Yes, I felt safe in Turkey

A respected friend recently asked if I felt safe in Turkey. It’s an understandable question, what with all of the despicable terrorist attacks over the past few years in Turkey and targeting Turks worldwide. Turkey has been in the news far too often for this.

To answer this, I think you have to ask yourself a few questions.

First, what is terrorism and why is it effective?

Terrorism is the use of weapons and media to create a perceived risk that aligns with the perpetrators’ goals. The reason it works is that we, as humans, have evolved to understand risk at a local level. In a world without media and without advanced weapons, if we observe or hear about an attack on someone in our community, it represented a very real threat to our own existence. So we are conditioned to respond with fear followed by either compliance or resistance, depending on our own strength and abilities.

Terrorism usurps this instinctual response by amplifying attacks using relatively new weapons (on the timeline of evolution) and new media to amplify the fear response. An attack that would normally instill fear on the scale of hundreds of people can now reach billions, with modern guns, bombs, and instantaneous worldwide media.

I’m not saying you should ignore the news, of course. But to understand that we are conditioned to over-react to this kind of news. Understand the real risks, the real rewards, and not what someone wants you to think.

The most important thing here is that the actual risk of terrorism and the actual strength of the terrorist forces is still small. But the reason it works is that it creates a false impression of strength and risk.

Case in point, I just Googled and found out that Turkey has suffered about 1,000 terrorist deaths since 2011. This is indisputably horrible and condemnable, but then I also looked at traffic fatalities. 10,000 per year, or about 70,000 over the same time frame. Yet no international media has covered these fatalities. Most people perceive the risk of terrorism as much greater than traffic accidents, leading to the decline in tourism that Turkey has experienced. Yet almost 100% of those tourists would have been in some way involved in traffic while in Turkey, a risk that is 70 times greater.

Next, what does it mean to feel safe? In actuality, none of us is safe. We are all 100% guaranteed to die at some point, despite what Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, thinks. When our time is up, it’s up, regardless of how safe we feel at the time.

A few months ago, a former neighbor was murdered in San Francisco. He was shot at a viewpoint that I looked at every morning from my apartment in Twin Peaks when I lived in San Francisco several years ago. I am still sad and shocked about this, but was I scared living in San Francisco? No. Should I have been? A million people live their lives normally every day there, and so did I.

This doesn’t mean we should be living our lives in nonstop fear, of course. Quite the opposite, when you really internalize your mortality, it opens you up to living in the moment and being more present in your life than before.

Finally, what does it mean to be safe? Can you really live a life that’s completely safe? Would you want to? It’s all about balance, of course. We choose every day to take risks that will make our lives better, like getting on the highway to go to work, getting on the bicycle to improve our health, and traveling to a country like Turkey to immerse yourself in its rich culture and hospitality.

This is why I felt safe in Turkey, laughed with friends walking down İstiklal Caddesi in İstanbul and danced until the early morning in a nightclub there. We spent a far greater time staying in quiet non-touristy towns and cycling along busy highways, but we did these things, things that terrorists (and state departments) want you to think are not safe but really are. And I feel richer for it.

Bike stomach: we gained 5 pounds in Turkey

It’s true, Turkish food is not good for your waistline, but damn it’s yummy! Here is some more food porn from Turkey!

Mezze plate at a seafood restaurant.

Amazing grilled calamari. Everything is sprinkled with pistachios!

Spices and grains at a market in Selçuk.

Stuffed mussels, delicious street food available all along the coastal cities.

Kumru sandwich, made with fried cheese. Invented in Çeşme, but we had two in Izmir.

Gözleme, similar to a Mexican quesadilla but a bit fluffier, wrapped up or sliced into squares. Stuffed with cheese, potatoes, or spinach.

Some kind of decadent dessert in Çeşme.

Typical white cheese and vegetables to accompany a glass a rakı.

That’s all for now, hope you are enjoying these posts and I’m not making you too hungry! Next edition: Greece!

Final thoughts as we leave Turkey

Some notes about the universe looking out for you, changes, and adventure fatigue on our last days in Turkey from Istanbul to Çeşme…

The past few weeks have been full of mixed emotions, as a big section of our tour nears completion and the nature of our adventure is about to change dramatically.

It was nearing time to mail our camping gear home, as camping options in India and SE Asia are more limited than the cheap hotels. Even though it means less weight to carry on the bikes and more comfortable lodging for the foreseeable future, it brings up many fond memories of our camping so far this trip, from camping on sandy beaches to wooded patches with an ocean view to busy parks full of camper vans. These are all fantastic memories, and although we’ll have lots of new memories, we will both miss sleeping in the outdoors.

Our last camp spot was in Turkey on the island of Bozcaada, one of the few islands off Turkey’s coast that belongs to Turkey and not Greece.

A shipwreck on a beach in Bozcaada.

Unfortunately on our last night of camping, I threw out my back, and spent the next week cutting our rides short and walking around like the old man that I’m apparently becoming.

It was during these few days that I almost felt myself losing motivation for continuing our tour. I miss my friends back home, and despite how much effort we spend to make new friends, they are also gone within a day or two as we continue to travel. The novelty of visiting tourist sites has long since faded away except for the most stunning of them. We’ve seen enough churches, mosques, castles, cathedrals, markets, and monuments to fill a lifetime at this point. I think there is such a thing as adventure fatigue, and we were feeling it. Instead of sightseeing, we put our energy into meeting people and seeing the local culture where possible, but this gets draining as well, after many good byes and lost connections.

And on top of all this, my rear bike rack broke, and the bag was barely holding on. I was getting really grumpy and making Steve miserable as well, I think.

And so it was, feeling grumpy, in pain, and disheartened and homesick, that we rolled into a small town along the coast looking for lunch. The many kilometers of cobbles, poorly-paved roads, and dirt paths through olive tree fields had us uncomfortable, and none of the restaurant options looked attractive, the same boring grilled food and pizza you see everywhere. We had no chance of making it another 100km to Izmir, and we were a few days behind our original plan due to my back pain.

I think the universe looks out for us sometimes when you least expect it and most need it. And it did for us this day. Another cyclist rolled up next to us and said hello. It turns out he’s a Turk from this town who used to live in the UK so speaks perfect English. He just picked up cycling recently and was on his way to the beach but wanted to say hello and see if we needed anything. We asked for a lunch recommendation, and he insisted on riding with us to show us where the locals eat. For the same price as the pizza we were considering, we enjoyed a delicious plate of rice and beans, and eggplant and beef stew, followed by a complimentary çay. Over lunch, we talked about our plan and how we couldn’t make it to Izmir today, and he said, why don’t you take the train from Aliağa, just 60km away? We didn’t know there was a train or that you could take bikes on it! He wrote down the name of the station, and with a full stomach and new hope of getting to Izmir today, our spirits were instantly lifted.

We then asked if there might be a bike shop nearby, expecting nothing until we got to Izmir, but he took us to a small shop in town where a mechanic looked at my rack and confirmed it was not repairable since it’s aluminum. But he helped me put on a clamp to hold the rack temporarily and also reinforced the bag’s straps with an old inner tube. It should make it to Greece now, where we might find a new one.

We are so thankful for the help of everyone we’ve met along the way. Turks have been uncommonly generous, offering us their homes, food, assistance, and lots of çay. On the road, we get many friendly honks and waves. It is something very special about this country that we have grown to love.

A WarmShowers host invited us out with his friends in Çanakkale.

We will be slowing down and island hopping through the Greek islands over the next few weeks, giving ourselves a needed break from nonstop cycling to rejeuvenate and regain our excitement for our travels ahead.

And now some more photos…

Windmills at sunset Gelibolu.


The Trojan horse prop from the movie Troy.



Since we were behind schedule, we took the train from Izmir to Selçuk to see Ephesus instead of cycling. It was totally worth it! Amazing archaeological site!


The roads in Turkey are not nice for cycling. Except for a few nice roads near big cities like Izmir, there are only two options: cycle on a 4 lane divided highway with a wide shoulder and nice placement but boring. Or ride the secondary roads with no shoulder and this horrible pavement, which is basically a bunch of coarse gravel smushed onto a thin layer of tar. Kind of like sand paper. After a kilometer, your hands and butt go numb from the bumps, but the road keeps on for hundreds. It looks like sandpaper, so I kept thinking what would happen to my skin if I fell! Eek!

These look surprisingly real from far away!

The Aegean coast is stunning.


I will post a final Bike Stomach blog shortly!

Bye Turkey!

On the ferry from Çeşme, Turkey to Chios, Greece.

Bike stomach: mealtimes in other languages

I’m fascinated by language, so as we travel, I have a spreadsheet on my phone with about 100 words and phrases that I translate to the local language. Three of the words are: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

It’s really interesting that the words used to describe these meals often say something about the culture’s perception of those meals.

Disclaimer: I’m not a linguist, so I’m probably drawing some conclusions that aren’t 100% correct, but it’s something fun to think about, especially as we are cycling and begin to get hungry.

In English, for example, it’s easy to see how breakfast refers to “breaking the fast”; you’ve been fasting during sleep, and the point of breakfast is to get something to eat quickly to recover your energy. Also, lunch, dinner, and supper have different connotations about the time and the types of food typically eaten, so it makes sense they have words with different etymologies.

Similarly, in French, the word “déjeuner” literally means “to end a fast”. Traditionally, French didn’t eat a mid-day meal, so déjeuner was the first meal of the day. However, in modern times, déjeuner is eaten at noon-time, and so the French now say “petit déjeuner” for the morning meal, literally, “small déjeuner”. And breakfast in France is usually small and simple, a croissant or toast with jam.

In Turkish, the words for lunch and dinner are “öğle yemeği” and “akşam yemeği”, respectively. Literally meaning “noon food” and “evening food”. I find it interesting that the terms are so generic, and it reflects the reality that Turks seem to eat whenever they want and many dishes are often offered all day long, so the only thing to specify about a meal is what time it is eaten. Breakfast, however, has its own word, “kahvaltı”, which literally means “before coffee”, and describes the tradition of eating a hearty morning meal followed by strong Turkish coffee.

I didn’t expect so much of the food culture to make its way into the language like this, but in retrospect it totally makes sense, and I look forward to learning more as we continue to travel!

Around the world: All the Way Across Europe!

From my last post, you know that we’ve arrived in Istanbul. This is a huge milestone for us, as it marks our entrance into Asia. We rode from the western most point in continental Europe in Portugal. The east side of Istanbul is officially in Asia, whereas the west side is in Europe. Although it was never an explicit goal to cross Europe 100% by bicycle, it feels great to be able to say that we’ve done this. We were open to taking trains and busses if needed, and we almost did in Spain but the train line was under construction, so we had to ride (on April Fool’s day, even!). Yes, we’ve taken side trips by bus, train, car, and even a flight, but if you connect the dots, it all connects, with the exception of a few ferry trips (hey, we can’t cycle on water!).

Our entrance into Turkey has been yet another big cultural adjustment, but we have really been enjoying this country. And not just for the food, which I described in detail in my last blog.

Our first day took us to Edirne, where we crashed on the floor of an apartment of a bike shop owner. We explored the town by foot with its historic mosque and introduced ourselves to Turkish cuisine, language, and culture. After Bulgaria where nearly everyone spoke English, it was difficult as we subjected random locals to our abysmal Turkish. This is the 12th language we’ve had to learn so far, and it’s not an easy one.

It’s too bad we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the bike shop owner, but in the morning, he offered us some tea on our way out, and I noticed that somehow I’d broken a spoke! He fixed it for us and sent us on our way.

The cyclist we met in Bulgaria had given us an introduction to a CouchSurfing host in Kırklareli, so we looked him up, and he agreed to host us for two nights, even though he already had company. Murat was a perfect host, and we are forever grateful for his help and comfortable place to stay. He showed us the meaning of Turkish hospitality with his warm greetings, lots of amazing food, tips on where to visit and what to do in Turkey. We spent hours chatting with him and his friends and playing with his kitten.

After Kırklareli, we intended to cycle along the D020 but the road surface was so rough that we turned south to try to avoid it and ended up following the D100 into Istanbul. The D100 is a fairly busy highway but has a huge shoulder, so it’s very safe just a bit tedious.

When passing through Lüleburgaz, we ran into three Turkish cycle tourists. We stopped to say hi and wish them a good trip, and our language barrier caused a bit of confusion, with one of them thinking we needed a mechanic. He called his friend and cycled with us to the center of town to introduce us and show us where to get lunch, and we apologized to his friend about the misunderstanding. We felt bad but were taken aback at how quickly they had dropped what they were doing to help out a stranger.

After lunch, a man with his wife and son said hello to us and asked us where we are from. He said he’s an English teacher and whispered to his son to say something. “Welcome to Turkey!”, he said with a shy smile but perfect English. After we said good bye, his son came running after us and said, “wait! My father!” Seconds later, his dad appeared with two cold bottles of water, just the thing we needed! We couldn’t thank him enough.

But Turkey wasn’t done welcoming us! A kind man then walked up to us and shook our hands and said, “hoş geldiniz” or “welcome”. We felt like celebrities.

Turkey has been full of pleasant surprises like this, and you can tell the importance of hospitality runs deep. We are so humbled and grateful to everyone we have met so far who has helped us along the way.

In Çorlu, we met up with a really interesting guy who is just starting a bike shop and hopes to make touring bicycle frames. We chatted for an hour over çay and he helped us out with some spare parts and Steve bought a new helmet to match his bike.

We reached the coast of the Sea of Marmara and followed it into Istanbul. Close to the city, there were enough bike paths and side roads to keep us out of traffic, and it was pretty light anyway due to a national holiday.

We ended up spending five full rest days in Istanbul, and it was incredible to see this historic city as well as to put our feet up for a while and just relax. We stayed on the less-touristy Asian side, and it was in a bustling neighborhood with lots to do. On two days we ferried to the European side to do some sightseeing and celebrating, meeting up with Steve’s friend who has lived here from Ohio for a while.

On other days, we relaxed in our neighborhood with a beer and backgammon game, a traditional pastime of the locals.

There are street cats everywhere in Istanbul, and we bought some food to give to the hungry ones as we walked around. Most appreciated it, but a few were picky eaters and just walked away!

Photos from the Hağia Sofia.

I like the city symbol, which is on everything.

These eyes are everywhere, even embedded into the side walks and are considered good luck.

Random city reflections.

From the spice bazaar. The grand bazaar was closed due to the holiday.

Some of the old buildings had elaborate but decaying woodwork.

Today we are on a ferry across the Sea of Marmara to continue our cycling towards Izmir. Excited to see what other wonders Turkey has in store for us!

Bike stomach: Turkey is a food country

This is what one of our first hosts told us on our second day in Turkey: “Turkey is a food country.” What a relief after the past few months. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ćevapćići, but although there has been some great flavors, the menu since Italy has left something to be desired for variety.

We’ve been in Turkey for almost two weeks now, and we’ve gotten to try lots of traditional and special dishes. Where to start?!

Produce and ingredients

Like other parts of Europe, fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant in every town at markets like this one. The northwest region has a lot of small farms and they often sell directly to the public in town centers.

Not necessarily typical in Turkish cooking, I couldn’t make a post about food without a photo from the spice bazaar in Istanbul.


Turkish breakfast is world renowned. We’ve tried a few simple versions, such as this one in Kadıköy, a neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Also typical for breakfast or as a snack is börek. We’ve been enjoying various interpretations of this greasy, flaky phyllo dough delicacy since Croatia, but Turkey’s puts all others to shame.


Çay (pronounced “chay”, meaning tea) is available everywhere, even at shops and stores. No serious business or discussion can happen without çay, and we have been offered it at bike shops, cafes, and everywhere else. Above is the most popular glass it is served in. At first I was annoyed that it was in a glass because it was too hot to pick up, but then I realized the genius of this is that you will never burn your mouth because when you can pick it up with your hands, it’s cool enough to drink.

Turkish coffee is also famous, and it is usually had after a meal, though we sometimes find one to wake us up.

Alcohol is forbidden by Islam, so it is not readily available at cafes and restaurants. However, Turkey is a secular country, and so there are many liquor stores around and bars are easy to find in larger cities.

Other dishes

These are called pide, pronounced “pee-duh” and are kind of like a Turkish pizza.

Tavuk döner. Döner is hard to explain if you haven’t seen it, so below is a picture of how it looks in the kitchen. It’s basically a bunch of meat (chicken in this case) stacked on top of each other and put on a spit and slow roasted, then shaved and put on a plate or a wrap, etc. Döner places are everywhere so it’s good and easy to find.

Adana kebap, beef grilled on a spit.

Rice and beans are a popular, cheap, and quick meal.

This puffed up bread was being served as an appetizer with some kind of spicy cheese. Not sure what it is called.

İskender is a heavy but delicious dish with shaved meat on top of fries or bread with yogurt, drenched in butter. We love it when we’ve had a long day on the bike.

This dish is called mantı and is a kind of pasta with meat inside with a yogurt topping.


As if all that isn’t enough, Turks have one hell of a sweet tooth, and freshly baked baklava, Turkish ice cream, and other sweets are available everywhere.

We’ve had some kind of baklava every day.

Sometimes with ice cream on top because why not?

Turkish delight (lokum) come in a bewildering number of flavors. You have to try them all. My favorite is the pomegranate with pistachios.

Künefe is one of our favorites when cycling, deep fried (in butter I think), filled with stringy cheese, and topped with ice cream. You can ride 100 miles with this in your belly!

Special experiences

We decided to give a service called VizEat a try in Istanbul. You meet up with a local chef, usually at their home, and they prepare for you a typical meal. We had a fantastic experience with Asude, who had us try many dishes that are popular in the region she grew up in as well as other more national dishes. The food was amazing, and we had a great conversation about cooking, her and our travels, Turkey, and the street cats that she helps foster and feed in her neighborhood. If you are traveling and love food, I highly recommend this service!


Artichokes with rice and dill

Vegetables in olive oil

We later headed down to Galata Bridge to try the balık ekmek, literally “fish bread”.

Historically, the fisherman had so much excess fish that they would cook it right on the boat. Nowadays the fish is imported and the boats are just for show, but it’s a great sandwich still for just 5-8 Lira ($2-3).

Finally, we met up with a friend of Steve’s who has lived in Istanbul from Ohio for a while. He and his wife recommended a rakı and mezze restaurant and we asked them to join us.

It’s kind of like Spanish tapas where you get many small plates. It was a great way to try a lot of new things and have a great conversation. 4 hours later, we rolled ourselves home!

I hope you’ve enjoyed and we haven’t made you too hungry! More soon to come about the non-food-related parts of our trip…