It’s been a tough few days, with a constant headwind trying to batter me into submission. And a few more hills than expected.
But I’ve made it to where I want to be; just 60 km (38 miles) from the narrow strait between Asia and Europe. I should get to the Asian side of the crossing just after lunchtime tomorrow (Sunday), from where a ferry should whisk me effortlessly across the (roughly) three mile gap between two continents.
Leaving Iznik was hard, though.
Partly because of that interesting mix of history and culture that I discussed last time (the Ayasofya mosque, above, sums it up pretty well; an ancient church converted into a mosque, just like its much bigger and more impressive namesake in Istanbul).
Partly because it was a really nice, chilled-out little place with loads of lakeside cafes. And partly because, from Iznik, the only way out is upwards.
At least I got a last view of Iznik as I left. The vast majority of Turkish towns I’ve been to have been flat, meaning there’s rarely a vantage point on the road to see the whole place at once. And, despite a little shower as I hit the top of the hill, the short(ish) run to Bursa was unproblematic.
The only big issue in Bursa (which is regarded as the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire, by the way) was the traffic, which got a bit manic in the city centre. It’s the biggest Turkish city I’ve ridden in, so I suppose this is excusable to an extent. Although it made me very glad that I decided against riding through Istanbul, which is many times bigger (and therefore the traffic’s likely to be many times worse).
Another reason that I was happy not to be riding into Istanbul on Thursday was that there was (yet) another bomb attack there that afternoon. In the eastern suburbs, which may have put me nearby if I’d headed that way.
Then again, there was also a suicide bombing in Bursa only a fortnight before I got there (27th April), which I thought it was probably better not to mention until I was through, in case people worried.
It seems to be a grim, almost daily occurrence in Turkey at the moment. And the frequency may go some way to explaining why neither attack appears to have made it anywhere near the news at home (along with obsessive Euro referendum navel-gazing, I’d guess).
In any case, unless you’re unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (and that could happen just as easily at home), you’d never even know they’d happened. Bursa city centre was a scene of total, big city normality. I’m sure Istanbul’s the same.
It’s a real shame that things like that seem to be putting tourists off coming to Turkey. I’ve had a great time here so far, but I’ve lost count of the amount of people in the tourist trade bemoaning the lack of business this year.
I was much more worried about the bike’s health, to be honest. It had developed a distinct wobble at the back end. And wobbles at the back end can’t be good news.
As usual, it took a while to work out that it wasn’t something mechanical (and therefore expensive, and maybe problematic). It was just the rear tyre finally giving up the ghost.
I’d decided not to rotate the tyres this time, just to see how long they actually last. The front will be fine all the way home, I think. Maybe even for ever; it still looks almost new.
But the rear, having carried most of the weight, and delivered all the traction for 11,500 fully-loaded kilometres (including the UK Tour) had finally had enough. As you can probably tell from the badly-focussed picture above; the replacement tyre (identical to the old one) is on the left, obviously.
Still, 11,500 kms is pretty good. Especially as it still showed no signs of actually falling apart. One puncture in all that time (way back in Myanmar). Dirt roads, potholes, mud, rocks and glass dealt with with aplomb. It’s just a shame that it didn’t quite last until Europe. But, in the end, the wobbling was driving me nuts, and making the whole bike shimmy, so it had to go.
It’s possible that I just spent slightly too long mourning the loss of a tyre.
For the rest of the bike and me, Europe awaits. Although I’ve been roughly following the south coast of the Sea of Marmara for the last few days, I only got to see it for the first time today (above).
Tomorrow should take me pretty much along the coast, until it narrows into the Dardanelles (that strait between the two continents I mentioned before). The ferry will take me to the town of Gelibolu.
Which, as well as being my entry into Europe, also gives its name to the peninsular on which it sits. In English, its name is Gallipoli. Site of one of the most appalling wastes of life in the First World War.
And that should certainly put today’s relatively tiny risks of terrorism into perspective…