Perhaps our speechlessness is also the reason why this blog has been so long in coming again! Read on and maybe you’ll be as amazed as we are….
After a week in Istanbul, we leave Europe by ferry and continue our journey in Yalova on the Asian continent! We are looking forward to it, but are also a bit nervous about the mountains and the heat. Immediately we are presented with the first steep mountain, after which many will follow and we realize that the flat trails are largely a thing of the past. As soon as we are treated by truck drivers on currant buns, water and offered çay (Turkish tea) countless times, we realize that this is going to be a special part of the journey. And this is only the beginning.
It’s a very hot day and we’re going up and down the mountains. In Osmaneli, a man sees us literally slogging up the mountain. He offers us çay and opens the gate of a textile factory. His colleagues join us, refill our water and we are the topic of the day. With the help of Google Translate, of course, because most people don’t speak English. We cannot leave before they have taken pictures and given us another kilo of peaches. Two houses down we are again picked from the street to drink tea…. That same day we stop in a small village, Vezirhan, to look for food and a place to sleep. The only hotel in the village seems not to have survived the corona crisis. We look around a bit and search for the house of the village chief (Muhtar). In Turkey, the Muhtar often knows where to go. Within 2 seconds people are approaching us. The first one tries to communicate in Turkish and calls directly to the village chief. The second man is called Serkan and speaks a little English since his wife is an English teacher. He immediately asks if we are hungry and if we would like to come along to his house to eat. Staying the night is also no problem. It appears to be a village where everyone knows each other. Serkan is with his wife and son on vacation at his parent’s house. As soon as we open the gate we are expected to sit down and one dish after another appears on the table. We are completely stuffed with which Serkan wants to indicate that they love to welcome others. “We are all God’s children,” he indicates. In the yard there is another house, where the family used to live and where we may sleep tonight. But first we go with the whole family to the parents’ vegetable garden to water it in the traditional way by digging ditches. Back at the yard we take a shower and çay is made the traditional way, during which Serkan likes to tell about Turkish history.
The next morning, after breakfast, we take a picture and continue uphill. We get support from every driver who honks to motivate us. There are many sand and stone quarries here so it is a dusty ride. After almost 10 kilometers uphill we crawl into the shade at a gas station! Eloy’s seat leaves an imprint on the wooden bench, sweat crawling everywhere. We get tea and more tea and the pump attendant proudly tells his customers about his Dutch guests. Next, a farmer hands us home-picked mulberries and cherries. Although they are very tasty and we can use it well, it is also difficult to transport. Bumping on the bicycle usually turns fruit in large quantities into a mashed mess! Still, we usually don’t get this explained to the people and get an extra bag. In the neighboring settlement, half the village joins us with çay and cookies. After some Google Translate, an English-speaking professor joins us and the conversation goes in all directions. We hear new things: Dutch people who would eat squirrels (at least 100 years back), heroin would be legal in the Netherlands, etc. On the other hand, we only hear news about Erdoğan and fortunately by now we know all that Turkey has to offer. The questions we get in this order in almost every conversation are: “Çay?”, “Where are you from?”, “Job?”, “Married?”, “Turkey good?”, “Yemek?!”. The last one means “Food?”.
Today we are going for a new altitude record (1030m) and fortunately it is a little cooler so we are less sweating reaching the top. There are also fewer villages and thus less tea. Perhaps the dentist is happier too, because in the small cups there are usually 3 cubes of sugar each, or the sugar cube is put on the tongue and then the tea follows!
We reach the large student town of Eskişehir where we meet Fatih and Meltem. They have made delicious lasagna, a welcome change from the kebab, köfte and other Turkish meat dishes of late. They also show us around the old town. We decide to take an extra day off and have a good time together. A friend of Meltem’s is a glassblower and Eloy gets to make a necklace for Audrey at the table. The creation, the evil eye, is a Turkish talisman to protect against evil. In the evening Fatih and Meltem take us out for a performance by a local band. When fatigue sets in, we take a cab back. In the cab, ‘Goud’ by Suzan & Freek is played, as if we were at home for a moment.
We bereiken de grote studentenstad Eskişehir waar we Fatih en Meltem ontmoeten. Ze hebben heerlijke lasagne gemaakt, een welkome afwisseling op de kebab, köfte en andere Turkse vleesgerechten van de afgelopen tijd. Ook laten ze ons het oude centrum zien. We besluiten een extra rustdag te nemen en hebben het gezellig samen. Een vriend van Meltem is glasblazer en ook Eloy mag aan tafel een ketting voor Audrey maken. De creatie, het kwade oog, is een Turkse talisman om tegen kwaad te beschermen. ‘s Avonds nemen Fatih en Meltem ons mee uit voor een optreden van een lokale band. Als de vermoeidheid inslaat, gaan we met de taxi terug. In de taxi wordt nog ‘Goud’ van Suzan & Freek gedraaid, alsof we even thuis zijn.
Back on the bicycle we feel our muscles struggling, but after a few kilometers we are back in rhythm. A thunderstorm has been predicted and we stop at the mosque in the otherwise completely deserted and poor village. Then the imam comes out of the neighboring house. Today is the feast of Sacrifice and he wants us to eat. We get a plate with bones from the animal slaughtered this morning, with the last bits of fat hanging off. When Eloy tries to take the first bite he tastes only salt. It turns out to be (pickled) goat and quickly he moves on to the sweet baklava. Fortunately, the imam indicates that we can pack up the rest and we soon get away with it. As we cycle on we see a slaughter in action here and there or flowing blood across the road. In Uyuzhamam, the next village, we see the dark clouds approaching and stop before the thunderstorm will break out. While tea is being served to us, a young man asks if we will come to his house for dinner, as it is sacrificial feast. We meet the whole family, are served a 3-course meal, talk to the girl next door who proudly speaks a few words of English and wait for the huge rainstorm to pass. The first time rain in Turkey was immediately rewarding! We cycle on to Beylikova. The municipal hotel would have space, but there is no one at the reception. The owner of the supermarket next door calls and tells us we can sit down, it will take a while. While enjoying yet another tea, a good hour passes and a man passing by treats us to Ayran (Turkish yoghurt drink) without another word. When the receptionist arrives with a bag of keys, he cannot find the right one and decides to take one from behind the counter. He puts together a breakfast package, carries our bikes inside and is off again. We eat some instant noodles in our room and quickly fall asleep.
In the morning we decide to change the route and go via country roads through small villages. Only after 30km we find a cafeteria with only tea and cola. Fortunately, we bought our own bread, and we always have a jar of peanut butter and chocolate spread in the bag! It is quiet and the landscapes are breathtaking. Unfortunately, later in the day we get stuck in mud. But just at that moment the truly only car of the day stops and the man and his children help pull our bikes out of the mud. After half an hour we get the wheels turning again and enter a small village. There appears to be a small store, where we hope to find something nutritious. As soon as we get off our bikes, a tractor with three boys on it passes by, one of them shouts: “You want food? Come to my home”. We go along to their house where we meet a large family that seems to get bigger and bigger the longer we stay. People keep coming, because of (you guessed it) the sacrificial feast. After a late lunch of soup, beans and meat, it’s selfie time and we’re on every Instagram page. Then it’s time for dinner again. We look at each other a bit perplexed because we are still full from lunch, but we have to take a seat on the floor and at a round table the food is shared from the bowls. The head of the family insists that we stay the night, so we do. Like the rest, we get new socks to put on and Audrey also gets new pants. We shower with buckets of water, Audrey’s hair is braided and the boys model Eloy’s hair with the hair dryer. For the party everyone has to look neat. We also have to meet the neighbors. Here comes, yes really: food. It is unreal, but in Turkey hospitality literally goes through the stomach. Today we drink tea ten times just for fun, eat sunflower seeds together and make many friends within a very close family. We are speechless again and it is so special to experience.
We have breakfast with the whole family sitting cross-legged. Sheep meat with bread and cream, but also jam, tomato, very spicy köfte and of course tea are on the table. Eating is done only with a fork, like Audrey is used to😄. Our cards that we give as a thank you do well. It is the least we can do and also the only thing they are willing to accept. A little later we cycle out of the village on asphalt again. We are startled one more time by huge dogs, which fortunately are attached to a chain. Eloy, however, has had another heart attack from Audrey’s hysterical reaction. We meet the first bicycle traveler since Istanbul. He is from France and is cycling home from Georgia.
Just after we reach the 4000km mark that day, we hear a group of farmers shouting ‘çay çay’. They are sitting next to their trailer but do not speak English or German. We grab the map and show our route. The farmers show interesting places and are all excited. They work in crop processing and sleep in the trailer in the countryside. There are two bunk beds in it. Meanwhile, one of them appears to have set up a livestream connection on Facebook and is recording himself and us. He then calls a number of people, everyone needs to know that he has Dutch cyclists as guests.
Our final destination for the day, Haymana, turns out to be on top of a mountain with an altitude profile of 14-15% and it’s hard work. Eventually we reach the top and look for the ‘Öğretmenevi’, a guesthouse originally intended for teaching staff but also open to tourists. This turns out to be full, but the man refers us to a thermal hotel across the street. There is still a room available. When we walk into the room, the man tells us that there is no hot water in the hotel, but that the (separate) hamam in the basement is meant for that. After all, Haymana is known for its thermal water. When Audrey opens the bathroom door, there are two birds in the open window. After the initial shock, she is shocked once again when she sees that a nesting dove has built a nest on the bathroom cabinet. The staff indicates that they are not allowed to remove it, but that nothing will happen. Indeed, the pigeon stays put and doesn’t move. Surely it must not be so easy for this pigeon to see new faces turning the lights on and off each time to go to the bathroom.
The next day, after some mountains, we decide to take a break in a village. We seek the shade next to the mosque. Even before we have put the bikes down, we are offered bottles of water. Two seconds later, another car drives by and the woman calls out from the car, “çay? She points at the houses. By which she means that we should come with her. She keeps insisting and we yield. We drive behind the car to a large modern and fenced house. This turns out to be their summer home, as they live in Ankara. As soon as we sit on the couch, we are served a whole meal. Meat from the sacrificial feast, homegrown vegetables, homemade baklava and cookies, homemade yogurt. Then coffee, there’s no end to it. One of the children turns out to be a famous soccer player. Proudly they show us the chickens in the garden and want to be photographed with us. After an hour we leave again, still not realizing what is happening in Turkey. Not much later, when we are climbing another mountain, a car with an Austrian license plate stops. A group of young men ask if we need help and if we want to go somewhere to eat. We indicate that we had eaten less than a kilometer ago. They take another selfie and drive on. There are many cars with German, Austrian or Dutch license plates. Many people are currently on vacation in Turkey and are visiting their families here. Most of them make the trip to Turkey in less than 2 days by car! We do it in 3 months…. Just before our destination Kulu, we stop at a picnic area because Eloy has to go to the bathroom. And you guessed it… We are immediately asked if we want to eat. A group of young people are having a BBQ and a Turkish woman from Denmark arranges that we can eat with the group of boys. Suddenly it appears that one of the boys speaks Dutch, he is on vacation here and lives in Antwerp.
In Turkey, our travel pace slows down. We meet so many people who are curious about our story or who want to share their story. Some want to practice English with us, some like to drink çay, some want to follow us on Instagram, want to share their food, pay for our lunch, and some even want to give money. Really! Sometimes we really are at a loss for words…. And often a monotonous day on busy roads turns into a special encounter with incredible people.