Part 2 – north side of Turkey
After a much longer than anticipated day, here I am at the Bulgaria – Turkey border, first time dealing with bureaucracy. Luckily for me it didn’t took so long and I was free to go. Free to go, first time in Turkey, further East than I have ever been overland and with no plan to where I will stay tonight, tomorrow or for a long time ahead, actually. This was yet another point in time when I have realized that I am really doing this. And it felt so good that my helmet could not contain the big grin on my face :D. Perhaps the twisting road ahead of me helped as well…
It was already late afternoon and I still had more than 250Km to go (according to my goal of sleeping somewhere close to Istanbul and close to the Black Sea beach) – but what the heck, this was my first day of the adventure. So I’ve went all-in, of course against all good advices everywhere: “especially during the first days, take it slow and don’t do long miles days”. Yeah, right :D. So, short story short, after some mix-up with my GPS I ended up almost crossing Istanbul, had my first kofta, played with some local riders on the highway and finished up on a much nicer place than expected: Kumkoy (or Kilyos), just north of Istanbul.
Part of the route was on the main highway going towards Istanbul – I got a bit worried on the way that I might not make while the daylight last so I took the faster road. In the end it proved to be not a great idea as it was both boring and not at all faster. But hey, you learn as you go. After the mandatory payment at the exit from the highway I was back on track, just as the light was giving up on me.
Small seaside town, lots of hotels and restaurants and, after some running around, I have even found a reasonably cheap hotel (if I remember correctly it was around 15Euro per night, including breakfast). With a backyard that had hammocks, a small and playful kitten, free tea and WiFi – I couldn’t have planned it better than this. It was late, the muezzins were calling, I was dead-tired, but I still had work to do: my Garmin GPS was throwing some errors at me that the memory was full. Whaaaaat? It was just the beginning, so I was pretty sure it was not the case. Oh well, it turned out it was just the start of a long cat-and-mouse game with my GPS. But each on it’s own time. I have managed to solve the issue by reinstalling all the POI database, this time using the correct tool (yes, the one provided by default cannot manage such a large number if POIs as required for long travels). So, eventually, late at night and tired as a working horse but happier than a puppy – lights out. So, the teaching of going slow and do not plan for too long stretches per day? True, definitely true – it was only the enthusiasm of the beginning of the adventure (and my too good for my own health stubbornness) that kept me going all day long. It was too much – but yet I was still happy that I’ve made it all the way, all day long. Will I be able to keep doing this?
The next day started with round two of my games with the GPS: after re-routing to go to a nearby gas station, I ended up crossing (for real this time) the big city of Istanbul. Twice. Oh well, again. The traffic at 9AM is exactly what you don’t need when you have a long day ahead, just after an even longer one. The reason? I have setup the GPS to avoid highways, and the bridge that was just next to the where I’ve stayed over night is classified as highway. So the GPS, in its infinite wisdom, routed me to the other side of Istanbul, through downtown, during the rush hour, to… take the ferry. I started laughing when I’ve realized what happened, re-configured the GPS and went back, all the way. To literally 6Km from where the last night hotel was and where the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge was starting. I swear I have had very vividly pictured my GPS laughing at this point, Mutley style. At least the traffic in Istanbul was fun, really fun. After India, all else is just fun :D.
So, out from the big city, out of the main roads, finally on the B-roads on the shore of the Black Sea. First stop, as I was really needing a break, and I got my first taste of the Turkish hospitality. Although I have stopped at a restaurant and ordered only tea, I have got it for free and some bonus peanuts from the owner, who didn’t speak almost anything with me. He just smiled, welcomed me inside and, at the end, just waved his hand and said I don’t have to pay anything. It felt amazing. So, again with a big grin on my face and full of good vibes, I was back on the road.
And boy, Turkey has some wonderful roads in these parts. I know people are complaining that crossing Turkey is boring. People, just have a look at Road D020 and continue on Road D010, all the way to the border with Georgia. It was amazing, most of the time, with almost empty sections, small, old villages, all the way very close to the shore, and twisties, lots and lots of twisties. Some parts of the pavement were bad, but nothing really serious that any bike could not handle with ease. Besides the occasional pothole, it was pure fun, all the way.
Having noticed the high prices of the hotels, it was clear that I will be using my camping gear pretty soon, so I have looked on the map for a camping site close to the beach and the dice decided I will be spending the night in the village Cakrazova, somewhere around Amasra. Turns out the camping site was actually a small parking of a small hotel (Pension, as these are called in Turkey), the owner was this great old man who didn’t knew English but knew lots about Romania (where he visited a number of times “in the good old days”) and I ended up paying nothing for one night of camping, free tea during the evening (I’ll get back to this), free WiFi and free fruits. Yes, it was already looking good. And me, again, dead-tired. It was already late when I’ve crossed through Amasra (by mistake) and already dark when I’ve finally found the camping site. By pure luck I had already stopped at a small road-side mini-shop and got some food with me (which will last for the next 2 dinners and breakfasts) – and the bonus was that the owner was a fan of football, thus Romania was in his good graces due to our famous trainer in Turkey: Gica Hagi :D.
The night was long and, to my surprise,
Since I was already after two very long days I have started the next one very slow, packing up and than giving the bike a lookover. Only to see that one of the underside metal support bars (that were made as an experiment to better support the side bags) have already come loose. The bolts that were connecting it to the luggage frame were sheared from the vibrations. ALREADY! Oh, well, off they went, to the garbage bin. It was clear that the experiment was a success: I have found out that this design doesn’t work. At least the bike was lighter now :D.
It was already after 11AM, so hop on and back on the road, to the East. Just to have some really puzzling experience: first the pension/camping/parking owner was very grumpy in the morning, so no tea was offered (and I was really dying to have one), then I have stopped at two or three small restaurants along the road, asking for tea, and I was refused. I could not understand why the sudden change in the attitude – and then it hit me: it was during the Ramadan, so, during the day, no food, no water, no tea. And on top of that, I was apparently in a remote area, much more traditionalist than around Istanbul parts, where they were respecting the Ramadan more strictly. What I did once I have realized this, since I was still really dying to have some tea, was just slowing down when I was approaching a terrace or restaurant, and looking carefully over the tables. If these were empty, I was just going ahead on my way, since I didn’t want be so insensible again. And eventually it paid of, I have found some terrace with street side tables and people having tea and pastries – screeeeeching halt, off the bike and at the table in less than an instant – finally I had my first tea of the day :D. And very, very good pastries.
Many more twisties later, some really close-by tricky situation of my own doing (I got too close to the right-side shoulder and the back wheel slipped off the tarmac and started to wobble really hard), some off pavement detours due to under construction sections, some more tricks from the GPS (at some point I was supposed to make a right-turn, only to end up on a small hill, with a sudden drop in front of me where, 4-5 meters below, I could see the new road that was built since the map was last updated :D), I ended up at another camping site, again on the beach of the Black Sea, again close to night-fall. So I pitched my tent, had a quick snack, paid only half of the rate (was asking for 50TRY, roughly 8EURO), just because I had no more change and the owner said, yeah, it’s OK :D. The place was not that cozy and definitely not clean (the showers were a mess and there was no hot water whatsoever) – buy again the experiences from India helped me take it lightly and don’t mind it all. I quickly washed some clothes and lights out again, since I was planning on yet another long stretch for the next day. By the pace I got so far, it was possible to reach Batumi in just one more day. So why not? I could give it a try.
As planned I managed to get up an early bird, packed, searched around for an ATM, rode along a local with a very shiny cruiser for some time and off I went. This was the most uneventful day so far, but still plenty of good roads ahead. At some point, just at the exit from a biggish town (I think it was Samsun) I saw all the cars merging into a single, diverting lane, the resulting big traffic jam, and an under construction tunnel just ahead. So, what the heck, what can go wrong? I swerved out off the traffic, went straight to some workers just before the tunnel entrance and asked if I could take the tunnel ahead. To my very big surprise they said OK and waved me off. Ever had a whole tunnel just for yourself? Yeah, it was just great. And coming out of the tunnel I had the entire ramp also all for myself, I have emerged just like a king, above all the traffic jam below me. Yeah, it was as great as it sounds – and even better :D.
Fast forward, some hundreds of kilometers more, I ended up at the Turkey – Georgia border, less than 20Km from Batumi. And lucky for me, I was on a bike – the trucks queue was many miles (and tunnels) long. I was out of the border in no time, just to find out that I had to face the dreaded Georgian road insurance. But more about that on the next post, when we cross Georgia towards Azerbaijan.