Central Anatolia – Veni, Vidi, Vici
Beypazari – Göreme
Any town light on museums but heavy on gastronomic delights is always a star find for us as it means guilt free culinary feasting without the pressure of having to visit many museums. This is what was presented to us in Beypazari. Yes, the Ottoman style homes are kind of nice (how excited can you get over a timber home, especially considering Guy’s new found allergy to the treated timber ceilings) but once you’ve seen one, you pretty much get the gist of it. We discovered the most enjoyable soup to pass our lips for some time, Anatolian Soup, which contained stuffed vine leaves with chilli, blended then combined with a lentil soup stock.||
By far the best part of the town was the old streets crammed with all sorts of stores from blacksmiths to tea merchants all working their traditional trade. It was great to see a town preserving some of the Turkish traditions and supporting it through sustainable tourism. Most of the shop owners seemed proud of what they were doing. We were the only foreign tourists, most others were domestic tourists from Ankara.
On the Anatolian Plateau, the accommodation options are few and far between. However, with frequent access to fresh water and remote terrain, wild camping has been a great option. One of our favourite wild camps of the trip to date was on a ridge pitched on a remote stretch between villages. The surrounding scenery was very vast and empty, and at night we woke to a flurry of owls circling above us.
The following night we again camped high on the ridge, but this time we realised the downside of ridge camping – wind. Initially it was acceptable, a mere windy night, but then it really picked up, the wind changed direction which meant the thunderstorm brewing on the distant hills was now coming our way. We spent the remainder of the night counting seconds between lightning flashes and claps of thunder, waiting for the moment to pack up camp and head down to the relatively safety of the valley below. Things calmed in the early hours of the morning and Boris stood strong throughout.
As we headed further into Central Anatolia we found ourselves hovering around 700m altitude, well entrenched on the Anatolian plain giving us a respite from the hill climbing for a few days. Central Anatolia is home to Ankara, the second largest city in Turkey, as well as copious amounts of historical events. Here, King Midas turned everything he touched into gold and Caesar uttered the his famous victorious chant, “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered).
On the road to Polatli we had just stopped outside of a small town when we heard joyous singing and the clutter of hoarse hooves coming around the bend. A man in traditional Turkish clothing on a horse and cart appeared. Dangling from the roof of the cart, there were all sorts of odds and ends from fly squats to pots and pans. Seeing us, he swiftly pulled over to the side of the road and presented us with a bag of cookies. Guy attempted to give him some money for the goods, however this kicked off a rather excited sermon which was delivered with endless enthusiasm and a truly religious gaze (one eye permanently fixed on the heavens). We could only make out the words “Muhammed” and “Allah”. The sermon finished with a kissing embrace and another point to the heavens before he clamoured back on his hoarse and picked up his singing from where he left off.
The following day we had a long stretch along a dried-out salt lake. Conjuring up all sorts of romantic notions of white, open salt lakes like the ones in Bolivia we were truly excited about the prospect of the great Tuz Gölu salt lake. Unfortunately we found 100km of low lying scrub land, desolate dusty towns that make you feel utterly depressed and most importantly not a sniff of salt, annoying as our salt canister has been empty for days. With no wild camping options presenting themselves we pulled into the local mosque to enquire about hotel options. To our dismay our day had just turned into a 120km day as we were informed that the next viable option was 30km away.
To keep our mind active and stop falling asleep and ending up head first in a ditch we played games like I Spy, which soon ended after “road”, “sky”, “shrub”. Guy’s game of “see-how-long-you-can-cycle-with-your-eyes-closed” was quickly dismissed as a tad foolish.
Finally arriving in Eskil after a last push in a ferocious head wind we staggered into town. Desperate for accommodation, we stopped at a busy market to quiz the locals about an Otel. (Intitally we thought there was a serial “H” thief operating in Turkey until we discovered that’s the way they spell it). Our questions sparked quite an animated discussion amongst the group. There seemed to be division in the group. Never a good sign. One man came forth and suggested the next town, a mere 30km away. Ahh no thanks. Finally seeing that we were pretty desperate a chap presented a piece of paper with a scrawl of a supposed hotel name and mumbled a vague direction. Gratefully we accepted it and went in search of this much debated establishment. A few directions later we ended up at a rather inconspicuous looking building, more detainee camp in style than hotel. Nonetheless Guy trudged up the dank stairwell, through empty corridor after empty corridor to then suddenly be confronted by a hive of activity, like the nerve cell of a war cabinet. Before he could say “Otel” a military man appeared to escort Guy to a man who rented out rooms to government officials on the next floor up. A room was granted and we soon made ourselves at home, much to the amusement of the workers.
The following day we cycled to Aksaray via the caravanserei of Sultanhani and enjoyed the buzz within the town as everyone prepared for the Seker Bayrami festival marking the end of Ramadan. We have been looking forward to end of Ramadan as it means no more early morning wake up calls and we can finally eat with locals during the day without feeling guilty.
The 3 days festival that starts at the end of Ramadan meant there were a lot of people on the roads. Within one day the courteous well mannered Turks had turned into ranting lunatics. We had cars overtaking us on the wrong side, people yelling and throwing sweets at us (it’s the sweet festival – normally we wouldn’t mind this but these were the hard boiled variety and really hurt!).
We put it down to the exhilaration of the end of Ramadan, the prospect of several days off and a student town with young drivers on the road. Luckily it was a short day’s ride to the Ilhara valley where we were planning to spend a few days. Great timing as we could give the roads some time to calm.
En route to the Ilhara Valley we stopped off at a fuel station for a quick snack. Within a few seconds the only attendee arrived and motioned us into the “lounge” for some chai. Whilst he went through the art of making chai we settled on his sofa and gazed out to the heat of the day. Once we had exhausted our Turkish-English vocabulary, sampled his delicious sesame Turkish delight (which we loved so much we had to help ourselves when he dashed out to fuel a car, sorry Mr Fuel Station man) drank the chai kettle dry and we jumped back on the bikes.
An interesting part of cycle touring is the focus of the travel is the actual travel and not so much the destination. It’s unlike any travelling we have done in the past. As a result we spend a large part of our day interacting with the “road people”, those who etch a living out of life on the road. Road workers, truck drivers and petrol station attendees have all become firm acquaintances and feel almost like family to us now. The bond seems ever stronger the more remote the terrain. One time a big truck even stopped in front of us just so that the driver could hand us a gift of a pear.
We spent a few nights in the Ilhara Valley, famous for the Byzantine monks who obviously had too much time on their hands as they have spent much of their time carving churches into the towering cliffs above the valley, some with frescoes and rather elegant facades.
There are some informal campsites attached to the restaurants in the canyon, and we made ourselves at home, being the only campers. In the evenings, we lit an open fire for the first time on this trip (!), watched the stars and listened to some truly awesome live music from a celebration in the village above, the sounds reverberating through the canyon.
When we finally dragged ourselves away, we pushed on to Cappadocia where we will spend about a week exploring the fairy chimneys and underground cities. A day after arriving at our campsite in Göreme, Justin and Emma from Rolling Tales pulled in too. We had met them briefly back in London before they cycled here through Southern Europe, and are really enjoying catching up on stories and exploring Cappadocia together.