21 & 22 September 2015 – to Sofia and Lom (Danube)

Still making good progress, and great to have arrived at the Danube River, which I can effectively cycle alongside all the way to Germany. I’ll follow Eurovelo 6, but with a few detours thrown in for good measure. To be honest I’m not entirely decided on my exact route, but it’ll be fun pedalling North West and seeing what presents itself.

Routes and for the last 2 days below:

–> 21 September 2015 – to Sofia
Despite a few beverages with fellow hostel guests the previous evening, I felt fine in the morning; must be all the cycling. I was up and had breakfast whilst most people were still sleeping, consuming yet more yoghurt, which has become a bit of a staple. I need to replace burnt calories effectively and healthily, and yoghurt is a good way to do it, or milk, as it also contains protein which helps repair my tired muscles.

After packing up and saying goodbye to Fabien, and the Japanese cycle tourer whose name I didn’t catch, I pedalled off towards Sofia, deciding against a rest day in favour of making more progress towards the Danube and home, especially whilst the weather is good. I’m really going to try to think only a few days ahead, even though I’m excited at the prospect of heading back to the UK; thinking about the whole route gets a little overwhelming, despite having covered over 8,000 miles already, and the distance back to Norwich only being about 1,900 miles.

On the outskirts of Pazardjik, the first big town after Plovdiv, I bumped into a Bulgarian cyclist on the way back from his allotment. We got chatting as we cycled along, with Boris explaining he had worked in the UK, but was back in Bulgaria for the time being. I also learnt that it’s law to wear a high vis vest whilst cycling outside cities in Bulgaria, but not in cities themselves, which is a bit odd and akin to the helmet law in Spain; I reckon I’m safe as my yellow cycling top is pretty bright anyway.

Boris - great to meet another friendly face on the road

Boris – great to meet another friendly face on the road

Boris guided me in to Pazardjik, showing me the best way through the city and back on to route 8. He also bought me lunch in the form of some fine meat products from a local cafe (Tiger Cafe); kebab like products which were very tasty when I stopped to eat them a bit later on. Boris insisted I take a couple of huge apples from his allotment to ensure a balanced diet, which proved very tasty, and all organic. Great to meet you Boris and thanks for the route tips and food, very kind of you.

The rest the ride to Sofia was quite lengthy, and involved a large climb, which thankfully was pretty gradual; bigger climb coming tomorrow so didn’t want to exhaust legs today. I was helped by the weather, with the sun staying behind clouds for a lot of the time, and even a bit of light rain keeping things fresh.

The route passes through some nice forest and small towns, alongside the motorway at times. Route 8 got very bumpy and potholed for one section, as it’s not used by cars much anymore, because they all use the motorway; passed quite a few horse and carts though. Boris had told me earlier that these are mostly the ‘gypsy’ folk, who are nice people but a distinct community; they all tended to give me a wave and say hello, especially the kids. I don’t know if it’s politically correct to label them as gypsies or not.

I had a few encounters with dogs today, but nothing too alarming. At one point 3 shepherd dogs spotted me from across a field, and sprinted about 300 metres to the road, barking maniacally. I was a little concerned when they showed no sign of slowing down, and at the speed they covered the distance towards me, however the lead dog proceeded to wipe out on the road verge, tumbling into the long grass, which caused them all to stop. This allowed me to escape un-molested, whilst they attempted to wander off and salvage some dignity; it was all a bit embarrassing for them.

After following route 8 for miles it ran out, and I had no option but to join the motorway for the few kilometres to reach the city. This wasn’t really an issue as the hard shoulder is wide, and the few police cars that passed me didn’t object. I pedalled into the busy city, past a lot of monuments and statues, then found Hostel Mostel near Makedonia Square. Several people at Hiker’s Hostel had recently stayed at Hostel Mostel, and recommended it. It’s a lot bigger and busier than some hostels I’ve stayed at, but did a great basic dinner, as well as breakfast, and all for about £8 (including a bed in the dorm) so you can’t really go wrong. It’s a great place to meet people too, or just to chill out after a long day in the saddle as was the case with me.

Having arrived a bit later than I usually like to stop, I relaxed for the evening, doing some planning and blog updates; good to catch up! I also did a bit of bike maintenance to fix squeaky pedals, which had begun to annoy me. Smaug seems to be bearing up well, however I’ll need to keep an eye on the tyres still.

Tomorrow I head for Lom and the Danube river, assuming I make it that far; there are some big mountains in the way.

–> 22 September – to Lom and the Danube
Going to experiment with a slightly different style on this blog post, and see if it works; writing in a different tense, which might suit converting into a book more – let me know if it works, or not as the case may be.

I had a good night’s sleep in the Hostel Mostel dormitory, in Sofia, with about 20 other people in the same room; after a long ride little keeps me awake. The hostel breakfast is excellent, including scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, fruit, bread and jam, all of which makes great cycling fuel. I have a feeling I’m going to need a lot of fuel today, with a long ride to the Danube ahead of me.

Avoiding the playful kittens I push my bike out on to the streets of Sofia, under overcast skies. It’s nice not to have to bother with suncream for a change, and to be riding in cooler temperatures. It doesn’t take long to pedal out of the city, and find route 81 heading North. The first part of the ride is fairly boring, through farmland and the occasional village, then the road starts to rise up into the mountains. I climb for several hours, with a few down sections providing a rest for my legs, however I know that means I’ll just need to go back up again, until I reach the top of the pass. My motto for the tour is turning into ‘there’s always another hill’.

I pass through a few small towns and villages, where people are selling honey or vegetables by the roadside, leading to a lot of friendly waves or hellos.  There are a few bothersome dogs, however in general the canines in Bulgaria don’t seem as aggressive compared with Turkey or Greece; often it seems like they just can’t be bothered. The road continues to meander through fields, before rising up into pine forest, then beech and silver birch. The beech forest is particularly beautiful, especially near the top where wisps of low cloud permeate the canopy. I start to hear music from somewhere as I near the top; it must be from the nearby village, however it was slightly confusing as the sound bounces off hills; quite bizarre in the otherwise peaceful setting.

The clouds draw in at the top of the climb, and it gets quite cold, a novel sensation after being so hot for a long time. I stop to catch my breath, next to a cloud smothered reservoir, before starting my descent. There’s a small cafe at the top with a few people sitting outside having drinks; I content myself with a banana and some Haribo.

After reaching 1,350m in height, the descent down the other side is going to be exciting. I pass through more beech forest, which proves more beautiful than the Southern side, especially once I emerge from the low cloud. I get the shivers for a few minutes, in the cold and damp conditions, the chill air seeming even colder when you’re travelling at speed. I whizz past a road cyclist going the other way, exchanging waves, then pause for moment to take in the beauty and tranquility of the area.

Thankfully the traffic has quieted down, so there is little to interrupt my fast descent, and reduced danger from cars or lorries in the low visibility. I spot a few people filling up water bottles from roadside springs; this seems very common in Bulgaria, with a lot villages having their own springs, which are apparently good to drink from.

After really enjoying the mountainous section, even if it was tiring, there follows a long and slightly monotonous ride to Lom and the Danube, across gently rolling farmland, and past the city of Montana. Montana was a possible overnight stop, however I decide to carry on, and am glad I did as it feels very good to reach the Danube, getting rd of some of the anxious and slightly sad feelings I’d been experiencing. As I enter Lom I spot a sign for the Eurovelo 6 route, which brings a smile to my face; this route should take me all the way to Germany!

I find the Hotel Transimpex right on the banks of the Danube, and it’s only 30 Leve for the night; about £11.20. This is still a bit more expensive than the last few previous stays, however I have Leve I need to use up, and figure it’s worth it to celebrate reaching the Danube. There’s a nice restaurant attached to the hotel where I have dinner, after a walk around town and a stop at a market to get supplies; important not to run out of Haribo.

I briefly meet another cycle tourer who turns up later in the evening, on her way down towards Romania, working on organic farms (WWOOF – look it up, sounds interesting). I expect to meet a few more cycle tourers now I’m on Eurovelo 6, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings as I head to Serbia, country number 21 of the tour.

4 thoughts on “21 & 22 September 2015 – to Sofia and Lom (Danube)

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