The Black Sea

We had a massive break in Istanbul, 11 days off the bikes in total! We hopped from budget hostel to nice hotel when Dad came for the weekend and finished off spending a few nights with Emma and Justin, who are living in Istanbul for 6 months before continuing their cycling tour home to New Zealand. Probably a good idea as they’ll avoid the Central Asian winter that we’re on a collision course with! I had a practice bash at making pizza with just the utensils we carry on the bike – they didn’t look up to Pizza Express standards, but Ryan wolfed the lot and we now have a third dish to add to our pasta mush and rice slurry repertoire.

Cycling out of Istanbul and out into the Asian landmass was exciting, despite it being the start of the more challenging and unknown section of the tour. We have learnt so much already and our confidence has grown, the thought of cycling across continents doesn’t seem quite as daunting now as it did when we left 3.5 months ago. I suppose most people attempting to cycle halfway round the world would do a few smaller tours first for that very reason, but not us! Our training consisted of one return trip to Brighton.  At least we weren’t over prepared.

After leaving our hosts in Istanbul we pedalled north up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea, where we’ll be spending most of December. We enjoyed the seaside villages and blue skies as we meandered out of the city sprawl and began getting a taste for the hills – which later on will torment us. Ryan was still suffering from a bout of illness picked up whilst in Istanbul and was munching antibiotics like sweets, so we kept the pace lazy and the days short, but it was good to start moving.

We got our first glimpse of the Black Sea after two days and that evening we hauled our bikes along the sand to make a beach camp. We found a secluded spot before Ryan made a solo streak for the icy water leaving me giggling (and warm) on the sand. The dry night and mild weather enticed us to roll out our sleeping bags on the deserted stretch of beach and not bother with the tent. It was surprisingly comfortable on the soft sand and we were asleep soon after sunset. The crashing waves and brilliant stars made it quite a special night, and each time I woke I was amazed by the beauty of our little insignificant spot under the night sky. You should all try it this summer!!

As has become usual in Turkey we have had lots of spontaneous hospitality over the past few weeks. Every day we meet new people in new villages and get a glimpse into their daily life. We’ve stayed with lots of kind families already including sailors, farmers, policemen, Kurdish workmen and shopkeepers. The people we have stayed with invite us into their homes a few minutes after meeting us on the side of the road.  Once inside there is usually a flurry of calls to bemused neighbours and relatives who pop over to see the “bisiklets” and crazy “Ingilizce” during the evening. Sometimes we’re handed the telephone to say “hello” which is generally greeted by shrieks of delight and laughter. I never get bored of the excitable chatter as people listen to our story of what we are up to, even if usually people struggle to grasp that yes we are cycling the whole way and we haven’t flown to Turkey with our bikes! The Turkish homes have all been filled with tasty food, noisy banter, endless cups of cay, laughter and sometimes bum wiggling dancing (which Ryan is awesome at). It is always difficult to pedal onwards the next day as they all want us to stay, as do we!

Further along the coast line we spent a night in Sile, which is a pretty seaside town with a big harbour, where we treated ouselves to a Pansyion (a cheap hotel) and slept for 12 hours. Even though we’re never more than 6 ft apart [except when we’re going uphill!] occasionally it’s still nice being just us two for a lazy evening with no tent or phrasebook to battle with.

From Sile the weather took a turn for the worse and we left our cozy bed for torrential rain, within minutes we were soaked to the bone. We discovered our rain clothes are pathetic despite claiming to be ‘waterproof’ (should’ve done a practice tour!) and water gushes down our legs, inside shoes, trousers and pretty much everything. Not fun when you have to sit on your arse outside for 6 hours then crawl into a wet tent and put on the same wet clothes tomorrow. We have just ordered painfully expensive new outer layers, but in order to stay warm as we head into the coldest winter either of us will have experienced it’s important that our clothes don’t get soaked through every time it rains or snows. At least here on the coast in Turkey it isn’t as cold as England yet! We have enjoyed checking the weather out at home and seeing London fall apart in the snow:-)

Given the biting rain, wind and hills we have been surprised to have had some of our best days so far. Violent waves, winding climbs and snow peaked mountains is pretty awe inspiring stuff from two wheels, so we do get rewarded for our efforts. It’s a great feeling being curled up in the tent at night and thinking about what we achieved and experienced in the day. The other night I was zipped me up my sleeping bag with just my mouth exposed to keep warm and was being fed cookíes, unfortunately only on a cycle tour is that acceptable behaviour.

Between Karasu and Eregli we were delighted to have a stretch of smooth flat road, much more like we’d imagined the coastal highway would be like from our limited research (we now think (hope!) it starts after Samsum in 300km). The mountain roads reappeared too soon and as we cycled along an exposed cliff top road out of Zongaldak with ferocious winds and even more rain we were fighting for every revolution of the wheels. The thought of getting round the next corner was horrific, let alone NZ! On tough days like these it’s priceless to be rescued for some precious minutes by friendly villagers, who toast us dry by the blazing wood burning stoves that are the centre piece in every tea house.

The temperature dropped as the road moved away from the coast and into the mountains, as we climbed higher from Filyos we were surrounded by snow (which was a relief as Ryan had refused to cycle another climb without seeing snow that day!). The roads became very icy, occasionally we had to push the bikes as it was too dangerous to ride. It’s so frustrating not getting the thrill of a fast descent after an exhausting climb! One family we stayed with explained that just 2 km further inland the snow is waist high at the moment. I think we made the right choice to stick to the coast, however we will have to tackle the snow at some point. We both agree that cold, clear, icy days are infinitely preferable to rain in any format!

The road is now back on the coast and wiggles back and forth and up and down over the lumpy cliffs, so we pedal 5km for every 1km of coastline. Its been pretty gruelling and we are having to rely on each other to keep morale high as the relentless climbing and slow progress take their toll.

We are currently enjoying a rest day in Inebolu after having spent last night dinning in a police station. During the meal a phonecall resulted in one guy casually getting up, pulling a big handgun out of a desk drawer and tucking it in his trousers before strolling off! A little reminder we really are out of Europe.

Tomorrow we head towards Samsun, maybe in time for Christmas – fingers crossed Ryan gets enough chocolate to fill my perpetually hungry belly!