Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650

Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

November 04, 1999

TURKEY - Hospitality with a capital "H"

-- Story by Chris--

Back in September, I sent an email to a group of BMW motorcycle enthusiasts I found on the internet: (One More Mile).  We were immediately inundated with invitations from various members of the club.  Even today, I don't know which of us was more excited about getting together.  We were treated like royalty and each day our hosts would try to out-do the previous day.

Murad Acar took responsibility as our tour director, and over the coming weeks sent us maps and travel suggestions.  I later found out we share the same birthday (Nov 5) along with similar personalities -- We became instant friends.  Murad informed us that the club was hoping we'd cross the border from Greece to Turkey over the weekend of October 16, as several members would come to meet us and escort us the 245kms to Istanbul.   Although we crossed the border in the middle of the following week at around 2pm (Wednesday, Oct 20), a group of 4 guys (Murad, Sinan, Selim, and Eran) took off from work and rode to meet us. 

As we approached Istanbul, we were stopped at a tollbooth by a local newspaper reporter (he knew we were coming), and we pulled over for a while for photos and a (translated) interview -- We will have another good souvenir when we return home.  When we arrived into Istanbul, the guys brought us to a nice hotel where they had arranged a "special" discount.  After a quick shower and change of clothes, Murad came around with complementary club sweatshirts and to bring us to a fish restaurant for dinner where we would meet the rest of the club -- What a terrific group!

Dinner with the OMM riders

Dinner was fantastic, and not just because we had actual silverware and linen tablecloths.  The OMM riders are a group of BMW motorcyclists, whose club was started around the website in early 1998.  The club's goal is to improve rider technique and safety, while having fun and riding together.  The club even hired an instructor from the British Motorcycle Police and flew him in for 5 days of training.  In addition, several members attended training at Hechlingen's Enduro Park earlier this year.  They are currently talking with Richard Schalber to get him to come to Turkey for additional training.

Before coming to Turkey, we were concerned about the effects of the recent earthquakes.  As the epicenter was about 120kms away, Istanbul and most of the country felt a lot of aftershocks, but structural damage was limited in Istanbul.  There were a few aftershocks while we were there, but I slept through them.  Murad later told me that there is about a 60% chance that Istanbul will fall victim to a major earthquake in the future, but it could be days or years away (let's hope for centuries!).

While we were in Istanbul, we saw many incredible sites.   Coming from New York City, it takes a bit for me to be impressed with a "city".  But Istanbul combines a good dose of a major metropolitan city with the customs and splendor of the "old city".  We spent most of our time in the old city, going to the bazaars, cisterns, palace (including the King's harem), and the big mosques.  The threat of earthquakes and political unrest in the east, coupled with the lateness of the season, meant there were very few tourists in Turkey -- This made bargaining quite favorable for us (yes, we broke down and bought a Kilim rug).

Blue Mosque  Istanbul Harbor

There is significance to the number of minarets surrounding a mosque.  If you add the number of balconies on all the minarets, this will tell you the era and for which ruler the mosque was built.  Prayers are observed 5 times a day, and at each of the times, holy prayers are wailed out into the streets through speakers mounted on the minarets.  Tourists are allowed inside the mosques (except during prayers), but everyone must remove their shoes, and woman must cover their heads, legs and arms.

With the temperature gradually dropping, and the rain clouds threatening to burst their seams, we departed Istanbul on Sunday morning.  We spent most of the day riding south and spent the night in Manisa, just east of Izmir.  The hotel was definitely low budget, but the staff was very friendly, and they insisted we bring the bikes into the hotel and park them in the "lounge" for the night.  Dinner at a nearby restaurant was delicious and cheap, and when we tried to leave, the owner brought us complimentary Baklava, ice cream, and tea.

Monday afternoon we arrived in the resort town of Kusadasi.   Erin's guidebook said there were several campgrounds to choose from, but we found most closed for the season.  Using the lack of tourism to our advantage, I decided to try and negotiate for a room overlooking the harbor, in a nice hotel.  We ended up paying about $20 a night, including breakfast -- the "in-season" rate was about $75.

Ten kilometers away is the ancient city of Efes -- this is a remarkable archeological site in that you don't see one or two ruins, but an entire city.   I had been to Efes with my family back in 1991, and I was still impressed with the enormity of the place.  Although tourism seemed to be down in other areas of Turkey, there were plenty of tour buses at this attraction.

The library -- a 2 story facade   The marble road

While in Kusadasi, we treated ourselves to an authentic Turkish Bath.  It lasted for just over an hour, and was a lot of fun.  We were led into a warm marble room, where we sat on a huge slab of marble for about 15 minutes and let our pores open.  We were then led to a wall where cold water came out of an ancient fountain.  A basin was filled and poured directly over our heads -- WOW, talk about an eye opener!  We were led back to the wet slab, and told to lie down.   The masseuse grabbed me by the shoulders, and slid me towards the side of the slab -- like a 90kilo piece of fish!  Next came a full-body loofa scrub, with pieces of dead skin falling off me like IAhhhhh was a big snake.  Again, back to the basin -- YEOW!  Back to being a fish, I lay on the slab and was next covered in more soap bubbles than I thought existed on earth!  The masseuse worked the lather around my entire body, while he kneaded and twisted my body like a piece of dough.  One final water basin, then we were wrapped head to toe in towels and led to a lounge area to rest and drink juice.  The finale was a 15-minute full-body oil massage.  I paid my $15 and slithered out like a spineless creature (yeah, yeah, keep it to yourself).

Thursday, October 28th (my dad's birthday), we checked out of the hotel and rode south to Marmaris, then the small (not on the map) harbor town of Gocek to meet 3 guys from OMM.  They had a 4-day holiday weekend, and while some members went for a ride to Greece, Murad (R1100GS), Selim (K1200LT), and Iron-Butt competitor Jimmy (R1100RT) came to meet us and show us around the south.  The town was a cross between old style and new money.  We stayed at an adorable pension for $6/night (2 people) including the best breakfasts we've had on the entire trip!

Friday morning, the 6 of us boarded a boat and set out for a day of swimming, snorkeling, and relaxation.  For lunch we dropped anchor in a small bay with crystal clear water.  The beach area was originally home to a monastery but long since abandoned and now the ruins are occupied by a family of goats.  We took turns diving off the boat and snorkeling.  We left at 9:30am, and returned at 5:00pm.  The cost, including lunch, was $5 per person.

Saturday morning, we took a scenic ride along the coast and boarded another boat to go see some ancient graves and an underwater city.  The weather was perfect; as was the water and the fish lunch we stopped for.  In the afternoon, we rode to the abandoned city of Kayakoy.  This was a city formally occupied by Greeks.  Years ago, the settlers traded homes with Turks living in Greece, but the Turks were dissatisfied with the homes and moved away.  In the evening, we rode into the mountains for a fabulous dinner at Paolo Volpara's villa.   Paolo, an Italian and founder of the club, is a very impressive person, and we regret not spending more time with him.  He is a former advertising executive who has worked in many places around the world before settling down in Turkey.  His home is a beautiful place on the side of a mountain with wonderful views for miles around.  His wife cooked us a huge delicious Turkish meal.

Alas, we woke Sunday morning and prepared to leave Turkey.   My mother was coming to meet us in Israel on Nov 4th, so we needed to catch the Tuesday night ferry from Rhodes which arrived in Haifa (Israel) on the 4th.  We rode an hour north to Marmaris, where we were to find a ferry to Rhodes.  The guys from OMM had a long ride back to Istanbul, so farewells were short but filled with emotion. 

Because the official tourist season was over, the Rhodes-Haifa ferry only runs twice a week (Tuesday and Friday).  But that wasn't the real problem.  The real problem was getting from Marmaris (Turkey), 50kms to the Island of Rhodes (Greece).  During the season, there are daily ferries from various companies.  However, the season was over and only one company was running a car-ferry twice a week, based on reservations.  As you probably can imagine, there were no other car reservations, and no guarantees to when the next ferry would run.  So, they offered us space on a passenger-carrying catamaran, for only $242!  We were appalled by the price, but we had no other options (I couldn't ride overland through Syria -- I had an Israeli stamp in my passport, and our Carnet for the bikes would not be issued for another 2 weeks).

We loaded the bikes onto the catamaran without a ramp.   This was especially fun because the dock and the boat were not the same height, and there was about a 2-foot gap between the dock and the boat.  I was petrified the bike would fall into the sea (I could swim, the bikes...).  Fortunately the experience was uneventful.  We spent 2 uninteresting days on Rhodes (except for the pension we stayed in with the fun owners---Greek guy and his American wife), and boarded the ferry to Haifa on Tuesday evening, Nov 2nd.

The only downside to Turkey was Erin's crash -- She's fine, just a small bruise.  Her bike is technically fine, but looks pretty beat up.  We we're going downhill in a tight "S" curve (not very fast), and some idiot on a scooter wasn't looking, crossed into her lane = coming head on at her.  The problem with the roads in Greece and Turkey is that they are very slick, and we've been sliding a lot!  Needless to say, Erin spun out on the slick surface, and almost took out the other guy -- who barely avoided the collision but never even stopped when he saw her go down.  She and the bike slid off the road and into the dirt.  Erin was a little shaken, but fortunately nothing serious happened, and she was actually not too upset as she didn't cause the accident (she gets upset when she drops the bike).  This probably won't be our last accident, but since we wear protective gear and don't ride very fast, we (hopefully) won't have major problems in the future.  Oh, we wouldn't consider (at this point) continuing the trip without the bikes.

We repaired the windshield (rivets and flexible plastic), reattached the bar end weight (after drilling out the broken bolt), and taped the holes/burns in the Aerostich tank pannier (but will need to sew on permanent patches).  We still have to sand the aluminum pannier (bits of shrapnel -- otherwise no damage), and weld the end of the clutch lever back on (which broke near the far end where it's supposed to).

Our time in Turkey was too short, and we plan to return in the future to see the Black Sea coast, Cappadocia (which we hear is spectacular), and our new friends.

Our lack of time in most countries has become a common theme (22 countries in just over 5 months), and one that we're ready to change.  We've decided not to try to see "everything", but rather to spend more quality time in fewer places.  We will probably travel through 6-8 countries in the next 6 months.  If we can keep our expenses down, we would like to extend the trip at least 6 months and go to South America.  There are times we miss New York and seeing family and friends, but email keeps us connected, and the fear of "the end" keeps us thinking of ways to extend the trip.

We're now getting ourselves prepared for the next phase of our trip: India and SE Asia.  This next phase is really what I've been looking forward to.  I have a healthy mixture of excitement and fear, and I hope we can share our experiences with you adequately with our stories and photos.

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