Bicycle Turkey – A Land Bridge from Asia by Rick Price
I’ve found myself referring to Turkey in recent years as having a “split personality.” It’s a Muslim country with deep-seated, conservative traditions, on one hand, and a modern, almost European country with the latest western fashions widely visible on the other. But if you stop and think about it you’ll find that this has probably been true of Turkey for over 5,000 years! And this mix of cultures, histories and cuisines (!) is what makes Turkey such a great bicycle destination.
Your first impression of Turkey’s split personality comes when you arrive and begin to explore Istanbul. At first glance you might think you’re in Paris, while at second glance you’ve got the impression you might be in Teheran or Damascus. Istanbul is, in fact, one of the most cosmopolitan and fascinating cities in the world. So be sure and plan time here on any trip to Turkey!
A bike tour along the south coast of Turkey takes you through layer after layer and century after century of Mediterranean history. Whether you are interested in the details of the ruins, the Greeks, the Romans, Alexander the Great, or Islam is beside the point. The real issue is that you’ll be traveling through a region that has been a cultural bridge from India, Persia, and Mesopotamia to Europe since 3,000 BC.
Although every day is great for history on this tour, the second and third days of the trip really give you exposure to a variety of ruins, sites, and historical experiences. Before you’ve even gotten warmed up on day two we pedal into the pine clad ruins of Phaelis, at once an ancient Lycian settlement, stopover of Alexander the Great on his eastward voyage to conquer Persia, and later a Roman colony. If for no other reason you’ll want to stop and see this beautiful seacoast with its three tiny, natural harbors.
Our second day of riding ends with a visit to the famous methane vents in Cirali on the slopes of the Turkish Mount Olympus. Apart from being a fascinating natural phenomenon, these natural flames gave rise to a variety of mythical explanations among the locals and are the origin of the famed Greek fire-breating monster, the Chimera.
But this is just the beginning, on day three of your trip you actually begin the day walking your bike along the beach and through a national archeological reserve. Before the day ends you’ll have pedaled some of the most beautiful coastlines in the Mediterranean region and had a taste of history that begins with the Greek Chimera and continues on through the Greek and Roman ruins at Lymira, near Finike. Here you don’t even have to stop as you pedal right past Lycian tombs carved in the rock cliff and a tiny Greek theater shown in the photo in this essay.
This historical and archeological buffet continues throughout the trip. Fortunately, as with any buffet, you can pick and choose according to your taste!
Speaking of buffets, the other bridge that Turkey provides between east and west is a culinary bridge. Every meal seems like a new experience as you sit down to a variety of appetizers (“meze”) that include a range of dishes from throughout Turkey and the Mediterranean region. If you’ve traveled in Greece or if you’ve been to Puglia, in Italy, with us, you’ll know what I mean.
I’ve always been fascinated with the role the Turks played in Mediterranean cuisine. The Ottoman Empire, which occupied the Balkans for so long, played a critical role in the spread of New World foods during the centuries after Columbus. In Italy, for example, corn became know as “grano turco,” or “Turkish grain,” since it came through the Balkans to Italy. Others have speculated that the tomato, “pomodoro” in Italian, comes from “pomo de moro” or “Moor’s apple.” And of course, the Ottoman Empire surely popularized a variety of Middle Eastern contributions to the tables of Europe, especially in the Mediterranean.
A short list of the delights that await you suffice to describe the buffet that you can expect on this bicycle tour:
- Kebabs, of course, including doner kebab (this has become so popular in Europe that it is the fast food of choice in Germany with its large Turkish population;
- Cacik: a sauce (say “tsa’tzik”) like the Greek tsatsiki made of yoghurt, salt, garlic (LOTS of garlic), mint, dill and more;
- Baba ghanoush: an eggplant salad famous through Greece, Turkey and the Middle East as well as grilled eggplant with tomatoes;
- Olives and goat cheese, of course;
- Savory pastries or gözleme, stuffed Turkish pancakes;
- All manner of salads combined with the above;
- Gözleme or savory Turkish "pancakes " filled with spinach, goat cheese, minced meat and spices;
- Dried apricots and hazelnuts (Turkey is a worldwide center for both these products – great snacks on the bike).
And there is so much more, not the least of which are Turkish sweets, including baklava which you can buy in bite sized pieces at pastry shops along the road for a snack before or after lunch (personally, I like me sweets before lunch, don’t you?)