I think the last time I mailed you was from northern Romania, just after passing the Carpathian Mountains. From there, I continued straight south towards Istanbul. A flat Romania; a somewhat hilly Bulgaria; a mountainous and hot Turkey. The Black Sea coast of Bulgaria was as expected more or less destroyed by tourism between the two major cities Varna and Burgas – I’ve rarely seen such heaps of garbage lining the road, out of which high risen, tennis-pitch-sized billboards rose with advertisements for the latest resort town or some imported vodka. In northern Turkey - the region to which I now intend to travel – the coast is on the contrary said to be quite untouched. I hope that’s true.
Already when passing the Turkish border, the police introduced me to the hospitality that awaited me. A young policeman – probably bored at the surprisingly quiet border post – greets me with a quick lesson in Turkish: ‘Hello is Merhaba; Goodbye is Güle güle. Güle güle!’ And after having camped my first night with the police in Babaeski, I could ascertain myself that looking for a place to camp in Turkey wouldn’t be as hard as in Europe. Even though I never had to wild camp, every evening was a struggle against the time and my energy in finding a safe enough place for the night. Poland was possibly the only country in which I could relax completely – the strangers that I asked for a place to camp more often than not welcomed me with open arms.
Istanbul – twenty million people spread out on an area as large as 100 kilometers from west to east - is not the ultimate place for biking. But staying with friend Burak, we could discover the city by foot together. From the somewhat posh suburb Yesilkoy, the train took half an hour or sometimes double that to reach the centre, and maybe the transports is what I will remember the most from this grand city. Once inside the centre, the distances are once again vast – at least by foot in the 35 degree August heat. And tourist-packed as the cities main attractions where, both I and Burak found the transports and the many characteristic suburbs being the most interesting parts of our tours. To see Istanbul through a citizen’s perspective and to see the mix of people, cultures and religions. More beautiful than the famous Blue Mosque where the old wooden houses – randomly situated in-between the mass of newer concrete houses.
After a second day’s rest in the parks of Izmit – 140 densely urbanized and industrialized kilometers east of Istanbul – I’ll continue northeast tomorrow towards the Black Sea coast. I hope to find a more green, less populated Turkey with space enough for peaceful lunches shadowed by trees and quiet nights camping. From the coast, my road will lead south again through Ankara to Syria.