Published: September 27th 2010September 25th 2010
Istanbul has a history of being a great crossroads. The ethnic blend of the Turkish people in general is reminiscent of our own country and in the urban center-of-it-all this becomes even more distilled and obvious. Of course, this idea of "east meets west" is heavily marketed and commercialised in a city overflowing with tourists and, following a sojourn through more authentic places, this quickly rubbed us the wrong way. We have learned from living in a tourist area that every such place has a more realistic side where day to day life rolls on and the beauty of banality lies in open display. One day, while eating baklava and watching the throngs of tourists march by, two folks came along and opened the door to such a culture in Istanbul .
Because the city is formed on two peninsulas separated by the Bosphorus, it is only natural that so many travellers would make their way through on their way to somewhere. This includes bike tourists who, while relatively few in number, seem to congregate wherever beer and tires are sold. Hence, as we watched two fellow dirtbags looking over our bikes we were quickly able to deduce that
they were indeed members of our own far flung tribe. After a brief conversation we were off together for the other side of the straight to an unassuming neighborhood where we would share two days of storytelling, information exchange, and the good natured comeradery that comes from mutual understanding. There are a lot of ways to see the world, only a few of us are doing it this way. This makes our path feel unusual at times in that we get a unique view of the places we visit while presenting a unique sight for the folks we meet. There is also an air of freedom amongst cyclists that does not seem to pervade in the tourist crowd at large. Perhaps this is due to the self sufficiency or the feeling that we are somehow embodying the changes we wish to see in our world... Perhaps. But more so this feeling, this sense of adventure seems to be rooted in the very nature of our endeavor. When we commit to travelling this way, we are making a move that contraindicates obligations, embraces difficulties that conventional vacations are designed to steer around, and in doing so places us at the mercy
of everyday people and everyday circumstances. Most of us assume that the banal, the mundane, and the industrial are filled with a timeless beauty that fully reveals itself at the pace of a bicycle. The few walkers we meet (and we do meet them, walking from, say, Paris to Jerusalem) would say that even this is much too fast.
Spending a few days with members of our own mental breed was revitalising. It is always nice to meet others who have cast aside traditionalisms for the sake of life on their terms. The time we shared was filled with laughs, discussions, and fresh ideas. The stuff that good diplomacy is made of; eating smoked muscles on the stairs, washing them down with cold beer, in the company of youth from a legion of nations. The stories of our elders tell us that these moments were so empowering. They still are. This life is timeless.........
No sooner were we saying goodbye to our new friends than it was time to say hello to a few from adventures passed. We would not just hang out in a city for our health. No no. We came to Istanbul for another reason:
To double our ranks with a few more cycling daredevils from team James Frames. JP and Julie Boylan are dear to us for many reasons. Last year they flew into Ukraine and cut a draft for us all the way to Romania. Every long endeavor can benefit from a pace check and these guys know how to lay it down. Additionally, JP has built several generations of touring bikes for us. Special trips require special equipment and his insights have led us through an innovative design process that has proven itself against the test of thousands of miles on the back roads of four continents. This time we have a few weeks together and the itinerary is full of high rolling good times through the ins and outs of Balkan roads. With Greece, Macedonia, Albania, and newly formed Montenegro behind us we have already ridden a large slice of the former Yugoslav pie. The differences a political boundary can make are staggering and the past 500 kilometers, particularly those spent in Northern Albania, have put a face on localities that we only barely knew from flashing news quips 20 years in the past. Unexpected, quirky, rough, tasty...... One day while
climbing one of several highcountry passes in the sticks of Albania, from the back of the pack, JP's words caught the moment succinctly when he exclaimed: "This is weird!". Weird? Team James Frames? Just add a bottle of so-so Cab in a campsite by a bomb shelter and call it perfect.
There is much to say about this region but greater demographers than us have written epic texts without exhausting the subject. We will characterize the region with a recipe..... Take a war torn past, with one part Islam, one part Orthodox, one part Sovietesque atheism, all with a tearful Slavic soul. Bake it all in a delicious filo crust until brown, serve it with figs and farmers cheese, wash it down with the best bottle of wine two dollars can buy, then jump naked into the clear, cold sea.
There are more photos below