Turkey is our last destination before heading into Europe and it’s no surprise that our spirits have dropped over the prospect of this journey being over. 10 years of talk and 3 years of planning has lead us to this point and all of a sudden it has become reality: in two weeks I will be home with my beautiful wife and back at work. I wish I had some drama to share about Turkey but the reality is that I don’t. No breakdowns, no army checkpoints and no AK47’s here, just a very calm, peaceful country with a landscape to match.
After our massive effort crossing into Turkey we woke lazily in our border town hotel room with no plans. We changed some money and took advantage of the wifi to research a route. We were so far north we decided to head up to the Black Sea, then cut back across the country through famed Cappadocia, onto some beach time on the Mediterranean, before heading north to Istanbul. We needed to avoid South-East Turkey due to the conflict in Syria so this plan worked well for us. Our hearts sank over breakfast as we cast our eyes out to a cold and wet morning – not ideal on a motorcycle but we had confidence we would soon be up on the Black Sea and the weather would improve. Our spirits lifted 10 minutes down the road with the rain gone and the road drying out we were heading north and the countryside was breathtaking.
More snow capped mountains with exceptional roads weaving up, around and even through tunnels maintaining excellent speed to eat up the kilometres. As we worked our way closer to the coast the GPS took us up and over a range of 2,500 metres A.S.L a quick stop for a photo saw us both with wide grins exclaiming how good the road/scenery was and soon enough we were being lead down some small country lanes upon villages.
The asphalt turned to dirt but after a quick check of the GPS James explained that it was taking us the most direct route north and that it would remain unsealed but would eventually get us out to the coast. Given it was only 3pm and excellent weather we pushed on but after a sketchy river crossing we decided to head back, we needed fuel and didn’t have any food.
First stop fuel and with our new currency in hand we ordered 2 full tanks whilst working out a rough conversion to AU dollar (much easier than Iran’s crazy decimal point placement!) we established that if you halve the Lira you will get the AUD amount. However it both took us by surprise when the bowser finished counting at 170 Lira! Double checking our conversion rate we quickly learnt that Turkey was our most expensive fuel thus far at $2.20 AUD per litre! Bear in mind we had just left oil rich Iran at 0.39 AUD cents per litre. Had we realised there would be such a difference I would have strapped on some jerry cans to get us a few tanks in! Alas we continued onwards to the coast finding a small town 100km’s inland that looked nice and better still seemed busy enough to obtain beer but after scouting out over 7 different restaurants that couldn’t offer us any over dinner we grabbed a six pack and retreated to our hotel room to consume a couple after a big day. A quick Google found that 83% of Turks consider themselves Teetotallers, explaining the lack of Alcohol consumption or availability.
The next day we saw the first body of water since Thailand, The Black Sea. Meeting the coast in Trabzon we continued along the coast to Giresun and decided to settle in for the day checking into our hotel with enough time to walk the town and again look for a bar to sit, admire the view and enjoy a cold one. Again to our dismay we couldn’t find one! More streets were explored and we finally found a very small quiet bar with a couple of people drinking beer, we walked straight to the bar and ordered 2 beers! That was lost in translation so we used google translate to which the bartender google translated back to us that it was a religious holiday and no alcohol would be served assuring us that everyone else consuming in the bar ‘brewed their own’. Defeated, we again bought another 6 pack and retreated to our hotel.
Cappadocia is known for its obscure natural sites including the ‘Fairy Chimney’s’ clustered around the township, Bronzed age homes can be found carved into the valley walls by cave dwellers later used by early Christian refugees. Hot Air ballooning is top of the ‘to do’ list and we had booked a flight a few days out. Luckily the weather was on our side and we spent almost an hour up in the air admiring the landscape quietly amused by our fellow crew spending more time taking ‘Selfies’ of themselves instead of looking over the edge.
I however spent half the flight searching for possible dirt tracks to explore on the bikes. Upon return to our hotel we stripped our bikes of panniers and weight heading off with go-pro’s in hand to capture some footage. It rained and we both fell off but I managed to jump my my 230kg bike landing with a bang and we got the photo we were after.
Turkey’s tourism industry is at an all time low; recent bombings have not faired well with western media painting a very grim picture and although the peak season is still yet to come operators have quoted figures as high as 70% drop in bookings. This has made a very pleasant tour of the country although at times we have literally been the only people dining in restaurants, as a business owner I know first hand how heartbreaking this can be.
We have been unbelievably lucky with the weather over our journey however the temperature on the Black Sea and Cappadocia had us in our sweaters and I was holding on to some small hope of some final days in the sun before returning to a Melbourne winter. I had visions of a Mediterranean villa on the beach with cocktail in hand that was slowly being crushed with cold wet mountain passes on our way south to the coast.
To our delight, once down on the coast the weather improved with a sunset over the water and a dip to wash off the daily grime. We had been surprised at the development and commercialisation of the Mediterranean coast and as we inched our way through city traffic we didn’t know what to think.
But on approach to Olympos 10 km’s off the highway we knew we were onto a good thing, dirt road leading through affordable beachside accommodation with a backpacker vibe. Keys in hand for a bungalow for the night and a couple of beers around the communal fire pit we lay our heads for the night.
Waking to a spotless blue sky we struck our luck at a picture perfect Mediterranean day, we walked the 2000+ year old ruins and ended up on a banana lounge on the beach remarkably early and didn’t move for the rest of the day. Watching the traditional wooden motorsailers come and go I proposed a day long boat trip for the following day and soon had one lined up only in need of more crew for passage – luckily for us we found them around the fire pit that night. Sharing a bottle of Cappadocian red wine we met Manouk from The Netherlands on her Silk Road adventure and Rahul from Istanbul. We have met many people over our journey but only a few who we find a true connection with, the following day out on the boat was truly special with exceptional company and countless dives off the boat into a pristine blue sea.
Back on land we enjoyed some dinner and wine before venturing down the road to one of the considered ‘best 10’ hostels in the world enjoying a few more wines. Nursing borderline hangovers we shared some breakfast the following morning before saying goodbyes, we all needed to move on. It was time for us to head north to the Gallipoli Peninsula via Kusadasi to check out the ancient city of Ephesus.
Gallipoli was high on the to do list for us, it was the location that Australia lost a nation-defining number of servicemen in World War 1 and we felt a true connection upon the visit. With tourism so slow and the natural beauty of the Peninsula it was surreal that so many lives were lost in such a beautiful place. James also spent many hours working on the Australian television miniseries ‘Gallipoli’, which really put things into perspective exploring the area and memorials.
After a somber day we were off to Istanbul, a highlight for both of us as it is one of Europe’s biggest cities, 19 Million people reside on the banks of the Bosphorus Straight that separates Asia to Europe.
Istanbul is amazing! With our route taking us through large Asian cities it was refreshing to be back such a liberal environment. To our amazement we found 2 other foreign bikes parked on our one way cul-de-sac we were staying and soon met up for a chat with Brad (South African) and Bruce (Australian) agreeing to meet for a beer at 6pm.
We were taken back that neither of the two had ridden a motorcycle before embarking on their world tour starting from Scotland; a credit to them for making the 8,000km journey to Istanbul safely. With three Australians and a South African the beers were flowing and we talked the night away with tales of adventure. Nursing a quiet hangover it was out and about to check out the famed Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern.
James had a friend from China living in Istanbul, Jean-Marie who very kindly invited us for dinner and drinks in his district on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and we appreciated being away from the tourist centre and to feel the soul of the city.
Back at our guesthouse yet another foreign motorcycle had appeared in our street, 5 BMW’s with foreign plates! Martin from Germany, a photojournalist was on his way to Iran only to be denied a visa on journalist grounds, with new plans of heading through ‘the Stans’. More war stories over more beers took us into the night before retreating in our haze of drunkenness to prepare for our early departure for Bulgaria the following morning – the best way to reinvigorate after a night on the beers was to take ourselves off for a Turkish bath. Next stop, Eastern Europe…