In the morning I left the hostel and set off to find the Hagia Sofia. My first knowledge of it was as a wonder of the world in the computer game Civilization, and I'd been looking forward to finally seeing it in person.
In the tourist area, two Brits and then a nice lady from Melbourne asked me if I was from Yorkshire; it was written in big letters on my Grand Départ 2014 top. I took the opportunity to visit one of the gift shops near the Blue Mosque to find a sticker for my bike. Through Serbia and Bulgaria it had been extremely difficult to find stickers but here I managed to find an entire sheet thanks to the shop keeper even if he was confused as to why I wanted to put them on my bike. As I was adding the stickers, the lady from Melbourne came back over to talk to me and then some Italians wanted their picture with me. The crowd caused more people to come over to see what was going on. I was becoming a bit of a tourist attraction in my own right!
I pushed my bike over towards the Hagia Sofia. I wasn't in a rush. I'd originally set with the intention of crossing the US and, whilst coming down from the Rockies had decided to follow Stevens across Europe too. I was finally here. I had cycled aross two continents and, as someone on Twitter pointed out, an entire religion. I had a content smile on my face. It has been fun following you Thomas. Enjoy the rest of your ride to Japan (1885-6). This is where my journey ends.
Thanks to everyone who has followed me across two continents and for the many tweets of encouragement along the way. Thanks also to everyone who donated to Medicins Sans Frontiers.
In Stevens' day he said the morning calls to prayer woke him at 5am. They seem to be at 3.30am for me. Given that I'm in the same place as Stevens on the same day of the year, I suspect it was actually İmsak (a call two hours before dawn to awaken the faithful). I turned over and got a few more hours sleep. I had a quiet breakfast on the rooftop breakfast bar.
I headed up the hill and out of Silivri. This was my last day of riding. It was one I'd been dreading for weeks given all the scary stories from other long-distance cyclists about the danger of the roads into Istanbul. One website with advice for the route from Silivri into Istanbul basically boiled down to "Just stick as close to the south coast as possible and enjoy." I tried to follow that advice even though sometimes following the closer road to the sea meant a dead-end and back tracking.
I only had about 30 miles to go but, given that it is a major world city, I'd set aside the entire day. Having cycled through San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, London, Paris, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, and Sofia I knew I was lucky if I maintained a 6 mph pace in big cities. Istanbul was going to be slower as all the land traffic going from Europe to Asia was being funnelled into the crossing of the Bosphorus strait.
Up on the top of the hill I could see a long way. My destination felt within reach.
From the map I knew I'd have to hug the coastline around two big bays (Büyükçekmece Gölü and Küçükçekmece Gölü) where all routes came together at pinch points to cross narrow isthmuses. Those were the bits I was worried about. I came around the headland and saw the huge bay at Büyükçekmece Gölü. Down towards the isthmus I went. I found unfinished, seafront, roads that had had a great deal of effort put into and then seemingly left incomplete. It meant I had a nice quiet stretch.
I made it across the isthmus avoiding much of the need to go on the D100 by using footpaths and getting off and pushing along a temporary 'footpath' that was on the D100 due to building works. At this point my map told me the D100 was called the "Londra Asfalti". It was pleasing to think I'd actually cycled all the way from its ostensible destination.
I continued to hug the coast and found a lovely, blue, bike lane through a sea-side resort. I had an icecream stop to cool down. I rejoined the lovely bike lane and followed it at a leisurely pace for a few miles around the bay. I was making the most of it as I knew it was unlikely to go all the way to Istanbul.
At the headland I met more road works and a new port building under construction. I had to head up a steep hill to find a road. I was going through little sea-side villages on very quiet roads. It was very pleasant.
At one point up on the headland I got asked for directions! What is it about me that says I'm likely to know the way? My Yorkshire top? The loaded bike? I tried to explain that I wasn't from around here and they should probably ask one of the locals.
I was coming around to the second bay at Küçükçekmece Gölü. I stuck to the closest roads to the coast but there was a new housing estate and the road took me to the back of a port complex. I couldn't continue that way. I was a bit stuck. I back-tracked up a steep hill and took the next nearest road. As I came down the hill into the bay on İhlas Caddesi, I got dumped onto a busy multi-carriageway road. It became apparent that this was the front-entrance to the port and so clearly the wrong direction. I stopped at the side of the road next to a car that had accidentally come this way too. There was no way of turning around at this point when you realised your mistake. A security guard by the port gates tried to encourage me to go across the central reservation and cycle back along the other side. Given that would mean crossing up to six lanes of crazy traffic that wouldn't be expecting a person on a bicycle I shook my head lots and said I'd walk back along the side I'd come along. A few minutes later the car driver followed me down the narrow hard-shoulder against the flow of traffic too.
I was stuck back on İhlas Caddesi. Should I take a fly-over and use the busy dual carriageway? A couple of security guards who were standing around seemed to think this was my only way into Istanbul. Across the flyover I went for the start of my own seven minutes of terror.
I joined the dual carriageway. It looked suspiciously like a motorway even though it was marked as a normal road on OpenStreetMap and Google Maps. I didn't want to be on a busy motorway amongst speeding cars with virtually no hard shoulder. My knuckles were going white. Another road - Osmangazi Caddesi - joined from the right. I may have had right-of-way by normal road rules but Istanbul drivers didn't seem like the sort who would stop or slow down to let me across the slip lanes. I just stopped at the point where the two roads joined and waited for a suitable gap then peddaled like crazy to get across. The ordeal wasn't quite over. I had to leave the pitiful hard shoulder for several trucks and cars that seemed to have been parked in them. Each time I had to move out into the inside lane I gripped my handlebars ever tighter.
I took the road off onto Haramidere Ambarli Yolu which was a quieter (although still far from quiet) road. The traffic was slower here and I could breath a bit more. My heart rate started to come back down.
At the end of Haramidere Ambarli Yolu a man in a white van stopped to say hello in Turkish and tell me that the road I'd been on wasn't so safe! With the customery hand waving, I explained that I'd cycled all the way from Liverpool (most people have heard of Liverpool due to Liverpool F.C.). He was impressed with the route and told me to follow him up the road so he could buy me a cola and give advice on which roads to avoid. He didn't genuine and I supressed all the years of being told not to go with strangers. Actually, as it turned out, he followed me up the road. He had decided to act as a shield to protect me from all the drivers behind. What a lovely white van man!
Along the road, my new friend waved me over and parked up his van. He ran off and came back with a can of cola for me to celebrate the end of my trip. He told me to stick to the small roads and wished me well as he ran off to a nearby building to continue his day's work.
We often think of strangers as dangerous people to be avoided and treated with suspicion. What the ride from San Francisco has shown me time and time again is that most people are friendly and kind. Although they don't know you and have entirely different politics and religions, they see the magnitude of the trip you've undertaken and want to help. Cycle touring has shown me some of the kindness humanity - all of humanity - is capable of.
I got back down to the coast and I found more bright blue bike lane through Avcılar Sahil Parkı. Around a third, smaller, bay I got squashed between the D100 and more road works. I followed the parks around the coast south of the airport and got a good view of the entrance to the Bosphorus a few miles away. Hello Istanbul!
I now had run out of coastal park and had to rejoin the roads. The land between the main road - Sahil Yolu - and the coast seemed to be private or military so I had to go along the partial footpath along the side of it. This part wasn't so enjoyable. The road turned into Kennedy Caddesi and I did get more bike lane even if it did tend to disappear into walls and building work. It seems the city don't think it necessary to provide alternatives for bicycles when they close a route. Istanbul cycling can be quite stressful when the bike lanes stop.
The final stretch involved quite a bit of pushing along the footpaths when they existed rather than deal with the rush-hour traffic. I was slightly surprised at one junction when I saw a 10 year old boy cycling amonst the traffic. He was clearly more used to Istanbul drivers than I was.
I got off Kennedy Caddesi and into the old town. The roads were narrow and bendy and I felt a lot more comfortable. I checked into a hostel. After around 7000 miles of cycling, I had reached my final destination. Time for a shower.
As I was leaving Çorlu I popped into a petrol station to use the toilet. As I left a guy shouted "Bradley Wiggins" to me! Perhaps I need a shave.
I know I can only average 6mph in big cities due to lights, traffic, navigation, stress stops. A capital takes the best part of a day. It would be quicker if I knew the streets and drivers but when you are new to them, more care is needed. That takes more time. The upshot is that I will give myself all day tomorrow to go the last 30 miles as lots of people have told me, Istanbul requires more care.
Hello Sea of Marmara and... umm... Newport?
In getting my wheel into the Sea of Marmara I also got my shoes wet. At least all the holes let the water back out. ;)
The last proper shower I had was at the campsite in Bulgaria. Feeling that I'd like to stop smelling so badly, I checked in to a cheap hotel in Silivri mostly for the benefit of a shower. It is lovely here in Silivri.
I was really glad to get off the D100 a few miles before Silivri as its hard shoulder was getting sketchy and the traffic was increasing. I really don't want to be on it the rest of the way into Istanbul.
At 6.22pm it is quite exciting to hear calls to prayer echoing out over the rooftops. As the evening progressed I had food at a local restaurant and was joined by an ex-journalist, now English teacher who was keen to practice his English skills. I walked around the lively harbour and admired Jupiter and Venus close together in the sky.
Aside from briefly being woken by the musical sounding muezzins at 3.30am, I slept about 12 hours. I packed and said goodbye to the "campingplatz führer". As her toilet blocks had no toilet paper I was now on the hunt for a toilet. Thankfully, the D100 has lots and lots of petrol stations on it so I managed to relieve myself.
I had around 200 km to go. The D100 was fairly quiet either because it was a Sunday morning or because of Ramadan.
So far, in almost every petrol station or shop I've been in the owner has followed me around. It is slightly disconcerting.
I came off the D100 into a little town. I stopped at what looked like a little cafe with some men outside drinking tea (chai). I say cafe but it could have been a little community centre or someone's house. I motioned to ask if I could buy some tea. Between three of the men they worked out what I was asking and I was bought some. They told me the price in Turkish. I'm so glad my Turkish friend Selin had taught me how to count to 10 in Turkish when I was at university.
I shared almost no language with the men. There were pantomimic gestures, a few words of German, some use of Google Translate, and I learnt the word for "flat" in Turkish: düz. Apparently it was flat to Istanbul. Brill! They were lovely and I thanked them before heading back on my way. I'd only gone a little way down the street when I saw an open bakery. The bakers were making loaves and I was able to buy one for lunch. It was still warm and very tasty.
I decided to cycle on ahead of Thomas Stevens. I have better roads and want to make the most of the relative quiet today. It may not be this quiet tomorrow.
As the afternoon went on I got surrounded by rain clouds and there was lightning behind me. I got reminded of furious pedalling away from storms on the great plains of the US.
It was getting into evening and I was a little short of Çorlu. Remembering some things that Tess and Francesca had told me in Serbia, I asked some guys working at a petrol station if there was camping nearby. I mentioned that I had cycled from Liverpool. They were Chelsea fans but said I could camp around the back of the petrol station! Behind the petrol station the ground was more suited for tent pegs than the real campsite I stayed in in Edirne last night! They also showed me the toilet. It had toilet paper. They even came to check everything was OK when their shift ended later on. Such fantastic hospitality.
Tomorrow I will head for Silivri. And hopefully to a shower.