Friday, 4 November 2011


I hate negotiating cities on my bike. I find it stressful and unnerving. They're all laid out differently and the traffic levels are always higher and the driving standards are lower, and there's pressure to find somewhere to stop, as I don't have my usual fallback of pitching my tent behind the nearest stand of trees.

In Budapest I wandered around for an afternoon without finding a hostel or tourist information, and the hostel I eventually found was full, and the staff didn't feel the need to tell me that until I'd dragged my bike up the stairs into the lobby, or bother to point me towards an alternative. In Sofia I arrived in the dark, wet and bedraggled, and couldn't explain to the otherwise very helpful waiter at a handy restaurant the distinction between a hotel and a hostel. In Vienna, I rode in circles around the endless boulevards and the frustrating Ringstrasse for two hours, trying to find Westerbahnhof or even somebody who knew where it was, but the closest I got was a sign saying that it was 4 km away (and no other signs after that one) and a tram going to Westerbahnhof. Or, possibly, coming from there. Two hours of frustration and no sign of a tourist information. I stopped by yet another tram stop and realised that in those two hours I hadn't seen a single thing I wanted to see again, and having realised that, I left the place without regrets. I slept rough in Wiener Prater, far and away the best part of Vienna, and left at first light.

Ankara was not the worst, but it is a deeply unpleasant city to cycle around. I timed my arrival to coincide with rush hour so as to add an extra element of danger. Filtering through the traffic was a bit fraught, but what choice did I have? The only alternative route was the 20-foot high pedestrian footbridge, and dragging my bike up there would have drained my last strength, with no guarantee that it led anywhere. Ankara is OK to walk around as long as you don't mind stairs (don't apply if you're a wheelchair user), or to drive around, but not to cycle. I crossed to the left hand lane of yet another five-lane road and swore back at the drivers who were beeping their horns at me, and dragged my bike into the hotel lobby. It was full, so I had to go back out and repeat the rigmarole in reverse.

Trying to find a different hotel was no picnic either; I thought I'd just wander until I found one and stop there, as long as it wasn't that expensive. But Ankara doesn't work like that. I was in a street of bars, and getting sick of riding, and there were no hotels for about two miles. It was 8 o'clock and a bit chilly - probably too chilly to bivvy down in the park, if I could find the park, but I was starting to think about it. I stopped at an English-themed bar called Pub Bla Bla to get a meal, as I hadn't eaten since early afternoon and I wasn't thinking straight.

Turns out, the owner of the place used to work in Newcastle, and we had a good chin-wag and he showed me around his pub and when I left he pointed me towards Ulus, the district where I was most likely to find a reasonably priced hotel. The beer and food perked me up, too. I followed Eddie's directions and stopped at the first hotel I saw. I asked for (and got) a slight discount, but at 80 lira that was still a few days' budget. However, when I got to the room and showered and lounged on the double bed in front of some hilarious Turkish TV, I didn't mind so much.

I was still desperate to leave, though, so I didn't even stop for breakfast the next day. Ankara doesn't have much to appeal to the tourist, since it's mostly government: other cyclists and locals I'd spoken to told me not to bother going there, but as it was on my natural route from Bolu to Cappadocia, it was easier to go through than to avoid.


I followed the main road out of town, which was a busy six-lane dual carriageway climbing up the big hill at the south of the city. Riding so slowly up that hill seemed to take ages. I put my iPod on to drown out the noise of the cars. Yet more beeping, yet more swearing at motorists.

Thankfully the hill didn't last more than a few miles and I hit 40 mph on the descent, and finally I raised my fist in triumph when I reached the sign that told me I'd left Ankara and was back on the open road.

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