The way I see it now, cycling across Europe to the Black Sea was the main course, and Turkey was dessert. My ride ended in Varna, Bulgaria. There, at the Yo Ho Hostel, I was given a choice of roommates: two Kiwi women who had covered the bunks and floor with every item in their packs, or a Canadian man who had left his pack neat at the end of his bed, and Call of the Wild open on the pillow. I chose Tidy Man.
Tidy Man's name is Dan, and I followed him to Istanbul. We spent three days exploring old Ottoman neighbourhoods, stopping for chai in hole-in-the-wall tea gardens with low tables, where old men passed time chatting and fingering their prayer beads. We walked the Bosphorus and Marmara seafronts, the palace park. On a Saturday night our English travel pal from the Varna hostel, Doug, led us into the teeming entertainment district of Beyoglu to find kebap and raki. We bar hopped until we settled at a cozy place with a popular Turkish guitarist-singer and a saz player. We were there until 3 a.m., and when we made our way back down the main street (Istiklal Caddesi) it was still full of partying Istanbullus. On the Galata Bridge, fishermen were propped along the railing elbow to elbow, hanging on to their long rods in the hope of catching tiny fish. This city doesn't sleep.
One of the highlights of my stay in Istanbul was meeting up with Meezan in Ortakoy for lunch. She now works in Erbil, northern Iraq, and fascinated us with her stories of life there (check out her blog, www.dailyhawler.blogspot.com). She enticed me with her enthusiastic suggestion of a cycling route through south-eastern Turkey to Erbil, promising a car pick-up from the border (I hadn't at this point decided on my mode of travel in Turkey).
The day after Dan left Istanbul to go south toward Greece, emails flew. I parked my bike and gear at the Orient Hostel, bought a backpack, and followed him to Selchuk, near the magnificent Roman ruins of Ephesus. We've been travel and soul mates ever since.
From Ephesus we travelled by bus to Pamukkale, where travertine (calcium carbonate) pools cascade down a hill from the bottom of Hierapolis, another ancient city spreading its stone ruins across a dry hillside.
Fethiye was the next stop: a Mediterranean seaside town from which we took a four day cruise on a gulet, a 75 foot wooden yacht. We had idyllic days cruising the Turquoise coast, swimming from the boat, lazing on deck, eating delicious meals of vegetarian stews, salads, and fish, in the company of other travellers from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Hungary.
Back in Fethiye, we headed out for a three-day trek on the beginning of the Lycian Way, rated one of the top ten hikes in the world. We could see why as soon as we found the trailhead. It led us through pine forests and onto the edge of a mountain from which we had stunning views of Oludeniz beach and the anchorage we'd been at just days before. By the end of the first day we were walking against the steep sides of a mountain canyon and down to the top of Butterfly Valley just before sunset. The second day ripe olives littered our path like little animal droppings; pomegranates decorated branches like shiny Christmas ornaments. Terraced fields slid down the mountain as we descended into the beach camps at Kabak. Our final day was a steep ascent through pines and up dry riverbeds to the little village of Alinca, perched on a high headland.
From there we bussed to Olympos, a backpacker hangout now quiet at the end of season. We clambered over ruins and hiked up a long pine-lined road to the Chimera, where eternal flames emanate from the belly of the mountainside. Our walk back was under a thick star filled sky.
Next stop on this trip through a land of wonders was Cappadocia. Here we wandered in valleys lined with incredible stone formations, towering over us in weird shapes. In the fairy chimneys and tuff towers cave houses and churches have been carved over the centuries, mostly by Christians for escape from persecuting invaders. It's an astonishing, other world landscape.
This morning I entrusted my bike and camping gear to the Turkish post office in Istanbul for delivery to Vancouver in about a month. The biking adventure is done, and the backpacking adventure continues. We're heading to Thessaloniki, Greece, tomorrow.