Turkey

Turkey – Sumela Monastery & Nemrut Dagi

Rain (bad)

I was sure I was going to get soaked leaving Batumi, Georgia.  It was belting down when I woke up and the Internet forecast said there was 80% chance of rain and thunder storms all day along the Black Sea coast (where my route into Turkey took me).  It was hardly surprising considering this coastline is usually soaked in rain due to the presence of a high coastal mountain range, and I had already been lucky with the weather for the past week.  I looked at the map to see if there was another less wet route to Turkey, but there wasn’t.

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Rain over Batumi – I think I’m gonna get wet

I thought about leaving it for another day, but the forecast was rain & thunder all week.  “Oh well, I can’t win them all” I thought.

Sun (good!)

After breakfast I was surprised when the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Not sure how long it would last, I quickly loaded up and set off as fast as I could, making sure my holey ‘dry bags’ were well wrapped up in bin bags.

Border Control

Batumi is only 30 minutes north of the Turkish border and amazingly it stayed dry all the way.  The Georgian exit was very quick and smooth, as expected, but then I hit a long line of cars and trucks waiting to pass through the Turkish side.

The Tiger’s starter motor problem was very inconvenient at borders (and fuel stations), because when I turned the engine off it wouldn’t start up again until it was cold.  This usually took between 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the external temperature.   At previous borders I had kept the engine running, but at the last two the bike got really hot (although did not overheat) and coughed and spluttered as I rode away.  So this time I switched the engine off, guessing I would be in the queue for at least 30 minutes anyway, which would give the bike time to cool down.

I had assumed Turkey would be a doddle to enter, as it’s practically in Europe (well, west of Istanbul), but I was surprised (again!) to discover I needed a visa to enter.  So much for not doing my homework!  I also needed motor insurance, but luckily I could buy them both at the border for 20 US dollars each.

Turkey

An hour later I was through (customs didn’t even want to search the bike), and I re-joined the Black Sea coastal road towards Trabzon.  I was pleased to find the weather forecast had been completely wrong, and I was now riding in clear skies and lovely warm sunshine.

From the minute I was waved through Turkish customs, I continued to like Turkey more and more.  Everyone I met was very nice and polite, and the roads were good quality with hardly any traffic.  Most of the main roads were dual carriageway, which was the first time I’d seen such things for a very long time.  I felt I had entered a completely different world as I rode along huge, empty roads with the calm, blue sea on my right and green, lush mountains on my left.

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The Turkish Black Sea Coast

Trabzon is a sizeable city of over 1.3 million, but the highway ran right through the middle with hardly any delay or drop in speed.  I did see the occasional traffic speed sign, but nobody seemed to take any notice of them.

Here I swung inland and south towards Macka as I wanted to see an old monastery I’d seen pictures of, built high up in the mountains.

As I rode through small town Macka, my eagle-eye spied rows of chickens roasting slowly away on a rotisserie spit.  My mouth started watering instantaneously and I had to stop to buy one.  I also bought a fresh loaf of bread from the shop next door while my bike kept running outside so I wouldn’t have to wait an hour to start it again.

Sumela Monastery

Sumela Monastery is incredible.  Having previously heard nothing about it, finding wonderful new treasures like this is one of the reasons I love traveling so much.

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Sumela Monastery – built in the 4th century, carved out of rock

It was built by Christians in the 4th century, carved out of a sheer rock face in the Pontic Mountains 1,200m (3,900ft) high.  Legend says it was built after an icon of the Virgin Mary was discovered by two priests in a nearby cave.  The monastery was inhabited up to 1923 before it was abandoned, and has since become a museum and a popular tourist attraction.

The road to the monastery rose quickly up from Macka with rugged mountain views along the way.  It was high; goodness knows how they managed to get all the materials up there to build the monastery 1,600 years ago.  I would imagine it was not a good time to be a slave.

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The road up to the Monastery

The car park at the top of the mountain was 300m from the monastery, but the nice guard let me ride another 100m further on up a small cobbled path.  When I could go no further, I attached the shoulder straps to my tank bag (with all my valuables inside) and hiked the rest of the way up a cool forest trail that led to the foot of the monastery.

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…and the shady mountain path leading to its base

Inside you were free to wonder around the old accommodation, kitchen, store rooms and churches, where 18th century frescoes were still preserved on the rock walls.  If I had to be a monk, I could think of much worse places to spend my life.

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Entering the Monastery

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Everything is pretty steep on a sheer rock face!

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Part of the Monastery calved out of the rock

Onwards and downwards

On the way back down to Macka, I stopped halfway at a shady picnic bench by a river and cracked open the roast chicken I had bought earlier, along with the fresh bread and huge, ripe tomatoes – one of my favourite all-time meals!  Yep, life was good.

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You can’t beat a freshly roasted chicken!

After lunch I needed some fuel, so rather than start the bike, I coasted down the steep hill back into Macka and rolled into the first fuel station I met.  That at least saved me half an hour or more waiting for the starter motor to cool down again.

It was 645km to my next target, the ancient ruins of Nemrut Dagi, so I thought I’d try and get as far as I could in the good weather.  I rode south through Torgul, Kelkit and Erzincan and carried on south over some great, twisty mountain roads towards Tunceli.

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Nice, twisty mountain roads

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And great views

Time to Camp

Late afternoon I passed Pulumur, 500km from Batumi, and started looking for a place to camp.  It had been a while since I’d camped rough (Tajikistan was the last time), so I was looking forwarding to getting back into the old Japanese Special.

I joined a small, rural road that followed a river, and after a couple of false excursions, I eventually found a great camping spot on the river bank, hidden from the road down a small dirt track.  It was now 6pm, so I set up before sunset, had a refreshing bathe in the shallow stream, and cooked up the old favourite tuna pasta in tomato sauce.

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My first camping since Tajikistan

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It was a good spot next to a river and an old disused bridge

I was healing well after my accident, and my ribs were now much better.  The new skin was also healing nicely on my arm, although it was still very thin and I had to be careful not to break it by knocking it (as I had done several times, being so heavy handed) or get it sunburnt.

I slept well…

There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning (a good start!) to bright sunshine shining through your tent, knowing you have food, fuel, and a great day ahead of you exploring a new place.

I had breakfast, packed up and hit the road south towards Nemrut Dagi.

Lovely Central Turkey

I think I may have mentioned it before, but it was a real pleasure biking on Turkey’s pristine roads.  The highways continued to be 2 or 3 lanes each side, traffic was sparse (which meant I flew along), and there were plenty of awesome sights to admire along the way.

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The road south to Nemrut Dagi cut through some stunning scenery

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And great roads

In fact, every turn I made it seemed the views just kept getting better.

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And the views just kept getting better!

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Lovely Central Turkey

Even in the cities (which were few and far between), most drivers continued to ignore the speed limit signs and belt along at high speeds.  The city streets all seemed pretty new and well planned, and multi-lane bypasses meant you could speed along quickly without getting bogged down in traffic if you didn’t need to enter the city.

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More great views

Most of the time, I found myself riding though lush, fertile fields, and along the roadside there were frequent fresh fruit and vegetable stalls.  I stopped by one to buy some lunch, including a whole watermelon, and made my way down to the shores of a large lake to eat it.  Well actually I could only manage half of the watermelon before I became stuffed, but I gave it an admirably good go!

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Me and my watermelon down by the lake

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Unfortunately it was a bit shallow for a swim

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But it was a great lunch stop

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The Tiger posing

Nemrut Dagi

I took the turn-off to the archaeological site of Nemrut Dagi just before Malatya and climbed up and down over a series of mountains until I reached the highest one, Mt Nemrut at 2,134m (7,000ft).

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The road up to Nemrut Dagi

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There were great views along the long, twisty road to the top

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🙂

The final stretch of the road, past the admissions gatehouse, was extremely steep over loose, rocky ground.  For a moment I feared for the safety of my 3rd clutch, but the Tiger made it OK.  From this height the surrounding views were unforgettable.

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And finally, the top, Mt Nemrut 2,134m (7,000ft)

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Mt Nemrut

At Mt Nemrut, the megalomaniac King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene built his own mountain out of rocks (as you do) in the 1st century BC and surrounded it with huge 9m (30ft) stone statues of various Greek, Armenian and Iranian Gods.  King Antiochus included himself in their ranks, for good measure, and he lives on to this day, albeit somewhat weathered.

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Mt Nemrut, hand-made by King Antiochus – crazy!

The statues were originally all in a seated position, but over the years, and perhaps due to vandalism, the heads have all been removed and now lay in various positions on the ground.  The colossal man-made mountain, though, remains intact, and is still thought to hide the as yet undiscovered tomb of King Antiochus himself.  I thought about embarking on an exploratory dig, but a guard blew his whistle at me when I stepped over a barrier.

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King Antiochus and The Gods

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These heads were originally on seated stone figures 9m tall

With few other visitors to this remote location, it was nice wondering around at leisure enjoying the history and spectacular views (the correct side of the barriers).

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Remote and spectacular

West towards Cappadocia

Carefully weaving back down the steep track, I had to back-track to the main road to Malatya, and then started the 540km ride towards Cappadocia.  I thought I could break the back of the journey before sunset.

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On the way back down from Mt Nemrut

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I took my time weaving down the steep, rocky track

As the afternoon wore on, I thought instead of cooking another pasta camp meal, I would have dinner at one the restaurants that always seemed to be attached to the fuel stations.  This was also very convenient, as it meant my bike could cool down whilst I ate, foregoing the need to delay myself.

My first meal in Turkey consisted of the famous Turkish shish kebab, salad, bread and tea – simple, cheap and delicious.  The waiter/owner was also extremely nice, and gave me a free roadmap of Turkey.  I started to like Turkey even more.

It was then I hit upon my great game-changing plan:  as so many fuel stations had attached restaurants with great, cheap food, all I had to do was time my fuel-stops with mealtimes, and my starter motor problem would become redundant!

By the time I’d thoroughly enjoyed my meal and extra helpings of Turkish tea, I’d left it a bit late to find a camp spot, as it was already getting dark.  Whoops!

I studied the map and followed a track that was supposed to lead to a river, but the river was dry.  I kept riding, searching for a suitable place to pitch the tent, but I was in an arable farming area and all the land seemed to be occupied by farms or crops.  I could have asked a farmer if I could camp on his land, of course, but I fancied somewhere more remote, so I kept riding.

It was now dark, but the roads were good and well lit, and I thought I may as well take advantage of the cooler weather riding at night.

I made good progress until 10pm, when I suddenly became really tired.  I was also riding towards black skies and a thunderstorm, so I thought I’d call it a day and hope the storm missed me.

With my eyes peeled for a suitable camping spot, at last I entered a mountainous area where I could see no lights either side if the road – a good sign that no-one lived there.  I turned off the main road onto a small gravel track and ventured on into the darkness.

Under the moonlight, I could just make out rolling hills to the right, so I pulled off the track and rode directly over highland rock, heather, thistle and moss until I lost sight of the highway and all signs of civilisation.  It was almost a full moon and very peaceful, and I thought I could have almost been in the middle of the Scottish Highlands.

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Found another great place to camp

I woke up early to a great view of the surrounding rolling heathland and watched the sun rise over the mountains as I ate bread and jam for breakfast.

Although it was a sunny day, the air was lovely and cool, being high up in the hills; perfect biking weather.  Out of the blue, a familiar thought crossed my mind, as it usually does: how lucky I was to be riding my bike through such beautiful scenery in such beautiful weather, with nowhere I must go and no deadlines to meet!

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I could have been in the Scottish Highlands

Fuel, Food and Showers

At lunchtime I chose a fuel station with a nice looking restaurant attached, and had a great lunch of lamb shank, beans, salad, fresh bread and Turkish tea, while my starter motor cooled.

However, this was no ordinary fuel station and restaurant – it was probably the best fuel station and restaurant in the world!  Not only did it have great food and friendly service, it also had a hot shower that was free to use!  This was exactly what I needed after my night of rough camping, and after lunch it was such a great feeling to be full, fuelled and squeaky clean.  I think I could have probably lived at that fuel station for quite some time.

Could Turkey get any better?  Well, yes it could: then I arrived in Cappadocia.

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Cappadocia next!

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Cappadocia – Turkey

Cappadocia

I didn’t know too much, if anything, about this region of Turkey called Cappadocia, but I knew I must be there when I passed some really weird rock structures that looked like fairy chimneys capped with flame-shaped rock.  Funnily enough, they were actually called Fairy Chimneys.

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My first encounter with the weird rock formations of Cappadocia

Fairies

I took at turn-off and followed my map to the ‘Pashabagi Fairy Chimneys’.  They looked worth a wander, so I switched the bike off and went exploring.  I’d heard about the rock people of Cappadocia, and for the first time I saw some of the homes they used to live in, carved completely out of the soft volcanic tuff (solidified ash).  In some areas people still live in them.  Inside they provide a dark and cool escape from the heat of the summer sun.

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Pashabagi Fairy Chimneys

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An incredible place to wonder around freely

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Some of the rock dwellings that used to house early Christians

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Yep – it’s me!

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Inside one of the cool rock-houses

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They weren’t short of a Fairy Chimney or two

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The best thing was, you could ride anywhere!

Zelve Open Air Museum

Further down the road I came to the Zelve Open Air Museum and bought a ‘Museum Pass’ that gave me entry to several sights for a much reduced price; I thought I might as well disguise myself as a tourist whilst I was here.

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Zelve Open Air Museum

The large rock city of Zelve was inhabited right up until the 1950s, when increasing erosion eventually made their homes unstable.  Set across 3 valleys, the early Christians who lived here were later joined by Muslims, where they lived together in harmony for many years.   It had churches, mosques, a winery, flour mill and all the other mod-cons you’d expect in an ancient city dug out of rock.

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These rock homes were inhabited right up to the 1950s

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The flour millstone

Some of the rock homes were high up on the cliff face, and the inhabitants must have been pretty nimble to scale up the rock ladders carved into the near vertical walls.

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The inhabitants must have been pretty nimble to scale up the rock ladders carved into the near vertical walls

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One of the inhabitants was still there! And a good-looking fellow too…

Pigeon houses are a common sight, easily recognized by their small rock pigeon holes, where farmers collected the droppings of pigeons to use as an excellent natural fertilizer on their orchards and vineyards.

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See the pigeon-holes? Their poo was collected for fertiliser

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The old rock city of Zelve

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Inside another rock-home

Off-Road Exploring

The whole area of Cappadocia is like another planet – full of really weird rock formations I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.  These formations are the result of the erosion of softer sediments, leaving exposed the harder volcanic rocks below.

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Off-road exploring

The good news for an Adventure Biker is there are off-road tracks and trails all over the place.  Many local tour operators offer ATV tours, but I had my own 2-wheeled ATV, and had great fun whizzing over the undulating terrain of sand and rock.

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There were some great tracks’n’trails over sandy, rocky ground

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Off-road exploring

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Yep – I rode down here!

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Nothing short of Fabulous

After my day of intensive sightseeing, I was hot and needed a swim.  I dreamed of finding a cheap campsite with a swimming pool…

Well, someone must have been listening, because just a few miles away outside Goreme, I found exactly that!

Dream Campsite

It was perfect, and I couldn’t believe my luck.  Before I even unpacked, I quickly changed into my swimming shorts and took a dive into the heavenly, cool water.

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Pure Heaven! My campsite swimming pool

Goreme Waterpark Campsite was virtually empty, being out of season, but for me I think it was the best time to come (September); the weather was hot and sunny, but no too hot, it wasn’t too crowded with tourists, and the evenings were refreshingly cool.

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My tent right next to the pool

That evening I took the short 15 minute walk into Goreme and had a delicious Testi Kebab, a meat and vegetable casserole cooked inside a clay pot (from the days they didn’t have casserole dishes).

99 Red Balloons

Around 5am the next morning I was woken by what sounded like several jet planes taking off next to my tent.  I got up to investigate and what I saw was one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen, which I never thought I’d say at 5am in the morning:

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Jet engines taking off next to my tent at 5am

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I could have watched them all day

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Some got pretty close

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They must have had incredible views over the weird landscape

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More…

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Like light-bulbs lighting up the morning

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Who can go the highest?!

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Fab

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Hello! I had to jump pretty high to get this one

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Sometimes I think I’m a fab photographer! 😉

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Balloon and Moon

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99 Red Balloons

I later learned Cappadocia is one of the best places in the whole world to do a balloon ride, with reliable winds and incredible views across the Martian-like landscape at sunrise.  Many balloon operators also compliment your ride with champagne breakfasts.

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To get out they all had to jump in my pool! 😉

Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley is a 16km (10mi) long gorge cut into volcanic rock by a river in southern Cappadocia.

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Ihlara Valley

During the first centuries, the first Christians fled here to escape Roman persecution, and the whole area is still honeycombed with their settlements carved into the soft rock.

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Christians fled here to escape Roman persecution in the 1st centuries

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Walking along the valley river

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Riverside cafe

The man-made rock caves include hundreds of old churches, one of which is the Saint George Church I visited with its still visible frescoes.

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Which way?

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Saint George Church’s frescoes

Hidden Underground Cities

As well as hidden valleys like Ihlara, early Christians also dug hidden underground cities in order to escape persecution.  Around 30 have been discovered in Cappadocia, and probably more exist that haven’t even rediscovered yet.  I went to the largest one in Derinkuyu.  To be honest, I didn’t fancy it too much, as I’ve been in a lot of underground tunnels and they all look remarkably similar.  However, with this one I was actually pretty amazed.

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Riding to Derinkuyu underground city, with an old volcano on the horizon

The tunnels led deep underground into a rabbit warren of rooms connected by more tunnels which seemed too get smaller and smaller.  At one point I was crawling on my knees in the pitch black to access some deep tombs.  What short-arses they must have been back then!

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Derinkuyu Underground City

Only part of the old underground city is accessible by tourists.  It is immense.  To give you some idea, it drops down up to 60m (200ft) in depth and used to house up to 20,000 people together with their livestock and food stores.

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Venturing down to 60m (200ft)

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Some of the passages were tiny!

The underground cities had large round millstone doors they could roll over the entrances if they came under attack, although I’m not too sure how effective they were.

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Millstones protected the entrances

Rock Fortresses

At Uchisar and Ortahisar there are huge natural rock fortresses that were once used as Roman Castles.

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Uchisar Rock Fortress

I climbed the one at Ortahisar, giving an impressive view of the surrounding area from its 90m high summit.

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Riding to Ortahisar Rock Fortress

Many of the castle’s rooms hollowed out of the rock were connected to each other with stairs, tunnels and passages, although increasing erosion has made many of them unsafe to explore.

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Ortahisar Rock Fortress

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View from half-way up

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View from the top

At the bottom of the fortress I was invited to sit down by an old man to eat some refreshing grapefruit.  It was just what I needed, so I accepted, not minding if he ended up charging me something.

‘Crazy Ali’, as he liked to be called, had once been a tour guide and now owned a gift shop (outside which we were sitting), but his passion was poetry.  He showed me a hand-written book full of his poems and I took the time to read a couple; they were good.  I stayed and chatted for half an hour or so, and when I left he gave me a pile of postcards.  On the back of one he wrote: “Even in a short time you can make good friends”.  And he wouldn’t charge me anything.

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A good man – Crazy Ali

Göreme Open Air Museum

My final bit of sightseeing was Göreme Open Air Museum, which is basically a collection of old churches calved out of the rock in the 6th or 7th century.  The most famous one is called ‘The Dark Church’, some of which has collapsed, but has some of the best preserved 11th-century Byzantine frescoes in the word (which you weren’t allowed to take photos of).  The reason the frescoes are so well preserved is due to the low amount of light which penetrates the church, hence its name.

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Göreme Open Air Museum

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The Dark Church from outside

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Göreme Open Air Museum

Jog

Back at the camp I was getting spoilt with my daily swimming pool swims.  I also went for my first jog since my accident one month ago.  My conclusion = I was very unfit!  I was huffing and puffing all the way and couldn’t seem to catch my breath, but I battled on and completed 30 minutes.  I’m sure it will get easier; it usually does.

Being Saturday night, I treated myself to a night on the town, and then decided to spend another day there doing nothing by the pool.  Anyone would have thought I was on holiday!

Dogs

The only thing I didn’t like about the campsite owners was that they kept their Alsatian dog, Zavla, chained up outside and never seemed to take any notice of her.  The poor thing was out of water when I first found her (on a really hot day) and I fed her a massive 2 litres before she stopped drinking.

I bought her some beef slices one night and she almost bit my hand off.  Actually, she did catch my thumb!  But no matter how badly she appeared to be treated, I suppose she looked in OK condition (although a bit thin) and looked better off than the hundreds of stray dogs I’d seen roaming the streets without a home looking for any scraps they could find, so I didn’t say anything to her owners (fearing any form of backlash on the dog).

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Fancy a stay in a Rock Hotel? Just like The Flintstones!

One afternoon I asked the old boy owner if I could take her for a walk, as she was desperate for some attention and some exercise (she went crazy every time she saw me), and they let me.  I didn’t intend on running with her, particularly after my poor effort trying to jog the day before, but that’s what I ended up doing in my flip flops (which is easier said than done), as she just so desperately wanted to.  We ran for about 30 minutes in all, and then she was spent; she even turned around to go back on her own.

That night I bought her a pack of raw chicken drumsticks from the supermarket in town.  On the way back to the campsite to give them to her, I met another Alsatian, this one only a male pup, and made the mistake of giving him one of the drumsticks.  From then on, he wouldn’t leave me alone, and followed me all the way back to the campsite.

When Zavla saw me arrive with another dog, she went crazy and almost pulled the tree down she was chained to.  For once I was glad she was chained up, for I think she would have killed this poor other pup.  When I fed her the drumsticks she swallowed them all whole, almost taking my hand with them.  I had to drop the last couple on the floor to avoid losing my arm.

I went back to my tent and the pup followed me; I couldn’t shake him off!  I knew the owners would go crazy if they saw him, so I had to walk him all the way back into town where I’d found him.  I then hid, hoping he’d go away, but he kept finding me and jumping up me, thinking it was a game.  I felt bad, but I kept hiding until eventually he couldn’t find me and wondered off, leaving me safe to go back to the tent alone.

I could have stayed at that campsite for a long time, but I was on a time limit to get to Greece.  I had to leave my bike at the Triumph dealership there to get the starter motor fixed while I flew back to the UK for my brother’s stag party on 26th Sep.  That only gave me 10 days for the rest of Turkey.

Beach

I’d had a superb time exploring inland Turkey, but now I could not deny it was time for some sand and sea action.  I re-set the compass south and prepared for a trip down to the Turkish Riviera to explore her Mediterranean Coast.

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Off to The Beach! 🙂

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Turkish Riviera

The southwest Turkish Mediterranean Coast is known as the Turkish Riviera, or Turquoise Coast, home to beautiful beaches, ancient ruins and waterfalls.  It is so beautiful Mark Antony picked it as his wedding present for his beloved Cleopatra.

From Cappadocia I rode south, up and down mountains and in and out of the rain, but it was nice and refreshing at least.  The road, as usual for Turkey, was incredibly awesome in terms of lack of traffic, quality and scenic beauty.  Good old Turkey, my friend!

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The awesome roads of Turkey

Then I hit the coast at a large city called Mersin.

Up until Mersin I’d been impressed how well the traffic flowed in Turkey, but soon that myth was cruelly dispelled!  Here, traffic was a nightmare, and in the middle of a traffic jam in the middle of town the Tiger decided to stall.  Then, of course, it wouldn’t start, so I had to push it to the curb and leave it for 30 minutes to cool down.  “No matter”, I thought, and took the opportunity to grab a drink.

Soon I was back on my way and escaped the worst of the traffic by taking the coastal route through town.  I’d noticed my oil level was low, and so on my way out I made a quick stop at a garage and topped it up (with the engine running, as I didn’t feel like waiting another 30 minutes).

It was a relief to find myself out of the busy city and back on the empty, rocky Mediterranean coastal road.  I followed it west through Erdemli and towards a small tourist enclave called Kizkalesi.

By now it was late afternoon, so when I spotted a campsite advertising by the side of the road just before Kizkalesi, I pulled off to take a gander.  When I saw a lovely little clearing surrounded in flowers next to the sea, I decided to pitch for the night.  In fact, I had decided to stay before I’d even seen the nice clearing due to the friendliness and openness of the lady owner who met me at the gate.

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Good place for a spot of camping, I think

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Yep!

After a quick pitch (which I have discovered means 20 minutes without really rushing too much), I changed into my boardies and took a dive off the camp’s home-made wooden pier.  The coastline was rocky, which meant the water clarity was exceptional.  It was also nice and warm, which is always good.

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Ready for a dive off the pier?

There weren’t many people around (I think I was their only guest), but they made me feel welcome and cooked me a delicious fresh fish for dinner on a huge pile of greens, which were the first I’d had in a while, and something I had been craving.

Roman Ruins

Next morning I rose earlier than usual, left the luggage in the tent and set off to explore the area; it’s always much nicer to cruise around without the weight of the luggage.

There are so many ancient ruins along the Turkish Mediterranean coast that most are not even regularly visited, or indeed sign posted.  Just down the road I found an old 2nd century Roman settlement and amphitheatre with great views over the coast.

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Ruins of a 2nd century Roman settlement

It was great being the only visitor at this incredible ancient site, and I took my time wondering around, looking at the 1,800 year old Roman mosaics and climbing up and down the amphitheatre.

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The awesome amphitheatre

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1,800 year old mosaic

Heaven and Hell

Further down the coast there was a place called ‘Cennet and Cehennem’ which means ‘Heaven and Hell’, so I expected a mix of free beer and trance music.  What I actually found were two huge sink holes (collapsed caves).

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Entering into the mouth of ‘Heaven’

‘Heaven’ was the biggest, and there were 400 steps leading all the way down into a huge, dark, dripping cave.  It was really slippery on the wet rocks leading into the cave, particularly in my flip flops, but it was worth the climb.

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I always thought ‘Heaven’ would look slightly different…

Next was the smaller ‘Hell’ sink hole, where Greek legend says Typhon, a fire-breathing 100-headed dragon, defeated Zeus, King of the Gods, and imprisoned him in the hole.  Two other Greek Gods, Hermes and Pan, rescued Zeus (thank goodness), who then went on to defeat Typhon and imprison him inside Mt Etna, the active volcano in Italy.  Poor old Typhon!

On the way back to the tent I had a huge, delicious local (late) breakfast called Kahvaltı, consisting of many small dishes, feta cheese, salad and bread.  I do love Turkish food!

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Turkish breakfast – Kahvaltı – Yum!

Kizkalesi

Onwards to Kizkalesi, I had a peek at the beach which was too touristy for my liking, but there was a nice castle on the peninsula called Korikos castle, and another out on a rock out at sea called Maiden castle.

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Korikos castle

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Touristy Kizkalesi

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A bit too touristy for me

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Kizkalesi

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The pier was sinking!

The Master Plan

My Master Plan was simple: ride along the Turkish coast to Izmir and catch a ferry to Greece.  It was only around 1,500km, so I aimed to take my time, camping at the best beaches I found along the way.  Good plan, eh?

Back on the coastal road I took my time riding up, down and around the mountains, enjoying the frequent stunning vistas that unfolded all around me.

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The Turkish Coastal Road – not bad!

The traffic again remained light, and the police remained suspiciously absent.  The one policeman I did see was driving whilst chatting away on his mobile phone.  I wondered what on earth I would have to do to get pulled over in such a country!

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I’m always careful not to get tooooo close to the edge nowadays

Alanya

Historically a stronghold for many Mediterranean-based empires, including the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, Alanya is now a busy holiday resort enjoying the beautiful sandy beaches.  I found a relatively quiet spot to camp at Perle Camping, just before the main resort started at the end of the lovely Kleopatra Beach.

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Kleopatra Beach, Alanya

The campsite had a great bar and restaurant, but wasn’t much of a campsite.  With little space to choose from, they squeezed me into a corner amongst their stores, but I didn’t mind.

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Room for a small one?

The long, wide Kleopatra beach was wonderful – one of the best I’d seen for quite some time – and I decided to take a jog along it to explore a bit.  Not long into the jog I discovered it was a mistake not to wear trainers, as the sand was so course it acted like sandpaper on my feet.  It was also soft and deep, which made it extremely hard going.  However, not wanting to give up, I ploughed on and eventually managed 30 minutes without collapsing into a heap and crying, which was lucky as there was quite a crowd.  The swim afterwards was worth it!

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Fancy a jog? Wear trainers!

Odd Eyed Cat

The camp had a resident white cat with one green eye and one blue eye.  Having never seen such a thing before, I was fascinated, but having looked into it I discovered these ‘odd-eyed’ Angora cats are quite a common sight in Turkey, and they are considered a national treasure.  The Turkish Government (with the Ankara Zoo) even started their own breeding program to preserve and protect them in 1817, and the program continues today.  Turkish folklore suggests that “the eyes must be as green as the lake and as blue as the sky”.

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Odd-Eyed Angora Cat

Wakey Wakey!

Turks like to stay up late drinking tea, which is fine, but that means they don’t get going until late morning.  This, of course, is not a problem unless you wake up early and want to have breakfast, as I did one morning thanks to the combined efforts of the local mosque and a cockerel.

At least the wifi was working, so I caught up a bit on this blog.

The restaurant eventually got going at 10am, by which time I was starving.  Again I had the huge Turkish breakfast, Kahvaltı, which is really good, but not quite as good as an English one!

I decided to stay another day, considering it was extra cheap and the beach was nice, and after a quick discussion, I agreed with myself.

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Another day on the beach – It’s a hard life

Cirali

Next stop along the coast was Cirali, and on the way a nice lunchtime stop was the wonderful Manavgat Waterfall – just one of many hidden Turkish treasures.

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Manavgat Waterfall – lovely!

Next was the large coastal resort of Antalya.  Interestingly, Antalya became the third most visited city in the world last year (2013) by number of international arrivals, ranking behind Paris and London.  And no wonder, judging by the number of huge holiday resorts that lined the coast almost continuously.  Not liking the touristy masses, I rode on through, but having researched it later I wished I had stopped to see the Düden Waterfalls which fall directly into the Mediterranean Sea – oh well, you can’t win them all, and they’ll still be there for my next visit!

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Oops – wrong way! 😉

Cirali turned out to be a bohemian hippy camp along a secluded beach.  Now this was the kind of beach I did like.

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Gorgeous Cirali Beach

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My kind of beach

I found another empty campsite at the quieter end of the quiet beach (Cirali Camping) and set up amongst free range hens and cockerels; I suspected it would be another noisy early morning awakening.

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A witch suddenly appeared and turned me into a chicken!

At the other end of the beach were the 2,000 year old ruins of Olympos, a former city in the ancient region of Lycia (before it was assumed into various other empires).  Here the beach was busier and there was a line of bars and restaurants serving great food & cocktails.

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2,000 year old ancient Olympos

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Olympos was beautifully situated on a river at the coast

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The Olympos end of the beach

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Looking towards Cirali

I was learning a lot about Turkey; I hadn’t realised how many beautiful and interesting places there were to visit, and I was only just scratching the surface.  I thought I’d better get a beer and lay on the beach for a bit to contemplate its majesty.

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Time for a beer, me thinks 🙂

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Cirali to Çeşme – Turkey

Onwards and Upwards

From my camp in Cirali, I only had 650km to ride until I reached Çeşme and the ferry that would carry me over to Greece (Chios Island).  Therefore, I took my time and enjoyed the twisty, scenic road that ran right along the coastline; I thought I would meander for a couple of days.  The Tiger was running well, despite the ongoing starting problem when hot; she did love those Turkish roads.

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The stunning Turkish coastal road

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Every corner I had to be careful to pay attention to the road to avoid over-shooting off another cliff

It was another gorgeous, sunny day, and I was again spoilt by incredible views at every corner, so much so I had to be careful to pay attention to the road to avoid over-shooting off another cliff.  As I rounded one bend I came across a stunning birds-eye view of Kas, a beautiful town dominated by a large yachting marina.

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Kas

There were a lot of expensive yachts floating around, accompanied by expensive looking hotels, but the whole place was beautiful; I put it on my ‘must visit again’ list.

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Yep, I could stay here!

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Kas’ coastal road

Further along the coast I came across the small but perfect Kaputas Beach.  It made a change to actually see quite a few people milling around, enjoying the sun under their beach umbrellas.

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Idyllic Kaputas Beach

Patara

One of the best beaches in Turkey is supposed to be the turtle sanctuary of Patara Beach.  I pushed on and arrived around 6pm, and hadn’t realised the beach closed at 7pm to allow the nesting turtles to lay in peace.  But that was fine, as one hour was enough to soak up the remaining sun and watch it set over the horizon.

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Patara Beach – one of the best in The World??

The 12 km-long Patara Beach is indeed beautiful, and it was actually voted one of the top beaches in the world by Times Online ‘Best of 2005’; strange how it could be ‘one of the best beaches in the world’ in 2005, but not since then.  Did it sink into a black hole from 2006-14?

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Just in time for sunset

Next to the beach are the ruins of ancient Patara, the old major naval and trading port of Lycia over 2,500 years ago.  I had a quick wander around but the light was fading, so I headed on up into the nearby village to look for somewhere to camp (unfortunately I couldn’t camp on or near the beach as it is a National Park and forbidden).

I spotted a camping sign and homed in to take a closer look.  Strangely, but not altogether disappointingly, it ended at a bar.  The friendly ‘Camel Bar’ manager came out to meet me and explained how he offered free camping in the small lot opposite his bar in a bid to boost custom.  Well, being a budget long-term traveller, I couldn’t really turn down a free camping spot with hot showers, so I happily took him up on his kind offer, even though I was slightly concerned I might be letting myself in for a sleepless, noisy night.

As it turned out, the bar wasn’t noisy at all, and as I was also the last one left in there, falling asleep was no problem at all.

In the morning I stopped by another old Lycian city called Xanthos.  Once the largest of all Lycian cities, the Persian Army invaded the city around 540BC.  Before the city was captured, the Lycians famously destroyed their own acropolis, killed their wives, children, and slaves, and then proceeded on a suicidal attack against the superior Persian troops.

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The ruins of Xanthos

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The old amphitheater

I had lunch while I was there and was immediately befriended by 2 stray dogs.  Of course I couldn’t resist feeding them a little, and wished I could do more for them.  I hate it when they looked at me ‘like that’!

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Oh, don’t look at me like that!

Ölüdeniz

Ölüdeniz was a place I was really looking forward to visiting.  I’d seen pictures of the Blue Lagoon there, and it looked like the most beautiful place in the world!  Unfortunately, when I arrived, I was 50 years too late, as it is now an endless conveyor belt of sun loungers and packed with tourists.  Shame!

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Ölüdeniz – One of the most beautiful places in the world spoiled by too many tourists!

However, the surrounding coastline was pretty much devoid of tourists, which suited me better, particularly the ride down to the beach adjacent to Gemiler Island.

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Exploring the coastline around Oludeniz

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Anyone fancy a ride on a Pirate Ship?

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The peninsula south of Fethiye

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Another beautiful day in paradise!

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The view from the other side of the peninsula towards Gemiler Island

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The beach at the bottom, with Gemiler Island in the background

Ölüdeniz is famous for paragliding, and if I did another one (I’ve already crossed a parachute jump off My List), then here would be a great place.  The views of the lagoon from above must be just amazing.

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Ölüdeniz beach

With the whole place rammed, there was no chance of remote, secluded camping, so I wandered into a beach resort to ask if I could camp there, only to be told there was ‘no camping anywhere along this coast’.  Oh well, I thought, but gave one last resort a try next door.

Bingo!  The friendly manager of The Paradise Beach Club offered me a quiet place for a fiver (including breakfast), tucked under a fig tree just in front of the beach, so I jumped at it.

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The only private camping spot in Blue Lagoon, Ölüdeniz

I’d arrived early, and so took a wander down the road into the small tourist beach town.  There was almost an endless stream of paragliders landing on the beach, which was fun to watch.

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One of the paragliders (top right) coming in to land

The club is a great little place to spend a day on the lagoon side of the beach, with a great bar, restaurant and fun, friendly staff.  Even better, before sunset all the tourists go back to their hotels leaving the beach empty and all mine!

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The morning view at my camp before the hordes of tourists arrived

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And when they went home, I was left with this (and a beer, of course)

I went for a run in the hills and afterwards enjoyed a quiet swim with the whole Blue Lagoon to myself.

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The Blue Lagoon – my own private swimming pool

Planning (for a change)

I’d had to book a cheap (Ryan Air) flight back to my home in England (Norwich) from Athens for the 25th September in order to attend my older brother Paul’s ‘Adventure Stag Weekend’, or else he’d kill me.  That only left me a few days to get to Athens and drop my bike off at the local Triumph dealer (to fix the starting problem), so I thought I’d better take no chances and arrive earlier rather than later.

So I rode the 400km from Ölüdeniz to Çeşme in one day, missing out a lot of beautiful coastline that needed exploring.  But I was quite happy with that, because now I have another reason to come back to Turkey in the future; I’m only a young whippersnapper after all!

Turkish Tolls

On the way to Çeşme I did my usual routine and stopped for lunch at a fuel station restaurant while my bike cooled down, and this one had excellent lamb kebabs.  Along the way, the coastline views had remained breathtaking.

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Nice to wake up to

Just as I was getting ready to go, a Turkish biker from Istanbul called Umit turned up on his KTM 1190.

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Umit on his KTM 1190

Umit was a friendly chap, so I decided to stay for another tea and have a chat.  And good for him, as he’d just packed it all in to ride his bike around the world as well, next stop Australia.  We swapped info & and a few stories, and then I followed him on the toll motorway (toll road) to Izmir, where he turned off and I carried on to Çeşme.

I hadn’t used the motorway up until then as there was a ‘no motorcycles’ sign at the entrance.  Apparently this was there to be ignored.

The toll booths weren’t manned, which meant (according to Umit) that I didn’t need to pay, and instead we just rode through the automated booths together.  It was funny though when the last toll booth alarmed with a racket and flashing lights as I exited to Çeşme!  I had visions of a police roadblock being formed ahead to stop me, but was somewhat relieved when nothing happened.   Phew!

Çeşme

Çeşme is a maze of tiny medieval cobbled back streets through which most locals ride their mopeds at breakneck speed.  I didn’t have a clue where I could or couldn’t ride, as some of the streets weren’t even wide enough for my Tiger!

After riding around in circles for a good while, I was totally lost, and so stopped to ask a couple of policemen if they knew where my hotel was.  As it happened, they did, and the nice policemen started directing me down a tiny lane.  However, even better, a local on a moped overheard us and told me to follow him; that’s how friendly the Turks are!

So off we sped through Çeşme’s crowded, tiny streets (me being very careful not to knee-cap anyone with my panniers) until we came to my hotel.  I thanked the guy profusely, who just waved and shot off, for had it not been for him I’d probably still be there looking.

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The Tiger parked outside the hotel in the tiny streets of Cesme

Lovely

Çeşme is lovely; really lovely.  It really is a place I would have no hesitation in returning to one day.

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Cesme street art

Full of yachts and swanky wine bars on the end of a scenic peninsula, there is certainly a lot of money around this city.  I had a quick look around for a rich wife, but couldn’t find anyone under 60, so I joined the normal people in a sports bar watching football.

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Expensive yachts and swanky wine bars

Poor Planning

Sometimes my poor (or non-existent) planning makes things difficult, as you might expect.  Entering Greece was one of those times, because I suddenly realised the day before arriving that I needed to get minimum 3rd party insurance for Europe, called a Green Card.

I called Umit and asked him if he knew where I could get one.  There was nowhere in tiny, touristy Cesme, but Umit found a place for me to try in the large city of Izmir, one hour away.

I hate riding into the centre of busy cities, but it had to be done.  The traffic was horrible.  To save anyone else the hassle of trying, a foreigner cannot get Green Card Insurance in Izmir.

I tried 2 different places and each said they could not issue Green Cards for non-Turkish drivers.  The second place also tried 10 other places for me, and the answer was the same.  So, I had lunch by the seafront and then fought my way back through the heavy city traffic to lovely, sleepy Çeşme.

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Izmir Waterfront – no Green Card here!

To cut a long story short, I eventually found Green Card Insurance online from an Italian company called Mototouring for a good price.  The nice guy at my hotel printed and scanned some docs for me, and I got it all sorted with minutes to spare before the ferry left.  Phew!  I won’t leave things like that to the last minute again – honest!  😉

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Phew! Just made the ferry – Next stop Europe and Greece!!!!! I feel like I’m almost home…

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Goodbye Turkey – it’s been a pleasure 🙂

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