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Cameras: Canon 70D DSLR, iPhone 4 and GoPro Hero.
Maud posing at the EU border. The guards don’t seem to appreciate the moment, however, and ban any more pics.
Five-kilometre lorry queue on Turkish side of border at Hamzabeyli. And a hound.
One of several impromptu tea parties during the 5-10 hour wait.
The outskirts of Kirklareli, my first stop. Not too promising.
After much perplexed scratching of brows, the local Kirklareli police finally agree to take me under their wing.
And buy me a delicious kebab dinner, as if reading my mind. I love this place already.
My digs in the police station basement: clean, comfy and upliftingly vivacious.
Motorbike mausoleum under stairs in police station. If I could just get one up and running, the next 7,000km would be a whole lot easier.
A lovely Turkish/Greek couple who rescue me from the police station after seeing me in town earlier in the day. He is Muslim, she is Orthodox Christian. ‘The Koran explicitly says you mustn’t force people to join Islam,’ he says.
Leaving Kirklareli trickier than expected – though roads generally far better here than in Turkey.
Handy instructions printed by a hotel to help me find my Couchsurfing host’s house. Just three hours later, I find it.
Korean father and son, the first other bummlers I’ve seen since Italy. They are cycling almost the whole world. Inspiring.
A lovely Aussie and Kiwi couple I meet en route to Vize. Their (highly effective) anti-hound tactic involves pockets full of rocks.
My host in Vize and his friends, treating me to more tea and kebabs. If I never leave this country it will be too soon.
Ride with my newfound BFFs to Istanbul. So happy to have company – I hadn’t realised how lonely I was getting.
Stop off en route to Istanbul in the underwhelming town of Subasi, the kind of place where dogs piss endlessly on old tyres. We do get free tea from the local cafe, though.
Another strange, Shining-esque hotel to add to the mix, in Subasi. It’s almost entirely empty, with a green pool and pubes on the sheets, but does have a decaying elegance about it.
1960s Warhol-esque porn-star mannequins in the Subasi hotel, and their real-life doppelgangers.
Wondering if this hotel may have hit its zenith in the 1980s…
Just before our final push to Istanbul. Little did we know what lay in store…
Big roads, but luckily big hard shoulders too.
Putting on brave smiles, but the huge, rattling trucks plaguing our journey are starting to take their toll.
Our first glimpse of the city itself.
After a four-hour, 75km journey, we proceed to spend the next three hours dragging our bikes across multiple ten-lane highways to the city centre. Not to mention the vertical hills and occasional tunnel of death. Never again.
Taksim Square, finally!
Socially acceptable doner meat everywhere. I’m in heaven.
Kebab shops with uniformed maitre d’s. Maybe I was killed in those tunnels and have made it to the afterlife. It’s everything I dreamt it would be, and more.
More incredible grub at Zübeyir Ocakbaşı, one of the best kebab joints in Istanbul.
Take my laptop to Lenovo (an official sponsor) in Istanbul and they fix it in hours for no charge. What utter legends. Turns out it needs a new keyboard, motherboard and internal hard drive (begging the philosophical question whether it was actually the same computer at all). No more toxic milk/donkey combos for me.
Meal at the excellent Sur Kebab restaurant with my Couchsurfing host and his girlfriend. Look, the thighs have got to be fed somehow.
M, my Kiwi friend, taking a courageous mouthful of chicken dessert. Surprisingly tasty, except for the distinct undercurrent of chicken.
Turks’ favourite pastime, after eating and drinking tea.,
An invaluable guide to ladies’ cycling etiquette, sent to me by my friend. The back states: ‘
Beautiful, crumbling Istanbul backstreets.
Flower bracelets at the market.
An exhibition at the Museum of Innocence, established by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk to accompany his brilliant and interminable eponymous novel.
The dreamily dusky pink Hagia Sophia, dating from 537: a Greek Orthodox Christian church, later converted into a Catholic cathedral and then an Ottoman mosque. Now a museum.
The striking interior of the Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia.
More Hagia Sophia.
Intricate mosaic of Jesus Christ inside the Hagia Sophia.
Dazzling designs inside the Topkapi Palace, built in 1465 and home to several Ottoman sultans.
Topkapi Palace wall designs.
Topkapi Palace dome.
The palace harem, the most stunning and vibrant part of the palace. Learn that harem doesn’t mean whore-house, as I’d always imagined, but actually a ‘holy place where not everyone can enter’ – ie where the sultan’s family lives. Disappointing.
Wheelchair marathon, with Hagia Sophia as backdrop.
One of hundreds of selfie-snappers, desperate to ruin every vista with a close-up of their sweetly girning mug.
My first hosts in Istanbul, with Ataturk.
The medieval Galata Tower, built in 1348, in the Galata/Karaköy quarter of Istanbul.
Fishermen on Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn. The GH separates Istanbul old town from the rest of the city, whereas the Bosphorus to the east separates Anatolian Istanbul from its European side.
Fishermen at dusk.
Fish caught with ciggie in mouth. No wonder they don’t have lungs if this is what they get up to in their spare time.
Mountains of dried fruits
Inside the bazaar: not a place for the faint hearted.
Istiklal Street, a mile-long gauntlet of restaurants, shops, cafes, bars and crowds crowds crowds. Three million people reportedly walk down it every day.
My other Istanbul hosts, who treat me to a traditional 17-course Turkish/Kurdish breakfast at the wildly popular Van Kahvaltı Evi restaurant in Beyoğlu’s chic Cihangir neighborhood. A feast of feta, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, a spinach-and-cheese something, egg+tomato+peppers+cheese, various delicious sauces, honey, clotted cream – and much, much more. As I stressed before, the thighs MUST BE FED.
Meet Tahir Elci, a Kurdish leading human rights lawyer and the chairman of Diyarbakır Bar Association, for a coffee. Two days later I hear he has been shot dead while giving a statement calling for an end to violence.
Thanksgiving at my American hosts’ apartment.
More feasting. It really is a dreadful chore.
Gazing across the Bosphorus, from hosts’ apartment.
Salmon skies framing the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque.
The incredible Blue Mosque, constructed near the Hagia Sophia between 1609 and 1616 to reassert Ottoman power.
The interior of the Blue Mosque contains more than 20,000 handmade İznik style ceramic tiles and 200 stained glass windows. The effect is quite literally breathtaking.
Blue Mosque interior.
Bosphorus at dusk.