Don’t Panic! visas are a-coming

Had a few concerned emails recently of the “are you still alive” variety. Don’t worry, I’m fine, and making bureaucratic, although not geographic, progress. I arrived in Istanbul 3 weeks ago. That’s how long it takes to get approval for an Iranian visa, which came through today. I’ll pick it up tomorrow morning and apply for the Indian visa in the afternoon. I should have that by Friday. In the mean time I can work out how to get a Pakistani visa.
Pakistan aren’t issuing visas in Turkey to non-residents of Turkey. The options are:

  • Apply in Iran (crazy, going into Iran with no way of exiting in the direction I want)
  • Mail my passport to London so my brother can pick up the visa there then mail it back
  • Wait and hope my contact here can pull some strings (more on that later)

Anyway, now I’m making some progress with the bureaucracy I should start preparing the bike and things for the upcoming stage, which will be much tougher than the leisurely jaunt through Europe!

Day 59 – Istanbul

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.

Day 58 – Selimpasa to Istanbul

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.

Day 57 – Tekirdag to Selimpasa

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!

Day 56 – Kesan to Tekirdag

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.

Day 55 – Alexandroupoli to Kesan

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!