The Other Side Of The Black Sea And The Home of The Turkish Tea
We already feel like home in this neighbourhood: we’re friends with the small shops owners, the tailor, the baker, the veggie salesman. But if we don’t want to let the cute felines keep peeing on our bike cover, we need to get going where we set out to go in the first place. Not without performing the much needed oil change, and fitting Ana’s DRZ with the new Shorai battery. For now all I can share about this batteries is that they are much lighter than I expected, yet look super sturdy. Time will tell how good they actually are.
Out of Istanbul, we are heading towards the shores of the Black Sea. The plan is to follow the coastline for a while, later we’ll see, perhaps we do a loop innerland, or keep with the shores. The villages we cross on our way to the sea reveal an unseen Turkey: much humbler and underdeveloped than the cosmopolitan Istanbul, the edgy Ankara, the surreal Cappadocia or the uber-touristic Aegean resorts. We lunch with the truck drivers in a little town. They are the modern-day caravaners, and their food is just as honest and rightful as they are: bread, grilled eggplant and peppers with yoghurt dressing, a kebap. In the meantime we count the fisrt signs that our gear is finally doing its job. And frankly, so far it does it very well. The lunch is great fuel until the first ships pop out in the distance.
The air is salty – we are getting closer to the sea, but there’s a steep cliff to ride until we’ll be abe to see the blue. No time for tonight, we’ll camp on the mountain. We’re in luck again: in the apex of a hairpin I see a littered dirt road. That might lead us somewhere! And it does. Past the hill of garbage, the forest opens to the valley from where we can hear a muezzin calling to prayer. How could we not say Allahu Akbar for this spot?
In the morning we decide not to waste anymore time with cooking our breakfast. Good timing, because as soon as we ride back to the tarmac, we meet a police squad patrolling the mountain. Before they can start asking questions, we flood them with giggles, handshakes and stories about the turtle that we have seen. So they say nothing, and we continue our journey undisturbed. For what I know, maybe it was never in their intention to question us anyway.
Finally we can see the calm expanse of water. It’s not a familiar sight. The southern shores of our Black Sea are dramatically different than Romania’s sandy beeches: steep, rocky, green. Small town cling to the mountain, narrow roads are thrusting up and down, head-spinning vistas at every turn… and on the sea there are delicate floating structures: mussel farms.
By lunch we arrive in charming Amasra, a fishing village that in summer becomes a popular resort for the Istanbul and Ankara crowds. As it’s off-season, the place is deserted. But the fishermen do their daily runs as usual. They’re just back from the sea with their nets full of anchovies and mackerel. We’ll grab some, deep fried, next to a salad. Our meal is far from the perfection of the Adem Baba’s fare, but nevertheless it’s delicious. We eat everything, bone included.
The next stop is in an UNESCO Heritage site: Safranbolu. The name says it all. It was once a center for growing and selling saffron. Today the saffron industry has moved 20 km away, in the village of Davutobası, and Safranbolu has become more touristic. There are shops selling saffron flavoured lokum. But we came for a walk down the cobbled alleys of Çarşı, the Old Town.
The area where the best preserved Ottoman houses can be found is the old town and the neighbourhood of Bağlar. The houses are several storeys high and have picturesque wooden frames. The central market is just the ouverture of the rest of the town. Safranbolu is a chilled place, to be uncovered at a slow pace. Even if we are wearing our bulky touring boots, it feels great to shake the rust off our limbs. We leave our sweaty jacket to dry out in the sun and we grab a bagel and an ayran and start walking. We enjoy a few hours browsing through the stalls with crafts, carpets, traditional garb and kitschy souvenirs. There’s even a hammam, a bakery and plenty of tea-houses to keep anybody busy and satisfied. Many shops display at the entrance an interesting wood panel, decorated with quartz.
It is a lovely break from our riding routine. But soon it’ll be dark, so we should look for a place to sleep. I’m not quite confident we’ll do well tonight, I say to myself as I stir right into the woods. Ana follows me closely, less tensed than usual. And soon our patience is rewarded: we find a nice clearing, surrounded by pines. Perfect!
In the mo’ all the flowers in our camping spot are busy with bees and other nectar-loving insects. We’d stay for another day – the place calls for it – but don’t have enough food supplies and we are really longing for a sunset on the sea shores. The sea has been luring us for the past couple of days.
To reach our target we must break a record of miles per day. hat off to Ana, she does her part honourably. We only make a few brief stops, to hit the bush or to crack our bones. By the end of the day we mark 466 km! In general we’re not happy to ride so much in one day, but even the secondary roads in Turkey are better than our highways. It’s so easy to ride, and our progress is smooth. Ana has forgotten that two weeks ago in Romania she told me she would never ride at 90km/h. She just goes.
Way past lunchtime we realise we’re very hungry. In Turkey everything is delicious, but the best bet to discover what is good in a particular place is to pull over where the truck drivers do. We happen to drive tru a a town where menemen is the thing to eat. This dish is more than a wet omlet: the eggs are cooked with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers, and finally baked in the oven with a dollop of cheese and butter. When one is hungry, an omlet can taste better than steak, but this omlet is damn fine! The bread is a perfect compliment to this stunning meal: it hot, right out of the oven, as the bakery is located in the same house as the restaurant! I love to eat bread that has been touched by human hands, it’s a rare sight in Romania, and not a very common one in western world either.
Bellies full, we can pick up the marathon from where we’ve left it. We try to avoid the highway and to drive around the perimeter of the peninsula. I’m looking for a way to reach the shoreline, where we might get lucky. Bummer: the roads keep climbing higher, and when we least expect it, the wind starts blowing hard. There’s a storm coming. Within minutes the sky turns black, the treest fold under the whip of wind, the air becomes cooler. Every trail I try is a dead end, taking me to a rockier and rockier slope. Ana can hardly keep her balance in this, and after a curve she brakes a bit to hard, and she slides and hits the ground. Nothing serious, actually it’s a lucky event for us. I notice a sign pointing to the shores. Ana abandoned camping.
That requires some investigation. You can go, no problem, say the young fellows on the side of the road. I take a look, and I figure that’ll do for the night. But as we set camp on a cleared stretch of sand, between the dog house and the former restaurant, we discover how lucky we are. Not only the beach is superb, but we have toilets, a shower with running water and soap in the dispenser! It’a not super clean, but it’s free, and more than we could have asked for. Ana washes all our dirty layers, underwear and socks, we clean up and enjoy a bag of apricots with ayran. Later we make love on the music of relentless surf.
Early in the morning Ana cannot help herself but go for a barefoot jog on the beach. We realise that our paranoia from last night was unfounded: more locals come out for a stroll, and they all wave kindly, and smile. We all share this beach, and nobody minds that we have occupied it for little more than a few hours.
You need to stop in Akçaabat for their famed köfte, reads the text message from Ozgur. And this is not an advice to be taken lightly. So we navigate our way across the above mentioned city in search of a much recommended restaurant. Yet the place comes out as too fancy for our budget and attire. We’d better search again. We do get to sample the meatballs, in a shabby restaurant located closer to the city outskirts. The meatballs are good, but a bit too similar to a Romanian summer staple, so we leave rather unimpressed.
Turkey is an expensive place – at almost 2 euro/litre gas has possibly the steepest price in the world. Food is not cheap either. At least we are saving on accommodation. And tonight it look like we’re gonna pitch our tent in the wet. We are happy to have goretex suits: it’s been raining on and off all day, and this time we couldn’t care less. These suits are mighty fine 🙂
We take a right turn, and suddenly we’re in a Turkish Ceylon. At the home of the fragrant turkish tea. The road follows the river and winds among mountain faces and green terraces covered in tea plantations. In villages women gather the precious leaves in huge bags, then men load then into trucks. Up on the mountains lights signal a daring family that has chosen the highest spot for the plantation. There are wires connecting the house to the valley, so the tea can be easily transported down to the main road. Soon this road will be just a memory. We are left with a dirt trail, that in this rainy weather is muddy and slippery for our road tires. Let’s just stop somewhere, we decide, who cares if we get seen by locals, they won’d care. We pull over and pitch by the river. It’s a bit noisy, perhaps too damp and too cold. We sleep with everything on, like dead people, exhausted after a long and tiresome day.
Only in the morning we are able to appreciate the true beauty of this place. In the village of Potomya we end our journey across Turkey just as we’ve started: with free tea, courtesy of Murat. Next-door there’s the village restaurant, so we buy some soup. Açar brings our plates with a irresistible smile. Isn’t she a great gal? her father says. He’s obviously very proud of his daughter, and rightfully so. In this place everybody knows everybody. I feel that if we don’t leave soon, we might never leave 🙂 Ana’s rudimentary Turkish has improved over the week, and if we take a closer look at the windows, we see why it might be easy for us to settle and make ourselves understood in this place.
On our way back to the main road we stop often: to stare at the mountain, at its many shades of grey, at it s wrinkled skin of rock and dirt; to smell the fresh inebriating air; to listen to the muezzin asking for Allah’s pity; to admire – without ruining the intimate moment with a camera – the frame of a woman who is leaning in the tea field, with a large straw hat and a colourful scarf wrapped around her neck. We take in this enchanted vibe, before we are awoken by the familiar roar of cars. There are only a few more kilometres to Georgia, a country we’ve heard so much about, that we have all the reasons to switch to fifth gear and move at full speed ahead!
Vizualizaţi 2013 – Turkey pe o hartă mai mare