Category Archives: Turkey

Bicycle in a box

Some indications you don’t like bicycle touring anymore:

– You discover you forgot to lock your bicycle and you think: oh, whatever…
– You covet the small backpack some savvy traveller is carrying and start to imagine how easy it would be to just jump on a train.
– You hate rain more than anything
– Or, no, you hate head wind more than anything
– Or, actually, it’s rain and head wind at the same time that you hate more than anything.
– You walk around town and see another bicycle tourer. You think: poor bastard..
– You walk past a beggar and want to ask him: wanna bicycle?

Blue Mosque water colour

Blue Mosque water colour

My first water colour. I only have black, though.
Black is not a colour…

Next post will be from Nepal but I won’t be riding a bicycle this time.
The bicycle stays home…
I mean like, seriously, what were you thinking?




The Topkapi Palace was filled to the brim with selfie stick wielding tourists, replacing the once familiar vista of scimitar bearing eunuchs. The museum was vast, but I was particularly fascinated by the incongruous collection of relics on display in the left wing. Among the curios were Abraham’s saucepan, a turban that once belonged to Joseph, the staff of Moses and a rather rusty sword of David.

They were protected from the visitors by glass, which seemed appopriate, given the desirable qualities ascribed to them.

Moses’s staff could be useful should the need arise to produce water from a rock. The approach seems to firmly hit the surface, but with care, or the water might turn into blood, which can get messy. Other applications of the staff are the bringing down of plagues, most notably those involving frogs, gnats and locusts, but it’s hard to find a justified course to bring this into practise, unless, perhaps, you are a terrorist with a biblical predilection. Finally, it can be used to make a lasting impresion on bystanders by turning it into a snake (sources are not clear on how to retrieve it afterwards, so better do this last).
Abraham’s saucepan could be put to good use for cooking noodles.

Sketch I made of the Hagia Sophia

Sketch I made of the Hagia Sophia

On my repeated excursions through the Old Town, I frequently inquired after the price of döner kebabs as I found them a very agreeable and generally affordable means of sustenance.  There seemed to be an inverse relationship between the price of a döner kebab and the distance to the Blue Mosque.

Where y is the price of a döner kebab and x is the distance to the Blue Mosque

Where y is the price of a döner kebab and x is the distance to the Blue Mosque

When I went over to the Asian side I took the opportunity to make a few sketches of the Maiden’s Tower, a pretty building just off the Asian shore. These were my first attempts at what is popularly known as a cityscape. If it looks familiar, it might be because it features in two James Bond movies, most distinctly so in The World Is Not Enough.

Maiden's Tower 1

Maiden’s Tower 1

Maiden's Tower 3

Maiden’s Tower 3




To the City

The morning I left Edirne I met Malik in the kitchen of the hostel. He put the spaghetti leftovers from his meal of the night before in a paper back.
What are you doing?
I put this outside for the dogs.
For the dogs?
Yes, Turkish people love dogs.
No, you can’t love dogs.
Yes, we do.
Not possible.
Yes, Turkish people just love dogs.
That’s because Turkish people don’t ride bicycles.
Within the first hour I had two dogs chasing me. The first one was big and scary, with drool running from its mouth. Luckily, it seemed to hold back and ran only a few metres alongside my bike. The second one was a scrawny cur that wasn’t able to induce any fear. Still, I wished Turkish people would stop feeding these dogs spaghetti (or cannelloni or tagliatelli), it seemed to raise unnecessary expecatations.

Snakes in Ottoman Turkey

I had no time for taking pictures of the dogs. But this Turkish painting shows a snake. Snakes are dangerous too.

In a restaurant I ordered soup.
Çorba, I said, testing out a new word I had learnt.
Işkembe? the proprietor asked.
Uhm, yes, I answered, unwilling to admit I had no idea what he  meant. Five minutes later I was chewing on some animal’s guts again. With some extra intestines added for the foreign guest who had plainly expressed his fondness for the dish.

Riding into Istanbul along the D100 was not pleasant. It’s not that the Turkish people are deliberately trying to kill you, but more the likelihood of ending up a victim of their unimpressive driving skills. At some point I was riding on what was technically a six lane motorway, fearing for my life.

In Istanbul I took residence in a hostel very close to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. The location meant I was now woken up by the most accomplished muezzins, who, nevertheless, still called for prayer at an ungodly hour, but at least in a very skillful, if not slightly hysterical, voice.


Pomegranate juice in Istanbul

Istanbul. A menu had English translations in brackets and so I discovered that a dish could be ordered  either ‘spicy’ or ‘painless’. Then I found out that the Turkish word for ‘hot, peppery’ and ‘painful’ are the same.

Endearing Edirne

Bad news: on one of the first days during my stay in Edirne, I suffered from a sudden bout of lower back pain after bending over in the shower to pick up a bar of soap. The hazards of personal hygiene are not to be underestimated and studies have proven that an astonishing number of people succeed in killing themselves every year in the bathroom. At least I had averted that fate.

You think you have problems?

Photo taken at a butcher in Edirne

Recovery is slow and frustrating, but it gives me ample time to read and learn about the Turkish culture.


The Turkish language doesn’t recognise gender. There is only one word for he, she and it. This can explain why Turkish speakers frequently mix up he and she, or him and her, when conversing in English. This makes for surprising plot twists when the subject of a narrative suddenly becomes a man instead of a woman, as was previously envisioned, or vice versa.

The history of Turkish can explain many foreign influences from Ottoman times (even though it has gone through a period of purification since). Interesting examples I found:
Bulgaristan, Yunanistan (=Greece), where the -stan suffix is of Persian origin.
A word I frequently encountered and which I recognised from my past travels in the Middle East was tamam, which means OK and is a loan word from Arabic.


Döner, as used in the ubiquitous döner kebab, means to turn in English. The same mechanism of word invention is visible in the Greek gyros (cf. gyrating) which is prepared in a similar fashion as its Turkish counterpart.
are stuffed vegetables, which I found out after I got some offered to me by the cleaning lady of the hostel. It has the same root verb as dolmuş which are the shared taxis or minibuses, where, in the past, people would be packed, or stuffed, like sardines.


I learnt the Turkish way of making tea. Turkish tea is grown in Turkey, on the eastern Black Sea coast. This seems obvious, but till then I was under the impression that the adjective Turkish was referring to the unique process of preparing the brew, which is done in the peculiar double boiler tea pot, called çaydanlık in Turkish. It mainly involves pouring boiling water from one kettle in the other with an reassuring attitude suggesting that you know what you are doing. The result is a very tasty cup, but somehow, it is never quite like the tea served in a tea house.

Turkish teapot

Turkish teapot

Turkish coffee is simply made by throwing losts of coffee in boiling water. Turkish people will tell you that it’s much more complicated than that, but it isn’t. The result tastes always the same.

In the Health Museum, which is housed in the mosque complex of Sultan Bayezid II, there were several interesting displays of treatment of the mentally ill. Music therapy and aroma therapy were used to calm the deranged and urge them to hand over their battle axes. In the courtyard, a water fountain was installed in the hope that the sound of falling water had a therapeutical effect on the mentally ill. The effect it had on me is that I had to go and find a toilet.

Edirne roses

Edirne roses in the darüşşifa, hospital, used for aroma therapy