3.724 km ridden in Bulgaria, Turkey.
(9.180 km in total)
Bulgaria: the Queen on Laziness. Go just a tiny bit off the main turistic tracts and you will encounter land with seemingly no activity at all. Traffic close to none, villages with 2-3 people chilling in the shade (where is the rest?), even animals do not bother to chase this strange looking alien thing with red bags and slow moving wheels. Bulgaria happened to be my slow_motion_break. Everyday with compulsory sun- and sea baths during siesta time. Breakfasts on the beach, always new reasons to stop (when was it? 15 minutes ago? No kidding!) and the least amount of sleep during the whole journey. With last day effort I managed to hit average of 100 km per day, but usually it was way below that point. Exhaustion, you may say, but the next day (first one in Turkey) I did almost 180 km, so it definitely was the Queens charm.
One time I desperately needed all night electrical and internet connection, to prepare a short movie for my family, because they were having a party that weekend. I stopped at the Golden Sands resort, found an "abandoned" outdoor restaurant (on weekdays not all facilities operate) with working sockets. (good for me Bulgarians still have room for improvement in security and fire prevention, he, he) and spend the whole night in a plain sight of people wandering around. Nobody bothered to chase away a dirty backpacker crossing the warning tape and bustling around the closed bar for several hours. They were chilled and so was I, not creating problems where there were none.
Bulgaria from a cycling point of view: you don't need a bike lane, when you have all the road for yourself. Maybe one such luxury (bike lane) would help along the coast, but I'm not going to complain. Just chilling :) The overall impression was ruined a bit by last day incidents, but that requires separate story and is located (due to the specific place of action) outside of any country.
The Day of Incidents, The Strength Day. Last day in Bulgaria. In the morning I found accidental internet connection in Malko Tarnovo and booked my stay in Istanbul with half a day of reserve (it will be important later on). Checked the cost of visa (15 euros) and spend the rest of the funds on supplies and breakfast, leaving 20 euros in my pocket, just in case. Last 10 km from Malko Tarnovo to the Turkish border is all the way uphill (it will also be important later on). I passed the Bulgarian control, but problems started on a Turkish side, it turned out that my quick internet research was out of date. Visa costed 25 euros, not 15 euros and I had 20 on me.
Ok, no problems, I may not have money but still haven't lost me brains. I took out my card and went to cash out some more money. I'm from Poznań, so the vision of transaction fee larger than the cashed amount was a bit uncomfortable, but I really did not want to go back to Malko and loose more time.
But you see, there are no cash machines in a close proximity. I entered some post and exchange offices, cashiers were looking at the card like vampires on holy water so I tried duty-free shops. First I asked about cashing the money (popular service in Poland, you can use the cash desk in the shop like ATM machine with no shopping or along it), but no such option available there. So maybe fictional transaction, like I pay for the cigarettes with my card, but instead of cigarettes I get the money. No? So maybe I pay for this gentlemans alcohol and he will give me cash? They (cashiers and clients alike) already looked at me suspecting some kind of a scam.
All I got was an interesting advice to go back to the only bank in Malko Tarnovo (that was what I was hoping to avoid) or to the nearest Turkish town (brilliant one, except I cannot enter Turkey, that is why we are here in the first place). I tried every possibility except plain begging for money (it has been just 5 euros, but my character does not accept begging). So I decided to go back to Malko, I already lost some time, let me lose 2 hours more but get things done. Another surprise because I cannot go back. I remember the movie "Terminal" with Tom Hanks and I already saw me in this position. Luckily, after 15 minutes of additional paperwork I was cleared to go back to Bulgaria.
In Malko I found an ATM machine, inserted my card, finished the transaction, got my card back but... no money. Maybe I have to wait a bit? No. Let's try again. I'm already a bit insecure because I see two men sitting right next to the machine with no particular reason. I've heard about all kinds of scams, maybe the machine output is blocked and they will cash small amount along with my money as soon as I leave the place? I'm trying again, this time slowly, giving the processor time to finish every operation, pushing the buttons gently but firmly. Again the same result, the transaction is finished, no money out. I could go inside the bank, but it is on a first floor and leaving the site I can give the "suspects" time to perform their part.
Already a bit of a queue is being created after me, but I'm not letting anybody before the situation is cleared. I try to explain to the locals (in English and sign language) that machine is broken and that I need someone from the bank immediately. Nobody gives a shit or don't understand me, so I try to use online translator. The internet connection is so weak in this place, that my phone is loosing it every second, so I take out my laptop (with stronger receiver) and after a couple of tries manage to construct a simple sentence in Bulgarian. Locals still don't understand and try to move me, but I'm resisting. Imagine it. A strange guy on a bicycle, with all kinds of electronics devices occupying the cash terminal but not using it. And not letting anybody through.
Finally, they find a person with whom I can communicate and after 3 minutes problem is solved. The lady went upstairs to the bank, got a telephone number to the company servicing these machines, I called them and got the confirmation, that funds will be returned to my account. Now I'm going back to the border (on the map with the detailed route you can see, that last 10 km I did three times and last 2 km even five times, because I was turning back and trying new ideas in all the places along the way) and finally getting my visa. And what I see? There is 15 euros price tag printed on it. I ask the cashier what the heck, but she shows me illegible, like handmade, mark with new price. So raising the price by 10 euros and not even bother to print a new stamp? Turkish officials, you are lazy.
Why call it a Strength Day? Because I was working out my back in Malko before breakfast that day, I was going uphill and downhill with no visible reason like during cycling workout, I was testing the strength of my nerves in both places, so I think I'm allowed to call it a Strength Day. Luckily had half a day of reserve and got to Istanbul on time. Uff.
Istanbul, The King of (controlled?) Chaos. To think of it, such name doesn't even make sense, because how can you rule something that, by definition, is out of control? Yet, no better title comes to my mind. I decided to come here already knowing that "bigger the city, bigger the problem". But in the back of my mind I hoped for magical, almost mystical experience, for finding beauty of the moment inside the unceased human storm.
Now I can honestly say, that completely skipping Istanbul wouldn't be a bad idea at all. I couldn't go around this vast beast because it occupies all the space between two seas and I could feel the craziness of traffic, way before reaching its limits. But just a quick glimpse inside would be enough. During next hours and days I only confirmed my opinion.
I guess I might have approached it totally wrong. Visiting any of the popular places mentioned in the guidebooks left a bad taste in my mouth not only because of the crowds but also because of the way it affects locals. With so many, not so demanding, people every day. They don't have any stimulus to become better and better at what they do. That is why the food is average and the portions small. Thw meat is really good, but usually there is little meat and loads of bread or other simple carbs. Usually the same bread is more fresh and 5 times cheaper in bakery than in a restaurant, where you get it.
In Poznań, which I left 6 weeks ago, no matter the activity, there is always a competition. You develop a new service, immediately there will be a couple of companies like yours, trying to do the same better, faster and cheaper. That makes customers feel comfortable. In Poznań you can eat good food from all around the world (it is like little London to me) and often it tastes better than the original. Why? Because you don't have to be born in Mexico to prepare good Mexican food. You just have to be a good cook and care about your personal development and improve your skills all the time. The best Kebap I ate in Poznań is from a polish company made by polish staff. Competition and hard judgement always raise the bar. I was missing it in Istambul. Most of the places were just holding on to average.
Another thing that I don't like is dishonesty of the sellers. I went to the famous Spice Market to get some extraordinary, my another mistake. I showed what I wanted and how much, then it was vacuum sealed in a non transparent box and put on a scale. I paid (surprisingly lot), but when I unpacked the thing it all became clear. Along with what I wanted they packed me several sweets (small portions like leftovers) I didn't want. It wasn't a gift because I paid for it. Another time, the seller told me the price not knowing that I already checked it before. Seeing me going for the card, he quickly changed his mind, because it was surely just a mistake, right?
And all of this is my fault. Mine and people like me (other tourists), who too often uncritically accept the way things are.
Cycling in Istanbul is like a pure safari ride. Except you are no longer in a safe car, watching predators from the distance. You are surrounded by them, with your skull as a "crumple zone". There are road signs and police patrols, but nobody seems to care. Pedestrians are everywhere, not rushing anywhere. If you are a car horn manufacturer, you should test it in Istanbul. If it works there for a full warranty period, you can be sure it won't fail anywhere in Europe.
At first it was funny, but when you are honked at couple of hundreds of times during the day, often with no reason and more often right into your ears, man, it can get on your nerves. Turkish drivers are so impatient. When a cab tries to get involved into traffic there will be another driver who will stop and let it through, but five more drivers will immediately start honking. When a green lights appears and the first car in the line is not moving yet, honking will start after split of a second. When I was going on a really narrow lane, drivers were honking at me, although the saw I had no way to escape this situation, no way to stop and definitely no way to go faster. Sometimes I pleased myself with slowing down and getting to the middle of the lane when I heard some really intrusive unjustified honking, but overall it was... tiring. Yes, that is the best term. Cycling in Istanbul is not hard technically, not demanding physically, but very tiring for the mind.
I haven't yet mentioned that going from one end to another can be easily 60 km and with no map, you won't make it in one day. Main streets are flooded with traffic, Backroads are often turning around and lead to a dead end or 15% uphill.
Istanbul almost made me turn back and leave Turkey asap. I was so, so close, but decided to give it another try and it was a very good decision because even today Turkey arouses both love and hate inside me. I just needed to find the better part of it. Later, in Greece, a person who seems to know the world a bit, told me that Istanbul is not Turkey. If I agree with him, this will only better my opinion about this country, but let's start from the beginning.
Cappadocia is really the part of a different world. I would like to have a whole country like this, but instead had to satisfy my needs with a really small area around Nevsehir, Goreme and Uchisar. One, two days of cycling and gazing at nature wonders. On the internet, you can find information about bigger area (going south to Nigde), but for me it was closer to the rest of Turkey than to Cappadocia mentioned above. Because of the bad weather I missed the balloon festival but for the same reason I enjoyed the region with less tourists, so it was balanced well.
Road to Konya, completely flat, made it possible to set the new distance record for this trip: 227 km in one day (and with no tail wind)! The city itself was very compact (although over 1,3 million of population) and became the cherry on the pie with beautiful panoramic view sleep.
Southern coast. What can I say? The Mediterranean has no rivals when it comes to dream vacation landscape. The road from Finike to Demre is just perfect and finishes with 9 km 8% climb. A couple of hours later you can be rewarded with 10 km 6% downhill to the city of Kas. A day that has everything.
To sum up. I will never forget good food: the best bread on the trip (so far), milk that smells like milk (our European milk is "distilled" or "antiseptic" I would say), perfectly balanced sweets, Ayran, Joghurt and meat (Kokorec OMG!). The price is like the last, secret ingredient. After a while I got used to it, but when I entered Greece every food was twice as expensive. Sweets even three times. For a person that likes strong tastes it is a "must visit" country. I will also remember drivers (all of them, car-, bus-, truck drivers) who are (how to say it?) two generations behind. Their lack of respect for human life is terrifying, I have no idea of fixing this, maybe only one simple exercise. To the majority of drivers in Turkey: instead of using the car horn try to use your brain. Start with once a day. Later, when it becomes easier, increase the thinking time and reduce honking time. Repeat every day until success.