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

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Black Sea Coast

By Mark

Arriving in Samsun on the Black Sea Coast was the first time we had seen the sea in over 4 months and it was a great sight to see and smell. After 4 countries of heat, dust, desert and mountains it had been way too long to be away from the water and a swim was going to be on the cards for sure. Samsun city was a busy little place and our main aim here was to just find an internet cafe to do some research on places to stay in Istanbul and also mechanics that could have a look at our bikes, with a few on-going problems we really wanted them back in good shape. With a beautiful coastline ahead of us we hit the road west towards Istanbul and looked for a place to camp the night. With a very steep mountain range and cliffs leading down to most of the coastline it made it quite hard for us to find places to camp by the sea. Our only real chance of doing this was to stay at a campground with all the facilities but at 20TL per head we decided to give it a miss, instead we would put up with each others growing smells a little longer and turned inland to find a nice quiet spot in the forest. In no time we found a great little spot and were certain not to get any visitors this time round. For a change we were right and had a peaceful night's sleep and being in amongst the forest gave us the chance for a little sleep in as it was not so hot or bright inside the tent. We then made our way back toward the coastline climbing and dropping twisting and turning back down to the ocean level many times over the next few days following the coastline. The best thing about the northern coastline is that it is not very busy here compared to the southern coast of Turkey. As we would cruise through small villages we would get many a smile and waves from the locals and had now left the rock throwing kids behind thankfully, I didn't really feel like smashing anymore windows to teach them a lesson! At one very small village we stopped to stock up on our daily feed of fresh bread and veg when a local chap invited us for chai. Before we could even get out our phrasebook to try and have a chat with him he had downed his scolding hot tea, left money for to pay for them all and was off, his friends all piled into a car awaiting for him so they could leave. Shortly afterwards a couple of young guys were milling around and quite shy finally approached us and placed a small note on our table reading: "Can i ask question? Which country did you come?" With a quick reply to them they seemed to be satisfied and slowly moved on. It is always funny the daily interactions with locals and struggling our way through a brief conversation but that is what makes most days. They are the friendliest people here and not once have we been made to feel unwelcome. We did finally get to manage a couple of nights down by the ocean and the first of the 2 we were positive that we would have no visitors. After setting up camp we headed down to a private rocky little beach to wash away the past 5 days of dirt and grime. My body was in much need of it by now, thankfully the temperature has not been too hot here or otherwise i think Sanne would be asking me to sleep outside. So we jumped in for a very refreshing swim and enjoyed our privacy while having a skinny dip. Just on sunset we found we were no longer alone as a German cyclist was down by our camp after seeing the clearing from a hill top from the opposite direction we had come, he hadn't seen our tent however and was as shocked as us when he saw us. Just happy he did't show up any earlier. He set up camp a little further away from us and returned to trade stories of what we were doing and where we were going. I can't believe the amount of German cyclists we have met along the road so far and the following day we passed 5 more. The following day we finally got to camp down on the beach and enjoy a much needed cold beer and an even colder swim, just a 200km ride west and the water temp was a hell of a lot colder and I could feel the coldness in ways I wish I didnt have too. Luckily enough the sun was shining and lying down on the sand and slowly I got back my senses and blood seemed to be pumping through the body and make everything feel normal again. We were not the only people with the idea of camping down on the beach so we happily had no choice but to share it with the local tourists. Sadly though this was going to be our last day by the Black Sea as we had arranged along the way a couch to stay on in Istanbul the following day with a fellow biker who knew a mechanic we could go and see. Not really knowing anything of the Black Sea it was a great surprise as to how beautiful the coastline is here and very glad that we decided to travel in this direction.

Sanne having a little sleep in

A great camp spot in the forest

The Black Sea Coast line

Our own little beach...

...that was until this guy showed up!

Still, was a nice campspot

Stopping by another beach for a spot of lunch

 Nice little beach

Time for a dip

And finally got to camp on the beach

Collecting some firewood for a fire

 A lovely little town with a beautiful bit of coastline

Monday, 9 July 2012

Eastern Turkey

By Mark

After clearing Iran we made our way into the Turkish immigration where I firstly had to get myself a visa which is easy enough, no forms or photos just hand over 15 euro and you are good to go with 3 months stamped into my passport. Before we could clear the bikes though we did have to get insurance for them which cost us about $27 for both bikes which was pretty cheap. All friendly and helpful here and in no time we were on our way. We only had a nice short ride to our first destination to the town of Dogubayazit just 30km's away. The roads were empty and in good condition apart from the many trucks on their way to Iran with a 4km long convoy of trucks waiting to clear customs. Upon entering the town we were a little confused as to which way we needed to head at first to find our camp spot. While riding around we were greeted with some 'friendly' rock throwing kids which I didn't really take kindly to and decided to chase them on my bike where they fled in all directions but all seemed to end up in a small local shop where they had decided to lock themselves in. I went straight up to the front door to confront them and they seemed a little surprised at me coming to approach them, probably didn't help that I was yelling like a mad man. At first I never realised the doors were locked and upon trying to get in the shop for a second time I put my hand though a glass panel by accident! I don't know by this stage who was more shocked but the eldest of the boys came out and was not happy about what just happened, the only thing I could understand out of everything he was saying was "Polisi!", so I jumped on my bike and left. I just hoped that these boys got the message about throwing rocks. It didn't seem to end there however - the following morning on our way out of town we encountered the same problem but these boys were older, bigger and with hatred in their eyes decided upon firing golf ball size rocks at us. After yesterday's incident I let these boys go about their business and we roared out of town with a bad feeling about our newest country.
We were headed for the city of Erzurum to find a mechanic for our bikes. After a surprisingly cool ride we came across a very modern and clean city and many helpful people so we soon forgot about the little bastard rock throwing kids. We ended up staying here for 3 days while the bikes carbies and tanks were cleaned along with a change of oil and minor service. The down side was my oil problem on the bike was not solved and we would have to wait until we got to Istanbul to sort out the bigger issues. The other problem was the mechanics ended up showing that they were not the most capable of mechanics and went ahead and stripped nuts and were generally a bit complacent about their work but they did make up for it in feeding us, maybe they should become chefs instead? It was the first workshop in my life where they cook for you while you are waiting for your bike to be fixed, maybe just something for us and not the locals. Even though we still had some bike problems we packed up and left hoping that all would work itself out shortly in Istanbul. We had decided by this point we should head north for the Black Sea and not the south as it would have been a longer and harder trip on the bikes.
After the cost of hotels here we had decided it was time to go back to camping to bring down our costs and Turkey is great for camping with many opportunities to just pull off the road and find a nice field to set up in. Just when we think that we have managed to find a place out of the way, we always end up with some locals showing up out of the blue but no one has seemed bothered by our presence and some stop by for a chat and see what we are up too. The down side is it has been hard to communicate with them as many people in the east speak little to no English and our Turkish is almost non existent but somehow we still manage to get across what we are doing, relying heavily on our Turkish phrasebook we were given by a German bicycle traveler. We love that we are back camping as we have missed it through Asia and it is our little home away from home especially after spending 3 months camping everyday in Australia.

Our first night in Turkey and back to camping!

 The mountain range and old Mosque and Fort that surround the town of Dogubayazit

Some much needed attention to the poorly running bikes

 One dirty carby - the fuel tank was not much better

Not the biggest workshop, nor the most competent sadly

Myself with the "mechanics"

Our bikes got to sleep in the foyer of our hotel

A spot of camping in some wheat fields on our way to the Black Sea

The roadside fruit and veg stalls are very cheap and the quality is top notch!

There seems to be no shortage of places where you can find a spot to camp

Even the locals come by for a chat and don't seem to mind us being on their land