Ahhh damnit, I'm already back in England :(. Thanks though.
Up until now, all of my travel had been in the EU – sure, at the edges of the Schengen zone there were half-arsed pseudo-borders where all you had to do was flash your passport without taking your helmet off, but not a proper one. As such, Turkey was a bit of a learning experience. I can’t remember how many different places I had to stop to get over, but I think it was around five… I had to exit Bulgaria, which included a green card check for some reason, get my number plate put into a computer in Turkey, go through passport control, get a visa (for some reason I thought it was visa free, oops), go through passport control again, buy insurance, go through customs and show my insurance, go through another stall that wanted to see my registration documents again… and then I was through, but I might have forgotten a few stops along the way.
Stop, wait, go, stop, wait, go
If you have a vehicle registered in the Australian state of New South Wales, your registration papers don’t so much take the form of papers, but rather a sticker that you either stick inside your car window or at the back of your bike. If you, for instance, want to go through a border in Europe (which I’m guessing is pretty uncommon), you’re left with either trying to take the sticker off the back of your bike and hand it to the customs officer, or hand them the A4 sheet of paper that it comes on, which fortunately has the details of the bike, but also has a giant hole in it where the sticker used to be. I opted for the latter, and this wasn’t the first border crossing where I got some incredulous looks.
“Do you have any… other… registration papers?”
In any case, I took the advice given to me by everyone back at the Motocamp in Bulgaria – just sit there until they let you through. And so, 90 minutes and an expensive-arse third-party insurance policy later, I was in Turkey. There’s a mosque right at the edge of the border, and as I was packing my documents back up and putting my gloves back on, the call to prayer sounded. I’ve complained a bit about cities being the same as each other in Europe – I was in a very different place now.
Istanbul is an amazing city – after an hour or two of riding along the freeway, you come over a hill and suddenly this megopolis of square, multi-storey buildings extends for as far as you can see. The scale of the city is hard to describe – I come from Sydney, which is one of the biggest cities by area in the world but it’s all suburban sprawl – most of the square kilometres are people’s backyards. It’s a far cry from the tightly-packed streets here. Traffic in Turkey is a whole other world too. Minutes after crossing the border, I saw a man standing on top of a moving fire engine, spraying a roadside fire with water from one of the hoses. As for Istanbul, they should send people there for a few days when they learn how to ride bikes, it’s probably the best test of roadcraft in the world. It’s anarchic, but it works in its own way – motorbikes buzz around cars, cars stream past buses – you’ve gotta keep checking your mirrors and your blind spot, but the time it takes you to get to your destination is only limited by your own creativity.
It's nice to be in a country where buying a kebab for dinner isn't a lazy option, it's a cultural experience
Once established at my hostel I braved the crowds of tourists to see the sites – I only had a couple of days, but you could easily take a week and not see everything. It certainly was amusing visiting mosques instead of cathedrals, and there’s so much history around the city – Roman, Byzantine, ottoman and modern Turkish… it really could do with a proper historical museum to go through all of it, rather than just focusing on the archeology. Then at night I’d chill out on the roof of the hostel and have a few beers, as well as cheap and delicious kebab from one of the many street stalls. It really is a great city just to hang around in, even if you completely miss the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sofia.
This was the view from my hostel. Not bad at all.
After Istanbul, I wasn’t done with Turkey yet – I decided to brave the confusion of crossing from Turkey to Greece by ferry, and as I headed west from Istanbul rather than continuing to Greece as I’d planned, I instead headed down the Gallipoli peninsula. If you’re from Australia or New Zealand and you’re over the age of about 4, you know about Gallipoli. Before you even learned about World War 1, or even war in general, you’ve learned about Gallipoli. Although both countries were already officially separated from Britain, it was as a result of this doomed (and importantly, British-planned) battle that seperate national identities were formed. Seems odd to travel to the other side of the planet to see where your country took shape in the minds of its people, but that’s the funny thing about history I guess.
This are the cliffs overlooking Anzac cove - my first thought as I approached was "this can't be the right place, surely no one would want to attack that"
What I didn’t realise was that on the other side of the barbed wire, the idea of modern Turkey was also being formed – the man in charge of the Turkish defence at Gallipolli was Ataturk himself. Anzac Cove, where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps fought isn’t hard to find on a map as the Turkish name is “Anzac Koyu” – they renamed the beach to honour the sacrifice made by troops that attacked them
. The war cemetaries and memorials for soldiers from both sides are meticulously maintained, and the roads leading in are perfect in order to accomodate the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who stream in every year for the ANZAC day ceremony – and reportedly make a giant mess which the Turks then clean up. I was deeply, deeply impressed.
I nearly teared up a bit
And in turn, I found myself a victim of Gallipoli’s gravel carparks as I dropped the bike, picked up (helped by a Turkish tour bus driver – what a guy) then 5 minutes later, dropped it again down the road. Both times were stationary drops where it started slipping and I should’ve been able to save it, but I think 4 months out of the gym has wasted away my muscles a bit. The second time I was thrown sideways into the gravel and landed on my GoPro, which I’d cleverly put in my jacket pocket. The GoPro was fine but my ribs hurt like hell… and would continue to hurt for the entire remainder of the trip – I have a feeling I fractured or broke one.
Sigh... sorry about that Norway and Lithuania
Fortunately my panniers, which take a while to remove but seem to be nearly indestructable, held up with only a few scratches. My sticker collection took a toll though :(. Having checked out ANZAC Cove and the Lone Pine memorial I hopped on a car ferry over the Dardanelles Strait and headed south, trying to make it to Bergama before dark. Once again I found myself on a dark freeway, and once again I couldn’t see anything other than the cars in front – it was here that I finally realised that this was because I didn’t have a headlight anymore. Somehow I safely arrived in Bergama, found my hostel, ate some pide and went to bed.
What's left of the Pergamon acropolis, after the Germans stole a bunch of it
Next morning I had breakfast with my Belgian dorm-mate and took the long walk up to the acropolis in Bergama (known to the Greeks as Pergamon). As with the British Museum and the Athens acropolis, most of the statues and so forth have been removed and taken to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, which is annoying, but it’s still really impressive – in some ways more than the one in Athens. Walking up is definitely the best way to see it – in addition to dodging a 20 lire ticket for the cable car that goes right to the top, you get more of a sense that you’re Indiana Jones, stumbling across an empty ruin.
It's a bit Indiana Jones
Turkey was great and I really, really wish I could’ve stayed longer – if I could do the trip again I would definitely have skipped more of Eastern Europe and made my way around the whole country. However, I had to consider that despite being 80% through all the time I had left, I was further from London than I’d ever been – and more immediately, I wanted to be in Northern Italy in just a week and a half to meet some friends I’d made in Estonia. So I got up early, streaked down the freeway and bought a ferry ticket to Lesvos, Greece. After waiting for half an hour to wait for the customs official to show up so I could get my papers dealt with, I found that what had been described as a car ferry on the internet was really just a normal ferry with two parking spaces at the back… and not so much as a nylon rope to secure the bike with. Good thing the Aegean is such a calm sea.
Goodbye Asia, hello again Europe
And with that, I started my journey on the long road back to London…