Turkey: Istanbul. History for the mind and food for the stomach

It’s 7 years since I cycled the length of Turkey and things have changed. Construction and road building dominate, even in seemingly remote places. Country lanes I cycled on have since been widened and even in places are being turned into motorway or dual carriageway. I suppose it’s good for the country, but takes some of the adventure out of cycling.

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A common sight across the length and breadth of the country

Arrival
Not many people make the short crossing to Turkey from Lesbos to the bustling western coast port town of Ayvalik.
Gone are the coffee and cigarettes that everyone seems to be consuming in restaurants in Eastern Europe and Greece and out comes the food.. Pots of it are cooked up in front of you and there is no guess work. Point, eat and enjoy. There is a lively covered market with a few eateries tucked into one side and from here I sampled the offerings and the wifi that seems to be everywhere.

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A perfectly presented stuffed Aubergine

Pergamon
This ancient town is located on a hill just outside the modern city of Bergama. Campsites are often appended to restaurants and this one was nearly empty other than a friendly German couple, an anaesthetist and an artist. “I don’t get to talk to my patients much at work”, he lamented… {I should think not!}, so I get involved in the art with my wife.
An evening tour of Bergama gives the impression of a noisy traffic clogged place and I found the quite backstreets just as soon as the shutters rolled closed. Food then back to camp to finish off the ferry duty free, which just about finished off all 3 of us!

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Pide, like a Turkish piza

Next day decamped to a lovely family run guesthouse in a traditional Ottoman house tucked away on a quiet backstreet and set about doing chores. The town grew on me a little. Next day and significantly delayed by a breakfast feast like no other in Turkey I have seen, shared with the enjoyable company of retired U.S couple Ingrid and Robert. Cycling up a big hill somehow seemed less important.
Feast over I set out to explore the Greek and Roman past of Pergamon. The prime archeology site is mostly located on a hill that looks down over the modern town. Cycled to the top and spent the day imagining how the place looked in its prime. Majestic.

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Asklepieion
An Greek healing site with many springs, treatment rooms, baths and accommodation for the afflicted. Based on the dreams of the patient the priest prescribed a relevant treatment or medicine. Harmless snakes were allowed to crawl around accommodation at night, if that’s not enough to put you off staying, you must be desperate!

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Museum

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Bergama to Bandirma
This is the countryside. Small villages and people shouting out “Cay” waving me over to join them, which I do occasionally.
A chance encounter with French cyclist Xavia coming in the opposite direction through a village was witnessed by a family who brought out Tea (Cay) and savoury breads. We sat down and chatted about routes and impressions. An elderly lady passed up and discouraged handfuls of fresh walnuts from a folded cloth she was carrying. Me munched, drank Tea and cracked open the nuts with stones.

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Kus Golu
I finally get to see flamingos in the wild! And stalks, but I’ve seen them before. Talked to the fishermen over Cay. I showed the pictures of the birds, they rolled their eyes, “They eat our fish”, he gestured with a slight smile.

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I get to see flamingos after all.. after failing to see them on the island of Limnos

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Usual accompaniment to my evening meal

Bandirma
A friendly and relaxed concrete city. Wrote up the Greece blog with sitting in a tea shop while waiting for a ferry and laundry.

Istanbul
Arrival time of 10pm is not ideal. My GPS informed me of a dockside campsite 400 meters from the Blue Mosque. That has to be a mistake I thought, but so close it’s worth checking out. True to word, there was a manned gate and a car park with a patch of grass. Very basic and free. I was stunned and relieved I didn’t have to go cycling around in the dark finding a sensible priced hostel.

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Free campground a few hundred meters from the blue mosque. Fantastic!

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View out to sea from campsite

Not the place you leave your tent I decamped and set off to find a room. For a decent clean room expect to pay 50 Euro (end of September). The room I found was 12 Euros a night, which even surprised the locals. Otel Inci Palas, just south of the train station. Nice part or town away from the ‘tourist trap drag’. This was my base from which to deposit the bike at a specialist touring shop for a service, buy new trousers as I left my only pair at the launderette, plan food excursions and undertake an ambitious walking tour. My walking started at Sirkeci train station where the hotel is located to the Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Suleymaniye masque, Attaturk bridge, Galata bridge, Galata tower to Taksim square, the scene of the recent protests.

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Basilica Cistern, underground water storage

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If you want to buy gold or siliver, this is the area to come to. Lots of deals brokered on the streets just by the Bazaar.

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I feel the same way about studying too..

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End of Friday prayers. Many shops closed while the faithful attend

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Walk up to Taksim square

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Next day I looked round Hagia Sophia whose age and scale never fails to impress me, although the crowds did..

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The blue mosque

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