When I reached Istanbul I was pretty lost – after 11 months of walking and travelling and always waking-up somewhere new, it was always going to be a bit of a shock to the system to try and stay still for a bit. I had wishfully though that during my walk I would have some kind of ‘Eureka’ moment where it would all become clear to me what I wanted to do when I finished walking. But ‘Eureka’ moments are of course very rare and I had not had one. So for the first few weeks in the city I continued to move. I was hosted by several very generous couch surfers who were happy for me to spend my days walking (yes, still walking) around their part of the city and wandering new streets, but with increasingly tired eyes. The city is so full of differences and microcosms that each new venture would unveil a new aspect to city life. But without a target or purpose I found myself reaching saturation point.
My first visit from friends from home was the perfect solution and suddenly I was surrounded by hugs and familiar faces, old jokes and my city wandering came in very handy as I could be a make-shift tour guide. As they were leaving I found a couple of jobs that would keep me busy for around 65 hours a week! And despite making myself really tired (and suspecting that I was working for the german/turkish maffia in one job,) I would catch myself thinking on the way to work – I am living in this city; I walked all the way here and now I am finding a life for myself in an alien environment. It was a very strong sense of self-satisfaction and tempted me to try and stay in the city and try to make a new life in Istanbul – but every now and then there would be a distraction. Having met up with some other slow/overland travelers during my first weeks in Istanbul, I was now the last one left in the city; they had moved on with their journeys and each time a blog update or message came through from them it was making me miss the road. But I had come to realise that a year of walking on my own was enough solitude, however rewarding it may be and all the amazing people I had met I knew I wanted to share my onward travels. Also continuing east, as was my intention, would mean the distances would become much more vast and walking would become a much tougher mode of travel. So I decided to do something that had been nagging on my mind for a few months – to upgrade from 2 legs to 2 wheels. Which would mean buying a bike!
I had been very kindly left 2 x ortlieb front panniers and front wheel luggage rack by some Anna & Guillain and Guillaume who had upgraded their kit but the bike bit was a little more complicated because I didn’t really know what I was looking for or needed. Trawling forums and bike shops (using my child-speak minimal turkish and a lot of mime) I eventually saved enough money from my jobs to take the plunge and brought Carra.
As the weather was getting better the city was getting busier and I was very thankful that I had arrived in the cold of the winter to explore it without the hoards of tourists. Taking the boats across the Bosphorus remained a magical treat either by day or by night when the city lights put on a beautiful display. I continued to meet people through couch surfing and was treated to snowboarding at a mountain 4 hrs away, day trips (almost) to the black sea and out to the Prince’s Islands, enjoyed sooooo much great food, cay, turkish coffee and Fenerbache football, more hamams than I had ever promised my body on the walk, being spoilt rotten by the freinds and family who came to visit me and Istanbul and even by freinds I had made along my walk. One thing I never managed to achieve was crossing THAT bridge on foot (but I am still hoping to make that happen) but all in all it was a great 4 months in Istanbul, which I am very relieved about – walking all that way to hate a city would not have been good!!
The last few weeks have been a frantic mix of pre-trip organising (not my strong point), visa applications (again not something I seem to excel at but it doesn’t help when the Kazakhstan embassy have moved addresses and it takes 3 trips across the city by bike to find the new address, which incidentally I only got from a man sitting on the wall opposite the old address!), kit buying, lists and more lists. There have also been more sad goodbyes and the stomach churning feeling as I leave loved ones again, it never gets any easier or nicer but their promises to track me down where I end up next are a great carrot on the stick! So on May 1st (a national holiday for labour day in Turkey that turned into a city lock-down as the authorities shut down most transport links and police tried to block protesters from reaching the city center) I left the city on my fully laden Carra to take a ferry across the Marmara sea and do a week long test ride of bike and kit. As the ferry was at 7:30am it was a very quiet city that I passed through on my way to the port and it gave me a beautiful kiss good-bye. As I wobbled my way across the Galata bridge and past Eminönü a huge glowing orange sun was just rising behind the buildings on the Asian side and further along, below Topkapi palace a pod of dolphins were breaking the surface as they headed up the Bosphorus strait, in the opposite direction to me.