Crossing the Dardanelles.

Ephesus (Selcuk) -> Izmir -> Cankkale -> Gallipoli peninsula -> Istanbul -> Gallipoli peninsula -> Greece.

At a crossroads.

At a crossroads.

One of my favourite rituals of travel is the first swim in a new sea, no matter what the weather. The marshlands of the silted bay, that once connected Ephesus to the sea, gave way to the Aegean. We could have chosen to join the cows for a swim at the beach, but we pushed on for another 20 minutes, climbing the road that hugged the cliff top that dropped far below. The wind churned up the waves and the water was a murky brown when we entered. The locals thought us crazy for swimming on such a day, but I always find splashing in the water rejuvenating. On the beach, as we picked seaweed flakes from our skin the nearby café owner offered us hot tea to warm ourselves. We gladly accepted and shared our remaining food with the stray cats that circled our table.

Overlooking the Aegean Sea.

Overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The stray cats have funny hiding places.

The stray cats have funny hiding places.

Sharing tea after our swim.

Sharing tea and food after our swim.

The ride to Izmir was lovely along the secondary road Izmir Cadesi. Forest interchanged with small-scale agriculture. Pelicans circled us as we ate our lunch on the shores of a bird sanctuary reservoir. With a tail wind we cruised along happily outrunning the storm that was chasing us from behind. Such peace was not to last. As we reached the outskirts of this megapolis the insanity began. Let me rephrase that, the driving insanity began. The roads are not designed for cycling and the drivers have no respect for anyone. It was a hodge podge of mains roads, underpasses, narrow service roads, crazy major intersections, cars double parked and peak hour traffic.

Pelicans fly overhead at lunchtime.

Pelicans fly overhead at lunchtime.

Spring is starting to show herself in floral blooms.

Spring is starting to show herself in floral blooms.

Enjoying a cuppa and a spot of lunch.

Enjoying a cuppa and a spot of lunch.

Enter stage left the driver of doom. The whole episode lasted less than two minutes but it all went in slow motion for me. Some dickhead in a sports car (sound familiar?) roared passed me at a speed I don’t even want to know, in a narrow service lane missing me by mere centimetres.  Despite being hit by cars twice this journey and almost being killed by maniac truck and bus drivers, this was by far my scariest experience yet.  After almost two years of dealing with badly behaved drivers I snapped.  I chased him down – he was stopped at the traffic lights down the road – and my metal water bottle may have accidently inserted itself into the corner rear panel of his shiney car.  He immediately pulled out and tried to run me over, so Jude lost it at him and we cycled off shaken but triumphant.  The drivers and the road continued to be horrendous and by the time we found a seaside bar we were exhausted.  Beers and shisha were ordered to calm the nerves and two hours later we cycled in fine spirits (and in the rain storm that had caught up to us) to Samed and Shahika’s lovely apartment.  Their kindness, hospitality and good humour (as well as their cat Smirnoff) dispelled any remaining negative feelings.

Happy to have arrived in Izmir.

Happy to have arrived in Izmir.

Enjoying a beer after the crazy ride into Izmir.

Enjoying a beer after the crazy ride into Izmir.

Turkish people love their food and breakfast is the highlight of any day.  The table is spread with 15 different dishes and 4 types of bread and of course the mandatory cups of tea.  Then you eat until you can eat no more, and then there is still food left on the table – even with cycle tourists around.  Coincidently our friends Ismail and Irena from Gaziantep also happened to be in Izmir at thix time and we spent a lovely weekend, with friends old and new, tasting all the culinary delights that Turkey had to offer.  It was a gourmands paradise and a hungry cycle tourists wet dream.  Our last evening was celebrated in style with Smirnoff’s namesake and a variety of mezze bought fresh from the family run deli.  Sherefe!!

Breakfast is the best meal of the day in Turkey.

Breakfast is the best meal of the day in Turkey.

Sharing coffee with friends - old and new.

Sharing coffee with friends, old and new.

A coffee and a sahlep.

A coffee and a sahlep.

A Turkish speciality - mussels stuffed with spiced rice served hot with a squeeze of lemon. We may have gorged ourselves...

A Turkish speciality – mussels stuffed with spiced rice served hot with a squeeze of lemon. We may have gorged ourselves…

Eating and choosing mezze at the local shop.

Eating and choosing mezze at the local shop.

Relaxing at home with Samed and Shahika.

Relaxing at home with Samed and Shahika.

Ready to drink? Sherefe!!

Ready to drink? Sherefe!!

Considering our Izmir cycling history and that another storm was brewing, we chose to catch the ferry from the south of Izmir bay to the north.  A minute after we wished our friends a fond farewell it started to bucket down.  The promenade cycle path to the dock became covered in water, super slippery and both Jude and I lost control.  I just missed knocking three people over like bowling pins and Jude slammed hard to the ground.  Wet and sore we arrived at the ferry and dripped all over the floor on the half hour ride.  After passing through the industrial part of town the only road out of town was a major thoroughfare with traffic galore and as usual lots of bad driving – I wonder when this will end?  Well it did finally did for a while and our three day cycle towards the ancient city of Troy ended up being quite enjoyable.  We cycled along from bay to bay, camped by the sea, cooked on fires, Brooke enjoyed a spot of fishing, we did yoga and meditated, books were read and beers were drank while watching the sunset.  We even experienced some of the hospitality we had become used to back east with a dinner invitation, loads of tea and some good Turkish humour.

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A dinner invitation is always accepted and enjoyed.

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Brooke enjoys a spot of fishing.

And some more.

And some more.

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We enjoyed lovely nights of camping by the sea, with a fire to keep us warm and cook dinner.

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Morning light.

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Storms came and went for the whole ride up the coast.

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Exploring the rock holes and enjoying the last of the daylight.

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Yep, life is pretty perfect.

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Anyone for toast?

After a breakfast of toast and eggs we were ready to tackle the climb over the mountain range that would drop us into the valley where the archaeological remains of Troy are to be found.  You may all be familiar with the Homeric tale of the Trojan War brought on by some wife stealing (with the assistance of Aphrodite) and the fall of the city with the use of a giant wooden horse.  What I didn’t know was that the city had been built and rebuilt at least 13 times since 3,000 BC, until it was abandoned in 500 AD, only to be rediscovered in the mid 1860’s.  Quite a bit of imagination is required to visualise the fantastic city of old, but the ruins still remain impressive both for their size and quality.  Being a UNESCO site, the nearby village takes advantage of its ability to exploit tourists by charging ridiculous amounts of money for food and accommodation, so we did what we always do, we cycled a few kilometres down the road and set up camp for the night.  Our site was so spectacular that I commented that I felt like a queen overlooking her lands.

A replica of the Trojan horse.

A replica of the Trojan horse.

Entering the ancient city of Troy

Entering the ancient city of Troy

Our first squirrel sighting.

Our first squirrel sighting.

Exploring the ruins.

Exploring the ruins.

9 different city stages are marked here - covering a period of 3,500 years.

9 different city stages are marked here – covering a period of 3,500 years.

Part of the old city housing.

Part of the old city housing.

Yes, more ruins.

Yes, more ruins.

Me and my domain.

Me and my domain.

Sunset over the valley.

Sunset over the valley.

Jude and I woke in high spirits.  Today we would be crossing from the Asian continent to the European one.  As we climbed out of the valley we were greeted with a spectacular view of the Dardanelles.  As the water sparkled below we watched as ships passed in perfect formation on their way to the Marmara Sea.  We spoiled ourselves with a second breakfast overlooking the action below and then free-wheeled our way down to Canakkale from where we caught the ferry across to the Gallipoli peninsula and the European continent.  We may have drunk half a bottle of whisky on the way over and we may have been quite merry when we arrived.  After a quick look around the War Memorial in Eceabat and a few tears at the beautiful letter written by Ataturk to the mothers of foreign men killed here, we located the Boomerang Bar and settled in for a few more celebratory bevvies.

Our first view of the Dardanelles.

Our first view of the Dardanelles.

Enjoying our second breakfast.

Enjoying our second breakfast.

Got to love where you can park with a bike.

Got to love where you can park with a bike.

The Gallipoli Peninsula from the ferry.

The Gallipoli Peninsula from the ferry.

Having a whisky (or two) on our way to continental Europe.

Having a whisky (or two) on our way to continental Europe.

We have arrived!!!

We have arrived!!!

Part of the War Memorial in Eceabat.

Part of the War Memorial in Eceabat.

Ataturk's letter that brought tears to my eyes.

Ataturk’s letter that brought tears to my eyes.

Part of the War Memorial Eceabat.

Part of the War Memorial Eceabat.

Celebrating with more beers at the Boomerang Bar.

Celebrating with more beers at the Boomerang Bar.

Well watered, we set off for the opposite side of the peninsula and I must admit it felt like I was flying.  The sunshine, the greenery and the newly paved roads (the 100th ANZAC day anniversary was in a fortnight) combined for a glorious ride.  We found ourselves a beautiful beach next to a pine forest and set up home for the night.  Despite being Australian I hadn’t considered visiting Gallipoli on this trip, but it was the one place Brooke wanted to visit, and I’m glad we came.  Not for the ANZAC stuff, but for the natural beauty.  It is the cleanest, greenest and quietest place I have seen in the whole country.  The next day we did visit numerous ANZAC sites including Lone Pine and ANZAC Cove, and I learnt a different version of what happened here during the war.  The thing that saddened me the most was that the Australians, New Zealanders and English know the names of all the men that lost their lives here, the Turkish do not.  Their forces were disorganised and thousands of men lie in this ground without their families knowing where they are.

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Cooking dinner at sunset.

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Our stunning camp spot.

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We had a friend for our time on the peninsula.

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Lone Pine memorial.

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Memorial wreaths at Lone Pine.

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Reading the names of those remembered.

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A view down the Gallipoli Peninsula.

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The Australian dug trenches still survive 100 years on.

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ANZAC Cove.

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A view of ANZAC Cove.

As I mentioned this year is the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day and there was a ballot for the 10,000 odd tickets available to be here on this day.  The tickets were free, but the catch was that you had to book in on a tour to attend and the price of these was about $800 for 4 days minimum, and from chatting to many of the local businesses not many of these tours actually stop to support them during this time.  I’m glad we visited during this quiet time as this seems more fitting to the memory of what occurred here.  After a few days of exploring we returned to Eceabat and left our gears and some of our bikes in the wonderful care of Mesut at Boomerang Bar before taking off on a five day adventure to Istanbul.

Looking stunning when she is about to swim with hundreds of jellyfish.

Looking stunning when she is about to swim with hundreds of jellyfish.

The weather picked up so we hid behind an old bunker for the night.

The weather picked up so we hid behind an old bunker for the night.

Dinner party in the rain.

Dinner party in the rain.

Boomerang Bitter at the Boomerang Bar.

Boomerang Bitter at the Boomerang Bar.

Home overlooking the Dardanelles.

Home overlooking the Dardanelles.

Where our girls spent their time while we were in Istanbul.

Where our girls spent their time while we were in Istanbul.

As you probably all know we are behind on the blog and hopefully you read Jude’s (on time) wonderful blog entry about our 2 years on the road that we celebrated in Istanbul.  Our friend Janne joined us there for the celebration and it was lovely.  As well as celebrating we had our bikes somewhat serviced and unfortunately that experience was indeed poor.  Luckily the sightseeing was spectacular.  We wandered from the Galata tower, to the Hagia Sophia, to the Blue Mosque, to the basilica cistern, through the bazaars and along the Bospherus.  What a city, what history – I’ll leave the pictures to tell the story of our time there.

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Istanbul from the Bospherus.

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Istanbul from the Bospherus.

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Coffee time.

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So many fisherman.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia.

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The incredible mosaics.

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Being monkeys

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The Hagia Sophia.

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The Blue Mosque.

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Inside the Blue Mosque.

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The basilica cistern.

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The basilica cistern.

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Medusas head in the basilica cistern.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar.

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So many mosques.

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And more.

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Wandering the streets.

Soon enough the road began calling again and it was time to cycle towards Greece.  It was a smooth 2 day cycle with a lovely pitch by the beach for our last night in Turkey.  In Ipsala we spent the last of our lira on food for the next weeks camping and loads of our favourite Turkish vegan snack – Cikofte.  Turkey had been a wild card on this trip and we were super happy to have explored so much of this amazing and varied land.

Turkey  - teşekkür ederim & elveda.

All my love, Astrid.

Our last hill in Turkey at a whopping 350 metres.

Our last hill in Turkey at a whopping 350 metres.

Our home at sunset.

Our home at sunset.

Last night happiness.

Last night happiness.

Last campfire in Turkey.

Last campfire in Turkey.

Coast, mountains and ancient sites

Antalya to Ephesus via Pamukkale 

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On the road once more

The rain finally cleared and we were able to leave Antalya. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t enjoyed the total time out. Sometimes you just need it. We pushed out of the old town and followed the coastal highway, battling it out with some truly demented drivers. The cycling was beautiful though, the sparkling Mediterranean on our left and the mountains on our right. Sometimes we climbed into forests, other times we were right on the coast and able to swim. The weather stayed in our favour, at least for a few days.

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Lunch on the beach first day out of Antalya

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The gorgeous coast somewhere near Finike

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The Green Fairy and I enjoying the view. Could the winter be over? Oh and note use of stick. This is why we have them!!

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Another gorgeous bay

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I love being in the sea

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An early morning swim

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It’s not all gorgeous coastline. We saw many hot houses like these

On one day we ran  into 4 other cycle tourists. One Turkish guy, two French and a Swiss girl. After not seeing anyone throughout the winter it signalled to us that ‘the season’ had started. Cyclists were leaving Europe and beginning the long trek East. It happened that we all met in the evening and thus camped together in a place that wasn’t quite open for yet and therefore let us stay for free. Like always it was exciting sharing stories about where we had been and where we were going. It struck me again how close Europe is. Just that day we had marvelled at views of some Greek Islands.

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It was a tough 14 km up here but check out the view. Some of the islands are Greek.

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Lunch time with a view

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It’s not winter anymore! seven cycle tourists in one village!

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The campsite we were given for free

The history of Ancient Greece is also starting to creep in here. For the very next day we visited the UNESCO site of Xanthos. This city was around before the Greeks as an ancient Lycian centre of culture, followed by Persians before it was eventually Hellenized. The Romans came next and then later it was abandoned. Now some beautiful ruins with some very cute goats and tortoises remain. It is quite amazing to find these kinds of places on your cycle route!

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Xanthos

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Goats enjoy it too!!

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Just some casual morning UNESCO sites..

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This tortoise also calls Xanthos home. Poor thing was tipped on her back Brooke saved her.

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We had lunch in here

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The bikes wait outside..

Soon the rain found us again and then as we headed back into the mountains, the snow. We took this route in order to visit Pamukkale, a series of hot springs and travertines that are an amazing white colour and considered a highlight of Turkey by many. This detour from the coast gave us some tough times.  Firstly due to the agriculture and villages it was difficult to find somewhere to camp. We finally asked at a petrol station one night and were confronted with how different this part of Turkey is to the East. The first guy we asked was confused and sent us further afield. The second guy gave us some concrete to camp on, even though by this time it was snowing and he had a large warm room all to himself. It actually didn’t bother us to camp at all, we were warm enough. It was just the realisation that attitudes are changing as we get further west. We were still spoiled from Iran! Unfortunately the guy at the petrol station ended up being a total creep and came knocking and whispering at our tent at 2am and 4am. We told him to piss off and he eventually left. Thankfully this was our only creeper in Turkey.

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Night one heading back in land was beautiful..

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We cycled through beautiful mountainous landscape

Snow and a roaring headwind greeted us the next morning. Making sure to be extra loud we woke the creeper (I may have yelled at him) and then limped about 200m to the nearest open cafe and ate two breakfasts back to back. Eventually we had to leave however and it was one of those days that I almost questioned why the hell I was doing this. Almost. We pushed into a raging, icy headwind all day. Our only relief were the ever present petrol stations with their free tea. Intermittently we would collapse into these, consume food and tea and try and put off leaving. Towards evening the wind improved somewhat and the dull, over farmed landscape gave us some trees in which to camp amongst. I had been dreading another petrol station encounter. I really love the end of a cycling day. Collecting fire wood, building a fire, starting dinner, scribbling in my journal as the light gradually fades. It is at this time that I feel most at peace with the world.

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The next day was not so swell at the petrol station creeper camp

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This is what we woke to

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We cycled through this

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And this

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It was strange and beautiful

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But this is what we found at the end of the day

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Happiness is the sun!

Reprieve came in the form of sunshine and a light breeze the next morning. I was overjoyed and cycled the remaining kilometres to Pamukkale in high spirits. Poor Astrid had however woken up with ‘elephantitis of the face’. That’s what we called it anyway. One side of her face was puffy and swollen, we guessed from cycling into the wind all day. Sadly no photographic evidence exists. Once we reached the town we made the rather dubious choice of deciding to cycle 6 km up a steep hill to the campground. It took an hour and a half of arse breaking climbing to make it up there. The view was pretty great and the beer was pretty cold, so all was not lost.

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Resting on the way up to the campground

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The view from the campsite

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Clothes drying up at the campground – it poured and Brooke kindly shouted us a room for the night

The following day we hitched hiked down the hill and explored Pamukkale. This might sound a bit harsh, but I don’t think it was worth it. They have re routed a lot of the water and it really doesn’t look that spectacular anymore. Maybe it was also the weather as it was grey and soon began to rain quite heavily. Just above Pamukkale sits Hieropolis a Greco-Roman Byzantine city founded early in the second century. It was a spa town and many people came there to bathe in the healing waters of Pamukkale. I wish I could have seen it then. There was something quite atmospheric about exploring these ruins in the rain.

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The impressive colosseum at Hieropolis

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Hieropolis

What goes up, must come down and so it was for us. What had taken us so long to climb we now managed in under 15 mins on the way down. We wound our way through the countryside back to the highway and then something that rarely occurs happened. A ripping tailwind, smooth surface and good weather. Plus nice scenery. The cycling was so easy, at one point I wrote an email on my phone as I was pushed along by the wind! We made 120km easily that day and settled into an olive plantation feeling pretty happy with ourselves.

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Cooking dinner

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Our Olive camp

It was a short push to Selcuk the next day. This modern Turkish city is visited primarily to see the Greek-Roman ruins of Ephesus. This ancient city is huge and amazingly well preserved, I felt like I could get a real feel of what it must have been like to live in one of these grand cities as I walked around gazing at high columns and marble. Ephesus is also known as having the first ‘public toilet’. I am not sure if this is actually true, but the story is good and it’s fun to see.

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Rating the public toilet 9/10!

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What remains of the Library

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You can feel the scale of what it must have looked like

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Walking along the old road

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So I will leave you now and let Astrid continue with our journey Westwards, towards European Turkey and Greece.

Love

Jude

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From the snow to the sea.

Ankara, Nevsehir -> Ortahisar -> Cappadocia area -> (London) -> Antalya -> Konya -> Mediterranean Coast -> Antalya.

Love-in Turkey.

Love-in Turkey.

When Brooke suggested joining our journey, we jumped at the opportunity. We love to share our adventures with others, especially those who will jump on their bikes and come along for the ride. Therefore it was exciting to see Brooke and the bike box coming out of the arrivals gate in Ankara. Soon we were back at our cosy apartment, sharing duty free rum and planning the route ahead. It would be a three month journey together, through a handful of countries. But first Brooke needed to recover from some jet lag. Between sleep-ins and early nights we wandered the streets in the snow, visited the imposing Ataturk Mausoleum, explored the incredible Anatolian Civilisations museum and introduced Brooke to Turkish cuisine and chai.

Brooke has arrived and so has the snow.

Brooke has arrived and so has the snow.

Walking through the snowy streets.

Walking the snowy streets.

Ataturk's Mausoleum.

Ataturk’s Mausoleum.

Inside the Anatolian Civilisations museum.

Inside the Anatolian Civilisations museum.

Looking at the ancient carvings.

Looking at the ancient carvings.

On top of the Anakara castle.

On top of the Anakara castle.

Ankara spreads on and on.

Ankara covered in snow.

It seems as if no trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to the magical rock formations of Cappadocia. Such sentiments found us shivering at the bus station in Nevsehir surrounded by a thick blanket of snow. We had organised to stay with a host in the town of Ortahisar, a ride of just under 20km away. Usually not a problem, but as we cycled along the roads my gears began to slide and stick, with them eventually freezing in third gear. Not good, especially as I have a Rohloff hub that is meant to be failure free (being engineered in Germany and all). It would have been quicker to walk and by the time I arrived in Ortahisar I was blue from the cold – literally. The pot-belly stove in Aydin’s living room was the only thing between me and severe hypothermia. That night the thermometer hit minus 17 degrees Celsius – not something this antipodean is used to.

Yes that is really a max of -4 and a minimum of -17.

Yes that is really a max of -4 and a minimum of -17.

Jude and our dinner heating by the pot belly stove at Aiden's house.

Jude and our dinner heating by the pot belly stove at Aydin’s house.

Meal times at Aiden's was always a delicious feast.

Meal times at Aydin’s was always a delicious feast.

Cappadocia was a wonder to explore.  The valleys, the ridges, the pinnacles and the caves that were once people’s homes became our playground.  We cycled…

Exploring Cappadocia by bike.

Exploring Cappadocia by bike.

The bikes taking a rest in the snow.

The bikes taking a rest in the snow.

Ta daa...

Ta daa…

Bok bok meets camel rock.

Bok bok meets camel rock.

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One of the roads through the valleys.

We hiked…

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We explored a myriad of caves and churches carved into the pinnacles…

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We saw it from a hot air balloon…

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We enjoyed the spectacular views..

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Our evenings were spent with Aydin and Fatih, and all the cycle tourists and backpackers they were hosting.  We would cook amazing meals together, drink local wine and raki, and play card games that involved punishments such as putting snow down our tops, eating copious amounts of chillies and doing the break dancing move – the worm.

Pulling my best moves.

Pulling my best moves.

Cooking in the kitchen

Cooking in the kitchen

And enjoying a shared meal.

And enjoying a shared meal.

Enjoying morning cup of tea on Aiden's terrace.

Enjoying a morning cup of tea on Aydin’s terrace.

We even spent a night in a cave hotel…

The entrance to our cave hotel.

The entrance to our cave hotel.

Excited about spending the night in our cave hotel.

Excited about spending the night in our cave hotel.

From here we did a flying visit to London so that Jude and I could sit an examination and interview to work as paramedics for the London Ambulance Service when we finish this leg of our journey.  In between studying, nervousness and buying appropriate second hand clothes to interview in (woollen thermals and polar fleece don’t seem to cut it) – we squeezed in some cheeky pints and visiting with friends.  I won’t keep you in suspense as we were for three days – yes our new home will be London and jobs have been secured!  So when we are settled our door will be open to all cyclists and friends passing by.

Beers at the airport.

Beers at the airport.

Practising CPR on pillows.

Practising CPR on pillows.

After a fortnight off the bikes it was time to hit the road.  For Brooke the first day ended up being a baptism by fire.  What I thought would be a relatively flat road with a gradual downhill gradient to Aksaray, ended up being a consistently undulating 90km slog into a frigid headwind.  Copious amounts of food, beers and games of table tennis were required to refuel us for the next day.  Fortunately the road onwards to Konya was flat to the point of boredom, and the sun shone warmly on our backs.

Our cycling route from Ortahisar to Antalya

Our cycling route from Ortahisar to Antalya

View of Hasan Dagi from the road.

View of Hasan Dagi from the road.

Resting on the side of the road.

Resting on the side of the road.

The caravanserai at Sultanhani.

The caravanserai at Sultanhani.

A fire is good for keeping warm and cooking dinner.

A fire is good for keeping warm and cooking dinner.

Camping with agricultural equipment under a petrol station.

Camping with agricultural equipment under a petrol station.

The view of the road to Konya

The view of the road to Konya

Taking a break on the side of the road.

Taking a break on the side of the road.

Years ago I was exploring different spiritual beliefs that resonated with me.  During this time I came upon the ‘whirling dervishes’, a branch of Sufism based upon love.  The idea of entering a trance like state of love while spinning on the spot appealed, but as usual I soon found out that this love was discriminatory and women were not allowed.  Despite this draw back I remained interested, and was super excited when I found out that Konya had been their home.  It was fascinating to explore the Mevlana museum where the whirling dervishes lived, prayed and practised their whirling.  They did this by nailing a shoe to a board and spinning on the spot to overcome the wooziness such spinning causes.  For fun I tried it again with hilarious consequences.  The highlight though was our opportunity to see a whirling dervish ceremony at the cultural centre that night.  Mesmerising.

Being a whirling dervish.

Being a whirling dervish.

Exploring the public gardens of Konya.

Exploring the public gardens of Konya.

Excited in front of the Mevlana museum.

Excited in front of the Mevlana museum.

Mevlana's mausoleum.

Mevlana’s mausoleum.

Inside the Mevlana museum grounds.

Inside the Mevlana museum grounds.

The complex from the outside.

The complex from the outside.

Part of the whirling dervish ceremony.

Part of the whirling dervish ceremony.

In a trance of love.

In a trance of love.

A beautiful mountain range provided a lengthy climb for the following two and a half days.  As we cycled the D696, we gained altitude and soon enough the stunning alpine scenery filled our vision and our thoughts.  Ice, wind and storm signs lined the road, but unseasonably clear and sunny weather surrounded us.  The snowy peaks sparkled, the tops of the pine trees swung in the wind and our lungs and legs enjoyed the constant workout they were receiving.  At nights we pitched our tents, built fires and snuggled in our warm sleeping bags while the temperature dropped below zero.

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Enjoying the steady climb.

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Entering the alpine area.

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The snow sparkles and the pine trees glow.

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Jude loves cycling with this scenery.

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Nearing the end of the long climb.

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Yo! Do you like to climb?

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Collecting firewood for the evening.

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Chilling out with dinner and a whisky by the fire.

It was exciting to reach the Alacabel summit at 1825m.  Now it was time for the long downhill to the Med coast.

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As we cruised down from the snowy terrain to pine forests the thrill of freewheeling made me giddy.  There is nothing like being fully in the moment, the wind in your hair and laughter coming from deep inside as you lean into another corner.  Unfortunately it was not to be all sunshine and lollipops.  Further down, mines and logging in this area also provided a dearth of truckies with questionable driving abilities.  On a particularly long, steep section of switchbacks, I just avoided being killed twice by two different truck drivers.  My front pannier was not so lucky.  It bounced off on a particularly potholed section of the road and was run over by the truck that was tailgating me.  It exploded and a shower of red lentils went everywhere.  I was so angry that I didn’t even collect my litter and threw some trash on the ground.  Doing this I didn’t feel bad at the time as many Turkish people seem not to care for their environment either – there is litter everywhere here.

This is where my pannier was revived using rope and a bit of love.

This is where my pannier was killed and then revived using rope and a bit of love.

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The alpine terrain became lush agricultural land the lower we cycled.

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After three days of climbing and no shower, this section of the river was too enticing – so we went for a swim.

Making dinner at this perfect campsite by the river.

Making dinner at this (almost) perfect campsite by the river, the rubbish around did detract from the natural beauty.

Our first view of the Mediterranean coast brought whoops of delight.  Stalls selling bananas and oranges lined the streets and the salty air hit our faces and we knew we had reached warmer climes.  After making our way through the conglomeration of ugly beachside resorts we found a place that lead to the Mediterranean Sea.  It was time for a swim.  But first I had to deal with the pompous resort worker who tried to tell us that we couldn’t swim there.  Poor chap.  Don’t get between me and swimming, it’s like getting between a hippo and water.

Excited by our first view of the Mediterranean waters.

Excited by our first view of the Mediterranean waters.

I may not look like a hippo, but get between me and this water at your own risk.

I may not look like a hippo, but get between me and this water at your own risk.

Our first sunset at the Me coast.

Our first sunset at the Med coast.

Cycling friends had pre-warned us that our hopes for the stereotypical stunning Mediterranean coastline were not to be realised on this section of the journey.  Seaside beauty was distorted by the thousands of mega resorts that hid the coastline.  Riding was along a very busy main road, luckily with a wide shoulder.  Despite popular Turkish opinion, we found that the driving became worse the further west we went.  Arrogance and speed don’t make for safe and courteous drivers.  We were impatient to reach Antalya, and with no reason to stop and tunes filling our ears the kilometres flew by.  Winding our way through the vibrant new city we located the walls of the old town and stepped into a vortex of tourism.  As the high season had not yet arrived the streets were largely devoid of people and we enjoyed the peace of the place.  An Efes (or two) were drank in celebration of our arrival and we relaxed into the rhythm of rest day life.  Slow meanders along the city streets led us to the top of cliffs that dropped dramatically into the sea.  We joined the locals basking in the sun on the pier and tried the local dish of Balik Ekmek.  One rest day turned into two as a tropical storm front, with full thunder and lightening show, hit the whole night and morning that we were to leave.  We spent this day watching movies in our underwear, drinking beer and listening to the tempest outside.  Tomorrow would be perfect again, that we knew.

The bustling new town makes a stark contrast with the peace of the old town.

The bustling new town makes a stark contrast with the peace of the old town.

The old town wall.

The old town wall.

Celebrating with an Efes.

Celebrating with an Efes.

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The dramatic coast of Antalya.

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The port of the old town

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Basking in the sun like a local.

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View of the old town.

...

Thanks for joining us again,

Love Astrid.

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Mesopotamia by Bike

 

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On the road west through a wintery Turkey

Mesopotamia always evokes images of great and ancient empires for me and the mystery that surrounds phrases like ‘the birth place of civilisation’. The area known as Mesopotamia covers sections of modern day Northern Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and to a lesser extent Iran and Turkey. It has seen the Sumarians, Babylonians and Assyrians (to name a few), and conquerors such as Alexander the Great. The Roman’s were there, as were the Persians and the Arabs and now it was time for the foons on bikes.  Yep, I wrote that.

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As we pushed our bikes across no mans land, I hoped that the Turkish side would be less hectic than the Iranian side. We were out of luck. The small room in which we were to pass through immigration was over crowded with Iranian women in their typical black chadors. The image of these women in the West is often of oppression and submission. These women were not living up to this stereotype. With all their rotund might they pushed and shoved their way forwards, crushing two confused cycle travellers along the way. We had elbows in our sides and hands at our back. As only one person was processing passports, pressing forwards was utterly pointless. Astrid and I did our best to shove back, but we were no match for these Iranian mamas. At one point a Turkish guard totally lost his cool and began screaming at the women to form a line. This was briefly obeyed, but before long we were all being crushed again.

I don’t expect or particularly want special treatment but I must say, when the Turkish border guy did spot us and ushered us out of the mayhem, I was grateful. It was time to leave Iran behind. Our passports and Astrid’s visa were barely glanced at before we were stamped into Turkey. Ninety days, multi entry, thank you very much. The first country in a long time where the visa process hadn’t taken loads of research, money and time. Turkey surely is the gateway to Europe.

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Tea is also a big feature of Turkish life

The first thing I noticed about Turkey was the female officer with her hair uncovered. The change between Iran and Turkey is immediate in this aspect. It was actually to cold for us to take our hijab off, although now it was okay for my hair to poke out.

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Happy to be in Turkey!

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Just over the border

The second thing I noticed about Turkey was that it was colder. For weeks the Iranians had been telling us that it’s so much colder in Turkey. We basically disregarded their warnings. For almost two years people have been telling us things are so and so in the next country (usually more dangerous, less friendly) and it is simply not true. On top of this Iranians totally (in our opinion) overheat their homes and therefore anything outside a sauna is regarded as cold. However, they were totally right in this respect. Turkey was fucking cold! The landscape was covered in at least one metre of snow as far as the eye could see.

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It’s colder and snowier here for sure!

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It’s so cold! And so beautiful.

We cycled through this frozen land and as the afternoon wore on it got colder and colder. All the clothes we had were piled on and we began to wonder where we would sleep. Deep snow lay everywhere and the wind was icy. As the evening grew dark we stumbled upon a 4 star hotel. Not exactly what we had in mind.

The warm air blasted my face as I dripped my way across the floor to ask about cautiously about the price. Everything was incredibly shiny and new and the guy at the desk spoke perfect English. The price reflected this but when I went out to discuss this with Astrid, she was turning blue. We took the room. Later we found out it was about minus 10 degrees Celsius.

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On the road to Van

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More winter beauty in Eastern Anatolia

The following morning we pushed towards Van, through the snow covered and frozen landscape. It was beautiful in a bleak, wintery way. By early afternoon we had reached Van. A SIM card was secured – this is a bit of pain in the arse in Turkey as you must register it. This costs 70 USD. If you don’t register it, the SIM will stop working after 2 months. This is the absolute max it will work for. Many travellers report 2 weeks but we got lucky and ours did indeed work for 2 months.

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Van

We met our first Turkish hosts in a cosy cafe and chatted for a while until Nathan, a French cycle tourist rocked up. Nate had crossed the border a few hours after us and was on his way home to France. He had been studying music in Tehran for the last 6 months where he had also run into Barbara. It’s a small world. We didn’t know it yet but Nate and our paths would cross a few times over the next few months.

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The town of Van and the lake

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The next day Mustafa our host took us on the most amazing tour of Van. First we went to Van castle, where we gazed at the snowy beauty of our surroundings and shared a Van Breakfast, a specialty of the region and incredibly delicious. Next we went to see the famous Van cat, that has one blue eye and one green. After checking the ferry timetable we headed to a bar and enjoyed a beer while looking over lake Van. In the evening we were introduced to Raki (a Turkish spirit) and mezze and a few friends came over to socialise. The independence of our peers was refreshing, as was the relaxed nature of the gathering. It was a dynamic we had not experienced much in our time in Iran and was quite exciting in it’s contrast.

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Van Castle

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Breakfast with a view

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Exploring the castle

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A sweeping view from atop the castle ruins

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The famous Van cat

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It’s been a long time between (legal) beers

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Amazing colours of a winter sunset and bike trouble

At some ridiculously early hour Astrid and I crawled out of bed, bade our host and Nate farewell and pedalled down to the ferry. To save time and for novelty we had decided to take the train/people ferry across lake Van. Unfortunately no one had been able to tell us the exact departure time of the ferry the previous day. Turned out it didn’t leave till 9am. It was currently 6.30am. Sigh. Never mind, this is Turkey and people are very kind. We were ushered into a warm room on the ferry and then served breakfast at the captain’s orders. After this I fell asleep, our ferry eventually left and cruised gently across Lake Van to Tatvan. We arrived in the late afternoon and were hosted by some very kind doctors.

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Sleeping on the ferry to Tatvan

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View from the ferry

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The ferry takes trains that come from Iran across the lake

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Tatvan

The following day it began to snow just as we left Tatvan. It grew heavier and heavier and soon we could hardly see anything. I had snow crusted on my glasses, sludge would spray up from the cars and the wind blew flurries into our hair. We inched our way along, concentrating hard on staying upright and not really being able to appreciate the landscape. Slowly we began to drop in altitude which meant the snow became sleet, then hail and finally rain. By late afternoon the weather was improving, with only the occasional shower. Then something else amazing happened. Green.

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Crazy snow and wind

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Pushing hard

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Astrid wears rubber gloves to keep her hands dry

For weeks we had been in the winter desert with only brown hues and then high up on the Anatolian plateau where snow lay metres deep. Now we were below the snow line and there were forests of pine trees. Astrid and I were so excited. It was something we had not consciously realised we had missed. That night we camped for the first time in weeks because it was so much warmer and we couldn’t resist a forest camp.

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Bare feet feel warmer than water logged feet!

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Our first forest camp in a long time

As soon as we had gotten to Turkey, we had spread out our big map and began questioning anyone we met, which way they would advise. Everyone had said, go south, it’s warmer.

‘But what about Syria and Iraq?’ we had asked nervously.

“It’s okay, the border area is safe. You are far away enough,” was the unanimous reply.

At first I was dead against going south. We had always planned to stay well away from the border areas of Iraq and Syria, heading north like our friends ahead of us. But everyone kept saying it was safe and the temptation of warmer weather in the dead of winter was great. I mean what are the chances of ISIS fighters stalking out two cycle tourists on the highway in broad daylight? I began to realise that maybe I was doing the thing I always try hard not to do, let the fear mongering media get into my head. We did some research and talked it over and finally decided that we would go south. Our compromise would be that we would not camp but couch surf or stay in the occasional hotel.

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Well below the snow, enjoying the green

Feeling relieved to have made a decision we turned southwest towards Batman. Yes, Batman. That is the real name of a town in Turkey. Batman proved to be much more than a city with a cool name. Sefik our host proved again to us how much richer your experience is by coming into contact with locals. Firstly he took us for tea, which is drunk with as much enthusiasm in Turkey as it is in Iran (although the glasses are smaller). Then he took us across the road to a Syrian Kurdish refugee camp. We brought the kids some treats and everyone came out to meet us and some of the kids spontaneously started to sing. It was a really moving experience. These people have lost everything fleeing ISIS and yet they remain so warm hearted and interested in the weirdo foreigners on bikes. It is not the Turkish government that is caring for these refugees, but the municipality of Batman which is in Kurdistan. Since Western Iran we had been in Kurdistan but it was not something I knew much about but it now became very relevant as people mostly identified as Kurdish, not Turkish in this area.

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Batman!!

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The cafe where we were served tea

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The building that houses the Syrian refugees

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A Turkish Hamam. Yes, we were spoiled.

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Breakfast at a fancy hotel, why not!

In brief, the Kurds are an ethnic minority in Turkey and live mainly in South Eastern Anatolia. Historically there have been violent clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdish freedom fighters. The Kurds like many minorities would like independence/autonomy, depending on who you talk to. The traditional homelands of the Kurds stretches across the international lines of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

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Tea is an integral part of Kurdish life

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Lunch with a Kurdish family

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Happiness is holding a baby sheep

Now the word on everyone’s lips in Kurdistan is ISIS. The Kurds have been instrumental in fighting ISIS as it is often their lands that have been targeted. The Kurdish women fighters in particular have been highly publicised. We were showed pictures of these female fighters and told proudly of how brave they were and how effective. While the politics of the Kurds, the Turks, the government, army and ISIS is probably too complex to go into any great length here, this being a cycling blog and all, it was fascinating for us to hear and learn about and prompted me to do some further reading.

The next day, although not initially our intention, we stayed in order to visit Hasankeyf, a city thousands of years old, built as caves into the mountain side from around the 1st Century CE. Hasankeyf should be UNESCO listed. It is at least as interesting as Cappadocia in our opinion. Sadly, the Turkish government will not put it forward for world heritage listing, instead it is planning on flooding it. Yep, flooding it by building a great big dam. It’s a controversial project which has seen many foreign investors pull out, but as yet the Turkish government is pushing ahead with the plans. Did I mention the government historically doesn’t particularly like the Kurds? Seeing a city so old and so unique was simply amazing and was one of the highlights of our time in Turkey.

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Walking through gorge

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Goats!

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The view at the top

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This was a city of several thousand people

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With our kind ‘tour guides’

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An impressive landscape

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Goat on rock

A day cycling in this part of the world barely goes by without a random act of kindness from a stranger. On the day we cycled to Diyarbakir, there was no exception as once again we were invited in for chai (meaning lunch) by a kind family. The Kurdish city of Diyarbakir had a really lovely vibe and we stayed again with a kind WS host who took the time to show us some of the sites in the morning before we headed off.

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This man pulled over on the side of the road and invited us in for tea (lunch).

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Look! A hint of Spring!!

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Old city wall, Diyarbakir

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Amazing breakfast, Diyarbakir

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Behind me are the fertile plains of Mesopotamia, the birthplace of western civilisation

Although the weather had been fine, in the afternoon the rain and wind hit us hard once more. It was a desolate strip of highway without many trees or shelter, the ground already soggy. It grew darker and wetter and just as we were about to pull over and just pitch amongst some rocks we spotted a hut. It was abandoned and perfect for pitching a tent out of the wind and rain. Oh and man were we lucky we found it, for the wind picked up ten fold and howled all night, shaking the building and making parts of the all ready collapsing roof fall in. The following day it was still so wet that we only made it about 20km down the road before conceding defeat and crawling into a hotel to warm up and dry out.

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The crazy rock landscape with sheep

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Our shelter from the howling wind and pouring rain

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Drying out

Sanliulfa came not only with another generous Turkish host but the amazing Gobekli Tepe. Gobekli Tepe is an archaeological sight that has significant ramifications for all of us. Until it’s discovery in 1994 it was largely believed that Neolithic people did not practice religion and that only once we stopped being hunter gatherers, when there was more time did we develop religious practice. Apparently not so. Dated at almost 12,000 years old, when humans moved around the earth in nomadic groups, Gobekli Tepe is a mysterious Neolithic temple made from immense stone structures. The place made quite an impression on us as we reflected what our forbearers had managed with seemingly little technology.

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Balikgol (Fish pool) in Ulfa

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The sacred, also rather creepy fish

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Looking cool

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The Megalithic pillars of Gobekli Tepe

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Engravings almost 12,000 years old

When we left Ulfa we headed southwest towards Biracek and the Euphrates river. This strip of road would be the closest we would be to Syria. Signs of the conflict were visible in the forms of huge refugee camps, some yet to be occupied. Seeing the camps upon the desolate winter plain made my heart go out to the people who had fled the war to make these tents their home, while the rest of the world attempts to justify why they can’t look after them, or worse uses them as a fear mongering political tool to win votes. It should be enough that they are human just like us and as fellow humans we have a responsibility to take care of the world’s most vulnerable, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to cut it these days.

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How green this must become in spring..

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A refugee camp with Syria in the background

Aside from gazing at the Euphrates and dealing with badly behaved children (a warning, Eastern Turkey is full of bratty little boys who harass foreigners) we discovered the Bald Ibis. Yep, that’s it’s name. And it is bald. We met a very enthusiastic Bald Ibis and bird lover, Mustafa, who took the time to tell us all about his favourite bird. Sadly the Bald Ibis now has to be locked up in a large (very large) cage during the winter as its migratory path goes south into Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries where despite being endangered it is poached. So, now they live a semi wild existence. Unfortunately we also just missed the release of the Bald Ibis from it’s winter home. Mustafa said it would probably be the next day or the one after.

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We cycled to the Euphrates!

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The Bald Ibis in it’s winter cage

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Bald Ibis statue

Leaving Biracek with substantially more Bald Ibis knowledge we pedalled steadily towards Gaziantep. It was one of those arrivals into a city where everything went a little wrong. Google maps directed us to the wrong place. The phone went flat. Little brats harassed us (Astrid ended up chasing them with a stick) and it was rapidly getting colder and darker. When we finally did arrive at Irene and Ismail’s apartment all the difficulties just evaporated. We were met with so much kindness, happiness and understanding that we immediately felt completely at home. When you couch surf or use warm showers you almost always meet wonderful people, who you share a meal and some stories with. Often that’s as far as it goes, it’s very much an ‘in the moment’ experience and doesn’t necessarily translate to lasting friendship. It’s not a bad thing, in a way it’s the beauty of it. You have this positive connection with a stranger who will forever be part of your life journey.

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In cafe with Irene and Ismail

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Exploring Gaziantep

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In the Bazaar

Sometimes though, you make real friends and so it was with Irene and Ismail. The four of us really connected. It was more like being with housemate friends than couch surfing. The next few days were spent exploring Gaziantep and just relaxing, along with Nate, who had also turned up. Then it was time to take a bus to Ankara to meet our friend Brooke.

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Drinking wine and cooking equals much happiness

Taking a bus in Turkey proved to be a piece of cake. We just acted like we were supposed to be there, took our bikes apart and put them in the bus. No men bossing us about, or trying to ‘help’. It was a relief. And, for the first time EVER we were not charged extra for the bikes. Once on the bus we were served tea (served tea!) and snacks and there was even a USB charging device. So far Turkey, you win on bus quality.

We reached Ankara and it was snowing and dark. Eventually we found the small flat we had rented (cheaper than a hotel) and waited for the arrival of Brooke. Here we would rest a few days and prepare for the next leg of our adventure.

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Before I sign off however, I do want to convey how much we loved Eastern Turkey. Not a day went passed where we did not look at each other and  exclaim something along the lines of ‘this place is amazing.’ It was not something we had expected as many people had told us Eastern Turkey was full of stone throwing kids, creepy men and vicious dogs. In a way I had been bracing myself for it, while at the same time trying not to have a fixed idea about what it would be like. Well, it completely exceeded our expectations in a positive way. While the kids can be brats and the dogs vicious, we really didn’t have enough issues to complain about. Overall the people were so amazingly generous, the food delicious and the landscape beautiful. We were well and truly won over.

Jude

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Umbrellas cause slipping cars?