Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bishops and God and a Load of Istanbul

There's nothing like consistency within the Church. When a youthful and virtuous loved one is struck down by terminal cancer and you ask a vicar or priest how God could let this happen, he'll respond with some meaningless tat that we can't know the mind of God or something equally vacuous. All very convenient. But in Nicaea back in the year 325 it was possible to know exactly the mind of God, even to define the mind of God, because hundreds of bishops descended upon the place to discuss that very thing.

The walls of Nicaea

It's all now a bit laughable what these people were seriously discussing. Was the Father and the Son one in divine purpose or also one in being? Easy, neither. It's all made up. Next! What date should Easter be? Easy, it doesn't matter. Probably later is better because we might then get some decent weather for the Bank Holiday weekend. Next! What is the role of the Holy Ghost? What, seriously? It wasn't a ghost; it was Mr Jenkins from the amusement park in a mask, you pesky, meddling kids. And on it went.

They also came up with a list of new church laws, or canons. The first of these was to forbid self-castration, which seems like a sensible if largely unnecessary rule to me. Or maybe it was the fashion at the time, I don't know. Perhaps you couldn't walk down the street without someone chopping off their bollocks and lobbing them at passing traffic. Another rule was that the presence of a younger woman in the house of a cleric was banned. Given that these were Catholics it might have been wiser to prohibit the presence of eight year-old boys. I mean, when do you ever hear of priests and young women?

Anyway, why am I talking about all this? Because I'm here, in Nicaea, the very place where all this, erm, important stuff was decided. It's not called Nicaea any more; it's now known as Iznik. You can see why the bishops and their vast entourages descended upon this place. It's lovely. It sits by a large, turquoise lake, surrounded by rugged mountains on all sides. They also do nice kebabs here. I bet that was a big pull. If you've been discussing ecumenical matters all day, in the evening you'll probably want to go out, get lagered up and finish off with a tasty doner or two.

The lake of Nicaea

This is one of my last stops here in Asia Minor. My vast Turkish adventure is coming to an end. I cycled the 1,200 kilometres from the Greek-Turkish border in the north to the scolding hot south coast via the cities of Bursa, Eskişehir and Konya, the home of whirling dervishes. From there I ferried myself to Cyprus and back and after a quick visit to Turkey's modern capital of Ankara and another 1,000 kilometres I'm now a day's ride from the ferry in Yalova that will take me to Istanbul. All the roads entering Constantinople from the east are motorways and arriving by boat seemed the most romantic way to take myself back to Europe. Besides, I saw Michael Palin arrive in Istanbul by boat and I wanted to copy him.

After a week's break with The Lovely Nina in Byzantium, it's only two or three days before I'm out of here and I cross over into Bulgaria. And then after doing only nine capitals between the end of March and early August, I'll be visiting another nine in a single month. This is their highest concentration on the entire tour - Sofia, Pristina, Skopje, Tirana, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana - in about 1,900 kilometres on the road. And after last year's grand total of four currencies (sterling, euros, Swiss francs and Czech korunas), I'll have to deal with nine different ones in 30 days. Expect me to be offering handfuls of change to Slavic shopkeepers with the bewildered look of a British pensioner.

And then two days from Ljubljana, over the border in Austria, it'll all be done for another year. 2012 has disappeared even more quickly than the last one, whatever it was called. By the time I reach Graz for my second visit on this tour in mid-September I will have cycled something close to 22,000 kilometres. Happily I'll still only be two-thirds of the way to the end with 16 more capitals left to do, including the largest capital by population (Moscow), the capital within the dodgiest country (Minsk in Belarus) and the capital with the most disgustingly pungent canned fish dish (Surströmming in Stockholm). They have to open it outside under running water, for Christ's sake.

Britain and Britons can often be quite down on Europe. But it is the most amazing place on the planet. The concentration of capitals and national differences are what makes it the most interesting continent on which to cycle. Within an hour you can find yourself in an entirely different culture. That wouldn't happen in the States or in Australia. Where would be the fun in cycling there? God knows. Or at least a bunch of bishops could visit my hotel room in Nicaea and decide for Him.


  1. When are you back in Nerja Steve?

    1. The plan is to reach Graz, the end point for this year, around the 12th September. I'll have a few days there seeing my old mates and then come back to Spain straight afterwards. Tapas run?