Entering Turkey, the final country on this 16-nation tour, was the most complicated and the only militarized border crossing I experienced in Europe. It was easy leaving Greece, but not before a dog approached and barked at me, naturally. I barked back. I then entered a two kilometer no man’s land and cycled on a bridge over a river which demarcates the two countries. There were military patrols on both ends of the bridge, and neither side allowed me to take any photos. I then cycled into a large complex where the Turkish immigration formalities take place. Although there isn’t much traffic between Greece and Turkey, the queues were long because the process is so slow. It involved waiting in lines for two separate passport checks, two separate custom checks, and the purchase of an entry visa.
Finally I made it into the country and once on the road, I was blown away, literally and figuratively. It had been blustery in Greece, but the southern cross winds coming in from the Aegean and across the plains were fierce. At times I struggled to control the bike. It was a hard and slow slog to Kesan. I was also blown away by the contrast between the two countries. This part of Turkey is very agrarian and seemingly very poor. I have not seen such an abrupt transition between countries anywhere else on this journey. I have been to Istanbul before, but this is my first time in the Turkish countryside. It wasn’t long before I saw horse-drawn buggies on the road. As I entered Kesan I also saw a Burger King and realized this is the first fast food joint I have passed in perhaps two thousand kilometers (I did spot a tempting Starbucks on my way out of Thessaloniki). I worked incredibly hard to get to Turkey and the first thing I do when I arrive is visit Burger King for lunch.
Kesan is a lively market town sprawling with activity and friendly people. They don’t see too many foreigners in this part, I guess. I strolled around the central market area this afternoon as prayers blasted from speakers at the town mosque. Many people asked for their photo to be taken. It’s a scene that very much reminds me of Asia, with opportunities on the street to buy just about everything that one might need and a few things that one probably doesn’t need. One person tried to sell me a shovel.
I’m still thinking about that shovel.
Day 78: Alexandroupolis, Greece — Kesan, Turkey
Distance: 81 kilometers
Ascent: 593 meters
Weather: Fierce cross winds, but the 40% chance of precipitation didn’t happen. There is a nasty weather system moving across Europe. I hope to make it to Istanbul before this weather system.
Countdown to Istanbul:
Remaining Days: 3
Remaining Distance: ~ 230 kilometers
TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:
Distance: 5,605.12 kilometers
Ascent: 39,449 meters
Countries: 16: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey
Incidents: 6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56; police reprimand on Day 2; two terrorizing right-on-my-heels dog chases on Day 71