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Hiking in Turkey - 400 km in Turkish Thrace

BETWEEN EUROPE AND ASIA

We crossed Turkey as part of a longer journey: a walk across Europe via 16 countries. Between 2018 and 2020, we walked 10,000 km from Portugal to Turkey for two years. This is the Two Steps to the Other project. Discover the whole project here.

We are thrown into a teeming city that smells of grilled meat, pressed pomegranates and hot tea. 

If all our entries in each of the 16 countries are all engraved in our memory, our arrival in Turkey is inevitably a little special.

The last frontier of the whole trip!

It's hard to describe the state of mind we were in during the long hours it took to cross this final border. We were moved, overexcited, a little sad, proud too! The border post is 3 km long and you have to present your passport 5 times.


Key information about our trip to Turkey

  • Country: Turkey
  • Type of route : Straight line
  • Difficulty : Intermediate
  • Language : Turkish
  • Period: Winter - February
  • Duration: 24 days
  • Distance : 386 km
  • Starting point: Hamzabeyli Sınır Kapısı, Bulgarian border
  • Arrival point : Istanbul
  • Elevation gain : 6980 m
  • Negative altitude difference : 7240 m

Hiking and adventure in Turkey

State of the trails and walking culture

This part of Turkey is not really touristy, except for a little on the Black Sea coast.

And hiking tourism even less.

Tracing a nice route from the Bulgarian border to Istanbul took us a few handfuls of hours with our noses in maps and scouring the internet for information.

On the last kilometers before reaching the Black Sea, we had to cross dozens of icy rivers, sometimes with water up to mid-calf, impassable bramble barriers and... snow!

On this section, we are accompanied by the mother of Marie, Catherine. We wake up one morning, the tent is covered with snow, the condensation froze on the interior walls and us with! Passed the first difficult moments (to prepare the breakfast in the snow, to fold the frozen tent, etc) we set out and arrive at the country of the wonders. The soft light of the morning and the thin layer of snow make each turn of the path sublime.

Shortly after Catherine's departure, Noé and Julie joined us.

1 km after we took the road, it is the drama.

A tree has fallen across the path, it is lying about 70 cm from the ground. Nil climbs on it, on the other side a thick carpet of dead leaves is waiting for him, under which big stones are hidden. His ankle gets stuck between the stones and twists with a horrible noise. Cold sweat, head spinning, Nil is close to fainting.

If it is not broken, he still gets away with a huge sprain. Two years without a major injury and he screws up his ankle 8 days before Istanbul!

We console ourselves as we can by saying to ourselves that it could have arrived 8 days after the beginning of the trip... He decides to continue but the next day, the pain is too strong and he goes to the hospital to make an X-ray.

The absence of a fracture is confirmed, but an MRI would still be necessary to know the extent of the damage. This country hospital is not equipped for that, we will have to wait.

Normally, if we had been alone, we would have found a place to wait a few days or even a few weeks until Nil was feeling better. But we have two guests with us and 6 others on the way, some of them coming from the end of the world and we will have to deal with it.

This is surely the last, indisputable proof that Nil is a robot, a superman, whatever you want.

When he returned to France, we learned that he had completely torn several ligaments and damaged all the others.

February 15, 2020 is a big day.

To our team of 4 walkers will be added 6 others and they arrive this evening!

We will finish this adventure with 10 people from 3 different nationalities. Matt, Buzz and Benny are the ones who come from the farthest. They are coming from the United States and have made a very long journey to join us. Petar joins us from the neighboring country, Bulgaria. Finally, Clémence and Hugues arrive from Paris. All these people did not know each other before February 15, some of them met on the plane, others at the airport or in the cab that brought them to us. 

That evening, the excitement is palpable, we set up our first camp of 6 tents, make a huge bonfire, share our first moments together and enjoy the pleasure of being together.

In the morning, most of us see each other for the first time in the light of day.

We all have, I think, the same feeling: it was not a dream, I am in Turkey with this group of people and the week looks crazy!

Obviously, life on the road with 2 or 10 people is a little different.

It was necessary to adapt, to wait, to learn how to work together, to find a common rhythm, to look for huge bivouac sites, to cook for 10 hungry people...

Very quickly, a group spirit was born, friendships were created. No one says it as well as Julie in her article: "a united body that always helps each other when one of the members fails". We went through these 6 days together with a strong emotion, the one of the proximity of our objective obviously but also of this energy created by this atypical group. 

A few days later, we have been walking for an hour or two in this landscape disfigured by construction equipment. The earth is gaping, torn and dripping.

After a turn, we see three people sitting around a fire. We often cross Trucs who settle at the edge of the road, make a fire and prepare tea.

As we approach, they stand up, turn to us and take off their hoods. They are not three Turks but Lindo, Kiwi and Lya, Nil's father, mother-in-law and sister!

As if we hadn't had our share of emotions for the week. They will spend this day and the next one (the last one!) walking with us and will go back to Istanbul to sleep, all our camping equipment being already lent to our guests.

Our experience of bivouac in Turkey

Everyone seemed very relaxed with the bivouac in Turkey and we were able to camp as often as we wanted. The winter temperatures and snow made us look for other solutions sometimes, squatting in huts or barns.


Territories and nature in Turkey

The Dupnica cave

After a day of walking under the rain, we arrive in front of the cave of Dupnica.

The small park in front of us must be charming in summer: market stalls, restaurant, swings... But it is superbly empty and everything is closed when we arrive.

While we are looking for a place to camp, everything is quickly covered with a thin white coat. We try to open all the small huts around.

Magic, one of them opens!

It is empty, freshly built, perfectly sealed. It is there that we will sleep, sheltered.

Before nightfall, we explore the cave and discover, by the light of our headlamps, thousands of sleeping bats. 

The flooded forests of Iğneada

Our footsteps lead us into the park of the flooded forests of Iğneada. Under the snow, the show is magnificent.

We arrive on the beach, facing the Black Sea. The sky is almost black, the beach is white with snow, the wind blows and we are alone in the world in the middle of this unusual landscape.

In the distance, we see the town of Iğneada, a small seaside resort that will mark the end of our week with Catherine.

A few dozen meters before arriving in town, we have to cross an estuary or make a 12 km detour. The water is much higher than we had imagined but we are close to the goal and none of us is tempted by the 12 km more.

We know that we will be able to change quickly, we have booked a hotel room.

Neither one nor two, we rush in the water which will arrive until above the navel for Catherine, the smallest of us. The water is freezing, the air not more than 1 or 2°, but no regrets, we laughed well!

Istanbul

A last awakening under the tent, we try to put everybody up early enough because we know that a group of 10 is slower to start than two persons and because our destination is still far.

The gates of Istanbul are only 20 km away but it is a sprawling city and we will have to walk 15 km more before reaching the symbolic point we have set for our arrival: the mythical Hagia Sophia.

These last kilometers were without a doubt the most difficult of the trip.

Although we knew the distance to our goal, we had not realized that the center of Istanbul was surrounded by hills.

In the end, we walked 42 km that day and climbed more than 1000 meters of positive altitude difference!

Environment

We are not going to lie, all was not pink on these beaches.

No need to mention the amount of extra effort that walking in the sand requires.

To tell the truth, we were almost relieved to arrive where the sea had deposited tons and tons of waste.

Who is to blame?

Who is to blame for this filth all along the Black Sea?

Not Turkey, at least not only.

Six countries border the Black Sea and are all equally responsible for what we found on this beach. Add to that all the boats sailing and tourists on the beach and you have the complete equation that led to this desperate situation.


Meeting with the Turks

On the first few kilometers of our trek across Turkey, we were often checked by the police, because people who had seen us pass by had denounced "migrants" walking on the side of the road. 

Our first impression of the Turks was therefore a bit mixed, but as soon as we moved away from the Bulgarian border, this feeling disappeared, giving way to the meeting.

Our most memorable meetings

In Edirne, we met two young girls who, after having discussed a moment, invited me to go to the Turkish baths with them. Happiness! After weeks in the Bulgarian mountains, it's everything I dream of. We meet near the mosque, the mother of one of them offers me a glove to lather the soap she knitted herself. I am delighted with this very quick transition. Yesterday we didn't know each other and today we soap each other's backs. After having softened our skin, it's time for the scrub. A Turkish woman in her underwear beckons me to lie down on the marble slab. With the help of a pillowcase, she lathers up her soapy water and then scrubs me from every angle. I come out of there "new".

Yusuf and Ayse welcomed us in their Bed & Breakfast. A family of artists, both in the field of music and gastronomy. At their place, we will probably have our best Turkish meals and, even if they didn't speak English, we will spend a very nice time in their company. 

While looking for information about the trails around Istanbul, we discovered the Hiking Istanbul association and met Oytun, one of its very active members. Oytun gave us a lot of advices about the route to take and came to walk with us for our penultimate day of walking. Passionate about history, he regaled us all along with 1001 details about the lands we were crossing.


Culture in Turkey

In the cafes where we liked to stop for a cup of hot tea, we never saw women. It's just not done for Turkish women to go to the café. At the restaurant ok, because you have to eat. At the café, never. On the other hand, no problem for me, a foreigner. One day, Julie and I were told that we were definitely the first women to come to this café. We had our picture taken with the owner and were assured that the picture would soon be hung on the wall. 

Would we walk another 500 km here?

We will probably not come back to do this same section again, but we are eager to discover the rest of the country. 

We reached Hagia Sophia at 10 pm, under the rain, we limped, we suffered, but the excitement carried us to the end with a smile. After a moment of hesitation when we were all a little lost, the joy exploded.

We did it!

We feel excited, exhausted, lucky, empty, whole, relieved, loved and grateful.

We spend a few days in Istanbul, we don't explore the city as much as we had imagined because our bodies give out on us!

If Nil has managed to get this far, her ankle tells her that she will not go any further.

On my side, small tendinous pains awake everywhere and will not leave me before a good week.

Now, a new adventure awaits us, that of the return. We have tons of projects but it is still very vague...


Anecdotes about our trip to Turkey

Governance fact

In small villages, the owner of the café is often the Muhtar, the equivalent of the Mayor.

Very early in our journey through Turkey, we were advised to report to the Muhtar when we arrived somewhere.

That's how we met Ibrahim, Muhtar from the village of Kapakli, who insisted on becoming my father-in-law.

Let me explain.

We arrive in the village, we look for the Muhtar, he invites us in his coffee and indicates us that we can spend the night there. We spend the end of the day to discuss with him and the customers of the coffee.

When the café closes, he prepares us a dinner that we all share together.

When it's time to go to bed (it's already close to midnight and we can't stand it anymore), he refuses to let Catherine, my mother, sleep in the café.

We understand that because of her age and her status as the oldest child in our group, she should go to sleep at his house.

At least that's what we understood because if we made the effort to communicate via Google Translate, he did not.

It took us more than an hour to convince him to drop it.

He left angry. 


Preparation and organization for hiking in Turkey

When to go?

If the winter made life a little difficult for us, we must admit that it was very nice.

This crossing of Turkish Thrace can be done all year round.

Where to sleep?

Under the tent, in the hotel in the biggest villages, or at the Muhtar, at your own risk 😀

What equipment? 

For this crossing of Slovenia in hiking, we left with winter clothes, rain clothes, hiking and bivouac equipment and without mountain equipment.

Find here the detailed list of our material, item by item.

Is bivouacking allowed in Turkey?

No problem, the regulations are very flexible on the subject and bivouac is allowed in Turkey.

Are there any protected areas

The route of our hike in Turkey passes through several protected areas:

  • Velika Waterfalls Natural Park
  • İğneada Flooded Forest National Park
  • Çilingoz Natural Park
  • Kirazlıbent Natural Park

Are dogs allowed?

Turkey will remain for us the country of the dogs. Everywhere you can find stray dogs, very nice and not at all aggressive. Most municipalities have a policy of taking care of stray dogs and cats. They are chipped, fed, cared for and sterilized. During sometimes several days, different dogs accompanied us. 

No problem to realize this crossing of Turkey with a dog. 

Marie aka "Blue"
September 7, 2022
The author in a few words:
Elle c’est Marie. Sous ses airs sages se cache une force et une résilience hallucinante. Elle adore découvrir et se faire surprendre par la vie quitte à être complètement à l'arrache, mais en vrai, c’est aussi une malade de l’organisation. Sur le sentier, elle en laisse plus d’un derrière et ses talents de grimpeuse lui permettent d'être à l’aise sur les chemins les plus techniques. Marie bossait dans les ressources humaines. Son sens de l’autre et son écoute nous rassurent dans les pires situations ! Marie est la cofondatrice de Further Stories.

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