Chilled times in Çanakkale. Or frozen times should I say?

First article without Rémi’s proofread!

Usually the two of us write the articles, 500 words each. Arthur corrects Rémi’s spelling mistakes while Rémi deletes the numerous brackets Arthur loves to use and explains him why his paragraph was not really understandable. This time, total freedom ha ha!

We leave Istanbul after a three-hours night because of small party and to enjoy a last time the flatshare of Kadıköy. Rémi goes East to Antalya and I head West to see Gizem’s uncle and aunt, a friend met in Istanbul. It is the first time we split since the beginning of our trip and of course we cry, we are afraid, but we decide to overcome our anxieties and keep hope that the other will survive.

I reach down the Marmaray, the metro under the Bosphorus. I doze all the way but a dozen of stops before mine, the Marmaray halts and everybody gets out. Aaah, so the dotted lines on the map means that the rails are still under construction, and not that it is an open-air metro. I should have listened to daddy when he told me to read the legend on the maps.

I turn back, new metro, followed by the “metrobüs”, express bus with special lane on the East-West highway that crosses Istanbul. Everytime I have to go out and pay again,  I pay thus four times more than expected but after two hours I am on  the hitchhiking spot seen on hitchwiki.org.

Istanbul spreads out over so many kilometers that it is unrealistic to get out with one car. I have the impression that the best technique is simply to stand on the side of the highway where the cars can more or less stop, and to hop from car to car, each time a few dozens of kilometers. Turkish are not really bothered stopping in the middle of the unstoppable, relatively speaking, so highway is not really a problem!

Begin of the afternoon I am in Tekirdağ which feels really far away from the overcrowded metrobüs of Istanbul. It is cold but the shining sun makes it very endurable. While waiting in front of the the rakı factory, a grape spirit aromatized with anise, awful waves of alcool enter my nose. And God knows I have no problem with alcool. I realize after a long while that I am not on the road I was planning to follow and reach it by foot to be taken five minutes later. Like most of Turkish, my driver does not speak a word of English. He tries to explain me something, and believing in a pipi break, I end up praying at the village’s mosque. After he offers my the Balıkçı, fish restaurant. And naturally after the meal, another shot of prayer.

Although agnostic, however spiritual, the fact of praying does not really bother me, I take it as an experience. Yet coming out of the mosque it is night and that is not cool. I try to explain to the religious men still here that “otobüs yok, OTOSTOP“. I don’t want to take the bus, I want to hitchhike. No, I won’t get attacked by the dogs. And no, I don’t want you to give me your shoes, I have everything I need. It is a lost cause and the driver brings me back to Tekirdağ, insists to pay the bus. Impossible to negotiate whatever so I get into the bus and falls asleep. I wake up on the ferry crossing Europe to Asia and I take some fresh air on the deck. Perfect coordination at the ferry terminal while Sedat, Nürsel and a friend come to pick me up and bring me to their home. Limited English on their side, “turkçe çatpat”, “little Turkish” on mine, but thanks to a great deal of drawing we can drift on all topics.

Next day visit of Çanakkale and its marvelous replica of the Trojan Horse, used in the 2004 American movie. Çanakkale is proud of having been the battle place where French, English and Australians troops and ships were stopped during the First World War, and you can see it. I wander out of the beaten paths and end up in a sort of ghetto full of colors and of trash, dresses drying thanks to the barbwire of the neighbor military camp. During the night I take part in a Turkish folklore music rehearsal with my hosts! Sedat shows me the weather forecast for the next days on the road I want to take. There are only negative temperatures until Antalya and minimums down to -10°C, or even -14°C. It is a global cold spell on all of Turkey. For only equipment, I have a jumper and a slightly wind-breaking raincoat, no problem for the xtrem warriors.

When I leave the next day they give me fruits but more important they present me to my new friends: gloves, hat and scarf of a beautiful grey very trendy in times of USSR. I try to decline but I will realize later that I would have been wrong to manage convincing them. I arrive in Trojan thanks to my thumb but the entree fees are way too expensive and even my admirable persuasion skills will not change the counter clerk’s mind.

So I continue and reach the countryside road of Alexandria Troas and Assos, “antik antik” cities like all Turkish strive to make me understand. Most likely very frequented in summer, these roads are now empty. Every half-an-hour, one car. But every time it stops and one time out of two the driver offers a “çai” – a tea! I must be around 0°C but the sun shines in the perfect blue sky, Renaud and Massilia Sound System, two French bands, walk along with my thanks to some lyrics printed beforehand. I walk, I sing, I visit the ruins on the side of the road until a car comes and drops me further, and from there I start walking and singing again. The landscape is a huge slice of awesomeness. Imagine a green golf court studded with bushes on which giants would have been playing “pétanque” with all-sized rocks and would have forgotten to clean their mess afterwards. From time to time an unrestricted view on the sea with the late afternoon sun reflecting into it. “Çok güzel, doğa dağ denize güzel” – Very beautiful, nature mountain sea beautiful.

Short after nightfall I am dropped next to the main road. Once the sun gone it is over with the cozy breeze. The wind becomes agressive but I manage to reach an even bigger road leading to Izmir, the big city of the West Coast (reprezent the West Coast). I am still 200km away from the city, I have no idea where to sleep and it starts snowing. I guess it is time to find a warm place where to spend the night when out of nowhere a grandpa stops for me and drops me 200km, a döner and a çorba further on the middle of the highway. It is too late to knock on the doors and I decide to continue inch’Allah. At the crossroad I find in 5 minutes another car and then a truck to Aydın. No snow over here and I take refugee on a first floor balcony that is on sale. Cool night, but very endurable, -4°C apparently.

Impossible to wake up before 11h30, I was way to comfy in my sleeping bag; but it is now time to leave. Car by car the snow covered mountains emerge and I find myself very soon waiting in the snow. I wasn’t expecting to see snow before a long time and this white blanket is a visual delight! Little struggle to leave Denizli and I realize I would not like to spend another night outside, and it is still possible to reach Antalya tonight. So I take my Turkish in both hands at the red light and jumping from car to car I find a car in ten minutes.

We start the ascension in the mountain while on our right side all trucks are stopped and have to put their snow chains. While being on a main road, the way is far of being cleared off snow, it is barely packed. I am dropped on a intersection at the mountain pass, far from any village and it is night. Once the last sunset’s shadows on the snow admired, I tell myself that it would be nice to find a car now. I have spotted a petrol station a bit before just in case, but I start taking out my head lamp, red blinking lights on (you see mama, I am careful). Seen the road state the cars drive really slowly and it is only a matter of a quarter of an hour before finding a driver. And eventually, 170km away from Antalya I found my champion who lets me five minutes walking from the apartment.

Actually, adventure is not quite finished because the door is closed and I have no phone number to contact them! I see that there is light on the third floor so I ask a young “telefon internet var ?” to send an email while showing him the closed door. He answers me in English, you can easily imagine my surprise after four days without meeting any English-speaking Turkish!! He invites me in his flatshare for a Turkish coffee while waiting for my unworthy friends’ answer. But let us be honest, they are geeks so before long I have got an answer. I come back home, after having promised to my new friends that we would do a French meal-Turkish dessert and then the revenge, Turkish meal-French dessert. Two new temporary inhabitants are now in the flat but leaving the next day!

So, how was this article without Rémi??

Görüşürüz, I’ll eat one baklava for each of you that reads this article.

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Turkey is a delightful country

We are back in Istanbul to party hard for New Year’s Eve! We stopped there once before for some days after our adventures in the Balkans, and we went down South to find a place to stay two months.

Rémi participates in a project for the best website in the world, hitchwiki.org, a collaborative website for hitchhikers. Existing since 2006, it changed and grew larger in a rather unorganized way. With his buddy Mikael, they decided to start working on a new and shiny version of the website. Thanks to a donation page, enough money is gathered to cover food expenses and to rent a flat. It was decided to take place in the South of Turkey because it is warmer than Europe and it’s on Arthur’s and Rémi’s way.

But let’s go back to Istanbul. Here for the tourists, these expressions are common. “I’m going to Asia”, “-Where is this place? -It’s in Europe”, “Waaah we are crossing from Europe to Asia”. Turkish people simply say they are going “to the other side”.

However according to us, in spite of the distinct geographical separation Istanbul is neither Europe nor Asia. In fact it is a bit of both, a junction-city located between the East and the West transformed little by little by all kind of influences. This might seem unremarkable, but when people say Istanbul is at the crossroads of civilization, it is definitely true. As the minarets’ songs come to our ears in a strange language, we recognize old rock tracks played by young people in the street. A bit further, a Turkish melody creates a dancing circle taking place in front of a Starbucks Coffee.

Luckily, people take us for original Turkish, Arthur with his vietnamese-style eyes and Rémi thanks to his dark skin and his jet-black hair. People in the street ask us were to find the metrobüs or the stadyum, we answer with our most charming accent “turkish yok”, not turkish. But at least, we don’t get harassed like the German tourists, potential preys spotted easily two kilometers in advance by the sharpened eyes of the döner sellers.

We were expecting a bigger cultural choc, but Istanbul is not very representative of the rest of Turkey, it’s an alternative and conservative city, ancestral and modern. We are hosted in Kadıköy, a district of Istanbul at Mathieu, Lena and Alican’s (pronounced Alijan), an explosive German-French-Turkish trio. Mathieu settled down in Istanbul before going to travel further, Lena is doing a student exchange with Erasmus and Alican is a computer developer. It’s an active and activist apartment in which we arrived, the door bell is continuously ringing bringing its flow of surprises and visitors. We are not the firsts hosted in this flat, far from it, the door is always opened to travelers and friends.

During our first stay we visited of course the touristic places, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the ever-crowded Istiklal street. We just escaped Taksim square, center of the 2013 protests launched after the construction plan of building a shopping mall. The demonstrations quickly became a general discontent in response to an always more conservative government. (More about it on Wikipedia.)

But we participated as well at the night life of Istanbul, in the well-hidden pubs of the perpendicular street to Istiklal. A building entrance almost normal, but at each floor a different bar and at the highest perched pub, a terrace. We participate as spectators to a jam session. We realize very soon that beer is expensive, and our budget will quickly explode during these few days in Istanbul.

On Saturday we took part at Food Not Bombs with our hosts. The principle of Food Not Bombs is to gather food that would otherwise have been wasted, to cook vegetarian or vegan meals and to offer it to everybody. The organization is completely independent and each group of Food Not Bombs is free to organize themselves the way they want. We arrive at the Don Quixote squat which has neither water nor electricity and we start cleaning and preparing the fruits ans veggies in the street. At 6pm when the meal is ready, many persons come to share a moment together around the dinner. There are several Food Not Bombs in Istanbul, but this one just started and there is still a bit to work on before the project really takes off. It is a real pleasure to see the investment of all these persons striving to fight against global wasting at a local scale. It is as well a way to create social links and to integrate all kind of different people in a neighborhood. The street is ours, we have to use it!!

After these five days in Istanbul it is time for us to get back on the road, direction Fethiye in the South. We reached this small city in two days of hitchhiking with a night at the side of a toll near Izmir. There we find Mikael and Simona who Rémi knows since a year, as well as our two Iranian hosts. We want to settle down for two months and we want a city with some stuff going on. Fethiye has splendid surroundings and some quarters, with criss-cross stairs and footbridges, attract us. Unfortunately, the five pubs of the center don’t succeed in convincing us that we would like to spend two months here. We arrive thus in Antalya where we meet Federrico an hitchhiker buddy and Ceylan his turkish girlfriend/future wife. During three days we stay at Ceylan’s mother’s house who welcome us like kings, especially Arthur, guess why. Impossible to help for anything and we have our first big slice of Turkish hospitality. Thanks to Mikael’s efficient spamming skills and to our official interpreter Ceylan, we quickly find a flat that fits to our needs. During the first visit the apartment is dirty and not very welcoming, but we adopt it immediately by reorganizing, redecorating, and hanging maps of the world on the walls! We have access to the rooftop for the sunny coffees, between 15 and 20° in December when it is not raining, we can’t complain.

Antalya, although much bigger than Fethiye, is nothing comparable to Istanbul. Touristic coastal city, the activity in winter is close to zero. Many people in the streets, but we are far from the alternative atmosphere of Istanbul. Here tourism prevails on anything else. We organize our everyday life pretty quickly. Rémi and Mikael are coding most of the day, Simona works on her computer and Arthur reads, plays a bit of harmonica and trains for coin magic, an investment for the rest of the trip, in order to make coins disappear on the cafes’ terraces.

One week-end we decide to make an excursion outside of Antalya with two other nomads in transit. We walk three days and 20km out of the 500 which form the Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya. Backpacks, wood cooker, speakers and here we go. We wander from beach to beach and establish campsites in two of them. Campfire to fight humidity, night bath in the middle of the luminescent plankton, morning bath for a nice day beginning and mushroom collect. Back to civilization we cross a strange village, near-all boards written in Russian, deserted of summer tourists. We leave here Monsieur Chien, the dog that followed us during our three-days walk. From there we hitchhike back to Antalya and get back to our daily routine.

It is a real joy to be far from the Christmas magazines, from the Christmas decorations, from the Christmas advertisement. Here in Muslim country, none of this exists. In fact it is that much not in there culture that Turkish say “Christmas” for New Year’s Eve and that Santa Claus can only be seen on the 31st of December! But still true to our Christian heritage, we invite on the 24th our diverse acquaintances to share food from all horizons, with a big floating island for dessert, youpiiiiii!

We decide to spend New Year’s Eve in Istanbul while Mikael and Simona stay in Antalya. After a day of hitchhiking, maybe the best one since the beginning of our trip so far, 700km, a jew’s harp and a phone lost, a lot of food offered including delicious sausages grilled on motor oil and plastic bags, we are dropped in front of the apartment at 23h. This is how we roll

Germans, straight from Germanieland, came to visit Lena and we accept to share our living room with them. Yes, cause since last time the living room became kind of ours. We are in Istanbul so we decide to party, or rather party falls on us. This time, we go through Taksim square and realize we missed it the first time.

New Year is not less than 25 people in the flat, 12 sleeping in the living room and some more spread in all rooms, as well as a big spider crab that Rémi and Arthur share to start the evening, for the greatest delight of all vegetarians attending the party. Sorry Pachamama.

We do another Food Not Bombs session, with a very different organization as the first time. Now meals are not prepared in the squat anymore but in a Marxist café.

Istanbul is superb, but it is time to come back. Arthur goes first to explore Çanakkale while Rémi hitches directly to Antalya.

Great New Year to all our fans, we hope that the Santa Claus brought you present good enough so that you will not have to re-sell them on Ebay, don’t forget to take your resolutions, I believe in you, this year you will keep them, not like last year

Yes, this year you will do sport, lose weight, start guitar, learn spanishissimo, quit smoking and drinking beer. Yes, promised. And if you do it, promise we do it as well.

For more pictures, have a look at the gallery.

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