May 22 – 27, 2013
Our plane landed in Istanbul around midnight. We found our way to the visa stall purchased a stamp without even a glance at our passports and headed into the labyrinth of people waiting to get stamped through customs. Next, we headed to the baggage carousel to wait for our giant boxes. As the crowd slowly trickled away, we got a little worried when nothing arrived for us. Chandler went off and talked to the baggage people and found out that our boxes were still in Paris. The baggage contractor would deliver them to our hostel when they got in the next night.
This was actually a small blessing, instead of searching for a taxi big enough to handle our bike boxes (the taxis were all tiny) we jumped on the cheap shuttle bus with one of our panniers each as our hand baggage.
The bus dropped us off around 1 am at the bustling Taksim Square, (sound familiar?) and from there walked a few blocks to our hostel. Luckily, they were cool with us arriving so late at night. We were shown to a room with 4 bunk beds, given beds and immediately went to sleep. Chandler woke me up the next morning with just enough time to scramble up to the terrace for the free breakfast. Breakfast included a slice of cheese, a few tomatoes and cucumbers, an assortment of olives, a hard-boiled egg and baguette slices. This was served every morning and we didn’t get the slightest bit tired of it.
We actually discovered we were in another food heaven. Now that we are in Europe, our budget doesn’t cover dining out, so we are cooking for ourselves. Our meals have consisted of mainly pastas with tomatoes, garlic, olives and soft Turkish cheese, called peynir. We are going to have no problem eating well while in the Mediterranean.
Our first day was spent wandering around with Jimmy, an Australian 737 pilot we met at the hostel. We walked to the Grand Bazaar and then tried to find the Cistern before running into another cyclist. K-Pete cycled from Germany and was doing a pass through Turkey before heading to Greece and back up to Germany in the next few days. Our larger group went to lunch, so the boys could get some kebap sandwiches and I had a potato cheese bread thing. Next we headed to the Blue Mosque. This was the first mosque we had entered and the entire building was incredible. Stained glass, patterned tiles and big vaulted ceilings, this was definitely a place to inspire worship.
The next day we spent waiting around the hostel for our bike boxes to be delivered. We found out through a series of confusing messages from our hostel owner that they had been held up in customs for some reason, so we had to go get them. In the morning, Chandler took the metro to the airport, and had to change lines twice so it ended up being almost the same price as the direct shuttle bus. He was let back into the secure side and then dealt with the paperwork required to release the bikes. Next, they sent him to customs to sort out the problem, they motioned for him to put the boxes through the X-ray which he did and they waved him on. The baggage guy pointed to the exit, but Chan was a little ticked off that he had to come all the way back out to the airport for apparently no reason and now they wanted him to take the bags himself, which would involve hiring a large taxi. After a few back and fourths, and a supervisor later, they finally agreed to deliver the bags to the hostel as they had said they would the night before.
We got the bikes to the hostel and spent the remainder of the day reassembling them, going on a test ride through town and getting replacement parts. On our ride home we saw a large group of protestors in Taksim Square, but we couldn’t understand what their signs said and wandered back to the hostel.
Once business was taken care of, we were able to focus on possible routes and more sightseeing. We decided on spending one more day in town then jumping on the morning ferry to Bandirma, across the Marmara Sea. While we were working there was some shouting on the streets and then a bang. Our eyes started to water a little bit and there was a chemically smell in the air. The hostel manager came in and closed all the windows. I looked out the window and saw a man walk out of his shop and quickly put his hands to his eyes. Apparently, the police were dispersing some protestors with teargas in our area. I asked the manager what they were protesting and he replied “who knows this time!”
We didn’t really think much of it and took the afternoon to explore the Basilica Cistern, trying to mail a package home, getting free samples of tasty cheese and walking narrow streets as we looked for the ferry. Chandler had read that the cistern was a civil engineer’s dream, and although it was a pretty cool example of some very old civil works, most of the emphasis was on the beauty of the lit columns above the shallow water and some carved Medusa heads, with basically nothing describing how the cistern was used from a functional standpoint. It wasn’t really disappointing, but it wasn’t my engineer’s dream.
We spent our last night socializing at the hostel and packing up the last of our things. We had a 5am alarm set to ensure we had enough time to get breakfast and to ride to the ferry on time.