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

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