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BruceLi's Orient Express

Istanbul was fabulous!  There was so much to see and do there - and with only two days available to us - I didn't get around to finishing my blog, so here is the final installment (for this particular trip).  Later on, after I get organized, I'll post some pictures (somewhere) then notify everyone.  I'm sure you'll all be waiting with bated breath for that!  :)

I found the food in Turkey very much to my taste - very Meditteranean.  We've had kofte (small marinated grilled hamburger patties) with really heavy goat yoghurt and nice salads.  Also a Turkish fast food called borek (with two dots above the o) - long twists of filled filo pastry (potato, ground beef, onions, cheese, etc) that are chopped into bite-size pieces.  Real Turkish Delight made with honey and, of course, baklava - but not the sickly sweet kind we get at home - the honey is lighter tasting and not so heavy with it as we usually have.  Chay and apple tea are given freely everywhere we go.  (For example, Bruce was waiting for me outside a washing machine shop and the salesman in there ordered tea for him while they stood there chatting by ringing an electric buzzer set on a wall outside a few shops down from his).   People here have been very friendly and interested in us.  Cem, the Turkish rep for Orient Express, who has been a great help to us, comes from Kirklareli and his family is known to everyone so he was determined that we should have a friendly reception here, I think.

Speaking of which, the civic reception last night was held at the camper's location (which many held to be the worst campsite of all being on such public display to all the townsfolk) beside the railway tracks.  There was an Assistant Governor or something who welcomed us and a fellow who heads up a Sports federation and I sat and chatted to the local rabbi, an 80 year old and his 78 year old wife.  They both spoke Spanish so we were able to have some good communication while, in the background (and sometimes, it seems, right in your face) we heard the loud, electronic calls of the muezzins from the many minarets around us.  The rabbi said that Moslems and Jews are like brothers in this area, which was a pleasure to hear.   They were a delightful couple - very playful in their comments.

We did a convoy ride out of Kirklareli in the morning - not really necessary (but I think it was because the head of the Sports Fed wanted to lead us out on his bike) to commence our final three-day stage to Istanbul.  The temperature "cooled off" a bit to the lower thirties (!) with a nice breeze on our day off in Kirklareli that turned into some fairly hefty headwinds on the way out in the morning.  Just a "short" day, too - only 78 Kms to Saray and we were in by 1pm.  The cooler temperatures are great and the hills today have become "rollers" - almost a kilometre up, then a kilometre down, then another close to a kilometre up and back down again.  The winds made it a bit of a slog for me, but otherwise a very nice ride.  We're in a nice, clean, modern hotel tonight (everyone) instead of camping.  That's welcome.  The hotel has been recently renovated although there was no hot water when we arrived.  (I didn't care - on these really hot days I kind of like a cold shower on arrival!)

The boss of Tour d'Afrique, Henry, arrived yesterday to finish off the ride - and maybe to look after his 82 year mother, too, who was imposed upon our group at Budapest and has created a few problems since.  I plan to bring this up in my feedback to Tour d'Afrique because we feel she distracted the attention of the staff when they needed to be concentrating on rider's issues (after all, they are the paying customers).  She was using a seat in the sag wagon which resulted in, on 'The Longest Day', one of our riders who had wanted to sag half way through the day being asked to ride on, much to her dismay.  None of us could understand the thinking in having this lady along with us just to ride in the van and it has caused some resentment in the group.   (Although anyone who has studied Group Dynamics will realize that she provided a timely focus for our resentment at a stage when we might, otherwise, have turned it upon ourselves.) 

Jon cooked a wonderful dinner at the back of the hotel in Saray.  It was his own birthday and I have a great picture of him holding up the leg of lamb he was cooking - while his cooking area was surrounded by a flock of sheep!  The hotel staff invited us to come inside to eat our meal at their tables, but we sat outside on our little three-legged stools in the dusty parking lot instead.   I took a photo of three delightful young boys who 'adopted' us that I tried to get printed in a number of places so they could each have a copy, but sadly I couldn't get it done.

From Saray to Tayakadin was a 90 Km ride and we had been forewarned that we would be bush camping with no facilities.  Go figure - many of us thought it was actually the best campground we have been in!   All our tents were pitched in the shade of trees, and there was a little shack on the far side of the open grounds that sold icecream and cold drinks and potato chips (basic food groups for riders!), plus there was a Turkish toilet (porcelain hole in the floor) and our staff had fixed up a "shower" area with tarps and buckets of water, and there was a fantastic view across the valley and up to the hills beyond with a lovely sunset so we really couldn't want for more!  (Apparently, last year, the same campground was a complete quagmire in heavy rain and downright miserable with all kinds of bugs and slugs taking shelter under everyone's tents that had then to be put away wet and mud laden.  Boy, have we ever been lucky with the weather - in spite of the heat wave!)

With very many thanks to Dave (who let us have his old tent to use after he bought a new one en route), we said goodbye to our replacement tent at Tayakadin.  We gave it, with Dave's permission, to the people who ran the little shop in the field at the campground who were delighted to have it.   (Our own tent, just in case you're interested, "is STILL in the mail" to Canada - we think!)

FINAL DAY:  Scheduled to be a short ride to Istanbul - maybe 55 Kilometres.  I carefully wrote down the instructions (as everyone did - except Bruce - each day), and the plan was to meet the vans at the Bosphorus (at a town named Sariyer) then convoy in through the busy traffic of Istanbul.  There were about six of us riding together, with five of us telling Bruce (who was in front) that we were heading the wrong way, but would he stop?  No!  We should have all turned around and left him to go his own (lost) way, but that was not the decision of the group.  (Bruce has, since, been rudely calling us "Sheep" for following him whenever he tells the tale, so probably we should have left him.  But the point was to stay together so that there wouldn't be a whole bunch of us lost in different directions for our leaders to have to gather up.)   Anyway, we finally got him stopped in a nasty industrial town, where I flagged down a police car to ask for directions.  By the time we got back to (roughly) where we had taken a wrong turning, we were about 20 Kms out of our way but saw the van coming back looking for us, as everyone was waiting at Sariyer for us to join up with the convoy.  We were told it was all uphill from this point, so I opted to jump in the van to save some time getting to the top as everyone had been waiting for us for a while.  I'm sorry I did that now as it would have been a lovely ride (through forest and over the top to a spectacular view of the ocean) and I'm disappointed that I didn't do the whole thing on the final day.  However, I don't feel that I 'sagged' because I still got in more miles than the main group did by taking our 'detour'.    I will say, however, that this is the last time I stick with Bruce when I know he's going the wrong way as he has been so rude about it - next time I'm going to just peel off and let him go!  So there!  :)

However, riding into Istanbul was a real treat!  It was all along the water front and beautiful!  Past an incredible, huge castle, and luxury boats and old houses.  I was thrilled!    People were waving and shouting hello and one person called out that they had read about us in the paper.  As to the actual end of the ride, I would have to say that the old quote:  "So this is how the world ends - not with a bang but with a whimper" would be appropo.  There was no group photo of our arrival in Istanbul and no Tour cycle shirts handed out (Tour d'Afrique had gone to another supplier in Poland rather than use Sugoi again who were a bit more expensive) and the shirts had not arrived in Istanbul.  On arrival in front of our hotel there was much hugging and joint congratulations and we all headed for the bar to hoist a couple (we've been very circumspect about alcohol intake while it's been so hot as it dehydrates so much, so these were very much appreciated, long-awaited drinks!).  That night, Tour d'Afrique put on a celebratory dinner for us at a lovely upstairs, outdoor restaurant on the very busy waterfront.  A huge mosque was right in front of us, and a fireworks display took place later on.  The huge bridge to the Asian side of Istanbul was immediately to our left and has a lovely changing light show.  Some of us have a couple of days to enjoy Istanbul and others are leaving immediately.  Two of our group are going on with Tour d'Afrique's Istanbul to Beijing Tour that starts on the 4th or 5th August, so very good luck to you both, Isabel and Christine - we'll look forward to reading about it as you go!

I'm not going to write about Istanbul in this blog - there is way too much to describe and this is already long enough.  It's a fabulous, interesting, exotic, friendly place and I would happily return to explore it in more detail.    People continued to be very friendly and generous to us throughout our stay and we have an excellent impression of the place.

I've really enjoyed doing the ride across Europe, but I'm not sure that I would recommend this particular tour to anyone I know - I don't think they'd thank me for some of the discomforts and the more "rustic" portions of the trip!   I think that trying to be all things to all people ("Comfort Tour" riders and "Adventure Tour" (i.e. camping all the way) riders is like trying to operate two very different tours within one and I think it posed some headaches for the staff.   All in all though, I've enjoyed it, especially the people we were with and I'd like to thank them all now for being such good company and so mutually supportive.   And hey, I got some new muscles on my legs out of this trip, too - bonus!

Thanks for checking in from time to time and thank you everyone for your positive and encouraging comments throughout!   I've got photos from Passau to the end of the ride now posted, but am still awaiting my first CD of pictures that I mailed in a big parcel from Vienna, so will post those once I receive it.

Friday August 03 2007

:::BruceLis Orient Express,,1
posted 03 August 2007


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