Webmaster's Note: Because the BikeAbout team is traveling in smaller groups for a little while, we have changed the format of the journal slightly. The dispatches for Turkey will be presented in geographical rather than chronological order. To view the chronological order, go to the itinerary.

topics: mountain cheese, Gallipoli, Dardanelles Strait, being hidden in the back room of a restaurant; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: February 24-25, 1998

Food of the Day: mountain cheese

Of the many kinds of cuisine offered to us so far in Turkey, "mountain cheese" wins the prize as the most interesting. Specific to the Van (pronounced like "won") area south of Istanbul, it comes wrapped in grass pieces of which you will notice in the picture. click to view a photograph This interesting cheese is both hard to find and a true delicacy, so we were touched that Behan click to view a photograph and her sister were willing to share it with us.

Person of the Day: Curt and Dale, cycle tourists from Canada!!

andrEa and Corinne could hardly believe their eyes as two slim figures on what looked like bicycles came towards us on the road and moving in the opposite direction. All four cyclists, with broad smiles, slowed to a stop. Dale and Curt then introduced themselves as Canadians who have been on the road for six months, meandering around the Mediterranean and camping everywhere they go. We tried to hide our envy, and were embarrassed by how much garbage we were carrying with us, especially in the loaded trailers, compared to their small and compact panniers. Chatting about everything from the Internet to weight distribution and bike frames, we soon enough parted company, all of us relieved and excited to have run into fellow bike travelers.

Place of the Day: Dardanelles Strait

Because we were on the famous Gallipoli Peninsula today, we should, in theory, be featuring a battlefield, the many cemeteries and war monuments, or other strategically significant places in relation to the famous, nine-month military campaign that took place here during World War I. However, that's sort of a morbid discussion, so we'll stick to the Dardanelles Strait, the famous waterway which we biked along and enjoyed all day.

The Dardanelles Strait, called Çanakkale Bogazi in Turkish, is a crossing point, or gateway that leads between Asia to Europe (as we did on the ferry), and connects the Aegean Sea (which is part of the Mediterranean, don't forget) with the Black Sea, which touches parts of Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and some of the ex-Soviet countries of central Asia. Therefore, this waterway is and has been extremely important to whoever controlled it, for economic, security, and strategic reasons. Holding the waterways of an area poses a monumental threat to the people and government on the land if they are adversaries. And if your army/navy controls the waterways, you have complete control of trade, meaning you can tax them.

In 480 BC, Persia's king sent his army across the strait to invade Greece, and in 334 BC Alexander the Great retaliated, crossing from Greece to invade Persia. During WWI, the British tried to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula from Turkey, using Allied Forces' support from France and other British colonies. The intent was to take control of the Dardanelles and use the waterway for access to Russia, one of the Allies. They were unsuccessful.

After WWI and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the Strait initially became a neutral zone, but was later given back to Turkey.

Tech Fact of the Day:

A tradition in Turkish restaurants, which we had only read about, is to reserve a special back room for single women and families, apparently to protect them from the noise and general vulgar nature of the men in the restaurant. At least, that's what we suppose...

Regardless, as the waiter at the lokanta in Gallipoli tried escorting andrEa and Corinne to a cold, empty, and closed-off portion of the barely half-full restaurant, they blatantly refused to be hidden away. Single, female, or otherwise, one doesn't choose to bike the Mediterranean in order to avoid seeing the world, much less be seen by it. The ladies insisted on sitting in the main dining area, and the waiter didn't argue. Since, as usual, they were the only females in the place, intermixed with the men of the town, their meal went just fine.

Group Dispatch, February 24-25
picture of andrEapicture of Corinne

The day leaving Çanakkale started like so many others: with errands. click to view a photograph Phone calls to prepare our arrival in the next towns, money changing, post office stops, grocery shopping, and fact-checking for buses and boats. click to view a photograph Our phone calls in search of lodging and school visit arrangements as we approach Istanbul followed a now familiar but always strange procedure: talk to friends of friends about who we are and what we're doing, though they have no real knowledge about us, and talk really fast (since calls from phone booths are expensive), often confusing the person on the other line even more.

Soon enough we were on our way though, after designing a makeshift trailer pin for Corinne (it had mysteriously disappeared, and we didn't have any spares). It's amazing what cut brake cable and electrical tape can do.

We had decided to head to Istanbul along the road on the north of Sea of Marmara instead of the south. A number of people assured us that it would be very difficult to get a boat across the waters elsewhere. So we took the ferry from Çanakkale to Eceabat, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, crossing the Dardanelles Strait, which is our Place of the Day. Camera in hand, andrEa said goodbye to Asia click to view a photograph and hello to Europe. click to view a photograph

From Eceabat we would bike the 44 km (27 mi) to the town of Gelibolu, but first had to decide whether or not to visit the old battlefields of World War I, which have been made into a national park. During World War I, there was a nine-month battle on this peninsula between Turkey and the Allied forces of France and Great Britain. The battle was so devastating and drawn out (enough for a four-hour movie to made about it) that then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for British forces to mobilize soldiers from the colonies in Australia, New Zealand, and India. Over half the population of New Zealand lost their lives on this faraway land, against an unknown enemy. There are many monuments to them here.

Due to both strategy and luck, the Ottoman army and navy held their ground under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, the man who would become the famous Atatürk, and the Allied forces were repelled. Thus, Turkey won the battle, but not the war. This sounds fairly simple, but the war itself was (like all wars are) gory and inhumane. We heard and read tales of trenches only a few meters apart from which soldiers shot at each other. We were told of a famous hill upon which so many soldiers from both sides were wounded and killed that a red river of blood continuously coursed down its slope. And we asked ourselves, do we really want to visit this place?

Since andrEa sees biking as a thoroughly peaceful thing to do in life, she had real trouble with the idea of cycling across former battlegrounds. There was also the question of respect in terms of biking around cemeteries, war museums, memorials and the gravestones of soldiers lost. Plus, the extra distance would have been considerable. So we decided not to visit the war monuments, but instead take some time to meditate later in the day. click to view a photograph The weather was sunny and perfect; the roads were beautiful and smooth; there was only a nominal headwind. The new sea ahead and on our right-hand side would be the Marmara, and we looked forward to getting to know her.

Having the water on our right was actually pretty odd, since our counter-clockwise crusade usually keeps it on our left. It was strange to both of us, a feeling almost like being upside down, or pedaling backwards! On the very flat shoreline road, we biked fast, assisted by the lack of traffic... and those pesky, territorial, rural dogs running after us. We stopped at some completely unmarked and open ruins right on the water's edge, which looked like an old gutted fortress of some sort. click to view a photograph We decided this would be our place to meditate on war, rather than at a death-glorifying monument.

After some time spent thinking and talking and wandering through the ruins in a somber and cerebral state, we were back on our bikes, passing olive groves and resort villages along the Strait. click to view a photograph On the road, we met some cyclists, a man and woman from Canada, who are the People of the Day, and envied their ability to stop and camp with their bikes whenever they liked. We told them about the peaceful and serene spot we had found, and recommended the unmarked ruins, as the stars from inside the old walls must be magnificent, and there was plenty of flat empty space on which to pitch tents and build a fire.

When we arrived in Gelibolu, a troop of youngsters was happy to practice their English by helping us find hotel, as so many are closed in the off season. Once we found a room and stored the bikes, we went to find dinner, but instead found a Turkish cultural tradition we couldn't follow. So we made it the Tech Fact of the Day. Later, as we settled into the hotel room with laptops out and running, we heard a major celebration happening outside. At first we brushed it off with the assumption that a soccer game had ended favorably for the favorite team of the town, but the outdoor party, which traveled the streets and included lots of singing and live music, lasted nearly all night!

In the dramatically foggy harbor the next morning, we asked around as to what the commotion was. It turned out it was a community-wide send-off bash for the young men leaving to begin their mandatory military service. At the nearby bus station, there were huge crowds of young men and their waiting families. Eventually, the men boarded the buses and left. Then a slow and solemn procession returned to their houses the women, men, and children who are waiting for their boys to come home soldiers and man. People carried Turkish flags; a few boys played big drums with a thick and heavy rhythm; women occasionally called out a chant we couldn't get anyone to translate for us. Thus we don't know if they were somehow glorifying or mourning the mission of their young men.

Because the morning fog never lifted, we decided to catch a bus straight and away into Istanbul, rather than bike first as much as we could, as we had planned. The gloomy gray weather stayed with us for the entire five-hour trip, through mostly farmland and rolling hills. At the main bus station outside Istanbul, we were whisked, just the two of us (and bikes and gear, of course), into our connecting bus in the quickest bus-change ever. We crossed the bridge over the Bosporus and saw far below only the ghosts of ships passing through the dense fog click to view a photograph and fading daylight. The city loomed all around us. click to view a photograph

Upon our arrival, in the bitter cold and a fierce wind, andrEa expertly made a zillion phone calls to track down our host home for the evening. Unfortunately, we were told we had to wait a few hours. So we took shelter in a nearby restaurant, where they invited us to sit down. Trying to avoid being shut out of the main dining room again (see Tech Fact of the Day, andrEa went through the door opposite the one where the waiter was leading her. She ended up, however, face to face with a group of prostitutes and their prospective clients. While we didn't want to be there, there was no other place else to hide from the cold and still find the friend of a friend of a friend who would pick us up in a couple of hours.

The first pick-up we got though, was an invite from a pleasant young man to his father's 56th birthday party. Out of curiosity, we asked the guy how to say "happy birthday" in Turkish, decided it would be the Word of the Day, and told him thank you, but NO. Soon thereafter our friend of a friend of a friend arrived by taxi to lead us to our home for the next two nights. She even took the trailers with her.

Twenty minutes of biking in Istanbul traffic at night, on the highway, following a cab, in the frequently stopping bus lane, with no rear lights (because they were always on the trailers, of course) is NOT a thing we would recommend, but as usual, we survived. And, because we know that there is always something to learn from every moment of every day, we soon found out all about mountain cheese, our Food of the Day. click to view a photograph After a very late dinner with our hosts, Behan and her sister (see People of the Day), and the obligatory several-hours-long getting-to-know-you conversations, we hit the hay.

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