Age is not important unless you’re a cheese

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.

Honestly officer, I was not speeding through that tunnel.

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.
MUSINGS

Legs,swimming pools and hotels
We like camping. We both enjoy camping, particularly wild camping. It’s sometimes called stealth camping and that is generally what we do. Stealth camping. It’s not because we’re doing anything wrong or being somewhere we shouldn’t be, it’s just that it’s peaceful and relaxing to find a little glade tucked away up a track, off a side road, clear of rubbish and away from cars.
Sometimes, however, it just doesn’t work. There are no side roads, there are no tracks and no glades. In these situations we have to resort to hotels or hostels. Fortunately hotels in Turkey are relatively cheap. They range from a truckers hotel for about £14 for a double room with a dodgy shower, plain tiled floor and even dodgier electricity to a quite posh establishment we stayed in recently that boasted a swimming pool. Which ,of course we had to try out. And I’m delighted to report that I can now kick. With both legs! Shortly before we left Cumbria I was regularly going to our local swimming pool to try to get my leg working properly again but try as I might it absolutely refused to kick up and down. Now, suddenly, it works! It’s not totally better but it’s brilliant to know that it is still improving. The only thing that bothers me is that even with a 9 inch rod in my leg I still can’t say when it’s going to rain. I can’t even pick up Radio 4.

..

The call to prayer.
Five times a day in Turkey from every mosque in the country the Iman issues the call to prayer. The words are always the same. And they’re always in Arabic. The time of the call to prayer is determined by sunrise and sunset so is slightly different every day. I have to say that my ears can make no sense whatsoever of the tune or the rhythm. And yet I am sure that to a tutored ear the notes and music make perfect sense and sound right and good.

English Translation

God is the greatest (Allahu akbar); intoned four times.
I testify that there is no God but Allah (Ashhadu anna la ila ill Allah); intoned twice.
I testify that Mohammed is God’s Prophet (Ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah); intoned twice.
Come to prayer (Hayya alas salah); intoned twice.
Come to security/salvation (Hayya alal falah); intoned twice.
God is the greatest (Allahu akbar); intoned twice.
There is no God but Allah (La ilah ill Allah); intoned once.

Another line is sometimes added to the first prayer of the morning (pre-sunrise):
Prayer is better than sleep (Assalatu khayrum minan naum); intoned twice

When we entered Turkey exactly seven weeks ago we were daunted by its size and nervous of how we would be received. We have cycled 2000 kms from the beautiful southern coast, up onto the dusty Anatolian plateau, experienced the fantastical scenery of Cappadocia and the wild and rugged mountains of the North East.

We needn’t have worried as it has all been rather wonderful.

Comments

  1. anthony Farrell says:

    Another wonderful report, all so exciting for us to read Can’t wait for the next one. At of home news for you, we now have a new Bishop of Lancaster but the great shortage of priests continues and I fear we will soon be effected in our Warick Br church. Al the best for the next slice of your wonderful adventure, Anthony And Jan Farrell.

  2. Kate Swindlehurst says:

    An absolute delight as always xxx

  3. Pat says:

    Just wonderful to read …
    It is so good following your route!
    You are both an inspiration, and totally brave !
    Didnt enjoy when you fell off your bike Chris ,and the gun incident was alarming to say the least , but you have each other. and that must be the spirit, and courage thats keeping it going …
    Happy pedalling .
    Pat

  4. Vangelis says:

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Randy says:

    Great adventure! Peter you remember Jason; I just got home from the Seattle International at 4:00am to read your adventures. After taking Jason to a flight to his new home in Louisiana, he is starting over and I miss him. But, it was nice to read your thoughts! Keep on trucking!!!

    1. Stewart & Maria ( St Ninian's) says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful experiences. Maria and I are amazed at your enterprise and bravery. Look forward to keeping up with your progress.
      Keep peddling!
      Stewart

  6. Tom Bradford says:

    Thank you for your latest instalment- I’m enthralled as I read and in awe. Good to know you were so well received by the Turks.

  7. Renee says:

    Hi You two,

    Once again, a fabulous entry with vivid descriptions.

    I loved the photos of the architectural details on the older buildings, the landscape on the colourful hills with the red soil, and the funny photo of you trying to weasel your way out of a traffic ticket! (I actually thought it was a real police car until I read your entry.)

    I can relate to Chris’ comment on being an ‘honorary man’ in Turkey. Having lived in Morocco for 9 years, that is exactly how I felt. I was even told once by a traditional Muslim man that that is how they view “Western Women” — like men. It’s because in their minds we ACT like men. That is to say, we have unquestionable freedom of movement and choice of lifestyle. I’m sure that is why the lady hugged you so dearly. It surely titillated her imagination wildly! The very concept of what you are doing would be so alien to her way of thinking. Even by most people’s standards what you are doing is different and off-the beaten track, be it male or female or at any age. It’s different and amazing. Give yourselves a big pat on the back!

    Qad takun alriyh fi zahrak (may the wind be at your back) –
    Renee

  8. Alison says:

    Wow Chris and Pete you leave me breathless when I read all that you have accomplished. I can’t wait to come to your future book signing. What an amazing journey, adventure and experience. Your reflections on Turkey are so sightful a complete contrast to the travel brochures. Great news Pete about your improved mobility. As for you Chris a strong woman you keep on impressing all these men. Fantastic to read and to know you are safe.
    Keep on pedalling. Love alison xx

  9. Ian Ludlam says:

    Thank you for a really interesting account. Your experiences are mind-blowing. Wonderful!

  10. pavec jean yves et brigitte says:

    bonjour chris et peter
    comme Français , je vous confirme que l’age est très important pour le fromage , cela l’est aussi pour le vin et …… pour le poisson mais pour tout le reste cela n’as vraiment vraiment aucune importance .
    nous partons ce soir pour Séville en Espagne ou nous suivrons ”la via de la plata ” jusqu’à Compostelle soit environ 1000 km a pied . Votre blog nous a beaucoup motivé pour partir avec la tente et retrouver le plaisir du camping sauvage
    nous vous souhaitons encore beaucoup de belles rencontre , beaucoup de courage , et de belles nuits sous votre tente .
    avec toute notre amitié

    Brigitte et Jean Yves

  11. Corrie says:

    Wonderfull reading your latest travel blog and musings. Thank you for the prayer & translation. Good luck on your next stretch.
    Lots of Love.
    Corrie. Xx

  12. Rose says:

    Totally brilliant! Thinking of you both so much!
    With love x

  13. Daphne Roberts says:

    Dear Chris and Pete I so much enjoyed reading this and your last post. I am full of admiration for what you have achieved and very envious of your experience of Cappadocia (not so much of the scary traffic and the fumes!). I especially appreciated your thoughts about women in Turkey and your comments about pollution and plastic. It’s wonderful to read about the kindness and welcome you have received along the way. Good luck with the next stage. With love from Daphne & Mark

  14. John Hopkins says:

    Dear Chris and Pete,
    Another exiting adventure; my dreams now consist mainly of being perused by thundering diesel trucks belching black fumes though narrow tunnels and me pedelling frantically on an old mountain bike to remain ahead and alive . Thank you!
    We have just finished the new Brampton Fairtrade Directory which includes The Old School House B and B in Hallbankgate, perhaps you may remember this place(I think we mentioned that the owners of the Business were last seen cycling of to China and that our heroic adventurists, Pete and Chris, will be back to serve afternoon tea at 5.00 pm on Wednesday). Watch this space for more information.

    Cheers and keep safe,
    Love ,
    John and Dee

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