Ah Turkey! The end of Europe, and the beginning of gigantic Asia!
On the 22ndwe are happily leaving Mamarchevo on the icy bulgarian roads, in order to reach the turkish border. It must be -15°C and chilling north wind is not helping us. At the border, eyebrows are raising. It's either because of our natural charisma, or people just think we are crazy. I chose the second option when the customs officer took a picture of us with his cellphone. Here we are in Turkey, and the wind is blowing twice as hard. We try to ride the first meters but the wind kicks Stef off the road, and she finds herself her ass in the deep snow and her bike over her. There is no way we can go further, so we push the bikes for 100 meters to the hotel by the road. The thief is asking 80 TL (40€) for the room, and according to him it's a special price for us! Anyway, we don't have that kind of money so we decide to hitchhike (yes with two bicycles). After all, there is only one road and a lot of trucks, so the chance to get a lift can be high.
I go stand by the side of the road, next to the truck driver who is repairing the tarp of his truck that got blown off by the wind. I raise my thumb in my ski glove and after 5 minutes that feel like 40, a van stops. The two peanuts delivery guys are going to Edirne if I understood correctly. Ten minutes later, I realize I was wrong and they drop us in the middle of nowhere. While we unload the bikes, I start wondering how we will be able to pitch the tent in this stormy weather. But Stef saw this truck coming. She raises her thumb, the truck stops. The driver's name is Ilkay, and after 10 minutes, he invites us to stay at his home in Edirne. Their hospitality is great. We eat, we drink beer, we learn how to play 'okey', and all the sisters and the grandmother invite us for dinner. We stay there 3 days. When we decide to head to Istanbul, Ilkay finds us a truck from his work, going in right direction. We don't really need it but we accept, and the driver drops us near Corlu. It's freezing (-12°C) but the sky is clear and the sun's shining. After a ten minutes ride a van stops beside me and the driver shouts 'ISTANBUL?'. OK! Anyway, to get to Istanbul, we would have to ride 30 kilometers on highways, so it's better this way. He even takes us to the doorstep of our future home for 18 days.
In Istanbul our host is Şevket. He doesn't know it yet, but we'll be around for some time.
The city is gigantic. Quickly we realize what a 15 millions people city is like, and our feelings get mixed. First we feel lost in the constant noise of the city, but in the end we find our landmarks and our small habits. We meet people, a couple of friends come visit from Belgium, and we wait for a nicer weather.
It's difficult to describe 18 days at once, so I will try to share pieces of what stroke us in Istanbul.
The sounds : the call for prayer and the concert of mosques, the seagulls, the cheerings of Fenerbahçe supporters, the voices of Simit sellers, the rain on our jackets, the spoons mixing the tea, the noise of the backgammon (tavla) checkers, the klaxons, Isabelle's laugh, ...
The smells : grilled fish along Galata bridge, the spices market, the car smokes
The tastes : the mercimek soup, çay, moussaka, baklavas, raki, böreks, the chocolate with speculoos bites that Isa and Geraldine brought us, Kathy's mezzes
The pictures : the ceiling of Sultanahmet mosque, the boats on the Bosphorus, the view from Şevket and Kathy's appartment, the snow, umbrellas sellers, Taksim on saturday night, the TV shows all the time and everywhere, the yellow in the Fenerbahçe stadium.
To get out of Istanbul, we decide take a bus and go far. We'll go to Konya in a super comfortable bus. 600 kilometers of highways before we head to Cappadocia!
Leaving Konya, we are about to discover a a new verb : 'to misafir'. Almost every night, we get 'misafired' by turkish people. But what does this mean I hear you say!? The suspense is as intense as in a 120 episodes turkish TV show! In turkish 'Misafir' means guest. But not the way we know it... In Turkey, it's the big show every night, sleepers and big belly after dinner included! In a turkish house, there is usually a room with a convertible couch, in case any cyclo-tourist comes by. In a turkish house, there is also television of course! Essential to life, TV is on from early hours and you can hear it spitting exquisite turkish pop music, until late at night when all the family is watching tens of turkish TV shows, the now famous 'dizi filim'.
Our good old Santa Barbara and Dallas cannot even rivalize with them. To give you a better idea, here is what you need to make a good 'dizi filim' :
First you need to have a friend who works at Ikea to be able to shoot in the bedrooms and the kitchens showrooms.
You need actors who can make many different faces
30 minutes dialogues for a 90 minutes episode
some unexpected events : for example, Ebru figures out that she's been dating her own brother who has a uncurable sickness for two years, but she's married to her uncle since 10 years (but she will know this only during the next episode...
tears (a lot!)
actors who can laugh and cry at the same time
someone to hide the cigarettes and glasses of alcohol
a TV that's always working (it needs to be realistic!)
some nice wedding pictures on the walls
moments when the actor is talking to himself in his head
It's not very good we we love them and even ask for more. Now we even know them and we have our favourites.
We have our habits in people's houses : taking of the shoes at the door, sitting on cushions, eating on the floor around a huge round platter full of delicieus things, putting on flip flops to go to the toilets (turkish ones!)... Each time someone asks what time we want to go to bed. If we say 10:00 PM, at 09:59 the father kicks everyone out so we can sleep. We sleep like babies dreaming of the breakfast we'll have the next morning. Aaah breakfast! Each time different, but always heavy!
Turks are very generous but they also are also very open-minded. To see a couple of cyclists enter a small tea room in a tiny village could scare away most of men because it's the first time they see a woman in a bar. But after a few minutes of silence and of staring, there is always the bravest amongst all who comes to our table to talk and ask questions that everybody is burning to ask. Then we can hear our answers echoing in the room : bicycle, Belgium to here, family in France, five months, 5000 kilometers, India! After it's always the same : tour around the village, come eat here, come drink here, stay 5 days, … All evening we try to talk and between to misunderstandings, we have a lot of fun!
On the road, we take almost every opportunity to stop and talk. We drink about a million cups of tea everyday, and the language is slowly penetrating our brains. We can now have small conversations in tukish, thanks to the precious help of our dictionnary. To make it easier, we changed our lives a little bit : Julien is Bicycle mechanic, and Stef is a teacher. It was a good choice for her because everyone seems to think it's a wonderful job!
Turkish people are taking very good care of us also when we are having trouble with the bikes. We unload the sick bicycle, Julien gets his hands dirty, and a minute after we a circled by a dozen of helpers not always helpful ; their universal solution is the BIG HAMMER!
In Ceyhan, big problem for Musclor (Julien's bike). The crankset is dead and Julien is already thinking about having a new one shipped here with the necessary tools.;; But we are in Turkey, and almost everything can get fixed. In the end the problem is solved for 15€. IN Belgium or France, it would have cost us 150€...
Our itinerary from Konya to Antakya took us to wonderful places. First there was this desertic plateau from Konya to Aksaray. Then we were amazed by Cappadocia : underground cities, fairy chimneys, so many colours, the sun, … And going south to Adana, we had the good idea to ride along the Taurus mountains on this wonderful road! Nice downnhills, a few uphills, the snow, sheperds and smiles!
The country is huge, and after each day we look at the map thinking it will never end... In the old city of Antakya, our bike computer shows 5000 kilometers. We are now heading to Syria and we have to say goodbye to Turkey, even though we will be back soon!
5000 kilometers, 5 months, a lot of people taht we met, emotions, pictures, and the will to go further, and to see more, hear more, live more...