Rolling again!

I’m leaving Istanbul today – Widex promptly repaired my hearing aid (defective receiver, replaced under guarantee), I’ve laid in provisions, and I’m all ready to go. Will be getting the ferry up the Bosphorus a bit, taking a one-way trip on the “Scenic Cruise.” Doesn’t leave until 10:30, and then gets there at noon, so it will be a bit of a late start. From there, I’ll head along the Black Sea coast for a while, until I make a bus detour to Ankara for visas. Don’t think I’ll be able to catch up with Keith for a few weeks, but we’ll see what happens.

Had a slightly odd experience yesterday – was sitting in Taksim park, reading my book – “The Travels of Marco Polo” – when I first had an American sit next to me, ask some random questions, obviously checking me out, followed by 4 plain-clothes policemen. The police asked me if I spoke Turkish, and where I was from, to which I gave some glib answer. I thought they were trying to sell me a carpet. Then they pulled out the ID, and asked for my passport. After flicking through it a while, I think slightly confused by the multiple Turkish entry stamps I have, they let me go about my business, and went back to harrassing the locals. Must be something to do with the location, lots of embassies around. No doubt will be asked many times in some of the other countries I am going to. Hasn’t happened before in Turkey though.

I also got offered something different to the usual carpets yesterday – women – $10 for a room for an hour and a massage, $30 for full service. Russian women, 20-21 years old apparently. When I declined that, I was offered marijuana instead. Well, it makes a change to the usual carpet patter. If I bother talking to the carpet sellers, I explain I have no home, and that usually slows them down…a little.

When I was first in Romania, I was asked what I thought of the taste of the Coca-Cola. I thought it was a slightly odd question, but now I have found out why. An advertisement in The Economist talked about Romania, and how Coca-Cola is a huge investor, and first went into Romania in 1991 – prior to that, people had never had Coke. Obviously it is a source of pride, I feel a little bad that I said it tasted the same as everywhere. Oh well, I wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

Romanians, Istanbul, and more drugs

As promised, this is a bit of a catch-up of things since Budapest. Will also perhaps try and add some photos later.

I’m now in Istanbul, resting up for a few days. I think I’ll be here until at least Sunday, but haven’t decided for sure yet. Sunday will probably be an easier day to get out of the city, but my plans are to catch up a ferry to somewhere up on the Black Sea coast anyway, so I should be able to avoid much of the traffic.

After Budapest, I headed down through Hungary to the Romanian border. There were only two route choices, the motorway or Route 5, which had lots of “no cycling” signs up. I just ignored those and pedalled on. Some pretty nasty bits traffic wise too, especially the second day when it was raining, and there were huge numbers of trucks on the road I was on, and no shoulder. A trucker I spoke to suggested I get a fluoro vest, and so I now have a very fetching fluoro vest with reflective stripes. Pretty cheap, and makes me feel better when conditions are not so good for riding.

Wild camped in Hungary, I think from looking at some tracks in the sand someone saw my spot, but they left me alone, so no big deal. Crossing into Romania was a relief – the traffic dropped right away, and I had a much nicer ride for a while.

Of course to make up for that, I then had what seemed to be a week of headwinds. My route through Romania was mainly on Route 6, and was largely across boring plains, with nowhere to hide from the wind. Not much fun, and it meant a few long days.

Something caught up with me – either something I ate, or the local water I’ve been drinking, but it caught up with me in Craiova, and I had to take an unscheduled rest day to try and recover. Still wasn’t quite right a few days later, so took some Norofloxacin, which I think has done the trick. Will get some replacement supplies here in Turkey.

Romanians were nice – quite a bit more staring than I’ve had previously though. Lots of cars beeping their horns (in a friendly way), and even the train drivers sounding their horns. Couldn’t quite get my head around the country though – while going around a horse and cart, you’re quite likely to be overtaken by an X5. I think some people are doing better out of the new-found prosperity than others.

Crossing into Bulgaria was a bit interesting, as I did it at night. Riding without lights on potholed roads is not such a great idea, but I got through it OK. Was good to get back into some hills in Bulgaria, and out of the wind. 3 days down the E85, which was surprisingly good, considering what I’d heard about Bulgarian roads. Some very nice new stretches where I raced along at 30km/h. Interesting going through some places where I don’t think many tourists are ever seen.

My last day in Bulgaria was one of the best days riding I’ve had, glorious day, roads, conditions. So I made good time down to the border, and into Turkey. I had thought about it a bit for the last few weeks, and based on reports/advice from others, I decided to get a bus for the last leg into Istanbul. The economics of Turkish buses are beyond me – very cheap, great service with snacks, drinks, fast, regular. Cost me hardly anything for a decent distance – less than a third what the equivalent in NZ would have cost – for better service.

To make up for that, I decided to ride from the Otogar to the area I’m staying in. Lots of fun dodging traffic, stopping to talk to Turkish men everywhere, getting lost, riding through the crowded souks. Got my mosques confused, which meant I thought I was somewhere different to where I actually was. Once I had that worked out, it was just a matter of cruising down to the water, and rolling around to where I wanted to be.

Bike maintenance coming up today, followed by a few days of just generally mucking about, probably doing some planning for my next legs. Got some visa battles to fight, going to be a bit tricky, as I left some timings a little late. Oh well. Think I should be able to sort them all out in the end, just might have to do a few buses here and there to embassies.