Up the Susa valley to the Alps

We had a lovely time in Ireland visiting Paddy’s mum and dad. We both had to catch a flight down to Falmouth for a job interview and so quite a bit of time was spent preparing and practicing interview questions… It was all worth it though as we were both successful! This means that we will definitely be finishing the trip in Cornwall, now soon to be our new home. It wasn’t long into the start of the trip that we agreed we weren’t going to go back to London after finishing. One of the best things about the trip has been living outside for so long so the idea of going back to the concrete jungle, however wonderful it is, seems so alien now.

I will really miss climbing out of the tent every morning to somewhere different. Falling asleep to the sound of the wind in the trees and waking up to the dawn chorus. Setting up the chairs and cooking breakfast in a wooded clearing, a desert, a beach or on the edge of a mountain lake… So being close to the sea and the wide open countryside is an important life choice for us now.

We had always had Falmouth in the back of our minds as somewhere we would like to live – suitably rural but with a lot going on and beautiful countryside all near the sea. But practically it would all depend on securing jobs down there after 19 months away so it feels great to have most of it all sorted. Now we can really relax and enjoy the final 2 months of cycling. 

Robbie and Margherita had looked after tandem well and had even organised for our bags to be dropped off at the bike shop so we could pack up and get going soon after our early morning flight from Dublin. It would have been nice to spend an extra day in Bergamo but the clock was ticking away to our ferry – already booked – from Cherbourg in France! It was time for us to complete the final leg in what has been an epic ride across the Eur-Asian landmass… 


We kept on a route north of Milan – it felt like the city sprawled out for miles and miles and that we were cycling through its suburbs for most of the day. We kept to a canal route to make things easy which was good as it was super hot, the air heavy and the wind like a hot hairdryer blowing in our faces the whole time. 

They have recently cancelled all roaming charges in Europe now which means using our UK SIM cards here is the same as at home. In one way this is good as it has meant it has been easier to keep in touch with people at home – useful for negotiating job contracts, searching for rental properties and looking up car insurance. It has also means that we have both fallen back into the bad habit of being glued to our phones in the evenings however – something we were going to try and stop! 

On the second day out I received an another job interview invitation (another part-time role to potentially go with the one I’ve already secured) which slightly put a spanner in the works for our schedule. It would probably mean taking a train for some of the distance and after looking at all the flight options we chose Lyon as a good place for me to fly out and back from. We were still keen to cycle over the Alps so we headed to the nearest local station to see if we could catch a train to Turin – covering around 150km.

We weren’t sure how easy travelling with the tandem in Europe would be… We have found getting the bike on various modes of transport in Asia relatively straightforward as there is a much more relaxed approach to transport. Now we were in the ‘regulated west’ we weren’t sure how a tandem was going to go down… As it turns out – it was a piece of cake – and the Italian tickets were very cheap. €17 euros for us both and the bike. Paddy was delighted at the prospect of sitting in the air conditioned carriage for two hours away from the mid-day sun – he struggles with the humid weather! 

We reached Turin by 3:30pm and although it took us an hour to cycle out of the city, with the summer solstice only a week away we still had plenty of daylight remaining. 

From here we headed up towards the Alps starting the gentle climb up the longest valley in Italy – Susa valley. This would eventually lead to our last major mountain range and final 2000m+ pass! We slept in a disused quarry that evening and reverted back to our Cambodian practice of having a ‘litre bottle shower’ to wash away the sweat and sunscreen followed by a diorolyte because we had lost so much salt in the heat. 

Hot!!

Mountain top monastery

The next morning we were delayed because Paddy’s helmet was missing. We realised he had left it on the side of the track leading up to the quarry overnight and it seemed an early morning walker had picked it up… He would have to do without for a few days… we started to climb proper and although the road was quite busy with cars and many campervans the trucks mainly kept to the motorway tunnels and there was a decent hard shoulder. Quite some time has passed since our last big climb in Slovenia so our legs were feeling it a little bit. The scenery was very nice and we passed up through the Susa valley with spectacular views of the Fort of Exilles which sits on a spur dominating the narrowest section of the gorge. The site has played an important part in the original string of fortifications between the House of Savoy and France and the castle passed from one side to the other throughout the 16th century. Napoleon demolished the fort after he captured it in 1829 and it was then rebuilt in its current form and used by the Italian army until 1943 after which it was completely abandoned. 

Exilles


That evening we pulled the bike off the road down into the riverbed which is almost completely dry now thanks to most of the snow having melted away. Our grey tent camouflages very well on this white stoney ground so we didn’t worry too much about being completely out of sight. It was another spectacular camping spot with plenty of opportunities to sit and watch the wildlife including an adult Chamois (we think!) who made his way slowly from the river up a sheer cliff face into the safety of the alpine woods above. The night sky was incredible that night. 

Well hidden


Tomorrow we cross over the Montgenevre pass into France. Italy has been great and we definitely hope to come back here in years to come. 

Lake Garda to Bergamo

Knowing that the campsites along the banks of lake Garda would cost an arm and a leg we needed to come up trumps with a good wild camping spot if we were going to stay and go sailing for a day. The lake is a top tourist destination for water sport enthusiasts because the wind patterns are so predictable here – a thermal southerly breeze begins to build just before noon and blows continuously getting stronger and stronger until the evening. 

We cycle into the top of the town and before winding our way down the steep road to Riva del Garda town we consult the map to see if we can see anything suitable. Paddy spots a green park like area not too far away – it sits on a producing cliff and looks as if it might give amazing views out across Garda town and the lake. It looked more than perfect but would we be moved on quickly if we were spotted setting up camp there? 

It’s a lovely spot – lush green picnic areas with tables and water taps and plenty of tree cover. We cycle up to the cliff edge and can’t quite believe the view… This is going to be one of our best camping views of the whole trip! We peer down into the town and seeing all the tents and caravans squeezed into the various campsites below makes our chosen spot all the more sweeter. We will certainly miss moments like this once we are back…

There’s no one around so we wash at the tap and while I set up camp Paddy decides we need to celebrate in style so goes off with tandem to seek out some wine. A few people pop up every so often to look at the view but we mostly have the place to ourselves and we enjoy our evening before climbing into our tent for the night.

Paddy came back with this beer looking very pleased with himself!
Incredible views!
Good night!

Neither of us had any inclination to leave our spot the next morning and with enough food and access to water we decide we’re very happy to avoid the crowds for one more day and enjoy the views from here. So we have a rest day up here, whiling away the morning by playing an epic game of scrabble which saw Paddy lose by just one point! He thrashed me in the second game however! It’s Saturday and by lunchtime there are lots of people already out on the water so we spend some time setting up an awning to avoid the pounding sun and settle down to our private regatta! I can’t help but hummm snippets of the song cycle La regata veneziana by Rossini – it made up a good chunk of my final year recital at University – it’s sung by a girl called Anzoletta as she watches an Italian regatta in Venice. 

Lazy morning


The next morning we decide it’s our time to get out onto the water so we pack up and say goodbye to the view. There were plenty of boat hire places to choose from but Paddy had his eye on a 18ft catemeran so we chose a club which had a few of these for hire. This would be my first time trapezing in a harness and Paddy was practically hopping with excitement. 

A lovely Italian lady called Nora signed us in and showed us where we could get our wet suits, boots and harnesses. Once kitted out we were helped into the water by two attendants and by 2.45pm were sailing out onto the lake. The wind had reached a good 25knots and we were absolutely flying, Paddy at the helm and me looking after the jib sheet (under close instruction). It was brilliant fun twin trapezing off the side of the boat – it feels like you are flying over the water – and the only slightly irritating thing was when the metal harness clips would bash me over the head before we could clip in after every tack.

Only once did we nearly capsize but we both lurched our weight quickly enough to the tipping side and P steered us upright again. It was great fun trying to race the windsurfers zooming along beside us and with the sun shining and the spectacular surroundings it was a great two hours. 


Windswept and with our legs and and bodies aching from using a completely different set of muscles we de-rigged and came ashore. Nora had kindly sorted us a great discount for one of the campsites on the lake but it was still the most expensive night in our tent of the whole trip – 28 (down from 40 thanks to Nora’s help!) 

We sat out in our helinox chairs in one of the lake side parks that evening with a few beers. We had tactically sat close to a bar where there was a group of musicians playing Irish jigs and trad songs so we had a good time singing along to the ‘Auld Triangle’ and ‘The Wild Rover’!

Because we had stayed an extra day on lake Garda we decided it was a good idea to try and quickly cover some distance the next day. Fortunately this is easy with the regular ferry service which operates on the lake. You have to choose your ferry carefully because not all boats go to every destination and not all agree to carrying bicycles. We managed to catch one at 9.30am to a town called Salo which sits on the west side of the lake. Another very warm day and it was enjoyable docking briefly at all the picturesque lake towns along the way. We ate lunch in Salo’s town square where we got chatting to a British family for a time before tackling the steep climb up away from the lake. 

Lake side towns

We had a few days to reach Bergamo and again we followed a great cycle route for the majority of it often along a canal which meant we covered a lot of miles.

That night we camped in a field just off a horse race track and had fun watching some jockeys putting their racing horses through their paces in the cooler evening air. The next we continued on our road north-west of Brescia and reached another lake where we stopped for creamy gilatis in Sarnico.

We reached Bergamo by 5:45pm and headed straight to our warm showers hosts Robbie and Margherita. Robbie owns a bike shop cooperative in Bergamo and has been big into cycling all his life. Him and his girlfriend Margherita who is just about to complete her PHD had kindly agreed to store the tandem and most of our bags while we flew back to Ireland for a week to see family. 

We met Robbie at his bike shop ‘Bike Fellas’ and then rode over to their lovely apartment where we could take a shower and get things sorted for the next day. Margherita and Robbie then took us to a great traditional Bergamese restaurant that night owned by their friend Gianni. The man himself explained everything on the menu himself and you could really tell that he had a passion for his local culinary traditions – these naturally included cured meats and delicious cheeses but also polenta cooked in various forms and delicious red wine served up in the traditional Bergamese way – in a bowl! It was a lovely place, filled with original photographs of Jianni’s ancestors and to our surprise and gratitude Robbie and Margherita insisted on paying the whole bill which was so generous of them.


We walked off the rich food with a lovely long evening stroll around Bergamo’s old town centre which sits on a hill surrounded by impressive Venetian fortified walls. There are four gates to the old city each with a stone lion (traditional Venetian symbol) perched on top guarding the entrance. The town is filled with cobbled streets, beautiful old churches and an old fort – not to mention the old house of Italian composer Donizetti!

The next day we have the whole afternoon to explore the city again this time by day light. Bergamo is really beautiful – I can thoroughly recommend visiting for a long weekend! We spend a lot of the day eating and then – because it’s so hot – lying in the park which surrounds the old fort.

The old town
Pastries!
The view of Bergamo from the fort

We now fly back to Dublin for a time to see family and as it turns out we will also fly to Cornwall for job interviews while we’re there! Glad those log nights in the tent writing personal statements paid off! We really are starting to get back to real life now! Gulp! 

4 Londoners 3 Bikes

We arrived early into Ljublana and luckily were allowed into the apartment we had rented for the night at 11 in the morning. This was good as Annie had some job applications to do (hence some slackness on the blogging recently!) and we got to unpack and shower in preparation for the arrival of our good friends Andy and Rachel from London who would spend a week cycling with us.

With Annie tucked up in the appartment I went to explore Ljublana. I took a walk up to the old castle and looped around by the river which was packed with people drinking and eating icecreams in the sun. It is a small but very pleasant city and I found an interesting free photography exhibition in the old town hall. That night we had dinner in the appartment and waited up until 11pm for the guys to arrive.

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All set to tour!

The next morning Andy n Rach went and got their bikes and panniers and we loaded up. It was very exciting to have our friends along on the tour! We set off northwards out of town using the extensive and excellent cycle lane system that is prevelant throughout Slovenia. Usually we spurn cycle lanes: they tend to have a poor surface, pedestrians, parked cars and almost always end abruptly leaving you up on a curb somewhere. But these were excellent and made the cycle out of town very easy.

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Winding up a valley on day one. Lovely to have some friends along.

Our planned route was to head north to Skofja Loka, then hit Tolmin and loop aoround to Kranjska Gora ending up in Bled. We were extremely lucky with the weather as the guys seem to have brought the start of summer with them, we have cloudy mornings typically but the sun is now so strong it burns these off in the afternoons.

First stop was for a big shop in Hofer, (Aldi under a different brand). We load up on provisions and resume cycling which becomes very pleasant as we weave down country lanes, past pristene gardens and huge piles of wood. We get to chat to Andy n Rach and they seem to enjoy the cycling so far! We stop for lunch in a field and roll out our standard spread for the guys… all going very well until a farmer pulls up with a lorry load of slurry to dump right where we are sitting… lots of smiles and we decide to move on.

We got to Skofjka Loka in the afternoon and did a bit of back and forward cycling deciding which fork in the road would be quiter. We ended up going the northern road which was NOT a two lane motorway. This gave us a look around the medieval old town which was worth a visit.

In the late afternoon we stop to introduce the guys to our ‘well deserved beers’ tradition. It goes well and we decide to wild camp that night in a meadow off the road.


The following morning we pack up slowly in order to dry out the tents from a heavy dew, a pattern for the week. We cover a much shorter distance this day with many photo stops, particularly past Tolmin where we link up with the Socca river. During a downhill section we do some bike swapping with some interesting results…I spend some time on the back on the tandem with Andy driving which is terrifying! Annie loves the single bike but needs a fatherly push start to get it going. Maybe we will do some single bike touring in the future but we are all happier back in our chosen steeds for now.
That night we head to a campsite right on the river, I go for a paddle and discover the water is icy cold: not good for swimming but good for chilling beer.

After another slow morning and a good breakfast and we find ourselve cycling up the Socca valley and the scenery just gets better and better as the day goes on. The river is busy with canoes and fly fishermen. We stop at the Kozjak waterfall along the way which is pretty impressive.

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Beautiful Socca valley

We enjoy cycling with two single bikes, but like other time we have done this we find some differences in speeds. Uphill Rach n Andy glide past the lumbering tandem, but on the flat and downhill we can power through. This means some stopping and waiting for people and during one stop we meet some very unfriendly policemen. Apparently we weren’t off the road enough and we got the full death stare and oir detail written in a little book. We have met a lot of police and military people on the road and these two were easily the most unfriendly, maybe they were having a bad day or missed the class in manners at the police academy.

After our minor altercation I decide we should navigate off the main road and over a little bridge on my map which will take us to a camp site for the evening… Annie calls this a typical ‘Paddy navigation’ expedition as we end up pushing the bikes though narrow forest paths and over two extremely wobbly suspension bridges. We make it to the campsite and that night the guys generously buy us a hearty dinner of Schnitzel and chips! We are close to austria now and German tourists are common here and we ofter are greeted in Deutch.


We know the following day we have our big climb over the Vrisik pass so we get and early night. An early start the next day and we pedal up the Socca valley the scenery really is stunning, as good as anything we have seen on the trip and a nice smooth road to cycle on. The valley starts to kick up and the cycling is slower, we find the last shop before the climb and stock up food including our staples of fruit and chocolate spread but not the local cheese despite the hard sell from the friendly shopkeeper.

At this stop I casually check what the incline for the climb to Vrisik pass will be. I am shocked and need to double check… the incline is 9% average over 9km. Translated to: extremely, extremely steep! Oops! I secretly worry that we all might struggle to get up since we typically consider anything over 6% very hard and we are fully loaded up! After a quick lunch we approach the climb and I tell Annie about the challenge ahead. ‘Lets just see how we go’. ‘OK’.

As we start the ascent we all settle into some kind of rythem in order to deal with the challenge. Andy ‘Chris Froome’ Bailey has no problems zipping up as fast as he likes, he is lightly loaded on a good touring bike. The real hero is Rachel ‘Nairo Quintana’ Jones who is on a ‘womens tourer’ style bike which is heavey and lacks anything like suitable gears for a climb like this. Rach does 3-4 minute bursts pumping the pedals around out of the saddle, then stopping to catch her breath. She is still a lot faster than the lumbering tandem as we grind it out doing about 4.5km/hr and stopping every 20 minutes. This all continues on and off for aboit 3 hours – the joys of cycle touring!

Andy and Rach get a taste for what we have experienced for the past year as half way up we meet a group of american tourists shocked at our ‘madness’ of climbing such a pass. It is not madness, just one km at a time! But the rewards of such big climbs are evident in the spectacular views and sense of achievement. We are all on a big high at the top and enjoy a stunning decent into Kranjska Gora.

We attempt a wild camping spot that night, but eventually decide a fine from the police is not worth the risk (we are still in the national park), so we proceed down the valley to ‘Camp Spik’. The next day is a slow start since it is just 30km to Bled from here. After a long slow morning we follow a gorgeois route down to Bled (except for one punishing and unexpect climb). We go straight to camp Bled and Andy heads off to buy beers and wine for a celebratory eveing with sausage casserole. The next morning we dine on pancakes which might become a new staple for us on the camping stove.

For our final day in Bled we have a B&B booked which we go straight to after the guys drop off their bikes. We go for a weaving hike up above the lake and that evening feel very sleepy and decide to go get some pizza and beer in Bled. On a little walk down to a cash machine Annie and I spot a big stage by the lake a band doing a sound check….hmmm. This turns out to be a top notch Beatles tribute band which we sing along to all night against the stunning lakeside setting. A perfect ending to a great week with the guys.

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The fab four(s)

 

6 graphs to represent our cycle in 2016

Back in February we took the decision that a bike computer would be a useful addition to our set up as we were having a hard time guessing how fast we were going and thus how long it would take to get somewhere. At one point we were pacing ourselves with passing mopeds and asking the drivers what speed they were going. The computer would also allow us to record our distances covered, average speeds etc and Annie took a very diligent record of that.

Here are some of the, we think, interesting results:

(Since we only got the bike computer in February Vietnam and half of Cambodia, about 4 weeks and 1000km, are missing)

 

 

Distance statistics v2 - distances - jpeg

First up is our an overall chart showing the distance we cycled every day for the entire year. It varies a lot, but the average is just below 65km. We got our top day in the flat deserts of Turkmenistan when we needed to get across the country in 5 days.

Northern Iran and Armenia were pretty mountainous and we were not in a particular hurry during that leg of the trip so we were taking our time there. The spread of days is interesting and the biggest factor it shows up the terrain and road surface quality of the countries.

 

 

Distance statistics v2- ride time - jpeg

Next is the actual time we spent in the saddle each day. This came out surprisingly low, but we had quite a few short days and also we tend to stop and look around a lot…I think other cyclists, particularly solo cyclists, will spend longer in the saddle. But we tend to stop regularly. Lunch can also drag on a bit, sitting in our comfy chairs drinking tea and staring at the ants processing our crumbs.

Towards the end of our trip we had time to kill in Armenia and Turkey so that shows up here.

What I did think was that it is unsustainable to do 5hr + days for more than 3/4 days without one of us running our of steam and needing a long break. It is a lot of energy to burn up and a lot of food and sleep is needed to keep sustaining that level of effort for a longer period. I am sure it is possible, but we were also out to enjoy the scenery! By the end of the trip we used time on the bike to measure the ‘toughness’ of a day.

 

 

Distance statistics v2 - AvgSpd - jpeg

Everyone always asks how fast we go. Well here is our answer: 16km/hr.

We can tip along at 22/23km/hr on the flat and that is what the tandem is made to do – a slight downhill or flat with a tail wind and we can really get the momentum going. However going up hills at 4km/hr is not unheard of.

The other question we get asked it whether it is easier or harder on the tandem. We don’t know for sure since we haven’t done anything similar on two bikes, but we suspect the tandem is easier.

Top speed of the trip was 69km/hr. Vrooom!

 

 

Distance statistics v2- distcovered - jpeg

Above is a graph of the distance covered in each country.

The information speaks for itself and is really a factor of how long we spent in each place and how long we could get on our visas. A rule of thumb often used is that to cycle tour 1000km will take approximately one month and that is pretty much true for us. We can do more for example in China we just couldn’t get enough of it and we covered 2600km in two months, but in Iran we spent a lot of time looking at stuff and meeting people so we did just 800km in a month.

 

 

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The days cycled in each country – this speaks for itself. The only country where we cycled every day on our visa was our mad dash across Turkmenistan. We planned our trip to cycle 4 out of 7 days each week and that roughly worked out to be what we did.

 

 

Distance statistics v2 - ride time by country - jpeg

Lastly the ride time in each country. Our wheels saw a lot of China, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan and that was where the big mountains, big scenery and remote cultures were – no coincidence there! We realised early on we loved climbing big mountains and now that is what we go looking for on the map. Roll on the Alps!

Fethiye to Bodrum – our last days in Turkey

We spent a nice day food shopping, eating and relaxing on the beach front in Fethiye with Kathy and Nigel who are both keen cycle tourers too. Before he met Kathy, Nigel had been cycling for 6 years and has been everywhere including all over Europe and South America, a long tour following the full length of the Mississippi River and the famous Cairo to Cape Town tour. Needless to say we had lots to talk about and it was good to hear about their next trip which will see them team up to cycle around New Zealand. 

In the morning we visited a local bike shop and made the unusually (for us) snap decision to have a new Shimano cassette and chain fitted to the bike. Initially everything appeared to be working well despite the fact that the shop hadn’t also been able to replace the front cogs. We cycled around Fethiye peer without a problem but as soon as we tackle a hill the new chain now starts to jump off the smallest front cog… It turns out that all the advice is right – once you need to replace the cassette, everything needs to be changed because it all wears together. After some researching on the net by Paddy, we also discover that the cassette we’ve been sold isn’t quite the quality we’d hoped for. Knowing that we had a good few climbs to tackle before getting to Bodrum we decided we were better off going back to the bike shop and having our old chain and cassette put back on – we had come this far with it and had developed some pretty good tactics to prevent it jumping in the easiest gear! We half hoped that the shop might give us a refund for the new parts in light that we had only cycled 3km on them… Unsurprisingly, the shop wouldn’t take the new parts back and so we were kicking ourselves slightly for not doing our homework before buying. 

Anyway, these things are all trial and error and we now know for next time! Back on track we start to cycle out of Fethiye when the car in front of us suddenly turns right into a parking bay without any warning or indicating. We are forced to swerve quickly to the right to avoid crashing and start to skid on the wet ground. We both go over, Paddy taking the brunt of the fall. Things escalate and we end up having crossed words with the passenger in the car who was this big mouthy Turkish women. She claimed that we should have been in the cycle lane and this was Turkey not the UK so driving habits were different. This annoyed us because the whole thing was clearly the drivers’ fault. 

Anyway, after brushing off most of the dirt we finally get going properly. Bodrum is 240km away which we hoped to complete in 3 and a half days. Despite being delayed first in the bike shop and then on the road we still hoped to get to Koycegiz Lake 77km away. 
The day was spent on the main road; not unpleasant but not particularly scenic either. Koycegiz is really beautiful and the Lakeside park offers great camping facilities for 20 Lira a night so it was a great place to stop for the night. 

Cooking up dinner on the lake side

Onwards the next day and we reach our turn off at Akyaka which will see us leave the main road and take us along the Bodrum peninsula for the next two days. It was really great to be off the main road and we stop at a very swanky harbour for lunch before spending the afternoon cycling along some beautiful small roads with gorgeous coastline to our left. 

We reached the small cove of Akbuk and manage to find a local guy to open his little shop so we can stock up on a few things before camping on the beach. 

We had two days to reach Bodrum from here before catching the 9:30am ferry to Kos on the 9th of December. It was only 88km but there were two big 500m climbs between us and the town. We spent most of the day getting over these. This would be our last major climb of 2016!! 

Quick stop and looking down to where we camped the evening before

It was a beautiful cycle up through pine forests and mountains and we enjoyed winding our way up through the small sleepy villages despite it being pretty tough in places! We stop to buy some hand pressed olive oil from this lovely chap who was also selling his own honey, olives and balsamic vinegar outside his house. I wish you could all smell the oil – it’s divine – and we buy a litre. A little taste of Turkey to last us through our time on the boat in Greece.

We dropped down to camp on a beach just around the headland from Bodrum itself. The next day would see us complete the final 16km to the town, and find the campsite situated in the western part. Suddenly it was our last night in Turkey so naturally we enjoyed a few beers overlooking the marina. Tomorrow we catch the ferry to Kos where we can then get the long ferry to Athens. 

Discovering Ancient Lycia and cycling the Turquoise Coast 

Our five days on Susanne and Orhan’s horse farm were a welcome break from the cycling. Each morning would start at 7:30am with the morning feed followed by the mucking out of the 15 stables.

Our afternoons were often spent separately, Paddy fixing the sink unit in the kitchen and me gardening in the veg patch.


We also spent a lot of time with Emre and his son Met collecting firewood and cutting down trees to fix a couple of rotten beams in the outhouse.


There was plenty of time to relax and we both got addicted to eating all the pomegranates, oranges and grapefruits from the garden.

So after a week stopped on the Workaway farm we left Susanne and Orhan and started our next leg of the Turkish coast. We were heading to Fethiye 370km away. 

Day 1 – 57.8km

We didn’t do loads of miles on our first day as we stopped in Antalya for a couple of hours to get a new screen fitted for my iPhone – having dropped and smashed it two days before… While we waited we sat in the sunshine of the main pedestrian square eating sandwiches and looking out across the old city to the sea. Antalya sits on the east side of a large bay. We dropped down to the main road which curves its way round the coast and passed a few nice beaches and coves. After just 58km we decided that a bottle of wine and an early stop was too irresistible. We stopped on the edge of what was obviously an old beach resort area still with beachside changing rooms and delapidated looking pavilions. The whole place was fenced off by barbed wire which initially confused us as there were lots of people picnicking, fishing and generally milling about on the beach. After a short search we spotted a large gap cut into the fence. If the locals were happy to break in so were we. It was lovely sitting on the sand sharing this gorgeous Sunday afternoon with the local families. Lots of people had lit barbecues. 


We had got ourselves a half bottle of some very nice Anatolian wine which we sipped on the shoreline looking out across the calm bay, the tantalising smell of kebabs wafting over from the other picnickers. Tanker ships moored in the bay peppered our view. At dusk a large puff of dark smoke rises from each of them in turn as their generators are switched on. Soon clusters of orange lights are floating on the surface and a few lonely stars appear overhead. We copy the locals and get a fire going after dinner and sit reading before climbing into the tent. 

Day 2 – 63km

The second day saw us start to cycle through the impressive mountains which run parallel to the coast. They are covered in rich green pine forests. We turn off down to the small village of Cirali planning to find a spot to camp before walking to the Eternal Burning Stones of Chimaera which are best explored at night. 

We knew that heavy rain was forecast that evening so finding somewhere undercover was desirable. Camping on the beach in prime tourist spots can be a problem around here. It’s not as bad as it would be in the height of summer though and after chatting with a lovely barman he offers us a space under his awning for that night. By 7:30 the rain is holding off so after dinner we set off on the 90minute walk up to the Chimaera stones which are pretty cool. They have been burning for over 2000 years! A big group of locals had claimed the biggest and most impressive fire toasting marshmallows on long sticks but we found a comfortable spot a few metres away and with our backs warming against the flames we sat talking about the prospect of coming home

When the rain started at 10:30pm it didn’t stop all night and unfortunately we woke in the morning to find that a puddle had formed under the awning right where our tent was… Things were in a worse state than they would have been had we just camped out in the storm – the bottom of our tent was pretty soggy and the rain was forecast to last all day and well into the next evening… so we decided to stay put, book into one of the rooms behind the bar and sit the storm out. 


Day 3 – 37km

We managed to dry everything out by the next morning and with the forecast just promising rain again that evening we set off early wanting to reach Finike. The plan was to cycle along the 1km track which connects Cirali to the famous hippy trail, ancient Lycian site of Olympus which sits on the beach just around the headland. Unfortunately, the 24 hours of rain the day before had turned the track into a raging river. We had two options – push the bike across the beach instead and reach Olympus that way or go round by cycling back up to the road 400m up. We decided to push the bike along the sandy, pebbly beach. A tough 20 minutes but it would be much easier than cycling up a steep climb for 90minutes, especially with our cassette in its current condition… 

A quick rest while watching the waves crash towards us

The problem was, was that when we reached the headland we discover that the usual path through the archaeological site was now covered by a lake… To make things worse, while we had been pushing the bike along the sand, a giant rogue wave had come crashing towards us. Paddy had managed to escape but I had been holding the bike at the time and so ended up with very wet feet – not even goretex NorthFace shoes save you if a 2ft wave washes over you…

Our only option now was to find a way with the bags and the bike through the higgledy-piggledy, rocky, overgrown paths which wind their way up through the old ruins. It meant taking the bags through first and then going back to carry, drag and push the tandem through. It took us two hours to cover 1.5km of ground! Here I am with the bike after we finally meet back up with the main path which leads to the ticket office. We had just battled our way through the old amphitheatre arch behind me. 


Back on track, we wash down the bike (and my shoes) thoroughly with a hose to make sure no sea water is left and then we get going. Its a really nice ride out of Olympus and we soon link back up to the main road and make good headway.

It stays dry all day and we do manage to reach the long stretch of beach which leads up to Finike. We camp underneath this handy picnic area which are dotted all the way along the shoreline. 

Day 4 – 75km

Having stayed dry after another overnight storm hit we wake up early and find snow has been dropped on the mountains above Finike. It’s still raining but thanks to our large roof we eat breakfast and pack down easily. We have an hour of rain on the bike but the weather soon turns pretty good with some nice patches of sunshine. It’s pretty flat for sometime and we speed along stopping to eat lunch on this pebbly beach. 


We then turn off the main road down towards Ucagiz which is where we were headed. 


When we get there it’s as beautiful as the guidebook promised – normally teeming with tourists in the summer I think we were lucky to be here on the 1st December! The whole place was idyllically sleepy and quiet. 


After walking around the harbour for a while we spot a small patch of grass just off the main path next to some old ruins. We pitch out tent and cooked dinner right on the water front over looking the gorgeous harbour. The clouds slowly part and we enjoyed an incredible sunset and then a spectacular nights sky. A couple of locals walk by with a quick glimpse and ‘merhaba’ as we sit drinking our beers and eating dinner. At sunset the Mosque lights up green and rings out with the usual call to prayer; cats flit here and there along the path. The lights from the many boats make silver ribbons across the flat calm water and we watch the last few vessels arrive back to harbour and drop anchor. It’s very sheltered and we have a very peaceful nights sleep. 


Day 5 – 52km

To join back up to the main road we had a very hard 20km climb out of Uclgiz the next morning. There was a bit of a headwind but clear blue skies. It was really nice to have an extended cycle away from the main road and we had some lovely views of snowy mountains. 

Goats!
At lunch we also catch our first official site of Europe – the Greek island of Megiste

The wind picks up quite a bit in the afternoon but we manage to find a sheltered ‘shelf’ of land in between a few houses on the outskirts of Kalkan. Nobody seemed too bothered about us setting up camp.

Choppy sea

Day 6 – 90km

After stopping in Kalkan for a cash machine we got going and ate up the miles towards Fethiye where we would be staying with Kathy, a warm showers host from the UK! After the climb away from Kalkan it wasn’t too hilly and we arrived into Fethiye by 4pm. We met Kathy at her apartment and got fed delicious food and good company that night. Here we will rest up for a day as rain is due tomorrow before completing the last section towards Bodrum! 

It’s been a really nice cycle along the Lycian coast. Keen walkers should definitely check out the Lycian Way path which stretches across this stretch of coast.

Mersin to Topalli near Antalya / 427.7km

Day 1 – half day 45.5km 

We really liked staying with Kadir and his housemates. It was really interesting talking to them about the current situation here in Turkey with Erdegon’s illiberal agenda. Kadir is Kurdish so it was good to get his perspective on the PKK and Kurdish history. 

Communal meals with these lovely guys


He joined us for our first 10km out of Mersin the next afternoon. The city is actually a really big place with hundreds of new apartment blocks constructed in neat lines along the coast line. They go on for miles… and we were caught on the busy dual carriageway meaning we didn’t catch our first sight of the sea for some time. The road was completely flat so we easily completed 40km in a couple of hours before starting to scout out a potential camping spot. It was still very built up here and after reaching our first bit of beach our hopes of a sea side sleep were soon dashed when we spotted a group of guys with motorbikes drinking and wrestling each other on the sand. 

So instead we turned off the road and headed north through a big orchard and polytunnel complex. After cycling through a sleepy village we reached a road stretching through an impressive gorge. As in other parts of Europe at this time of year it gets dark here really early but just as the sun was setting we spotted a riverside grove of lemon trees reached via a rickety bridge, a perfect hidden sanctuary, and we pitched the tent and cooked up dinner in the semi-darkness. 

The moon was incredibly bright that night and at about 10:45 I stirred initially thinking it was the light that had woken me. Suddenly I heard a kind of loud snorting near the tent. A VERY large something was making its way towards us, padding its way forwards. Trying not to panic I shook Paddy awake and by the light of the super moon we lay facing each other, wide eyed and listening, as the beast drew ever closer. It circled the tent and then headed down towards the river where it went out of earshot. 

‘What do you recon it is?’ I whispered to Paddy. It sounds like a pig, or maybe a really big dog…’ After a long pause where we both strain to listen again, Paddy answers. ‘It could be a pig… or maybe it’s a bear…’ At once, an image of us fighting off a large, fierce grizzly with our inflatable mattresses and Swiss Army penknife flash through my mind… ‘I’d better put in my contact lenses’ I say defiantly.

It’s difficult to be completely rational when there is only a thin piece of canvas between you and a potential attack from an unidentified animal but we did our best, and we spent the next few minutes formulating ‘operation intimidation’ for if it came back and approached the tent. We knew it had been close and it hadn’t been too bothered about us but our biggest fear was that it would detect the food bag… We heard it again roaming through the trees but it didn’t get close and we finally concluded that it wasn’t too bothered about us. We both managed to get back to sleep.
Nonetheless, we woke up early and packed down quickly the next morning and decided it would be best to have breakfast on a beach somewhere instead. We had lived to cycle another day! 

After speaking to some locals on the beach we get told it was probably a wild boar. Feeling initially relieved I google ‘Anatolia, Turkish Wild Boar’ and get this image. 


Not a hog you might exactly call piglet in any case…

Day 2: 88.9km

Our second day saw us see much more of the coast as the string of apartment blocks gave way to more beaches and coastline. The Eastern Mediterranean with Cyprus’ mountains just visible through the ocean haze. Lovely!

Farming is big here and fruit is in abundance in this part of Turkey so we spend our breaks picking fresh oranges, lemons and pomegranates from trees. There are also loads of muzler (local banana) trees which means they are really cheap to buy. After the morning clouds were swept away it became pretty warm, although a nice off shore wind kept things a decent temperature. We cycled through a few more towns and passed our first Roman ruins and reached the island Byzantian fortress of Kizkalesi castle.


We stopped for a couple of hours at the caves of heaven and hell – two impressive sink holes which both have great mythological relevance. The 200m mammoth ‘heaven’ cave is incredible and visitors are able to walk right down into it. At its mouth is a lovely old 5th century Byzantine chapel ruin. Locals believe the underground river connects to the hellish river Styx.


After lunch the wind really picked up and was blowing in our faces the whole time. We were heading to Ovacik where the house of another warm showers host, Bayram is. By the time we reached the town it was blowing a proper gale and we were being blown all over the place. The storm was so bad that the whole of Bayram’s neighbourhood had no power when, very wind swept, we finally arrived.

Day 3 – 62.1km 

The storm blew itself out overnight and we enjoyed a cloudless, 28 degree blue sky the next day. The flat coast road turned away inland for a while and we had a couple of hard 300m climbs. They are in the process of widening the road to form a dual carriage way which I guess will eventually span the whole coast line although the road works didn’t really affect us too much and the road wasn’t too busy. Paddy is very happy to be spending so much time on the coast and I’ve caught him on more than one occasion staring at the sea, a contented smile spreading across his face.


That night we camped right on the beach under a grove of olive trees and fell asleep to the waves gently crashing onto the shore. The wind picked up again but we were very sheltered under the trees.

Day 4 – 64.14km

We woke at 6:30am with the call to prayer blasting from a nearby minaret. Another clear sunny day and we stop at the ancient city of Anamurium for lunch. It’s an amazing complex first dating back to the Phoenician period in 400BC although most of the ruins are from the Roman and Byzantine period. It’s a sprawling site which reaches all the way down to a pebbly beach. Interestingly it’s the southern most point of Asia Minor. We would be heading Northwards from now on… 


Much of the amphitheatre, bath houses, basilica, city walls, and long aqueduct are still standing so we spent a good couple of hours walking about the site.


We had a long very steep climb at the end of the day which we managed to complete before dropping back down to sea level and into a beautiful little bay. A group of fishermen were sorting their gear out on the beach and one of them offered up his tent and little campsite set up which meant we didn’t need to bother erecting our tent and bed. This would mean a speedy pack-down the next morning, a good thing as we knew we had two big 500m climbs the next day. 

Day 5 – 93.5km 

So began our big day of climbing but we managed to set off at 8am and despite stopping to chat to Martin, another cycle tourer from Canada who was heading the other way, we managed to complete the first climb by 10:30am. There were a few stiff parts of the climb and our chain continues to jump so there were a few sections in which we had to get off and push for a bit. Although we were climbing, the sea remained on our lefthand side all day and we had great views across the Mediterranean. Another super hot day. 


A steady down hill section helped us rack up the miles in the afternoon and we took the smaller coastal detour for a while before meeting back up with the highway. We completed the last 15km to Turkey’s longest beach and here we treated ourselves to our first Turkish restaurant meal and enjoyed an overdue (albeit pricey) beer as we watched the sun set over the sea. We managed to find a hidden spot for the tent just a few metres from this beachside restaurant meaning we could sneakily access their shower and wifi the next morning. After a stint of reading the international news in bed I ran down to the shore and plunged into the sea. It helped to wash away most of the Trump madness… 

Day 6 – 51.1k

With only 153km over two days left to complete and no substantial climbs we had a couple of easy days ahead before reaching Aksu where we would be staying on a horse farm for a week. However nice it is to be clinging to the coast we both feel sad that we haven’t had a chance to cycle through some other parts of Turkey. Clinging to the south coast means we’re spending a lot of time cycling through resort towns, marvelling at some of the big hotel complexes with their Taj Mahal style towers and luxury beachside bars. The convenience of having access to beach showers and supermarkets means camping day after day is easy and we’re eating a much more varied diet; things like muesli with fresh milk which is a real luxury for us!! 

Yummy Turkish bulgar for lunch – the purple carrot gave it the pink colour. They like purple carrot here… They make a horrible fermented drink from it too…

After a while though the restaurants, bars, tattoo parlours and shops all start to look the same and although its low season and there are lots of secluded spots between the towns and plenty of ancient sites along the way we both feel a little sad that we won’t be cycling through some of the more remoter areas of the country. 

Day 7 – 103km

The last day saw us stop at Side which is a nice resort strip popular with German tourists and also home to a large Helenistic and Roman ruin complex. We spent a nice couple of hours cycling along the beach front and visiting the old amphitheatre, temples and city walls. 

Temple of Apollo – tandem received quite as much attention from our fellow tourists though!

It was slightly further to our Workaway host than we had originally thought so we ended up doing 103km on the bike that day. Here we will stay for five days helping out on the farm and in the house in exchange for free board in their cottage in the grounds.

Cyrano and Pinto – 2 of 15 horses we will be helping to look after for the next few days