Sivas to Batumi (Georgia) April 4th – April 17th.
We arrived in Sivas, hot, bothered, bruised and very tired. It was time for another break and as we had arranged to meet Michael, our friend Tricia Coombe’s brother, in 6 days time we had no choice, which was rather nice. We treated ourselves to a lovely hotel with swimming pool and spa proving that we have now overcome our fear of slippery surfaces. We made full use of all the facilities and felt the cleanest we had for a while.
We thought the pillows were awfully chewy.
It was great to meet Michael who has lived and worked in Ankara for three years and we learnt such a lot from him about Turkey in the short time we were with him. It was his first time in Sivas and we wandered around together admiring the beautiful architecture, intricately carved facades and minarets left behind by the Seljuks in the thirteenth century. Just two minutes from our hotel were two beautiful Medressi. One had been a school of science and the other a medical school but now were full of cafe’s where Pete and I spent many a happy hour sitting drinking tea in the sunshine.
We also wandered around the mosques and markets.
We met Lizzy and Eleanor who are also cycling to China. Once again I doubt we will catch up with them but we had a great few hours together.
On leaving Sivas we had a choice of routes. Lizzy and Eleanor were travelling to the Black Sea via Tokat and we were tempted to ride with them for a while but they were visiting friends. We chose “The Frances Road” so called because Frances had just done it and described it so well in her blog that we knew what to expect. Either route was hard with lots of climbing so it was with some trepidation and heavy legs, after all that resting that we set off.
Our guide book described Sivas as the Gateway to the Wild East and immediately the scenery looked wild and vast with big skies and distant snow capped horizons. Inevitably the first part of the journey was on main road but it was ok. Turkish roads on the whole have been good, usually very wide with a generous hard shoulder.
It was a gorgeous route and despite some hard climbs , the highest of which took us up to 2200 metres, we loved it.
Some pushing was involved.
We passed through an area where the colours were a stunning mix of brown, green and reds. The soil was thick, red clay and even the streams were running red.
Our last big climb took us up through a tremendous rocky gorge and as the day wore on we despaired of finding anywhere to camp but managed to find a stretch of flat ground by a river opposite a grave yard.
The next day we were summoned in for tea by a group of workmen building a tunnel through a mountain that we were about to go up and over. It seems we were five days too early as in that time they were anticipating meeting the tunnel from the other side and keeping their fingers crossed that all their calculations had been correct!
They were a friendly bunch and with the help of Mr Google we were able to have a good conversation. They were particularly interested in me and my motivation for doing this trip. It seems that for Pete it is a manly and understandable challenge, but for me: ” What about your children?” They are big and they are ok. ” What about your grandchildren?” They are ok too. The conclusion they seemed to come to was that I was “courageous” but I still think they disapproved .
After leaving the men, and full of Turkish tea we had a further 6km climb to the summit. It was a wild and desolate spot with snow still lying.
We knew from there that we could only go down and we had 60km of almost pedal free cycling taking us down to the Black Sea. Unfortunately as soon as we started to descend the rain came and we ended up getting rather cold and wet but that didn’t distract too much from the excitement of arriving there and celebrating the fact that we had cycled from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Coast to Coast Turkey!
Our route now was to take us eastwards along the Black Sea coast to Georgia.
Scenically our arrival at Giresun was anti climatic when the first thing we saw was a very large rubbish dump and a six lane highway. We couldn’t get to the sea without crossing the highway but decided that we needed an arrival photograph so risked life and limb to take this rather unexciting shot.
In the interests of total honesty and transparency with this blog I think we have to say that the next five days were pretty horrible. We had looked forward to seeing the Black Sea Coast and imagined it to be ‘sea sidey’ with attractive towns along the way and lots to see that would be of interest. Instead it was a nightmare of noise, fumes, fast and sometimes furious driving and high rise dilapidated buildings that made us wish we had never left the mountains. An added horror were the TTT’s – Turkish Tunnels Of Terror. These were frequent and varied in length from 300 metres to 1500 metres. We would stop before entering the gaping jaws, switch on our lights, wait for a gap in the traffic and then go. I swear that if the Tour de France was held in a Turkish tunnel Pete and I would be wearing the yellow jersey in no time. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing and it enabled us to move very fast spurred on by the feeling of being chased by roaring monsters in a very confined space.
One tunnel was closed and all traffic travelling in a single lane which was scary for us so we went through the tunnel anyway and found out at the other end why it was closed.
This is not a real police car! These cardboard cutouts were everywhere and looked very real, right down to the flashing light on the “roof”!!
We were still, however met with immense kindness along the way and drank endless cups of tea. We use petrol stations for topping up our water and using the facilities and they always have everlasting tea pots and we are always invited to take tea and have a chat. The problem is that we use the facilities then drink tea which means that we have to again stop at the next petrol station to use the facilities, are then offered more tea and so it becomes a never ending cycle. So to speak.
The road of horror has brought us all the way to Georgia and we have sadly said goodbye to Turkey. We passed through Rize which is the birthplace of President Erdogan and saw his face everywhere. I thought on this poster he was wishing us a fond farewell but instead he is exorting the people to keep the nation green which seemed ironic as we were splutterring and coughing due to the thick black exhaust that many of the lorries and trucks were belching out.
I would love to have ten minutes with Mr Erdogan to tell him of our impression of his lovely country and where he could do better. I would have to ask him about the women and why it is that they are not very visible or when they are they appear to be doing all the work while the men sit in the cafes drinking tea and playing dominoes. I remember vividly being in one such cafe being treated with the utmost courtesy by all the men around me when an elderly lady went by pushing a heavy wheelbarrow. Then a tractor sped by driven by a woman. It seems as if while the men sit, the women work.
I think that being with Pete has meant that I have been treated differently to women travelling on their own. I think at times I have been an honorary man. I have been asked my age many, many times and this seems to be a point of interest and amazement. We have not managed to have many meaningful encounters with women but what we have had have been delightful. The Imans wife who took us into her home while her husband ran off to do the call to prayer and was so excited to meet us. She gave us Aryan, a yoghurt drink and pide a Turkish type of pizza and then walked us back through the village to the road. The lady whose eye I caught while pushing my bike. She came over to me and asked about my journey, her 10 year old daughter translating. When I told her we had cycled from England she nearly screamed with excitement. She then threw her arms round me in a big bear hug, looked at me again, hugged me again, laughing . How old was I? I told her. Another hug. We laughed together and it was a special moment. I can’t of course say what was in her mind on meeting me but I would like to think that she and her daughter were impressed by a woman and an older one at that, doing something that men in her society would deem not possible for a woman to do. Maybe?
I would also ask Mr Erdogan to tell his people not to throw glass bottles out of their car windows to smash on the verges in readiness for an unsuspecting cyclist to cycle over.
I would ask him why I can’t look at Wikipedia on the internet or use Booking.com but I think that both have offended him in some way but why ban them? Shouldn’t we talk about it?
Rubbish is a perennial problem everywhere and especially plastic. I have begun to wonder if Turkey grows plastic trees as you see plastic bags hanging from branches everywhere. I have half a pannier full of once used bags that I cannot throw away. I dutifully go into a shop with my bag to re-use but come out with 3 more as everything has to be put into a fresh bag and refusal seems to cause offence and bewilderment.
I would also ask Mr Erdogan about his town planning regulations and why so many buildings are half built and why most new buildings are so ugly. We stayed in a brand new hotel recently and there was already mould on the bedroom walls and tiles falling off in the bathroom. Workmanship seems shoddy and buildings badly built and ugly.
I would tell Mr Erdogan of how welcome we have felt here and of how I have transposed in my head some of the situations to home. I imagine going into Corby Hill garage for petrol and stopping for a chat and a few cups if tea, then going into the small mosque on the forecourt to say my prayers before leaving. I have imagined pushing my trolley around a supermarket in Carlisle and a shop assistant coming up to me with a cup of tea which I would then have to stand and drink before carrying on with my shopping. I imagine dragging people on off the street as they go by my house, asking them where they have come from, where are they going and how old are they? I would also give them lots of tea.
We needn’t have worried as it has all been rather wonderful.