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.
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.
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.
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.