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Sunday, 9 October 2011

Day 69: Sunday 9th October 2011. Buyukcekmece to Istanbul.

A combination of the wind when putting the tent up, not being able to use tent pegs and perhaps a little bit of Austrian lager may have contributed to the state of it this morning, that and the fact that it rained and blew all night. Apart from a quick dash to the on site toilets I just tried to pretend it wasn't happening and hid under the foil bubble wrap, but the Security Guard came a knocking and wanted to know when I was going. I gave the signal of 5 minutes and hid back under my blanket and closed my eyes and hoped it would all get better on its own, it didn't. The guard went off on his motorbike and when I checked the gate I was locked in. It was a Sunday, would I be here until Monday? Oops. Rather than worry about such trivial matters I just packed up best I could in the weather. The rocks I had used to secure the tent where not rocks but a really weak, sand heavy cement mixture and just crumbled in the rain. My tent pegs through the fence method had worked really well though, must remember that one. By the time everything got packed up, I was wet but a new guard had appeared and let me out. Off into the miserable morning blowing a gale and chucking it down. The hill I thought I had avoided was now before me and I had to scale it for myself. I forgot to charge the GPS and had no idea how far I had gone or even how long but stopped, looking rather pathetic and got some food and tea. My hopes to warm up a bit where rather scuppered by the back door of the establishment being permanently open and creating a fantastic through draft. Wet, miserable and cold I dragged myself back outside into the rain which had now got worse and set off for Istanbul. With having to catch the plane tomorrow I wasn't looking forward to a rain soaked quick look round the tourist fuelled and money driven big city after experiencing so much genuine hospitality from genuine people. The ride into Istanbul took for ever in driving rain and four lanes of traffic. The pot holes got you by hiding under puddles and the water poured down the hills onto the roads and brakes were virtually useless . My hands became numb from being a permanent fixture holding the brakes as tight as I could whilst careering down hill at about 30mph. A glint of sun came through the clouds about 12 and I started to feel a glimmer of hope. A quick kebab and a coffee at Istanbul prices got me ready and when I reached Sultanhamet I went looking for a cheap hotel. The first one I tried was the best because he assured me the transfer to the airport for 10 Euros would take a bicycle. No one else would. The easyjet airport I was using for the plane home is about 50km from central Istanbul and I needed to check in around 11:00. This meant a really early start and hoping nothing would go wrong and crossing my fingers for half decent weather. It was just too much to ask so 10 Euros seemed the perfect solution and I could relax and stay here for the rest of the evening. I went back to the hostel and double checked about the bicycle. The guy at reception seemed offended by me asking this and he kept saying no problem no problem but he would phone them, just to make me happy. They wouldn't take bicycles! Even for extra money. The guy gave me two other options: a private taxi, about £40 and an airport bus from a different part of town, 10km away. The private taxi was out so that left the bus, hitch-hike or pedal my way to nearer the airport tonight. The cycling tonight would mean I couldn't spend any time in Istanbul the weather was still not great and it was going to be dark before I got there. I would also still have to find somewhere to stay and get to the airport in the morning. Whilst deciding on the options a guy comes up to me and asks where I have been etc after seeing the bike. At first I dont sport his Ortlieb bar bag he is carrying and don't realise he is a cyclist too. When I mention Thomas Stevens his eyes light up. Have you heard of him I say. Yes he says, do you know another French guy called Roman I am his friend. A little Thomas Stevens moment for me as someone knows Who I am without having met them before. We arrange to meet back at this spot at 7pm to have dinner if I'm still in Istanbul. I cycle off to Taksim Square to find out about the airport buses. I end up climbing ridiculous side streets of anything up to 15% and decide this might be a ridiculous idea but I persevere and find the bus. 12TL gets me to the airport, bicycles no problem and they leave every half an hour. It's started to rain again now and I really just want to pay my 12 lira and get on the bus now. Romans friend had suggested sleeping at the airport which hadn't even occurred to me, too easy you see. No building sites or dogs or burning corn fields to worry about. I decide with all the hassle of packing the bike up for the plane, this is unfortunately going to be the option I am going to take....So what should of happened was: I got on the bus, didn't see much of Istanbul and enjoyed the coach ride in the warm and slept at the airport. A relaxed end to the end of the adventure. Istanbul will have to be the start of the next part rather than the end of this part. EPIC WRONG of massive size. What actually happened was...I'm outside the coach talking to the driver who asks me if I'm getting on, and something comes to me that I hadn't thought of. If I get on the coach now it means I will not be cycling into Asia when I go across the bridge. I will be on a coach.
Even though its been a miserable day and the thought of sitting on that warm coach eating something nice and just having a chill for the next hour and a half is so nice I decide not. The plan is I will cycle over the bridge, take the picture of me with the Welcome to Asia sign and cycle back and then get the coach to the airport. I've come too far to not finish a continent. I can live with not having much time in Istanbul as I have been here a couple of times before and crap weather is not the way to see it. So off I go into the damp evening, its rush hour and I encounter the most traffic I've seen in 69 days. I take a wrong turn to the other bridge by mistake and have to do some barrier hopping with the aid of a Traffic policeman. If this policeman had told me what the next one told me the evening may worked out quite differently. I weave my way through the three lanes of traffic which is chock-a-block going out to the Asian side of Istanbul at 6pm. I can see the traffic snaking out towards and over the bridge, I'm nearly there, I'm getting quite excited even with the rain and traffic to negotiate. What happens next certainly changes the feel of the whole trip. Two Police on the hard shoulder stop me. They say I can't go over the bridge on a bicycle. I try to explain I'm going to the airport but they think I mean the other airport ad point back the way I've come. Airport mix up resolved the answer is still no. I ask how do I get to the airport with only two bridges being the way across. Needless to say I'm getting a bit upset and what a time to encounter some Police authority of which I've had none on the whole adventure. A minibus driver on the hard shoulder in front of me is gesticulating at the police and at me. I think he has been pulled over for something and is getting irate that they are not dealing with him rather than me but what transpires is just plain Turkey. The Police have commanded this guy to stop seeing that he has an empty bus and is stuck in the traffic and commanded/asked him to take me across the bridge. This then puts me in a right fluster as this is not what I set out to do at all. I get whipped up in the moment and go along with it. I quickly form a plan that I can get out near the other side and cycle back and do some photos. This is not quite what happens though. My free private driver doesn't speak English so I have to wait for my opportunity to tell him to stop. Before this opportunity happens he keeps asking if I'm going to the airport. I say no, but then say yes as I think this will be an easier answer. I think he is asking me this as he is going to the airport as well. So perhaps the best solution to this whole sorry day is just to sit tight, miss out on a photo and a few km's of cycling and go to the airport. I can treat myself with the money I've saved. Yes yes airport I say enthusiastically and off we go. I relax and enjoy the ride. UNTIL.....30km from the airport he drops me off and explains he is getting off the motorway here. Bloody hell, could today get any more fucked up. Off I get dejected, 7pm dark, motorway, rain. So what would any other ordinary human being do in this situation. Of course. I start singing chirpy chirpy cheep cheep for some unknown reason at the top of my voice and get on with it. I saw signs turning off to the airport ages ago on the bus so I don;'t know the way. My map of Turkey is next to useless because it covers the whole country. I come off the motorway find a garage and ask someone. The magic of the iPhone comes into its element and someone shows me the way on googlemaps. Back on the road I go trudging along in the dark on the hard shoulder. I see a small kebab shop on the side of a road parallel and head off for the best meal I've had so far. A chat with the owner who is also a cyclist, a warm up, a few chais and back on it. A while later I see a parade of shops and decide to stock up for the night and spend the last of my Turkish cash. I would do this anyway but spending the night in airport and buying from there will cost a fortune so you know me. I visit various shops to get what I want including a few beers, one of which is a new Efes I havent sampled which makes the cycle a little easier. Pretty soon I see a sign for the airport and I start to relax knowing that I am at least heading in the right direction. The call to prayer wails out in the darkness and I peel off for the long airport road. Although I spend about 10km on this I'm rather amused and distracted by the thousands of little snails that have come off the grassy slopes in the wet and for some reason want to try and cross the road. I cant imagine many are successful. I must of crunched at least a couple of hundred of them. I try my best to weave in between them but there are so many it's unavoidable. Soon I see the planes fly over head taking off from the runway. Before you know it I'm at the airport and warm and cosy inside.....WRONG. I get to the airport and a rather common feature of airports near the middle east is they have x-ray machines before you get into the airport. I had this nightmare when I went to Egypt. Rolling up on a bicycle loaded with stuff is not on the menu of the airport staff. No one knows what to do and they just point you off in different directions till you leave your bike behind or cycle off. Problem 1. Bike does not go through x-ray machine so has to have all luggage taken off it. Problem 2. Bike needs to go one place, luggage another. Does any body help or offer advice. Course not. Do they get upset when you leave one of them unattended. Of course they do. Luggage is through, now bike. The policewoman is dealing with this and when satisfied will let me through the side. PROBLEM. I'm called back to luggage. One of my bags needs to be emptied. You just knew it would come back to haunt me. Its the used bullet I found in Austria. Souvenir I say. Not any more they say. But nothing happens so I go back to dealing with the bike. In the massive hilarity that has been today I have plain forgot to empty my fuel bottle of petrol. I make sure I get in first and tell them this, offering to take it outside and tip It away. No NO, you cant do that. Thrice in one day Turkish law suddenly springs into action. The customs man who found the bullet and the policewoman have a conversation with lots of pointing. p and a bullet, I have to be a terrorist. I persuade them both that me going outside and getting rid of the 100ml of petrol is the shortest happiest ending to all this for all of us and they agree but I have to be escorted and shown where to pour it, the nearest drain. So bike and luggage finally through x-ray machine No. 1 I can finally relax (ish). I now have to repack the bike to move it all. I find a little spot as out of the way as possible, crack open a beer and give the biggest sigh I have ever given. Adventure, Shenanigans and Ridiculousness right up to the very last second.
I have been Richard Turner following Thomas Stevens. Thank you for reading. GOOD NIGHT!


  1. Who's my friend that you met in Istanbul? A french friend who's called Gwenael?! In this case that's really huge!!
    Roman leg

  2. Bonjour mes petite jambe,
    Il était en effet Gwenael
    Je ne pouvais pas prononcer son nom:)
    Je suis maintenant à la maison en Angleterre
    ma tente odeurs
    et si mes vêtements ne
    bonsoir pour l'instant
    Richie Finger