Istanbul, Turkey - June 9, 2010
I know it has been quite a while since I have written. Much has happened even though I haven't moved very far. Still in Istanbul. Alone again after a very nice one week visit by Diane. She went home yesterday. :( Anyway, think I last wrote when I was getting close to Istanbul and so I guess I should bring everyone up to date.
Came up the coast of the Marmara after my trip down to Canakkale and Troy. Cool dirt road in places right along the coast where the road climbed up over some mountains that come down to the sea. Lots of switchbacks and exposure. Guess that's where I first experienced the very polite Turkish custom of being invited for tea at gas stations. Have tea now almost all the time. The attendant always comes over, we talk and point to the bike a bit, and then I get invited for tea. How very nice. How come the Chevron station at home doesn't offer that service?
Anyway, I arrived on the 30th and went to my friend Safak's parent's place where I was very warmly welcomed by his dad Ihsan (an airline pilot and instructor) and his mom Fugan. I knew both of them before from their trips to Kamloops and so we got caught up a bit on what was happening and got the tour of their new place. It was really good to see them again and Fugan's meals were fantastic! Also met Safak's uncles Tayfur and Fatih, whom I had not met before. Really, really wonderful people. Tayfur works in the merchant marine and was telling stories of his life of travels around the world including his penchant for exotic food. Apparently cockroaches taste better than chicken... who would have guessed? But then of course they have to be prepared properly.
Fatih works at a large Renault dealership/repair facility and after explaining and showing my sidecase bracket problem, I got invited to Renault to have it repaired. So I went the next day and met the guys at the body shop. They were really fun. I don't think anything got done in the shop for about two hours what with the standing around, swapping motorcycle stories with some English, Turkish and hand gestures, and with the group photo-taking and so on. But one of the guys not only did a masterful job at repairing the crack but fabricated a brace from one side to the other to reinforce the whole unit. Much better now.
After staying a couple of nights with Safak's folks, I moved to a hotel in the old section of Istanbul located just between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia that was recommended to us by Safak's friend Yilmaz – another long-distance motorcycle rider and bank manager. Couldn't ask for a better location or a nicer place. A little $$ but not too bad given it's surroundings. Moved in, took a quick shower, then headed off to the airport on public transit to pick up Diane who was flying in from Kamloops. Got lost, but made it in time. Very nice to see her of course but had to tone it down a little since public displays of affection are not so common here. Oh well... I'm sure they knew we were tourists.
We spent a day or two doing tourist stuff... all of which is really worthwhile because everything here is absolutely beautiful. It really is a wonderful city. Right up there on my recommend list. The Blue Mosque is breathtaking inside (really an “OMG” kind of place) and the mosaics in Aya Sofia look like paintings. Did some jobs here too (it wasn't all fun and games and baklava eating) including checking out some of the consulates for visas I would need. The consulates are hard to track down as they seem to be in residential areas outside the downtown area which means driving the bike in Istanbul traffic.
Now let me say that the Turkish people are some of the warmest and most helpful you can possibly imagine. They will go out of their way to be of service even when it is clearly inconvenient to them. Just wonderful people. Until they get behind the wheel. I'm sure that they are not really trying to kill you on purpose; maybe it's their strong faith that God will protect where their driving skills will not. But clearly, Istanbul drivers are in my 57 years of experience, the absolute worst drivers in the world. And taxi drivers are the worst of the worst. After having a wonderful dinner with Yilmaz on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Yilmaz recommended a way back to the hotel that included a taxi ride. OMG! Arthur, who is on this list, runs a video game place in Kamloops, and one of our favorites is the driving experience game called San Francisco Rush. Well, let me tell you, it's one thing to sit there and stick tokens in a slot and drive like a madman, and it's another to experience it in real life. This ride back to the hotel was like nothing I have ever lived through. And we had to pay this guy? Clearly he was venting some inner aggressive tendencies. The cursing... the horn blowing... the weaving... Diane and I are just in the back gripping the seats and each other (forget that touching taboo!) doing our own OMG! OMG! God that ride felt good when it was over. So what is it like to ride a motorcycle in Istanbul? Well, riding a bike, you get to view it all from the outside. And interestingly enough, I have not seen one bicycle in this town. Not one. All the bicycle riders are dead. But to live, you have to become one of them. So now when I drive around, I curse, I weave and I blow my horn all the time. It's fun! Woohoo! God is great!
Anyway, anxious to get out of town after that experience, Diane and I packed up and headed across the Marmara on a ferry for a roundabout bike ride to the Aegean coast. Beautiful day. Stayed in Isnik, the new name for Nicea. Very cute little town where the trees arch over the main street so it looks like you are in a green tunnel. They still had the old Nicean church and the city wall was still pretty much intact so we had a nice evening walk watching the sunset over the lake. Ali, the hotel owner was a bit of a bike enthusiast although he only had a scooter and after I helped him write some emails in English, we went out to look at my bike and he noticed that there was a leak at one of the carbs. No problem... yes, I'll fix it. Sorry about the puddle of gas. Oh no, he was very concerned that someone could drop a cigarette or something somewhere along our route and the bike would go up in flames. No, no, it had to be fixed now and so Ali insisted on calling his friend the “motorcycle mechanic”. So his friend comes over... no really Ali, it's OK... I'll fix it myself... but his friend kneels down and what does he do while investigating a fuel leak??? Lights up a cigarette and tosses the match. God is great! We survived. So I convinced Ali to go have a drink with his friend instead... I'll fix it.... I'll fix it.
Diane and the Church at Nicea
With Ali and his Son Outside the Hotel
Chatting with Bart in Turkey
Day 2 of our trip was a great ride through the mountains where we met Bart, another solo round-the-world rider. Funny place to meet. Some back gravel road in Turkey. Guess I might be running into more from now on. By the end of the day however... the rain had started again. Day 3 was no better. It poured and we were hydroplaning on the roads. Totally soaked through as we had not brought anything for rain. Diane only had one pair of jeans and one pair of socks and runners. I had my jacket and pants, but no liner and only one short-sleeved shirt and so I was soaked too. And frozen. So we aborted that trip and came back to Istanbul by another ferry. Gave us an extra day here, which was put to very good use doing the visa tango. That's another topic for another day.
Anyway, Diane left (lots of boo-hoo) and I have now moved into a different place closer to a motorcycle shop run by Ahmet, a friend of Yilmaz's. I put the bike down there today and will walk down tomorrow to start doing some work. The only really nasty I see right now is that one of my new shocks, installed just before I left has already sprung a leak. I have a repair kit with me, but no tools to disassemble it. Ahmet doesn't have any either, but we'll figure out something. Otherwise, I'll just have to look for surprises. Bike is running OK... not great. Maybe the carbs just need some work. The leak seems to have stopped on its own. Maybe just dirt in the float valve.
Little EEE is acting up too. I had to buy a mouse as the little finger pad works but the buttons don't and the double-tap doesn't do anything. Makes the computer nigh impossible to navigate around in. I reinstalled the BIOS but it only fixed it temporarily. I think the touch pad is going flaky. It has seen so much water! Works great with a mouse though.
And of course am still considering what to do and how to proceed. The visa dance has slowed the schedule considerably and what I have felt on past trips as necessary and welcomed solitude has at times turned into isolation and loneliness. Not what I expected at all. And the return of the rain is not helping. I'm just gathering information now... about the visas and the bike and will come up with a plan. The easiest would be to continue on and see how things go getting across Turkey. But the weather has changed again and Turkey is really flooding. Istanbul was a mess yesterday with stores flooding and water up to the tops of wheels stranding cars and buses. The weather is to continue for at least a week. I think I've been here before.