Friday, 29 July 2011

Georgia: on my mind and a public display of affection

I usually avoid public displays of affection (PDA) as they make me feel slightly uncomfortable; never really knowing which way to look and whether to smile sweetly trying to hide the 'oh I do wish I was that much in love but really should you be performing an Esophagogastroduodenoscopy in public' face or look down and find a bit of fluff on my lap the most interesting inanimate object I've ever seen. As for me performing the art of PDA? Bah! not in a million years.. until the other day..

I really don't know what came over me, maybe just the sheer challenge of being alone for so long, that gnawing frustration of when will it happen and for those last two days before 'it' happened all I had dreamt of was that moment when we would finally meet again. And it happened quickly and I wasn't expecting it. I clasped my brake levers tightly at our surprise encounter, wincing at the sound of metal on metal and, vowing to replace the brake pads, I flung my bicycle on the verge. I stood there for a while quivering, savouring the moment as there was my dream lying before me. I hoisted my shorts awkwardly and knelt down, my fingers hovering for a few seconds over the object of my desire until I could resist no longer and traced them gently over the smooth, damp surface. My hot breath was visible against this cool skin as I drew my face closer and before I knew it my lips met..


I kissed a road.

You would have done too, believe me this was not just any road, this was a road.

Road [rohd] –noun
a long, narrow stretch with a smoothed or paved surface, made for traveling by motor vehicle, carriage, etc., between two or more points; street or highway

The main road I had been on for the last 2 days while ascending a pass of 2025m (twice the height of Snowdon and a bit more) - was not a road. It may have been once, before someone obviously had a load of spare dynamite, a lot of time on their hands and thought it would be nicer if they could perhaps use a boat to travel along their road on a rainy day should they feel like it.

here is a wee sample

Step 1: take some sludge

Step 2. add a few rocks. (for a more challenging recipe add piles of rocks)

Step 3. and to improve the consistency just add more water

Final Step: take your sludge, rocks and water to 2025m and chill it for 4 hours, preferably in a hail storm. you my find this hard to swallow and it won't get any easier on the way down

My entry into Georgia had been as smooth as the road I came to dream of, a friendly smile, a stamp, surrounded by passport officials (I counted 7) coming up to say hello and ask about my trip. I veered off to the right before the seaside town of Batumi and headed east passing a few kilometres of people displaying beachball displays of watermelons on the roadside. As I left the buildings behind I soon realised my route was to be following a river (I had no proper map apart from a matchbox sized one of the country and Georgia is not mapped on Google) and it was glorious.

After 5 flat and windy days in Turkey and a never changing view my eyes feasted on new hills, valleys, red-roofed churches and ancient bridges with each bend of the road I took.

On the second day I watched as 3 men whirled like dervishes and body-popping matadors to the joyful sounds of Georgian folk music. The bride, Teo, looked on with a glint in her eye, her face framed with kiss curls of fake hair and glanced at her new husband who shifted uncomfortably and pulled at the collar too big around his neck. I sat in awe watching these dancers and looked across at Teo whose hair was scraped into a ponytail, a real kiss curl fell across her eyes and she brushed it aside as she looked up at me while leaning over the low table that we had, only a few hours ago, shared coffee and cakes on and now was covered in a thick cloth on which she ironed colourful bed linen. I gestured approval and as the wedding video part 2 finished, the young man seated next to me opened a new file so I could watch wedding video part 3.

After wedding video part 5 my jaw ached from smiling yet I continued with the "ooh this is amazing, all these people now dancing to byran adams" gestures of approval. More people arrived in the painted wood room. oh the shy groom was here, and someone else that looked like his brother. I stood up and shook hands and was then beckoned to sit down in front of the computer again. Surely not.. Part 5 was definitely the last file in the folder, I had checked.. it was then I learnt that a Georgian Muslim wedding lasts for 2 days.. Day 2- should you ever wish to know- involves more drinking, more toasting, more dancing...

Despite the jaw ache my time spent with this family was the ribbon on the parcel that Georgia became for me. Capitan, the father, in his flowery festival hat had found me that evening drenched outside a tiny shop, scoffing a whole chocolate swiss roll as I worked my way up the treacherous road to the top of the pass not realising the distance I still had to cover. He spoke no English but had called someone who could who informed me he wanted me to stay with him. I insisted I could camp he said no and bike and me were piled into the back of a van and we began the steepest ascent up a dirt track vertical to the route I was taking.

I was greeted by Teo and Capitan's wife, wet clothing removed, slippers produced, taken by the arm and led thru the rooms of a wooden building on stilts and into a warm shower. A wood burner in the living room was stoked, my panniers emptied and clothes were soon spinning in a washing machine. Taken by the arm again I was led to the kitchen where a spread was laid out for me and I dined on beetroot with coriander, chunks of rustic bread with sour cream, chicken, hot potato washed down with glasses of thick yoghurt with Teo and her friend Patty

 I was showed to the toilet, the floor had a triangle cut out and all waste splattered some 10 foot below on to the compost pile. I leant over the balcony which housed rows of brightly coloured sheets and dresses while Teo and the mother pointed out their land and the produce they grew: the corn, the potatoes, the cherries, the herb garden.

We watched at sunset the cloud trying to claw its way out of the valley then lingering beneath us having found a resting place on the top of the fir trees. I rested in the living room with the mother while Teo swept the floor with a bundle of tightly bound twigs. She disappeared then bounded back her hands full of newly born chicks which she placed on the mother. I was led to the barn where a hen protested as it was lifted up and a bundle of chicks tried to bury themselves in the straw. I was handed a warm egg with the chick slowly tapping its way out and Teo held it to my ear so I could hear it chirping from within

We retreated for coffee and wedding albums then the videos. then all the men returned and we drank thick black coffee and made conversation yet I can't recall how as we shared no common tongue. The president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, appeared on television and they looked on with pride at this enigmatic man.

My hosts.. and my laundry

At midnight I climbed up a wooden ladder to the top floor and led to a beautiful room, a wardrobe was opened, a cornflower blue nightgown produced and I woke to bright sunshine, 2 breakfasts, sad farewells and hugs and I was driven back to where Capitan had found me the day before and I continued with my ascent to the top of the Goderozi pass.

After a few hours of slow progress I reached the 2025m marker and I joined some old men in thick woollen hats sheltering from the rain that had just began.
 A drop in temperature accompanied the ferocious hail storm pictured earlier and I was ushered into a hut by Becka, a young man who is going to become a seafarer and wearing sunglasses after an accident with a piece of wire embedded itself into his eye

 His friends struggled with sheets of corrugated iron trying to cover the paneless windows as the storm swept through the wooden building. Becka's mother kissed me on the cheek , brought me coffee and I was invited to sit down and join her son and his friends for a warming meal of melted cheese in thick salty gravy, a vegetable broth and steaming plates of rice.

I was asked my religion and he explained how he was a Christian as he produced the cross on a string around his neck. His 2 friends muslim but makes no difference and so it shouldn't he added.

Despite offers of a bed for the night I was aware that my progress up this pass had been slow and donning my down jacket under a layer of waterproofs I bade them goodbye and began the slow ascent. 1 day later after a night tucked into a forest next to the fast flowing river I met the road I'd been dreaming of and 3 days later, through scenery scattered with stone fortresses and churches perched impossibly on pinnacles of rock I reached the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.

Georgia had not just been on my mind, it had captured my soul.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Turkey: The Black Sea Coastline and the H word

"Stop being so bloody steep!" I nodded in agreement to James's frustrated cry at the unforgiving road. I was cradled over my handlebars lethargically mopping the rivulets of sweat trickling from my hairline, parting at the top of my ear and creating salty trails on my cheeks and behind my ear before meeting again to gather in the nook of my clavicule. This was tough. The melting tarmac was like cycling on a road of pillows, my tyres sinking deep as if some unknown force was drawing them into the earth, coupled with this was the fly paper consistency of the surface, the sound of a sticky bandaid being ripped from the road accompanied each slow turn of my wheel.

The top of a hill brought brief respite, a slight breeze would try to remove the cloak of humidity that clung to me. I thought back to high mountain days, trying to remember the gnawing ache of cold on the face of Alaska's Denali. How I yearned for that again, had it really been that bad? It was just cold right? How I now wanted to be wrapped in that cold. {My theory is that there is no special inner strength in people who do extreme expeditions.. it is simply that we are all blessed with a short term memory!}

The brief respite was just that, as a steep descent into another gorged valley only meant another steep ascent out of it again. It was worse in the mornings. Lactic acid build up caused immense fatigue as I faced a struggle up another steep ascent within only an hour of waking.
This graph gives you a taster of the elevation profile over a distance of 300km with max altitude of 450m just in case you wonder what the scale is!.

Yet the beauty of the coastline was enchanting. The Black Sea carressed rocky outlets, thick pine forests carpeted the undulating landscape, dusty villages with men drinking cai, elegant minarets with backdrops of milky seascapes and verdant hillsides.

The day I left Istanbul I felt I was starting my trip all over again. Could I still do this? I'd turned down a request from James, a cycle tourer following a similar route, to accompany me. I just needed a few days to adapt to the lifestyle again and I wanted to do that on my own. Within 10km I was smiling again, stopping at a bakery to buy the longest piece of bread i'd ever seen, all of 3.5 foot long (which I smothered in chocolate spread and scoffed the lot) and the bakery boys giggling at this strange woman with a loaded bicycle deserved to have their photo taken
My first night's camp was a disaster. Tucked into a forest on the edge of a clearing of felled trees I awoke to the sound of a heavy trampling over fallen branches. Grabbing my headtorch I peeped out only to see a cow weaving his way through the thick forest towards my tent. I grabbed my saucepan and banged it loudly. Is it possible for a cow to show a look of disgust in the spotlight of a bright beam? well, this one certainly seemed to show it. I drifted in and out of sleep, nervous of being trampled on, sitting bolt upright when something was sniffing at the side of my tent where my head lay. I despaired. Where had my backbone gone? This was going to be a long night as I sat still listening to the sounds of the forest and my shallow breathing. Suddenly the forest lit up. A car. What do I fear more? people or animals finding me alone. Voices. The sound of bottles clanking in a bag. A girlish giggle. Then the loud thumping sound of electronic music reverberated through the trees as these 2 young lovers had their own private rave for the next few hours. Well, at least it scared away the animals..

The next day I bandaged a tender knee, over 2 weeks of rest in Istanbul and the hills were having an impact on my slovenly body. I cycled to Agva where I had my first sighting of the Black Sea and drank cay with the locals. More hills followed yet descents were made on exhilerating switchbacks. I was back on the road and it felt good. Stopping at a picnic spot with a restaurant I asked if I could camp there for the night. Of course. A few people came to check the inside of my tent and it soon became clear why - snakes..Thankfully I'd had the zip fixed in Istanbul and they seemed content that the snakes could not enter when I was asleep so I relaxed and drank the cay and nescafe they gave me, followed by ice creams and Google translate conversations with Firdevs the university student working at the restaurant for the summer. Yet soon they decided I could not stay where I had pitched as it was dangerous after all.. not only snakes but drunken men may appear(!) so tent was taken down and all transported to the safety of the front garden of the couple who ran the restaurant. Tulli and Tarrot woke me in the morning and spoilt me with a fine breakfast before I left to head towards Karasu

It was a couple of days later in the town of Eregli that I decided to wait for James to catch up with me. I'd had an encounter the night before with a man near my tent which had resulted in me scaring the poor idiot for being too close to my tent and me then having to repitch in the dark to a safer area. Perhaps maybe I could start sleeping better if there were 2 people...

For 7 days we cycled together, sharing the mental and physical torture of the heat and hills, receiving the overwhelming hospitality from the Turkish people we met.
Berk who stumbled through the darkness to bring us cay and stuffed peppers from his bigmother (grandmother :)Onur and his mother who stuffed our panniers full of cakes and pastries, Bulenta and his wife Kezban who provided us with showers, beds and a feast, Mustava who did not mind when he stumbled upon us camped behind his cafe and brought us coffee and apologised for not having switched on the lights.

Daily the scenery became more spectacular, the hills more torturous, the heat more intense. I experimented with clothing set up. A thin white shirt resulted in me having a sunburnt back, a gingham dress while airy made me look like an extra for Little House on the Prairie, headscarves were made into turbans. On the 7th day I had found the right mix of clothing to wear and had also realised I wanted to go it alone again so I made my excuses and left James at Inebelou.

That evening while camped in the safety of a beach resort-  thanks to the owner who'd kindly let me pitch my tent for free on an ants' nest between 2 chalets- I contemplated my decision.  It had been so much easier with 2 people but I'd felt I had lost my journey and I desperately wanted it back.

The next morning I felt invigorated. The hills were no longer obstacles in the way of my progress east but part of the journey and my eyes opened again to the vibrancy of turquoise sea and lush vegetation.

I cycled into valleys to the atmospheric yet haunting sound of the muzzein call to prayer and took the hill out of villages with my belly full of cay from more kind people. Arriving in Ayancik after a day of 100km and 1300m of ascent I rested in the shade of a hotel cafe and after a couple of hours asked if anyone could recommend a safe place for me to camp. Within seconds a discussion was taking place, a phone was handed to me and a man in perfect American English told me that they knew a place a few km away and I should follow the man in the car. so another man appeared and I followed him on my bike as he drove up the unpaved coastal road, patiently waiting while I covered the distance at 5kmph. My escort led me to the home of Betir and Beysa: a stunning setting on the shoreline of the KaraDeniz.

Tent was pitched in their garden and I was invited onto their balcony, dishes of spicy aubergine, a minty soup, blackened fish, salad and a glass of chilled red wine were put before me and we communicated via a turkish/english dictionary. In the end I slept on the sofa bed opposite Beysa that night so heartened to be welcomed into this lovely family's home.

It hadn't all been rosy though..on my glorious 45kmph descent towards the town of Ajancik a large insect hit me on the side of my nose. This happens a lot when on the bike. What happened this time though was the damn thing didn't bounce off and I felt it clamp itself on to my nose. I braked, skidded then battled with my attacker. I wrenched the body off but the pain continued so grabbing my mirror and a pair of tweezers I extracted a large sting. Fastforward to a day later: I rested on a beach and was looked after by another lovely family and their friends who fed me both lunch and dinner of a 100 kebabs and roasted crab claws, invited me on holiday and gave me cream for my rapidly swelling face

3 days later with right eye shrinking in size at an alarming rate I saw a doctor and got some medicine. I am sure I saw a faint smirk appear when I explained to him with hand gestures and noises how it happened.

Just before the city of Samsun I ascended the final big climb of the Black Sea coastline yet on my descent I took my first tumble of the trip from my bike. Wiping the sludge that had caused my fall from my leg and reattaching 2 of my panniers I set off again. Now for some flatness!

So now I sit in my hostel room in Trabzon thinking back over the last few weeks of the H word. Hills, heat and the outstanding hospitality of the Turkish people
Even in the last few days before reaching here I had Baris, his parents and pet budgie let me use their holiday 'home' (tent) while they returned to the city, the young man from the beach cafe who carried my bags and bike down the steep steps to the shoreline, made me dinner and came rushing to check I was ok in the middle of the night when I screamed out during a nightmare in which someone was trying to get into my tent (incidentally I screamed even more when he appeared as thought he was trying to get into my tent..)

The route has been challenging but that's what I love and now it's onwards and eastwards to another unknown: the country of Georgia.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Istanbul : Gremlins and Ottomans

"Miss Jillian, yes, you can have visa for lran but no visa machine so you can't"
"What?" I said rearranging my headscarf for the 'enth time while bending down to look at Mustava, the visa man at the lranian embassy who was also nearly on his knees trying to bend down to look back at me through the tiny semi-circle cut out of the brown glassed wall that separated us.
"Visa-making machine broken" he said. "maybe one week and fixed. so no visa for you"
"Erm, shall I come back tomorrow?"
"Yes, maybe you try"
It became a daily ritual: leaving my friend Gulin's airy apartment in Bostanci on the Asian side of Istanbul, taking a bus to Kadikoy, jumping on the ferry, drinking a cay while relishing the magnificent Istanbul skyline as I crossed the Bosphorus, disembarking at Galata Bridge, walking up the steep hill to the embassy, rearranging my headdress while knocking on the ornate door. The doorman always giving me a beaming smile and a "welcome back", Mustava in his neat grey suit smiling apologetically, peeping back at me through the semi circle and informing me that "no, visa machine broken still". And we both smiled and shrugged our shoulders and said "see you tomorrow"

After the 4th day I asked if perhaps they could handwrite me a visa in my passport and use an official looking stamp. Yes and no, he'd spoken to Tehran and even though they said that would be fine and that they would inform the border police he was worried that it may cause problems for me at the border and so it may be best to wait.. and so I waited...

Yet the opportunity to spend time with my friend and former colleague Gulin more than made up for this delay.  I'd arrived at hers greasy and grubby- my last shower being in Bulgaria- yet delighted that I'd reached Istanbul in one piece. I watched on helplessly (giggling) as Gulin tried to squeeze my bike into her lift

 A little routine soon started. Me getting up each day to go the lranian embassy, returning, looking at my panniers and contents in her spare room - emptying them, repacking them, moving them around the room a bit then emptying them - and meeting Gulin each evening after she'd finished work..
"have you got everything else sorted?"
"no, still some blogging and sorting out of bags to do"
She'd laugh and ask if Crocodile Dundee had eaten and I'd say yes constantly, all day, and she'd muster up a delightful dish of borek or take me out to a stunning restaurant on the banks of the Bosphorus and assist with my Istanbul 3 kg weight gain.

I also spent time ambling round this magnificent city. Napoleon had once said “If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital” and with its enviable tradelane position straddling both Asia and Europe, coupled with its magnificent Ottoman  archictecture and vibrant city life then you can understand why

Yet there was also Sarah, a friend who had a business trip in Turkey and we had 4 fine days in the Grand Hyatt - C.Dundee nabbing the shower caps for Brooks saddle covers, daily stuffing minature shampoo into my pannier, bemoaning the price of an espresso and stealing her skinny jeans. We walked and trammed it: exploring the treasures of Sultanahmet, listening in awe to the sounds of the muzzein calling to prayer, catching up and reminiscing trips to South America, winter camping in Chamonix, festivals and our time working in well as being accidental tourists..

On Day 14 of Istanbul I returned to the embassy..and the very same day I was emblazoned in all my cringeworthy headdressed glory on to a page of my passport. 30 day visa for the lslamic Republic of lran. Tick.

This taste of home, friends, familiarity and security had been a much needed tonic and I wondered how and if I could return to my life on the road, yet when I found myself walking past a grassy patch, inhaling the musty dankness, I felt an affinity with it. C Dundee was ready to hit the road again..

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Istanbul: palaces, flipflops and marathons

I ambled slowly through the crowds, flipflops lazily scuffing the asphalt as I read up on Dolmabahce Palace. "Crispin, listen to this, there are concubine quarters too and..". I looked up, for goodness sake where was he now and why was it so goddamn busy on the streets of Istanbul today. I saw a clearing in the throngs of people and headed towards it. Giving up hope of finding Crispin I looked back to my book, this topic of harems fascinating me. It was then I heard the cheers and I glanced over my sunglasses and with my heart sinking I reluctantly crossed over the finish line of the Istanbul marathon just as the winner broke through the finish line tape.

Within seconds I had a garland of flowers around my neck, the winner was on my left and his manager on my right: arms around me. I shaded my eyes from the flash bulbs of the paparrazi and tried to apologise. At the tender age of 19 years I, Jilly Sherlock, had won the Istanbul a pair of flipflops..

Many years later on the 14th June 2011 I reached the Bosphorus again after 4596.5km of cycling from the UK. I smiled as I cycled past Dolmabhce Palace, warm memories of 2 months hitchhiking in Turkey filling my head: the delights of the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, the Grand Bazaar and drinking cay with carpet sellers; the hospitality of the people who'd let me travel in their cars, on their tractors and in their trucks and being invited into their homes to feast on kofte, dolma and other Turkish delights; the cool arid climate and surreal landscape of Cappadocia, the stunning coastline of the south and west still relatively unspoilt; clambering on the travertine basins of Pammukale and bathing in hotsprings. Last time I'd arrived by bus overland from northern Greece, having hitchhiked round Israel, a 3 day boat to Athens, sleeping on beaches and people's rooftops, then barwork on a Greek island to fund my travels in Turkey. It was wonderful to return to this vibrant city and even the traffic of Istanbul did not faze me as I cycled over Galata Bridge: to reach this city by pedal power from the UK completed Leg 1 of my journey.. now all I had to do was find the ferryboat to Bostanci where my friend Gulin awaited me

Fun in the rush hour traffic

Turkey - the tea route to Istanbul

I handed my passport to the solitary Turkish border official along with 15€ for my visa.. He looked up at me almost sheepishly "sorry" he said "but it is dinner time so you must wait, they are all still eating".  Oh! Slightly taken aback by the news a border crossing was temporarily closed due to hungry staff and having looked at the beautifully tended gardens,  colourful parasols shading picnic benches, peacocks strutting through the fig trees and a sun setting rather rapidly I  thought there was no harm asking..

"erm, look it's rather late, I have nowhere to stay so would you mind awfully if I pitch my tent right here tonight?"
He looked up at me confused. "Tent, here, late" I reiterated with a few gesticulations thrown in for good measure.
"yes, I see no problem" he replied
Half an hour later my passport sported a 3 month visa, and the content, fed and watered officials agreed I could camp right in front of the customs office yet then someone remembered  that was actually not legal, being a military zone and all that.  Many apologies were given which I accepted gracefully and I pedalled away wondering where on earth I was going to stay that night. A few km later I entered the town of Karaağaç, mosques now replaced the churches I'd seen throughout my journey so far, elegant minarets instead of spires adorned the skyline.  I saw a pleasant looking cafe and cycled into the garden.  I was by now getting quite good at the "tent. here. late" gestures. Noone spoke english and I wasn't quite sure if they'd agreed or not but decided to order a beer to celebrate 1/ my arrival in Turkey 2/ a potential pitch for the night. An hour later the waiter brought over a girl of around 17years old, she smiled shyly and beckoned me to join her. It was now 1030 at night and we crossed the street and entered the back yard of a one storey house where I met the Turkish equivalent of the Royle Family.

I pitched my tent in the dark  under their washing line then sat with the family ouside on the concrete managing to talk to them for 2 hours both parties communicating through gestures and the odd german word with more members of the family arriving and departing. The mother raised her hands in a mixture of shock and horror at the sight of my holey jumper and sent her daughter into the house who returned with 2 of her own tops for me to wear.  I was exhausted having travelled in 3 countries that day (Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey) yet I thought it rude to leave my hosts who had so kindly welcomed me into their home and seemed content to sit outside the whole night. At half past midnight I could hold out no longer and made my excuses to retreat to my tent. It was then I realised that they had out of politeness stayed up with me and their sense of relief as they rushed indoors to their beds was really rather amusing.

The mother. Such a character who certainly ruled the roost

L-R: The mother, the grandson, the son, Mr Royle
 The next morning the house was quiet, even the baby who'd screamed for 6 hours was silent. I put on the  winged and embroidered collared shirt I'd been given, packed up my tent, loaded my bike and went to their door and stood there listening yet could only hear muffled snores mingled with the purring of a manky cat that was seeking attention at my feet. I wrote on a postcard I'd been given of some medieval restaurant in Austria  and expressed my gratitude, left them my email address and wrote in large letters GOOGLE TRANSLATE.

As I left the town of Karaağaç I contemplated their kindness. This family had opened their doors to me and had not even questioned it. I arrived in Edirne still thoughtful and stopped at traffic lights to consult my map. Two cheerful old men in hats sat on a bench drinking çay, the Turkish tea served in delicate glasses on a patterned saucer with 2 sugar lumps and a doll's house sized teaspoon. Merhaba! they said in unison, followed by "çay?" I paused - my last drink had been the can of Efes lager I'd shared with Mrs Royle until the cat had rubbed its face on it - why not, so I dragged my bike over and perched on the edge of the bench with these chirpy men who called over the teaboy doing his rounds of the streets and the three of us sat contentedly in a row watching the traffic stop and start while sipping the hot sweet tea. I offered to pay and they dismissed it with a "bon voyage" and directions to the centre of Edirne. I stopped at a cafe, ordered a Turkish coffee and asked the waiter if I could recharge my phone.
I learnt that tomorrow was election day and it was clear which party this town was supporting

 A sudden downpour and 2 people kindly moved my bike under a parasol. A sugar beet expert (thanks Gulin for translating his business card :) who was passionate about touring bikes joined me and gave me details of a bike shop in Istanbul. With the waiter translating an old gentleman expressed concern re me journeying alone and told me of his rich english girlfriend who had an apartment on the banks of the River Thames. To prove this he showed me her telephone number scribbled down in his dog-eared notebook. Fully recharged- both me and phone battery- I left this beautiful university town and began a rollercoaster ride through the farmlands of western Turkey. In the town of Kirkareli I stopped for more çay and spent an enjoyable hour with a group of 4 young people. As I was saying my farewells and thanking them for the icy cold water they'd found for my water bottles, the girl rushed over with a yellow flower which she attached to my panniers.

 At the 90km mark I pitched on the edge of a field of wheat, hedgehogs grunted past and giant grasshoppers trapped between my inner and outer tent made me hungry for popcorn as I watched the sun set.

The next day soon became a çay-fest and I met Metin and his wife who had a business planting and growing vines in the village of Poyrali. Conversation was mostly in French and it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

We spoke about UK tractors (pleased to see he owned one!), elections, survival of the fittest and how I must reproduce as I evidently have good genes! (thanks Metin!)

I could have stayed there and helped them plant vines (I did get a job offer) yet Istanbul was beckoning and I left them and cycled to the town of Vize where I stopped for a drink and was subequently bought 4 çays by 4 different people. On a deserted road I noticed a derelict cafe so decided to stop to eat the loaf of bread I'd bought as had been struggling to find somewhere to sit. No sooner had I lathered the loaf with cream cheese and jam did 4 colossal dogs appear and began walking towards me. Unnerving to say the least yet I calmly stuffed loaf in pannier, licked my knife, jumped on my bike and pedalled the hell out of there! Camp that night was in my usual long grass just off the side of the road.

It is possible to bathe in a saucepan, did you know that? anyway, a lovely restful soak was had, cycling underwear washed and hung on the back of my panniers to dry.(Note. 3 hours later no cycling underwear on back of panniers..*) I'd made the schoolgirl error again of eating all my food by 4pm the previous day and left my camp with no water nor food. 30km later I'd reached the town of Subasi where I refuelled. I was following the D020 which would take me into Istanbul in a less traumatic manner than the thundering and dangerous D100. The climbs were long yet a downhill cheered me up until the road totally disappeared! So confused, all that was there to greet me was a mound of rubble and 2 wild dogs. In the distance I could see what looked like a road with pick-up trucks lined up so I headed off road, did the sign of a cross as I crossed 2 lanes of oncoming traffic and then joined the pick-up trucks. To this day I have no idea if this was a legitimate road to be on. I have never seen so many of these trucks, and as they were all stuck in a massive pickup traffic jam I just cycled past them. 5km later and still the sound of the horns were ringing in my ears and the waves and cheers from a 1000 truck drivers imprinted on my mind.

A few hours later I faced a dilemma.. well not a dilemma, more panic as had not found a place to pitch my tent despite cycling through the hilly Belgrad Forest. I reached a busy road and saw what looked like holiday homes so asked the men on the gate if I could camp there. The answer was no but a girl who spoke English was beckoned, a manager was called, a phonecall made, a motorbike escort given and before I knew it I was in a picnic spot in the forest, the 'gamekeeper' reluctantly opening the gate to me, telling me the forest was dangerous. "Oh, why?" I asked having seen a wild boar peep out the bushes at me as I'd cycling through this hilly forest. "Dogs.. people too.. dangerous" he replied sinisterly. His dog was huge so I quickly made friends with it and left him to call for his other mammoth dog so it wouldn't have me for a midnight feast while I hurriedly erected my tent. He never did find his dog that night yet I slept well and was relieved to see, as I was leaving the next morning, both his dogs safely locked away in gladiator style cages.

Above and below: my night-time helpers finding me a place to pitch my tent
*Things I've lost from the back of my panniers to date
1 floppy hat
1 baseball cap
1 pair cycling gloves
3 toilet rolls (reclaimed one)
1.5 loaves of bread
250g feta cheese
1 7ft bicycle lock
1 pair of cycling pants