It’s my final day in Turkey! Since my rest day in Sinop, where I last blogged, I’ve blasted along to the Georgian border in 7 days, taking advantage of the flat and large highway. East Turkey is much more conservative than the west, so it’s been an interesting contrast in culture and attitude. Indeed this is Erdoğan heartland with Rize, a city on the Black Sea coast, being the glorious president’s hometown and duly has a university named after him. I have a lot more to say on this, but I’ll save it until I’m out the country…
The coastal roads themselves have been pleasant but uninteresting – always 4 or 6 lane highways and a fair few tunnels. I wrote about the latter last time, so I won’t go into it again but just say that a 4km long tunnel on the main road to Georgia is about as fun as it sounds. Despite the boring roads, it’s been an eventful week (and not just because I had my first puncture of the trip) – here are a collection of those stories.
Very Friendly hosts in Sinop
My rest day on the sun soaked peninsula of Sinop was a joy, with a short walk, lots of reading and a late afternoon swim being the only exploits of the day. The stay was made all the more refreshing due to my friendly hosts, a couple from couchsurfing who had accepted my last minute request. One, is a medical student at Ankara, who had a rare week off to come and visit his boyfriend; the other (said boyfriend) is a tourism management and gastronomical lecturer at the university who dutifily plied me with the most exquisite of Turkish culinary creations. I responded by cooking an English meal in the evening, Toad in the Hole (or more accurately Köfte in the Hole!) which seemed to go down well. I couldn’t match his mastery though, breakfasts were a particular delight:
On the morning of my departure I awoke rested and relaxed and as I checked my phone, there was a message from my host. I opened it and couldn’t quite believe what I read – “…we were wondering if you wanted… a threesome kind of thing”!!!
I didn’t know what to say. I was part flattered, part confused, part shocked but mostly in admiration of the brazenness (there were other, unprintable parts) and yet sweetness of the message. I politely declined, ate another fantastic breakfast and headed out on my way.
Despite this, they really were the most fantastic hosts and I hope that one day in Turkey they can be open and accepted in their relationship and that I won’t have to write about them anonymously. If you are reading, you know who you are, so thanks again for a great stay.
Whilst waiting at the lights in the town of Bafra a 4×4 pulled up, the window was rolled down and the owner asked “Where are you from?”. “Inglitere!” I replied, to which he responded – “You will follow me and drink tea!”. I couldn’t really argue to this demand, so as we pulled away I made the right turn and followed him to a petrol station, going along with the joke as I arrived and “filling up” with Diesel into the bike. It transpired that the 4×4 driver was the owner of the station and so with the big boss on site a hive of activity ensued – chairs pulled out and set up, coffee put on for him and I and food brought out from the shop. We chatted in broken English – laughing at Turkish drivers’ use of horns and how British I was being offended by them; discussing the best petrol stations in Turkey (his have the cleanest toilets – what the endorsement!); and discussing Europe and future routes. We turned to family matters and, after saying I was 25, was asked “You have family in London?” and in response to my answer:
“You are 25 and have no wife! This is big problem! I have son. 28. He has wife and child. I am grandfather. Very happy! Maybe you meet Turkish woman – Find wife!”
We laughed and I said I hoped so and after finishing another Çay (tea, in Turkish – they drink even more of it than the British!) and complimentary croissant set on my way.
20km later, in the curiously named town of 19. Mayis, I stopped to buy fruit. The adjacent shop owner was then quick to come out and he too, offered me Çay. How could I refuse? I popped into his DIY shop and joined him and others for tea and idle chat. The ensuing conversation was the first time my religion had come up – “Protestant? Catholic? Orthodox?” asked another employee (perhaps the owner) – I replied “A little bit protestant” and was therefore told first, that I was Jesus, then revised to say … Jesus. Muhammed. (then pointing at me) You! Everyone in the shop loved this joke and I was known as Jesus thereafter. The owner’s brother in law then turned up, who was a Turkish ex-pat living in Hanover. We spoke some German and discussed the weather – it turns out many of the Turks in Germany are from the Black Sea region and, with their well earned Euros, buy summer houses along here to return to when life in cold Northern Europe becomes too much.
Sporting DiversionsI’d been seeing signs for the Deaflympics all the way from Sinop to Samsun. A deaf category does not exist in the Paralympics, so every four years the deaf sporting community come together and stage their own Olympics, giving a great chance for deaf athletes to compete in high level sport. Coming into Bafra I saw a police motorcade come past, then a neutral service car, then some team cars – the signs were obvious, a bike race was underway! 2 minutes later, a peleton of about 80 riders rolled through and I caught a glimpse of some impressive no handed riding taking place, the riders using sign language of course. Samsun itself was vibrant and brimming with athletes and the city had an air of self-confidence and modernity not found in the other, sleepier, Black Sea region cities. I stopped to watch some Athletics, then some beach volleyball, before being moved on by an over officious Jendarme. I responded by swiping a souvenir – one of the signs used in the cycling.
“Sprechen sie Deutsch?” – “Ja, ein Bisschen!”
In Turkey, wild camping for me has mostly been on the beaches and in Mersin it was no exception. As I clambered down onto the shoreline (as well as anyone can clamber with a fully loaded bike) a man in swim shorts with a healthy tan, cigarette poking out his mouth and a paunch indicating a life well lived, sauntered over. “Almanya?” has been a repeated question for me during Turkey – maybe it’s the blue eyes and my beard that is getting blonder by the day, but in the eyes of Turks I’m a full blooded German. Duly, the tanned gentleman asked “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” and after replying with my usual “Ja, ein Bisschen” we started chatting. It turned out Enver was another Turkish ex pat, this time living in the Austrian town of Linz (which lies on the Danube and through which Robbie and I passed) and also has a summer house on the Black Sea coast. With typical Turkish hospitality he invited me over to sit and eat and chat with his family, where we exchanged conversation about the coast, Europe, my route, family life – the usual things. He also asked for my name, which followed the same pattern as every other time in Turkey…
“Wie heisst du?”
“… Ja. George.”
Maybe in future I might just save the hassle and go by easier to say name.
Enver was fantastically generous though, giving me his number and demanding a promise to call him when I arrived in Trabzon the next day, which I did, phoning him from outside the Hagia Sophia. Like its namesake in Istanbul, this building began as a Byzantine church and was converted to a mosque in Ottoman times. Unlike its Istanbul cousin however, it has remained Muslim ever since, although fortunately the sculptures and murals depict mostly the creation story shared by both religions so have been kept in their beautiful, 14th century condition.
Looking even more the man about town Enver strode over to meet me and, dressed in a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, cigarette again cocked to one side and with the beginnings of a moustache, cut a figure not unlike an older, less shapely, Burt Lancaster. We went to the nearest Çay house for a quick one, then slung the bike in the boot and up the hill to his house 2km away to meet the neighbours. More Çay, coffee, cigarettes and some feisty Turkish political debate followed, then it was back down the hill with two of his friends (one also moved to Austria a month ago) and into his favourite restaurant, for more Çay, cigarettes (his second packet by now) and a dish of Pitta bread and spiced mince – a Black Sea speciality. It was a great couple of hours – I got to enjoy some delicious food and plenty of tea, Enver played his part to the full – the successful ex-pat, back to his home town to spoil the weary traveller. I set on my way after lunch, once again truly thankful for Turkish generosity.
Into the Caucasus
A final 10km from the beach where I’m writing this and I’ll be into Georgia, one of many countries on this trip that I never imagined going to. I’ll do a final thoughts on Turkey piece once I arrive, then it’s onto the many wineries, mountains and historical sites that the country has to offer. I could get used to this life…