Istanbul to Erzurum..

After having spent 10 days in Istanbul we felt that it was time to move on and so on one way too early morning we left Istanbul by taking a ferry to Mudanya, some 30km from Bursa. Leaving Istanbul can be a real headache.. We experienced the traffic frenzy on our way to get in and we didn’t quite feel like getting into that mess for a second time.

Bursa once used to be the capital back in the days when the Ottomans ruled (after Bursa they moved it to Istanbul) Bursa is a fairly pleasant city with some nice old monuments. Not in the quantities one can find in Istanbul but its way less touristic and after the massive crowds, the small scale of Bursa is rather charming. We stayed with my good friend Onur who runs a beautiful cafe in the old town center where we tried to set a new record for how much tea one can have in one day.. All in all it was a very pleasant stay.. Being lazy on the roofterrace playing our mandoline and baglamadaki, and finally had a great camp out high up in the Uludag Mountains.

After a week we finally managed to cycle off. We initially planned to cycle nonstop for 2 weeks but that was before we found out that Eskisehir is one helluva fine spot to hang out. So after two days of cycling on a road thru Hell.. big intimidating trucks, smelly roadkills, nasty polluting factories, strong headwind, one industrial area after another.. We finally made it to Eskisehir and got welcomed by Super Mario, the friend of our couchsurf host who with his cap and moustache looks quite alike. Super Mario turned out to be the one who knows just about everybody in Eskisehir and so right the first night we took a deep dive into Eskisehir`s partylife.. Next day we were not quite able to get a moving on and so we decided to leave the next day. Eventually that next day became a week later.. Its all part of the trip! Like we mentioned before on the outset of our trip; there shall be no fixed itinerary and we will go accordingly to whatever happens on the road and all the people we meet..

With having had our big chunks of lazy procrastinating, we finally hit the road again for good this time.  We decided to head out for the small backroads to get a taste of the real Turkish countryside. For the first time since our arrival in Turkey we were blessed with a delicious backwind and so we rolled smoothly towards the East.. After some 100km we left the big highways for smaller roads and boy oh boy.. what a pleasure that was! Instantly we were the only ones on the road and we didn`t have to bother with getting pushed off the road by them big trucks or getting annoyed by honkhappy drivers (even though some of them might be meaning it in a good way to motivate us or something) All the silence we encountered was so overwhelming and it really took a moment to adjust.. Passing through small villages is also something very exciting; aside from all the looks as if we are two aliens (which might actually be true) there are also the many invitations to sit down for tea and what not more. We permit ourselves to accept those invitations only so many times a day as otherwise we wouldn`t make any progress at all.. For the people inviting us over its usually a little event in itself. Relatives and friends come over to see those two freaks on wheels, pictures of our families go around and we have a great laugh without understanding a bit of eachother`s languages.. Its mostly non-verbal communication supported by big amounts of delicious food. We just sit, throw some words at eachother we hope they make any sense, but most of all we just enjoy being with eachother and the experience of the exotique.. which goes in both directions of course!

Where do we sleep nowadays? Well, little has changed from how we rolled thru Western Europe. We still sleep outside mainly.. Things have gotten quite bit colder of course so we do have to take adequate measures. During summer we had till 10pm to cycle and we could sleep out pretty much everywhere. Nowadays it gets dark around 5pm and we need spots that provide some bit of a shelter for wind, cold and possible showers. So far our favorite spots are deserted highway tunnels (i recall how one night we were preparing ourselved for the night when we were spotted by a bunch of Kongals, the big dogs they use to herd sheep, and we stood there half undressed with pepperspray and a dazzer in our hands.. fortunately the herdsman also noticed us and calmed his dogs after seeing us and saying Allah.. Allah.. Allah.. what a bunch of idiots he must have thought..) there are the blessed deserted gas stations with great roof terraces or just any spot where we are out of the chilling wind. During daytime the sun is out a lot and great for cycling but at nighttime it gets frigging cold so we have to see how far we can stretch it. Fortunately there is lots of great hospitality out here and starting tomorrow in Iran the hostels will become in reach of our wee tiny budget.

Initially our plan was to cycle down to Cappadocia and then slowly head up towards Erzurum where we would apply for our Iranian Visa and hitchhike up to Georgia for some weeks. After doing a bit of calculating we came to the conclusion that this route would take too much time and we`d probably have to skip Georgia in order to be in Iran in time so as not to get stuck in heavy snowblizzards. So we decided to make a bit of a circle around Ankara (we had our cups filled up to the max of big cities) and head straight for Erzurum without seeing Cappadocia. Bit of a pity but we really wanted to get to go to Georgia and so we had to make some cuts. The road to Erzurum has been long and tiring. The landscapes don`t change that much.. Vast voids of aridness and the occasional tree just makes you realise all the more how depressing it all looks. Fortunately there`s the locals and they really make all the difference! Many smiles and be welcomes as you go along and plenty of occasions to set new records for how many tea one can drink in one day.. In Sivas we had a weekend of resting a bit and stayed with some awesome couchsurfers who really gave us a home away from home..

Its funny how each town doesn`t think too highly of the next town.. “Oh.. So you go to Durkdurk? Well, I wouldn`t do so cause the people are no good over there! Here have some tea, cookies and please have more!!!” Arriving at Durkdurk.. “Oh.. So you go to Durkdurkdurk? Well, I wouldn`t do so cause the people are no good over there! Here have some tea, cookies and please have more!!!”  Arriving at Durkdurkdurk.. “Oh.. So you go to Durkdurkdurkdurk? Well, I wouldn`t do so cause the people are no good over there! Here have some tea, cookies and please have more!!!” and so on and so on.. Most Turkish people have told us we are outright crazy for going to Iran but its the same all over of course. We have been hearing it since we started this trip although it really started to kick in at the Balkans.. Their troubled past is a quite recent one so the people over there really have their blood boiling when talking about their neighbours.

Arriving in Erzurum was a bit of a milestone for us. We were still waiting for the authorisation codes for our Iranian visas to come in and so we decided to first hitchhike to Georgia and take care of the rest later. We left Dervla and Grace Jones with a bunch of nice couchsurfers and made our way up to Sakartvelo – Georgia. Once in Georgia we got word from our contact in Iran that the codes had gotten in and our visas ready to be collected in Erzurum. In Georgia we had a great time.. I was there some 7 years earlier and lots of things have changed in the meantime. The country saw the regime change of Sheverdnadze to Saakasvili and with it the country became a lot better in my opinion but i`m sure there`s still many gaps to fill.

Somehow i even ended up staying on the countryside near Segovia for a week with a beautiful Spanish lady i fell in love with some time ago.. But that`s a whole other story………………

Gule gule

Maarten

Posted in travel | Comments Off on Istanbul to Erzurum..

Animals V.S Vegetables

Some of you already know that both Maarten and myself are vegetarians. We both have different reasons for this such as personal health, environmental issues, being against cruelty to animals, views against factory farming, and having a love for tasty vegetables. But since traveling in Turkey we have been eating some dead animals and it has been a real moral issue for us to deal with. Yes it is our choice but in a way it is not quite our choice. I guess the reason, though I hate to admit it, is because we are speciesist… we prioritize our human relations over the lives of other earthlings, earthlings that have just as much right to life as we do. If we recognize one form of oppression then we should recognize the rest.

You see, in Turkey, especially in the small villages, it is not very common to be vegetarian. We found that some people don’t understand what the hell we are talking about. If you say you don’t eat meat they bring you chicken instead. In turkey people are very hospitable and almost every day we have been invited to someones house to eat or drink tea. It is very annoying each time this happens to first explain what we eat and don’t eat. Sometimes we don’t even get the chance to and food is brought to us by surprise. It is amazing kindness, and for me to go and refuse this kindness and say “sorry I don’t want to eat your food” when they can clearly see that im very hungry and exhausted, might give a very bad impression. Some people may even think that we don’t want to eat their food because we don’t trust them. This can be a problem. So both of us have come to the decision to prioritize our human relations over the lives of other innocent beings, and eat some dead animals while in Turkey and Iran only.

But one thing that does make me feel better about it is that most of the meat we will eat is home grown and not taken for granted, never wasted. Most of it is not produced on a factory farm where a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost using huge amounts of antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides to kill of diseases (such as mad cow, and foot and mouth) that are caused by the disgustingly over crowded living conditions, then inhumanly murdered without love or respect. Physical restraints are even used to stop the animals from moving.

Farmers, as well as animals have suffered greatly from factory farming….the number of farms has decreased while the number of animals farmed and consumed each year has greatly increased, and obviously their ownership is more concentrated, making it difficult for small farmers… In the U.S. four companies produce 81 percent of cows and other livestock. These numbers are similar in other countries as well. Did you know that world wide, suicide is higher among farmers then any other profession? Do you think that has anything to do with the World Trade Organization and big agribusiness? This problem of cooperate farming and land ownership is also for vegetable farmers too, but I could be writing for a long time if I get too into  it now.

I have been vegetarian for a while now and one question meat eaters always ask me is “where do I get protein from ?” I think it is a funny question really, considering almost all plants contain protein. But I suppose what they mean is where do I get essential amino acids from, since your body cant make these on its own. But the essential amino acids can also be obtained not only by eating dead animals but also from eating a variety of plant sources that provide all eight essential amino acids (e.g. brown rice and beans, or hummus and whole wheat pita. Protein in vegetarian diets is only slightly lower than in dead animal diets and can meet daily requirements for any person, including athletes, bodybuilders, and yes…even cyclists!

Ok , but what about iron? Surely iron deficiency anemia must be much more common in vegetarians then in animal eaters. Well actually that’s not true at all, anemia is rare no matter what your diet is. Iron deficiency is no more common in vegetarians than it is in dead animal eaters.  Vegetarian diets usually have similar levels of iron to animal eaters, but this has lower absorption than iron from animal sources. Vegetarian foods rich in iron include black beans, cashews, hempseed, kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, raisins, black-eyed peas, soybeans, many breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, thyme, and whole-wheat breads. And man, do we ever eat a lot of this stuff, especially the beans!! My mouth is already starting to water.

So as you can see it is not unhealthy to give up eating dead animal, quite the opposite really, but the meat industry has a lot of money and a tight grip on the media for feeding you its propaganda. Did you know that properly planning and eating a vegetarian diet can help with prevention and treatment of certain diseases? Did you know that heart disease is 30% lower for vegetarians then dead animal eaters? Because vegetarian diets have lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, that are causes of  heart disease and higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, foliate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.  I read that vegetarians  have lower body fat, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less risk of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, cancers, dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other disorders, and it is not hard for me  to believe.

I have heard arguments against vegetarianism like  ‘humans are natural omnivores’. But this has been proven to be false. Humans lack the proper canine teeth to rip and tear flesh, our digestive track is much to small properly digest meat, and our bodies alone are not capable of killing animals and ripping their limbs and bone apart. Appetites of  carnivores and omnivores are turned on by the site and smell of blood and guts, what about you? Do you salivate at the site and smell of blood and dead animals or does it make you sick? I think if most people are eating a burger then see a lot of blood they will forget about eating all together. Most people would rather ignore where that burger came from, especially while they are eating it. Do you think you could eat lunch while sitting in a slaughter house with the stench of death and sounds of torture, watching cows and pigs being killed, blood gushing on the floor, and having their guts ripped out? A carnivore certainly could. We were built to eat plants and fruit.

I have heard other so called “arguments” from people in favor of eating dead animals such as ‘I do what I like, I love the taste of meat and I couldn’t imagine not eating it again…it’s so delicious…and it wont change anything if is stop eating it anyway’. For those people i just have to say…’please listen to what your saying, and stop being such a f***ing idiot’.

Do you need any other reasons?

Ok, here are some more….What about the environmental effects of meat production? Did you know that the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and todays practices of raising animals for food contributes on a massive scale to air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity? Did you know that the World Bank estimated that the meat industry contributes 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions? Did you know that animals fed grain need more water than grain crops need to grow? What does this mean, well it means that “producing” animals for food is much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, seeds and fruits for our food. When you are about to bite into that juicy burger just remember that the production and consumption of meat and other animal products is directly associated with the clearing of rainforests (causing the loss of some unique plant and animal species in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, some of which could contain cures for many diseases ), resource depletion, air and water pollution (from animal shit, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics), land and economic inefficiency, species extinction, and other environmental harms. This can not be denied!

Did you know that while wars are being fought over land ownership, livestock takes up 30 percent of the land on the planet? That is a lot of land!

At the moment you may not care because maybe you haven’t yet seen that the world is in a water shortage crises. It is already very serious but i know it is only going to get worse, in ten years many more people will be dieing because of this. But did you know that despite this death threat to humanity half of all the water consumed in North America is consumed by livestock! How do you feel about that while you eat your juicy piece of animal and you know people in the world are dieing because they have nothing do drink and no way to water their crops? Soon water will be worth more to people then oil and wars will be fought over it.

Unfortunately it is up to us to learn and tell other people this information on our own. The government gets huge amounts of money from the meat industry so they will never want to tell us this information or teach it in schools so that the future is better for everyone, unless they are forced to. Instead they will tell you that dead animals are good for you and should be a part of every meal you eat. I know that’s what I learned in school.

Maybe the way humans treat other Earthlings has a direct relation to the way humans treat other humans?

Some people I talk to about being vegetarian say that all vegetarians think they can change the world (even though every decent person should want to and try to change this shitty mess, meat eaters included. When we see a problem in the world the worst thing we can say is ‘there is nothing we can do about it, that’s just the way it is’) but it is more about changing yourself, being healthy, and doing something good for the earth which gave you life. Anyway, you can’t deny that many small changes add up. I’m not thinking that I can convince everyone to stop eating dead animals, though it would be nice if I could. And I know that in some places in the world it is necessary for the people to eat some meat in order to survive, like in the Arctic and Mongolia for example. I know people will do what they want and what they think is best for themselves, but with more information maybe a spark of change will fire in some people and they will give it a shot, they may just notice that they have more energy and feel better about themselves and tell others about it. Even people choosing not to eat meat one day of the week will make a difference…meatless mondays?

These are only some of the arguments for vegetarianism… there are many more but I don’t feel like writing a whole book right now.

Man, reading over this I don’t know what happened…. I was supposed to write about an excuse for us eating some dead animals during this trip. Oops

shaun

Posted in travel | Comments Off on Animals V.S Vegetables

Cycling brother in Distress!!!

One of our cycling partners in spirit, Charlie, has had a bicycle accident in
Alexandria, Egypt, while on his round the world tour. He has broken his
hip, and is having surgery. The surgery should all go fine,
and he will be on the road to recovery very soon… but there’s another 3
months of resting downtime for him…

Im sure we can all imagine how it must feel to be alone in a strange
hospital, unable to get around – and you all know how hard it will be for
him to have to stay off the bike for so long…

AND there’s nothing like a letter or package or card to make Charlie smile
– so if anyone feels like sending snail mail, I know he would appreciate
it more than anything in the world! Even support from people he has never met yet! Please do!

An address for him in Alexandria:

Shehab Khashaba
1 Mahmoud ElAttar St.
flat#101, Doctors building
Smouha,Alexandria
Egypt

This is Charlie´s website..please check it out!!! http://bicycle4earth.org/

Posted in travel | Comments Off on Cycling brother in Distress!!!

Leaving the west behind!

Even though we have only made it to İstanbul technically we are now on the Asian continent, and the more we head east the more hospitality we encounter. Already ın Turkey İ have been amazed at how people treat guests and foreigners and İ know we wıll be seeing a lot more of this. İ´m not sure how long it will take or if İ will get tired of having almost everyone we pass wave and yell ‘hello friend’, but İ am sure that this is the genuine nature of the Turkish people.

Our first full day in Turkey we spent cycling our asses off against strong headwinds and over countless long, stretched out hills. The winds were so strong that instead of cycling down the hills in our highest gears, we were only using one or two gears higher then the ones used to climb up. Because of this we only covered about 85-90km with the amount of effort that normally would take us 120-140km. So by the middle of the day we were already dam tired and cursing this wind that had been battling us head on for 4 or 5 days without resistance. İn the mid afternoon we were too exhausted to continue without passing out for  an hour or two, which we did in the dirt on a small hill beside the busy highway while tiny biting ants and annoying buzzing flies tried to wake us from the sanctuary of sleep.

By the end of the days our legs were like spaghetti as the sun was going down. We were getting close to the massive city Istanbul (population around 17 000 000 ) so it was not easy finding a hidden place to camp out for the night. Luckily we came to a coastal town and made our way down to the wide, sandy beach where we though we would have a peaceful sleep listening to the waves gently crash on the shore….but we were wrong.  The first thing to disturb our slumber were the armies of kamikaze mosquitoes that had us ducking for cover, heads tucked in sleeping bags. Then after a few more hours of sleep İ heard the voices of some dudes beside us, rolling over İ poked my sleepy head out of my sleepingbag to see 5 cops with machine guns staring down at me, so İ decided it was a good time to wake up again and wake Maarten who was still sleeping like Goldie Locks. The cops tried talking to us and we tried talking to them but there was a major language barrier confusing things. Fortunately some locals that lived on the beach noticed the situation and within seconds there was a crowd of people standing around the two of us who were still laying in our sleeping bags like a couple of squirming worms, and one of them, a soft spoken women, could speak English. With her help the situation was soon clear….the cops only wanted to warn us that our bikes and bags weren´t safe there and we assured everyone that we were comfortable with that and if things were stolen we would not cause trouble about it. They left us there to sleep in the sand. İ was a bit surprised that the cops didn´t give us a fine or even make us get up and leave like they would in many other countries including theır neighbours to the west.

Soon we were sound asleep again only to be woken a few hours later by the next invader of our peace…an extremely annoying dog. This little white scruffy bastard stood about 20 feet ( 6 meters) away from us, staring at us with beady little eyes and continually barked at us with an irritating high pitched sound for at least 4 or 5 hours without stopping. Seriously, İ´m not joking, İ actually started to think it was a robot, İ never met a dog that could be so persistently retarded without stopping for a breath.                                                                                                                                                                  Needless to say we slept well that night.

The second day in Turkey is when İ started noticing how amazing cycling in this country was going to be, all because of the people. In the early morning as we were brushing the sand off and packing our things, an old man slowly walked over to us with small steps. He was curious in our bikes and paid attention to the way we loaded our gear on them. As we were going to leave the beach the way we came on to it he stopped us and showed us a shorter way to get back to the main road. He walked behind us and when we stopped to check our map he invited us over for tea at his house that we were standing beside. Gladly we joined him for a cup, Maarten had already mentioned to me that before cycling he wanted to stop ın a cafe for tea so this was just perfect. We sat in the man´s front yard sipping each 4 cups of  tasty Turkish tea (if you haven´t had it you don´t know what your missing) while we showed him our map of Turkey and how far we were cycling. Upon leaving he wished us good luck and we thanked him for his kindness, shook his hand and hit the road. This was all without being able to speak each others language.

Further down the road still cycling against strong relentless headwinds, the traffic got much too heavy to be enjoyable so we left the main road to zigzag along through maze of coastal villages. This method was much slower but a hellofa lot safer and more relaxed. İn one of these villages we passes by a little bike repair shack that was run by a man with his two young son´s and his friend helping. When they saw us cruising by the immediately called us over to talk with them. They offered us a seat on the couch and chairs they had outside and something to drink. The man was the only one who could speak English and so became translator as we spoke to him about our trip and showed them pictures of our family which they were very interested in. These guys were so hospitable it excited me to see the rest of the country. The man`s friend went to the shop to buy food in order to prepare for us a delicious Turkish meal, and we all sat around and ate out of one pot using bread to scoop up the saucy food. He told us that family should eat together like this. After we ate they brought out tea and we talked a while longer late into the afternoon until  we felt it was getting late and we really had to take off. İf we didn´t leave İ´m sure they would have offered us to spend the night.

Getting closer to the city the traffic was heavy with a thick choking smog which began to irritate my eyes. As İ´m sure everyone already know well that smog is a serious problem in most cities around the world and continues to harm human health while we continue to do nothing about it and continue to drive fossil fuel-burning engines. But why would we stop driving our polluting cars and trucks? İ mean, doesn´t everyone just love sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide inflaming their breathing passages, decreasing their lungs’ working capacity, causing shortness of breath, pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing, and coughing? Do we really care about smog being especially harmful for senior citizens, children, and people with heart and lung conditions?

Anyway…the traffic was almost suicidal by the time we were 20km from the center of İstanbul so we decided to turn off the motorway and get lost in the suburban jungle around the city. Lost we did find ourselves but it was all according to the inevitability of the universe and the chain of actions setting us up to be in the right place at the right time. As we slowly cycled backed to the general direction of the motorway, a black BMW with tinted windows cut us off and stopped in front of us. 3 doors opened and simultaneously 3 men with black suits and black sunglasses stepped out and stopped us, as if in a mafia movie. İ was picturing them pulling out guns but thought `who would rob a couple of dirty bike bums?´. We were confused at first, again because of the language barrier, but it turned out that the man who stayed seated in the car was not quite a mob boss, he was the mayor, and we wanted us to follow hıs car to a near bye mosque.

We entered İstanbul during the end of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamıc calendar. It is the Islamıc month of fasting, in which practicing Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sex from dawn until dusk. Ramadan is a time of reflecting, believing and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam during this time. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. Fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose is to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, encourage actions of generosity and charity, which we were met with on our arrival at the mosque. İt was explained to us that the mayor wished for us to stay for a an iftar, or evening meal, which everyone ate together in the corridor of this huge, beautifully architectured mosque. Nobody could speak English but one of the men in charge of the activities at the mosque could speak German as does Maarten. Conversation with the Mayor went from him speaking in Turkish to the man in charge, who spoke to Maarten in German, who spoke to me in English. On the stairs in front of the mosque where people crowded around us to see who the strangers were, we had photos taken with the mayor and other people by some press and also with our camera. The Mayor seemed impressed with our goal and with our raising money for a school and İ was grinning like an idiot from ear to ear. The mayor left for other important meetings, living the busy life that comes with such a position, and we were escorted by the man in charge and given a grand tour and history of the place. They wanted our bikes to be safe so we carried them up into the corridor where everyone was seated for the meal. There was about 2000 people there and every person at once had their eyes on these strange foreigners bringing in their strange bikes causing so much attention. I felt terribly under dressed for this occasion having not showered in 5 days and having holes in the ass of my filthy shorts, İ apologized for this but was assured that it was not a problem. We were seated at a head table, me still not being able to help grinning like a fool, and after the evening prayer enjoyed a delicious 3 course meal. Everyone here, all 2000 people eat for free and the food is all donated. That is something you don´t often see in the west.

After the dinner a police escort was arranged to bring us and our bike in a truck dropping us of where we were staying, 15km away in the center of Istanbul. The drivers were very cool and wanted to have our phone numbers and email addresses so they could visit us when we returned home to Canada and Holland.

These are my first impressions of Turkey.

Shaun.

Hoş Geldiniz!

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)

Maarten

Greetings from an oven called Athens..

It’s been a while since i last wrote something on the site.. Since Salzburg we haven’t had many internet oppurtunities; either no internet cafe’s were to be found or they were simply way too expensive (along the coastline of Croatia they ask a staggering 6EUR per hr) All too soon however we will enter the world of el cheapo internet cafe’s so by then we will try to update a bit more frequently (especially the picture part has seen a bit of  a delay.. mainly due to our digital clumsiness how to get them uploaded on our site)

Finally we have arrived in Greece where we allow ourselves a little time off.. Our 2 wheeled beauties are safely parked at a sweet couchsurfer’s garage in Thessaloniki, Shaun is soon going to relax a bit on the island Samothraki and i’m hanging out with some old friends in Athens (hence the title of this post, i am feeling like a roasted turkey) I am enjoying however to not be on a bike for a while.. There is a feeling of being impatient for something, itchy legs and an appetite for new impressions, but its only a matter of time for that feeling to disappear and become a lazy dog again…..

Since my last update in Salzburg quite a lot has passed. After Salzburg we had a very enjoyable yet very tough going through the Austrian Alps.  Till the Alps we hadn’t yet experienced any serious climbing (apart from a few hills in Germany but that was peanuts really) so it took a bit of adjustment to tackle them monsters. Going up with an average of 5km/hr and cruising down with 60km/hr.. It’s worth the struggle! I experienced Austria as a pleasant country to cycle around. Plenty of amazing sceneries and an abundance of nice small country backroads with hardly any nasty traffic (except for the roads thru the Alps which need to be shared with cars ‘n trucks)

After Austria we got to what would become our favorite country so far; Slovenia! Its a small ‘n cozy country with a beautiful nature, mellow cities and most importantly; some of the most friendliest people we have come across on our trip so far. Unfortunately we only got to see a little bit of Slovenia (Maribor, Ljubljana and some spots in between) but we are both sure about returning one day to taste a little more.. From Slovenia we rolled into Croatia and surprisingly enough no harrassing at the customs as usually is the case (we met some Belgians who were less fortunate.. they got catched because they found a tiny dot of weed in a guitarcase.. most hilarious was when they asked them what a condom was for and if it had been used before..) It was all pretty much downhill all the way to Rijeka on the Adriatic Sea. We cycled to the island of Krk (manouvred ourselves over a bridge) where we experienced our first night of thunderstorms and refreshing showers. As Shaun mentioned already in his post, we love to have clean bodies and undies so we took the oppurtunity to take a shower in the rain and have our undies washed.. From Krk we went to the island of Cres where we spent a few days to cycle from North to South and took the ferry from Malin Losinj to Zadar. We enjoyed having seen some islands but the downside is that the prices are in general more expensive and the tourism is so densely concentrated that it becomes a bit obnoxious.

Zadar to Dubrovnik in the very South left me with mixed feelings; some of the coastline sceneries are jaw-droppingly beautiful and worth a visit without doubt. What left me a bit annoyed is the package-deal tourism on the way (dull looking families and everything focussed on getting pennies out of the tourists.. which does not say i necessarily blame them for doing so) and the aggressive traffic on the narrow roads that need to be shared along the coast.

After Dubrovnik we finally crossed into another country: Montenegro. This little mountain state only recently gained independence from Serbia but has had it’s eyes fixed on the West for quite some time already. Shortly after the collapse of Yugoslavia, Montenegro wanted to be free from it’s bigger brother Serbia and among some of it’s deeds was to abandon the Serbian currency (Dinar) and adopting the German Mark. Nowadays the official currency is the Euro although Montenegro is by no means included in the Eurozone. Anyway, just like Croatia there are some amazing sceneries to be spotted and the tourism is also of quite another degree.. Whereas Croatia is mainly catering to Western tourists, Montenegro is mainly focused on local tourism. Local tourism means that it’s gotta be done the Balkan way. What’s the Balkan way? Make it very noisy, very kitsch and add cheap booze to it and you got some of the main ingredients. I observed that many people, also the oldies,  rather go and sit on a cramped polluted little beach right next to some megaspeakers with hardcore techno, than to find a quiet spot somewhere where they can enjoy calm and peace. I recall how on one night i was lying in my hammock and far far away i saw a little boat with a couple on it.. They were enjoying the romantic view of a sunset.. as well as the loudest version of “a total eclips of the heart” i have ever heard.. I’d say that’s quite a Balkan way to do it……. (as well as the rounds of fire of a Kalashnikov we heard from our hammocks at some far away wedding party)

From Crna Gora into Shqiperie or from Montenegro into Albania. Finally leaving the slavic countries behind us for a few days to explore the homeland of the Illyrians. I have been in Albania a couple of times and each visit the country seems to be making some progress although not in all fields and it certainly doesn’t apply to all regions. My first 2 visits mainly involved visiting the capital Tirana which nowadays seem to have become a flourishing city nowadays with a vibrant nightlife and the mayor Edi Rama, a former artist, who did an amazing job turning boring ugly looking flats into true pieces of art (google his name for more info and great pics of some of the flats) Back in the days when i was there there were potholes in the road everywhere and enormous heaps of garbage pretty much on every corner of the street. This is something which nowadays fortunately belongs to the past for Tirana. Unfortunately that can’t be said for most of Albania. Its hard actually to get a grip on Albania at all. On the one hand one can see a vast amount of luxuruous cars, enormous villa’s and booming entrepeneurship, but on the other hand the infrastructure of the country still seems to be of that when i first visitited in early 2000. Old roads with deep potholes (they seem to be working on some of them though) in most little towns open garbage belts right next to living quartiers, for those who can’t afford a villa the living conditions in old Socialist era houses appear to me as far below acceptable, no future for Albanian youth cause there are hardly any jobs etc. To me it seems that Albania is artificially being kept alive by the money that comes in thru emigrated Albanians (most of them live in Greece, Italy, Switzerland and the US) For sure the people of Albania are better of nowadays than when they were suffering under the harsh regime of Enver Hoxha (the onetime crazy dictator of Albania who ruled from the fifties up till the eighties) but they still have a long way to go.. A less corrupt government, less braindrain so that intellectuals stay at home and invest in the knowledge industry, creating a secure environment for foreign investors etc.

I almost forget to mention that Albania is a fairly pleasant country for the somewhat more adventurous bikers among us. People usually go out of their way in order to make you feel at home and it happens more than once that we got free drinks from shopkeepers and strangers.  I think what attracted me a lot is that Albania, on the countryside at least, is still very pure, raw and genuine. We crossed through the very heart of Albania and although the mountains will show no mercy on poor bikers, its something you won’t quickly forget nor regret.

Oh, and what really bothered me the most.. The rampant growth of mountains of plastic everywhere. Shaun mentioned it in his blog and i mention it again. Fucking plastic and the ease with which it is used and thrown away.. The government doesn’t really seem to care about it too much and most of the people aren’t aware of the emergency situation we are in regarding our climate (and i think most of them don’t give a fuck about the fact that a pile of plastics looks nasty but i can be wrong about that)

Finally after Albania we cycled for 3 days through Macedonia (or FYROM as the Greeks would like to have it..) to finally arrive at Thessaloniki where we could finally get off and have our well deserved shower..

So far so good and secretly i can’t wait to be back on the bike again for more contemplative moments through deserted landscapes, torture myself going uphill, ecstatic moments when going down.. The ‘what’s behind the next corner’ feeling.. Love it!

Maarten

Dirtballing it

We have been cycling for over 7 weeks now and no longer is it something for us to get used to but is the way of life. I think we are even getting  used to cycling 100km per day in the Balkan heat which is constantly above 35 degrees, and are used to sleeping almost anywhere.

The worst place we have slept so far was in Croatia. We were on a ferry coming back from cycling on one of the many islands there, it was a 6 or 7  hour boat ride so we prepared ourselves each with a few 2L bottles of cheap beer and put our feet up. As the sun set we passed out and were woken around 2am when the ship reached the shore in the city of Zadar. We were pretty groggy and didn’t really feel like cycling 10-15km outside the city to find a good camping spot so we went with the first thing we saw… a little 2m spot between a fence for the shipping yard and the on-ramp to the motorway. We quickly fell asleep in the dirt, dreaming about being back home sitting on the couch watching films and eating junk food. In the early morning (around 6:30am) when we woke to the noise of big trucks driving to the shipyards blowing dust from the road on us, and the rancid smell of dead animal, it was already 30 degrees. Soon we realized the smell was from a big seagull that was ripped to shreds all around us and we were laying on its feathers and meat chunks. Yummy. We then got ready to cycle another 120km.                                                                                                                            Anyway… I think that was the worst place we slept so far.

On this trip, like many other trips, I have really come to appriciate  the little things in life that most people take for granted and don’t think twice about. Here is a little list of some of those things

  1. Clean underwear – It is easy to get used to wearing the same underwear for 7 days in a row (or longer) but when you get a fresh pair on you feel brand new and ready for anything the road has to throw at you.
  2. Daily warm showers – After about only 3 or 4 days of cycling in hot weather without a shower, even washing in the sink of a dirty gas station bathroom gives you a fresh, clean feeling.
  3. Cozy bed – As much as I love sleeping outside in random places, it is always relaxing to have a nice big bed to roll around in. But still nothing really beats a hammock.
  4. Sleeping in late – When cycling in summer it is always best to wake before sunrise and get lots of km’s in before the afternoon when it really gets hot. It’s hard for me as I am a lover of rolling in bed all day long.
  5. Hot meals– Since we aren’t traveling with a stove we rarely get a warm chew in us, when we do we enjoy it more then most people. Normally we are eating plenty of raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, yogurts, tortilla chips with canned beans, and breads.
  6. Washing machines– Although washing machines are huge wasters of energy and people should try not to use them too much, it is nice for us to use them once every month or two since our normal hand-washing in rivers and public bathroom sinks doesn’t always get the nastiness out. We are serious dirtballs and it’s only going to get worse (or better if you enjoy bad smells) as this trip goes on.
  7. Cold tap water– When you are drinking your re-used bottles of water that are hot from baking in the scorching sun, and you need something just a little bit more thirst quenching, you really come to appreciate cold tap-water from a public bathroom or garden hose to refill with. We are not at all fans of buying cold bottled water in the shop since the countries we are traveling through (and most countries in the world) have poor recycling programs (WARNING…I’m about to go on a rant). All the plastic goes in the trash, eventually ending up in the waterways and into the ocean, broken down into small editable plastic particles over decades and end up in the food chain. The chemicals in plastics (especially Bisphenol A which is used to make all water bottles, baby bottles, medical and dental devices, dental fillings, eyeglass, CDs and DVDs, and basically anything plastic you can think of) are largely responsible for many of the serious diseases found in the world today including diabetes, birth defects, obesity,neurological issues, breast and prostate cancers, and heart disease. I’m not making this up, this is really dam serious and when I think too hard about what we have done it honestly puts tears in my eyes. The big problem is that, Bisphenol A is also a synthetic estrogen (that means it’s a man made female sex hormone), and plastics made with it can break down, especially when they’re washed, heated or stressed, allowing the chemical to get into our food and water and then enter the human body. That happens to nearly all of us! The Center for Disease Control (a U.S  agency that works to protect public health and safety) has found BisphenolA in the piss of 93% of surveyed Americans over the age of 6. Let me say I believe almost every single person in the entire world has this chemical in their body! You should really know about it if you don’t already so please please research it!! If you don’t have this shit in your body, you’re not living in the modern world.  Even in countries where plastic bottles are recycled, the lids for the bottles can not be and will pollute our planet for thousands of years. The plastic we have made will be here longer then us! This year more plastic will be produced then last year, and next year even more!! In western countries there is usually no difference between bottled water and tap water anyway, it is just an obscene money making scheme. Wouldn’t you think it’s crazy if people started buying bottled air that is the same as the air the can breath for free? For example, in Holland the tap water is actually better then most bottled water. Bottled water from Pepsi co and Coke companies (such as Eva Water, H2OK, Aquafina, and Dasani) are mainly from the tap anyway (seriously, look it up!). Please don’t buy bottled water if you can help it!
  8. Clean underwear– I know I already mentioned it, but we appreciate clean undies so much it is worth saying again. I guess the only good thing about dirty ones is that when we are starving and will do anything for food, we can always go mushroom picking in our underpants.
  9. Regular contact with friends and family – Don’t take for granted your ability to talk with your friends and family, one day you wont be able to. It’s important not to forget to tell the people you love that you love them!

This list can go on and on, these are just some of the first things that come to my mind.

We are relaxing down in Greece now and soon we will be leaving Europe and heading into Asia. Although it has been a lot of hard work and suffering, we are still full of energy and excited for what lies ahead!

Shaun

Sweatin up those mountains

The Alps are the first mountains we have encountered so far, but they sure as hell wont be the last….or the biggest.

I knew we would be in for a real work out, it may have even been harder then I expected because of the scorching hot sun and +30 degree weather, but I guess that’s better then cold wind and rain?

We encountered our first real mountain and after cycling up a steep road for 5 min non stop my legs were pretty pissed off at me, I told them to calm down and we just had a little more to go. Then after 1 hour of non stop burning pain and exhaustion my legs really couldn’t believe what was happening to them, nor could my lungs and heart. Over heating and dehydration can become a serious problem when working that hard but we were prepared with about 4-5 litters of water each to drink and poor over our heads.

The first and smallest mountain we cycled up took about 1hr to reach the top. As cars would pass us I could see faces inside that looked at us as if we were crazy. We are not the crazy ones! Crazy is to put all your money into a car. Crazy is to think we can all go on living the way we do. CO2 emissions show a 99.5% correlation with World Industrial Product  over the last 100 yrs.  95% of the energy used by us humans (including transportation) is from burning fossil fuels. If there are more greenhouse gasses in the air then ever before, isn’t it crazy to think we can go on adding to it? It is not just a coincidence that the more money we have, the more we consume and destroy the environment. 20% of people living in rich countries consume 86% of the worlds resources!!!

These are my thoughts that gave me reason to keep my legs pumping through pain and exhaustion over those big ass mountains!

We had about three and a half days of cycling over the beautiful alps and flying down into the valleys below at insane speeds. Yesterday after cycling up 16-18% elevation non stop for almost 4 hours straight, we reached the top of the pass at 1600m high and soared down the other side at our top speed so far, 91km/hr!! It’s not that fast in a car but on a fully loaded bicycle my eyes were watering from the wind and I was praying I could execute all those hard corners without slipping on loose stones, hitting a truck coming around the bend, or flying over the edge of the mountain. At the bottom I thought to myself  `maybe I should spend some money and finally get insurance´.              I guess cycling can be dangerous sometimes but that is mainly because of all the cars and dangerous drivers on the road. In most countries there are not a lot of cycle paths, if any. Here is a little example of we how humans have been investing.

Comparative World Bank   investment:

– roads                    98%

– rail                           2%

-cycle track       none!

Now think of all the people that would love to cycle to work and kids that would love to cycle to school but don’t because the roads are not safe for it.

It is past the time we should make some real changes, lets all tackle our own apathy! There is hardly a soul on this planet who is unable to make a contribution to a better world. One million small contributions make one million changes!

Sometimes I have to remind myself that instead of cursing the darkness, I should  light a candle.

Shaun

Steamin`Salzburg

A little update after having spent two weeks on the road already..

So far we have been extremely fortunate with the weather. Only a few days before our departure it was still cold `n rainy.. On the 21st however the sun was shining and summertime finally really started to kick in. Until now we have only had 1 day with bits of rain. Usually we are complaining about too much sunshine and wish for a heavy rain to relieve our overheated bodies.

After leaving Amsterdam we went down South smoothly.. We stayed with my friends Robin and Edmee in Utrecht for a night to say a proper goodbye. They have once been roaming the countryside of NL, Belgium and France with horse and wagon (www.slakkengang.nl) For some 2 years they have been on the road but finally decided on settling down for a while close to Utrecht. I guess it`s just a matter of years now that they will be on the road once more with their little girl.. 

From Utrecht we went down to Nijmegen and got joined for a bit by our friend Eelco who earlier cycled all the way from Amsterdam to Bali (www.backtobali.net) I am sure the future will lure him in yet another bike adventure! In Nijmegen we had our first couchsurf spot (www.couchsurfing.org)  and enjoyed the pleasure of a warm shower and cold beer. During our trip we plan to do lots of couchsurfing next to sleeping under the stars outside.  We both are avid stealth campers but at the same time we really appreciate having a place to stay every now and then. Its a nice prospect when cycling to know that there is a destination at the end of the day with a usual friendly host welcoming you and a warm shower to get them dirty `n sticky bodies all clean again. Most likely couchsurfing will become less and less as we are heading East. But then again, out in Asia the hospitality is often so enormous that one needs no couchsurfing to have a place to crash and an oppurtunity to interact with a local.

Our first day in Germany immediately showed us that i have been quite prejudiced concerning our neighbours.. I expected the Germans to be rather conservative and not very outgoing.  One of our first encounters was with an old man who showed interest in our trip and insisted on donating a couple of Euro`s for us to buy a breakfast from. After 2 weeks of Germany we had many similar experiences with German hospitality and friendly, mainly old, folks. The rarest encounter for sure was in Augsburg where an old man approached me and enthusiastically told me that he also once made a biketrip from Amsterdam to Augsburg.. I replied i was impressed and asked him when that was.. “After WWII when i had to leave Holland and head back home..” Any chance we can have that bike back..sir?

Currently we are having a little rest in Salzburg before tackling them big ass mountains in Austria. The first weeks have been very pleasant and my body is slowly adjusting to the rhythm of a daily 90-120km. Thanks to the many friendly couchsurfers that went out of their ways to make us feel welcome and the many nights we spent under a clear starry sky dreaming about what is yet to come..

Maarten

Posted in travel | Comments Off on Steamin`Salzburg