There is much to be said for seeing Turkey on a motorcycle. The roads, ease of traveling from the U.S., the unequalled historic and archeological wonders, and the excellent hotels and restaurants make it as convenient as touring in Europe. But the best reason for coming here is to meet the warm and considerate Turkish people, who readily convey a genuine affection for Americans.
My gaze skims past the steaming runway of the Istanbul airport to the city beyond as my mind attempts to soak up and retain everything this bird's-eye view provides before touchdown.
The seed for this trip had been planted four years earlier, on a trip in Italy, when I met Kazim Uzunoglu (Kaz to nearly everyone), a native Turk and '93 graduate of the University of Virginia. Having begun to guide motorcyclists around his native land a few years prior to our trip in Italy, Kaz insisted that I someday ride in Turkey. "After all," he boasted, "it is the birthplace of civilization. You'll see ruins and antiquities dating back to the dawn of man."
Our launch hotel, the Marmara Pera, is located in the heart of the Beyoglu district. This "new" section, built 300-400 years ago, is historic but contains a vibrant nightlife. A day of jet-lag recovery is spent touring Constantinople, as Istanbul used to be known, the only city in the world that spans two continents, with breathtaking suspension bridges linking the Asian and European sides.
Kaz first takes us to Hagia Sophia (the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God), and we wander about under its great dome, the highest in the world for over 1,000 years. We then walk the grounds of the Topkapi Palace and visit the dark underground cisterns of Yerebatan. At the Blue Mosque, a grand testament to Ottoman architecture built in 1616 and so named for the color that once decorated its interior, Kaz launches into a short exposition of the key principles of Islam. Leading foreigners around Turkey requires licensure from the Ministry of Tourism which involves years of study and a mastery of Turkish history and culture, archeology, folklore, customs and first aid in order to pass.
Supported by BMW, Kazoom Moto Adventures provides new, low-mileage BMW1200GSs and F650s for its tourists, and we pick up our bikes the following day at Borusan Oto Istmye, the largest and most spectacular auto/motorcycle facility I've ever seen.
Leaving Istanbul's insane traffic, we speed from civilization, heading 300 miles west to Safranbolu, in the Black Sea Region. Safranbolu is surrounded by a vast expanse of hills and mountains, and the last hours of riding offer us a sampling of the kinds of secondary roads we'll travel most of this trip. Half of the country is more than 1,000 meters high, with two-thirds of it at least 800 meters above sea level, and the roads here certainly harmonize with the dual-sport nature of the BMW 1200GS.