After more than 10 days without cycling, we were very ‘syked to jump on our bicycles again, pimped out with new extra wide tires for the less-than-perfect roads we were expecting to encounter. Boiling over with energy and excitement, the two of us started pedaling northward under the blue and cloudless sky. Suddenly a cycler passed, and without introduction he asked “Heey, would you like a hot bath? For free?” We didn’t have to look at each other to agree so we simply answered with a simultaneous nod: “Yeah sure!”. Özcan rode ahead and we followed him all the way to the harbour. There, he showed us the improvised hot tub, surrounded by rocks to isolate the warm water from the cold seawater. The ‘hot bath’ was a warm water spring in the middle of the sea, at the end of the boardwalk of the dock. After an hour of relaxing in the salty tub, we shook of the last drops, jumped in our cycling clothes and continued towards Izmir. We instantly fell in love with Turkey, cycling through the beautiful landscape felt really good after living a sedentary life in Athens. We celebrated with a harmonica jamming session on the road and some hot Chai ‘n pastries upon arrival in Izmir. Turkish bakers know what they’re doing, the pastries are REALLY delicious.
We continued north, cycling up and down the mountain ranges that are running in horizontal lines from the Aegian towards the east. We suppose Turkey put the hilly landscape there to bring our legs back in shape to get ready for the Silk Road. On the way to Istanbul, we decided to return every ‘Merhaba’ to everyone greeting us, and to stick to our ground rule of not declining any free offer, mostly Chai and Kahve.
Stopping at a roadside bar or restaurant generally meant a short inquiry about our journey, and in exchange we usually received a hot beverage. However, Turkish hospitality goes beyond that: When we made halt at roadside shop after reaching our daily minimum of 100 km, we were invited inside the office of a logistics company by the operations manager. He made us sit down in the office as he ordered Iskender Kebab and Ayran (delicious Turkish drinking Yoghurt) to go with it. Harun invited us in, asked us about our journey, and with Stef’s basic Turkish and Google Translate we could explain a little about what brought us to this small village. Since it was a real rarity that fully packed cyclers passed by, he called over his friend Ozan to translate and hear the full story. We received the complete welcome package: the Iskender Kebab, which should always be followed by a Turkish Kahve, and in our case also a refreshing shower. Plus, after work, Harun took us to his apartment and offered us a bed to sleep in. Turkish hospitality, what a wonderful world.
The next morning we said our goodbyes, ignoring all the pointing fingers and curious eyes of the drivers present at the logistics warehouse. It must be a funny sight for them indeed, seeing two fully geared cyclers, claiming they’re cycling all the way from Belgium to China. This was the only day we didn’t reach our steady daily minimum of 100 km. We stopped after 25 km, not wanting to brave the fierce wind that was blowing in our face for the second day in a row now. We stayed all day in a roadside coffee bar, our noses in our books and drinking Ayran. Since we were such good customers and the owners were worried about our plan to sleep outside in the cold, they offered us to sleep in the praying room behind the restaurant. Needless to say we accepted this with a warm ‘teşekkürler’, as this option was way better than sleeping through a cold night in the tent.
The summer feeling we had when arriving in Turkey disappeared quickly, and our last hammock night was bound to come, since temperatures around freezing point are a real killer for our down sleeping bags. The warm air escaping trough the fabric instantly transforms into damp, clinging to the sleeping bag and killing the isolating properties of the down. So, we decided we’d send our hammocks home when we arrive in Istanbul and send them back to us when summer’s back in town. It took the two friends 6 days to reach the sea of Marmara, which they had to cross to reach Istanbul. On the 7th day, they rested.