Saturday, 15 October 2011

Güle Güle: Standing Still in Istanbul

How you say goodbye in Turkish depends on whether you're staying or leaving. If you're leaving you say "hoshchakal", but if you're staying behind you say "güle güle".

After five nearly non-stop weeks, I stayed at the same hostel in Istanbul for ten days and felt like the centre of a turning world, staying put while other people came and went, a revolving cast of characters. Donald Macleod, a Scottish cyclist, recognised my Ortlieb pannier in Hagia Sofia and introduced himself - he was also cycling east, but by a different route, going through Georgia and Kazakhstan and across China. I spent my second night there drinking with an Irish couple, a Mexican, a Colombian and an American pharmacist who gave me a few bags of Trail Mix. An extremely well-travelled Frenchman introduced me to Turkish pepper paste, and Alireza came through on his way from Iran to Sweden; Alireza was embarking on the quickest tour ever of Istanbul's sights, at least the ones that weren't museums, as he doesn't do museums. I met Al and Sally from Alaska, who'd parked their bikes next to mine in the yard, and whose brains I picked about Turkey, as they'd come from Erzurum and along the Black Sea. I nicknamed them "Disaster Area", as they'd just come from Van, where an earthquake had struck, and they were booking a flight from Istanbul to Bangkok as news started to come through of the floods devastating the city.

There was also the visit from the meths fairy. At least, I think it was the meths fairy, as a half litre of meths appeared by my bed, just as I was worrying about running out of fuel for my alcohol stove halfway across Turkey. Thanks, meths fairy! It might also have been the Swiss/German couple I'd been chatting to who left it, especially as the bottle was labelled brenspiritus, the German name for meths.

Pride of place, though, goes to Erkki, the Finnish spy. OK, he claimed to be a journalist, but my suspicions were first aroused by his speaking such excellent Turkish. Not that it did him any favours with the hostel staff - they said they'd ask him to leave if he washed his clothes in the sink again. He also spoke Romanian, which he admitted had astonished the locals when he'd been hiking there on his way to Turkey. Nobody speaks Romanian, let alone Romanian and Turkish. He said he'd been on plenty of long cycling tours previously, and warned me about wild dogs in Turkey (which I had started to worry about), told me that I'd need a mirror (which I haven't bothered getting) and told me to consider getting a gun. He was a most interesting character.

I enjoyed the time I spent there, relaxing, wandering the city (Istanbul can be a money sink, but walking around is still free), arranging visas and re-organising my bike, as my sister had sent a package of spares and maps to me in Istanbul. Collecting that from customs is another story...

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