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.
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.
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?
I continued up the motorway until I was within sight of the Bogazici Bridge where I pulled over to take a photo as a memento. As I was about to take the shot, the Turkish police arrived to advise me, very politely, that I could not stop on the motorway. I told them I just wanted to take a photo and they were happy if I got moving immediately. Hurriedly, I snapped away with the friendly wallopers standing over my shoulder.
After three and a half months, over 10,000km and ten different countries, my trip across Asia had come to an end. On the other side of the bridge was Europe. A tinge of sadness came over me as I realised my adventures in Asia were over. Soon I would be back in the more familiar world of the West.
But the East was not about to give up its grip on me without a struggle.
Following a roughly drawn map I set out in search of Mehmet and the IBMIK. I made my way through Galata, across the Golden Horn into the maze of narrow lanes and alleys that make up the old leatherworking district of Zeytinburnu. After quite a few fascinating, but ultimately fruitless, detours around the district I gave up and dropped into a scooter shop to ask for directions. With great pride and pleasure a couple of the likeable lads were only too keen to pilot me through the mayhem to my meeting with Mehmet. It turned out to be only 100m away in a small street accessible only by even smaller laneways.
After the scooter boys delivered me to the IBMIK clubhouse, Mehmet welcomed me like a long-lost brother and introduced me to Adil, the President of the IBMIK. Within minutes I was made to feel completely at home. It is hard to imagine meeting two nicer guys anywhere – and it was particularly appreciated and heart-warming after three long months on the road.
Mehmet was to become my guide, translator and friend for the next week as I looked forward to having a decent break – the longest in any one place since my extended layover in Dushanbe chasing visas.
But for now I was just happy to put my feet up, have an ice-cold Efes and celebrate arriving safely in Istanbul!