Friday, October 10 Kumburgaz to Istanbul
(written Saturday morning)
There were many wonderful and amazing sights and experiences yesterday, but what became the over-riding theme of the day was fact the day was committed to finding my way through the maze called Istanbul. I had relied on a website post of another cyclist who had heard the same thing I had about not even attempting to negotiate one’s way into Istanbul by bike. He had done it and found that as long as one used the simple rule of staying as close to coast as possible, one could find a connected series of bike trails, residential streets, and wide sidewalks without having to wheel onto the busier, congested, no-shoulder highways.
Basically, I found the same thing to be true. I did find myself on a couple of dicey sections, but only for a couple of kilometers. And in one spot I ended up walking my bike for a full kilometer on a grassy median between two busy highways until I found a break in traffic large enough to quickly dart across. I walked and waited a full twenty minutes, but with patience my moment came and I took it.
I had prepared mentally for this day. I knew that it would be a day of trial and error, backtracking, dead ends, and stopping numerous times to use my GPS to navigate through the urban city maze. What I didn’t anticipate was how long that would take. I was only twenty miles away from my destination so I figured it would take me twice as long as usual to cover that distance—maybe four hours. By 5: 30 p.m., six hours later, I was starting to get nervous that I would be trying to find my way the hostel in the dark, in a foreign city. I did retain in the back of my mind that I could also grab a taxi for the last stretch, if I needed.
My cycling website friend was right. There really is a series of bike trails, wide walkways, and residential streets that one can string together to get into Istanbul, but one should plan to be patient, keep one’s head, and leave a FULL day just dedicated to figuring out the maze. I had two occasions where a wonderful seafront bike trail and walkway lined the coast. On one of those I was rolling along nicely beginning to believe that this was going to lead me right the edge of Old Town, when the trail literally just dropped into the sea. The concrete simply ended. No signs, no barrier, just two blue lines indicating my bike trail going to the edge of the sea and stopping. Two recreational cyclists were sitting on a park bench watching and I could tell that they knew exactly what had happened.
The other thing I thing I am getting used to is that the assumptions about the use of the road are different here. I described this in relation to Italy as well. In America we have this sense that we a right to a certain portion of the road. “This is my lane and I get to use as much of it as I want!” In Italy it was more, “We all have to fit on here together so let’s all make this work.” I was told by one of my contacts, Evren, about the unspoken rules of the road in Turkey. It is coming true. The rule is, “The bigger the vehicle, the more rights you have.”
I have learned that if a car is parked on the shoulder and a truck is coming up behind me, that I best just stop and wait for the truck to pass before I proceed. I can’t count on them scooting over just a couple of feet to give me more room. In Italy the truck would have given a little beep, I would have waved, and we all would have threaded the needle together singing Mr. Roger’s theme song, “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood!”
There was a point where I was starting to get a little agitated by the lack of awareness that I actually existed on the road. I was on the shoulder of a one way, two lane street when I construction semi turned left going the wrong way down the one way in front of me. That didn’t concern me. I have gotten used to the “If you can get away with it without anyone getting hurt, why not do it!” attitude. So I just stopped along the curb until he did whatever he was planning to do. Remember, he was bigger than me and so I figured he got to dictate what he wanted to do.
He made it part way around the corner and then stopped so that only one lane of traffic was no open. I wasn’t budging nor was he. Finally, after realizing that he was feeling stuck I wound my way around him on the one open lane so he could continue on his path. He threw up his arms and began cursing for being in the way. What he was trying to do was to park his semi along the curb in the opposite direction of traffic. As I accepted his verbal abuse, my blood started to simmer just a little as I was thinking, but not daring to say out loud, “Look buster, you’re the one going the wrong way down a one way street!” I guess as a bike I was supposed to not only get out of the way, but also read his mind as to which way out of the way actually meant (I think it meant I was supposed to evaporate into thin air at his presence!)
By the time I reached my hostel it was dark, but I was fortunate that the last hour and a half were completely on waterfront bike paths and wide sidewalks. Of course, I couldn’t have known that at the time and the possibility that I would run into another dead end and have to backtrack when it was getting so late was starting to make me a little agitated and nervous.
But, along the way I did take some time to enjoy a few moments. I stopped at a café in what we would call a suburb of Istanbul and enjoyed a cappuccino while watching all the people pass by in a busy roundabout intersection. While religiously I have only seen mosques so far, it is clear that there is a diversity among the people—some who dress in more western (not cowboy) style clothing, and women who have no scarf on their heads, those who have a scarf but still dress western, those with scarf and full robes, and a few with the whole burqa covering everything but their eyes.
At one waterfront park (I think I passed through about six of them that run from one to four kilometers long) I sat with cookies and a lemonade and looked out over the glistening afternoon sea and a beach that was nearly empty except for a few lovers enjoying the solitude. Now that I know the urban maze a little better I can how enjoyable it would be to head down to the waterfront and have a casual ride along the sea, stop for coffee at one of the dozens (maybe even hundreds) of little restaurants that line the coast line and watch children playing, men (mostly) fishing, and the local entrepreneurs selling cold drinks, freshly brewed hot tea, snacks and roasted chestnuts.
After cleaning up last night and feeling human again a number of us from the hostel went to dinner. This part is really fun. At our table were two 20-something brothers from Seattle (almost home!), a young woman from Switzerland, a family of three from Slovenia, and one of the Yusuf, the hostel staff person from Istanbul. Today, I get the pleasure of one my contacts (thanks Mary and Evren for helping) being my tour guide. This is a real treat as the whole trip has either been by bike or on foot and has been completely planned by me. I am looking forward to someone else being in charge, even for a few hours.
Today, enjoy, rest, eat, and try not to think too much. My soul is happy, but my body and mind are tired.