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The first time I flew into Istanbul was 30 years ago in late-1984. I arrived September 11, a date not yet infamous. I was in my mid-twenties, travelling alone, and nervous about visiting what was then the most exotic destination on my travel itinerary. My Lonely Planet guide was called West Asia on a Shoestring (formerly Across Asia on the Cheap); the Turkey section was just 31 pages in length. Disembarking, I met a young couple on their second visit to Turkey. They suggested I await them beyond passport control and they would “show me the ropes”. I waited a long time, but they never did make it through immigration control, which added enormously to my anxiety, scenes from Midnight Express flashing across my mind’s eye. Within hours, however, I knew I was going to love Turkey, which I did.

The second time I flew into Istanbul was on the eve of my 57th birthday, Charl and our bikes in tow, planning to cycle 7,000km. This time my apprehension centred not on the unfamiliarity or strangeness of our destination, but on my ability to cope physically with the task we had set ourselves. I had not been on my bike since my 55th birthday, and was fatter, unfitter and two long years older than for any previous trip.

Our first week “on the road” was defined, therefore, by a deep tiredness and a multitude of aches and pains. Cramping feet and legs and stiff arms from long hours of pushing our wayward and heavy steeds up hills too steep to cycle; neck and back pain from too many hours hunched between saddle and handlebars; bruised butt bones and unmentionable chafings; immovable knees and pin-and-needle hands.

We spent just one night in Istanbul, taking the ferry across the Sea of Marmara to Asian Turkey and getting on our bikes in the coastal town of Yalova. From Yalova we cycled 260-odd km to Bandirma via Orhangazi, Iznik, Yenişihir, Cumalikizik, Bursa and Karacabey. Cycled predominantly busy arterials with wide shoulders in good condition through hills green and pretty, towns industrious and  modern.

Our slow cycle averages allowed little time for site-seeing. In pretty Iznik, nestled between hills on the east shore of Lake Iznik, we admired the tiles for which this town of 43,000 is best known; floral motifs of tulips, hyacinths, pomegranates and carnations painted in turquoise and blue, green and red. Iznik is surrounded by a pentagon-shaped wall almost 5km in length. East of Bursa, we revelled in Cumalikizik’s Ottoman architecture; double-storey homes clustered along rough stone streets, the ground floor built of stone, the upper plastered in clay textured with straw. In Bursa we visited the Ulu Camii (Great Mosque), built in 1396 to celebrate the vanquishing of the Crusaders. Its founder had originally promised to build 20 mosques should he succeed against the Crusaders; in the end he settled for one mosque with 20 domes! A building of impressive size and red carpeting with calligraphy on the walls and chandeliers hung low.

Settling into a new country and culture always take a little time. Learning to communicate in sign language that makes sense to your hosts; learning the politenesses of greeting and thanking that smooth your passage; learning to eat soup or salad for breakfast; working out how to bargain with humour and tolerance; learning when to remove your shoes and that you should hold them soles together when carrying them through a mosque; learning to cope with the fact that EVERYONE smokes ALL the time; wondering whether blowing your nose is a public no-no, or an accepted norm.

So... here we are in Turkey – a very different place from the country I visited in 1984, with lots to learn and do and see.

Lake Iznik
Lake Iznik
Iznik Murat Hamami (baths)
Iznik Murat Hamami (baths)
Iznik city wall
Iznik city wall
Cumalikizik
Cumalikizik
Cumalikizik
Cumalikizik
Bursa Ulu Camii
Bursa Ulu Camii
Bursa market
Bursa market
Bursa Irgandi Bridge
Bursa Irgandi Bridge
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