18, 19 & 20 September 2015 – to Bulgaria, and heading for home

I forgot to mention the ‘lovely-jubbly’ man in my last blog post! He was stationed near the Basilica Restaurant chatting to tourists and inviting them to his shop. He must have watched a lot of Only Fools and Horses because he repeated the classic Del Bog phrase constantly; hearing ‘lovely-jubbly’ shouted down the busy Istanbul streets was a somewhat surreal experience.

It’s been 3 focused cycling days since Istanbul, as my mind turns towards getting home, however I need to remember to slow down a bit and enjoy the ride. I’m a bit nervous about the route, what with border closures and migrant/refugee issues being in the news a lot, however as yet I’ve not run into any difficulties, and think I’ll stick with my planned route up to the Danube, then following it to Germany.

Here are my routes and stats for the last few days:

–> 18 September – to Luleburgaz
I felt quite emotional leaving Istanbul and finally pointing my bike in the direction of home, after four and a half months on the road. I’ve still got a long way to go though, and need to concentrate on the next few days rather than what I’m doing when I get to the English Channel, otherwise it all gets a bit overwhelming.

Bike ready for the final leg home; leaving Istanbul and #bunk hostel

Bike ready for the final leg home; leaving Istanbul and #bunk hostel

After charging my energy reserves over a hostel breakfast, I packed up and bid goodbye to the #bunk hostel. I decided to pedal back along the coast to Silivri, then take the D100 North, rather than go via Saray; the latter a longer route, and more rural so increased chances of being molested by dogs.

The road out of Istanbul was just as busy as when I pedalled into the city a couple of days ago, although I did take a slightly more road-about route. I remained on high alert until I was well past the 3 lane chaos, with slip roads, buses, taxis and random driving all adding to the ‘fun’. The road has a lot of debris on it, which I think caused the puncture I noticed later on in the day; quite a slow one where a shard of glass had pierced my rear tyre. If I was using Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres I doubt they’d have punctured, and I’ll keep an eye out for a shop selling them in a suitable size. Changing tyres will probably have to wait until Vienna; my current tyres should last until then anyway – they’d probably get me all the way home..maybe…best play it safe.

After about 80km I started to head away from the coast, and reached the town of Corlu, a possible destination for the night, however it was still early and I wasn’t feeling very tired to I decided to press on to Luleburgaz. The road continued to rise and fall over ongoing hills, meaning I ended up climbing a total of 1,466m today, over the case of 161km; I was helped by a bit of a tailwind, and a few ice-cream breaks. Whilst I felt strong physically, my mind was a little fragile due to thinking about getting back to the UK too much, as well as being anxious about the route and possible border closures. When I pedalled around the UK coast in 2013 I rarely had any sad days, however they’re a bit more common on this tour, as it’s been mentally harder, a well as longer; need to live in the moment more rather than looking ahead too much.

Despite a punctured rear tyre, which I had to stop and pump up a couple of times, I eventually made it to Luleburgaz and found a cheap hotel of the evening. Hotel Arda is a bargain at approximately £6 a night, although they could really do with cleaning the rooms occasionally; didn’t really bother me as only need somewhere to sleep, and the shower worked alright. The owner proudly informed me I was the 10th cycle tourer to stay at the hotel this year, and as such  qualified for free tea and coffee; shame I don’t drink caffeine. The hotel has hosted French, Canadian, German, British and American tourers, which isn’t that surprising seeing as it’s on the route to Istanbul and there isn’t a lot of choice if you need to stop in this area. Despite only speaking rudimentary English we managed quite a long conversation, and I was again struck by how friendly most people are in Turkey.

After mending my puncture, and phoning home which helped boost morale, I headed into town to find some food; very nice kebab, as well as a quick visit to a supermarket for a few supplies. I’m eating a lot of yoghurt at the moment, as it’ supplies a lot of energy and is reasonably healthy; also got some nice honey to add to it.

This should be my last night in Turkey, as I head over the border into Bulgaria tomorrow, as long as it’s not closed or blocked with refugees/migrants.

–>19 September – to Lyubimets, Bulgaria
Another day of not many photos as I remain focused on cycling; the scenery wasn’t particularly noteworthy in any case. I did pass a few cycle tourers going the other way, who all waved or shouted hello, but didn’t pass or get passed by any going my way; think a lot of people fly back once they’re reached Istanbul, if they’re not carrying on round the world.

I woke up at about 06.00 to the sound of early morning prayers at the local mosque, which were  pretty loud, and left me slightly confused as to where I was for a few moments. I’d slept very well until then, despite the slightly grotty room and several mosquitoes buzzing about and biting me.

The good news was my rear tyre was still inflated after I’d mended the puncture last night, which was a relief. If the fix hadn’t worked it would have most likely been flat by the morning, so one less thing to worry about. I set off on the road to the border with Bulgaria, the D100 again, passing through Edirne after about 50km, where there’d apparently been some migrant trouble. I didn’t see any trouble, or anyone that looked like migrants/refugees for that matter, however I think they’d all been moved to the border with Greece, or were on the motorway rather than the D100.

There were an awful lot of empty plastic bottles next to the roadside, which suggested a large volume of people had walked that way, however empty plastic  bottles next to the road are hardly an uncommon sight; people just throw them out of their car windows, which I find a very strange attitude.

I started to pass a long queue of lorries next to road-side, with a about 7km still to go to the border. I wondered if something was up, however the cars were still whizzing along. I stopped for a cold drink at a garage, and the attendant informed me it’s always like that; large number of lorries and smallish border.

It took me about 25 minutes to get through the border checks and into Bulgaria; I got a passport stamp for leaving Turkey, but not one for entering Bulgaria unfortunately, I guess because it’s an EU country. I did get sprayed with water/disinfectant as I pedalled through, which was a bit of a surprise, however the bike, and no doubt me, could do with a wash; I guess it’s a precaution to help prevent the spread of diseases such as foot and mouth.

After the border I joined route 8, a much quieter road and far more enjoyable, with more trees and more sympathetic countryside. At a truck stop I found an Exchange shop where I changed my remaining Turkish Lira into Bulgarian Leve, at a reasonable rate. It’s good to get rid of leftovers, as you tend to end up with a wallet full of currencies you can’t use anymore. Route 8 went a bit off-road at one point, and through a waste dump (most traffic is on the motorway), however I stuck with it and it was a nice ride to Lyubimets.

After an 80 mile ride I checked into Hotel Fantasy, stopping slightly earlier than has been normal. There are very few campsites in Bulgaria, that I can find anyway, so I’m likely to be staying in hostels or hotels for the duration, all of which seem to be cheaper than many of the campsites I’ve stayed at on Western Europe anyway! I might wild camp if I find a suitable spot, however as hotels/hostels are so cheap it’s just as easy to use them.

After washing my cycling gear, which was getting a little odorous, and a quick wander around town, I had a meal in the hotel restaurant, which was also very cheap, and a cold Bulgarian beer which was very pleasant.

I’m feeling a lot less anxious and relaxed now I’ve crossed into Bulgaria with no issues, and am making good progress. Whilst the language is hard, Bulgarian people are really friendly again; long may this trend continue. Aiming for the ancient city of Plovdiv tomorrow.

–> 20 September – to Plovdiv
Another reasonably long day in the saddle today, covering 131km to Plovdiv, and to another hostel for the night. Staying in hostels is great, as you generally get to meet lots of like-minded individuals, and even other cycle tourers. The Hiker’s Hostel in Plovdiv is a good example, and nice because it’s not massive, and has a courtyard where you can relax and chat to people; the beer is also cheap and cold.

Plovdiv itself is a fascinating old city, with loads to see. It’s origins can be traced back thousands of years, and from what I read it’s been invaded many times, by all sorts of people, who have all left their mark in the archaeology, much of which can still be seen. I didn’t do a lot of sight-seeing, as it was just nice to chill-out and chat for an evening; loads of different nationalities at the hotel including British, French, Australian, German, Czech, Austrian and Bulgarian. The host, Todo, was another friendly Bulgarian, who appeared a bit later on in the evening with some Rakia, a strong Bulgarian spirit, brewed by the locals, which left everyone smiling; there are variants of this all over the Balkans and down into Turkey.

To get to Plovdiv was a simple case of following route 8 again, from Lyubimets up through the countryside heading North West. I pedalled for about 7 hours, through more farmland, and small towns with roadside stalls selling produce; lots of squashes, and jam.

The road got busier latterly, and I spotted a few German cars heading North, probably returning home from holidays; strong to think they’ll make it to Germany in hours rather than days (admittedly a lot of hours). As with yesterday there were a couple of cycle tourers heading South who I waved to. After a cold drink/snack break at a garage I arrived on Plovdiv, pedalled about a bit trying to find the hostel, eventually went the right way, and checked in.

This post has gone a bit back-to-front, however needless to say I spent a very relaxed evening chatting to other guests. Conor, originally from Cumbria, is in the process of hitching back to the UK from Australia, no mean feat and some interesting stories, whilst Fabien is on his way back to Normandy from Greece. There was also a Japanese cycle tourer, who started in Estonia several weeks ago and is pedalling around Europe a bit, a German guy who makes his own music and is touring in his minibus, and Ming from Singapore. All interesting folks, and apologies for forgetting or misspelling any names! There were a few feisty political discussions, mostly revolving around the migrant situation, however it was all good debate and interesting that everyone mostly thinks the same thing. I even managed to get a bit of planning done in between chatting.

The Rakia definitely helped ease aching muscles; developing a slight twinge in my back that I’ll have to keep an eye on. Tomorrow I intend to head to Sofia, a long ride with a significant climb which will put me well on the way to the Danube; or I might have a rest day.

One last thing – heard about the Rila Monastery in Bulgaria, which sounds like a great place to visit; famous Eastern Orthodox monastery where you can stay. It’ll have to go on the list for a return visit, as is a bit off route, and majorly into the mountains!

3 thoughts on “18, 19 & 20 September 2015 – to Bulgaria, and heading for home

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