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Stranger than Fiction

How wrong can one old bloke be? On my last post I mentioned that the roads were leveling out and steep hills were all behind me. Well, obviously I was wrong on that score! Turkey has been hills, hills and more hills, each one steeper than the last, even 10% gradient. At first these were too much for Effie and I ended up often pushing her. But in the last week the bike seemed to get her second wind and she tackled the steepest climbs, even once passing a truck. People often ask how many horsepower she has, and I say, four, but three are asleep. Now another horse has got in the harness and we’re practically flying. Of course we have Europe ahead of us and from what I remember from geography lessons there’s some pretty mountainous ranges ahead so that will test her capability.

On entering Turkey, compulsory insurance required the manufacturing year of the bike be listed on the paperwork. The computer unfortunately didn’t go back to 1910 and given the oldest date listed was 1970, that’s what the paperwork says she is. The factory ceased production of motorcycles in 1965 but according to the document I’m now riding a 1970 FN!

Since my last post I did get to go for a balloon ride in Cappadocia and I did get my cold beer – both very enjoyable. The weather was pretty hot in that part of the country so not much sightseeing done during the day. The evenings were pleasant for walking around town or eating at one of the many roadside cafes and renting a scooter proved helpful to get to some of the further away sites.

The new heavier duty Ensign brand of back tyre, sent by Thomas is performing well and despite a few more broken spokes, these weren’t the result this time of a blown tyre/tube. I have to chuckle that on the front is still a 35 year old tyre that I’ve had on since I first began restoring the bike all those years ago.

I had a new front axle made last week as another set of wheel bearings collapsed and it turned out that the old axle was bent.  Amazing how you can tell someone what what you want made when you don’t speak the language. Even though I changed the design of the axle, just a diagram and some gestures and I got a perfect result from a helpful engineer.

On the way to Istanbul I was flagged down one day by a SUV and the people inside indicated they wanted to take some photos – not an unusual request. They phoned a friend who spoke “English” and he told me that his friends wanted to “eat me”. A bit puzzling for sure, but I was sure they had good intentions from all their smiles.

They offered to take my backpack in their vehicle, which without thinking I handed over. As they took off, I suddenly thought, “Yikes, there goes my carnet!” Seems I’m a slow learner, but this time all was well and these guys were really nice. Erkan races super bikes and he & his friends took me to their workshop then ordered in a meal. That was a relief – I wasn’t dinner after all! Not only did they feed me, but supplied some new spare parts and got Effie sparkling clean. What was funny was the guy’s face when he turned the back wheel while cleaning the bike and the motor started!

My last night before reaching the great metropolis was spent near Izmit camped on the grassed roundabout entering the freeway. A bit noisy but plenty of light from passing headlights! I thought I might have got moved on by police but no-one seemed to mind in the least.

It seemed like the freeway into Istanbul went on forever and we still weren’t getting any closer to the city centre. The congestion at one stage where there were bridge repairs meant walking alongside the bike on the hard shoulder was faster than doing stop, start traffic. I finally made it to Taksim Square, god knows how (anyone who is familiar with this city will know what I mean), and while I was looking at my map and checking street locations I heard a voice yelling, “MR RON, MR RON”. How could anyone know me here? Lynne was still coming from Antalya and I’d only just arrived so hadn’t yet met anybody?

Next thing a young guy comes running over and introduces himself as Mali from the Istanbul Riders Club and says he’s been waiting for me for two weeks! What are the chances of actually meeting someone in a strange city who knows you’re coming but doesn’t know to where, and just happens to be out of the office delivering something and spots you reading a map? Given the size of Istanbul and the fifteen million people who live here, I’d think the chances are pretty slim.

I had already arranged a place to stay and Mali offered to show me the way. A round of introductions, a cup of coffee and we were soon in Beyoglu sharing a lovely apartment with our Turkish hosts. With Effie safely stored, it was time for a nice hot shower and a rest, before beginning to plan the next stage into Bulgaria.

If all works well I’ll make it to Romania for the Dracula Rally in Turda, halfway through the country. I’m planning on meeting up with Adrian, who’ll join me in Bulgaria and we’ll ride north together to the rally. It sounds like a scenic & fun ride so I’m looking forward to having the company of a fellow rider for a change. I’m also hoping to meet up with Hayashi while I’m here in Istanbul. We haven’t seen each other since we crossed from Pakistan into Iran, so it will be good to catch up and share a few stories with one another.

So before the end of the month I’ll be on my way again, another country, another experience. Turkey is such a mix of old and new, a melting pot of cultures, with a variety of interesting things to see and do. One thing’s for sure, it’s not a boring place to be. It feels so alive, especially in Istanbul and I guess that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a popular holiday destination with people from all over the world. Despite the obvious differences, comparing countries is perhaps a little unfair. Each has it’s own feel, its own special attraction that makes it what it is. If they were homogenous then there’d be no point in leaving home I reckon.

Now I’m off to get a kebob, the real deal. There’s nothing like eating the food of the country you’re in. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do….

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