Monthly Archives: March 2013

Crossing the Bosphorus!

With only 100km to go to Istanbul, I had decided that I would sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast. That was until I discovered that the U/15 boys soccer team from Greece had decided to resume hostilities with their ancient foes and were using the hotel’s foyer and corridors for their training ground. Fortunately their coaches quickly rounded them up and the adolescent army was eventually shovelled onto a troop transporter and headed off to do battle on some distant football field.

Old meets new, East meets West.

The outskirts of Istanbul: old meets new, East meets West.

With sanity and serenity restored I enjoyed my delayed breakfast and mused on the day ahead.

When I was in Lahore, Omar from the Pakistan Bikers Club had  recommended that I get in contact with the “Istanbul Bisiklet ve Motosiklet Ihtisas Kulubu” – the Istanbul Cycling and Biking Specialty Club. Coincidentally, several times throughout my travels I had met fellow overland motorcyclists who had stayed in Istanbul during their eastward wanderings. All had been glowing in their praise of the hospitality of the friendly folk at IBMIK.

All I had was a street address and an email address of somebody going by the name of “mrcolonel50”. After sending a few emails I established that “mrcolonel50” was indeed somebody called Mehmet and arrangements were made to meet at an address in Zeytinburnu – a district in old Istanbul not far from the Golden Horn.

With a workable plan for the day in place I saddled up for the last time in Asia and headed for the big smoke of Istanbul. The entire ride from Izmit was an anti-climax – massive traffic jams, suicidal truck and taxi drivers, and the scenery was just like any other huge city.

As I neared Istanbul I caught my first glimpse of the Sea of Marmara – the large body of water that links the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. The Sea of Marmara has been the scene of some of the greatest naval battles in the entire history of human civilisation; Greeks against Persians, European crusaders against Byzantines, Ottoman Turks against anybody that came close for 500 years. It is a living textbook of history.

At the north-eastern end of the Sea of Marmara is the Bosphorus Strait that divides the old European part of Istanbul from the modern Asian part. The two parts were only linked for the first time in 1973 by the original Bogazici (Bosphorus) Bridge and then again in 1988 by the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.

Bogazici Bridge over the Bosphorus - Europe on the left, Asia on the right!

Bogazici Bridge over the Bosphorus – Europe on the left, Asia on the right!

In an email my contact at IBMIK, Mehmet, had advised me against taking either bridge due to the nightmare traffic and suggested that I take one of the many ferries plying the crossing. But I decided against taking Mehmet’s advice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, ferries involve timetables (which I dislike) and waiting around (which I dislike even more). Secondly, but more importantly, this would be a defining moment in my trip – leaving Asia and entering Europe. And I was determined to do it on two wheels NOT on a ferry.

How hard could it be?

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Categories: 10. Turkey | 1 Comment

Onward to Izmit

Next morning I took a pleasant stroll around the quiet streets of Kirikkale. It seemed like a prosperous, if not overly pretty,  little city. Maybe I had been too quick to dismiss it. Next door to Otel 71 was a small café where I stopped for breakfast. I asked the owner of the café what Kirikkale was known for. He replied, “Making steel and chemicals”. Hmmm, not a great claim to fame!

While packing the bike I began to doubt the wisdom of my plan to ride all the way to Istanbul today.  It was about 530km and would mean arriving in the middle of Istanbul’s late afternoon peak hour traffic which was reportedly worse than both Delhi’s cow-induced chaos and Tehran’s gridlock – although I failed to see how this could be humanly possible. A late arrival was something that I wanted to avoid. So I decided to stop about 100km short of Istanbul at Izmit which would leave me an easy day’s ride the following day.

And so the day’s ride was set. I would bypass the chaos of Ankara, head for Bolu by lunchtime and then be in Izmit by early afternoon.

Istanbul is not far way now!

Between Kirikkale and Ankara – the first sign to Istanbul!

The highway skirted around the outer suburbs of Ankara. And I was glad that I had decided to give the massive concrete jungle such  a wide berth. Then it was a tedious 200km ride to Bolu where I made the obligatory pitstop for lunch.

Ankara

Several people asked me why I bypassed Ankara. Wall-to-wall concrete, maybe.

It was only another 150km to Izmit so I took my time and stopped at Uzunkum near Lake Sapanca. If you discount the disappointing heat-haze blur of the Caspian Sea, this was the biggest body of water I had seen since Lake Attabad on the KKH all those months ago. Just to see those cool clear blue water again was enough to lift the spirits. I had grown up on the beaches of SE Queensland and have always lived within 20km of the coast so being away from the sea for so long was a strange sensation.

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Lake Sapanca – a beautiful place to stop and take in the view.

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Categories: 10. Turkey | 2 Comments

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