Day 36 (April 16, Elhovo – Kirklareli)

It was nice to have an unplanned rest day. Elhovo didn’t have much to see and we had not planned to do anything either so we spent our rest day looking after our equipment, do some research on the internet and sleep. My duty is to clean the drive trains (chains, chainrings and cassettes) and the surgeon latex gloves I brought along are very useful. Working with oily things for two hours without access to proper oil dissolving soap is otherwise equal to many days with black fingers.

Wej took this photo when I speeded past her down a slope. When I saw her aim I never thought it would work, but it did.
Wej took this photo when I speeded past her down a slope. When I saw her aim the camera I never thought it would work, but it did.

Late in the evening we searched the warmshowers hospitality network and found a host in Kirklereli some 60 km into Turkey. Sending a request less than 24 hours in advance is to try your luck, but we quickly got a reply that we were welcome after 6 PM the following day.

The weather was boring. Grey sky, 8-9 degrees and windy. The distance from Elhovo to the border was 24 km and with little traffic on the road and a nice tailwind on our backs the ride towards the border was very smooth. When approaching the border area we caught up with a seemingly endless que of trucks waiting to cross the border into Turkey. The line was about 2 km long and we saw absolutely no reason why we should wait at the end of that line so we rode past all the trucks – we then felt just like the turtle in the story about the rabbit and the turtle….

First sign of Istanbul somewhere between Elhovo and the border
First sign of Istanbul somewhere between Elhovo and the border

In the immediate border area there was no movement and we thought the trucks had to wait for the border guards lunch break or something, but no….. As soon as we turned up a guy came out to check our passports. Actually we had to show our passport 5 times. First we showed them to the Bulgarian border police, then we rode 50 meter to the Bulgarian customs officers who checked them again. We then continued through 100 meter of no-mans-land before the Turkish border police checked our passport. That was a slow procedure as he was checking each passport for several minutes – not strange that the line of trucks were so long.

After being cleared by the Turkish border police we rolled 50 meters to another little building where a guy checked our passports again. We don’t know for what reason or what authority he represented, but after a short glance in the passports he waved us thorugh. Then we continued another 50 meter to the Turkish customs where the passports were checked a 5th and last time before we were properly inside Turkish territory. This guy asked if we had come from Bulgaria. Hmmm – what to say??? I wanted to reply “where else do you think we could have come from?”, but me experience is to always smile to border guards so my answer was. “Yes we came from Bulgaria” and pointed to the Bulgarian side 100 meters away.

Finally in Turkey after 20 minutes of checking passports and getting cold toes (again...)
Finally in Turkey after 20 minutes of checking passports and getting cold toes (again…)

The entire border procedure took about 20 minutes and during this time we were mainly standing still and my toes went numb. This is by no means any new sensation to me – I am very used to numbness in my toes after cycling through an icy central Europe, but I must admit that I did not expect my first action in Turkey to be a quick entry into a restaurant just inside the border to get my feet re-heated…

Although a simple roadside restaurant, it did set a new standard for our lunches and we look forward to a lot of more culinary explorations. 🙂

Riding from the border was super smooth. A wide road with smooth asphalt and nice shoulder for us to ride on. One could think that there would be many trucks from the line overtaking us all the time, but this never happened. Few trucks came and maybe they are still waiting in that line.

Swedish water tower on the turkish countryside, or is it maybe the latest kind of Ikea store
A Swedish water tower on the turkish countryside? Or is it perhaps the latest design of Ikea stores???

After 30 km we left the big road and turned to a smaller road leading through villages and along farmlands. It is interesting how so many things can change by just passing the imaginary line a nations border really is. Horse carriages were gone and there were a lot more tractors than we ever saw in Bulgaria and Romania. There were fewer dogs that ran around freely and those that were running around neither barked, nor chased us. Church towers were replaced by minarets and in every village we passed old men were sitting at a table to drink tea and chat with each other. The countryside seemed to be more alive in Turkey than we had experienced during the last days in Bulgaria and Romania.

The tailwind we used to have turned to a strong side wind once we had turned to the smaller road. Tailwind is always best and headwind the hardest, but strong wind into the side is probably the most difficult to handle since it affects the balance.

After a navigational error the side wind was gone and replaced by a strong headwind that promised to make our remaining 15 km tough. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t go in the wrong direction so when we saw a group of men in front of a building we stopped and tried to ask for directions by pointing forward and say the name of the town we were going to. We got affirmative answers but were quickly invited into their lunch room to have some tea. We had absolutely no common language to use when talking to each other, but still we were invited. This was our first encounter with the famous Turkish hospitality.

Invited for tea at the co-operative's lunch room
Invited for tea at the co-operative’s lunch room

5 km before arriving into Kirklereli city we sent a text message to our host Selcuk telling him that we were approaching the city. When standing at the main square we sent another one telling where we were and less than 5 minutes later Selcuk came walking. We walked with our bikes to his house where his mother had prepared a lovely soup with green peas and woodcock (Morkulla in Swedish). I have heard that its meat should be really tasty but had never tried it before. Now I can confirm that it truly has a very delicous taste.

Selcuk also taught us a new way of eating pasta – mix hot pasta with natural youghurt. It tastes wonderful.

Long discussions about everything followed with Selcuk and his parents and these kind of meetings is the most wonderful parts of a trip like this. We will do our best to continue to have as many meetings like this as possible.

Statistics cycling day 36   (Bulgaria)

Distance:               28.4 km
Traveling time        2.13 hours
Cycling time           1.41 hours
Average speed      16.9 km/h
Top speed             45.2 km/h
Altitude gained       310 m
Altitude lost            136 m

Statistics cycling day 36 (Turkish side) 

Distance:               71.9 km
Traveling time        7.13 hours
Cycling time           4.32 hours
Average speed      15.9 km/h
Top speed             57.5 km/h
Altitude gained       776 m
Altitude lost            813 m

Day 37 (April 17, Kirklareli – Kapakli)

Language lessons…

Our host Selcuk only needs 20 minutes from waking up until leaving for work. We had some tea with him, talked a little and then said good bye when he left. We were now alone with Selcuk’s parents whom we had no common language with. They were very nice people and at the breakfast table we got our first lesson in Turkish.

We pointed at things on the table such as tea, coffe, spoon, salt, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and Wej took notes in her little notebook. When she had noted enough of breakfast related words, we took the lesson further and asked for road travel related words such as left, right, road, straight ahead, bridge, hill, intersection etc.

Saying good bye to  Selcuk when he left for work.
Saying good bye to Selcuk when he left for work.

Getting to know the nouns was not difficult – we only needed to point, but when we tried to get into adjectives such as hungry, full, hot, cold the lesson turned into a game of charades. It was very funny indeed and all four of us laughed a lot.

When it was time to leave Selcuks father jumped up on his motorbike and drove ahead of us to guide us through the city center to the road we planned to ride on.

Staying with Selcuk and his parents was really fun and interesting and we enjoy this kind of meetings very much and hope to get many more along our way.

Selcuk's mom in the middle and dad ready to guide us out of town
Selcuk’s mom in the middle and dad ready to guide us out of town

We would like to say a big big big THANK YOU to the Aslan family for your hospitality. We wish you all the best for the future and to Selcuk we’d like to say – Good luck with your plans to build that cottage. If you visit Sweden, please drop by our home.

Selcuk had adviced us to visit some places along the way. We didn’t have time to see them all so we chose a small Roman amfiteater that was discovered and excavated only 10 years ago. My knowledge of the history of the Roman empire definately needs to be refreshed so I’ll try to spend some time doing some googleing about it. Carrying a computer and access to internet makes it easy to catch up on things one have forgotten 🙂

The small Roman amfiteater
The small Roman amfiteater

In the afternoon we rode through small villages and a kids on the school yard shouted ”hello” and ”what’s your name”. Sometimes we stopped to have a word with them and other times we waved and ride through. Apparently not so many tourists visit that area.

We wanted to go as far as possible in order to have Istanbul within reach the following day, The wind had grown stronger during the late afternoon and either the road had turned or the wind shifted direction and provided us with a nasty headwind. We then decided to turn to another road in order to go southwest instead of straight to the west – this gave us a pleasant tailwind during the late afternoon.

Our whish to reach as far as possible led to the decision to camp and since we didn’t know if we would get running water to do the dishes we stopped in a town to have dinner. Watching the bikes from the inside of the little restaurant was impossible so we decided to sit outside. When cycling in the sunshine it was nice, but sitting outside in the shade was terribly cold. Our termometer only showed 7 degrees…. Who said it couldn’t be cold in Turkey?

Freezing outside the restaurant while enjoying tasty food
Freezing outside the restaurant while enjoying tasty food

We then continued in the direction towards the Marmara Sea. When only 30-45 minutes of daylight remained we went in to a gas station to fill up water and go to the toilet. The guys working there immediately welcomed us in and offered us hot tea and asked where we were heading. Wej explained that we were heading to Istanbul and then to her home in Bangkok, then she smiled her most charming smile and asked the guys if we could put up her tent behind their gas station. The answer was yes and they showed us a place behind a storage container.

As soon as the tent was up, sleeping bags rolled out and mattresses pumped, we walked back to the gas station to have more tea, eat our sandwhiches and boiled eggs that Selcuk’s parents had given us, brush our teeth and so on. Now the night shift had started to work and they also wanted to hear the strange story about cycling to Bangkok.

Wej, the staff and some customers at the language cafe turned gas station
Wej, the staff and some customers at the language cafe turned gas station

Since there were not so many customers at that time of the evening we had plenty of time to communicate. When having the lesson with Selcuk in the morning we pointed at things and noted in the note book, but now we used a more modern way to communicate – google translate…. 🙂

The cashier had a computer with internet and we all stood around it typing in our questions and answers while also using sign language. Using the google translate the 25 year old cashier proudly even managed to tell about his pilgrimage to Mecka earlier this year. Our conversations were fun and we all laughed a lot since google translate sometimes make strange translations.

The gas station provided free coffee and tea for customers at a machine outside the shop and the gas stations staff ran out to fetch more cups to us all the time. What a great hospitality…. We think Turkey will be a nice experience.

Camp site 3 just behind the gas station
Camp site 3 just behind the gas station

Statistics Cycling day 37 

Distance:               96.3 km
Traveling time        9.54 hours
Cycling time           6.13 hours
Average speed      15.5 km/h
Top speed             50.7 km/h
Altitude gained       776 m
Altitude lost            813 m

Day 38 (April 18, Kapakli – Istanbul)

Entry Istanbul –  a tale of a nerve wracking experience

Today was a special day and this story will only be about the road and almost nothing about meeting nice people and other non-cycling related experiences….

The gas station we camped at was 110 km from Istanbul. Not that we think that a distance of 110 km is too long, but when going in to a mega city on a hilly road with intensive traffic, it can be a too big bite for a day.  We were where we were and there was nothing to do about it than to start extra early so we told the staff at the gas station that we would wake up at 6. Our alarm clock was set on 5.45 so at 6.00 we were already awake when one of the guys came and shaked our tent to tell us it was time to wake up.  In hotels you can order a wake up call – I don’t know what the same service should be called when camping at a gas station 🙂

We packed our things and walked with our bikes to the gas station where we were offered coffee and a sandwich. We also ate the remaining boiled eggs that we yesterday had got form Selcuk’s parents. The hospitality shown to us is so far amazing.

Finally at the beach of the Marmara Sea
Finally at the beach of the Marmara Sea

During our first 20 km we rode on a big road with a wide shoulder. There was no wind and mainly downhill towards the Marmara Sea. It was a special feeling to see the sea again after only having seen rivers for a month. Last time we saw the see was in Gdynia in Poland (not counting our short trip to Sweden where we went sailing with friends).

The road along the Marmara sea was big and to start with not so busy and it was possible to cycle on it without paying any extra attention to the surrounding traffic. The hills were not very long or very steep either so it was a smooth ride for some 20 km, but then it all started…..

Istanbul has 15 million people and is on par with Bangkok when it comes to population. We have cycled a lot in Bangkok as well as in and out of that city a number of times so we know what cycling in a lively megacity can be like. Like in Bangkok, Istanbul has several highways and motorways that lead to the city and we chose the one that goes along the sea shore.

The traffic got more and more intense the closer we got to Istanbul but as long as there was a paved shoulder to cycle on there were no problems for us. But sometime when there was about 60 km left to town the shoulder was severely damaged and since we didn’t dare to ride on the road itself we cycled on the gravel beside the road. It was like riding on a single track with a fully loaded touring bike with trucks, buses and cars passing by continously. To add to our burden, we also faced a steady breeze straight into our faces.

The big road to the left and the local parallell road to the right. Never has 34 km felt that long.
The big road to the left and the local parallell road to the right. Never has 34 km felt that long.

At that time we felt that we should have woken up already at 4 AM and started cycling at 5.30 instead in order to be sure to make it into town before darkness fell.

The surrounding traffic was so loud so it was difficult to communicate. Wej rode behind and used her mirror to check if any large vehicle was approaching too close. Whenever she discovered anything she blew her whistle to warn me. My job was to navigate on the gravel shoulder so we didn’t fall into any potholes or cut our tyres on any of the crushed bottles littering the roadside.

From time to time the shoulder was paved again and we could increase the speed and whenever we passed by some town or suburb we cycled on the parallell local road in order to avoid the busy big main road. Being able to ride on a paved shoulder and on those local roads allowed us to get some brief relief from the 10000% concentration that we needed to muster when riding on the big road.

Altitude profile of the ride into Istanbul. Note the hill after 75 km.
Altitude profile of the ride into Istanbul. Note the hill after 75 km.

After 75 km we saw it towering in front of us…. We were rolling downhill on the highway when we saw a suburb with the size of a small city climbing on a huge hill. The town was split in two halves by the road we were riding on. We were informed about this climb that started from sea level and ended at an altitude of 200 meters above the sea level. From a climbing perspective 200 vertical meters is not anything special, but after riding for 75 km whereof 50 km was with headwind and on an extremely busy road and sometimes on the gravel track beside, we felt a lot of stress. We had also read in internet forums that there was no parallell local road to it so we approached the climb with extreme respect and cautiousness.

The neverending traffic passed by on our left side while there was an steel rail as a fence our our right side. We didn’t want to go too close to the traffic, but neither go too close to the railings either and run the risk of any of our panniers touching it and causing us too loose balance. We rode very slowly and careful and after having climbed 50 vertical meters there was an opening to a local road. This was in contradiction to what we had read but after a quick look on the GPS it seemed like we would be able to do a large part of the climb on the local parallell road.

Once we were off the highway it was just like any other climb, but immediately before the top of the hill we had to go back to on to the highway and on the top of the hill the road split like a Y. Both our map and GPS told us that we needed to go to the left, but how to cross such a huge road when cars come at high speed all the time? It seemed impossible for us to take the road to the left and we decided to take the road to the right instead and hope that we could get back on track at a safer place.

Now we were in the outskirts of metropolitan Istanbul and traffic was just like Bangkok. Intense, numerous, fast and drivers not used to bicycles. Forbidden or not, but as soon we saw a pavement we went up to cycle on it. I think we cycled 20 km on suburbian Istanbul’s pavements, passing crowded bus stops, low hanging signs or billboards, water posts and big poles that made the passages narrow. Sometimes we had to ride on the big road, but it worked well.

Finally in central Istanbul. Only 2 km to go through the hotel
Finally in central Istanbul. Only 2 km to go through the hotel

We knew the airport were 14 km from our hotel and the aircraft we saw flying in looked bigger and bigger so we made a steady progress in our approach of the city. A few kilometers before the airport we came to a sign saying ”Beach road” or something similar. It pointed to the right while the big road continued to the left. We turned right and the heavy traffic immediately disappeared. The beach road was a normal road along the Marmara Sea and the traffic was not intense at all. Soon we passed the airport and then the kilometers started to pass by a lot quicker. When 9 km remained there was even a cycling path along the shore and we could enter central Istanbul cycling side by side talking to each other.

Our friend Gökhan who lives in Istanbul and who visited us during his cycling trip in Sweden in November (!!!) last year had helped us to book a hotel. We entered the hotel’s address in our navigator, left the cycling path and threw ourselves into the messy traffic in old Istanbul. At that point of time I was glad for having cycled a lot in Bangkok because cycling in Istanbul traffic was very much like cycling in Bangkok. The only difference was that Istanbul has steep hills while Bangkok is dead flat.

After arriving to our hotel we could finally take a deep breath and say to each other:

– ”we did it”

The ride was only 115 km which is a normal distance, but the traffic situation had caused our minds to be on full alert the entire day and when the tension subsided we felt completely exhausted physically as well as mentally. We were happy to have been able to safely ride into Istanbul and thereby conclude the first segment of the journey to Bangkok, but we felt too tired and almost empty inside to go out and celebrate it. After a quick shower, we went down to the first kebab/döner eatery we could find, ordered something quick and went back to our room to sleep.

View over the great Süleymaniye Mosque from our balcony
View over the great Şehzade Mosque from our balcony

Statistics cycling day 38 

Distance:               114.4 km
Traveling time       10.57 hours
Cycling time            7.53 hours
Average speed       14.5 km/h
Top speed              51.7 km/h
Altitude gained       1121 m
Altitude lost            1252 m

Restdays in Istanbul

A trip like this will take us both through populated areas with easy access to well stocked bike shops and through less developed or unpopulated areas where the supply of spare parts is close to zero.

When planning the trip we have carefully gone through what tools and spareparts to take along. We obviously carry spares for things that are very likely to break such as innertubes, brake cables and pads. Apart from that we have also decided to bring spares for items that although they are not likely to break, will cause a major problem if the really do break and are not heavy or bulky. Examples of such items are spokes, pannier hooks and derailleur hangers (swedish: växelöra).

Outside the bike shop
Outside the bike shop

A few parts on a bike are expected to last very long, require special tools for mounting and are either bulky or heavy to carry. We have decided to not carry spares for them and if they break it will be a showstopper. The perfect example of such a part is the bottom bracket (swedish: vevlager). To reduce the risk for any problems both bikes got new bottom brackets before we started.

A week ago when still in Bulgaria we cycled on a countryside road where the surface suddenly changed from asphalt to cobble stone right in the middle of nowhere. All cyclists hate cobble stone as it is truly unpleasant to ride on. After a couple of kilometers, the surface changed back to asphalt. I got happy again while Wej got very concerned since her bike had started to make an unfamiliar noise.

It was a rattleing noise that appeared for every turn of her cranks. First we suspected the vibrations on the cobble stones had moved her front derailleur slightly causing it to touch the chain. We checked the chain line, but no – that could possibly not be the problem. We continued to cycle and tried everything we could think of until we simply gave up.

The owner Bülent in the middle
The owner Bülent in the middle

The following day we spent a rest day in the Bulgarian town Elhovo and I cleaned her drive train and changed chain. When we started to ride the day after her bike was silent and we were happy again….. for about 15 km when the got noise back.

With 300 km left to Istanbul we thought that even if it was the bottom bracket that was causing the noise it would easily last until we reached the city. Wej’s bike continued to make sounds and especially when going uphill. Knowing that there were good bike shops in Istanbul we couldn’t care less – the bikes were scheduled for a major overhaul there anyway.

The first thing to do during our first rest day was to find the bike shop our local friend Gökhan had adviced us to go to. We walked there and after getting lost in the Egyptian spice bazar (nice place to visit by the way) we found the shop not far from the Galata bridge.

The shop was small but we immediately saw it was filled with high grade cycle parts and when we sat down to talk to the owner Bülent he told us he used to be a mechanic for the Turkish national cycling team. All this seemed very promising and Bülent offered us a total service for a very reasonable price. The service included cleaning the bikes and the drive trains, opening up all the hubs to clean and grease the bearings, taking out and inspecting the bottom brackets and adjusting things that needed to be adjusted.

Any genuine bike shop should have a clock like this :-)
Any genuine bike shop should have a clock like this 🙂

I have a dynamo hub and before we left I bought a transformer that when connected to the the hub will provide 5 volt in a USB outlet that we can use to charge our cameras and GPS. We left our home in a rush and I had no time to mount it and since special tools are required I have kept it until it was time for service. I showed it to Bülent who immediately replied:

– ”power plug – that is a simple thing to mount”

When we returned the following day, the bikes and drive trains were shining, our handle bars had new tape and my bike had the 5 volt USB outlet mounted on the stem. Best of all is that the noise from Wejs bike is gone. Bülent said the bottom bracket looked good but some dirt probably had god in and caused the noise. He also mentioned that he has good contacts with bike shops throughout Turkey and if there is any problem along the way we should contact him and he will direct us to the closest one.

For other touring cyclists who go to Istanbul and need to get to a good bike shop we can recommend the one we used. The contact details are as follows:

Pedal Bisiklet Sportif
Mimar Kemalettin Cad. No. 29
Phone 0090 212 511 06 54
E-mail: mail@pedalbisiklet.com

Restdays in Istanbul

Sightseeing and visit friends

Istanbul is a great city. It is huge, bustling, very old and due to its historical and strategic importance it has many interesting attractions to visit. The city sits on two continents with one leg in Europe and the other in Asia. In what other city can you leave your home on one continent in the morning to go to work on another and in the evening return to your home on the first continent? In that sense Istanbul is truly exotic.

Aya Sophia. First a church, then a mosque and now a museum
Aya Sophia. First a church, then a mosque and now a museum

We had three days to discover the city. We spent the first day to find the bike shop, planlessly walk around and sleep in the hotel room. The second day we went to visit the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia museum which are a must to any visitor to Istanbul.

Many of you have already been here and I won’t go in to the details about what to see in the city of Istanbul. I would rather like to tell about my impression of the city.

Shoe polisher at work while gossping with his customer
Shoe polisher at work while gossping with his customer

When in Istanbul we get the feeling of being at home in Bangkok already….

Just like Bangkok Istanbul can seem to be very messy with intense traffic on the streets and crowded footpaths. The sheer number of people and cars causes me to get a feeling of being one single ant in a giant ant colony that is not my own! I don’t know what to do and where to go… In Bangkok that is not the case, but here it definately is and I guess first time visitors to Bangkok get a feeling similar to the one I have now.

The busy passage under the Galata bridge
The busy passage under the Galata bridge

Just like in Bangkok a lot of attention seems to be paid to food and a lot of delicious things to eat are sold everywhere in everything from simple food stalls to expensive looking restaurants. We want to try everything but once our stomachs are full we can only look at the delights. Besides that, we do not know how the system of eating works, what food goes with what and so on and we feel we need a guide to the local cuisine.

Fresh vegetables and fruit for sale
Fresh vegetables and fruit for sale

Just like in Bangkok, the spiritual world is always close. In Bangkok there are all the temples and other places of worship and here in Istanbul are the many mosuques from whose minarets the exotic sounding call for prayer is sounded regularly. This ever present mix of spiritual life and the everyday life on the busy streets seem to be carachteristic for both cities.

Relaxing outside a mosque
Relaxing outside a mosque

Just like in Bangkok, the city’s nerve is a busy watercourse which the local people are proud of. Of course the Bosphorus is much bigger and busier than the Chao Praya river, but life seem to be centered around these two rivers in pretty much the same way. River cruises to admire the city are as popular in Istanbul as in Bangkok. Important historical buildings as well as fancy homes and restaurants are located side by side along the Bosphorus just like they are along its thai sister.

The Bosphorus and the intercontinental briddge
The Bosphorus and its intercontinental bridge

After three days in the city we made an appointment at our hotel with our friend Gökhan. He came and met us on his shining white Pinarello road bike and guided us when we slowly cycled towards the ferry that would take us away from the European side and on to the Asian continent. Normally we fly between Europe and Asia and the change in weather and culture is abrupt. This time it only required a 25 minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus to leave the European continent and on the Asian side it looked pretty much the same as the European side albeit a bit more quiet. It is hard to believe we are now on the same continent as Bangkok.

Neither Gökhan’s bike nor our own stayed shining clean for long – after a few minutes on the cycling path we ended up in a muddy construction site. Gökhan’s shining white bike got brown and ours too. We stopped at a beach side cafe to team up with our second turkish friend Burak who we would stay with for a few nights.

Gökhan and Burak stayed with us during their cycling trip in Sweden last November and it was great to have a re-union with them in their city.

Wej and Özlem - new best friends...
Wej and Özlem – new best friends…

Our plan was to stay with Burak’s family for two nights. He introduced us to his family and we immediately got very good contact with his mother Özlem. Had it not been for the language barrier I am sure we would have got very good contact with Özlem’s mother who lived in their apartment too. Now someone had to act as translator which slows down the communication. Wej is however picking up lots of Turkish words while they don’t seem to stick to my brain. Before we leave Turkey I bet Wej will be able to communicate quite a bit.

We ended up staying with the family for three nights and we immediately felt like being at home. We cooked food together, went for walks and had coffee and tea at cafes. Being close to each other in age Wej and Özlem seem to get extra close and were talking to each other non stop for three days

One thing I particularly liked was when Özlem taught me to prepare Turkish coffee and some turkish dishes. I then realized I have not worked in a kitchen for more about 2.5 months and I didn’t know until then that I had missed it.

Turkish coffee
Turkish coffee

One of the evenings Burak and Özlem took us in the car to the Bosphorus shore where we sat down on pillows on the river bank and had tea. It was a bit cold and windy, but it was a great feeling to sit there and see the lights from the busy centre of Istanbul’s European side while large ships sailed past us like giant shadows.

Preparing dinner with the family
Preparing dinner with the family

The family has their business in another town and the father Volkan was away when we arrived but came back the last afternoon. He was a jolly man always joking and he and Özlem took out Wej and myself to have tea and Turkish desserts at a fancy cafe on the main shopping street in Kadiköy on the Asian side. We ordered four different puddings and put them in the middle of the table and Wej and I still argue about which one was best. One thing is for sure though and that is that all four of them were wonderful. I wish we could find that sort of dessert puddings in Sweden too.

To sum up our stay in the great city of Istanbul we can say that it is a city we will surely return to. We have seen far from all we want to see, but we have got our bikes serviced, rested and stayed with our friends and made new ones. We will come back but maybe not for the tourist attractions, but to see the friends we now have here.

We want to extend our big thanks to Gökhan for booking our rooms, arranging the service of our bikes and guiding us over to Asia. We would also express a big thank you to the Yalciner family for taking so good care of us during three very funny days. We hope to see you all soon again 🙂

Day 40 (24 April, Istanbul centre – a suburb)

First attempt of exiting Istanbul

The decision from the evening before was to make a slow start after having been idle for six days. We took our time in the morning and had a long nice breakfast with the family, packed our bags and brought them and the bikes down from the 5th floor in the small elevator.

It was a lovely day with around 21 degrees and sunshine when we started the second segment of this trip at around 2 PM. I was wearing shorts from start and I was very happy for the weather.

Due to our experience when cycling into Istanbul we had been a bit worried about our exit from the city. It soon got evident that navigating out of Istanbul’s asian side was ten times easier than entering the European side. We also think that the timing in the early afternoon helped.

Our GPS’ map covers Europe and Istanbul but not so much more in Turkey so we took this last chance of getting electronic guiding. The cycling went very smooth, the hills were not so steep and the traffic limited by Istanbul standards.

Ready to start segment 2
Ready to start segment 2 towards Baku in Azerbadjan

After some 10 kilometers Wej complained that the sound from her bottom bracket was back. I listened to it and sure there was a sound, but not the same scratching sound. This time it was a clear clicking sound and it was too loud for us to ignore. As you understand we were not happy running into this problem with newly serviced bikes, but we were at least happy to be in Istanbul where we can solve the issue.

We turned into a gas station to inspect what was wrong. When grabbing the cranks firmly and rocking them a bit I could feel there was a play – the cranks felt loose and I could even see them moving. I tightened the bolt and the play decreased but didn’t disappear. I now got quite sure that the bottom bracket after all was was worn out and needed to be replaced. The problem was only how to arrange the replacement.

It was 4 PM and we were at one of the last suburbs of Istanbul and we needed to deicde to whether to turn back or move forward. Bülent – the owner of the shop that serviced our bikes had said we could contact him if we had any problems and he would direct us to other good shops he knew throughout Turkey.

We wanted to e-mail Bülent and our Istanbul friends and I went in to the gas station to ask if they had any wifi that I could use. The cashier told me there was no wifi, but that I could borrow his private ipad to send my e-mails. Wonderful people….

Calling with our Swedish phone in Turkey is really expensive so we really needed to again check our e-mails and we couldn’t use the guys private ipad the entire afternoon. We needed to be somewhere where there was a wifi and we decided to cycle back to a gas station we had stopped at some 2 km earlier and that we knew had wifi. Fortunately we made a misstake and took the wrong way there and ended up at another gas station. It didn’t really matter – we only needed some wifi so Wej went in to ask if they had.

I was standing outside watching the bikes and saw Wej talking to the people behind the counter, then to another lady who seemed to be a customer. They had a long conversation and when Wej came out she said that the woman lives nearby and knows there is a bike shop in her area that she would like to show us the way to.

We cycled behind her car for about a kilometer and when we came to the shop we met an empty window of a bikeshop that had moved elsewhere.

We still had not checked our mails to see if we had got any answers and we needed to get to the internet somewhere. The lady then said we could follow her home and use the internet in her apartment. We rode behind her for another 500 meter and entered a gate to an area of nice looking apartment buildings. She lived on the first floor and had her private lawn outside her living room where we could park our bikes.

The lady introduced herself as Deniz, ran into her house for some orange juice and and asked us to sit down in her little garden. Deniz are a few years younger than ourselves and she lives in this apartment with her young daughter, who this day was away with her father.

Deniz and us in her apartment
Deniz and us in her apartment

Once again we got a proof of the hospitality of the Turkish people as Deniz offered us to stay overnight in her house which we gratefully accepted. We had a nice evening together with lots of interesting discussions and laughs. Wej and Denice cooked the dinner while I tried to read on the internet to understand more about our technical problems and contact my turkish and Swedish cycling friends to try to settle the problem.

Anders at Veloform – our local bike shop in Göteborg – kindly sent e-mails late at night trying to make a diagnosis according to my description. Our Istanbul cyclist friends Gökhan and Burak helped in giving us addresses to other shops in Istanbul and finally I managed to get in contact with Bülent from the shop where we serviced the bikes on his private home telephone.

Bülent had two suggestions. Either he sends a service man by car to see us and do the repair on spot or we bike to his other shop on the asian side. Both have their advantages and in the time of writing this (early morning) we have not yet decided which option to go for so stay tuned in and you will know.

Statistics cycling day 40 (first attempt)

Distance:                 22.7 km
Traveling time         4.47 hours
Cycling time            1.37 hours
Average speed       14.0 km/h
Top speed              35.9 km/h
Altitude gained        182 m
Altitude lost             172 m

Day 40 again (April 26, Istanbul – Sile)

Unplanned rest day and re-run of Day 40

Isn’t it amazing how much trust people can put in a total stranger? Deniz invited us to stay over night and before leaving for her job she said that we could stay in her apartment as long as we needed.

The evening before Wej had told Deniz that we often use a hospitality network for touring cyclists (warmshowers.org) to find peple who would like to host us for a night. She then told about the similar but larger network coachsurfing for ordinary travelers. Deniz then asked Wej if it isn’t dangerous to stay with total strangers…..

Dear Deniz – weren’t we total strangers to you when you met us at the gas station…? 😉

Anyway – we would like to express our gratitude towards Deniz who invited us – two complete strangers – to stay a night with her. Deniz is the perfect example of the famous Turkish hospitality and this kind of unplanned meetings with nice and interesting local people is one of the highlights on a trip like ours.

Besides having a half broken bottom bracket, Wej woke this morning with a a sore throat that made her unwilling to bike long distances. After sending some mails and talking to the owner of the bike shop we decided to go back to town, check in to a hotel and stay one more night in Istanbul while the bikes were repaired.

We booked a hotel via internet and started to cycle there to arrive when it was open for check in. The hotel looked nice and had a sauna and swimming pool that we planned to use, but never got time to.

As soon as we had checked in and put our luggage in the room we cycled the 9 km along the cycle path in the park that line the shore of the Marmara Sea. Normally our bikes are loaded with heavy panniers and we had not cycled without heavy load since 16th of February when we started our journey.

The bikes felt very strange. The stability we had got used to was completely gone and now they were light, lively and almost hard to control. Then one should know when at home I normally think that this bike is very stable and un-lively compared to the other bikes I have.

View from our window in Sile with the Black Sea in the background
View from our window in Sile with the Black Sea in the background

We found the bike shop and parked our bikes outside. The mechanic knew we were coming and took Wej’s bike inside. Since my bike was going to be parked outside while we were in the workshop I decided to lock it. In the same moment as I heard the click from my lock I remembered that the keys were in our luggage back at the hotel 9 km away….

Stupid, stupid, super stupid….

The process to exchange Wej’s bottom bracket took 20 minutes. The mechanic then turned to my bike and offered to cut open my lock and sell a new cheap lock. I was tired and angry with myself and was about to accept that offer when Bülent, the owner, called from the European side to talk to the mechanic about something else. The mechanic told him about my lock and Bülent then said:

– ”why don’t you let him borrow any of our rental bikes”

A really smart suggestion and both me and the mechanic felt stupid to not have thought about this before…. I am glad this suggestion came up before we cut my lock. If it had come later my anger would have reached a new dimension.

The toothpaste soup
The toothpaste soup

In the evening we had dinner on the hotel’s roof terrace. It was late and we only wanted something light to eat and ordered the soup of the day. After a week in Turkey we finally ate something we didn’t like. The soup had a too strong mint taste and I think the recipe was 3 parts water and 1 part Colgate tooth paste…. 😉

The toothpaste soup was back on the breakfast table but we then went for all other delights the hotel put up.

After breakfast it was time for me to finally accept the punishment for being stupid yesterday. I cycled the 9,5 km back to the cycle shop to pick up my own bike and then back again. Meanwhile Wej relaxed at the hotel – the privilege for not doing as dumb things as I do…

Altitude profile of today's cycling.
Altitude profile of today’s cycling.

We set off at 3 PM and took the same route out of town as last time. It was even easier now since we remembered the way and soon we passed Deniz house and continued towards town of Sile on the Black Sea coast.

The road was a major highway with two lanes and a wide shoulders and some really nasty hills that were a bit tough for us who had not cycled for a week. It was not the most interesting road to ride on but since we deliberately left Istanbul late to avoid traffic it was our only option if we wanted to reach Sile in the same day.

Our plan was to camp either on the beach or just outside town. Sile was however bigger than we thought and since it was late and we had no food to cook we decided to check in to a guesthouse instead.

This is written in our room while we cook breakfast and prepare lunch sandwiches while enjoying the view of the Black Sea that looks very blue today.

Boiling eggs in our room
Boiling eggs in our room

Statistics cycling day 40 

Distance: 63.5 km
Traveling time 5.53 hours
Cycling time 4.12 hours
Average speed 15.1 km/h
Top speed 48.6 km/h
Altitude gained 782 m
Altitude lost 748 m

Day 41

Taking week long breaks upset our morning routines. After our brief visit to Sweden it took us a few days to get them back. Our week in Istanbul had the same effect. When we left the city we intentionally started to cycle at 2 PM to avoid the morning rush hours and we slept so long that we almost missed the hotel’s breakfast times.

Yesterday we planned to camp but ended up in a guesthouse because of the late start from Istanbul and late arrival to the town of Sile. This late arrival once again meant late bedtime followed by a late wake up.

We used our camping stove to boil some eggs in our room bring along and have as us lunch together with sandwiches. The guesthouse was located in a small square in Sile and had a partial view of the Black Sea that looked very blue this morning.

Tasty Gözelme for lunch

After only 7 km we got hungry and decided to keep our eggs and sandwiches for dinner instead and stopped for lunch at a small restaurant in the next village. We had ”Gözleme” which is a flat bread wrapped around cheese or meat and then fried. Very tasty indeed.

The first big upphill section started not long after our lunch break. The road took us up and down between 50 and 200 meters altitude. It also had lots of sharp turns and resembled a giant rollercoaster. It was a bit hard to ride but the surroundings were so beautiful that we didn’t think much of tough it was.

Oaks – just like at home

Oaks – just like at homeWe had been told that this part of Turkey is very green and indeed it was. After we left the farmed areas and entered into the forest we felt like being somewhere else. The lush forest still had a light green nuance that certainly will be dark green in a few days. At some sections of the road oak trees dominated the forest and with all yellow and white flowers on the ground it looked quite a bit like southern Sweden during the peak of the summer.In other parts of this beautiful road pine trees dominated and we got a feeling of being high up on the mountains of northern Thailand.

We saw a lot of cattle along this way. Sometimes the walked around freely and ran into the forest when we cycled by. Other times they had bells and grazed the grassed fields. Their ringing bells that told their owners were they were a nice contrast to the sounds of the Harley Davidson motorbikes that went past us at regular times. This road seem to be good for not only cycling but also riding motorcycles.

Icecream break at a gas station

We really loved the 20-25 km of cycling through the forest between the town of Sile and Teke village and we hope we will see a lot of similar landscapes further on.

We decided to quit cycling early today in order to be able to go to bed early and get back into normal morning routines. In the next town (Agva) we stopped at a gas station to go to the bathroom and while there we met two guys on motorcycles who we had tea with and talked to for more than an hour. One of them worked in the medical industry and had lived i Copenhagen for half a year. In Agva we bought some fresh vegetables to have with the spagetti dinner we intended to cook.

Wej riding off the main road towards the tent spot on the hill

There are a few villages just outside Agva and after the last one on a hilltop we found the perfect spot to pitch our tent. The villages was within sight and after dinner when working with tent a flock of some 20 storks flew past our hill at low altitude. They are magnificent when they come sailing towards you at low speed and land on the tree tops below the hill. We don’t know much about storks, but maybe the trees on this hill was their bedroom. They took a few more flights around the hill in the sunset before they finally settled for the night. I have never seen so many storks flying at the same time and never so close. It seemed like they were playing around before going to bed and we really enjoyed watching them from a close distance.

Sunset and storks (look closely on top of the tree and around)

I am writing this in the tent and as mentioned there are a couple of villages not far from this hill. Late in the evening and with only a few seconds time difference we heard the calls for prayer from the mosques in the surrounding villages. I have lived in an area of Bangkok where a lot of people from Thailand’s deep south live and I then got used to hearing calls for prayer from mosques, but even in that area the Buddhists were still the majority. Being in a country where Islam is the major religion and calls for prayer can be heard from various directions even when staying in a tent on a hilltop is truly exotic.

Room with a view…

Statistics cycling day 41

Distance: 49.6 km
Traveling time 7.27 hours
Cycling time 3.21 hours
Average speed 14.8 km/h
Top speed 57.6 km/h
Altitude gained 661 m
Altitude lost 635 m

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain Calories Burned

Day 42 (Sile – Karasu)

Earlier during this trip I wrote my blog posts in the evening of the same day. Now that routine has changed and I tend to write the day after instead. It is so hot during the day that taking a break to avoid cycling during the hottest hours and instead do the writing, photo management and other administrative things such as cycling and budget follow up seems to be a smart way to use our time. This time I just can’t avoid showing you how I am sitting writing this very blog post at a cafe in the town of Akcakoca with the Black Sea below me. There is however no internet here so the picture will be old when you see it.

Writing this blog post

Back to Day 42 – the day of the neverending rollercoaster.

The hilltop we camped at was at 75 meters altitude. Immediately after starting cycling we rolled down to 25 meters altitude and stayed there for only a few meters before starting climbing towards 200 meters where we also stayed for only a few meters. The day was characterized by numerous small hills that took us up and down without any really flat parts in between at all.

The climbs were not very high, but they were many and very hard in the mid day heat. We like to cycle in mountainous regions, but all short climbs today were on hills and not mountains. Going up to immediately go down again made us feel like never getting anywhere and everytime an uphill struggle ended with a quick descent we said to each other

– “is this downhill really necessary? Can’t we stay at the altitude we’ve just gained?”

Today’s altitude profile

Not long after we started and were racing down a hill we saw a stone on the road. The one who rides first always warns the one riding behind for upcoming obstacles on the road such as potholes, large stones or crushed bottles. This time I was cycling first when I saw what I thought was a stone in the middle of the road. I pointed at it to warn Wej but when I got close to it I saw it was a turtle. Being in a curve in the middle of the road where sometimes large trucks pass is not the best place to be if you are a turtle. Wej who like most other Thai people consider turtles as sacred animals carefully carried it to the side of the road and released it in the grass close to a little pond.

Wej and the turtle before rescuing it from being crushed by cars

After some 30 kilometers we needed a break and found a small gas station. We love gas stations and if we had counted all stations we have visited so far I think we would be somewhere around 150 by now. This station was not as fancy as many others but it had the free bathrooms for visitors to use and a tea house where the villagers sit and drink tea, gossip and play cards. Now the villagers were sitting outside, but being a little bit cooler inside we prefered to stay there. The owner was a young man and like at so many places before in Turkey he served tea and coffee free of charge. It seems like the hospitality of the Turkish people has no limits.

The cafe with some nice shade. 

The last few nights we have cooked our own food on our multifuel stove. The fuel bottle was almost empty and this little gas station with the very personal service by the owner himself seemed to be the right place to buy 0.5 litres of petrol. The cost was 1.82 Turkish lira (7 SEK or about 80 euro cent) so the fuel price is not much different from in Sweden. We will see how long this bottle lasts but if we only use it a few times per week it will last for a month until we need to refuel.

Buying 0.5 liters of petrol.

We stopped in the town of Kandira to have lunch at one of the döner restaurants in the city centre. I really enjoy going to restaurants and try to communicate what I want to eat and then compare if I got what I tried to order or something else 

The guys and the döner roll in the lunch restaurant.

At the main square of Kandira there was a fountain with drinkable water. We filled our bottles and also rinsed our caps, gloves and sunprotecting sleeves. We put them on all wet and it was a relief that lasted less than half an hour when everything was all dry again.

It seems like a majority of the people in Turkey smoke. Someone said to us that smoking is in the blood of the turks. I guess that all that smoke brings other stuff into the blood as well but at the square in Kandira I found a sign that appeared to be part of some anti smoking campaign.

Anti-smoking campaign or just an ash tray?

It seems that the Turks have taken measurements to keep their energy costs down in these times of ever increasing prices for oil and gas. Solar collectors with panels on the roof to let the sun heat water for use in kitchens and bathrooms seem to be very popular and can be seen on many roofs both in towns and on the countryside.

Solar collector on the roof. 

After a long break to have icecream, update our blog and finishing a huge two litre bottle of sprite (we wanted the bottle itself since it fits perfect in my large bottle cage) we continued to buy some vegetables to use in our dinner. The dinner is usually spagetti with canned tuna, tomatoes and some fried onions. Not very delicious but simple to make and cheap.

It was much cooler in the evening and when we finally got close to the coastal road along the Black Sea we started to search for a good spot to pitch our tent. It was not hard at all. On one side there was a huge road construction going on and we could easily have put up the tent there, but we would have been very visable to everyone passing by. Instead we opted for the opposite side, close to the forest and among some low bushes. The ground was flat and nobody could see us, nobody but half of Turkeys population of mosqitous which forced us to make a quick cooking and evening procedure.

Camping close to the road and behind some bushes

Statistics cycling day 42 

Distance:                 84.6 km
Traveling time        11.05 hours
Cycling time            5.50 hours
Average speed       14.5 km/h
Top speed              58.7 km/h
Altitude gained       1144 m
Altitude lost           1206 m

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain Calories Burned

Day 43 (Karasu – Alapli)

Tunnels and a close encounter with Turkish police

Our plan for the day was to make an early start and ride until it got too hot, then take a long break to eat, write and relax before continuing during the afternoon when the temparature has cooled down. The alarm in our phone woke us up at 5.45 and once outside the tent we could work at ease since the mosquitoes had gone elsewhere.

The plan was also to not have breakfast where we camped but cycle the remaning 6-7 km into the town of Karasu to eat at some cafe. We immediately found a bakery and stopped to buy bread. The bakery had a big firewood oven and the two bakers were busy putting new bread into it. In Sweden bread made in firewood ovens are considered as having a nice taste but a not so nice price tag. The bread we bought cost 1 Turkish Lira which equals about 3.8 SEK or 0.6 €.

The baker and his firewood oven

We now had bread but nothing more so we continued cycling for another 2-300 meters where we found a tiny little grocery store where we bought some cheese, fruit juice and yoghurt that we intended to eat at the table outside the store. The shopkeeper shook his head to our question if he had coffee but but then shouted to his father across the street to make two cups of coffee for us. It was a wonderful breakfast in the sunshine with fresh bread and coffee. And the coffee was for free….. the Turkish hospitality again….


If the road yesterday was a neverending rollercoaster, than today’s cycling was almost the opposite. We soon got out on the road that follows the shore of the Black Sea. It was straight and almost without hills. It went through villages and some small towns, mostly close to the beach but sometimes 2-300 meters from the waterline.

I have only been to the Black Sea once before and that was in southern Russia in 1993. That time it was February and far too cold to think of trying to put the feet in the sea. This time the conditions were better and we had to try the Black Sea water. Unless you are not a Swede it was far too cold to swim in, but in terms of water temperature I am no longer a Swede but 100% Thai so we did not swim. Putting our feet in the water was cold enough.

With our feet in the Black Sea

Those of you who have followed this blog from start have seen photos of us and our bikes on the beach of the Baltic Sea and the Marmara Sea. In order to follow this tradition we proudly present a photo of us and our bikes from the Black Sea beach. Next beach photo will probably be from the Caspian Sea.

We and our bikes on the Black Sea beach

We are in Turkey so when we say that the cycling was flat means that there were at least some nasty hills. If you study the altitude graph below you will understand what we mean with meaningless hills. A couple of short steep hills that never bring us up to any high altitude. A lot of work to only one hour get back to the same altitude as we started from.

Altitude profile of today

Our intention was to have a long break during the early afternoon to avoid the heat. We stopped in the sea side town of Akcapoca to have lunch, but a fresh breeze from the sea made it pleasant and we could have continued to cycle. We found a restaurant beside the road that overlooked the Black Sea and we decided to sit down there to eat, do a bit of writing (yesterday’s blog post) before we continued towards the town of Eregli. 

The plans for the night were to camp somewhere before that city but soon it appeared impossible. There is only a narrow section of flat area between the tall steep mountains and the Black Sea and that is where the road is. In fact there is not even room for the entire road so the lanes leading to the north east goes through tunnels while the lanes that go south west goes between the mountain and the sea.
We don’t like to ride in tunnels but what to do when the only option is to swim in the cold Black Sea with your bike. Wej would cycle behind and for increased visability we put all our back lights on the back of her shirt and then speeded through the 10 tunnels (!) at as high speed as possible. Fortunately there was very little traffic and we could ride through the first 5-6 tunnels alone without cars. It was great fun to shout loudly and listen to the echo inside the tunnels. 


Besides that there was nowhere to camp, Wej also had a got her sore throat back and we decided to find a hotel or guesthouse. We went around in the center of Apali but couldn’t find anywhere to stay. When we saw a police station with a group of police officers talking outside we went there to ask for directions. Not being able to communicate in the same language the officers used sign language to tell us to wait. We thought that they were maybe going to find someone who spoke English or German, but not so. Two of the officers came back in a police car and showed us to bike behind them. 

They drove slowly in front of us as an VIP escort with their blue lights on and when approaching a roundabout they sounded the sirens to make way for us. They parked their police car outside the only hotel in town and we tried to talk a little. Then they wanted to see our passports – probably not to make a proper check but more to see what a Swedish passport looks like.

The police escort checking our passports

Taking good care of strangers seem to be a national sport in Turkey. I am quite sure that if a lost tourist in Sweden ever would find any police officer it is highly unlikely they would get a police escort with sirens and blue lights to the nearest hotel…

The hotel was a bit expensive but since we got very good contact with the front office staff we tried to negotiate the price. We couldn’t get a discount, but they could offer us to include the dinner in the price of the room. When we got up to our room we could enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Black Sea before we went to have the dinner we negotiated into the price of the room.

Black Sea sunset seen from the window in our hotel room

Statistics for Cycling day 43 

Distance:                79.7 km
Traveling time        11.01 hours
Cycling time            5.46 hours
Average speed        16.1 km/h
Top speed               58.6 km/h
Altitude gained         566 m
Altitude lost             559 m

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain Calories Burned

Continue to Turkey part 2