Where East Meets West: Greece, Western Turkey, and Istanbul

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All of my articles seem to begin and end with a frantic dash through heavy traffic, either in or out of a large city, and this one is no different. Laura and I left the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, in a state of directionless confusion, getting quite lost, and we somehow ended up on a motorway heading eastwards. I thought we were in for some trouble when we passed a parked police car in the hard-shoulder, but a grin and a friendly wave seemed to satisfy him, and we passed without a problem.

Roads disappeared into pot-holed tracks, and reappeared, became busy, and went quiet again. The sun continued to beat down with interminable heat, and days passed. We crossed into Greece briefly (for a matter of 25 miles or so), before finally entering Turkey near the city of Edirne.

I’ve always shuddered to think that I may one day become the kind of British tourist who travels far from home, only to expect all the luxuries of home: English food, television, beer, and of course English-speaking people. But when I saw the ‘London Cafe & Pub’ in the heart of Edirne, just down the road from the great mosque, a thought flashed through my mind: maybe, just maybe, they would serve a proper English fry-up! Bacon, sausage and egg! Even black pudding, baked beans and fried mushrooms! With Yorkshire Tea, perhaps! Maybe it would even be followed up with a small tray of McVitie’s chocolate digestives! Of course, it was a fool’s hope. So I made do with an omelette.

A raging headwind, coupled with poorly surfaced roads, made the next few days tougher than they should have been. We were joined by two German cyclists, who had ridden from Berlin, Mattias and Ralph, and finally rolled down the final hill into Istanbul. The blue water of the Bosphorus glistened at the end of the final street, and we sat by the water for a while, soaking up the fresh sea air and considering our achievement. I had reached the edge of Europe! Asia loomed on the far bank of the Bosphorus. I had just cycled across Europe!

Istanbul, the city where East meets West. For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by the place, and now here I am! And I had just arrived here by bicycle!

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