Tuesday, August 01, 2006
To finish up...
I just noticed that we never posted our final trip maps. Here they are: first, our route from Elkhovo to Istanbul, and second, a birds-eye view of the entire trip.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
7 days in Istanbul are easy to spend. The conference that brought us here is done and gone; I think I can safely say on behalf of Serhat and Mike that the conference was very well done.
On the tourist side, we've visited the Hagia Sofia
(originally a church built in 500 A.D., it was turned into a mosque in the 1400's), the Blue Mosque
, Topkapi Palace
(the Sultan's residence), the Asian side of Istanbul, and the Basilica Cistern
(an underground water resevoir built in 500 A.D.). We've also spent a good amount of time in the bazaars, which do not have even a close equivalent in North America.
I've also had the pleasure of being able to meet with my cousins, the Markins. It just so happened that we could overlap our trips of Europe here in Istanbul. Last Monday, they dropped by our hotel and we went out for dinner. They filled us in on their trip to the motherland (Russia), and their attempt at searching Yasnaya Polyana for some relatives.
In two days time, we return home. We've had some luck in finding bike boxes in an area with multiple cycling stores near the Sultanahmet train station.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
We have arrived in Istanbul....
...and a day early at that! After leaving Kirklarelli, we stayed in Saray and then Subashi, a small town where we not only found a resort, but 4 other cycle tourists. We then intended to stay in Sariyer. On the way, we hit a 20 km stretch of clay road and (coincidentally) it was the first cycling day with rain. Needless to say, you could hardly see us or our bikes through the mud. When we got to Sariyer, there was only one five star hotel; a little too fancy for our tastes ;) So, on to Istanbul we went! The cycling was all along the Bosphorous Strait; very beautiful, but very busy. We first checked the Taxsim district for a hotel. After realizing the it was too similar to our experience in Sariyer, we headed to Sultanahmet, where we found a more suitable hotel (i.e. one that would let us in with our muddy bikes and selves). Thus, the cycling portion of our trip (and our time as celebrity cyclists) is complete, after approximately 2000 km, and we are now just regular tourists.
Today we checked into the Ararat hotel, where we will be until the end our trip. We have a view of the Blue Mosque, the Haiga Sofia and the Marmara Sea.
Off to explore...
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
All the friendly people
We took a day off in Edirne, and after posting the pictures we went to the Turkish baths. Men and women go separately. We changed in the entrance with the woman guarding the door to the street. Then we were given a bowl, a measuring cup, a bar of soap and two holey towels. The "baths" were actually a series of sinks around a room. We burst out laughing when we realized the kitchen implements were meant for us to use to dump water on ourselves. The guys had a similar experience, but with more amenities. They got 3 plush towels each, slippers, an attendant and changing rooms with a locking door! Aimee and I have noticed some other instances of sexism. For example, there are some cafes where women are not welcome and Aimee is our Turkish language expert, but some people would rather deal with Mike or Brad.
However, Turkey has won the friendilest people contest! After leaving Edirne we cycled to Kirklareli. During a water break, a farmer pulled up, offered us some wine and showed us his nifty cigarette rolling device. At a cafe in Kirklareli, some men gave us a bunch of cherries and green plums to snack on. Then we met Cham on the street, who was involved in the Orient Express bike tours
, and he gave us advice on approaching Istanbul by bike.
Today we cycled to Saray. Some police came by during an early water break, and when they chatted us up in Turkish, we just smiled. Then after lunch, we were stopped by a modern castle like building for a photo op when a baker from the town we had lunched in pulled up to give us a loaf of bread! After which, we went back to pose for the pic, and some police drove past. Seeing us, they then reversed back to where we were and got out of the car. We were certain that we were in trouble, but instead they just wanted to let us know that what we were looking at was not the historic castle, but it had only been built in 1999. After they left, we finally got our picture.
Istanbul in three more days!
Monday, June 05, 2006
Maps? Good for absolutely nothing.
Departing Burgas, the plan was to hit Svelingrad (the Bulgarian border city to Greece) in two days of cycling, and on the third day, pop into Greece for 30km before enteriıng Turkey. Oddly, signs started pointing east for cities that were supposed to be west. As it (un?)fortunately turned out, the highway we were planning on taking (indicated on all of our map resources) had been totally relocated and rerouted to a brand new border crossing at Lesovo; SO new in fact, that there was no Duty Free for Brad to pick up the Bulgarian brandies he had been patiently holding out for. So, we unintentionally bypassed Greece, and entered Turkey a day early.
At any rate, we saved about a day of cycling and spent last night (and today) in Edirne, Turkey. The last two days have been against strong southern winds and we are only about 300 km from İstanbul now; Edirne is the last major town untill then. Hence, today is (again) a well deserved break. Plus, the tomato soup concentrate that we (accidentally) bought for a lunch spread was a weak substitute for the gourmet ajvars we have grown used to.
Edirne is a stark contrast to the trip thus far. Bazaars and mosques are plentiful, and the shop owners are eager to fish the tourists into their shops. Almost every store could be classified as a donaır house, a butchershop, a sweet shop, or a tea house. Oh yeah, the Turkish coffee is WAY better here than in Serbia (I do not know why I am surprised).
Note to Serhat: Although the Turkish city drivers definitely take more than their *fair* share of the road, the rural and highway motorists have been the friendliest we have encountered yet.
Lastly, note that we *finally* found an Internet cafe that was fast and had hard drıve, FTP and USB access; so, images were added retroactively to the previous posts.
-MichaelCycling through the hilly meadows of South Bulgaria.The main mosque in Edirne.The roof of the entrance to the mosque.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Our day of cycling down the Bulgarian Black Sea coast was full of events. First, we peaked in the morning at a height of 450m, after a winding and forested ascent. On the way down, we were treated to a breathtaking view of the Nesebar peninsula. We dropped into Nesebar for lunch, since it is a well-known UNESCO world heritage site, and were floored by the sheer number of tourists. We managed to get into the heritage area later on, and saw the preserved buildings which were primarily two storey structures, consisting of a brick bottom floor and a wooden top floor.
We took today off in a small community South of Burgas called Kraimorie. Tomorrow we start the last leg, South towards the Greek border and then East to Istanbul.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Cool and Salty....
After our day off, we headed east. Following the advice of the Tourist Information bureau in Rousse, we spent last night in cabins at Madara. On the way, we stopped off at a cafe, where we ran into a slight cultural difference....saying yes and no with your head. Here in Bulgaria, a nod up and down (our yes) is their no; similarly, a side to side head movement (our no) means yes. Once we got these motions figured out, we were good to order. You would be surprised how difficult it is not to nod your head for yes :) Once in Madara, we saw beautiful cliffs, upon which there is the carving "Madarski Konnik" (the Madara Horseman) and the remains of a fortress on top (~400m high); a UNESCO world heritage site. Today, many uphills later, we have reached the Black Sea! A beautiful aqua at the shore, becoming black as the water deepens. Naturally, we took some time to relax on the beach :)
AimeeThe Black Sea, in Byala.The Madara cliffs.