. We were 50 miles from the 'centre' of Istanbul. The first few miles were high up and we were battered by really strong gusts. A concern with there being so many big trucks on the narrow roads we had chosen. But this way into Istanbul avoided the 10 lane highways people had warned us about and we were fairly relaxed about the whole thing. Through a couple of towns and then we hit the construction of a major new highway into the city. The only traffic was site traffic but the lorries queued in their hundreds to pick up a load to drive off to the unsurfaced parts. They honked ferociously as we passed. The other point of note about the new road were the packs of dogs lining the banks. 15 or 20 at a time would look up as we passed, most appeared to drowsy to give chase fortunately. After 20 miles or so of hard shoulder motorway cruising we became slightly unstuck around Kemerburgaz and had a nasty steep descent to double back on ourselves to pick up the right road. This junction was so important not to miss as it would have funnelled us down into traffic chaos. As it was we picked up a very quiet road which delivered us to Sariyer. After a few minutes it was clear why this road was so quiet. The hills for about 10 miles really slowed us down but it was still so much better than heavy traffic. In Sariyer we sensed we were heading the right way. The map of Turkey was now pretty useless as Istanbul was just a big blob. We sat down outside a bakery and within seconds a guy was upon us asking which bike was making such a terrible noise
. It was mine (the brake pads now grinding down the alloy rims gave off a terrible racket) but it took him no time to whip them off and put on fresh ones. Another guy on a bike came over to see what was going on. He asked us "where you go". I had heard of a football team in Istanbul called Besiktas so I went with that. He strangely pedalled off (look out for him later). Having polished off yet another loaf of bread, Pols and I got back on the bikes and off we went. After a minute or two we were hot with the smell of fresh fish and then the sight we been dreaming of. The glistening water of The Bosphorus dazzled us and was the first tick that we had made Istanbul. We were both quite surprised at how moving it was, from our local in Bosham, The Anchor Bleu (they serve good fish there to), to the fish restaurants of Istanbul in just 9 weeks. We paused for reflection (and cheesy photos) before realising we had only done 30 miles. That meant 20 more miles to the centre, and we
thought we had made it! The size of this place, how were we ever going to find our hostel, needle in a haystack sprung to mind. It also did not help that I had forgot to write down the address and only had the name and a fuzzy image of where abouts it was on the Istanbul map. Don’t panic, who is that coming into view in my wing mirror? Yes, it is that guy who had come up to us at lunch (I said to look out for him). He had rushed off not through lack of interest but instead to get changed into full cycling lycra
. He had then chased us down and would now be our guide into the city – AMAZING. Ibrahim weaved us in and out of traffic jams, pointed out the potholes and waved down speeding cars to clear the way for us. When we stopped at a Starbucks to commandeer a latte sipping pretty ladys’ laptop to find out the hotel address, Ibrahim waited and treated himself to a cigarette. On we went, mile after mile deeper into the city. It was one of the most amazing rides ever. Busy enough to get the buzz of fighting off the city traffic but chilled enough to marvel at the numerous mosques and other sights along the way. We hugged the Bosphorus all the way into Serkeci where we easily homed in on the hostel. We had done it! We rested the bikes against a shop window and enjoyed a celebratory beer with Ibrahim. It was dark now and our entrance into this phenomenal city was complete. What a way to finish leg 1. Through the back of a carpet shop (honestly) and up the stairs to our hostel room for unloading all the gear. We wanted to crash but went out to eat, the pushy waiters not getting much banter back from two weary cyclists. We found a more relaxed eatery and had some good kebab, not the only one we will have this week, I’m sure.
Today started really badly. With such an important day ahead of us (arriving at Checkpoint # 1 – Istanbul) we were keen to get off quickly and enjoy every step (or whatever the equivalent is on a bike). Instead we found ourselves in a good old ding dong with Basil Faulty Turkish Version. As if it was not bad enough that we had been without hot water in our luxury lodge hotel yesterday, as if it had not been bad enough that we were served a completely raw egg for breakfast (the cook clearly got his hard boiled and not yet cooked egg basket mixed up) we were then given a 50 pound bill for the meal which the manager had said the night before was on the house as way of apology for the lack of hot water. It was all quite heated but also quite funny as the manager discovered we had opened up a raw egg. We left frustrated but relieved to have left such a rip off hotel. It took only minutes for us to forget all about it. One of the great things about the bike journey is how in a couple of miles you can be so surprised you completely forget what happened an hour ago