Journey to the East 2013
Marco Polos fabulous journey to the East left wild dreams in my mind since I was reading it as a child. Herrmann Hesses "Journey to the East" did so some years later, as well a a picture book about the Himalayan - the roof of the world. And finally after a long winter the snow melts. Now Kathrin and I are ready to venture out to a long bike journey - to hopefully meet a lot of friendly people and face incredible landscapes and colorful cities from here to the Himalayan.
- Category: Journey to the East 2013
After a week in the European part of Istanbul, we finally take the ferry boat over the Bosporus to Asia. The first rain since weeks chills the streets a little, and the outlook of beach holidays on the nearby Black Sea coast lets us climb steep ramps out of the city. An incredible view over Istanbul and a hundred ships on the Bosporus in the evening sun are a great reward for the sweat.
By sunset we have our first swim in a little village called Riva. A beach with an old castle, and only a handful of people. We have no place to sleep yet, but who cares if the colors on the horizon are that picturesque? Some local boys show us a somewhat hidden official campground a little later.
The hilly coastal road towards Sile leads through building sites of apartment blocks, and not too long ago deforested land. Rough gravel instead of pavement. The sun burns. We take a better logging road inland, and spot two turtles in action. The thick forest around us provides cooling shadow, the ramps are less steep. By lunchtime we luckily hit a real road again, and arrive in Sile in the afternoon. Just at the town entrance there is Nehir Motel Camping. Tall trees provide shadow, the beach is just a five minute walk away, what else can we wish for? Two families stay here sort of long term in big tents, escaping the summer heat of Istanbul. Jihan from one of the families offers us sweets and treats every day. Every time the muezzin sings, the neighboring dogs howl. One cute lean doggy becomes our best friend when we barbecue Köfte (meatballs) or fry cheese cigars ala Ahmet. Kathrin plays guitar again after a long break.
Within a week on the beach we decided not to follow the Black Sea route. During the Bayram festival at the end of Ramadan there won't not be much space nor peace on the campgrounds. We will head for Ankara instead, and from there to Cappadocia.
The expected invasion from the city arrives at the campground at 6AM. We wanted to take off early, alright. The newcomers questioned us eagerly whether we would leave. And if our neighbors would leave this morning too. With running motors. And curious kids.
So the road has us again. Steep hills for 50, 60 kilometers through oak tree and pine wood forests on back roads. Kathrin gets sad from hooting young man in pimped cars and gawking villagers, whereas I feel almost like a rock star by the greeting and waving guys. By the end of the day, we reach the city of Izmit on the Eastern end of the Sea of Marmara.
The country road South of Lake Sapanca provides few views of the lake. Instead it is framed by business areas and settlements. Luckily Kathrin spots a small underpass on the Eastern tip of the lake for our siesta. Some hours later, we arrive in Akyazi, a charming town with big mosque and an somewhat old center. Seeking a cheap hotel we are dragged onto small seats at a nearby bakery, and spoiled with Börek, Baklahva and tea. Orhan, the charming owner of the traditional bakery doesn't mind we don't speak much Turkish. With big smiles he shows us the big stone oven, the mill and the kneading machine, and lets us store our bicycles in his barn. Eventually, his German speaking nephew arrives, who currently spends his holidays in town, to translate a bit. Like so often, men approach me for a chat, but Kathrin ends up widely unrecognized. The women would at most muster her.
In nearby Kuzuluk a funny girl serves Kebap with a white head scarf with green skulls . We spend the heat of the day dozing on shady park benches. A man approaches me with real good English, offers Kathrin and me two great peaches. He is Halil from Istanbul, a very bright man who tells us a lot about Kuzuluk and its thermal springs and the bath, about Atatürk and much more. The Thermal bath is a classic building with two big domes. Entrances are separated by sex. The round shaped hot pools are roofed by the domes and the entire interior is decorated with white marble – a fantastic view. 10 TL entrance fee is a bargain compared to the prices of the touristy Hamams in Istanbul.
Just before sunset our road parallels a river. Some cars are parked at the river bank, families having their picnic in the shadow of the cottonwood trees. The ideal place for our camp tonight we just think, and luckily receive an urgently needed gallon of fresh water by a leaving party.
We celebrate our 4000 kilometers on an endless ramp through lush oak forests, shrubs and dry meadows. Two young cyclists from Slovakia overtake us, traveling fast and light towards China or so. By lunchtime the sun grills us on an empty wide bypass road. We are starving for food and shadow. Kathrin's cycling spirits have faded - the hills, the heat, the early rising day by day, the lack of communication took their tolls. The lunch break in the village is little relief with toy gun firing kids. However, the following kilometers are less hilly, less hot. Gnarling pine trees grow on the rocky ridges beside the road, then the valley opens to a wide vegetable plain which is followed by strange gray and cone-shaped hills.
The old town of Mudurnu with its narrow lanes and traditional Ottoman houses in an awesome rocky valley is National heritage. We stay two nights in a nice 100 year old hotel made of wood and clay. The ultimate highlight of our stay is the bath with massage in the 600 year old Hamam (Turkish bath), for just 10 TL.
The road from Nallihan to Cairhan leads through fantastic landscapes. Red, purple, yellow, white and gray mesas in the arid flat remind us a lot to Utah or Arizona. Erosion and wind stripped millions of years of earth history in colorful layers before our eyes. Cycling does make sense after all. Nearby a big water reservoir, we stop a a vegetable stall to get some tomatoes for dinner. Kemal and his friend Mustafa won't let us go without a bag full of vegetables, and another bag full of grapes. Just asking for a place to pitch our tent, we are invited to spend the night on the barn of his families farm house. We have a great barbecue for dinner with the entire family. Good for us – Kemals brother Mehmet who lives in Germany since 30 years, is just visiting his family here.
The last night before Ankara we pitch our tent near a mosque in Ayas at sunset. Naturally after asking the neighbors. Cycling fellows from Turkey have always told us that camping at mosques is allowed. But an hour later a police car stopped, and a rather young police officer insisted that we should leave. The Imam and the neighbors pledges for us did not change his mind. One of the old men spoke some German, and offered us to stay in his apartment. Saved at last.
Our host Botstein wakes us at 6AM, won't let us leave without breakfast. By 10AM, we have climbed the second pass before Ankara. A long soft decline follows, and by lunchtime we are in Ankara. Never mind the dense highway traffic.
We find an inexpensive hotel room with balcony in the Ulus district. Young and old men sell used shoes, computer main boards and mobile phones on the pedestrian. In the bicycle district, I find an old man who fixes the loose spokes on my rear wheel. Why he put oil on the rim and the hub I still don't understand.
It is just a short walk to the Ankara castle with its old worn clay and wood houses. The mighty walls with its cut stones from former Greek and Roman temples reflect dozens of civilizations dwelling and battling in this place. From here – and our balcony - sunsets over Ankara are definitely impressive.