It's not about money. It's about humanity. The culture of hospitality which started in Albania is still continuing further on in Greece and Turkey. After how many times will I finally understand, that the world is turning like this?
Maybe some of you are wondering why I'm staying only one day everywhere. There are several reasons: the first thing is that, to go to Iran I must pass through Erzurum, a city which is located at around 2100 m over the sea level. And I know that it will be damn cold in winter. The second thing is, I'm suspecting a war between Israel and Iran or whatever combination, but probably not before the US presidential election, which is to be held on November 6th, and probably not just days after that. Anyway, I cannot wait for the end of winter. So, after all this it will be more or less calm, hopefully.
So so so, September is over and of course the journey is not over, or rather, it just started. And in order to maybe celebrate a little the very first day of october I had a very nice news from an inevitable reality: I've got one hour less than before. I mean, anyway I'm living with the sun so it does not really matter if the official time is one hour less or more, but the thing is since I'm going to east, I get less and less time. But how much less? Nice mathematical exercise to do during the cycling.
So the very first day of october, from the tiredness of the previous day, I could not get up very early. This is something to regret everyday. And since it happens literally everyday, I think it will never change during the trip.
And just before the breakfast, Helen who studies in Kozani and was moving back to Corlu to her parents' place, invited me for a coffee. As every time the same, I could only promise her to come back here again and then we'll see each other.
Fortunately, the way at the Aegean sea is pretty flat, in contrast to any place in Greece. And the thing is you can use the credit card pretty much everywhere and supermarkets are bigger and more expensive. And here again, the same conversation as in Ukraine:
Sam "Excuse me sir, do you speak English?"
Man "No, thank you"
Well, anyway, thank you too.
In Albania, the people spoke at least Italian but in this country even this strategy does not seem to work since the coolest country is not Italy anymore. And of course certainly not Germany. I'm so happy that I'm Japanese anyway.
One good thing in Greece is that the internet works pretty well again. I don't need to go to a precious greedy hotel every time where I order just a salad and a cup of coffee anymore. And accordingly it became much easier to find a couch host. And here's the first host, Orestes. Actually he was a friend of Tom and he contacted him directly via phone. Orestes is by the way the guy in the middle.
So, what happens first? Orestes works as a waiter in a small local restaurant, maybe he was the owner. I don't know exactly but anyway all the waiters, maybe 3? were gathering in the restaurant with some friends. As you might have guessed I dried much hard in Albania, and at Tom's place we did not drink at all. So, starting off with a bottle of beer, we went over to raki and ouzo or whatever... By the way, I was sooooo tired at this moment and at the end, I was just about to propose Orestes to stay there where we were. In the middle of the night, maybe 3 a.m. or so, we finally decided to go back home and, staggering, we climbed up the typical hill behind the city of Thessaloniki which can be seen everywhere in Greece.
I was planning to stay there only one night but due to the exhaust, I decided to stay there one day more. After all, it was in Croatia that I took a break last time, so, it's rather a wonder that I did not need it since then.
So, welcome to Thessaloniki, the capital of the Byzantine empire. There were a lot of debris from the roman time. At the place of Orestes there was no internet so I went to the city to check the route. And I stayed there almost the whole day. One big problem in Greece is that, you pay around 3€50 in a café for a cup of coffee. I think Greeks and Swiss can understand each other pretty well, though Greeks do not earn really a lot apparently...
Due to geographical reasons, Greece cannot offer a lot of flat space, or maybe they did not want it or I don't know why but Thessaloniki is one of the places where roller skating and sky diving share the same meaning. And this ancient city does not have a well-thought-out road map and if you try to direct yourself according to the compass, you will be lost at every dead end.
After roaming the streets around three hours, I could finally arrive at Orestes' place. With his friends and another couch surfer, though I don't know their names anymore, we had a nice soirée together, with a lot of drinking going on at the same time. After Greece I will be in muslim countries for several months so, I must predrink now.
So the second biggest city of Greece, Thessaloniki was over and now I just head for Turkey. Altogether, I could not do anything at all in Thessaloniki but okay. There's still Istanbul so I can look forward to it. A good news is, there is no mountain anymore to Istanbul, even though Turkey will be very mountainous (even though this assumption turns out to be false after all...). The only thing is it is more than 260 km to go.
So, and at the end of afternoon, I could not find the way to go to Kavala anymore. Since there was no internet at Orestes' place, I just used my compass to orient myself and I was simply heading for west. But of course this method does not work out that well, since in the small streets you cannot find signs for the next big cities. So, what to do? Well, I took the ultimate way: highway. Those who have been following this journey probably know that this is not the very first time but it has never been such a long distance. Apparently, however, it is not quite known in Greece that it is forbidden to use the highway by bicycle. At least this was my impression I got from conversations with other people. What an easygoing country...
And so, I could finally arrive in Kavala. And Kavala is again one of the most damned cities in the world. Even if you push the bicycle there are some places where you can not go. It's simply so steep and narrow. I never understand why Greeks wanted to build cities in places where no animal can live.
Another problem was that my host did not reply anymore, so I had to look for another host and eventually I could be hosted by Fotis. He asked me every ten minutes "Hey! you want more beer?" I don't say no.
So, it has been a long trip since the beginning, nearing almost 4000 km and as you might have guessed, my bicycle sometimes gets problems. It's very hard to know in advance what might come but I think this is one of the worst things: The bones of the wheel were broken. I should have taken a better photo but as you can see, there are two bones missing. This is something which never should happen, or rather, if you buy an ordinary bicycle, your bicycle would be somehow dead before having this happen. Actually, checking afterwards each bone, it turned out that its strength was not homogeneous at different spots, so it was not really a wonder to see something like this. I should have done that before starting this trip... Anyway, something must be done and it's nearly impossible to change only the bones but since it is also very difficult to get such a good wheel in a small city, we decided to go to a bicycle shop anyway. His friend brought me three of them and in the first two shops they said there's no way to change them. I know guys thank you for the explanation. In the third shop they sold me two bones, telling me at the same time that it would be very difficult. Thank you for the explanation again. After getting back home, I changed them quickly, and as it worked pretty well, I restarted the trip to Komotini.
And there's pretty much nothing to say about the route to Komotini or just I cannot remember anything anymore. It's been probably something like two weeks the moment I'm writing this blog so, I think I've got a lot of work... But it's anyway not so important what it looked like on the way to Komotini. The family which hosted me in Komotini was so nice as you can see on the photo first. They are the twins of Vicky who lived in Germany for 20 years (?) and spoke fluent English and German. The boys on the photo were so timid that they eventually could not speak to me directly. Anyway, even if they had done it, I probably did not understand anything, I suppose... Vicky's husband fetched me at the city center and after the meal we talked a bit about all around the politics etc.
Next day, we went to school together, though I couldn't participat to the class. Vicky and I went further to the city center. So far, I haven't mentioned it at all but as you might have guessed, I don't have all my money in my pocket. Since there's the Maestro card now, thanks to the development of technology, it's pretty easy to access to one's account nowadays. So, with this in mind, I arrived in Greece, and it turned out, it doesn't work... With Vicky I tried around 10 ATM's but without success. So, I've got around 100 € and what can I do? Nothing. Let's just go to Turkey.
Greece is of course a country in EU. As far as my feeling is concerned, all the countries I saw so far are European. It's very difficult to say what Turkey is, but it's not European, though not Asian, either. But the place waiting for me after this street sign is surely something completely new. To be honest, it was just moving through Europe until this moment, indicating the real trip starts in Turkey. This is what I wanted to get in touch with.
So, what happens now? They all warned me that it would take more than 2 hours to pass the border to Turkey. It took around 20 minutes. I don't know how many people have visited Turkey, or let's say the border between Greece and Turkey, but it looked all of a sudden completely different in Turkey. A lot of sand and funky cars. And, a lot of wind... Generally the wind is blowing from the west to the east on the earth. Whatever the reason is, it was other way around in this case.
Fortunately the first destination, Talat's place, who is the guy on the left on the photo, wasn't very far away from the border. And also fortunately Talat was a teacher in English. The others, who by the way unfortunately did not speak English, were the musician friends (and they were playing music when I arrived. NICE). In contrast to far-east Asian cultures, Turks apparently still love their traditional music. One of them showed me a guitar-like instrument which made the typical Aladin sound (you know what I mean? This instrument was the origin of the sound :) It's really nice to be able to listen to the traditional Turkish music without even being on a concert (viva Kotopo in Lyon).
And so, the first day in Turkey was over. One big difference to note: According to Koran, there are a lot of people in Turkey who don't drink at all. My first host Talat was one of them, even though he pretty much looks European but they are still muslims. I don't want to force them to drink. After all, drinking has pretty much no positive aspect so maybe there's something to learn for me in this country, though pretty reluctantly...
Another thing is that it's very hard for Turks to come to Europe because of the visa. Since the introduction of the Schengen system they cannot enter Europe at all without obtaining a visa and apparently it's not accepted every time. Of course there are not everywhere embassies so, they must go to Istanbul or Ankara or whatever there is. So far, there's no problem for me but the thing is that there are lots of Turks who have never seen the life in Europe. It was quite a surprise for me, even though there are probably even more people who don't know the life in Europe in my home country...
So, before leaving Talat's place, I went to a cell phone shop with him and bought a new one, sony tipo (?) Later I heard that this cell phone is thought to be created for those who have a cell phone for the first time (?). It's not clear if there are still this kind of people and it's been around 15 years that I have a cell phone but it's not a bad one and I can pretty much all the time be connected to the Internet. What a great device. It's very interesting that every time when I go to a cell phone shop, it is sony that is recommended to me, and not samsung, even though I don't say I'm Japanese.
Anyway, the second day. Those who know the geography well know probably that Istanbul is at the channel which connects Europe and Asia, so from Kesan to Istanbul I could go along the coast, which turned out to be not so flat at all... And the wind was all the time coming from the east which is against the global tendency. Darn you Turkey.
When I arrived in Tekirdag, which was the destination of the day, it turned out that my couch host was not living in Tekirdag but in a small city called Corlu, which is around 30 km away from Tekirdag. Interestingly, it is still recognized as a part of Tekirdag, politically as well as geographically, and problematically, there was exactly the same street name in Tekirdag and Corlu... By the way, when I arrived in Tekirdag, it was about 8 pm. Those who read this text later should know first that the sun set was about at 7 pm. So at 8 pm it was pretty dark.
I was in the middle of the city, without knowing what to do after calling my host. And, this is probably the most Turkish part of the day, there was an old man talking to me without knowing even English. I didn't know what he wanted but apparently he wanted to help me and then he invited me to a restaurant. So, this is apparently what happens in Turkey when you are completely lost in the middle of a city. And nicely enough, my initial host looked for another host, who was actually his cousin. And at the end, from being completely lost I got something to eat and a place to sleep. What a nice happy end, isn't it?
So I stayed then at Gökhan's place. And as you can see on the photo it was the most gorgeous place I'd ever stayed in. The male version of cinderella. Where's the dodgy mama.
Since it was a Sunday they prepared also a gorgeous breakfast and I got a small lunch box for the way. Being a guest seems to be something very special in Turkey.
Turkey has a very small population of about 77 million, however, it has the largest metropolitain city in the Europe, Istanbul, which used to be Byzantium and Constantinople in the past. It used to be in the middle of the Ottoman empire but now it is on the edge of Turkey, offering the entrance to Asia. It was the destination of the day and appropriately enough there was pretty much no non-inhabited zone after Tekirdag.
5 pm, I see the sign indicating the beginning of Istanbul, with 3-dimensional continuous waves of high and low. And even though the road was NOT a highway, I think no German road would have so many cars at the same time. I had two minor car crashes, without any serious consequence.
Late in the evening, finally I could find the district where my host, Özkal, lived. To be honest, I thought I could never arrive at his place after straying in every small street, losing probably more than hours. I don't know if ever other people would do the same trip as mine but it's highly recommended to not cycle through Istanbul. You will die, for sure.
On the way to Özkal's place, I asked a guy in the street, Ali, who helped me to find the district and then the apartment of Özkal. He happened to be very interested in Asian cultures, especially that of China. I spent then a lot of time in Istanbul with Ali.
So, welcome to Istanbul. I was really glad to be able to repair my bicycle first. Özkal showed me around the neighborhood first. The sea side of Istanbul is pretty well constructed and only by following alongside the sea, you can go to the port of Istanbul, which connects the European side to the Asian side. It's probably also very important to note that there are the European and the Asian side in Istanbul. There are high ways if you are crossing the sea by car but otherwise you are obliged to use a ferry going from one side to the other.
Unfortunately, I did not take so many photos in Istanbul. The problem is that whenever I have a really good time, I don't think of taking photos and afterwards I notice that there were a lot of things to tell but with very little number of photos... Next time I will try to think of that :)
On the way, I met a French guy, Joe (?), and a French girl, Claire. We spent the first day together since Özkal had to work the whole day, but still it was very nice that he took his bicycle and showed me a little around.
Interestingly, Joe came from Germany by bicycle. He started his trip in April and took the way through Austria etc. to Bulgaria and then Turkey. I know that this way is not bad either and I'm also very interested what it is like. If there's a "next time" I may try this route as well.
We spent the whole day by visiting bicycle shops together. They were all concentrated near the port and of course the streets in this districts are so narrow that a Soviet tank would destroy houses of the both sides at the same time. In these small streets you can see at least thousands of people with one Japanese and two French. What I wanted to say is that, it's just crazy that everything is mixed together in such an extent. And in Istanbul, there's no reasonable subway so, everyone moves around by their own means. You can play real final fantasy by yourself. Don't be too afraid of a game over, otherwise you cannot move a step further.
In the rest of the day, we went to the hostel they were staying in and there we met a lot of people and in the end, I didn't visit Istanbul at all but it was still quite interesting since there are tons of young people from different countries in hostels and they often offer a place to chat. It's a kind of thing I can not get away from in recent years...
And as always, I could be a very exemplary couch surfer, promising Özkal to cook in the evening and coming back too late just to find out he had already cooked. If ever Istanbul had a reasonble subway network, it wouldn't have happened.
And again, I forgot to take a photo with him.
By the way, or actually it's not really by the way, but the real reason I visited Istanbul was to get the visa for Iran. Since I didn't know how it was to work, I went to the Iranian embassy in Istanbul, where they told me that I need a reference number of a tourist agency... Of course I don't have anything like that, since I'm not planning to visit Iran in a tour. So I decided to contact iranianvisa.com to get a reference number. It would cost something around 30 € (?) but well, a visa is more important than the cost. After submitting the application I heard from my fellow bikers, Oliver and Sonja, that in Trabzon there wouldn't be any problem. Hence I ignored iranian.com after that. To end this story, please look at the vivid message they gave to me six days later:
As we have not received any news from you yet ,we need to report your cases now although We have done our service .
The applications are registered automatically upon receipt of the applications on our system and this has been costly and timely for us. According to our website’s terms of service which you have accepted by submitting your application on our website, you need to pay the service fee for the application you submitted.
Your applications has been processed at once you have sent it and for your information we have to submit any applications as soon as we receive and this is one of the visa regulations .
When somebody send a request for visa ,we have to send the details to the MFA and we can not keep any applications ,so any details need to be available at the MFA’s system . Your application request has been done and it has been costly and timely for us.We can not cancel any applications at all as the whole process is systematic and this is not under our control.
So if you really want to ignore our costs with your mistake or any other reason and do not want to paying the money you owe to us and we paid for you ,we have no other choice than we do the case ref : 0000430210.We never had this problems with any other of our clients.We hope you understand why we have sent you this message ,because this very strange you want to ignore the money you made for us by sending your application and we can not keep your application after the application is submitted ,so please understand why we have to report this immediately !
We hope you will be more serious and make the payment asap and inform us and also you can ask somebody else to pay on behalf of you.We really do not have any time!
We are very disappointed you have had this behavior and do not want to pay the money you owe us!
You are responsible for all of the consequences for your consular file from now as we are reporting to them!
Whaaaaaaat!?!? They have never had this problem with any other client!? What a shame on me... But what's MFA? Google google... Ah!! Museum of fine arts (according to wikipedia)! I don't see any relation in this affair but that sounds serious. And yes, it's very strange that I want to ignore the money I made for them. Well, actually I'm pretty much interested in it, especially in keeping it.
So the next day, Özkal had to go away so I went to Ali's place, who is by the way the second from left. The second from right is by the way Joe from France. He (or rather his mother) prepared a nice Turkish dinner. So there's a soup, with yoghurt, and the meaty main dish, with yoghurt and rice, with yoghurt, in case of Ali. I mean, the yoghurt is just there so you are not obliged to take it but apparently they always put some yoghurt in every dish. I told Ali that we eat yoghurt with something sweet, like sugar or jam in Europe. He seemed to be very surprised. What a huge difference...
I really cannot remember anymore what I was doing the next day. The only thing I still know is that I had to buy stuff for winter as it's getting colder and colder now. I bought a sleeping pad first of all. It's a kind of wonder that I didn't have a sleeping pad at all. Hopefully it'll be easier to sleep on asphalt.
If you have visited Tokyo or Paris, you've certainly noticed that the culture of the nation there has already pretty much died out. In case of Istanbul, however, you can still see a lot of Turkish stuff. Looking at this guy carrying a bunch of sandwiches on his head, I hoped that it would remain forever in this city...
And so for the last day in Istanbul I stayed at Umut's place. And for the first time in Turkey, I could drink beer... finally... We played cards that I had brought from Germany, 6 nimmt, if you've heard of that. It was a shared flat of 4 guys. I really liked it as the others were also very easy going.
So were my three or four days I don't know anymore in Istanbul. It's by far the largest city in Europe and even more tremendously chaotic. Apparently it's on the way of development and the subway network etc. will certainly be done in several years. I have to say, I'm quite looking forward to the future of Istanbul with the probable mixture of tradition and innovation. This will make this city probably pretty unique and of course even more attractive than before.
Finally, Istanbul was over, as you might be thinking as well, and of course not really. Firstly, you must get to the other side of Istanbul, which is not so easy, but pretty amazing. Also it was the first time in my memory, apart from a trip to Hokkaido hundreds of years ago. Now I'm a bit wondering if it was a kind of cheating since I promised I would go back to Japan by bicycle but evidently I'm using a different transportation means...
The destination of the day was the end of the sea of Marmara, Izmit, which is also called Kocaeli, which caused a lot of problems with other couch surfers since I didn't know this simple fact and I had to turn down a lot of invitations thinking they are living somewhere else.
And this is my nice blond (?) host of the day Cetin, or rather his bird. He or she apparently liked so much the tab key that he or she, let's say he to avoid further incovenience, tried to detach it from my computer. My computer is so dirty...
Cetin is a primary or secondary school teacher in English and giving also private lessons (is it allowed in Turkey?) so there was no problem in communication. And moreover, he went to Georgia from Izmit by bicycle this summer. He told me he was kind of tired of whatever was going on in his environment and he took his bicycle to go away. I don't know whether he was heading for Georgia from the start, but it was very interesting to know what he did since I'm planning to do the same job except that I'm probably going to Ankara first and he stayed at the black sea all the time. You can also read his blog.
One nice strategy he took while on the way was to ask at gas stations whether he could put his tent there or not. Gas stations are always open in Turkey so there's a bit of security there. And there are toilets and everything needed to survive. And of course it's very easy to find a gas station.
Just after my arrival in Izmit, Cetin came to the city center by car. He was following my position on my website. We went to a typical kebap restaurant and then to a special café in Izmit, the speaking café. This is a place founded by a friend of Cetin where no Turkish is allowed so usually people speak English but in some cases they speak French or German or whatever. I found the idea nice even though it would not work in every country. I hope you know which country I mean by this... Anyway, when I arrived there there were 2, 3 guys talking in English, though they were all Turkish. After some time past, there were around 10 people at our table and we all talked together. This was probably the moment in Turkey where I could talk with so many people at the same time :) I wish there would be everywhere such a place in the world.
Following day, we went to the speaking café again to have a breakfast. It seems to be a colony of Cetin and his friends. By the way, the guy on the left side, Arif, spoke very nice English and besides he offered me 12 TL for my cellphone. It was a very nice support since it's very expensive in Turkey.
While being in Turkey, you should not put your vehicle everywhere. I learned it in the moment where in front of my eyes one car was transferred. The whole process took maybe 5 minutes and then the car was away. The Turks park really anywhere and anytime, but the counter attack comes pretty quickly. I'm so happy that I'm not in Turkey by car... though, it costs only 30 TL, which is about 13 €... Does it have a great effect first of all?
After taking farewell to Cetin, I headed further for the east, as it should be during my whole trip. This part of Turkey is still pretty European and most of the people I met so far had told me that I will see a completely different country after Ankara so I was pretty relaxed at the moment.
In the middle of October in Turkey, it's getting slightly colder but the weather is perfect. I have to say everything is going perfectly at the moment. October is probably the month where you can really enjoy cycling.
Since some time, couch surfing has the invitation function, which means if the host wants to invite somebody looking for a couch, he or she can invite the couch surfer. And since the beginning of Turkey I was pretty much travelling only using this function. And this way, my host of the day, Ismail contacted me.
Ismail was also a teacher in English so, I didn't have any problem in communication with him, though the others unfortunately did not speak English at all. But the excitement came in the evening, when the soccer game between Turkey and Romania (?) started. The people here in Turkey are obsessed with soccer, although the Turkish national team is not especially successful. I don't know how proud they are of their own national team...
I don't know whether I should give the last jab but Turkey lost for 0-1, even though it was in Istanbul...
And lastly here's the photo of all of us together, in front of the 3D television. I don't know how you feel but it's so extremely uncool when I think that we are carrying 3D television glasses...
Somewhat I had forgotten about the fact, that Turkey is not less mountaneous than any other country in the world. At the point where I was more than 200 km away from the next destination, Ankara, that I wanted to arrive in in two days, it turns out that it's located in the middle of mountains with its altitude of around 1000 m above the sea level... And what's more, the mountains before Ankara are of course much higher since cities are mostly created in a valley. So, I was destined to overcome mountains with 1300 m or whatever...
With a little bit of hope that some kind of miracle would happen I started the day and of course, such a thing does not happen.
During hours, I cycled slopes of more than 10 degrees. After having cycled only 70 km, I arrived in the city of Yanicaga. I tried out the strategy of asking aorund at petrol stations, only to see that it does not work. Later I noticed that this method hardly works in Turkey, even though I just want to put my tent and nothing else...
It was in this moment that one car stopped to wait for me. I didn't know why it stopped first but as the driver came out, I realized that he wanted to help me. His name was Adnan, living in this village. He invited me to his place for dinner, and he showed me also a place to put my tent, although he scarcely spoke English (we used google translation to communicate. It does not work so well for Turkish-English but is better than nothing :) In the end, there was nothing to worry about. I could put my tent at the lake and the day was over.
Next day, though I was to leave the city early in the morning, at 6 am, he invited me to his place to have a breakfast. He must have waken up unusually early for me. With my newly bought sleeping pad I could sleep pretty well. Actually, it's very important to have a thing like this, I think :)
It must be something crazy, but the climate of central Turkey is completely different than that of the coastal region. Suddenly there was not only no ocean, but also no forests. I could only see brown fields with few trees.
Probably the culture is also completely different in this region. Or is there any culture at all? Anyway it's wonderful to see a ferris wheel with exactly ONE wagon.
Again, late in the evening, I arrived somewhere near Ankara. I was so exhausted at the moment because of the never ending mountains. At the end, I called my host of the day, Arda. Looking at the position given by the GPS, he told me the way to his apartment and finally, completely dark outside, I could arrive at his place.
Arda was an engineer at the same age as me. Why are all the people working at my age? He spoke by the way amazing English.
If I compare Ankara with Istanbul, it's much more like Tokyo with a good organization and new buildings. For bicycles anyway, Ankara is much better. At first, I was planning to get the Pakistani visa but since it seemed to be quite difficult without LOI (letter of invitation) so, I decided to buy some small things I would need for winter.
Next day, out of exhaustion of the previous day or I don't know why, I ate too much in the morning and I could not move anymore during the whole day. This is probably one of the most stupid things you can do in a trip and this was not the first time as for me...
In the evening, though I forgot to take photos, I set up a mini couch surfer meeting in the middle of the city. Of course with a little bit of delay I arrived at Kizilay, which looks like miniture Tokyo. Following the recommendation of others we went to a gay bar.
It's very nice to know more or less locals who speak English as well. Until midnight we talked and drank. Isn't it forbidden to drink in Islam?
By the way, you can hear the Elsan (I don't know how it's written...) which occurs five times a day. I have really the feeling that actually no one is interested in it. For those who have never experienced it: muslims are supposed to pray five times a day and here in Turkey you can hear a kind of singing/crying via speakers around the city. I think we can replace it by Mariah Carey and no one would notice it.
I was not planning to stay one more day, but since Ayse from the same city invited me to her place, I decided to stay there. After putting my stuff at her place, as she was expecting other guests who spoke only Turkish and therefore I stayed away from her apartment for the day, I went to Decathlon to buy some stuff and then I went to Kizilay once again since one of the couch surfers of the previous day, Dilara offered me a guide through the old town.
Ankara used to be a small city before the revolution, though most of them say even a village. So the old part of it was pretty small but it was very traditional, as far as I know. Well, actually I don't know anyway Dilara told it to me so I believe her :) I'm sorry that I don't have a photo for the traditional Turkish tableware on the photo, but the guys here are making it here. On the edge of the photo you can see some examples.
I'm not a racist but being Japanese is one of the most exciting things in the world. At least, Dilara was pretty intersted in Japanese culture like anime (which I'm not so much proud of lol) and the guy in the cafe offered us a traditional Turkish coffee for free. Anyway, Turks are nice.
By the way, or actually it was much more important than anything else at that moment, I called the service center of my bank, Sparkasse, to ask what was going on with my card, since I could not take money from ATM at all. The problem was, they said everything is alright. Well you know, everything doesn't seem to be alright? A bit depressed, I went to Bauhaus (you've heard of it if you have been in Germany. It's anyway a big store for raw materials) and I tried to take money. It worked. Why? I don't know but thinking that it would anyway not work I chose 1000 TL which is equivalent to around 440 €. So, finally I could obtain money! (even though it was MY money anyway) You cannot know how high I was at that moment. Roaming in Bauhaus, I think a lot of people who saw me thought Far-east-Asians are people smiling all the time. Actually pretty much never, in Tokyo especially. Doesn't matter. I was happy anyway.
Early in the morning next day I restarted my trip. I stayed in Ankara three days. Bad conscience :(
The region around Ankara is amazing. There's heavenly nothing. Just a main road and no tree, no building. I don't understand how the mountains are still existing there. This might have been the first time in my life to see a land horizon so clearly. Of course it's pretty hard to find a place to sleep. At the end of the day, I could find only one gas station and of course they said it's okay to put my tent there, since the land is infinitely there. Nice that it's not Tokyo :)
Next day, the same landscape, endlessly. Just going up and down. Since nobody spoke English, I didn't have a lot of contact with other people. I was just cycling.
So I was pretty happy when I arrived at Hakan's place in Corum. When I arrived there, he was still working in the factory. I don't know anymore what kind of factory it was but anyway we went to the canteene since I was a bit hungry. It's very important to know guys, how much a biker can eat. The problem is rather the time. As you might know a human being has a limited chewing ability. So whenever I can have a huge meal I eat around one hour and then I sleep like a log. Probably I can appear on the first page of "the little prince"
Later on the day, we organized a small couch surfer meeting with Zeynep to eat some Turkish traditional food. And of course I don't know anymore what I ordered since it's been almost 2 weeks but anyway Hakan and I had 2 portions of something plus one hamburger. You're also an expert, not bad my dear.
And the day cannot end without having a glass of beer. At that moment, I was too tired to think logically but we had anyway a nice time. Thanks Hakan.
Again, the same landscape after Corum. At least I was heading for the black sea. I really hoped that the way would go slowly down towards the sea. Hehe, the life is of course not so easy. I think when I come back to Japan I can straight go to Tokyo, even if it's going over Fuji. It was probably only the last 40 km or so which was nicely going down. Well, actually no so nicely, rather abruptly. You can probably have a free fall into the black sea.
Anyway I was hosted by Yalcin, who was going to Japan on the next day. It was actually the reason why I tried to do 160 km on this day. And what's more, he went there with his bicycle. Besides, he was not prepared when I arrived there. I saw a good soul mate here.
Coincidentally there was a concert of traditional Turkish music in the evening there. We went there together with some other friends of him. Turkey is a kind of country which has developed so much but hasn't lost its own culture. I find the music really nice, even though I slept in after 5 minutes. It's another way of enjoying music you know?
Yalcin told me he gets something like 300 € tickets from his company for food. So we decided, appropriately enough, to go to a Kebap restaurant. We ordered an ordinary wrapped Kebap first, then almost the same one for me. Since I still had some space in my stomach, I ordered another Kebap according to his recommendation. It turned out to be a full dish with meat, vegetables and bread on one dish. Apparently, no one was expecting me to finish it, including Yalcin himself, though I did. I don't know why he recommended it to me then.
Following day, Yalcin invited me to his cousin's place since it was a Sunday. With the same hospitality as everywhere in Turkey, I was filled up with tons of Pide which pretty much only produces energy.
And it turns out that Giresun, the city I was heading for was around 200 km away from Samsun, so I decided to take two days. On the way, there were at once a lot of Turks surrounding me. Danger!? They wanted to offer me a cup of tea and a sandwich. Thanks.
One of them spoke more or less English so he translated everything for me. Well, sometimes a conversation with a person from a completely different culture is pretty interesting:
Guy: "When is your birthday?"
Sam: "April 8th"
Guy: "Ah, like a lot of people in the world"
This kind of interruption occurs quite often in Turkey. And every time they offer me a cup of tea. I don't know what is your impression on Turkey but if you happen to consider to have holidays there, I strongly recommend to talk to local people as well. They are often so nice to tourists.
They say it's just only raining all the time in the black sea region. But I never experienced rain fortunately. It was very windy but I have to say, it's one of the most beautiful places in the world. The photo you can see here is the one I made at the sun rise on the second day of 200 km journey. It's a wonderful feeling to get up in the morning twilight like this. And I'm also grateful for the infrastructure of Turkey. It's not a place to swim, but it has its own beauty, you've got to know my dear :)
Later on the same day, I arrived in Giresun. Apparently this region used to be more Greek than Turkish and there was some historical stuff lying everywhere in the city. My host, Murat, who is by the way the guy on the right on the photo, showed me the castle on the top of the hill. He's the captain of a patrol boat in the black sea. The other guy, Mohammed, is by the way the vize captain.
It's very important to have a huge ceremony to everything. With this in mind, you have to know that the number plate of a car does not have any importance anymore. Love goes over traffic rules. Something Germans would never understand.
In the evening, we went to a Turkish restaurant to try some Kebap, appropriately enough. Well, I don't complain anyway as I like it. Then to an open cafe where everyone was simply playing cards or Romeo (is it called so?). It's apparently the way Turks see each other and spend time together. Most of them are obviously students. The fact that students have the most time seems to be something quite international. Then back home, we drank a bottle of Raki (I don't know how to write the "i" without the dot on top, though I haven't really cared about the Turkish special characters until here generally :). Greeks said it's a Greek beverage but according to my beloved wikipedia it's a Turkish one. Out of tiredness, I cannot really remember what happened then but I think I didn't drink so much. It's a great drink I'm so glad Turks invented it :)
Does anyone out there know the real reason that I eventually took the way at the black sea? It's because there's Trabzon there. This is known as a city where you can get an Iranian visa pretty much without much effort. I mean, of course it has its own history and as I see there's a never ending wikipedia article about it it's an interesting city as it is, but it's not that important. First thing first. Visa!
The host who contacted me disappeared in the last moment so I took the cheapest hotel in the city. I paid something like 15 liras a day, which is equivalent to about 6 €. I think I could really freak out for the price if it were in Tokyo.
And of course in the morning following day I first went to the Iranian embassy. As my request was cold-bloodedly refused in Istanbul, I was really stressed on this issue but it turned out to be really easy. So, you guys, if you happen to want to go to Iran, go to Trabzon first. You don't need a reference number apparently. However, I heard later that it pretty much depends on the nationality. So if you are Italian but not funny, or German but not diligent, or Russian but not drunk, you'll probably need a reference number. I think Russians don't need a visa anyway.
One the way to the bank where I paid 60 €, I went to the main street of Trabzon. I'm happy to have been able to take a photo of conventional landscape with McDonalds, Burgerking, Vodafone, Levi's etc.
Before going back to the Iranian embassy, I looked around the city. The weather was not so nice but the infrastructure is impressive in this region. This is probably something nobody really knows in the rest of the world, me neither actually before.
One brilliant thing Turks invented: look at the photo of the department store with pretty much only fashion boutiques. I think so far it looks like an ordinary department store of this kind, BUT, it has a spiral corridor so, every floor is one-dimensionally connected, which means, if you go there with your girl friend, you know that you are destined to spend time in ALL the boutiques existing. What a formidable structure...
Following day, I decided to visit the famous Sümela monestary, which is located at around 1000m above sea level. So, here's one thing you should know: it's of course not directly in Trabzon and the distance to it is I think something like 60 km. So it's quite impossible to go there on foot. There's actually a tour which starts every morning at 10 am for 20 TL. Well, it's just a "tour" which brings you to the place and at 2 pm or so the bus will come to the place again and you'll come back to Trabzon. As the monestary is not a site where you can stay more than 30 minutes without seeing the same thing twice, you are kind of obliged to go to the souvenir shop and the restaurant at the site. There's otherwise nothing to see/buy/do. So, this tour was out of question in my case. Hence, I decided to go to the city of Macka, which is located around 16 km away from the Sümela monestary, and to hitch hike to the monestary, which eventually worked pretty well and cost 5 TL altogether.
And I have to say, it's a must-see place if you are in Trabzon. The location is simply impressive. It's very hard to take a photo of the extraordinariness but maybe you can recognize it a bit on the photo.
It's still a wonder that there were people who created this site.
As I wrote, I could not stay at a couch surfer's place in Trabzon but in the hotel, I became friends with Luca from I don't know which city but somewhere in Turkey. He was waiting for his visa for Romania and visiting Trabzon in the mean time. He showed me the city and the best places to eat Kebap. On the last day of my stay, we went to a Turkish bath together. In contrast to Japanese On-sen, there is actually no bath inside, but a huge flat hot stone on which you can lie down and philosophize or whatever. I found it a bit too expensive but if you want to try a real Turkish life, maybe it's something interesting though :)
Have you ever heard of Kurban Bayram? This is a Turkish festival which was celebrated on the day I went away from Trabzon. I don't really remember what was exactly the reason but anyway you can see many carcasses of cows or sheep etc. directly slaughtered on the street. I had heard of this festival but I couldn't recognize first the bodies of cows. I just thought something reddish was on the street.
On the way, I was stopped by the police. This was the first contact with the police in Turkey and simultaneously the last one. Well, why did they stop me? It's because Bayram. Apparently they are stopping cars randomly to offer chocolate and to take a photo together with them. I think the Turkish police are quite different than whatever I have ever seen until now :) It's anyway nice to have such an experience at the end of Turkey.
Well, I think I haven't mentioned until here, but I decided to go to Georgia and Azerbaijan before going to Iran, as the mountains between Turkey and Iran are very high and it's not so good for my bicycle neither to do such a hard trip, though it would have been pretty interesting as well.
And so, my days in Turkey were over. I was there only about 3 weeks, but I could experience a culture I had never seen before, different than that of Europe and of course different than the Japanese one. It was also very interesting to see the modern society together with the mentality which exists for centuries, as something like this does not really exist anymore in many developed countries. Speaking of modern society, I was surprised by the level of development of Turkey as well. Especially the infrastructure in the black sea region was simply amazing. Hopefully I can see the other side of Turkey next time when I come back here again since everyone told me that it's a completely different country there. Well, I'm looking forward to it :)
And welcome to Georgia, a country which nobody knows whether it's European or Asian.
The first city was Batumi. Still there are a lot of dogs but I could also see pigs everywhere, in the middle of the main road for example... I'm wondering what happens when they accidentally cross the border to Turkey (which is a muslim country). Illegal immigrants?
Just after arriving in Batumi, I looked for a restaurant to use the internet. It's got a little bit hard to find a place for the internet but there was one in the city center. Well, I was wondering where to stay since I couldn't find a couch surfer until Gori. I was planning to take a hotel somewhere when two guys came into restaurant and asked me if the bicycle outside was mine. That was Luis from Peru and Natalia from Poland. After talking around half an hour, Natalia invited me to her place, to the floor :) I was more than happy though.
Luis is also a cyclist and he started in Peru some years ago, staying somewhere in winter and after that he restarts his trip. This time he started in Istanbul and he traveled all around Turkey. What a nice guy. Natalia was an exchange student in Tourism with Erasmus, so she had plenty of time. So we roamed over Batumi the whole day, starting from the Soviet block. As you can see on the photo, there's something you cannot really see in Europe or Japan, but I found it pretty pragmatic. Nice.
One thing all the other nations in the world have to learn: there is a chacha fountain in Batumi, which is by the way a kind of wodka. This happens allegedly twice a week at 7 pm. With much expectation we all went there with two other couch surfers from Poland... though it turned out to be a false day. You can imagine how disappointed the Poles were. Their blood is consisting of Wodka (I know that, boys, since I was in Poland as a teacher and my students showed me that hehe) so I was very sorry for that :( According to what I see on the photo, Luis was very disappointed.
I was planning to go away on the following day but after spending an evening with my two hosts and Luis, I eventually decided to stay one more day in Batumi. By marshrutka, which became totally familiar to me after the stay in the Ukraine, we went to the botanical garden with two Georgian guys as guides. The marshrutkas here by the way are still crazy but not that crazy as in Ukraine. Someday I will create a craziness scaling, though I'm sure Ukraine will be the king anyway.
So the entry fee:
Georgians: 3 lari
Foreigners: 6 lari
Students: 1 lari
We went in as students after all but what a friendliness towards foreigners...
The very first thing we saw: bamboo. Nice! Pretty Japanese!! then? some Japanese trees. Ah ok it starts with a Japanese zone. We went on and went on... 10 minutes later: Japanese trees. Ok, The Japanese zone seems to be pretty large. 30 minutes later: Mexican zone! ok ok nice, let me see: Japanese garden.
Please, believe me, dear staff of the botanical garden, you will NOT find a Japanese garden in Mexico. Anyway not in normal circumstances.
Later in the evening, I went to a cafe with Marzena, another host living together with Natalia, and Luis since we bumped into an American guy in a cafe (well, we went to a cafe the previous day as the Poles were too much disappointed.)
Since Luis and I were heading for the same direction we decided to cycle together for a while. Though we wanted to leave early in the morning the following day, we stayed there until midnight.
Following day, we were planning to go away at 8 am and we ended up staying until 11 am... The problem was also we wanted to do 140 km and Luis did not have a lamp on his bicycle, which means we cannot cycle after the sunset. We cycled pretty fast but on the way, of course, there are a lot of things going on, not only lunch, but also for examle at one point there was an old grandma who wanted to offer us kaki, Japanese persimmon. Here in Georgia, surprisingly, you can see them everywhere. The thing is also they all know that kaki comes from Japan so whenever I say I'm from Japan, they want to offer me kaki.
After probably 100 km, the sunset was nearing. We were heading for a city where a couch surfer rented us a whole house, though he himself was not there. It sounds weird in the western standard but this kind of things sometimes happens in this part of the world. Anyway, we knew at this point it's impossible to reach the place so we decided to put our tents. It's so much better to camp with someone else than all alone. We ate then watched a movie, though the movie was horribly bad and we were too tired to watch it to the end.
I did not really want to do only 40km the following day, but the host of the day told us there would be a welcome party in his city, Abasha, organized by the local government. Since I was quite interested in this story, I intended to stay there one day with Luis. So, we arrived in the city early in the morning. And there were some people coming from the city hall. Cool! It turned out that they thought we were just passing by and wanted to take a picture with us... One of them showed us the way to the house of the couch surfer. In this moment, I did not think of staying there on this day. Just 40km is not enough. Anyway, another big city, Kutaisi, was just 40km away from Abasha, I decided to stay there until lunch.
First we went to the house offered by the host. In fact, it was in a very small village located at 10km away from Abasha. And the house was probably built before the Soviet era. It might be more than 100 years old, as there was not water, no electricity. Just a well in the garden. I don't know how it happened but obviously no one was living in the house. There was one tree of kaki in the garden and a very long branch lying around. So we smashed onto the kaki. Very nice. There was also one pig profitting from this action :)
Actually there are a lot of guys from English spoken countries in Georgia. We met two American guys and one Canadian in Abasha. They are teaching English throughout Georgia. They don't earn so much money but it's still a nice job. If they get a place for a Japanese speaker or a German, maybe I'll come back here again next year to work as a language teacher and maybe at the same time as a physicist...
After the lunch, I restarted the trip to the east, without Luis this time though. I have to say, it's much better to travel with someone else, as I felt so lonely this time. As if they would like to intrude on my way the cows were passing the street. This kind of thing happens at least ten times a day if you are cycling. Of course they don't care about the traffic.
I really didn't want to put a tent after having done it with Luis. Being alone is a bit tricky sometimes. Then I looked for a hostel in Kutaisi.
And sometimes weird things happen. I know that there are a lot of people around the world, and you are mostly not the only one doing whatever you are doing/planning to do. However, it can also be a huge surprise to know that there ARE people in reality that are doing it. And here you are: I bumped into a Japanese guy, 24 years old, going back to Japan by bicycle, starting from France.
He is Shusaku from Kyoto. He went to France by working holiday and stayed in Mulhouse for 8 months, woriking as a cook at the same time. After his stay there, which was 5 months ago by the way, he started his trip back to Japan, though in his case it's not always going to the east all the time. He was also heading for Tbilisi at that time but he wanted to stay in Kutaisi one more day. So unfortunately I had to leave the city without him. It would have been fun though to travel with him I imagine... But anyway we'd see each other in Tbilisi so, it's not the final farewell :)
Then I learned something horrible: There is again a mountain just after Kutaisi, with the height of more than 1000m.... I think this was the forth time in the whole trip. Who created such a terrible world? And at the same time, I found out that the distance to Gori was more than 150km. I think something in my caculation was terribly wrong.
Starting in the early morning, of course the first problem occurs, which is always the same: the wind. I have to say it was almost the first time to have so much wind on the way, and of course it's always the counter wind... Am I completely darned?
So, after the hilarious journey I arrived in Gori and the very first thing I did was smashing myself into a taxi, using my phone in one hand. Children, do NOT use your mobile phone while cycling. I ended up shattering one rear mirror and after a small negotiation we settled for 20 €. I mean, it's not nice what I did but I think this action will strongly remain in my mind since it was the very first time to experience a problem by using my phone while driving. A small passage of my youthful days... so far for the excuse.
Anyway, I called my host, Soso, who works for public services, for youth to be more precise. A friend of his had an apartment in Gori, who's living in Moscow and therefore it is only used during his holidays. While his absense, Soso is taking care of the apartment.
When I arrived there there were four other Australian couch surfers there, who are traveling by car all around the world now. They started of course in Australia and they did probably all the Asian countries. They were at that moment about to go to Turkey and then to Europe... Georgia is actually the place where this kind of people come together. Each of us has his or her own destination so we don't go the same way. This is, however, the coolest part of the whole history. In future, there will be probably the moment where I don't understand this feeling anymore. Then, I can probably say I'm too old, but until this moment I don't want to stop going further and further, and still I will be looking forward to new things and new people as eagerly as I am now... Starting from Batumi, this feeling is getting only stronger in my head. Well in short: I find these travelers so cool. And simultaneously I say with all my pride and honesty "I'm going my way".
I didn't have the intention first to stay in Gori one more day because I wanted to go to the embassy of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi as soon as possible. The Australian guys though told me that it's really a nice city. Well, I'm sure it's a nice city since it's the native city of Stalin. But the Australians were hilarious. We talked until late evening with Soso being obliged to go back home after midnight. It was pretty much the first time to have other couch surfers at the same place but not only hosts, but also surfers are often really nice. It's the greatest aspect of couch surfing, boy :)
After the departure of the Australian guys, Soso and I went to the city to go to the Stalin museum. I was expecting a hard core propaganda museum but it was rather a collection of historical evidence. I was told there would be a guest book with political comments I would find interesting, but eventually I couldn't find it. The photo is Stalin's personal wagon. He was afraid (?) of flying so, he used his wagon as often as possible. It looked rather like a normal wagon though...
For the whole day Soso took a taxi for me. I don't know how rich he is but he told me that this is the Georgian hospitality. I don't know whether I can be such a host when I get back to France... Let me see.
This kind of landscape on the photo is by the way daily life in Georgia. Did I tell you that I adore this type of invasion by animals?
Near Gori, there was a stone village called Uplistsikhe, a name which I would never be able to learn by heart. This was an early settlement in Gori and had its own queen (?) etc. If you read the wikipedia article you see something like a devided structure of upper middle and lower or so but to me it seemed to be like a stone lump... But I think it is worth visiting this place if you happen to be in Gori. It's a bit far away but you can also have a very nice view from there.
So, maybe you've forgotten the fact that we are now in the former USSR and you cannot live without a city legend. The story starts with the Stalin statue which used to be in front of the city hall of Gori. Probably it stood there during the whole USSR time. However, in 2010, the people of Gori decided to get rid of it. Well, it's been successfully done, though, the thing is nobody knows where it went then. I didn't do the research myself but according to the information of the Australians, some people think the statue was simply destroyed, others say it went to Russia or Turkey. I don't know why it should go to Turkey but Georgians often think good thing go to Turkey so it's maybe the analogy of this think process.
No, the thing is, it hasn't been destroyed or sent to Turkey or Russia. In fact, it's still in Gori. There's actually a Soviet factory at the edge of Gori which is apparently not working anymore, as you can see on the photo. And in a small deserted house (not having a structure of a house anymore), the stalin was abandoned... And again according to the information of Australians, even the people around this place, though there are not so many of them anyway, do not know the existence of such a thing. Those who knew that something was delivered in 2010 didn't know that it was the statue of Stalin which was once in front of the city hall. Nicely creepy and I'm still wondering how my host could obtain this information...
Well, thank you for following this text so far. I didn't mention at all but this was in fact the last day of October. It was the longest October ever in my life, as well as the brightest. It's almost a wonder that I was living in France two months ago, leading a nerdy life in front of my computer, merely the same day every day, though I was perceiving my whole life in a completely different way: I used to think my life in France was still pretty dynamical. It probably was, in a very small extent. And I was probably extremely proud of myself having done a great job in my study. Will this Don Quixote one day understand that the world is not turning around money and reasoning? How many times does he have to be helped until he finally understands that it's so much more going about humanity. Probably never. I say, I will never fathom out the order of the world and every time I get a help I'll cry out for the reason that never exists.
Still, this is the reality. Let me live with this then. A man without any conundrum in head is one of the most boring things ever. So, I will go on with all this stuff and I'll take one step further to my dream which has seemed so far away: Middle East.