black sea

The Lego Brick Coast – Northern Turkey

I’ve covered a fair bit of ground in the last few days.

The sea has remained much the same, and, although it changes colour as the sun appears and disappears, it is still resolutely refusing to live up to its name.  Green, blue, grey, yes.  But never the Black Sea.

Except at night, obviously.

The mountains on the other side of the road have gradually shrunk as I’ve headed west.  Although they still look a little intimidating.  I’ll find out on Tuesday, after a day off here in the city of Samsun.

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Maybe it’s the terrain, squeezing all the towns into the same shape between hills and the sea.  Or maybe it’s just how things happen when small fishing villages are subject to rapid development.  But every small and medium-sized town along the coast is built on an almost identical pattern.

First, there are a straggle of houses and small businesses along the main road on the way in.  Then, as in the picture above, there’s a mosque in the middle.  The mosque is surrounded by square blocks of flats (usually five or six storeys – the ones above are larger than usual), many of which have shops on the ground floor.  And there are a few cafes and restaurants.  Then, there’s another straggle of houses etc on the way out.

I’ve come to to think of this as the Lego Brick Coast.

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Given that the sea and the towns have remained the same, and that the road has been flat and smooth, it’s been left to the bigger cities and the weather to keep things interesting on the bike.

Despite benign winds, there’s been a constant battle between a huge blob of rain over the hills to the south, and the onshore sea breeze.

When the breeze is winning, it’s wall-to-wall sunshine, and the riding is easy.  When the rain gets its turn, it’s cold, grey and a bit miserable (as you can probably see above).

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The bigger cities along the coast provide most of the personality.  My ‘sea view’ at Trabzon (above) was not exactly what I was expecting, but watching the bustling port in action was a nice change.

The steep, cobbled streets of the old town of Giresun provided an unexpected cycling challenge.  And that was before the guesthouse owner and his friend decided to take me out for a few beers (and English practice) on Friday night.  After which, the challenge of the steep cobbles was on a whole different level.

Most of the cities have bundles of building work going on.  Both Trabzon and Samsun are building new football stadiums on the outskirts.  And Samsun already has some imposing architecture, which definitely doesn’t fit into the ‘Lego Brick’ category (below).

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And there have been one or two smaller places which have bucked the identical towns trend.  The lovely old castle and harbour at Tirebolu was the highlight for me, and probably the nicest place for a coffee break on the whole coast:

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Still, the Black Sea coast, ‘Lego Brick’ or otherwise, is over for now.  I’ll be cutting inland from here, across those big hills.  With a bit of luck, they won’t be nearly as high as those near the Georgian border, where most of the passes are over 2000m.

I’ll use the rest day tomorrow to prepare the legs.  They’ve had it much too easy for the last few days…

On a more personal note…

Today is May 1st  2016.  On this day last year, I was on a sofa, watching the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire professional bike race on TV, while trying to find a comfortable position for my accident-damaged back and shoulder.

The peloton grappled with the beautiful, but rugged, North Yorkshire Moors.  The riders were tackling the roads where my Dad grew up and went to school.  Today, May 1st, exactly a year later, the same race was tackling the same roads again.

And May 1st was Dad’s birthday.

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Dad died a few years ago, at the age of only 65.  He died with dementia.  A cruel way to go, and one which is still both incurable and (generally) badly treated by health and social services.  It’s a disease (or rather, a group of diseases) which will affect more and more people as the global population ages.  And, as Dad’s case shows, it doesn’t always wait until you’re old.

I never wanted my journey around the world to be sponsored – too many obligations and too much pressure on what is supposed to be fun.  So this is not a request for money (though I’m sure the organisations below could use anything you could afford).

If you can find the time, though, please have a look at the relevant link(s) below.  Inform yourself about dementia, how it affects sufferers, and just how many of those there may be in future.  And then, maybe, think about doing something about it.

In the UK:

Alzheimer’s Association
Alzheimer’s Research UK

Outside the UK – Alzheimer’s Disease International has a Global List of Dementia Associations with information in your own language:

Alzheimer’s Disease International


Samsun, Turkey.  May 1st 2016.


Back Out of the (Former) USSR

The Black Sea isn’t black.

This was not exactly a massive shock.  What was quite surprising was that a day’s bike ride in Georgia can take you from snow-capped mountains to palm-lined seaside resorts so easily.  Though it might, I suppose, be trickier in the other direction.

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I made the most of what the weather forecast said was going to be the last day of tailwinds (on Sunday), and decided to get as close to Batumi as I could.  Before the wind decided to punish me again.  I ended up only around 30 miles short, and was rewarded by my first view of the non-black Black Sea (above).

Looks nice, doesn’t it?  Those snow-capped mountains in the background, dropping into the sea in the spring sunshine.

The short ride into Batumi on Monday was beautiful, marred only by the knowledge that it would be my last night in the country.  The last chance to stuff my face with delicious, cheap Georgian food.  And the last night for a while that I’d have a language in common with the locals.  I’m going to miss Georgia, I think.

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Batumi is one of Georgia’s major ports, and also a tourist resort, as well as being the last major town before the Turkish border.  The locals also seem to have developed a taste for architecture, with an impressive array of oddly-shaped towers springing up on the skyline as I approached.

The one aspect of Georgia which I won’t miss is the driving.  A bit like Thailand, they have good roads, but drivers whose skills have not caught up yet.  The massive amount of traffic cops on the roads (mostly in equally massive American police cars, for some reason) is hopefully an indicator that they’re working on it.  I had a sudden thought that I hadn’t seen a bicycle lane for thousands of miles.

A few kilometres north of the centre of Batumi, a cycle track magically appeared.  It took me all the way into town.  And then it multiplied.  The whole city is covered in bike lanes.  It was almost shocking.

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I had a wander around town in the afternoon, and marvelled at bike lanes zigzagging between cafes and their outside seating areas, between supermarkets and their fruit displays, and dead-ending at busy junctions.  The one above is one of the more sensible ones.  Which just stops at every road it crosses.

There doesn’t seem to be any great planning involved.  And the locals appear genuinely astonished when a bike actually uses a bike lane (which is usually for drinking coffee, walking the dog, or shopping).  But the effort is commendable.  And the major bike lanes along the seafront and the main roads are light years ahead of anything I’ve seen for months.  So, hats off to cycling city Batumi!

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Still, after my stroll, some seaside ice-cream, and a proper feed, it was time for bed.  And a few hours later, to cover the last ten miles of the Former Soviet section of the trip.  It’s been a great few weeks, all the way from Tashkent.  From the desert to the mountains to the seaside.  More people should come here.

The road to the border (and after the border, for that matter) hugs the shoreline, with the impressive cliffs, and more impressive snowy mountains, dropping straight to the water.  The picture below is from the last headland in Georgia (the border is in the next bay).  So the land ahead is Turkey.  It seems a little strange that the landscape it reminds me most of is New Zealand, which is a long, long way from here.

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Another five minute border crossing, and I was in country number 23, heading south-west along the Black Sea coast.  A coast which takes you straight to Europe.

It’s starting to feel perilously close to the end of the trip now.  Turkey’s quite familiar to many Europeans as a package holiday destination, and the local time has ticked back to within just two hours of the UK.  It begins to feel like home is just around the corner.  Despite the beautiful scenery, the sunshine, and the wide, smooth road, I was feeling a little melancholy as I trundled along.

Then I heard a muezzin calling from a minaret, and I remembered that there’s still actually a long way to go.  Turkey’s going to take a few weeks, as it’s another big country, and then there’s the huge variety of relatively tiny European countries to look forward to before home finally beckons.  No need to worry about the end just yet.

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I haven’t formed much of an impression of Turkey so far.  Yesterday was just the pleasant ride from the border, and I’ve cunningly spent today having a rest while the rain hammers down outside (above).  My weather anticipation is definitely getting better.

But the people have been friendly so far, even though I’m back to having significant language barriers.  Things are more expensive than anywhere I’ve been since Vietnam.  And it’s still cold when it rains, so it’s definitely not summer here yet.

I’ll find out more over the next little while.  I’m heading straight along the coast to start with, but I’m still not sure of my exact route after the first week or so.  There are three options, all of which are more-or-less the same length (though with massively different levels of climbing).

I’ll make up my mind on the way.  The Black Sea might not be black, but it is quite big.

So there’s plenty of time to work things out as I go…