The customs officer wants to see the papers for the bike. When I laugh and raise my shoulders he asks me to come inside for a cup of tea first - no doubt, I am in Turkey!
Exactly at the border, the snow is back. Wind and road clearing have created some 2m high snow walls along the road. But on the second day a strong, warm wind starts to blow from the south. I virtually "sail" towards İstanbul. The often stormy side-wind making it difficult to stay on the road at all.
I have reached the first big goal of this trip: İstanbul, the visibla border to Asia on the Bosphorus. Before I cross it, I explore the town for a couple of days, admire the architecture of the big mosques and get lost in the great bazar.
After almost 1000 flat kilometers along the coast, I am eager to go back into the mountains. On the way from İstanbul to Ankara I can do that. I cycle up to a high plateau at almost 1000m. No signs of winter here. On the contrary I enjoy up to fiendly 15°C cycling across the barren, open plain.
I have heard a lot about turkish hospitality. To experience it myself is wonderful: Often I am called from the road to join for a tea. If I ask in a village for the right direction or accommodation, there is no way to get around a cup of tea first.
Ankara has not been on top of my list of places, I would like to visit ın Turkey. The only reason I come here, are the visas. To continue my trip, I need to organize a lot of visas here.
So the bike gets a break for a while, while I freshly shaved and armed with maps, addresses, passport pictures and dollars go searching the embassies of central Asia...
The gordian knot
You have probably heard about the gordian knot already. But what is it all about...? Just before Ankara I have passed the ruins of Gordion, where this knot had been. It was said that whoever could untie the knot would become the ruler of all Asia. Alexander the Great came here (333BC) and tried to untie it but failed. Frustrated he cut the knot with his sword. He went on to conquer most of Asia anyway. Well, I don`t want to rule Asia but simply travel there.
The gordian knot of today travelers are the visas. Only for those who get them, the borders are open.
So I start my `battle` with the bureaucrats. My trophies are colorful stickers and imaginative stamp, some in writings I didn`t know they existed. The bureaucratic mills work at different speed. Georgia holds the fantastic record of 15 minutes. Uzbekistan is quite a bit slower with 7 days, allowing me to do some excursion to the ancient cities of Ephesus and Hierapolis.
After 14 days hunting around Ankara I am the proud owner of 5 new visas. In a euphoric mood I leave Ankara: Caucasus & Central Asia here I come! But it is still a long way to go there. So I head for Cappadocia first...
Going underground in Cappadocia
On the way to Cappadocia I again cycle over these seemingly endless tableland. The nature seems to have changed the dimensions definitely now. In these days I feel like I have left Europe behind me and am now really in Asia!
In Cappadocia the nature has created weird sculptures out of the eroded lava stones. Over the centuries, the people have cut their houses, churches and monasteries out of the sheer rock. For some days I explore the region. The highlight are complete underground cities, up to 8 levels deep, where the people hide, while invaders threatened the county.
I also enjoy beeing among other travellers and beeing able to speak not only in sign language for once...
The distances between the big cities become bigger, while I cycle towards the east. On the road there is only very little traffic anymore.
With every day towards the east, the landscape becomes rockier and drier. The road does not simply cross the tableplain anymore, but goes down into valleys and canyons and crosses passes at almost 2000m - fantastic!
Malatya is the apricot center of Turkey. Not that they are on the trees already, but the dried fruits are sold everywhere along the road. Especially in the climbs, I am an easy 'target'. At every stand I should try and get some on the way - best with a cup of tea first...
In Malatya I take the night bus back to Ankara, where I get the missing Turkmenistan visa promptly.
In Elaziğ I have to decide, where to go next. I would like to go to lake Van. But that means an additional 500km and everybody keeps telling me, that it is still very cold there. But the good weather of the past days lets me be optimistic - off we go!
But first I am heading to the south east of Turkey. Giant hydroelectric power projects on the Euphrates and Tigris have created big lakes and green fields in an otherwise arid region. In Diyarbakir I feel like being in the Orient already. The women wear colorful headscarves and the men long beards and funny baggy pants. The town is packed with people and seems to be one giant bazar - magnificent! I am now in the land of the Kurds. The villages have become much poorer. Wherever I come I attract a great deal of attention.
Out of a sudden I hear a strange noise on the bike. I stop and see that the mounting point for the back rack has brocken off the frame. I am just approaching a town and as always, there are countless car repair shops. I go to one and show my problem. The mechanic at once starts welding. I try to help him, but he orders a tea for me and tells me to sit and let him work... When I ask, what he gets he answers with a big grin as says: "turkish service!"
The return of the winter at lake Van
Through a narrow valley I cycle up to lake Van. What a contrast: While I enjoyed 15°C and see the first blooms on the apricot trees at 700m, an icy wind welcomes me when I arrive atop at 1700m. The whole landscape is still deeply under snow. The good weather holds on. The trip along the lake becomes my personal turkish highlight: Deep blue water, snowed in watersides and towering over all, up to 4000m high vulcanos - it's fantastic!
Actually, I am as close as 100km from the border to Iran. But I don't want to go there yet. Instead I am heading for the Caucasus.
So I cycle back west. As if to show me, how much luck I had with the weather at the lake, it shows itself from the worst side on the way back to Erzurum. It snows and rains and for days I fight against a headwind that is so strong that I don't seem to be moving at all. One day I give up exhausted, after 5 hours of a grueling fight, only having done 45km! The next day I get another lesson, of how long 40km can be, when a terrible snowstorm adds to the wind.
From Erzurum the road goes through a deep, narrow gorge, made of red rocks, towards the coast of the black sea. For a last (?) time, the winter sends me a snowstorm, hopefully the last one for a while...
Only short before the coast the scenery becomes green. On the hills tea is being planted and the trees are full of tangerines.