Archive for the ‘Europe 2010’ Category

Signing off

22 September 2010

We have completed our trip and are now closing Bikelele – no more posts we promise! Thanks to our readers for encouraging us and for the comments, which we were always glad to receive. This blog will, of course, remain online as a record of our travels and we hope it may also be useful to other cyclists who are considering or undertaking a similar endeavour.

Leaving Driebergen, Netherlands


Distance cycled
4122 km
Longest day
159 km
Cycling stages
Total ascent (and descent)
31,896 m (3.6 Mount Everests – sea to summit)
Cycling days lost (or delayed) to sickness
Cervical discs partially healed
Mechanical failures
2 (broken rear wheel and broken pannier bolt – both fixed without delay within 3 hours at the first bicycle shops encountered)
Flat tyres
2 (1 split tube valve and 1 puncture)
Tyres replaced
Number of items of clothing lost
3 ( 1 pair of cycling shorts; 1 cycling shirt and 1 high-tech sports towel – we hope you found it, Raul, and find a use for it.)
Number of items stolen
Number of items seriously damaged by wild or feral animals
1 (cycling shoe but remained serviceable to end of trip)
Blog posts
Photos uploaded to flickr

Arriving in Istanbul, Turkey

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.

Çemberlitaş Hamam

17 September 2010

We went to the Çemberlitaş Hamam this evening. We paid TL55each (A$35) for a visit complete with exfoliation and soap down by an attendant. I was amazed to recognise my hamam attendant. It was Alexei Sayle although he clearly didn’t want to talk about his comedy career. Perhaps he’s doing research for some new material. (Rosalie has suggested that there may be a few men in Istanbul who look like Alexei and some of them might work in hamams.)

The bath large circular chambers are impressive with high domed ceilings with circular lights (rather like a lotus pod). There is a raised marble slab for lying, sweating and being exfoliated upon surrounded by alcoves with hot and cold water for dousing oneself. It is extremely hot and humid. The attendants are rather brusque, heavy-handed (especially for dodgy discs) and perfunctory. I don’t think Alexei earned a tip.

Nevertheless, the experience was very nice although they could make a tiny effort to help first-timers who don’t know what to do. Alexei took more trouble explaining how I should go about giving him a tip than anybody did explaining what I should do. He was waiting for me in the foyer as I was leaving. I disappointed him with the news that I had no money (Rosalie had the purse and didn’t get hit on for a tip.)

There was an extended power failure in Sultanahmet this evening. It started while we were in the hamam. Fortunately, Çemberlitaş Hamam had back-up power that cut in almost immediately. Not so most of the district. You’ll be relieved to know that the muezzins had backup power so no-one missed a call to prayer.


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.

Bicycle shipment saga – Chapter Two

17 September 2010

We’ve successfully packed our bikes into two of the three boxes we bought the other day. Although they were labelled 26″ our 700C bikes fitted OK. We now have a spare cardboard bicycle box suitable for a touring bike.

Packing the bikes

Just in case there’s anybody out there looking for a bike box, we’re in Sultanahmet and leaving Istanbul on Monday (20 September 2010) morning. If you need a box this weekend leave a message and we can arrange a handover.

For the record there are a few bikes shops near the Istanbul Railway Station (behind McDonalds) where you should be able to buy a box. The going rate seems to be TL10-20 each.


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.

And now for the shipping news…

15 September 2010

Shipping news? Forget it. With the constant nautical comings and goings here the shipping news would be non-stop. We’re sitting on the roof terrace of our hotel. It is a beautiful clear evening with the sun low in the west. Ships are constantly passing – the big ones dropping harbour pilots off just in front of us.

We’ve been successful in our quest for bicycle packing material. Cartons this morning and packing tape this afternoon – despite early difficulties. This afternoon, after visiting the Galata Tower on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, we walked back through narrow, winding lanes between beetling, commercial buildings – first electronic shops, then music shops, then electrical, then (by the waterfront) ship chandlers. (Vendors cluster by type in this city.) We spied a man packing some cartons in one of the electrical shops and Rosalie sallied in to find out where she might get some of the packing tape he was using. She came out with that roll (he wouldn’t take her money). One hundred metres further on a barrow trader had packing tape amongst his wares so we augmented our newly-acquired scrag-end with a whole roll. Fifty metres further on there was a tape specialist shop. So anybody struggling to find packing tape, duct tape, reinforcement tape, etc in Istanbul just proceed immediately to to N41° 01′ 23.2″ E28° 58′ 17.6″.

As we walked along the Bosphorus shore to the centrum at lunchtime we passed a number of masonry windbrakes built on the artificial rocky foreshore. Some were occupied by fishermen others by swimmers or sunbathers – all middle-aged men. There was a very strong current rushing towards the Marmara so the swimmers were rushed south and must have had a long walk back to their clothes when they climbed out.

Galata Tower

All we need to do now is to work out now is how to get to the airport in time. We think the shuttle bus is too late and may not carry our bikes.

For a rest during the afternoon we took a ferry ride across the Bosphorus to Asia and back, including a spot of fare evasion as we stayed on the ferry, eventually mingling with boarding passengers for the return journey. The crime was unintentional (initially).

We were puzzled by several strange contraptions we saw in the street this morning. They looked like donkey pack-saddles but then we saw some old men sitting on them and thought they were simply portable seats. Late in the day we saw similar man carrying large cartons on them slung over their shoulders. So, we were almost correct first time: pack saddles but for unfortunate old men rather than donkeys. I should have got one of them to carry the bike boxes back to the hotel. By doing it myself I did them out of a job.

We are continually impressed by the willingness of drivers of vehicles of all sizes to attempt streets of any width or grade. Below the Galata tower we saw a small truck trying to reverse up a narrow street that had blocked by a haphazardly parked car. The street was so steep that the truck was losing traction on its back wheels. A man was bouncing on the tailgate to add intermittent traction. We observed briefly from a vantage point *above* the truck.

Just before we crossed back across the Golden Horn we saw a small food stall selling sheeps’ heads with bread rolls. One portion was one side of a sheep’s head which guaranteed the lucky buyer one eye, a fleshy cheek, half a brain, half a skull and age-appropriate hemi-dentition (sheep’s age and dentition that is). We resisted the temptation.

Sheeps head vendor stall

We accepted a lift back across the Golden Horn from an informal water taxi – small, with a killer exhaust and bobbed like a cork in the lumpy waters of that busy waterway. We followed the traditional advice of not paying the ferryman until we reached the other side.

Golden Horn water taxi

Bicycle shipment saga – Chapter One

15 September 2010

We’ve been quoted anything up to US$3000 to ship our bikes. One agent said Turkish Customs would charge US$480 as export duty! So, scratch that idea and revert to carriage as personal luggage.

Therefore we need some boxes. All the bikes shops that Google could find for us are a long way from here and may not have any boxes but the hotel concierge directed us to the down-town area where the local bike shops are clustered and off we went.

All the shop keepers know the value (to us) of a good bike box so we have to pay. Many shop keepers won’t even sell their boxes. In the end we bought three 26″ bicycle boxes for TL30. We bought three as they’re bit on the small side. We’ll cut the third box up to extend the other two.

Returning to the hotel with three bicycle cartons

Now all we need is some packing tape.I guess we’re off to the bazaar to find the section where all the packing tape stall owners cluster…

And as the sun sets slowly in the west here comes the Bandirma ferry again…

Marmara crossing and Istanbul

14 September 2010

We crossed the Marmara to Istanbul on the Bandirma ferry – a huge, aluminium, Australian made high-speed catamaran. On today’s flat seas it cruised at 32 knots (> 60 km/h) leaving a long white plume of aerated water but scarcely any wake. It was not full but was carrying about 200 cars and 400 people in very comfortable, spacious surroundings. Manoeuvrable, a fast turn around – impressive.

We made it!

While waiting in the queue with cars we were befriended by a young turkish man named Imdat (it means help in Turkish). Imdat lives in Rotterdam and had driven to Turkey to participate in a TV game show or something similar.

Contrary to our expectations and the waiter’s we couldn’t get breakfast at a Bandirma cafe because it was the end of Ramadan or so the kitchen staff told him. End of the end of the end of Ramadan more likely! Not a good start to the day after bad night dealing with mosquitoes in our room.

We started to get anxious about the lack of ferry but it eventually arrived and left only six minutes late.

It was a grey and smoggy day in Istanbul – poor air quality. We’re glad we didn’t try to cycle through the sprawling outskirts of this huge city. The ferry was a much better way to arrive.

I’m a bit shell-shocked by Istanbul – it’s unimaginably huge, frenetic and in-your-face – especially the spruikers! You can’t soften a blunt rejection with the slightest politeness otherwise it is taken as an opportunity for a follow-up assault. They present a faux chumminess that we haven’t encountered before – quite off-putting (almost offensive) and it’s becoming increasingly easy to brusquely wave them away. We had a carpet salesman experience as we approached the Blue Mosque, but we didn’t crack, not even a bit.

We’re facing up to the challenge of getting our bikes packed for shipping (either with us to Amsterdam or hopefully direct to Australia). I hope it’s not going to be too difficult. The first quote I got today was US$1300 as UPS’ cheapest low-priority rate to Australia! I’m sure the person made a mistake. By the way, UPS website is absolutely crap and extremely aggravating! Incredibly slow and often returns errors on simple form submissions. Shame on you UPS!

On any assessment one can confidently state that Istanbul has plenty of mosques (they’re called camii here – pronounced something like jarmy)! It’s crazy when the amplified muezzins get going!

Rosalie in the Cistern

We’ve slipped into tourist mode and taken in the Blue Mosque (only 200 metres from our hotel in Sultanahmet), Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Hippodrome… In the middle of the Hippodrome there’s an Egyptian obelisk about 3500 years old. It was placed in its current location a mere 1600 years ago. Nevertheless it appears almost brand new with crisp, sharp edges to the carved hieroglyphs – amazing, especially compared to much of the mouldering stonework around the city.

Blue Mosque portal

The Blue Mosque is imposing and quite beautiful from the outside but the interior seems marred by its 4 over-sized pillars. Perhaps they’re intended to be making a statement about solidity and strength but their overstatement undermines the intention. Also, the lighting inside looks terrible. It’s a huge array of small lamps fixed to horizontal steel frames hung barely 4 metres above the floor from hundreds of vertical steel cables presumably bolted through the ceiling tiles. It makes the place claustrophobic despite the vast internal space and conceals the tiled dome. Female worshippers are relegated to rear of mosque *behind* the tourist masses. Roger Penrose would like the five-fold symmetry in the carved door patterns.

five-fold symmetry in Blue Mosque door carvings

There are lots of unsympathetic treatment surrounding major historical buildings – park railings, light poles,etc that make it unnecessarily difficult to get an unimpeded view (let alone a photo). Islamic architects need to get their mojo back.

We visited the Grand Bazaar. It’s unbelievably big (maybe 500 m square or more) with aisle after aisle teaming with stalls, spruikers and shoppers.

We had supper in an understated but still touristy area between our hotel and the Blue Mosque where a Dervish was whirling with high felt hat and billowing white clothes to a pair of Sufi musicians who continued their set after he’d spun off (presumably) to another gig.

Sufi musicians and DErvish whirling

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

Bandirma – end of the road

13 September 2010

We rode from Biga to Bandirma today and that marks the end of our ride! Tomorrow morning we take a ferry across the Marmara direct to Istanbul – no traffic worries. We’re both quite happy to have a rest from the bikes for a few days now. We probably spoke/blogged too soon yesterday as Rosalie scored a puncture today within 20 kms of the end of our ride!

Rosalie fixes her one and only puncture

As we left Biga we had a quick conversation with the Highway Patrol. It started with one of them calling through the car window, ‘Welcome to Turkey’ and concluded with us agreeing to the proposition, ‘This is day very good’.

In prospect, the last couple of days seemed a bit of a chore – just ride down the 100 miles to Bandirma – but, in fact they were pleasant days (except for the head wind yesterday). The wind abated and swung around today so we had easy cycling. We had sunny skies, orchards, rice fields and then views of the Marmara. The last 10 kms through the outskirts of Bandirma matched the ragged outskirts of most cities.

We found our way to the city centre (sehir merkezi), had some refreshments at a small cafe and then checked into the Sahil Otel (hotel) two doors down – not too flashy but a wonderful view of the harbour from our sixth floor room.

After lunch we picked up the tickets that we’d bought online a few days ago. We weren’t sure how easy that would be – a similar task was a bit of a rigmarole with the SNCF in France. We swiped the credit card we’d used for the purchase and while we were waiting for the first menu screen to appear out popped both tickets, all details correct. Three ukuleles!

Aperitifs came early today and then we went looking for a beach (or somewhere to swim). In truth, there was some dissention in the ranks as to whether the venture had any prospect of success but, in keeping with the local traditions we embarked on an odyssey to seek the golden fleece (er, silver sands)… The expedition was in vain but I’m sure morale will recover in time. Half-hearted attempts to find a local hamam, distracted by aforementioned attempts to find a beach, have been similarly unsuccessful. It looks like we’ll need to wait for Istanbul for that treat.

Bandirma habour

Bandirma has nice pedestrian areas including much of the waterfront. The ferry queue seems reasonable well-managed and placed out of the main commercial area. Other parts of the town are quite difficult for walking unless you have more faith in Allah than we do.

There is an extensive street market.

We’re off to find some dinner – hopefully some for the plentiful seafood that has been on sale along the seafront all day.

Sardines on sale in Bandirma

New tyre at last

12 September 2010

I was hoping to report in Istanbul that we’d crossed the continent without a flat tyre but on the way to our antepenultimate destination my back tyre ran flat. It may not have been a puncture, per se, because the valve stem split from the tube while I was trying to re-inflate it. Anyway, I had to change the tube and, since my hands were already dirty, I put a new tyre on too. (Actually, since we’ve crossed the Dardenelles into Asia, I guess we can still make that flat-free continent-crossing claim! 🙂 )

Tyre change by the Dardenelles

Still, our bikes are doing pretty well (apart from my wheel failure). I pumped a few strokes into my tyres somewhere in Romania, replaced Rosalie’s front brake pads in Vienna and we’ve oiled the chains a few times. That’s it in more than 4,000 km of cycling (including more than 31,000 metres of climbing)! Cycling – it’s the way to go!

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

Day on Gökçeada

10 September 2010

It turned out some of that Turkish we were failing to grasp yesterday was that we were to sleep up the road at Aydin Pansiyon (pension) tonight. It seems that someone has been displaced from their bedroom to make room for us. The Aydin proprietor organised last night’s room for us as well. There are forces here beyond our ken working to care for us. If we can stay here tomorrow as well we will do so. An Aegean island is an Aegean island after all.

Breakfast en famille at Aydin Pansiyon

We had breakfast en famille (with proprietors Cezmi and Safiya as well as last night’s landlady, name unknown) at Aydin Pansiyon (tomato, cucumber, feta, sweet capsicums, bread, jam and endless glasses of sweet tea) and then went for an unladen cycle around the island. Imbros (this island’s Greek name) might mean land of winds. If so, it’s living up to its name today. It’s also hilly and steep here. Quite hard but stunning cycling. We were glad we left our panniers at the pansiyon.

We visited several villages with many dilapidated buildings but also quite a few being restored. Much of the original dry stonework is beautifully done with tight joints, straight and vertical corners but once the roof goes and goats start climbing around things go downhill fairly quickly.

Cezmi told us about a huge and ancient tree near the village of Tepeköy, so we went to see it. This is a popular picnic place for Turkish tourists with a precipitous and spectacular view down to the sea. We were briefly befriended by a large family from Istanbul due to the approach of two boys aged around 12 who could speak some English. (In fact, it was more the reverse. Rosalie is very good at fronting up to foreign strangers with an engaging smile and persevering through predictable language difficulties. I can’t think where she gets that from!) They told us that the famous tree, a plane tree, was 600 years old. There are many signs of former habitation nearby and people were harvesting walnuts and pears from the trees.

Tepeköy street

Despite its appearance as a barren rocky place, Gökçeada produces plentiful fruit and vegetables: olive, pomegranate, fig, quince, apple, mulberry and walnut trees are abundant as are grape vines and home vegetable gardens. Our breakfast was largely harvested from the garden behind the pansiyon.

After our siesta we found a beautiful horseshoe bay just east of Kakelöy to swim in. It has rocky headlands with metal steps into the beautiful, clear, almost-too-warm water. Air-dried ourselves in the strong, warm wind.

Eceabat to Gökçeada

10 September 2010

We left Eceabat early to catch the 10am Gökçeada ferry from Kabatepe, a couple of kilometres south of Anzac Cove. At Kabatepe we rode straight to the top of a 500 metre queue of cars and on to the ferry which then set sail -at 9 am! It seems the timetables have changed for the holiday period. The cars that missed out had at least 3 hours to wait. Anyway, no waiting for us. Cycling is the way to go!

On our way to the island we had good views of the entire peninsula including Anzac Cove. It is almost all flat with a gently sloping shoreline except for a two-kilometre section under a prominent, 700 metre high-point. Guess which part of the coast the allies chose to attempt a landing…

Gallipoli coast from Gökçeada ferry

Gökçeada was called Imbros when it was under Greek control and may have been Poseidon’s home in the Iliad. Almost all the Greeks were ‘encouraged’ to leave during the Cyprus war 50 years ago. There are hundreds of abandoned and derelict buildings (houses and Orthodox churches). There must have been a very large rural population once. Many of those settlements may have been destined for abandonment anyway without the assistance of the Turks. Strangely, the Greek settlements are now quite a draw-card for tourists. Unfortunately for us all, I don’t think the Turks do tavernas as well as the Greeks and Islam has a dampening effect when it comes to alcoholic beverage service.

Gökçeada is a stunning island with steep shores and mountains and a long valley down the middle. It seems arid although there are several large reservoirs and reliable springs. The hills look quite barren – bare rocky peaks, scree slopes and flanks covered with round, spiky, goat-proof thorn bushes. Most of the old villages are inland. The guide book says this was to avoid pirate raids but permanent water sources (springs) may have been a factor.

Much of the island is occupied by the Turkish army alert to any possible invasion. They’re keeping a close eye on those tricky Greeks. There is a precipitous Greek Island (Nisos Samothraki) just 20 km away but no sign of any wooden horses floating this way today. I don’t think the Turks are going to fall for that one again anyway.

Nisos Samothraki from Gokceada

There was a high-ranking naval officer in Gökçeada township at lunch time. The main street was sprayed with water turning the dust into mud. I hope he didn’t get any on his crisp, white trousers. There were security details up and down the street and a pair of white-gloved and white-cravatted military policy marching around. A large group of the local important civilians (men that is) were on-hand in shiny suits and white shirts.

Apart from military big knobs there are lots of visitors exerting huge pressure on accommodation. The three days following Ramadan really stretch the local tourist industry but we found a room for one night. No-one speaks English here and we don’t speak Turkish. The cheap Turkish-English dictionary we bought a few days ago is hopeless. International sign language for sleep (head inclined to side with back of opposite hand on cheek) and eat (fingers to mouth), etc works for the basics.

We went swimming at Kaleköy which boasts one of Gökçeada’s ‘boundless natural beaches’. ‘Boundless natural beach’ means something different to Australians! Kaleköy was probably a nice bay once but is now dominated by a marina, a military R&R base and an ugly up-market holiday resort. The small section of beach left to the public was wide enough for our swim but the sand was hardly sparkling and the bottom rocky.

We had a siesta and then climbed a small hill in Kaleköy to the ruins of an Ottoman-era fort on the coastal cliffs. It is surrounded by a picturesque, partly-derelict village including some abandoned Orthodox churches.

Orthodox Church in Kaleköy

We watched a gorgeous Aegean sunset from a terrace restaurant overlooking the bay (and sea and Greek island). Another steep island (Nisos Thasos?) to the west became visible through the haze as the sun dropped towards the horizon. We enjoyed nice food once we worked out what was on offer. It would be helpful if waiters were forthcoming when dealing with ignorant foreigners.

Dinner on the terrace above the Aegean

We don’t know where we will sleep tomorrow – perhaps under an olive tree by the beach. If the accommodation problems persist we may need to return to the mainland although we are aware that Eceabat is booked out for several nights also.

Day at Eceabat

8 September 2010

Ramadan drummers again for the last time last night as Ramadan finishes this evening. Rather poor playing we thought. Perhaps it was the time of day. We saw the drummer again in the evening – single drummer, single drum played with two sticks – one heavy for the bass beats and one light for the tattoo. We’d been led to expect quite a party to mark the end of fasting but things are pretty low-key here this evening.

Morning swim in the Dardenelles

We swam in the Dardenelles this morning (not Hellespont – it’s no body’s business but the Turks). It was a beautiful bright morning with very clear water marred by litter washed ashore. We chose to see the PET bottles as modern-day amphorae. Rosalie went to the local market just like the others -they seem to be following us. Perhaps they’re the same stall owners.

We booked for the ‘standard’ battlefields tour (turned out to be the two of us with a packed lucnh and a local taxi driver, Anil). Since we’re Australian ‘standard’ means Anzac Cove, ANZAC Ceremony Site, the Nek, Schrapnel Gully, Lone Pine, Brighton Beach culminating in a visit to Mustafa Kemal’s HQ and the museum which is about to be demolished. Anil corrected my references to Mustafa Kemal as Ataturk – that being MK’s assumed surname and surnames being one of the modernisations that he brought in once he was leading the country. Anil did a good job – all the sobering statistics down pat with a very spirited delivery. It seems Turks and ANZACS share a common dislike for the major powers (esp England). The expressions of respect and goodwill towards the ANZACS are consistent and heart-felt.

Lone Pine Monument above ANZAC Cove

Anil photographed us in front of many of the infamous sites. No mention of Simpson and his Donkey or some of the other stories we know so well (cricket matches to cover retreat etc) but the Turks have there own set of battlefield heroism stories including an un-named Turkish soldier who, under a hastily raised white flag rescued a wounded digger and returned him to the ANZAC trenches. A story only brought to light by Richard Casey (later to Australian Governor-General).

Turkish soldier rescuing wounded digger

We asked to see one of the Turkish cemeteries (100% Islamic) – not sure whether that’s usually on the program for Aussies as the tours seem to be fairly segregated. A lot of inscriptions about patriotic martyrdom- ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ has no hint of sarcasm for the Turks. One inscriptions was to the effect that fallen wished to return to Earth to be martyred again!

The Aegean Sea was gloriously blue and crystal clear. and it was a beautiful, calm, clear, sunny day much at odds with the dreadful events that occurred there almost a century ago. Anzac Cove is surprisingly tiny (barely an indentation) in the steep coastal escarpment – a hopeless place to try and land anything let alone an army under fire from the many perfect vantage points on the ridges above. How the ANZACS made any headway is astounding.

The remains of the trenches are clearly visible separated by only metres of no-man’s land in many places. I picked up what turned out to be a molar tooth in one of the trenches and promptly put it back when I realised what it was.

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


7 September 2010

We’re in Eceabat on the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula where the WWI tourist industry is BIG. We will do our bit by joining a half-day tour of some of the battlefields tomorrow and have visited a Turkish display in the town this evening. It’s strange that those battles seem to have been nation-forming for both Australia and Turkey and disappointing to see the jingoistic nationalism developing on both sides. The Turks refer to the fighting as the Çanakkale Savaşları (Çanakkale Wars).

It’s sobering to read their account of those events. The Turkish view is that they gallantly defended their homeland from an invading army – a position impossible to argue against. I hope (but doubt) that many Australian visitors remember that the ANZACs were participating in an act of aggression against Turkey for a strategic objective that had little to do with either Turkey or Australia.

I wonder what would have happened had the Allies (Western Powers to the Turks) been successful and gone on to take Istanbul. How did they propose to occupy Turkey for the duration of the war? Did they think the Turks would politely comply? Perhaps it was lucky we weren’t successful.

It’s surprising how welcoming and accepting Turks are towards Australians (including Ataturk’s extraordinary statement that ANZACs having lost their lives Turkey had become Turkish sons as well). I doubt that Australians would be so charitable. It’s certainly nauseating to hear Australian politicians complaining about developments here as if we had some rights in the matter.

The successful defensive campaign seems to have been the making of Ataturk as the nation’s favourite son. His likeness in pictures and statues can be seen everywhere.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk mural on building in Eceabat, Turkey