Check out the ABC Radio website here for an interview with Michael about the cycling trip in Turkey and Greece.
Category Archives: 2012
Below is the routemap of the 2200km journey from Ankara to Athens. Well done Michael, Maggie and Jordy for cycling such a long and intriguing path. The map also shows the extra travels in Greece and Albania.
We weren’t blogging the non cycling part of the trip but we thought where we’ve stayed in Albania deserves a bit of a mention!
We volunteered on an archaeological site in Albania called Antigonea for five days and it was incredible.
It was near the town of Gjirokastra, an old ottoman town with a fantastic castle and great communism museum.
The first night we saw the most famous band in Albania, Elita 5 with the park’s owner Engjell and his son Enea who is Jordy’s age and we stayed in Gjiorkastra
The next day we were taken to a tiny village called Saraqinishte where we stayed at a traditional house just a few kilometres from the park. We had a wood fired oven and had our milk delivered on a donkey each day! Not to mention a dozen fresh eggs each morning!
Working at the park was hot but fun. There was a lot to do, mostly concerned with tiding up the place and waging war against the weeds and blackberries that were threatening to take over.
There was a volleyball net set up so lunch breaks were great!
We had a great team with us over the five days; Stefan, Gazim, Enea and Engjell.
The champions of the week’s volleyball tournament was unfortunately Dad, mum and Stefan but only because he was as tall as a giant and guarded the net with vigilante reflexes!
On our last day a news crew came to interview us and we made national news the next day!
We also were treated to some traditional food both at Engjell’s house and with the family that owned the one we were staying in. Part of the meal was a whole sheep on the spit. It was fun watching mum politely accept half the face when she was given it. The teeth and eyes were still there!
We also stayed at Berat, another old ottoman town at a beautiful Ottoman house and in Saranda on the coast that had amazing beaches.
We thou roughly enjoyed Albania- a fantastic place to visit!
If two months and two thousand kilometres did not justify being a bicycling expert on Turkey, then a few Greek islands and a couple of hundred kilometres certainly will not ‘cut the mustard’. Here’s a summary anyway! We rode on Rhodes [ no pun intended], Kos, Leros, Santorini and into Athens from Piraeus. Cycling around Rhodes Town is ok, though the crowds, narrow alleys and cobbles in the old town make it difficult. In summer I can imagine the main road up to Lindos is a nightmare, and to cross the island involves serious hill-climbing especially around Butterfly Valley. Kos is a far simpler prospect. It is cycle-friendly for a start and flat around the edges. Most tourists [read Dutch] rent bicycles and meander around in the light traffic. If the hill towns are on your list, the scenery is worth the reward for the effort. Leros is a small place, barely 20km long and 10km wide – so it can easily be seen in a couple of days. The beaches at top and bottom are great, but getting to them from the central ferry points involves some conquering of small hills. Santorini was enjoyable south of Fira. The roads are narrow, and everyone moves fast [especially the tourists on mopeds]. Most bus traffic tends to be mid-morning so be aware of that. And the climb up from the port would be excruciating with traffic and gradient. If you have to do it, wait till all the ferry traffic disperses. From Piraeus, the simplest thing is to catch the Metro into Thissio station, from where you cycle past the Acropolis towards Plaka. There are a couple of carriages with bicycle sections but they may be full depending on the time of day. We came cross other cycle-tourists on the island ferries, but as we did not camp I have no comments on those facilities. Few and far between I imagine. Cycle-tourists being frugal, it is unlikely you would be catching a superfast/hydrofoil ferry anyway, but note the odd one has no room for bikes. Enjoy, and well done to those who venture into mainland Greece and the Peloponnese. Hills and Greek drivers…insane!
Cycling in Turkey
Two months and two thousand kilometres hardly constitutes becoming an authority on cycling in Turkey – but that won’t stop me trying! Cycling in this country is not for the ill-prepared, faint-hearted, unfit or poorly equipped. On the other hand, the drivers are more considerate, the roads in better condition, and the roadside food more bountiful than we had expected. As a general statement, the further off the main highways you go the tougher and hillier the cycling, the fewer the services, and the rougher the roads. The upside is less traffic, more offers of cups of Turkish tea, and the more amazing the sights.
Our Koga Miyata touring bikes with Ortlieb panniers coped with all conditions and terrains. Detailed road maps are impossible to obtain, and with few local cyclists, trying to elicit information is problematic. Similarly, bike shops are few and far between – know how to fix and maintain your gear, and have essential spares on board.
The weather was certainly in our favour; April and May presented 3 wet days and 3 days of head winds along our anti-clockwise ride from Ankara to Antalya.
There are roadworks everywhere, but they generally worked in our favour. Often we rode alone on new hot mix or rolled gravel awaiting surfacing for kilometres at a time, dodging two-way traffic and potential drama.
A review of our route…Ankara is mayhem…consider taking the Metro to Sincin on the edge of town towards Beypazari. A couple of decent climbs and some double-lane sections on the way there.
To Nallihan the surface and lack of shoulder require care in places, especially the downhill into town. Undulating all the way.
From there to Goynuk is the road less travelled…a sensational ride with two huge passes that may still have snow. A highlight day as the area becomes green and treed. Getting to Geyve is also brilliant riding; dead flat for 20kms, little traffic and a monumental downhill at the finish. Pity about the town though!
Getting to Iznik isn’t great fun. Busy freeway, big climb, and rough narrow two-way finish with commercial traffic.
We started early towards Yalova, so the single lane tight road to Orhangazi had little traffic. From there on it’s freeway – busy climb then descent to the ferry port, and an easy well-located arrival into Istanbul. Don’t be afraid to cycle about town, but be wary! Oh, and you can’t cycle over the Bosphorus Bridge. We bussed to Cannakale, so no info available. Bikes do fit under the big intercity buses – ‘problem yok’.
To Bozcaada is a nice ride, excluding the road and hill before the Troy turnoff. The flat rural lane afterwards could get busy in high summer? Time the ferry right and do some picturesque touring on the island to a couple of beaches.
The route to Assos has many highs and lows. Initially quiet, after joining the main road at Ezine it becomes a noisy, trafficked head-down grind to Ayvacik. The backtrack to Assos is demanding but rewarding. Great sights and scenery but be aware there are no services – have solid and liquid fuel on board. If you stay on the sea, you will have a ripper of a cobbled climb out the next day!
The road to Kucukuyu is in poor condition and narrow, but at our speed and time of year it was ok as we passed innumerable small beachfront ‘resorts’. We rode up to Adatepebasi to stay on a farm; if we weren’t, we wouldn’t have…the translation of the village name is ‘top of island hill’!
To Ayvalik is generally flat,and generally uninspiring.
Take the coast road as far as you can towards Bergama, it will break up the double-lane with shoulder freeway experience.
In an effort to avoid Izmir completely, we turned off the freeway at Zeytindag. What follows is an off-the-beaten track experience. Again, services are limited, the hills severe, the road best for donkeys. But I loved every metre. Who wants to cycle-tour in a city? Worst thing was ending up at Manisa. Look for ways to avoid it!
From there to Selçuk via Kemelpasa involves one decent climb after the latter location, and some attractive scenery.
Now, amongst Tour of Turkey country you may get a few cheers and may not feel such a freak if in lycra. Ride out to Ephesus, but Meryema and Sirince is only for masochists.
To and through Kusadasi is busy and undulating, a big hill and 90kph straightline descent to Soke is reward for the drudgery, and once out of town it is quiet, flat and spectacular to Priene.
Sadly, the equally pleasant ride to Didim…ends up at Didim! Over-priced and over-pommed…and that was agreed with by a couple of Englishmen. Consider turning off after Miletus and get to Heraklion – the antithesis of Didim.
The road had traffic and repairs to the turn-off, but the 10kms from there is a highlight of Turkey. Best thing you get to do it twice heading to Bodrum. This is an undulating trip, and the traffic builds after Milas, but it is a good surface with a shoulder.
The ferry to Datca seems a good idea, as is the dolmus bus around the Bodrum peninsula (unfortunately bikes won’t fit on a dolmus). Cycling to Turgetreis for example would be punishment.
After the flat 20km from Datca, the climbs are punishing to Marmaris too, but the scenery is well worth every runnel of sweat. This was a highlight day. As was the next to Dalyan. the massive climb up from the sea puts you over into a fertile valley, then plain as you go through orange groves and hopefully sample the produce. The last turnoff to Dalyan is a quiet, rough road; a nice change from the hectic highway.
Flat from there to Ortaca and Dalaman, but then at least 5 decent climbs before Fethiye on a highway with shoulder. Getting to Oludeniz from there is a significant achievement. A very steep climb on a narrow road where wobbling is dangerous. And it has to be done in the opposite direction to get out again. But the destination is worth it.
Can’t comment too much from there to Patara. We got lost at Eskikoy, but enjoyed the ride to Kemer, where we got found by a truck driver who insisted on taking us over the hilly (flat), head wind (still) road to Xanthos. We think he was lonely, but it gave us time in the day to deviate to the ruins (just worth it) and arrive into Patara in good time.
From Kas, is stand-out cycling again. Constant sea views and a good shoulder. We missed the 13km, massive climb out of there by getting bussed to Uçağiz for a tour of the sunken city.
It is demanding enough to go from there to Demre via Cerali, but a great ride. Little used, poorly maintained road but great sights.
To Cirali (different place) is stand-out stuff too, in 2 parts. First to Kumluca essentially flat and beachside then coastal cliffs. Second to Cirali inland, mountainous and forested. All beautiful, even the 15km ascent.
The ascent back up from Cirali is the last big effort before Antalya. There are lots of medium rolling climbs, and the traffic and tunnels towards the finish are annoying, but the old part of the city centre is a great finishing place. There it is…one version of an Ankara to Antalya bike ride. Any questions?
2 and a half days on Santorini wasn’t enough!
We arrived at 11:30pm and found a great hotel at Perissa by the famous Black Beach with a lovely bakery run by a little old lady (the donuts here bet the Rhodes ones!) and a fruit shop that gave me free figs next door.
The first day we took another boat trip to the Nea Kameri (new volcano) an active volcano in the Santorini Caldera that was stunning and still smoking slightly! We had a swim at the hot (luke warm) springs where Dad covered himself in the mud that supposedly has curative powers but looked like runny Vegemite and stained his skin like fake tan. We stayed at Oia (ee-ya) for the famous sunset and weren’t disappointed. The sun over thensea and the white Cycladic buildings was well worth the wait and staking out of our spot. Emily, Jordy and I took a donkey ride from the Amoudi port up to Oia and all agree it was the scariest moment of our lives! Picture a cliff face with a huge drop just on your right with donkeys galloping up, swerving like bumper cars from side to side jamming our legs against the rock wall not attached to a handler or anything and with no reins or way of controlling them (probably serves us right for buying in to such a touristy thing- the donkey’s revenge!). Oia had a great bookshop with lots of second hand books, chess boards and hand written notes on the shelves recommending books. I found two great books; second hand copies of the letters of Scott F Fitzgerald and Jane Austen’s history of England.
We rented mopeds on the second day (Dad adamantly cycled!) and had a brilliant day cruising around in the sunshine. We explored the capital, Fira, that had some lovely little hidden roads with great Caldera views but was super busy due to the 5 cruise ships docked there that day. We drove down to the Red Beach that would be more appropriately dubbed the Maroon Beach but was pretty nonetheless with spectacular cliffs. We had a picnic but it was destroyed when one rogue wave came halfway up the beach and left us with soggy bread and sandy babaganoush! The water itself wasn’t the nicenst but there was a great rock 20 metres out with the waves breaking all around it as we sat up high in the sun. That evening I had one of the best 3 hours of the trip at a Greek cooking class with three super friendly Canadians and a lovely American couple and a very funny chef. Great food, great company, Santorini wine and best of all Dad wasn’t there to complain about the mess I made and the all the dishes he would have to wash up!
Our last day started early with a walk up to Ancient Thira at 7:00am to beat the heat. It was a tough, steep walk but rewarding with views of the island and ruins that were much more intact than I’d expected. We had a little visit to a cute little mountain church on the way down that is lit up spectacularly at night.
We spent the remaining hour at the Perissa Black Beach with scorching sand and scorching feet! We caught a ferry in the afternoon that was a 7 hour trip to Athens where we arrived in complete darkness and cycled right past the Acropolis, Parthenon and Panathenaic stadium all lit up- pretty special!
After a short ferry trip from Marmaris 3 days at Rhodes was a nice bit of relaxation after all our kilometres. We found an ‘interesting’ pension
Staying in the Old Town was lovely, coblestoned streets, bougainvillea and colourfull doors with peeling paint.
The Archelogical museum was interesting and had a brilliant herb garden and old cannon balls lying everywhere.
We rented a car and drove around the island to three beaches and Lindos where the castle was unfortunately closed but it was a beautiful town.
The palace of the Grand Masters was a lovely building but as far as artefacts and exhibitions it was underwhelming.
We saw the site of the Colossus of Rhodes so that’s another ancient wonder down though there was absolutely nothing there.
The beaches at the New Town were quite nice away from the sunbeds and we found the cheapest Gyros so far, €1.50.
We found the Firth’s famous donut place but they weren’t as good as we’d hoped, perhaps we needed to be there when she had just cooked them.
We had to stay up until 1:00am to catch a ferry and had a really, really, really, really, really long trip to Santorini. 18 hours!