Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What would I do?

We did 200 kms of East-Anatolian plateau, alt between 1500 and 2100 meters, and more is to come. Open landscape, empty, bare, no trees, lots of spring flowers, some agriculture, now hot, windy, icy cold in the long winters. The feeling that overcomes me is loneliness. Now and then there is a settlement, a hamlet of houses made of stone with grass covered roofs, dirt, rubbish and dried dung stacks all around, a man on a tractor, some children shouting at us and running towards us, a horse, a cow, a lonely shepherd with a flock of sheep.

I try to imagine how life is for these people and I feel sorry for them. For me such a life seems so boring. The same routine for generations, the same limited number of people around you all the time, the isolation, the ignorance, the absence of new stimuli.

What would I do if I was in such a condition. I think I would try to leave. Where to? Europe of course! Apperently there were people before with the same conclusion. Here I feel empathy with them.

 The exiting life of a cowherd

Friday, June 26, 2015

Having a meal in ramazan time

This day we were tourists in Erzurum. Shops are open, but tea houses, restaurants or anything like that are closed. We visited the sights and were so lucky to discover that in a new shopping mall they do not practise ramazan. Lucky us, we treat ourselves to some really good coffee and a sandwich in a real Lavazza-bar.

We had spotted a good restaurant close to our hotel. Yesterday we went there at about 20.00 hrs, but they were full. Today we were there 40 minutes before sunset, (today at 19.57) already half full. Many staff shouting and running around, arranging tables and receiving the continious stream of guests. We were given seats, then other seats, then again, eh no, stay etc. Very lively and hilarious place. In the end we were with four young man at a table for six. Towards eight o'clock all the food was on all the tables and the people were really eager to start. We saw men endlessly putting salt on their salads, bread, rice, squeezing the lemon an extra time etc, a nervous and comic crowd.
Then all of a sudden, the sound of the iman, silence: Eating! 20 minutes later the restaurant is nearly empty again and we are among the last guests, gladly accepting a second free tea. Our bill for soup, two meat dishes, a salad, a plate wtih melon parts, two ayran (buttermilk), bread, water and a lot of fun: 35 Turkish lira (€11,78).

 After dinner there is ramazan party time in the centre.

Mocha at Lavazza bar.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Eight days have passed since we left our Warmshowers-hosts Kayahan and Gülten. Since then we rode 500 kms and climbed 5300 meters over two passes, 2160 and 2057 altitude.
We are very satisfied with the decision to take this route, it's wonderful. The stages are mostly pretty tough, but not too tough and allowing us to enjoy everything.
First of all it's the scenery. Long and wide valleys, and the higher you come the more colourful they get. There is agriculture on to very high levels, but where the land is not tilled there often is an abundance of flowers in bright colours, yellow, purple, pink, blue, white. Sometimes the mountains themselves show a caleidoscopic mix of surrealistic colours and the clouds in the sky often look like they have been painted by an old Dutch master. The roads are wide, 4-lane and the tarmac perfect. Traffic is low, not a car per minute. Hornblowing, cheering, yelling and waving from drivers and truckers (many of them from Iran). Free tea at petrol stations, drivers paying for us, giving us sachets of nescafé, dropping a handful of cherries or abricots on our table. A man – out of the blue – puts a plate filled with butter and honey and a basket of bread on our table and makes clear that it's from his own bees, there on that mountainside, he points at the other side of the valley.
The ögretmenevis (teachers' houses) appear to be OK and we learn that in most places there are hotels as well (though sometimes we'd better not comment on the quality).

Now we have arrived in Erzurum, a city of 500.000 inhabitants and the most conservative and religious city in Turkey. Altitude 1900, surrounded by snowcapped mountains. We were not surprised to see an ice-hockey stadium and two ski-jump towers near the city. Winters here last long, are very cold and the snow lies three meters thick. Things you don't realize before you arrive at such a place. As what ramazan means, like the men in the tea-houses just sitting and playing with their beads, no chai on their tables. And for us our evening meal together with all the other people, starting exactly at the moment that the imans start howling from the minarets.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Problem solved

There are not many of them in Turkey. As in all countries where cycling isn't part of normal life. In western Europe you find many, in Australia, the States and several countries more, but not around the Mediterranean. Warmshowers hosts I mean. But we found one. In Erbaa, a small town east of Amasya.
Amasya is a beautiful and very old city in an akwardly narrow valley. We stopped there to give our legs some rest and because it is such a beautiful place: the graves of the Pontic kings dug out high in the rock wall, Ottoman mansions, fine mosks, parks, river bank and some musea. We stayed in a restored caravan serai, formerly used as gathering point of the convois of traders from all regions who met in this junction point. Now it's a posh hotel, we felt that a bit of luxury would not do us much harm. Mind, prices still a good deal below a normal hotel night in our regions.
We witnessed shows of folk dance groups from the neighbouring countries and found them quite exotic. Very martial Ossetion boys, tiny Kirgizian girls, Azeris, Bosnians etc.
We also had to spend time on planning the next part of our route: where to ride to? We were absolutely not sure what our possibilities further east were, as we could not find a route where we could find accommodations at regular distances. On the internet that is, asking a person is impossible since hardly anyone speaks any other language than Turkish. When I opened the Warmshowers-site, just in case I thought, we were so surprised that in a day's ride distance there was one, and after an email we knew we were welcome. So the next day we rode 80 k downhill to stop at the house of Kayahan Sayin and his wife Gülten. Both teachers and modern and non-religious people. In this country the latter means something, it will be impossible to make a career in education for instance. But they are happy people, Kayahan is even – just as I was myself – active as a European project manager. Turkey does not belong to the EU, but as a so-called associated member they can apply for projects.
As Ramazan (yes, here with z) started just that day Kayahan's first advice was to get on a bus and ride to Georgia in order to escape closed towns and villages in this conservative part of the country. But we are cyclists...! So then he mentioned the “teachers' houses”, ögretmenevi. And that was the solution: in every district centre there must be secondary schools, so there must be teachers and as a consequence there must be teachers' houses. Places where teachers who live too far away from their school to daily commute can stay during the week. And these houses also take other guests. They are cheap, clean, and as we have already experienced now, as good as a simple hotel and sometimes even better. Then these houses can easily be spotted via Google, just type in the name of a town that you want to pass combined with the word ögretmenevi; they are all there. It didn't take too long to find out that we could plan our route to the Georgian border completely. Problem solved!
We celebrated this with our hosts with some good beers, most likely our last ones Kayahan said with a grin.
We stayed one night with these kind hosts and now, three days later, we are in an ögretmenevi at an altitude of 1600 meters. Tomorrow we will cross a mountain pass of 2160 altitude and arrive in Erzincan, a bigger town at an altitude of 1200. Will be a fresh day!
Our hotel in Amasya

Gülten and Kayahan

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Inland route

The Black Sea coast is beautiful. But extremely undulating, you keep pushing at your utmost to go up 50 or 100 meters, you fly down to see-level and up you go again. Maddening and utterly tiring. We had the same experience in New South Wales, Australia, and we then decided that we didn't want this again.
So two busses and a very short bike ride took us to Safranbolu. This is a historic Ottoman city that, according to most Turks, you cannot miss. Nice place, very touristic, where we stayed for a relaxing two nights in a Konak hotel, one of those Ottoman houses.
From there we rode east for a week through more or less a long valley parallel to the coast, the sea on the other side of the mountain ridge. Here the climbs are longer, but gentler. Tiring also, but doable. Roads are good, mostly 4 lane but very quiet. The scenery is generally nice, often beautiful and sometimes even more than that. F.i. between Tasköprü and Duragan the valley is romantic, full of rice paddies and storks on their nests on high poles. It slightly reminded me of Austria, though the mountains are higher there, rice paddies absent and the minarets have onion-tops.
Tomorrow, Monday June 15th, we'll reach Amasya, a bigger town and another historic place. We'll take some rest again there and will have to spend some time on our planning, as information on accommodations is not easily available along the route. This appears to be one of our biggest hangups during this trip.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Election day

Today was election day in Turkey.
During the last few weeks the Dutch media suggested that there was much tension in the country during the campaing period. Indeed there was a bomb attack in Dyarbakir in the eastern Kurdish region.
We as travellers in Turkey didn't notice anything of the kind. What we saw were some streets and squares completely covered in party banners, some stands om Taksim square in Istanbul and every now and then a stickered party mini-van with speakers on top making a lot of noise. That's really all. Never we noticed that people were anxious or occupied with the subject. Even today, election day, the first thing we noticed concerning this democratic process was that no alcohol was being sold: prohibited today. So no afternoon beer for us today, ehhh, well, secretely, if we were prepared to have it inside where no passers-by could see us we could :-) .

And in the evening during dinner there were some guests very much interested in the election program on tv in which the first results were shown by two rather agitated presenters. We ourselves initially thought that Erdogan's AK party was doing well (as expected in the polls), they kept having app. 43%. But then again a couple of hours later it was the Dutch tv-journal that made clear to us that after 12 years AK was losing it's absolute majority. They used to have over 50%. So for the first time they will have to share power. From earlier conversations we know that many modern Turks will feel releived.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cai, cai!

We hear it every day. Tea, tea!
Now it's a couple of truck drivers who loudly invite us to join them for a cup of tea brewed in their lorry, the other time it's the father who is building another family house with his sons and sons in law, or it's one of those numerous elderly men who are sitting in their local tea-houses sipping tea, playing cards or just staring in front of them. We have decided to accept these invitations every now and then. It's a welcomed break in the sometimes streneous cycling (hilly country!) and it's always an opportunity to make contact with kind and gentle people and every time we enjoy it. It's what travelling on a bike makes so attractive.
When checking in in today's pansiyon the owner, also shoe seller, did the same. As soon as we had agreed to take the room and accept the price he shouted more than he asked: “Cai?”. Of course we did accept. He then took a kind of walkie-talkie from a shelf and shouted “Cai” in it and repeated it a couple of times. We were not surprised that a minute later a man appeared from across the street who carried a tray with three tea-glasses. We sipped it and the incomprehensible conversation in Turkish added to the fun.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Moving on.

Cycling in a crowded metropole is never a joy. So how to avoid that in the case of 14 million people Istanbul?
By taking a Bosporus-ferry 90 minutes north to a little village called Anadoulu Kavagi, then ride just a short distance to a little town on the Black Sea coast. Nice plan, and it worked. But not completely as expected. The way out of the valley from the village may very well be the steepest we ever encountered. A couple of kilometers pushing and sweating. And once riding and climbing we were sent back for a detour of 13 k as the road we wanted to take was not possible. It's the stoicus in ourselves that makes us cope with these circumstances, an attitude learned during our trips over the years.
The region is very hilly, consequently the roads are very undulating and every day there's an awful lot of climbing to be done. The scenery is beautiful, the people are kind and helpful. Free sightseeing tour in an expensive car, bargains in hotels, a policeman asking our age, blowing horns and waving and shouted “Merhaba (Hello)” from passing cars, an extra boiled egg offered to take with us, drinks paid for by regulars, a free pastry handed over to us by a street vendor, etc.

In the mean time, 3 days after Istanbul, we have reached Agva Merkez, a small beach resort with enough little terraces for us to quietly end the day.
Opposite our room.