Aug 192010

I have to admit I’m writing this blog not just to reminisce for the sake of reminiscing. I have this secret hope that someone will read these posts and take to the idea of cycling around Turkey, I wish I could convince people that seemingly impossible is actually doable – you can cycle in Istanbul too.

Having said that, I’m going to do something illogical. I’m well aware that in order to achieve my aim I should probably start by making a list of flat routes in Istanbul: routes which can be ridden on easily and effortlessly, painlessly, maybe even without pedalling at all. Unfortunately places like this are few and far between – and you would also need to get there somehow. Therefore, I guess, you’d better be prepared for the worst straightaway.

Istanbul is located on hills and wherever you go one or more will be on your way. They are best tackled with positive thinking.

First, I find it very comforting to think that if I really can’t ride any more I can always get off my bike – no one has chained me to it and I can walk just as well.

Second, if it’s uphill now, it will be downhill soon too. Well, that’s true for Istanbul but not so much for other parts of this huge country. That means that it is even more worth remembering about while cycling on the banks of the Bosphorus.

Third, it’s always good to have your reward in mind. This could be a stunning view or some delicious food:

If I manage to climb up Çamlıca, I can enjoy the greenery (grass and trees – not that common in Istanbul), a small restaurant with a terrace overlooking the Bosphorus, a really good sunset viewpoint. The restaurant belongs to the government, so prices are reasonable and their veg filled pancakes – really yummy.

Islands can be considered fairly flat if you are cycling round them, but it’s also possible to find and climb hills there. For example, on Burgaz (the third biggest island) it’s right in the middle and people very rarely go up there. Why would anyone want to do it then? Well, it’s an opportunity to enjoy the impression that for a while you own this island and the sea around it. From the top you can see the other islands and even the Anatolian coast with ubiquitous buildings all the way up to Tuzla – but that’s the view that I’d rather have behind my back, nothing special about something I see every day and the point of being at the top of this hill is to believe you are in paradise. There are no bars or restaurants there and I hope there will never be – no problem, you can always bring a bottle of wine.

The last example might not appeal to some – riding up to Taksim from Karaköy. I don’t mean that the steep hill leading up straight to the Galata Tower could be off-putting, you can take a diversion to avoid it (backstreets, the ones with hundreds of small shops selling electrical stuff, it’s also uphill but not extremely hard). The example is controversial because it’s difficult to say whether finding yourself at the destination, that is İstiklal or Taksim, is a reward or punishment. The spot is popular and attracts crowds, if you suffer from demophobia it could be a frightful experience. Luckily I have mastered the art of human surfing, I can ride up and down the İstiklal without injuring anyone and unharmed myself. But I’m not tempted to go all the way to Taksim because halfway down the alley there is İnci, a cosy patisserie where the interior hasn’t changed for decades (there are cut-outs from old newspapers on the wall for comparison) and where I’ve eaten the best profiterol ever. İnci is unique also because its owners aren’t keen on spreading, creating branches, increasing turnover and profit and everything else – you can find it in just one place on the planet and you have to struggle uphill a bit to get there.

Olga and Umut in Inci.

We've worked hard to deserve all these calories.

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