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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

West Coast – Central Anatolia – Black Sea Coast
The reception at René ** and Zehra’s in Ҫeşme could not have been more cordial than if we had been best friends for many years. In just a few days we were offered another, more intensive piece of Turkey that we would never have experienced in this way; it was virtually a little glimpse behind the scenes in the company of the best connoisseurs. Between Ҫeşme and Ismir we were guided to places that only a local knows, or to the finest restaurants and excellent food. I have never seen such a complete and neatly restored BMW motorcycle collection as here in Turkey. No travel guide could have familiarized us so intensively with the country and its people. I would like to thank both René and Zehra for their generous hospitality.

**: For several years we – René and I (Tom) – were board colleagues in the local bicycle club, organised various events together and held each other in high esteem. After his retirement René emigrated to Turkey with his Turkish partner. After our departure for the round-the-world trip, an invitation from Turkey came by return mail, saying that if we were to come to this region somehow, we would definitely have to make a detour to Ҫeşme. 🙂

Our urge to travel on was, despite the warm living room, still unbroken and the wide landscapes in Central Anatolia appealed to us very much. But until we reached this barren and steppe-like landscape, there were still many kilometres of wonderful areas of western Turkey ahead of us, full of historical monuments from the Greek and Roman times.

As chance would have it, we headed for Pamukkale again, as we could not or did not want to drive on all roads in higher altitudes. We also had to adjust our route planning again and again; we wanted to avoid a camp in higher altitudes at all costs because of the cold and snow.

In a zig-zag we followed our side roads and paths in eastern direction towards Central Anatolia. Despite the careful planning and constant adjustment of the route, we had to drive over snow-covered mountain passes and in the evening we were glad that everything went well in such a remote area.

The further we moved away from the west coast, the more barren the whole landscape became, which also had a strong effect on the people living there. Again and again we had the feeling to be on the way in another world and to make a time travel back into the past. Apart from the few main traffic axes, we often moved on paths that probably the fewest tourists use. Many of these used roads resembled after the snowfalls and subsequent thaw more muddy tracks than a well drivable road.
A few times we had to use the shovel ourselves, defusing edges and corners, or clearing away stones.

After the extensive detours through a completely deserted landscape we reached another high valley, where all kinds of things are cultivated on huge fields. We were amazed at what the busy hands of the people here wring everything from the fields. We followed the Sultan Mountains in south-eastern direction, but soon we turned off and searched on lonely ways for the original Anatolia. After many kilometers in this almost deserted landscape we reached Konya.

Konya is located in the middle of this barren environment; nevertheless, this city radiates an uncanny modernity and at the same time a return to the inner values of Islam. The Melvlana order, which preaches tolerance and peaceableness, not only shapes the city but also large parts of Central Anatolia.

At the municipal caravan park we met a German couple who had just arrived from Iran. They were able to cross the open border shortly before it closed. Due to the corona virus and the large number of infected people, the border was closed indefinitely. Although people here in Turkey are also talking about this pandemic and we too have been asked about the cases of illness in Switzerland on several occasions, everything must still be in order here after the behaviour of the people.

Our further way to Göreme (Nevsehir) was again not the most direct one, but we reached the salt lake of Kulu via the northern exit, headed again southwards into the widths of the Obruk plain towards the Peristrema valley. In this deep incision, which almost reminds of the Grand Canyon in miniature, there are many former rock monasteries and other retreats of early Christianity.

The next highlight followed immediately afterwards around Göreme in the almost indescribable tuff stone landscape, where first the Christians sought shelter from the persecution of the Romans. Subsequently, countless monastery complexes were hewn into these towers and rock walls. No sooner had we crossed a crossing or driven around a rock tower than another rock formation piled up in front of us; an impressive landscape that waited with a new surprise around every corner.

After the visit of Göreme we followed in northeast direction, roamed wide and agriculturally strongly used areas, crossed countless mountain ranges, before the Canik mountain range (Pontic Taurus) separated us from the Black Sea. In Samsun we definitely turned off and followed the coast in western direction, got lost in the vastness of the Bafra-Detlas and as a reward in the evening a fisherman at our camp at the sea let us have his freshly caught fish for little money; of course the fish was still alive!

Sinop as well as the Hamsilos, a fjord-like river course, were worth seeing, but the absolute enthusiasm was missing on our part. A certain saturation of impressions spread in us.
At Ince Burum we stood briefly at the northernmost point of Turkey, which reaches far out into the Black Sea, before we left the coastal area again towards the mountains and the extensive forests. Partly it went very far up into the mountains and the snow lying mostly on the northern side brought us again a little bit back into winter conditions. Also a lot of action was announced; on a forest path we had to free ourselves three times with the winch from mud holes and in the end the night surprised us, which made such self-rescues even more difficult.

Or the night above Azdavay in the middle of the coastal mountains we don’t forget so fast: A picture book camp site with a wonderful view and a fire that warms far into the night. But the night’s rest was interrupted by the police shortly after midnight. After a long back and forth they let us go and wished us a good night. As soon as we had calmed down and found sleep again, the three policemen stood beside our jeep again; for our safety we should follow them immediately. There were dangerous animals in this area and we could get into a difficult situation. We spent the rest of the night in a public square in the centre of Azdavay next to the municipal administration. Whether animals are more dangerous than people, we could not quite explain to the officials, but they had already disappeared for the next mission in the dark night.

After this experience we returned to the Black Sea coast and followed the sea in western direction. But also here we found again and again wonderful side roads in very remote landscapes along the coastline, where we often made progress on the softened road sections only thanks to four-wheel drive and the limited slip differentials. The humidity from the Black Sea favours the precipitation and turns the roads into real skidding sections. We were also able to help other road users again and again to get them out of their predicament and come out as “friendly Swiss people”; as a man I would have been invited to Ҫay (tea), while Chantal would have had to wait in the jeep, although she too was helped and got dirty hands!

From the rest of the world we heard horror stories about the Corona virus again and again, but here in Turkey everything is still supposed to be at its best. Anyway, we haven’t heard anything negative so far and the people on the street behaved as we have experienced again and again since our entry; generous cordiality (…among the men) and social gathering.
But in Eregli something obviously changed; after leaving the shopping centre the security staff suddenly wore gloves and mouthguards. Phew, something happened and this struck our consciousness like a lightning bolt. In the next pharmacy Chantal wanted to get some disinfectant and mouthguards. While we were still paying, a telephone was answered and the mouthguards were withdrawn as sold out. Interestingly, the pharmacist suddenly couldn’t speak English anymore. The whole situation in the pharmacy did not leave us in peace anymore; do we as foreigners not get everything here anymore, although it would be available?

A little bit restrained we continued our journey towards the west. The approaching storm low and the announced heavy rainfalls did not allow too big loops through any hinterland roads and so we chose the fastest way towards the Bosborus. We couldn’t flee from the announced rain and already before the narrowness of the Bosborus it was raining and storming, so we decided to go to some hotel to spend at least one dry night.

Hardly in the hotel, we noticed a certain nervousness of the employees, on TV in the lobby the latest news flickered on the screen and – the corona virus had arrived in Turkey and a first victim is said to be in hospital in Istanbul. The first drastic measures were immediately followed by the government in Ankara, and one of the health authorities also said in passing that they – Turkey – would certainly have a much higher number of unreported cases than Iran, which is heavily infected.

The current drama about the refugees at the Turkish-Greek border and the immediate measures in consequence of the corona virus put us under great pressure to make a decision. The centre of Istanbul and the Trojan horse south of Ҫanakkale fell victim to the new route planning right away. We decided to leave Bulgaria immediately for a European country – as long as the borders were still open.

The weather situation calmed down again, with a cold wind blowing from the Black Sea as we headed north from the agglomeration of Istanbul. No sooner were the last factories behind us, than we found ourselves back in the middle of agricultural land, where people were busily working in the fields and where everything revolved around agriculture. The extensive forests from Kryiköy were for us a – more or less – unplanned and quick farewell from Turkey. On the way to the border post there was an eerie silence on the road; nothing was on the way at that time! Is the border already “tight”?

At the border post itself the situation was also tense, the windows opened only by a gap width, so that we could push our passports through and mostly a completely incomprehensible instruction followed immediately.
After the third window and passing the passports back and forth, the border tree was opened for us to leave the country. The last official wished us a good journey and “take care!”

In a few meters we spotted the Bulgarian flag and the border tree. In our jeep a spooky silence spread; hopefully they will let us pass!


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