Tag Archives: bicycle tour europe

independence

It’s July 4th, 2013. It’s raining in Anchorage, Alaska. I’m a long way from Spain. Back in my real world.

In January, while snowboarding in Spain, I had a little mishap: I tore my ACL and medial meniscus. Bummer… I limped around for a month and thought it might heal. I finally got an MRI and found out the bad news. I decided to keep snowboarding since the damage was already done, and it was surprisingly almost easier to snowboard than walk (my mom did lug my snowboards and all my gear from Alaska, after all!). I had some great days on my split board and at the resort. My last day in Spain I rode the lifts of impressive Baqueira/Beret resort in Vall de Aran.
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Eating lunch in the backcountry in Catalunya is different from lunch in the Alaskan mountains. It’s better. Fresh baguettes, sausages made by one of my ski buddies from a pig she slaughtered earlier in the season, cheese from local sheep’s milk and fresh tomatoes rubbed into the crusty bread – beautiful.

A couple days later Dani and I drove his awesome Fiat camper van to Baqueira/Beret Resort where we mobbed the groomers and dodged the hordes of gapers (it was supposedly a French holiday) with his two rippin’ skier buddies. We rode without stopping for the better part of a day and only rode one lift twice!

In early March I said goodbye to the amazing friends I had made in my little valley in Spain and I boarded a plane to England where I would stay for the next month and a half with Lillian, Oscar and Estela. Due to travel insurance policies, my knee surgery would not be covered if I returned to Alaska and I could not imagine living with my knee as it was for much more time. I was functional, but the things we take for granted in our knees – walking without a limp, straigtening my leg, jumping, running, kneeling, dancing, etc. were painful thoughts for me.

Luckily, I could still ride a bike. The week between my arriving in Eastbourne, UK where my beloved Long Haul Trucker was waiting for me in Lillian’s garage, and when I went under the knife was awesome. Southern England is an amazing place to get lost on a bike.
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Reunited! My first ride in months was a little foggy and so great.

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Beachy Head a short 5 or 6 mile ride from home. Back to distancing in miles in the UK took some getting used to!

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I came upon cute little buildings like this…

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And snowy roads like this. England was experiencing some crazy weather when I was there. It was snowing into April.

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I ate freshly-baked meat pie with mashy peas, cheddar mashed potatoes & red wine gravy. Washed it all down with a pint of English cider – it’s not pretty, but it is delish! I sent this picture to a friend in Spain and he replied with a good-natured “The English don’t know how to eat!”

And a trip to England is not complete, of course, without a day spent at a castle!
Bodium Castle, built in 1385
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It was a blessing in disguise getting to spend such a long time with Lillian – more time than we’d spent together since our college days more than a decade ago. 3 year-old Estela was my very effective little alarm clock every morning and my activity buddy throughout the day. Oscar, originally from Barcelona, and I spent many hours talking about the great and not so great things in Spain, often over a vermouth or English ale.

Now I’m back in Alaska! Working working away at the family restaurants, catching up with friends, relishing in the amazing mountains surrounding me and, as of two weeks ago, riding my bike again!!!
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My ride home from work last night at 10:30 PM
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I rode to Girdwood for a wedding last weekend.
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On my way to work one early morn.
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A beautiful sunset ride at 11 o’clock at night

LOVE being home!

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Drink, Eat, Repeat

The trip in February continued: eating and drinking our way around Spain… now in Barcelona where Kara and Laura joined us!

ImageA fuzzy picture of the ladies: Kara, Laura, JoAnn, Margie and me. Drinking vermouth and preparing to indulge in amazing tapas in Barcelona

ImageWe were on a mission to find the best xurros amb xocolata in Barcelona… not sure that we found THE BEST, but we had fun trying!

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More xurros amb xocolata with THE BEST guidebook ever in the background: Le Cool. Check it out.

Sage's Pics 2775After Barcelona Laura returned home to Alicante and the mother daughter duos continued north to Cadaques, inspiration and home to many artists over the past couple hundred years. It’s amazing here.

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Love the camera timer!!!

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We went to France for a day…

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French medieval fortress

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I parted ways with Kara, Margie and my mom in Lleida. They caught the fast train to Madrid and I, the bus back to Vall de Boi. This little guy had the bad luck of accompanying us for the last 50 or so kilometers of the drive…

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Seeing the Sights

Mom’s in España with our friend Margie! Here are some pics of our travels so far…

MADRID

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Vermouth (vermut) on tap, sherry (Jerez) straight from the cask

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Amazing sherry bar – big guy with the backpack kinda kills the romance of this shot!

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Mercado San Miguel at 23:00. Foodie heaven.

SEVILLA

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Amazing comida at Labulla

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A stroll through the streets of Sevilla…

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GRANADA

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Amazing bar, El Tabernaculo, our first night. COVERED in Jesus and Maria images. In Granada, when your order a round of drinks, you get a tapa with each round. The old bartender here made us so happy with his creations: Round 1. Meatballs, Round 2. “Hamburger Tostada”, Round 3. Pisto tostada topped with fried quail egg!!! And the music at this joint is indescribable “processional” music cranked up. Really puts you in the mood for some Semana Santa.
Listen to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS9pmbTd9UY and look at picture above. You kinda get the idea…

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Free tapas with 2€ wine… For real???

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More free tapas. This was exxxtreme.

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View from El Alhambra. Gorgeous.

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Sierra Nevada in the background!

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¡It’s Dumping in España!

And, unlike anywhere else in the world, no one wants to go up because you can’t see, they don’t have snow tires or 4 wheel drive, and they don’t open the good lifts. I went to the highway to hitchhike this morning and no cars passed by. The snowplow driver, Joseph, who gave me a ride a couple weeks ago down the mountain and who was smoking a joint at the time, rolled down his window and advised me against going up. I asked if the lifts were running, yes, but only two of the lower lifts. 30 seconds later another person who works there said don’t bother. Then I got a text message from a friend saying the same. Only two lifts and you can’t see shit! So here I am. I went for a fun walk down to the next town with my roommates and got some freshie turns in some funny places on the way. I ended the excursion with a sweet bottomless freshie line through the steep and narrow streets of the Romanesque town of Taüll. Happy!

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Me being sad after being advised not to go up and succumbing to the advise

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Roomies Asier and Diego

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Freshies on the trail between Pla and Taüll

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Diego is from Uruguay and before June had never seen snow in his life! Here he ensconses himself in the fluff!

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The boys and some Pyrenees cows in the background!

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Asier’s car

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Picnic tables in front if my restaurant!

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Algunas Fotos de mi Vida

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Signs in Catalán at the top of the highest lift in the Pyrenees a few weeks ago. Lacking major snow but still gorgeous!

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On the telesilla con mis amigos! I made that ugly hat I’m wearing. My first knitting project!

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On the 21st of December the Basques celebrate El Día de Santo Tomás, “where txistorra, talos and cider flow on every corner” says my roommate Asier, who’s from San Sebastian. We had a mini celebration at the house. In this photo, txistorra on baguette and sidra (cider).

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Asier pours the sidra trad style – the higher you pour the more bubbles. You have to drink it all at once to maximize the fizz – ¡On Egin! Cheers!

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Boí, a picturesque town down the valley from Taüll, which you can see up the hill in the distance. Lovely paths connect all the towns in the valley. Too quaint. Seriously!

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A couple weeks ago my friend Dani and I went for a walk up towards the national park, Aiguestortes Parque Nacional, in the next valley from Vall de Boí. To get into the park you have to take a taxi which costs €€, so we parked and walked an hour+ towards the entrance. GORGEOUS! And we never even entered the park! This is walking back out on the road.

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As I work here in exchange for free room and board I haven’t eaten out at all in this country known for it’s amazing food! My second meal out was for hamburgers. Ha ha! It was delicious. Fried egg, goat cheese, carmelized onion and bacon with a local Vall de Boí beef patty and on a fresh baked bun.

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This is the menu in Catalán. I ordered the Carnisseria burger. If you can decipher the menu, you will see it is an awesome spread. Love it!

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Graffiti everywhere these days. A gorgeous walk along the river by my house

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I went back to get another hamburger a couple days later. Here we have the Roi (roasted red peppers, bacon and goat cheese) and modified Llevei (fois gras and caramelized onions). My friend Thor and I went halvsies and it was a really good choice.

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My coworkers and I went on a fieldtrip last week to Andorra. So fun!!! This is riding up the lift at Ordino. They are lacking major snow but the possibilities with snow resort are amazing.

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To the left there is a lift that accesses a ton of steep goods. It wasn’t open due to more brown than white on the slopes, but I can dream!

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Me and The big boss man Tony!

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Last run of the day – really fun even though it was super hard packed. We got a couple soft turns in! Throughout the day we managed to find some freshies mixed in with the ice and bushes too. Great.

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Back at Boí Taüll Resort we had a good three weeks of cloudless skies. Then this odd little cloud appeared in the sky.

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This is the base of my new board with only a dozen or so days on it. It looks worse in real life, like a bear armed with volcanic rocks went to town on it.

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But it’s finally snowing! Today brought snow and high winds which closed down most of the lifts at the resort. I went for a snowy walk with my friend Dani instead. Lovely!

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Dani kicking it in the snow and rolling a cig – crazy Spaniards and their tobacco!

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First snow angel of 2013!

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Spaniards are really cool and sure know how to party

New Year’s Eve countdown after a fun dinner service at Barocco where I work: we’re all armed with stupid hats, leis, plastic vampire teeth and noisemakers, a glass of cava and twelve grapes. The countdown in Spain begins 12 seconds before midnight. With each second you have to eat a grape. So at 23:59:48 on 31.12.12 we all started stuffing our faces with a bunch of grapes and we’re all giggles trying to keep up. When the clock struck midnight we were multi-tasking bandits – still masticating our grapes, garbling “¡Feliz año!”, ching chinging glasses, taking the first sip of cava of the new year, hugging, kissing, sounding noisemakers and tossing streamers into the air and onto each other. Now the party starts to get going! Around 3:30 or 4:00 we finally got it together, left Barocco and headed to the “club” down the street (this is a tiny tiny town. The “club” is reminiscent of a highschool gymnasium or Elk’s Lodge ballroom) where we danced for an hour or so before getting kicked out at 5:00, at which point the manager of Barocco started inviting people back to our bar for the after party! Party pooper me, I headed home around 5:30 before phase four of the night began with everyone then heading to the apartment of some dinner guests we had earlier in the night who became steadfast party buddies until morning. Not so rare for a new Year’s Eve celebration, but this is not even close to a singular sequence of events here in this tranquil valley somewhere in the Pyrenees! I can’t keep up!

Beyond being late night party animals, Spaniards are just cool. They are super talkative, friendly and easy going. I meet new people every day here, hitchhiking to the ski resort, riding the chairlift, waiting tables, buying bread. Especially in Vall de Boí, that has a permanent population of less than 2000 between 5 towns, and where people come to vacation and relax, people are simply great here. They interact with such ease with friends and strangers alike, are all smiles and forgiving when I don’t understand what type of after dinner drink they want, and kindly switch from Catalan to Castellano when speaking with me. I get asked all the time where I’m from (most common guesses are France, Holland or Austria) and upon hearing that I’m from Alaska people flip! Not too many of us come to almost snowless Vall de Boí for the ski season I guess.
¡¡¡Love los Españoles!!!

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¡Feliz Año!

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Breakfast on the 1st. Las noticias, chorizo, baguette, apple and coffee

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Snowboarding at Boí Taull Resort!

Some pics from my first few days at this awesome resort! Lots of super fun steeps, the snow has been variable to awesome and the early season rocks have done a number on my new board. I’ve had three out of three days of sun, the slopes have been almost empty every day and I’m meeting a lot of locals. Love this place!

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View to the south

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And to the east

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My roomie and coworker Asier peeking out into the great white beyond

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Riding up!

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Clouds

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More clouds

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Fun riding in the distance. Sunny slopes to the left are sick! Will be even better when they’re thick with snow!

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Have yet to ride here. Hopefully we’ll get some more snow and this top lift will open this coming week!

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Boí Taull is the highest resort in the Pyrenees. What a view!

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My walk from my house in Pla de L’Ermita to the lower town, Taull

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Cigarette machine at the local bar

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A hefty bar Catalonian chocolate with a pretty wrapper

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Me and my roommate and coworker Amsa in Taull

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Iglesia Santa Maria. One of 9 Romanesque churches in the Vall de Boí – the most in one area in all of Europe! It’s Unesco!

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Vall de Boí

I am in España! In the Pyrenees! It is amazing!

I’m working at a restaurant in exchange for free room and board and i have a cute little apartment above the restaurant that I share with four other great people I work with. Between the two restaurants we have 5 out of 7 continents represented. Pakistan, Australia, United States, England, Morocco and Spain! The man behind everything, Tony from Arizona, has lived in Vall de Boí for 8 years, has two restaurants and a hostel and is a great person to work for. Opening night was last night and I served my first guests en Español! I was a little nervous as I am still adjusting to the Castellano dialect, and there were some bugs to be worked out as the restaurant has been closed since last ski season, but it went great! Everyone was so friendly and a lot of fun.

The slopes of Boí Taull Resort opened yesterday and what was almost a ghost town on Wednesday has transformed into a ski town! Wednesday also brought a few centimeters of snow in town and it is now glorious sunny.

All the buildings in the tiny hillside town of Taull are made of stone, many over 400 years old, and the towers of the two churches are visible from almost everywhere in town. The backdrop of the Pyrenees is stunning.

I can’t wait to explore the hills once My gear arrives from Alaska!

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Taull, the day after I arrived, pre snow.

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The walk between the restaurant and hostel in Taull

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Snowing!!!

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I went for a gorgeous run yesterday up towards the ski slopes. This is looking up towards Boí Taull Resort

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Views down the valley

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See you later, bici…

Tomorrow I fly to Barcelona where I’ll then take a BUS to Vall de Boí in the Spanish Pyrenees. I’m going spend the winter there, volunteering in a hostel/restaurant in exchange for free room and board and riding my snowboard like a fiend! I’m leaving my bike behind until the spring. I don’t want to deal with it on the plane and my reasoning tells me that I won’t have much opportunity to ride it on the snowy mountain roads. But I’m going back and forth as I look at it, sitting there, all innocent, tuned up for the first time in 6 months and riding better than it has since I was in those Scandanavian latitudes half a year ago… Am I crazy for leaving it?! Ahhhhh!

As I gaze lovingly at my loyal blue steel champ, I’m seated at the dining room table in my friend Lillian’s home in Eastbourne, England. Lillian and I met in kindergarten in Anchorage, AK. She’s been my best friend and sister for almost three decades! She just moved to the Old World with her hubby Oscar and amazing two and a half year old Estela and I’ve been enjoying family time like no other this past week. Last night we gorged on a belated Thanksgiving dinner and I’m about to make myself one of those beloved American classics, a turkey and cranberry sauce sammy, before I take my bike for one last spin on this crisp, clear day in southern England.

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.50€ bubbly on an overnight ferry from The Hook of Holland to Harwich, England.

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Traditional English Breakfast in Colchester, England. Britain’s oldest recorded town!

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I ordered “filter” coffee with my breakfast.

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London!

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Fish and chips, English cider and HP sauce at Lillian’s house. So authentic!

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Estela playing with her “friends” while mommy and I shop. Too cute!

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Family portrait!

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Eating Turkey

(Written 10 days ago but due to technical difficulties not published until now)

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

I just flew into Amsterdam from Istanbul yesterday! Totally amazing. Love being back in the West! It feels so… normal compared to The Balkans and Turkey. So easy! Bike paths everywhere, signs telling you where those bike paths go, it’s flat (LOTS of hills in Turkey), everyone speaks English, etc…

But Amsterdam is great not because of it’s relative normality – it’s a damned beautiful city full of canals, BIKES, gorgeous architecture, beautiful people, parks, and cute cafes and shops all over! I even saw whores in red light windows today!

It’s crazy how distant Turkey seems. I spent two and a half weeks in Istanbul and riding through the countryside and loved it. Number one, the Turks are SO friendly. I was invited to drink tea (çaj) almost every day, stayed in a goat herder’s home, was gifted fruit time and time again, experienced many random acts of kindness and was cheered on by drivers happily honking and waving as my cycling buddies and I labored up and glided down the hills and mountainsides. Also, delicious street and cheap FOOD galore. Beautiful mosques everywhere. And that Muslim thing!

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Crossing the border from Greece with Martin and Phil. We ran into Phil earlier that day – destination: Istanbul!

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Phil and Martin relaxing the next day after arriving in Istanbul

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I ate SO much baklava in Turkey

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Simit – simple, yummy and cheap street snack

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Simit vendors, Istanbul

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Wood fired deliciousness in Karasu, Turkey

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The night we rolled into Istanbul we met Eric, from Switzerland. He had just ridden from Trieste, Italy. Him anf I decided to make a loop from Istanbul a few days later. We rode for 9 days through spectacularly unspectacular Turkey. We had so much fun. Here, Eric gets ready to devour some eggs bathed in delicious butter and a loaf of bread. I’m drinking that white substance – Ayran. Very traditional and prolific, unsweetened yogurt drink.

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Poğaça. Eric and I became slightly obsessed with finding these buttery little rolls – sometime slightly sweet, sometimes filled with a bit of meat, potato, cheese or olive.

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Me outside a bakery in the lovely little town of Mudurnu. Love Turkish bakeries!

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The Turks drink a lot of tea and i was invited to tea multiple times a day. I took some pants to the tailor to get fixed, he offered me tea. Along quiet roads men would wave us down and offer us tea. At a bakery in a small town the cashier offered us tea as we paid for our loaf of crusty and still warm bread. Gas station pit stop to use the facilities – offers of tea. Always served with 2 cubes of sugar on the side.

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Back in Istanbul – Kokoreç. Cow intestine sandwich!

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Final product – Kokoreç. Ayran to drink

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Pilav – 1.50 lira. Rice, garbanzo beans and chicken in a box. Don’t eat at 4:00am after it has been sitting out all night. Having discussed the obvious potential for foodbourne illness in this setup upon first seeing it, later that night (or early the next morning actually), Phil and I drunkingly decided we needed some of that rice in a box. That was a bad choice.

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Put some ketchup on it!

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Really delicious mussels served on the street in Istanbul. Cooked and packed with flavorful rice with lemon squeezed on to order for half a lira! I asked for one and as I ate it he prepared the next mussel. I ate that one too and had to stop him before he made a third. Sooooo good. I could have kept going.

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Çaj tokens. In every town and city there are people delivering hot tea to all the vendors all the time. Instead of paying for every cup, they have these efficient little tokens to keep track of things.

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Amsterdam!

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