A fishing boat on Lake Iznik

Istanbul and the Marmara Region

Chillout?

Our room in the Chillout-Hostel

Our room in the Chillout-Hostel

A bit smallish, bunk beds without a ladder, no working light and the heating was operating in furnace mode.

If your have read the first two articles (Start in Istanbul and Wild Trips through Istanbul), written by Malte, you have learned that our trip began in a rather turbulent way. As a master of procrastination I managed to put off all preparations until it became almost impossible to sort everything out before our departure. The bikes were ready to ride except for some small details like mudguards and front racks that were still not attached to the frames.

I had moved all my belongings to my parent’s place and painted the walls of my room but a non-negligible lot still remained in my former shared flat. My brother would soon pick it all up. All the painting materials also littered my former flatmate’s abode. My then girlfriend Mia tried to help me remove my stuff and paint the room but as she had to say goodbye to her parents and grandmother as well, she had been away for most of the final day. A big ‘thank you’ goes to my former flatmates who gave me a hand in lugging my belongings to my parent’s house. They also had to get rid of the chaos I left behind on the day I left the flat. Well, concerning the chaos, they actually had no other choice but to take care of it themselves. In spite of our haphazard preparation and after only 30 minutes of sleep we managed to arrive at Saarbrücken main station with all our luggage and packed bicycles right on time. And off to the airport we went.

Malte in Istanbul

Malte in Istanbul

There is little left to add to what Malte already wrote, except for the “don’t shit in my kitchen episode” and some other small tidbits. On the aforementioned evening of utter chaos, I had just supported a very drunk Etti on his way down from the top floor of the hostel to his bed on the second floor and was on my way to the hostel’s common room when the receptionist asked me to help one of my other colleagues who, as he put it, seemed to have some problems.

I took Malte to his ŕoom as well and wasn’t expecting that more was still to come. But next morning we were told what had really happened. The hostel staff explained that, at a certain time, Malte had sensed the urge to go to the toilet. As there was some discrepancy between the real world and Malte’s perception of it at that time, he shuffled to the kitchen in search of a good place to take a dump. Putting on his most innocent face he pulled the dumpster in front of him (no pun intended) and, causally whistling, began to look for a fitting posture. What he didn’t know was that the receptionist, whose desk was right across the room and in plain view of the kitchen, had seen through Malte’s camouflage and began to think: “No, no, please, really? NO, NOOOO!”

When Malte deemed everything was perfect and the right moment had come, he pulled down his pants and hunkered down. In this very moment the receptionist jumped from his chair and said in an astonishingly calm voice: “Please, don’t shit in my kitchen.” Malte apprehended his situation at once and pulled his pants back up. In this moment I came down the stairs and was asked to take him to his room. Malte for sure couldn’t remember a single bit of all this. But that’s probably for the best.

Jani on the ferry to Beşiktaş

Jani on the ferry to Beşiktaş

Another tidbit that deserves mentioning was Jani’s extraordinary skill at taking photographs. As everybody, she took shots of the sights of Instanbul such as the maiden’s tower and our grandiose ferry ride across the Bosporus. But her incredibly smart phone has two cameras. Unfortunately she had enabled the wrong one. So instead of some nice photos of the major tourist attractions she ended up with a collection of selfies, most of them with parts of her head cut off.

The journey begins

My goat in front of the Chillout-Hostel

My goat in front of the Chillout-Hostel

After four days of recovery I had finally managed to assemble the bikes and pack everying.

This was all I had to add to Malte’s report on our Istanbul days (I refrained from posting photos of Etti’s penis bread). Let’s jump to Monday, the day after our friends had left. As Mia slept for 30 hours straight, I got a bit bored and tried to write articles. After two hours I still hadn’t produced anything of use but at least I had tried. Tuesday was equally uneventful. The most exciting thing was that Mia decided to break up with me as she didn’t want a relationship anymore. But who cares. We would only go on a joint bike trip for a mere fourteen months. So what?

On Wednesday we actually managed to assemble our bikes and get everything organized but it wasn’t until Thursday that we finally left Istanbul. We hastily packed our stuff because we were already a bit late for our ferry when I noticed that I had left the tent pegs at home. Also, Mia had forgotten to pack a plate and cutlery and toilet paper was missing too. So we went to an outdoor shop close to the oft mentioned Galata Bridge and bought 12 tent pegs for the affordable price of 20 Euros (I must admint that these were the best tent pegs I ever had so the price seemed reasonable after all). Then we hurried towards the pier. We had only 20 minutes left until the ferry would set sail.

On the ferry to Yalova

On the ferry to Yalova

We took a ferry from Istanbul to Yalova, passing the Prince Islands on the way.

We reached the terminal building three minutes before departure. Because all the ticket desks were occupied we had to wait some more before I was able to exchange Liras for tickets. We had barely rolled onto the ship and leaned our bikes against a wall when the motors roared, the decks vibrated and the vessel set off towards Yalova.

The passage was short and boring, but looking at Istanbul from the sea of Marmara suggested the sheer size of this mega-polis that straddles the Bosporus and links Europe to Asia. We moved further and further away from the shore but Istanbul still covered the whole of the visible shoreline. After we arrived in Yasilova a friendly Turk took us to a shop where we bought a plate for Mia as well as cutlery for us both. Finally, the bike trip really began.

Camping at Lake Iznik

Camping at Lake Iznik

Camping on private property is not legal, but in Turkey people are usually fond of having guests.

Reflections on the waters of Lake Iznik

Reflections on the waters of Lake Iznik

After our first day of cycling we put up our tent at the waters of Isnik Gölü (göl means lake), a mountain lake that lay serenely between snow covered slopes. We were just preparing our food when a middle-aged Turkish guy approached us and began talking. As would happen many times in the future, I was able to understand the beginning of the conversation — where we were coming from, where we were going, which country we were from, and that it was all right to camp on his territory — but then my knowledge of the Turkish language failed me and my ear sent nothing but a stream of unintelligible gibberish towards my brain.

But just about every Turk seems to have a friend who speaks German or English and most of the time they immediately call this chap. What he wanted to tell us is: “There’s no problem at all. You can camp here. But should any kind if problem arise, come to my house which is right next to this plot of land.” A bit later his German speaking friend paid us a visit at our tent to talk to the German cycle tourists. He said he was born in Germany but, due to some problems he encountered there, he went back to live in Turkey. Which kind of problems he had exactly he wouldn’t say.

Lake Iznik and surrounding mountains

Lake Iznik and surrounding mountains

Olive Groves and No Ruins

Morning in the mountains close to Mudanya

Morning in the mountains close to Mudanya

The coming day led us through endless patches of olives back to the Sea of Marmara. We placed our tent in one of the olive groves close to Mudanya, as there was little land not covered by the long-living trees. As a matter of fact, I had never heard of Turkish olive oil before. But I knew that only a small amount of the oil in the world’s famous Italian products actually grows on trees in Italy. It was easy to connect the facts.

Typical Turkish Football field

Typical Turkish Football field

The heavy snowfall that melted away only a few days later left many areas inundated.

Until now I had only been in Turkey during the summer months and it came as a surprise that a lot of the land was inundated, turned into a cloggy mudpit by the melting snows. At times this made it difficult to find an appropriate spot for the tent. Some place where our shoes wouldn’t disappear in mire of slurry with each step.

Today’s slopes were short but steep and I didn’t have to read the road signs to know their gradients. It was easily deducible from the acuteness of Mia’s nagging. The following day would also mark a special day, because it was the only day in weeks to come, on which Mia got out of bed (or is it “out of bag”) at the same time I did so we could have coffee and breakfast together. But those quiet morning hours of solitude had their own allure.

We had decided to shorten the track and abandon the idea of visiting the ruins of Troy as it would save us about 150 kilometres, i.e. three days, and also the entrance fees. As I knew very little of the city’s history it seemed acceptable enough to skip those meaningless walls on a mound of earth. And this is what most old ruins boil down to if one has no historical context to view them in.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

A small village with mosque close to Lake Uluabat

A small village with mosque close to Lake Uluabat

I would like to comment on the subject of when to get out of bed because it had been a frequent source of argument between Mia and myself. There were various reasons why I preferred to begin early in the day. For one, it was winter and the hours of daylight were rather limited. Sunrise was at half past six, sunset at aroud half past five. That left us with less than 12 hours of light. To get up, have breakfast and pack we’d needed about two and a half hours in the morning. We spent about the same amount of time to find a spot for the tent, cook and eventually go to sleep in the evening. That meant, we had around seven hours left to do at least five hours of cycling.

To travel with someone who insists on eleven hours of sleep per day or more and who doesn’t want to get up in the mornings can be aggravating under these circumstances. I loathe having to pitch the tent and cook in the dark. For one, because at high altitudes temperatures drop rapidly after sunset and cutting vegetables with your fingers congealing to clumps of ice isn’t very appealing. Another reason was, that it’s dark after sunset and having to do everything by the light of a headlamp becomes annoying after some time. There are many more reasons but I’ll just leave it at that. Just now, on the 23. of March, at the time I’m sitting on a stone writing this article, I am waiting for Mia, who is still asleep, to finally get up. She alleges that she is unbearable if she gets too little sleep and to wake her up might mean certain death. But in my opinion that’s just pure bullshit and selfish behaviour. In the end that was the way the cookie crumbled. So let’s get back to the tour report.

Atatürk Kültür Parkı

Camping in the Atatürk Kültür Parkı

Camping in the Atatürk Kültür Parkı

In Aracabey they allowed us to pitch our tent in a park in the middle of the city.

Our sleeping spot on the last day of February deserves mentioning. We had already passed Uluabat Gölü when we rolled into Karacabey. The peak of 2543m high Mount Uludağ (dağ means mountain), from whence the lake derives its name, just like the mineral water, lay many kilometres off to the south west. Here we wanted to replenish our stocks before finding a nice spot to sleep.

On our way, we came to Atatürk Kültür Parkı, a cozy looking park. We saw no reason why we shouldn’t just ask if it was possible to camp in the park. The friendly nightguard told us to pitch the tent close to his building so it would be save. Incredible. We were not only permitted to camp in the park, we also had our own private security service. For various reasons this seems utterly inconceivable in Germany or other western countries, but here it just worked. And it wouldn’t be the last time we would be amazed by Turkish hospitality.

The story of me, heroically taking a shower, also wants to be told and doesn’t fall behind some of Mia’s Lavatory Tales, which might get their own article someday. I strolled to the surprisingly clean toilet building of the park to throw some water into my face and change my shirt. There were two sinks with mirrors above them and two standard Turkish toilets — the ones where you stand on the ceramic and squat down to do your business. For want of a better name, I’ll call them squatoilets. Both squatoilet booths had a tap with a hose attached to it. Its purpose was probably to hose down the slab walls and floor of the lavatory. But this night they would be my shower. With only ten degrees Celsius outside, the water from the hoses felt considerably colder than it actually was. Nevertheless, I managed to clean myself, straddling the toilet, panting heavily each time the cold water hit my belly or abdomen, but without being afflicted with any lasting physical or psychical damage. The feeling of being clean again was remuneration enough to justify any distress the icy water may have caused.

People working in a field

People working in a field

In the next article you will read how we were drawn in the circles of Turkish tea fetishists.


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