Svelingrad, Edirne, Uzuncopru, Turkey

Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
Trip End Dec 17, 2006

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I bought breakfast from a take-away cafe near the hotel. Cheese pastries and a yoghurt drink called Ayran. I also called into a cafe for and espresso to give me an added boost. It was busy with old folks and not yet 9am on a Sunday.

I loaded the bike up and prepared to set off but noticed the back tyre rubbing on the brakes. I'm sure it wasn't doing that when I arrived. I loosened the brakes so that the tyre could turn freely. It was already 10am and I wanted to get going. I could have a good look at the bike at my next stop in Edirne, Turkey.

Again it was foggy but I felt better after a day off cycling. I made it to the Turkish border after 20km. This was a surprise as I thought it was further. I made it through about 10 border check points in about 45 minutes and had another surprise - I only had another 20km to Edirne. I had expected to cycle about 80km today but I would reach my target after only 40km. I was feeling strong and it was still early. I considered skipping Edirne and pressing on. Then I was reminded about the rear wheel. Something just didn't feel right back there and I'd been taking it easy so far. I decided to let Armagan know I would be arriving in Edirne. I met Armagan on a great website called and he had offered to put me up for a few nights in his home town. I arrived in Edirne and let Armagan know of my whereabouts. He told me he was on his way. It was cold so after 30 minutes I texted to ask how he was doing. He told me he'd arrive soon. After an hour my patience was running out but it was too late to do anything now. Then a turkish guy came over to me. He didn't bear any resemblance to the photo I'd seen of Armagan but he mentioned Armagan's name and asked me to follow him. I gathered his name was Mustapha and he's a friend of Armagan's. We went to a mobile phone shop round the corner. I guessed we were waiting for Armagan but couldn't imagine why he was so late.

Armagan arrived 15 minutes later nearly 1 and a half hours late. I was pleased to see him now I'd warmed up a little and we had tea. I would drink a lot of sweet tea over the coming weeks. As we chatted I soon learned that Armagan wasn't from Edirne at all but a little town called Uzuncopru. He had suggested his home town was Edirne on the website because people would recognise it better. His real home town stood 60km south towards Cannakale but about 20km closer to Istanbul. I had a predicament. It was now late and I would not be able to cycle again today. My host lived 60km away en route to Istanbul. He had driven to Edirne in his sister's car and offered to transport me and Clara to his place. On closer inspection of the bike I had discovered that not only was the wheel bent but two spokes had snapped. It must have been the crash outside Svilengrad. It didn't take me long to take Armagan up on his offer. I couldn't cycle the bike in it's current state. I was a little gutted to be taking alternative transport however, I felt it would have been reckless to continue with the bike as it was and rude to refuse the generous offer from my host. All sorts of ideas raced through my head about reconnecting this missing link later as Mustapha treated us to the best chicken kebab I've ever eaten.

So, with a little unexpected time now on our hands Armagan showed me around the ancient Ottoman capital of Edirne. According to Greek mythology, Orestes, son of king Agamemnon, built this city as Orestias, but it was (re)founded eponymously by the Roman Emperor Hadrian on the site of a previous Thracian settlement known as Uskadama.

Selimiye Mosque was built in 1575 and was designed by Turkey's greatest master architect, Mimar Sinan who claimed it his greatest work. It has the highest minarets in Turkey, at 70.9 meters with a cupola three or four feet higher than that of St. Sophia in Istanbul. It carries the name of the then reigning Ottoman Sultan Selim II and magnificently represents Turkish marble handicrafts featuring valuable tiles and fine paintings. It is the finest existing example of Ottoman architecture and one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever laid eyes on. The interior is bright, colourful and spacious. Armagan pointed out a curious detail on a pillar supporting a fount at the mosques centre. The outline of a tulip has been carved into the marble. It was the wish of a man funding the building to place a tulip somewhere in the great mosque. So intent was he to have his way that he withheld funds until he got his wish. Grudgingly, Sinan agreed but spitefully carved the tulip upside down and out of sight. The carving currently stands half way up the pillar but many Muslims believe that it slips with time towards the floor. Many believe that when it reaches ground level the world will end. Across the street stands the Edirne Eski Camii or Old Mosque. Built in 1492 it stands as the oldest surviving Ottoman building.

We returned to Mustapha's shop and drank more tea. They drink it without milk from small glasses here. A guy brings the tea from the nearest cafe with on tray. At about 5pm Mustapha helped Armagan and I squeeze the bike and the bags into his sister's small car. Even with the boot open the front wheel crossed over the driver and passenger seats. The night was foggy as we drove the 45km and the exhaust fumes brought tears to our eyes. I almost felt I'd have been safer cycling afterall. After an hour's drive we finally crossed the oldest standing hand built stone bridge into Uzuncopru. The town name means long bridge in Turkish and it spans 1275m across the river.

At Armagan's place I met his mother, sister and grandmother and we had dinner. Later I met his father who is a retired football coach for the local team. His family made me feel like royalty. Over the next week they wouldn't let me lift a finger to help and wouldn't take anything for their trouble. I couldn't have had a better introduction to Turkey and it's kind people and was so pleased I'd decided to take Armagan up on his offer.

That night we went to a local bar where Armagan and his friends play music and sing. We were joined there by his close friends Eray and Biro. It's not unusual for friends here to do favours for one another and that night another friend, a captain in the army was playing Sass and singing with the bar's owner. They were supported by drums and a clarinet. Later the band recited a moving poem written by Attaturk and I clapped with the crowd at it's conclusion. The captain asked if I clapped for his recital or the poem itself. Honestly moved though not understanding a word I said both and got an enormous round of applause. Confirmation of the passion of the Turkish people and the reverence they have for Attaturk.

National service is mandatory here and yound men can serve anywhere from 6 to 18 months in the army. They usually serve in an area far away from home. Later I discovered that Biro had just returned from the longest possible stretch near the troubled eastern border with Georgia. After a few pints of Efes we returned to Armagan's place to finish the night on red wine.

The following day Armagan introduced me to his friend Orhan who's father owns a local bus company. It just so happens that they run a service to Harem near Kadiköy in Istanbul. It also just so happens that I know somebody that lives in that very area and they have kindly offered to put me up for a few days before I fly to Egypt. I spend the day picking over my options. I must be in Istanbul by Thursday to collect my flight tickets from the Egyptair office on Friday. The flight leaves Monday. For lunch we go to Ninsi Kofte. People travel from Istanbul just to eat the kofte (balls of minced or ground meat mixed with spices and onions) in this most basic of eateries. Men sit around on tidy but worn furniture chatting as waiters lay down plates of kofte, chilli, bread and caçik. The menu has only 4 main and 4 side dishes. We enjoyed a delicious meal and left.

As many will remember my beard and hair unshorn since Bremen had reached epic lengths by Turkey. Truth be told I was sick of it when not using it to combat the cold and desperate for a shave and a haircut. Armagan introduced me to his friend Vulcan who has a barber shop in Uzuncopru. I take my seat and, as on every occasion, tea is served. Vulcan sets to work in a professional but leisurely fashion pausing to chat and allow me to sip at my glass. Nothing is rushed here. Time is always made for friends, tea and cigarettes. A steady stream of visitors filter in and out of the small room which sits in an arcade off the town's main street. Some pose questions about life in Leeds, some just want to see the strange bearded wanderer who has taken temporary residence in their small town. Questions, generally targeted at age, marital status and profession are always asked in Turkish and Armagan does a tireless job reeling off the answers time and time again. Young men often mention hooligans as I confirm my birth town and interest in football and every one of them wants to know how Turkey is viewed from afar. I honestly answer that it is probably viewed as unjustly as England is here. I have found that for some reason people everywhere feel quite rightly that they are viewed with suspicion from everywhere else. It's a great shame. I try to to dispel such fears by announcing that my eyes and heart are open and I bring only friendship in the hope of discovering the truth behind such ridiculous inaccuracies.

We return to Armagans to find his mother cooking a meal. The whole family comes round including both grandmothers. We have lentil soup, chicken and potatoes followed by a chocolate mousse and I savour every mouthful. I'm truly honoured as this is clearly a special occasion.

Later we go to the bridge club as we think they will be showing the Sheff Utd v Aston Villa game live. They show the first half interspersed with Turkey's favourite melodrama. I'm stunned to see a room full of blokes glued to the TV to watch a soap. It's a show about the mafia. There is a saying here that reaches all the way back to Ottoman rule - house, wife and revolver. Three things never to be without. Armagan teaches me a modern day version - love, money and friendship. A friend of Armagan's who works in the club joins us and opens a bottle of wine in my honour. I let slip a certain family connection and enjoy the second half in full. After a mistake that resulted in the first goal for Villa (sorry bud, GEB won't be happy either) I'll not forget that redeeming trademark throw to set up the equaliser. Great game. I'm invited back the following night for my first taste of Turkish rakia with the warning that it must only be taken with ample water, meze and respect.

The next morning Armagan and I called by his friends bike shop and picked up two new spokes. We got them for free, again as I am Armagans guest. We took the bike and the spokes to a repair shop that had many old bike parts laying around outside. Armagan chatted briefly with the mechanic. Then we left, my only prized possession, unlocked in the street. I haven't used the bike lock once in Uzuncopru. We visited Armagans grandmother who lives alone. Her face lit up when she answered the door and she welcomed us with sweets. I felt a little sorry for her as the other grandmother lives with the family. She has a lovely apartment with a large salon but only uses one smaller room for living in, at least in winter. Many people here adopt the same practice heating only one room with a fire that can be used for keeping the tea warm too. The benefits are two fold: energy and environmental conservation. It puts many westerners, with radiators burning away in every room, to shame. We went back for the bike and the mechanic asked Armagan all about my trip which he recounted again with a smile. Of course the mechanic, who'd done an excellent job, expected no payment as I was a guest.

Later we visited the municipality head office. Although the mayor, a friend of Armagan's father, was away in Ankara his secretary offered to show us the view from the top of the building, the highest in the area. He then hosted us and we (they) chatted over tea. The staff were interested in my trip and asked for my opinions of Uzuncopru and Turkey. I considered the idea of Armagan being treated this way by the mayor in Leeds Town Hall should he ever visit Leeds.

We returned to Armagans house and shared a delicious dinner with two more guests both of whom spoke German. Excited that we almost shared a common language I tried to converse and managed to get out my age and that one of my sisters lives in Bremen but little else. Frustrating considering how much I could understand as they spoke. We took our leave as more visitors came. A poker game was about to begin. Card nights are a big social event for men and woman here but never played for money which is strictly illegal.

We returned to the bridge club and had a few beers with the guys. Later talk turns to my thoughts about Turkey. Tongue a little lossened by Efes I express my honest opinion with plenty of passion and tell them how happy I am to be made so welcome so far from home. The people here are some of the best I have met on this trip and I would love to spend more time here. As Armagans guest I've barely paid a kurush since I arrived, and I receive gifts and offers to be hosted in other parts of Turkey every day.

The conversation turns political. Many Turkish people here want to break from the middle east and join the EU but feel parliament are holding them back. Turkey has been a secular state since the time of Attaturk but İslam is the major religion. Elections will take place next year.

We drain our glasses and as we leave again I'm unable to part with a single penny. The night ends in a soup kitchen somewhere in Uzunkopru.

We wake, have breakfast with the family and later we visit Levent's farm where I meet his pet dog, Corto (wolf). He did have four dogs but some miserable hunter nearby shot two others and poisoned one. Corto is lucky to be alive and has probably been shot at himself. The farm is only three kilometres out of town but feels like countryside. On a far hill beyond the long-bridge (uzun-kopru) you can make out the Turkish flag that marks the border with Greece. Levent draws an imaginary line through the unspoilt countryside and tells me it will soon be a bypass around Uzunkopru. It's a shame but the ancient bridge wasn't built for the transport it caters for. The line cuts straight through a small shack. I ask Levent about it. He tells me that newlywed gypsy's visit it for good luck. Wonder where they'll go when the bypass comes to town.

Later, at the bridge club, we watch the Republic of Fenerbahce come back from a two nil defecit to draw 2-2. I get my first taste of Turkish rakia carefully served with water and a plate of mese (cold kebab, cheese, olives and corichon). The guys finish their poker game and we have a few more drinks. Again talk turns political, Orhan Pamuk's name is mentioned and I'm asked for my thoughts on the Armenian question. Phew! We turn in at about 3 in the morning. No rest for the wicked.

We rise at 7am after 3 hours sleep. I pack and roll the bike down to the bus station. After a fond farewell with Armagan, we've become like brothers, I board my 8am bus bound for the star in Turkey's crescent, Istanbul.

Leeds to Edirne -- Distance - 4500km; Duration -3 months; Friends made - Countless
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