A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: mrs lewis

Woofing in Umbria and Tuscany

After a few days of much needed rest at "Casa Ware" in Rome including a compulsory trip to 2 of our favourite eating establishments (Gioia Mia and Belle Epoque) we were off to Località il Piano, a small and very remote organic farm near Spoleto in Umbria. The farm is run by an American/Italian couple; Darcy and Adolfo who have 2 small children Ben and Fafa (Filippo). The cycling to get to their farm was magnificent, taking us through incredibly well preserved medieval towns and villages before climbing into the Umbrian Appennines along winding forested roads into the hills where the farm was nestled.
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Despite having to push our bikes for an hour to reach the farm (there is no road for the last 2 km) it was absolutely worth it to reach the secluded piece of paradise where their farm is located. Out of all the Woofing placements that we have done on this trip this has probably been our favourite one. Darcy and Adolfo were really keen to teach us anything we were interested in learning and as they each have a Phd in agriculture they had quite a lot of knowledge to impart! One of the key things we were interested in learning about was cheese making – so Darcy and Adolfo started us at the beginning by teaching us to milk the goats! It was incredibly satisfying participating in the whole process from extracting milk from an animal to having goats milk mozzarella with dinner less than two hours later.
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Other strings added to our farming bows are pruning olive trees, building a stone wall, grafting apricots and lots and lots of watering ( Darcy and Adolfo have over 1000 fruit trees apparently the largest variety in Italy!)

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They also have a pizza oven so we had a chance to try out the coveted pizza dough recipe from Belle Epoque (see Rob's previous blog post). Happily it was a triumph, not to ‘bready’ but still crispy– it seems the secret really is letting the dough rise twice!

After 10 days at idyllic località il piano it was time to move on to our next (and last) woofing placement at Podere Il Casale in Pienza, Tuscany. Cycling from Umbria into Tuscany was like crossing into a different country. Wild woodland and forests were replaced with swanky convertible cars and trendy tourists wearing oversized sunglasses daintily eating gelatos clutching their guidebooks. Where Umbria is wild and dramatic Tuscany is undisputably beautiful but in a more postcard perfect way. Podere Il Casale was perched on a hill with a stunning classically Tuscan panorama of rolling honey-yellow coloured hills with picturesque villas with Cyprus tree lined driveways.
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This farm was much bigger than Localita Il Piano, mainly selling cheese but also a thriving agri-campeggio (agriturismo is a scheme enabling farmers to supplement their income through tourism). Keen to further my cheesemaking journey I was tasked with being the afternoon ‘pastore’ (shepherd) for 80 sheep and 1 goat. The goat, called Baptista, was my favourite. She had been raised with sheep instead of goats and bleated incessantly when separated from them so they grazed together. Every afternoon when the oppressive heat finally waned at about 5pm I herded the sheep and goat out into the fields for a 2 hour dinner of grass and blackberries.
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Meanwhile Rob was turning his hand at a whole host of things, mainly culinary wizardry perfecting his baking and tiramisu making, but also fashioning a new chicken coup for the chicks.
After a week of Woofing here (and almost 3 weeks off the bikes) it was time to set off again as we had left ourselves a fairly tight window of 10 days to get up to St. Moritz for our friend Astrid’s wedding.

Posted by mrs lewis 15:07 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

back home to Rome

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The traghetto to Italy from Croatia took eight hours, depositing us in Bari just as the sun was starting to set. We were both ridiculously excited about arriving in Italy - the country that I grew up in - because of the food, the warm blooded people and the fact that finally we would be able to communicate in the native language. However in our enthusiasm we had overlooked the fact that prices would be considerably higher once we reached mainland Europe which was a rude awakening when we tried to find somewhere to stay on our first night.

Initially we had thought we would need to stay in Bari for two nights at least to get Rob's bike fixed. This was becoming urgent as by this stage he had cycled for close to 300 km with three spokes missing. When were directed to the street that runs paralell to the station for the cheapest hotels it turned out that they were all 70 Euros a night. Oh dear. After about half an hour we found a hotel on via dei Rossi for 60 Euros where we were told politely (but firmly) that we would not be able to find anything cheaper in the city of Bari. We told him if that was true then we would be back. We spent the next 2 hours circling the city by bike. We stumbled across "Santa Claus" hostel which we were excited about. Good old St Nick was clearly not feeling benevolent towards cyclists as we were brusquely told that to stay in a mixed dorm would be 40 Euros a night (it said 37 on the notice above the door but apparently that is only if you book over the internet!) and that we could not take our bikes inside, although he did say if you leave them outside they won't be there tomorrow. So he clearly recognised our predicament but despite pleading (it was 9.30 at night by now) and promises to leave early in the morning he would not budge on the bikes. This is the first time in almost 10 months through all the countries we have travelled in that a hostel or hotel has refused to let us take the bikes inside. Slightly ironic as on the door they boasted their environmental credentials asking guests to knock rather than ring the bell but happy to be distinctly unhelpful to potential guests arriving on petrol free transport.

So tail between our legs we returned to the hotel on Via dei Rossi where taking pity on us he agreed to give us the room for 50 Euros. Never the less if this is the going rate in Italy then it looks like it is going to be camping all the way back to London. Happily the next day we found a bike repair shop that managed to replace the spokes so we wouldn't need to stay in Bari another night - not that we didn't like the city, quite the opposite, it was a really refreshing change after Dubrovnik as it was tourist free so we felt like we were in a 'lived in' city rather than one that was buckling under the strain of tourists. We escaped the heat through the labyrinthine cobbled streets of the old town discovering salumerias and gelaterias on most corners and, to Rob's delight, old women in the street making orrecchiete pasta by hand.
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Once the heat of the day had passed we decided to head up the coast about 30 km to stay at a campsite that was marked on our map close to Bisceglie. For most of the way we took the coastal road which was quiet but the beaches were not - so we enjoyed some comedy scenery of italians huddled together like penguins on craggy rocks to soak up the sun.

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Eventually when we made it to the campsite we were told that it would cost 30 Euros to camp (3 time what we were paying in Turkey and Greece and over double what we paid in Croatia). To our indignation we discovered that 4 Euros of the charge is the cost of the bikes - the same cost as a car. When we queried whether all the caravans that had bikes strapped on the back were paying for their bikes too we were told it was only the form of transport that you arrived on that you had to pay for. Hmmm, the second establishment in a row that did not seem to be overly enamoured with cyclists. Purely on principle, despite the fact that it was 7.30pm and there were no other campsites for about 30 km we decided to leave in search of other options. Happily these presented themselves within half an hour of cycling in the form of a large vineyard where our expedition tent fitted snugly beneath the canopy.

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Up with the sun we were on our bikes before 6.20am, before the sprinklers started and started cycling through the arid rural countryside in Puglia. The cycling was less picturesque than we were expecting - lots of farmland with very few villages scattered in between. In contrast to most of the countries we have cycled through - the towns and villages were the highlights. The temperature was soaring in the mid thirties so we frequently stopped at bars to get our caffe and cornetto fix standing 'al banco' where the barman and the regulars would take an enthusiastic interest in where we were cycling and proceed to argue vociferously with each other in Barese, which was so thick it might as well have been another language, about which was the best way for us to cycle. A barista in Cerignola, our first stop of the day, was absolutely insistent that we should visit Bovino, a historic village up on a hill. It was such a small diversion to the route that we decided to follow his advice. This turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of the trip so far as not only was the climb punishing (over 350 metres in sweltering heat) and the villagers there were some of the least friendly we have met but my GPS got stolen off our table at lunch so the rest of our afternoon there was spent waiting for the police office to reopen after a 4 hour siesta so that I could make a 'denuncia' to an extremely bored and unhelpful police officer. To add insult to injury the only way out of Bovino was to retrace our steps back down the hill we had just struggled up. Morosely we searched for a wild camping spot along the river with the light fading fast but all the land was fenced off. We reached a hotel in the middle of nowhere where mercifully the owner took pity on us when we said we couldn't afford the hefty price tag of 50 Euros for a room and he let us camp in the woodland he owned next door. His wife seemed to be none to pleased by this and when we asked if we could have a shower she agreed and then charged us 15 Euros. Hrrumph.

We left the next morning feeling a little bit downtrodden as although the scenery was spectacular and Italy was already proving to be a cyclists paradise a lot of our encounters were lacking the warmth we had experienced through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. The emerging rule that we have discovered seems to be that the more people have or the wealthier they are, the less they are willing to give. In Albania for instance we found that however little people have they are happy to share it with you - if they have a loaf of bread they will give you half. But in a couple of places in Italy just asking to use the toilet in bars where we hadn't bought a drink elicited funny looks or they made it clear that they were doing you a real favour.

Happily in the next couple of days things improved as we left Puglia and arrived in Campagna, home to buffalo mozzarella. Finally we started experiencing the warmth and generosity of italians that we had been expecting and hoping for with people coming up to us asking about a journey or giving us free coffees in a restaurant in Benevento for extra energy to send us on our way.

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We camped at a beautiful little spot near Lake Telese where a family let us camp on their land and brought us pasta carefully wrapped up in foil.

We had decided that we were going to try and get to Rome on 20th July - my dad's birthday - as a surprise, so the next 2 days we were cycling at full tilt and managed to cover about 280km (an estimate as we were now without the GPS - sob!). Cycling to Rome was not the traffic nightmare we had anticipated as we stuck to the small coast roads the whole way, experiencing the strange sensation of approaching my old home by bicycle for the first time (and the first time I had been back to Rome at all for 4 years). We wobbled up to the front door of "Casa Ware" where my surprised father opened the door to sweaty sticky and exhausted cyclists delighted to have arrived at my old home in Rome.

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Posted by mrs lewis 03:23 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Into the Balkans

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The scenery on our last day cycling in Greece was beautiful, a fitting end to our time here. Our last stop in Greece was Florina - 12km from the border with Macedonia. There is little tourism here in the summer but apparently in the winter it is full with winter sports enthusiasts. As my kidney was still trying to work free its stone we decided to 'splash out' on accomodation by staying in a pokey room on the main street rather than attempting to find an illicit camping spot in a park somewhere.

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Were it not in on the frontpage of every newspaper here you would never know that Greece was in the clutches of an economic crisis as restaurants and bars are booming, packed with cavorting men and women who are all immaculately groomed and throwing back cocktails and coffees like water. We wandered into one of them and ordered a couple of green teas. We nearly choked on them when the bill came for 6 Euros. Convinced this was a typo on the receipt Rob queried this with the waitress. It was correct. Rob felt this exemplified why Greece was in such dire straits financially and thought it would be an opportune moment to discuss this with the waitress.

'Greece is bankrupt and many people do not have a job How is it possible that this bar is charging 3 Euros for a cup of tea?'
'This is the price' She responded simply
Rob ploughed on 'Do you mind if I ask you how much you earn?'
'4 Euros per hour'
'So you have to pay 3/4 of your hourly wage on a teabag and hot water?'
'Yes'

That was the end of that discussion so we paid and left.

We left early the next morning excited about cycling in Macedonia (or Skopje as the Greeks refer to it due to a political dispute over the name Macedonia). Out of all the cycling we have done I don't think we have ever seen so stark a contrast in architecture and people when crossing a border. We hit the first town, Bitola, about 15km after the border. It was very dark, very concrete and very ugly. As we came into the city we overtook a local cyclist and tried to strike up conversation. Despite the fact that he spoke English we managed to elicit very little information from him other than his name (Vladimir) and that he lived in Bitola. We told him excitedly that he was the first Macedonian we have ever met. He nodded solomnly and said nothing. We cycled for a couple of minutes in silence before getting the hint and carrying on along the road alone.

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We had contemplated staying in Bitola but decided to carry on to Lake Prespa. Our friend Evangelos in Edessa had been very enthusiastic about it 'It is a very unique place' he said. It must be better than Bitola so we pushed on. The road out of Bitola was glorious, smooth and practically free of cars. We gradually climbed up to 1,100 metres at Bukovo after which we had a glorious descent to 850 metres. Despite its natural beauty we quickly realised that Macedonia is a food and drink desert. Stupidly not stocking up at Bitola we arrived in a little village called Kozjak on the way to Otesevo which we had lined up as a possible wild camping spot on our map. We cycled into the village which contained a smattering of houses, a church and from what we could see nothing else. We chanced upon a man who spoke decent English.

'Is there somewhere we can get something to eat?' we asked, miming eating at the same time
The man shook his head gravely
'Ok, where is there a shop where we can buy some food?'
He shook his head again
'Nowhere? not even to buy bread'
'There is nothing here'
'Is there a shop in Otesevo?' (17 km away)
He shook his head again. 'You need to go to Resen' (a town 5 km the wrong way) 'Only there can you buy food'

Resen has two restaurants (using that term loosely) that serve food. One of them only served fried food in oil that was so black it resembled tar and the other one did frozen pizza. We went for the second one. When we pulled up we gave a cheery 'ciao' to the group of men huddled outside on round tables smoking. They muttered 'ciao' in response. So far it seems that the contrast in outlook and culture could not be more different than Greece. Whereas the Greeks have this carefree joie de vivre the Macedonians have an air of stoicism, getting on with life inspite of its hardships. We were feeling quite tired and up at 850 metres it was not warm so briefly flirted with the idea of staying in Resen despite the fact that, like Bitola, it is very grey and very ugly. It was clear from this point that the highlights of cycling in Macedonia are probably not going to include the towns. Amazingly when Rob enquired at the only hotel in town they said they were full! (Who is staying here??) so that made our decision for us and we pushed on to Prespa. And we were glad we did.

About 2 km before the village there is a dirt track that leads off the main road towards the lake to a totally secluded spot hidden from the road by a line of trees where we were undisturbed by anyone - except one curious goat. Probably one of our best wild camps of the entire trip.

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Up early with the sun (the clocks went back after leaving Greece so it is now light before 6am) we were on the road by 7am. Just as well as we had some serious climbing to do, up to 1,600 metres to get into the next valley to Lake Ohrid - Macedonia's main (only) tourist destination, described as the "pearl of the Balkans". The climb was long but steady and not to go overboard with superlatives, it was possibly one of the most spectacular cycling days we have had in terms of scenery as the road hugged the side of the mountain overlooking lake Prespa on the way up and then switched over to Lake Ohrid at 1,500 metres. From the high point of the road we could see the entire lake, half of which is Albanian with its rugged mountains in the distance.

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glorious cycling

glorious cycling

Ohrid is beautiful, a bit touristy, but beautiful and like another world from the rest of Macedonia that we have travelled through so far. It is one of the oldest towns in the country and was reputed to have 365 churches - one for every day of the year (only a fraction of these are still intact). Prices in Macedonia are incredibly cheap (especially compared to 3 Euro cups of tea) so we treated ourselves to lunch - including Macedonian wine which is surprisingly good and cost less than 2 Euros. We found a campsite just outside the city - which was almost full, but not with tents. It seems that camping in Macedonia doesn't mean camping as we know it - more 'caravanning'. We were turned away from the first campsite we found quite confusingly as they were insistent that they were a campsite ('Yes - camping camping!') but when we gestured at our tent "no no not possible!" so we went to the next one where it was 'possible' but we were the only ones.

Our final day of cycling in Macedonia again was a contender for best cycling of the trip, along the river from Struga up to Debar cycling through a gorge the whole way.

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We had arranged to stay with a couchsurfer in the border town of Debar which we were particularly pleased about as although we were enjoying the cycling immensely we hadn't really managed to get a sense of what the people here are like and what it is like to live here as our interactions with people have been limited. We had expected to get to Debar before lunch but despite clear skies when we left Ohrid the heavens opened when we were passing through a village called Dzepiste, about 15 km from Debar. We saw a little shop open with 3 men outside smoking. Brilliant we'll stop here and get a coffee while we wait out the rain. We wandered in. The shelves were virtually bare apart from a few packets of biscuits that looked like they passed their sell by date in the 90s and some toilet roll.

"Do you sell coffee or tea?" we ventured
"no" was the reply.
"Where can we get a hot drink?"
"Debar (15 km away) or Struga (50 km back the way we came)"

There is definitely a gap in the market here.

Eventually the rain stopped and we made it the rest of the way to Debar which has an amazing setting overlooking the lake backed by mountains. Entering Debar was like stepping back into another time. It is absolutely untouched by tourism and the only sign of anything remotely western is the ubiquitous coca cola but that is all. The town still has horses and carts delivering vegetables. The rain started again so we sought refuge and lunch in one of the three restaurants in town which served up a decent dish of beans, salad and drinks for less than 150 Denar (about 3 Euros). Just as we were finishing up our Caj (tea) ChaCha (our host) approached us having spotted us from across the square.

He took us back to his house that he shares with him mum where we would be spending the night. He explained that they don't have any electricity (apart from a cable that runs from the neighbours to which they are able to connect the computer) and the only running water in the house is through one hose that is used both to flush the toilet and to shower with. Anything water for cooking or washing up also needs to be taken from the hose. ChaCha is an artist and makes some of his money through selling the jewellery he makes using plasticine and a pasta machine. I offered to show him how to make pasta but he didn't seem particularly interested.

Chacha was enthusiastic about taking us round Debar to see spectacular views that we would never otherwise have found. He also took us to a sulphur spa (again ridiculously cheap at 70 Denar each to get in) where we soaked our aching legs in a hot sulphur bath. The forecast tomorrow is for storms so we may be here for another day. If not it is goodbye Macedonia, Hello Albania!
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Posted by mrs lewis 03:48 Archived in Macedonia Comments (1)

Thessaloniki to Edessa

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We left Lesvos with a heavy heart but a full stomach to board the weekly overnight ferry to mainland Greece. On our last day we were treated to a lunch banquet by our new couchsurfing friends in Lesvos. The meze dishes were flowing from pumpkin stuffed with feta to fava, wild spinach and aubergine... With 20 minutes before the ferry was due to leave they announced we would have dessert. Reluctantly we said we needed to go... They all laughed raucously.
'plenty of time!' they said. We looked at each other uncertainly....
'We only have 20 minutes...' I trailed off
'You are so ENGLISH! relax. You have to stay for dessert'

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And so we did. This delicious Greek twist on a baklava but with almonds instead of Pistachio nuts and doused in icecream that was infused with sweet pine nectar which tasted like a forest smells. Racing for the ferry we made it about five minutes before it was due to leave, and then waited on board for another 2 hours before it actually DID leave.

We paid an extra Euro on top of the basic price of a ticket to get a airline seat which we though was pretty good value. As we boarded the ferry most of the passengers were writhing and thrashing to mark out their territory on the boat using anything from teatowels to portable carpets. We were very bemused watching this chaos as we sat serenely on the top deck secure in the knowledge that we had reserved seats. It all became clear a couple of hours later when we went to find our seats and our seat numbers didn't seem to exist. When we asked at the reception we were told in so many words that it is basically a free for all and the numbered seats mean nothing whatsoever. Ah. So the next couple of hours were spent prowling round with our panniers trying to find two seats together amongst the bodies that had sprawled themselves out over ten seats. Note to self for next time...

The next morning when we arrived bleary-eyed in Thessaloniki we were met by Ariadni, the girlfriend of a friend of a warm showers host, so quite a tenuous link even for us! She was one of the kindest and warmest hosts we have been lucky to have on our trip. She took us round the city, to deserted beaches and for a trip to her boyfriends soon to be permaculture farm. Ariadni lives close to the White Tower which has become the gathering point in Thessaloniki for protesters who are demonstrating peacefully about the economic crisis in Greece. It has been interesting cycling through Greece at this time as the feeling that people can bring about change is palpable. Reflections from Greek people have been quite diverse. We have met some who have been quite resigned to it and feel that the people of Greece have brought it upon themselves, compared it to gorging at a restaurant that you can't afford for many years and then suddenly being presented with the bill. However others feel a strong sense of injustice and firmly believe that the government is wholly to blame. Although people seem very politicised everyone we spoke to lamented how fragmented it is. Everyone wants to have their voice heard but individually not as an organised whole. Speaking to Ariadni's boyfriend Vasilios he was hopeful that now that people are mobilised to react against what is happening that there will be a more lasting positive outcome beyond the anger of 'how does this affect me?' Perhaps people who have lost their jobs will think about whether spend spend spend is really the answer. Maybe they will go and work on their family's land, perhaps seek a simpler life or at least a life that will make them happy. We will see.

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white tower

white tower

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After two days in Thessaloniki we were keen to get back on the bikes and cycle towards Edessa, a small town on Northern Greece on our way to Macedonia. We were met by our exuberant couchsurfing host Evangelos and his friend Elefterios who is a cycling fanatic and proudly took us inside his shop to make us tea and show us his three bikes that were stuffed inside the souvenir shop that he runs.

Evangelos explained that he had arranged our accomodation for the night, as we were unable to stay with him, to be in the local consumer council office, a little cottage style building on the middle of the highstreet. As we inflated our thermarests on the marble floors next to the piles of magazines and office desks we reflected that this might just be one of the most unusual accomodation types of our trip so far.

our little cottage in edessa

our little cottage in edessa

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Edessa is a very pretty little city, unspoilt by tourism with beautiful waterfalls right in the city, however we were not planning on staying more than a day to explore it. My kidneys however had other plans as just as we were packing up our sleeping bags in the morning I was hit by a thunderbolt of nausea and pain and collapsed on the office floor. We needed to be out by 8am as the office opened for business at 9am so Rob shuffled me out onto the pavement where I curled up shaking and occasionally vomiting in the bin, much to the disgust I am sure of people passing by but I was in too much pain to care. The cavalry arrived in the form of Evangelos who raced me down to hospital in his car. I can't remember the last time I went to hospital in the UK so I can't make a comparison but within an hour in this small hospital in Edessa I had blood tests, urine tests, xrays and an ultrasound to determine that I had a kidney stone. I was then put on wildly hallucinogenic painkillers and remember very little except visits from Evangelos and Elefterios who came down from work to check on me. Luckily despite the crazy dreams the painkillers worked a treat and I was out of hospital that afternoon. Evangelos was keen to look after us and bent over backwards to accomodate us (another night in our little office hut) and he plyed us with food - or at least plyed Rob with food as I couldn't hold down food for another couple of days.

So after three days, longer than we had planned in Edessa, we were finally ready to cycle again, albeit it gingerly as bumps on the road were painful on the kidney, heading towards Florina, our last stop in Greece before we cross into Macedonia.

Posted by mrs lewis 10:48 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Aegean cycling action

A week resting our legs and enjoying luxuries we have grown unaccustomed to courtesy of mum and dad Ware's unstinting hospitality during the time we stayed with them in Turunc made it difficult to leave. Turunc itself is very beautiful despite its proximity to Marmaris which is British package holiday hell. One of the beaches we walked to - this in itself is a novelty as after cycling we are normally to tired to do any hiking - called Amos is one of the most beautiful ones we have seen on the trip so far, let alone in Turkey.
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As we were only 45 minutes drive from Gokova which is a kitesurfing mecca in Turkey our 9 metre Ozone kite got another outing for the first time since our 17 day stay in Phu Quy, Vietnam. Mum and dad seemed to enjoy (we hope!) the trips we went on to the kitesurfing beach with my dad striding purposefully up to passing kiters asking about the wind forecast and mum wading into the sea while I was flailing around on the kite giving me instructions on how to get up, completely nonplussed by kites whizzing past her. So when it finally came to leaving Turunc we stayed on in Gokova for a couple of days to get some more kitesurfing time in. Hopefully this means that be the time we are back in the UK where the water is infinitely colder we will be good enough to stay on the board rather than thrashing around in the water. Rob has pretty much nailed it but not sure about me....
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On our last day in Gokova we decided to stay at the kitesurfing beach until late as we had arranged to stay with Adnan, our host on warm showers (a hospitality site for cycle tourers) in Mugla which is only 30 odd km away. Little did we know that 15 of these were solid climbing going from sea level up to 700 mt in 10km. Despite confidently emailing Adnan to tell him we would be in by 6pm we sweated into town closer to 7.30pm. As we are still travelling without a phone we looked around for a likely venue that might let us use theirs for free (hotels are usually good) a friendly looking man bounded up to us smiling. "You must be Mariana!" he said. Stunned I looked back at him for a second then realised there are probably not too many cycle tourers passing through so for Adnan picking us out in the town of Mugla was a pretty safe guess! Although Adnan himself wasn't able to host us he had arranged for us to stay with some of his students in halls of residence "but we will meet tomorrow for breakfast" he enthused. The next day, in what we have discovered to be typical Turkish hospitality, Adnan could not do enough for us from getting us food, to helping us get the kite that we had lugged up the hill from Gokova sent off from the post office and drawing up a list of contacts of fellow cyclists that we could get in touch with on the road. We told him we were going to head to Milas that day, a small town about 75 km away. Adnan's eyes lit up! "I know a cyclist there! His name is Serdar, he is a journalist... Maybe he could do a story on your trip!" Next thing we knew he had phone him up and scrawled all the details of how to get in touch with him on the back of our receipt from breakfast.

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Armed with our list of contacts and some simit (like bagels but a bit less stodgy with sesame seeds on them) we were off. After the first 10 km the roadworks started and continued pretty much the whole way into Milas. We had a constant headwind as well so by the time we pulled into Milas we were exhausted despite the relatively low mileage. So tired that we were struggling to string a sentance together to each other did we really want to contact Adnan's journalist friend? We wandered into the internet cafe to get a drink and think about it. Amazing what a can of ice tea can do (our cycling tipple of choice in Turkey) to get our energy levels back up so we decided to give it a go. After 3 attempts at ringing the number Adnan had given us but not reaching anyone who could speak English, the chap at the internet cafe offered to give it a go (he didn't speak english either but did speak very good french so I managed to stutter out who we were trying to ring and why and could he possibly do it on our behalf) Half an hour later Serdar turned up at the internet cafe. Turned out he WAS the person on the other end of the phone each time I tried to ring but did not speak one word of English. Given our limited Turkish diction it looked like a cutting edge interview about cycle touring through Turkey was off the cards : )

However Serdar did take us to the local bike shop which had just opened a couple of months earlier run by a lovely man called mustafa - who spoke excellent English. It turned out that Mustafa had been made redundant from his banking job a year ago when his wife was 8 months pregnant with their first child, so he decided to pursue his longstanding dream of opening up a bike shop and hasn't looked back since. "Now I can't even stand to stay in a bank for more than 10 minutes, I don't understand how I managed to stay for 10 years" he told us. After numerous cups of tea we asked him if he knew anywhere nearby where we might be able to camp as there was only about an hour left of daylight. "There isn't a campsite for another 40 km" he told us. Without missing a beat he then said "You must come and stay at my house". And so we did and had a lovely evening with him and his wife who at no notice arranged a vegetarian friendly feast for us to eat. We spent the evening sharing our cycling experiences and dreams....

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The hospitality continued to roll through the medium of wonderful warm showers... We stayed with Cumhur on his farm the following night who was very hospitable although a little bit eccentric with late night rantings about how much he hated the monarchy. The following day took us to Izmir to stay with Tugce and Suheyl, a lovely couple that we could have stayed with for much much longer but with less than three months to go until we get home the clock is ticking so we are trying to keep moving.

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We did get a chance to explore Izmir a bit though a really enjoyed it. It is much less touristy than southern Turkey and this was certainly reflected in the food which is authentic and very very tasty.

One of the big discoveries we have made on good places to eat in Turkey is looking for 'Lokantas' (derived from the italian 'locanda') which is a 'worker's or shopkeeper's restaurant. These are cheap eateries serving simple and honest food.

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They can be found in city centres in non-touristy places like Izmir, but the best ones we have found are in the 'sanayi' (industrial) areas on the outskirts of cities providing workers on low pay with a cheap but very good quality meal. In Izmir we managed to find a lokanta which was allegedly one of the top ten pide (turkish pizza) producers in Turkey. We were not disappointed! Izmir was also the venue for Rob's long awaited induction into turkish baths. He coerced Suheyl and one of his friends into going along for the ride. It was men only so they shuffled off with their towels while Tugce and I stayed in and watched the televised voting count. It was the night of Turkish elections. We had spoken to many young Turks about politics in Turkey and it seemed as though although there was a strong sense of exercising your right to vote and participating in the democratic process people (at least the ones that we spoke to) were not excited about it as they felt the results were sewn up; the current government will stay. While Rob and Suheyl were sweating it out in the Hamam it seemed from the voting results coming in that this prediction was correct. By the time they returned, their skin visibly lighter and smoother than a baby's bottom having been pummelled washed and scrubbed the TV was off as the results were indeed sewn up - the government would stay another term.

Despite Tugce and Suheyl's fantastic hosting we did manage to leave the next day. We wild camped that evening and the next day made it into Ayvalik, a beautifully preserved historic town with cobbled streets and beautiful houses clinging to the hillside. There are so few tourists here so we were surprised when we walked into one of the small squares and found about 5 horses and carts lined up. The carts didn't even seem to have seats so we wondered how they were going to persuade the few tourists that there are to go on a tour in them. Turns out that this is one of the few places we have been to in Turkey where they haven't turned something authenic into a tourist gimmick. The horses and carts are loaded up with vegetables and taken through the streets up the hills where cars can't get through the windy streets or for people who are infirm and can't get to the shops. Rob and I both decided that this was one of our favourite places in Turkey.
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This favourite spot was quickly equalled by Cunda Island which is connected to Ayvalik by a narrow manmade spit. We rode our bikes out to the end of the island over about 8 km of dirt road and although not majestic or dramatic in its scenery in the same way that southern Turkey is there was something very magical about this place. The beach was totally deserted save for a small shack which was owned by a local man who was cultivated an organic garden next to the beach. He had enlisted two greek musicians to help him work on the shack and the garden. That night we camped under the stars after dinner on the beach mesmerised by greek folk music. This was a good day. IMG_5929.jpgIMG_5930.jpgIMG_5932.jpgy.

Posted by mrs lewis 15:13 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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