In the end I decided to say “stuff it!” and go to Turkey after all, a decision I should not regret.
The actual trip from Varna, Bulgaria to Turkey was a rather pleasant one. Initially I was on the major artery going south of Varna towards the border. Then the road split: one went further along the coast, the other went through left turning into the mountains. I had seen enough beachy villages and plenty of the Black Sea, so I turned left.
What a great choice this was. An almost new road, perfect surface, absolutely little traffic and wide, sweeping corners, just as I like it. The road climbed to about 800mtrs elevation, leading through open fields and forest. Almost 80 kms of it – thoroughly enjoyable.
Then I hit the border.
The Bulgarian border guard just waved me through. A few hundred meters down the road I approached the Turkish side. He was very friendly. Absolutely no hassles, explained everything. The – perhaps anticipated – visa trouble was no trouble at all.
Now, I know how to register for an e-visa. Easy as pie! At the border post I pulled out my computer, showed the electronic copy and ‘voila!’ – all was well.
The next guy, Customs, had just a perfunctory look over the bike, no need to unpack anything. I had learnt to take off my helmet, to make sure they could see my age and deduct harmlessness from it – it worked and/or he was just friendly.
I think I crossed this border in a PB, a record time of less than 45 minutes.
Next was the still 250kms trip to Gallipoli. Unfortunately this had to be done in never-relenting side-wind. BUGGER! Leaning into it, making myself small and trying all kinds of other things, i.e. loading the peg towards the wind with a little more body-weight. All require focus and energy and therefore was tiring. You know, on a fully loaded BMW 1150GS with all gear, you are not a streamlined Zeppelin, where the wind can slip around you with little impact on your forward movement. Instead you are more like a big banner hanging across a street or a sail. By default you catch as much wind as possible. .. and that has its impact on the level of pleasure-ness of your ride.
But what can you do!?
I have to get through this. I didn’t allow this wind to spoil my almost perfect entrance into this country.
Turkey was the one of my ‘focus-points’ for this trip and I was glad that I’d finally arrived!
In Eceabat I found a little pension directly opposite to the waterfront. A young man, Mustafa, showed me a room, but I wanted the one with the sea view. I love having sea-views, especially when I can open the window and fall asleep listening to the waves – almost heaven. So I got one!
That evening, walking through the little village of Eceabat, I noticed another GS cruising around the city. As fate has it, this guy had a room at the same pension.
Tufan, lives in Istanbul and came here on his 1100GS for a break. He is a successful businessman and the National Manager for one of the large Petrol Station chains. Tufan is a most proud Turk and also adheres to the Islamic customs of praying regularly. No worries from my end, our age was similar (me being the older, and looking younger, sorry Tufan 😉 so we got on really well.
Tufan was going the next day to an island, Goceada, close by, where a bikers meeting was to take place. It didn’t take him long to convince me to join him, and so I did!
So early next morning, we rode to the other side of the peninsula, caught the 75mins ferry to Goceada. A smooth ride, which gave me the opportunity to see the actual ANZAC Cove from the water.
In Goceada, we signed up and in, the meeting was still setting up stages and booth for traders.
So Tufan and I inspected an Ambulance boat, anchored in the little harbour. Tufan just had met its Captain on the ferry and the two started a conversation resulting in being invited to check out this boat.
Interesting, didn’t know they even existed. I presume it sees more call-outs caused by the migrant crisis in this region.
Next we rode to the little village on the island with the same name. Other bikers who had arrived for the same meet, had the same idea. So the centre of this village was packed with bikes and the accompanying noise, though none of the locals seemed to mind.
Tufan had slipped into an incredibly role as a host, as I was visiting HIS country, of which he felt very proud of. As a result, I couldn’t pay for anything. After trying a few times, I stopped to not insult his generosity.
Then we rode back to the meet, talked to a lot of other bikes, as more and more were arriving by the inbound ferry. We also had some time to fix a small technical issue on his bike and we established that his rear brake disc was in need of urgent replacement, way under the tolerance and heavily grooved.
We took the almost last ferry back to Eceabat, had a Tuekish meal of fresh local fish (same restaurant where Dave M. and his much better half Maggie enjoyed a meal years before – small world).
With lots of great impressions about Turkey and its people I fell asleep almost instantly.
The following day was my travel-day to Istanbul. Only about 300 or so clicks away. This gave me plenty of time to spend all morning visiting the Gallipoli sites. I have written about this experience in a separate blog entry – it deserves one in my view.
Turkey = Istanbul!
For such a long time I have held a fascination for this city. I have had many Turkish friends in Frankfurt and a fewer in Melbourne. I home-tutored a Turkish family in Richmond in 1987, I had a Turkish mate, Emma who was one-out-of-the-box. Finally, Istanbul, the Bosporus, the Golden Horn were constant ‘bookmarks’ in history lessons.
Finally I was going to go there!
Arriving in Istanbul was not as bad as others had reported about it. For the last 100kms I took the freeway. There was some payment system, however fully automated, so nobody there to ask or buy a pass. Moreover, the gates showed at least two types of fare (presumably??) but all by using abbreviations, not even pictograms. So I ‘excused’ myself and tool liberty riding through the open gates without paying. Nobody stopped me, and I reckon I would have been able to explain myself. I wondered though if I would be confronted with a uniformed ‘checkerer’ at the exit gate … Alas, there were no exit gates, so in my book, all was fine and I quickly forgot about it all.
In proper Istanbul, twice did I take the wrong turn-off. In the first instance the maps.me guided me back to the ‘right’ road. The second ‘lost’ happened in the middle of the old town, being oh-so close to my destination. I trundled along small cobble-stone streets, trying to guess where to turn, hampered by the many one-way streets. At one stage I stopped caring and just went against the traffic. It was late and that had a positive impact, as they was little amount of traffic.
I also learnt that some Turkish drivers like to almost touch your rear wheel with the front of their car. I got a double-lesson, something I would have liked to avoid. But in each case, turning around and staring at the driver together with some unmistakable gesticulations solved this too-close-contact, from now on they kept distance. Yes, I was a little stressed and really didn’t need this extra risk.
All felt good again when I found the hotel. I recognised it from the photos on the web and I had made a great choice: 200mtrs away from Sultanahmet Place, the centre of the ‘old town’, practically the former Constantinople, or even Byzant going back even further. How cool is that!? The place is trenched with history, I almost could feel it.
I explored Istanbul to my heart’s and pace’ delight. I met many traders who always are happy to lure you into their store, credence you special flavours tea, I prefer the apple flavoured one and sell you something you didn’t know you needed. Carpet shops are almost as many as they are mosques (2700 in Istanbul – mosques that is!), and jewellery shops are a close second. The shops close to my hotel know me by name already and I have hinted on wanting a Turkish Wedding or Puzzle ring. One trader seemed to try, but in the end no luck, The design I wanted is out-dated, we are talking the late sixties here.
Since Turkey is my second focus point after Mongolia, I decided to get some more substantial presents for home. Carpets I have no idea about. I would need my friend Ronnie T, who, if I remember correctly once investigated and subsequently invested into special carpets. Sadly Ronnie wasn’t on my side. Some throw-overs, silky and Kashmir ones attracted my attention. I was shown a hundred (almost, but felt like it) and identified three; different sizes and patterns from Anatolia and the Istanbul-specific Tulip pattern. Istanbul in its earlier times had fields of Tulips grown outside the old city walls, which served as a Sunday outing destination for the locals.
The prize for the largest one was quoted with $1200. Ufff! I also knew to half, or even quarter the rice to start negotiating towards some idle-ground. My hunch is that this so called middle-ground is still highly profitable ground for the seller, but fair enough they have to make a living as well. Part of my negotiation strategy was that the stuff must be posted, no space to carry an extra flea on my bike. So the ‘conversation’ begun. A big lament about the non-existing tourist on the streets and in the shops. How hard is life right now. Indeed I saw very few European-looking visitors. Soon into the negotiations I became an instant brother and the seller was certainly a master of flattery. Teas were served, later I was asked to pay for them, which I happily rejected to do. I reckon every opportunity and avenue is used to make a sale and ‘milk’ the customer. The items are shown, you are insisted upon to feel them, asked to name your minimum price. $150 was my response, couched by the pre-text of not wanting to insult the seller. Telephones were worked on, somebody apparently went to check the ‘real’ shipping cost etc etc. In the end, perhaps 45 mins later we had a deal. Now I hope the throw-overs I bought and which were parcelled up in front of me are indeed the ones that will arrive in Melbourne. Fortunately I took a photo of each
… aahhh, what I paid you wonder. Well ask me face-to-face and I will tell you the truth ($200).
I took the BigBus tour to get a good overview of the 12 Mill people city, the second largest in this world being Shanghai. This open-deck BigBus franchise I find a great choice to get the BIG picture. I was able to see and decide which spots to revisit with more time.
Went to the Grand Bazaar. Now, imagine you are in Turkey. You are in Istanbul with all its rich history!! … and now imagine you are going to the Grand Bazaar, right in the heart of the old city, former Constantinople, former Byzant. What pictures come up in your mind? ….. well??
I somehow thought of a maze of small, sometimes wider arched alley-ways, lined with all kinds of shops, hustling shopkeepers almost man-handling you into their little shops filled to the brim with shiny stuff, like silk, carpets, leather, household wares, silver, gold, dresses …you name it.
Writing this down I realise my expectations were largely guided by the ‘souk’ in Tunis, albeit it has been almost half a century that I have been there. Then the picture was accurate, even with little dusty rooms, some rays of sunlight glimmering in, where old people were weaving carpets.
Well, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is not like it. Yes, shops are lined on both sides of the undercover, indeed arched alleyways. However all looks and feels rather organised, straightened out and regulated. No twisting and turning maze of dark alleyways and not a great variety of shops. Lots of gold and silver jewellery, carpets and scarfs, Turkish-looking lights, -rather nice I must say, clothing mainly jeans and polo-shirts. It almost had a Vic Market feeling with an Arabic/Turkish touch. Yes, I was a little disappointed, and to make matters worse lost my mobile …..
I realised this only after I had left the market in search for a replacement trouser. Oh shite! Old age is showing me my limitations. I couldn’t remember being manhandled at all, so pick pocketing was (almost) out of question. I must have left it in one of the shops I walked in when looking for a cap, undies and shorts (Yes, the essentials for an old fart travelling – all in need of urgent replacement!) So, I stayed calm, accepting my karma, but decided to trace my way back. The lucky stars were with me! The second shop back (the undies place – three for 15 bucks) had it. I had left it there!! Clearly need to tag it onto my ear to not forget again. Happy man I was!
I also noticed the many veiled women here in Istanbul. There are various degrees of ‘veiled-ness’, I do not understand it. Most of them are black, some have very elegant but almost invisible trimmings. I also saw a few white ones – again, don’t know the real meaning of the choice of colour. To contrast all this, there are also, mainly younger, women who would fit in every street-picture of Paris or London. Dressed in very western-style fashion and nobody seems to mind. I wondered how long will it take for the latter to prevail, if ever …?
Another thing I learnt was about buying stuff. Well, I needed to replace urgently some of my already minimalistic wardrobe. One can work with three undies only for a limited time and they wear out. Same applies for shorts (one only) and T-shirts (a luxurious number of four!). So I thought I’ll re-splendid myself and my appearance doing a shopping tour through the Grand Bazaar. Hahhh! …. was I off the marl]k. Whilst I found some of the stuff on my list, I had to search hard for it. Later I realised the concept was “street”. I discovered small streets for a specific product. I walked through a small street selling music instruments, one shop after the other. Another street had rows of shops specialising in underwear. Another one sold sport-goods, or a fishing tackle street, sunglasses. You name it, I am sure there is a street filled with shops. Why? … no idea, perhaps for same/similar reasons car dealers in Oz are found side-by-side.
I’ll remember this fact at my next visit here.
Well, other than that – I did the normal touristy things, as one does when in Istanbul:
- had a ride in a tram, yes Istanbul has Trams as well as a subway, even a very old tram a-la San Fransisco
- walked the streets – a lot
- took a funicular, Istanbul has at least two of them afaik
- listened to the Muezzin calling from the minaret for prayers (adhan) five times a day
- did a tour on the waters of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, where at times it almost felt like being in Sydney harbour
- had a reflective time when visiting the Blue Mosque –a very peaceful place. There I an interesting pamphlet about Islam as a religion. It could have been written by the Catholic church, just replacing a few words.
- felt amazed by the Hagia Sophia, a building several times resurrected from its ashes each time growing a little bigger. I hired a private tour-guide, something I recommend: Nasip Boyacioglu (meet him in facebook)
- walked the streets, actually meandered
- ate freshly grilled fish at the ferry terminal in a roll with salad and onions
- lost my mobile phone, well actually left it in the Grand Bazaar at a stand, but when I returned 30 mins later it still was there
- had a local beer (Efes) under the Galata bridge which straddled Europe and Asia
- climbed the Galata Tower and admired the view
- sat on Taksim Place
- walked the streets, this time the Independence Ave or Lisesi Street
- had a meal in the Pudding Shop, a famous Hippy meeting point in the 70-ties where one caught a lift to Kathmandu back home to Germany
- went underground to see (it was very dark) the Basilica Cistern, its fat fishes and met Medusa
- sauntered inside the Grand Bazaar, as well as the very-aromatic-indeed Arabic Spice Bazaar
- admired some colurful street-art/Grafitti
- sipped uncountable little cups of Turkish Tea in uncountable places
- sampled the local food, names I cannot remember, but all tasted just perfect to me
- made almost new friends with several traders, although I guess they do this many times a day – part of the ‘spiel’
So, as you can see, I felt instantly comfortable in Istanbul and immersed myself into this town and its people!
So many things to see, so many places to walk. A place I MUST came back with Louise so we can share these impressions.
In my book top-ranking besides Moscow, even if both cities are completely different.
I made hundreds of pictures. Following a few of my favourites to convey my affection for Istanbul.