Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Great expectations...

Part of a cross-continental bike trip is crossing into new regions and countries. Each new country can mean a new language, currency and customs. In addition, a new country comes with a set of expectations, both from our own impressions, but also from what we read and from what neighbouring countries and the locals have to say. In many cases our preconceived expectations about a country overprepared us and we often found that traffic, road conditions, people etc. were nowhere near what we thought they would be.

Entering Slovenia...

Germany had quaint little villages, a world away from continous industrial areas that we had expected there to be. Albania had way better roads and better drivers than we'd read about. And Turkey was nowhere near as expensive as we were warned it would be. 

Entering Turkey...

Even now that we're cycling in Canada, we've had some of our preconceptions dispelled... We were expecting busy roads with fast drivers and we didn't think that we'd interact with as many people as in southeast Europe. Happily both of these fears were dispelled on our first day of cycling. In the first five kilometres, we were invited by a passing driver to stop for a drink and we were later invited to camp on the lawn of some local cyclists that we met at a roadside vegetable stand. And sticking to small country roads, we've had a pretty calm ride!

Stopping for beers after only 5km on the road...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Turkey the perfect country?

Turkish people are so hospitable.
We really can't exaggerate just how friendly and hospitable everyone was. Almost every time we stopped, we would be approached by someone with gifts of fruit, tea, water, etc, etc. Strangers offered to show us around town or to give us a place to stay overnight - twice we were even given the master bedroom!

Sharing a Ramazan dinner outside a local mosque

Turkey has lots of ancient ruins
From an earlier trip to Turkey, we knew about some impressive Roman ruins like Ephesus. But getting off the tourist trail, we stumbled across many more ruins still being excavated. Since we had them pretty much to ourselves, we could sit in the stadiums or amphitheatres and imagine what they were like in their glory days.

Roman Baths at Aizanoi
Tasty Turkish snacks!
We biked through orchards of ripe figs, peaches, grapes, apricots, plums... You could buy this amazing fresh fruit pretty much anywhere as well as dried fruits and nuts. And in every town, there are street-corner vendors selling simit (a bagel-like Turkish snack) and the bakeries also prepared all sorts of special breads for the Ramazan period. That's right - all this food was available to us to feed our raging cyclist appetites, while most Turkish people were fasting for Ramazan. Thankfully, as travellers and non-Muslims, we never made to feel bad about eating during the fast (even receiving regular gifts of food).

Saturday, August 18, 2012


After an amazing 4 months and 5800 km, we have arrived in Istanbul - the end of the European leg of our bike trip.

The mosques and palaces are beautiful and the city is bustling. Although it calmed down a lot as Ramazan ended and everyone set off home to the villages for a holiday.

From Istanbul, we now fly to Canada. After a few days with family and a friend's wedding, we will start the next chapter of our cycle journey - roughly Toronto to Quebec City.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Acts of Kindness

Not to mention the countless unsolicited gifts of fresh fruit or invitations for tea, here are some of our favourite moments from the last weeks:

Google Translate on two laptops made for easy communication
Stopping in a small town in the evening, we soon had two competing offers for a place to stay the night. A Dutch man visiting his uncle offered us a room, and a local shopkeeper suggested other options for camping, sleeping on his roof terrace or even a bed. After a quick tour of our options, we chose to stay with the grocer. The discussion then turned to who would treat us to dinner! Our evening continued with pizzas, then iced drinks and a late-night fruit feast. The next morning, we were even taken to see some nearby Byzantine ruins before a home-cooked breakfast!

A watermelon salesman passed us on his tractor, then stopped. He offered us a gift of a small melon which we managed to fit into one of our bags. When he tried to offer a second (larger) watermelon, we thanked him but indicated that there was no more room on the bikes. Undeterred, he pulled out a knife and cut the melon into slices which we devoured on the spot.

Shopping for groceries in the late afternoon, a 14-year old boy invited us to come see his mosque. He then offered to show us the town canyon (which was spectacular and we would have completely missed it otherwise). Walking back through town, we were invited to share in the Ramazan dinner outside a small mosque. Our young guide then invited us to stay at his house for the night, even offering us his own bed (we insisted on taking the mattress on the floor instead). Despite little common language, his enthusiasm was infectious and we had a great time.

An oil tanker truck passed us as we were going up a steep hill. It stopped a short distance ahead and the 50-year-old driver started jogging back towards us. Completely to our surprise, he grabbed onto Marieke's bike and started pushing her up the hill! As we passed his truck, he stopped pushing and got back in. He only drove about 200m, before he was jogging back and pushing Marieke again! He told us that this was good training for his marathons. We had reached the top of the hill, so we thanked him and he drove off. But there he was again at the next hill - this time with a gift of Cokes and cookies!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A week of ruins

We've visited some of the wealth of archaeological sites in Turkey - seeing Ephesus, Nysa, Aphrodisias and Hierapolis in the past week. These are all ruins of ancient Roman or Byzantine towns. The excavations of the ruins have focused on the town centres, and each site had several well-preserved buildings.

Library (Ephesus)
Theatre (Nysa)
Visiting the four towns in quick succession has meant that we can see the similarities and imagine something of life 2000 years ago.

Council House (Aphrodisias)
Latrines (Hierapolis)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A Day on the Road: Where does the time go?

We've been biking for over three months. Looking at a map of our route, it's easy to see where the days and weeks have gone. But where does the time really go? We're typically on the road for about 8 hours a day, but obviously we aren't cycling all that time.

The distances and the pace at which we ride each day vary according to the scenery, the people we encounter and the stops along the way. A long climb or a strong headwind can really slow us down, but we can usually make up for it by going downhill or turning a corner.

Riding uphill into a headwind
We like to bike for about an hour at a time, then stop for a break and a snack. The lunch break can stretch out to an hour as we make sandwiches, and enjoy the shade.

Even the simple task of grocery shopping takes up about an hour each day. In larger supermarkets, it takes us this much time to just locate everything since every store is laid out quite differently. It's not as complicated at smaller stores, but we may need to visit several to get all the ingredients for a single meal.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

5000 km!

Today we passed the giant 5000 km milestone! Looking back...

1000km of flat German roads...
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2000km just after we turned off the Donau river route...
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3000km on deserted island roads in Croatia...
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4000km entering Albania...
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5000km along the coastal highway in Turkey!
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