Saturday, 21 July 2012


By Sanne

Riding into Istanbul - a city of approximately 16 million people was a bit of a shock to the system after the quiet Black Sea Coast. But we managed to weave our way in and out of the peak hour traffic that we had of course managed to hit. Apart from the many cars there are tons of motorcycles on the road there. Most of them look like overlanders with big BMWs with top box and everything, but in fact they are just city people with way too much money and way too big egos!
We eventually found our way to Gayreteppe where we were going to couch surf with a Turkish guy named Tolga. He was a fellow bike rider and we all hit it off right away. On our first night he took us to a local drinking hole where we had the chance to taste some tasty Turkish beer in a surprisingly European atmosphere. Looking around at all the young people there I felt like I could have been anywhere in Europe. Of course this was technically Europe - Istanbul is the meeting point of the Asian and the European continents, but somehow I had always had a different impression in my mind of Istanbul as somewhere more conservative and certainly very different from Europe. Instead it is a fascinating mix of old and new, east and west, tradition and re-invention.

As we had been having problems with our bikes for a while now we desperately needed to find a mechanic. Tolga took us to his KTM mechanic who fitted our bikes in to have our carburettors cleaned and to hopefully diagnose Mark's oil leak problem. They were nice to fit ours in in front of everyone else's bikes so a couple of days later we picked them up, however we were disappointed to find that there was absolutely no change in the way the bikes were running. When we asked about the oil leak issue they just sort of shrugged their shoulders and said they didn't know. They also said that both our carburettors needed a rebuild kit but that it wasn't in stock and it would take about two weeks to order it in. One good thing, we did manage to source some new rear tyres for both of us as they were LONG overdue for a change. Ever seen a square tyre? Well that was what mine looked like. Not much fun to corner on square tyres that feel like you could tip over any moment. We wanted 50/50 tyres that could go both on and off road. We weren't able to get the ones we initially wanted so ended up getting some slightly more road-orientated ones which probably will be good for the European roads anyway.

While in Istanbul we managed to do some sightseeing. Istanbul is full of mosques and some very impressive ones at that. A couple of the most famous ones is the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. Aya Sofya in particular is a fascinating piece of architecture. Built as a church by the emperor Justinian in AD 537 it reigned as the greatest church in Christendom until the conquest of Constantinople (the then name for Istanbul) in 1453 when Mehmet the Conqueror took possession of it for Islam and immediately converted it into a mosque. As significant to muslims as it is to Christians it was turned into a museum by Ataturk in 1934. It is probably the only half church - half mosque in the world. From the outside it is spectacular but once I stepped inside I found myself in awe of its beauty and peculiar mix of religions. Now if only all those damn tourists would have buggered off it could have been an altogether magical experience.

I think it's safe to say that we both really liked Istanbul. In danger of sounding like a hippy, it is very 'happening'. But the best part of Istanbul was without a doubt our host. Tolga was so nice, even giving up his bedroom to us while he was sleeping on the couch. We tried to reject his offer but he wouldn't have it any other way. We discovered that we were all big fans of The Big Lebowski and in Tolga it seemed we had found The Dude's twin brother. He was our mentor and we were his humble apprentices. The Dude abides indeed.

The Blue Mosque

Aya Sofya

Not sure who this dude was or why the hell he was dressed like that!

Grand Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Lots of cats in this city and everybody seems to feed them

Tolga's bike getting some work done (or undone!) for his next trip

Mark and Tolga on the ferry across the Bosphorus

 View over the Bosphorus that separates Asia and Europe

Lots of keen fishermen!

Gotta love a copper on a segway!

Inside Aya Sofya


Me at the top of the Galata Tower overlooking Istanbul 
(with my Pakistan Police Force cap firmly in place!)

Saying our farewells to Tolga before hitting the road

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