Turkey: love it or hate it?

Turkey has been bit of a country of ups and downs for me. Firstly, I didn’t quite realise how big it actually is. I don’t know why I thought I’d cross it as quick as I did. I know what your thinking… have I underestimated Russia? Well, I hope not, but I do realise that Russia is massive. Moreover, I don’t think anyone, at least those that have not traversed it by road, can truly appreciate its vastness. I just hope that my 90 visa is sufficient.

Turkey started for me with a hard 400 miles in 37 degree heat… my bike was on fire, which meant my arse was too. I began the trip thinking I could do 500-600 miles a day easily, but that was clearly an overambitious target, for the time being anyway. The problem is the seat, I upgraded the seat from the notorious stock version to the sergeant Comfort Seat, except it cannot be designed by bikers, at least not those that travel long distances or have a bigger backside. The deorative piping on the seat cuts into you flesh like a hot knife in butter. So I arrived into Istanbul ready for a new maximus glutus. Except that wasn’t to happen, instead I gt caught in Istanbul traffic, which relegates  London congestion as a minor inconvenience.

My bike, and my arse were to endure another 90minutes of suffering and temperatures that felt hotter than the surface of the sun. I soon became like a crazy local weaving in and out of traffic, mounting curbs, riding on pavements and hard shoulders, and dare I say it, jumping red lights. I was like an adventure moto terminator sent back in time to… you get the picture. When I finally reached my GPS destination there was no sign of the hostel. I asked a coupleof people for the sultan hostel and was directed to the sultan hotel.  I could have looked for my second choice alternative hostel but I was truly cream crackered. I asked how much to stay in this hotel, indicating cheap, and was told 50euros… I can deal with that and follow him downhill to the sultanmet parking.

The guy’s a bit short but he’s cut his price and I’m relieved to finally get off the bike, shower, put on some fresh clobber and go walkabout. I search for my alternative hostel,which is literally only 350m round the corner, I wish I had bloody known that 20mins ago. I need to get to these places sooner, which means less miles. I head back to the hotel and look for somewhere to eat. I get called over to a little place and it looks a bit naff but I can’t be bothered to look elsewhere so go in and order some food. The staff seem to be making jokes about me at my expense, I feel uncomfortable and think about leaving but I brush it off as paranoia due to exhaustion. The food arrives and its frankly rubbish, I eat, pay and leave. Back at the hotel and I’m soon in bed to sleep.

Next morning I have a nice brekkie, pay up and leave. I’m only 3minutes from my hostel. I go t the parking area shown the day before by the hostel staff and proceed to check in, But of course it’s only about 0930, no problem I’ll sit hang about in the blissful air con and do some work updating my blog. The Turkish garage where I had parked my bike said 25Lira, which I thought expensive considering I’d only paid 10L for the night at sultanmet. I go over to the garage and try to haggle him down but he’s not having any of it we agree to 25Lira. I motion him over to the hostel, maybe I can show him my blog and charm him down but it turns out that price was for 1 day not 1 day and a night. The price is now 40Lira! You robbing bastard, I though. I tell him about sultanmet but he just says park it there instead, he’s called me out. Even the hostel reservations chap thinksit expensive and tells me I can park on the street overnight, but I don’t fancy that and there’s no way to get it into the foyer the steps are too tall.

The intensity with which they played this game of back gammon suggests there was money and or reputations at stake…

I reluctantly agree to the 40Lira, pissed that it’s costing more to park the bike then my own lodgings… on the upside it’s properly secure day and night and it’s literally over the road, the other was 10min walk, which I didn’t fancy making whilst lugging a load of my gear in tropical temperatures. Today was a rest day anyway and so I spent most of it doing just that, chilling out in the hostel catching up on my blog and writing hostel reviews, which I should get paid for. I finally pack up and head u[stairs to check out the dorm, shower and put on fresh clobber. I then head out into town, I don’t get far when I see a dervish cafe that I’d seen the night before. I get accosted but this time I’m fighting fit, no thanks I say, I’ll have a look around first. But then I smell shisha and hot sweet tea coming from inside the long stone tunnel entrance to this very same cafe which is also playing traditional Turkish music, intrigued I sneakily peak in and see its mellow lighting, rugs and pictures hanging from the wall and decide to check it out.

I take a seat next to some men playing back gammon and taking it very seriously and I casually browse the menu… time for some authentic Turkish food I think. However, I am soon informed that because it’s Ramadan the ovens are off (in other words no fresh Turkish Naans). I opt for a cheeseburger, I’ve been craving one for ages, except when it arrives its a poor excuse. No problem, it was real the Turkish tea and shisha that I came i for anyway. I order up some apple tobacco and a small tea and before you know it I’m well relaxed. I chat with the manager for a bit about my trip, usual stuff, where i’m from, where i’m going… That was a good evening. I returned to the hostel and met Jules from Paris (all the French I’ve met on this trip are from Paris) and Vijay from Deli, India. We all soon get chatting and the topic comes onto religion; Jules considers himself an agnostic whilst Vijay is a monotheistic hindu, that’s a first. We don’t agree on everything but we more or less are in agreement on a lot of things and discover we have much more in common than not. It was a pleasant and stimulating conversation but it was time to hit the sack, so we exchanged information and turned out the lights.

First thing on the agenda was to drop into Touratech, Istanbul, to have them look at one of the latches on my zega pro panniers as it wouldn’t snap shut, they soon learnt what a doofus I am. It won’t snap shut when it’s in the ;ocked position, duh, Okay, next thing was to get a new chain guard as the piece of shit I had from Romatech lasted a week before losing it somewhere in Greece. They had one left in stock and it was in the showroom. They even fitted it for me. All my bits are painted black so this stick out like a saw thumb, nevermind. Whilst I was here I asked if I could change my bulb and clean and lube my chain… but before I could say “can I have some cardboard so I don’t mess up your pavement”, the guy had changed my bulb and was cleaning and luing the chain. Awesome, thanks guys.

A quick visit to Touratech Istanbul, these guys were great!

I headed out reasonably early next day to Safranbulo to another hostel, not as many miles this time as I wanted to keep my arse intact and arrive in plenty of time. The temps topped 40degrees today and although I did less miles, albeit still getting onfor 300, they were tough and I really felt the last 50. I finally reach the small town of Safranbulo and surprise surprise, no hostel. The address’ don’t quite seem to correlate with the GPS. Anyway, I ask the locals who have no idea, but I saw a police station and resolve to ask there, who knows what may materialize after my night with Albanian Swat. But they also had the same idea and one very helpful gentleman ran off bidding me to follow him to the rozzers office. I get directions but still can’t find it. I drive allover town for about 20mins no with no luck. It’s a small town, it must be here somewhere. I go a bit further and ask another man who directs me up the hill. Oh yeah, I thought, the last two bods gave me the same gesture in a different direction with zero results. Oh well, I may as well give it a go and have a look, except the bike is starting to cough in the heat and I have to negotiate a tight hair pin turn up a steep hill with an equally steep camber on sandy, gravelly, cobbled path… it’s not good and I lose it on these technical streets and drop it right in front of him and some kids.

No problem, it’s inevitable really, not dropped it in front of anyone yet, despite 20 or so almosts… but you’re better off just letting it go and diving away then fighting to keep it up, that’s when you hurt yourself. The bike hit the deck I rolled away and hit the kill switch. I then remove my helmet and jacket and paused to take in some air. My t-shirt is soaked through. I decided to ride today in trainers and t-shirt but got burnt on the arms and to prevent further burning I put my jacket back on so I was sweltering. Even had I had my boots on I would probably still have lost it. I try to pick it up myself but its too heavy, too hot and worse, its not flat its laying downhill beyond 45 degrees so it’s a long way to lift up. I have dropped it once or twice on a campsite but managed to pick it up on my own, even fully loaded, using a special technique. But the extreme angle at which it lays and the blazing hot sun means I just don’t have it in me. I don’t fancy unpacking it so I rope in the fella I asked for directions from and another who had just gotten some fresh bread, the combined age must be getting on for 120+ years.I don’t expect much but I only need that extra 10% and I’ll have it up.

We heave up the bike and I manoeuvre it onto its side stand in a precarious position in the road. FUCK IT, it can stay there for a minute, the cars will have to go round me ifthey come. I look up the road and not 15metres is the pension (hostel). I grab the last of my water and head up to the hostel, telling the manager he needs a proper sign. I confirm that this is the Efe backpackers Hostel and tel him I hae a booking made by email. He looks but cannot find anything. I know I have a booking because I got an email confirmation, so I tap in his wifi password on my phone and bring up the email… This isn’t the Efe hostlhe says… FFS! Pleasedon’t tell me that. Okay, so where is it I ask? He tells meit’s up the road 200 metres so I trek on up the hill and find it just where he says, sign and all. I walk in and meet the owner who recalls my email. She then upgrades me to a single room with double bed and private ensuite bathroom for another £3. I then go down and bring up the bike and settle in.

Having asked about dinner and told that there wouldn’t be any tonight due to Ramadan I set out in the kitchen planning to make some soupnd some noodles except Iwas told that we were not to use the kitchen. WTF kind of place is this? She offers me some hot water from the kettle for noodles but doesn’t have a big enough dish so I retrieve my GSI mug from my camping kit. This is not going to be a good review I think to myself but one soup later and whilst I’m on the internet looking for the following nights accommodation she begins frying some chips and these meatball/sausage things… presumably they’re for the son. Next thing I know she brings me over a small plate of what I consider sausage and chips (obviously not pork). Yummy, thank you, and I gobble it down. I sort out a hotel in Samsun for the next day and hit the sack after another shower and I have a brilliant nights sleep.

Typical Turkish brekkie, this one happens to be from the Safanbulo Hostel

The following day I’m up early for the 8am brekkie, pack the bike and I’m off. This time I use my exped inflatable pillow as a seat cushion and it was awesome, 300 odd miles of bliss. Today’s temperature dropped too so was much much cooler. After the last few days, which I’d found really tough, today’s ride was fantastic. The Turkish scenery is beautiful, I wouldn’t say spectacular but certainly great. It got me thinking about my time in Turkey. I’d certainly like to come back and explore Istanbul properly, there is so much I didn’t see. I’d revisit when it’s a LOT cooler and probably without a motorbike, or at least stay in a hotel that has free secure parking. There is something about riding that helps wash away all fears and negativity and leaves you feeling revitalized and with a renewed vigour for adventure. That’s what I got from today’s riding.

Pretty landscape, I wouldn’t say spectacular but better than the dilapidated crumbling townships…

I arrived at my Otel Altay, this time it was easy to find, the GPS took me right to the door. I parked up in a garage next door, unpacked, locked it up and covered it up and checked in. Usual routine upon my arrival; shower, fresh clobber, accommodation, food, blog, bed. This is a real nice hotel, the room is basic, but I’m fine with that I only need a bed, aircon and ensuite bathrooms are bonuses. Except the quality of finish in my bathroom doesn’t match the rest of the common areas of the hotel. Again not fussed but intrigued, I’ve been told by the manage that I have the best room but that this is not the best hotel. That’s sweet, thank you, I tell him but your hotel is very nice. I wonder what the other rooms are like? After a decent dinner I return to the hotel and chat with the manager and talk about my trip as I show him my blog. Like so many others they are shocked that I am doing this and in awethat I am doing it on my own. Many say they could not dosuch a thing but I disagree, I think hey could if they wanted too. I on’t think there is anything special or brave about what I’m doing, more foolhardy.

Long drive 2mora, in excess of 400 miles, but this time I’m armed with my inflatable pillow/cushion. IT’ll be a hard find too the minor roads leading up to the hostel aren’t on the GPS so I have a couple of screen captures from google maps and the hostels own map.

Lots of tunnels cutting through the mountains today.

The day doesn’t start off well, I’ve done less than 50miles when I go through a speed trap and get told to pull in. I do so and I get tld I’m doing 100kmh in a 90kmh zone… that’s driving in excess of the speed limit by 5mph. It’s a three-lane fucking motorway with a speed limit of 56mph WTF? I play the dumb tourist to no avail, I am friendly and outgoing, introducing myself shaking hand but still to no avail. I plead notto give me a ticket but his partner writedown 120 Lira, I tellhim too much and I have no cash and his mate starts writing me out a ticket. The price goes up to 154Lira… WTF dude it was 120Lira two minutes ago but nothing will persuade him. I take the ticket and go back to my vehicle, I’m not going to give him the pleasure of any further response. Fuck him, I aint paying it, unless they check on the computer at the border when I exit, they aint getting shit out of me. As I pull away a lorry driver that was pulled over for speeding is let off – BASTARDS!

I meet a couple of other local bikers and we ride together for a few miles, admiting each others wheels.

Well that’s put a downer on the day and it’s gonna be a long one if I’m to stick to the speed limits. The GPS is telling me 31mph (50kmh), which is what it indicates on the ground markings, but its a dual carriageway? I behave for the next 50miles or so sticking to the speed limits without seeing a single cop the whole time. I start to speed up but keeping my eyes peeled for anything that might be a speed trap. I must look like a right pratt braking for little old ladies, fluorescent bollards and parked white cars. I pass plenty of signs for radar and I slow down, but cars are still passing me like a freight train. I get about 250 miles under my belt, thank youvery much pillow, when I see another radarsign this one is a fold-up variety; they must be up ahead, I glimpse him but slow down to 50mph, well enough below the 56mph limit, but what if it really is 31mph?

WTF… I’m asked to pull over again,  consider fora moment carrying on like I didn’t see him but then think better of it, that would make things a thousand percent worse. I park up and wander over to the copper and he asks for my driving license, he’s asking about names and numbers on for his forms. Screw you mate, if your giving me another ticket figure it out yourself and Imake a token gesture. I pester him with what did I do wrong and put my hands out like to cuff me. He keeps saying one minute while he looks at my license to right stuff down on form. I ask him what the form is and he again tells me to wait a minute… err I don’t think so mate, I aint making this easier for you. He then gives me my license back and tells me to go. For the win!

The black sea road is quite nice but a magnet for speed traps – you’ve been warned!

I crack on super alert to radar, passing another but my speed is right down this time and the routine at this speed trap is different. The radar guy radios his colleague up the road to pull over speeders in his car rather than have them in the road waving you to stop. He’s got no reason to stop me this time and I continue. It’s not long before the road starts getting twisty, just like the austrian roads, which the hostel manager mentioned on her website. I’ve done nearly 320 miles, been stopped and hassled by the cops twice, I’m in no mood for 80 miles of twisties on dodgy roads. I check the GPS and sure enough. I push hard through the twisties, probably too hard.  reach a point where the road disappears and stop ask directions to Yusufeli and am told its now up at Artvin, but I’ve just come 20 od miles from there. Its’s getting later, I pushed hard to ensure I had enough light to find the hostel but now I have to backtrack  and even if I find the road I’m probably 90minutes awaya and then still have to find the hostel from the GPS destination.

I decide to check into  local hotel, the light is fading fast, the roads are deteriorating to gravel and sand due to roadworks, the vertical drops off the mountain roads are scary, with little or no barriers, no street lights, no cat eyes and little or no signs. To top it off there is nowhere to pull off and camp in an emergency. I DO NOT want to be on these roads in the dark. I check into a hotel and do the usual things, I then sit out on the balcony waiting for my food when thunderstorms and lightning comes in, enough rain will make these already dangerous roads treachurous and a recipe for disaster, I made the right decision. I’ll go straight to the border at Batumi 2mora and enter Georgia from here instead. I’m quite nervous, albeit excited, as I don’t really know what to expect. But I have to say I’ll be glad to see the backof Turkey, I’d like to return to Istanbul and explore it properly, but that’l be on another passport, LOL!

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