Hoş Geldiniz or Welcome in Turkey! This is what we hear at least 10 times a day from Turks down the street..
After having spent a few weeks in Greece taking a big break visiting ol` friends and meeting new ones in the fab town of Thessaloniki, we got on the road once more to head for our first real milestone; Istanbul.
Leaving Thessaloniki was a real bitch.. Nasty heavily polluting industries and big 4 lane highways with only a few inches seperating us from passing cars `n trucks with macho Balkan drivers behind the wheel. Fortunately it didn`t take long before we could branch off and roll down a peaceful road with little traffic and pleasant sceneries of rolling hills and little villages. Greek Macedonia is a real interesting region to pass thru with it`s rich (albeit somewhat bloody) history and minorities seemingly peacefully co-existing next to eachother. Although that might be wrongly percieved from the viewpoint of an outsider. Maybe it is just a thin layer on the surface which when scratched open reveals deep conflicts that one day may come to explode once more.. (I specifically refer to Greek Macedonia as such because there is a bit of a conflict as to what Macedonia really is.. There is a Republic of Macedonia which is not recognized by the Greeks as far as I know.. They refer to it as Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia)
During the cycling one has lots of time to let thoughts run freely.. Sometimes i just let my focus fade away and drift off in a meditative mood where i become one with my bike and the road.. Other times I dig up thoughts from a far away past to reflect on them once more.. I think that Shaun and I have found a fair balance between being on ourselves when we cycle and enjoy being together after the hard peddling.. It`s nice to have someone to talk to at the end of the day, reflecting on what happened or didn`t happen and what we should make happen.. Although we both usually are avid solo travellers, in the end we believe that “Happiness only when shared” (as Christopher Mc Candless used to put it)
Entering Turkey was a great moment for us; although offially still on the European Continent, there is the feeling of leaving Western (Christian) Europe behind and passing a treshold to a world where different norms and values are prevalent. Immediately this becomes obvious by the many times we get invited over for a nice cuppa tea (the Turkish prefer tea to coffee, fortunately for us since we both aren`t to keen on drinking coffee) All throughout the Middle East one can experience extreme hospitality up to the point where it even may become a bit annoying (I remember how I almost insulted people in Tajikistan because I could not spent a night at their place) But that`s a luxury problem of course. The background of this hospitality in Turkey is twofold; first of all there is the Koran which prescribes Moslims to be welcoming and kindhearted towards travellers and look after it`s guests, but secondly there is also the nomadic roots of the Turkish people playing a significant role (covering wide distances with little distances in between it was of great importance to provide travellers with a place to sleep and a meal to fill the empty belly). It`s a bit of a cliche but especially those who have little themselves turn out to be the most generous and will go out of there way to make their guests feel like kings.
So, who the hell are these Turks anyway? I don`t mean to bother you, my dear reader, with long leaps of boring texts but I think it might be interesting to dedicate just a few lines to those who we will be amidst for the coming two months. To make it a little easier on myself I took a text from Wikipedia and added some small details:
The history of Turkey refers to the history of the country now called Turkey. Although the lands have an ancient history, Turkic migration to the country is relatively new. The Turks (who got their name from the Chinese calling them Tu-Kiu), a society whose language belongs to the Turkic Language Family started moving from their original homelands in Central Asia to the modern Turkey in the 11th century. After the Turkic Selquk Empire defeated forces of the Byzantien Emire at the Battlle of Manzikert, the process was accelerated and the country was referred to as ‘Turchia’ in the Europe as early as the 12th century. The Selquk dynasty controlled Turkey until the country was invaded by the Mongols following the Battle of Kosedaq. During the years when the country was under Mongol rule, some small Turkish states were born. One of these states was the Ottoman beylik which quickly controlled Western Anatolia and conquered much of Rumelia. After finally conquering Istanbul, the Ottoman state would become a large empire, called the Turkish Empire in Europe. Next, the Empire expanded to Eastern Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central Europe and North Africa. Although the Ottoman Empire’s power and prestige peaked in the 16th century; it did not fully reach the technological advance in military capabilities of the Western powers in the 19th century. Nevertheless, Turkey managed to maintain the independence though some of its territories were ceded to its neighbours and some small countries gained independence from it. Following the WWI in which Turkey was defeated, most of the Anatolia and Eastern Thrace was occupied by the Allied powers including the capital city Istanbul. In order to resist the occupation, a cadre of young military officers formed a government in Ankara. The elected leader of the Ankara Government, Mustafa Kemal organized a successful war of independance against the Allied powers. After the liberation of Anatolia and the Eastern Trace, the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 with capital city Ankara.
That`s it in a nutshell. Personally when I travel I love to have a bit of a historical framework to see the country in. It makes me better understand the things i observe down along the road, the people i interact with and it satisfies my sometimes annoying obsession for historical data (at moments I feel like we just have to get rebooted and start as a “Tabula Rasa” unwritten blanco neutral)
Pretty much the first moment we entered Turkey we not only received many Be Welcomes but also a rather strong headwind and many many hills. It was a pretty tough going to Istanbul with again crowded highways and a rather dull and depressing landscape. At moments when my morale was at low levels I had to shift my focus from the road to the moment we would arrive in good ol`Istanbul. In the end of course it`s exactly all the ups and downs one experiences that really make the trip rewarding. Anyway, just when we got really close to Istanbul, so did the road become really bloody bad. It became pretty much a suicide operation to navigate our way into the heart of Istanbul. We decided to leave the road and try to make our way downtown by taking smaller roads through the outskirts. All too soon we found out that this idea was even worse since we got completely lost in a concrete jungle. It was when we tried to make our way back to the highway that a little miracle took place.. A big BMW stopped in front of us and 3 doors went open simultaneously with maffioso looking men jumping out and making us stop. What the f%?k?! It turned out to be the Mayor of one of the outskirts of Istanbul and he insisted that we would join him to the local Mosque for the Iftar (the evening meal Moslims enjoy after a day of fasting during Ramadan) We were really honoured but explained to him that it would be a little difficult since it was close to getting dark and we still had some 30km to go till arriving at downtown Istanbul where we would spent the night. The Mayor did away with that problem by offering us to arrange transport for us and the bikes to our sleeping place. So a little later we dragged our bikes into the Mosque (you can imagine the faces) and we enjoyed a wonderful meal at a VIP table. It must have been a great sight for those people to see us two dirtball bikebums next to fancy dressed folks. After the diner we were taken by the police.. Our taxi downtown!
Well now, it`s time to drink a beer and watch beautiful Turkish ladies (Hurray for Turkey still being a secular country.. who knows what the future may hold)