Border crossing day is always exciting, but today’s crossing into Turkey was particularly significant: we were finally leaving Europe! It was also the first count that we had to get a visa for, though it was an e-visa we just had to purchase online and didn’t even need any additional documents for.
We were following signs (in Cyrillic) for the town nearest the Turkish border called Svilengrad. The ride was much like yesterday evenings, along quiet roads by farms and pastures and through leafy woods. At one point we passed an old Bosnian roady in the full bib and Jersey who had suffered a flat tyre out here in the comparative isolation of the Bulgarian countryside. We offered him a patch to fix his tyre but all he needed was the little bit of sandpaper to prepare the tube.
It wasn’t long after this encounter that we came to Svilengrad and we passed through quickly, pausing only briefly to spend the last of our Bulgarian coins on some ice cream.
Leaving Svilengrad was a bit of a challenge. A motorway bypassed the town and went straight to the border, but we had entered the town expecting to pick up a smaller road that would take us to the border without having to ride on the motorway. We got to the edge of town and onto the smaller road to the border only to find it closed and in an awful state.
We could have doubled back into Svilengrad and tried to get on the motorway from there, but we could see it from where we were now, plus we had already cycled a not insignificant distance from Svilengrad, so we didn’t really want to double back. We pushed on along the old road and it curved promisingly towards the motorway and then…passed over it. Now that we we here though, right on top of it we could see it was pretty much devoid of traffic save for the occasional truck so it seemed like the best option get on it for the last few kilometres left before the border.
There was one way to get on, and that was by wheeling our bikes through a gap in the fence and down the embankment onto the road. This process was delayed slightly when one of my front rack bolts sheared off and had to be replaced as we were shimmying through the fence but after that short delay we were on the road and finally making progress again.
We got to the border maybe half an hour later. We saw the huge tail back of trucks before we even glimpsed the border, the queue for the trucks tailed back for almost three kilometres, but was limited to only a lane of traffic. Getting over the border was a relatively painless procedure, we had to unload our bikes and open the bags for customs but we didn’t have to dump the contents out which would have been a real pain.
It was dusty highway from the border to the city of Edirne 30km away where we were going to finish early for the day and take a look around. As the old capital of the Ottoman Empire it warranted a stop.
The ride to Edirne was pretty uninteresting but the city itself was amazing. I don’t doubt part of the appeal for us was it being the first Turkish city we had visited. Edirne was the old capital of the Ottoman Empire before they captured Istanbul and has some impressive buildings. We only spent a couple of hours there and got to walk around the old town but what was really impressive was the Selimiye Mosque built by architect Mimar Sinan who seems to be a national hero. As the first mosque we visited on the trip it was really something special.
It was getting dark as we left Edirne. Early when we arrived we had looked up Warmshowers to see if anyone was around to host and came across a post by the staff of Shell Gas Station Edirne. They had set up what they called the first bike-touring station where tourers could camp in a small lot out back and make use of the facilities offered by the station. It was only 20km outside the city on the Istanbul side so was perfect for our needs.
We arrived and knew we had found the right place thanks to the kids bikes placed on poles all outside the station, around the area where the tall board displaying the prices was. Then as we wheeled up to the shop we saw a touring bike propped up outside it. We knew we had found the right place, but who to talk to about staying here? Almost immediately a smiley, portly Turkish guy came out with a huge grin in a red She’ll shirt (unbuttoned to the chest) and introduced himself as Erdem.
Erdem led us around back where there was a small grassy area with a couple of short trees where we could put our tent up. He then brought us back around front where he showed the staff kitchen and shower we could use. His English wasn’t great but we communicated just fine and he was so smiley and friendly it was hard not to get along with the guy.
After a very welcome shower we shared photos and talked as best we could with Erdem. He was a bike tourer himself and enamoured with the new service his workplace now provided. He even, when we were about to cook dinner, sat us back down and brought out a delicious impromptu spread: bread, rice, yogurt and Kofte (a kind of sausage). We had never camped at a petrol station before but this was a great introduction to the practice and wouldn’t be our last time either.