topics: karishik komposto (food), tears, injustice, Cistern, Hippodrome, symbolism in religious arts; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: March 3-4, 1998

Food of the Day: karishik komposto

Fruit Salad in Turkish is "karishik komposto," and the boys assured everyone it was delightful. They bought it at the haci Abdullah restaurant in Taksim (a huge main square in a fashionable part of Istanbul). It was made with quince, banana, strawberry, pomegranate, pear, and apricot. Less gooey than the fruit salad we're used to at picnics in America, this fruit sat in its own juice, rather than sugary syrup.

Person of the Day: andrEa Siegl

andrEa is the hailed person today because she has been selected for a huge heap of injustice. Due to BikeAbout's very serious financial situation, andrEa is leaving... so that the others can go on. While it is understood that andrEa put enormous amounts of time and energy, as well as all of her resources, into the aims of the BikeAbout cause, the funds raised to this point cannot support her continued effort. Thus she is moving onward and elsewhere in her continued interest in communication among people.

The unique angle from which andrEa has seen things on this trip, and the connections that she has made with people whose lives BikeAbout passed through ever so briefly, are only two of many attributes that BikeAbout is losing. It's hard to type on a screen the real ways in which she has - to such a huge extent - touched the lives of everyone she has met during our journey. Her thoughts on her departure and her summed-up feelings on the entire experience have a special page that will follow this one. Because she had to give up her computer on such extremely short notice, however, it will take some time before she can find the resources and hardware to complete this.

And so, andrEa, the Person of Today, who was Corinne's Person of Every Day, will find her future elsewhere, but has, by some miracle of everlasting goodwill, offered to continue organizing contacts and assistance for BikeAbout as we make our way through the Balkans. She will do this with the ambition, talent, and broad open heart with which she is sure to embrace all her endeavors, always with equal sincerity and skill. We will suffer without her.

Place of the Day: the Cistern!

Yerebatan Saray is the "Sunken Palace," or Cistern Basilica. Neither a palace nor basilica, this place tripped our triggers big time. Despite all our melancholy, the Cistern is full of wonder, intrigue, mystery, and excitement, and we couldn't help but dig it. While it wasn't the most magnificent thing on our walking tour of town, it was certainly the newest, which is A Very Good Thing. (We've seen so many incredible mosques and ruins by now, it's insane.)

Built in 532 AD, and supported by 336 columns stolen from various ruins throughout the Aegean, this Byzantine cistern is part of the ancient aqueduct system built by Justinian. Remember, he's the guy most responsible for all the wonders in the city from the Byzantine era (see dispatches for February 28 and March 2). Since Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for over 1,000 years, the main part of the aqueduct was built in the center of the city, and built to last. While parts of the system still work, the cistern itself serves now as mostly a tourist attraction.

And attract it did. We had a blast trying to determine the differences among all the columns, and noted the "Tear Column" whose upside-down tear-shaped carvings were unlike any we've ever seen. No one really even knows the origin of this column. Also of note were the building pieces with ancient writing on them, helping show from what kinds of ruins they were taken. It's recycling at its best.

But by far the coolest were the two large chunks of marble placed between the pillars and the ceiling at the very rear of the cistern. Both have great big medusa heads on them - complete with snakes for hair - sideways and upside-down, as if tossed in among all the other rubble for building! Here is one of them right-side up. click to view a photograph

Tech Fact of the Day: money crisis

As many of you know, BikeAbout is in the midst of a serious financial crisis. We do not have enough money with which to complete the Mediterranean journey as we would like. We took a gamble at the start and took off not having met our fundraising objectives. We had hoped that the spread of interest in what we are doing would be sufficient to attract the attention of additional financial supporters. Our gamble has not paid off. At least not yet (although we remain hopeful).

As a result, Ethan asked that the group be reduced in size. This would make it possible for the trip to continue... which is, in his opinion, the most important thing. But reducing the team was not an easy thing to ask (see dispatch from February 26) and deciding how it should be reduced was an extremely difficult and painful process (see Rider Notes.

The final result was that andrEa (see our Person of the Day) is leaving the BikeAbout team on the road, but that, in her new capacities with other non-profits working principally in the countries of ex-Yugoslavia, she will continue to volunteer her time by helping to prepare the way for BikeAbout's presence there in the coming months.

andrEa's departure is very, very unfortunate; a result of the frustrations of working as a new non-profit, especially with a team of devoted volunteers that is just too small to cover all the bases, particularly in fundraising. Nevertheless, her more than five months deserve every ounce of thanks and appreciation that is her due. She was, on the road, a valuable member of the group of cyclists and a close friend to Corinne. We hope that her time away from the rest will not change this.

Group Dispatch, March 3-4
picture of Corinne

For our last day in Istanbul, the gentleman dedicated themselves to backlogged dispatches, while andrEa and Corinne decided it was high time to see the city. After a week in Istanbul, this would be our first venture out to site-see, and we were excited to take it all in.

There had been a lot of moving around on the ladies' part. As the BikeAbout time in Istanbul was prolonged, their host-homes kept changing. Always concerned not to wear out our welcome, and due to various logistical and scheduling conflicts, andrEa and Corinne enjoyed the Turkish hospitality of three different households in Anatolian Istanbul. All our hosts and hostesses - Beyhan and her sister, Gökalp, and Serpil - went out of their way to accommodate our melancholy, and we appreciate their understanding.

Unfortunately, the last 6 days had been spent in tears, making it hard to have a good time. The BikeAbout Ladies hadn't been able to get out and see the picturesque and historical views of Istanbul because, when we arrived in the city, we learned that one of us wouldn't be continuing with BikeAbout at all. This was pretty hard to take, and meant long, long hours of discussion, crying, and fancy footwork trying to get a perspective.

An email had come from Ethan saying that there wasn't enough money for everyone to remain on the BikeAbout team for the remaining four months, so one male and one female would have to go home (see Tech Fact of the Day for more detailed words from Ethan). The email said that a group of three was the only affordable way to continue, and left it up to us to decide who would stay, and who would "go." We knew the Turkish word for "go," which is "git" (see the Word of the Day) and it echoed in our minds and conversations for the next full week. This would be a really, really hard decision to make, and took a lot of energy.

It turned out that neither Padraic nor Anthony would be leaving since they had enough personal money between them for both of them to complete the trip. We had no money, individually or combined, to make it possible for both of us to stay. So now the group would actually be four, but what would it look like?

The two women had been together day in and day out for over five months, and the last month was spent without the guys at all. The communication between our two groups has been minimal, and that would be a new challenge. So which of the two women would go on by herself - with the guys? But more importantly, which of us would leave?

We tried to think first of what it would look like for the one who stayed, then what it would look like for the one who went home. Since neither of us has a "home" anymore, much less a new job at such short notice to find some money to live on, it was a scary prospect. We talked late into every night, and woke early in the mornings, sleeping three hours or less, to brainstorm and consider options for either or both.

The busy-work for the person who would go was the most intensive. Dozens of emergency emails were sent, and phone calls to contacts were made, searching for a solution. We had to notify the right people, collect data, create a plan, discuss possibilities, and, in between the technical work, still remain pleasant and social with our various hosts throughout the week. Every once in a while we'd take a break and again the tears would flow. Mounting anger and frustration were spent on countless sit-ups and patiently poured cups of tea, trying to balance the warmth and make something positive from the negative.

Ideas on what it would look like for the one who continued with the guys were:

They bike faster - so she may be biking alone.
Life will be more boring and strange without the security of another female.
It'll be a challenge of personal strength, an opportunity, and "a real character builder."

Ideas on what it would look like for the one who would have to go home were:

Recreating one's life so unexpectedly would be very difficult.
She would have to sleep on people's couches, until she could find some kind of job.
The humiliation of going home early will be doubled by continual explanations.

The future looked bleak from either angle, but the decision itself was quick. andrEa is a better cyclist and mechanic than Corinne, has more experience solo bike touring, and her networking skills are and have been a major asset to BikeAbout. She was the clear and logical choice to stay. But andrEa had no interest in biking with the guys without the support of another female; given the difficult and sometimes frustrating group dynamic, it's been very difficult for some of us to get to know one another very well. This has been a moral disappointment from the outset, and she felt she didn't have the energy left to start again; she'd prefer to face new uncertainties.

The diplomatic nature of Corinne's ambivalence toward the new gender ratio - whether the guys numbered 2 or 10 or 20 - was due to her interest in the event itself. Since her survival until this point had relied heavily on andrEa's continued support, finishing BikeAbout alone with the boys presented a whole new unknown to explore - a thing that Corinne can't easily pass up. So Corinne would stay, and see what happened - because you don't know 'til you get there. "You'll hate yourself if you don't try," andrEa wisely observed.

Then we talked about what it would be like to be apart so suddenly. It may sound all too romantic, but after 5 months, the simple realities - unsaid actions that had to be taken into consideration when you're anticipating a loss - had to be looked at:

No one to make tea for.
No scratch-your-back wake ups.
No more sharing emails from our dads.
No one to ask, "What did you dream last night?"
No comrade shooting threatening looks at gawkers.
No more 2-minute insta-dance parties in the hotel room.
No more deep talks about relationships in life and the world.
No familiar shape just ahead or behind on the rest of the roads around the Sea.

Finally, like a surreal divorce of some kind, we laid out and divided our belongings between us. We split up the items we had shared carrying due to weight or bulk or immediate necessity: CDs, vitamins, soap, floppy disks, even socks and underwear. Corinne needed a raincoat, so andrEa offered hers, and would pick up another back in Austria; andrEa was still fighting a cold, so she got most of Corinne's medicines for that. It was eerie and automatic, emotionless and pragmatic. Simple. And sad.

In fact the depression level was so extreme and the tears so continual, that we became quite desperate, going out of our way to be as silly as possible when the sadness took a momentary break. We'd coax squeals and shrieks of laughter from each other - at any goofy cost - even if just for a few fleeting seconds. Everyday the water runs hot and cold, but you have to work for balance in life; it's not free.

By the end of the fifth day of tears and sleepless nights, however, a very important email and phone call came in - a job offer for andrEa at a European Community-funded youth organization in Sarajevo, which included a place to live! She confirmed the details and decided to give it a shot. It even offered the flexibility of not beginning until late March! That night (after a tall beer) we finally slept - an exhausted 12 hours.

And so on this last day in Istanbul, we afforded ourselves the luxury of enjoying the town, relieved that the future was somewhat more secure, and glad that we had exhausted all of the above conversation between the two of us, leaving no untidy threads or unspoken sentiments. We called Fouat, a friend of a friend who is a guide and whom we had been interested in meeting, and he showed us the town in a few hours flat - something we would however never recommend to anyone visiting Istanbul! But walking around with Fouat was extremely rewarding; because he's a spiritual kind of guy and had more than history to share with us.

After picking us up from the ferry click to view a photograph, which we enjoyed as usual, he first piled us into a taxi and pointed out the window describing all the important things. Through the traffic jams and other near-misses, Fouat lyrically rattled off the names of gates, churches, buildings, bridges, and other significant buildings - complete with important dates for us to forget. (Corinne didn't realize it was her day to write a dispatch until much later... oops.)

The more noticeable items to us were the old wooden houses in such great contrast to the mega-city spectacle of common urban apartment buildings and homes above shops on the street. In fact, some of these old wooden houses click to view a photograph are vertical shacks attached to stone walls. click to view a photograph Built literally right smack up against the old city walls, many are now destroyed or have fallen apart, but still serve to indicate the extent to which people can respond to a housing crisis. The wooden houses of Safranbolu are one of the World Heritage sites in Istanbul because the unique architectural style and multi-medium craftsmanship are a specialty of Turkish culture worthy of preservation.

We got out of the taxi at the Egyptian Spice Market, where for centuries items have been bought, sold, and traded - both the common and the truly odd, from near and far alike. From there we walked to the Hippodrome and learned more about Fouat. It turns out that Fouat speaks more languages than all the BikeAbouters combined - and can play nearly 10 musical instruments! It was surely something to be in the company of such greatness, and we were honored to have such a talented tour guide on this day.

When we arrived at the oval-shaped courtyard of the Hippodrome, we didn't even realize where we were. Then Fouat began to describe the politically motivated chariot races that would take place on the very road all around us. He motioned toward where the rulers at the time would sit to observe and be observed, where the palace stood that the Crusaders sacked, and where, much later, 30,000 rebels were trapped and killed in a failed revolution. Now the tourist buses and camera-clicking and freshly cut decorative landscaping gave the place a very different feel.

Built by Justinian I during the Byzantine era, the Hippodrome was a huge arena for 40,000-plus people. Anything and everything could and did happen here for over 1,000 years. All kinds of entertainment, political rallies, and bloody battles were staged here, as well as the military parades of any reigning power when their troops marched back into town for a victory party of grand scale. Basically, the Hippodrome was where everything happened, and we saw it through new eyes as he described the people as if they were standing right there. As the center of so many activities, there were also honorary statues and towers - some have been stolen, while others remain - which were brought here from conquered lands.

The Snake or Spiral Tower has the bodies of three snakes wrapped around each other, but all we could see was the weaving of the black metal click to view a photograph as there are no heads! Fouat said that long ago a drunken foreigner broke them off and stole them one night, and no one knows why.

In the very center of the Hippodrome is the gigantic Obelisk of Theodosius brought from Egypt in 390 AD when it was already almost 2000 years old. click to view a photograph Stood upon huge blocks with carved relief showing how it was carried and placed there click to view a photograph, the enormous and finely chiseled surfaces of hieroglyphic beetles, animals, and other insects are beautiful - and wildly out of place! click to view a photograph

Another tower that was once decorated with ornamental bronze plates was damaged - along with the entire city - by Crusaders hoping to "free" the citizens from having to worship the wrong gods in what they thought was the wrong way. The Crusaders looted whatever goods they could, including the lead off of people's roofs! All that remains of this particular column is a big pile of stones with lots of holes in them where the bronze plates once hung. It's a lonely and rather ugly block of rock, and makes an odd place for itself, confusing in its significance or purpose at first glance.

Next up were the Blue Mosque and the Haiga Sophia. Visiting holy places is a common thing for us to do nearly everywhere we go, but this time Fouat added a special twist. He commented on the ways that religious symbolism work, pointing out specifics on everything from fine carvings on door handles, to wood etchings we've seen since Morocco, to the numerous and enormous domes themselves. But he explained it all in a new way, so we could see what was before us as if for the first time. click to view a photograph

Fouat's theory is that a dome, for instance, represents god, and you are below it, looking up for guidance. In this way, the artist or architect indicates that god is at the center while the community is the surrounding area, and an individual's purpose is to serve "all of the above." Get it? click to view a photograph Then Fouat explained the way that the religion supported the community in days of old, and helped us understand how modern Turkish Muslims can understand the verses sung from the Koran which are in Arabic, not Turkish! Following the recitation of a Koranic portion in Arabic, there is a sermon (the important part) is in Turkish. Anyhow, prayer is prayer, whatever the language. click to view a photograph

This sparked all sorts of discussion about spiritual meditation in general. click to view a photograph We agreed that the place of meditation is the same for any religion, so long as the intent is pure: to look within, then to look to your surroundings, and make sure it all jives. click to view a photograph If it doesn't, you do your part to make sure things go better. Maybe it'll make your god happy, but mostly it'll make your life, and hence your universe, better. click to view a photograph That's the key.

As we walked and talked and andrEa took loads of still pictures click to view a photograph, we noted the preservation of different mosaics depicting the religions previously practiced. Many had been covered with plaster when it was being decided whether images of god and his likeness could be made or not, and the strict thinking of the time forbade it. We also noted the simplicity in the more recently painted decorations on the archways, and again commented on the intent of the artist, rather than his religion. Anyway, we know that the saints click to view a photograph from both Christianity and Judaism are accepted by Muslims click to view a photograph, and that the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Torah, are accepted as holy books and thus part of the whole story for Muslims.

It was finally time for an early dinner so we took advantage of the opportunity to get to know more about Fouat. He even paid for our meal, which was above and beyond the call of duty! The only problem was when he summed up his opinion about the current BikeAbout predicament by asking Corinne the same question she had been hearing all week. "You're going to keep working for an organization without your friend, and continue yourself with companions who aren't as supportive? WHY?"


From there it was on to the Cistern, which was so cool it's the Place of the Day. It also marked the end of our tour. Thus we said goodbye to Fouat, who again went out of his way to be kind and accompanied us by tram and by foot back to the ferry docks.

Before anyone left the city, however, andrEa's bike needed to be looked at again, and Corinne needed a new helmet, since hers had not yet been replaced after the crash in Cyprus. So again through one of andrEa's friend's friends, we found a bike shop called Yes(h)il Bisiklet (meaning "Green Bicycle" in Turkish) click to view a photograph, a place full of biking enthusiasts. The shop used to publish a magazine called the "Green Bicycle" - as in ecologically and environmentally clean bicycling - and still organizes tours in some of Turkey's more challenging mountain biking areas.

After some conversation during which we shared information about BikeAbout, the kind proprietor, Gürsel click to view a photograph, offered to donate the shop work for the repair of andrEa's bike click to view a photograph, a helmet for Corinne, more water bottles, and plenty of encouragement for the remainder of our journeys, separate as they may be. For more information about Yes(h)il Bisiklet. The tours they organize, and cycling in Istanbul, please feel free to contact them at

[The following is from Padraic and Ethan]

The next day was a tough end to one trip as we have lived it with five people, and the beginning of another with only four. Concerned about being able to get all of our bikes at one time on one form of transportation or another, we had decided to split the group into two teams of two. The first - Corinne and Padraic - would move ahead to Greece while Ethan and Anthony would remain in Istanbul to make sure that there was someone online for tonight's chat.

So, after an uncomfortable early morning train departure during which Corinne and Padraic had to wave goodbye to andrEa, they were on their way to Greece. Knowing how unhurried the Turkish trains are, they settled in for a long journey. They were not disappointed. The Turkish train rattled them the 200+ km (125 mi) to the Greek border in only six hours, but delays at Greek customs guaranteed that they would miss the connecting train to Alexandroupoli. After a three-hour wait in the train station café, they caught the next train to Alexandroupoli arriving at around 8 p.m., a mere 12 hours after they had left. During their odyssey they thanked their lucky stars they both had brought more than one book to read. Train travel is comfortable and convenient, but in this part of Europe it certainly isn't speedy. Actually, the biggest misfortune was that there were no electric outlets in the train so neither Corinne nor Padraic could work much on their dispatches.

[The following is form Anthony]

Meanwhile, andrEa went off to take care of her departure errands while Anthony and Ethan spent the first part of the day trying to get Ethan's glasses fixed. The night before, Ethan had attempted to use his glasses as a seat cushion with the result being, not surprisingly, a broken pair of glasses. Only one of arm of the glasses had actually broken off, but the situation was still quite dire. After popping into a couple of normal eyeglass stores looking for a replacement arm, the two guys were finally directed toward a tiny street alongside the main post office which was lined with tiny repair shops. There were a dozen or so closet-sized shops that specialized in repairing everything from eyeglasses, to wristwatches, to lighters. Ethan showed his broken glasses to one old man who took the parts, nodded confidently, and, using only a torch, hammer, pliers and a tiny bit of solder, made Ethan's glasses almost as good as new. All for the smashing price of $2.

With Ethan once again able to see, they decided to spend the rest of the day checking out some of the sites that they had missed thus far during their time in Istanbul. Heading up past the Hippodrome (see above), they checked out the Suleimaniye Mosque, the largest mosque in Istanbul. Designed in 1550 by the Sinan, who is called the greatest architect of the early Ottoman Empire, the Suleimaniye Mosque is considered to be the greatest achievement of Sinan's career. Designed along the lines of the Hagia Sofia (which uses an axial plan - a central-domed square with two flanking half domes), Sinan created a design that was completely square. The Suleimaniye mosque consists of one immense central dome set on a high drum and ringed by numerous smaller domes with the minarets set on the corners of the mosque. click to view a photograph

Arriving just before the midday prayer (people were just starting to show up to wash before prayers click to view a photograph), Anthony and Ethan were not able to hang out for long, but they were still impressed with the clean and simple, yet majestic lines of the mosque. The use of 138 arched windows created a much lighter interior than they were used to seeing, while the curved marble surfaces and elaborate decorations created an interior unlike any other mosque that Ethan and Anthony had seen. When originally unveiled more than 400 years ago, the design was so striking and impressive that it set the standard for mosque design for the rest of the Ottoman Empire.

Anthony and Ethan were so impressed with the Suleimaniye Mosque that they next visited the S(h)ehzade Camii (the Mosque of the Prince) which was the first important mosque that Sinan designed. Unfortunately they were there during the prayers and could not go inside. The mosque is now the sight of several important tombs, including that of Prince Mehmet (the Conqueror).

Ethan and Anthony next headed for the Istanbul University, stopping first to check out the Aqueduct of Valens click to view a photograph that used to bring water into Istanbul. click to view a photograph Arriving at the university, they were able to examine the impressive arch that stands at the entrance to the campus. click to view a photograph The main gate and the tower of the university were constructed for the Ottoman War Ministry (hence the grand scale and magnificence).

Having covered the interior of this part of the city, they decided to head toward the shore, eager to check out where Istanbul's impressive walls once stood. Unfortunately, much of the walls were destroyed during the city's expansion and the construction of the main road leading into Istanbul. The boys had to be satisfied with a tasty fish dinner eaten on the shores of the Sea of Marmara looking out at the fishing boats. click to view a photograph

Finally, they meandered their way to the Orient Hostel where they had reserved a terminal at the attached Internet café for the evenings Chat 'n' Debate.

Following the always lively and interesting chat, Ethan headed off to the train station to meet one final time with andrEa and check out the train that she would be taking the next day to Budapest and then onward to Vienna; they wanted to make sure that there was room for her bike and the B.O.B. trailers which we have decided are no longer necessary and will rest the remainder of the trip in Austria. Meanwhile Anthony headed for the Hostel's bar where there coincidentally happened to be a belly dancer performing. Not having yet experienced this important cultural event, Anthony made sure that he had a seat in front with an exceptional view.

It was here that Ethan later found Anthony, a little dazed, slightly confused, and not having touched his drink for almost an hour. Ethan carefully led him off for a late dinner and a cold shower (not necessarily in that order). They had an early bus to catch the next morning and they were both going to need to have all their wits about them.

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