Day 14 – Istanbul, Turkey

We have covered a lot of ground over the past week, passing through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the European part of Turkey.  Our fırst night in Hungary we camped next to the Danube in a postcard town surroundıng a majestic church perched atop a hill.  Hungary was well worth riding through.  From its vibrant small towns full of beautiful architecture to the tasty food of Budapest’s sidewalk cafes, the country made for great touring.

There was a stark contrast between Hungary and Romania.  For the first time, it felt like we were in a different world.  Horse-drawn carriages shared the road with Audis driven by maniacs on congested twisty roads, producing some of the most dangerous riding conditions I have ever seen.  And I have ridden through Lima.  Although South America still holds the title for having the worst drivers on the planet, Romania ıs a more dangerous country to ride through.  What made Romania so treacherous was not only were the drivers reckless and impatient, but they had incredibly fast cars to go with it (unlike South America).  It is important to adjust your own riding in such conditions because you cannot assume other drivers will behave in the way that you are accustomed to.

Romania had some great stretches through the fırst mountains that we had encountered on the trip.  Unfortunately, finding free camping was extremely difficult in Romania.  It seemed like every side road I explored looking for a suitable site was instantly alive with angry barking dogs chasing the bike as soon as I entered.  My guess is that they have had a long time to hone their defenses against Gypsies like us.  The only two dog-free sites I found were both thwarted.  The first because the road leading was challenging for a Mule let alone a Fıreblade, and the second because a police offıcer stopped us.  Apparently he didn’t think it would be safe for us to camp a few hundred metres from a mega hydro plant.

After the congestion on Romania’s roads, Bulgaria was motorcycle paradise.  We had the road along the Black Sea in the northern part of the country virtually to ourselves.  Rounding a corner overlooking the turquoise water, visor up and my sunglasses on, smelling the sweetness of the countryside, I was reminded why I love motorcycling. Bulgaria also offered a wealth of free camping opportunities and I was able to quickly sniff one out in a wooded area right next to the sea. 

Last night we stayed in a hotel in old Istanbul.  Turkey was playing the Czech Republic in a soccer match to decide which country would advance to the elimination round in Euro 2008.  Late in the second half, the Czechs had a two goal lead.  Istanbul was silent.  People sat morosely in cafes and bars staring blankly at one of the many flat screen TVs that were set up every few paces on the street.  Suddenly the city erupted: a goal for Turkey.  A little later, at the 88 minute mark, the tying goal went in.  Now the people were in a frenzy.  People drove past the sidewalk cafes honking their horns in cars and motorcycles sporting oversize Turkish flags.  People walked by beating drums.  When the winning goal was scored in injury time there was pandomonium.  The celebrating went late into the night.

My first Turkish encounter was Kids throwing what I thought were handfuls of rocks at my head.  When we stopped, it turned out that it hadn’t been rocks but rather large mullberries which we were smeared on the side of my helmet.  There was even some unbroken ammunition remaining on top of my luggage.  I wondered if it had been considered rude that I didn’t stop to return their greeting with a volley of my own.

The Turkish people have been incredibly friendly.  We were trying to find a bank machine ın the very same town where the kids greeted me with mullberries.  When we failed to find one we pulled over to figure out our next move.  Almost instantly people were stopping and asking us where we wanted to go.  Eventually we made our way to the centre of town (Kirklareli) where our parked bikes drew a crowd and conversation.  Someone even bought us cherries.  We ate lunch in a small restaurant where the owner charged us less than the very reasonable quoted prices (2 lira for a donar sandwich) and refused any sort of a tip.  In contrast, I just paid 3 lira (which is close to 3 dollars) for a small expresso in Istanbul.

Today we plan on seeing the sights in Istanbul.  Tomorrow we will set off for the Aegean coast and hopefully a campsite on a nice beach.  Sadly, Ted’s time with us has come to an end.  He will set off on his own tomorrow on a route through Greece and Italy on his way back to the UK.  From there he is not sure where he will go, but he has 2 weeks and a bike that has been confirmed to go 180 mph (the Fireblade enjoyed the Turkish toll highways).

2 thoughts on “Day 14 – Istanbul, Turkey

  1. Watched the Turkey/Czech game too though my money has been on Spain and Netherlands. I offered your father odds but he refused to bet, saying he favoured Germany, but was too busy watching surf in Tofino. Keep up the vivid descriptions!

  2. Thanks for the entries on your adventure. They fill in the gaps between text messages. We really enjoy and appreciate your texts. We can vicariously enjoy your experiences and of course if I hear from you I don’t worry as much. Take Care!

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