Still on camping time, so got up at 6:30am. I used the internet, and found an email from Mum saying that TNT won’t deliver my package of spare parts, because my mum is not a company. I’ve had enough of this now. The Italian post service lost a package, no one in Greece spoke good enough English for me to explain on the phone that I’d like to send a package ahead, and now TNT won’t take it for a stupid reason (and I’ve been warned it could take 2 weeks to get through Turkish customs). Mum said TNT wanted 210gbp anyway. I just checked, and a flight back to London is 250gbp, so that seems like the thing to do. I book myself onto SwissAir for Thursday morning to Geneva and on to London City, and then returning from Heathrow via Zurich on Sunday.
I don’t really do much for the rest of the day except use the internet to research Iran and start my visa application. I also research a new digital camera. Mine has some dirt in the lens which makes every photo have a blotch close to the middle, which shows up more when zoomed in. Have a lookat the photo of the sign welcoming me to Turkey for a good example. I wanted something with a good zoom lense, from a good brand, with a big screen and good battery life, preferably sony memory stick (but otherwise SD cards since they’re cheap). I decided on the Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ5. It has a 10x optical zoom (equivalent to 28mm-280mm equivalent) and 9 mega pixels. It uses SD cards, but that’s not a problem. I’ve ordered it from eBuyer where it’s 180gbp, compared to 230gbp on the high street.
In the afternoon I go for a walk up to the Blue Mosque. I would go in, but I’m wearing shorts, so I’m not allowed. Down at the shore I try to take some arty photos. But it is pointless with the lense in my camera right now.
At 6 I meet Jo and Alex for dinner again, and then we go to the roof terrace on my Hostel for drinks. They have to leave at 10pm to sleep before an 8am coach trip to Gallipoli. As I’m going to London before they’ll be back, and they’re heading back to Aus. before I’ll be back from London, we have to say goodbye. It’s a sad farewell, I’ve really enjoyed their company in France and Istanbul, and now I almost certainly won’t see them again until I’m at the end of the Australian leg.
Well, I’ve spent most of the morning on the Internet researching and trying to reassure myself about Iran, and the South Eastern part the FCO says “don’t go to”, which you have to go to to cross by land into Pakistan. Here is a bit of a compendium of resources I have found, which I’m documenting as much for my own reference, as for my friends and family to be reassured/scared, and for other travellers looking for information. I’ll update this post if find any more.
First, this is what the FCO has to say about Iran – to sum up, it’s basically safe except for the SE, from Kerman to Bander Abbas.
Next, as I blogged before, Andrew and Friedel, two Canadians cycling around the world, have an excellent resource on cycling in Iran generally.
Mark Beaumont did the route by bike on his record breaking round-the-world bike ride. This page of his online diary has the posts about this part of Iran.
Mark mentions that he did the same route as and got lots of information from a couple cycling from London to Delhi. Here’s their experience.
Then, of course, there is the LonelyPlanet ThornTree forum on Iran. A lot of the posts are about different parts of Iran, but have a flick through, and there are a number of posts on the border crossing.
Finally (for now), there’s a guy travelling around the world trying to find a home. He has written an account of travelling over the Iran/Pakistan border crossing by public transport.
Slept very well last night, and I needed it! In the morning I ate an entire box of coco-pops (1500 calories), and had tea from the owners of the house. My tent is soaked, but it still has to be packed, and most other things are damp.
There is no one around when I’m ready to go, so I just leave. About 1km later I realise my chain needs a lot of oil – 2 days of rain have ensured that. On the road to Istanbul the traffic gets gradually busier. I see a typical new gated housing community at the top of a hill, and there’s a footbridge at the summit. The view should be good from the bridge, so I head for it. The bike gets bogged down in sticky clay, which then sticks to the tyres and scrapes off on the frame. It’s a mess! The bridge has both steps and a wheel chair ramp, but there is a gap of about 1m from the bottom of the steps and ramp to the ground, not that a wheelchair could get across the clay to the huge step onto the ramp anyway – Turkey clearly has further to go in complying with EU regulations before it can gain membership. The housing community looks exactly like the ones we found on a Geography fieldtrip in Canada and Michigan, and view from the bridge isn’t great.
Continuing on, I realise my bike and trailer are so dirty, any hostel will probably turn me away. I stop at a petrol station and jet wash it – it can’t get any wetter, and I’d rather is was clean and wet and not muddy and wet.
The traffic gets even worse, and a truck pulls me up a hill. But I have to get across two bridges, and the only way is the motorway. As soon as I’m passed the last bridge I turn off and follow the coast road round. A few people in a car parked in a layby by a park motion me over, and a small crowd gathers to hear my stories of cycling from London. The car driver and passengers say they are policemen, and offer to guide me to the hostel. They had been drinking beers, and the car has no markings, and they have no ID. But I accept their offer to follow, and within 100m I’ve lost them in the traffic. Kind of know where I’m going anyway though.
Find the hostel easlily enough, and it’s really nice. I settle in, use the internet, have a shower, and go off to meet Jo and Alex for dinner. It’s great to see them again and exchange stories of our travels since we cycled together in France 7 weeks ago.
Slept excellently well – reminded me too much of a nice warm snuggley bed at home.
Got a text of Tass in the morning, he’s leaving Istanbul at mid day today, I’m arriving tomorrow afternoon. Oh well, we’ll have to plan these things better next time – I only found out a couple of days ago he was even going to be in Istanbul anyway. But, if the Italian post service had just… Anyway.
Weather looks rainy today. Ahmet’s English is good, but could be better. He seems to think I’ve come to see Tekirdag, and doesn’t really understand that as a cyclist I want to leave early to cycle a big distance towards Istanbul. Had breakfast with Ahmed and his wife, and left to the court house to get my bike at about 10. I used the internet quickly to book a hostel in Istanbul (looks like I actually might make it in my predicted timescale). Left and on the road cycling by about 10:30am. Big thanks to Ahmed and his family though for their hospitality.
Half a km later I see a lone female tourer on a Recumbent with loads of luggage. She’s going the other way across a 4 lane highway though, but we exchange a knowing wave. I wonder where she’s going and has been. The headwind has stopped, but has been replaced by incessant rain. I really miss having the rear mudguard, and my bright yellow cycling jacket has a mud stripe down the middle of the back pretty soon, and the stuff on the trailer is soaked in dirty water.
Make surprisingly good progress though. I text Jo and Alex – they’re in a different hostel, but close by to mine, and they’re around for a few days. At 60km I see a campsite, and in the pounding rain I seriously consider it. A french campervan goes in, and despite my GB sticker being completely obvious, they ignore me totally. Decide that snooty French are not for me, and continue.
At 70km a sign says there is camping in 10km. That’s about my target for the day, so it will do nicely. I follow signs to Selimpasa, where the trail goes dead. Some young guys at a cafe wave me over, and they buy me tea. The cafe was very smokey and dim, with guys in the back playing cards. Sign on the wall says tea is 10p, but it’s taken care of. I show the guys the map with the campsite marked. They point to Selimpasa and say “Selimpasa”. Yes, I know where I am, I’m looking for the campsite – mine sleeping and tent. They point at Selimpasa on the map, and point further into the town. My intuition says that I’m right, and I leave going to opposite direction.
I find another sign for camping, and turn down the road. There are so many new houses with big gates and guard dogs. Later I would find they are no even on the satellite photos on Google maps. A final sign says camping 2km. I follow the road for another 3km and give up. There is one house without gates and dogs, so I go in and ask the owner if there is a campsite. He says I can put my tent in the garden. It’s a strange place, there is a big covered area with lots of seating, but not many other people around. The people are friendly though, and they bring me tea. They ask if I’m hungry, and I say I’m ok, I have my own food. They bring out a huge steaming plate of delicious food anyway – fantastic!
Had a good breakfast with Rahman and Fatih, then we cycled together out of Kesan back to the main road where I continued alone. Thank you so much for your hospitality!
The cycling today was tough. There was a fierce headwind all day, and lots of long hills over rolling countryside, all on a 4-lane highway. But there were lots of waves from people offering support. I stopped at a service station for Cay (tea), and answered all the usual questions. As I was leaving, one person said he worked for a big international company in Ankara, and they had 30,000euro in sponsorship to give out, so I gave him a card.
The wind was so fierce I even had to cycle down the hills. By the last hill I was knackered. Fortunately I tractor went past very slowly, and I managed to grab on the back of the trailer. I was pulled up 3km of hill. The tractor had no mirrors, so the driver didn’t no I was there. At the top I coasted past. The driver had a look of bewilderment – “how did that cyclist struggling 3km ago beat me up this hill?”.
In Tekirdag I met Ahmed who’s couch I’m surfing on tonight. I met him at the court house where he’s a lawyer, and I got a tour. My bike is staying in the dry in a guarded compound, so I just took the things I need. Ahmed’s house is very nice – a modern flat in a new apartment building. Like last night I have my own separate apartment, on the top floor with a view of the city – it’s a bit of a bachelor pad actually!
For the Iftar tonight, lots of Ahmed’s family were there, and we all had a good time. But pretty soon I was tired, and went for a blissful nights sleep in a warm comfortable double bed.
Another good day today. Cycled from campsite to centre of Alexandroupoli at 7am to use internet, collect laundry, and send u-lock home to Dad. Packed up and on the move at 9, and went via the bike shop to say thankyou a lot again.
I started into a headwind whichstayed with me all day. Unfortunately the last 6km to the border is motorway. I explored other ways, but without serious offroading and getting my bike over a 2 metre fence, it wasn’t possible.
At the border the Greek guards asked how far I’d come – 3,600km – and then laughed, so I cycled off towards Turkey. Going over the bridge the Greek side is painted white and blue, and the Turkish side white and red. Across the middle of the bridge is a white line with blue on one side and red on the other. I was officially in Turkish territory. At the centre of the bridge, on either side stood a Greek and Turkish soldier, not allowed across the line into the others country. But they were leaning on the railings chatting and comparing their guns.
Going into Turkey, there is first a booth where my passport was checked, and I was told to continue on to the next booth. First though I changed all my Euro’s into Lira in the service station area. At the second booth I was told I need a visa, which I can get in the big building. I go in and to the little window. In the office a man is reading a newspaper at his desk. He looks up, sees me, sighs, and continues to read the paper. I assume he is finishing his sentance or paragraph. A minute later he turns the page and continues reading. Iask for a visa. He sticks a 15euro visa in my passport, and I say I have no euros, so I pay 30 lira instead.
Back at the second booth my passport is stamped and I continue to the third booth – customs. I’m waved right through. At the fourth booth I’m asked for my vehicle registration number. I say I’m on a bike. The guy sticks his head out the booth and laughs. He says I can continue, and I cycle on and under the big Welcome to Turkey sign.
First imprssions are good, the people seem friendly and all wave and shout support as I go past. A little boy sees me from his house, and runs across a field to see me, he was just curious, but there were no understandable words spoken between us. I reach Kesan where I have a WarmShower (like CouchSurfing, but for cyclists – no sniggering!) with Rahman. I call him from the main road junction, and think I’m supposed to go to the school where he’s a maths teacher. Up the hill into the town I go, which is very steep, all the time being curiously stared at by the locals, but in a friendly way.
After asking a few people directions I arrive at the school, and am immediately mobbed by children wanting to A. practice their English, and B. find out which football team I support! They’re all amazed that I’ve come from England, and have no idea who Carlisle United are. Rahman and his friend Fatih, an English teacher, arrive, and we go back to Rahmans house.
I’m going to be staying in the small basement flat of Rahman’s uncle, which is very nice. We chat about my trip and I use the internet. It’s ramadan, so no eating between dawn and dusk. I hear the mosque for evening prayer, and Rahman brings down a huge feast for me (Iftar). It’s just what a hungry cyclist needs – salad, fish, bean soup, rice, bread – all of it delicious!
Fantastic day today. It was cold last night, so I woke up all snug in my sleeping bag to find that the dog from last night was sleeping next to my tent, guarding me from other dogs. I made good progress passing over the land bridge along the coast, and decided to take the coast road around a mountain, even though the map said it was unsurfaced.
The villages on the way were nice, with smiling waving people. The unsurfaced road started well, which is to say tricky on a Brompton. But the trick is to take it slow, pick the bestroute, and use a low gear to gently pull over the bumps. The road was 15km long. I arrived at 12 and gave myself 3 hours – 5km/h average, so I’d have to go a bit faster than “pushing the bike” pace. The road gradually deteriorated, and the hills were steep enough that in a low enough gear to get up them I was spinning the back wheel, so I had to push up the hills. Going down the hills was also interesting, quite a few times I locked up both front and rear wheels on the gravel.
The scenery was fantastic, huge boulders, olive groves, hidden coves by the sea (although innaccesable down the landscape), and not a person for miles. Or so I though. I came round a corner to find a German tourer coming towards me. He was completely in camouflage gear – t-shirt, shorts, panniers, even his bike, were all in green jungle camo colours.
We discussed routes, and he suggested I go north from India into Nepal, over the Himalayas and into China, then east, and south through Laos and into Thailand. It’s a possibility, but the climate at the time of year could be a problem. He also said going across Burma was ok – he did it. Rather him than me!
The road smoothed and became tarmac. Took 2 hours 30 minutes, so not bad at all. Got to Alexandroupoli and found the municipal campsite – very nice, best I’ve seen in Greece so far.
Went into the town and used the internet. I have a warm shower in Kesan – yay! Also found Tass, one of my lecturers from uni and now good friends, is in Istanbul for a conference, hope he is still there and we could meet up. Drop off laundry, to be collected at 8:30am tomorrow, and go in search of bike shop Andrew and Friedel recommended.
The owner is fantastic, a very friendly guy, and one of the truly good hearted guys in the world. He tightened the headset on my bike in no time (it had been slightly loose since the pothole in Greece, and getting gradually worse), and when I mentioned Andrew and Friedel his jaw dropped. He’s amazed, and wants to know how they are, where they are, how I know them, where I’m coming from and going, do I have everything I need, am I ok? He fusses over me and the bike for a bit, and gives me a thermos water bottle and a few consumables. I have to stop him before he puts himself out of business!
I say thank you a lot, and go back to the campsite to make dinner. Dinner was pasta with a side of pasta garnished in pasta – my punishment for dropping dinner the night before.
I liked Alexandroupoli, it had a good vibe to it, busy but not overwhelming, well organised, and friendly people.
I know, it’s been a few days since I posted proper updates. But I’ll be in Turkey tomorrow, and than Istanbul on Monday! Excited!
I was ready to go at 8am today, but I forgot to pay last night and the campsite reception only opened at 9am. I was a nice cycle. Once out of Kavala the traffic joins the motorway and it was flat so I did 20km/h again. I was hoping to be in Xanthi by 12, but I got a puncture and it tok an hour to fix.
The puncture was caused by the extra section of tyre inside the rear tyre to keep it from bursting. The edges were too sharp, and were cutting through the inner tube. I used two big patches on the affected spots, and wrapped the ends of the inside tyre in duck tape to stop it happening again. Hope it holds to Istanbul. Fortunately though it happened 50m from a petrol station, so I had a nice bucket of water and the garages air compressor – once tiny short blast and the tyre was rock solid.
Got to Xanthi at 1 and found an internet place. I have a couch to surrf in Tekirdag on Saturday! That means a definite time-destination I have to stick to. Leaving the internet the sky was dark. I went to a bakery to buy bread, and while in there the rain started. At first massive hail stones, then torrential rain, with water gushing dwn the streets and out of overfilled drains. I stayed in the bakery while the power flickered on and off for the rain to die down.
I still got soaked even though it was no longer raining. Since breaking my rear mudguard completely in Brindisi, all the water sprayed over my back and onto the trailer. I tried to work out where water was getting into the trailer, and discovered it isn’t the seal at the top. But even after an afternoon in the spray, only one tiny corner of my tool kit was a damp, so I’m not overly concerned about it anymore.
After 80km I saw a forrested area that looked like a nice place to camp. But I’ve only done 80km and there’s 4 hours of daylight left, so I stopped only to check the map and NOT for the night. Saw it has running water, so I went over to fill up my water bottles, and NOT for the night. It has picnic benches, and a nice secluded spot for a tent. Check it out, and put my tent up. I’m weak.
The thunder sounds exactly like the dinosaur footsteps in Jurrasic Park. Quite eerily similar. At my secluded spt a very thin dog is hanging out. He doesn’t bark and seems a bit shy (makes a change). He seems to be protecting this bit of the forest, which must be his domain, from other dogs. I made dinner, and ate a bit, but then managed t drop it all on the ground. Saw the funny side, and cleared it up. Only thought bugger and got annoyed when I realised I forgot to take a photo.