Going Cold Turkey

The prayer call from the nearest mosque woke us at sunrise and we were soon back on the boring big road that goes straight to Istanbul. But we found a wickid little detour down to the south coast. It went up and down over grassy hills along a river like a rollercoaster and I had a huge grin on my face. In Greece the roads slowly wind up the hills and down the other side, but the Turkish ones just go straight over, making for some steep hills and exhilarating descents 🙂

Along the coast the road often popped right down to the water, connecting small prettily run-down looking villages. Horse-drawn carts were not uncommon and we saw many of those super slow two-wheel tractors. We even had one of those yellow minibuses drift sideways round the corner before charging straight at us on the narrow road.(It seems the buses here are mostly of the minibus kind and they can cope with the bumpy little roads quite well.)

Then the road went past the rocky facade of the hills with a dwindling stony beach and a fishing station on the other side. It was a sunny day, but the grey mist from the sea gave the coastline an eerie feel.

Swinging up into the mountainside, we soon found a really fun and twisty steep road through sunny little fields and vineyards, past another little village. I almost went over the edge staring at the view instead of concentrating on the road. Whoops, must stop doing that!

After dropping down into Tekirdag and replenishing our supplies at a supermarket (no booze though, it being a muslim country), it was back onto the boring main road. In the evening we were zigzagging through the countryside to find a hidden little spot to camp. The landscape is all grassy hills with no grove of trees or anything to hide in. Add to that the confusion when we discovered that what we’d call a dirt track kept turning out to be a busy main road to some village! The villages seem really poor here. Everyone works late, men and women dressed in dusty farm clothes, kneeling in the fields or driving small tractors. Old men sit in the ramshackle local cafe, drinking Çay or Turkish coffee. They all looked us with eyes almost popping out of their heads… we were definitely on the road less travelled here. We did eventually find a rocky hill with a nice little grassy bit among some bushes up a dirt track to put our tent and chef up the chicken we had invested in, washed down with the last of our duty free Mastiha – YUM! This one surely wasn’t a highway as it just led into the grass over the hill.

But sure enough, a couple of cars bumped past the next morning, as we were having breakfast. They didn’t seem to mind our presence though. For some unknown reason I was feeling really mousy and not ready to face the world at all today. And of course this was the day we were going to ride into Istanbul. Riding into a big unknown city is always a challenge. But this one is mental! Stop and Give-Way signs and sometimes red lights are completely ignored. Everyone is bumper to bumper, squeezing into every millimetre gap. They push and wrangle their way in and its up to you to keep moving out of their way and to find a new space for yourself. All fine in a car where at worst you get a dent, but on a bike…! The North Circular at rush hour is a big deserted highway by comparison!

Not surprising then, that we didn’t see many other motorbikes, and not until we reached the smaller roads of the city centre near the Grand Bazaar. By the time we got there three hours after first reaching Istanbul, we were completely exhausted and we really didn’t enjoy having to wriggle through the crowds to find the post office, where some Poste Restante would be waiting for us. But we did find free internet and so a plan was hatched for the next day.

Then we rode along the pavement to avoid a closed road that our navi didn’t know about and braved the traffic once more. We managed to escape the city northwards in about an hour, but it was fast getting dark and there were only highways and quarries. In the end we slipped through an open gate, past a lot of dogs and over the hill, where we pitched the tent. Far from idyllic and with noisy roads all around. But at least no yiff-yaffs and we just collapsed into the tent anyways. No well deserved beer tonight, as there was none in the shops 😦

Just as we finished our coffee and got busy packing up, five little puppies turned up, trying to steal anything they could get their teeth on. They had us fly across the camping spot, trying to rescue our belongings and chasing after them across the field. We fed them some of the sausage we had left in the panniers so they left our things alone for a few seconds and we could pack up. They were so cute! I really wanted to take them with, but Aidan wouldn’t let me.

We took a big quiet, 30mph-limit road back towards Istanbul and came across lots of learner drivers slaloming around some cones. I found out later, that they have half a year’s worth of theory classes but the theory test consists of driving u the road, turning at th cones and coming back! Soon they’d be let loose in the city madness! We just rode as far as the furthest-out Metro station, where we parked up on the pavement to take the train into the centre. A much more relaxing way to explore the city.

Sat in a little square having kebabs, a small demonstration went past. The men at the front were chanting and the women at the back repeated the chant a couple of times. We were told the protest was about Syria, but I haven’t been able to find out what exactly.

The protest came to a halt in the square outside the big mosque where men were washing their feet at some taps along the wall.

Despite the info you find online, the main post office is closed at the weekend. So we explored the Grand Bazaar and surrounding street market overflowing with Turkish delight, spices, copperware, colourful headscarves, nuts and sweets.

The shops were selling wedding and henna night dresses, jeans, pyjamas, shoes and football shirts as well as patches and buttons for police and other official clothing and labels such as Lacoste by the reel (so you can sew them on any old jumper…).

There was a flea market where Aidan bagged some work-jeans, near the free Wifi hotspot we’d found before.

Sat outside another mosque, emailing our Workaway hosts, a little girl and her mum came up to us asking for help with the girl’s homework assignment. She was eleven, and was supposed to ask a tourist a bunch of questions for her English class. The girl sat down in the grass next to me, asking where I was from, what we had visited in Istanbul, what our favourite food was…. The mother was supposed to film it on her mobile phone, but couldn’t get it to work. So in the end, Aidan filmed it all.

That night we wanted to camp in the forest just nort of Istanbul. Thinking we had a plan, we left quite late to fetch our bikes from the metro station. Reaching the forest at dusk, we found it full of busy picnic spots. The quieter areas had ramshackle huts and caravans strewn around, where the gypsy communities live. We’d seen some of them begging in the streets of Istanbul and one of thei kids had taken to prodding me with a stick demanding “Lira! Lira!” He hadn’t bee very happy when I snapped his stick in two. We’d been wondering where they all lived.

Since the forest was already taken, we had to find a spot elsewhere, and it was getting really dark now. We rode and rode, but every small road we turned down was taken by gypsies or ended at a quarry. One road up a hill had a deep ravine across, so we had to turn around. We rode past more quarries and through a village of quarry workers. Desparate now, we just rode into a group of trees on the edge of the village and pitched the tent.

When the local mosque sounded the evening call of prayer, a bunch of cows walked past all by themselves, heading home to be milked. They didn’t need to be herded. It started to rain, so we curled up inside the tent and munched the last of the yummie turkish delight we’d bought. No vino to cheer us up tonight either though, as we’d still not found any 😦

The next morning we woke up surrounded by cows leaving their poo all around the bikes and a shepherd shouting at them, trying to stop them trampling across the tent. We considered popping out to say hello, but then decided against it. It had rained all night and so we were slipping and sliding out of the forest back onto the road, Aidan getting stuck half way up the hill for a few minutes.

Back on the tarmac it was bucketing it down and the road was covered in giant puddles of indeterminable depth. Today the post office was going to be open, so we were heading into Istanbul again. But it kept on raining and raining until the chargers for the tablet drowned, and Aidan’s one got so wet, the Navi went mad and sent us all over the place. Water was gushing down the hills (Istanbul is very hilly) and the Navi sent us up one of those super steep red-brick streets with a gradient of at least 30%, water gushing down towards us. Uphill you gun it till you reach the top, praying there isn’t a car coming from the side, as you can’t stop without skidding backwards the way you’ve come; downhill you apply the brakes till they run hot and you haven’t a chance in hell to stop. Either way you basically close your eyes and pray!

Luckily we both made it and parked up, soaked to the bone, to have a breather and a ciggy. A couple of guys came out of the house where we parked and had a ciggy too. Luckily they knew a way to the close-by Metro station, that didn’t involve the dreaded downhill skid. We got there in no time and changed into slightly less wet clothes to take the train into town. My waterproofs weren’t so waterproof after all and so now my jeans looked like I’d peed my pants. On the train Aidan put the wet umbrella on his lap, so when we got off, he also looked like he’d peed his pants 🙂

This time the post office was open. Its an amazing building. Really old with high stained glass ceiling and wooden doors and counters. After asking a few confused people, we found the Poste Restante counter and my parcel had arrived 🙂

Afterwards we found a posh coffee place that sold english style tea and coffee and was decorated all french with french music playing. So we ordered a Turkish coffee and used their free Wifi to figure out what next. We had planned to drive around the Sea of Marmera to Yalova. But given the pissy weather we decided to just take a ferry from Yenikapi in southern Istanbul to hole up on that little farm called Forest Gardens where we would have a roof over our heads and food and a hot shower, in exchange for helping them with all their projects.

That night we found a grassy field on the edge of a town to pitch our tent in. We parked the bikes either side and put a tarp over the tent, leaving a nice little rain-free space to cook and munch dinner in. And we’d even found a supermarket in town, that sold beer 🙂 Dinner was spaghetti with olives and stringy cheese (a mozzarella-like cheese that they just tear off in strings). All washed down with a beer. Yum!

Housewifing ;)

Stringy Cheese Turkish style

The next day it finally stopped raining and we made our own yummie turkish coffee with our new pot 🙂 By the time we were in Istanbul the sun was out and not a cloud in the sky. My bike had developed a slow puncture a couple of days ago, but we made it to the ferry without incident. The ferry took about an hour and a bit. Once again our bikes weren’t strapped down, so I kept running to the window from where I could see them after every wave, but they stayed upright ok.

In Yalova Aidan took us up a one way street the wrong way, till he got told off by a guy hanging out of the window of his little red car. Whoops! In the town centre we found internet and received the email describing the way to the little farm in Kurtkoy, where we would be staying. It went something like: Follow the brown signs towrds Termal, turn left between the bakery and the cornershop, past the school, at the fork take the right road up the hill…. We are no. 78 down the mud path, but the numbering won’t help you find it, as the houses in the village were numbered in accordance with when they were built, so next door is no. six”

The description was very accurate though, and we found the place straight away. Alan, the host, opened the gate and we were welcomed and shown to an awesome little room with ensuite shower. Luxury! Forest Gardens is an awesome little place. They have just planted a fruit orchard on the hill, there are polytunnels, veg garden, tool sheds and a chicken house. There are lots of chickens, three big dogs (Troy, an old, fat stray dog, Jasper who is half blind due to once gettig a thorn in one eye, and his brother Bruno, who limps on one hind leg due to a car accident), and two tabby cats Mica and Sillyca (short for Silly Cat).

A huge house with openplan living room and office upstairs, with a couple of rooms coming off it. Then there is a huge sort of hallway downstairs with cupboards full of tools and work shoes, two chest freezers and a chick cage lining the walls and a giant oval table in the middle. Next to that is a huge, well stocked kitchen with another table, a wood-fired oven and just about any kitchen tool you could imagine. Awesome! And then there is another little hallway with another room for volunteers, shower and toilet and laundry room.

Everything is sort of thrown together and really cosy (there isn’t a single big expensive carpet in the living room; instead the floor is covered in a patchwork of lots of second hand different small carppets), the furniture has come together from three different previous households and some parts of the house and gardens are definitely a work in progress. In other words its a really awesomely homely place. Alan and Chevrel have built this place up over many years and with the help of lots of volunteers. It used to be a fish restaurant with a river runing through the downstairs part.wpid-img_20140508_191513

There were already two other volunteers: Jack, a 19 year old australian kid and Hennessy, a guy from Hong Kong that had been traveling for a long time now. Hennessy cooked us all a yummie dinner including roast of boar. The muslim locals can’t eat pigs, so when they shoot a boar (a pest in these woods) they call Alan to come fetch it. So the freezers are full of yummie boar and we’re eating like kings. We will have a good time here 🙂

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