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Riding Istanbul in the Rain

Tigh Loughhead in Ortaköy, Istanbul, Turkey

We woke up late to pouring rain this soggy morning, kind of depressed about the downpour.  We had a great night last night, and yet Barlas (and I) had been looking forward to this few days in Istanbul for months, with Barlas actually apparently lining up a friend willing to let me use his Diavel (which ended up in the shop), and when that didn't work out, contacting Ducati Istanbul to line up a Monster to rent to tour around Istanbul in the rain.
Tigh and Barlas in Rumelifeneri, Turkey 
As with many plans this trip, I sort of let things fall into place, and everything has worked out flawlessly so far.  Barlas had contacted a friend of his at the Ulus Vespa Academy to rent his Yamaha MT-03, just in case we were able to ride. However, the weather didn’t look good, with an 80-90% chance of Thunderstorms all afternoon till late in the evening.
And yet, as with many bikers, the creeping concept of the very opportunity to ride, often trumps comfort and at often, common sense.  Unlike some riders, I’m not really bothered by riding in the rain, and Barlas had negotiated a very cheap rental price, so we eventually thought it worth it to just go get the bike, even if we were all going to simply ride out to breakfast and ride back soggily to the riding school, cold and wet, but with a tale to tell about motorcycling in Istanbul.
Ulus Vespa Akademi in the pouring rain
As I hopped up on the back of Barlas'es little 250 in the pouring rain and took off down the wet urban switchbacks of Istanbul, I seriously began to question how intelligent this decision was.  Italy had blind and tight corners on the road; Istanbul was fucking chaos. 

We took off in the rain, tearing up a winding inclines I wouldn't dare risk on foot, both in terms of self-preservation and because I doubt my lungs could hardly handle such hills.  Tearing in and out the slender widths between cars, slipping on gravel and rain runoff, I questioned everything I had learned about riding in New York City. 
The slim form factor of riding a two hundred and fifty cc "sportbike" allowed us to slip in between spaces about half a shopping cart wide, and test it we did.  Barlas and I are both fairly large men, and yet I have to give this little Yamaha credit, as we zipped up and down hills and around cars to pick up a bike for me.  
After picking op the bikes, we went to collect Sinan to go have lunch.  Although the rain was tapering off, the idle on the MT-03 was a bit finicky, so as I needed to keep the throttle partially open at all times, or else the bike would stall. To make matters more interesting, Barlas informed me that Sinan would be riding on the back of my bike, as 
By the time we were ready to ride, the skies opened up in some idyllic self-actualization of how purely amazing it was to be on two wheels.

  Riding through the rain the sun shone forth and we decided to delay lunch and climb up and down the hills a little while the good weather lasted. 
We scooted over to Ortaköy, and rode our bikes right up to the water, where sits one of the most beautiful ancient mosques, right on the riverbank. 
We hadn't had breakfast, and finally famished we motored up the switchbacks of Arnavutköy where the boys claimed to know of the best Köfte around.
While we placed an order for a delicious Turkish sandwich, I recalled the amazing urban wildlife that is ubiquitous in Turkey: the semi-domesticated wild dogs, thousands of which roam the streets.
I come from the country and bred dogs most of my life, and I feel very akin to the canine spirit; and at the same time, I've come across groups of stray dogs in lesser-developed countries, where a pack of dogs is certainly not to be trusted, let alone fondled.
 However, the puppies of Istanbul are remarkable, unlike anything I've ever seen before.
From what I've been told, a number of years ago, wild dogs began to breed uncontrollably, but instead of euthanizing them, the district government in Istanbul basically adopted them, tagging and spaying the dogs, instigating a public contract whereby locals feed and watch out for the pups, but who are otherwise basically wild and have free reign over the city. 
The dogs are friendly, often-fat and relatively disinterested in people unless you have food, when they become as affectionate and docile as you would expect of man's best friend.
The  Köfte  was indeed amazing, and after a few photo-ops, we hopped back on our wet bikes and wound our way round the steep and soggy mountain roads. 
Descending from the hills, we decided to take advantage of the temporarily pleasant weather and head north. 

We stopped at Sinan's office, an incredibly picturesque wooden-sided building in an area called Istinye. 
I thought I was spoiled to see the sights of New York City every day, but this was incredible. 
We rode on, up the coast along the Bosphorus, stopping to appreciate the sights of fisherman plying their trade. 
Barlas in Sariyer

We rode for hours, and the sun eventually began to sink behind the clouds, but we were so energized we pressed on. 
 The trip had become something amazing, morphing from a quick scoot to lunch to an epic Turkish adventure.
 Our bikes had become an extension of ourselves, a not unfamiliar feeling, but something I've rarely experience riding for only a few hours.

We stopped for a bit south of Garipçe, where the Turks are building a third bridge from Europe to Asia. 
This massive suspension bridge will totally change the area north of Istanbul, bringing a flood of more migrants from the Asian side into the more desirable European side.
 We rode on north, into a remote fishing village at dusk, pushing on until we we were forced to stop at a military checkpoint, with curious english signage stating "FORBIDDEN ZONE."

Sinan told me that civilians were strictly forbidden entry and that this sign also forbade any photography, at which point Barlas hopped off his bike and snapped a few photos. Returning to his bike I asked, "Is that safe?" which point he said "No! Last year an American drove in here, and he didn't stop when they yelled at him in Turkish, at which point they took a pop at him, killing him instantly with a direct headshot."

Uhm... (gulp).
 We retraced our steps back to the fishing village, and got directions somewhere north, where I guess Barlas had a destination in mind, up into the hills onto an empty highway.  And, suddenly it was pitch dark, and I began to get nervous.  I don't particularly mind riding at night in the city, but on rural roads, shortly after the rain, on a strange bike, in a country thousands of miles from home, I began to wonder if I was pushing my incredible luck on this journey.
We made a few wrong turns, even off-roading up onto this person's hilltop (presumably) private property to find out where we were.
Getting back on the highway, we ascended up into the hills, where we saw a car every five minutes, in stark contrast to the army of vehicles we had battled all day.
We stopped to get our bearings, when the skyscrapers of the city appeared fantastically below.  I wish my camera could have captured the sight, but all of Istanbul appeared below, off in the distance. 
 Finally, we rode into another little fishing village, and into a massive dry-dock boatyard, in a town called Rumelifeneri, situated right on the mouth of the Black Sea, the gateway to Russia.
Above the boatyard, a restaurant called Barınak Balık was built into the hillside behind, with the rock face of the cliff comprising the rear wall of the restaurant.
We feasted on fish and (probably too much) Raki, and all sorts of Turkish cheeses and delicacies. 
Finally full and invigorated, Barlas wanted me to try out his bike, and I showed him a thing or two, like how to light up the rear wheel. 

The YZF250 is a superlightweight, relatively nimble bike, and Barlas was very exited to hit the rev-limiter, so willingly obliged, breaking every rule of class I've learned to become a Ducatista. 
 At the same time, we're riding Yamaha's, and I'm almost in friggin Russia, so I might as well mess around a bit...
 We scaled the massive concrete harbor wall, to see the moon rising over the clouds, and took a few pics of Barlas down below.
This day had been one of the most incredible days I've ever had, let alone just riding, but it was getting pretty late (probably around 9pm), so we decided to head back to the city. 
 We stopped a few more times to admire some ancient illuminated mosques at the banks of the Bosphorus,
and admire some bridges and bikes.

Finally dropping our own trusty bikes,
back off at the Vespa Academy. 
My Turkish Brothers and Me Ride the Bosphorus, thru Istanbul in the Rain.

© 2016 Tigh Loughhead


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