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Tips For Bike Touring In Turkey: Visas, Food, Roads & More…

Posted July 7th, 2012

Roberto Gallegos is slowly making his way around the world by bicycle. From that trip, he sent us the following series of tips for bike touring in Turkey.

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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

Continue reading Roberto’s tips.

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.

***

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.

The World’s 10 Best Bike Tours?

Posted March 18th, 2011

A little over a year ago, we wrote about 10 Places To Ride Your Bike Before You Die – a list of the favourite places we’ve been on our bicycles.

Now, we’ve come up with 10 more dream bike tours – our own personal list of the top places we’d like to go next. Some we’ve been to in part, but we’d like to explore more. Others we’ve never seen but we’ve heard so many great reports that they’re on our short list.

Of course, reducing the world to just 10 bike tours could rightly be described as a great injustice to all the potential routes out there. Think of this as a little inspiration to get you dreaming, and share your ideas of the best places to cycle by leaving a comment.

1. North Sea Cycle Route

Route de la mer du Nord, allemagne

 

This 6,000km marked route traces the coastline of the North Sea. It goes through the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and it’s easy to do just a section if you don’t have time for the whole thing. Much of the route is on dedicated bike paths or small roads, making this a very tranquil bike tour. More info: North Sea Cycle

 

2. Pacific Coast, United States

The Bike Tour

 

The Pacific Coast Highway has always intrigued us. We’re talking spectacular ocean views, massive redwood trees, classic cities like San Francisco and plenty of facilities for cyclists as you cycle through the states of Washington, Oregon and California. Maps are available from the Adventure Cycling Association. More Info: ACA Pacific Coast route

 

3. Danube Cycle Path

Danube Bike Path

 

We’ve already cycled the start of the Danube Bike Path; a perfectly paved trail running through Germany and Austria to the Hungarian capital of Budapest. This stretch is great for families, beginners or anyone who doesn’t want to spend much time figuring out logistics.

Now we want to finish the job. Apparently the path gets less refined as it goes along. We like the idea of that slow progression.

There are tons of guidebooks describing the route from the river’s source to where it empties into the Black Sea. Ride it on your own or pick from the many package tours. More Info: The Danube Bike path is part of EuroVelo6.

 

4. Japan

Japanese Temple

 

We were in Japan many years ago, and we’ve been dying to go back on our bicycles. We want to check out more temples, soak in the hot springs and gorge on sushi. Many people think Japan is expensive but to keep costs low, you can cook your own food and take advantage of the free campsites and local hospitality clubs. More Info: Japan Cycling and Journey of 1000 Li (We wrote this before the terrible 2011 earthquake in Japan. Hopefully the country will recover quickly and be ready to receive tourists again soon.)

 

5. The Silk Road & The Pamir Highway

Andrew in front of a Bukhara Mosque

 

A trip along the ancient Silk Road trade route and the Pamir Highway is a real adventure. First you’ll cross Turkey and Iran, heading for the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Then you’ll head for the mountains, where you can still get a wonderful glimpse of nomadic life. Continue on down Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway and you have enough cycling to keep you busy for a good 4-6 months.

We’ve done the first part of this trip, but we missed out on southern Kyrgyzstan and the Pamir Highway. Now that would make a great summer tour one of these days! It’s a pain to get visas (and they’re not cheap) but the rewards are spectacular scenery and a real sense of exploration in this little-touristed region of the world. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Central Asia and Tim Barnes’ Totally Knackered tour

 

6. Carretera Austral, Chile

Towards the Cordillera

 

Pack a sturdy bike and your tent for this 1,000km mostly unpaved road. It passes through the region of Patagonia and encompasses some of Chile’s most stunning terrain, including mountains, lakes and glaciers. This is definitely a summer route. In the off-season it can be closed by snow and heavy rain. More Info: A journal of a bike tourist in the Carretera Austral and Patagonia.

 

7. Southeast Asia

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

 

International bike touring doesn’t get much easier than in Southeast Asia, and there’s a lot to explore. We’ve spent 6 months here, and still not seen it all. Next on our list? The east coast of Malaysia and a jaunt into Myanmar / Burma. We also want to return to the Cameron Highlands tea growing area in Malaysia (pictured), where the air is refreshingly cool, for some day rides and hikes, which we didn’t have time for on the last trip.

Throughout the region, costs are affordable (even for the most budget-minded bike tourists), traffic is generally relaxed, hotels are easy to find and the food is great. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Southeast Asia and the slightly old but still helpful Mr. Pumpy

 

8. Morocco

 

Cheap flights and ferries from Europe make Morocco very accessible and it’s a great first taste of bike touring outside of the developed world. We’ve been to Morocco several times, and while the country is becoming increasingly touristy, it still offers plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track.

Classic rides include the coastal route between Agadir and Essaouira and the trip from Marrakech, over the mountains and through the Draa Valley to the Sahara desert near Zagora. We’ve done all of these. Now we want to do a backroads tour of Morocco: no asphalt and lots of camping. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Morocco and the video (above) from our friends Blanche & Douwe. They’ve biked Morocco’s paths and tracks several times, so we’ll be picking their brains if we do this trip!

 

9. Great Divide Route

IMG_9573

 

Few places do “pure nature” as well as North America and the Great Divide is at the top of our list of routes to cycle on the continent. This off-pavement mountain bike route traces the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada all the way south to the Mexican border. It takes about 3 months to complete. A mountain bike with front suspension forks is often recommended to help cope with the tough terrain. More Info: ACA’s page on the Great Divide cycling route

 

10. Karakoram Highway

IMG_9573

 

A classic route between China and Pakistan, and one that may change significantly in the coming years (for the worse) as the road improves and becomes more accessible to heavy traffic. Go now, before it’s too late! More Info: Cycling The Karakoram Highway

 

What are the bike tours on your “to ride” list? Tell us. Leave a comment.

Photos: The Bike Tour by Tommy DavisRoute de la mer du Nord (by Vocivelo, flickr)Cycling Along Pakistan’s Gilgit River Valley (by Yodod, flickr)Towards the Cordillera (by Magical World, flickr), Cycling The Great Divide (by rich drogpa, flickr)

The Best Bike Route Into Istanbul

Posted September 8th, 2010

I will never forget cycling into Istanbul.

Cycling into Turkey

With little experience in bike touring, we didn’t research the smaller roads well enough. Instead, we rode alongside heavy motorway traffic for several days on the D100 – the main highway from the Greek border to Turkey‘s biggest city.

We weren’t alone. Many cyclists take the D100. Do they use this dangerous road because it’s easy, at least in terms of navigation? It is one straight line into Istanbul. Or perhaps they take it because, coming from Europe, they haven’t yet bought a decent Turkish map and don’t know of any other roads.

There Is A Better Way!

In fact, there are two better options:

#1. Southern Coast

Tim & Laura cycled into Istanbul in early 2014. They used the D100 until the port town of Silivri and then picked their way into the city on bike paths and smaller roads. On their website, they write:

We used smaller roads through Beylikduzu (Sari Zeybeck Cd runs parallel to the D100 for a bit).  Around Avcilar Sahil Parki the D100 runs along a narrow bit of land between the coast and a lake – on Google Maps it looks like there’s no other option but the main road, but it’s misleading and there’s actually a minor service road and/or pavements bikes can use so we were hardly on the main road at all. After this came the real joy. Between the airport and the coast, in Bakirkoy, we pedalled for a relatively long way on traffic free cycle routes along the sea front. Total winner. You end up on Kennedy Avenue right in the centre of Istanbul old city, and even this big road is fine as there is a designated cycle lane.

For more information, see their website.

#2. Along the D020.

In 2010, Frederike & Guy (cycling from the UK to Australia) posted details of their route into Istanbul.

The bulk of this route uses the D020, which sounds wonderful from their description:

“It’s a single lane coarse tarmac road through rural farm land. There is no hard shoulder but it’s not necessary as there is little traffic. The traffic that does pass, we found to be very courteous. According to a local, drivers are used to cyclists on this road.”

4000kmEven the very last stretch of their route, coming into Istanbul, was tranquil:

“Expecting a ferocious motorway it turned out to be a lovely single lane road weaving through small villages, suburbs and marinas. With the sun rising over Asia on the other side of the Bosporus, this was one of the most memorable and enjoyable rides we have ever done.”

And now, the small print. Since 2010, we’ve heard anecdotal reports that the D020 has been widened and is not quite as bike friendly as it used to be. This report from late 2013 seems to indicate that it’s still a feasible cycling route, and this blog post shows detailed maps for the last few miles between the D020 and the city centre. If you try it, please let us know about the current conditions.

Read more about Frederike & Guy’s journey to Istanbul, and download the GPX file for this route.

Our 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets

Posted January 4th, 2010

We were nominated by the lovely Nora of The Professional Hobo to share our 3 best travel secrets, as part of a Tripbase project to bring some great tips together from across the net.

My only problem with this mission is that I could probably list 20 secret travel places but in keeping with the theme, here are 3 that spring to mind. And yes, the ride there is as wonderful as the destination.

Aphrodisias, Turkey

Aphrodisias

Most tourists in Turkey head straight for Troy and Ephesus, the archaeological sites along the coast but when we tried to visit we were overrun by tour groups, who kindly made sure they also provided entertainment in the form of actors dressed as Romans (in fetching plastic capes), jumping off the ampitheatre and just being generally annoying. The solution? Head inland to Aphrodisias and enjoy the peace? The amazing theatre and stadium are some of the best we’ve seen anywhere and you can marvel at the architecture in silence.

How to get there: Highway E87 leads from the coast towards Nazilli. In Nazilli, head south briefly, then east on a back road that goes through many small villages (Pirlibey is one of them and has a shop and cafe) before hooking up with the D585, which will take you straight to Aphrodisias. Nearby is the village of Geyre, where you can camp and get a room or a meal.

Kobarid on the Soca River, Slovenia

59-socariver.jpg

Slovenia’s Soca River takes top prize for the most beautiful river we’ve seen anywhere and the variety of activities you can do in this corner of Slovenia is impressive. Go hiking, rafting, rock climbing, diving or just visit the local towns. Kobarid has a great museum. It’s just across the mountains from Italy. Why don’t more people come here?

How to get there: Take Route 52 out of Amaro, then the SS646 in Italy, up and over the mountains to the small town of Kobarid. Just beware the hills after Lischiazze!

Titirangi Bay, New Zealand

It took a long slog up a dirt road to get here but when we crested the top of the hill and saw this view of Titirangi Bay, our jaws dropped open. Here, at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, you get to savour  this landscape mostly on your own. The majority of tourists don’t come right to the top of the Marlborough Sounds or, if they do, they don’t stay the night. There’s only a rustic campsite (cold water, no showers) but you do get the use of a stunning beach and plenty of inquisitive weka birds circling your tent.

How to get here: Go to Kenepuru Head in the Queen Charlotte Sounds and follow Titirangi Road until it runs out.

Part of the object of this post is to get other blogs to do the same. I’m hoping these travellers will participate: