Georgia on my mind

We are of course in a very different Georgia than the US state that Billy Holiday sang about. The Georgians call their country Sakartvelo, and their alphabet and language is called Kartuli. It is a very pretty script and it sounds pleasant to the ears, but it is  impossible to understand. I have taken up studying Russian again, as this is a language that we can use here and in Armenia and in all of Central Asia. And in Russia of course.

Georgian grafiti
Georgian grafiti

Görusürüz Türkye

A quick round-up of the highlights of our last days cycling in Turkey: we´ve seen bottlenose dolphins playing in the Black Sea, our only shower in the last few days was also jumping into the sea at the end of the day, and we´ve put up our tent with two lovely families who looked after us and cooked for us. The road was busy but with plenty of space for us. The tunnels were scary but at least they had two lanes per direction and very good lighting. A couple of times we were stopped by a driver who hosted or knew of another cyclist and passing on messages. A highway grapevine for bicycle travelers!

Gamarjoba Sakartvelo!

Again the by now familiar small culture shock at the border. Turkey is modest and demure in dress, friendly, fun and super hospitable in demeanor, the towns are doing well and still developing, we are cycling on three lane smooth tarmac. Turkish food is wonderful but we felt apprehensive about eating in public, in mostly empty restaurants, because of Ramazan. Turkey is muslim, Georgia is orthodox christian.

Enter Georgia and the road narrows to a two lane ´highway´ taken over by crazy cowboys in huge cars who take traffic rules and signs as mere polite suggestions. They do not in any way feel obliged to obey the rules of the road if they don´t feel like it, or if their car is bigger than the one they are overtaking. Still, the bosses of the road are the pretty brown cows that dreamily amble onto the highway and force the traffic to slow down.

It´s hot and people are only half dressed, men are only wearing shorts and letting it all hang out. Scantily clad women are on billboards, advertising casino´s and booze. People are drinking beer in the middle of the day and enjoying food. Georgia has a distinct cuisine and we are loving the bread filled with melted cheese and egg, the khachapuli dumplings, the grilled meat, the simple tomato and cucumber salad with licorice-like dark purple mint. All of it is amazingly tasty.

Georgia feels a bit more unkempt, a bit wilder than Turkey. The sense of freedom that comes with this wildness makes us on the one hand relieved: I no longer feel obliged to wear long floppy pants over my cycling shorts, there is no more guilt over eating and drinking alchohol. We feel free. On the other hand I miss the more demure and civilized, the less in-your-face, demeanor of Turkey. Especially since none of the Turkish families who hosted us in the last couple of days were in any way judgmental about us non-muslims and happily fed us amazing food, just because we were strangers who showed up. The culture of hospitality in Turkey is simply awe-inspiring for us cool Northern Europeans but luckily for us this is one cultural trait that extends across the border into Georgia and Armenia.

Batumi: Vegas on the Black Sea

It´s tropically hot when we arrive in Batumi and we decide to stay until Critical Mass happens this Friday. Critical Mass is a monthly gathering of cyclists, happening in cities worldwide to reclaim the street for cyclists. There will be more bicycle travelers joining us. We met up with Verena from Austria who will join us to cycle up to Mestia, there is a group of Iranian cyclists, Claire is a solo traveling UK woman and yesterday we bumped into a Polish trio of cyclists.

Black Sea Boulevard
Black Sea Boulevard

Batumi is a fun but crazy place; a beach resort, a gambling and partying city for Turkish, Iranians, Israelis and Russians. At night there is live traditional Georgian music on an outdoor stage and people are busking on the boulevard. There is some ´interesting´ architecture such as an upside down replica of the White House, a tower celebrating the Georgian alphabet and a building with a golden ferris wheel stuck on the facade some 20 floors up, conceived as a university but never used since power changed hands and the new government abandoned the project. We meet Dutch Corrie and her Georgian husband who run a hostel here. Over a glass of excellent Georgian wine they tell us a bit more about how things work (or don´t work) over here. It´s a fun place but we realize how spoilt we are in NL, where we always have clean water on tap, gas and electricity, and pensions are paid on time.

Brexit through the gift shop

On another note, about ´things not working´. Today we read the news about Brexit winning the referendum. It´s incomprehensible. I know I have just described the differences between Turkey and Georgia, but more striking to us at every border crossing is how similar all the people that we meet are. There are many more similarities than differences between people. Cultures, cuisines and habits blend gradually across large areas instead of being strictly defined by borders. In the end everybody wants the same; a job, an education, some fun, the option of travel. A chance in life. I can´t believe how people can be so close-minded and to turn their back on the rest of the world. I made a joke to the UK traveling girl: nobody lives on a island, but oops, the UK does! I worry about my UK friends and family, and about the future of the EU.

PS: pictures

We are playing around with our photo sharing options and we’ve found a way that saves us a truckload of uploading hassle. We are now linking directly to our Drive folders with ‘best of’ pics per country. The links are on the photo page. Please let us know if you can access the photos ok. Enjoy 🙂

Merhaba Turkey!

Cyclistanbul

The last week and a half we have had a break from cycling, to get organized for the upcoming countries visa- , travel- and bike-maintenance-wise. Istanbul has been a fantastic lay-over. We stayed at the house of our lovely host Coskun, enjoyed a jolly iftar meal with his family and friends. We were very impressed with Bisiklet Gezgini, a specialist bike shop for world tourers. Thanks for everything Alexios and Seçil! We also got to hang out with some other bike tourers inbetween all the organizing (three trips to the Iranian embassy..) and met up with Liverpudlian Wild Cyclist Andy, Cycling for Tigers Koen from NL, Jean from Belgium, ‘Ze Germans’ Tonia and Daniel and Kristian and Isa, a Danish couple who are also heading our direction and equally geeky about bike gadgets.

It’s been great to have a place to stay put for a few days, get to know some people, hang out, drink beer and exchange tips and travel iteneraries. One night we put all of our unwanted things on the table and made a lottery out of it. I ended up with the best prize of the night: Smelly cat bag with two broken zippers, hooray! And a super nice shirt. Cyril got a goody bag with a dinner voucher we can redeem in Liverpool and some stones we can paint and then use as currency wherever we go. We gave away a bit of fireworks, a shirt, and (like everybody else at the table) a map of Bugaria.

Hijab lesson at the Iftar table
Hijab lesson at the Iftar table

Istanbul

Istanbul was relaxed despite (or maybe because of) the bombing that happened just before we arrived or because of Ramadan. It is hot during the day and there are not as many tourists around as you would expect this time of year. Even the sellers in the bazar are slow to get our attention, they are hungry and tired because of Ramadan. We are staying in non-touristy Kadiköy, on the other side of the Bosphorus, so every day we hop on a ferribot and travel back and forth between Asia and Europe.

Cyclistanbul
Cyclistanbul

It’s nice to have some time to ponder the jump across to Asia after the end of European leg. Turkey is immediately very different from the Balkans. No more Soviet housing blocks but mosques and minarets, there is a building frenzy with old blocks torn down and highrise going up in many places which indicates an economic buzz we have not encountered before. There are more girls with headscarves then I remember from a previous visit some 6 years ago, but Istanbul is still a very cosmopolitan metropolis, depending on which neighbourhood you visit. We love the hospitality, the friendliness, the food and the cats of Istanbul. The cats are everywhere, and so are little bowls with water and food. They are being looked after and loved, and one afternoon we see about 5 middle-aged men in office attire try and get a cat out of a tree together. Istanbul is a cat city! We visit some of the main sights such as the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the wonderful Museum of Innocence. I have read Orhan Pamuks book years ago, and revisiting the book in this way is amazing. Pamuks storytelling always straddles East and West and the cabinets filled with everyday objects from Istanbul in the 70’s tell us many stories about Turkey, Istanbul, love, men and women and storytelling itself.

Aya Sofia
Aya Sofia
Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern

Trabzon, Trabzon, Trabzon!

A small illustration of Turkey: the bus drivers are singing out the names of the cities they will be traveling too, it’s like a competition. I will always think of Trabzon as a loud but melodious shout: ‘Trabzon, Trabzon,Trabzoooon!’

Today we are in Trabzon, once one of the great cities on the Silk Road. Today it is a congested city full of honking car noise, busy shopping streets and super nice people. We travelled and slept quite comfortably for 18 hours on a night bus, stopping only for the iftar meal at a gigantic roadside restaurant and a couple of hop on, hop off points. Tomorrow we will finally start cycling again, towards Georgia. We have only seen a tiny little bit of Turkey on the bike, so here is another country that we will have to revisit. It’s been a wonderful visit nonetheless, and we are fully recharged for the upcoming journey in Asia, especially after our visit to the hamam today.