My apartment manager wanted me to write an article for a local quarterly magazine. He's trying to promote biking, health and fitness. Once the article is translated into Turkish, I'll never know what it really sounds like, but I was super conscious of the phrasal verbs and idiomatic phrases while writing this..so...it's kind of bland...
Would you please tell us something about yourself?
My name is Penny Jansen. I'm from Colorado, in the United States. I'm 52 years old and I've been biking for 37 of those years. I love freedom I get from biking: the feeling of the wind in my hair, the scenery passing by, and the adrenalin.
Why did you choose Izmir? Are you happy to live in this city?
I moved to Izmir in June. I'd been living in Malatya, Turkey and it was time for a change. I came here for a job interview and the hotel where I was staying had bicycles for guests to use. After taking a bike on the seaside bike path, I knew this was the city for me. I love it here: the climate, the healthy living, the food, the people. It's great.
What was my first impression of Turkey? As the years passed by did it change?
I moved to Turkey in August 2011. My husband is working in Saudi Arabia and our children are grown, so he suggested I join him overseas as an English teacher. (I am actually an English teacher in the United States as well.) After researching jobs and countries I decided I would be very unhappy in Saudi Arabia because of the lack of freedom for women. We both agreed that Turkey would make a nice "meeting point." I landed in Istanbul in August of 2012 and spent 3 glorious days exploring the city. I love the blend of ancient history and customs with modern architecture and pace. The city is alive and vibrant. I was so excited about our decision to come to Turkey. Then, I flew to Malatya, Turkey, the location of my first teaching job. I have to admit that I went through tremendous culture shock, not only from the lack of modern conveniences, but also from what felt like lack some lack of freedom. As much as I liked the people I met and my colleagues at school, there was not a social life for me.
After my first month in town, I bought an inexpensive bicycle ( a girl's bicycle because the shop owner would not sell me a man's bicycle) to get around. I used this bicycle for about 6 months but it was too small and very uncomfortable.
One lucky day in March, a young man of about 24 years old saw me riding and invited me to join a bicycle group that took rides around Malatya every weekend. This young man even spoke a bit of English, which was not so common in Malatya. I showed up the following Saturday and the rest is history. I bought a performance bicycle from a new shop in Malatya. I then bought a second bicycle from a young man who was headed off to university in Bosnia so my husband could ride. I brought both of those bicycles with me to Izmir.
When did I start to bicycle?
My brother taught me how to ride when I was 5 years old. I used to ride to the grocery store and the ice cream shop for fun. When I was 16 years old, I saved all my money from my first summer job to buy a 10 speed bicycle. My dad thought I was crazy because I was old enough to drive a car and he thought I was wasting my money. But, I put over 7000 kilometers on that first 10 speed. I've ridden thousands of kilometers ever since.
After I married my husband Eric, we started riding bicycles together. We used to load up our bikes with camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, food) and ride 120 or more kilometers up to the mountains to camp and then ride home the next day. We even biked to the Grand Canyon.
When our first daughter was born, we replaced the panniers (racks for holding gear) with a child's seat for the bicycle. As soon as she could hold up her head, we strapped her into the seat and continued our rides. With the arrival of our next two children, we had to shorten our rides a little, but we were able to find safe bike paths and continue our journeys. Because of my husband's work we have lived in many places in the United States so our family has biked around the monuments in Washington, DC, down 5th Avenue and Broadway in New York City, across the San Juan Islands in Washington State and Canada, and around Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
We know you have been to many countries. What is it like to be a world citizen? What benefits did you get? Does it help your personality?
Traveling to many countries has helped me to understand both the similarities and differences of people and cultures. In Turkey I love the hospitality and friendliness of the people and their ability to chat for hours with friends. I hope I can keep the friendliness as a part of my personality. Living in Turkey has also required a lot of patience, something I'm not so good at. I'm still working on the virtue of patience.
Have I biked in other countries? Which country is best for bikers?
I've biked in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, France, England and Turkey. Of those countries, I would say the Netherlands is the best for bikers. There are bike lanes, traffic lights, and respect from both pedestrians and cars in this country. Parts of the US are also very biker friendly. Turkey is probably at the bottom of my list but bike clubs and progressive cities like Izmir are making positive changes towards the accessibility of and respect for biking. Adding bicycle lanes and paths, angling curbs, removing pot holes and hazards from the roads are all improvements. By providing free bicycles for use, the City of Izmir is encouraging a whole new generation of riders who will want better biking for everyone.
What is it like to be a woman biker in Turkey?
I think the attitudes towards female bikers changes a great deal by regions in Turkey. For example, it is much easier to be a female biker in Izmir than in Malatya. But in both places I hope I'm a positive role model for women. My students, both male and female, see me riding to school and at first they can't believe it's possible. But, when they see how much I enjoy it and how much freedom it gives me, I think they are curious to give biking a try.
There are some misconceptions about female bikers. For example, I've had women think they their hips will get fat from riding. Sure, their thighs might get more muscles and be more toned and firm but the exercise from biking will also help keep them fit.
What do you think about the Turkish driver's attitudes against bikers?
I think education and mutual respect is the key for drivers and bikers. I don't think any car driver wants to intentionally hit a bike rider. On the flip side, I think bike riders need to keep in mind that we are difficult to see. Designated bike lanes painted on the streets, bike paths, reflective clothing, and educated bike riders who ride in single file lines can all improve the safety of biking. I am just as annoyed by car drivers who pass too closely, drive on the shoulder, and honk at me right when they are next to me as I am with bike riders who ride 2 or more abreast, zig zag in and out among traffic, and try to take up a whole lane on the road.
I have witnessed both very courteous and very rude drivers in Turkey and I have found knowledgeable and ignorant bike riders as well who tempt fate with stupid bike moves.
Drivers in Turkey are generally much more aggressive and less mindful of traffic laws than in America. I still have trouble walking across the street and I have to be very careful when I rent a car because I'm never sure the other drivers will obey signals or laws. So, I think the driving issue is bigger than just respect for bikers.
Do I follow a specific training program?
At the present time, I don't have a training program. I just have a goal to get some exercise five days per week of at least 40 minutes per day. My exercise can include biking, jogging, hiking and tennis. When I train for a race like a 10K or marathon, I add in strength training and stretching. For me, variety is the key and I like to do many different things.
What advice do I have for new bike beginners?
I encourage anyone interested in biking to give it a try. It's so fun and such a good way to meet people, get exercise, and travel. I recommend that you first start out riding in safe places so you can practice using your brakes, changing gears and getting your body used to exercise. Wear a helmut! Put a bell and reflectors on your bike so you can be seen and heard. Biking around the path here in Soyak is a great place to start. Once you have a feel for your bike, head to bike path by the sea. There are even free bicycles provided by the City of Izmir at a stand near Jasemin Cafe where you can try out biking for a couple of hours. Izmir is great place to start biking and the bike trails make it safer than starting on the road.
There are also many bike clubs in Izmir. I often join Ege Pedal here in Karsyika for rides. They have riders of all abilities and can be very helpful teaching you to change flat tires, adjust gears, and suggest bike shops.
Do I have advice for a certain routes?
There are many great routes near our neighborhood. You can head towards the seaside near Ege Park. For beginners, I would turn right on the trail and head north. There is less pedestrian and bike traffic and the trail is smooth with very few obstacles. You can bike for 20 kilometers and end at the Bird Paradise. There you can have a snack and sip some tea. If you have energy, you can bike another 30 kilometers around the Bird Paradise and enjoy the pink flamingos. Once your are really confident, you can continue on your ride to Foca and cool off with a dip in the sea.
Another good option for beginners is to turn left or south on the bike trail and bike to Bostanli or Karsyika.There are lots of places to stop and get a drink, eat some food, or visit with friends. As you get more comfortable on your bike you can hop on the Uskelere Ferry. From there you can bike to Inceralta on a bike path and then continue on nice country roads to, Narlidere, Urla, or even Cesme.
What do I think about Turkish people's attitudes on sports?
I'm not sure I know understand all the Turkish attitudes about sports. I see more and more students participating in sports lessons like tennis, swimming, and biking. But, I also see tremendous pressure on students to take tests, attend after school tutoring, and take weekend dershanes.. Many students have told me they have given up their sports activities so they have more time to study. I think this lack of exercise will eventually be a large burden on the Turkish society because of decreases in health, increases in medical costs for unfit adults, and increases in the students with the inability to concentrate in the classroom because their body is craving physical activity. I actually find that I concentrate more and work more efficiently after I've had some exercise.
We know that your job is teaching. Comparing your country what can you say about the teaching programs of the school in Turkey. Are they intense, hard, and easy?
I 'm not sure what you mean about the teaching" programs" in Turkey, either university course work or the actual job of teaching. I can't comment on the Turkish University system because I have no experience with it. Regarding my job, the Turkish school system is so different from the American system that I'm just trying to do the best I can within the Turkish testing structure and bring lots of English, joy and love of life into the classroom. I want students to feel confident speaking English. I'm not concerned about the small grammatical mistakes. I'm more interested in the art of conversation and getting to know and understand people. I hope I can make people feel comfortable conversing in English.