As we entered Turkey a week ago, we also started a new phase on this trip on many levels. We now have 4 weeks left to cross Turkey (about 2,500kms/1560miles), and make our way through Europe to get back to the UK the first week of October (we have no idea of our route yet, so no mileage for that). Our focus now is to make the distance and keep a few days up our sleeve in case of bad weather as we get to western Europe. Because of this, no longer can we afford to meander, not too much anyway or spend days in one place or spend too much time sightseeing – we have to be very selective. We even missed out on catching up with a couple of friends by a few days. We try and plan our day so that we can sightsee after a day’s ride or first thing in the morning – it is still pretty hot in this part of the world making riding and sightseeing in the heat of the day a bit much at times. More on the places we stopped at later. This new phase also marks our leaving Asia and the Great Silk Route to enter Europe.
There have been so many “firsts” on this trip this past week!
It is the first time we have planned more than an day ahead. In fact we even planned 7 days ahead in Turkey and booked accommodation for most days, mixing long riding days and visiting some important sights. It is the first time we have stayed at rather luxurious hotels, 4 star hotels – why not at Euro 40 a night?!
We are now in an undoubtedly Muslim country. The first mosque was just around the corner once we entered the country, then it felt like there was another literally a few meters down the road up to Trabzon. As we travelled through the smallest village, there would always be at least two, if not more. When we were in Sivas, on the top terrace of our (luxury) hotel, it was wonderful to hear the call echoeing gently across town. I first experienced this in Jeddah and I have to say, it is rather magical. All the ones we have heard here to date as we ride through towns and villages have been gentle and melodic calls, unlike many I have heard in the UAE.
Suddenly, being in Turkey, I feel I cannot communicate with people: no more Russian here and no English. I have not used Google translate as much in the past 5 months as I have in the last week in Turkey. It is such a pity as the Turks are so friendly.
We have seen so many road signs in Turkey. We must have seen more warning signs, orange cones, road narrows signs, lane disappears signs, traffic arrows than we have in the past 5 months altogether. I have to say though that traffic and driving style here nearly warrants its own blog. Thank goodness the road surfaces are good throughout the country so far. Even the smallest country road is in pristine condition!! What a dream you might think. Yes, certainly, it has been a great change after Kazakhstan roads especially, if it wasn’t for the drivers… They are such bad drivers, never seem to be able to go round bends without cutting the corner. Even on a double-lane- each-way road, with a wide safety centre lane, they drive in this safety lane and still cut the corner over into our lane. We just ride as if there will always be a car in our lane as we come around the corner. “Needs our lane” is what we tell each other as a warning. You would think we’d be used to this after all the time we’ve spent on the road! The difference here is that they now have more powerful cars, so they drive extremely fast, but still can’t control them. I miss the friendly hello hoot and wave which has been changed to get out of my way hoot and flashing lights. It is odd because, they are so friendly out of their cars!! I burst out laughing today as a vehicle 3 cars behind me hooted even before the lights had gone to orange before going green!!! And this evening, as we are riding onto a ferry and being directed by ferry staff on the deck, a car behind me tried to overtake me!! He was promptly stopped by the ferry staff, but what was he thinking, we’re all on the same ferry!!
Funnily, we have not understood the speed limits or roundabout rules in this country. Anthony reckons the speed limits must be in miles instead of kms. Despite 50 speed limits through towns and villages, everyone does at least 90!! Give way or stop signs mean nothing especially on roundabouts so we just follow what the locals do. And who came up with this speed limit?
We have also seen many police armoured cars with machine guns, police with sub-machine guns at the numerous road blocks and checks on the roads. Even police directing traffic at the occasional road construction carry sub-machine guns. But we have not sensed any tension in the streets or seen much security in the tourist spots.
Using wifi, we have found many of our common sites censored. No wikipedia on anything whatsoever (not even on Ephesus) and no access to my usual hotel booking site – I wonder what they have done to upset the authorities here.
Since we arrived here, we have been eating so well!!! No more boiled mantis – dumplings with dubious animal mince! Even the simplest chicken kebab is absolutely delicious and always comes with a fresh lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad and with a basket of bread! Yes, you don’t get a slice but always a massive basket of bread. Better be careful not to put too much weight on!! Talking about the luxury of great food, cheap luxury hotels, my list of firsts wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the luxury of finding toilet paper in restaurants, hotels and public toilets. And you are allowed to throw the paper down the toilet instead of placing it in an open bin… ahh the joys of travel and what you take for granted!!!
So what have we seen of Turkey this past week? We enjoyed the wild grand mountains around the Sumela monastery, the raw and humbling beauty of nature, the sound of water, the greenery. The monastery was closed for renovation, but spending time near it awe inspiring.
The scenery after Sivas I found stunningly beautiful, in a very gentle way. The golden harvested fields with scattered poplars took me back to my childhood in northern France where I used to ride around on my pushbike first, then later on my moped. We just didn’t have the mountains in the background of course!
We had a few places we intended to visit here: Goreme, with its famous “fairy chimney” rock formations and hot air balloons, the 8th century rock-cut monastery of Selime, the ancient Roman spa “sacred city” of Hierapolis and the nearby Pamukkale thermal pools, Konya’s 13th century Sultanhani caravanseray, the 10 century BC Greek city of Ephesus. Well, we saw most of those, but missed out on Selime – we missed the turnoff and when we realised, we had gone so far, and it was so hot, we simply could not be bothered – terrible isn’t it?! Reflects how tired we are at times!! Same with the caravanseray, touring outdoors in the heat of the day is too hard. What we did get to see has been spectacular.
Check out Anthony’s video – press the arrow to play:
What is common with everywhere we’ve been is that people are very friendly and love Australians. So often, on telling people we are from Australia, they tell us what a good country Australia is and how we are friends. One guy we met in a restaurant told us his grandfather died at Gallipoli, he sleeps there now he tells us. Anthony mentioned his grandfather had been there too. “They are both sleeping together” he said, assuming he had died there too but there was no point in correcting him. The intent of his statement genuinely welcoming, despite our past fighting.
And like always too, some of the best moments for us are the simpler times, sitting at a roadside cafe, walking around a local market and being offered a piece of kelek, a fruit that tastes like a cucumber and is cut up in pieces by the market seller so you can snack on them, listening to a group of musicians and watching others enjoying the music, being invited for tea and a chat even though we don’t understand each other, chatting with people at traffic lights which happens so often, it doesn’t matter, it is all about sharing humanity. And of course, we love the quiet moments, in the middle of nowhere, enjoying the scenery, together.
Our time on the road is running out fast, but we still treasure the time we have to experience as many new places and people as we can.
Next stop Gallipoli…