Anatolia

Opening up behind Istanbul, this vast peninsula was nominally our first taste of Asia. Looking back though, the key word to describe Anatolia isn’t “Asia” but “vast”, as the challenges we faced had nothing to do with the new culture and were all about the scale of the landscapes we traversed. Endless fields for days, plateaus the size of your average European country and mountain ranges extending for thousands of kilometers were left behind as we enjoyed the chats with the locals, always happy to share some of their delicious food. The cities underwhelmed at times but some other spots were just the stuff of dreams. We saw otherworldly rock formations, crazy mountain passes, a few solitary volcanoes, some rain forests and even a salt lake, and we didn’t even get to the southern half of the country. We had an amazing time trying to take in as much as we could in three weeks, but we feel we barely scrapped the surface of everything Anatolia has to offer.

Some numbers:

Countries: 1 (Turkey)

Currencies: 1 (Lira)

Total km: 1.727

Total days: 17

Rest days: 0

Nights in the tent: 13/17

Flat tires: 0

Highest point: 2.330 m (Soganli Gecidi)

Longest day: 141 km (Sakarya – Nallıhan)

Top experiences:

  1. Göreme in Cappadocia: Yes, it’s touristy, but how could it not be? Fairy chimneys as far as the eye can see are what makes this town famous worldwide, and with good reason. Go trekking, check the sunset with a cold drink on one of the many viewpoints or set up your tent near the take-off spots of the hot-air balloons for the perfect sunrise. No matter what you do, the views are always spectacular.
  2. The infamous D915: Voted on one website as the most dangerous road in the world, we are inclined to agree: this one isn’t for everyone. The ascent from Bayburt is hard but fair and has some nice views to the south, but what makes this road special it’s the descent to the north. The highest part features some crazy switchbacks on the side of a mountain, the bottom of the valley some 300 meters below while the loose rocks of the dirt single track keep moving under your wheels. It’s terrifying in the thick fog, probably even worse in a clear day. You won’t forget this one quickly.
  3. Turkish hospitality: The last paragraphs of our post on Anatolia contain some examples that sum up this point better than any explanation. The generosity of Turkish people is unbelievable, and while they can offer a stranger anything from a cup of tea to a bed with dinner and breakfast, it’s the warmth they do it with that puts a smile on your face every time.
  4. Discovering Aksaray and Ihlara Valley: Aksaray was one of the few towns that had a bit of charm, with a few interesting buildings from different periods, but we might owe that to our fantastic host and guide Selim. What is undeniably beautiful is Ihlara Valley right outside it. There are a couple of fairy chimneys, but the impressive canyon with its very old rock churches is the main attraction. Erciyes, a volcano almost 4000 meters tall, provides an imposing backdrop to the city and the valley.
  5. Roaming around Bayburt Province: Very wide valleys at 1500-2000 meters, views on the peaks, cool temperatures in the summer, almost empty roads, flowers instead of crop fields and just a little town every now and then. The cycling is easy and rewarding, and busy Bayburt is cooler than you might think. We didn’t know Turkey could be so relaxing; this is one of the best parts of the country to get lost in.

Useful information for fellow cyclists:

Weather: July can be very hot in Turkey. Temperatures can reach 35°C easily, you might want to start your day early to avoid the midday heat. Strong sustained winds are not uncommon in Central Anatolia. Fog and/or rain can be expected above 2000m.

Roads: Most main roads are surprisingly good, with shoulders wide enough to ride comfortably. Therefore, traffic is generally not an issue, although cities can be very busy. Cycling in them is rather stressful than dangerous though, as drivers tend to be respectful.

Sleeping: Very easy. Public parks in cities and gas stations in the countryside are a safe option, although you will gather some attention and possibly an invitation to dinner if you pitch your tent before dark. Police stations will open their doors if you are in need. Couchsurfing available in cities, easy. Hostels for 8-12€/night can be found in most cities.

Food: Deliciously fresh. We kept it simple with bread, fresh vegetables and extras like white cheese, canned beans/peas, tuna or grilled eggplant/peppers. Pasta and sucuk (chicken sausage) when in need of something heavier. All of the above can be found everywhere. Fruit, oatmeal, cookies and milk make for varied breakfasts. Look for the three main supermarket chains (A101, Sok, BIM) for the best prices. Locals grill in the parks all day and share gladly, their kebab is amazing.

Drinks: Beer hard to come by except in touristic spots (Göreme). Not illegal, just not sold anywhere.

Water: Not a lot of fountains, and tap water tastes bad, and it probably is in many regions. It won’t kill you but following the locals’ customs might spare you some trouble. Bottled water available everywhere, asking locals for refills even better.

Money: Very cheap country overall. 7-8€ a day on food, for both of us. Beer expensive (15 TL in a bar in Göreme). ATMs everywhere. Rate was favorable (1€ = 4,8TL in July 2018) and quickly getting better due to USA pressure on Turkey.

Wi-Fi: Available in some gas stations, although staff reticent to give password sometimes. Getting a SIM-Card is probably a good option considering the number of days you’ll spend in the country. 10Gb / 1 month for 50 TL (Turkcell) in Istanbul, asking a local in a hostel for help.

Visa: 25€ on the Greece border, although we know it to be free for many EU-countries. e-Visa available for 15€ a couple of days in advance. 90 days.

Be careful with: Distances are big, especially when compared to Europe. Stray dogs are very aggressive.

Blog posts:

17 days in Anatolia

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