The penultimate chapter (second from last ), as I type this I am sitting comfortable and safe in the Bestikaarea of Isatanbul. I could still get run over in traffic, but it will happen while I am on foot not a bike. Some have asked, whats in-store for the future and other trips. The real answer is that I am not at all sure. No decision has been made to that end. For now we will leave it all right there.
Lets return to Veliko Tarnovo shall we, as I need to explain a few things about JW being off the grid for 5 days and tender an apopogy to a friend Anton Maranov. I shall explain, prayers were asked for and recieved as well as delivered upon in my mind. It was said that ol’JW sure was having trouble with health issues this trip, to which I say oh bogus……nothing to worry about it is all normal wear and tear. To have sore knees is nothing more than the culmination of years of wear and tear and proof that God designed us all as individuals…..we simply dont all wear out at the same time nor of the very same ailgments. LUKE12.7 makes this very clear.
The riding from up in northern Bulgaria had been a hot one and at times was a ride with less than adequat food intake and maybe a little short on water at times. I arrived Veliko in what I felt was good shape with a few body functions that were not quite the way they should be for me. Dont bother telling me about your body functions, nor about the national average on how many times a day a fella should take a leak etc. TMI for one thing, and secondly, YOU aint me. I already know me pretty well. Biggest part of getting to Veliko was to meet a great engraver and human being, one Anton Maranov. Got that done and had supper with Anton and his wonderful wife Bobbie. The plan was to leave the next morning and begin cycling again. Little background……..JW is always in a hurray. A small piece of my character that I am not always happy with.
That same first evening, about 2 hours after supper is when everything sort of came unraveled shall we say, at least healthwise. What didnt come up got shot out….if I can put it that way and have you understand. Went thru shivers and shakes, hot as heck then freezing. First and second night were spent sleeping on the cool floor of the tiled bathroom…….it was also 3.75 steps closer to the crapper folks and that had become an important factor. No matter what I tried eating, nothing would stick to my ample rib cage. I tried everything that my two favorite nurses suggested, my Mom and my wife……..my wife by the way could write a medical journal I am sure of it. She is way beyond chicken soup for everything but herpes, she knows stuff only a indigenous island Shaman would know…..mater of point they call her for advice. No amount of magic, smoke filled room from burning insect candles, 3 string of prayer beads wrapped around my skull, walking to the bathroom backwards……it works like drinking a glass of water upside down says my wife. Nope, didnt work. I drank water like a fish.
Elasticity was gone from my skin, drowsy all the time. I finally concluded that it was pure dehyration…….not the feared Leprosy as my wife thought, nor was it Scurvy as my 3 niece nurses thought, nor did I need accupuncture as Selina suggested I try. My body simply needed time to take on enough water to be restored to its full and proper function and form. Day 4, food stayed down/in, both ends are important. Dont forget that the posterior is the only place on the human body known by accupunturists too be able to raise a teenager of the couch from the reclining position in just one stride. From lounging to work in less than 3 seconds…….sounds like a Trump Plan. OKAY, OKAY, we will drop all political referrence.
Day 5, JW felt human again but was suffering from “restless leg syndrome” and needed to be moving. I could have hung around another day and went out to Antons engraving shop, sorry but I didnt. I headed out early and began to thread my way thru the mountains heading south out of Veliko. I had read blogs and even talked to a few local riders. They all warned that I was heading into hills that would likley overwhelm me on a loaded bike. The first range of mountains seen me riding out on a small local highway marked Hwy 53. It winds its way up thru constantly growing foothills, wine grape filled valleys in some places and herding stock in others. I even came across a small herd of those SE asian water buffaloe cows…….seemed real strange to see them here, but have since learned there is a brand of very popular milk product down here in Bulgaria and Turkey that uses milk from this type of cow exclusively.
In the end, there was one short grade at a marked 10% as I left a tiny vilage, everything else was 8% or less. So in all it was a pretty comfortable ride. The hills are heavily timbered, mostly hardwoods, but also some places with pines etc. So the ride was nicely shaded for the most part. Along the way as with many mountain roads over here, all road side springs are developed and cool water is pouring forth. One sad note here, in Bulgaria and as I have seen especially in Turkey. Any place lower than the trunk of your car is a qualified GARBAGE SPOT. And the last rule is it cant be in your own backyard……but its okay if its the house next to you. So, as a result of this practise, what I seen was that many of the roads side springs had turned into dumping grounds as well. Doenst seem to matter that the stuff is 10 feet away, the human mind smells and sees this stuff and automatically concludes the water is also tainted. I dont think it was or is, but on a few occassions it was less than pleasant.
I camped among a grove of huge Sycamores, with a thick leafy carpet under my tent, I slept well. As a point of interest. JW is now on book number 40 in my evening reading pursuits. Woke up and pdealled the last 10-12 miles to the top and tipped over on a downhill run into Slevin. An unpleasant little town, dusty, dirty and on the edge of a large plain. Stopped and had my morning coffee, a piece of Burik, which is a philo type pastry dough filled with cottage cheese in this case. Later, I will have Burik made with lamb and liver that doesnt settle so well in my internal garbage disposal………somehow that taste and smell of the ghosts of Mongolia come creeeping back in.
Next stop was Yambol before I head over what I was told would be my steepest climbs yet. Yambol is a rug weaving region within Bulgaria and I was excited to see what was there. NOT MUCH, to be honest, not much at all. Matter of fact rather dissappointing. JW is not a trained rug buyer, but I aint the village idiot iether, and what I seen would be classed as junk with a very hefty price tag since it was a non Bulgarian asking about them. The folks of Yambol all still own thier rugs and I have my money that I intended to spend……that is how a free market works.
Truth be told, the row of mountains coming out of Tarnovo was my last real mountains, and the ride out of Yambol south to the border is just a long undulating slog is all. No climbs, no hills pushing 20 percent, just row after row of hills. The riding after I got to Turkey would make me work far harder as I am about to tell you.
Turkey, at least this western end of the country is a step down into lower poverty that is very evident. The towns change, the roads are dustier, the villages dirtier or far less developed if I can put it that way. Rock and brick hovels in some cases, and then in another part of a village you would see a gorgeous house and yard. The hwy recommended to me was D020 all the way to Kemerburgaz then take the park road. This is what I done, but once again the ride did not fit the blog description very close at all. It struck me as being a little like the way Mongolia had been described to me, or the way the locals described the climbs up to the border…….made me wonder if they had really been there.
Turkey grows on you as it makes you work hard to cross it. Its is huge arid farm and grazing ground at its outer western edges, all this gives way to heavier tree cover and a change in crop types as you swing up and under the influence of the weather pattern created by the Black Sea. You begin to ride into a constant head wind for one thing, but in addition to that the hills get taller and steper and much closer together. By mid day, you will have serious sweat stains on the cycle shorts. By days end you are plenty glad to quit and just take a rest.
Good morning said Adam as I approached him sitting and resting half way up just such a hill. Adam, 28 years of age and hailing from Hungary. Began his solo recumbent cycle journey in Budapest, and is determined to cycle Turkey, Azerbijian, Georgia and Iran. A considerable journey as mountainous as Georgia and Iran are, and given the current geopolitical tensions. I told him I would stick with circumnavigating Iowa, a challenge and a joke that seemed to be lost on Adam. Having a Masters in electronics, he worked in UK for almost 8 years for a computer firm. Saved his money and has been planning for this 6 month sojoirn ever since completeing University. No more cubicles, no more computer screens and blue prints for Adam, when the trip is over, he plans on pursuing something meaningful to him not just the wallet. I ask, what may that look like, and he replies that wood carving has always fascinated him as has ornamental iron work……so, we will wait and see what surfaces. We rode together for the next 20 or so miles till evening came. While I planned on a wild camp again, he stopped of to check on a couch surfing stay…….something else that i dont mess with…….I think you have to be sub 30 to adapt to the whole couch surfing thing.
The second from lasr day, I am some 70 miles or more from Istanbul proper and its a Saturday evening. JW is riding along looking for a place to throw down the tent. Everywhere I turn, the woods are jam packed full of folks camping, and camping some of the worst places that you can pick at elast in my estimation. I find a sliver of naked woods where I can take a bath and not see any other campers. The next day however told the real story. Sunday would see many folks leaving the surrounding forests and heading back to urban life. What stood out so clarion clear is just how little respect they had for the property and the place on which they camped. The woods, on both sides of the road as far as could be seen were just littered with every sort of trash imaginable. I could not believe the type, nor the sheer amount of trash that could be left behind. Disspointing to see, and to make matters more striking, the following day I would ride my last 20 or so miles thru one of Turkeys National Parks…….and that gorgeous park had been abused in very much the same manner. The park was fenced along both sides, so from road to fence line was a very visible trash pile. Anyplace that the fence had for some reason failed to stay standing, the trash at that point just meandered out into the bush as far as could be seen.
Dropping down out of the National Park, you tumble strait down with 3 hairpins right into Sariyer. The road down is drop dead gorgeous, Sycamore lined road way, spotlessly clean. 3 – 6 foot plus Sycamores line the roadway, and they are RIGHT at the roads edge with no more than perhaps 30 feet between trees. Deep dense shade canopy, bright blue of the Bosphorous sneeks a peek back at you every once inawhile till you get lower and the azure blue of the sea lays before you like a carpet. While the roads are busy when you turn right and head for Istanbul proper, they are quite nice to cycle since the drivers are more than generous with room. T jis seems to me as a rather wealthy end of the peninsula, as the houses are huge, and the restuarants are many.
I pull over and stop to take a break, and happen to roll up to a Chai House, where many old men……..yes, older than me. They are sitting around drinking Chai (tea), socializing for hours, playing back gammon or cards. The atmosphere is jovial, relaxed, social, you are welcomed by all around, you are asked where you are from, and then if needed there will be someone who speaks better english for instance who comes over and acts as a translator for all the rest. So far, my age has been almost the first question I have encountered since being in Turkey. Not by the way so much in any of the previous countries. When it was learned that I was 61, that was a big deal among the patrons. As It turns out, I would have been in the upper age group or this collection of men. Now only about 4 or 5 men noticed that I rode a bicycle into this place and parked out front. Now, they all wanted to know how far I had ridden and this took 2 men to do the translating since the first fellow didnt seem to have much of a grasp of geography and everytime I showed him my map on the phone he would keep trying to turn it upside down to see it???. So, with the help of another fellow, we got it across to the audience where my ride went and when it started. Keep in mind that as of now, all gaming had ceased, as had chai sales and social conversation……….I was a bit taken aback by thier rapt attention. 2 fellows, maybe one on iether side of my own age where looking quite skeptical and even maybe a little doubtful. One guy made sort of a jesture that would be seen as me riding a motorcycle…..no, no said my translator……..bicycle only and camping in the wild at night in his tent. Ach, no way was my best translation of thier reply. Needless to say, they were total disbelievers……..because they do not know MY GOD. so my translator told me they want to look at my bike to see if it has a motor………so, I told him that I would go you one better………they can just take it for a spin and see for themselves. So, there ai was with about 6 maybe more folowing along just outside, actually, just on the other side of a stone wall as this was an open aire chai house with a shade cloth roof. Rolling the bike out away from the wall, and right up infront of the fellow who seemed to be the fellow with the most doubt……..I haneded the bars over to him and allowed him to catch the bike with himself just a little off balance……..this always amazes them as they quickly realize if they dont pay attention they could quite easily be UNDER the bike. His first reaction was to smile broadly, keeping the bike balanced now, I encouraged him to throw a leg over and go for a spin. He could not get his leg over, he tried only twice, but each time the bags on the back messed him up. With that he was done with the challenge, but not his sidekick, he asked for the bike and then asked if he could try, too wihich I said be my guest. He got his leg over, admittedly I am taller than he and I dont think that crossbar felt to good when he landed flat foot trying to regain balance and control of the bike. There was a slight tinge of purple around his gills, but he was game and not going to allow it to stop him. He got a left foot on the pedal and promptly pushed off, wobbling badly trying to get his foot on the other pedal a few of his friends came to his aid and gave him a push and he was off………..at least till it came to the turn and come back portiion of his trip. You have to have a certain amount of speed to make a tight turn back to the opposite direction, and you cant have too much tilt on the frame or the load will overbalance and bring you to a complete halt and simply try to fall over into the turn radius. Thats what he done, to slow, to tight and too slow with way to much angle on his vody and bike. He done the classic inside stiff legged bike rescue fall, keeping it from totally laying out flat. But he only had one hand on the bars and one stiff leg stuck into the pavement and he was unable to lift my bike. Masallah, masallah, masallah seemed to be all he could say from his red face. He was embarressed that he could not ride nor lift the bike once it was near flat. He bought my chai, and the other fellow bought my second glass of chai.
A lesson learned, and a chance to allow room for humbling. One thing i learned, was that when faced with a doubting challenger be sure to place BOTH CEMENT BLOCKS on the same side of the bike……..make sure its not well balanced.
All in all, I have to say that i am really enjoying my time in Turkey, the people are very friendly and wanting to be helpful. Not as many english speakers here as in other countries i have been on this trip, but with google translate we got by be it one word at a time. Sentences in Google seem to fall apart………..you need to be careful as the change of just one letter can make a huge difference. The city seems huge and sprawling, with bridges , high rises and the usual brick and mortar type tile roofed structures we have all seen in movie shots. Tea, is everywhere, and always a popular pastime, served in a tiny micro glass and skin scalding hot. The infamous Turkish Coffee, actually this type coffee has been set on a preservation list by the world Heritage Center since it is such a well known coffee style synonymous with Turkey. Then we have the dogs and cats……..dude, I mean they are everywhere and have complete rule. They are not someones pet, they are pets of the city of Istanbul. The dogs all seem to be the big 100 pound types, nothing to see 6 or more on just one block. And cats come from nowhere when you sit down to eat, they if allowed will help themselves to what they want off YOUR plate. Everyone feeds them, except JW. these critters freely walk into AC facilities mid day and take a break, sleeping sprawled out on the floor whereever THEY choose. I would call the city beautiful, from a distance, and yes, even close up.
I 5hink there is a Mosque, with there pointed missle shaped minarets at least one for each 3 or 4 city blocks. Not a problem for me. Each day, five times a day you will hear the amplified call to prayer, mournful, wailing, crying type prayer being sent towards Allah, and calling the faithful to the Mosque for prayer. Each Mosque begins its own prayer at each given time, so once the clocks sync, and all Mosques are sending out thier prayer call, it can be quite a noise for several minutes. Again, its all fine, it never stopped me from praying before each meal, and nothing has been said to me to make me feel uncomfortable about my own stopping to pray.
I bunked at the Rosa Roach Hotel the first 4 days, pretty nasty, glad I could move to a nicer room when colleen showed up. I upgraded rooms, by alot, and went from 47 per night down to 43 per night. I walked, and sight seen to a certain extent, but didnt want to jit the main tourist sights till colleen got there to see them with me. So, I done quite a bit of drawing till that made me nuts, then i would take my camera and go for another walk. Once colleen got here, we took in as many sights as we could. To answer the question most common in my email #1- is it safe? I would say yes as safe as you can be in europe these days. We feel safe as we walk the streets. We did end up walking some pretty unsavory feeling back streets on one ocassion and felt we needed to pay attention more at that moment. 2- would i go again. YES, I would but i really believe that Istanbuls days of democracy and secular society are nearly over. My prediction is 5 years, Colleens is more like 10 till Turkey is under the iron hand of Sharia Law and a Theocracy. We heard this particular lament countless times as we visited shops and from people of all ages. My visit woukd be sooner rather than later JMO #3- would i go to Mongolia again…..hell no.