Pre Christmas Turkey
Trip Start Jun 20, 2010
26Trip End Nov 20, 2010
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During my time in Istanbul I had come up with a plan as to how I was going to get home. Originally I was going to try and achieve this without using a plane. However it had become apparent that as I wanted to be back for Christmas there was no way I was going to be able to ride back in time. Instead I decided on the following route. I would try and get a ferry from Turkey to Athens and then cycle around 200km to Patras from where I could catch another ferry to Ancona in Italy. Then I would attempt to cycle the 400 odd kilometres to Milan via San Marino (another little country to add to my list), from where I could get a cheap flight back home. The only problem with this was getting from Turkey to Greece. The only way I found of doing this using ferries was by getting a boat from the town of Ayvalik on the western coast of Turkey to the Greek island of Lesvos and then from there catching another ferry the next day to Athens
Getting out of Istanbul is much easier than getting in
As I discovered when I tried to cycled to Asia the only way of getting to the Asian side of Turkey by road requires going on the motorway. This means for cycle tourers the only way to get in to Asia is to use a ferry. As I had a very long distance to cover in a short time I had come up with a plan and decided instead of hopping on a little ferry across to the Asian side of Istanbul, I would instead catch the fast ferry to Bandirma, on the other side of the Sea of Marmara. This would get me much closer to my destination but also avoid the long, tiring and dangerous ride out of Istanbul
Luckily the weather was great and the terrain didn’t start too badly either, mostly rolling hills through farm land. As the day went on the road got progressively smaller and the terrain more hilly. I became a bit worried as I really was on a tight schedule and I had to ride at least 100km the first day to allow enough time the next day to catch the ferry. My fitness was not great having had a lazy week and the relentless hilly terrain was starting to get to me, I was beginning to get a bit frustrated. The roads also changed, as I was taking the most direct route I soon found myself on gravel roads weaving through the hills passing through increasingly tiny little villages. Due to my slow progress I realised I was going to have to ride until it got dark and just hope I could find somewhere to pitch my tent. Later that afternoon I spotted a shop in a small village and decided I should get some food for the evening. I bought a few bits from their very bare shelves and was just heading back to my bike when I notice it had attracted a bit of a crowd. There were one or two kids but it was mostly old men who had been sitting in the tea room next door and spotted me pulling up. I started talking away to them trying to explain where I was from and where I had been
The next morning it was like someone had lit a fire under my behind, and I packed up a double speed to make sure I would be able to cover the distance in time
I reached town at three o’clock which was very good time, the ferry wasn’t going until half five. I managed to find the ticket office and nervously went in hoping that the ferry would be running. However I was not in luck and my great effort getting to Ayvalik was in vain. It was the reason that the ferry wasn’t operating that surprised me the most. I was told it was due not to the weather or the ferry but rather the Turkish customs officials at the port who must have been on strike. As it was an international ferry it wasn’t able to operate without a customs check before leaving. I asked if the ferry later that week would be running and was told it was unlikely. I didn’t know what to do, I was now stuck in a very out the way part of Turkey, with no way of getting home which didn’t require a fair amount of cycling
Amazing market in Ayvalik
Luckily I had become stranded in a charming little town. Its old town was really quite amazing, it was described by one travel writer as “a living museum”. It was an old Greek town and has tiny little cobbled streets weaving their way between the buildings. The nice thing is that although some houses have been done up back to their original state, others have just been left to crumble away. This is what gives it a really lived in feel that is often missing from more pristine old town. I had also picked (by chance) a good evening to get stranded as the next day was the famous market which is the largest in the region. People come from all around to buy and sell everything from trousers to tomatoes. The really nice thing about the market however is that lines many of the streets in the old town giving it amazing feeling. It is a big market and the streets are very confusing making it incredibly easy to get lost. Outside the Pension I was staying in was a large cobbled square. This I was told, was home to a special part of the market called the villagers market. This is where locals would come to sell left over produce which they had grown. Unlike the larger 'proper’ food market round the corner which was very businesslike and full of men, this was mostly made up of women from the neighbouring villages. It was quite a sight looking out the window seeing all the old women dressed in headscarves selling all manner of vegetables
Fast food Ayvalik style
As well as olive oil, Ayvalik is also famous for its fast food. There are a couple of types of fast food from Ayvalik which are so famous you can get them all over Turkey. But obviously they are best tried from where they originated. The one I tried was called tost it is basically the biggest most unhealthy toasted sandwich you can image. It had tomatoes, gherkins, cheese, shredded meat (like frankfurter), salami as well as lashings of ketchup and mayonnaise. As well as being unhealthy they are also really tasty especially after riding all day. In fact on the day I arrived after finding out the ferry was not going the next thing I did was to get some tost (I was starving). So starving in fact that I decided one was not enough. When I eventually found the pension I asked the lovely woman there who spoke English if there was anywhere she recommended for me to get another really authentic one (I had feeling that although very nice the one I had tried already was not the best available)
I spent a couple of days in Ayvalik, enjoying just wandering round taking photos. I also had time to figure out a plan. As I could no longer get to Greece I needed to get to an airport within the next week so I could fly home. One safe option was to head back to Istanbul, however the airport in Istanbul is a long way from the centre and I decided that it could be tricky getting there with a bike packed in a box. Instead I decided I would continue to head south and aim for the city of Antalya on the southern coast. There were a couple of reasons for this, I decided that I should try and get as far away from home as possible (because it looks better on my map!). The main reason though, was because Antalya would also the perfect place to start from if I ever fancied doing another trip and heading across Asia (I have a plan that over a number of trips I might eventually manage to get right the way round the world). I used the language skills of the very helpful pension owner to book my flights and the next day I was ready to head off.
Snow, in Turkey?
As I left she was quite worried about me, weather reports were talking of a cold snap for Turkey in the next few days
Obviously the day was punctuated quite often with tea drinking. Pretty much all petrol stations in Turkey have good toilet facilities, which they don’t mind you using, so I often found myself stopping to take advantage. The other good thing about stopping at petrol stations (when on a bike and out of town) is that most of the time the attendants came out and offered me some cay which was a perfect way to warm up on a cold day (I did take advantage of this on a few occasions stopping then looking suitably cold and knackered hoping they would have a brew on)
That evening I arrived into town late and it was already getting pretty dark. As I rode in to town I noticed the welcome sign which in Turkey often have the population on them. I had already decided I was going to try and look for a hotel here, generally my rule is that if the population is over 10,000 there will definitely be a hotel, any less and there could be problems. On this particular occasion the population was only 4000 and I started to become a bit worried. I anxiety wasn’t made any better when I got to the town to find, well nothing much really
I sat there and within no time the owner was offering me cay (free of course) he was a nice chap who spoke some English and was interesting in what I was doing. We were chatting away but soon I had to leave to go to the pension. He had really enjoyed having someone to practice his English with and told me I must come back later for some more cay or tost. The pension was pretty good and had an electric shower with instant hot water and a huge electric heater in the room so I was very pleased. What pleased me more though was the fact that it was now bucketing down with rain, I was very glad I wasn’t in my tent. Later that evening I decided I would need to go and get some food so I thought I might was well run back to the cafe and see if I could get the guy to cook me some tost thus avoiding getting too drenched
When I got there the guy was busy talking away with a friend however as soon as he saw me he gave me a very warm welcome and introduced his friend to me. We drank some cay and I asked if he could cook me up some food. He said he could and started sorting out what he needed when he suddenly turned round and asked “would you like to come and have dinner with my family instead?”. I told him I would love to but that I couldn’t be long as I was planning on getting up at 6 to get an early start. He assured me his house was close by, we could go straight away and wouldn’t be back late. The town was tiny and there really wasn’t much to it. Luckily the rain had subsided by now and the sky was beginning to clear as we wandered through the streets towards his house. We arrived at a small crumbly old looking house, there was a muddy path and an area where it looked like they kept livestock as well as a big stainless steel churn for making cheese. The path went along the front of the house and led to some steps. At the top of the steps there wasn’t a front door, rather a sheet of wood covering up the door way which he moved to one side. Inside the house was really interesting, very old and basic and also bloody cold and as they didn’t have central heating. He waved me in and we walked into a small room at the front of the house. It was really interesting, the room was pretty tiny with wobbly whitewashed walls and no obvious windows
The guys family was very large and most of them still lived at home. On this particular evening only one of his sisters was home, she was a teacher in a local school. She kept flitting in and out of the room as she prepared some food for us. I think they had obviously already eaten, although I didn’t know this at first and felt a bit bad about eating all their food. They sat there catching up on the day’s news as we waited for his sister to heat up the food on their wood burning stove
There were a couple of hot dishes, one was beans in a sauce with bits of what looked like lamb in it. There was also another more creamy dish which was almost like a savoury (although still quite sweet) version of porridge. There was a fist full of salad leaves, but they looked very different from the lettuce we are used to (some did have a more weed like shape but they were really tasty), as well as a lovely loaf of bread. You don’t have plates rather you break off some bread, grab a spoon and all tuck into the same bowlfuls of food. As we ate he continued to catch up with his family, it was great to be able to sit there listening to Turkish conversation, I enjoying listening to people chatting away in their own language
They were really lovely hosts and the food was so tasty and filling. Every time I stopped eating his mother, who was sitting on the floor next to me, would tap me on the arm and point at the food as if to say “go on eat some more”. After we had eaten far too much of their bean stew we had some pudding which looked similar to bits of very stodgy bread pudding. It had an odd texture, I’m not totally sure what it was made from but whatever the main ingredient was, it had been soaked in a kind of syrup with some spice and fruit in it. We spent at least an hour eating away, I would occasionally ask him questions about his family, and occasionally his family (who spoke no English) would ask him to translate questions for me. After we had eaten it was obviously cay o’clock. His father seemed quite pleased about his and looked very ready for some. His mother sat on the floor and began preparing it on the stove. To make proper Turkish cay you use a special double-decker tea pot
The final countdown
I was getting very close to Antalya now, I decided that I would try and make my last day of riding a big one (it's always good to end on a high). I would need to ride over 130km to reach Antalya but I did have the advantage of being in the mountains so at some point there would be the small matter of over 1000m of decent (which I was very much looking forward to). I made good progress boosted by the thought of finally reaching my destination. The weather was pretty good although there was the odd rain shower about
That night soon after I arrived the heavens opened and a massive lightening storm started. As I mentioned in my previous post, it was the first time I had heard lightening since ‘the incident’ and all the hairs on my arms were standing on end and I was quite scared even though I was in a hostel. I decided for obvious reasons that I really didn’t fancy going out in search of food. Besides I was feeling lazy and managed to get the receptionist to order me some kebabs and get some poor guy on a scooter to deliver them to the hostel (it was bucketing it down at this point)
Antalya is a very nice town and draws a lot of tourists in, even when I was there it was 18 degrees so you can imagine what it would be like in the summer. I saw most of the sights whilst carrying out the long list of errands I had to complete before I could leave. I managed to get a bike box from the second bike shop I tried (although I had to pay a little bit for it) I was just very impressed that it only took me an hour to search one out. The hard part was then trying to fit my bike in, it required quite a lot of spanner work and some medium to sever swearing to figure out. I also had to sort out all my gear and throw away as much as possible. Some of the stuff that was left went in with my bike and the rest in one pannier. I also bought some souvenirs for myself in the Bazaar, including a double decker tea pot and some tea glasses so I can drink cay when I’m back home. Soon my couple of days in Antalya had flown by and I was waking up knowing that the next day I would be heading airport and back to blighty.