Izmir – authentic and charming Turkish city

Izmir – authentic and charming Turkish city

Izmir was a love at the first sight. This city captivated us with its authenticity, warmth and a charming bazaar.

From the very beginning the city of Izmir showed it’s good side to us. First we managed to find accommodation through CouchSurfing without a problem. When we entered the city and asked for direction, to our surprise instead of being told where to go, we were taken to the right address by a random guy.

Within first hour from the arrival our host without any visible worry gave us her keys to the apartment and went out to the event she had planned before.

On the second day we went to the centre and were very positively surprised by the warm atmosphere. Peaceful and spacious main square, just next to the sea, contrasted with narrow and crowded streets of local bazaar, where you can find almost everything, from the delicious and diverse food, through cheap fake clothing, to all kinds of spices and charming cafes.

On top of everything we had such luck that during our stay there was a festival of Balkan folk music and dancing right on the main square which we could enjoy for free.

We spent one weak in Izmir, but it seemed that we could have stayed longer. For us it’s a fantastic city that has a lot to offer. Maybe the fact that it’s not a typical tourist destination adds to its character and authenticity. We loved it.

Travelling and cooking on the road

Travelling and cooking on the road

We love good food. We can give up many comforts of life while travelling but eating well is the only thing that we are not willing to compromise. We also enjoy healthy food and couldn’t eat junk for months.

Cooking your own food

cooking on the roadIn the past we travelled without a cooker and we either ate bad quality food or spent a fortune on restaurants. Now the kitchen comes with us and wherever we are, we can quickly make something tasty and healthy to eat. Our plan is to travel indefinitely, so compromising on food could be disastrous, health and budget wise.

Indian food is our favourite, therefore we always carry a lot of spices with us. Since we hit the road in 2013, it now got to the point that half of all that we have on our bike is related to cooking. Click here to see the list of things we carry in our mobile kitchen.

Eating out

Besides cooking, there are times when we go to restaurants to eat out. Travelling for us is about experiencing the culture, and food is a very important aspect of it. We try to choose places where locals eat and each time try something new, always connected to the regional cuisine. In addition, being in a restaurant and eating amongst local people can be a unique and interesting experience. In order to enrich our experience of eating out, we visit a whole range of places, from the cheapest to more luxurious (if we can afford it).

Bad cop / good cop – our experience with Turkish police

Bad cop / good cop – our experience with Turkish police

(this post was first published in 2014 on our old website)

Sometimes when riding a motorcycle, it’s hard to stay within the speed limit, especially when you are freezing cold and crazy lorry drivers are chasing behind you.

The other thing is that policemen are clever and they wait to catch people speeding when it seems reasonable to go a bit faster, especially on a long straight stretch of double lane with few buildings around.

Today we got caught speeding TWICE!

The first time we were riding pretty much with the traffic. I rarely overtake if it’s not to move to a safer position, so when we got pulled over the first time, I was sure that it was only a routine control and was very surprised when we were told we were getting a whopping €150 speeding ticket. I tried to oppose the fine, especially the amount “suggested”, which seemed more suited for Norway than Turkey, but it was pointless as we could not communicate one word between us. Initially I refused to sign the ticket which really didn’t please the cop, but when I realised that I wouldn’t have to pay on the spot and that the address details I gave were not exactly accurate, I thought signing wouldn’t really matter.

A few hours later we were caught again. I was riding very carefully after the first speeding incident so I didn’t even know when I drove over the speed limit. Whether this was fair this time, I don’t know. My wife seems to think that it was. On this occasion the cops were very sympathetic to our smiles, pleading and gentle begging. In the end we didn’t pay anything and left with a bunch of apples and 4 new reflective stickers on our bike. They even suggested that we swap our visibility vests with theirs and I felt that if they could have they would have.

10 interesting things we discovered about Turkey

10 interesting things we discovered about Turkey

10 interesting things we discovered about Turkey

  1. People in Turkey smoke everywhere, but on TV showing cigarettes is not allowed, therefore in films showed in Turkey cigarettes are covered with a…. flower.
  2. In Turkey there’s an old habit of cooking halva soon after somebody’s death. Because of that if you say that you want to eat somebody’s halva, it means that you wish this person to die.
  3. Although Turks and Greeks are similar in many ways, in one way there are very different is the way they approach breakfast. As we were told and observed ourselves, a typical Greek breakfast is coffee and cigarette, but for Turkish it’s the most important meal in a day and they have to have big breakfast with loads of cheese.
  4. In many hotels there are praying mats provided to guests and in some cupboards you can find a sticker with an arrow pointing to Mecca.
  5. Tea is a national obsession. Everybody drinks tea, everywhere. Every gas station has to serve tea to their customers, free of charge.
  6. The price of cars seems very high, even for old ones, maybe about double of European prices.
  7. There are no small flats so even single people live in 2 or 3 bedroom apartments.
  8. Turkish people love Attaturk, an army general who became a national hero. His portraits are everywhere. Even on schools you can find him depicted in his “thinking pose” smoking a cigarette.
  9. Ladybird symbolises good luck.
  10. Stray dogs are not removed from streets and are often fed by people.

What do you think about those 10 interesting things about Turkey? Did you find them as interesting as we did? Let us know.

Learning from top 5 regrets of the dying

Learning from top 5 regrets of the dying

Recently I’ve read about a nurse from Australia (Bronnie Ware) who spent many years caring for patients in the last weeks of their lives. From those conversations, she extracted a list of 5 regrets of the dying.

For me it’s both fascinating and inspiring. I think we can learn a lot from it. Why not take care of those things earlier in life so we won’t have these regrets on our death bed.

This is one of the most powerful lists that I’ve ever read. For me, it has the power to transform lives.

The below list was copied from The Guardian newspaper: Top five regrets of the dying

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

I can say that I’m on the right track with regrets one and two. I’m working pretty hard on number 3 and 5, but really falling behind on number 4. I wish I had better connections and made more of an effort with people I care about, i.e. my friends and my family. Thankfully I have time to change it.

For the summer, we left our motorcycle in Georgia and came to the UK and Poland to meet our families and friends. We had an amazing time with our nieces, stayed with my parents, met with some good friends and renewed old friendships. It’s hard to stay in touch while travelling but we are trying. Luckily there’s Skype so at least we can speak and see each other once in a while.

And what about you? What regrets would you have if you were dying today?

Travelling on a budget is possible (with Helpx)

Travelling on a budget is possible (with Helpx)

Travelling on a budget is possible.

Helpx give a chance to visit places very cheaply and at the same time gain unique experiences. Wanting to travel indefinitely, for us travelling on a budget is the way to go. Here I write about our first Helpx experience. 

We found out about Helpx by chance, when we were CouchSurfing in London.

The idea is simple. Once you have paid membership fee, you gain access to hundreds of exchange opportunities around the world. Helpx offers vary, but the most common agreement is to work for around 5h a day on weekdays in return for food and lodging. Farm work is predominant, but not limited to. Both sides receive review, similarly to CouchSurfing, so when choosing, you can base your decision on other people’s experience.

Going to Greece

For our first Helpx experience we chose an organic olive farm in Greece, run by a family of British expats. We initially planned to come in October but were offer to farm-sit for 2 weeks which seemed too tempting to say “no” to. On the day of arrival we were given worm welcome and tons of instructions on how to do things. Just after a couple of days we were left on our own to manage a pretty large stock of two massive pigs, three sheeps, many chickens, duck and turkeys, 2 dogs and about 5 cats (we never could tell as new ones were coming and going all the time).

It was deep end farming but we enjoyed every bit of it. It felt very down to earth, looking for eggs in a morning, feeding animals, finding dead chickens (not from our fault but through predators), looking after the ill turkey, overcoming the fear of pigs and getting to know sheep’s personalities. All in all, it wasn’t a hard work. We had lots of time to do our own things, like go to the beach, explore local areas and read books in a hammock. We were staying in a comfortable house which during the peak season is rented to tourists for 400 Euro a weak.

The end of our Greek honeymoon

This idyllic life lasted for 2 weeks before farm owners returned.  As agreed, they took over the guest house and we moved to a little wooden shack. Our new home was much more basic but it didn’t matter to us, as we had our own space, comfortable bed and a small place to cook. We started working on various projects, from 8 am each weekday, some relatively easy, some very physical and tiring. What we really liked about the olive farm, was that all the work was done together and we were never asked to do something just on our own.

The initial agreement was that we would eat with the family, but once we realised that they have different to ours food habits, we had to find ways to satisfy our needs. For instance, they ate very small breakfast, while for us it’s the most important meal in a day. Also they were on a 5:2 diet, where you supposed to fast for 2 days in a week. Needless to say, we weren’t interested in starving ourselves. After all, we were working hard for those people and wanted to receive a fair payment.

During our 2 month stay on this farm, through participation we learned about:

  • building grow beds,
  • constructing a thermal mass heater from clay,
  • processing chickens,
  • picking olives and making olive oil,
  • producing clay bricks.

From our experience, there are many pros but also quite a few cons, some of which we didn’t know before committing ourselves.

Helpx pros:

  • great for travelling on a budget – food and lodging almost for free (5h a day isn’t really that much),
  • opportunity to learn something new and gain new experience,
  • plenty of time left for exploring areas around and dipping into a local culture,
  • being immersed in local culture through work and leaving in one area for some time,
  • little or no cost of living,
  • ability to quickly settle in a new place,
  • plenty of time and opportunities to learn the local language.

Helpx cons:

  • usually 1 week is a minimum period, sometimes more time commitment is expected,
  • you have to work and depending on type of work, 5h can be sometimes very tiring,
  • finding a good place sometimes can be a lottery and you may not always be lucky,
  • initial service registration fee can seem high
  • it’s not as altruistic as CouchSurfing and sometimes you are seen as cheap labour,
  • you are not working under a contract and on a voluntary basis so labour laws do not protect you, neither are you insured,
  • in some countries we can be accused of working illegally. Even though officially we are not working, I imaging that it would be hard to explain the concept to some foreign bureaucrat,
  • for longer periods (over 1 months) it can simply be boring to stay in one place,
  • sharing food and eating what you’re given can be a problem.

In summary

There are some alternatives to Helpx, for example WWOOF (variable membership fee for each country on annual basis) and Workaway.

We enjoyed our first Helpx experience and are sure that we will do it again, but also we have learned some valuable lessons from this farm stay. To begin with we committed ourselves to staying on that farm for 5 months, but quickly we realised that there wasn’t so much around the farm that we could explore. Also being around British expats most of the time, we didn’t really feel like we were travelling and after about 2 months, daily chores became tedious and we decided to move on.

Choosing the right place and right people is the most important.

Despite its drawbacks,  Helpx offers a chance to travel on a budget, amongst other things.

 

Dreamy Santorini; Island hopping in Greece

Dreamy Santorini; Island hopping in Greece

Island Hopping to Santorini

We went to Santorini, officially called Thira, for a week to rest from Helpx farm work last year.  We realised pretty quickly that we were very lucky visiting this beautiful island outside of the main tourist season. We saw that in October, when the weather is less stable, prices are much better and the island is not as busy as it normally is. Everywhere we went, we were offered a generous discount. Even the most expensive hotels were 50% cheaper than normal, and almost all restaurants had 20% off their regular prices. That was very good news for us. After CouchSurfing for our first night, we found a really good deal on a lovely apartment in the heart of the island, a city called Fira.

Santorini is a very unique place; it’s famous for its white houses with blue roofs, and countless chapels decorated with bells and crosses. Narrow alleys, traditionally dressed people, donkey owners, amazing sunsets and equally stunning views, make this place a real treasure.

The island was created by a volcanic eruption. The volcano is still active and a visit to the crater can be arranged. Apparently during New Year celebrations, fireworks are placed in a way to imitate a volcanic explosion. Visitors to the island can check out the black beach which is made of volcanic ash, instead of sand.

The island of Santorin has got even more to offer. You can visit the stunning red beach with colours contrasting between vivid red cliffs and deep blue sea. When we got to this beach, there was just one other couple, but I imagine that during peak season it’s crowded with people.

The island is known for its white aubergines and fried tomato balls. Tasty, tiny cherry tomatoes are a trademark of the island. It is believed that the volcanic soil contributes to their unique flavour. Santorini wine is also very tasty and it’s worth visiting a winery to do some tasting. We did and liked a couple of varieties so much that we bought a couple of bottles for Christmas. Unfortunately they fell out and broke when opening our motorcycle panniers.

I would advise anyone visiting Santorini to spend at least a few days there, as day trippers don’t have a chance to fully appreciate the beauty of this island.

Avoid motorcycle accidents by riding mindfully.

Avoid motorcycle accidents by riding mindfully.

Avoid motorcycle accidents by riding mindfully.

Mindfulness can be useful to anybody. This simple yet effective practice has in recent years spread from ZEN centres to many areas of lives, such as schools, hospitals, businesses, prisons and many others. People all around the world see benefits of mindful awareness and scientists keep finding new evidence about its positive effects.

avoid motorcycle accidentsSo what is it and how can it be useful for bikers? According to a definition, mindfulness is ‘a focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment’.  Interestingly it is estimated that around 80% of all road accidents in the USA happen because a driver lost their attention for just a few seconds. The government punishes people for talking on the phone, smoking or applying lipstick while driving, but there’s not enough emphasis on the importance of mindful driving or riding a motorcycle.

Applying the practice of awareness and paying attention can greatly reduce the risk of motorcycle accident and can make you a much safer rider. It’s simple, it’s available to everybody and it’s effective. The best thing about it is that it can save your life and is free.

When riding a motorcycle, you are 30 times more likely to be involved in an accident, so any chance of improving this statistic should be taken seriously. So what can you do to increase motorcycle safety:

  1. Remember that one moment of diverted attention can lead to an accident. Things change very quickly while driving. Don’t forget that both cars and motorcycles and powerful and heavy machines that can cause a lot of damage.
  2. How many times have you been daydreaming while riding a bike? Riding on an autopilot is dangerous. Maybe that’s why so many accidents happen within 5 minutes from home, cause you stop paying attention. You need to learn to control your thought and be more aware of what is happening within your mind. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually not that hard. Just a few minutes a day of mindfulness of breathing can help you with this. All you have to do is to sit peacefully and pay attention to your breath. That’s all. You will notice that different thoughts or emotions come up, so just let go of them and continue paying attention to your breath. This is a powerful exercise and will help you understand yourself and allow you to focus better on a given task, like riding a motorcycle.
  3. If you notice that your attention wonders, play a game. This is my favourite, it keeps me focused, alert and entertained. All you have to do is predict any potential danger. The more you notice, the better. Look at cars turning, drivers not seeing you, holes in the road, anything that you can come up with, which could be a problem if it realised. This game will help you notice things that you would normally just drive pas without being aware of.
  4. When riding a motorcycle, try to notice any tension in your body. Recognise that tension and relax. You can practice this during you mindfulness of breathing exercise. Tensed biker is more likely to cause accident. In order to control your bike and your actions, you need to be relaxed. Pay attention to your body.
  5. Riding a motorcycle is a constant learning experience. When starting, read books about improving riding skills, attend additional training courses, learn from others, do whatever you can to improve your skills and just be aware of your limitations.
10 reasons why I feel safe when riding a motorcycle

10 reasons why I feel safe when riding a motorcycle

Feeling safe when riding a motorcycle? Ten reasons: 

safe when riding a motorcycleIn the last ten months of our travels I’ve been riding a motorcycle a lot, some weeks pretty much every day for hours. We rode through the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Georgia and northern Iraq, through various weather conditions and on different roads. Many people tell me that riding a motorcycle is dangerous. Also statistics show that I am 35 times more likely to be involved in an accident than a car owner. So why do I feel safe when riding a motorcycle? Because I do the following:

  1. Make sure that I’m visible on the road.
    • I always wear a high visibility vest and avoid riding after dusk.
    • My motorcycle and my helmet are white which further improves my visibility.
  2. Use common sense and imagination.
    • I constantly think and analyse my actions. I am a harsh judge of my riding skills.
    • If I am not sure of something, I approach it with caution and reduced speed.
    • Sometimes I image a field in front of me (about 30m), the distance that it would take me to stop my motorcycle if something ran out in the road the road. Usually that makes me slow down.
    • I adjust my riding style according to my riding skills and my speed according to the situation.
  3. Ride mindfully.
    • I try to keep my thoughts on the road and be aware of my surroundings.
  4. Concentrate hard when riding a motorcycle.
    • Riding a motorcycle for me is hard mental work. It makes me feel exhausted much faster than when I’m behind the wheel of a car, that’s why I have a daily distance limit (about 300km a day).
    • When crossing intersections, I pay extra attention (too many accidents happen there)
  5. I’m aware of danger and consequences of getting involved in an accident
    • Being aware of the danger can make you a more careful biker.
    • I realise that protective clothing and a helmet is only an illusion of security and in a real accident they wouldn’t make much difference.
    • Even a small collision with a car can have serious consequences for a biker. I don’t want to hear the ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’ excuse so I try to guess what other drivers intend to do.
  6. Know my limits.
    • If I’m not sure of my skills, I rather stop or slow down.
    • I tend not to be overconfident on a motorcycle.
    • Peer pressure can get any biker in trouble, especially when you’re new to riding.
  7. Ride carefully and with caution.
    • I love riding but a motorcycle is a tool to get me where I want, it’s a means, not an end. I don’t need to test my skills, overcome my own limits or get out of my comfort zone.
    • Maybe it’s less exciting (I don’t think so), but riding carefully for sure is safer.
  8. Wear protective clothing and the best protective helmet I could find.
    • Before choosing a new helmet, I check its rating on the SHARP page
    • I always wear motorcycle boots, gloves and a jacket.
  9. Observe and anticipate.
    • I try to be aware of traffic around me and predict any unexpected danger coming my way and respond before it happens.
    • I take responsibility for my own actions as well as the actions of other drivers.
  10. Practice and continuously try to improve my skills.
    • I believe that riding is a skill that requires constant learning and improvement.
    • Riding a motorcycle is a very difficult skill to master and subtle changes can make a huge difference.

Statistics are bad, but the good news is that almost half of the accidents involving a motorcycle are caused because of biker’s fault. You can be safe when riding a motorcycle. Safety is largely up to you.

I believe that with the right training and rider’s education, statistics could be improved and we all could feel safer.