`Can you recommend cycling in Turkey?' a Dutch couple asks us in Bodrum, one of the big tourist resorts along the coast of Western Turkey. Well, we are in doubt. The scenery is sometimes awesome, quiet roads are not difficult to find and the weather is fine. The cuisine is fantastic and there are good and cheap restaurants everywhere. The people are very hospitable and the sea is crystal clear and blue.
But the Turkish have their own peculiar way to construct a road. The surface consists of uncomfortably big stones, glued in blacktop. When you're sitting in a bus, you feel a constant soft vibration, but on a bicycle it's really annoying and tiring. Turkey is big, so maybe in other parts the roads are more bicycle-friendly. We will certainly find out one day, because Turkey definitely is a very charming country and we will be back!
Our flight brings us to Istanbul, where the roads around the airport are too busy for cycling, but that's no problem. There are regular buses from the airport to the city centre, and bicycle transport in the buses is free. We arrive in the city just in time to catch the ferry to Bandirma, which crosses the Sea of Marmaris. We try to buy two bicycle tickets, but our freshly learnt Turkish seems to be difficult to comprehend. Eventually, everything turns out right and two hours after our arrival in Istanbul, we're on a comfortable ship. Not bad.
The ferry is not only comfortable, but also has a bookshop with lots of good road maps of Turkey! We buy a road atlas with maps on scale 1:400.000, so we're much more confident about our trip. Later, the atlas appears to be a good choice and it safes us a lot of hassle.
From Bandirma, we want to take the train to Balikesir, but alas, "train iez kaput!". So next morning we take the bus, which is cheap, reliable and comfortable and has enough space for our bikes.
We start our bicycling adventure in Ayvalik, where we find a room in pension Taksyarhis, a beautiful place with a big terrace, from where there's a beautiful view over the village and the sea. The price is only € 30 and there's even a kitchen for the guests. In this land of milk and honey these prices seem to be the norm, we discover later. The little road to the pension is very steep, about 20% we guess, and that also seems to be the norm. Well, you get something in return: beautiful views everywhere. We make a nice day trip by bicycle crossing the peninsula the neighbourhood, culminating in a steep climb to a terrace with a 360 degrees view over the surrounding bays.
From Ayvalik there's a big road around the mountains to Bergama, but it's a bad choice for cyclists. There's a splendid old pass road over the mountain (altitude 750 m) with a smooth (!) surface and no traffic at all. It's a bit rainy today so after an hour of relaxes cycling it's time for coffee. That's easier said than done, because everybody in Turkey drinks tea, the men at least do, throughout the day in the tea houses. Meanwhile, the women are working in the fields. So I wait outside while Peter orders coffee... eh tea inside.
After the pass, the steep descent to Bergama gives us nice views of the acropolis of the antique city of Pergamon (Pergamum). The entrance fee is 10 million liras, but for walkers it's free, we learn from the Internet and from everyone in Bergama we meet. The path to the top of the hill strangely enough doesn't pass the ticket office (it does pass a broken fence, though). Walking to the top of the acropolis is preferable tot taking the road to the acropolis, because there are many tourists up there, while on our stroll through the ruins on the hill, we see no one at all. It is very romantic.
The owner of pension Athena in Bergama does his utmost to satisfy his customers because a French travel writer is staying on his premises. Our travel guide says that women travelling alone get a lot of attention from him, which rather negative remark seems unknown to him, as we can observe. But it's a very cosy place with a superb breakfast and nice rooms. A real traveller's haven.
We definitively want to avoid the congested roads around the big harbour city of Izmir. Our maps indicate that it is possible to cycle to Manisa via country roads. But we don't see any signs in the right direction and several locals we consult, think the idea is so absurd that they refuse to indicate the road. There are mountains and robbers, armed with knives and guns! It's much better to take the big road, they assure us. We resign and the first part is not bad at all, luckily. It's a wide road and not very picturesque, but the surface is smooth and there's a strong favourable tail wind blowing. In the neighbourhood of Izmir though, the situation deteriorates with every kilometre. Big speeding trucks pass us with a lot of noise and fumes and the road gets narrower. The part to Menemen is downright scary. There are deep, slippery ruts in the road surface and one truck even tries to cut us off. Luckily we can leave the road after a few kilometres. We take a break, eat a whole kilogram of cherry's from a friendly woman selling produce along the road and making a good speed, we enter Manisa, a busy provincial town.
In the evening, we stroll through this nice town with lots of shops, where the population is a mixture of rather provocatively dressed youth and more traditional elderly Muslims. We plan to drink a Coke on a terrace in front of a mosque with a splendid view over the city, but the stairs leading to it are gone. Now there's an enormous building excavation. A friendly local points out the way, so that we can still enjoy the sunset and our Coke.
The next day, we continue along the same road to Salihli, which in retrospect doesn't seem the right decision, because it's a busy, although broad road without any character. It's probably possible to take a minor road north of the river through the valley, passing small villages. On the other hand our road is fast, so we have plenty of time to visit the ruins of Sardes, strewn out beautifully in the hilly countryside.
First we take a picnic of bread and goat's cheese in the meadow along the river, where a school class has just finished their lunch. Three times a group of children brings us cookies and fruit: erik, unripe apricots which have a fresh, sourly taste and are very popular. It's a bit of an acquired taste, but the hotter it gets, the better they get. When the children have finished their meal, they assemble an enormous amount of trash by order of their teacher, pile it up against a monumental tree, enter the bus and leave. Well, it's a beginning...
Sahili is a friend ly town with lots of small restaurants along the quiet road. After dinner, we take a delicious dessert on a terrace. Turkey really is a haven for people with a sweet taste! Along the road enormous ostrich eggs are sold. What would their cholesterol content be?
The next morning we have to conquer an extremely steep mountain pass. The locals look very worried when we ask directions. "The mountain is very high. You must put your bicycles in our car!" After our refusal they are convinced we are mad, and maybe they are right. The road is just too steep to keep the right pace, but the views are phenomenal, as always. Halfway up we buy a bottle of Coke in a small shop. "Do you want some tea?" Of course we have to accept. A neighbour is sent away to produce the strong sweet tea, served in elegant small glasses. We don't have a lot of common words to talk with the shop owner, but we do understand that he points out that Christians and Muslims are all equal. "We all have the same God, isn't it?" We are the last to deny that. These small mountain villages always are a lot of fun.
After a hair-raising descent we make a side trip to Birgi, a village with lots of traditional wooden houses. "Is there a hotel here?" we ask a local. "No, there is no hotel. Well, there is a hotel, but you won't like it.." All right, we understand the message and continue to Ödemis, a few kilometres along the road. There we find a nice room above a rather loud discotheque, as we discover after dinner. At half past nine, while we're drinking an Efes beer on our balcony, the mosque tries to drown out the pumping music with wailing chants, an effort which nearly succeeds. We decide that the muezzin is probably less irritating than the music, but the combination of the two is a real pandemonium! No reason for panic though, this is not Antalya or Bodrum; at 11 o'clock the music stops and all is blissfully quiet again, until the morning prayers on 5.30 of course .
Today there's nothing wrong with the road. We cycle along a twisting road in good condition through the hills and villages. Only the last few kilometres a strong headwind is bothering us. In Selcuk we see the first carpet sellers of our trip, the first signs of the big tourist industry along this coast.
A few kilometres from Selcuk we find a nice bungalow at campsite Dereli, on a splendid beach with lots of palm trees. The price is € 36. It seems a bit expensive, and the receptionist quotes us a new price in liras: 60 million. How much would that be in euros exactly? Only after a few days we finally decide it wasn't a cheap trick, but a real discount.
Time to relax on the superb beach, a bit like Thailand with all those palm trees. There's even a nice cycling path to the famous ruins of Efesos, where it's no problem to safely park our bikes.
The strong wind from the north west reaches gale force today, but luckily our direction is south east! Today we are cycling a gorgeous route along the antique ruins of Priene, Milet and Didyma. Every site has its own unique charm and throughout the day the winds blow from behind of from the side. There's virtually no car traffic. In Didyma we make inquiries about the ferry to Bodrum. Alas, it's sailing the day after tomorrow. We don't want to stay in Didyma, as its full with pale English holiday makers paying way too much for very bad "English" food. So we decide to cycle to Bodrum, a rather difficult looking detour of around 75 kilometres.
After these apocalyptic scenes, we have to climb a serious mountain road through extensive forest and picturesque villages. The scenery is beautiful, but the road is really too steep, although we are travelling light with only two panniers and a steering bag on each bicycle. Uphill we have to walk and going downhill we have to brake hard all the time, so we don't make much progress. The friendly villages on the way compensate for all our superhuman efforts. Our cycling trip today ends in the charming fishing village of Kiyikislacik which has its own partially submerged ruins. We take a bath in the deep blue water at the ruins and enjoy a lovely diner in one of the excellent fish restaurants. For starters a table full of mezes and salad, followed by ultra fresh fish (balik), baklava and coffee. Yeah, A tired cyclist can eat a lot, without having to bother about a slim figure.
The last part to Bodrum is less difficult. Sometimes the road is rather busy, but there are nice views over the Aegean sea all the time. The descent to Bodrum is magnificent, with views of the rather tacky restored castle of Bodrum. There are many tourists in Bodrum, but the atmosphere is much nicer than in Didyma. It's a cheerful place with lots of Dutch, Germans and Brits who are obviously enjoying themselves.
Here it's no problem to catch a ferry; at 3 o'clock there's a boat to Datca. But first it's time for a beer at one of the many sidewalk cafes in the harbour, followed by a delicious waffle with ice cream and free cappuccino because it takes the inexperienced staff so long to prepare the waffles (it's the opening day). In a travel agency we book a flight from Dalaman to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines; it's no problem to take two bicycles in the plane, the travel agent assures us.
It's nearly dark when we arrive in the small harbour in the north of the narrow Datca peninsula. It's rather flat here, so we have no problems in crossing the peninsula and finding a small bungalow on the Datca campsite in time. It's deserted, but the staff prepares a delicious meal for us.
The Datca peninsula is very mountainous and very beautiful. The Turkish government took a wise decision here: there's a building freeze for the whole peninsula, so no endless ugly apartments here, but green slopes and farmhouses. The relaxing cycling tour to a small beach in the neighbourhood turns out to be an expedition with a mountain pass of 450 meters (not on our map!), which of course we have to climb again on our way back, after an afternoon of sun, sea and sand on one of the nicest beaches we have ever visited in the Mediterranean. It's a tiring, but very rewarding trip, the road is steep but in reasonable condition and the scenery is great. Next time though we will take a boat.
After a few lazy days with some exploration of the surrounding countryside we pack our bicycles for the trip to Marmaris. The campsite manager can't believe his eyes. "Are you going to Marmaris by bike? Hahaha!" Considering our experiences in the recent past, this is a very ominous remark, but our fears about the condition and steepness of the road are unfounded. There's a lot of road construction going on and we're already taking advantage of it. The worst gradients are flattened by bulldozers; not a very nice sight but otherwise we probably would have had enormous problems in mastering this road. Fortunately there's still a lot to enjoy and there's not a lot of traffic. In a very fast descent, I suddenly start braking without knowing why. I hear a hissing sound. In a few seconds my rear tyre is completely flat. Thank you, my guardian angel!
In Marmaris, it's not easy to leave the city. The road is narrow, with a lot of trucks and buses, a strong head wind and a very rough surface. We decide to take a bus. A dolmus is prepared to take us and our bicycles that fit neatly in the luggage compartment after taking off some wheels and saddles. After 25 kilometres, we get off. It's all going to quickly, so we don't see that one of the panniers stays behind in the bus, that's already around the corner. Peter starts the pursuit in another dolmus and nearly one hour later he is back with the pannier. The alerted driver managed to stop the dolmus with the pannier at the last moment. just before the big city of Mugla. Very helpful people, the Turkish!
In Akyaka we take a room in a hotel that's funded with Deutschmarks. So the owner tries to expel our last euros to pay for his loan, but we prefer to pay in Turkish liras. In Germany he suffered from many gruelling diseases, he tells us, but now he is very fit again, thanks to the wholesome climate and the food. He strongly suggests us to buy a small castle here for a ridiculous price We have to admit that this doesn't seem to be a bad idea, It's a beautiful place and for no more than 30.000 euros you get a really nice villa with a spacious garden. As in the Datca peninsula, there's a building freeze for some areas and all the houses have to be built in Ottoman style, with lots of wood and alpine ornaments. It's like Switzerland here!
After an easy ride we arrive in Dalyan, where we get a superb room in pension Cinar Sahil for only 30 euros, with a delicious breakfast and a view of the river and the rock graves on the opposite side. It is possible to climb to the graves, but they have forgotten to build a stairway. Not suited for high heels!
On a nearby beach the turtles lay their eggs at night. Recently a worldwide action prevented the construction of huge hotel complexes right on the beach. That's why every day about 200 boats loaded with tourists make the river journey from Dalyan to this beach, so the turtles are still traded for money.
We spend our last day on the beach (not the turtle beach), not too far from the airport. Our maps are a bit sketchy but it turns out that we can reach the airport of Dalaman following some secondary roads. At the airport, the staff asks us three times if we really want to take those bicycles to Istanbul, but as stated before, there's never a real problem in Turkey for the cycling tourist.