The roads in to Istanbul are well known in the cycling touring world as one of the most heinous journeys possible by bike. With this in mind, and no map in hand, we set off with trepidation. We knew the Bosphorus Straits connected the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. And we knew we were on the Sea of Marmara. So the expertly researched plan, with route details planned down to the second, went something like this: Stay as close to the water as possible, and in 50km we should hit the Bosphorus Straits. Sounds easy enough, right?
How wrong we were. While parts of the ride involved cruising along bike paths next to the ocean, other parts meant fearfully riding up 4-lane mega highways with trucks screaming past. We even managed to get ourselves on the road leading into Istanbuls port, with freighters flying past and the guards waving and screaming "what the f#%* are you doing". Smooth entrance!
To top it off, the signs giving us 50km to Istanbul were actually referencing the city outskirts, not the city centre. So there we found ourselves at sunset with 30km still to ride through Istanbul's hectic streets.
Luckily our couch surfing host in Istanbul was an angel, welcoming us with open arms at 11.30pm, even though we dripped in sweat and oozed an odour worse than your average teenage boys bedroom, earned from days without showers.
It's safe to say all the blogs I read were right - the ride into Istanbul is a challenge not to be taken lightly. With google maps and a working phone, entering from the South along the Sea of Marmara should be fairly straight forward. However, I definitely wouldn't recommend attempting it map-less and phone-less, like us. Unless you're a masochist of course.
What can I say about Istanbul that hasn't already been said before? Cliches aside, it would definitely be in my top 3 cities of the world. It's almost the perfect mix of my other favourites: the trendy cafe culture and chilled out waterside vibes of Sydney, mixed history oozing from every corner like Paris. Throw in the exotic Ottoman architecture and mosques singing the call to prayer at sunset, and you've got yourself a fascinating city.
Also, did I mention the food? Butter oozing Pide for lunch, followed by spicy kebabs for dinner and sweet, sweet deserts. If you think the French sit plumply atop the culinary pyramid, think again. These Turks give them a serious run for their money. And in my mind, they'd win a 12 course meal for meal battle in front of the food gods. If only by a whisker.
Seriously, get yourselves to Istanbul once in your life. Words can't describe the riches that await. And don't be afraid of what you read online, it's just as safe as any European capital these days.