As always, it is hard to summarise a country from a relatively short time spent there. I’m sure we don’t fully understand a lot about Turkey, and with it being such a large country there is so much more to see. What I do know is that we absolutely loved our time there. Turkey offered us so many amazing things. It is a very beautiful country and we are leaving wanting more. I think that is always a great sign. We’d heard many wonderful things from other touring cyclists but I still had my reservations. I was worried by the horrible stories I’d read about savage dogs, the cold weather coming, and of course by all the violence that has happened in the last year (more that others were worried than us). But as always with most of my worries (not Andy’s) I really shouldn’t have fretted. It was such a brilliant part of the trip that overall I think it may be my favourite country we have cycled in (excluding Japan because that was home)!
One of the first things we noticed as we cycled over the Georgian/Turkey border was that suddenly the roads became much wider, giving us room to cycle next to each other easily. It’s always good to be able to chat, or maybe that’s just me! The roads were of great quality and helped us make quick progress along the Black Sea coast.
The only problem we found was that there seemed to be a lot of broken glass at the side of the road but, thanks to our Schwalbe Marathon Mondiales, we managed to avoid any punctures. The tunnels were big and well lit making what is usually not the funnest experience pretty easy. Also by the side of the road, especially along the Black Sea, we saw so many gun cartridges (if that’s what they’re called). We did sometimes at night hear gun shots but never saw anyone with guns!
The political situation in Turkey is not a good one. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on what’s happening there but I will try and write a little about it. There is around 15-20% of Kurds who live in Turkey, predominately in the south-east, which is the less developed area of Turkey. The government will not recognise these people as a separate ethnic group and therefore won’t give them cultural rights, for example to use their own language. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an armed rebellion in the hope of creating an independent Kurdish state. Since then the majority of fighting has come to a stop but in the last year there has been numerous bombs aimed at police and the army. These aren’t always reported in full even within Turkey. On top of this, the current President, Erdogan, though voted in for the 3rd time by over 50% of the population has a large number of Turks who don’t agree with his politics. In 2013 there was a large anti-government protest in Istanbul which reminded the world that not all Turks were content with how the country was being run. Speaking to a few people whilst we were here, mostly younger Turks happy to speak out, there seemed to be a real want for change. We also saw much more of a mix of very conservative Muslims and much more fashion orientated people in dress but also in mindset, from what we saw. Each area was slightly different and we didn’t venture further east which is meant to be very different from some of the other areas we did cycle through. To add to this the last day we were in Turkey the Russian Ambassador was shot dead at an art gallery during his presentation. The relationship between Russia and Turkey has been pretty bad anyway and this will only enhance those ill feelings. And just to add to all that has happened, today we heard about the attack on a nightclub in Istanbul. A very sad start to 2017 for Turkey and makes for an uncertain time there, who knows what will happen in the future. But even with all this going on the biggest impact we saw was the lack of tourists. They have been scared off by the current situation and it was sad to see riding through some of the more touristy spots. I of course understand that people don’t want to put themselves at any risk but we didn’t feel scared or worried at all during our time there. We also didn’t go into many large cities and we didn’t go to Istanbul but I hope things change and tourists will start coming again. It is such a beautiful country with a lot to offer anyone.
Moving on to some more light hearted things from our time there. The landscape in Turkey was stunning, it had the wow factor. I think we were also super lucky with the weather we had. The Black Sea coastline is over looked I think by many travellers. We mostly had bright blue skies and really enjoyed our cycle along by the sea. There are issues with locals as the main road was built right next to the sea and towns are slightly inland. I can definitely understand this but it did make for a much nicer ride for us. Also they had really lovely communal areas next to the sea, parks, benches etc. It was mostly flat which meant we could cover a good distance in a short time period.
Then heading inland. We had told ourselves we just needed to get through as quickly as possible to avoid being hit by colder weather. We had a few days of mostly up to get into the mountains.
Beautiful views around and some Autumn leaves, again gorgeous weather which kept us warmer. The scenery was amazing and changed so much day to day.
We got to Goreme just in time to avoid some snow and of course had a fabulous time walking around the National Park. Such a highlight of our time in Turkey and then to round it off, our balloon ride.
The few days after that were colder but luckily again the days were sunny so could have been much harder.
Then we were on the Med coast and we had plenty of time to cycle slowly and struggle up some of the tougher coastal roads. We also had the luxury of looking at the weather and timing it so we avoided any heavy rain that came in. This part of the coastline is crazy, full of holiday apartments and all inclusive hotels, some looked extremely sad and quiet. Lots of restaurants were empty or closed. This section of Turkey is where most of the European holiday makers usually come to but not this year. It did mean we could get some incredible deals on accommodation, big apartments for around 10 pounds a night. So even though we entered Turkey thinking we’d be spending a lot more than previously, with camping and cheap places in the south, it worked out pretty well. The coastline, when there weren’t any hotels, was absolutely stunning. Crystal blue water and lots of secret little coves, or at least they felt like that.
There were also so many areas to stop off and see ruins or houses carved into the rock. It’s such an interesting area culturally and historically. What an amazing way to finish off this leg in Turkey.
We were surprised to meet so many cyclists during our time in Turkey, 11 in total. It always interesting to see how other people do their trips, from the ‘try not to spend any money’ people to the ‘stay in a hotel every night people’, long term, short term, long days, short days etc. I think a lot of touring cyclists rely on the hospitality of others. Turkey is a great place for people being welcoming and hospitable. Generally we feel guilty if people try to help us by giving us things, even a token of food or drink. We chose to do this trip and we also are British (we really don’t want to trouble people and if we think we are, apologise 100 times for it, even when we’re paying for a service). We try and be as self sufficient as we can but in Turkey there was less guilt if someone gave us some food or a drink knowing Turkey is a more developed country and that we are not taking something away that they need. People here seem naturally generous and so throughout our time here people have been very kind. We hope that we can learnt from this example and will aim be more generous to other too.
As I mentioned before one of my things I was concerned about before entering Turkey was dogs!
After Azerbaijan and Georgia we felt more comfortable dealing with aggressive dogs, but the two stories that had stayed with me from dogs and Turkey in both cases they’d ended up in hospital, so it was definitely at the back of my mind before entering. Along the Black Sea we didn’t see any dogs at all. When we started heading into the centre of Turkey I made sure I was prepared with my sexy bum bag (fanny pack) full of stones.
We did end up seeing A LOT of dogs but they were dead on the side of the road, 2-3 a day! It was crazy. I didn’t want them chasing us but I also didn’t want to see them dead. Most of the ones that were alive were chained up, thank goodness, as they were very aggressive. There were also a few random towns which seemed to be run by dogs free to roam the streets. This was more as we got closer to the Med coast and along the coastline. A lot of them were tagged, like they were in Georgia.
They sometimes liked to chase us or other bikes for fun but they were fine. We saw many cats too. They don’t seem to be as popular. There were a few kind people who seemed to go out and feed the cats and dogs .
There were flags everywhere, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many, on cars, in windows, on buildings, at the top of high peaks that look impossible to access, everywhere. We shouldn’t ever forget what the Turkish flag is after our visit here!
Now onto my favourite topic, food. After our initial push to try and get through the centre and avoid the worst of the cold we were in pretty good shape. Decent distances over some tougher terrain. Once we reached the Med coast we were into holiday mode and even with some pretty steep coastal roads we were definitely making the most of what Turkey had to offer. For example, breakfast was lots of bread with either honey or delicious hazelnut cream spread (so good) with a coffee, mid-morning was fruit (to try and balance things out a bit), biscuits, nuts and tea, lunch was a usually a meal in a restaurant, kofta, fish, or pide (Turkish pizza), usually with a salad and bread, followed by Turkish tea (plus sugar), arrive at camp snack, tea or coffee with Turkish candyfloss, dinner usually was noodles or soup with bread, then finally evening tea with Turkish delight or biscuits! Not that we ate much less on the days when we were not cycling and in an apartment/hotel. The food was so good.
Most of the time when we’re travelling we crave other types of food from other countries after a couple of weeks. I’d say Turkey is probably one of the few countries where we were very happy to eat Turkish food 95% of the time. We did have a cheeky English breakfast once when it was offered to us though.
I’m sure a lot of people will be put off visiting Turkey until things have calmed down, which as I have said I totally understand, but hopefully it is a country that is on the list of places to visit and explore in the future. There is so much more to see than the usual tourist areas that are visited by Brits. I’m hoping we will have the opportunity to go back too.
Highlight. I think it is clear we loved our time in Turkey and especially Cappadocia but a beautiful spot we happened upon by chance was Akyaka. A stunning town where a river meets the sea, surrounded by mountains and forests. Such a lovely area to end our time in Turkey before getting the boat across to Rhodes. Very close to Marmaris where a lot of tourists visit, it’s definitely worth the detour.
Lowlight. We were absolutely shocked to see a man throwing away his rubbish into the sea. We also realised he’d walked past a bin to get to the sea to do this. As we move into the developed world there is more and more rubbish around. Maybe it’s after living in Japan for 5 years where there is little to be seen it seems strange to see so much around and people’s lack of care for the environment, such a shame!
Total days in Turkey – 48
Where we slept – Hotels/Apartments – 22
Camping – 25
Total distance – 2,323 km