En repartant du lac d'Iznik

[TRAVEL BOOK #11] – Turkey by bike: along the Black Sea

[ Turkey D+139, 5,620 km – June 30th to July 31st ]
Outlines of our cycling itinerary on the Black Sea shores: Ipsala – Kesan – Lapseki – Biga – Bandirma – Istanbul – Samsun – Trabzon.

En route pour la Turquie ! Turkey by bike !
Let’s go to Turkey !

As soon as we start pedaling, we feel the incredible Turkish hospitality:

Invitations to drink litres of çay (pronounced “tchaye”), to eat, to sleep, to get into a truck, not to mention the numerous gifts… The bags fill up as fast as our hearts (we become so soft on love). It’s horrible to be so kind – receiving so much is not as easy as it seems! In short, it’s a real invitation to let go and to take it slowly, on the rhythm of these multiple encounters. And also (especially?) a BIG lesson of hospitality!

Turkey by bike is dangerous:

At any moment you can fall into an ambush and find yourself drinking litres of tea!

Swallowing litres and litres of cay, at any time of the day: you sweat tea. And here, it is much more than a drink, it is an art – even an institution. Even when camping, the Turks never leave without their teapots and their wood fire!

It is worth mentioning that despite the huge prejudices and false ideas that circulate about this country, we always felt safe as women and as human beings. Of course, it happens that we meet some heavy and macho men, but it’s a universal phenomenon and we can’t say that it’s specific to this country!

On the contrary, we felt at home: always encouraged on our way by the sounds of horns (saying hello, bravo or good luck), thumbs up from the windows of the vehicles, big waving-hand from the passers-by (it’s not much but a simple hand in the air waving gives back strength and smile), friendships and an unrivalled HOSPITALITY: Hasan, his family, his friends, Huseyn, Ahmet, Tunçay, Ethem, Ebru… The list is endless.

On the other hand, you can count on the fingers of one hand the people you meet who speak English! Positive point: immersed, we quickly learn words that allow us to have basic exchanges! Short but effective interactions (especially to make people smile) – and thank you “Hasan translate” and technology for the technical details!

Well, initially we had planned to cross the Black Sea by ferry from Burgas (Bulgaria) to Batumi (Georgia). But after a discussion where GG suggested going to Istanbul, Anai retorted that the name didn’t inspire her and that, for example, Constantinople would be more attractive: during the day, someone came by to clarify: Constantinople is the old name of Istanbul… So we can’t avoid passing by this city! And there seems to be a giant conspiracy pushing us towards this country.

So here we are, on our way to Istanbul for GG’s birthday (and Constantinople to please Anai) where we’ll stay for 10 days (it’s not too much to immerse ourselves in this gargantuan city of nearly 20 million inhabitants!)

Oh yes, also, we had a crush and a little change of itinerary: the detour via Istanbul was transformed into a crossing of the country (and incidentally we saved almost 500 euros on the ferry, a bargain!)

If the people pushed us towards Turkey, we can’t say the same about the forces of nature. An endless headwind where pedaling 40 km a day already seems like the end of the world. We even dare to say it: with this wind, we were COLD in the evening!

——-> more pictures of Turkey HERE

Turkish border. After a switchback error, we arrived with great fanfare on the motorway (fortunately deserted). Here we are facing the impressive (imposing?) border between Greece and Turkey. A new stage in the journey: the gates of Asia are opening to us!

Ipsala, Turkey: a impressive border !

Hungry, we stop at the first service station-restaurant. Then Savin -a French on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jay Huyk/Andy -a South Korean on his way to Georgia, and Will -an English on his way to the -stan countries also stopped! This meeting of cyclists in a petrol station, in the middle of heavy trucks is quite absurd and hilarious. We happily pedal on the national road, until we find a place to bivouac together near Kesan, in the woods, maybe a bit too close to the farms (the famous and huge dogs with spiked collars arrive to defend their territory in a minute, then end up changing sides when Andy grills some meat and jokes “we could eat them, they are well-fleshed and there is enough for everyone”: we will have some bodyguards for the night).

Savin, Andy et notre invité !
Bivouac with Savin, Andy and our surprise guests (yes, yes, look closer!)

Adatepe. We cross vast agricultural areas punctuated by a few villages. Stopped at the edge of the road in front of what seems to be the entrance of a village, we hesitate to take the path to go and drink a çay. From where we are, we see no sign of human life. A moped passes us and suddenly stops. “Welcome! Çay!” We then follow this man on his scooter, which is magically hold up by the “brown tape”, through the bumpy roads that lead to the village centre. Suleman then slips away for a few minutes and comes back with his hands full of food that he gives us. Here we are in the middle of terraces of about fifty men drinking their çay and playing cards.

They observe us, a little curious. The attraction begins. The young waiter brings us a handful of cherries (between 6 or 7 çay) while Suleman takes out his smartphone to play Turkish music. He then puts on his Rayban (bright red) and sings “Frère Jacques” to us! (By the way, many Turks seem to have learnt this song at school, so we’ll have other great performances afterwards).

Toujours sur la grande route !
Still on the huge road

Sirinkoy. The road is quite monotonous, fields as far as the eye can see, the gas stations are a real ray of sunshine! For several days now, we have had the wind against us: 40 km covered; felt: 90. So we pedal painfully against the wind when suddenly an old white Renault 12 fishtails us and stops right in front of us, on OUR hard shoulder. At this point we think that Turks are REALLY polite, the guys even stop to say hello! Hasan and Husein get out of the car and wave to us. Hasan speaks English, he explains that some neighbours called him because we had to look for him! He offers us to come to his place 1 km away to take a shower and spend the night there! Wow. What hospitality! We accept willingly, listening to our instinct: we can trust them! And here we go, we follow them. Hasan opens his house and shows us the shower then he leaves: “take rest, do whatever you want, see you”.

Hasan is a passionate of motorbike travels, he has already travelled in many countries and when he is not travelling he likes to welcome travellers at his home where he lives with his wife and daughter! Huseyn doesn’t speak English, but we understand each other anyway. The next day, everything goes on! After a copious Turkish breakfast prepared by Hasan’s wife, we offer our help. Here we are, all 3 of us, tinkering to finish the new henhouse door (Hasan is joking: a new henhouse door is points gained towards his wife to leave longer on his motorbike). Well, we mostly took the nails out of the pallets to get some nice boards (yes, you don’t have to be a bobo to do “upcycling” here 😅).

Once the door is finished and fixed, he drops us off at home and tells us that in 10 minutes we’ll go and eat at his sister’s with his wife and daughter (neither of them speak English), while he goes to see a friend. Here we are between women, around a well-stocked table. We don’t understand each other very well, but we eat royally! After the meal, Hasan’s sister slides between the two of us on the sofa, takes out her smartphone and introduces us to her whole family through pictures. Sometimes, there is no need for words! Back home, Hasan explains that some friends are coming tonight to meet us. We arouse their curiosity, but especially in the traditions, when someone has guests, everyone is warned and comes to the house!

He tells them about our meeting and questions each new person who joins the meal: “a car stops in front of you, two men get out and offer you to sleep at their place, what do you say?” All exclaim: “NO, I say no, of course not! ” At the end of the afternoon, Hasan shows us his workshop (he’s quite a handyman) and his bikes, each with its own story. He insists a bit to make us try one of them. After a few tries on the path, we would almost be fooled: it would still go much faster than on a bicycle! After two beautiful evenings, we leave our adoptive family (with a very heavy heart and a headwind) hoping to see them again very soon on the road, in France or in Turkey! ❤️

Hassan, sa femme et Tony à Şirinköy. Notre famille Turque !
With Hasan, his wife and Tony in Şirinköy. Our turkish family !

Istanbul. A break into the crowds of 20 million people and at least as many cats. We have known more restful moments! We took advantage of the city to fix the bikes, find patches to repair the tent, mail 7kg of winter gear to India (ironically, that’s when it started to get cold at night – yes, yes, COLD!).

Getting around a city of this size takes time! Shuttles allow you to cross the Bosphorus and connect the European and Asian sides in about 20 minutes. Istanbul was for us a strange space-time where we didn’t really feel in Turkey. Even if this city is full of treasures to discover, what a pleasure to leave the city euphoria to get back on the road! We definitely prefer the great outdoors!

Agia Sofia
Agia Sofia

Hammam. We thought we would take advantage of our “rest” to go to the Hammam! What could be better than a bit of softness to relax the muscles after all those kilometres?! After having sweated in the room close to 50° and 100% humidity, we are directed to a corner, like a broom cupboard, already occupied by 3 imposing ladies in pants, flip-flops, toplessness -sipping a lemonade. For two seconds we wondered if we were in the right room. Sensing our hesitant step and our probably bewildered look, they all started laughing heartily! Here we go, each one of us lying on a kind of marble table, being soaped, rubbed, scrubbed, turned over, folded, unfolded, sat on, laid down: every millimetre of skin goes through it! One thing is certain, it’s been a long time since we were so clean! However, for the softness break, it was not the right place!

Kapakli-Narlija. Turkish hospitality in the morning. We wake up in a campsite next to the sea. As soon as we get out of the tent -our eyes still misty- our tent neighbours bring us breakfast and çay. If there is one thing the Turks don’t joke about, it’s camping: they are like at home: dishes, cups of çay by the dozen with their cups, trays, water cans, teapots, tables and chairs… Before leaving, two children run towards us to bring us drawings filled with love and talent. Around 11am, we finally set off, the wind in our face, the day looks like being tough. We stop every 10 km (a guilty pleasure) at the petrol stations. At the end of the day, we finally arrive at a lake by a small pleasant road. Well, it’s not easy to find a place to pitch the tent between the doggies hidden in the olive trees, slopes and farms. We go down a steep path to get closer to the banks.

After a few meters, a quad bike passes us again (we had met it in the previous village). The couple gets off, gives us a big hug and beckons us to come and drink a çay in their magnificent garden facing the lake. And as they don’t joke with the çay, they light a wood fire for the occasion. Tunçay arrives. It’s time for the sausage. Nobody speaks English, we try to understand Turkish and we gibber, but the misunderstandings are sometimes magical. Just when GG thought she understood how to say “sausage” in Turkish, she cheerfully repeats “Domus super!” General laughter! “Domus” means pig, and they were actually explaining that this sausage was not made of pork!

On ne plaisante pas avec le Çay !
We are not kidding with Çay !

Joking aside, we end up asking our new friends if they know where we can pitch the tent for tonight. They lead us a few meters away, on a beach. We all set up our tent together. Amet, their friend and owner of the fisherman’s hut next door, joins us. Seeing that we have just put on a jumper because the sun is overcast, Amet tells us not to sleep in the tent and proposes to spend the night in the hut, in the warmth! (As always, the Turks are ready to “make themselves comfortable, everywhere”: two sofas adorn the room – you can find sofas/armchairs/balancelles everywhere on the roads and lakesides where it can be pleasant to sit/wait).

Turkish hospitality has struck again! They leave for a while and come back with Raki and chips. We spend a very nice evening with our new fishing buddies. We manage to understand each other thanks to gestures and the help of the translator! The next morning, Amet arrives with his tractor. Once he is sure we are awake, he comes to see us and brings us some vegetables from the garden. He also makes us a delicious mixture of purslane, olive oil and yoghurt! We end up having a hard time getting back on the road – he offered to stay another night!

Vue depuis la cabane d'Ahmet
View from Amet’s hut

Cakesli. The roads are pleasant, lined with olive trees and peach trees, we go along the lake before arriving in Iznik. A small town with a very rich heritage that our fishermen friends highly recommended to us! At the end of the day, we are in front of a second lake which is used for irrigation of crops. We take a break in a restaurant, then we ask the manager, Ethem, if he knows a place where we can camp near the lake. Ethem learned French at school (a long time ago), his eyes sparkle when we tell him we are French!

He invites us to pitch the tent on the magnificent lawn of his restaurant on which we hardly dare to walk! We have fun transposing the situation in France, if we camped between the tables of a restaurant-terrace (open), on a lawn worthy of the Stade de France). We spend a very good evening in his company before leaving the next day for Sakarya where we decide to take a night bus to Samsun (the first bus of the trip!)!

Lac de Çerkeşli - Avec Ethem
Lac de Çerkeşli lake – with Ethem – Turkish breakfast

We had been suggested to do the night in the town of Adapazari. But the translator on the phone that the man waved at us indicating “do you believe in love at first sight” ended up convincing us to look for the “Otogar” station. We save ourselves a few kilometres of heavy traffic, and we also save Anai’s thigh which is acting up! It’s a funny feeling, between the frustration of not being free to walk around and stop wherever we want and the satisfaction of taking a giant step forward with a disconcerting ease: we don’t even need to dismantle the bikes in the hold!

Samsun. Here we are, facing the Black Sea! We meet Hamed, a passionate Iranian musician on the road for 4 years! He plays the Santûr to the great pleasure of the people who have the chance to listen to him! He offers us two ears carved in wood as pendants: “to listen to your heart”.

Ahmed, musicien iranien sur la route avec son Santur
Ahmed with his Santur

A kilometre or two further on, we stop to eat. A woman offers to translate for us: she speaks incredible English. She explains that she is Turkish but that she has been living in Toronto for several years. She is having lunch with her father, a teacher. Both of them check scrupulously that the waiters are not trying to rip us off. But against all odds, the manager, smiling ear to ear, keeps offering us things; obviously this is the first time tourists have stopped at his restaurant and he is over the moon. The discussion becomes technical when Ebru’s father (who doesn’t speak English) launches into the grammatical and etymological rules of the Turkish language. Valiantly, she translates the whole thing for us, and it’s even very clear! We are making progress! We can now certify, for example, that the word “Ekmek” (which means “bread”) is 100% of Turkish origin because it has a double vowel.

With a clear head, we set off again on a four-lane road with heavy truck and bus traffic. We pass tunnels, petrol stations and seaside towns. It’s far from a pleasant little bike ride. It’s not far from being unpleasant and stressful, but it’s also part of the trip! A bit tired of all this traffic (even if these landscapes between the sea and the mountains of hazelnut forests are very impressive), we say to ourselves that it’s “not far from being stupid” to pedal on a section like this one! Then from town to town, from petrol station to petrol station, smiles and friendly exchanges brighten up this monotonous and tiring crossing.

Les stations services, petit coin de paradis !
Petrol station : a little paradise !

Trabzon. A large port city between the sea and the mountains, a favourite holiday destination for tourists from the Emirates in search of coolness and rain! Very big change of atmosphere! We walk in a bazaar where we end up falling for two carpets which will be used as mattresses in the tent!

Bienvenue à la maison !
Welcome Home !

Sumela Monastery. Sumela Monastery, a magnificent Greek Orthodox monastery on a cliffside located at 1200 m altitude, 60 km from Trabzon. High tourist place, one can understand why! For practical reasons, we decide to leave the bikes and bags in Trabzon and we look for a place to put our butts in a vehicle. After some research on the internet, we ask the receptionist of the Guest-House for advice on the most convenient way to get there. After a few phone calls, she tells us that she has just found us two places to join a group, the unique opportunity to consume three tourist places in only one afternoon for the modest sum of 60$! Panicking at the idea of being locked in a bus with a group all that time, we politely decline this tempting proposition.

We finally opt for a taxi, departure 9am the next morning. After 40 minutes of road, our driver is obliged to leave us in front of the carpark (by seeing the price posted with the meter and the price announced by the receptionist, one understands well that one made nicely enfler), the remainder of the voyage must be done in dedicated shuttle. We try to go up on foot, but the policemen signal us to go and buy our tickets. So we get on the minibus to finish the climb. We visit this impressive and freshly renovated monastery. Too bad, from where we are, we can’t admire its atypical architecture. We wondered about the possible presence of hermits, we quickly got our answer!

The minibus is waiting for us. It is at this moment that we decide to escape to go down on foot and enjoy this natural environment, a breath of fresh air! We then go back to Trabzon in a much more economic way: two men dropped us off in Maçka where we could take a shuttle for about 2 euros… No regrets, this place is beautiful and we are in the middle of summer! We were a bit too used to travel far from the crowds, out of season!

Monastère de Sumela
Sumela monastery
Monastère de Sumela
Sumela monastery

Continuing along the Black Sea and a string of trucks stopped on the tracks, what had to happen, happened: a new border post that announces a radical change of atmosphere: Georgia!

We certainly didn’t choose the most pleasant route by bike but it was worth it!

It’s quite a slap behind the ears on opening up to the other. The houses welcome the guest, the foreigner, the traveller. Mistrust and prejudice are overturned by the overfull teapot and the armchairs ready to be drawn at any moment.

The tourist season is full of hassles. The championship has begun.

Pitfalls: 1. GG-Anai: 2. Let’s hope it lasts!

Trap 1: Arriving at the port of Bandirma, a taxi offers us two çay and tells us that there is no more ferry crossing to Istanbul for 8 months. So we have to travel another 200 km during the day to get to our hostel. After many investigations, interrogations and confrontations of testimonies: we have a ferry at 4pm.

Trap 2: End of the day, night falls, only one flat space to pitch the tent: a picnic/camping area on the side of the road. We stop. A disgruntled dog makes us hesitate. Two guys come and tell us (via the phone) that the place is full but that they can take us a little further, to their mate’s place. We just have to leave the bikes there. Suspicious, while Anai distracts the drunk man with an incomprehensible translation, GG investigates further down. There’s plenty of room, “Gule gule, bye bye and ciao goodnight”.

Trap 3: The Sumela Monastery.

Drapeaux de prières

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