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Cameras: Canon 70D DSLR, iPhone 4 and GoPro Hero.
Boats on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus.
Europe’s plague of mutts replaced by Asia’s feline epidemic. Quite literally everywhere.
Bazaar in Kadakoy, which feels like a slightly grungier, less chic Beyoglu.
Hit the road towards Bursa – and it’s not a pretty one.
My Bursa host, who seems to enjoy beer. Not many share his enthusiasm in this deeply conservative city.
My Bursa host takes me for a ‘must-eat’ in Bursa: the famous Iskender kebab. Like doner on heat. Incredible.
A friendly truckie who pulls over to give me a satsuma.
Road to Eskisehir – but the guy in front of me seems to have the right idea.
Lovely woman who feeds me tea, cheese, olives and bread after a long uphill slog.
Another wonderful man who buys me lunch and helps me find cheap lodgings in Inegol.
The restaurant staff who give me a slap-up meal for free.
The cobbled streets and quaint timber architecture of Eskisehir (literally: Old City, founded in at least 1,000 BC).
Interior of the pretty Kursunlu Mosque in Eskisehir, built in 1525.
Eskisehir old town, both touristy and authentic.
Eskisehir is the only place in the world where thesoft, pearly white meerschaum stone is mined, so its streets are filled with artists, sculptors and merchants of the world famous meerschaum pipe.
Miner sculture in Eskisehir.
My lovely Eskisehir host, a cycling enthusiast.
Rather lonely ride to Sivrihisar.
The outskirts of Sivrihisar, which turns out to be a tiny nothing of a place with little more than a few dusty streets and a cafe.
Hints of patriotism from the locals.
Police take me under wing again when I fail to find somewhere to stay. The local hotel ‘is filthy’, they tell me (through Google Translate). Again, they wonderfully treat me to a kebab lunch.
A young policeman offers to let me stay in his small flat, on his pull-down sofa in the living room. He is a pure gentleman.
I even get a pair of eye-catching lion slippers to wear. As I put them on, I get a call from my hosts’ colleague who I met earlier. Would I like to spend the night with him, he asks. Oh, and how old am I? I respectfully decline.
View of town from balcony. Quite pretty in dewy dawn light.
Back battling the trucks again en route to the spa town of Haymana.
Haymana: uninspiring and icy to the bone. Thermometer drops below 0 for first time on trip, to -2C. Check into £10 room (complete with pubes) and treat myself to an all-over body scrub at the local thermal baths. Humiliating and exhilarating in equal measure – like all the best things in life.
Punctures happening fairly regularly now. After about 4,000km, tyres clearly need changing.
Generous soul in cafe who takes pity on the icicles hanging from my ears and gives me his ear muffs. Loving this country more and more each day.
A fellow bummler I meet in a cafe, who has cycled here from Budapest. He knows about a great, cheap Touring and Automobile Club of Turkey hotel down the road so we cycle there together.
Lake Tuz (Salt Lake) in the flat, dry plains of central Turkey, the second largest lake in the country and one of the largest salt lakes in the world.
Dreary buildings en route to Şereflikoçhisar
Şereflikoçhisar, a bleak, empty place full of washed out streets and soulless high rises.
Shoe cleaner in Şereflikoçhisar.
My cheery host and girlfriend in Urgup, Cappadocia. Yes – another feast.
Metre-long Adana kebab served by restaurant (we don’t actually eat this, but I feel reassured just knowing it exists in the world).
A view of Rose Valley, Cappadocia. The peaks of three volcanoes – Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz Dağları – dominate the region, covering the plateau with ash around 30m years ago. This created the compressed raw material ‘tuff’, which has since eroded to form the unique, otherworldly ‘fairy chimney’ rock formations for which the region is so famous.
Ancient cave dwellings.
My quad bike tour guide, a smoking, drinking Muslim who is a great fan of Erdogan. ‘Turkey was a mess, and now look at it,’ he says.
Our lonely quads.
The fecund phalluses of Love Valley.
Selfie-snappers in the Goreme Open Air Museum
Tokali church frescoes, which date back to the early 10th century, depicting stories from the Bible.
My Christmas pressie from P. Truly unforgettable.
Heavenly ascent above the clouds.
Delicately drifting through the field of phalluses.
Celebrating afterwards. Incredible trip let down badly by fake Champagne upon landing (apple juice and lemonade). Inexcusable.
The international crew at my guesthouse. Two Colombians and three Japanese.
The hotel owner, who makes delicious homecooked meals for us every day over the fire outside.
Tonight it’s… yes, how did you guess?
My new trailblazing cycling outfit: one pair of thermal leggings one pair of trousers, three pairs of socks, one pair of trainers, two pairs of gloves, one strappy top, one spandex top, one thermal top, one fleece, one gilet, one waterproof jacket, one pair of ear muffs. It’s a little chilly out.
A friend-of-a-friend who owns a local carpet shop. She attended the Gezi Park protests last year in Istanbul, which ‘were just like Woodstock’. Trade is 80% down from last year, she tells me.
Glorious panorama en route to the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey. Thermometer: -4C.
Final view of Cappadocia as I climb into the hills. Am both sweaty and freezing, an unsettling combination.
Psychotic mutts turn coy as soon as camera taken out. Don’t be deceived!
The thriving metropolis of Ovacik, where I decide to bed down for the night.
The internet cafe looks a little subdued, so I head for the local cafe. Every village and town has one.
As ever, this gaff isn’t big on gender diversity. My entrance causes a bit of a stir, however, and the local mayor pops in for a chat (via Google Translate).
As I was hoping, one of the men kindly takes pity and invites me to his lovely, warm home – where I meet about three dozen members of the extended family over the course of the evening.
My hosts, who look after me like royalty and fatten me up like a piece of foie gras. Warning: the butter is not ice-cream, however it might look.
Another balmy morning as I hit the Taurus Mountains.
Another blasted puncture. Can’t feel my hands as I attempt miserably to fix it.
Two hours later, I rise over the mountain peaks and the entire climate changes. Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face for the first time in a fortnight is utterly wonderful.
Mainly downhill from here. Bliss.
A sign that brings pure joy to my heart.
Basking in the beauty and sunshine of the mountains, this has to be one of the high points of the bummel so far.
View from Pozanti, where I make my final stop before heading for the south coast.
My host in Gaziantep, theTurkish mecca for kebabs and baklava. Hoping I can find an excuse to stay here forever.
Blending in with the natives.
Atmospheric Gaziantep back streets.
Cheery textile merchants, who ply me with tea and flog me a scarf.
Essence of Turkey.
Owner of the best baklava shop in town, who plies me with freebies and asks me to marry him. I of course say yes.
My other Gaziantep host and his friend, treating me to another delicious Gaziantep speciality: lahmacun (basically minced meat pizza, with veg and herbs).and pide (
Christmas Eve: spent with Syrian friends working for an NGO that helps refugees.
I’ve always dreamt of having a festive kebab on Christmas Day, and finally that wish has been granted. Thank you, Santa.
Christmas Day: spent dancing with my new bunch of Syrian friends, none of whom were happy to be identified.
Gaziantep’s famous pistachio coffee. Tastes strongly like cannabis – is this the secret to Turkish good humour?
Efficient trolley loading.
One of many skilled craftsmen working in the old town, Copper is engraved and hammered into shape, then fired and polished.
Beautiful rainbow leather shoes that fit the feet like a soft second skin.
Cobbler at work.
This woman is from Zabadani, Syria, currently under siege by the Syrian regime. She fled with her two children in June 2014 after three houses she was sheltering in were bombed. Her husband was arrested and is believed to have been tortured and killed by security forces. Before she left, she and a group of Zabadani women helped to broker a (temporary) ceasefire between the regime and opposition groups. They also negotiated the release of female detainees. And the removal of women from checkpoint blacklists. Meanwhile, they campaigned. And fought. And continued to educate the children. Many of these women remain in the region now, along with thousands of other civilians. They are completely cut off from food and humanitarian aid by the Syrian regime and Hezbollah. A kilo of rice now costs $110. Milk costs $250. They are trapped, and they are starving to death. During our interview, the woman pictured calls her friend in Zabadani. The friend sounds strong, but her voice occasionally falters. ‘People are devastated,’ she says. ‘They are hopeless. But we know we have to go on. When you help a child to eat, to study, you know you are building the base for the future of Syria. That’s what gives us strength.’
My host in Tasucu
I finally reach Tasucu, where I am due to board a ferry to Tripoli, Lebanon. Nobody believes the boat really exists, and I’m hugely relieved to discover it does.
Final kebab for the road/sea!
And a dram of Turkish coffee to wash it down.
Final Turkish sunset before leaving for my 12-hour voyage to Lebanon.