We spent a full 12 days in Istanbul, our longest break by far on our trip to date. We had quite a few visitors: First, Janna and Marco came out from London, then Freddie’s dad popped over for a short visit from Germany, and finally Gerry came over from London as well to spend a few days with us. It was really fantastic to catch up with friends and family again, it gave us a real mental break. We also enjoyed our last few days with Di before she went home to the UK, having finished her London – Istanbul cycle trip.||
Most of our time in Istanbul was spent doing sightseeing, enjoying cups of tea and rice pudding on rooftop bars, and taking joyrides on the local ferries. We visited the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and explored the modern side of Istanbul around Taksim Square. We also enjoyed shopping in the area around the Grand Bazaar. There are shops and even whole streets specialising in very particular items. It sometimes takes a little longer to find everything, but it is so colourful and such a buzz just to browse around.
In the beginning, we found it quite difficult to adjust to being “just a tourist”. Without our bikes, we also lost part of our identity. Suddenly the warm hospitality we were so used to dried up, we were being hassled by touts and charged exorbitant amounts for basic commodities such as fruit. Every time we arrived at or left our hotel, there was a cluster of touts trying to convince us to visit their restaurants. Unfortunately the prices in these restaurants were double than the prices just down the road, and in fact they were often more expensive than what we would have paid for similar food or drinks London. A tiny Turkish coffee for €3.50? A plate of mezze for €11? These prices were beyond our budget. We aim to survive on €35 per day for the two of us together. It’s a fairly generous budget for a cycle tour, but Istanbul really pushed us to the limits, with our accommodation alone eating up €50 per day. We think we would have enjoyed the city more if we had a larger budget, but as it was, we became good at hunting out the cheaper eateries and €1 kebabs!
The Turks enjoy a good picnic, and we noticed that many Istanbullus congregated in the park near the Hippodrome, between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, to break their fast in the evening. One night, we also got picnic supplies and sat with the locals, waiting for the sun to dip below the horizon and the Imam of the Blue Mosque to announce the end of the day’s fast. Other families around us gave us stuffed vine leaves and shared their cake with us, while a little boy kept trying to throw an apple which somehow landed on Guy’s head time and time again, much to the amusement of the fellow picnickers. We also had a lovely picnic with Gerry on Princes Island in the Sea of Marmara, where we took our bikes for a ride in the pine forests and discovered the perfect picnic spot, complete with hammock and seaviews.
While in Istanbul, we also spent some time getting the bikes ready for the next part of our adventure. After around 10,000km of use, our brake pads finally needed to be replaced (we use Swissstop Blue brake pads with our ceramic coated rims), and Freddie’s dad also hand delivered some brand new Schwalbe Marathon XR tyres to us, to replace our thinner Continental Panaracer Pasela Tourguard tyres that we had used in Europe. The new tyres are wider and have more grip, and in hindsight it would have served us well to use them from Bratislava already, as the roads in Eastern Europe were sometimes quite bad.
Most of our kit is holding up really well, but we had a couple of items that needed to be replaced: Our First Need XL water filter cartridge broke after only using it twice, luckily the company sent us a free replacement – hopefully this one will last longer. One of Guy’s Icebreaker T-Shirts developed small holes in it and eventually ripped, as the fabric was somehow faulty, and we got a free replacement for this as well.
Big thanks to Janna and Marco who had kindly allowed us to get bits and bobs sent to their address in London and lugged it all to Istanbul. This also included an Australian and a German flag to decorate our bicycles, which were sponsored by Helmut in Germany, who we had met on the Danube route in Austria, along with Rolf, Christa and Eveline.
By the end of our stay in Istanbul we were raring to get back on the bikes and out of the city, ready to explore more of the real, unspoilt Turkey that you can only find in the villages and countryside.