Sunday, 24 June 2012

Day 22 - 27 Calafat to Bela Crkva (Serbia). 319km (total 1206km)

Thats what I always say.  They keyboard is Serbian, so advance apologies for this taking me so long. Not that you'll notice, obviously.  Its john this time, by the way, after a long time off the keys.  I lost the mojo for writing them, so lets see how this goes.

Romanian traffic was a nightmare. ROADHOGS!
As i told you, (via a clue), we are now sat in Serbia! That's exciting.  We've covered a lot of Km's since the last post, at least it feels that way.  We're working things out, working out our pace and meeting people with more information about roads ahead.  Its been physically harder than id thought (my age???? I hope not), due to the heat, which is way over 30 every day, and near the 40 mark sometimes. This puts the pressures on the body, but also mentally challenging.  So we've had our ups and downs, but its all part of the game isnt it.  Laura has been a right powerhouse, and handling things really well.  I put on a brave face and weep inside instead.

So we hugged the south and western Romanian border with Serbia, following the Danube.  Capitalizing on the beautiful flat and notching up the distance nicely.  Camping and accommodation has been trickier than I'd thought.  Wild/free camping is actually legal in Romania, its just a case of hiding from nosey's and the omnipresent barking dogs.  I've had enough of dogs.  Although as laura says it could have been worse, it was still annoying.  They are fast and make a lot of noise and want our food.  So we've been 'pushed' into some pretty swanky hotels for lack of choice.  Having said that, once you're checked in and showered, the pool and air-con are a welcome change to the furnace that is being outside on the tarmac. 

The scenery from Orsova and along the river, with Serbia on the other side is stunning.    Its been a beautiful ride, with mysterious Serbia keeping watch.  All the little villages we pass through continued to be friendly and welcoming, our waving arms getting almost as tired as our legs.  I did see a sign of foul play though, in this depressing crime scene...

Someone's robbed the no doubt sweet rims off this Lada

We've been meeting other cyclists, (all but one going the other way to us- did we do our research??) from all over the place.  Its great to meet people doing the same things and feeling the same pain.  Though we've been a bit privately embarrassed at the daily distances that some people manage.  We've settled at about 70-90km a day, and our latest rest-day strategy is a short 25 or 30km ride and then stop.  I feel better to get some distance done, although I know that the rush is not important.

Nice spot

Bad spot. Truck stop camping! Concrete surface, which had been nicely  heated by the roasting
sun.  The tent was like sleeping in a pizza oven.  We worked out the reason 2 days later.

We had an AWFUL nights camp the other day, leading to zero sleep and some stress to boot, which gave us an early morning start.  End result was an unintentional 80km ride on no sleep, not being able to find camping or a hotel in Romania, and opting to reluctantly push over the border into Serbia and stop where we are resting up now.  Its not ideal to go into a country on a bike, having not slept for about 36 hours, with no money, no language, and no knowledge of where to sleep.  Luckily the border guard was nice and spoke english OK, and here we are.  However! all this camping bashing is not fair, as we do like camping.  Just yet to find that 'killer spot', un-aided.   It has led to some funny nights drinking cheaper than water beer with a fine cross section of people that don't speak a single word of English, and you cant beat those kind of nights, no sir-ree!

The food is boring, as we sort of expected.  Vegetarian for Laura translates as "you will only eat salad and bread", again..  
Another drive-by mulberry raid gets messy

If our van Roo was a Romanian builder, this would be her.  NICE! I want one.
Beautiful people who took is in from a thunder and lightning rain storm and fed us coffee and
home brew prune liqueur while we dried off.  Nice!
Just catch those chickens quick!!  They had 70 rabbits too..
Post coca cola'd laura ready to jump back into the frying pan again and get moving

We are only 2 days away from Belgrade, and from there, only 6 days ish from Budapest -  Halfway point!!  Feels great.  


Monday, 18 June 2012

Day 15 - 21 Veliko Tarnovo to Calafat (Romania). 340km (total 887km)

Greetings from Romania!  Laura again unfortunately - John's busy sorting maps for the next section of our journey.  After a couple more rest days at a campsite near Veliko we were on our way again, this time with the Danube in mind & the border crossing to Romania.  And boy were we glad when we got there!  The hills of Bulgaria had taken their toll and I think the general down-beat nature of pretty much everyone we met had begun to rub off and we were both feeling a little depressed...

Yet all it took was a 15 minute boat trip across the Danube - once on the Romanian side everything changed and we had smiles on our faces once more.  We met 8 other bike tourers on the first day alone which was very motivating & useful for sharing route tips etc.  The pace of life in the villages we pass is slow, with horse & cart the most common form of transport, but the people are happy & love to say hello as we pass.  The (very) flat roads are amazing too, its great to be cruising along & finally notching up 80 or 90km a day.  That said, we've just met a guy from Glasgow who's doing virtually the same route as us in 3 weeks....must be all the deep fried mars bars or something.

Pictures next time, ciao for now!x    

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 5 to 14 - Vize to Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria). 357km (Total - 547km)

What a difference a border crossing makes!  It definitely feels like we're back in Europe now - the mosques have been replaced with churches, the European Union flag is pretty much everywhere and tea drinking on the street seems to have been replaced by a 9am beer o clock - by the locals that is, not us. :-) 

Enjoying a LARGE bottle of Bulgarian beer

We've been in Bulgaria just over a week now and unfortunately the hospitality we experienced in Turkey seems to be a thing of the past - as we pass through the small hamlets and villages en route, we are met more with suspicious glares than friendly greetings.  That said, we had a wonderful couple of days with our friend Simon's in-laws, Keith & Sue, who moved from Lancaster to the small town of Granitovo, just north of the Turkish border, a few years back.  Having tried unsuccessfully to master Bulgarian, it was wonderful to be amongst English speakers again & felt like we'd known them for years.

Arriving in Granitovo for a well needed rest

Apart from the odd busy stretch, the route has been pretty great & taken us through lots of countryside & rolling hills.  The last 60km crossed a mountain range & thanks to a tip-off from Keith we managed to follow the river and therefore avoid the steepest routes.  That said, we still felt the strain & the reality of getting on the bike & cycling every day has really kicked in.  We're now resting up in the peaceful city of Veliko Tarnovo - a beautiful old city that apparently was once the capital of Bulgaria.

There are many horse and carts along the way

Beautiful wild flowers en-route

We've tried unsuccessfully to camp along the way - there's been no camp site so far & when we ask locals about pitching up on their land their reluctant faces tell us its best to move on.  Luckily the hotels here are very cheap, but we can't wait to get the tent up, especially after carrying it up all those hills!

One of our road-side supporters
First 500km on the clock, yay!

Next stop Romania, possibly in 3 or 4 days time, depending on where we decide to cross the Danube.  Big thanks to everyone who's sponsored us so far, the folk at New Life Foundation are in touch regularly and very grateful for all contributions :-) 


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Week 1 in Pics...

Day 1...leaving Istanbul at 6.30am

One of many roadside chai's along the way

Hiding from the rain

One of our host family's along the way

Cycling through the Turkish countryside

Lots of beautiful mosques

Arriving in Bulgaria

Friday, 1 June 2012

Day 1 to 4 - Istanbul to Vize (Turkey). 190km

The bicycle tour has begun, and what a start.  Leaving Istanbul at 6.30am on Tuesday with our saddle bags packed , we began our long ride home and it's been a great first few days.   It's been a loooooong time (over a year!) since either of us have done any exercise so we've been easing in gently with about 50km a day.  I'd convinced myself we'd somehow manage to avoid hills along the way but unfortunately was proven wrong - thank goodness for gears.  That said, we've enjoyed every minute & it's been beautiful scenery the whole way.

Everyone's taken great interest in our trip - whether it be beeps from passing cars to people waving us down to stop for a cup of tea.  We've been overwhelmed by the kindness of the Turkish people we've met & have barely spent any money in the past few days - cups of tea, beer, meals & even accomodation has been plentiful.  We've stayed with a farmer, his brothers and herd of water buffalo in the town of Islikar, camped in a picnic area near Alakan & stayed with Atim & his family in the village of Safaalan.  None of Atim's family spoke a word of English but we still managed to get our own room, 2 hearty meals, a tour of the village, the local Mosque opened up especially for us so we could look round, introductions to all of the neighbours & an endless supply of tea.  What more could you ask for?!  Last night we 'couchsurfed' in Vize, despite the fact that our host has gone away for the weekend - he just left us his keys & told us to make ourselves at home. 

The route has been great so far, despite the hills, one torrential downpour & our map being slightly out of date.  Today we're heading onto the town of Kirklareli and in 2 or 3 days expect to be in Bulgaria. Sorry about the lack of photos, I'm just about ready to throw this computer out of the window so better sign out before that happens.  Until next time...