Day 245 – First Taste of Turkey

Change of Pace

 

It didn’t take much convincing for Quentin’s family to agree meet us in Turkey for a few weeks of vacation. We agreed no cycling, no pressure, and no rushing from activity to activity. We would travel around a few regions of Turkey and take our time to explore them. Our bicycles we left with a vivacious Warmshowers host named Tara in Ayvalik. Our bags we packed light, with just the essentials to endure the cold weather of Inner Anatolia and a bathing suit in the hopes of taking a dip on the Lycian Coast.

Arriving in Istanbul we were thrust into the metropolitan buzz at the worst of times: rush hour. One of the first things any Istanbulite will tell you about living in the city is that it’s best to chose an apartment within a short walk from your work, because the traffic is out of control. Not only this, but the mass of people that call the city home means the streets are full at any hour of the day. It gives the city a hum that you can only find in dense Metropolis like New York or Hong Kong. Unlike its rival cities, Istanbul stubbornly hangs on to its traditions, with chai sellers popping in and out of restaurants, their covered trays steaming serving tea brewed in their own shop, rather than the restaurants preparing their own tea.

Street merchants walk up and down the side streets, announcing their wares – oranges, pastries, bread. Residents poke their heads out of the window to decide if there is anything worth buying. The Grand Bazaar seems to inhale and exhale locals and tourists alike, a constant flow parading through the old halls where anything and everything is for sale.

The mosques of Eminonu call out in imperfect unison, the call to prayer echoing in every corner of the city. Whirling Dervishes turn in the old Orient Express train station, the ghosts of distinguished voyagers still rushing to the platforms that once meant a ticket to the West.

A Cave Under the Rock

Without the hassle of transporting the bikes or all our bags, from Istanbul we easily jet off to Cappadocia, one of the most visited regions of Turkey. It is so famous thanks to the caves and fairy chimneys that have been residences for centuries to Anatolians, and their ancestors, and their ancestors, as far back as 400BC. Winter has arrived and there is a sleepy air about the region. The days are short but we visit the valleys, enjoy the formations and even catch a sunrise ride in a hot air balloon (when in Rome!). The balloons float in the first rays of sunlight, dotting around like baubles in a marshmallow sky. Our cave hotel stays surprisingly warm, and we all feel like we’re recharging our batteries from its cosy depths.

By the time we leave we’re in need of warmer weather, the sharp wind of the Anatolian plateau having chapped our lips and worn out our patience for cold temperatures. The carpet seller in Kayseri mourns our departure, especially because we left without a new rug for our foyer.

 

Lycian Road Trip

The Lycian Coast in the southwest of Turkey is a breath of warm, humid air, and we road trip through the coastal mountains. The villages are just what we are looking for but they seem haunted, with the ghosts of summer’s tourists still lingering. In a country of 80 million, it is strange to arrive in a region built up to accommodate hordes only to find it empty. Only some of the locals have stayed, fishermen sitting in men-only cafés, and the variety of stray cats and dogs only too content to cuddle up to us.

We drive inland and find a more lived-in Turkey, in the mountainous villages above Antalya. Folks greet us in a friendly way, we enjoy daily specials in restaurants instead of a big menu. Lentil soup becomes a staple we don’t tire of. We become fluent in ordering a round a caj, Turkish black tea. By the time we reach Antalya to catch our return flight to Istanbul, we’ve adopted some of the laid-back Turkish manner, the perfect antidote to the rush of modern life.

Quentin’s family fly back to the south of France. Their visit was a welcome interlude. It incited in us the enthusiasm that we’ll need to carry us across this vast country in the winter. We know that these people who were friendly to us when we were traveling by car will be ten times more curious when we come by on bicycle. We can’t wait to discover Turkey by our own pedaling!