An Australian Pilgrimage by Bike in Turkey
Updated: Apr 21
After a bit over a week off with friends and running errands in Istanbul I decided I’d be fine to cycle on. My thumb was still pretty sore and I wasn’t able to use it, but I devised a way of swiveling my hand around to change gears with my index finger, rather than my incapacitated thumb.
The traffic and roads in Istanbul is a cyclist’s worst nightmare and I wanted to get out of the centre to start cycling. The best option seemed like getting a ferry across to Bandirma to cut out a chunk of the outskirts of Istanbul. The other challenge was getting across the Bosphorus to the ferry terminal.
Luckily a metro station ran nearby where I was staying and advertised being wheelchair accessible, which meant they had a lift, which I could possibly get the bike in. The best policy, I find, is always to just do it, until someone tells you not to. I cycled to the station, squeezed my bike into the lift, and wheeled it onto the train. No questions asked, success. A short ferry trip later I arrived in Bandirma and carried on cycling down the coast towards the Gallipoli peninsula.
Two days cycle and I made it across to the Gallipoli peninsula. One thing I love about cycle touring is seeing those unseen villages with friendly faces, the places most tourists never see or zoom past in their tour bus. At an intersection in the middle of the peninsula I stopped to check the direction when a man from a teahouse approached me and said ‘ANZAC?’ and pointed down the road with a welcoming smile.
As I got closer to ANZAC Cove I hit major roads works. The local government was not surprisingly using the quiet season as an opportunity to do some major road redevelopment. There was some confusion when a traffic control guy pointed that I had to use another road, but I checked the map and it was both a massive detour and I wasn’t confident the road actually went all the way. I passed a truck driver moving rocks and he indicated with a wave ‘no, don’t go this way, go back’.
I was getting a bit flustered and decided to scoot down along the unfinished road. Remember, just do it until someone says no. In Australia cycling along an unfinished road, as they’re still building it would probably be a big no, but in Turkey it’s not a problem. I politely weaved my way down the unfinished road and around heavy machinery, giving the road workers friendly wave hello as I went.
Unfortunately for me, some smart bugger had decided the best way to stop cars driving along the unfinished road, is to pile up a mound of dirt at the other end. It wasn’t high, but it was impossible for me to cycle over, and the dirt was so soft it was hard to push my fully loaded bike over it. After a mini tantrum, I resorted to unloading some weight, carrying the bags over, and then pushing the much lighter bike over the mound. This just felt ridiculous, but for all my complaining it actually didn’t take that long.
Why would you?!?
Finally, I was clear of the road works and back on bitumen with ANZAC Cove now only a short distance away. As an Australian, visiting the Gallipoli peninsula has always been high on my list of places to visit. I attend a dawn service or regular service on ANZAC day almost every year, even when I lived in London (although that’s not hard to do). I’m not sure how I expected it to feel when I finally made it there, but it wasn’t what I expected, perhaps several hours cycle in the hot sun didn’t leave me feeling particularly pensive.
I tried to sit quietly and take it all in, but I had this niggling reminder that I had to keep going. Camping isn’t allowed on the peninsula and I’d heard they enforce this fairly thoroughly, so I decided to do the right thing and carry on to the nearest town for a night indoors. One observation from my visit to ANZAC Cove was rather blatant, what a spectacularly terrible location to launch an attack.
Whilst I was supposed to be somberly paying my respects to the historical significance of the site, I did absorb the beauty of the location. On a sunny day the water is such a bright blue in contrast to the dry, barren coastline and I found this really striking.
Another location on the peninsula I needed to visit was Lone Pine, but I really didn’t want to push my bike all the way up the dirt track. I’d only seen a handful of visitors that day and in terms of theft potential, Turkey is pretty safe, so I hid my bike in the bushes to walk up to Lone Pine. I managed to find a relative on my mother’s side of the family who’d been killed at Lone Pine and I returned to find my bike safe and sound.
I made a quick pit stop at the museum on the way to the ferry, leaving my bike with car park security I wandered in with just my handlebar bag. As I entered and spotted the metal detectors by the front door, I was quickly reminded of the leatherman pocketknife I’d left in my bag. Like a deer caught in the headlights I didn’t want to turn around and leave, because I felt like that might look suspicious. Instead, I thought I’d play it cool and act surprised and apologetic, hoping they’d understand it was for camping purposes and let me return it to my bike. I’m not sure if this is a normal thought process, but that is apparently how I deal with things.
Safety is of paramount importance in Turkey of course; I don’t even think they were looking at the Xray machine and unknowingly allowed me to stroll around the museum with a knife in my bag. Despite the security slip up, I rate the museum very highly. The displays have a very joint Turkish-ANZAC feeling, and display a number of true stories revealing the generosity and humility shown between the Turkish and ANZAC forces.
In the spirit of the day I cycled onto Çanakkale for the night, where I was surrounded by other Australians on their own versions of a pilgrimage. For a brief period, it was nice to be amongst the Australian traveler community, but not for long.
Do I look deep in thought and retrospection?