Svelingrad, Edirne, Uzuncopru, Turkey
Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
17Trip End Dec 17, 2006
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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