Truth be told we didn’t actually ride our bicycles into Istanbul, we took the D-20 (which they are still building) instead of the main highway. Everyone we have ever heard of who has taken the main highway says it’s a nightmare! Our route took us north of the mega city to a suburb on the Asia side of Turkey called Beykoz. Where our Warmshowers hosts home is located. Both Brain and I have decided that it is okay to lessen the exposure to big cities while on bicycle. It’s been done before and we hope to avoid them as much as possible!
The plan was to spend a few days in Beykoz with our hosts and do the never ending bike maintenance that we must do when ever there is a break that lasts for more then 24 hours. This never ending upkeep is just what one must do while on tour, otherwise it all just falls apart. Luckily it wasn’t much. (This time!) After that we just wanted to hang out and unwind from the road. Our hosts John and Regina were awesome, both of them are cyclists as well so we had loads to talk about. Everything from technical clothing to extensive route planning, and they even cooked dinner for us. Regina is a wonderful cook! It really felt like a home away from home at their apartment. The only downside being their home was on top of a massive hill, it is unrideable with a touring rig. We seem to have this knack for finding hosts who live on the top of the biggest/steepest hill in town. I’m not sure how we keep doing that? We climbed up and down that hill many times during our stay in Beykoz, My calves began to ache after two days of this strenuous exercise, we are after all bikers not hikers. We spent about 2 days on the hill before we thought it was time to head into the city proper for a few nights exploring Istanbul. (Back on the European side.)
Leaving the bike and most of the gear up the mountain, I took a loaned backpack and filled it with only the things I would need for the next few days and we boarded the bus/boat to Istanbul.
We arrived at our hotel in the heart of tourist central, not a bad place really if you are just staying for a few nights. Unloaded and then set out for the first load of chores that can only be done in a bigger city. Bike shops and camera shopping mostly. We were extremely lucky that the bike and camera districts are very close to each other. What could have been an all day excursion turned into just a few hours in the late afternoon. We came away with a one out of four things needed from the bike shop (break pads) and one camera that Brian is finally happy with. Those two things out of the way in just a few hours left us with more of our time to spend freely. But I can’t say it was spent wisely, doing all those touristy things. Like visiting the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, Galata Bridge, and eating dinner from the fishing boats.
Our second day in Istanbul we awoke to the news that the Taksim Square protests had been cleared out by the riot police earlier that morning. All the information we could gather was that the protesters had finally been broken and been sent home. Every indication was that the area was safe to visit, which was great news for us because Taksim Square is the place to visit for good restaurants and night life. We weren’t interested in the later just the former.The decision was made to get on the tram and try to get a few people together on Couchsurfing for dinner. When we arrived at our transfer station from the train but quickly found out that the line to Taksim wasn’t running. (Not surprising they just has a huge confrontation with police and debris might not be cleaned up as of yet) No big deal, it wasn’t far to walk the train just takes you a kilometer up the hill. As we round the corner we see approximately thirty riot police standing around in the shade. Brian walks up to them to ask if it was okay to continue walking up to the Square. Each one of them waves their arms and says that it’s fine to pass. Once we are just out of sight of the nearest police officer it becomes quite clear that it is not business as usual in Taksim Square. You pop out right in the middle of a relaxed but still very active protest. Off in the corners there are burning cars and the distinct smell of pepper gas is floating in the air. There are people all around selling swimming goggles and dust masks, along with supporters bringing in food and water, others wrapped up in gas masks, hard hats, and carrying bottles of milk to wash their faces in for the eventuality of more pepper gas. This isn’t the place for us to be! We walk on down the road to what seems to be a restaurant out of the main attraction zone so that we can have a bit to eat before going back to our little tourist corner where the scene is a little less active. It didn’t take long for things to explode in the Square, we were just served our food when the Police began gassing again. The restaurant had CNN live in English on the television and we could see the place where moments before both of us stood now a battle ground. It was sort of surreal, watching live TV while but being close enough to still hear the whole commotion right were you stood. The wait staff began to come up to us and tell us emergency procedures incase we were gassed and the strangest quote I’ve ever heard from a waiter “ If you hear and explosion, run away!” I wasn’t to worried though, we were off the main road in a little alcove restaurant. Not many people would pass by and even know it was there. Plus there was easy access to the tram station for a quick exit. And after dinner that is just what we did. Got the hell out of there! *(The protesters were removed from Taksim Square only to be self barricaded into next door Gezi Park, things are still a bit crazy there as far as I know.)
That was more then enough excitement for the two of us.
On our second morning in Istanbul we did one thing that was purely selfish, have a semi-traditional (not a single tourist to be seen at this place we went to) Turkish bath. Brian’s experience from what he told me was much better then mine but still it was time I won’t soon forget. I would recommend this to all cycle tourists to do. After 4 months on the road, I felt great after a good scrub down. To bad this feeling didn’t last long for Brian. He came down with his first bout of food poisoning on this trip and spent the better part of the next 3 days in bed sleeping.
When he was finally able to be awake for more then a few moments and was able to hold down solids again we made plans to go back to Beykoz and get the bikes together to ride on. At the very last minute we thought to apply for our Uzbekistan visas, after a little bit of research suggested that it was easy to do so in Istanbul. Plus it could easily be made on our way back to Beykoz. It was fairly simple all we did was wake up early in the morning to get to the embassy on time. Their operating hours are worse then most banks, M-W-F from 10 to 12 is when they accept Visa applications. They allow five people in the compound at a time to apply and the process is rather fast. You hand over your paperwork already filled out with photos attached. He asked you a few questions, ours was about our working status since we checked the box for “retired.” Then there was talk about a letter of invitation, which we don’t need for applying. Instead we had to copy every page of our passport that had stamps in it and hand it in with all our paperwork. We weren’t able to get same day processing with out the LOI but we are able to pick up the visas in Baku, Azerbaijan. For the hefty price tag of $160 USD and it has to be dollars. While all this was happening we met a Swiss couple applying for their visas as well and they are also on a bicycle tour. (FYI they had the same processing time as us with out the LOI but didn’t need to copy their passports) After dealing with the embassy we all went out for a bite to eat and Brian some how coaxed them into riding out of Istanbul with us the following day.
Here is the link to their blog 2on2r
It really was around 2 pm before we actually made it out of our new home in Beykoz , said our goodbyes to John and Regina, then cautiously coasted downhill to meet with 2on2r, Andy and Rosie.
We were only on the road for a few hours before we caught you to another couple cycling in our direction YE-Travels from Canada, (Yann and Emilie) Brian thought something like this might happen out of Istanbul. Soon six of us became a caravan of cyclists and each going pretty much in the same direction for the next few days.
That first night all six cyclists camped on the beach along an unnamed section of the Black Sea. There were some other Turkish campers there that night but it was pretty low key affair. Setting up camp, cooking dinner, and bathing in the sea. The following morning we all awoke around the same time did our normal morning routine and began to ride. Just like any normal day but this time with friends!
Andy and Rosie are by far stronger riders, they kept a speed that I was just on the edge of uncomfortable with especially with this hilly terrain. I could keep up with them for the time being but I knew that I would have to pace myself because these guys were going to wear me out after a few days. Yann and Emilie on the other hand are much slower riders but to their credit it was their second day on the road!
It took us longer then expected to ride around 50k that day, I’m not sure anyone was fully expecting how physically hard it is to climb from sea level to 100 meters for a kilometer at a stretch over and over again. Plus there is the heat to contend with, while it’s not really that terribly hot when you are lounging about, it can be almost unbearable while climbing those hills. I estimated that I consumed 4 liters of water while riding and that is on the conservative side.
That day we stopped a bit early to set up camp. People were beginning to look bedraggled and ready for a rest from the heat. We had arrived at around 4 pm to a picnicking / camping spot right next to the Black Sea. Were we could unload, set up camp, cook dinner, and jump into the Sea. The Turks have a bit of a strange idea when it comes to outdoor eating, they pay for a place on the side of the road to have a picnic and they pay quite a bit. But this arrangement worked out well for us and was negotiated down to 15 TL (Turkish Lira) per tent and access to cold showers and toilets. I think everyone went to sleep that night with a full belly and sweet dreams after all the hard work we did earlier that afternoon.
Unfortunately not all of us awoke the next morning feeling refreshed. Rosie had been up all night with what we all think was sun stroke. The symptoms were all there. She was much to tired and was not able to cycle that morning. So our prior six cyclists sadly decreased by two. We packed up that morning said goodbye to Andy and left Rosie to recover in the shade. They would be staying put until she recovered.
The remaining four of us rode out together, a little slower pace this time with a few more rest (Coke) breaks built in and we made it a more respectable distance of 70km in the sun and heat, right into the small resort town of Kerpe for some R&R. Good da