Experience: Turkey

After over a month of digesting all the things I have experienced during Oriental Express, now is a good time to reflect.

Turkey is a complex country. You feel it from the moment you cross the border, and this feeling does not abandon you for as long as you are in the country. It is very multi-layered and multi-faceted, and all of these layers are interweaved and connected in a thousand different ways. On one end, it is a powerful modern military state and NATO’s 2nd strongest army (or so I’ve been told), on the other end it is a myriad of different ethnicities and nationalities each with their own history, needs and agendas. On one end it is the liberal, artsy, European and intellectual Istanbul, yet on the other end it is towns like Malatya, and all the problems at the eastern borders, and then the Kurds, and Syria, and Iran, and then Islam and the religious debate, and sexual debate, and how I was advised not to make certain jokes. It is a very complex country. And as such, it is extremely interesting to explore. Not just exploring the layers, but the billions of interactions between them is really fascinating. As a whole country, I do not think any other place can offer so much depth for discovery and comprehension.

The Turkish society is extremely diverse — much more diverse than it is in Armenia, or any other place I’ve seen for that matter. Even in America I do not feel as much diversity. In fact when the Americans talk about diversity, I would say they need to check into Turkey. To have such a giant spectrum of different philosophies, religions, educations, social standings, agendas and wealth — wow! It makes your head spin!

As such, it is absolutely impossible to not find what you are looking for in Turkey.

I want to stress the last paragraph, because many ask — what are the Turks like? I can not answer that question! Depends on the Turk, I guess! But mostly, they are just like you. You know, they laugh when a clumsy child is having a hard time climbing on his tricycle, and they turn their heads after a hot chick wearing high heels or a handsome man driving a nice Porsche, and of course they run out of their cars to help when they see a motorcyclist in an accident.

Was it difficult to travel in Turkey as an Armenian? This question should really be split into two.

Was it difficult to travel in Turkey? Yes, in many ways. Traveling in Turkey is not at all like traveling in Germany. You need to bargain the prices. You need to talk and communicate, sometimes with feelings. There are sometimes not enough instructions. Most things that really matter are subtle and hidden. People mostly won’t smile at you if they don’t like you, or if they don’t know you. Driving is difficult. Gasoline is fucking expensive. People are tempered.

And this is a good moment to answer the second part of the question — as an Armenian, none of that was really difficult! In fact, every single traveler I met on my trip was having a much harder time than myself! What aren’t we used to, as Armenians — sincere facial expressions? Tempered people? Bargaining? Lack of instructions? So I would say, it is sort of difficult to travel in Turkey, but much easier for an Armenian than for a Canadian. That for damn sure!

Do not get me wrong. The last thing I would wanna do is to stand in downtown Malatya on a minaret and yell that I am an Armenian. In fact, I have lied quite a few times about being American… of Armenian heritage. Felt safer that way, especially towards the beginning of the trip. But it never made any difference. I spoke Armenian on a phone video call on the busiest streets, spent two full days with two Armenian ladies roaming outside in Istanbul, and never ever had a hint of a problem.

Again, it was not a problem for me to be an Armenian in Turkey. Not when I chatted other young guys and girls at the bars. Not when I dealed with the policemen. Not when crossing the border. Not when I asked for directions. Never. In fact sometimes in Istanbul I felt like it was a “cool” and “classy” thing to be an Armenian. Surprising, yeah? A good friend of mine told me that he feels safer when there is no special attitude towards him — positive or negative — and I agree. I am not saying it is not special to be an Armenian in Turkey (although these days it is perhaps less special than it used to be 20 years ago). I am just saying it seems relatively safe. All that I had to do was to respect the people I talked to, and smile.

I did occasionally come across some nationalist talk, but on these occasions I decided not to reveal my ethnicity.

Was my journey a brave thing to do? To some extent, I felt that way towards the beginning. But towards the end, I realized that it took me much more bravery to walk around Tenderloin in San Francisco after midnight, or, for God’s sake, to jump with a parachute. That shit is scary!

I cannot finish a post about Turkey without writing about the hospitality. I have lived in a Caucasian country all my life and we are all big on embracing the Caucasian hospitality, or the Armenian hospitality. I have always been skeptical and cynical about it. In fact I could never quite understand what this hospitality thing is, until I experienced Turkey. You just simply have no idea.

Hospitality is getting the Coke free at the gas station only because you said “I’m really thirsty” when paying for it. It is two people you never met spending an entire day with you in forsaken Erzurum just so that you don’t feel lonely or lost. It is the hundreds of cups of tea I drunk when asking for a direction at a store. Hospitality is when you go to a barber to style your hair, and he splits his kebab in half, wraps the other half with his own hands in the remaining bread, and instructs that his apprentice gets fresh tomatoes from the store around the corner so that your kebab does not feel too “naked”. The most amazing thing is, it is not a special attitude towards an Armenian guest who is visiting. It is an attitude towards everyone — a guest, a neighbor, and a friend just walking by. We don’t have that. And Georgians don’t have that. We are focused on something else.

Turks are wonderful people. Just like all the other people in the world. Yes, just like all of us.

Will I go back? Absolutely! I missed the Mediterranean part of my journey because of the accident, and I am definitely riding back. Hopefully with friends, and a bigger motorcycle!

Growing through motorcycle classes. Part 3: Ride it off

Other parts of the series can be found here.

So you take your motorcycle on a ride every day, and on the weekends you trip the countryside. You quickly accelerate on the intersections and smile at the girls who look at you from the cars. You enjoy the sun glaring on your chrome while you’re chilling at a cafe and you bet with every 5-series BMW in the town that you will beat them to the next intersection. You do it for a year. Two years. Three years. But with every kilometer rolling on the odometer, the motorcycle whispers to those who listen: motorcycling is not about speed or looks… well, not primarily.

Being a fresh rider, I used to hate rides with no destinations. I remember the old riders looking at me with indulgence when I rushed to get there, and how I thought they were old cripples to not push their motorcycles to the limits. But when you hold on to the grips for too long, the motorcycle does whisper to you.

It is not about where you go. Not at all about where you go. It is not about how fast you get there.

It is about the road you take to get there. It is about how you ride that road. Not about how fast. Just about how. And then this realization strikes you and you stop for a moment. You breathe, you look around. You realize you don’t want more destinations. You want more roads. And what you once hated very sincerely becomes the most beautiful vehicle to your eyes that could ever be designed.


I used to hate offroad motorcycles. I knew, I was certain that an offroad motorcycle was going to be the last one I ever own. Turned out so, but absolutely not in the negative way I meant it to be!

Honda CRF450

So after my current CBF500 I know exactly what am I going to own next. I cannot wait. And who could? I am finally going to ride a vehicle that is really essentially designed to be a ground vehicle, from its core. I am going to experience freedom of movement unimaginable with any other vehicle. It is going to be fast. Not too fast. It is going to be sexy. Not too sexy to the ones non-transcended. It is going to be a Honda.

Honda Transalp XL700V

Remember, kids. If you think Enduros are not cool, you are wrong. If you think motorcycling is about speed, it might be — but only for the select few like Valentino Rossi and on very specially designed tracks and events. If you think motorcycling is about style, and you’re ready to spend that much on style, way to go — give me a call to have some beer together! And especially, if you are just starting to get into riding and you’re wondering about what you want to stick to, give the offroad a second thought after you initially disregard it. Keep in mind, it is very probably that offroad is where you will get anyway, with time. Just in case, watch the Long Way Round starring Obi Wan Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.

The Enduros opened my eyes in a way no other motorcycle ever could. They opened whole millions of roads to ride in my small beloved country. They turned Armenia into a paradise for motorcycling.

Motorcycling stopped being about the speed, so I stopped noticing the next-year ultra-cool Sportbike JAP-09900XXX year 2050 riding along Baghramyan. It stopped being about the style, so I stopped noticing the 10o-years-old style shiny and loud Darley Havidson sinking in its own chrome.

It started being about the adventure.

Other parts of the series can be found here.

Growing through motorcycle classes. Part 2: Naked in the streets

Other parts of the series can be found here.

I really loved the Honda Shadow. I kinda hated the one in Honda’s European model lineup, but the American model was my dream bike. I was riding my Rebel and dreaming a Shadow, so much that at times I got real close at purchasing one!

Honda Shadow on the road to Yeraskh
Honda Shadow VLX on the road to Yeraskh

At times I considered purchasing other cruisers…

Suzuki Marauder
Suzuki Marauder

But in the end it was really Honda’s Shadow that had my heart.

So I rode my little cruiser getting annoyed with its low CCs, thinking of switching it with a big cruiser instead. I remember a friend telling me that my age is not yet that of a cruiser and that I should enjoy other types of motorcycles before I’m 40, but I didn’t pay attention to that until my business trip to Germany. In Bielefeld I had an opportunity to rent a motorcycle (thanks to my colleague Mr. Klein), and when they said they didn’t have a Shadow, I immediately recalled my friend’s sayings, thinking that I should give the naked bikes a shot. The guy on the phone said I could rent a Suzuki Bandit 600, and I went with it.

My Suzuki Bandit parked in Bielefeld
My Suzuki Bandit parked in Bielefeld

I remember the first feelings of the high-rev sporty engine in my hands and that was the moment I figured out that the naked streetbikes were way sexier than the cruisers. They were created for urban riding and urban riding was what I was mostly doing. Agile in the traffic among the cars, fast to accelerate and to brake, and finally — sexy almost like the sportbikes! I rode my Bandit a lot. I rode it on the german Autobahns and for commuting locally as well as cross-town tripping and just riding around. The class had proven to be very comfortable for tarmac and I loved the little slice of performance that it offered.

Naked was sexy because the engine was out for anyone to see and it made the motorcycle look very straightforward, rational and somewhat aggressively beautiful. The plastic fenders, covers and fairings of the sportbikes made them look like plastic toys in my eyes and so inside my brain the streetfighters actually beat the sportbikes in terms of the style. And man was that retro headlight hot!

Aside from the style, streetbikes seemed cool because they were created for being ridden in the city. Adding this to the naked engine style, their intent was put out so daringly that an engineer type of a person like myself was in love at once!

I rode the motorcycle for two weeks in North-Rhine Westfalia and flew back to Yerevan determined that my next bike is going to be something like the Bandit, except it had to carry Honda’s logo on the fuel tank. After coming to terms with my finances for a while, I paid a visit to the local Honda dealership and saw this:

Honda CBF500
Honda CBF500

Other parts of the series can be found here.

Growing through motorcycle classes. Part 1: Sportbikes vs Cruisers

Other parts of the series can be found here.

I think these series will contain some interesting aspects for people who are not yet into motorcycling as well as those who already ride, as you will probably find similarities.

So when I did not have a motorcycle yet (and did not make any sense in the types of motorbikes), my vision of a motorcycle was that of a sportbike. Of course I knew the cruisers (I ignorantly called them ‘Harleys’) and I knew the classic bikes and I had a very small knowledge of the offroad motorcycles which I hated, but if I would be shown different types of bikes and had to point my finger at the one I thought was coolest, it would definitely be the alienish designed sexy sportbike. And no wonder, because I knew they were fast and when you don’t actually ride, motorcycling feels all about speed.

Honda CBF1000RR Fireblade
Honda CBF1000RR Fireblade

However, back then I could not just simply buy the bike I wanted (not even the class of the bike I wanted!), and the circumstances brought me a small Honda cruiser — the excellent Honda Rebel CA125. I learned to ride on it and travelled a lot, falling in love with my small cute chopper that felt so big on the first day it was brought to my garage from Vedi.

Honda Rebel CA125
My Honda Rebel CA125

At first I was pretty unhappy with riding a cruiser, but it has slowly revealed a whole new dimension of motorcycling to me that I could never discover otherwise. I started to feel that motorcycling was not really as much about speeding as it was about the philosophy of riding, the philosophy of control, some danger, adventuring, freedom, freedom and freedom. I think this was very good for my motorcycling experience as a whole, because I figured that the pleasure of motorcycling was much richer and bigger than that of speeding in the open air, becoming forever ‘whacked by the motorcycling bug’. However low in its CCs, the Rebel was great at injecting these concepts into my body and soul (changing it permanently) and after a couple of seasons I realized I’m a cruiser type of a guy. You know when you’re a teenager you wanna choose and stick with one thing, easily labeling yourself and the others! Having ‘found’ myself, I did not expect this would change, but it was a juvenile thing to think!

One significant future-changing permanent impact that the Rebel had left on me though was my huge and long-lasting love affair with Honda. I was amazed by the engineering talent put behind my small machine and the quality of production was just astounding! I knew since that all my future motorcycles were going to be a Honda, and this determination is alive to this day.

It still touches my heart when someone talks positively about Honda, and I am ready to engage in an endless debate with the ‘R1 is better than Fireblade‘ type of fellows having Honda’s bulletproof ‘gearbox’ argument in my arsenal.

So the first major battle inside my head after starting riding was won by the cruisers, and I already knew I was not going to own a sportbike in a very long period of time. The cruisers felt way cooler, very attractive and stylish with an enormous spirit about themselves, and the rumbling of the engine was so addictive that I didn’t understand anyone who wanted to ride anything else. So my dream motorcycle at the time became Honda Shadow — Honda’s flagship cruiser.

Other parts of the series can be found here.