By David Ward
Thanks to my daughter who works for the Foreign Service, thus working in embassies throughout the world, we have had the opportunity to travel to a few diverse regions of this wonderful planet. First it was Bangladesh, then Austria and now Lebanon. Loving to ride a bike, I look forward to incorporating some cycling into each of these trips.
Thus, I found an Englishman in Dhaka who, along with a UK associate from Zimbabwe, took me on an exciting ride through the environs of Dhaka. While in Dhaka, we flew to Katmandu in Nepal where I experienced a most unique urban mountain bike adventure. On our first trip to Austria, we participated in a bike tour of Vienna. We also flew to Amsterdam where nothing is more ubiquitous than bicycles, and I spent a day on a rented journeyman bike seeing the sites, sans helmet, no less.
On our second trip to Austria, we took a trip through some neighboring countries. In Bled, Slovenia, we rented bikes and rode around one of the most beautiful and scenic lakes I have been blessed to see. I have written accounts of these experiences in the pages of cycling utah.
So this year, when we planned our trip to Lebanon, which was to include a week in Turkey, our editor, David Iltis, asked me to try to do something similar and share my experiences with cycling utah’s readers. Of course, such was my intent anyway.
Before going, I checked on-line for bike rentals and tours, and none were to be found. Upon arriving in Istanbul, I discovered why. During my week in Turkey, I saw three cyclists. In Lebanon, I saw one. He was obviously a dedicated cyclist, on a decent road bike and sporting lycra and a cycling jersey, and was riding on a road on which I would fear death. No shoulder, and a ton of fast traffic.
I was surprised. I would have thought that in these urban areas bicycles would have a prominent place as an efficient and cheap form of transportation. What I found in Turkey is that people mostly walk or take public transportation. We did a lot of walking in Istanbul. In Lebanon, I swear everyone travels in cars, even with all the attendant traffic delays.
I pondered the contrast. Dhaka and Katmandu are in third world countries. Vienna and Amsterdam are in very modern countries, and Bled is in a developing, formerly communist country. Why the difference? Well, I have no idea. Could it be those countries are Muslim? But then Bangladesh is heavily Muslim, while Lebanon really consists of three dominant religions, Christianity, Islam and Marronite. Because they are Arab? Turkey is not really Arab. Middle-eastern? Not certain why that would be a factor. There most likely are explanations, but I just have no clue.
However, it made me thankful for the cycling culture that exists, in varying degrees, in the countries I have visited. It also makes me thankful for the growth and acceptance of cycling where I live. Not that there are not issues and some conflict, but generally life for a cyclist is good in the USA and where I reside in Utah. I watched a video linked on one of the cycling email groups I subscribe to about the culture and governmental support of cycling in the Netherlands. A comment under the video said, in essence, “This exhibits part of the reason I hate the USA.” Really? Here is a person who doesn’t realize how good things are here, and not just as it relates to cycling.
Both Turkey and Lebanon are intriguing countries, guaranteed to interest the curious. Turkey is a peaceful, progressive, secular country where I felt as safe and secure as I would on the streets of Salt Lake. Lebanon is currently peaceful and appears to be prospering somewhat in these peaceful times. But you can feel the apprehension as tensions lie beneath the surface, poised to erupt should the right conditions occur.
But they are both beautiful and exciting countries. A cyclist would enjoy wandering the flat and rolling hills of Turkey. The more sharply rising hills and mountains of Lebanon, and the deep, scenic canyons snaking inland, would challenge and reward the cyclist who loves to climb and descend.
Probably, if a person spent a lengthy amount of time in either Turkey or Lebanon, he would find those opportunities and at least some fellow cyclists. I wish I could have. I would have loved to have had a bike and time to ride.