About Police Checkpoints, Hammam and a Birthday

Cycling into Istanbul is a major undertaking. The internet is full of advice and safety tips on how to do it. Some suggest to make use of public transport such as the ferry. Others say to go onto smaller roads just not the infamous D-100 with its 6 lanes.

As usual I ignored all the good advice and went for the D-100. I wanted to cycle into Istanbul and I wanted to get to the center as quick as possible. So I stayed as far right as possible on the uphills and went with the flow of the center lanes on the downhills. Believe it or not but downhill I was faster then the general traffic.

But these days - one week before a very crucial referendum - things are a bit more complicated in Turkey. Not long into the day I came across the first police checkpoint. A senior, very friendly but heavily armed policeman pulled me over and asked all the usual questions. Then he offered some çay (tea). As I had not eaten in the morning I accepted the invitation which developed into a full blown breakfast. The lesser ranking officers had to pretend to be interested in my dirty underwear while searching my panniers, otherwise their superior would have had no justification to keep me so long in the police station's dining area.

In the end the officers found nothing. I guess they didn't search hard enough... Some 20km further into town I went through the same procedure again. The third time I just smiled and rode on - ignoring the stop sign of the officer.

The streets of Istanbul are really a mayhem. I arrived nevertheless intact in Sultanahmet where my parents and my brother Andreas were awaiting me. Since this was the weekend I turned 25 they had come to spend a few days with me in Istanbul.

Thus, the next two days were just pure relaxation for me - some sightseeing, plenty of good food in restaurants I could never afford on this trip and a visit to the local hammam Cağaloğlu Hamamı .

The hammam was especially relaxing. When we had sweated for about twenty minutes the Tellak came and started to scrub off all the excessive skin. Afterwards we were washed and massaged. What a treat! I finally got rid of all the dirt from over a month of riding. As it seems a shower just cannot do it.

The mood in the City was an interesting one. On Easter Sunday Turkey is voting about a critical constitutional referendum that, if accepted, will give the President much more power. There is tension in the air. Everywhere there are signs placed saying either Evet (yes) or, a lot rarer, Hayır (no). During our time in Istanbul there was also a political gathering with reported three million people. It felt as if there was something big coming to this country like an approaching storm.

My parents brought my passport from Switzerland including almost all the visas I need for the trip. When I checked them for correctness I had to realize that some of the visas are faulty. India and Pakistan entered wrong passport numbers in their respective visa. This could be a problem at the border. Another error occurred on the Iranian embassy where an entry date about two weeks too early was put down. I have no chance to correct this now.

This means that I would have to cycle through Turkey in thirteen days. Turkey is a big country and I don't want to rush through it. If I wanted to cover the whole distance by bicycle I would need to make 120km per day for two weeks non-stop on quite hilly roads. So I decided to take a bus to Sivas in Central Anatolia the day after our family gathering. Like this I shall be able to enjoy the remaining journey in Anatolia and immerse myself more into the country and its culture.

But before I had to visit some other sites, especially the Ottoman Harem in the Topkapi Palace. =)