When we were in Turkey we noticed juice bars everywhere serving up a purple mix, which we assumed was beetroot juice. Well, it turns out this was actually ‘fermented carrot juice’ made from a purple type of carrot and other tempting ingredients like bulgur wheat and hot pepper. When we saw a bottle in a supermarket we couldn’t resist trying it out, although after this taste test we’re not sure we’ll rush to buy another bottle!
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After months of anticipation and fretting over visas we’re finally in Iran! The border crossing went much more smoothly and quickly than we expected. No prying questions or searching customs inspections, just a polite official who welcomed us to the country under a huge portrait of the holy leader, filled out all our forms for us and waved us through. On the way out we lingered for a couple minutes in front of the Iranian duty free shop. It was perhaps the most bizarre one we’ve ever seen. No alcohol or cigarettes here; just a collection of blankets, saucepans and vaccuum cleaners. A mere half an hour after we first entered the Turkish side we were cruising down our first hill in Iran to the frontier town of Bazargan. The winter air is icy this far north and we had tears in our eyes from the wind as we cycled along on slippery roads. (more…)
This time last year we were in southern Spain, swimming in a salt-water pool at a luxurious campsite. This was the memory we dwelled on as we tried to get up the energy to emerge from our cozy sleeping bags into the freezing early morning air. With our stove on the blink and no hot coffee for breakfast it was more of a struggle than usual. We packed our tent up in record time and headed from the olive grove where we spent the night into the town of Killis.
For breakfast we were craving a bowl of steaming hot çorba, the soup Turks specialise in, but first we had to get some money. We slid our card in the machine as we’ve done hundreds of times on this trip and waited hopefully for some shiny new bank notes. Unfortunately, just at this moment the machine was turned off for restocking and our card was swallowed into a black hole. We optimistically made our way into the bank to get our card back.
The bank teller insisted we must be mistaken. “There is no card in that machine,” he said, looking at us as if we’d imagined it all. We persisted. He insisted he was right. This went back and forth for several minutes until finally a woman working next to him went to check (what a novel idea!) and found our card instantly. We breathed a sigh of relief a little too quickly. (more…)
Turkey is notorious for being hilly so it wasn’t a surprise when we saw plenty of peaks looming in our path as we approached the border. We’d hoped to reach the crossing point well before sunset but it turned out to be a last-minute dash because we took so long working our way through the rolling mountain roads. It was nearly dusk when the Syrian border guards tried to win the prize for intense questioning:
Q. Where are you going? A. Uhhhh, Turkey.
Q. Where is your stamp for your bicycle? A. We don’t need one.
Q. You need to buy one. A. No we don’t.
Q. What is your name? (asked while looking at passport) A. Fatima Falafel and Mohammed Shwarma
Q. Where are you from? (also while looking at EU passports) A. Canada.
That was the first checkpoint. At the second one we joined the queue for our exit stamps and laughed while three Turks tried to push in front of us by stuffing their passports with money in quite an obvious way and shoving the documents towards the guard serving us. The guard chuckled and ignored them so it looks like all that bribery cash was for nothing. At the final checkpoint all the questions were repeated again by three guards before we were allowed to pass through no-man’s land and into Turkey.
At the Turkish border post we were hoping for some swift stamping of papers so we could get on our way but just as we thought we were free a customs guard came to inspect our baggage. “Can we sleep in there?” we asked, pointing to an enclosed shelter with a stove and benches. “Because if not it’s going to be dark by the time you’re done looking at all our bags and we won’t be going anywhere.”
The threat of sleeping with two cyclists seemed to work. “Any cigarettes, alcohol or tea?” our man asked. We pulled out a jar of camomile tea bags but apparently this wasn’t the tea he had in mind. “Get going then,” he said, waving us onward. We were rather disappointed. The shelter looked a fair bit warmer than our tent was going to be. Luckily for us it wasn’t far to the next olive grove and we set up our tent in record time. The stove wasn’t such a success. We’d replaced our gas and cleaned the line but it’s still burning horribly and we only just managed to cook supper on it. It looks like getting the stove working again will be our New Year’s challenge.
It’s hard to believe it’s nearly Christmas and we have been on the road for well over a year. Time is just flying by and since we last reported from Istanbul we’ve had so many wonderful experiences. So, here’s our latest radio show from a Damascus teahouse.
We hope you enjoy this one, with thoughts about touring in Turkey and Syria and two interviews: one with a Swedish couple, Lea and Johnny, who are tackling Europe, Thailand and New Zealand by bike and another with Paddy, a lively lad from Manchester who spent 5 years cycling Europe and working on farms. We met Paddy in Turkey where he was heading for Prague to spend the winter, with hopes of a world trip in the future.