The many faces of Turkey

by May 30, 2016Blogs, Europe, Turkey

Hosgeldiniz; welcome in Turkey! The country that is literally on the point where Europe and Asia meet. From the hustling and bustling big city of Istanbul with more than 15 million inhabitants to the traditional farmer villages in the far east where time stands still. In our two weeks of Turkey we meet both sides of Turkey. And we also realise why we like to travel slow: to really experience and feel a place, you need time. And for that 1.500 kilometer – and a lot of impressions – in two weeks, was maybe a little bit too much. Read all about our experiences in the beautiful and rainy northern part of Turkey!

Istanbul has it all

On the 27th of April we pass the Greek – Turkish border, two weeks later than expected. The border was hassle free: three officials had a look in our truck and Roderick showed them around, and after that we could drive on. We decided to go directly to Istanbul, to arrange some things but above all: meet our Dutch and Turkish friends! It is always a little bit stressful to drive into a capital, especially when it is as big as Istanbul: more than 15 million people are living here. But Roderick and Abi manoeuvre through the city and adjust themselves easily to the more organic way of driving. It is almost as if they did it before ;-). We are driving really into the center, where our friends Teo and Nesli live and reserved a parking for us.We go through smaller and smaller streets and we can’t almost believe it when we cross Istiklal street: the main shopping street of Istanbul! A few minutes later we arrive at there house, great to see them again!

The next day we go to the more touristic area of the city to arrange our Iranian visa. And when we get into the busy morning tram, we think about the terrorist attacks… Of course the risk is higher here, but we must be very unlucky to encounter something like that.. so fingers crossed and let’s go! And after a morning going from window to window at the Iranian Embassy we walk out with a big smile on our faces: our Iranian visa is in! After a delicious Turkish lunch we are ready to check off the things of our big shopping list. While travelling, the bigger cities are mostly the point to get some things we need. Like in many parts of Asia, Istanbul has all those themed streets, where several shops sell more or less the same things. For example a street full of handyman stuff, car parts, or office supplies. We are always wondering how this works, with so much competition. But the good thing is: if you need something you know where to go! We love those small family owned shops and markets. And we can check off most of the things of our list: among others we find a place to make a new Circumbendibus stamp (we lost our stamp at the Tsipouro night in Greece), we find a new gear system for my bicycle, and brightly colored powder to give the truck a less military and more happy look if needed.  

When we are back in “our” neighbourhood, we realise that Istanbul is a city that consists of many different small quarters, with each their own character and culture. They function as small villages within the big city. This is the place people know and support each other, where they go to the same tea shop everyday and buy their vegetables or cheeses at the shop where they know the owner. It gives a very local feel to it.

Getting into Asia

After 4 days of great dinners with friends and friends of friends – it felt like being home! –  and enjoying Istanbul, it is time to leave again. We take the bridge over the Bosphorus; the river that runs through Istanbul and divides the two continents. Goodbye Europe, hello Asia! Since we have limited time due to visa further on the route, we decide to drive the first part quickly. But even though we know Turkey from our last trip, it feels like we are going to fast. We have the feeling we can’t really grasp where we are: who are the people that are living here? Our minds can’t keep up with the kilometers we are driving. We decide to take sometime to land and go to a nature park that we find on our map: Ilgaz National Park. But when we arrive there it doesn’t really meet our expectations: it is an abandoned ski resort and it is raining a lot… But in the end we decide two stay two days on this mountain and to get back on track with our “work”: we are sorting pictures, write about our experiences and print and write the first postcards for our subscribers. The heater is on while the rain sometimes turns into hail or snow, we eat the last emergency food that we have in our storage and Roderick recovers from a cold. And when we wake up the next morning the sun shines through the clouds and we feel ready to discover the east of Turkey!

After driving down the mountains we move on in the direction of Unye: a small town at the Black Sea coast. On our way we see the first rice fields – we are really going east now! -, where people are working to get it ready for the new season. And big herds of sheep and goat are guided by the shepherds and their dogs to the summer pastures. We stop at a small farmer village, in which there seem to live more animals than people. We are shown around by the villagers and finally have the feeling: we are in Turkey again! Çay (tea) is everywhere and is offered at many places, and after a delicious lunch in a restaurant we aren’t allowed to pay the owners. The Turkish people, especialle in the East, are very welcoming. And since most of them don’t speak English and our Turkish is limited to the bare essentials (hello, thank you, goodbye, and of course: the food ;-)), Google Translate is a great way to make conversation.

Every cloud has a silver lining

As many people already told us: the black sea region is very rainy. And it is! That gives us some time to work a bit again. Most of this work is behind a computer: we work on our laptop and tablet and we are mostly in our truck the whole day. Things are not working as efficient as when you are home: the internet is weak or not available, and the truck sometimes feels a little bit small when you are in there for a whole day. We are preparing our next update on our website, contacting our insurance because of some problems, reading in to border crossings further on our way, and so on. We are trying to find the balance and do those things in a playful way. It is not easy since we are both quite serious and in some way perfectionists when it comes to work, but we are practicing! Two steps forward, one step back.

When the weather gets a little bit better we drive to the Kaçkar mountains: the mountain range at the Eastern part of the Black Sea regions. That it rains a lot we already noticed, but on the other side: this is also what makes the region so beautiful! The deep valleys are so green and lush, it almost gives a tropical feel to it. And in the back you see the high peaks of the Kaçkar mountains. It is a great moment to visit the region: flowering Rhododendrons, the tea fields which you see everywhere are harvested for the first time this year and all the local farmers sell their tea to one of the biggest tea companies in Turkey: Caykur. We are really enjoying the beautiful nature and the great people we meet here. When we walk around and visit some of the villages of the Hemşin mountain tribe, we are welcomed very warmly by them and they are happy to show us their traditional ways of working. They mostly cultivate tea, have cows for the milk, keep bees for the honey and fish for trout in the rivers.

Besides the great people we meet we also meet animals which aren’t always that welcoming.. On one of our last evenings in Turkey we walk back to our truck through the dense and almost dark forest. And all of a sudden I hear something big going through the bushes. When Roderick points his light on it, we see it both: it is a brown bear with a small cub in front of her and one behind. She is only 7 meters away from us. For one moment we are too surprised to do something. But then she makes a loud roar and Roderick says: “OK Marleen.. walk… “ and then somewhat louder: “Run!” We run the last part back to our truck and with shaking hands we open the door. We made it… That was really scary! The next day we hear from people who live in this area that we were actually “very lucky”: they only saw a bear once since they are living here!

After doing some research on the area on the internet, we found out about two Hemşin that lived in Istanbul and made a radical decision to leave the city and go back to the forest. We would love to meet them and hear their story. And just before we are in the town of Çamlıhemşin we receive an email from them. We are more than welcome to visit them! In our next blog we will share their story and our experiences at their very special place. See you soon!

Below is a smaller collection of the photos. If you are interested in the rest, please have a look here: click.

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