I entered to Turkey from Georgia by following the Black Sea cost. After 10 minutes spend on the customs showing my passport and getting it stamped, I pedaled my bike into Turkey. 10 minutes spend it turkey and I wondered how nice the border controllers were on Turkish side; they stamped me in and after that they asked me if I wanted to have chai (tea) before continuing pedaling. I said no for chai, since I had decided to reach town called Rize by the end of the evening and I still had 100km to go. Bulgarian cyclists Ivan and Todor whom I had met in Batumi had written a note to their friend Eran and I had promised to deliver it to her.
I managed to reach Rize by the evening and found out that Erans family had a beautiful restaurant next to the beach and they invited me in. I got served tree course meal and they even let me to sleep in their restaurant. The kindness of people all around the world never stops amazing me. The next day while helping Eran and her family in the restaurant, Eran told me she had been cycle touring in Finland some years ago. Before I left we went to have a swim in the sea and had another cup of chai with her fathers friends. As a woman It's not easy to find a swimming spots from the Black Sea. The men has these beautiful spots for relaxing everywhere, but at least I couldn't see any women around. In these spots they play chess and drink tea and once in a while they dip into the sea. I said good bye to Eran and felt lot of gratitude for being able to meet her and learn a lot about Turkish culture.
While cycling in Turkey I was woman in a mission. I had set up a race with Calumn, a crazy Australian man who cycles around the world with his bmx bicycle. Without going to the details of the race, because we had many rules on it, the basic goal was to be the first one reaching Istanbul. I had never thought that I would cycle in this way, but never say never. The winds were helping me on the coastal roads a lot: I had beautiful tailwind, flat road and good tarmack. In the end I didnt spend that much more time on my bicycle than normally, but I just went faster than ever before. I have to admit, I enjoyed the new challenge on my journey.
I had exchanged 20e for Turkish lira on the border and after one week I still had the same money in my pocket. No matter what I wanted to buy, ice cream, Coca Cola, bread, vegetables or tea, my money was always refused. In the beginning I was confused and I had to google if in Turkish culture exists tarof as in Iran (tarof is a cultural norm in Iran where the seller refuses to accept the money from the buyer for three times before accepting it). Turkey does not have a culture of tarof and fast I realized that all my free food came to me after people realized that I am alone as a woman and my husband is not around taking care of me. I ended up sleeping quite often at the gas station, because always when I pitched my tent on a quiet beach people came to tell me not to do it. Petrol stations became my 5 star hotels: they have wifi, toilets, electricity, security, tea and while pedaling alone they offered me delicious food for dinner and of course for free..
Turkish hospitality took another level one rainy night. I had eaten dinner that I had cooked by myself, I had finished also the plate that the staff from the petrol station brought me. That time arrived a Turkish family to invite me for a dinner into their house. I tried to refuse the offer, first of all because I was already extremely full but also because I was tired and it was already 7pm and almost my bed time. The family didn't speak any English but with the help of the patrol station stuff, they managed to get me into the car and I was brought to their home, just for a few hours. I got served way too much food, I was more full than during Christmas times in Finland. After few hours they brought me back to the petrol station where I had my tent and stuff. Because of the rain the men of the family returned after couple of hours and they insisted to take me into the hotel. I had been already sleeping and the last thing I wanted was to move to another place. While I was trying to explain them that I want to sleep here more people gathered around my tent to push me to move into the hotel. I realized that it's easier to give up and back my stuff and go with them. That night I had my first real shower since two weeks and I slept in a beautiful soft bed. Good bless my Turkish mother, who had taken into her responsible to take care of me.
I managed to catch Calumn on the central highland rollercoaster hills of Turkey and in my opinion that was the momentum when I won the race. He might not agree but anyhow we continued together to Istanbul. It was interesting to see how the behavior of local people changed when I was cycling with the man. The amount of free stuff decreased and people were not talking to me as much as before to make sure everything is fine with me. Yet, I was enjoying good company and together the never ending rolling hills didn't feel as hard as before. I came into the conclusion that in central turkey, there is not really any flat area, either we went 10% up or down the hills, all the way to Istanbul the roads really didn't give a brake for my tired legs.
To reach Istanbul was a huge milestone to me. That's were I flew off exactly one year ago and now somehow I had completed my journey back to Istanbul from east. The road to enter to Istanbul had felt horrendously chaotic one year ago, but this time the extremely heavy traffic didn't give me the same feeling anymore. Turkey didn't feel as exotic as one year ago, now it already felt somehow European, somehow familiar territory. I was proud of myself; me and my bicycle had travelled far. The last 1700km without a day offs from cycling had made me tired physically but not mentally. To reach Istanbul was celebrated well with Calumn for one week before I left to Greece. My friends (whom I had met one year ago while cycling through Greece) invited me to stay with them up on the mountains at Sarakatsaniko refuge and I was so happy to see them again and get up to the mountains. In my head there wouldn't be better way to get used to the idea of being back in Europe.