Saturday, 2 July 2011

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

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. I lost my 'lucky mascot hand knitted glove puppet sheep' from my back rack. Don't ask.