Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Day 44 (Greece/Turkey): somewhere east of Alexandroupolis - Yenice

today’s distance: 112km
total distance: 3609km
riding time: 7h
altitude: more than 1000m

This is a long one, but I think it’s worth reading.

crummy … ghastly part I … ghastly part II … put off … strange things happening on highways in Turkey (or me just not catching on) … Turkish hospitality is back in full swing.

What a day. I felt like … well, on of those days. Crummy. Didn’t feel like eating. Didn’t feel like biking. The weather was overcast in one shade of grey. It was cold. I felt miserable. For the first time I thought “what the hell am I doing here? Why am I on this stretch of silly road, biking into a strong wind?”

I forced myself to eat and felt slightly better. Eventually I hit the Autobahn to Turkey. It was the wrong road for sure, but I thought what the hey, let them throw me off. I don’t care. Not that there was any way to throw me off. The whole road completely fenced in. It was new, smooth asphalt. And ghastly. Here is why (thanks to Björn for throwıng this on as it is blocked in some places):


There wasn’t a car on the road it seemed. For the entire time I was on these six km or so, which took me roughly 20 minutes, I was overtaken by six trucks and seven cars. That was it. No traffic it seems between the two countries. The Greek side was a no-brainer. But we are really serious about keeping nasties out it seems.

Then I got to the border and this may be me speaking as a naive European or just someone who has grown used to not having borders around much. But what I saw was making me shake my head. There were soldiers on the bridge separating Greece and Turkey. I thought about taking a picture, but then it became pretty clear that it would not be a good idea. I passed three sets of guard houses with Greek soldiers. A river. The border. I meant to take a picture there, but the Turkish soldier in a similarly silly-looking guard house as the Greek one made a gesture to move on. The Greek behind me did the same. Hm … I sense an international incident. Just kidding. Didn’t want to be caught in the literal middle of things. I got the “Welcome to Turkey” from a young soldier, smile on his face. He was standing in a silly-looking guard house. I snapped this one, not sure that they liked it.

The Turkish side was simple as well. Got my stamp, moved on. Got to the first town, nothing of interest moved on. Got to the first sort of city and felt hungry. No Turkish currency, no one to change Euros and no ATM. What the … Everyone told me to go into town. Didn’t want to. Big store. They will take my credit card. They didn’t even let me park my bike in front of the store. Not in anyone’s way, but a simple precautionary measure. The security guard told me to put it to the side of the store where no one woiuld be there to see anything. I refused. He told me to put it away. I left. Find another store. Didn’t want to bother. Tried to change money at a gas station, which announced it would change Euros. They didn’t like the bill I had, a 50. He just shrugged and turned away. I asked what was wrong, my face a big question mark. He just waved me off. What happened to Turkish hospitality? Alright, final store. They took my credit card. I had food. I also saw and ATM right there. I was game.I moved on over more hills. Rolling hills, never a flat stretch. Wind from the front. Always. Tiring. The combination of hills and wind literally ate me up.

Before reaching Malkara, I encountered a strange scene. Or maybe I was slow. A woman stands at the side of the road. Nothing strange here, people hitch a ride of flag down cars all the time. A car to the right, maybe a relative waiting to make sure she gets away safely. I pedal past and she says something, I shrug my shoulders, smile, make a gesture that I can’t take her along and move on. About 300m up the hill I take this picture.

Then this one.

She had moved up the hill towards me. I thought she was heading into the town. A bit far to walk, but hey. She reaches me and starts saying all sorts of things which I don’t understand. I tell her thatI don’t understand and that I don’t speak Turkish. She still babbles. I am packing my camera away. Then she makes a universal gesture … and the shoe finally drops. I shake my head. She seems unhappy. Had thought my stopping was for the business side of things. She curses me and walks away. A truck stops, she gets in. I move on up the hill. I can still see the truck about a mile ahead of me and she gets out again. That was quick. She flags another car down, which eventually moves out of sight. Call me naive, but this was unexpected at the time and place it happened. Sure, these things happen anywhere … but it took me completely by surprise when and where it occured.I reach Malkara and am pumped out. I need a break. Ask for an internet cafe, thinking that I should upload the pictures and then bike on for a bit longer. A courier driver,who lived in Germany for a month (no German though, but he proudly shows me his German cell phone number) signals me to follow him. Up the hill again. It was slow going, but he sets me up with internet and water and bids his goodbye after a while. The internet cafe is full of kids, 8 year olds playing Counterstrike. What a scenario.

More wind and more hills and then I see a village. Figure I would buy my things there. I find the market, want to move up the step. The owner comes out, I say my hello and want to move into the store. He shuts it right into my face. Ouch. I think misunderstanding. Nope. He turns the key, looks at me and walks away. I stand there in disbelief. Other men start staring at me. I get slightly angry, thinking whether I had done something wrong. Dressed conservatively. Not that it mattered here. I make clear that I want to buy something and the others yell after the owner. He turns around and struts off. I leave, feeling a mixture of disbelief, anger and disappointment. Did I offend in any way? Cultural difference? Was I held to be from the US (note to my US readers: it sadly is the case that people from the US are not well-regarded in some parts of th world and to make things easier I identify myself as German right away; the anymosity is geared towards the government though and not individuals, but they bear the brunt).

I bike on. Pretty worn out by now. Pretty disappointed and slightly angry. Over a hill and I see a tiny town at the bottom of the hill and before heading up for the next one. I decide that this is it. I am done, tired and beaten.

I get there and kids playing soccer see me and the group runs towards me. I say relax and they repeat it for like five minutes. We find hte market. It is closed, but open a minute later. I do my purchases, but even before a woman approaches me in German. She translates, tells people where I am from and where I am going. She says her husband will be here soon, he had worked in Berlin for 35 years. There is a good spot to camp or at least we would find one.

Then Özcilek comes in and we hit it off right away. We chat, have chai, the bike all the while in front of the little market with the women watching it. Chai is a strictly male affair. I end up being the talk of the village. It is a small place, but Emine and Özcilek have a big, big heart. As we had back to the bike, Özcilek offers his place to stay, says it’s cold outside (it was) and I could spend the night at their place. Good idea I thought and a welcome opportunity to clean up after a long and hard day. Turns out that Özcilek had left Turkey, wanting to stay Germany for only a few years, but has been there for 35 now. He works in Berlin and is only here for a few weeks during the year, but close to retirement. His two sons live in Berlin and he wants to stay there for a few years. I hit the shower and Emine cooks some delicious food. Over more conversation (confirming my experience with the woman on the road - it had been news to Özcilek as well when he arrived for a holiday a couple of years before) involving sports, politics and life in more general terms, we sit there until midnight. I drop into bed, exhausted but extremely grateful.

1 comment

1 Michael Crowell { 08.24.09 at 7:42 pm }

Great story. I had come upon your site looking for the name of the river between Greece & Turkey (you don’t mention it, but don’t worry; I found it elsewhere). I lived in Istanbul from 1969-78, as a boy from age 9-17. (My folks - we’re American - taught there.) I’ve been across that border dozens of times. The multiple guard-posts and stoic soldiers: sounds as if nothing has changed. The “autobahn” on the Greek side, though, is, obviously, more recent than 1978! I enjoyed your account of the Turkish towns near the border and look forward to reading more of your adventure. (I’m also a bicycle tourist; wonder if I’d ever manage something half as ambitious?)

Thanks again.

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