15 Aug Trip Diary – Turkey – Part 1
After almost a week exploring Istanbul, it was time for me to leave the city and take the ferry over the Sea of Marmara, leaving the European continent behind me, to the city of Yalova – my first on the Asian continent.
Fun and games at the port
Getting the ferry wasn’t completely smooth. I’d arrived twenty minutes before the ferry left and, locking the bike up outside the terminal, I ran inside to get my ticket. After ten minutes of broken Turkish and a lot of hand signals, I hoped I had the right ticket and dashed outside to get the bike through security. Unfortunately, removing all six bags plus the tent, feeding them through the X-ray machine, and reloading the bike took so long that I missed the boat. To add to my disappointment, I learned the ticket I had was valid for that boat only. Two hours later, and having paid again for a new ticket, I was chugging my way across the sea, watching as Istanbul’s skyline slowly disappeared behind the horizon.
From Yalova, it took me almost four days to ride the 250km to the city of Eskisehir, my first planned stop where, thanks to the power of Facebook, I’d found a host who was willing to put me up for a few nights. The ride down was beautiful, starting with long climbs on good roads, cycling through hills covered in thick forests dotted with picturesque villages and ending with a fast run along the main motorway into Eskisehir.
Camping along this section proved a little difficult on a couple of nights, especially on my last night before entering Eskisehir when, having pushed a little too hard with the intention of making the city that day (and failing), I found myself sleeping out in the open, wrapped just in my sleeping bag, two meters from the motorway behind the only tree I could find. Trying to sleep with the constant noise of trucks and cars passing meters from ahead was a little hard and I was surprised when I woke at 3am to just how cold the night had gotten. I hadn’t been this cold since Germany.
Partying in Eskisehir
Eskisehir is a large university city with a big student population; the atmosphere of the busy city streets was similar to what I had experienced in Istanbul. My host, Ali, and his family welcomed me into their home with open arms and with only a few days to explore, Ali wasted no time giving me a tour of the city. Having a local show you around has to be the best way to see any city – their knowledge of the best places is priceless and I spent most of my days happily following Ali around. In the evenings, I met his friends for drinks in the heart of city, listened to live music, and ate some of the best street food I’ve come across. Ali was an archeologist by trade and told me about a cycle route that took in a very special part of Turkey, one that not many tourists bothered to see. The route was known as the Phrygian Way, one of Turkey’s longest trekking routes but, as Ali assured me, it was also possible by bicycle. I decided it was too good to miss and left Eskisehir excited to see what lay ahead.
The route is in the central Anatolia region and passes through the renowned Phrygian Valleys passing close to many ruins of ancient civilisations and surrounded by the natural beauty that abounds in this region. The section I chose stretched from Eskisehir to Usak in the south and, boy, was Ali right – it certainly was amazing and I was somewhat taken aback by just how quiet it was. Monument after monument came into view as I cycled the 300km towards Usak and rarely did I see another person, and certainly no tourists. At each of the sites, I was free to wander around unhindered, no fences or ‘keep out’ signs in sight. It was a strange experience walking in almost complete silence around the temples, burial sites, tombs and churches, all carved out of the rock faces thousands of years ago. My favourite was the huge complex known as Midas, which dates back to the sixth century BC. It’s a truly fascinating place and one I spent the best part of day just walking around.
Usak and the canyons
Like Eskişehir, I’d arranged a host for my stay in Usak and spent two days in the company of Burcu and her boyfriend who once again greeted me as if I was an old friend, took me to their beautiful apartment for a well overdue shower, and left me to relax while they went off to work. That evening, we dined together with more of their friends and I was introduced to one of Turkey’s most famous offerings, Raki. An acquired taste for sure. It was during this evening that Burcu recommended another destination, Ullubey Canyon.
Ullubey lies around 70km south of Usak and I ended up spending three days wild camping overlooking the deep gorges and barren cliffs that make up the canyon. The weather wasn’t great – large thunderstorms rolled in each evening, with constant lightning illuminating the canyon walls, but nothing to quell the heat. Just as I was planning to leave, I was approached by a curious Turkish family who, as I was now beginning to expect, invited me to join them for a picnic lunch. Twenty minutes later, I’d agreed to an invitation to attend a wedding in their town 40km away and with that, the bike was strapped to the roof of a car, and my plans for the day completely changed.
A very Turkish wedding
The wedding was in the small village of Akkent. By the time we arrived, it was late afternoon and I was shown to the house of Murat and his family, fed an amazing meal and shown to my room. As the sun began to set, I could hear the wedding celebrations were well underway somewhere in town and I piled into a car with the rest of the family to go and join in. I was a little nervous, I must say – after all, I hadn’t been formally invited – but Murat put my fears at rest a little when he explained that here, no one is really invited and that the whole village just turns out to celebrate the occasion. We arrived in the centre of town to where the daily markets are held to find the large square devoid of stalls and filled with hundreds of people surrounding a makeshift dance floor clapping and signing as the DJ played and traditional dancers performed. As they did, people would step forward, wave money over the dancers’ heads and then add it to sizeable pot of cash as a wedding gift to the couple from the town. Others attached nuggets of gold to a sash around the bride or groom, to help the couple start a family in the future.
In the morning, the town came together again in the name of food. It’s tradition, or so I was told, for both the bride and groom to open their homes and feed the town. We went to the bride’s first where I was treated to a feast amongst a crowd of hundreds sitting around large tables that stretched down the road. A similar experience awaited me at the house of the groom. The whole of Murat’s family gathered later that morning to wave me off. Prays were said to keep me safe on the journey ahead and I felt sad to be leaving the company of such amazingly friendly, kind-hearted people. They had opened their houses to me without hesitation and treated me like one of the family. Turkish hospitality is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
The road to Konya
From Akkent I headed east in the direction of Konya, the midway point in my journey across Turkey. I’d received mix views on Konya, both by other travellers and by some of the Turkish people I’d mentioned it to. Known to be one of the most conservative cities in Turkey, some warned me to steer well clear, telling me it would be dangerous for lone foreigners, whilst others could see no reason not to visit. The mix of opinions only fuelled my desire to see the city for myself and within a week of leaving Akkent, with yet another host lined up, I found myself on the outskirts of the city in search of my host’s apartment.
The first thing that struck me about Konya is just how beautiful the city is. Manicured gardens line the roads, pristine flowerbeds provide the centre reservation on most roads, and teams of people can constantly be seen attending to all the green spaces. It’s also fantastically clean – a stark comparison to most of the towns and cities I’d been to so far in Turkey. My host, yet another guy named Murat, was a student at the local university and lived on the outskirts of the city. Over the next two days, along with a group of his friends, he showed me the city including the tomb of Mevlana, one of the holiest sites in all of Turkey and a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all around the world.
Tonight’s my last night in Konya and I still don’t know what all the warnings were about. Sure, it’s very conservative but as long as you accept and respect this, there really is no issue. I never felt unwelcome and the people, in contrast to what I was told, were just as friendly as anywhere else in Turkey. Tomorrow I leave and start the ride to my next planned stop, Cappadocia, 500km further east. So far, Turkey has surpassed all my expectations, especially when it comes to the hospitality its people have shown me and I’m really looking forward to exploring more of this amazing country.
This blog entry covers dates from 20th July – 15th August, 2017
I took nearly 300 photos during my two-month tour in Turkey, all of which you can find in the gallery or by clicking here