Turkey: the country that made us change our travel itinerary

Dries Van Ransbeeck
May 9, 2019 · 6 min read

It took us a bit more than 2 months yet it is now official: we’re out of Europe. We’ve entered Turkey and, having crossed the Turkish Straits, we have now started the Middle Eastern part of our journey to Tokyo.

Our last blog post dates back from 4 weeks ago when we were still cycling in the Balkans, and that’s due to how much we have been enjoying Turkey: there are so many interesting places to explore, locals are very welcoming and its food is so delicious that we’re gaining weight despite all calories burned through cycling.

Our favourite breaks: çay with locals — a good way to learn some Turkish

Turkey exceeds our expectations and has conquered our hearts! Even to that extent that we want to spend more time discovering the country and it made us change our travel itinerary.

From Sofia to the Bulgarian-Turkish border

In our previous blog post we talked about our highlights in the northern part of Bulgaria. From Sofia we have cycled in a more or less straight line to the border with Turkey, with a few days stop in the beautiful city of Plovdiv, the European Capital of Culture 2019, which is also often being referred to as Bulgaria’s hidden gem. It was definitely our favorite Bulgarian city.

From Sofia to Izmir with a 10-day stop in Istanbul — full itinerary on https://roadtotherisingsun.be/

We crossed the Bulgarian-Greek border in Svilengrad, cycled for 30 km in Greece and then entered Turkey via the border control in Kastanies. Soon after the border we arrived in Edirne, our first city in Turkey.

Our gateway to Edirne: the Meriç bridge, a beautiful historic Ottoman bridge

Getting into Istanbul: you’d better be prepared

How to enter a city which is bigger in terms of inhabitants than the country you come from? There are a lot of online discussions and resources on how to get into Istanbul, yet one thing is clear: there’s no car-free or bicycle-friendly way to get into the city.

From Edirne to Istanbul: 250 km

We’ve spent quite a while on comparing the alternatives and decided to cycle along D20 from Edirne to Istanbul via Kirklareli and Saray. It turned out to be a reasonable choice since, apart from the part near the huge new Istanbul airport where we had to cycle on the emergency lane of a highway for 20 km, the roads weren’t that busy and we felt pretty safe. We rode the last part through Belgrade forest to Sariyer and then cycled with much excitement and very nice views along the Bosporus to the city center.

D20 to Istanbul: Big yet pretty quiet and safe road

Reaching Istanbul, the first big reference point of this trip

Our arrival in Sariyer at the Bosporus
The ferry crew couldn’t believe that we cycled all the way from Belgium to Istanbul

It’s hard to describe that moment we arrived at the Bosporus. We have always considered Istanbul as the first big reference point and place where we would stay for a longer time during this trip. After more than 2 months and 3100 km of cycling, we got rewarded with amazing views of Istanbul. This also made us gain confidence to arrive somewhere that we previously considered as very far away.

Family time in Istanbul: it was so nice to spend one week with our families to explore the city

Cycling along the west coast of Turkey

Whenever locals start talking about their favourite places in their country, I tend to immediately open the application of OsmAnd and add a marker to those places. After having talked with multiple passionate Turkish cyclists, we ended up with a lot of markers on the west coast of Turkey. That’s why we took a ferry from Istanbul to Bandirma, which is a nice way to easily get out of the city, and cycled from Bandirma to Izmir with great stops in Assos, Ayvalik and Bergama.

Walking along the coast in Çanakkale
Iskele (Assos) — popular holiday destination among Turks
Cycling on a rest day — why not?
Great view on the beautiful Assos theatre
Fantastic mezze after a day of cycling in Temam Meyhane in Ayvalik

From Izmir we could have gone further southwards, but we decided to not do that since we also want to discover other parts of Turkey.

We took Georgia and Armenia out of our itinerary

We got to understand what Travel Independent means with ‘enjoying yourself too much’ as the biggest danger in Turkey. The country has so much to offer and is very affordable thanks to the beneficial exchange rate Euro-Turkish Lira. Both of us agreed to take more time to travel in the southeast of Turkey and go afterwards either directly to Iran or via Iraqi Kurdistan to Iran. Therefore, we won’t go to Georgia and Armenia as part of this journey.

What’s next?

We’re heading to Cappadocia! From Izmir, we will take a bus to Aksaray and we will cycle a few days around in Cappodocia. Afterwards we will go to Ankara to get our visa for Iran and take another bus to Gaziantep in order to continue our journey.

New project for 2020: the first Velo Tour Festival in Belgium

While cycling in Turkey we came across the very interesting concept of bicycle festivals. A bicycle festival is a multiple day social event that gathers a big group of cyclists who cycle, camp and visit together different points of interests in a region. This kind of festival is entirely organised by volunteers and wants to get cyclists familiar with bike touring in a fun way.

We have discovered this super exciting concept thanks to Gokhan, who we’ve met on the ferry from Istanbul to Bandirma, and who was on his way to a bicycle festival near Izmir. As we really wanted to hear more about it, we’re lucky enough to get introduced to Olcay, who’s the co-organiser of a big bicycle festival in Izmir. Olcay gave an answer to our dozens of questions about how it works to organise a bicycle festival, so we’re ready to make our first one happen in Belgium next year!

Meanwhile, we have already bought the domain name http://velotourfestival.be/ — more info coming up soon! :-)

Some more pictures to end with:

That moment you look at the map and realize that it’s never going to be flat again
We got invited to camp in a man’s garden and he called his son in London to do the translation work
Dinner with Anil, one of our unforgettable WarmShowers hosts, and his family
Manon ordering sunshine over the phone
It’s constantly going up and down in Turkey
Seytanin Kahvesi, our favorite coffee place in Ayvalik
Confirmed in this Turkish coffee: Manon’s future looks very bright
We gave one of our Coureur Du Monde hats to our incredible host Emine
With the Pergamon cycling club at a wedding in Bergama
The spectacular Pergamon in Bergama

See you in 2 weeks — happy cycling!

Road to the Rising Sun

We’re Manon and Dries, cycling all the way from Brussels to Tokyo. This is our story!

Dries Van Ransbeeck

Written by

Crazy about civic innovation, open data, liveable cities & long-distance bike touring. Coordinator @OpenKnowledgeBE.

Road to the Rising Sun

We’re Manon and Dries, cycling all the way from Brussels to Tokyo. This is our story!

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