Bikes finally back under our bums after their extended stay at the bicycle spa, we took a deep breath and headed through the crazy Istanbul traffic – making our way to one of the ferry ports with my new rear hub whirring happily behind us. The plan was to escape the madness of the city by catching a ferry South, across the Marmara sea, to Mudanya where the population was a little less densely packed, the roads had fewer lanes and we would be more likely to share the road with sheep than buses, trucks and taxis.
Despite the sea being a little choppy, and the ferry being a catamaran (aka vomit comet) rather than an actual ferry, I broke the habit of a lifetime and managed to hold on to my breakfast… Although, given that for the entire 2 hour journey I did nothing but stare at the horizon and chain eat apples in little tiny bites, I can’t have been very good company!
Upon reaching dry land, rain began to fall and despite the spa visit, Pedro’s bike was misbehaving.
It started with the chain persistently slipping to the inside of the crank. We stopped to adjust the gears when a gear cable broke right inside the lever. After a bit of fiddling (read: minor surgery) to remove the shredded cable, it was finally replaced. Pedro took the bike for a quick test ride round the block and while doing so, the chain snapped with such force that the derailleur flew up and got stuck behind the cassette. Chain reattached, we noticed the derailleur hanger had also been bent with the derailleur making friends with the spokes… 😱😨🤯
On top of this it was now raining. Heavily.
Thankfully we found shelter in a café with a big covered outside space, which we promptly turned into a bike workshop whilst, taking pity on us, the owners supplied us with tea. What a fun few hours!
The next day Pedro pedalled single speed to the nearest bike shop where we met warmshowers host Gorkem. Gorkem kindly acted as translator as we all watched in awe as “Dr Bisiklet” straightened the frame, replaced his BB and crank to a more compatible pair and tuned the gears like a maestro would tune a violin.
Bikes fully operational, and Pedro grinning from ear to ear, we all pedalled to our home for the night with Gorkem. We had a hilarious evening with his family sharing music from Portugal, Turkey and Ireland, with delicious food cooked by Gorkem’s lovely mum!
We left stuffed – our bellies full of tasty Turkish breakfast and are hearts overwhelmed by their kindness. Having seen me wearing my cosy Albanian socks, Gorkem’s mum even gave me some socks knitted by her mother and a jar of her homemade peach jam so we could have some spoonfuls of summer with our lunches in the coming days.
We didn’t know it at the time, but this hospitality which we so appreciated was set to continue as we made our way south towards the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. For the first few days heading south we seemed to weave between towns and industrial estates through clouds and drizzle. The numerous invitations for çay and shared meals with our kind hosts along the way gave us the sunshine we needed on these grey days.
We were introduced to Turkish breakfasts, which are as extensive as an English breakfast but significantly less greasy and comprising olives, cheese, tomatoes and delicious tahini-grape molasses spread instead of beans, eggs and sausages. We had dinners cooked from homegrown veggies and drank cup after cup of çay.
One particularly memorable evening, we were heading down a road which we knew to be a dead-end, expecting it to be a good place to look for a camping spot. We soon discovered that the road led to a quarry and were about to turn back when the guys working there gestured to us to say that the road went no where. After explaining we were just looking for a place to camp, they immediately invited us to stay at the quarry. We accepted the offer, not quite knowing what to expect.
We were introduced to the chickens and handed some fresh eggs and a mop. The former to eat and the latter to clean the floor of a room to pitch our tent inside. They made sure we had a hot shower and despite having very little themselves, insisted on cooking us dinner and breakfast. Sometimes hospitality comes from the most unexpected places!
Soon the landscape and the weather changed and we were cycling in the sunshine through olive groves and orange trees and up hills through pine forests, both remarking how much it reminded us of Portugal. The factor 50 was retrieved from the bottom of our bags, to save my pale northern European skin from getting burnt in March, and Pedro was finally able to remove the pair of thermal leggings he’d been wearing under his trousers for the last 4 months.
We met a camel and multiple turtles and our bicycles were finally behaving themselves and running smoothly.
The stops for çay in various cafés were often the funniest interactions, most often aided by Google translate and always with men. We learnt to field the now increasingly common set of questions, regarding our relationship status, number of children and our age, mostly managing to hide our laughter. We decided it was easiest to say we were married, but no we didn’t have any children and yes we were incredibly old and should probably have five children by now at our great age.
The only sightseeing point on our map before hitting the coast was the ancient city of Hierapolis next to the thermal waters of Pamukkale. Hot water with a high calcium content springs out of the ground here and, as it cools, whilst rolling down the hillside the calcium is deposited making a waterfall of pools or travertines. Unfortunately due to too many tourists tramping all over them, the pools are slowly being destroyed, so now there is only a small area open for people to paddle in. After spending the afternoon wandering around the remains of Hierapolis (meaning healthy city) we waited for the sun to set and for the crowds to disperse to enjoy the travertines in all their glory.
Between us and the coast now lay about 200km and just a small mountain range. The Turkish hospitality continued with more funny stops for çay, Pedro being plyed with homemade doughnuts and cake, and being invited one night to join a family’s picnic just as we were about to disappear into some trees to find a camping spot.
Back in the mountains, Spring still hadn’t arrived and so we enjoyed a fire so that we didn’t have to eat our dinner inside our sleeping bags. We made the fire multi-purpose – grilling some halloumi on whittled sticks and making our first attempt at baking some bread in the embers.
As I turned into a pallindrome we made it south. Spring returned, and we celebrated all of the above with a packet of crinkle cut crisps and blowing our budget splashing 4TL (about 60p) to spend the afternoon having a mud bath and floating in various temperatured pools, wondering where we might be this time next year.