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Cycling In Turkey: Good Food, Beautiful Roads, Wonderful People

Posted June 29th, 2012

Roberto & Annika

In this guest post, Roberto Gallegos shares his experience of bike touring in Turkey: a wonderful country full of good food, beautiful roads and – most importantly – wonderful people.

He recently cycled there along with his partner Annika, as part of their extended world bike tour.

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Cycling in Turkey, as you may already have read on this blog, is a pleasant experience for the touring cyclist. Here are our experiences with the 5 most important things I think cyclists need to know about when visiting:

By now, you’re probably thinking: what about money and costs? Yes, I’ll cover that too within each topic because it’s also an item of some importance.

My goal is to prepare you and make you excited to cycle in one of the world’s fastest developing countries. In every major city and along the main roads, there’s one construction site after another. This was our route:

Route across Turkey

Now, without further delay, let’s get to the good stuff.

Visas
I’m a proud Mexican and travel with my significant-other Annika, who is German. That makes it fun in all sorts of ways. We get to research visa requirements for two countries instead of one. Briefly: German nationals (along with most European countries) get a free 90-day visa for Turkey. The Mexicans (along with our neighboring U.S citizens) are entitled to the same 90-day visa with a small difference: we pay a petty €15 for it.

This information may not be new to you, but the following will be: On February 1st, 2012 a new immigration law came into place. It restricts tourists coming from Europe and (as far as I know) Mexico to a maximum 90-day stay within a period of 180 days. This is a great difference from before when you could renew your visa every 90 days and stay for an indefinite amount of time. This means that you can’t get a boat to the Greek islands and get re-stamped for an extension of your visa. Sadly, you only have three months to cycle in Turkey. The good news is that 3 months is plenty of time to fall in love, as I did.

Roads
Our trip began at the end of March. Our plan was to cross the 1,620km from Fethiye to the northeast border town of Sarp. Turkey is a hilly country. Turkish people will insist that the center is flat but this is not true! Our first task was to climb from sea level up and over a 1,400 meter mountain peak, in order to access the central plain.

Overall the roads in Turkey are good to cycle, but there is still much place for improvement. Some sections have long and hard 10% grades. There can also be a lot of traffic. Be prepared for constant honking, especially when you are climbing. On main roads, the shoulders are wide enough for two cyclists to bike alongside one another. The signs are clear and accurate. You will know when you have reached the highest point of your climb.

Along the road, you will find local bike shops equipped with basic parts in almost every town. In some cities we found good bike shops with expert mechanics: Fethiye, Köyceğiz and Ankara.

Bike SHopsPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

Another big plus on the roads of Turkey, is that you will find fresh water springs along the roads. Water from these little oases of freshness is potable and never caused harm to our health.

A Favourite Landscape
Of all the places we cycled, we highly recommend the Afyon Valley (just behind Afyonkarahisar on the way to Ankara). You will cycle along interesting rock formations, very similar to the touristy Cappadocia. You will be able to stop once in a while to climb them and – if you are into photography – the golden hour in this valley is superb for landscape pics. The views from the high points are splendid.

On The Way To AnkaraPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

Along the so called Green Mile the fields of chai (Turkish tea) will trigger joy in your pedaling. You will be invited numerous amount of times for Turkish tea and soft drinks, especially in summer when the sun shines and the rain refreshes the day. The road is very easy to ride. The wind might be a factor but should not be a big problem.

Places to Sleep
It all depends on you and your budget and what you are looking for. Lucky you – we have tried them all! Cheap hotels range from 35-70 TL (about €16-35). At the top of that range you can have a room with internet and satellite TV.

Wild camping should be done discreetly, if you really want to be alone. On the other hand, if you enjoy meeting new people and sleeping indoors just put your tent in a visible place or ask if you can camp in a field. There is a big possibility that people will come and invite you for tea and food, or ask you to stay in their home.

camping spot
Photo by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

A great example of the experiences that are bound to happen to you is this one of ours: We stopped for water at a rest area along the Afyon Valley. A pair of truck drivers invited us for breakfast. Ömer, a thin happy man with grey hair and a mullet asked us with hands and feet our destination. We told him we were headed towards the Black Sea. With a finger on the map, he pointed to his home in Pazar. He then wrote down his telephone number and drew a house in the paper. He was inviting us to stay at his house for the night. We had 600 km to go and we already had a local waiting for us. How cool was that? We arrived 5 weeks later and we spent two incredible days in Ömers house up in the mountains of his hometown. We were even invited to participate in his friends reunion and although Annika was the only woman in the party they all behaved like gentleman.

If you, for some uncomprehended reason, want to keep out from the experience of sleeping in a stranger’s house, there is another great option. Gas Stations or Petrol Stations in Turkey are your answer. They will all welcome you with arms wide open. Gas Stations are like the hostels of travel bikers, you have a place to sleep with toilet, security and in some cases even shower. Do not hesitate to ask, all the bike travelers we met on the way had the same experiences as we did.

And lastly, if hospitality in this country is superb and you have to work your way to avoid being invited, wild camping could be your last option and a really safe one. If you have ever been hesitant about the idea to sleep in the road or in the wild, Turkey should be the perfect place to gain confidence and end any misconceptions you might have about this idea.

The Food
Although Turkish food might not be as well recognised as French or Mexican, its glorious flavor is another reason why cycling here is so advisable. There is more than the famous çorba (soup) in their diet. We tried so many dishes that we could eat for 6 months without repeating them all at once and we were often invited into people’s homes..

The FoodPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

When you are not invited, here is the price range per person:

  • Gas station restaurant (expensive) – 15 TL (€6) per person (including a drink)
  • City fast food joint –  2 TL (€0.80) for a Gözleme (pancake) to 3.50 TL (€1.40) for a Döner.
  • Self-serve restaurants – from 5.50 TL (€2.30) with bread and all the water you can drink.

Usually free tea is served after a meal. Beef is very expensive and it is considered a luxury so if you want to save some money go for the chicken or the fish. Beer can be bought but it is very expensive:  3.50 TL (€1.40) for half a liter.

In brief, you can have three substantial meals a day including chicken for around 18 TL a day (€7).

The People
The best reason why cycling in Turkey is a wonderful experience is certainly the people. After Turkey we were injected with so much faith in people. We now feel that nothing in the world can stop us from cycling around the world.

Kind people of Turkey Photo by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

The only reason it took us so much time to cross the country (five months for not even 2,000 km) was the people: the ones who offered us shelter, helped us when we seemed lost or helpless, offered us tea or simply were kind to us in every possible human way. Another great asset about this country is the fast responses you get on Couchsurfing. There is always someone willing to host you. Through this magnificent tool of humanity we have made so many friends in Turkey we consider this country another home in our planet.

So cyclist friend, if you have the chance to cycle along this rich and historically important land of our mother earth – do so. You will have an experience of your life. There is much more detailed information about the route that we took, If you are in need of this information please contact us. We will be happy to help and keep you updated with what we know.

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For more on Roberto’s bike touring adventures, see his website: Tasting Travels.

John O’Groats To Land’s End: The Traffic-Free Way

Posted June 19th, 2012

Every year, hundreds of cyclists set out to bike the distance between the northern tip of the United Kingdom – John O’Groats – and the southern point of Land’s End.

The trip – often referred to as LEJOG or JOGLE, depending on direction – is about 1,500km long. It’s a great distance for a bike tour of anywhere up to a month (depending on your appetite for mileage) but not everyone makes this trip on the most quiet of roads.

There are alternatives, however, including one route that British cyclist David Piper created. It goes from end-to-end across Britain, on quiet country roads and bike paths. He took a few minutes to tell us about it. You can also view the GPS track, which we created from David’s map.

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Why did you create this route?

I live close enough to Land’s End to see streams of ‘End to Enders’ trudging up the A30 dual carriageway in the summer. While they’re fighting traffic and slashing their tyres on the broken glass littering the scant shoulder, I’m slashing my wrists in despair at their lack of imagination and planning.

I assume they have plotted the rest of the route in much the same manner when (with a little time invested) they could have taken the road less travelled along the blissful B-roads and scenic cycle tracks that criss-cross our green and pleasant land.

I’d been asked by the anti human-trafficking charity Bringing Freedom to plot such a route and I was so pleased with the results I thought I’d share it with you!

John O'Groats to Land's End (traffic free)
A rough outline of the route. Click for a bigger version on Flickr.

How did you map out this particular route? 

I wanted to use as many of the Sustrans National Cycle Network (NCN) routes as possible, and traffic-free roads wherever possible.

Scotland really stood out in this respect. It was a cyclist’s dream of empty roads, fabulous mountain-scapes and enough bird and wildlife to keep any budding David Attenborough happy. We saw lapwings and ospreys.

In the far north, we could even use some main roads. It’s wilderness up there, and we saw more wild deer than wild drivers!

Can you give us a quick summary?

Sure!

We started in John O’Groats. From there, we climbed over rolling moorland south of Beauly and dropped down to Loch Ness. We braved the A82 to the quaint town of Fort Augustus but on reflection it would have been far better to pick up the tiny road (NCN 78) that follows the southern bank of the lake.

Land's End To John O'Groats

We then went off-road, beside the Caledonian Canal. We rode past snow-capped Ben Nevis to Fort William, then south of Loch Leven on  parts of the old railway (NCN 78). Next we detoured around Loch Awe past the Falls of Cruachan and the underground hydro-electric plant pumping out millions of watts of clean, renewable energy. Hidden, silent valleys beside Loch Eck took us through the Argyll Forest to the Dunoon Ferry.

Next it was on to B743 and a handful of unclassified lanes. These took us east over the bleak and desolate Southern Uplands to Abingdon – Scotland’s highest village. From here, the NCN 74 uses a deserted road all the way to Gretna Green – where eloping lovers could once be wed.

Land's End To John O'Groats

We climbed into the Lake District on the B5299 (NCN 7) to Caldbeck, then south on Pasture Lane to the utterly beautiful Ullswater before tackling the only real mountain in the whole trip – the Kirkstone Pass, descending to the touristy waters of Windermere.

Land's End To John O'Groats

NCN 55 & NCN 5 took us most of the way from Preston to Worcester through the heart of England’s Industrial Revolution on miles of canal paths. Then it was on to the old railtrack NCN42. We were disappointed that only a little of this was complete but soon it will be a grand route from Cheltenham to Welsh Chepstow.

Bristol is the home of Sustrans so a traffic free route into the city wasn’t hard to find. It took us out again over Brunel’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge and later on the Strawberry Line (NCN26), heading south to the gorgeous gorge of Cheddar.

Land's End To John O'Groats

In Somerset, we traced a canal from Bridgewater to Taunton, followed by the B3227 for the 50 miles between Taunton and Barnstaple. Next it was the NCN27 Devon Coast to Coast route, making sure we stopped at the legendary Yarde Café for a pint of homemade cider.

Now in Plymouth, we crossed into Cornwall and rode the magnificent coastal road along Whitsand Bay, hugging the coast until Looe before following the river valley to Liskeard. A short blast along the A38 was unavoidable but we soon got on unclassified roads that trace the new A30 as far as Fraddon.

From there, the B3275 follows the Ladock Valley toward Truro. Cornwall’s tin mining heritage was evident along the coast-to-coast cycleway from Devoran to Portreath. From there, we were treated to a fabulous run along the North Cliffs on B3301. Finally, it was NCN 3 all the way to Land’s End.

What were some of your favourite parts of the trip?

In Scotland, we briefly followed NCN 78. It’s part of an old railway line and in a few years it should connect Oban with Loch Ness. It hugs the stunning coastline and is quite possibly the best cycle track I’ve ever ridden!

I also loved the area around Preston and Worcester. You ride through the heart of England’s Industrial Revolution on flat, pretty and traffic free canal paths. And don’t forget the added benefit of a smattering of lock-side pubs! Willows wept and otters leapt, whilst happy holiday-makers waved cheerily from their converted barges. Fantastic.

Land's End To John O'Groats

Did you ever need off-road tires?

Not really. We first went off-road beside the Caledonian Canal but the surface was fine grit so our standard road tyres could cope with it. This was also the case with the other unpaved sections nationwide.

Isn’t your version of JOGLE a little long?

Our total route was about 2,000km but so what if it took a little longer? That’s the whole point, isn’t it? If you want to sprint up the highway, the record is under two days, so knock yourself out! Or maybe the traffic will first…

More info:

Himalayan Cycling Tips: From Leh To Manili

Posted May 5th, 2012

The road that leads from Leh to Manili in the India’s Himalaya mountains is a spectacular bike touring destination.

The scenery is epic and hard-won over a series of 5000m passes which lead from the lush Kullu Valley over high altitude desert to the remote and starkly beautiful mountain region of Ladakh. – Himalaya By Bike

AscendingPhoto by Paul Jeurissen. Ascending the Baralacha La pass.

Paul Jeurissen & Grace Johnson cycled this road in 2011 and jotted down the following useful information and tips for other bike tourists.

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Maps - We carried the Nelles map of North India but we only used it to find our way between the different monasteries near Leh. Once we headed out on the Leh-Manali road, we stashed our map into a back pannier and didn’t end up getting it out until after we had left the mountains. A map is not really necessary for much of the trip because once you leave the Indus valley and start heading towards Manali there is just the one road, which all of the buses and trucks also take.

Click to read more of Paul & Grace’s tips for cycling the Indian Himalayas.

Himalayan Bike Touring Tips: From Leh To Manili

Posted May 5th, 2012

The road that leads from Leh to Manili in the India’s Himalaya mountains is a spectacular bike touring destination.

The scenery is epic and hard-won over a series of 5000m passes which lead from the lush Kullu Valley over high altitude desert to the remote and starkly beautiful mountain region of Ladakh. – Himalaya By Bike

Ascending
Photo by Paul Jeurissen. Ascending the Baralacha La pass.

Paul Jeurissen & Grace Johnson cycled this road in 2011 and jotted down the following useful information and tips for other bike tourists.

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Maps - We carried the Nelles map of North India but we only used it to find our way between the different monasteries near Leh. Once we headed out on the Leh-Manali road, we stashed our map into a back pannier and didn’t end up getting it out until after we had left the mountains. A map is not really necessary for much of the trip because once you leave the Indus valley and start heading towards Manali there is just the one road, which all of the buses and trucks also take.

“Even though we didn’t look at our map, we looked daily at a small altitude and pass profile of the road, which we found on a number of websites. The list of food and accommodation on the profile is outdated (there is now more accommodation and food than the profile shows) but for us it was important to see which pass was coming up and how steep or high it was.

Route Profile
A profile of the route from Leh to Manili.

Internet Access - At first we thought we could get online with our smart phone but Ladakh is very close to the Chinese border and the Pakistani line of control so the Airtel sim card that we bought in Delhi didn’t work there. To buy a SIM card for Leh, you need to submit 5 passport photos, which we decided not to do. In Leh there are a number of good internet cafes and in Keylong our Airtel sim card started working again. Keylong also has a shop with an internet connection but that connection was very slow.

Traffic - Most of the traffic is supply trucks for the Indian army bases near Leh and they always seemed to be ‘grouped’ together. So we would just pull off the side of the road to let them pass. It was also a great excuse to stop and catch our breath. You can later tell your friends, “I could have cycled up the Taglang La pass in one go but unfortunately all of those truck convoys forced me to take rest stops!”

Of course all the trucks and buses belch out exhaust fumes – they are Indian Tatas. But after a convoy passes, it was usually quite some time before the next group reached us. They don’t drive that fast, sometimes only 15-20 km/h due to the road conditions. They also know the road well since they spend the whole summer driving back and forth between Leh and Manali.

We were told that the worst traffic was on the Keylong – Manali section. Luckily for us the Rohtang pass was closed due to a big traffic jam so we ended up cycling ‘traffic free’ from Keylong to Gramphu.

Monastary
The Stakna Monastary. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Rohtang Pass - We didn’t cycle over the Rohtang since we decided to turn left towards Spiti, but boy did we hear comments from other cyclists about it: “It’s awful!”, “Terrible traffic”, “Mud-feast”,” #&!” and so on.

It turns out that Manali is a popular tourist destination and since many Indians have never seen snow before they all drive up to the top of the Rohtang to go play in it. At Gramphu we met cyclists coming down the pass who had been able to squeeze past the traffic jam on the Manali side. They said: “We met people who had been stuck in their cars for the last three days. Some of them applauded as we squeezed our bikes past but others gave us the ‘middle finger’.”

Altitude - Gasp, wheeze, gasp! What makes cycling the Leh to Manali highway difficult is the extreme altitude. The road heads over a number of passes, one of which is the Taglang la. At 5,328 meters it’s the second highest motorable pass in the world. If you’re feeling truly masochistic, head up the  5,359-meter Khardung La pass on the other side of Leh.


Descending from the Baralacha La pass. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Of course the higher you go, the less oxygen there is in the air. I remember heading up the last section of the Rohtang and even when I lay down on the side of the road I still was gasping for air. Sleeping at high altitudes can also be difficult and many times we awoke gasping for breath. What we were experiencing is called “Cheyne-Stokes breathing” (read more). For this route, you should be aware of how to prevent altitude mountain sickness.

Since we were flying into Leh at 3,524 meters, we decided to take diamox tablets. They help with acclimatisation. We started the day before our flight and continued swallowing them for two days thereafter. They really helped. On previous trips when we didn’t take them, we had a lot of headaches and sleeping problems (read more about diamox).

Food - Between Leh and Manali there are a number of dhabas (parachute tent camps) where you can buy: candy bars, boiled eggs, maggi noodles, chapattis, omelettes, rice and dal bhat ( an Indian dish of brown beans). The route profile photo shows some of their locations and in 2011 there was also a dhaba at Whiskey Nullah and Debring.

Sleeping - It’s possible to cycle the route without a tent. You can stay in the parachute tents that line the road.

Parachute Tent Camp
A parachute tent camp, where cyclists can stay the night. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

There are, however, a number of reasons why it’s a good idea to carry a tent with you:

  • Safety – If you read a number of Leh-Manali travelogues, you will find out that storms regularly pass through the area. You can become stranded for days until the route is cleared.
  • Wild camping – We camped in some spectacular places. They turned out to be some of our favorite memories from the trip.
  • Privacy – The parachute tents are dormitory style. If you are unlucky (like the Italian cyclist we met), a group of people will literally ‘take over’ the tent and hold a party until two in the morning.

Wild Camping
A beautiful wild camping spot. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Roads - First of all the climbs are gradual. As one English cyclist said, “They don’t build the roads here as steep as they do in Laos. Otherwise the Tata trucks wouldn’t be able to drive over the passes.” As for the road surface, it’s paved from Leh to Upshi and from Keylong to Gramphu but the rest is a combination of asphalt, gravel, washboard and sand.

Which way should you go? Here are the reasons to go from Leh to Manali:

  1. Leh and the Indus valley is a great place to spend time acclimatizing. Guidebooks recommend spending a minimum of a week in Leh before heading out hiking (or cycling). The first week we were there I was a bit sick so we decided to spend another week just cycling around the Indus valley – visiting a number of monasteries such as Hemis, Thiksey and Stakna.
  2. If you do come down with altitude sickness on the highway – it’s much easier to catch a lift in a truck. All of the trucks have dropped their cargo in Leh and are heading back empty to Manali. The chauffeurs are friendly and when I was reduced to pushing my bike on the last section of the Rohtang, they continually stopped to offer a lift.
  3. Descending the Baralacha La – pure heaven!
  4. Descending the Rohtang La: we didn’t go over it but all the cyclists we met said that it was much better to descend the Rohtang than to ascend it from the Manali side.

And the reasons to go from Manali to Leh:

  1. Tailwinds on the Moray plains: just smile and wave as you sail past your fellow cyclists who are slowly grinding their way towards Manali.
  2. You will suffer less from altitude on the Rohtang than someone who is coming from Leh. Also, if you want to cycle over the Khardung La pass, then it will be much easier since you are properly acclimatized.
  3. Somehow Leh seems like a more fitting and wonderful end to the journey than Manali.

Leaving From Delhi Airport - If you’re flying out of Delhi, watch out for the oversized baggage x-ray machine. After you have checked in for your flight, staff will wheel your bicycle away. Follow them! They are bringing your bike to a large x-ray machine but its opening is too small to for a bike to fit in. They will still try to cram it through (and thus damage the bike). Luckily, we were able convince them that our bicycles couldn’t fit in the x-ray and should be examined manually.

For more inspiration, see:

The authors of this article – Paul & Grace – are on a multi-year bicycle trip and project: “Bicycling around the world in search of inspiring cycle images”. They are photographing the different bicycle cultures around the world and the feeling of travelling by bicycle. See their blog.

How To Map Your Bike Tour With Twitter

Posted May 1st, 2012

Want a super-easy way to share your next bike tour with friends? Then check out TweetedTrips.com – a website that places your Twitter updates on a map.

TweetedTrips.com

All you have to do is enter your Twitter username and then all your geo-located Tweets will be placed on a map. If your Tweets don’t have location data, you can add them manually to the map. The map can then be embedded on your blog.

TweetedTrips.com was created by two bike tourists: Pete & Ian.

There are a number of other similar ‘plot my route’ tools but, quite frankly, we found them all a bit clunky and/or requiring expensive GPS adventuring equipment. We wanted something easy, simple and quick to set-up and manage but we couldn’t find it… so we made it ourselves.