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