Thoughts on (leaving) Turkey ….

Leaving Turkey was with a mixture of excitement to be moving on to another place, culturally and topographically, and sadness because Turkey is the country that I had spent the longest amount of time so far, learnt the greatest amount of the language, seen the most ‘sights’ and have met the most people … both those I had actually stayed with and those who just took an interest in my journey in passing.

My experiences with the majority of the people I encountered was positive and I was given more support and hospitality than I was ever expecting.

On learning the language … I was able to answer simple questions because these were mainly the same for each person …and utilise some of this vocabulary for other situations and circumstances ….!!

a) where are you from? England is nice!!

b) where are you going? your not sure? … oh yes the next town/city is nice!

c) are you with a friend? why not?

d) are you married? why not?!

e) do you have children? why not?!

f) how old are you? really!!

g) profession in England? oh, a teacher (!!) thats good!!

h) where do you sleep? you are sleeping in a tent? alone? outside campsites? aaargggg!!!!!

i) why alone … thats bad right?!

j) aren’t you afraid? …. its dangerous cycling alone, as a woman!!!

Some of these would apply to the male cyclists I have met but there was much more of a concern for my safety (as a woman) and my ability to achieve my goals and actually interest and confusion as to why I might want to do this and not be in a relationship, at home, caring for children.  The expectation (and confusion) were even more pronounced when people heard my age … especially as I look much younger than I am!!

The occasional difficult issues that I encountered with men were few and far between, did have some impact on the way that I felt about travelling alone as a woman in Turkey but did not stop me from meeting men, women and families as I travelled.

I found the cultural expectation in relation to keeping my body almost fully covered quite a difficult one to come to terms with and my sense of how to do this was not always compatible with the places I was visiting.  I found that in Central Turkey I needed to be more covered than anywhere else and my usual attire of skirt, leggings and cycling top was just not enough and so I reverted to wearing trousers sometimes with the skirt and a shawl over my cycle top … to mitigate any sense of body shape at all.

Its frustrating to feel the need to do this in order to manage others perceptions of me but since I was the one making the decision to cycle within that social and cultural environment it was up to me to conform to some of the social expectations and yes to discuss them when appropriate and challenge them from my personal perspective.

In addition to it’s wonderful, caring and generous people, Turkey is historically amazing and utterly beautiful in its diversity of surroundings.

Turkey …. I will return!!!!

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Turkey’s Black Sea Coast

Samsun and beyond

I had a great time relaxing in Samsun but after a few days there I needed to get back on the road and zoom along the Black Sea coast.  I had spent nearly 2 months in Turkey and much as I would have loved to spend 2 more I needed to concentrate on getting closer to the Pamirs, Tajikistan, before winter sets in.

Its so difficult for me to think of winter when still in such heat … and the Black sea coast was hot and humid.   The landscape felt almost jungle like, tropical in comparison to the area in Central Turkey I had seen … but again it was so great to be back by the sea.

After getting another puncture just outside Samsun and stopping off at a truck weighing station to get myself and Tilly weighed ( me 60kg, Tilly and bags 50kg = 110kg) – much to their amusement – I am cycling long, flat roads with wide hard shoulders, tree covered mountains to my right and trees and palms separating me from the Black Sea on my left.

I also pass by worker camps.  Evidently people are out in the surrounding fields and living in tents to be close to the work.  I saw this on a number of occasions in Turkey and then further on in other countries.  Not having met anyone who lives in these camps I would be wrong to comment on how good, bad or indifferent they are … but I would doubt that that anyone employing these people will provide much in the way of support to make their homes comfortable places to live.

I follow a camping sign in the evening and am stopped part way and taken to the holidays homes of 2 Turkish couples who live in Germany and who suggest I camp in their garden … so I spend the evening and morning chatting to them in German and to their amusement some Turkish!

The route from Samsun is all main road, going through Carsamba, Terme and then onto Unye  and Fatsa and so I just put my head down and power up!  I love the feeling of speed on a good road surface, mainly flat … its a different type of joyous!!

In Fatsa I stop briefly to look at the boats and marvel at the coastline.  From the road as a round a point or crest a ‘hill’ I see these massive coastal towns/cities which hug the mountains and roll down to the sea … they are quite a thing to see and look mainly modern, with enormous blocks of flats, seaward facing .. a bit like a massive Torquay or … Rio De Janeiro!!!

Along the Black Sea coast there are  a number of tunnels …. I’m not a big fan of tunnels with traffic … without, just for bikes would be awesome!! The trucks pound through these at great speed and on more than one occasion I’m sure I felt angels wings brushing past me, thankfully either looking after or ignoring me!!  Either works for me!!!!

After Fatsa I hug the coastline, climbing some great hills with lovely windy roads, searching for a sunset or sunrise camp spot … but as its such a great ride I keep going, at one point meeting a Turkish cycle tourer going the other way, until I reach the lovely Pershembe.

The lovely Pershembe

On reaching Pershembe at night I am struck by what a relaxed, atmosphere it has so I find a local cafe which has a children’s park just next to it and plan to camp in there over night!! It all feels really safe and so I go to the cafe for tea and toast well pleased with my decision …. and meet Ficrosa and her sister in law.  They ask what I am doing and immediately invite me to stay … Ficrosa’s husband speaks English and is summoned by phone, arriving some minutes later by which time we are all laughing in the cafe and I’m totally in love with the town and more importantly Ficrosa.   She and Aydin are retired, in their late 60s at a guess and yet have the fun and enthusiasm of any youngling!!! Before too long I am pushing Tilly back along Pershembe’s boulevard to one of the wedding salon’s I had heard music from earlier …. the Black Sea is famous for its wedding salons and someone in Aydin’s family runs this one.   We go in, drink tea, people watch, listen to the music and inevitably for me I am up dancing with an insistent Ficrosa in a very short space of time …. my idea of a heaven … and so my plan to move along the Black Sea quite quickly  are completely scuppered … in the best possible way.

After more tea and dancing Ficrosa and Aydin take me back to their house and we sit on their porch drinking tea and chatting about my cycling.  Aydin gets his violin out and he plays some traditional tunes whilst she sings … its so beautiful I want to cry … I’m just so lucky and feeling pretty overwhelmed by these amazing people.  At the end of the music there is a chorus of applause from the neighbouring house.

This may sound strange but one of the most touching things to have happened to me so far on this trip was to be shown where the shower was, my clothes taken for washing and for me to be given a new pair of yellow pants, some clean painting clothes of Aydin’s and a pair of pink slippers … even now the yellow pants are one of my prized possessions and make me smile every time!!! Such love and generosity there was in that giving.

Over the next couple of days in Pershembe I visit the local bazaar, collecting food for the day, help Ficrosa make dolmas and go to a totally amazing breakfast party – see the photos for that one!!!! Another treasured memory is that of the 3 of us dancing in their front room to music from the radio … words don’t do it justice … we all totally rocked!!

Leaving Pershembe was incredibly hard after being introduced to so many people by Ficrosa … she is an absolute magnet for people … amazing boundless energy and I enjoyed the time with her and Aydin so much.

But on the 4th morning I headed off again along the Black Sea coast … after tears and lots of hugs … Aydin asked to cycle with me up to the next town and so we went along together and had some tea before he left for home and I carried on through Ordu to end up camping on the sea front amongst the hazelnuts at Giresun!

The following day there is more coastal cycling, coastal towns, coastal views before stopping for food just outside Trabzon and meeting Furkan, who seeing my initial hesitation when he immediately offers me a place to stay, tells me about his work (SEN teacher), girlfriend, job, previous experience hosting cycle tourers and offeres his Couchsurfing details for further reference!!! I sent a FB post about his warmth and generosity at the time and reiterate now …. how amazing to be in a new place and spontaneously offered somewhere to stay, shower, washing and breakfast in the morning before going on my way …. the people I meet are amazing!!

Rize, Ayder and Çay

After leaving Furkan I head into Trabzon and visit the Hagia Sophia, a church and mosque on separate sides.  Its a beautiful building dating back to the 13 century and recently restored and has both internal frescos and external stone carving depicting Adam, Eve and the tree of knowledge.

As I cycle along I see one of the few political posters I have seen anywhere in Turkey, of President Erdogan.  I’m surprised to see this here on the Black Sea because the people there appear so much more focused on their freedom of speech and free behaviour .. the women on the Black Sea appear very much more in charge of their own affairs than anywhere (other then Istanbul) in the rest of Turkey so I am surprised by this show of solidarity with a very conservative, religiously based president.

Looking up into the mountains I am made aware that there is tea growing … I had no idea that Turkey grew tea!!!  Well it does, lots of it and so having been told by others that Ayder is a must see place to go I pass through Rize (a town of blue and green and tea artwork everywhere) pausing for the night in the 24hr hospital cafe, only to be offered a bed by a woman who is an inpatient and not entirely well yet (venflon still in arm) but wants me to feel welcome!!!

I spend a day cycling from Rize to Ayder, getting a lift for the last 10km from the young national park entrance guards and then a local who they commandeer to take me the last 5 km.  Its cold and misty and wet by the time i reach Ayder and I’m disappointed not to see the mountains but after some conversation am given a spot behind the kitchen of a lodge complex and then fed!!  Does anyone else get the feeling I ricochet from tent to food and back!! Conversation around the fire in the evening turns to me being generally mad for doing this and why am I not married with children … favourite topics of conversation throughout Turkey and ones which I have developed my own form of positive answers in Turkish, usually accompanied by gestures to indicate this is amazing and I’m very happy to be meeting such lovely people!!

In the morning the mists have cleared and its a beautiful day!! So I go exploring before heading back down the mountain to the Black Sea road and ultimately Georgia.  I ask about the howling in the night and am told there are packs of jackals … its incredible to listening to them ‘singing’ in a tent, on the mountains, at the back of a cabin!!  The 40km downhill is so great and I swish through the turns happily, looking about at the rocks, rivers and hills full of tea … life is good!!

Once back on the Black Sea road I decide to continue and cross the border (thanks Dylan!) into Georgia at night, after stopping in Hopa for soup and to fix my last puncture from Turkey – a wire puncture darn it!!

Its fun to be cycling down queues of trucks, through tunnels, to the crossing check points and as I pass through quickly (1 hour) and find myself in Georgia with no hostel, hotel or idea of where I am staying I realise that I feel totally relaxed about this and that somewhere in Turkey I have lost a lot of my anxiety and am aware that I can totally handle any situation … well cycle touring there is often no choice – either I handle it or it goes pear shaped – but you know what I mean!!!  So not without sadness I’m in a new country again complete with new language and new alphabet!!

Central Turkey and the Plains

Into Konya and the Windy Plains

Cycling from Pamukkale through the region with Burdur, Egirdir and Beysehir Golu is really breathtaking, cycling past incredible mountain ranges, across wide open space, up hills that then reach another high plateau …which completely messes with my head –  it goes up but not down ????!!

My surroundings are just so diverse and so beautiful … just one of the many great reasons to love Turkey!!

One night Im in a small town at dusk and am given a place to camp … in a police compound … as well as being brought food and tea!!  Another night I camp alongside one of the lakes, next to another tent but am up so early I never saw the motorbike tourer. Another night I set up my mosquito net and mat in an orchard and spend a good hour or so just staring at the moon and stars through the branches above me … does life get any better??!

On my continued cycle to Konya I am happy enjoying the scenery and movement and process so am completely thrown when a casual offer of a lift from a young truck driver who has stopped is punctuated by him reaching over and grabbing me … as I knock his hand away he continues the conversation and telling him I don’t want a lift I cycle off.

There were a couple more incidents of being followed or being repeatedly asked for sex whilst in Turkey but this was the most surprising and therefore, for me, most upsetting. So having Konya and Mevlana on my mind I do what feels most helpful …. and cry and dance for 20 minutes until I am calm again.

“Dance, when you’re broken open.

Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of the fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

Mevlana

Visiting Mevlana in Konya was beautiful.  The gardens and the tomb itself are really so lovely to walk around .. in spite of the large numbers of people there.  Konya itself was just another city and going to watch the Sema dance was interesting but for some reason just not as engaging for me as i might have hoped … although to be honest i was expecting to have that reaction … i would prefer to be involved in the dancing myself.

On leaving Konya I have a couple of days cycling across windy plains.  The combination of the draft from the trucks going past me in the opposite direction and the side wind puts me in a position of constantly braking to stabalise Tilly and not be knocked flat.  Exhausted on the 1st evening out of Konya i get a place to camp behind a petrol station, followed by lots of tea, dinner and then breakfast in the morning.  The men there both take a positive interest in the cycle and, as is usual, are surprised that I might want to do such a thing alone.

Leaving them the following day I stop a couple of hours later to do some stretching when a battered car pulls up alongside, driven by (rough guess) a laughing 14year old, man in passenger seat, woman and child in the over stuffed backseat.  The boot is over flowing with bags and there are more along with a carpet on the roof!!  The 3 fingered man asked initially for money and then points to silver foil in his lap and wafting his hands and head about in a euphoric motion!!!!  No … I dont want to buy drugs .. its 10am and I’m just about ready for a coffee ta!!!!

Laughing, they all head off when its apparent I’m not interested.  For some reason being offered drugs so early in the morning has really made me chuckle … very British humour … pre coffee antics!!!

On this road I stop off to look at one of the rock cities, unfortuntely shut so I push on to the next town, Sultanhani, which has a beautiful Kervanseri and then in the evening camp again at the back of a petrol station, to the amusement of the owner son, who comes to see the tent and meet Tilly.

Next stop …… Cappadocia and Goreme.

Cappadocia

Goreme is a town in Cappadocia famous for its amazing rock formations and its hot air ballooning … its stunning and a very visual place so the photos will hopefully speak for me!!! I loved being there and looking at these rocks formed millennia ago …. I also did a bit of horse riding!!!!  Hilariously I am given the owners horse, to take off on my own, a gorgeous but too strong for me Arab and utterly determined!!! After an evening ride that initially goes well, pottering through rock valleys in the evening light, Yasmin, turns her head and bolts back for the stable … me hanging on rather than in any sort of control!!! We gallop back up the well used dirt track past 20 or so bemused quad bikers, me just grateful Yasmin didn’t try and jump any of them and skid to a halt by her stall!!!  Latest injuries … metal rub from one of the stirrups and a bruised ego!

From there I cycle towards Yozgat, meeting another Turkish cycle tourer going the other way … have lunch with him and his friends, lose my map without realising, have it returned to me by a family who have done a U turn and driven to catch up with me before going bac the other way and again cycle through beautiful countyside before finding my next camp spot.

Hatusha, Alacahoyuk and Amasya

I am heading up north east through Turkey to Coram and then Amasya, but first i have the joy of visiting some more ancient sites … from Hittite period in the late Bronze Age.  The site is massive and on a very steep hill so I get a taxi around it … after some negotiation i am driven into the local town to find my driver, 17 and initially very fast but soon relaxes and slows down when we pair up with another tourist, a Turkish man who wants to study archaeology.  They both chat happily as we tour the site of the capital of the Hittite empire and I use some of my basic Turkish to chat with them too!!  We all end up having a great time and as I leave the Turkish man give me a stone carving he bought on the site … which now lives in Pop’s study.   My next stop that day is Alacahoyuk, another Hittite settlement but much smaller, before ending up camping outside a restaurant on the route to Coram!!

The following day, after some time consuming wrong turns I peddle through Coram, which held no interest for me aiming for a hill road to Amasya.  Stopping at a petrol station for water i end up having an hour long conversation with the women working there who are so enthusiastic about Samsun on the Black Sea that I cannot wait to reach there.

But first Amasya …. and whilst cycling the beautiful hilly back roads to reach there I am picked up by a family who will not take no for an answer and driven to their lovely home, fed, kept over night and then driven to Amasya before being given a guided tour of the town … They were so worried about me camping out that when a friend drove past they flagged than down, told them to give me character references for them and convince me i would be killed and eaten if I didn’t take them up on their offer of a bed for the night …. they were all such lovely people and I spent another wonderful night with another wonderful family right up in the mountains away from the dangers of the road!

Amasya is lovely and reminds me somewhat of Switzerland … ?!!  High mountain cliffs, watermills on the river and timber buildings with mosques interspersed between them.  In the end I cycled about 30km out of Amasya and then managed to get myself and Tilly on a bus bound for Samun on the Black Sea coast … I had had enough of side and head winds and at this point wanted to get to Samsun for a couple of days of peace.  So on reaching Samsun and finding it in torrential rain with thunder and lightening over head I opt to sleep in the bus station with Tilly rather than get cold and wet or struck by that impressive lightening show!!

Into Asia ….. Turkeys West Coast

The Prince’s Islands and the Sea of Marmara

Following the cycle across the Bosphorus Bridge and visit to bike shop for Tilly to receive some long over due TLC I head towards the ferry that will take me across to the island of Heybelida, one of the Princes Islands just off shore from Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara.

I had arranged to meet Josh and James (from SSG) on the island for a barbeque and camping … as usual i am running late but we manage to meet up on Heybeliada and after sorting a barbeque, food and wine we head up hill in search of a good location to watch the sunset and cook … the location we settle on turns out to be perfect as it affords us a sunset beer and then after cooking we can hear music from a birthday or wedding party coming up from a distant bar … followed by fireworks … i so love fireworks and watching them across the water and through the pines was perfect!!!

In the morning James and Josh head back to SSG and i spend time on the island, at one point chatting to a random woman about the political situation in Turkey and about her current relationship which she wants advice on!!!

Eventually I catch the evening ferry to Yalova on the opposite shore of the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul … a ferry journey which gives me the most amazing views of the asian side of Istanbul and i come to appreciate just how big a city it really is … its spectacular in so many ways.

I reach Yalova as the sun is setting and feel as if I have reached a tropical island with palms and a beautiful long boulevard, on which i find a memorial to the memory of the lives lost during the earthquake which shattered Istanbul in 1999.  The memorial is very moving and i leave feeling saddened by the photos i have seen and remembering reports in the UK of the massive loss of life and of the devastation to the whole area.    I cycle away from Yalova for some miles and eventually, just as it is getting really dark, find a suitably sized drainage tunnel under a road and set up my mosquito net and mat for the night.

The following day i encounter a morning of rain, one of only a handful I had had since leaving the UK, but as i cycle along the coast towards Cinarcik the rain stops and i am treated to sunshine again … in Cinarcik its so hot that when asked by one woman if i was looking for the ‘womens beach’ i jump at the chance of swimming/having a wash and follow her down a track to a little cove area where there are women and children swimming.  Not long after me a group of teenage girls come down as well and before too long we are all spectators in their singing and dancing on the beach and then in the sea … it was great to see them all having such a relaxed time and to see their dance and hear their songs.

Im not too comfortable with the idea of segregation and there having to be a women’s beach however hindsight me, after the month of cycling alone in Turkey, can appreciate the opportunity I had to relax in my body without any anxiety regarding who was viewing me or how i was being viewed … and to be able to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the sea.  A sea that has no tide and therefore almost no waves … very strange for someone from the southwest of england where sea = surf.  There were also a lot of jellyfish to contend with and i ws super aware of my lack of experience with these strange beasts … so stayed as far away from them as possible.  In spite of this being a womans beach there were a lot of women wearing a lot of clothing to swim in … i mean full body coverage often in black. The aspect of femaleness  and being female in Turkey was an area I was not comfortable about and spent long periods of time considering the differences between there and England.  Discussions with women, unsurprisingly, often touched on this as well, most of whom are so used to doing it that they do not seem to see it as a loss of freedom … inevitably it relates to the concepts of religious authority or secular authority and the current Turkish government has a strongly religious agenda.  If you tell people how to behave and what to believe for long enough will these ideas be seen to be their own after a while?

After my swim i cycle up through hills before cresting one particular hill and seeing the coastline spread out before me … strangely it reminds me of Devon, but sunnier!  I drop down into the coastal town, post some things home and chat to a group of older men who are drinking tea and playing game with numbered pieces before cycling on again and finding a picnic spot just outside Esenkoy … where I meet a lovely family running it and spend a couple of days with them.   Swimming with the girls (yes they also have full coverage swimming clothes) and chatting to their parents.  The views and sunsets from there were truely amazing.

When I leave I heading for Gemlik, again following the coastal roads through beautiful, hot countryside past so many olive groves for which this part of the region is famous.  The views of the sea and the coast are incredible …. images i have seen on films or on billboard posters i am actually cycling through!

I cycle through Gemlik in the early evening, stopping briefly for an ice cream (there was a lot of stopping for ice cream!) and when i start looking for a camping spot on a neighbouring hill i am stopped by a family whose son is just returned from his job on a container ship for his engagement party.  They go and ask at the local mosque if i can camp there but after having food with them and being suitably scrutinised i end up staying in their home … they welcome me in despite being busy with arrangements for the party the following day.  The mother is still in the process of making intricate decorations for towels to go in an engagement package for her son’s fiancée.  Generosity and interest was something i encountered throughout my time in Turkey.  When i leave in the late morning i am weighed down with olives, fresh figs, Turkish delight and some other presents.  Its overwhelming the kindness and I spend a lot of time over the next month considering this difference between our countries … would a Turkish (or any other) woman on a bicycle receive this level of care in the UK?  I’m sad to say I think not.

The days cycle follows a similar pattern … hot cycling, dusty roads, olive groves, coastal towns and as the sun lowers in the sky I meet up with a couple of local cyclists who tell me that everyone camps on the beach in the local town, Zeytinbagi, so we all cycle there drink some tea and chat before they continue on their way home and I meet a friend for the evening, a lovely wire haired Pointer, who spots me as a soft touch, brings me a plastic bottle and we spend a good long time me throwing the bottle into the sea and her diving in and fetching it back … she reminds me of two of the best dogs in the world … Cally and Polly.  Its the utter dedication to the game!

So i camp on the beach after viewing the most amazing sunset … am woken in the night several times by people revving motorbikes nearby but as they cause no issue to me i sleep again pretty quickly and awake to an amazing beach sunrise … and yes i am spend some of my time thinking about and feeling gratitude for my life and ability to do this journey and see these amazing things!!  After breakfast I aim for Bergama.

Inland to Bergama

So aiming for Bergama .. this part of the journey needs to be completed on fast roads.  The size of Turkey necessitates that I cycle at least some of the points between places on main roads rather than country road just so i can get around in a decent time!  Turkey is an enormous place!

The day starts well and I make good time getting onto the main inland road and sadly away from the coast ….. however …. whilst busy looking at my odometer and checking distance done and the time I don’t see a lorry tyre in the middle of the hard shoulder until i am almost upon it … and consequently hit it at full speed, making the decision to roll to the side rather than risk going over the handle bars.

I jump up promptly and drag Tilly away from the road, of course we had fallen car side of the tyre rather than field side, and sit on the crash barrier to assess the damage.  Tilly is pretty fine, few scrapes on her left brake lever and the panniers are a bit more scuffed. Me, scraped knee and the most amazing looking bruising starting to flare up already.  The bruises developed over the course of the day, followed one of my veins and lasted for far too long!!  Anyway (daughter of) physician, heal thy self!! So I clean up with alcohol, ouch and stand up, to be approached by a man who has just walked 1km up from a lay by, in broken flip flops, to see if I am ok and if I want a lift to … well anywhere.  He is heading to Ayvalik, a bit further than I was planning but on the coast and I could cycle down to Bergama from there … quick consideration and I decide to continue on Tilly and go through Mustafakemalpasa, Balikesir and Soma before Bergama.  So I wave him off and continue through Turkey on these large roads, stopping regularly at petrol stations for water and sometimes a place to camp.

In Balikesir I stopped at a cycle shop to get Tilly checked after our tumble, I had adjusted a couple of bits and wanted to know I had not made a mess of things.  There i was told again how dangerous it was to be cycling alone and that i should be careful … before being told that a friend of the shop was coming down to show me where I could stay that evening.  It appears that telling people I am camping raises no possibility of going and doing that because I am escorted to a flat in the town, very definitely a bachelor pad or second flat (!!!) … I am a little unnerved and consider whether I should make my apologies and leave, I don’t really want to spend the night alone with a man I have just met .. he speaks no English, I speak no Turkish … when he hands me the flat keys gestures to the bathroom, shows me the hot water set up, how to lock the door, indicates I need to take the key back to the cycle shop and leaves his flat to me!!  I say again would this happen in England?? There is a level of trust and generosity that I have never experienced before and if anyone is reading this and feels they would like to ‘get involved’, join Warm Showers and offer a bed, floor space, garden space to cycle tourers and experience some of this yourselves!!

Over the following days I am back on smaller roads, cycling through beautiful hillsides and camping in pine woodlands.  On one night i hear people out shooting and a dog racing around, beating, with a large bell around its neck.  I am pleased i have developed a great ability to sleep regardless of any possible concerns because until they become actual issues I don’t need to worry!! I will deal with them as needed!!!  The dog and the guns never became an issue, happily!!

From Soma to Bergama it is open and flat and I was able to see irrigation channels, tomatoes set out to ripen in the sun and on reaching Bergama to see really beautiful old houses and archaeological remains and ruins of temples … I had finally reached the historical part of Turkey I had been excited about seeing.  After Bergama, and ice cream chatting to a restaurant owner, I cycle south, in the direction of Selcuk and Ephesus.

I’m back on the hard shoulder of a main road but am relatively ok with this, just looking forward to seeing Selcuk in the coming days.  As i cycle along the road a small motorbike with 2 young men passes me and a little further pulls onto the hard shoulder, one of the guys puts his shirt on and for some reason i feel the need to put some speed in an power past saying hello when they call out but keeping moving.  I hear the bike coming up behind me and am vindicated for my caution and totally furious when they come past close enough for the passenger to grab my arse.

I’m scared by the proximity of the motorbike to Tilly and generally outraged so shout a lot of curses at them both and power on to burn off some of my anger and frustration that young men feel this is acceptable behaviour.

After another 30 minutes cycling I spot a someone on the hard shoulder in the distance … must be a cycle tourer I think,  looks like back panniers and I can see a small flag attached to the back … so engage more speed and cycle to catch up, ringing my bell and calling out ‘Merhaba’!!!  Eventually I catch up with Erol, who is listening to music and not ignoring me, introduce myself and persuade him to let me cycle with him, at least for a while!!!

It turns out that Erol speaks fantastic English and is on a 10 day tour from his home in Istanbul to Bodrum and is planning on visiting Selcuk as well!! And so after chatting for a while and getting some food we camp in a very dodgy place not far from Aliaga, cycle into Aliaga in the morning and then catch the train from there to Torbali before cycling into Selcuk the following evening.  Cycling with Erol is really great, he works with boats and we have many conversations about (boaters will get this!!) paint, fuel and other boaty stuff … Erol’s view is that ‘the best boat is a friends boat’!!!  I totally get this … all the fun none of the stress … but still love my boat!!

On reaching Selcuk, after many stops for water and then the best Ayran I have ever tasted, we find a camp site put up the tents and go out for food … much as I have enjoyed the times travelling on my own it was really lovely to have company…even better that it was great company!!!  Erol has many funny stories from working in boat yards some of which still make me laugh out loud when I think of them!!! The man with a stone in his shoe being one my favourite and one I will have to tell another time!!

Selçuk and Pamukkale

Selcuk is your standard tourist town attached to the amazing Ephesus.  This doesn’t mean that Selcuk is without beautiful old buildings .. the old camii near our campsite (whose stone had retained so much of the heat of the day it was still radiating it when we went out to eat in the late evening), the derelict hammams and the castle which all indicate the towns closeness to Ephesus, one of the major hubs of the Greek (10th Century BC) and Roman (129 Century BC) world.

In Ephesus it was incredible to see the iconic Library of Celsus, the amphitheatre and the city streets laid out.  Walking round in the sun and heat with Erol and ‘about a million’ other tourists was one of my highlights in Turkey. I got a real sense of history there and was happy to see the model reconstructions showing Ephesus as a major sea port and cultural centre of its time.

After a great couple of days soaking up the history and culture with Erol we parted company and he continued his tour south to Antalya and I went east in search of my next historical site, Pamukkale.

After an initial uphill and descent most of the route to Pamukkale is following alongside the really beautiful Aydin mountain ranges and as a consequence is fairly flat.  It means its quite fast paced cycling which felt great after a few days without Tilly.  In the evening I leave it late to find a camping spot and so at a petrol station ask about hostels etc.  I am immediately commandeered by Onur, the manager from the shop next door who is interested in Tilly and he takes me off on the back of his moped to find a ‘good, safe’ place to stay.  The hotel he takes me to is ok … no dodgy women according to Onur.  So I move in there for the night and Onur takes me on a night tour of the city on his moped … however he keeps telling me my ‘husband’ will be having an affair whilst I am away and I should ditch UK life and stay with him!!  Navigating male female interaction is always quite tricky in Turkey but Onur is a good guy and drops me back at the hotel after tea and I promise to drop into the shop in the morning and say goodbye, which I duly do.

The rest of the cycle to Pamukkale is uneventful and flat, with roadside fruit and veg sellers punctuating the sameness of the road.  So in the late afternoon, as I get closer, I get an amazing view of the white terraces on the hillside in stark contrast to the rest of its surroundings … there is good reason for it to be called ‘cotton castle’ (pamukkale) … its so white and clean looking.  I find a camp site near by, set up the tent for the weekend and walk up to see the hillside and some of the site in the fading light.   It really is an impressive site, much bigger than Ephesus but as i would have to pay full price for the hour or so before it shuts, i decide to return the following day and enjoy the walk back down the hill to the camp site … stopping briefly to listen to music drifting across the hillside … a perfect moment of calm, ecstatic joy and connection … a treasured memory.

Pamukkale the following day is incredibly busy on the iconic white terraces and in the swimming pools but almost empty in the city of Hieropolis’ necropolis, amphitheatre and other archaeological areas … perfect for me to do my Lara Croft impression and feel part of this amazing city.

An amazing place and wonderful day is briefly marred by one of the gardeners ‘subtly’ flashing at me, so I was unsure if it was an accident until he made sure he was decently covered once I had gone past  … I’m laughing now but was so angry that he though he could get away with this that I chased after him shouting (in English!!) and telling his colleagues nearby what an utter shit he was!!!  Well I felt better after venting my anger and frustration!!!

From Pamukkale/Hieropolis I head for the lakes of Turkey and Konya, where I look forward to seeing the tomb of Mevlana (Rumi), a favourite Sufi mystic, writer and originator of a type of dance meditation … just my thing!