Tag Archives: Istanbul

16 & 17 September 2015 – rest days in Istanbul

Two days off in Istanbul, and I even managed a lie-in until about 08.30 each day! It was great to finally reach the city, after a long ride from Tarifa in Spain, and even longer from Nordkapp in Norway. It seems like a long time ago that I started this tour, at the beginning of May, however I still have about a month and a half to go, to pedal back to the UK, catch a ferry, and then back to Norwich via a few friends and family.

Back to Istanbul, somewhere I’d been thinking about visiting for a long time, however I was feeling pretty tired after some long days in the saddle, so I didn’t do much on day 1; blog updates, snooze, lunch, snooze, walkabout, snooze, more food…snooze.

I did manage to get out for a wander in the afternoon, taking in a few sights and walking over the river and back. When in a new city I like to just have a good ramble about, without any specific objective in mind, to get a feel for the place, taking in random sights, sounds and smells.

Istanbul really is where East meets West, with so many colours, cultures and contrasts; people in conservative Muslim dress to fashions you’d see on the streets of Paris or Milan. There are all the usual high street chain shops you’d expect, however the smaller shops, street vendors and bazaars are far more interesting, to me anyway.

It’s almost magical exploring the city for the first time, and finding out what’s down a narrow alley, around a jumbled corner, or through a crowded street market. There is of course loads of great food to be had, and lots to tempt you as you wander about; I opted for an Iskender Kebap in the evening, as recommended by my friend Hena. It was very nice, however I’m not sure it beats the kebab I had from Mr Kebab in St. Pauli, Hamburg; close thing however the latter was exceptional, also from a Turkish restaurant.

I spent the rest of the evening chilling out at the hostel, chatting with the hosts or other visitors; always good to meet new people.

Having not done a lot the previous day I was ready for some sightseeing, bracing myself to deal with crowds and queues. I’ve got a whole load of photos which will recount my day better than words.

I walked over the bridge to the Old Town, after energizing myself with another great hostel breakfast, then visited the Topkapi Palace and Harem, the Basilica Cistern, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Grand Bazaar. I also just had a good explore, so all in all it wasn’t that surprising that I was exhausted by the end of the day; sightseeing far harder than pedalling, and walking uses legs differently to pedalling.

The Topkapi Palace is lavish and architecturally grand. It was a bit odd walking around the harem and reading about eunuchs and what life was like for the concubines; a different world!

After the relative quiet of the harem it was a lot more crowded in the main palace, and I didn’t have the patience to queue for all the exhibits, however needless to say it’s an amazing place, and a staggering testament to the Sultan’s wealth, power and influence.

Buildings like the kitchens were also really interesting, and the treasury, however you can’t take photos in them. There are whole rooms dedicated to making the royal confectionary; must have been some very good baklava. The treasury puts the crown jewels to shame, with artefacts and gifts from all around the world.

Whilst the palace is amazing, my favourite visit was the to the Basalica Cistern; the largest covered cistern in the city, which is known about anyway – I wonder what else lurks beneath Istanbul’s streets, yet to be discovered (hopefully not Cthulhu). The Cistern was built by Justinian I in 537, and is a must see if you visit Istanbul; it’s also nice and cool down there. It’s unclear why there are two medusa heads, and why they’re upside-down or sideways, but they’re very cool; could be positioned that way of luck, like they did on axe handles.

After the cistern I walked the short distance to the Sultan Ahmed/Ahmet Mosque, and had a sit down for half an hour waiting for prayers to finish – nice to listen to. It’s another building that’s very worth a look around, and great to visit a big mosque, rather than another cathedral; been to loads of them. You can also experience how important faith is in so many people’s live here, compared with for instance in the UK, where it takes a backseat for the most past. You have to take off your shoes to go inside, and no shorts allowed; I was pretty sure there’s a no lobster rule too so he got stashed in the bag with the shoes.

The last place on my list to visit in Istanbul, although you could spend days exploring further, was the Grand Bazaar; basically a huge shopping mall, but not in the modern sense. I think you could probably buy most things there, from antiques, to spices, leather goods, scarves, jewelery, food, tea and coffee, clothes, ornaments etc etc etc.

Needless to say my legs were shattered after all that walking, so I stopped at the Irish Bar on the way back to the hostel for a pint and some food. My last evening in Istanbul was spent planning and chatting, with a quick excursion for an aubergine kebab and some baklava; the kebab was good but again didn’t beat Hamburg. The Baklava was excellent and topped up my energy reserves for leaving in the morning.

Tomorrow I hit the road again, travelling North West on the final stage of my tour, back to the UK. There’s still around 2,000 miles to go, however I’m likely to be pretty focused on pedalling for a while, rather than sightseeing. I’m a  bit nervous about border closures, with all the migrant/refugee movements going on, however I’ll just have to keep abreast of developments and re-plan if necessary; I’m sure it’ll work out fine, and they’ll be time for some exploring once I reach the Danube.

15 September 2015 – to Istanbul

Istanbul. A city I’ve been thinking about visiting for years, and now I’m here. I’m finding it slightly surreal after 4.5 months on the road, and nearly 7,800 miles pedalled. Reaching Istanbul completes my second major objective of the tour, and is a great sense of achievement after being pretty nervous about the route; just goes to show that getting out of your comfort zone, and overcoming your fears, is a good thing, leading to some great experiences.

Here the link to my final leg:

I’m now on holiday for a few days before starting my journey back to the UK; a distance of about 2,100 miles to pedal, all the way back to Norwich. I’m intending to ride alongside the Danube for some of it – here’s my expected route:

Intended route from Istanbul to Norwich

Intended route from Istanbul to Norwich

If you fancy flying or catching a train out to join me pedalling for a few days, drop me an email. It should be a fun ride back through Europe, especially the bit alongside the Danube, pedalling literally through castles, and through more countries I haven’t been to before.

I haven’t done a stats update for a while, so here’s one:

  • Distance pedalled: 7,790 miles or 12,464km
  • Number of days: 135
  • Average distance per day (including rest days): approx 92km or 58 miles
  • Number of rest days: maybe 11, need to check, I lost track a bit when staying with friends in France. If I exclude rest days I’ve pedalled about 100km a day.
  • Number of punctures: 7
  • Number of new tyres: 2 – Schwalbe Marathon Plus finally wore out near Toulon. Got some Malamut tyres to replace them which seem to be working okay, but think they’ll wear out a lot quicker.
  • Number of new spokes: 6 (all at once due to chain slippage spoke mangling incident in Sweden)
  • Number of new chains and rear cassettes: 1 of each. Might need to replace again in Germany
  • Number of new saddles: 1 – the Brooks saddle has been a wonderful replacement
  • Min temperature: 0 degrees Celsius, although might’ve dipped below that some nights in Norway
  • Max temperatures: About 42 degrees Celsius in Spain
  • Windiest conditions: Denmark – about 5 hellish days of headwind
  • Favourite stop: With friends in France (Ardeche, Provence, Marseille), followed closely by Tarifa. Istanbul may yet rival.
  • Next target: Danube river then back to the UK in time for the Norwich beer festival
  • Most useful gadget: SP Dynamo Hub, for recharging my phone and Garmin
  • Friendliest country: Not had an unfriendly one, however Albania is winning at the moment; can’t count France as was with good friends there anyway!

–> 15 September – to Istanbul (140km)
I’ve heard the expression ‘the city that never sleeps’ applied to lots of places, however I think it truly fits Istanbul. I have rarely been to anywhere quite so vibrant; a bustling metropolis with so much to experience. I wasn’t sure if I make it all the way today, after a few long days in the saddle, and 90 miles left to pedal before reaching objective 2 of my tour, however once I got going I knew I wouldn’t stop before I’d made it; barring mechanical failure.

After a very good night’s sleep, and consuming a buffet breakfast included in the price, I felt ready for the ride ahead, and the good news was my legs didn’t feel to achy after the previous few day’s efforts.

My conscientious application of suncream of course summoned the clouds, however little could dampen my spirits as I approached Istanbul. I rejoined the D110 after leaving crazy Tekirdag behind, and started the long ride East. The road got steadily busier as I got closer to my destination, and I had to tackle a series of big ascents, climbing a total of 1285m during the course of the day.

The D110 turned into the D100, passing Silivri, and several other large towns on the way, all merging into a constant metropolis along the coast to Istanbul. The traffic got crazier and crazier, meaning I was on high alert, with a two lane road turning into 3 lanes, and roads merging or diverging at regular intervals; I used the service road running next to the main road quite a lot, however it was just as busy. Before it got really busy I paused at a garage for an ice cream break, preparing myself for the last 50km to Istanbul; the ‘suburbs’ really do go on for a long way!

After a final long climb, passing a high tower that’d been on the horizon for ages, things got really exciting. It’s not that it’s particularly dangerous, as although the driving is madness everyone seems very alert and conscious of what’s going on around them. There was a lot of beeping, and I had to move quickly on a number of occasions to cross slip roads, or move around traffic. City riding, although mentally tiring, can be good fun as long as you’re careful and cycle ‘defensively’; which basically means be a bit aggressive and make sure people know you’re there.

Istanbul is awash with buses and yellow taxis, and I started to encounter more and more of these as I made it past the airport and into the city proper, letting out an involuntary ‘yabbadabbado’ as I got closer to finishing objective 2.

I crossed over a final bridge (Unkapani I think), which moved about a lot, then rode up a last hill to Taksim Square, where I paused to locate a hostel on my phone. There was a promising looking one about 500m away, right in the centre, so I made my way there. My luck held out as they had space, so I booked in for 3 nights; may change that to 4 depending on how I feel.

Often when entering a city I get a feeling within the first hour as to whether I’m going to like it. With Istanbul the feeling was pretty immediate, especially after a warm greeting from Esme at the hostel; the city has a buzz to it, and I immediately felt at home, and excited about having a proper explore. It was nice to check in knowing I had a few day’s rest coming up, with no need to worry about where I’ll be sleeping, or whether there’s going to be a pack of wild dogs around the next corner!

After a shower I went out for a wander around the Beyoglu district, which is the main shopping area, and separated from the old city by the bridge I’d crossed earlier. I’ll probably visit the old city the day after tomorrow, as tomorrow is going to be dedicated to rest and relaxation. The streets were packed with people; a diverse range of nationalities and appearances. I enjoyed listening to the street musicians who appear regular intervals, and generally taking in the sights and sounds. I wasn’t particularly surprised to find an Irish Bar, and thought it providence that I stop there for a cold beer to celebrate my arrival.

Despite the buzz of the city I was feeling pretty tired after 4 serious cycling days, so I retreated to the hostel for the rest of the evening, and enjoyed chilling out with the staff and a few of the other guests; Australian, Turkish, US, Israeli, German – you always meet other interesting travellers.

As always any sponsorship in the form of donations to the Big C, Norfolk’s Cancer Charity, are greatly appreciated and keep me motivated – here’s a link to my charity page: www.virginmoneygiving.com/james

Thank you to all recent donors; you’re all fabulous!