Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

Kurdish Delight!

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

(James) Having read Em’s account of our traumatic day last Sunday (which I’m pretty sure she wrote in our tent that night as some sort of therapy!) I thought it might be an idea to say that despite our belief that Turkey didn’t want to let us leave, we had an amazing time and are just saddened that events in Istanbul meant that we had to rush through and miss so much of what is clearly an amazing country. That’s not to say, however, that we didn’t still have some great experiences. So, Cappadocia and our trip east out of Turkey.

It would be a major understatement to say that we slept soundly on our first night after the 800km day and despite our late rising (just to catch breakfast before they started serving lunch!) we were still pretty groggy. We’d decided to have a rest day so we hopped (quite literally in Em’s case) on to one of the bikes to visit the ancient towns and landscape that give the region its fame. Best known of these is the ancient settlement of Goreme which was a settlement 2000 years ago for Christians escaping persecution in the holy lands just to the south. Some geological quirk means that the rock is highly malleable and this allows it to be carved into much like wood (something we also saw in Matera, Italy where they actually filmed the film of The Last Temptation of Christ). Wind and rain over the millennia have eroded the rock creating tall rock formations which the early Christians dug into, creating what might be described as the world’s first high rise living communities – some of the ‘blocks’ were several stories high. As you can imagine, given the reason that Goreme’s first residents decided to seek sanctuary there in the first place, there are plenty of chapels in the rocks (they didn’t seem to do much other than pray) many still displaying the original frescoes on the walls and ceilings. Without sounding too much like a savage, I’ll summarise by saying that we were quickly all ‘chapelled’ out (once you’ve seen 10 ancient chapels carved out of solid rock you’ve seen them all) and decided to ride to the ancient underground city of Kaymakli and through the stunning landscape of the area filled with dramatic naturally occurring rock columns of soft rock with harder granite stacks sitting atop. They’re known as fairy chimneys, but we couldn’t help but think that was a marketing ploy designed to turn your attention away from the fact that look exactly like giant…, well you’ll have to look at our photos and see for yourselves…

Much like Goreme, Kaymakli was ‘built’ to hide Christians fleeing persecution, except where Goreme seemed to have been a haven for monks and nuns, Kaymakli appears to have been for Christian families and so was much bigger. Not being able to find a rock big enough to accommodate them they simply dug down into the ground creating a ‘town’ that ran several stories under the surface, and contained homes, food stores, wineries, and all the facilities that a community of 5000 people might need. The entrances were hidden by giant circular rocks that were rolled into place when required. The corridors such as they were, were extremely narrow – barely shoulder width and at points little more than a couple of feet high so not a place for anyone with even the mildest claustrophobia or physical infirmity (such as that picked up, shall we say, in a motorcycle accident) but after a couple of rest stops we made it out!

The following morning we headed north-east towards the border with Georgia and through Kurdish east Turkey (or Kurdistan if you ask anyone who actually lives there). We had been warned by some that the area could be dangerous and that we should be very careful. After a few kms through barren semi-desert we made stopped outside a petrol station to re-adjust Em’s luggage which we’d not done properly in our rush to leave and were just getting ready to pull out when we saw 2 motorcycles approaching, both of which were heavily loaded. Seeing us they pulled over to say hello and introduce themselves as Axel and Vincent from Belgium who are on a tour of the Caucasus. We were both commenting on the fact that we hadn’t seen any other motorcycles since we’d left Istanbul when a Turkish motorcycle rode past, turned round and came over to say hello too! This was clearly too much for the 2 truckers sitting in the station who came over to say hello (despite the fact they couldn’t speak a word of English) and give us a big bag of fruit whilst we swapped information on the way ahead.

We continued on our way and at our next petrol stop were invited over by the people who worked there and a couple of customers to have chai with them – this increased friendliness, we were to find out, was customary for Kurds and was only the first of numerous examples of the generosity and kindness to strangers we would experience over the next few days. By about 5.30 that evening, Em reported that she was starting to fade (it had been nearly 100 degrees all day) so we stopped at the town of Sivas to find a supermarket, with the intention of camping somewhere suitable to the east of the city. An hour or so later, we turned off the road and up a farm track, found the farmhouse and asked the farmer if we could camp in one of the fields nearby (our Turkish not being up to much, we managed to communicate this using our ‘point-it’ book – literally a book full of pictures of different objects, something we think will become increasingly handy from this point onwards!) We were soon set up and having dinner with a bottle of red wine!

We were woken before six the next morning by the sound of a tractor pulling up by our tent and reasoned that if it was early enough for him to start his day, perhaps we should do the same! Although we’d gone to bed under an incredibly clear starry sky, the morning that greeted us was grey and hinted that today we might be getting a bit wet. Just as we were about to leave, an old woman, presumably the farmer’s mother as she must have been in her eighties, trudged the 1km down the hill from the farm house, carrying a rake and offered for us to go back to theirs for breakfast. We’d have dearly loved to, but a combination of needing to get miles under her belt and the fact that we couldn’t allow her to walk all the way back up the hill again, meant that we had to decline. As we continued riding, we found that at every single stop we were given chai and offered food. By late morning, we began to gain altitude as we rode into the mountains, reaching almost 3000 metres above sea level, directly towards the black clouds that has been threatening all day. Eventually, the rains hit us, creating pretty treacherous conditions on the roads, not helped by the fact that we were in a line of lorries travelling on what is the main road to Iran.

The weather steadily deteriorated all afternoon and in the early evening we were struck by a monster thunder storm which reduced visibility to near zero and forced us into a petrol station to take cover. No sooner had we got off the bikes than the two guys who worked there, Yacop and Sendar, brought out some chai and let us sit at a table and chairs inside. As we sat warming our hands on the tea glasses, they kept refilling our cups and eventually gestured that they were making us dinner! We were expecting maybe some bread and melon but on going into their ‘office’, were stunned to see that they’d laid out a proper cooked traditional Kurdish meal which was absolutely delicious (Em: the best food we’ve had since Italy!!) We tried to communicate through our little Turkish phrase book, which caused them much hilarity! They were quick to tell us that they were most definitely Kurdish, not Turkish, and proceeded to show us lots of videos and photos of local Kurdish guerrillas who are effectively engaged in a civil war against Turkey. All very surreal. The weather had clearly set in for the night so we went to find a hotel in the small town we’d passed through a km back and ended up staying in what was the only hotel in town and which clearly doubled as either a sanatorium or some sort of institution! (Incidentally, Kurdish hospitality came to the fore once again when a local guy hailed a taxi specifically for us to follow him when we’d stopped for directions, then he stood out in the rain until he was satisfied that we were safely checked in, demanding nothing in return.) The hotel was a bit of a toilet and had a comedy communal bath in the basement with an industrial sized valve instead of a tap that delivered salt water!

It rained through the night but in the morning, despite the dark cloud cover, the rain had stopped so we heading off but not before stopping in for breakfast with Yacop and Sendar – they had made us promise and were waiting for us with yet another tasty spread, including their own home made natural yoghurt which was better than any we’d ever tasted. After eventually dragging ourselves away, we headed north filled with hope that we could make it to the Georgian border that day but as we rode even higher onto a large, desolate plateau we could see that the weather was closing in on us. And that, dear readers, brings us nicely to the epic already covered by Emily!!

Eastern Turkey in brief

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

(Emily) We saw and experienced so many cool things on our way out of Turkey, it would be crime not to dedicate a proper blog entry to it. However, our time in Tbilisi has been taken up by various jobs (two and a half hours at customs to pick up a parcel with our name on it being one of them!) so James will get on the case once we have a bit more time. Meanwhile, the last pics are up and here’s a brief synopsis…

What’s hot:

-      Turkish, and particularly Kurdish, hospitality; we were offered tea every time we stopped and were given proper sit down meals on several occasions. So generous!

-      Cappadocia – a region of stunning landscapes formed from volcanic rock. James described it as ‘biblical’. It also had something of Stars Wars about it!

-      My cool new neck scarf – a celebratory present from James when we were about to leave Istanbul.

-      Wild camping in a farmer’s field on a beautiful evening.

-      Our little fold-away chairs bought at a fishing market in Istanbul.

-      Staying at a hotel with an actual pool courtesy of  a deal through Haci – thanks!!

What’s not:

-      Riding 780km on the first day back on the bike. Stupido.

-      Stray dogs running out and barking at the bikes.

-      The Bluetooth comms system playing up. I said ‘too quick’, James, not ‘you p****!’

-      Putting my foot down when I come to a stop – ankle says noooooo.

-      Monumental thunder storms.

-      Turkey’s seeming refusal to allow us to leave without a fight.

-      Not seeming to see the need for diversions when the roads are being resurfaced (see below!)

Sunday – not such a fun day.

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

(Emily) Mum, before you read this, don’t worry – we’re fine and have reached Tbilisi in Georgia! Hostel has wi-fi so should be able to add more later; our last few days in Turkey were generally great and there’s lots to tell. However, I wrote this last night at the end of a bit of a nightmare day…

Currently shivering in our tent, on a grass verge by the side of a main road, next to a military outpost and ten metres from a machine gun nest (the bikes are parked next to it, we weren’t allowed to stay). These guys mean business; this is Kurdistan territory and the locals are not big fans of the Turks. It’s raining, our gear is covered in mud and the barracks spot lights keep sweeping past us. WTF?!

Basically, we’ve had a bit of a day. All going well(ish – relentless rain and late start meant we weren’t sure we’d make the Georgian border as planned). We pulled into a petrol station at about half past two this afternoon, narrowly missing the latest in a long line of torrential downpours. Pretty soon all signs of the surrounding mountains had disappeared into a wall of dark grey in every direction. We were high up on an exposed plateau (too high for trees – think Brecon Beacons on a bigger scale) and so we decided to wait it out; it was easy to monitor the weather system from our position. Also, the two lovely guys manning the station took upon themselves to ply us with chai and, when it was clear we were in for the long haul, brought out a delicious lunch of fresh bread, tomato and watermelon. The hours rolled by and, although it started to clear, the one place it still looked ominous was exactly the direction we were headed for. We had two options – head 10km back to the city of Kars where we could be sure of a hotel, or press on the 50km to Ardaham. No one likes going back on themselves, right, so as James has now reminded me several times at opportune moments, I said we should ‘risk it for a biscuit’… Fool!

It was about 5pm when we left. Only 50kms? We’d be there by six, giving us time to shop around for a cheap place to stay. Error. After about 10km, the tarmac ended and the gravel and shingle extravaganza ensued; bad enough at the best of times but just short of lethal after several days of heavy rain. The road had been further rutted up by the trucks and diggers going back and forth but with my ankle still playing up, this was not a good time for me to be introduced to ‘standing on the pegs’ as a way to minimise jolting. God knows how, but I managed to struggle on for a good 15km (which took well over half an hour – when were these ‘road works’ going to end anyway?) Then we suddenly found ourselves riding in thick, oozing clay. A new experience for me. Not a good one. I could feel both tyres veering from side to side as the treads quickly filled with mud, and worse, I could see James slipping about in front of me too. In my mind, it was a question of when, not if, we would fall off (James: me too). Bear in mind we were also on a slope and in the middle of harsh, barren wilderness.

We were only going about 3mph but I had to stop (how I did this without slipping over I don’t know). James, my absolute hero, got himself onto harder ground then came back for my bike, muttering that it was a wonder neither of us had come off. Alas, our miracle was short lived – James had no sooner got on my bike than his front wheel starting going to the left, his rear wheel to the right… he managed to keep going for another 5 metres, practically riding sideways, before the front wheel gave up and he went down. Our problems, however, were only just beginning, as so thick and gooey was the wet clay, that even standing was an issue – we both tried to pick the bike up but it, and us, were just sliding about. Meanwhile, a kilometre back up the hill, two articulated lorries we edging their way down towards us. At first I was reassured when I saw the hazard lights flashing – phew, the truck has seen us and would perhaps even be able to help – but then I saw the driver’s panicked face and frantic gesturing: despite the fact he had started to brake a good 500m away, his wheels too had lost all traction and he was literally sliding straight for us. At this point, we abandoned our fruitless attempts to get the bike upright and just started desperately to push and drag the bike across the mud out of the truck’s path. This was seriously one of the scariest moments of my entire life; we were properly freaking out, not sure whether we should keep trying or just get the hell out of the way ourselves. It was like a slow motion scene in a disaster movie.

I kid you not, the truck came to a stop about 5 metres from my fallen bike. The driver, clearly shaken, jumped out of his cab and with his help we managed to get the bike up. Not ideal that my right foot had to be used a wedge to stop the rear wheel from sliding again. Together, we managed to get it out of the danger zone, but even with two of us pushing on foot, the rear wheel was still all over the place. Needless to say, I was somewhat traumatised and couldn’t get back on the bike. James, covered in mud from the fall and no doubt pretty shaken up himself, took control of the situation and after a big hug for me, he rode his bike, then mine, a kilometre up the road to where the surface was more compact, while I slowly trudged up on foot.

The appalling surface then carried on, though thankfully never again turning into a clay quagmire; either way we had to stay in first or second gear and never got above 15 mph. Occasionally, we came onto tarmac again and thought we’d reached the end but all too soon it would deteriorate once more. To add insult to injury, it was by now starting to rain again and to get dark. We were in the middle of nowhere – the only signs of life being small dwellings constructed from stones and tarpaulin perched up in the exposed rocky outcrops – and the thought of camping in the wet surrounded by stray dogs did not appeal. Surely the town of Ardaham had to appear soon, we’d been going like this for nearly 40km and it had taken almost three hours. We finally came over the top of another mountain and we could see lights blinking in the distance. Surely this would be our target town, with the promise of a hot shower and, more importantly, a stiff drink. But no, northern Turkey was not going to relinquish its hold on us that easily. After tackling a steep downhill, still without proper road surface, a sign cheerfully told us that Ardaham was 12km away. Crap. It was now actual night-time and, upon inspecting the road that would take us to salvation and finding it to be loose shingle and steep, we decided that enough was enough. Tempting as it was to do those last few km (so close but yet so far…) we weren’t going to be that stupid. We’d just have to find somewhere here for the night.

And so that brings us to our current situation. A group of passing locals laughed and shook their heads when we gestured sleep and pointed to the village here.  James asked about a police station and they directed us up the road. No sooner had we approached the front entrance of the base when a search light swung road and whistles were sounded. I think they take security pretty seriously here, and it doesn’t help that our engines sound like gunfire… Our plea for a place to stay at first fell on deaf ears and we were repeatedly told there was a hotel in Ardahan – it didn’t seem to compute that it was simply not possible for us to travel any further on the treacherous roads in the now total darkness. However, perseverance is key (James didn’t even need to resort to football chat) and they eventually acquiesced that we could park our bikes in the barracks and set up camp outside the front.  So here we are, sitting soggy in our tent on a steep slope, ‘reassured’ by our hosts that despite it being ‘dangerous’ here (bear in mind there’s effectively a civil war going on here between Kurdish militants and Turkey), we are safe (cue a jaunty wave of the gun, just to reiterate). They even brought a sandwich and a pot of hot water for some tea. Admittedly a hotel would have been nice but I was feeling frankly euphoric to be alive. James, on the other hand, had been banking on using the hotel ‘facilities’. Enough said!….

I’m going to stop now and try to get some sleep. Am sure everything will be right with the world once more when we wake up to glorious sunshine and head for Georgia. Right now, however, I’m feeling pretty petrified of the dog that is barking its head off what seems to be a couple of yards from our tent. ‘It’s alright’, says James, ‘they’re probably dogs that they have here on the base, not strays.’ Er, yeah, in which case they’d be trained to kill. Goodnight!

The Longest Day!

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

(James) The last month has been hard work with Em hostel bound and getting increasingly frustrated and me constantly having to run to a dozen different police stations and other government offices to ensure our paperwork was in order. On the plus side I have become something of a dab hand at dealing with officialdom, almost daily I would be standing in a police station or an embassy trying to get things done but hitting a wall as Emily was |not there in person. This was, I would be told time and time again, impossible without her despite my protests that she was in hospital (for dramatic effect!) but always, a bit of persistence, keeping positive and smiling would get them chatting and almost every time they’d ask where I was from. The answer ‘London’ would be greeted with grins of recognition followed by them naming their favourite football teams and English players! I’d then be able to talk to them about Turkish football and Istanbul’s 3 big teams where upon I’d be asked what my favourite Turkish team was. I’d learnt early on that 2 of them (Galatasary and Fenerbache) hate each other whereas the third team (Besiktas) seemed to be inoffensive to everyone, so I’d say ‘Besiktas’ and wait for them to name their teams before making a joke about one of them having to fight the other. This joshing would, everytime without fail, see a thawing of their previously immovable rules and they would give me a nod to say they were going to ‘sort it’ for me and then invite me in for chai! Note: this also works at border crossings!

It’s fair to say that both of us had become sick of Istanbul, that’s not to say it isn’t a great city or that we hadn’t met lovely people, just simply that our initial 10 day stay (which we thought was a long time) had stretched to a month. What this meant in practical terms for us was that our ‘schedule’ had gone to pot – we generally tend to ride when and where we want but our one deadline has always been our crossing of China. The reason for this is that the Chinese government really don’t like the idea of tourists being in their country with their own transport (who knows where we might go?!) and so we have to have an official guide (observer) with us the entire time as well as having the endless bureaucracy to deal with that requires us to have Chinese licenses, registration plates and the approval of a dozen departments and directorates. Needless to say, all this costs quickly add up (we also have to cover accommodation and transport for the ‘guide’) so many months before our departure we arranged with several other like-minded souls from around the world to meet and cross together to share the financial burden.

The date of our crossing is the 20th August. As the weeks rolled by in Istanbul, we both had started to nervously count the dwindling number of days so on Monday we made the decision that given that Em was now able to walk (though not very far!) with just the one crutch we’d have to hit the road. Wednesday was picked as departure day, allowing us to sort out our admin and get ourselves together. As you may have already read Tuesday was a bit hectic as we finally found someone who could make the metal brackets I wanted so the evening was spent fitting them (they fit perfectly!), saying our goodbyes and repacking as we intended to leave before the morning rush hour. Em was understandably nervous (not just because it was her first time back on the bike but because heavy traffic would mean lots of stopping and putting down of feet). As per our last night in England, we were up until gone 2am but true to our plan we were up at 6am and an hour later, having confirmed that Em could actually get her boot on, we were riding across the Bosphorus. Our plan was to try to get to Ankara and then spend the night somewhere between there and Cappadocia – our ultimate destination and sadly, the only place on our original list of places to visit that time would allow us to see. We knew that the day was going to be long and boring as it was going to be all motorway as we wanted to at least try and make up some time. Our progress was way better than expected and we passed Ankara at 2pm, and headed south towards Askaray. The roads at this point deteriorated considerably (as did the driving which hadn’t exactly been stellar before!) and we were kept on our toes, hard when we had already passed the 500km mark for the day (already our longest day by a distance). As we headed further south towards the Syrian border we noticed that the dress, people and landscape became more ‘arabic’ which really gave us a taste of the distance we had covered that day. We were lucky not to get stopped in our tracks at one point as we passed right by a huge fire raging in a wheat field next to the road, with locals trying to stop it reaching the petrol station by the road (just 40 metres away). Another 5 minutes and the road would have probably have been closed. We reached Askaray at about 6:30 and turned east towards Cappadocia and although we were so close we were both aware that we were exhausted and that we were now chasing the setting sun. In the end we arrived at our destination, the small town of Urgup at approximately 9pm, after dark which violated our self imposed rule about riding at night on the trip, both utterly shattered and Em a little traumatised! We’d ridden a frankly ridiculous 790km, and although we made up 2-3 days at our normal pace we won’t be doing it again! We slept well.

The road is calling…

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

(Emily) We’re amid a sudden flurry of activity as we prepare to leave Istanbul early tomorrow morning. James has been a star, spending yet another day riding and tramming all over town getting last minute bits and pieces. After spending the last few weeks searching the whole of Istanbul (I do not exaggerate here) for bits of drainage pipe and exhaust brackets, he’s finally assembled the wear-with-all to put together a makeshift storage canister on each bike where the second exhaust used to be. This has been no easy mission and has culminated in him having some custom steel clamps made (thanks Adnan for your invaluable help on this!) and getting the folks back home to send some soil pipe access plugs (don’t ask!) on to Georgia ahead of us. See new pics on the photo gallery to get an idea of what we’re talking about…

I am still using one crutch to hobble about but am confident (ish) that with a support bandage and my boot on, I’ll be able to master the bike tomorrow. We’re aiming to leave at 7am to avoid the crazy traffic but only time will tell whether we actually achieve this…

We’re both on a bit of a high with the thought of finally getting our adventure underway once more, but at the same time it’s going to be with sadness that we leave our new friends here. We’ve been overwhelmed by how kind people have been, especially since the accident, and want to say thank you to everyone who has gone out of their way to help us with translations, incident forms, finding random parts etc. Poor Emre at the hostel came to anticipate (dread?!) James’ daily random requests! So, hello and thank you to: the guys at the bar – the Hacis (big and little), Sasha and Farid; our lovely hostel family – Emre, Murat, happy Shaheen, Janine, Gillian and Alma (who so many times brought me breakfast to my room when James was still asleep at cut off time!); the wonderful strangers who have offered us kindness when we’ve been out and about, particularly Furkan and Irem; Adnan from next door who has gone out of his way for us on several occasions; Bener at Daytona who came to our rescue after the accident; and lovely fellow travellers who we’ve shared some great times with – Paul & Dean (overland heroes), Albert & Daniel, Angi & Aric, Rick, Francesca, David, Matt & Flora and Patrick & Peggy. And Claudia, thanks for the physio advice and for getting me the ‘support stocking’, I owe you one!

Right, it’s 9pm. James is still tinkering with the bikes, we haven’t eaten yet (or repacked) and we still need to print off insurance forms, photocopy receipts, pay our rent for yet another week (gulp) and go and say a few goodbyes. Will we really leave at 7am tomorrow morning? Watch this space!

Family fortunes

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

(Emily) My life has become a bit too ‘bloke-ified’ over the last couple of weeks (beer, football, kebabs, more beer, more football… you get the picture) so when Mum and Martha came over for a few days it not only delivered me from boredom but also injected a stab of good old-fashioned girlieness, hurrah! We were soon sitting on the patio of their rather fancy hotel drinking rosé and having a good natter – James didn’t know what had hit him! Luckily, on the first evening Rick from Melbourne, who we’d already met a few days ago, joined us for dinner so James had an ally at his end of the table (Rick still got subjected to full family history from Mum though – chin up!)

The crutches that Mum and Martha brought over made all the difference and I was able to go back and forth between our hostel, the bar and their hotel. We even ventured as far as the Grand Bazaar – I was no going to miss out on a girlie shopping trip – though admittedly progress was slow and it did reduce me to a shaking, sweaty mess! No one told me using crutches was so hard! However, it was well worth it to see M&M try a spot of haggling and Martha unwittingly yet inevitably picking out the most expensive scarf in the whole market – luxury just seeks her out!

I had a fantastic few days so thank you so much, Mum and Marth. James and I felt thoroughly spoiled and it was great to catch up with what’s going on at home; of course, most of all it was just lovely to see you and spend some time with you. The ankle seems to be progressing quite nicely now and I can finally put it flat on the floor when standing. Will tentatively start putting weight on it the next few days so watch this space…

Lots of love to those back home, and Hi to Matt and Flora – the beach sounds good and hope the onward journey’s going well!

xxx (more pics added today too)

(Im)patient

Monday, June 28th, 2010

(Emily) Last night, James finally persuaded me to leave the confines of the hostel and make a long overdue return visit to the bar round the corner. I think the prospect of watching the England match with about two other people on a crappy tv outside the hostel was too much to bear and consequently I got a piggyback all the way down there! I have to say, I was resistant at first as the jolting around is a killer for my foot, but I’m glad we made the effort; despite England’s somewhat inevitable exit, we had a great evening and it did me good to have a change of scene. All the gang were down there, being very chivalrous with Sasha lifting me over the tables (no easy feat but he’s a big bear of a man) and Big Haci lending me his jacket when I got cold (James, being the good doctor, insisted I have more ice on my foot but it soon turned my whole leg numb…) We had a good chat with a guy from Melbourne, Rick,  who had just arrived in Istanbul, and two more Aussies, Scott and Ben, who were staying at the same hostel as us. This helped take James’ mind off the match (and the terrible injustice of the disallowed goal) – he was not a happy bunny – and by the time Argentina were giving Mexico a thorough pasting, spirits were high again. I suspect it was a little harder to get over for those in the midst of it all back home…

Little Haci insisted on being the mule on the way home (I think I ruined the poor guy) and it was sad to say goodbye – he’s about to leave Istanbul to do his military service and was obviously feeling apprehensive about the whole thing. I’ve always been of the opinion, based on limited knowledge admittedly, that military service is a great idea as it must give sense of achievement and responsibility  to young adults at a time in life where apathy is an all too easy option. However, when one looks at it from the other perspective – it means being uprooted from your family and friends for 15 months with the real possibility of going into combat – the programme is perhaps not quite so laudable. Good luck, Haci : )

Fed up and grumpy, moi?

Friday, June 25th, 2010

First things first: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESSIE & LIZZIE!! Have a twin-tastic birthday, wish we were able to celebrate with you tonight. Hope you like the pressies we sent back with Dad : )

So, what news? Well, yesterday I didn’t even leave my bed thus cranking up the boredom to a new level. The doctor may have been tall, dark and handsome but that didn’t seem to do much for his bedside manner when he literally ripped my cast and bandages off on Tuesday evening. Open cuts + bandages stuck to them + sadistic doctor = owwwwwww!!! Leg feels good to be ‘free’ but now going all sorts of colours and my ankle has yet to make an appearance (I have the cankle of all cankles). Can’t move my foot, apart from the toes, and can’t even begin to put weight on it yet - trying to get up causes excrutiating pain as all the blood rushes down to the swelling. Am not a very good patient! James, however, is being a very good nursemaid (he only dropped the rucksack on my foot once…) and is also having a bit of a mare trying to sort out all the paperwork generated by the crash.  And it’s raining.

Still, things could be worse! At least I’m getting the chance to do some reading and, of course, play Scrabble! Really enjoying everyone’s messages and emails, keep ‘em coming. Have just put some Istanbul pics on if you’re interested…

Istanbul

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

(Emily) My current immobility/boredom has given me the chance to write up the first bit of Turkey (photos to follow). Thanks everyone for the messages and emails : ) Love you bigtime!  

Crossing the border from Bulgaria seems like ages ago (it kind of is – we’ve been in Turkey for nearly two weeks now…) We were a little apprehensive on the approach as our detour to Burgas in Bulgaria meant that we came south to cross at fairly minor point rather than the main border at Erdine; we were worried that we might get turned back! It was our first more ‘serious’ border crossing, with officials directing you from one office cubicle to the next to the next, and we felt excited to be entering Turkey, something of a milestone destination for us. Comedy moment was when we’d got all our documents in order and were going through the final checkpoint. The guy took James’ passport and stamped it, then we tried to pass him mine and he goes “No, no, drivers only”. Er, hello!!! Despite the fact I was there sitting astride my own bike, it didn’t quite compute that a girl could be more than a mere passenger- a little insight for me there of what’s to come!

The highway road leading towards Istanbul was brand spanking new (they’re sprucing up the roads system as part of the campaign to join the EU) so although the thought of motorway for the whole day was not a fun one, at least it would be a relatively easy ride. And it was… until we reached the outskirts of Istanbul. Oh. My. God. For a start, the sheer size of the city was just overwhelming; the high rises and roads stretched for as far as the eye could see. And the traffic; bloody hell!!! I guess it didn’t help that we had arrived at rush hour, or that we then took the wrong exit road which added about an hour’s detour, but it was just crazy town! We were soon following local bikes down the hard shoulder as it was the only way to avoid the constant beeping, cutting up and general nut-bar behaviour. It also didn’t help that I needed the loo more than I ever had in more entire life and was in excruciating pain!!! When we finally spotted signs for ‘Sultanahmet’ where we were heading, we were in a bit of a daze. Luckily a friendly passer-by, a really nice guy called Furkan, gave us directions and eventually we made it into the relative calm of the cobbled streets of Sultanahmet, the main tourist district in Istanbul due to its proximity to all the major sights. Phew! We lived to see another day!

 

Istanbul is one cool city and, despite being tourist-tastic, we really like Sultanahmet. It seems very young and cosmopolitan, with lots of parks and a tram system that gets you about easily and cheaply. Our hostel boasts a fantastic location between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, both colossal in size and architectural wonders. It’s a chilled place to walk around, people watch and take in a little culture. Food’s not great (to James’ great disappointment as he had high hopes) but then I don’t think Istanbul, and in particular this area, is representative of the rest of the country in the culinary stakes… we hope not anyway, we’re here for a while! It’s also far more expensive than we had expected – especially petrol at nearly £1.70 per litre – so we’re trying to stick to our free breakfast at the hostel then a kebab from Kadir (street vendor, much better food than all the bars and  restaurants) in the evening. Oh, and all the beers of course – prerequisite to accompany the football!!

We’ve been really struck by how friendly and helpful people have been towards us. Inevitably there are the inexhaustible carpet sellers, market vendors and front of house restaurant staff who become your biggest fan for the two minutes you walk past their business then mutter insults as soon as you’ve passed (yeah, we may not speak the language but it’s not hard to interpret), but the people we’ve come to know better are nothing but genuine. The guys down at the bar, that we frequent all too often, have really looked out for us, especially since I had my accident. Little Haci (not to be confused with Big Haci) even invited us to his sister’s wedding last Friday! (Unfortunately it was the day we were visa hoop-jumping but that would have been cool). The nature of the way the Turkish bars are laid out, with cushions on the floor in a horseshoe and shared tables, means that you soon get chatting to the people next to you and so, as well as the guys working here, we met some lovely fellow travellers. On the first evening, we had a real laugh with Aric and Angi from Virginia, Washington (hello guys!) and were also kept amused by Zach and Andy, college students from the US, who got steadily drunker and drunker on their ‘beer tower’. Each evening brings a different set of people and it’s so interesting to find out who they are and what they’re about – ended up chatting to a retired couple, Tom and Penny, the other night who had just been to Exeter (where I went to uni) to discuss an architectural proposal for the new school for the deaf. When they were travelling around Europe in the 70s, they sketched everything instead of taking photos as the film was so expensive to buy and develop: I love that! For the last few evenings we have been watching the football  with Albert from the Netherlands. He and his friend Daniel have been riding round Eastern Europe on their XT and Aprilia and were due to leave Istanbul on Friday, but unfortunately one of the bikes (no guesses which – always the Italian) conked out. Despite them being mechanics, there was no fixing it so Daniel headed off while Albert waited for alternative transport. The drama of the overland biker’s life, eh?!!

 

Speaking of which, as we were parking up outside the hostel on our first day we got chatting to two Aussies, brothers Dean and Paul, who are riding to Magadan in far eastern Russia on a crazy route which took them up the length of Africa including the DRC (Deeply Risky Congo). It was really interesting chatting to them about their experiences in Africa (check it out on their blog; see links page) which seemed to go from the sublime to the ridiculous to the downright scary!! Both lovely guys, they’ve continued from Turkey on quite a similar route to us so were able to give us invaluable advice about visas (lucky for us, they had just been through the whole palaver in Istanbul so helped us find the correct locations for consulates and ensured we filled in the right forms) and are now a great source of info for the countries we heading too. And not only that but Dean gave us his whole i-Tunes collection – up ‘til then we had no music on our netbook – so thanks, Dean!!

One good thing about being in Istanbul for a prolonged period of time is that we’ve had two family visitors (so far…!) As luck would have it, BMI has just started a partnership with Turkish Airlines so Dad has spent a week training some Turkish pilots. He just so happened to start and finish his week in Istanbul so we’ve got to see him twice (the second time was the day after my accident so Daddy’s little girl was very pleased to get a big hug). Then we managed to persuade Dan, James’ little brother, to come over for a weekend break. He was dubious at first as he was leaving for the US on Tuesday to do Camp America but we’re very glad he blew caution to the wind and got his a*** over here – we had a wicked time showing him the sights (er, the bar) and although he had to spend the whole evening without us on Sat while we were at the hospital, he’d made enough friends by then to saunter down to watch the football on his own. Wish you could have stayed longer, Dan, and good luck in NYC! (Maybe you’ll finally start reading our blog now you’re actually in it…)

Not ideal.

Monday, June 21st, 2010

(Emily) Soooooo, our mild distaste toward Istanbul taxi drivers has now blossomed into full on antipathy – what they want to learn to do is LOOK before they pull out and do a u-turn on an otherwise empty road. Result: see below. Now our departure (meant to be today) has been put back at least ten days and I’m going to be getting pretty bored seeing as I can’t actually move unaided.

Early on Saturday evening, James and I were returning from Daytona Yamaha, very happy with our newly pristine bikes and the friendly service delivered by Bener, a lovely guy who works there who has bent over backwards to help us. We’d left Dan at the hostel, uttering the fateful words ‘See you in about an hour…’ It was not to be. Whilst on one of the few stretches of road that wasn’t jammed bumper to bumper with traffic, a taxi parked to my right decided to pull out into a u-turn with no indication or warning. Luckily, I was going slow (mototortoise, I should be called) and I had a few seconds to react and brake, but basically there was nothing I could do. He clipped my right side and I just couldn’t keep the bike upright. B*****ks!!!!

It was all a bit crazy after that. James stopped and ran back to me as soon as he saw what had happened in his mirror, plus the taxi driver and several passers-by. My right leg was not feeling too happy, but mostly I was worried about the bike and my shoe – ‘Get them out of the road, and me too while you’re at it!’ Once I’d been deposited on some steps by the side of the road, James tried in vain to get my bike to start and, with the help of a local, got it over to the pavement. The taxi driver meanwhile was offering to take me to the hospital – er, that would be a no! Ironically, although this had all happened outside a police station, there were no policemen to be seen for quite some time. I decided to text Bener from the bike shop to see if he could come down and help us with the bikes/do some much needed translating while we waited for the ambulance. He arrived shortly before the paramedics  – what a star – and assured us he would look after the bikes. The nurses were busy poking and  prodding me to establish what hurt and soon my leg was enveloped in a plastic sheath which was then inflated to keep it still (I thought that was pretty cool). Slight panic when they stretchered me onto the ambulance and I was worried I would have to leave without James, but with Bener’s help we established that we could file the police report at the hospital so James hopped into the front. I’d never been in an ambulance before, let alone in a foreign country with two nurses who couldn’t communicate with me, so that was a bit surreal.

I won’t bore you with the epic that was our experience at the hospital (James might later…) but on the plus side, I was seen very quickly and had multiple x-rays which established no break. On the downside, we then had a really drawn out process of paperwork (our documentation was all back at the hostel which really didn’t help smooth things along) involving long waits and dodgy bribes. It was gone 2 am before we finally got to bed and poor Dan had had to fend for himself for the evening (which he did admirably by eating kebabs, drinking beer and watching the football at our local!)

 The whole thing has been really rather tiresome and inconvenient. The hospital couldn’t even give crutches so I’ve become a complete invalid (James getting me showered while I sat on a plastic chair with my leg in a bag would have been comedy if it wasn’t so bloody awkward) and James is now having to continue the paper trail by going back and forth between police stations, doctors and the garage where my bike is currently impounded. However, things could have been a lot worse and the people here at the hostel and our ‘local’ have been so lovely; Sasha who owns the bar managed to get hold of a walking stick for me, though we have strong suspicions he liberated it from his gran! Even Dad was able to come by for a few hours before his flight back to Heathrow (he’d been training a Turkish Airline crew all week) and so I got even more spoilt (James has been doing a good job so far!) Then last night, James and Dan managed to take me round the corner by linking arms to form a makeshift swing seat so we could enjoy Dan’s last night with some beers and a shisha. So not all bad!

I guess now that I’m ‘convalescing’ I’ll be able to finally write up about Istanbul so far – it’s been really good fun and we’ve met some fantastic people – so watch this space. Please take pity on me and write me long and interesting emails (got no gossip? Make stuff up!) and I’m getting back involved with Scrabble on FB without a shadow of a doubt (that’s a silver lining right there!) Also, should you be at a loose end/needing to take some holiday time over the next week get yourself over here – James could do with the company and it’s a very cool place to visit. Do it!!