we’ll try and update as often as we can!
It felt good to be riding again, after a short spell using public transport and relaxing altogether. The coast road was stunning, if a little hilly, but we rode through olive groves and sweet little cobbled (-ouch!) towns. We spent the first night on the beach, but the wind was so strong that we couldn’t manage to erect Agnes, and we tore a hole in the shelter that Saj had given us after Ozora. I think it might have been the strongest wind i’ve ever experienced! We built a wall of panniers and snuggled down behind a dune, tucked away from the gale just enough to get forty winks. It was a delight to wake up a few times to the expanse of the milky way, and later the sun rising over the horizon, bringing with it another equally windy day! We cracked on, sometimes lucky enough to have the wind behind us going up the hills, making life somewhat easier, and made our way, erm, west(! This had an unexpected massively negative effect on me, and I got rather upset at being so far off our original course, but Joel was happy to be by the coast, so I had to surrender to it, and soon enough the scenery made up for it!) Stopping at a supermarket, Joel got chatting to the fruit man outside, who then refused to let us leave without a gift of not one, but two watermelons! Very kind of him, and obviously we’re grateful, but honestly; two melons are not the greatest gifts for a touring cyclist. We spent a night under the stars in a fruit field, and the next day reached Ҫannakale, where we took shelter in a beach-side cafe and failed to take in any sights, such as the wooden horse built for the recent film, Troy. We found a little stretch of coastal track, and followed it without knowing if it would indeed come out in the right place, but it was stunning, with views out over the bright blue Aegean sea. We reached Truva early evening and allowed ourselves the pleasure of staying in a lovely little guest house, from which we walked to the site of the ruined city of Troy. It was only a day’s ride from Truva down to Ayvaçik, to Emre’s folks’ house, but it took us a couple of hours longer than anticipated, due to all the hills! The traffic was heavy, and at one point Joel’s wheels slipped off the road; he came off, shaking him up a fair bit and ripping his front pannier. Emre drove out 15km from Ayvaçik to meet us and drive some of our bags, but we both felt this would be cheating, so only gave him our one remaining melon to take, as we felt this was justifiable.
We finally arrived in the little town, and Emre came to meet us at the roundabout, joking about the time it had taken to cover 40km from Truva. Yes, obviously all that feasting in Istanbul had taken it’s toll, remember we weren’t been fasting in the daytimes! Emre had warned us that the little house would be full of family, including five kids; so we intended to pop in and then give them their space to enjoy the family reunion. No chance! Immediately after we’d had a wash and changed into less offensive smelling clothes, we were given some food; even though the family were all still fasting for the last day. We tried to refuse, saying we’d like to at least try and fast for a few hours – that this was the least we could do, but Emre said his mother would be offended if we didn’t eat, so we obliged and sat out on the veranda with his dad, brothers and their wives and kids, feeling terrible for eating in front of them. The little girls were very sweet, and were squabbling over who should serve us various things, out they came one by one giving us drinks and napkins, and then with a squirty bottle of something – we weren’t sure what. Emre explained that it was a cologne, lemony-fresh, and we should take some in our hands and rub it on our hands and arms to freshen up; everyone else followed suit. (This turned out to be a bit of a turkish ritual, many people subsequently offering us a squirt on buses and in restaurants – thank god Emre had explained otherwise we’d have been very confused!)
Unluckily, or not in my case, we’d arrived too late for the slaughtering of the goat. I took some pictures of it’s carcass hanging in the garden, and Emre translated that it wasn’t completely inhumane – the goat was from his father’s farm just down the road, and she had been a feeble, poorly thing. They had butchered it, rubbed it with a spicy harissa, and now the men were preparing a meaty, tomatoey, potatoey dish out in the garden, which they then walked over the road to the brick oven. -Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right and the meat wasn’t ready until well past feast’o’clock. The family, who’d become slightly nocturnal in order to better deal with the daytime fasting, were just tucking into it when Joel and I went to bed way after twelve!
After what I can only imagine to be raving reviews from Emre, Joel was asked if he’d like to cook something to add to the already vast feast (there was cheese hanging in muslin in the garden, and yoghurt on the way, everything homemade or grown on their farm!). They agreed that a dessert would be a good idea, so we agreed on good old apple crumble, and nipped out to the shop for the ingredients, and then down to the farm (absolutely delightful, built by his dad, with a veg-patch, goats and sheep and cows and chickens) to pick some apples. Yum! And all organic!
Dinner was fantastic, everybody sitting on the floor of the porch, fresh ayran (yogurty water) to drink, and all eating from a communal dish. We both felt honoured to be present, everyone was so smily and welcoming, even when Emre wasn’t around to translate – we made do with sign language! The apple pie came out and was served with ice-cream, which went down a treat. After some fascinating discussion, on the subject of religion, in which Emre’s brother – who was obviously the one most conversant with the Qu’ran – explained varying aspects of Islam to us, and was very open to comparing it to other religions. Something he said really struck a chord; “One should sweep his own doorstep before attempting to sweep the street,” i.e. you gotta work on yourself before attempting to help others.
Finally, fed and watered and so happy, we tried to insist on leaving; on taking Agnes down to the farm or even sleeping out on the porch with the others. No chance, Mama wouldn’t allow it, she’d prepared her and her husband’s bed already for us. They would, aged seventy plus, sleep outside on the floor, while we had the comfort of their bed; and they wouldn’t stand anything else. We tried hard to argue, but didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so we awkwardly retired, feeling terrible for taking the grandparents’ bed; just so humbled by this incredible hospitality, unrivalled by any situation in our lives to-date.
The men were up early for a mosque visit, and the women prepared breakfast. Not wanting to overstay our already long welcome, we ate breakfast, and were eager to get on our way. Emre had explained that it would be nice when you met an old lady or man to take their hand and kiss it before putting it to your forehead, as a sign of respect, so Joel and I tried this out just before leaving; much to his parents’ delight. The faces were of surprise when we announced our departure, and after some pictures had been taken, grins exchanged, and invitations to England offered, we duly set off for Assos, where Emre intended to meet us the following day for some respite from the family and some snorkelling.
We followed his directions, absolutely high on life, after this wonderful experience, the wind in our – well, my hair, through the hills and down to the coast; where the holidaying Turks had accumulated for some beach action! It was heaving.
We found that there were a selection of campsites on this beach, all of which already had tents (with beds in!) pitched on them, so I think we got a bad deal when we paid the same to put up little Agnes and sleep on the floor. Joel’s chain had stretched by this point, and badly needed replacing, so Emre together with one of his brothers, wife and two girls, picked one up for us and brought it down for us the next day. Of course, he refused to let us pay for it, as with everything else. Such incredible kindness. I felt a little too uncomfortable to get into my bikini with Emre’s sister-in-law wearing what we have recently discovered in the West, thanks to Nigella Lawson not wanting to attract attention on the beach, and thereby attracted a hell of a lot – a burqini, or full body bathing suit. I’m sure no-one would have minded, Turkey is very much a land of contrasts like that; one foot in the East and one in the West, girls nearly naked chat away to girls almost completely hidden; but I stayed covered all the same.
Suddenly a fight broke out, men grabbed stones from the beach and were smashing them into each others heads, very scary, especially for the non-turkish speaking observer. Emre later told us that it was over a discussion as to whether or not a group (of Kurds, we later found out) could use the jetty belonging to the restaurant of our campground, it ended with a rock through their van window, thrown by our – ’til now seemingly very pleasant and mild-mannered – hostess, and one of her friends/family being rushed to hospital with a serious-looking head-wound. Not pretty, but a brutal demonstration of the ongoing tension between the Turks and the Kurds.
Fabuloso! We soaked up some atmosphere, and drank çay amid the hustle-bustle. In the afternoon, we ferried across the Bosphorus, and drank coffee, again soaking up the atmosphere; but this time in Asia! We got out the map to plan our route across the country, and soon a small crowd had gathered around us, non-verbally, but very enthusiastically, recommending places to visit.
We met Emre in the busy main street, after a series of confused phone calls, involving the doorman of a hotel telling him our location. He walked us up the road to his apartment, stopping at the supermarket to buy some food to break the day’s fast. We lugged the bikes and all the bags up to the fifth floor and immediately jumped in the shower – hooray! All refreshed and happy to be inside four walls for a change, Emre, an engineer who’d studied in New York, and Joel prepared food whilst we chatted about our trip, and Turkey and Ramadan and allsorts. At eight, the call to prayer, the official end of the day’s fast, boomed out from the local mosque and subsequently could be heard from the other mosques in the vicinity, just after the sun had set in the dusty pink sky – absolutely beautiful. Emre gulped down some water (I was seriously impressed that he and others were able to spend a whole day in the summer heat without even a sip of water, but he talked it down and made it sound like nothing), and then brought the food out for us – and what a feast it was! Lentil soup to start, followed by a variety of salads, rice, and some lamb for the boys. All this followed by baklava with tricolour ice-cream – pretty decadent! After filling our bellies (almost to bursting) and chatting for a couple of hours more, we were so sleepy we had to decline Emre’s offer of taking a walk and instead we hit the hay (Emre had given up his bedroom for us, himself sleeping on a mattress in the living room) grateful for such a wonderfully authentic glimpse inside Istanbul life.
The next day, Emre went to work and left us the key, so we were free to come and go as we pleased. Having last night spoken of his previous life (or so it seems!) as a chef , Joel offered to prepare dinner this evening, for Emre and his girlfriend, Burcu – a fellow English teacher. Our first stop was the Iranian embassy, seeking to extend the validity of our Iranian visas; something we weren’t sure was possible, but certainly worth a shot, because otherwise we would only have 2 weeks to cross at least 2000km of (hilly and hot) Turkey. I donned my headscarf as we approached the door, as the embassy is technically Islamic Republic of Iran turf. The clerk we spoke to after about 20 minutes’ wait was incredibly sweet, but told us that regrettably the only option we’d have would be essentially buying another visa. Having already forked out approx. £170 each for visas that were fast approaching their shelf-life, we ummed and ahhed briefly before deciding I.R Iran had already taken enough of our cash – we’d just have to take a bus or train to get there in time. How frustrating. It always seems that visas are the biggest problem of any trip; and the Iranian one had been the biggest (in fact, the only) headache yet, and we hadn’t even reached the country! It better be worth it, we both thought quietly.
After wandering around the old town, sampling some local delights, and exhausting ourselves in the expansive but fascinating archaeology museum, we headed back across the Bosphorus to grab some supplies for dinner. Joel had wanted to cook something typically British, but after some thought decided all traditional British dishes might be a little heavy-going for the heat of an Istanbul summer evening. In the end he whipped up some creamy dauphinois potatoes (went down a treat, Emre asked for the recipe), more lamb, and a scrummy beetroot/carrot/pomegranate salad (my favourite!) and we laughed and joked as we enjoyed the veritable feast on offer.
We’d cleared up, and out came the map; Emre and Burcu offering us their local knowledge on plausible cycle routes. Hmm, it seemed the route we were planning to take; the direct-line via Ankara, would be mostly motorway; without much for eye-candy (unless you have a particular penchant for the backs of trucks and buses – or clouds of black smoke, of which there’d be plenty…)
The second possibility was to coastal route along the Black Sea, which Emre vetoed, on account of all the mountains. Right, what should we do then, we asked him? His answer: head down the Aegean (west) coast, and along the south coast as far as possible and then stick the bikes on a bus to the Iranian border. It sounded really beautiful, a coastline rich in history, and on hearing of the turquoise, crystal-clear sea and potential for swimming and snorkelling, being a water-baby deprived of coast for so long, Joel decided that this was what he really fancied doing. Ok, I conceded; I guess the whole trip had been my idea and Joel hadn’t really had much input about the route, so I felt it was time to let him take the lead, if we had to get a bus anyway, we might as well ride the most beautiful part. The clincher, however, was the invitation to visit Emre at his family home in Ayvacik, for which, if we set off tomorrow, the timing would be just right to visit his family as it amassed in it’s entirety (for the first time in ten years!) for the celebration of Bayram, the feast at the end of Ramadan. What an opportunity, one not to be missed – later when we told stories of the event, another traveller declared it a story straight out of a Lonely Planet guidebook! – so we graciously accepted and began researching ferries over the Marmara Sea, a neat little escape from the city traffic. We’d catch the 7.30 ferry the next morning, and ride down towards Ҫannakale, take in the ruins of Troy, visit Emre’s family, then Assos, and the ancient abode of the Greek gods: mount Ida.
With the weekend of Bayram fast approaching – tomorrow would be Friday, and all next week would be national holiday – we were concerned about the ferries, and roads generally, being jam-packed as the Istanbul-ites packed up and headed home for the annual family feasting.
Once our dinner had digested enough for us to contemplate moving, the four of us headed out and enjoyed an evening in a vibrant and laid-back hookah bar, one puff of which sufficed for myself and Burca, so while we chatted away about all-things, the boys took a backseat, enjoying light, apple flavour smoke, the ambience, and perhaps the football on the screen behind my head… The waiters busied themselves with deftly whisking around trays of çay with incredible skill, much to my admiration. There didn’t appear to be any alcohol on offer, perhaps as it was Ramadan, although Emre did point out that the boys on the next table were smoking their hookah not through water as is traditional, but through a litre or so of local and lethal liquor; raki. Burcu showed us how to divine the future from the dregs left after a turkish coffee: simply upturn the cup and when it’s dry enough, the pictures and forms reveal your future, open of course to interpretation. I saw a naked woman in Joel’s, and a mountain range in mine. Read what you like into that… 🙂 Maybe a run-in with Athena up mt. Ida? When we returned to the apartment, we had finally made space for dessert, one of Joel’s favourites; stewed plums and ice-cream.
The next day was spent enjoying a much-needed lie-in, and then nipping down the road to get my hair cut, the fastest and cheapest (£3) hair cut i’ve ever had; and not bad at all! Emre and Burcu were out for dinner, as was Emre’s sweet flatmate (whose name i’m ashamed to say, escapes me 😦 sorry), so we had the apartment to ourselves for the evening – what a luxury! We stuck telly on, and then popped into the internet cafe round the corner to update ourselves and look at the route and ferry times.
An early start the next morning, saw us arrive at the ferry port early enough to assure a space, amidst the excitement of the holiday-makers. The crossing was a couple of hours, during which we managed a snooze, before mounting Clem and Arthur once again for the next leg of the journey.