We never thought we would be staying in Istanbul for over a week!
The ferry to Istanbul takes 2.5 hours. Before we get on and we are waiting in a hall, a man and his family spontaneously approach us and share their food with us. They are interested in where we come from and where we are going. After a short conversation they go their own way again. This kind of small gestures and the way of hospitality is so great for us.
It’s busy on the boat. We sit inside and I notice that I miss the outdoors. The natural warmth against my skin and the fresh air in my lungs. I know we’re going into a big city and the fresh air I crave will be gone for a while. Every time in cities it feels like you can’t breathe. I have noticed in the past in big cities that my eyes start to sting and an uneasy feeling in my lungs.
We arrive in Istanbul. It is chaotic, busy and lively. We make our way to the Airbnb we arranged. We go to the metro and try to buy a ticket. There’s a whole line behind us as we try to understand how the system works. But behind us is someone who is happy to help us. He eventually spends half an hour explaining to us and eventually even put money on our card from his own account. He doesn’t want anything from us and says hello. A man who works at the station takes us all the way to the platform when he sees us looking for us. Wow what nice people!
We arrive in the district (Kadiköy) where we will stay for the next three nights. We are immediately intrigued by the neighborhood. We feel like exploring the area. But are tired of the day. We briefly get to know the person (Josef) from whom we rent a room. A student from Algeria who studies and works here in Istanbul. We go to eat somewhere and call home before going to sleep.
The next day we take a full day for Kadiköy. We walk in the area, try different food, take our bicycles to the bicycle repair shop. He also turns out to be a very nice guy. We are also meeting someone we had met online through Warmshowers, we thought we’d have a drink at a cafe which turned into a long cozy evening where we are invited to his home for delicious Turkish food and a lesson in cooking the perfect rice the Turkish way. An evening with good conversations, good wine and good music. What a great meeting Engin! We haven’t seen you since this evening but hope to see you again.
After we left Engin we had another appointment with our roommates. That was also fun. We played a game of checkers, talking about how we live and how he lives with all the difficulties when you are a citizen from a country like Algeria. The freedom we experience is not possible for everyone.
We take two days to see the more touristy part of the city. We visited all the highlights of the city and tasted all the street food. The city is beautiful and the mass of people I personally dreaded was not too bad. We were everywhere before the real crowds arrived and left when it was too busy. We took a nap in the grass next to the Suleymaniye Mosque and walked all over the city.
The fourth night we slept in a hotel as a gift from the group of friends at home. We really relaxed. We are really enjoying this city but notice that it takes a lot of energy. So thank you so much guys!!
The fifth night we stay with Ersin, the cyclist we met on the way. We have a good time, drink home-brewed drinks, talk through Google translate and eat a delicious meal that he prepared for us. It’s nice to meet someone who knows what it’s like to cycle and travel. He immediately offers us all the comforts. A towel and shower, washing machine and make sure we eat well before going to bed. But first a long evening walk along the coast of Tuzla, a neighborhood that still belongs to Istanbul, but for which we traveled more than an hour by metro to get there. We still don’t dare to cycle in Istanbul.
The next day we go with Ersin to the island of Kinaliada. It turns out to be his birthday. We are going to relax on a quiet beach, have food and drinks with us, go for a swim and sleep in the sun. We have escaped the bustle of the city for a while and we find ourselves in an environment with a relaxed atmosphere but where you can still see the city in the distance.
After a day at the beach we move back to the city and we are taken to Ersin’s weekly cycling group. A group of between 20 and 40 people. To get there we cycle through the city and we see how Ersin moves on the busy roads. He has a whistle in his mouth to let motorists know we’re there when needed. He behaves like a traffic controller while he himself moves on his bicycle and is part of the traffic. Nice to see how it works and while he does this he signals what we have to do.
We arrive at the place where the group meets up every week and start talking with different people. Very nice to see how some people can talk about cycling with passion. It seems like because it’s a little less common here than at home that love is even greater.
We start the bike ride of 45 kilometers through the city. What Ersin just did with us, we now do with a group. There are a few leaders who make sure everyone stays together. We cycle two by two in a row and take up an entire highway lane, which makes it very safe to cycle. If a car gets too close or threatens to merge and the group splits, everyone whistles their whistle or rings their bicycle bell. A sea of sound that we all make and we feel alive! It feels good to be part of such a group for an evening. We cycle on major roads and end up more in the center where it is more difficult to all stay together as one group. But we need each other to stay safe. After cycling for a while, we understand the communication with each other and to the cars better and we participate fully.
We take a break in a park where we sing for Ersin’s birthday, eat cake, have nice conversations and have a drink. Then we continue cycling. Eventually, the group broke up more and more. A group continues and people who live somewhere say goodbye. They will see each other again next week or sooner because every night there are different leaders and groups doing this. So the real fanatic can join a group every evening.
It was a special experience! Nice to see the city this way. Finally back on the bike for real. Experience the chaos of the road. A sense of togetherness. A feeling of really being alife! It is a shame that people need such a group to safely practice their sport, but it is nice that existence and diverse people bring together. We see people looking at the group in amazement as we cycle past and hear cars honking enthusiastically along with our exuberant whistle.