Istanbul (TK) – Göreme (TK) / 4232 km / 2.06 Million Turns
Before we left on our bike trip, both of us thought “a whole year of travelling for sure means we can really take it slowly and cycle everywhere we want”. However, the world turns out to be a bigger place after all. Turkey was our first confrontation with that fact. Since we plan to cross some high Himalayan passes, some of which close already mid-October, we had to make a few hard choices: either go in a pretty straight line through Turkey and miss out on a few beautiful areas, or break the chain of cycling and speed up a bit by taking a bus. As we both have a healthy amount of FOMO (fear of missing out), and all the Turkish people we asked mentioned the south-west coast is one of the most beautiful parts of Turkey, we decided to break the chain. Not an easy choice for us stubborn people! We sort of justify it by cycling at least the number of kilometres the ‘straight-line-route’ through Turkey would be. Breaking the chain is quite a mental ordeal when doing long distance cycle touring, and a frequent point of discussion when meeting other cyclists (is it cheating?). However, there are no rules and certainly no referees in cycle touring. And, breaking the chain soon proved to be fully worth it.
First Istanbul though: we had booked a cheap Airbnb in the centre of the city (Beyoglu) and would stay here for a week to see Istanbul, arrange a few things such as the Iranian visa (complete chaos at the consulate, but we got it!!), buy new repair stuff and of course take some time to relax. Our Airbnb apartment was a bit different than expected though: when we arrived the host still had to take all his things out. Then, only when he left us the key, did he mention there was a nightclub right above us which would keep us company until late night almost every day! After he left we cleaned the place for more than an hour until it was liveable again (loose medication strips, cigarette butts and hairy shower drains included). But we had a great time in this huge city! We went to a 450-year old Hamam (which was so intense, Sabine almost fainted twice and had to be carried out supported by the staff!), took the ferry to the Asian side, and shopped around. We also had drinks with cycling Dutchies Mari and Eva again (with whom we watched the first match of Ajax vs Tottenham), and Emilie and Romain, a French couple also cycling east.
After Istanbul we decided to cycle in a few different parts in Turkey and take buses in between. Our plan was to take a ferry to Bursa, hitchhike towards Marmaris and then cycle on to Antalya along the coast. Again, things did not go as planned! When on a quiet Saturday morning we cycled out of Istanbul towards the ferry, Tom’s chain skipped so badly, he could hardly climb a hill. He had just renewed his chain, the dimensions of the chain were correct, what could it be then? We still don’t know exactly. We went on the ferry anyway and decided to hitchhike to Izmir to go to a good bike shop there. Getting a ride in Turkey is quite easy, even with a bike! The third vehicle that stopped was an empty trailer truck. We strapped our bikes on his trailer, climbed in and got a direct ride towards Izmir. A bit stressful though, as it was just a single strap holding our bikes with bags on to the truck and the driver had a hard time combining talking and driving at the same time. Every bump we went over was immediately followed by nervous looks in the side mirrors to check if both bikes were not bouncing off the highway.
In Izmir, we went straight to a few different bike shops, but none of them had spare parts for Rohloff systems (our gear system). We ended up staying an extra day in Izmir to organize this: we ordered the parts from a bike shop in Holland (thank you Robs Bikeshop!), sent them to Mari’s sister that would be visiting Mari and Eva soon (thank you Belle!). In the meanwhile we would try to cycle on down the Lycian coast and see how Tom’s bike would hold up on the steep climbs ahead. So, after Izmir, we took a bus to Mugla and after ten days off the bike we FINALLY started cycling again. Fortunately, the chain skipping became less by the day, so after some worrisome days the skies were bright again.
As soon as we got on the bike, we knew we had made the right decision going down south. Landscapes were dramatic, with snow-capped mountains on one side and a crystal blue coast line on the other. The hills were tough, we climbed about 1200m on a daily basis, and temperatures rose quickly during the day, so it was a sweaty mess. But so rewarding! We crossed a few beautiful towns such as Fethiye and Kars, cycled to Olympos and then hiked to the eternal flames of Chimaera. Our last destination on the Lycian coast was Antalya, a city we both only knew from all-inclusive hotels and rsorts. We got to see a very different side however: an unwinding city with a great vibe!
From Antalya we took a bus towards Aksaray and started cycling towards Gorëme, where the beautiful region of Cappadocia is located on the central Anatolian plateau. Again, we were surprised and in awe of the totally different landscape here. We hiked through the Ihlara valley (highly recommendable), camped with spectacular views on a volcano (reminiscent of Mt. Fuji) and visited the underground city of Derinkuyu before arriving in the Disneyland tourist town that is Gorëme.
So there we were, in Cappadocia! Three volcanoes in this area put layer after layer of ash here, which solidified into a soft rock. Erosion (from water and wind) then formed huge strangely shaped rocks and valleys. Each valley has distinct characteristics, such as the Red Valley (red stones), the Swords Valley (spikey rocks) and the Love Valley (No it’s not called Love Valley because the rocks are heart-shaped…). In Medieval times, human settlers carved out entire houses, churches and other dwellings in the rocks, which you can still visit today. Most of them are not well signed so it really is an Indiana Jones adventure to spot them and climb through the narrow tunnels.
We wild camped in the park and had two private caves at our disposal (the ‘kitchen’ and the ‘bike shed’). For a few days we lived like Fred and Wilma Flintstone (Yabbadabbadoo!). It was stunning! We were treated on amazing sunsets (accompanied by a bottle of wine) and the second morning, woke up at 4:30 to see a hundred hot air balloons flying over our heads! It’s hard to describe how magnificent this moment was, standing on our own camping spot, watching balloons flying through the canyon below us while others glided over the tent.
In Göreme we met Pheng and Matt, two cyclists from New Zealand. We decided to explore a few valleys together by bike, an exhilarating experience. We roamed around in the Red and Rose valley, tried to cycle the Love Valley and went down Pigeon Valley. Ultimately, Cappadocia got to us more than we expected and a few days later we left the park with a bit of pain in our hearts. It is one of those places where forces of nature created a work of art, a place we can reminisce on for a long time.
Talk to you soon,
Tom & Sabine