After our epic crossing of the Kaçkar, Sage and I took some mellower roads to leave the Black Sea. Like highways. Certainly the most highway riding I’ve done in Turkey has been the last couple of weeks. I am reminded that highways have advantages:
• You meet other cyclists on highways. Climbing out of Artvin we met Tomas and Patrick, French and British, who are returning to Europe after riding through Central Asia. Near the crossroads at Dağpınar we met a young Swiss couple from Basel, Timon and Nicole, on their way to Central Asia. And climbing out of Iğdır, we met Vahid, an Iranian from Tabriz, spending a couple months meeting his neighbours in Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Ironically Sage and I also met cyclists on the train to Erzurum. That was Céline and Philippe, a young French couple on their way to India.
• Speed. Wow, you go fast on highways! Artvin, Ardahan, Kars, Iğdır, Ağrı — seemed like a new province every day! At this rate one could bicycle around the world before losing all his hair.
• Pedalling along on the smooth roads, I finally got used to the helmet-mounted mirror that Kurt brought me in February! Here’s my one sentence review after about six months of use: I kind of like the mirror, but it’s difficult to use on dirt roads.
• I was reminded that highways can take you some great places. Like mountains (above Şavşat):
lakes (Çıldır Gölü):
and gas stations:
• And sometimes on highways you see unusual license plates:
It took a few days to get used to the traffic, and as soon as we did, I convinced Sage to take some back tracks to Anı on the Armenian border. Even out in the sticks we had to jostle with traffic:
Anı is an old Armenian capital on the Arpa Çayı which delineates the current border between Turkey and Armenia. Some tourists would see it as just a pile of rocks in a desolate location. I loved it. There are several Armenian churches, a Georgian one, a Seljuk palace, and supposedly the oldest Turkish (Seljuk) mosque in Anatolia. We saw colourful frescoes, intricate carvings, Armenian inscriptions, a few other tourists, and, uh, piles of rocks.