Tasting Turkey for the first time on a bicycle

If you want to be happy, be.

We are just getting started! Cycling over the bridge at the border between Greece and Turkey was symbolic. Riding away from Europe, finally crossing into a different continent. Finally going further away and into de unknown.

Turkey is not a hidden gem anymore, and it might not be the strangest land in the world, but I had never been there. I had never crossed the European limits overland.

After 11 months on the road, we have finally made it! No time for celebrations, but to continue cycling into a new country, a different culture.

The night caught us at the same time than the rain, and we run out of the road into a thick forest. It was time to put the tent and hide before the storm falls over us.

Next morning, our first mission was drying up that tent to avoid damaging the fabric. As usual. We didn’t have any food left with us, so we just kept pushing trying to reach a shop or bakery where to get some supplies.

After the first few minutes on the road, we saw a village, and we slowed down hoping to find a market.

First coffee in Turkey

An old man started to make signs to stop from a terrace, and so we did. It was a tea house, our very first of many, and we were invited to have coffee and tea. He offered us breakfast but it seemed too much, we just thanked him for the coffee and continued on our way to find a place to dry up the tent and get food.

Minutes later, we reached some kind of a cheese shop with an outdoor area, a garden, and a kid’s playground. It looked like a good place to put our tent and tarp to dry.

Before we could take the tent out of our bag, someone came and offered us to come inside to have tea. It was a brand new restaurant and we were not sure if it was a kind offer or a demand to spend our little money there. I was convinced it was the first, Ilze was arguing it was the second.

We continued setting up the tent while discussing it, and the man came out again insisting that we should have breakfast as well.

First breakfast in Turkey

Walking into the restaurant the man just points us to a table. I tried to explain him that we didn’t have much money, that we just wanted something cheap, and he just said several times not to worry and walked away.

Food started to arrive. Cheese, sandwiches, bread, tea, olives. Another man came to talk, and we explained him with sign language how we were traveling by bicycle from England. How we were going to continue cycling all the way around the world. And how we were spending the last night in the tent.

He was nice and kind, smiling all the time while trying to communicate. When we finish eating it was already quite clear that nobody was going to ask for any payment for the meal, that we have been invited to breakfast -again-, even when they haven’t actually said the words.

But, before leaving, the other man came back with a bag full of different cheeses and some bread. A couple of kilos worth of food for the road.

Wow! Is this normal in Turkey? Did that just happen? Not a bad way to start our first morning in Turkey!

Revitalized, we continue cycling direction Istanbul. The wind was hitting strong on us, always on our face, and we were going really slow.

First host in Turkey

We were meant to have our first Couchsurfing host in Tekirdag, but we were behind schedule.

To make things worse, I had my first flat tire when the sun went down and there were no street lights around, foggy and rainy. I started to take the bags out and figure it out when a man on a tractor stopped to help and give me some light. He was not really helpful, but he was there. Willing to give me a hand.

New tube on the wheel and we kept cycling. A few kilometers later I realized the new tube was punctured again. Again on the side of the road, without enough light, I decided to make sure this time and I changed the tire and the tube. I would have time later to check properly where the nail was.

It was way too late, but there was no point in stopping there in the cold. So we kept cycling until 9pm, when we finally reached and found our host’s house.

A divorced woman, a mother of one funny girl, welcomed us into her house despite the late arrival. She insisted that we should stay a second night and, after a long day, we just said yes without any doubts.

We were in a rush to reach the other side of Turkey, we had lots of kilometers ahead of us and only 30 days due to Ilze’s visa. But on the second day in the country we already make the decision not to let that rule our plans. There are always options.

Latvians only get 30 days permit in Turkey, instead of 90 as other European countries. They can stay 90 of every 180 days in the country, but they can only be there 30 days after each stamp in their passport. In the bright side, it is totally free for them, no need for electronic visas.

After a resting day and talking about all kind of topics and matters, we kept cycling direction Istanbul.

The wind was there again, slowing us down. We were starting to be concerned about where and how we would sleep since there were absolutely no place to put the tent around there.

We were 80 kilometers of what Google Maps pointed as “center of Istanbul”, and 100 from the place where our Warmshowers’ host lived and stated it was “center of Istanbul”. That’s a big center, I thought. But 80 or 100 kilometers away from there we were already trapped in the suburbs of Istanbul. A constant traffic jam surrounded by cities, towns or suburbs.

First ride in Turkey

Ilze was going ahead this time after I stopped to take a picture. I was riding my bicycle on the side of the road when a van slowed down next to me and started to make some signs.

What does this guy want from me? I smiled, he made me a sign to wait, overtook me and slowed down in front of me.

He got out of the van with his mobile phone in his hand, shook my hand -with his other hand- and showed me his phone’s screen.

Google translator said: “I am going to Istanbul, do you want to come with me?”

Sure! Why not.

I was proud to have cycled every inch until there, but there was no point anymore in cycling in the traffic jam of Istanbul when this alternative has just appeared.

Plus, I have a lot of experience hitchhiking, but “being hitchhiked” while cycling was a new experience for me!

I managed to explain him that we needed to pick up my girlfriend as well. No problem, of course!

He was a really kind guy. Again, no English speaker, but we managed to communicate. He does a lot of active sports like paragliding and hiking, and we were sharing pictures and laughs while riding -or driving- into Istanbul.

When the traffic was all we could see around ourselves, we were even more glad to be so lucky to have been found by him. He actually took us to the door of our Warmshowers’ host, driving 20 extra kilometers of traffic jams in the process.

In the end, he just told us: “This is Turkish hospitality! Welcome!”