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Turkey Wrap

Turkey is made for cycle touring: amazing roads, friendly people, great food, beautiful scenery, great camping and some interesting sites to go and visit.  It has been our favourite country to date and one we will definitely come back to, even if to do just two months in Turkey exclusively.  It’s very easy to cycle through and feels extremely safe (apart from the occasional tank that passes you on the road in the east), more so than parts of Eastern Europe.

Mount Ararat from the road

View of Mount Ararat from the road

Length of stay:

1748km (daily av 92km average, 38 days (19 cycling, 19 rest), 7th September – 15th October 2011

Route:

Malko Tarnavo (entry point) → Kirklareli → Pinarhisar → Kemerburgaz → Istanbul → ferry to Yalova → Iznik → Osmaneli → train to Ankara → Goreme → Kayseri → Sivas → Erzinçan → Erzurum → Agri → Dogubeyazit → Gurbulak (exit point)

Highlights:

Petrol stations are your friends.  If you find the big ones, petrol stations are oasis’s of friendly staff and supplies.  You can quite often camp in their garden, (and they do often have really nice little gardens for picnics out back) if you ask.  They usually have a lokanta or at least will give you çay.  Their toilets are usually pretty clean.  If we cycle tour through Turkey again, we will most definitely be camping here.

Petrol station campsite

Plenty of gardens to camp in at petrol stations

Roads are good.  The roads are perfect for cycle touring with their wide shoulders.  Most big roads have a 1-3m shoulder for farm vehicles…and cycle tourists of course.  When we did come across road works, we would often cycle down the side they were working on until we had to get off in order to keep out of the traffic.

Horse carting a washing machine

You find all manner of traffic on the roads

Istanbul is great. It’s an amazing city to visit and surprisingly not that bad to cycle into if you pick your route.  We don’t advise cycling around it though.  And to leave, you can catch a ferry to somewhere.  It’s bloody expensive though!

Friendly people.  Luckily Turkey is big and vast with not a lot of traffic, because if it wasn’t you would be sick of waving to everyone on the road.  There’s the truck drivers who must be the most friendly in Europe; there are the petrol station people who would nearly always offer çay, we only came across one lot of miserable petrol station attendants; there’s the farmers and stall holders on the side of the road who occasionally give you stuff and there are the road workers who are wondering what the hell you’re doing out there.  So yeah, most Turkish people are friendly and have a very good sense of humour, we met some great characters.

Kat & a Turkish man

Kat with a local man in Capadoccia

Capadoccia is beautiful.  Beautiful scenery and the camping here is very good.  We stayed at Kaya Camping with great views over the valley.  We didn’t rate any of the attractions we had to pay for, just enjoying the scenery, going for walks and talking to people were the highlight for us.

View from campsite in Capadoccia

Beautiful views over Capadoccia from campsite

Cheap government hotels called Ogretman Eva. These are a find in small towns, particularly in the east.  They are to house government workers like teachers, policemen and nurses, but if they have spare rooms, they will let the public stay there for very cheap rates.  It’s often more friendly and nicer than the dodgy place down the road that caters for road workers.

Hamams are great for relaxing. Get clean, have a steam and a massage all for a reasonable price, (about 15/20 TL outside of tourist areas). Brilliant treat or ‘recovery method’ after a hard day in the saddle.

Lowlights:

The pollution is bad.  How can a people that take so much care with personal hygiene give so little care to the environment when it comes to littering.  One of the most horrific sites we saw in Turkey was a town in the east where the rubbish dump was in the river, we even saw a garbage truck driving in.  So for 1km downstream, there was rubbish everywhere.  The cities also have very bad air pollution; Ankara was a particular highlight in the air pollution rankings.

The dogs in the East.  It’s actually not as bad as people make out; we only had two dog encounters where we thought they were serious, and they were in the same day.  The first ones we tried to out cycle up a hill which we sort of did, although Phil intentionally slowed down to mace them, (that sure stopped the buggers). Most of other ones we came across we just stopped and growled them down, they backed off as soon as we stopped, (dogs are pussies, as soon as they see your big, angry and ready for a fight they want none of it).  Other than that we found it wasn’t wild dogs that were the problem or the sheep dogs, but the dogs that were guarding property.

Vicious Turkish dogs

Beware the vicious dogs in Turkey

The kids in the East are little shits.  Again not as bad as we thought it was going to be from other people stories, (one guy we met had a knife thrown at his wheel!).  If we saw kids on the road, we would just cycle through and bombard them with greetings and waves so they would have to second guess their attack. The worst of the little bastards were on the edge of Agri and Dogubayzit. One of my favourite visions of our trip was Phil chasing down a little fat kid who threw a water bottle at me, he scared the shit out of him! The ones in town were usually the school kids who just want to practice their very good English with you… no problem there.

The destruction of their environment through road building.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having a 2 metre shoulder to cycle on through Turkey, but they are building over specified roads at a ridiculous rate all across the country.  There are places where you think, why are they building a dual carriageway there?  There’s 200 people in the village and no-one would go there!  Then there are some beautiful valleys that have been destroyed by their “we don’t give a shit about the environment” methods of road building.

Turkish road through valley

In some valleys the road has ruined the view and the environment

Hotel quality is variable.  There is no real rating system to Turkey’s hotels, sometimes they’re great and cheap and other times crap and expensive.  It was always a relief to visit hotels where they had the prices posted so you knew you weren’t getting ripped off.

Tummy troubles.  Expect it to happen at some stage through the trip, we had two occurrences through the 5 weeks we were there.  Luckily in Erzurum, our other cycle touring friends, Annie and Ian, were couch surfing with a Doctor, so he paid a visit to check Phil over.

Roads:

As said above, stick to the main roads (not highways), they’re amazing.

For details on entering and exiting Istanbul, refer to our blog post.

As far as cycle lanes go, they don’t exist mostly.  When you get east of Capadoccia, you will see more bicycles in towns, some of them such as Kayseri, even had a cycle lane, but as with most clear space along the gutter in Turkish cities, people go and park there.

Food & Drink:

We became çay addicts in Turkey, it’s really strong and you have to have it with sugar.  We had a real come down entering Iran where the tea is much weaker!

Turkish breakfast is one of our favourites, particularly if they had a full buffet.  It would usually have tomato, cucumber, white cheese, olives, boiled eggs, bread, jam, honey and of course çay. Yum.

For lunch we would usually stop at a lokanta and order the lentil soup (çorba) with bread.  We found the meat dishes at the lokanta’s too heavy for cycling, but the soup was just perfect.

At dinner, we usually went to a local lokanta and would get one of their meat and vegetable dishes from the bayer marie served with bread and salad.  Adding an ayran, (yoghurt drink) to this was nice.

Another of our favourite dishes was the çag kebab in Erzurum.  If you go to the right place, it was very tasty.  Mama’s vegetarian buffet in Istanbul was amazing and worth a visit.

Phil at a Spice Market

Phil shopping for spices for the camp kitchen

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