Week seven - New beginnings in Turkey
I never necessarily wanted to attempt this journey on my own. In fact, I tried to convince a few friends to come with me. They sensibly refused; bush-whacking for a year and a half on a breadline budget is a tough sell.
I knew I had to try it anyway, I couldn't let my life be dictated by the decisions of others. I made a list of the positives of being alone, to convince myself I was better off. I would make more friends, I would have complete independence, I would probably live more cheaply, the allure of a spontaneous beer binge is significantly diminished when you have no one to enjoy the irresponsibility with.
This week these positives, based in sound reason and logic, were thrown out of the window. This week I was reminded of the pure fun of travelling with a friend.
I wrote in my previous blog about my meeting Lauri - ‘The flying Fin’ as I dubbed him. We cycled together from Bucharest to Varna, over three days, and fell into an easy, low maintenance partnership. We would start the days off with porridge and coffee, chatting about music, past adventures, future adventures and what we would eat for dinner. In the evenings we would find the really local bars (which are really just corner shops with a beer fridge, beer crates to sit on, and a few old drunk men sitting on them) and have a drink or three as the sun set. Meeting Lauri was a wonderful change of pace.
Together we also found some particularly memorable camp spots. The same day we left Bucharest we camped on the bank of the Danube. It was my first sighting of the famous river.
Our second memorable campsite marked an important moment in my journey. The last time I had seen an ocean, I was eating porridge on the landing beaches at Dunkirk, alone, a bit frightened, and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Two days after leaving Bucharest, we dropped steeply down through the twisting cobbles of Balchik and suddenly the glistening Black Sea opened up before us. On the lapping shore I rocked back in chair, tanned legs stretched out in the evening sun and shared a beer with a close friend. I had made it, I thought. I might not be there yet, not even close, but this was the point of it all.
We spent the night on the shore and awoke to crash of surf and seagull calls. We would part ways in Varna, a short 30km ride south along the coast.
The ride ended up taking longer than expected. On google maps we spotted a tiny road running right along the seafront and dropped off the main road onto a bike lane. Perfect, we thought, 30kms with no traffic and a cooling ocean spray. Our jubilance was short lived. The condition of the bike lane quickly deteriorated, and then the bike lane disappeared completely under monstrous landslide debris. At one point, we unloaded the bikes and shouldered them along the seafront boulders by hand. Not the most efficient way of cycling but it made for a good picture.
My last few days in Bulgaria provided some fantastic cycling roads. Bulgaria is sparsely inhabited, great for enjoying nature, but caused me problems en route Turkey - one day I didn't find any food until 5pm.
I sat in the cobbled town square and cooked some pasta. It would have been a moment of reflection, a moment to process my achievement and prepare myself for future challenges. Instead, the local kids swarmed and insisted that we replay all the important moments from the recent Spain-Portugal World Cup match. I was “David De Gea” the Spanish goalkeeper and told to defend a stone flower bed which acted as the goal. The kids took turns being Cristiano Ronaldo and spent an hour blasting the ball past me, and at me, until I conceded defeat and crawled into the nearest bar for a beer.
Now I sit with a glass of çay (tea) in Kirklareli and suddenly my European life seems a million miles away. It is swelteringly hot. The streets are lined with fruit sellers and old men on crates polishing shoes. Horns blare and traffic lurches through narrow streets, horns ablaze. I have arrived in Turkey.
Actually this is my third day here, and already everything I have heard about the legendary Turkish hospitality is proving to be true.
An hour after crossing the Turkish border I passed through the town of Koruköy and sat down near a cafe for a snickers bar. I was immediately approached by Zesgin, smile wide and ponytail blowing in the breeze, who invited me to lunch. Like in Europe, the younger generations are likely to have been taught English as a second language and over eggs and olives we chatted. Zesgin and his brother were artists living in Istanbul. Xxx presented me a gift of one of his paintings on a roll of canvas. I couldn't believe his generosity, and was ashamed that all I could return as a gift was a postcard of the Houses of Parliament that Zesgin said he would like to paint.
Since this encounter I have been treated like precious China, bubble wrapped and passed from friend to friend to be cared for and entertained. It is a surreal experience - there has barely been a solitary moment since arriving here. I am staying with Murat, who I met on warmshowers, and no expense had been spared to ensure my enjoyment of Kirklareli. Last night I drank home made beer and watched the World Cup with three of Murat's friends and tonight we will attend an English speaking conversation club.
My few days here have made me more excited and optimistic for the coming months than any country previously. Life here feels rich with friendship, conversation and community.
Tomorrow I will begin my two day ride towards Istanbul. I will stop there for a week or so to organise visa’s and try to experience a small slice of the sprawling city of 15 million.
Onwards and upwards, zorlamaya devam et!