Tom and Jodie posted a photo:
View our route plan in more detail here
Welcome to the country profile page.
Currently only work in progress, but we will provide you with a definitive breakdown of information on each country as, and when, we complete the crossing.
Hopefully this will help you plan your next bicycle adventures
Turkey Country Profile
A country of unrivalled hospitality, hoots, curiosity, ‘çay’’ and of course doner kebabs! To be honest neither of us were quite sure what to expect from Turkey, and I think we have both been positively overwhelmed by the country and its people. We have tried to think of a few points which may be helpful to anyone cycle touring in Turkey, random titbits of information and some pretty pictures to put it into context. If there is anything we haven’t mentioned, do feel free to e-mail and ask!
Hospitality is something the Turks take very seriously! It is truly the most generous and heart warming experience, from the men at the petrol stations offering us çay and food during our regular pit stops to the families who have ushered us through their doors for showers, food and a bed for the night. And most of the time that cannot speak a word of English so they don’t even know our story (don’t be surprised if they keep talking at you in Turkish as if expecting you to miraculously have learnt it by being with them for 5 minutes!). It seems that they have just been brought up to offer whatever they can. We have been lucky enough to have some amazing experiences which have often saved us from either a very uncomfortable and sleepless night but also given us an insight into Turkish culture which we would not have had otherwise. Don’t be shy to accept their kindness, just use your common sense and go with the flow. We have been treated to a personal tour of a mosque at 11pm, traditional bread making, Turkish dancing and music, some of the best food we have had in Turkey and sometimes most welcome of all, a hot shower.
I won’t attempt to give lots of information on Istanbul, it is so massive but what I will say is that it is a good idea to know the districts of Istanbul and which one you are heading to before cycling in! We had no idea where we were going to meet with our rugby contact and had naively assumed that we could just head to the centre and work it out from there by finding some unsecured or public WIFI. Really not a good idea! There is no one ‘Sehir Merkezi’ as every district has its own centre. It is quite an ordeal cycling into Istanbul, though to be honest not quite as bad as we thought it was going to be. The traffic was quite well behaved considering, you just have to be determined and keep pedalling. We followed the D-100 which goes all the way into Istanbul but came off at Bakirkoy to hit the coastal road and ‘bike path’ all the way round, past Blue Mosque area, over the bridge etc and would recommend this even if the bike path is a bit ropey at some points!
Just a couple of thoughts on Istanbul:
Taksim – modern, crowded, a bit of a touristy/ Oxford St feel to it but loads of bars/ pubs, 24/7 if you fancy a bit of nightlife!
Blue Mosque – Beautiful but full of tourists and smells like cheesy feet. There is a smaller one near the ferry port in Besiktas which is just as beautiful.
Food – Must try the mussels filled with rice, gigantic jacket potatoes and fish. Oh and the chicken desert of course...
Bring... lots of money, Istanbul is expensive and we did it on a budget! And if you plan on sightseeing, probably easier not to cycle around the city during your stay, it is easier to use the Metro or buses. If you don’t know where you are going, don’t worry, there will always be someone to help you out. Be careful though, the Metro doesn’t run late (stops around 11pm).
Onwards to Ankara – 5 days cycling
(Yalova – Karamursel – Iznik – Bilicek – Inhisar – Nallihan- Beypazari – Ayas – Ankara)
Although we were proud to have battled our way into Istanbul, we were not too proud to take some advice that the road out was just as bad, ugly and industrial and that we would be much wiser to take a ferry to avoid a day of cycling for the sake of cycling. As we had to go to Ankara, we decided to catch a ferry to Yalova and go through the hills via Nallihan to get our first taste of some of the scenic wonders Turkey had to offer. This route is definitely one I would recommend, as although it is quite tough with some endless hairpins and some gruelling gradients, the views along the way are worth every drop of sweat.
There are rocky outcrops reminiscent of the Torres del Paine (Patagonia), huge lakes, acres of fruit and vegetable plots, vast mountains painted in reds and greens and an endless blue sky. Make sure you fill up your water bottles at the water stops whenever you can, the water is fresh and clean, and whilst they are fairly frequent, there are some stretches where they seem to disappear so we always travelled with at least 8 litres to keep dehydration at bay. (They make a good place to wash and clean up too!) There is little shade on these roads. But the generosity of the locals will continue and we were often given fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines etc to help bolster our pasta and tuna diet!
We had to go to Ankara in order to collect our Iranian visa. It wasn’t a place we particularly relished having to visit, thinking it may just be a boring capital in comparison to the thriving city of Istanbul. As it happens, we were pleasantly surprised, the cycle in was one of the easiest city entries we have had throughout the trip and we found the pace of life and space rather a relief. It was just what we needed to recuperate after a few days slogging up and down hills! Most of the hotels, especially budget ones, can be found in Ulus. If you head for that part of town you can’t really go wrong. Don’t forget to haggle! The Iranian visa process could not have been simpler thanks to the Iranian agency, www.letsgoiran.com. We contacted them from London before we left, sent them all the details they required, told them what date we would need it for and they made all the preparations for us. All we had to do was go to the Iranian embassy (Tehran Cd) with passports, 2 x photos (with headscarf for Jodie), complete the visa application forms and visit the local bank (they tell you which one to go to as the same back deals with these applications on a regular basis and know exactly what to do), pay your fee into the bank account they have given you and take the receipt back to the embassy. It closes at noon so best to get there early rather than running around like headless chickens (which of course is what we ended up doing!). The man in the embassy was really friendly and helpful, and 3 days later we had our visas in hand. Job done! We didn’t do any tourist attractions in Ankara, but simply used it to rest, wander around aimlessly and enjoy our air conditioned room – a rare luxury!
The road to Samsun (3.5 - 4 days cycling)
(Ankara – NE to Akyurt – Çankiri – Ilgaz – E to Osmancik – Merzifon – Havza – Samsun)
We knew before we left that the road to Samsun was going to be a hilly one. Cutting across the middle of the country to reach the coast, we would be cycling over some of Turkey’s numerous high passes, but we figured it was a small price to pay given the relative flat of the coastal route thereafter. The landscape again dramatically changed as we covered ground and although hilly, the road is in relatively good condition for the most part. There are however some really poor road surfaces, and there seems to be a huge amount of road works to lay the new road happening to it was not unusual to be choked on the smell of tarmac and diverted onto small, gravel roads.
Again though I would really recommend cycling through these hills as you do get treated to some beautiful landscapes and there are many towns of interest if you have time to stop and enjoy (we were told that Havsa has some of the best thermal springs!), though this does come with the downside that the road is quite a touristy one and so many petrol station stops are just geared up for rich Turkish tourists driving through.
Samsun to Georgia
(Just keep the sea to your left!) An easy route which follows the coastal road all the way to the Hopa/ Sarp border crossing with Georgia. This is essentially flat cycling along good roads, with the odd bit of beach although not that much happening to be honest. The views of the hills on your right are often stunning, tea plantations a thousand shades of green cling to the hills, and excursions into the country would make this much more interesting (there are natural springs, rafting, trekking, monasteries etc to see rather than just sticking to the coast. Unless you have time to explore, many of the coastal towns appear fairly bland. On the plus side, you won’t get any of the gobby tourists to be found on the south coast of Turkey!
General basic information
Wild Camping – This is pretty simple in Turkey as most of the time they really do not care where you set up camp or chose to simply fall asleep. We have slept at petrol stations (benefits include 24 hour attendance/ security, toilets and sink for washing, food if necessary, petrol for stove if you run out and once we were even lucky enough to creep inside an unlocked newly built but not quite finished restaurant for the night!), public parks (without tent although not out of the question and have the benefit of water fountains and often perfectly mown grass), water stops, beaches and just general flat spots off the road side.
Water – Water fountains are frequent and safe to drink from in Turkey. A god send for thirsty cyclists. Although we always gave the water the sniff and sight test – just in case! Some taps have frogs and tadpoles living in the overflow trench which always makes you a little dubious! In the cities we were told not to drink the tap water in homes but we still used public water fountains wherever we could find them.
Food – Food is very good and cheap in Turkey (outside of the main touristy places and cities that is). One of our favourite eats is Pide, a type of pizza with loads of different toppings and is really quite delicious. Kebabs of course are a must and somehow don’t have the same greasy and ickyness of the ones you get back home – people here do not eat this at 1am after a session in the pub! Bread (eckmek) is always freshly baked, cheap and delicious. Fruit and veg is gorgeous and cheap. The list goes on really, you will just have to try it out!
Terrain/ Roads – Hilly! The road quality is generally excellent although there are some quite poor stretches but this is usually where they are laying a new road and working adjacent to the old road. Many D roads have really massive hard shoulders which are perfect for cyclists, and often meant we could cycle together which made a nice change! Even the small roads off to Nallihan were good quality – luckily we ignored warnings that they would be dirt roads and ‘no good road’!
People – You will be beeped at, shouted at, waved at, stared at, crowded around.... but all in a friendly and inquisitive way. It seems nearly everyone in Turkey wants to know who you are and where you are from! Useful if you can pick up some Turkish or have a phrase book as it will make the pursuant conversation much less one way!
Cycling - There are hardly any bicycle tourers in Turkey, in our whole time, we actually only stopped and talked to three, one of whom was Irish who we met on his second day out of Istanbul, and the other two were Turkish. We met these two half way up a hill on the way to Samsun and ended up being invited to have lunch with them. Both were from Istanbul on holiday, but one was an active member of a small organisation promoting cycling in Turkey. E-mail details below, I am sure he would be happy to offer any advice to someone looking to tour in Turkey, firstname.lastname@example.org This also means that there is a lack of fully equipped bike shops (probably not the case in larger cities but we weren’t looking then!) although we did manage to find small bike shops with a little patience. It is mostly children on bikes in Turkey, mountain bikes – usually two sizes too big or too small, and quite often with flat tyres! We could have done a booming trade hiring out our pump but I don’t think they really care!
View our route plan in more detail here