Day 2 – Europe. I awake to the unwelcome pitter patter of rain on canvas, it’s going to be an unpleasant day, gone is the African sun but apparently I’ve brought their roads with me. For the first hour I trudge through mud and bump along gravel pushing the hefty bike ahead of me. I eventually reach a road, but not before I stop for a spot of tea to warm the cockles.
I find myself weaving my way along beautiful country roads, it’s cycling country and it would be delightful if it weren’t for the incessant rain – it feels like home in autumn. I am definitely a fair weather cyclist – I didn’t sign up to this moisture lark! Thick woodlands line the roadside with the smell of honeysuckle (well I actually have no idea what that smells like but imagine sweet floral smells) drifting from the undergrowth. The villages are just as you would expect for rural France or Italy, complete with the old boys drinking tea and coffee whilst playing cards or dominos in the cafes, but in place of church steeples stand minarets. The state’s flag fund must be very healthy, for every hamlet, village or town sports huge Turkish flags and the occasional tree also has one for decoration. It seems each village is completing to show who has more national pride or loyalty.
I’m headed along the coast of the Black Sea, the rain is the sort that you know is here to stay, low clouds yielding a constant stream of face itching droplets. The sort of rain you get on the south coast in Portsmouth or Brighton. Add the wind into the mix and my face is in a permanent state of grimace; if the wind changes I will permanently look like a pug. It makes it extremely difficult to finish my tea breaks, when out of the window streaks of rain race down the panes of glass. Britain has a bad and unjustified reputation for dismal weather and it makes people forget that the rest of Europe isn’t wall to wall sunshine, this is Turkey, where is the bloody sun?!
That evening, the road takes me inland and I camp nestled in an apple orchard deep in the country side, it’s an idyllic setting. Just me, the orchard, and the wild flowers for commpany…until the mosques digeridoo sparks up at half nine, do they not know I’m in a deep slumber at this late hour! There are three of them somewhere in the vicinity, apparently. The call to prayer reverberates through the valley almost amplified, but they are out of sink with one another – its a racket. In Istanbul it blended pleasantly into the noise of the city, but here in the open country, it dominates as if from the heavens. I always imagined each mosque having a man sing or chant the words, amplified obviously, but at the end you can occasionally hear a beep like a dial tone like an old dial up modem; as if they have tuned in to the MBC (Mecca Broadcasting Corporation) – it takes the magic out of it somewhat.
Here, the women do cover their heads, but not with black burqas. They wear patterned scarves showing a bit of their personality or the fashion I suppose. They are not dissimilar to what the Queen might wear on a wet winter’s day, sat behind the wheel of her Land Rover or out for a walk at Sandringham.
Day 3. The hills are short and sharp – just how I like my women. Back on the coast I skirt from bay to bay, it’s a rugged steep coast line, thick trees cling to the cliffs as the mountains reach the cool waters of the Black Sea. Though to reach my lunch spot of Zonguldak I have to first mount a big a curvy hill, not my type. On the long ascent, a dustbin lorry pulls alongside and before you know it I am being towed for the remaining few kilometres. My arm is on fire by the time we reach the summit: she is a big girl. These days it’s not used to lifting more than a cup of tea. I release the hand rail and try to wave them off, but my hand seems to have tensed and now resembles something more like a claw. My forearm needs a good massage before I move on.
Dustbin men – the unsung heroes of society. After seeing what life would be like without them in Africa, I have a new found respect for the essential service they provide. I also remember the streets in Leeds during the bin strikes whilst at university, as mountains of bin bags piled up at the end of the streets – the rats quickly outnumbering the students. (And Leeds has a healthy student population of unhealthy students drinking and sharing too much.) But I swear despite the constant rain, the sun came out as I tried to wave them off – they turned a wet miserable day into a good one.
I’m 70% sure that I am not meant to be using this road, it has a very motorway-like feel and blue signage. Its just a dual carriageway, but come the large tunnels a few kilometres long, with their dim orange lighting, loud fans and the amplified grumble of the lorries as they rattle past, it increases to 99% certainty. It isn’t a pleasant stretch but it is the only road along the coast and needs must. I settle down to about 50% sure and I am fine with that.
Later I’m looking for a suitable campsite in the arse end of nowhere when two youths spot me looking lost. One even has his hood up and they are wearing trainers. Hooligans, I say. On the contrary Mr Watson, they turn out to be pleasant fellows. Through the wonders of technology they point me towards the nearest campsite along the coast. Much obliged, I skirt off round the nearest bend, wait a few minutes until the coast is clear and discarding their advice head into the field I had chosen. I was waiting for them to round the bend when they spotted me and came to my aid. My campsite tonight comes complete with a moat aka a stream