Author Archive

Travelling with a trumpet

12 July 2012

Ian’s trumpet has been silent for three days. It has been riding along on the back of the bike in comfort thinking it didn’t have to do anything. Ian’s hard earned chops need to be kept in shape. It seems that 90+km on the bikes in the Czech countryside doesn’t combine well with music practice, so a new plan was made for today – tourism in Olomouc, trumpet practice in an appropriate location and a train to Ostrava.

The first two have been achieved and we are now waiting for the train as a thunderstorm approaches.

Olomouc is full of history, churches, fine buildings and gardens. We watched the astronomical clock (socialist era), visited St Wenceslas Cathedral with its amazing stencilled decorations and St Michael’s Church (baroque with cherubs). One of the 2 main squares, Dolni namesti, is under renovation and has now become an archeological dig.

Later… the trains were in a state of slight chaos, apparently due to a freight derailment. We became more familiar with the Olomouc station than intended, but eventually a train to Ostrava arrived and it brought us here rapidly (160kph).

We are staying in the garden cottage of Zoja, only a couple of minutes walk from her 3rd floor flat, overlooking the city. She greeted us bikini clad in true European style – she comes here to relax after work each day. Zoja runs a construction company that was left to her by her husband. She remembers when Ostrava was so heavily polluted by industry that the snow was black. This is a former coal mining city, still industrial but now much cleaner.

Couchsurfing in Olomouc

11 July 2012

We are in Olomouc (‘mouc’ is pronounced moz as in Mozart), a beautiful historical city, in the home (small attic flat) of Helena our couchsurfing host. We have just spent a couple of hours drinking Olomouc beer, eating an excellent dinner, and talking with Helena and her boyfriend Viktor about all things Czech and everything else. Helena is a masters physics student, Victor an up and coming photographer and keen mountain bike rider. Two more welcoming and interesting people you can hardly imagine. A great end to a long day.

Other highlights from the day:

  • Morning market in Policka
  • Bus stops decorated with potted geraniums
  • Long descents
  • Long ascents – nice and cool under forest canopy, hot in the sun
  • Brightly coloured houses – the Czechs go for egg yolk yellow, pumpkin orange, lime green, hot pink and rust red
  • More beautiful villages and countryside
  • Completely litter free roadside
  • Window boxes with geraniums, petunias and begonias on almost every house

Policka – Olomouc route details by ianwroberts at Garmin Connect – Details.

Toughness of leg

9 July 2012

A pre-breakfast visit to the Cathedral of St Barbara with its amazing pointy roof. The gargoyles are worth close examination – between a giant toad and a hideous gryphon was a banjolele player in full voice.

The breakfast cheese plate was converted into lunch and we set off into the countryside. The roads are lined with fruit and walnut trees, fields of ripening wheat and sunflowers, home gardens full of flowers and vegetables. I took a spill riding across a slippery ford, no harm done, just gave my right buttock and the camera a light rinsing. We had to completely ignore a perfectly good castle – plenty more of those to come.

We found a good place to stop for coffee in Horny Bradlo, at a little roadside garden with a cafe. Klara and her mother are the proprietors. Klara is an economics student in Prague. She offered us the choice of Nescafe, which evidently is preferred by most, or real coffee. We chose real and got glasses of strong stuff with lots of grounds, but good! The mother kindly brought out cake and the atlas to help us plan our route.

The last 30km is where toughness of leg was needed as it included steep hills, pushing up a grassy ski slope (nature did not intend us to do this), stony and muddy forest tracks, fields with no visible tracks at all, fantastic views of fields, valleys, villages, and finally a descent to our destination, Policka. We are staying at Lidmiluv mlyn, the old watermill at Sadek near Policka. It is run by a Dutch couple, friends of Wieteke’s brother.

Kutna Hora – Policka by ianwroberts at Garmin Connect – Details

Museum of Communism

7 July 2012

A pre-breakfast walk around Prague Castle gave us a tourist-free (not counting us) experience and a close up view of the changing of the guard. The Polish guards look fine in their pale blue uniforms. Those facing the sun are allowed to wear sunglasses.

After breakfast I discovered two broken spokes in my rear wheel, so a return to the bike shop was necessary. We rode up the hill to Zizkov where there was a produce market, not extensive but with a good range of fruit, vegetables, bread, preserves, fish and dairy. It was held in a square surrounded by residential buildings. Apparently it is never too early to drink beer and many were doing so at 10am.

Not far away is Vitkof Hill, site of the National Monument and massive statue of historic Czech hero Jan Zizka mounted on a horse. Inspiring stuff!

The slightly scruffy Museum of Communism also inspired admiration for the Czech people who survived and overturned that era. It was sobering to see newsreel footage of Velvet Revolution and earlier events in places that are now familiar to us.

The daily thunder storm came early. We watched a student brass band from Denmark perform outside the Rudolfinum, then went for a late afternoon pivo at Riegrovy Sady, a leafy park with a westerly aspect over the city and castle. Here we saw a man cycle up, order a beer and ride off holding the plastic beer cup in one hand. We cycled to Vysehrad, an ancient fortification above the Vltava, then home to pack up ready to hit the road.

Zizkov

6 July 2012

It gets light so early that it’s hard to stay asleep past 6am. We began the day with a test of both bikes and legs by riding up Petrin Hill, a steep climb through an orchard of cherry and pear trees to the top where there is a monastery and a scaled down replica of the Eiffel Tower that you can climb for a view of the city. But we were too early. Back on the bank of the Vltava in a park we found three David Czerny babies. Czerny is a renowned Czech sculptor and the babies are large crawling figures without facial features. Below on the river is a row of yellow plastic penguins better seen at night when they are illuminated.

Our program included well-known Prague locations: Frank Gehry building – pretty curvy; Wenceslas Square – lots of political stuff there mixed in with tour groups; Charles Square where we admired the interior of St Ignatius church including a gilded figure playing a 3 string banjolele. Well that’s what I say it is.

Then another ascent to the Zizkov Tower, a telecommunications tower that dominates the Prague skyline and has David Czerny babies climbing all over it. At the bottom is a Jewish cemetery. We saw a woman on a Vitamin D quest. She was absorbing sunlight in a public place with a minimum of clothing.

We went to the National Technical Museum located high above the river and admired historical machinery therein. Then a rest with pivo (beer) in the shaded gardens and a stop at the Metronome, an installation overlooking the river and city. It really is a giant metronome!

Today was hot again so siesta was needed. We took an evening ride on the funicular to Petrin Hill and dined outdoors with beautiful view of Prague below. Another thunder storm with rain has arrived.

On two wheels again

5 July 2012

After a hot day it is now thundering and raining.

We went to the bike shop this morning, laden with our own seats, pedals, bike locks and front pannier racks, ready to collect our hired bikes. We adjourned to Staromestske Nameste – Old Town Square – while Davide was setting them up and watched a 5 piece jazz band and throngs of tourists. On returning to the bikes it transpired that, despite our specific request, provision of all relevant information and assurance that there would be no problem with fitting the racks, they actually don’t fit. This reduces our luggage carrying capacity to 2 rear panniers only. This is not a disaster, but we will need to rationalise our stuff and leave a bag behind at the hotel. The bikes appear to be OK apart from that.

We tested them out with a ride downstream beside the Vltava, then back for a siesta and escape from the heat. I only got yelled at once by a Czech motorist.

Our evening activity was an aperitif in Josefov, the Jewish quarter (chilli parecky – sausages with horseradish and mustard – delicious) followed by a concert in the Spanish Synagogue. The interior of the synagogue is lavishly decorated in the Moorish style. It was the perfect setting for a memorable performance entitled Jewish Mystical Melodies by violinist Alexander Shonert, accompanied by pianist Natalia Shonert.

Alexander played a variety of Jewish and Klezmer pieces with some Vivaldi and Gershwin as well. He seemed to enter into an ecstatic state as he played, head back, smiling, open mouthed, eyes closed, playing with absolute intensity. His playing was extremely virtuosic as were his flourishes at the end of each piece. As the concert progressed so did the thunder storm outside and he just came short of spontaneous combustion as the program ended. We came out to find rain falling steadily and had a damp ride back across the river and up the hill.

Observations in Prague

5 July 2012

Here are a few things we have seen or learnt:

  • Smetana means cream – seems strange to think that The Moldau was composed by Mr Cream.
  • Absinthe is all the rage here. There are shops specializing in all things absinthian including Absinthe icecream. They have marijuana vodka as well.
  • The police detail on the US embassy is still there, so it wasn’t just for 4 July. They do a pretty cursory inspection in my opinion.
  • Prague has few cyclists and lots of trams, most of them charmingly retro in style. Because its a national public holiday today, the trams are decked out with Czech flags.
  • Boiled broccoli was a menu item at a cafe we passed. We are so behind the times in Adelaide regarding the inclusion of boiled vegetables in our cafe offerings.
  • Unusual museums: two Museums of Torture, one medieval, the other presumably regular as type not specified; Museum of Communism as well as the previously mentioned KGB Museum; Beer Museum – actually more a bar pretending to be a museum.
  • Hells Angels have a Bohemia chapter – saw a member but was not game to photograph him in case he was sensitive to that kind of thing.

Getting to Prague

5 July 2012

We left Driebergen early, accompanied by Arne, Wieteke and Kees’ older son, who is doing many interesting things including setting up a coffee roasting enterprise in Ethiopia. At Schiphol it became clear that I could only check in one piece of luggage – but I had two panniers – yikes! What to do? One pannier then became cabin luggage but alas, that was the one that contained my Swiss Army pocket knife. The excellent luggage scanning picked it up straight away and now my knife is in the bin.

We arrived in Prague with an erroneous understanding of the exchange rate and believed our taxi ride from the airport to have cost $100. But when lunch cost the same amount we did further research and everything suddenly got a lot cheaper.

We are staying in a hotel where Margaret & Graham stayed when they were here some years ago. It is just below the Prague Castle and is reached along a narrow cobbled street. Nearby is the American Embassy and there appears to be a permanent police presence there that checks every car that passes – mirror on stick etc. Just down the street is also the KGB Museum – we’ll probably have to go in.

Our tourism activities of the day involved a walk around the castle, watching the changing of the guard at the gates, St Vitus Cathedral, and a climb up the tower (267 steps) from which a magnificent view of the city is available. We are blending in well with the crowds as we have camera and guide book in hand. There are tour groups everywhere so it is pretty easy to listen in on a commentary if you want to.

At 6pm we attended an organ recital in the St Nicholas Church, an amazing baroque building with marble and gilt everywhere. Cherubim are flying and gazing on all sides and there is a lot of smiting and slaying as well by saintly types who are entitled to do such things to persons who deserve no better. The concert program included Bach, Vivaldi, Dvorak and several other Czech composers. The audience were uncertain whether to applaud so we got things started when the organist looked down on us from on high in expectation of acknowledgement. We then received an encore!

Walking down to the Charles Bridge Ian had to fend off an insistent man who wanted to change money. We admired the portraits, caricatures and souvenirs but were able to resist all of these.

Nijmegen

5 July 2012

3 July 2012 – Nijmegen is the oldest city in The Netherlands. I last went there in 1979 when I visited Kees and Wieteke who lived there at the time.

We walked around the old town, had coffee in the square and admired the Waal.

We visited St Steven’s Church, then hired public transport bikes for  a ride around an area that has been restored from farmland and is now a nature reserve with extensive wetlands.

Fortunately Wieteke and Kees have a sensible approach to eating and drinking so this excursion included lunch followed by a visit to the Millinger Tea Garden, a beautiful place full of flowers and lovely places to sit and relax with tea!

On the way back Ian took a run up to get up a short incline to the top of the dyke and the chain came off his bike. As it was all enclosed inside a nice chain guard it was no simple matter to put it on again. A rescue plan was formed that involved leaving Wieteke behind and an advance party to set off. In the end all was well!

Driebergen

4 July 2012

2 July 2012 – we arrived at Schiphol at almost the same time as Wieteke who flew in from New Delhi. It was good to be reunited with our Driebergen friends, Wieteke and Kees again. They hosted us in 2010, helped Ian in his recuperation from a painful bulging disk, showed us many beautiful places in The Netherlands and launched us on our 3 month trip to Istanbul. It was great to catch up with family news and have the chance to spend some time together.

As tradition requires we set off after breakfast for a bicycle ride from Driebergen to Amerongen and Wijk bij Duurstede – this is the approximate route:

We saw lots of cows, farmers on their tractors cutting grass, a pair of storks nest building and beak clacking on top of the Amerongen castle, cherries and berries for sale. We were told off via loud speaker from a distant lock manager for sitting on the grass by the lock on the the Lek. The sign on the gate did say ‘Do not enter’ so we did knowingly transgress! Wieteke immediately decided to become an Australian so she could claim ignorance like us.

After our return home we had dinner sitting in the garden. Hinke, Wieteke and Kees’ son, and his friend Stan joined us. We last met Hinke in Australia in 2001 when he was only 11 years old and could not speak any English. So it was a pleasure to meet him again as a young man and hear about his plans to travel overseas with Stan and then to study in Taiwan.

The prologue 2012

4 July 2012

On the way to Europe… we flew right over Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the Kimberley coast, Javanese volcanoes.

An eight hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur – enough time to take the KL Ekspres into town and visit a few old haunts. The Masjid Jamek is now pretty hemmed in by tall buildings and the elevated light rail.

Just around the corner is a leech clinic.

We walked along Jalan TAR past the Coliseum Hotel – it looks unchanged but we didn’t stop in for a sizzling steak.

Had a mediocre roti canai and teh tarik and a superior kway teow in Chinatown. KL’s old city centre is not in good shape – the Chinese shop houses are looking pretty crumbly. KL continues to spread with new condos and housing developments stretching out towards the airport.

Return to The Netherlands

22 September 2010

Our early morning trip to the Sabiah Gökçen Airport ( on the Asian side) was through thick fog that concealed the Bosphorus as we crossed the bridge. It is about 50km to the airport so we had a chance to see the vast expanse of housing in this area that extends much further than we went. There is a lot of high rise here, and generally newer buildings as this area has had more recent growth than the European side.

It is hard to imagine how people can move around the city with such inadequate public transport and with the Bosphorus forming a major transport barrier. Our flight to Amsterdam took us over the Black Sea to the north, then we think over the Ukraine, Poland and Germany.

We made it through customs and on to the Driebergen train with bike boxes and panniers with a minute to spare, and then didn’t have to change trains. This impressive record was then blotted by taking the wrong bus from Driebergen station -a faux pas soon corrected.

It’s good to be back here with a few days to rest and recover before the trip home.

Dutch klomper boys off to see the Queen

Yesterday (Tues) we went to Den Haag to see the Queen and today we have visited Hoge Veluwe, one of The Netherlands’ National Parks.

Queen Beatrix's golden coach

Last day in Istanbul

21 September 2010

Ian was confined to bed with cough and cold so I ventured forth alone for a big walk around the city. I wanted to see the Rustem Pasa Mosque, renowned for its Iznik tiles. It is approached through the Egyptian Bazaar, now rather tourist-oriented, but with some nice spice displays. All around the bazaar there are streets of shops and stalls, not so t-o, and full of interesting things.

Rustem Pasa Mosque

I inadvertently discovered the street where the sellers specialised in that well-known medication starting with V. All authentic of course. One vendor had an intriguing little device that looked like a stapler, but it was a tiny hand operated sewing machine. Another man was providing a laminating service from his cart, which had a small generator that he started up when required.

The entrance to the mosque was via some steps hidden amongst all of this activity. It was beautifully decorated with tiles, and as a bonus, I overheard a tour guide commentary that explained the reason for the low hanging lights in mosques: they are providing light to enable reading of the Koran, rather than general lighting.

The next destination was the Aqueduct, requiring a hike up past the Suleymaniye Mosque, skirting the Grand Bazaar, past the university and the Princes Mosque. This is a prominent landmark with a major road going through it and residential areas alongside. There was an interesting and pleasantly leafy shopping area on the other side with spice shops, butcher shops with lots of tripe on display, men drinking tea, bakeries and melon mountains on trucks.

Istanbul Aqueduct
Then through narrow residential streets to the Fatih Mosque (being renovated) and into Fener, a rather traditional area where women in black and men in baggy pants are more numerous (these pants have pleats at the back and the front – that’s how they become baggy). I was looking for the Greek Orthodox church of St Mary of the Mongols. I found a large building with Greek writing but could not see the church, but was then overtaken by Peter, an Australian man, who was being led there by a Turkish boy. The church was quite hidden from the street and we entered through a locked gate and courtyard, guided by the Greek man who looks after it. He showed us inside and told us the history of the church which is protected from conversion into a mosque by the edict of a sultan many centuries ago. The large building adjacent used to be the world centre of Greek Orthodoxy, and is now a high school with only 60 students. Few Greeks now remain living in Istanbul. Our tour was interrupted by the arrival of some German tourists and it all felt a bit rushed. Peter was more knowledgeable about historical matters than I and explained some things. He also had a different view on the incident with the Greeks at Aya Sofia and felt that a firm response from the Turks was necessary to stop things from getting out of hand as the atmosphere can rapidly become explosive.

Painting in Greek Orthodox church of St Mary of the Mongols

Urban and modern studies

18 September 2010

We have arranged a private transport service to take us and bikes to the airport. Expensive, but all other options seemed too unreliable.

Fel hats in Istanbul

Today we visited the Küçuk Ayasofya Camii (Little Hagia Sofia), formerly a church, now a mosque. It was quiet there with relatively few visitors, unlike many other tourist locations. Then a trip to the end of the tram line to see some of Istanbul beyond the tourist boundaries. There is a lot of dense housing, mainly in apartment buildings up to 5 or 6 storeys high. Some taller condominium-style buildings are going up. The suburbs look similar to other urban areas, but the size of this city means that they go on for tens of kilometres.

Istanbul's old city walls

The tram is cheap, fast and well patronised. It goes past the old city walls, providing a good view of an area that is not really in walking range.

Would you like to smoke a watermelon?

Turkey may be the only country where you can smoke a watermelon!

We stayed on and travelled back in the opposite direction, through the city and across the Golden Horn to Tophane to visit the Istanbul Modern, an art gallery that opened only 5 or so years ago. It is housed in an old warehouse right on the Bosphorus, giving it good views, but making it hard to find. It was interesting to see the work of Turkish artists who are completely unknown to us. We emerged to find messages from Jonathan who has been unwell and was admitted to hospital, but were reassured after talking to him that a full recovery is expected.

While some cities we have visited have been well supplied with dogs, Istanbul is cat city. In some of the outdoor restaurants, cats are under the table and even on the table and they boldly return for another try after they have been chased off.

Eyüp

17 September 2010

After a session of bicycle packing the tourism program recommenced. We walked up the hill past the Blue Mosque and observed a heavy police presence, including armed officers and a water cannon, at the nearby Hippodrome. An Istanbul man told us that they were there to keep a close eye on a group of Greek people who had come to pray at the Haghia Sofiya Mosque. There’s a fair bit of history behind all this but it seemed a bit heavy handed.

Our wanderings took us close to the Grand Bazaar which we had to avoid in order to prevent an anxiety incident for Ian who has an aversion to the place. Instead we roamed around nearby narrow and crowded streets where there was also a lot of commerce occurring. As we have seen in other areas, the businesses cluster together in themes. These included: manchester (voluptuous frilly bedspreads are the thing); clothing suitable for modest Muslim women; underwear; suits; head scarves; belts and buckles; kitchenware; uniforms.

Metal-clad wooden door in shopping precinct

Eventually we arrived at the enormous Suleymaniye Mosque which is currently undergoing extensive renovation and is closed to visitors. We could enter the tomb of Suleyman which also holds the remains of his wife and some other sultans.

Then down the steep hill to the Iskelesi (ferry terminal) to take the ferry up the Golden Horn to Eyüp Mosque, a greatly revered Islamic site for Muslims, as it is reputed to be the tomb of the prophet Mohammed’s companion and standard bearer. It is a place that attracts many Islamic visitors as well as pigeons. As a tourist it is often a little unclear where the boundaries lie. I was headscarfless so took my cue from others and did not enter the tomb or the mosque. We did receive a piece of Turkish delight that was being distributed, we think, because of a family religious occasion. We saw several young boys decked out like princes in white satin suits with fur-edged capes and understand that this is usual for the celebration of their circumcision. We’re not sure whether these boys have just had the snip or are about to. Either way they seem surprisingly relaxed and comfortable. Adjacent to the mosque is a busy street of shops selling food, souvenirs, head scarves and religious books.

Tomb of the prophet Mohammed's companion and standard bearer in Eyüp

On both sides of the Golden Horn are densely built up hills with apartment buildings and numerous mosques. We decided to take the tram from the ferry terminal and bought tokens for 1.50 Turkish lire. The trams are constantly packed with passengers, but we squeezed in.

There is a festival during which free simitçi and tea are available near the Blue Mosque. We will investigate tomorrow.

We have now been to the hamam – it was enjoyable although slightly bewildering for a first timer.

Buyukada

16 September 2010

Today’s destination was Buyukada, the largest of the Princes Islands, off the Asian shore in the Marmara Sea, and a hour’s ferry ride from Istanbul. We decided to take our bikes as there are no cars on these islands. This required cycling in Istanbul, an activity against which there are many warnings. But we could ride along the waterfront off-road, then over the Galata Bridge to Kabatas Iskelesi (ferry terminal).

The bridge is a popular place for fishing at all times and there were lots of fishermen hard at it, in the middle of a major city, on a bridge that has a lower deck of cafes and restaurants, on a waterway that must be one of the world’s busiest.

At the ferry terminal we saw a man selling his wares that consisted of some shelled whole walnuts and vine leaves arranged on a bucket. With such a limited range of wares and small quantity of stock his prospects didn’t seem encouraging even if he had the best possible day. Vendors are everywhere here, selling sweet corn boiled or roasted, simitci (like thin bagels covered in sesame seeds, and same as Romanian covrigi), sweets, bananas, sunflower seeds, mussels (sold individually), chestnuts, rabbits (alive), wallets, belts… We have seen people with just a few pairs of shoes to sell, a set of scales so you can weigh yourself, a few bracelets. But the job of salesperson is generally done energetically and optimistically in most cases. I digress.

Turkish walnut and vine leaf seller

Before boarding the ferry we had time to see the Dolmabahce Mosque, in the neo-baroque style on the waterfront. (No cherubs though!).

Buyukada is a holiday destination for day trippers from Istanbul and for wealthy holiday home owners. Its main form of transport is horse-drawn vehicles that carry up to four people. We saw a lot of skinny horses today! The carriages have no brakes but have a long draw-bar to help the horses hold the load on the decent. So they spend half of their miserable life slogging up the hill and the other half with the carriage clipping their heels and hanging on their harness. It’s a dog’s life (so to speak). You can also hire bikes.

Phaeton on Buyukada

A destination for many visitors is St George’s (Orthodox, Christian) Monastery, at the top of the highest hill, too steep for the shagged-out nags but not for us. There were shonkey donkeys for hire for the final, steep section but no-one was using them when we were there. From the top we could see the extraordinary expanse of the urban spread on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Eastern expanse of Istanbul from Buyukada

The monastery is reputedly a place where infertile women go to pray. We did see some quite fervent praying taking place. As we were both wearing shorts, we were obliged to put on trousers and skirt provided at the door to ensure respectability. We looked extremely stylish, but sorry, no photo.

We timed our arrival badly as it was closely followed by that of several minibus-fulls of VIP ladies accompanied by a police escort and ambulance (just in case). No idea who they were but they quickly tired of the monastery and adjourned for lunch so then it was out turn.

After descending, a swim seemed a good idea and we found a place that provided beach access, umbrellas and plastic sun beds. But the beach was not free and we paid 5 lire each (about $3.50) to use it. We felt un-Australian paying to use a beach! Having paid, we inspected the water which was murky and gungy, so we requested our money back and left. Nearby earthworks and rubbish tip probably explained the poor water quality. The tip was also the location of the semi-permanent equine accommodation. Australian beaches are not rivalled by any beach we have seen.

It was rush hour in Istanbul when we returned. The quays and waterfront areas are packed with people most of the time and more so around 5pm. We bought balik ekmek, a popular snack of fried fish in bread with onion and lettuce – yum but be careful of bones.

A major traffic jam was created by clearing the road along the waterfront to allow unknown VIP and entourage to drive past. Serious security everywhere and a serious motorcade. The car that mattered had the Turkish VIP car #2.

A chance for a swim in the Bosphorus below the Topkapi Palace was too good to pass up. We had seen swimmers there before and as we passed, a party of men who looked like swimmers were walking along, ready to go in. Because of the strong tide, they left their things downstream, walked up, then swam back, although there’s not much swimming effort required. We did the same. (Rosalie was the only female participant.) Water temperature and cleanliness good. According to Ian’s research, 1 cubic km of  water flows each day from the Black Sea to the Marmara.

Çanakkale to Biga

12 September 2010

Today was our second last cycling day. We consumed another excellent Turkish breakfast at Hotel Anzac, then set off along the coast road into the north wind, still blowing, but a little less fiercely than yesterday.

Çanakkale has two big tourist drawcards – Troy and Gallipoli. The respective films are shown nightly on dvd at the hotel.  Çanakkale has been blessed (or blighted) with the Trojan horse from the film Troy, and it has pride of place on the waterfront.

Australians tend to be thick on the ground here and we spotted a few. Everything goes mad each year around Anzac Day when over 10,000 people arrive for the annual commemorations.

After 10km or so on a minor road we were obliged to join the main road, a four lane highway that cuts a swathe through the countryside in long straight stretches. While not as delightful as a small country road, traffic was relatively light and we had a wide shoulder as far as Lapseki.

Since leaving Bulgaria we have been travelling without a map as it has been impossible to buy one. We tried in Bucharest without success, had no opportunity in Bulgaria and have not found anything here either. We are relying on Google maps mainly. So far we haven’t got lost, but we are staying on major roads as we don’t know all the available route options.

The area north of Canakkale is a fruit and vegetable growing region with lots of orchards and crops. We could see the Dardanelles to our left with ships going up and down the straits. After a break in Lapseki the road worsened, but road widening in progress gave us a wide unsealed lane to ourselves for much of the way.

Rosalie and her loaf of Turkish bread

I stopped to photograph a bakery window and ended up with a free loaf of warm crusty bread – yum! We saw people making stooks in the fields and later confirmed that this was rice. We also passed rice fields still to be harvested. The stooking is very laborious. The rice has been cut and carted some distance to these higher, drier fields where groups of people are working bundling it into small sheaves. Others then stook them. Presumably, when the rice is dry enough it will be threshed. There has been rain overnight and a lot of almost-ripe rice has been knocked flat. Perhaps this manual handling is to retrieve that rice. It would be a daunting task to process the entire harvest like this.

A truck with a huge load of red capsicums went past and we saw big plots bursting with capsicums ready to be picked. Every house has a garden with corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbages, chillies or some combination of the above. Lawns and outdoor entertainment areas a la Australian suburbia are unknown here.

Rice stooks in Anatolia

Our road eventually turned inland and we rode through a forested area before emerging into farming country again. I experienced depression at one stage of today’s ride when I looked at Garmin, which said we had ridden only 41km. I felt sure we had done a lot more but who can argue with Garmin? Ian explained that he (M. Garmin) is not accurate at present because he lacks data.

So we pushed on and arrived at Biga, a town that doesn’t feature in tourism universe. It has a lively centre with fine old mosque and nearby fountains for washing. The mosque has a modern feature: a digital scrolling text display that shows the prayer times, date and current temperature.

It has been drizzling rain during the day and this is now continuing. Turkey has held a constitutional referendum today. It is canvassing a range of issues to do with military powers, civil and individual rights. While in a cafe we watched some of the television broadcast of the results and it looks like the yes vote is ahead. But the issues are too complex for us to understand fully and we don’t know what % vote is needed for a result.

A couple of details: we have become devoted to ayran, a popular cultured milk drink with a slightly salty taste; some restaurants pour eau de cologne (or something similar) on your hands as you leave as a parting gesture; we have been asked a number of times today where we are from and the checkout girl in a supermarket welcomed us to Turkey.

Gökçeada to Çanakkale

11 September 2010

We breakfasted with our hosts again and conversed using sign language, the Turkish-English dictionary and a photo display on our laptop. Turkish pronunciation has some subtleties that we have not yet grasped. Then we made our departure and headed for the internet cafe in Yenibademli. This village is full of people, pansiyoni, little cafes and shops, gardens, fruit trees, giving it a friendly, social atmosphere, unlike most Australian suburbs.

At the ferry terminal  we once again sailed past a queue of cars well over a kilometre long. A wild wind was blowing and whipping up the sea. We had to ride against the wind back to Eceabat, then on to the Çanakkale ferry. Hope it dies down or swings around by tomorrow.

Boats at anchor in Çanakkale

Marmara coast to Gelibolu Peninsula

7 September 2010

Şarkőy, pronounced Sharkure, gave us a cool night with breeze, only minor visitation by mosquitoes and distant drums of Ramadan heard by Ian and not by me. Our motel proprietor was expecting a big upturn in business after Ramadan ends in a couple of days.

After breakfast – bread, tomatoes, cucumber, boiled egg, feta, olives and tea – we had a swim in the Marmara Sea, then set off for Gelibolu. A market in the streets near our digs gave us another chance to admire the fantastic range and quantity of produce – fruit, vegetables, olives, cheese, dried and fresh herbs, grains, rice, oil, preserves, honey…

Our quiet unpaved road out of town took us past much tourist accommodation that is spreading along the coast. We passed fields of sunflowers, now brown with heads down, ready for reaping. Flocks of goats with bells clanking were nearby with goatherds keeping them moving. We passed a couple of villages where men sat in the shade and dogs slept. Also huge piles of sunflower seeds are deposited in main square and swept – not sure exactly what is the purpose of this activity but it must be important. We found what appeared to be an old stone, waist-high mortar for pounding grain. There are wind turbines on hill tops around here and a number of houses with solar water heaters on the roof.

Stone mortar in village square

The road swings across the peninsula, past a large milititary base (artillery firing, sentries snapping to attention as high-ranking officers are driven past) to the western side where we joined a major road with much traffic and, fortunately for us, a wide shoulder. Not pleasant cycling though, and on reaching Gelibolu we had climbed several decent-sized hills and were ready for a rest.

Tourist development on the Aegean coast

The delights of cycling in the Turkish countryside are tempered by the presence of roadside litter in plentiful quantity, occasional alarming driving and close encounters with rubbish dumps. Gelibolu is an interesting and lively town that has a main street that winds downhill with a large pedestrian section. We found a shady cafe and drank lots of tea.

The final 40km to Eceabat were more pleasant as the road follows the coast and is less hilly. We watched ships going up and down the straits and could see the high Anatolian hills on the other side. There are lots of roadside produce stalls and we stopped at one to buy figs. The family in attendance gave us chairs to sit on, refused payment for the figs, gave us a sweet pear each and water to wash our hands. So kind.

Cycle route:
Şarkőy – Eceabat

Observations on Bulgaria

6 September 2010

I made some observations on Romania, and as we only left Bulgaria yesterday, it seems only fair, and the right time, to make some comments from our limited time in this country.

Bulgaria is more orderly than Romania, has better roads and urban infrastructure, and a lot less people (7m compared to Romania’s 20+m). Its recent history is quite different of course.

The communist era ended about 20 years ago. We have seen a few cities that have modernised centres that we assume date from this time, with large paved squares, statues, civic buildings and pedestrianised main streets.

The Cyrillic script is a real barrier for visitors. Fortunately most road signs are in Roman script as well, but signs and other information of interest to visitors is often presented only in Cyrillic. We became familiar with words like hotel (xoten) and restaurant (Ресторант), but there were a few occasions on which we were without any help. Bulgaria celebrates the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet with an annual public holiday.

It was usually possible to communicate with our half dozen or so words of Bulgarian combined with English. A couple of times we had problems communicating basic things to young people who we thought may have learnt some English at school – eg two beers please, do you have a room? This was both funny and ridiculous, as in each situation there was little else on offer and we thought that what we wanted was obvious.

The Roma community has been more visible to us in Bulgaria than in Romania. We assume that the drivers of the many horse-drawn carts are mostly Roma.

Apart from Kotel, we have been in  untourist regions that are not mentioned in Lonely Planet. And the LP info on Kotel was pretty scant. Once we left Yambul we were in a sparsely populated area where villages were few and had little commerce. Beyond Sredets, to the south, most villages we saw were largely abandoned. Of course the Black Sea coast is where most tourists go. We heard from Kiril that this area was greatly affected by the GFC and he lost his job in a resort there when that occurred.

The Bulgarian people largely left us alone, but always helped when asked and returned our greetings when we waved or said hello. Food, drink and accommodation was good. Beer is very cheap. Best thing was having shopska salad (tomato, cucumber, roasted capsicum and grated white cheese) each night with dinner. It’s delicious, healthy, easy to make and I am going to introduce it to the Royston Park area.