. After serving as an attraction for several hours our kind truck driver organized a pickup to load our bikes on and did not miss the chance to bring us to the next ferry port himself.

europe to asiaWithin no time the next boat brought us to our first big destination in Turkey: Istanbul, the door of Persia, historical and legendary melting pot between Europe and Asia!

 

 

 

Thassos – Alexandropolis

After 6 days of enjoying a hard earned break on Thassos we already started to miss our bikes. Unfortunately the morning we decided to leave the island, heavy rain was awaiting us and after 1km we realized that it makes no sense to continue under this conditions. So we postponed our departure while waiting in an internet café for the cloudburst to stop. Several hours later than planned we eventually reached the mainland and made some kilometers before stopping in the garden of a – luckily abandoned – hell’s angel biker bar.

dragonflyThe next morning compensated for the terrible night full of barking dogs that sounded like they were surrounding our tent, with golden sunshine and hundreds of colorful dragonflies that were collecting dew drops on the high grass around our tent.

On our way east heading direction Alexandropolis we encountered a really peculiar but friendly old farmer who was more than thrilled to practice his English, one among many hobbies as he explained us – several times – in detail. And when he found out that Gui is a photographer (his second biggest hobby, although he forgot how to put a film role in his antiquated camera) and had the pleasure to enjoy a private little juggling show, he was all aflutter. After ensuring us that this was the best day of his life and promising to write us an undoubtedly several pages strong letter we continued our way on the dry and from the heat shimmering road.

DCIM100GOPRO
Natural Thermal Springs

Like always, it was Gui with his seventh sense who found the rusty old sign that was promising a close-by natural thermal spring and without hesitating we made the detour even though we had doubts about the substance behind this signpost. What was awaiting us at the end of the bad road was more than a little bit creepy: Several ruinous buildings containing abandoned, formerly rich furnished, holiday apartments with broken windows and demolished doors. Everything gave the impression that people fled this place in a hurry like in one of these post-nuclear apocalypse movies. We were already about to leave when we saw a parking car next to a less dilapidated house at the end of the apartment complex. Miraculously one of the thermal basin there was still intact and we could spend an hour in a 41° hot, rost discolored but still really relaxing bath.

DCIM100GOPRO
Austrian Lunch

The next days we followed small roads along the coast facing minor troubles like nonexistent bridges and not yet reconstructed streets that were victim of the unusual heavy winter storms. One of this missing links forced us to climb one of the high mountains there that are slanting towards the sea into steep cliffs – a first time coming from the west and when reaching the valley floor a second time following the natives’ advice from the east. Totally pumped out after reaching the top – again – it was time for changing the GoPro battery when we coincidentally spotted an Austrian numberplate in the driveway right next to us. The hospitable and enthusiastic Austrian owners of the car that were living in this elaborately restored old farmhouse, directly offered us a cold beer as they do with all the passing by bikers and even shared their delicious lunch composed of “Schweinshaxen” and Greek delicacies with us.

DCIM100GOPRO
Road or River Bed?

This warm and open-hearted encounter refilled our batteries and gave us the power to afterwards push our bikes through 5km of more or less dry creek bed and uphill the last ascents before finally reaching Alexandropolis at sunset.

Meteora – Thassos

wWe left Meteora for our next stage goal: Mount Olymp. On the way we reached the sea again when we arrived at a totally empty campground close to Letochoro at the foot of the legendary Mount Olymp.olymp goddessWe took a day off for climbing this impressive peak. Since it would be too long to hike it in one day we tried our luck to hitchhike a part and it didn’t take long until a kind Russian couple gave us a lift. Together with them we made the complete orthodox sightseeing tour and visited elaborately restored monasteries and various great viewpoints on our way up to the entry of the Olymp nature reserve.

Up there between narrow gorges, rapid mountain streams and blooming meadows the mysticism of this extraordinary place really spread on us and when a single sun ray broke through the veil of mist it was the right moment to make a promise for our common future under the blessing of the ancient gods.

 

bless

Due to the snow masses that are still covering most of the higher parts it was impossible to reach the peak. So instead we decided to follow the trail down into the valley through the marvelous canyon which, according to Greek mythology, was stricken out of the mountain range by Herakles’ hammer. On our way down, Zeus obviously meant less well for us and under constant thunder we made the 5h descent in nearly half the time and arrived at our bikes right before the clouds burst.

 


 

treck breackIn the next day we made our way to Thessaloniki, between boisterous Labor Day celebrations, overflowing market days, an abandoned bird nature reserve and due to the lack of alternatives ON a rushing speed way which quickly turned into a very bad idea, when the emergency stop lane ended and we suddenly found ourselves between cars racing at the Greek interpretation of a 100km/h speed limit. No wonder that the guys at the toll gate couldn’t believe their eyes when we passed the gates and took the next exit of this speeding hell.


 

valley view

Since the crowded and life-endangering road into Thessaloniki made this big city more and more unattractive we quickly searched our way through the suburbs and climbed into the beautiful backcountry of Chalkidiki where a hospitable Greek-German doctor family provided us a comfortable accommodation for the night.

after jacousiWe spent a marvelous day riding along the two lakes with a relaxing thermal Jacuzzi lunch break before we once again reached the coast. Here, for the first time since we are in Greece, we had the chance to put our feet into the hot white sand and throw ourselves into the refreshing waves. What an awesome feeling 🙂
1st campfireAccording to the local people it’s unusually hot the last days and all the more we enjoy the pleasant offshore breeze while the idea of having some “holidays” on a Greek island takes more and more shape.

 

 

Two strong bike days later we are now on Thassos where we found a perfect remote spot right at the beach which Gui, with his unbeatable Robinson Crusoe skills,  quickly turned into a fabulous and fully-equipped holiday destination.hollyday perfect frre spot1 Here we are now spending some lazy days maintaining our bikes, hand washing all our dirty clothes in a tiny bucket, killing hundreds of mosquitos, reading in the sun, creating culinary delicacies on the campfire and most of all: doing NOTHING!

Ahja and btw we also earned our first money on this trip by playing a major subsidiary role in a Polish-Indian blockbuster 🙂