Total to date: 4495km; Today: 120km and 900m of climbing
Today was a mixed day. Principally it was a day dominated by wind – headwinds, side winds, blustery winds and occasional tail wind (see later) but mainly headwinds (of course).
We started the day giving the thumbs up to the municipal campsite at Alexandroupoli and started to head for the Turkish border 45 km away. Just outside the town we passed a group of German cyclists going the other way. They stopped and asked if we had a map of the area to get to Thessaloniki. We gave the lads both the good scale maps of Greece in exchange for the better map they had of Turkey to Istanbul. Glad that out maps have gone to a good cause and hope they will send them back at the end (because we are really map hoarders).
Early morning calm quickly turned to a headwind so after a couple of hours we stopped for a final coffee in Greece. The border crossing at Kipoi was a main motorway crossing but blogs we had read indicated we could take a side road and get to the border crossing so we turned to the final village of Peplos then picked up a paved track alongside the motorway. A large fence separated us from the motorway but our experience is that the blogs can be relied on – and sure enough, as the motorway stopped to filter into the Greek exit, (not that there as much filtering as the motorway was virtually empty), the fence ended and we could nip round to face officialdom on the borders. Through the Greek exit then in no mans land as it crossed the Evros river. The river was manned” or more accurately “boyed” as they were young men with guns (or should that be “bouyed” as this was a river) on the Greek side by 2 armed soldiers and on Turkish side by 2 armed Turkish soldiers. The young Turkish soldier was slightly twitched when we asked if we could take a photo of the large “Turkey’ sign and said we could take one! David, being David, took 2!
Then through the Turkish side with ease – the visas we had brought on line the previous evening and downloaded onto the ipad proved wholly satisfactory for the border guard. Then hey, we were in Turkey! Another big milestone. Back to being able to read the signs was a relief (Turkish using mainly ‘roman’ script with a few of its own letters) it made me realise how vulnerable it must feel for adults who cannot read (of which there are a surprising number – almost 30% of prison population for a start) as we struggled with the Greek signs that weren’t also in Roman script.
So into Turkey, a country I was pretty confident we woulds not get to on this trip – and so some sense of achievement. I am sure the general characteristics of a nation can be summed up by their response to passing cyclists. In France if you are also a cyclist you are greeted enthusiastically but otherwise you get a nonchalant gallic shrug. In Italy everyone waves enthusiastically. Passing German cyclists give us a very slight but possibly impercible nod. Albania and Greece stare until you wave when they break into a huge smile and wave back. In Turkey the first shepherd we passed gave us a cheery wave, and so it continued.
It must be said the scenery in that first part of Turkey we entered was not anything to write home about. Brown dusty hills, undulating road stretching into the distance. But we seemed to have lost the headwind for a while and we pressed on to get some km under our belt. However release from the wind was very short-lived as a huge side/head wind blew up. Uphill we were being blown about, down hill we still had to pedal hard to make progress (there was nothing in between). Although I tried to slip stream David, the side wind kept blowing me back. The last 10km to Kesan were my worst of the trip and seemed to last forever as we tried to make progress along the busy dual carriageway. Although I am happy to plod up a mountain at 4 miles an hour there is something depressing about a headwind that scrambles the psyche and is much harder to deal with.
At last we were able to turn away from the wind and into Kesan centre – but even that was a long time coming and then (almost inevitably) required a 100m climb, We had no choice as we had no Turkish money at this point and had to find an ATM. At last we reached a central area and found an ATM. We collapsed at a cafe in the centre of the square and ordered ‘cheeseburger’ as it was the only item we recognised on the menu and my kindle had run out of battery so could not get to the phrase book!
We had a decision to make. Neither of us could face going back to the main road and the headwind, but neither did we want to stay in Kesan, a town that had little to commend it. The only other option was turning south and cycling down to the Sea of Marmara (as the blogs recommended) then take the coast road North East to Tekirdag. But this would add about 50km to our journey and thus may cut down the time we had in Istanbul. It also involved a 350m climb. However going South would mean the wind behind us and we knew there was a big climb on the main road as well so turn South we did.
It was the right decision – although we were initially taken aback that the road was now a new dual carriageway with lots of traffic, there was a wide hard shoulder and excellent road surface. The wind was blowy but all over the place and mostly behind us. The scenery was immediately better with green fields and forest and the road was one long down hill followed by one long steady climb (rather than those soul destroying undulations). The climb topped at 310m then a fabulous descent back to the sea – long straight road with wide paved shoulder and I easily topped by maximum speed for the holiday (34.5mph!).
Back at sea level we had to turn back to the wind and realised it was blowing as hard as ever but we were making for a town only 10km away so put our heads down. The town turned out to be more of a village with no hotel but we stopped at a restaurant by a river and after the wonders of google translate on the friendly waiter’s phone we were able to make ourselves understood and he pointed to an area we could pitch our tent that even had a picnic table!
Our first (nearly) ‘wild’ camping not so wild really but we were very glad to have all our kit and be self sufficient as the next town was 27km into a headwind!
A final reflection on Greece; it is full of aggressive dogs that get completely wound up by cyclists. Every rural property is not complete without at least one barking dog, and often a whole pack of them. Worse, they are often not even behind a fence and on the road and we have experienced many a snarling, gnashing pack. Pleased to say that not one dog has barked at us since we have been in Turkey, even though several have taken an interest in our campsite but only at a distance. We got through Greece without any of the dogs actually attacking us, but put in a few sprints to avoid this. Turkey dogs seem far more laid back which is a relief!