We’ve reached our final destination: Istanbul, Turkey!
The 14th was our last day of bicycle touring. We considered taking a bus from Burgas, Bulgaria to Istanbul, but decided we wanted one more good day of riding to end our trip. The Black Sea coast of Bulgaria is too developed for pleasant bicycle touring. Traffic is heavy on the coastal road and you rarely see the sea at all. The weather forecast showed two days of sun before more rain started, so we left the coast to head inland to the border with Turkey. It was a nice ride up in the mountains and we enjoyed the fall scenery while contemplating where the year went.
After 90 kilometers and 1000 meters of climbing, we arrived in the small border town of Malko Tarnovo in Bulgaria where we spent the night. The most memorable thing about the town was that the hospital doubled as the hotel. The hospital looked like your stereotypical giant communist building and had no signs, so we had quite a time finding it. The room was clean though and we left with all our organs. The next morning we woke up expecting sun, but were instead greeted by heavy rain, so we decided to cycle 10 kilometers to the border-post and try to catch a bus into Istanbul from there. Finding a bus wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped though and we ended up waiting around for four hours only to have the first three buses refuse to take us. We were up at 800 meters and the rain had become intense, so Sarah began to panic and started to formulate an elaborate plan on how she was going to convince the next driver to take us. She was going to look as desperate as possible, tug at his shirt sleeve, and even considered shedding a tear. Luckily, that wasn’t necessary because the fourth bus agreed to take us immediately and we were able to avoid riding in the downpour.
Since we arrived in Istanbul, we’ve been enjoying the sights, getting ready to leave, and getting ripped off. A minibus from the bus station to the center cost us 40 lira (~US$33) and a 15 minute taxi ride to the DHL office to pick up our airline tickets was 40 lira as well. Transportation has really proved to be the mother of all rip-offs on this trip. It’s not like we aren’t trying either, check out all the negotiation I attempted with the taxi driver below. When we first settled on the price for the taxi, the driver flashed three fingers which I interpreted as 3 lira, but he later claimed he meant 30 lira. When I was trying to get him down to something more reasonable, he kept insisting his patron would actually kill him if he accepted anything less than 40 lira.
Other than the conniving transport vendors, Istanbul is a great city. Maybe the best city of the trip. This is actually our second visit here, but Istanbul still impresses. The city is filled with beautiful mosques and other exotic architecture. It’s great to just walk around the city and marvel at the spectacular ancient buildings.
The food is awesome too. We’ve been feasting on various types of kebabs and other Turkish specialties. Our favorite so far is Adana Kebap which is a little spicy. We’ve also been drinking a lot of Ayran, which is a salty yogurt drink that you usually consume with a meal. It sounds gross but it’s actually really tasty! The city is a little more expensive than we remembered though; a meal for two at a Turkish restaurant costs around 15 lira (~US$12.5).
Sweets are also plentiful. Every block has a few shops dedicated solely to desserts and candy. They sell so many different types of baklava, Turkish delights, and other unidentified sweets that it would take us weeks to try it all!
There are also lots of fresh juice stands. We couldn’t resist trying the pomegranate. It had a different taste than the bottled stuff, a little more earthy.
The most popular beverage by far, though, is tea. It is served in small glasses with two sugar cubes on the side.
People drink tea everywhere, not just in cafes. There are tea vendors running all over the city carrying silver trays full of tiny glasses of tea which they serve to people hanging out on the street. Along the Bosphorus Strait, we saw many men fishing while sipping their freshly delivered glasses of tea. Looks like fun!
We’ll be here until the 21st when we fly back to the US. We have been packing up the bikes, figuring out how we are going to get our excess baggage home, and how we are going to get to the airport. Bicycles are great when you are on the road, but they are a huge drag when you are trying to get on an airplane. We almost suffered another rip off when one bicycle shop owner wanted to charge us 20 lira (~US$17) for a single bicycle box. Luckily, we found another shop where we got two boxes for 15 lira.
Next stop Wilmington, North Carolina, USA!