26th April – 1st May
After saying good bye to mother and sister in Bucharest, Hayley and bike arrived to join me on the cycle to Istanbul. Jon and I would not now cycle together until after Istanbul. Throughout the trip so far we have managed to have short breaks from each other to keep the relationship on good terms. Jon was now in Varna and would make his own way to Istanbul following the coast while Hayley and I would venture deep into the Bulgarian mountains and then east to the grand City.
It was one and a half days to Bulgaria from Bucharest and thankfully so. The lack of good food, the crumbling buildings and the endless piles of rubbish everywhere had become tiresome. Crossing the Danube into Ruse (Bulgaria) was an exciting moment and full of expectation. Ruse was a big city with plenty of food on offer and we had arrived there just in time for lunch.
On our way out of Ruse we were held up by a taxi driver who told us to turn back. I said that this was the right way for us, he argued that we could not carry on this road as it was very bad and lots of Gypseys. I thanked him for the warning but assured him that we would be fine. He replied “no you will not, ‘Big Gypsey, bad gypsey, pow, pow’” as he punched the air with his fist.
Reluctantly we took the main highway out which was in my opinion more dangerous than any big bad pow, pow gypsey. Once we were out of the city and into the countryside we began to get to know Bulgaria. Generally it was quite similar to Romania. The villages along the way were all very tired looking, many of the buildings were crumbling, there were still many horse and carts on the roads and people in general were very poor. The main difference was the terrain. Immediately after crossing the river we were in the hills. The entire time we had been in Romania there was not a hill in sight but now there were only hills which would soon become mountains.
Our first night in Bulgaria we camped at the side of a field surrounded by woodland. In the light it was a very pretty place but as night fell it soon became quite eerie. We knew that Bulgaria had both wolves and bears and come to think of it this was prime wolf and bear territory. Sure enough just after dark we heard howling on all sides. You can never be sure with howling whether it is a dog or wolf but never the less they sounded very similar. We had one sip of the emergency whisky and into the tent to sleep.
We had only cycled about 10km the following day when we stumbled across a cave in the gorge. After paying for a guide, we were in this extraordinary limestone cavern that had been created by an ancient river passing through the stone millions of years ago. There were stalactites and stalagmites everywhere as well as a number of bat species.
The road from Byala to Veliko Tarnovo was the main highway and it was very busy. As it entered the mountains it also became very narrow and windy. A few times we had to cycle up onto the verge while an enormous truck thundered past. Luckily it was not for long until and we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, just after lunch. The town of Veliko Tarnovo has been built on and around the sides of a deep gorge with a river that snakes around it at the bottom. Many of the houses actually hang off the sides and you can be on one side, it was a truly amazing place to stay with some spectacular views of the gorges, old castles and churches.
The following day’s cycling was truly mountainous. The road we had taken was small
but well maintained with almost no traffic at all. It was very peaceful and beautiful. The villages we passed through were similar to the small towns and villages of Romania but they often had an unfriendly feel about them. The locals would leer at us with what appeared angry expressions even if we waved or smiled this were not always reciprocated. The houses were crumbly and dishevelled looking, and again there was a lack of restaurants and cafés to buy food. The lack of food supplies was hard especially when travelling through mountainous terrain. The villages would always have a shop but the extent of supplies in the shop would usually be very limited. Some crisps, bread, cheese salami enough to keep the hunger away but not the cyclists feast you begin to dream up to pass the time on the road! In some instances it was hard eat the food because a number of beggars would gather to ask for the food we were eating.
We passed many disused factories and railway lines that looked like they had once created jobs and industry for the towns’ people. There was a spectacular railway calving its way through the mountains, now only used by lizards. That night we found a really nice place to camp but to get to it required pushing the bikes through a fast flowing mountain stream; here we took the opportunity to give the bikes a spring clean.
Our last night in Bulgaria was spent just 5km from the Turkish border and was one the best camping nights so far. We came off the main road and found a small meadow with wild flowers and grasses surrounded by blossoming trees. It was any
campers dream. After a very peaceful night’s sleep we approached the boarder on Monday 2nd May, passing a long line of parked lorries all waiting to go through customs. The border crossing was a timely affair, mainly due to the fact we had no Turkish money, Euros or Pounds to buy the Visa (it costs £10 or 15 Euros). They were very helpful on the border, and after being directed to a cash point we were through.