Lost in translation. Actually I wanted to upload my next blog entry in Istanbul. But during the last days something happened that is worth writing about: I fell in love with Turkey.
On the 6th of May I crossed the border into Turkey. Alone, since Verena and I decided to continue our journeys on our own - It just didn't work out. Like in Albania, people were happy to see me cycling and greeted me by honking, waving, shouting, dancing or any other imagineable way. These sights made me forget the heavy traffic on the national road.
What do you do when in the evening there is a tremendous thunderstorm coming up? Well, I tried cycling into the closest village and looking lost. It worked. Ahmet, the owner of the village bar invited me in and served me some Cay. And only one minute later the rain came pouring down. Then a ligthening strike cut off the electricity. Lucky me.
Burada nerede cadir kurabilirim? (Where can I pitch up my tent?) A good friend of mine texted me some useful Turkish sentences (Thanks Mara!) and I wrote them down in my diary trying to learn them by heart. But the rain just didn't stop and so Ahmet offered me to stay inside his bar tonight. (Thanks Ahmet!) So I spent the evening drinking tons of free Cay while entertaining a bunch of 77-year-old villagers. During our conversations I filled my little diary with more Turkish words whereas the seniors tried to spell some German words. More than once we really got lost in translation. For example, I was thinking the whole time that they were asking me how many children I have. So I answered none. They just could not believe it. Over and over they were asking me Why not? Well, because I am just 23 years old was not an acceptable answer. After some long minutes I found out that they were asking me for siblings. Yes, I have an older sister.
At one point Ahmet was serving a meal that we were sharing together. Köfte, Core, and other Turkish named specialities. The rest of the evening I was analizing the old men and asking me questions like Why do they all wear their best suits when going to the bar after a hard days work on the fields? Is the bar serving something else than Cay? Did anyone ever order something else than Cay? And where are the women? At midnight I was building myself a bed out of some chairs. Ahmet was sleeping on a couch next to the counter.
The alarm clock woke me up at 6 a.m. Which aroused the next question: This is the life of Ahmet? Closing the bar after the last villagers have left, sleeping on a sofa and waking up early in the morning just to open the bar again? He looked happy with it.
After having some more Cay I said my farewell to Ahmet and the others and thanked him profoundly. But I didn't make it too far. When reaching the national road again I realized that I can't see anything. The fog was so thick that it was just too dangerous to start cycling. So I stood there looking a bit lost again. And again I got invited to have a Cay with some truck drivers in a nearby bar.
The friendliness just didn't stop throughout the day. Car drivers stopped to present me with fruits from their garden. Construction workers on the side of the road told me they are sorry they can't offer me Cay but they have apples that they would like to give to me. And in the evening the same procedure as the day before: Cycling into a village and asking for a place to camp - Abden invited me to have dinner with him... I just freaking love Turkey!
Note: I changed the front page of this homepage a bit. In that way, after Istanbul, I will publish a picture and a short update about my journey every few days and write a full article maybe once a week or every two weeks.
FÜR ALLE DEUTSCHEN: Ich habe die Hauptseite dieser Homepage etwas abgeändert, sodass ich nach Istanbul alle paar Tage mal ein Foto mit kurzem Text hochladen werde. Volle Artikel mit Bildern wird es dann einmal die Woche oder alle zwei Wochen geben.
Goodbye Europe! The first milestone of my journey is reached. Istanbul, this huge melting pot of cultures, marks the ending point of the European part of my travel. On the other side of the Bosporus lies the massive landmass of Asia. I am ready for the unknown.
Byzantium was founded 660 B.C. as a colony of the Greeks. Due to its strategic location many civilizations conquered and/or passed through it during the centuries. For a short time it was under Persian rule. In 73 A.D. Byzantium became part of the Roman Empire and in 324 A.D. Roman emperor Constantine the Great changed its name into Constantinople. In 1204, during the fourth cruisade, the city fell to the Latin Empire replacing Orthodox Christianity with Catholic. Approximately 250 years later, in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II. captured Constantinople and declared it the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. That was when the city name was changed into Istanbul and when Christianity made space for the Islamic culture. Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul - during its long history the city had plenty of cultural influences still visible today.
Now it is my turn to pass through this gateway to Asia. I'm not here to conquer nor to change the name of the city. I'm just a passerby trying to get a glimpse of this special place located between two continents.
Today, this city marking the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia is a 20-million-metropolis. Therefore I was pretty scared when planning this bicycle trip. Entering Istanbul was one of the major problems I would be facing on my journey, was what I was thinking.
The night before cycling into Istanbul I was sleeping on the outskirts of town - still 55km away from the center. Because this is Turkey, I didn't have to pitch up my tent. Instead I was invited to Yunus' house, a teacher at the local surf club. At the surfing school I also met Direnc, a professor for geology, who told me to pass by his university the next morning on my way to Istanbul.
That's how I became a student of Istanbul University for a moment (well, actually I was just a visitor). But anyway, Direnc invited me to eat with him at the professor's table and introduced me to Ömer, a student and member of the University's bicycle club. Ömer would escort me to the center, showing me some safer routes as the four-lane highway I was taking before to reach the University. In this way, with Ömer on my side, the fear I had of entering this giant metropolis, was falling off. You could even say it was fun cycling through Istanbul.
After getting my bicycle repaired (one of my rims was broken) I decided to join Ömer and some of his friends for a 24km night tour along the Bosporus. Of course on bicycle. It was very interesting to explore the city this way with all the monuments shining bright in the night sky. We passed the Besiktas stadium in the exact moment when the football club won the turkish championship. Suddenly all around us were people dancing on the highway and setting things on fire. We made our way through the cheering crowd, the stucked cars and the thick wads of smoke. After 80km cycling I reached Ali's house in Tarlabasi, where I was staying for a few days, at midnight.
Cities are anonymous places. How did it come that after only one day in a metropolis of 20 million inhabitants I already had so many friends? It seemed like everyone in Ömer's student residence knew me after going there two or three times to meet him. No time to rest. One day we did another cycle tour, this time on the Asian side of Istanbul. Another day I was walking through the historical center of this ancient city with Gözdenur, a girl I met on the Bosporus night tour. All our conversations went painfully slow since Ömer and Gözdenur don't speak too much English and my Turkish, well, is not existent. But I had a lot of fun with them anyway.
The sightseeing with Gözdenur was brillant. Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia,... I guess I have never seen such a beautiful city before yet it appears so unreal to me with all its majestic buildings. As if I'd be part of a movie. People told me that Istanbul will be empty due to recent terrorist attacks (meaning there won't be any tourists in town). But what means empty when speaking of a city with almost as much inhabitants as the whole Australian continent? I grew up in a village with 700 inhabitants. Istanbul is a crowded place.
Thime flew by and there was always something to do. Cycling with Ömer and some friends, hanging out with Gözdenur or Luk, this crazy Belgian artist also hanging around the flat, reviving my Erasmus life by going out to an international party, having dinner with the flatmates or enjoying the view from the rooftop. I could probably stay here forever. But now I got the unique chance to cross the Bosporus bridge by bicycle (what is normally not allowed). On Sunday morning there will be a registered bicycle ride crossing to Asia. My opportunity to complete this trip all by bike and to finally move on.
All in all I can say that while normally I live my life and afterwards think about the good times I spent a few weeks ago, my time in Istanbul was one of these rare moments when I really noticed how happy I am in this exact point of time. That's why I want to say a big 'Thank you!' to everyone who made my stay in Istanbul such a special one. Be sure that one day I will come back. Cok Tesekkürler!
#Note: On the main page of this website I uploaded some pictures summarizing my previous journey from Würzburg to Istanbul. Every once in a while I will upload another picture to this gallery.
Bon Appetit! So this was really happening. I was cycling on the Bosporus bridge from one continent to another. After around five minutes I was in Asia. It took me two more days and around 200km to leave the Istanbul metropolis area. Ömer and Selim accompanied me for the first hours but as soon as they left me I was instantly thrown again into the madness of Turkish national roads, as a man on his scooter overtook me with 80km/h just to hit the crash barrier right in front of me. It appeared to me quite surreal watching this man flipping over in the air three or for times before hitting the ground. He was wearing a helmet (which is not at all common in Turkey) and that's probably why he survived.
Like being on auto-pilot I stopped my bicycle and ran over to the man. I helped him put off his helmet but couldn't fulfill his wish to help him stand up since his left leg was obviously broken. As the first Turkish people arrived and called an ambulance I considered my job done and cycled on.
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Actually I didn't want to write about the Turkish hospitability again on this blog because getting invited appears to be part of my daily routine here. But recalling these last 6 days cycling from Istanbul to Ankara I realized that no, these daily invitations shouldn't be taken as granted. So I decided to dedicate this whole article to the Turkish hospitability.
A chronology of my route from Istanbul to Ankara as seen from the point of view of my stomach:
Sunday, 15th of May:
Monday, 16th of May:
Tuesday, 17th of May:
Wednesday, 18th of May:
Thursday, 19th of May:
Friday, 20th of May:
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I was cycling everyday for almost 90Km while crossing lots of mountains. Still I managed to gain weight. This is Turkey!
Now I will stay in Ankara for the weekend deciding where to go next. My plan was to apply here for three visa (Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) but I am still waiting for my Letter of Invitation (LOI) for Iran and Uzbekistan and without having these two visa I can't apply for the Turkmen transit visa. So I will probably cycle onwards for about one week and then take the bus back to Ankara for two or three days to sort out my visa. Stay tuned.
Modern caravans. These last days since leaving Ankara I was cycling a lot. I was cycling south. I was cycling west. And I was cycling north. And somehow I always got the wind in my back. I was passing through vast landscapes with mountains that reflect the sunlight in the most beautiful colours and I was stopping in Cappadocia, exploring the World Cultural Heritage Site. As the daily rain showers and thunderstorms came and went I was pedalling from gas station to gas station searching for shelter until the storms were over. For the first time on this journey I was cycling on the Silk Road, this ancient trading route that will take me all the way east to China.
If the Turkish national road resembles the modern Silk Road, the the trucks driving on this street are the modern camels. My bicycle however is like a modern donkey. (Or what is the smallest animal you can ride on? A big dog?) Petrol stations are the modern equivalent of caravanseries. They were giving me and my big dog shelter from the daily storms and petrol (in my case black tea/cay) for my further voyage. Yesterday I was even able to pitch up my tent in one of these modern caravanseries and stay for one night.
Doing more than 600Km during this last week I was basically living on the road. Turkish people are always worried about the fact that I travel alone. Don't you get lonely? Yes, I do. But I learnt to live with this loneliness a long time ago. And the silence is making me happy. As far as there can be silence on a Turkish national road when every second truck overtaking me is giving me a motivational honk. And as far as there can be loneliness when every few hours a nice person invites me to have cay or dinner with them. (My favourite invitations are these on the side of the road - once a farmer, who was watching his eight cows was inviting me for cay and several times already I was having lunch with construction workers).
My cycling rythm conforms with the passing thunderstorms and rainfalls. Because the landscape here in the heart of Turkey is so vast, you can already see these storms coming from far away. In this way I can calculate how far I can cycle until I have to rest and search for shelter. When the rain comes, temperatures are dropping to 10 degrees. All in all, I had more rain than sun in Turkey. This is not how this country gets advertised in Germany.
And then there was Cappadocia - a place I always wanted to visit. An incredible landscape with beautiful rock formations that people once and still today inhabited. When searching for a place to pitch up my tent I was very excited because I wanted to find the perfect site to see the hot air ballons take off the next morning at sunrise. Well, in the end I slept a bit too long and didn't quite find the perfect place but after packing up my tent rapidly I was changing position and could still take a good picture or two.
Now I reached Sivas where I can finally relax in Mehmet's student flat. My bicycle will stay here when I board the bus to Ankara on Tuesday to hopefully receive my Iran and Uzbek visa. After I come back to Sivas I will continue my journey towards Trabzon. Towards the Black Sea.
Note: A long time ago I was cycling through Greece. Now I finally got the time to upload a summary about my experiences in that country. Check it out by clicking on the right picture!
100 days.Today is my 100th day on the road! As routine slowly kicks in I would like to show you how a normal cycling day for me looks like. But first of all: There is no normal cycling day. Every country, every region, every weather and every culture influences my daily routine. And then there are unforeseen events like small invitations that can lead the day in a whole different direction. A routine would simply destroy spontaneity.
But anyway, here is how a normal day roughly looks like:
06.00: I wake up. After wrapping up my tent I have an energy-rich breakfast like oatmeal with dried fruits and nuts from the market. Together with some yogurt this will keep me pedaling for the next few hours. In the meantime, the first sunlight is used to dry my tent.
08.00: A bit of stretching and then I can start cycling. Usually I cycle about 20-30km before I have my first break. But this is completely spontaneous since someone could just invite me to have tea or a second breakfast. This would be my first break then.
12.00: Now I should have cycled already about 60km. I’ll have a long break to escape the midday sun. The most comfortable place for this would be the picnic area of a gas station where there are benches and tables. Either I eat bread with sesame paste (here in Turkey – my food patterns also change with every country), or more nuts and (dried) fruits. If there is no person around wanting to ask me questions I have time to read a book.
15.00: I cycle a bit more and after 80-90km search for a place to put up my tent (or I cycle into a village and ask for a place to put up my tent which will most probably result in an invitation to someone’s house).
17.00: I pitched up my tent and wrote in my diary. Now I have two to three hours of sunlight left to cook pasta or rice with vegetables on my cooking stove. After cleaning the stove and the pot I try to wash off the dirt and crusted sunscreen from my face, arms and legs. I brush my teeth and do some more stretching before I enter my tent at sundown.
20.00: I am in the tent. If I’m not too tired I will continue reading my book. Otherwise I can listen to some music before I fall asleep.
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During the last week not much happened. I was in Ankara collecting my visa and feeling like Asterix and Obelix in that one scene where they have to get permits from bureaucrats in that big house with a lot of stairs. They are running from one place to another and in the end go completely nuts. Here is how my visa application process looked like:
Two weeks ago I applied for a Letter of Invitation (LOI) for Iran and Uzbekistan over the internet. Some travel agencies were willing to write me those (in exchange for money) but this could take up to 10 days, they said. So I continued cycling until Sivas from where I took the bus back to Ankara.
On Wednesday morning I went to the Uzbek embassy. I brought my LOI, a filled out visa form, my passport, a copy of my passport and a passport picture. The guy in the embassy couldn’t talk English and just ignored me for half an hour until somebody arrived who could translate. I got told I need a second visa form so I went to the copy shop around the corner, printed and filled out a second one. After coming back to the embassy the guy shouted at me for no particular reason – I guess he was just stressed out. Then I had to walk 10 minutes to exchange my Turkish Lira into US-Dollars and these 80$ I had to put on the embassies account in the nearby bank (To do that you need a Turkish passport that's why I first had to find a helpful Turkish person to do the transaction for me). I then went back to the embassy, had to wait another 30 minutes and finally got my visa after a total of three hours. By then it was already too late to go to the Iranian embassy.
So I went there on Thursday morning. The Iranian embassy is much bigger and everything much more organized. After waiting just a few minutes I handed in my passport, copy of passport, passport picture and LOI. Then I had to fill out a visa form and pay 50€ to the nearby bank. Everything went quick and smooth until I got back to the embassy. Normally I could pick up my visa the next day but in Iran there was a holiday on Friday which meant I`d have to wait until Monday. So I was stuck in Ankara for the weekend.
I tried to make the best out of it by spending time with my flat mates and returning to the Community Garden (here’s the article about this eco-project) on Sunday to help Gözde conduct an activity for kids. We were planting flowers and constructing little windmills and the children were very excited about that. It was a really nice experience.
Anyway, on Monday I returned to the Iranian embassy and after waiting for one hour more I finally received my visa. A long walk in the Ankara morning heat brought me to the Embassy of Turkmenistan where I applied for my Turkmen transit visa. Again I handed in my passport, a colored copy of my passport as well as color copies of the Iranian and Uzbek visas, two passport pictures and a filled out visa form. Then I had to fill out two more forms and pay 10€. It worked and they will send me the visa to Tehran, Iran, where I can pick it up next month.
After having settled all this I was happy to relax in the bus taking me back to Sivas. But at the bus station I got told that the bus got cancelled without notifying me for an inexplicable reason. Luckily a guy from the information desk helped me out and got me onto another bus leaving one hour later. Puh… what a stressful day! Just like Asterix and Obelix I managed to escape bureaucracy just before losing my mind forever. In two weeks I will have to apply for my Chinese visa in Georgia…
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Yesterday I finally got onto the bicycle again. Even though Ramadan started two days ago it took just 35km until I got invited to lunch in a restaurant. Great! The rest of the day was pretty calm except for one incident where a truck loaded with bees stopped on the side of the road. I saw two men jumping out of the truck and hitting the air furiously. They were running towards me and as they arrived the bees were already surrounding me as well – one of the boxes on the truck had broken. Luckily my granddad, who was a beekeeper, taught me how to stay calm when surrounded by bees. That’s why I didn’t got a single sting while the wildly waving men were crying in pain.