Day 52: Into Istanbul!!
Saturday August 17th - Day 52 - 57miles - 2092miles
Okay... today is make or break time. We could make it into Istanbul today since it is about 60 miles away but Bruce's knee may or may not be up to it after his fall... There is a city about 30 miles away called Gokturk, which seems like a pretty big (built up) suburb of Istanbul... so it should have a hotel if we need to stop for the day... Let's see what happens...
So we set a 5am alarm... Breakfast by 6am with the bikes already packed up and ready to go. We had a breakfast mate in the large empty dining room. She was a very persistent kitty with an ear that was almost torn in half. She mewed and purred and tried to jump up on Andrea's chair. She rubbed herself on Andrea's leg and shoe but she was very cute... but we think that she was a fairly bad-ass kitty since her paws with pink with blood (probably from small rodents and geckos that didn't make it out of the Hotel Kleopatra alive!).
Bruce was having a pretty tough morning. He was tired from sleeping in a terribly creaky bed last night; his knees were cut up and he had a belly ache from the bob (bean) soup last night. So he didn't eat any breakfast. Andrea did have a bit to eat and the killer kitty finished most of her left over cheese....
Before we left we posted 2 blogs on the patio, as that was the only place where the wifi seemed to work, and we headed out at 7am onto the road that would take us to Istanbul.
Today's ride was a tough one....
The turks are rebuilding the D020 and the new road starts just beyond Subasi. The new road comes and goes though, so at times the asphalt is pristine, sometimes you are riding on gravel in a construction zone, and sometimes on the old road still. At one point, we stopped and took photos of the construction zone and the men working on the road. They were very nice and very happy to have attention paid to them.
There was a big climb just after Kizicaali....it may have seemed bigger to us as we had a nasty headwind as we were trying to climb it....it was not fun. It looked so big in front of us and it only kept going up. This was also part of the new road....the old road was still there to the left and the climb was even worse on that!
There was a wide shoulder built into this road. Which is nice, but it is often littered with truck tire bits and shards of broken glass which make it a bit of an obstacle course made harder with the climbing up hill. Also, there are packs of stray dogs on the highway. There were lots of them and they were big here. So many street dogs so far away from towns or cities seems weird. We wondered how they survived up here on the highway.
There are lots... I mean TONS... of trucks with gravel trailers using this road for the construction works....it makes cycling a little scary when you don't have the nice shoulder. The shoulder goes in and out as the construction takes up more or less of road surface. Also, the trucks use the shoulder to pull over, or just as an extra lane when faster trucks are trying to pass. The trucks have the habit of beeping at us, even when we are well in the shoulder and they have plenty of room to pass us. Not friendly...
We took a break at a gas station a couple of miles down the road from the top of the hill. We rested up for a bit, despairing a little at the flags that were showing still more headwind. Which ever way we turn or the road turns, we always seem to have a headwind in Turkey....we are not liking that!
Part of our original plan was to go the Black Sea coast. At this point the D020 goes to within about 10miles of the coastline, which is mostly undeveloped in Turkey. So this would have been a 20 mile detour. However we realized that because of all the hills we had climbed we were about 800' above sea level and the Black Sea was, well, at sea level. Neither of us fancied cycling down steep Turkish hills, only to have to climb back up them. This also would have meant definitely delaying our arrival in Istanbul for a day. From our vantage point high up in the hills, we could see the sea, so that was good enough for us!
The section just before Gokturk was really tough - as both directions of travel are using one side of the new road . At this point, the road went down to a single carriageway on the wrong side. On the other side, there was a bit of brand new asphalt road, which quickly turned into a live construction site with front loaders, back hoes, cranes, and yes... more dump trucks... So we had three options - 1) ride with traffic on a narrow lane with no shoulder....not recommended. 2) Ride on the shoulder opposite traffic - we saw cyclists do this 3) ride on a new pristine asphalt section of road that is not opened to traffic yet, but then it disappears and you are in the middle of a construction site - this is what we did....we got through it fine but it was a little bumpy after the asphalt disappeared.
Further down the road and a few hills later, the new road disappeared again into a wide gravel wasteland. This would be like I-95 suddenly just ending into gravel, with no signage or warnings, very strange. Haven't seen that since Uzbekistan. Some of the dump trucks turned off here and went up hill to another construction zone, while others just tooled along... the pavement and traffic lines were gone and the cars (and 2 bicycles) were left to find their way to the other side. Through the dust, we saw a similarly confused sports car driver coming in the other direction. Our bikes had better clearance than the sports car, which made us feel just slightly better about traversing this crazy bit of infrastructure breakdown. After about 1/2 mile the road re-appeared as if nothing had happened.
When we got the chance to get off this highway, we took it. Just off the highway in Gokturk, we headed towards a gas station to get some water and a bit of a break from the nerve-racking highway. As we pulled into the gas station from across a trafficky intersection a car pulled in between us and almost hit Bruce. Bruce smacked the car and Andrea yelled at the driver to stop. When the driver got out of his car, he apologized in English. We were both a bit shaken and frustrated from the highway and then almost getting hit. So we bought a big bottle of Fanta and sat in the shade for a while.
We took the old road from Gokturk to Kemerburgaz (we would have taken the old road more often but it has been built over by the new road in a lot of place - so even when it does exist, it would just end in a pile of dirt and you would have to backtrack). This seemed like a pretty affluent suburb as we passed a couple of country clubs and a lot of fancy cars. We also cycled through an 16th century aqueduct that the old road went right under - pretty sweet!
We had cycled about 30miles by now into Kemerburgaz and Bruce still wasn't doing so well. We stopped in the town square and had more water and rest. In Turkey there are tables and chairs set out in most town squares for people to sit, drink chai, play board games, and chat. There were lots of men sitting around in the town square drinking their tea, but there were no women except for a 3 year old girl feeding the mean looking ducks and geese on the little pond, but no women other than Andrea now. This is a very male oriented society. A teenage boy served us our chai and water. He spoke a little bit of English, so he practiced on us, but then got embarrassed when he could not answer Andrea's question about the road condition leaving the square. We wanted to know how hilly it was... We finished our drinks, thanked him for his help, and headed out again.
We got back onto our bikes and headed up out of Kemerburgaz into the forest. This is supposedly a much quieter route down to the Bosphorus than continuing down the D020. The forest road was indeed beautiful and went through another aqueduct as it wound its way through the forests. The only problem was that there was still gravel truck traffic even on this winding forest road with no shoulder. Not good. The cars were as respectful of our space as they could be but the trucks were a bit too fast and a bit too big for such a small, winding, scenic road. A few times they beeped at us as we came around a corned together...
We came out the other side of the forest and were now going downhill towards the Bosphorus. We passed the Istanbul Arboretum and then some more country clubs. Every one of them seemed to be hosting a wedding. It was a beautiful Saturday in August, but we passed four weddings in about 2 miles. And these were fancy weddings...lots of fancy cars and big catering trucks with fancy marquees...
The downhill was steep and about two miles long as we sped towards the city's shoreline. We hit the Bosphorus at exactly 40miles for the day. We knew we had a great deal more to do to get to the old town, since Istanbul is an enormous city. As we started to enter the city proper (from the woods beyond) we began to hit city traffic. Cars parked any which way, merging cars from side streets that weren't paying attention, pedestrians just walking out in front of us, buses, mini buses, and TAXIs! City traffic in Istanbul is horrific but I am sure you knew that! To avoid it as much as we could, we pedaled our way along the esplanade that followed the shores of the Bosphorus as much as we could, but at times it would just disappear into a waterfront restaurant or gas station. Life at the waterfront was lively, families were out in droves taking in the sun, boys were jumping off the pier into the choppy water, men were fishing with LONG fishing rods that (when wielded inexpertly) became razor-thin obstacles with a fishing hook at the end. Eventually we took to the street, since the fishermen, pedestrians, and random detours on the esplanade were getting too much to make it worthwhile.
Out in traffic we had to deal with another set of obstacles, vehicles... We wove through standstill traffic to speeding along the bumpy streets, dodging in and around minibuses, beating on taxi hoods, yelling at people on their cell phones, shouting at people trying to cross the street... We owned Istanbul traffic! Watch out for us bad-ass cyclists! We will smack your car if it gets too close!
We stopped at a small kebab place for lunch and to cool off in the shade. We had a doner kebab each, which was pretty tasty. After lunch we battled onwards along the waterfront, passing under the two Bosphorus bridges. We looked for the Adventurists Finish Line for the Transcontinental race, but as we passed the fortress where it was meant to be, we didn't see any sign of it whatsoever.....too bad. We had our Mongol Rally buffs with us and we were going to cycle in with them on.....
After 15 miles or so of Istanbul traffic, we made it to the Galata bridge which leads to the Old Town! We had made it to Istanbul!
We walked over the bridge and tried to find our way to the hotel. We walked our bikes through the Old Town, as 1) it is really freaking hilly, 2) it is mostly all cobblestones 3) the crowds and traffic are still insane. Since the streets in the Old Town twist and turn, we had to ask in 3 different places where our hotel was. We gradually zeroed in on it... The shopkeepers whom we asked were very friendly though, and they called the hotel to get directions for us.
When we finally got to the hotel we met Ali and he was laughing because of all the phone calls for directions he had received on our behalf. The Mina Hotel is well situated about 5 minutes walk from the Blue Mosque and very close to the T1 tram line to get around other parts of the city.
He stowed the bikes downstairs and he showed us our room, which although small, was better than any we had stayed in for quite a while! We showered up and rested for a while. It was a hard day for both of us, but our adrenaline at arriving in Istanbul and reaching our destination as well as cycling in middle-eastern city traffic had kept us going long enough to get us here!
After resting for a while, we went up to the rooftop bar of the hotel and enjoyed a glass of wine whilst watching the sunset over the Sea of Marmara......a spectacular end to a spectacular trip!
The World is Ours!