Under constant headwind and some more downpours later we arrived in Doǧubayazit, the last Turkish town before the border-crossing to Iran with a spectacular view on the 5137m high Mount Ararat.
Since we still had a couple of days left before our planned entry into Iran, we took the opportunity to visit the ancient and stunningly beautiful Ishak Paşa Palast, situated a few kilometers up in the mountains behind the city. On the way to the city center to catch a domuş (=minibus) that would bring us up, a van with a young couple stopped to give us a lift. It turned out that Anna is originally from Poland and her husband Saffet is a Kurdish nomad from this area and they were organizing guided tours to Mount Ararat (www.ararattours.com)
Unfortunately they couldn’t give us a tour to Mount Ararat’s peak (you wait two month for the permit to go up), but the brought us all the way up to the palest and gave us a comprehensive tour full of witty anecdotes about the former court life.
In gratitude for the spontaneous tour we wanted to invite them for lunch but instead we ended up having an hilarious BBQ pick nick at a small creek nearby. Thanks a lot to both of you for this great day!
They also gave us the tip that we must not miss to visit the ruins of Ani, the former capital of the Armenian Empire but now abandoned since 300 years. So we took a bus the next day directions north close to the Armenian border and were really not disappointed: Ani exudes the creepy ambiance of a ghost town surrounded by the remote landscape of the rolling Turkish steppe, the tension of the adjacent contested border and the heavy weight of a long and tragic history.
Back in our hotel we met 3 young, crazy students from the UK: Fred, Max and William. They were on their way back from Japan with a Honda car they had bought there and had made the whole way through Russia and East Europe down to Turkey. We spent a great evening together (with our first beers since a while) and shared through funny road trip stories about the crazy Turkish style of driving and much more. The next day they took us in their Japanese car back to Doǧubayazit where we once again ended up around a nice campfire roasting chicken wings with the imposing Ishak Paşa Palast towering up above us.
The next days in Trabzon, Emre, a convivial and helpful member of couchsurfing hosted us in his shared student housing. At the same time he was accommodating two other cyclists from Germany (www.assling-peking.de) and we had fun sharing our bike experiences and sumptuous meals together.
Besides of maintaining our equipment, the time-out in Trabzon gave us the opportunity the only two main attractions of Trabzon: on a rainy day we hitchhiked south in the mountainous back-country to the spectacular Sumela monastery, a rock-hewn monastery perched dramatically on the narrow ledge of a steep cliff in the forest. Especially the foggy weather conditions that didn’t allow more than an occasional glimpse on the imposing building on our steep way up until we reached the gates, gave it an eminently mystique atmosphere. Unfortunately our trip found a less pleasant end when Martina dropped our camera on the floor… Back in Trabzon, after an intense but unsuccessful search for a well-assorted photo-shop, we finally found a guy in a small back alley who could repair it in two hours 🙂
While waiting for the camera to be repaired we paid a visit to the Atatürk main square (each Turkish town, no matter the size, has at least one square or road named like this). But due to Ramadan, instead of cheerful old men stirring in their ҫay while playing Backgammon, we found a tense ambiance among the still well-frequented coffee houses where nobody is drinking or feeling like doing something else than gazing in abstraction.
Therefore we weren’t too sad when leaving Trabzon direction Erzurum the next day. The way to Erzurum leads through the densely forested mountains south of the coast until we reached the high-plateau where we followed wide rolling hills covered with high swaying grass and purple flower fields surrounded by partly snow covered mountains. This scenic but rough and inhospitable landscape is completely different than what we’ve seen so far in Turkey, yet it has its own unique beauty.
We enjoyed biking through this spectacular scenery a lot although we had heavy and quite unpredictable thunderstorms minimum twice a day and had to dig ditches with stone shovels around our tent in order to allow the mass of water the sky was pouring out over our heads to drain away. But although it was storming like there were no tomorrow, inside our tent it was cozy and dry and we had hot pasta 🙂
After such a night we stopped in the morning at a coffee house for a hot ҫay. When we were about to leave, Gui noticed that his pepper spray that is normally mounted in front of his handlebar for quick access, was gone. Assuming that we had lost at the parking, we started to search for it. When explaining to the shop owner with great pantomimic skills what we were searching, he directly knew what we were talking about send his son on the tractor to the nearby housings. On his return he brought a poor little ten years old boy with big, red, swollen eyes and his, not in the slightest, amused father. Underlining his word with angry gestures, including throwing stones after his frightened son, he explained us that his son had “found” the spray and – of course – couldn’t resist to try it out, whereby the wind had blown a full charge into his eyes! Terrified and probably blind with pain he had thrown the spray away. The father ensured us several times that he would recompense our loss what we vehemently rejected. This poor little boy had already suffered enough and we didn’t want that he has to pay the next three years for this can (especially since we were sure that the glazing red, painful eyes were not the allow punishment waiting for him). Thus, we were really relieved when we eventually found the spray in the grass behind the house.
The funny fact is that his was the first time ever that the spray called into action but not the last time on this day. But let’s start this story from the beginning…
After this delayed departure we continued our way and when we had just climbed our highest pass so far with over 2000m, we saw once again dark clouds gathering at the horizon. So we didn’t any time at the top and were hurrying down to find shelter from the imminent cloudburst.
Not even 5min later it started to rain and we pulled out at the first house to ask for a roof. But although the kids playing in the yard were really happy to see us, the mother was waving us away (first time that somebody spurned us since we are in Turkey). So we had to continue our way under the rain until we reached a couple of houses enclosed by a high fence. The gate was wide open so we entered the yard to knock on one of the doors, when 5 huge, terrifying dogs approached us and started to surround us. They were barking aggressively, baring their teeth and no sign from their owner to call them back. As they were inexorably coming closer and didn’t seem to be intimated by our shouting, we had no other choice than using our pepper spray on two of them to keep them at distance. At this moment a minibus turned into the yard and 5 guys jumped out of the car to come to our rescue. This chased the dogs away and finally and old lady came out of one of the houses (armed with a broom against the dogs). She asked us in to get a warm and shake off the shock.
In the end we were anyway happy to have stopped here because shortly after her seven sons came home from the fields and we shared a simple but delicious lunch at the floor of the warm and snugly hut.
In the end we spent three days in the beautiful Amasra having a great time with our new friends. The day we left, we stopped quickly in a little coffee bar to check our emails and got a pleasant surprise: Tamer could come to meet us in Sinop, in two days! There were still 300km between us and Sinop, no chance to make that in 48h, panic!! 🙂 So we had to find an alternative way of transport and since the train network in Turkey is more or less inexistent we had to resort to our good old friend the “otobüs”.
Taking the bus with the bike is always a special experience in itself and although they ensure you in the ticket office “bisiklet problem yok” (= “bicycles no problem”, our most favorite Turkish sentence) you are then totally at the bus “captain’s” mercy who holds the sole dictatorship about his baggage compartment and sometimes tries to rip us off by charging extra money for the bikes. But sometimes a nice chat with the policemen brings some crucial extra points 🙂
Two days and four buses later we arrived late at Sinop and the expected 2km drive to the nearest camping turned into a 10km circumnavigation of the airport in the dark. But the next morning when we met Tamer, and Seyit invited us for breakfast in his luxury hotel with awesome sea view really compensated for the last two nerve-racking days.
The next two days we spend most of the daytime on the white beach playing Frisbee, letting the sun shine on our bellies, swimming in the crystal clear water, having the one or other beer and having a lot of fun with Tamer, sharing all crazy stories since we had met last time. Seyit, a high school friend of Tamer and the manager of the hotel, let us enjoy the beach and the comprehensive breakfast every day
(Gui gave his best to live up the Turkish expectations that “only a hungry guest is a good guest”), gave us a tour around the town and peninsula, though we couldn’t find the legendary lighthouse, and took good care of our well-being in the evening with delicious fish, which – according to a Turkish idiom – has to be enjoyed with lots of Raki in order to don’t make it cry 🙂
As a simple token of gratitude Gui even shared his “grandmother’s” quiche recipe with Seyit’s wife. Hope to see a picture of quiche made in Turkey soon! 🙂
After three absolutely great days it was time to say Goodbye to Tamer, Seyit and Gui’s wobbly kickstand and continue our way to Samsun. We made good progress on the completely flat road and only when the sun started to sink and clouds were gathering, we realized that we actually didn’t buy anything for dinner yet and the road that is built between the sea on one side and steep cliffs on the other side doesn’t allow any detours to nearby villages.
No reason for concern for us, our guardian angel already had a plan and when we stopped shortly after at a parking two truck drivers where already waving at us with a well-known gesture: cay! And although it was the first day of Ramadan they were preparing a little dinner for all of us in their perfectly equipped kitchen box mounted under the truck trailer, what luck!
On the following day we nearly reached Samsun after a long day on the road and when we stopped in a little village 20km before, we were really happy to find somebody who speaks English and could help us on our search for a camping spot. Although his family didn’t have any garden he was happy to offer us his neighbor’s garden who was not at home 🙂
And since it’s Ramadan, they insisted that we come over for dinner as well and so we found ourselves shortly after 8 with the whole family around the bountiful table while waiting for the TV lead-in to announce that it’s time for breaking the fasting for today.
The last 20km to Samsun we were following a bad but traffic free beach promenade road where Gui had his probably last swim in the black sea and after another 20km searching up and downhill in town (for an unknown reasons all cities in Turkey seem to be built on the highest hills in the proximity) we finally found the “otogar” (bus terminal) where after some hard negotiations we eventually found a bus driver that was willing to take us to Trabzon! Seven long and cramped hours of bus ride later we arrived under heavy rain late at night and were quite relieved when we tiredly sank into bed in our small hotel room.
Hugs à Tamer
First technician assistants
Field at sunset
Sinop dry port
şezlong (Chaises longues in Turkish)
Martina la mer, mais en francais le vrai titre est “Martine à la mer”
Swim suite for Muslim women
The “Kuaför” is actually burning the little hairs on the ears with a little torch of alcohol 😉
It’s an old Turkish tradition to throw some water after somebody who is leaving to wish good luck and safe travels.
After this marvelous luxury day we were heading further east along the coast to Eregli where the biggest steel factory of Turkey and the military zone beside it provided a quite ugly and repellent welcome. But once you passed this polluted industrial area the town presented itself with a lovely and green beach promenade where we found lots of booths selling cotton candy – yum-yum 🙂 – and the first cycling way so far! Additionally we found a friendly a yacht club that allowed us to use their facilities and setup our tent directly on their pier where we could watch the coming and going of the brand new sailing boats and the army’s submarine training until the sun sank into the sea.
Since the local people have told us that the way to Zonguldak is really shitty, crowded with multiple tunnels we decided to take a bus to Bartin after an unsuccessful two our try to hitchhike. When we arrived in Bartin and had just finished to load our bikes we discovered that Martina’s Kindle was missing, what a disaster! (she already read 7 books since the beginning, what a gain of weight if we would have to carry all of them!) We rushed into the office and tried to explain them, once again more pantomimic than with words, what happened. But it was hopeless until we found a guy with a smartphone. Thanks to google translate they finally understood our excitement and started to make several phone calls, sometimes even one on each ear. The result was that we were wordlessly pushing us and our fully loaded bike in an empty bus and before we knew what’s happening we found ourselves on the way to Amasra, luckily our next target anyway.
After half an hour drive on the curvy road to Amasra that had more resemblance with a go-kart race the bus driver suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere, a guy entered the bus and handed over the Kindle to us. This time we were speechless, how did this miracle just happen?!
Without further stops or passengers the bus was continuing speeding to Amasra, a lovely old town in a narrow bay with light blue water, two small offshore islands, connected with stone bridges, that hold the ruins of an ancient Roman fort and a well-preserved historical city center.
Unfortunately the town didn’t offer any place for our tent and all the people we asked were pointing us to a place between the bus terminal and the local waste dump, not really attractive…
Desperately we stopped to have dinner in a small restaurant with a great view on the whole page. It didn’t take long until Emin, the boss of the restaurant, a fisherman and a former army captain, came on our table to chat with us. Several glasses of ҫay – and wine for him – later he offered us to setup our tent on his terrace. Gladly we accepted his hospitable offer and when he then invited some more friends over we spent an entertaining evening all together with lots of raki until late after midnight.
Turning 30 is commonly considered as a big change, it’s the beginning of a new chapter of one’s life. The wild twenties are definitely over and you are supposed to be more settled down with a regular life. Currently without permanent residence or job I somehow have the feeling I failed in terms of that. But on the other hand I was never happier in my life. Living this dream, intensively experiencing every single day on this adventure is something so precious I would not trade for all the riches in the world. And every bit as precious are the people who share this journey with me and who made this day for me special by giving me the most valuable gift ever: a little bit of their time to share or to tell me they are thinking of me, making their best to let me forget that I already miss them all a lot 🙂
Thank you all so much for your lovely wishes and especially to Gui, who really gave his best to make this day a perfect day, even with cake and candle to make a wish for an exciting future!
woman with tree
Martinas favorit dinner
Birthday cake 4
Birthday cake 2
Birthday cake 1
Birthday cake 3
Auf Magdalenas zweitem Bild ist mehr Action. Links das riesige Gesicht einer Katze, Martina mit – deutscher, sorry – Flagge radelt im Vordergrund (Nase, Ohren :-)) Über ihr tobt ein Gewitter mit Donnerblitzen (schwarz) und Lichtblitzen (gelb), im Hintergrund ein schwarzer Mond (black moon rising) und eine Sonne.
Tobia’s masterpiece: Gui is allowed to go by canoe, Martina has to cross the mountains…
Sebastian’s masterpiece: he might have mixed up street and castle gate with a worm he wanted to color blue 🙂
Magdalena’s first masterpiece: Vor der Burg steht Magdalena (man beachte Nasen und Ohren), auf der Burg sind „lauter Martinas”
The Asian side of Turkey awaited us directly with a huge climb uphill to the ruins of an old castle that provided a wonderful view on the Bosphorus. Luckily two young sportive guys helped us pushing our bikes the two steep kilometers on the ascending cobbled path since our legs were not in their best shape due to the two week break.
We continued our way through the hilly back-country until we finally rolled down two our first black sea beach where we wanted to take a small road along the coast to reach our destination for this day. Unfortunately a military zone was lying behind us and the last 5km of this day. Entry was strictly forbidden and even Gui’s charming powers of persuasion couldn’t make them change their mind. But at least it resulted in some fresh water and sesame pretzels for free 🙂 Since we couldn’t cross the area it meant for us that we had to go back the last 10km we just rolled down to make a big detour around the forbidden zone. I guess you can imagine our frustration.
Our detour lead us deep into the nearly uninhabited back-country and when the sun was sinking we were relieved to reach a little village. As every village in Turkey, no matter how small, it had a nice mosque with a high minaret. Close by there were two old men sitting on a terrace idly steering in their ҫay. When we asked if they knew a place for our “ҫadir” they were livening up and invited us to stay in the garden. 15 Minutes later we found ourselves on the family table of the local muezzin, well wrapped up in hand-knitted jackets and the mother served us one homemade delicacy after the other one. And when Gui then started to teach the children how to juggle they were overjoyed to host such rare and peculiar guests. What a great first (out of many) warm welcome in this hospitable country!
In the next days our way continued to lead us through the mountainous back-country and although it is physically and mentally exhausting to climb one pass after the other one just to roll down again on the other side, the landscape and rich vegetation full of shady pine forests, blooming meadows and hazelnut and strawberry field is really rewarding.
From time to time we passed through small villages where groups of old, well-dressed men with weather beaten faces are sitting at the village square greeting and waving to us to invite us for ҫay. They always give us friendly, nearly toothless smiles while the major is curiously asking questions whose meaning we can only guess and we try our best to answer them with hands and feet. In those situations our little point-it picture dictionary has already proven itself to be worth a mint.
The Turkish people, no matter if young or old, are really friendly and open to foreigners. Once we stopped late at a mountain hut alike house on the top of a pass and although it was actually a (completely empty) restaurant we shared dinner together while petting their little goat that obviously fancied itself as a dog and therefor followed its master everywhere, including the house 🙂 And even in bigger towns the first guy that we ask for the way to a hotel doesn’t hesitate a second to act as our guide showing us the way through the ally labyrinth to the only hotel.
On our fifth day after Istanbul we had our first flat tire – as chance would have it – in the middle of a small hamlet. While Gui was repairing the tube all the children of the surrounding houses came running to watch these two aliens with their weird bikes. They were really shy at the beginning but curiosity won and they started to push each other forward to try out the few English phrases they knew. In the end they even gained enough confidence to share some cookies with us before we continued our way.
This night we stopped in a nearly untouched nature reserve along a sullen river where a young and generous Turk who had grown up in Hamburg had built a little café & pick-nick place and he offered us to stay in his new built tree house! The one night we had planned to stay turned into three because it was raining the next days without cease and we were happy to have a roof over our heads while watching the falling rain and listening to the never ending frog concert.
When the weather finally got better we continued to Akҫakoca and since it was the night before my birthday we afforded a 4-star hotel with pool, Hamam and sauna! Thanks a lot to our generous sponsors 😉 Halil, the friendly and nearly over-endeavored sales manager of the hotel even invited us for dinner (and breakfast) in honor of this occasion, so that I’m inclined to forgive him the embarrassing situation when he started to sing happy birthday for me in the elevator 🙂
We started the next day, my 30th birthday, with a late and sumptuous breakfast accompanied by the sound of the sea, an extended walk on the long, sandy beach, a relaxing visit to the sauna and completed this perfect day with a delicious fish dinner on nice terrace topped off with ҫay and cheese cake – even with a candle and sparkler!
For our last days in Istanbul, Nurbanu, a friend of a good Turkish friend of us, offered us a place on her couch, which we appreciated a lot since Istanbul so far had left a big hole in our travel budget. To avoid Istanbul’s traffic chaos for our fourth accommodation change we decided to take the metro this time, what a great idea! Although the security guard ensured us that we are allowed to take the metro with our bikes, they let us wait two hours due to the current rush hour… But at least we had our private security escort that accompanied us all along the way when we were finally allowed to pass the gates.
Nurbanu is working as a graphics design and illustration freelancer and she took us to her co-working space where two French guys happened to give a talk about their 3 year cycling world trip on recumbent bikes as well, a great opportunity for us to drill them with questions about their experiences with driving in Turkey and those kind of bikes in general. They also do great artistic projects all around the world related to the growing open source community (their website)
Nurbanu and her cousin really made us feel at home at their place and together with the fact that we were able to successfully pick up our two missing visas, it made those last days in Istanbul a real pleasure. Thanks a lot again!
Due to Nurbanu’s sincere concerns about the Turkish traffic style we left Istanbul early on Sunday morning, not without a wonderful homemade pancake breakfast 🙂 It turned out that it was a really great advice and after an enjoyable 20km ride north along the Bosporus coast we crossed over to the Asian side by ferry and finally continued our trip!