WOODS AND WATER

places : ruminations : electric fantasies

Istanbul

Sila Reads My Future…

25 August, 2010 at 17:51

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My cinematographer friend Yasin brought me out to his country house above the sea about 2 hours south of the city. He just finished building it. His corn is high and his tomatoes are sweet and his puppies playful. The house also has no nails or screws, its some Finnish style where all the structural joints are made from wood, man it smells so nice.
We bought some fish and raki, a drink like ouzo, and we grilled them outside. The wind was so strong that the power went out and we ate under a flashlight.
He told me about being in the army a few months back. There is mandatory conscription in Turkey. You have to leave your job, family, etc, for five months if I remember correctly. He’s so talented it was hard for me to believe that he had to go to a base near the Georgian border for five months and pick the weeds out of the sidewalks. When he was lucky he got to go out to the border for night watch where he could cook. He soon became famous in the troop for his cooking. Out on watch, they would watch for goats coming over from Georgia, goats sell for a higher price in Turkey.
I have a nice portrait of him on the roll I lost, damn.

My cinematographer friend Yasin brought me out to his country house above the sea about 2 hours south of the city. He just finished building it. His corn is high and his tomatoes are sweet and his puppies playful. The house also has no nails or screws, its some Finnish style where all the structural joints are made from wood, man it smells so nice.

We bought some fish and raki, a drink like ouzo, and we grilled them outside. The wind was so strong that the power went out and we ate under a flashlight.

He told me about being in the army a few months back. There is mandatory conscription in Turkey. You have to leave your job, family, etc, for five months if I remember correctly. He’s so talented it was hard for me to believe that he had to go to a base near the Georgian border for five months and pick the weeds out of the sidewalks. When he was lucky he got to go out to the border for night watch where he could cook. He soon became famous in the troop for his cooking. Out on watch, they would watch for goats coming over from Georgia, goats sell for a higher price in Turkey.

I have a nice portrait of him on the roll I lost, damn.

17:32

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Thank God for the Ottomans, the only antagonist of the irrational Christendom of the late European Middle Ages.  This mosque, Aya Sofia, was once the main Cathedral of the Byzantine Empire and it became a Mosque with the fall of Byzantium to the Ottomans in 1453.
I sat in the Mosque and thought of all the Sephardi Jews of Iberia who came here to the Ottoman Empire and thrived, after fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

Thank God for the Ottomans, the only antagonist of the irrational Christendom of the late European Middle Ages.  This mosque, Aya Sofia, was once the main Cathedral of the Byzantine Empire and it became a Mosque with the fall of Byzantium to the Ottomans in 1453.

I sat in the Mosque and thought of all the Sephardi Jews of Iberia who came here to the Ottoman Empire and thrived, after fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

16:56

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Ferry to the Kadikoy neighborhood of Istanbul, Asian Anatolia

Ferry to the Kadikoy neighborhood of Istanbul, Asian Anatolia

16:53

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Last Day! Day 27: Corlu to Istanbul →

I was pretty dead yesterday, but today was an easy 70 km, though it was by far the most stressful day of riding in my life. I woke up early to arrive in the city before rush hour. Heading out of Corlu a man stopped me standing in a field and offered me some watermelon to share. He was ditching a military exercise up the road a kilometer. I had pretty relaxed riding with a nice shoulder to the Sea of Marmara. I couldn’t tell if it was the sea or not at first. I was pretty high up on a hill and the pollution was pretty thick.

By Silivri, the road stretched to 4 lanes and I lost my shoulder. The four lanes became six and I had a massive climb in traffic after B. Cekmele. It was like riding on I-70 at 6pm, coming up to Idaho Springs but with no shoulder… for those who don’t get that reference, too bad.  On-ramps, off-ramps, and incredibly stressful. Near the top, some truckers called me over for some tea and they fed me lunch. And as I write this I just realized that I’m missing a roll because I know I took some portraits of these guys as well as some more images in Bulgaria… damn, maybe it’s in my junk somewhere.

I would have taken a different route but I had the most pitiful map. Actually, I truly believe that there are no good maps in Turkey because every map I found looked like directions to a 5 year old’s birthday party, xeroxed 15 times over from the original. I really wanted to swim in the sea to celebrate but my desire to be done with the day and to get off that nasty road outweighed it.

I’m sleeping tonight in Asian, the Kadikoy neighborhood of Istanbul across the Bosphorus, in Asian Anatolia. Yay

12:55

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A Turkish military propaganda poster from the invasion of Cyprus in the 70’s

A Turkish military propaganda poster from the invasion of Cyprus in the 70’s

12:53

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Day 26: Edirne to Corlu →

Today was torturous. Maybe because I’m exhausted and I expected a little easier riding. Steep climbs, short descents, no flat ground, all with a headwind that would stop me even when going downhill. There are no trees out here to cut the wind. Fields, factories, and in the gas stations there are no supplies. Today was officially the longest of the trip, 78 miles, 125 km, with 3000 feet of climbing. I rolled into nasty Corlu like a corpse at dusk. Luckily, most of the day I had the BEST road shoulder of the whole trip. they are in the process of making route D100 into a 4 lane highway. Most of the new 2 lane section is paved but closed. I rode on it pretty much all the way. I saw a turned over car today, I didn’t want to take a picture as people were freaking out and I thought it would be disrespectful, I’m kicking myself now. I saw a wedding and stopped for some water, luckily there was a Turk there who could speak Bulgarian. I also saw folks in military forts peeking their eyes out from bunkers, they would whistle at me. Why is Turkey the most militarized place I’ve been in the Balkans? 

24 August, 2010 at 16:52

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Day 25: Harmanli to Edirne, Turkey →

Today was my birthday and I received two presents, Turkey, and the final documents for my Slovenian citizenship application! Woo hoo. And Sarah was the only one to call me…

Some guys from the Red Cross stopped me on the border. They asked me to sit and rest. They gave me some free water and some nasty Bulgarian drink that tasted like the juice from canned beans, mmm.

When I crossed the border, as I was waiting in line for my visa, the mosque on the horizon started screaming the call to prayer. I thought of Sarajevo from 3 years ago and how the same moment  happened to me there.

I went for dinner in Edirne, had my head shaved, and gorged myself with real baklava.

16:34

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Day 24: Plovdiv to Harmanli →

I had a bad night in Plovdiv, not much sleep due to mosquitoes. I got up early but had a late start as I was feeling lazy. The riding from here all the way to Istanbul was very stressful. There is no “interstate/autobahn” between Turkey and Bulgaria, and the autobahn from Sofia ends just after Plovdiv. In other words, all the European traffic to Istanbul, including myself, is routed on this small 2 lane road with no shoulder…

I daydreamed all day. The trucks blowing by me have no effect anymore. The last bit to Harmanli had some nasty climbing in intense traffic with blind corners. At the end of the day this was very dangerous riding. I really wanted to get off the bike.

16:21

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16:13

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I spent an extra night in Karlovo. I woke up in the morning and some flu hit me like a train. I suppose riding in the nasty rain the day before got the best of me.
The next day I rode to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s cultural capital, which has been populated for over 8,000 years. After the places I’ve been in Bulgaria, this seems ‘Las Vegas’ touristy.
I spent my night there at this Bulgarian folk music show in an old Roman amphitheater.

I spent an extra night in Karlovo. I woke up in the morning and some flu hit me like a train. I suppose riding in the nasty rain the day before got the best of me.

The next day I rode to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s cultural capital, which has been populated for over 8,000 years. After the places I’ve been in Bulgaria, this seems ‘Las Vegas’ touristy.

I spent my night there at this Bulgarian folk music show in an old Roman amphitheater.

23 August, 2010 at 13:43

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Some Thoughts About Bulgaria

- Natural Beauty

- Human Filth, Dystopian Landscapes

- Roadside Prostitutes

- The Amount of Nazi Graffiti

- Nodding ‘Yes” Means “No”, and Shaking “No” Means “Yes”

13:22

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Day 22: Pirdop to Karlovo →

I woke up this morning to torrential rain outside as well as a sore body. I decided to have breakfast and think about riding or not. I decided not to be a little pussy wussy and go although everyone thought I was insane. Luckily there was a little break in the rain riding out of Karlovo. Actually, the riding was quite nice for this climbing section, cool and wet. There was a heavy surreal fog as well, like Santa Cruz fog, climbing up to the summit. About 1 km from the pass it started raining again, and for the decent I’ve never seen such a hard rain in my life. It was like a river from the sky. Luckily it was Sunday and there weren’t so many cars. I passed three bridges on the decent to Rozino where the fog was so thick you could only see the road in front of you there was nothing above or below besides gray.

Outside of Sopot, I met another cyclist, a Bulgarian boy who wanted to practice his English. In Karlovo, I ate lunch and decided to sleep there. It would give me enough time to see the town, which is quite quaint, and I could rest my body. I also heard Pirdop, my goal for the day, was flooding due to the heavy rain. I went and found a cheap guesthouse. Old ladies in these parts rent out rooms in their apartments for like 5 Euro a night. They advertise with a plaque that says “Stan” on their doors.

I feel like this is the first actual town that I’ve been in in Bulgaria. There are shops, restaurants, and the streets have some life to them. And people have their teeth.

13:10

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Karlovo fountain

Karlovo fountain

12:59

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Day 21: Vraca to Pirdop →

This day was the hardest of the trip. I was blessed with overcast skies, a small respite from the Thracian sun, but at the same time I was hounded by the constant fear of rain. I didn’t want to climb as much as I would be doing if it was in the rain. Not because of my fear of getting wet, but because of cars and visibility. Most smaller roads in this area of the mountains are so forested that the plants are growing into the road. That, added to the fact that there are no road shoulders in Bulgaria, had me a little nervous. This meant that I had to ride for the most part in the car lanes, and when I would round a corner to the right, you couldn’t see 10-20 feet in front of you because of the forest. I would ride in the middle of the car lane. Its better to be honked at than not seen, and run over in the middle of nowhere. 

I made good time to Botevgrad, I arrived at 11am and ate lunch. The big climb was coming, up 3000+ feet, the highest pass of my trip. After Botevgrad, I had the choice between a small winding road or an interstate over the pass. I chose the small road, it was hard but rewarding, no traffic besides cows.

Finally at the top, I was happy to meet some boys and their uncle, fresh off a camping trip. I asked for directions to Gorno Kamarci, and the Uncle gave me a bottle of honey that he had harvested, fresh with honey comb still inside. He is a marathon runner and he told me that honey is the best thing to consume for energy.

The route he told me was downhill about 3 km, and was unfortunately wrong. I passed a shack and about 5 dogs came out and harassed me, followed by their owner, drunk. I asked him if Gorno Kamarci was straight ahead and he pointed back uphill and to the left. I didn’t know if I should trust him, this drunk villager, or the nice sober family I just met. I figured the guy lives on this road so he would know better, and he did. 

The decent into Gorno Kamarci was gorgeous, actually it reminded me of home, coming down into Boulder from Gold Hill or Golden, Colorado. It was just the same colors, smell, dry grass, etc.  I thought I was going crazy. Unfortunately, I had much more climbing to do, a 10% grade for 4 km up form Gorni Kamarci and two short but sharp climbs before Čelopeč. If I wasn’t so dead they wouldn’t have been such a problem, but I struggled on, rolling at a walking speed. When I arrived in Pirdop I wanted to celebrate my crossing the Balkan mountains a little, but no restaurants were open past 7pm. I found a room and it started raining…