A Week in Tbilisi

Our stay in Tbilisi marked our longest time away from cycling since leaving Istanbul six weeks ago. The main reason for our long stay was that we planned to apply for both our Iranian and Chinese visas in the city, thus beginning the annoying Central Asian visa quest circuit. China is actually a new addition to the list of countries whose visa processing is long and frustrating. Only recently have they added much stricter requirements for obtaining a tourist visa. They now ask for things like a list of complete hotel bookings for the duration of your stay in China, a flight in and out of the country or sometimes even a letter of invitation from a tour company with whom you will be travelling. The embassy in Tbilisi also listed the additional requirement of “being Georgian or having residency status in Georgia” (how did we miss that?). Despite this, we made our way to the Chinese consular services office to see if we might be able to secure a visa. We were told that with a letter of invitation we could apply for a visa. About 30 e-mails to Chinese tour companies later, we abandoned the idea of getting a visa in Tbilisi.

Getting our Iranian visa on the other hand was a relatively smooth process. We had applied for “authorization codes” through an Iranian travel company before leaving Canada. These codes are sent to the embassy ahead of time and we were theoretically pre-approved for the visa. Other than the embassy staff momentarily not finding our codes, we had our visas in one working day (we applied on Friday and had them on Monday) after filling out an application form and giving them all ten of our fingerprints (they didn't ask us for our knuckle prints but there was space for them on the form).

At the embassy were two other cyclists, British friends Imran and Jon, doing basically the same route as us (but at twice our speed). We met up with them twice in Tbilisi while we spent the weekend waiting for our visas. We also had two nights with our American friends Amy and Brian who happened to be staying in the same Tbilisi hostel as us. Brian is a terrific cook and on his initiative we made cheese burgers, baked potatoes and glazed carrots for dinner on our first night in the city. As Americans, they are unable to cycle through Iran, so they are taking the “Northern route” across the Caspian Sea. We expect to cross paths with them again somewhere in China or Southeast Asia (we'll never catch up to Jon and Imran).   Showing off our Iranian visas at the Tbilisi embassy with Jon and Imran

Tbilisi doesn't really have a week's worth of sight-seeing, or maybe we didn't have the energy to devote a week to sight-seeing. Whatever the reason, with the exception of a few strolls through Old Tbilisi and a half-day trip to the neighbouring town of Mtskheta we concentrated our energies on finding good cheap meals. Georgian food is pretty heavy but delicious and inexpensive. Yann would eat khachapuri (cheese stuffed bread) three times a day if had the choice but our favourite dish was badrizhani nigvzit (fried eggplant with walnut sauce) which we bought every time we saw it on a menu.   View of Old Tbilisi from the top of the cable car

  Backstreets of Old Tbilisi

  Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta

Tbilisi's biggest problem is general lack of consideration for pedestrians. There are virtually no traffic lights and crosswalks are completely ignored. Pedestrians are either forced to use unlit, urine-soaked underground walkways or make their way across multiple lanes of high-speed traffic. Around our hostel we memorized the best (least scary) places for street-crossing but getting around the city on foot was extremely unpleasant (forget getting around on a bicycle). Aside from the food, we weren't particularly torn about leaving the Georgian capital.   No traffic, a rare sight in Tbilisi 

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support 

Sightseeing in Central Georgia

We scheduled two days of rest in Akhaltsikhe to recover from our climb over the mountains from Batumi, but also because we wanted to visit some of Georgia's tourist attractions in the area. We didn't end up getting much rest in Akhaltsikhe because as usual we packed our schedule with activities.

Our first excursion was to the thousand-year-old Sapara Monastery, sitting in the mountains above Akhaltsikhe about 12km away. Rather than finding a taxi we decided that it wouldn't be too difficult to ride up to the monastery without our saddle bags. We set out in the late afternoon estimating a two-hour ride. After twenty minutes of climbing on a road that could barely be qualified as a road (averaging 4km/hr), with storm clouds filling the sky, we agreed to a ride from a group of young men heading up towards the monastery for a picnic (a drinking picnic).   Storm clouds appeared right as we set out from Akhaltsikhe to Sapara Monastery

They dropped us off about halfway to the monastery, but they brought us past the worst part of the road and the remaining climb was easy. The skies cleared right as we arrived at the monastery and we had a perfect weather for visiting and for our ride back down into Akhaltsikhe.   Late afternoon at Sapara Monastery

  Riding down to Akhaltsikhe from Sapara Monastery

On our second day visited Vardzia, a 12th century cave monastery, carved out of a mountainside along the Mtkvari River (Georgia's longest river). Vardzia is 60km from Akhaltsikhe and is the area's most well-known tourist attraction. In the morning we made our way to the bus station to find the daily mini-bus to Vardzia. In the parking lot of the bus station, we were approached by a driver who offered to take us there and back. The price we were quoted for the private car was about twice that of public transportation. I was feeling unenthusiastic about having to endure motion sickness (I had packed a few plastic bags for the road) and the idea of taxi was very appealing. Yann was really not into the idea of a taxi but he went along with it.

Right before setting off, a few taxi drivers approached our driver and began yelling at him. From what we understood, he was undercutting the others and they weren't very happy. He may not have been part of the official Vardzia taxi cartel. It wasn't clear to us what was going on, but in the end it appeared that another driver was next in line for the overpriced tourist drive to Vardzia. Our original driver did not put up much resistance when we were escorted to another taxi, so we assumed that by going with a new driver we were respecting the laws of the parking lot. We were charged more of course.

Our driver drove like an ass. When I told him to slow down he pointed at his chest and said “me good driver, no problem”. Yann was really pissed about our new arrangement and didn't trust our driver (who had been pretty aggressive in wrestling us away from the other driver). When we got back to Akhaltsikhe he annoyingly tried to get even more money from us (we refused). But on a positive note, we had visited Vardzia and the Khertvisi Castle in about half the time it would have taken by bus. And our driver had at least been friendly while he toured us around.   Approaching Vardzia

  Vardzia cave monastery

  Khertvisi Fortress

In the late afternoon, we visited Rabati, a newly restored castle complex overlooking Akhaltsikhe. While Georgia hopes it will be a huge draw for tourists, for us, it wasn't as interesting as original sights and didn't feel very authentic. There were more security guards than there were visitors.   The newly restored Rabati Castle complex

From Akhaltsikhe we got back on our bikes for a short 50km ride to Borjomi, a town famous as the source of Georgia's carbonated mineral water of the same name. As we weren't visiting the nearby national park, there wasn't a tremendous amount of things to do, other than drink water from the source: a warm, fizzy, salty, eggy gag-inducing delight. The water is thought to have healing properties which is why Yann and I drank a full mouthful each.
  Borjomi mineral water, straight from the source

After Borjomi, we had about 30km of riding on a secondary highway before reaching the country's largest highway (Ⴑ-1) , which up until then we had managed to avoid. The highway is two lanes and undivided for most of the fifty kilometres from the turn-off to the Borjomi road until Gori, our next destination. Most of the country's traffic is concentrated on this road, so you can imagine how pleasant it is for cycling. We tried a few detours, but none lasted very long so we pushed on, often riding in the gravel shoulder.   The busy Ⴑ-1 highway between Khashuri and Gori

Gori is most famous as the birthplace of Iosef Jughashvili, later known as Joseph Stalin. Stalin continues to hold national hero status in his hometown whose largest thoroughfare is known as Stalin avenue. Gori's affection for Stalin seems to be one of the reasons that the city is such a draw for foreign tourists. The city is home to the Stalin Museum, mainly a collection of photos of the former leader. In front of the museum is the house where Stalin is said to have been born and raised. We didn't take a rest day in Gori, so we visited all the “Stalin sights” soon after arriving in the city. 
  Stalin Avenue, Gori

After a short afternoon nap we got back on our bikes and cycled to Uplistsikhe, a cave complex, similar to Vardzia but far more ancient. Our ride to and from Uplistsikhe brought us to over 100kms of riding for the day. We left Borjomi at 6am and we weren't back at our guesthouse until 8pm. But we knew that from Gori we were heading to Tbilisi for at least a week of rest and visa applications so we decided not to miss out on any of the area's sights.   Uplistsikhe cave complex, about 13km from Gori

Our 90km ride from Gori to Tbilisi was pretty crap. We continued on the busy Ⴑ-1 highway and the traffic increased the closer we got to the city. Bicycles, tractors and other slow-moving vehicles are technically prohibited from using the highway, but police passed us regularly, continuing to not enforce the rules of the road. There was a wide shoulder until about the last 20km into Tbilisi when it disappeared to give way to five lanes of traffic into the city. The cars slowed down at this point, so in some ways it was less scary than when we were being passed by huge speeding trucks. We managed to ride all the way to our hostel, right in the centre of the city where we had an air-conditioned room waiting for us. Bicycles are prohibited from riding on Ⴑ-1 highway (this rule appears to be unenforced)

Stats for Akhaltsikhe to Tbilisi:

Days of cycling: 3
Days of  rest: 2
Kilometres cycled: 246
Metres climbed: 1403
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 5

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

Over the Mountains of Southwestern Georgia

From Batumi we planned to ride about 160 kilometres until our next rest day. Our route would take us first into the humid forested valleys of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains across the Autonomous Region of Adjara, then over the 2025m Goderdzi Pass. We would break for a few days in Akhaltsikhe, the capital of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, a hotter and dryer region, where we would do some local sightseeing.

Ambitiously, our plan was to do the trip in two days with an overnight in Khulo. The road deteriorates right after Khulo so we knew our first day would be easy but that we might have to take an extra half day and camp somewhere between Khulo and the top of the pass.

We left Batumi a little bit later than we had hoped, thanks to some noisy roommates in our dorm room who had kept us up well into the night. The only way Yann could keep me from having a total meltdown was by promising (at about midnight when we were still lying wide awake in our beds) that we would sleep in until 6:30am. Luckily it rained most of the night and into the morning, cooling the air and making for extremely pleasant riding conditions. The scenery was great and the few vehicles were not driving very quickly due to the sharp curves on the road. Villagers were friendly and waved to us as we rode by. We felt very happy with our choice of route.   Along the Batumi-Khulo road

The historic Dandalo Bridge, on the Batumi-Khulo road

  We're in a good mood because we chose such a nice route

The day was relatively easy until about 10km from the town when we had to make up for 70km of gradual inclines with a 300m climb into Khulo. The only hotel with any vacancies was an additional 100m climb (which I walked). We had a great meal and an even better sleep in the cool mountain weather. I went to bed feeling confident, we had climbed to 950m and we were 30km from the top of the pass (Yann only told me the next morning that we would go down more than 200 metres before starting our actual ascent).

Having had such a lovely sleep we woke up at 4:30am not wanting to get out of bed. I convinced Yann that we should take a rest day since we had such a great, inexpensive place to sleep. We slept in and had a leisurely breakfast then decided at 9am that we both had lots of energy and that we should continue riding. So we set out an hour later (almost 5 hours later than we had planned).

The second day of riding was much more difficult, not because of the grade of the road but because of its generally terrible conditions. Not more than a few metres out of town from Khulo the road is no longer paved. But the traffic was sparse, the scenery beautiful, the people friendly and the weather cool once again, so we didn't spend too much time worrying about the condition of the road.   Yann making his way to the Goderdzi Pass

 These two beauties ran out from their home to watch us ride by

In the late afternoon, after about seven hours of climbing and after finishing the most difficult portion of the road (10% grades, large loose rocks), we were still 200 metres from the top of the pass. We were getting tired, Yann even had to push his bike for the first time (in solidarity he claims). We debated whether to set up camp but decided instead that if we did not reach the pass by 6pm (another 2 hours) we would stop for the night. At 5:45 we had made it to the top, averaging a whopping speed of 5.7km/hr. We had 2.5 hours of light remaining in the day and 55km to Akhaltsikhe and we decided that we would make it.   Emilie climbing up to Goderdzi Pass, moving average from Khulo: 5.7km/hr
    Goderdzi Pass, 2025m

This wasn't the smartest plan, mainly because we didn't get to enjoy what would have otherwise been a very easy 55km. We had 20km of difficult descent on steep unpaved road like the one we had just climbed, but then we hit a brand new pavement for 35km which we sped across without taking more than a few 2 minute snack breaks. We hadn't had dinner and our lunch had consisted of hazelnuts and dates.   Passing the village of Zarzma, it is getting darker, we have 35 km to Akhaltsikhe, and we still haven't hit pavement

The closer we got to Akhaltsikhe the more the traffic increased and as the sun set we got more nervous and peddled as fast as we could. At one point a car purposely swerved towards us and pulled away at the last minute (hopefully as a bad joke), making us even edgier.

When we finally arrived at the Prestige Hotel in the darkness, starving and exhausted, we were greeted by friendly staff who opened the front door as they saw us coming and instructed us to wheel our bicycles right in. We were in our room a few minutes later eating a huge pile of food from the grocery store next door, very happy to be safe and settled, having learned the lesson to slow down.

Stats for Batumi to Akhaltsikhe:

Days of cycling: 2
Days of rest: 1
Kilometres cycled: 174
Metres climbed: 2559
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 5

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

Into Georgia (Trabzon to Batumi)

Turkey's border with Georgia is only about 200km from Trabzon. Two more days of flat, easy riding along the D010 highway. Our last two days in Turkey marked the first two days of Ramadan. Although we were sad to be leaving the country, our timing was right because cycling during Ramadan isn't that easy. Although many of the restaurants remained open, we rarely saw anyone eating. The tea shops were full of their regular customers, but no one had any tea. We ate our self-catered meals on the side of the highway, trying to stay out of sight.  We miss our daily pides

Shortly past Trabzon, we entered the country's tea-growing area. Tea plants fill the countryside and the hills along the highway. We passed dozens of Çaykur (the state-run tea company) processing plants near where the air would fill with a smell of tea. The highway was littered with tea leaves, fallen from one of the many fully-loaded trucks carrying the plants to be processed.  Çaykur tea processing plant

Crossing the border at Sarp was extremely easy. On the Turkish side we were treated as vehicles, so we lined up with the cars and trucks and rode ourselves to the booth where we were quickly stamped out. In Georgia we weren't vehicles anymore, but we were allowed to wheel our bikes along through the lines and were stamped in equally quickly.

On the Georgian side, the six-lane divided highway with wide, paved shoulder became a two-lane undivided highway with no shoulder. And the driving seemed to be very bad. Not wanting to prejudge the country's drivers we thought that maybe the 20 kilometres of highway to Batumi simply didn't have the capacity to handle the volume of traffic coming from the border. Although the “double overtake”, “triple overtake” if you count us (a car passing a car while it is passing a car while it is passing two cyclists) was really disconcerting. Especially scary is the “double overtake” coming in the opposite direction, towards us. We were forced onto the grass, or gravel shoulder a few times.

Yann's father pulled out this great (and seemingly accurate) description of Georgian driving from the U.S. State Department's travel advisories:

“You should exercise extreme caution when driving in Georgia, as many local drivers do not operate their vehicles in accordance with established traffic laws. Traffic signals and rules of the road are often completely ignored. Motorists drive erratically, often recklessly, at excessive speeds, and many times under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Motorists frequently encounter oncoming high-speed traffic attempting to pass other vehicles at blind turns or over hilltops.” 

 A rare moment of calm on the road to Batumi
We were happy to get of the roads and into the safety of the nice centrally-located D'Vine Hostel, recommended by three other cyclists for the garden (great for storing and/or working on bicycles) and the laid-back atmosphere. 

Batumi is a strange city. A resort town with multiple casinos and luxury hotels (and many more being built, including a Trump Tower) and a long pebbly beach front. It is apparently a top destination for domestic tourists, but also many Russians and Turks. We walked around the city centre but as it was rainy, we spent most of our time in the city planning our route to Tbilisi.
 Batumi's pebble beach
Batumi's "Alphabet Tower"
Upon the advice of the hostel owners, we were counselled to scrap our original idea of following the main highway across the country. Alternatively, we could take a mountain road to the south, through the Autonomous Region of Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti. The advantage of this alternative route, other than the scenery and mountain weather, was the lack of high-speed traffic. The disadvantage was that it involved about twice as much climbing, on an unpaved and poorly-maintained road. After much hesitation we opted for the climbing (only after finding a blog with cyclists who described the climb as “gradual” and after receiving a report from Amy and Brian who confirming that the road was “very very bad” but that we could do it). We figured that it had to be more pleasant than sharing the highway with Georgian drivers. 

Stats for Trabzon to Batumi:

Days of cycling: 2
Days of rest: 3
Kilometres cycled: 211
Metres climbed: 841
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 3

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

Trabzon and the Eastern Black Sea Coast

From Samsun, we would be riding along the flat coastal D010 highway for the rest of our ride through Turkey. We were very relieved to not be climbing for a while but in exchange for the easy riding we were treated to some pretty terrible scenery. The D010 is a busy multilane highway that has basically ruined the Black Sea coastline for all but a few towns where the highway deviates away from the coast. For the most part, the shoulder is wide and the cycling is easy. Crossing some of the larger towns the shoulder disappeared which was a little bit scary, but we just moved through them as quickly as possible and had no problems. Our super cool safety vests seem to be doing the trick!  Emilie along the D010 highway

Where we did not feel safe at all, were the multiple tunnels along the highway between Samsun and Trabzon. The tunnels have no shoulder, are often dark, and are lined with storm drains that are parallel to the road. This meant that every few dozen metres we'd have to swing out into the traffic to avoid getting a tire stuck in the storm drain. The traffic did not slow down at all, in fact it seemed like everyone sped up. Every tunnel was a huge stress. So when we read that there was a 4km long tunnel along the route we decided to avoid it by taking the longer and hillier coastal road. We rode an extra 20km and climbed a few extra hundred metres but the coastal road was scenic and virtually traffic-free. We even stumbled upon a local tourist attraction, the Jason Church, a 150 year-old Greek Orthodox Church that sits isolated on the edge of the Black Sea at Cape Jason.
Following the coast between Bolaman and Perşembe
 Jason Church

Unlike our route through inland Turkey, we had not trouble finding accommodation. We stayed in budget hotels or pansiyons every night. Our unpacking and packing routine is now pretty much perfected and Yann has gotten used to lugging our bikes up and down flights of stairs. Our nicest accommodation was in the small town of Tirebolu , not for the quality of the facilities (pretty sure there was dead mouse stinking up the kitchen) but for its location directly across from a great beach. From the top of a cable car ride in Ordu

The towns where we stayed for the night (Ünye, Ordu and Tirebolu) were fairly unremarkable, but Ordu was bustling and friendly and had a nice new cable car that we rode to get views of the city. Tirebolu was a pleasant stop because the highway follows a 2km tunnel through the mountain right before the town, leaving its beach and downtown relatively unspoiled (as an added bonus we got to avoid another long tunnel). Early morning departure from the luxurious Ordu Palace hotel

Our arrival into Trabzon was a little bit hectic and we got lost navigating back streets, trying to avoid the heavy highway traffic that runs through the busy city. I was pretty anxious, and I was mad (unjustifiably) at Yann for taking us through steep, cobblestone side streets right after Friday afternoon prayers when the streets were packed with pedestrians. We arrived at Atatürk Square (the centre of Trabzon), frazzled and grumpy but were greeted by Mike and Heather, a pair of Australian cyclists who led us directly to the hotel from where they had just checked out. With no work at all we had a great, cheap room and a place to store our bicycles! We opted for 3 whole rest days in Trabzon (our longest rest yet), not because we were particularly tired, but because we thought we could slow down a little bit. Trabzon's star attraction is the 4th century Sumela Monastery, 45km away and 1200m up from the city (no we did not cycle there despite Yann's wishes). We visited on a Saturday, which was kind of silly seeing as we were in Trabzon for three days. It was extremely busy, but that didn't detract too much from it's impressiveness.
Entering Sumela Monastery

Frescoes inside the Rock Chapel of Sumela Monastery

Other than the monastery, Trabzon has it's own Aya Sofya church, which we visited in about an hour, and not much else. So we don't feel too bad about hanging around relaxing and not doing much but enjoy our last few days of Turkish food before heading into Georgia.
Trabzon's Aya Sofya

Stats for Samsun to Trabzon

Days of cycling: 4
Days of rest: 1
Kilometres cycled: 354
Metres climbed: 1492
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 2

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

Halfway through Turkey (Safranbolu to Samsun)

We spent two rest days in Safranbolu, visitable in about two hours but much more enjoyably visited by slowly wandering through its narrow streets, eating saffron Turkish delights, drinking tea and savouring the local cuisine (fresh noodles cooked in butter topped with goat cheese and crumbled walnuts). In an effort to maximize my relaxing I even tried a hamam (Turkish bath) which may or may not have been relaxing (I haven't decided yet). The only problem with taking a double rest day is the difficulty in starting up again especially when your butt and legs have not yet completely recovered. I had nightmares about sitting on my saddle again. Safranbolu

From Safranbolu, we decided to cut across inland Turkey in an attempt to avoid the brutal up and down climbing of the coastal road. Our inland road would still involve lots of climbing but we hoped it would be more gradual and predictable. 

For a gentle return to cycling, from Safranbolu we rode to Kastamonu, 107 kilometres, 1260 metres of climbing and over 12 hours on the saddle away. Kastamonu is the former capital of the Isfendiyarid Dynasty (13th and 14th centuries) but is now a somewhat nondescript city surrounded by farm land, with a population of about 100,000 (it does have a castle though). We barely had enough energy to drag ourselves from our guesthouse to get food, so we didn't visit.

The next day, we were under the mistaken impression that we would had an easy day of “downhill riding” but it ended up being 120 kilometres (and lots of climbing) to Boyabat, the next town with a hotel. The most difficult part of the riding from Safranbolu was the mid-day heat which slowed our progress to a crawl and drained us of all energy. In the tiny town of Hanönü we stopped for drinks and almost immediately were greeted by the town journalist who wanted to interview us for the local newspaper. Apparently Hanönü has recently been revealed to be a potentially very profitable mining area, so a young English speaking geologist was on hand to help translate for the interview. We had no trouble answering most of the questions (where are you from? how long is your trip? where are you going? where did you start?) the only one that stumped us was “why are you doing this?”. In the 40° C heat, after discovering that there is 45km to your destination (instead of the 20km that you thought)...very good question. The very sweet journalist gave us a short history lesson about the area (of which he seemed to be quite proud) and had us bike in front of the town's historical hamam where caravans used to stop and rest hundreds of years ago. Apparently Hanönü was exactly one day of travel away from Boyabat, so it was a rest-stop on an ancient trade route. We joked that we were travelling at about the same speed as the caravans were. I think the only thing that made me able to continue onwards to Boyabat was the decision we made to take a rest day there. The road between Kastamonu and Boyabat

Posing with the local journalist who interviewed us in Hanönü

Boyabat, like Kastamonu has a castle which this time we made an effort to visit. We were the only ones visiting. We accidentally took the scary, incredibly steep, dark, and bat-filled stairway up to the castle which was completely terrifying. But, we saw it on Boyabat tourism posters later on in the day, so we felt like pretty accomplished tourists. Emilie in the bat-filled death trap leading up to Boyabat Castle

From Boyabat we had two more days of riding to Samsun, our unofficial “half-way through Turkey” point (it looks about half-way on the map), but only one more day of climbing before hitting the flat section of the Black Sea coastal road. It was a pretty tough day of climbing, directly up and over the Pontic Mountains. We also took the wrong road, so we had no idea what to expect, which is mentally extremely taxing. On our planned route we would have begun our descent at the 50km mark, on the road we took we didn't begin the descent until the 85km mark (that's 35km of wondering when the hell the pain is going to stop). The road was virtually free of traffic, which was great, because we needed both lanes to crisscross up the hill when it was particularly steep (which was a lot of the time). Holding back tears

Over the Pontic Mountains

But as a reward for our wrong turn, after hours without crossing a village, we arrived at a country festival up in the mountains. Despite it being fairly late in the afternoon we decided we couldn't pass up the chance to see Turkish wrestling so we wheeled our mountains up the hillside. Passing the food tents lined with sheep carcasses we made our way to the wrestling pitch where we lay our bikes down and sat in the grass to watch the tournament. No more than five minutes later, the wrestling announcer was calling us out onto the field where he introduced us to the crowd (who cheered and clapped for us). We're guessing he said something like “here are two Canadian tourists who have cycled all the way here to see our festival, please welcome them” because when we went back to our seats we were greeted by dozens of people, shaking our hands and saying hos geldiniz (welcome). We were given prime viewing seats (with the women and elderly) before being fed a giant plate of freshly-roasted lamb and continuing on our way.

Listen carefully for our names as we are introduced at the wrestling tournament

We didn't arrive in the the coastal town of Alaçam until shortly before 8pm and being Saturday night on a festival weekend, the two local hotels were full. With some assistance from an English speaker staying at the only waterfront hotel, we were escorted to a beach-side trailer park where we hoped to set up our tent. After being greeted by some pretty shady looking characters we ended up being offered someone's cabin for the night, at a fairly exorbitant price. It was the first time in Turkey when we felt that we were being taken advantage of. We couldn't open the cabin windows, but at least it had a lock. Despite being completely exhausted, we spent the night struggling to sleep through the heat, the sounds of loud music and the drunken yelling. Chips and soft drinks for dinner at our cabin in Alaçam

The next day, our “flat day” to Samsun started out beautifully (faster than 20km/hr!). But within an hour we were battling a head wind that slowed us down to 10km/hr and had us peddling while going downhill. The only thing that distracted us from the frustration of the wind was the scary traffic for the 20 kilometres entering the city (it's amazing the energy that you discover when your adrenaline is pumping). Samsun has a population of over 500,000 inhabitants and is was our first “big city” cycling experience. Emilie battling headwind to Samsun

So we've made it half-way through the country! Another week of tough cycling helped along greatly by the warm and friendly encounters we've had with the incredibly hospitable people of Turkey. At Öz Bisiklet, a shop outside Samsun, where we were warmly welcomed

Enjoying one of many invitations for tea 

Stats for Safranbolu to Samsun

Days of cycling: 4
Days of rest: 3
Kilometres cycled: 419
Metres climbed: 4261
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 1

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support