The steppe of Central Anatolia is not entirely flat, but it is very barren. Very large towns are interspersed with nothing much at all. The route is a grind, and isn’t as rewarding as the scenic coast and mountains, but has its own charm to me. This is unspectacular Turkey, without anything to draw tourists, but with the same warmth and kindness from people as everywhere else. Not much beer though. Inland it has become very noticeable that it’s difficult to find places that serve alcohol, and when we do see them, they are generally full of older men, and have the atmosphere and smells of Working men’s clubs. And the roads are not as well kept here; there were some particularly godforsaken ones around Aksaray.
We finally made it into the town of Nevsehir, which gave us a short ride to the centre of Cappadocia, known for its distinctive “fairy chimney” rock formations, and one of the highlights of our travelling. Richard got a puncture riding there, the third one in the same tube. We tried to change it, rather than fixing it on the road, and discovered that we have brought the wrong inner tubes with us, so we have no spares. We do nothing but ride bikes and carry a few bags, but we can’t even manage to have our shit together even when we have so little shit.
The roads were incredibly quiet, and we kept expecting to see hordes of tourists and the sky full of hot air balloons, one of the things this area is known for, but they never materialised. Richard saw one take off early in the morning (me: asleep) but none the whole rest of our stay. We decided to base ourselves in one spot in Cappadocia, and it was great to be able to explore without the bags weighing us down. We spent the first day riding to see Ortahisar rock castle, then past the eastern outskirts of Göreme. On our unladen bikes we were able to get off road, where usually only the quad bikes go, and get up close to some of the rock formations, which was amazing. We were also able to ride off road through Love Valley, though it was a bit of a slog on very sandy tracks, then walk round Uçhisar rock castle, which was well worth exploring. The highlights of the other two days were the ride through the Zelve Valley, which was incredible, and the Göreme open air museum. The latter was easily the busiest place we went to, but overall the area was eerily quiet, and we are very lucky that through a combination of things which have affected tourism, we’ve been able to see this otherworldly place without crowds. Even better, the evenings are now getting chilly. After being blasted with heat for 4 months, it’s nice to feel a change of seasons.
Leaving Cappadocia, we headed West for the first time in ages. The overcast weather has set in, and there were lots of horrible bumpy roads covered with bone jarring chippings. If anything, the random acts of kindness have been more frequent here. On one dull and drizzly day, we were flagged down by a guy in a car who gave us some halva sweets, and then at the top of a hill by a lorry driver, who had stopped in a lay-by to take a break. He made us tea and gave us bread and some honey from the bees he keeps in his time off. We are also cheered up most days by some of the passing coaches bearing the company name Kamil Koc, which causes more hilarity than it should for people our age.
The towns along the way have been fairly non-descript, as has the cycling, although Eskesehir was really nice, with lots of cafes and restaurants by the river. But it’s everyday Turkey and full of unassuming but welcoming people. Our spoken Turkish and our understanding has got better as we’ve gone on, and I’m glad we didn’t do this route the other way round or we might have struggled, since English is pretty widely spoken on the coast, but not so much here. We’ve mostly been eating in very small kebab and soup places, and I think perhaps because we are a novelty, people have been rightly keen to show off food, with our plates being piled high.
As we’ve carried on towards the West, Autumn colours and temperatures have really set in. I’m wearing a coat in the mornings for the first time in ages, and slightly regretting only having sandals to wear on my feet. We were expecting the few days riding before we reached Istanbul to be purely functional, but Turkey keeps serving up great surprises. Heading towards Bursa, the scenery was really lush and beautiful. Although the ride through the city itself was a stressful slog through intense traffic and smog, and being constantly cut up by buses and cars pulling in and out in front of us.
We may not always make the best decisions, but knew that cycling into Istanbul would probably be lethal, so we stopped in the town of Mudanya so we could get a ferry across the sea of Marmara instead. Richard had his second haircut in Turkey (£3.24.) For someone who mostly shuns social interaction, he had a fine time sharing with the barber maps and photos of the places we’d been. The barber was insistent that at his age he must have children, so he made up a daughter who is apparently 20 but doesn’t have a name.
We arrived in Istanbul almost a week ago. A wonderful friend of mine, Glayne, flew out to visit us. It was amazing to see someone from home, and to have someone other than Richard to talk to. We spent a few days relaxing with lots of great food and beer, and doing enough sightseeing and walking to justify that. The remaining thing to do before we wrap up here was to get bike boxes and get ready for a flight. Packing up the bikes has been a complete nightmare, but we were fortunately near some tool sellers and bike shops who were able to help.
We’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the two and a half months or so we’ve spent here. Turkey is a vast and diverse country, and while I’m happy with what we’ve done, I would love to come back and spend time riding in the far East and North. The cycling here has been physically tough, but the kindness of the people we’ve met and the places we’ve seen have made all the pain worthwhile. We’re lucky that we will almost certainly be able to come back to this amazing country. In the meantime, if I’m ever jaded or doubting the goodness of people, I only need to think of this place.
A playlist for the ride: