Almost a year and a half after I left my bicycle in Istanbul and returned home, on March 29 I flew back to Turkey, aiming to close the circle that I had started far back in June 2016 …
◀ The Re-re-start ▶
Every time, the same story.
◀ Day 444 | 1° of the re-re-start 🇹🇷 ▶
Ok, I’m still confused and quite lost. It’s not yet the time to resume talking about my journey, so, at least for today, I will talk about another one’s.
When Daniele wrote to me for the first time I was traveling back along the Silk Road. He contacted me on Facebook, explaining how much the journey I had undertaken – as well as several other travelers ones – had inspired him and helped him to give birth to his project. He told me he was a young anthropologist from Campania, eager to promote an alternative use of social media through a path that would have taken him from Naples to Beijing. On foot.
what? On foot?! “, I asked, stunned.
“Yes. On foot.”, he repeated concisely.
I considered him just a little more than a half-mad idiot. “A poor idiot”, as we say in Milan.
When I met him, once at home, to introduce him to a friend who could help him with the Chinese visa and he bombarded me with questions and details about what he wanted to do, I discovered an incredibly strong and kind person, who impressed me a lot and instantly became a friend. No longer a poor idiot, but certainly mad. And not just a half, but pure real mad.
On August 1st,
while I was experiencing a rebirth in Kos, Daniele left his home. On foot, as
he had said, and with a 30-kilos-backpack. Eight months later he is in
Istanbul, after a slow journey through Italy and Eastern Europe during which he
wrote about stories of people and cultures as only a deeply coloured and poetic
soul could be able to do.
The path that he still has in front of him – Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia and finally China – seems endless, and honestly makes me reconsider my way of traveling like that of a spoiled child.
But everyone has his own way of going and the important thing, after all, is simply to choose never to stop … no matter what kind of journey one decides to start.
after a Turkish coffee and a cay, I will challenge him in a chess game. So to
see who is actually the poor idiot.
It will probably end up as a draw.
◀ Days 445/446 | 2 and 3 of the re-re-start 🇹🇷 ▶
I met Lara a few years ago, during a few-hours stop in Istanbul in the middle of a cruise week. A brief meeting, which gave birth to a lasting friendship.
Some time later, then, my journey began, and she found herself partly following it through the pictures and stories I shared. So did Lale, her mother, after some time. When I reached Istanbul in December 2017, Lara was abroad. However, I first met Lale, who cuddled me as a mum; she prepared a legendary ossobuco for me and, together with her husband Suleyman, showered me with advices and suggestions about Istanbul and the whole of Turkey.
It was to them that I left my bicycle, that day, with the idea of returning after a month or two.
after almost a year and a half – I managed to embrace it again, as well as the
whole family. The ossobuco was replaced by an excellent soup, accompanied by a
wine that warmed me exactly in the way I needed.
Much more time has passed than I imagined, yet I found everything exactly as I had left it: the bicycle, the food, the smiles, the hugs.
are still low, but I trust they will arrive soon.
The way back home is still not clear to me, but it is slowly taking shape in my mind.
The waiting was long, but also necessary.
family, no matter what, will always have my gratitude for having made this
Saying “Goodbye!”, in cases like this, is almost an obligation. But today it is indeed a great desire, and an absolute certainty as well.
◀ Day 447 | 4° of the re-re-start 🇹🇷 ▶
Four days in Istanbul of complete lethargy. It’s cold, much more than I expected, and I felt I needed time to find the dimension of the journey I had left. Sometimes it seemed an impossible task – as if I had forgotten how to do it – and so I never moved from the Asian side of the city. Placid in my immobility. As if I didn’t feel ready to cross the Bosphorus and bring the bicycle back on European soil, after so long, and I needed an event, a shock. And there it came, life, to surprise again.
When I was
already starting to feel too old, or just changed, for this kind of life, I
He opens the door of the hostel room that we share and greets me with a “Hi!”. His accent is unmistakable.
Seventy year old Californian, former screenwriter and horse breeder (as well as hippoterapist), he has been in town for three weeks. He comes from Hanoi, will go to Holland and then to Kiev, before starting the Santiago pilgrimage and probably spend August in Scandinavia. He travels with a backpack and little else, supporting himself with his retirement income. He has a 21-year-old daughter, to whom he plans to return in November.
“She is an
adult now. I was with her until she was able to fly off on her own, so I
started traveling again some time ago, simply following my desires and
reconnecting to people.”, he confesses.
“What does your daughter study?”
“She does not. She works. She doesn’t make much money, but she likes what she does and this is what counts for me. And to be kind. There is nothing else more important, in life, than being kind.”
We have lunch together, discussing about society, consumerism, education, women, ways of living and being happy. I have no idea how he does it, but by listening to him while he rolls up the words with his American accent, I end up finding myself with a surprised smile. I told him why I’m here, what I’m trying to conclude, how I feel strange sometimes. “It’s good that you do it,” he heartens me. “You are doing what makes you happy, and if nothing else you will finish what you feel you have to finish and then be ready to start something else again. I know that the society we live in says completely the opposite and that sometimes we feel out of place, but we are pirates and we can do nothing but unfold our sails and go! “
Then I take him to the place I prefer in Kadikoy – a bar / terrace above the harbor where you can drink good tea, watching the European part of Istanbul in the distance and the ferries coming and going, listening to the seagulls flying all around – where we remain in silence for a while, each of us absorbed in his own thoughts, before saying goodbye.
ever been married?”, he finally asks me.
“I’ve never been even close to it.”, I reply with a funny smile, holding his shoulder.
“I did, several times. The first time was just to be able to leave home. Since the last separation I never wanted to go out with any woman for over six years. I wanted to be just a good father to my daughter, and that’s what I’ve given all my energies to, for so long. Then, however, there comes a time for a man when he needs the true affection of a woman. A sincere hug and a warm voice telling you that everything will be fine. Women need someone to make them feel safe, while we need someone to tell us that everything will be fine. Anyway, even if I’m the one to be next to you right now, just know that you are one of my many heroes.”, he amazes me. “And, you’ll see, everything will be fine.”, he concludes almost teasingly.
“Ray … too bad you have a beard then! But thank you very much, Pirate. You may not know it, but you gave me exactly what I was waiting for. “
A few minutes later I bought a ticket to leave Istanbul. On a bus, in a few hours from now.
◀ Day 448 | 5° of the re-re-start 🇬🇷▶
On the fifth day is now official, I started to bite the street. By bus, first, to leave Istanbul and enter Greece; then by bicycle, from Kavala to Thessaloniki.
The rules are always the same and basically two: to go by land only (everything is allowed, but no flights) and never go back. The time this time will not be unlimited – I have to be at home by the end of April – but I think a month can be more than enough to close this blessed circle.
Today I went back to pedaling with my loaded Brompton; at times I flew, at times I felt like a fried bundle. However, a good piece towards Thessaloniki was done. This part of Greece is much more bare and wild than the one I have become used to over the years; little traffic, few people, summer still far away. So tonight I had to pitch the tent, which is not so bad. It could do a little warmer and less windy, but it could have been much worse too. Behind me there is a tavern. Some good white wine is already waiting for me. I will ask him to warm my limbs tonight. Just as I will then ask the sea to cradle me, and my dreams to me away. Once again.
◀ Day 449 | 6° of the re-re-start 🇬🇷▶
The last time I woke up in Greece, I did it to fly away from Kos.
This land has always been important to me in some way. It has always been there.
Bicicladi was born here and also last summer, although a working one, meant so much to me.
Greece has given me everything a man could desire to have in life, and each time has been a rebirth.
The last time I woke up in Greece, I packed up a
suitcase, cleaned the apartment where I had lived for five months and boarded
on a plane hand in hand with a new light.
Today I wake up again in this land; I dismantle my tent, prepare my backpack and get on my bicycle. Westward. Towards Thessaloniki and then home.
Greece is my present and will be again, very soon, my
I cannot know which and how many other rebirths it will present. But I think I wear the look of a man who is eager to find it out. Maybe for the very first time.
◀ Day 450 | 7° of the re-re-start 🇬🇷▶
You could get there by cycling about twenty kilometers almost downhill, but no. There is a mountain behind the lake where you slept last night. So why not climbing it, peeking Salonicco from above and then swooping down the slopes that protect it?
All beautiful, in theory.
Then in practice instead of an uphill road you find a wall, you push the bike on foot like a donkey for over an hour and a half, you finally reach the top and there is nothing much, the village called Panorama hasn’t really anything panoramic and then, when you enter in Thessaloniki, you also discover that the hostel you booked is on the top of another hill, just below the castle which dominates the city.
Push again, donkey!
So you decide that today you just stay up, offended, wandering around the old city. The other city down there can also wait. For now you can just look at it from above, with some music in your ears, a beer in your hand and a wisteria carpet over your head which, nevertheless, is able to make Thessaloniki look like already amazing.
◀ Day 453 | 10° of the re-re-start 🇬🇷▶
Three days of sea-facing relaxation.
Discovering a new place, slowly, as I like it.
Looking for people to talk to or in complete solitude, absorbed in silence.
It’s a beautiful city Thessaloniki, no doubt about it; divided between an enchanting old area on a hill and waterfront part more projected into future. Alive, energetic, vibrant. But also quite expensive (at least for my daily budget) and not very lucky, during these days, on the weather side. The forecasts, in addition, talk about rain and gray as if I was in Iceland.
If I stayed, I would give too much time to thinking. Too much space for melancholy.
And so if it is true – appropriately – that Thessaloniki is considered as the most romantic city in Greece (which is not bad at all, I would say), it is also true that the time has come for me to break away from its tender embrace. And to see what is awaiting me a little further on, a little further northwards.
◀ Day 456 | 13° of the re-re-start 🇲🇰▶
After three days in Skopje, today I thought it was finally time to talk about Macedonia and its capital; about the sweetness of its inhabitants, the strangeness of its history, the goodness of its cuisine or the beauty of its mountains.
But then, like taken by an absurd desire to leave, I got to the bus station and – as I generally do in cases like this – I picked a place among those that inspire me the most and I jumped on board of a vehicle which took me in a place I knew nothing about.
I discovered that sometimes, by doing so, it can happen that you fall into a dream from which it’s difficult to wake up from. At least until you feel the urge to tell about it.
Some hours around St. Jovan Kaneo, lake Ohrid, Macedonia.
Watching life happening.
◀ Day 463 | 20° of the re-re-start 🇦🇱▶
Once in Tirana after leaving Ohrid and the magic of its lake, I found myself at a crossroads: to continue to Durres and cross the Adriatic, or northwards again in the Balkans. Two days only for Albania seemed too few, so I opted for the second option.
The 110 kilometers I pedaled yesterday, between dirt roads and highways, allowed me to discover a little more of this particular country and to reach Shkodër, almost at the border with Montenegro. In Shkodër there is a lake and an ancient fortress, so it seemed to me the right place to rest for one day.
<<Since you’re here with a bike, why don’t you visit also Mesi Bridge?>>, Ani, the owner of the hostel where I stay, suggests me. <<It’s nice. Only 9 kilometers from here and almost nobody goes there. Then you can continue to Prekal, going up a valley for another 20 kilometers. The river becomes more and more beautiful, meter after meter.>>
I tell myself that 9 kilometers will be enough for today, and that the afternoon will be given to Shkodër before leaving tomorrow for Montenegro.
But then, once I get to Mesi Bridge, I discover that – as fascinating as it is – it is overlooked by a factory and that someone is burning tires and plastic. The river, however, looks really beautiful; I remember Ani’s words and so I choose to pedal a few more meters, following the water. And then again. And again. Meter after meter.
Well, I don’t really know what happens in my head when I decide to change all my programs and dedicate a whole day to reach – among uphills, canyons, waterfalls, donkeys, chickens, plows and crystal clear waters – a village I never heard before about and to simply discover a lost valley in the north of Albania where even the locals don’t go.
But I’m glad it happens.
[ 18 April 2019 ] – From Shkodër to Prekal (Albania).
Day 464 | 21° of the re-re-start 🇦🇱▶
I’m glad I chose to spend two more days in Albania, trying to appreciate it a little more deeply. Although I have the feeling that even two months would never be enough.
PS: give me a place with water and I’ll be happy.
[ 19 April 2019 ] – Shkodër (Albania).
◀ Day 466 | 23° of the re-re-start 🇲🇪▶
Easter, as well as Christmas, New Year and celebrations in general, is one of those days when I become an easy prey to thoughts and melancholies. Like many, probably. It is in days like this that I find myself thinking more deeply – but not necessarily better – about my life. About my past, my choices, my desires, my future. Days when I would like to share what I love to do with someone who could caress my heart, or sit at the table with my beloved ones, or my friends.
again, I decided to be traveling alone; to be cycling already at 8 o’clock, to
ride forty kilometers along the Montenegrin coast, and to reach the citadel of
Budva, where I could enjoy some sea and where tonight I will cheer to a new
year that has passed.
A year ago – I was in Nepal, by that time – I could have never foreseen all the things that life reserved for me; new encounters, new discoveries, new mistakes, new feelings, new dreams, new experiences, new losses.
Someone asked me today if I’m sad for being alone on days like this. Well I said yes, I’m sad. That I really miss my family, and not just that. But also that I am happy to be once again on my way, and to be free to follow it. That it is right for me to be here now, and that I should be alone. To close that circle which I started almost three years ago and to finally be able to start another one soon, whatever it may be. To be able to accomplish something in my life.
And to honor it, after all, in the only way I know: by simply trying to be grateful for what I have been given here, and today.
Exactly how someone, who would have turned 36 today, would have perfectly done; someone who would tease me because I have been singing some stupid Italian melodic music all the day long, and would be tuning the guitar to sing a few songs from Nirvana or Red Hot instead. Someone who, although my eyes are no longer able to see it, I am sure that it is exactly doing so. Smiling back at me, even from up there.
◀ Day 467 | 24° of the re-re-start 🇲🇪▶
“Vieri, I saw that in the new catalogue this year you also included Kotor! But how is it? Can you tell me something?”
“Oh, look, it’s a little gem! It looks like a Norwegian fjord, but warmer. The fortress which dominates it is incredibly touching. And the ancient citadel, what a pearl! Magnificent, really, believe me! “
For seven years I had been working as a promoter for a cruise company. God only knows how many times I found myself decanting the treasures of this place, without knowing anything about Kotor and barely knowing the position of Montenegro itself.
Well, it was good to see you again today, MSC Opera! And also to discover that I did not say so many stupid things, during all those years.
◀ Day 469 | 26° of the re-re-start 🇲🇪▶
When someone asks me how did I manage to make this journey on a folding bicycle, I hardly hold back a laugh. Immediately I think about all the real cycle-travellers I know and for a moment I blush with shame.
“No, no, wait!”, I always find myself answering, trying to seem sincere and credible. “I didn’t do it ON the bicycle; it is better to say that I did it WITH the bicycle!”
Real cicle-travellers really pedal everyday, sweating on every kind of terrain and under any kind of weather conditions. I never did it, and that’s basically why I chose a folding bicycle. I have always alternated the two wheels with all kinds of vehicles, trains and buses mostly. Once I also made the calculation, establishing that I have used my bicycle for roughly 20% of my trips, mostly in Europe and Southeast Asia. Then of course, I used it a lot to explore cities or places I liked and their surroundings, but I never crossed deserts or incredible passes only with the strength of my legs. Actually I have hardly ever crossed even one country (entirely, I mean). It happened only once, with Hungary, back in July 2016.
Until today, though. Because today I can finally say that I have crossed another one. I know, it’s not a huge country like Russia, or China, or Iran. But even if I did it in small Montenegro, it means a lot to me. So maybe one day I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I crossed ON a folding bicycle, and entirely, a country where – either because of the size of my Brompton and because the average height of people is about 1.90 mt – I was often mistaken for a hobbit. With the same nose and smile Bilbo Baggins used to wear, when he started venturing himself towards Smaug’s mountain, in one of my last travelling days WITH the bicycle. And right just before returning home, back to my Shire.
◀ Day 473 | 30° of the re-re-start 🇭🇷▶
After three days of sweet doing nothing on the Dalmatian coast and exactly thirty from the date of my arrival in Istanbul, I am finally about to cover the last stage.
The last segment of this journey: the one towards home, on my native land.
I’ll do it after crossing the waves of the Adriatic, a little new Corto Maltese and a little Fethry Duck adrift. It makes me smile, however, the fact that the boat that tomorrow will make me wake up in Italy once again is named Marko Polo.
“What accommodation would
you like, sir: cabin, armchair, or deck?”, the Jadrolinija ticket lady
asked me a little while ago.
For tonight I want nothing but the sea, my sleeping bag and a sky painted with stars.
For sure it will rain then, but, seriously … who cares.
“Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard
I’m going back to the start.”
Yes, I know, I disappeared on the very topic moment. No big proclamations at the end of my journey, which happened almost one week ago. So long I have been awaiting it, and then I let it pass in absolute silence. But there are things that are terribly more important, and put everything in the background in the heaviness of their reality. It’s really true that, sometimes, life is what happens to you while you are busy doing other projects. Thanks, in any case, to all those who have been following this journey and – even if from afar – have shared it with me; those who were there, those who still are and those who will. And if I have learned something during all this long wandering, one thing is certainly among the truest. That life must be taken for what it is, whatever it is, and will go on anyway. The only thing you can do is to keep on smiling at it, even when everything seems gone. Because, if it happens sincerely, sooner or later, life too … will start smiling back at you, once again.