Harrogate to India cycle: Latest from Istanbul

Rhys James (l) and Tom Cartledge outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (s).
Rhys James (l) and Tom Cartledge outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (s).

Harrogate friends Tom Cartledge and Rhys James set out from Hookstone Drive in February, aiming to cycle from Harrogate to India.

They are raising money for charities The Railway Children and St Michael’s hospice.

Rhys and Tom fundraising in Turkey (s).

Rhys and Tom fundraising in Turkey (s).

The Harrogate Advertiser is keeping up-to-date with their progress. The pair have reached Istanbul, and sent this report charting their adventures in Turkey.

We have fended off the wild dogs and mountain passes to reach the Bosporus city of Istanbul.

After leaving Beograd we struggled across rather large hills which seemed to take hours to climb and minutes to ride down on route to Nis which lay in the south of Serbia and over 200KM away.

This is where we were booked in for a few days of couchsurfing with a fantastic human being by the name of Aleksandra, an art student.

Tom and Rhys touring Sofia by bike (s).

Tom and Rhys touring Sofia by bike (s).

She showed us Nis in a totally personal way and took us to some of the most off the tourist track locations you can imagine.

Artist and bohemian locations were mixed with the local Rakia to create a hazy but unforgettable few days.

From Nis, Serbia we started climbing and climbing on our cycling route to Sofia, Bulgaria, feeling refreshed and positive about everything.

Sofia wasn’t far but we decided to give ourselves a few slow days of spectacular but white knuckle riding along the E80, through the Jerma Canyon and on towards the start of the Balkan mountains which surround Sofia and stretch eastward into the country. The riding was spectacular and scary at the same time, with unforgettable views on one side and sketchy Serbian drivers on the other.

If one could rate this road on a difficulty and extreme manner it would probably reach grade four for its beauty and heart racing approach to the Bulgarian frontier.

Sofia is a fine capital city which boasts the prestige of being the greenest capital in Europe.

I’m not all that sure this is truthful fact however we managed to participate in Sofia Green Bike tours for a day and experienced the ‘unseen to most tourists’ park and forest life of the Bulgarian capital.

The tour guide took us a mini adventure, completing levels and stages with our newly made friends from the hostel where we were located for a few days and created a fine atmosphere in which we could relieve ourselves of the daily pushes which are normally completing.

It made cycling a fun and refreshing experience again, rejuvenated our traveling souls. Savanna, Josh, Dennis and Kathryn were all new friends and smiling and laughing together stood as a great memory we shall both hold onto dearly from this trip!

When leaving Sofia, battling the heat and the hills we became totally confused by the local roads leading out of the city towards Plovdiv.

It was no surprise that we only managed to complete around 50KM. feeling totally exhausted we found a brilliant camping spot atop of a hill range near a national park and settled in to watch the sunset and experience the Bulgarian wilderness alone.

Little did we know that joyriders exist in Bulgaria too and we were soon listening to car racing in the middle of nowhere, perplexing the oddity to the extreme!

Days and kilometers rolled by as did the hills to the sound of the Rolling Stones and all of a sudden the Greek and Turkish borders drew ever closer.

The knowledge that we were almost out of European control excited us immensely and encouraged us to push further each day.

Sunday, May 5 marked a bursting, energetic traveling experience for us both, mixing together three very different countries and three totally different cultures.

Breakfast was taken near the quaint Bulgarian town of Haskovo on the banks of a frog pond, whilst afternoon beers and lunch were taken in a small typically lazy beautiful Greek town called Dikaia.

Our plan had been to spend the night in Greece along the banks of the river Kalaus, but as we roamed around looking for a perfect spot a swarm of Greek mosquitoes feasted on us and drove us on rapidly to the Turkish border. It was a split second decision of hunger, mixed with the closing of Easter Sunday shops which pushed us on to the Turkish Republic looking for a hotel in Edirne late in the evening.

This wasn’t a hard mission by any means. The streets were alive with the sound of victorious Galatasaray fans so we dropped our bags and headed out to join the celebrations, imbibing the refreshingly hectic culture of Turkey.

The smells on the streets here are amazing, the sounds are different and the people are of an almost old fashioned polite English nature, always wanting to shake your hand and ask you questions. It is brilliant and offers a real travelling vibe.

The road to Istanbul was foreign to our expectations, all we knew was that once we made it to our desired location Asia lay just over there beyond the Bosporus.

The D100 road was actually very forgiving to cyclists and offered a very wide and hospitable hard shoulder much of the way to Istanbul.

Drivers honked their horns to show their support and nodded their heads in admiration of our cause.

Stopping at road side stores and petrol stations to increase our energy intake we were bombarded with questions and interactions from excited groups of Turks of all ages and backgrounds.

The second evening of our movement on Turkey came to an abrupt and swift end due to the overly windy conditions.

As we crossed the torrent of a road towards a cheap motel we were motioned towards a gate by two women from a window. They came with bundles of food and handed it to us through the gate, only wanting to see the smiles on our faces. The food was scrumptious and warmed our spirits further for the Turkish people. We couldn’t wipe the smiles off of our faces.

We finally cycled into Istanbul six days after leaving Sofia and just over two months after leaving home.

The feeling at first was ecstasy, but the traffic, mayhem and standard of the Turkish drivers soon left us with slight road rage. It was a breath of fresh air to meet our next host: Seda, finally relaxing in the comfort of her spacious and quiet apartment. What will Istanbul bring, and where will it take us?

Fundraising parties and ways to increase our followers have definitely been on the mind lately. We have thrown moneymakers in Harrogate and Amsterdam raising nearly ₤£1,000 for charity, but being the greedy souls which we are, we have been trying to organise and increase the awareness of our mission, the number of donators and the amount of campaigns.

After leaving Amsterdam we managed to organise a small dinner party in Oldenburg with our friend Dietmar, and also a few more small gatherings through couchsurfing.

Our message is definitely spreading further afield, and now even my mother is intending to complete a local charity walk raising money on our behalf. This is the lift we need and now we are also looking into holding another Harrogate based gathering at Montey’s Rock Café to further increase the donations.

Istanbul is our present residence and for the next few days we are intending to meet up with more and more locals to spread our message to upsurge our following. Couchsurfing meetings, emailing publications and hosting blogs on other travelling websites is taking up the majority of our time right now, as well as catching up on video editing and photo shoots for Jojoba Holistic.

If you have any suggestions, or are able to help us in anyway and want to become involved in with our project please get in touch with us via our website.

To catch up on The Saddle Sore adventure read our blogs at www.saddlesore.moonfruit.com, and also view our travelling videos to see exactly what we’ve been getting up to. Donations are always welcome, and you can read further into our charities, and how far your donations are going by reading our charitable articles online. Also follow us along the road and offer your advice on twitter and through facebook.

Until next time avid readers, who knows where we will write to you from.

Find links to donate to charities The Railway Children and St Michael’s Hospice at www.saddlesore.moonfruit.com