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A New Chapter Begins in Turkey

We woke up the next morning to a truly luxurious breakfast at the Park Inn in Istanbul.

It was the classic Turkish breakfast of crispy baguettes, tomatoes, cheeses, olives, and had boiled eggs. We took it with plenty of cups of milky coffee and with a view of the Blue mosque off to our left, and the great pink Hagia Sophia mosque on our right.

We munched away and made plans for our time in Turkey. Everything was coming together for this part of the trip, except for one vital piece: the car.

After having such a blast traveling through the gulf with Mr. Jackson Fu in the Toyota Previa, we had decided that we should attempt to do Turkey in a similar way. And it was thus that we began investigating rental cars, with Claudia and Diane taking a central role.

In the meantime, Scott and I had another vital mission that needed to be completed before we exited Istanbul, and that was the acquisition of Kazakh visas.

There was much to do and not too much time here in Istanbul, so we were quick to get moving. Claudia headed off with to meet her friend Alp while Diane, Scott, and I headed out towards the Kazakh embassy on the Istanbul city tram.

At the end of the line, we hopped into a cab and began driving around aimlessly asking people for directions to the Kazakh embassy. We must have been in the right neighborhood… either that or the Kazakhs threw really great parties, for everyone we asked seemed know where it was. Yet despite receiving many directions, the building continued to elude us.  But finally, after a fair bit more random taking of turns, and asking of lounging cigarette smoking apartment security teams, we pulled up to the place.

We spoke to the guard outside, who, though it was closed, happily unlocked the door and let us in.

Inside was a kind of manicured garden area, with a nice cobblestone path that led up to a cottage, with a cutesy, residential style door. We had all our paperwork and passports ready, and we knocked on the door with every hope that we might be able to drop them off right there and then. But this was to be our first window into the world of post-soviet insane bureaucracy which we were poised on the edge of. The door was answered, by a tall and rather Korean looking fellow in an American eagle bright pink polo shirt and tight jeans who was sorry to inform us that while it was a weekday, they were unfortunately closed and we had better come back tomorrow. “Could you just take these forms and put them in an inbox?’ We asked. “That would be impossible.” He answered in interestingly accented English.

Fair enough, we thought, walking away from the place. At least we had found the place, and that was step one.

We took a picture of the sign to remind us of exactly where it was, and hit the road on foot.

As we strolled we investigated the cars parked along the street, making a list of models which we thought might accommodate all of us for the upcoming ride across Turkey. We would, of course, prefer a Toyota Previa, but research had suggested such a car was tough to find, perhaps even illegal to rent here…

We continued on, past a deserted school where a single child rode on his training wheels threw an empty playground, and then past the airport, which sported a fantastic logo on their fence.

From there we made our way down to the water, where we strolled along the sea for a while, playing with the community exercise equipment, and generally goofing around.

Soon we found ourselves at a community beach, where I found myself struck, as I had been by the female luggage scanner, by women wandering around in their bathing suits. It’s just not something that one sees in the middle east. And it had been quite some time since we’d been outside the Middle East. I found myself ever so mildly scandalized. It was really quite wild.

Eventually, we walked back up from the beach, stopping at a grocery store for some water, and then climbed back on the commuter rail, bound for town.

Back in town we collected our cycles, and head out for a ride. It was to be Diane’s inaugural wheel with the team, and we were excited to put some Turkish kilometers under our belts. And so we headed out, through this very ancient and interestingly part-European and part-Arab city.

It was not long into the ride that we began to conclude the European part was certainly dominating over the Arab. People dressed like Europeans here. EU flags were proudly placed around the city on flag which called it “European Capital of Culture. ”

We looked a little into this European Capital of Culture proclamation, and as Wikipedia explains it:

The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one calendar year during which it organises a series of cultural events with a strong European dimension.

Good one.

It was not long into the wheel that Scott’s Mother caught one of her front wheels in the ditch through which the trolley rails run and went flying over her handlebars and into the street. We screeched to a halt and headed over to see if she was ok. Thanks be to Jah, she was unharmed, but rather shaken, none the less.

One of the trolley attendants lent us the use of his little officer’s hutch, where we could take stock of ourselves and help Diane to calm down. They gave us a towel to clean some of the road grit off, and after a spell, walked over to a nearby park and sat down. It had been a very intense experience for all involved. The whole trip flashed before my eyes as Daine went sprawling into the street, including when Scott had done the same in Bangkok and I began to realize how lucky we had been to have had so few accidents. Not even a single flat…yet…

AsiaWheeling’s guardian angel aside, we explained to Diane that we would understand completely if she wanted to lay off wheeling for the rest of today. But she refused. After a couple more minutes of collecting herself in the park, we were back on the roads, and wheeling up a storm.

And let me underline, dear reader, that Istanbul is not an easy city to wheel in. Traffic is fast here, and none too used to cyclists. The roads are also full of obstacles like, very old, bent, widely spaced grates, and the tramline that had caught the front tire of Diane’s Speed D7.

We continued, past the blue mosque and down the cobblestone streets towards the shores of the Bosphorus. On the seashore, we were able to get onto a bike path, which was of great relief to all involved, for we now only had to worry about traffic consisting of pedestrians, roller bladers, and the occasional fellow wheeler.

Diane was doing very well, wheeling fast, and with a smile on her face. We made short work of that chunk of coastline, making our way by this very interesting turbaned statue, and eventually being dumped out into a part of town which was just littered with, of all things, bike shops.

We even stumbled upon the Turkish Dahon distributer, who unfortunately spoke none of the languages that we knew, but emitted general supportive body language.

From there, we took a bridge across the Bosphorus, and onto the side of the island where Alp lived.

Once on the new island, we began working our way uphill towards a place called Taksim, which is a giant square surrounded by a shopping and hotel district.

We spent some time wandering around there, poking our heads into car rental agencies but not finding much in the way of vehicles large enough for 4 people and 3 folding bicycles.

We even stopped into good old EuropeCar, a company that had served us so well in Abu Dhabi, but alas, the office here in Istanbul was staffed by grumpy and unhelpful characters. So much brand equity was destroyed in our five minutes of interacting with the Istanbul EuropeCar office, that I left the building feeling sorry for the company and wondering how it could have gone so far down the wrong path.

As we continued to poke around Taksim, we eventually got a call from Claudia and Alp, who were ready to meet up for Dinner. Alp ended up leading us to a fantastic joint, though to call it a joint is perhaps unfair.

It was more like a high class restaurant, built for sophistos, another Meze place, where we feasted on a fantastic assortment of dishes.

It had been quite a wheel and we were thrilled to be eating.

Fresh greens, yogurts, spicy fried shapes, crispy French tasting rolls, pickled mushrooms, sweet raisiny chicken pieces. It was a glorious walk through a world of very small portions of very scrumptious things.

After dinner, Claudia traded with Diane, joining us on the cycle to night-wheel home. As we made our way back down hill and across the bridge, I could not help but find myself startled at how quickly the trip had changed with the addition of Diane. Turkey was certainly an interesting chapter, and a delightful experience, but was it going to be AsiaWheeling?


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