Cappadocia is a fantastic place for some rest and relaxation and catching up with a loved one. After more than two weeks of sleeping in tents and on sofas I figured a bit of luxury was in order. So spotting a bit of a bargain online booked into a very nice hotel and enjoyed one of the best night’s sleep and lie in in one of the biggest and most comfortable beds I’ve ever experienced Next came the delights of the buffet breakfast they probably regretted letting a hungry cyclist loose on it. I definitely did it justice put it that way. Then after some more rest in that oh so comfortable bed we rolled on down the hill to meet our Couchsurfing host.
Who was absolutely awesome. We had a room to ourselves in his brand new house which he seems to fill with Couchsurfers. A German couple who were hitchhiking round the world arrived a few hours after us. He told is about the sightseeing options, invited his friend over to look after us and then headed out to his night shift job in a hotel. He used to work for an initiative to educate people about water management and was really enthusiastic about our project.
The sights were great too. Although I’d been there before it was still wonderful to explore the cave church complex and the spectacular rock formations. Then next day we hit the road. And they were lovely roads too. A series of small back roads as we cut across to the salt Lake recommended by our host. The route was delightful. Very quiet roads, gently rolling following a river valley. Next day we started to climb through cornfields and past tiny village perched on the valley sides. We camped on the side of a lake just at the start of a more serious climb and then took most of the next morning to reach the top. And then came the glorious descent more than 20 km and only having to turn the peddles a couple of times. We sped through the town making the mistake of failing to find a shop to stock up on supplies. We figured we could stock up on the road But it seems Turkish service stations aren’t like those in the other countries we had passed through where you always find somewhere selling some basic fruit and veg, tinned meals, rice and noodles. In Turkey, or at least all the ones on that stretch of road, they only sold drinks and snacks. Fine in between meals but not much use of your trying to cook something substantial. I managed to scrape together something for the next couple of days but it was pretty basic food and must have put Kim off my cooking even more.
Later that morning we reached Tuz Golu. Once the second largest salt Lake in Europe and the largest lake in Turkey now there was no water to be seen. The dazzling whiteness of salt pan stretched as far as the eye could see. It reminded me of Lake Eyre in Australia except where that is a natural phenomenon this one was entirely created by humans. The rivers flowing into the lake have been dammed and so much ground water extracted that the water table has been lowered so much that the springs no longer flow into the lake. Of course it’s not just this lake that has been affected. 60% of turkey’s wetlands have been lost which has had a devastating effect on many species especially birds. Later we came across a lake with a huge flock of flamingos huddled together in a small patch of water in what had once been a huge lake. We walked out onto the crisp white crust, past the crowds taking selfies until there was nothing in front of us save the expanse of flat white. It was beautiful but also profoundly depressing to contemplate what had been there only a few years ago.
That night we camped at a water spring just next to a graveyard. Kim slept soundly. A clear sign that she is getting over both her fear of camping and Vietnamese superstitions. And then it was on to Ankara and the wonderful folk from 350 Ankara Onder and Tulin . They hosted us in their gorgeous rooftop apartment. We dined on their terrace, drank Turkish coffee and homemade raki and talked into the night. They explained Turkish climate change policies which seem rather similar to those of Vietnam. Expect everyone else to do the hard work and in the meantime build lots of coal fired power stations. Turkey is currently pressing ahead with plans to construct 44 new coal fired plants and is planning to double its coal capacity by 2020. This would make it the country with the third largest investment in fossil fuels. Turkey currently has 15 coal power station which already cause significant environmental and health problems in the local areas. The coal mining industry is also plagued with safety issues. Since they were privatised many mining companies have cut corners leading to the death of more than 3000 miners over the past 50 years. At a time when the whole world is moving away from fossil fuels it’s crazy to be pressing ahead with such a plan especially given the anticipated lifespan of such assets is at least 50 years. Either they will have to be retired early, a fantastic waste of investment or runaway climate change becomes inevitable.
Onder also fixed us up with an interview with the press and we made the front page of Hurriyet Ankara. We even had time to do a spot of sightseeing taking in the castle and the very informative and well laid out museum of Anatolian history. And what a history it has had. The birthplace of great civilisations and conquest of others. It was fascinating wandering around looking at so much old stuff.
We decided to avoid cycling through Istanbul and to take the route south of the Bosphorus. Tulin arranged a host for us with a friend for the first night. And what a host she was. She didn’t speak a word of English but a friend of her son who lived nearby managed to text us the address and I happened to ask one of the few Turkish people who speak English how to find the place. He showed me on Google maps and we were away. We were just looking around for the correct block of flights when a cheery shout alerted us to the fact we were standing outside it. She laid on an amazing spread for us. Kim hadn’t really been a fan of the lamb based Turkish cuisine up to now but this had a lot of vegetables and was absolutely delicious so she wolfed it down. The room was filled with her sons university friends who questioned us about our trip in broken English and some neighbours who had popped into to see the crazy cyclists. She looked after us so well that she even gave up her bed for us which we only discovered when her husband who clearly hadn’t been informed about the change in sleeping arrangements wandered in at around midnight.
They told us about a historical site that was only a few kilometres off our route so we made a detour. Turns out it was the home of King Midas and there was a huge burial tumulus of one of his predecessors. We’d left very late as we hadn’t wanted to disturb our hosts and they didn’t get up until after 10. So by the we’d finished looking round the museum it was lunchtime and we’d only covered 15 km. It was nice to be away from the main highway for a while, but we re-joined all too soon.
About an hour before dark the valley ahead filled with dark ominous looking clouds. Time to find somewhere sheltered to camp. As luck would have it we approached a service station. It was only partially completed, one restaurant was open but the petrol station and another restaurant hadn’t opened. A couple of guys were mowing the grass so we asked if we could camp under the shelter of the covered entrance of the second restaurant. They said yes. And very relieved set up our tent as the storm rolled closer.
But it never came it swept away to the East before it reached us. Next morning we saw evidence of its passing, pools of water in the fields and piles of mud and stones where torrents of water had cascaded down the hillsides. I’m certainly glad we stopped when we did.
That evening we rolled into Eskisehir which I think was the nicest city we visited in Turkey. Although our route in gave no indication of the delights to come. Chimneys were belching smoke from a steel works and factories and warehouses stretched for miles. But once inside it was really nice. A river with rowing boasts plying up and down, lots of greenery, an old town, a tram system. There was even the odd cycle lane. Our host was awesome yet again. He was a student, and it seemed one of the few people not returning home for the Islamic festival of that week. I had struggled to find a host, having to send dozens of requests and finally he responded. He explained that he wasn’t a Muslim so didn’t feel the need to join the festival. Lucky for us. He welcomed is into his cosy little home, cooked is dinner and we shared some great chats over a beer. In the morning we explored some of the old town. It was a little Disney land like having been extensively rebuilt, but was still attractive and then headed out of town.
The landscape was gently rolling and pretty, we’d climb for a while, but nothing too steep and then glide down into the valleys. We continued on for another couple of days until the final steep climb before the town of Bursa. The ride into and out of town was for me the worst section of the whole trip. The nice wide shoulder we’d been using disappeared and the lanes narrowed so it really wasn’t wide enough to take a bike and a car. I moved out to try and take the whole lane, but still drivers were zooming past really close. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, ready to take evasive action whenever someone got too close. And it was long too, nearly 20 km to get to the centre and the same on the way out. Luckily we a great time in Bursa, partially because as the old capital of the Ottoman Empire there was plenty to see, but mainly because of our host. Because of the almost week long holiday we’d struggled to find somewhere to stay, but she’d seen our open request and invited us to her place. We were her first surfers and she spoiled us rotten for the 2 nights we stayed there. Dinner was waiting for us when we arrived, then the following day we took a rest from the bikes and she took us sightseeing around some very beautiful and very old mosques and burial sites of the sultans. In the evening we had dinner with her parents and all the while she tried to track down some alcohol for our stove which proved an impossible task. I’d found it in the first shop I went into in Cappadocia, so assumed that it was easy to obtain just like in Iran. But then was never able to find it again. Most supermarkets just had the gel, which produced a very feeble flame and struggled to even heat things never mind cook them. So our last few meals in Turkey were rather meagre affairs.
As we headed towards Çanakkale we got a soaking for the first time since we’d left Kyrgyzstan. On the first day it started to pour just as we reached the small town of Karacabey Kim suggested we get a hotel, which as it rained for most of the night turned out to be a good idea. Next day it was dry in the morning, then as we were eating lunch it started to rain. The road was punctuated by a series of small hills and we were buffeted by a chill northerly wind. It was not pleasant riding. The rain eased off later in the afternoon and cold and tired we searched for somewhere to camp. Following some directions from a petrol station we took a small track down to the sea and came across a ghost town. A whole village of empty house, many were half completed, just frames of brick and concrete, with open sides gaping open to the elements. Others were finished but boarded up, a few looked like they were inhabited, there were flowers in the gardens and solar water heaters on the roof, but nobody was around. Thinking it might rain and to escape the fierce wind we pitched our tent in one of the more unfinished places. The wind howled through the open windows, but we were snug inside our little tent.
The morning dawned brighter, but the wind was still fierce. Kim had been suffering the past couple of days and we still had more than 100 km to cover so she elected to hitch hike. I suggested we should take a shortcut along the coast as it avoided going back on ourselves. Big mistake. The recent rain had turned the track into thick cloying mud which within seconds had clogged up the mudguards and was preventing the wheels turning. We spent the next hour trying to get them clear. Kim didn’t look happy so I left her to go back the way we had come whilst I soldiered on along the coast. Luckily her mood had improved by the time we saw each other again.
it was easy to understand why this is the wind power capital of Turkey as the wind buffeted my bike . It was great to see even more on their way to be installed, great sections of them on the back of huge trucks. Turkey has fantastic resources of both wind and solar energy and could easily meet all its energy requirements using renewable energy. So it’s even more depressing to see it powering ahead with yet more coal.
Finally as I followed the coast round and started heading south the wind was at my back and I fairly bowled along the road to Çanakkale.
Those self-same prevailing northerly winds were also responsible for creating the city of Troy to be built 30 km to the south. In those days ships could only sail with the wind at their backs. They waited in the harbour for the winds to change so they could enter the Dardanelles strait.
And so to Troy we went on our day off. We asked the very unfriendly and unwelcoming guy at our hotel where to get the bus to troy. He said we had to go to the bus station and gave us directions on how to get there. When we enquired there they said there were no buses but they could arrange a car for us for $50. Thanks but no thanks. So it was out with the phone and time to ask Google. We had to take a dolmus which left from the local bus station. So it was back on the bus and back into town cursing the guy at the hotel as we went. How could you work at a hotel and not know how to get to the premier tourist attraction in the area. We followed the directions to the bus station by the bridge. Luckily the minibus was departing in a few minutes and we finally reached our destination around lunchtime.
Understandably for something that’s several thousand years old only ruins remain. In fact the site lay forgotten under a mound of earth and was only rediscovered around 150 years ago. We wandered among the ancient walls and fortifications and I reflected on the great city that had been there more than 4,000 years ago. The sights and sounds and smells that would have been present in the great trading port. The city and fortification were successively rebuilt and are visible in various layers. We finished our visit by climbing the wooden horse, built to pay homage to the legend of the Trojan horse as immortalised by Homer.
Then it was on to Europe. We rose early to catch the 7 o clock ferry. It was dark as we made our way through the quiet streets and rode on board the ferry that was waiting at the docks. Bicycles are free so we only paid 6 lira for the crossing. We took shelter from the bitter wind and ate our breakfast of bread and jam whilst waiting for the vessel to depart. The crossing took less than thirty minutes and then we were rolling off into European soil. I had cycled more than 12000 km over 8 months for this and arriving by boat was a nice way to do it. Rather than some arbitrary line drawn on a map this was an actual geographical mark of change. Although I have to say it didn’t look any different. The transition from Asia to Europe is much more gradual and had been occurring for the last few thousand kilometres. The Russian influence in central Asia playing a big part.
A friendly local showed us a short cut along the coast and then we exited the town. The first section of road was lovely. The quiet two lane road winding along the coast, through forest and sheltered from the wind. But there were signs that was about to change. A few kilometres later great scars appeared as the landscape was ripped apart for a dual carriageway to be built. Such a shame that so much destruction was occurring just to shave a couple of minutes off the journey time. Are those minutes really so important. And in any case all for a technology whose days are numbered. Or at least need to be numbered if Turkey is to have a chance of surviving climate change.
We continued up the coast to Gallipoli a name which is probably unfamiliar to you. Unless that is you have spent any time in New Zealand or especially Australia where the name has achieved mythical status in the popular consciousness as the place where the country was born as a Nation . Which is rather strange considering what they were doing there. Invading another country for someone else’s empire. Although on second thoughts perhaps that is appropriate because that’s what they spent the next 100 years doing. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq… Each January thousands of Aussies and kiwis drape themselves in their flags and descend on the beach to commemorate their glorious and noble heroes fighting for their freedom. And probably never pause to consider that whilst the actions of individuals may have been heroic their cause was anything but noble and certainly nothing to do with freedom. Ironically that freedom they were supposedly fighting for is not very evident when anyone dares to question the official narrative. As witnessed by the journalist who was sacked for tweeting the truth. It always amazes me how accommodating the Turkish are to this horde who come every year to celebrate the failed invasion of their country. I often wonder if the shoe was on the other foot and a bunch of young drunk Japanese turned up in Darwin to commemorate the bombing of that city during world war 2 just how they would be treated. I’m certain the welcome would be a good deal less warm than the Australians receive in Turkey.
That night we camped at the base of the last climb before the border. We would cross into Greece the next day.