We managed to make a reasonably early start, for us, at 9.30 and headed south. Initially taking an inland route, but soon turning towards the sea and following the coast road. This was beautiful with many gorgeous views. The road undulated through a rocky limestone landscape but we never went higher than about 120 metres. However we dropped down and climbed up again several times which, in the heat, made for sweaty progress.
An olive grove made a good stopping point for lunch in the shade with a wonderful view along the coast.
On getting to Santa Maria di Leuca, we followed the road, down hill, into the town. Finding the tourist information office closed, it is Sunday…. so restocking with cold water, we then headed out of town towards the campsite we have found on the map. This was again up hill and at the end of the day we were both tired, hot and sweaty ….and we also had a head wind.
The campsite is a busy site, with almost all Italian families. Tent pitched we discovered the site has a restaurant and shop. The latter selling cold beer, so once again it was beer o’clock!.
We stayed a couple of nights to explore the area and took advantage of a boat trip round the coast to explore the caves both on the Adriatic and Ionian sides of the peninsula.
The road to Otranto from Lecce followed two very straight roads via Martano. We stopped in Martano for coffee and to have a little look around. Initially it seemed an ordinary town, then we turned into the historic area. A small, but perfect network of narrow streets. Again balconies, doors and carvings abound.
Onwards to Otranto and we arrived at a campsite during the siesta, so nothing was going to happen in a hurry! This gave us time to look at the price list and we decided that €28.50 per night for the two of us in a small tent, plus tokens required for a hot shower, was expensive. So we peddled on and found another site, some 5k outside Otranto on an ‘Agriturismo’ farm. Having pitched and then explored the area a bit, we decided to stay just one night here and move to an alternative campsite, also in an Agriturismo farm nearer Otranto the following day.
Move made, we pitched our tent in the shade of an extensive olive grove and then went in to explore Otranto for the afternoon.
Another town with an attractive historic area of narrow streets.
We had lunch dangling our feet in the sea, in the shadow of the castle battlements – very pleasant.
Among the gems the town had to offer was a delightful cathedral with a beautiful ceiling, a floor completely covered by a series of 11th century mosaics telling bible stories and a lovely crypt.
But it also had some glass cases in a side chapel containing the skeletons of some 800 men, women and children massacred by the Turks alledgedly for refusing to convert to Islam.
Makes a change this time for it not to be the Crusaders responsible for the slaughter; why does humanity never learn!
The following day we took the tandem inland for a 30 mile spin down quiet roads through olive growing country to visit a couple of towns that had been recommended to us to visit – Castrigano de Greci and Corigliano D’Otranto, both in an area populated by the Greeks in 600 to 400 BC and still with some people speaking in a Greek dialect.
Corigliano D’Otranto had an unusual “Aragonaise” Castle in the centre of the town, dating from the times when the area was ruled by Aragon in Spain.
Built as protection from the Turks, expanded, then adorned and used as a residence in the 16th century when it was considered the Turks were no longer a threat.
Returning to Otranto we decided to find the ‘Lagho Alimini’ , an old flooded quarry that used to be a source of Bauxite. Some 4km outside of the town we came across an interesting lunar landscape with multicoloured layers from the different minerals present.
Because Diana decided to try scuba diving, we stayed at the campsite an extra night. Another new experience for Diana, who enjoyed the underwater adventure very much. Seeing lots of fish of attractive bright colours. Touching some of the underwater plant life, big black cushions and seeing the fronds of anemones wafting in the water. Her guide found this shell on the seabed, a little token to keep.
Feeling refreshed and ready to ride, we found our way out of Brindisi towards Lecce. This proved more tricky than expected, seems here you are expected to be in a car. We came to a junction where every option was fast dual carriageways with no bikes allowed. We retraced our steps and (eventually) found our way on a minor road to head south.
A stop by the sea to buy provisions and then eat them was a pleasant lunchtime. A pleasant change from the extensive industrial area we had passed. Power plant and desalination plant seemed to be what it was.
Arriving in Lecce we found a cafe with wifi and set about finding accommodation for the night. Booking.com came up with a place not too expensive and fairly close to the centre.
Once we were settled in and went out to explore, we soon realised Lecce had a lot to see, so we decided to stay another night.
This gave us a full day in Lecce; however our plans to do a sight seeing tour were not straight forward. We wanted to hire an audio guide, but when we requested this, we were told there were no maps available to accompany it. An English tour in the afternoon was our next option, but this did not go ahead due to insufficient people.
So in the end, we managed to get a place on the little sight seeing train, which trundled through the narrow streets and was very popular. This was only accomplished by finding out how the system worked at 3pm and failing to get a place. Then at 4pm, Diana used her small stature to ensure being at the front of the queue for tickets on this ride and off we went.
Lecce is very photogenic and dripping with Baroque architecture, cherubs abound.
There are also many narrow streets, each with fascinating balconies, doors and windows.
Lots of tourists and busy with shops offering souvenirs of all types. A lovely place to look around, we felt we could have stayed longer.
The ride to Patras was a short ride, time for a cold drink by the sea.
We found the port easily and got our tickets to Brindisi.
Plenty of time to spare, so back into town to find a meal, not so easy on a Sunday afternoon and most places were closed, but we found somewhere, Simon not so strict about being vegetarian!
Back to the port and waited for it to be in time to board the boat, with tandem and luggage getting a bit of interest from other travellers.
Going through security was more rigourous than any previous occasion! The spirit fuel we carry for the Trangia was questioned, and only when we got the stove out to show what it was for, was it accepted as being low risk!
Then, when the bags went through the scanner, the tool bag was looked at for longer than a glance and commented on. It was explained that we have been traveling for 4 months and we need tools and spares for repairs to the tandem …… explanation accepted! Good that the checks were being effective. Only as we were re-loading the tandem, Diana noticed a fellow just walk through with no checks, in a moment when the area had been left unattended!
On the boat we initially sat in the bar lounge and played cards for a bit. The boat setting off at about 6pm. Simon went off the find a good place to spend the night, we were traveling deck class. As the evening drew on we moved to the open deck at the stern of the boat. Finding two sun loungers in a good location, we settled down for the night, both dozing off to sleep quite quickly. We woke at about 2 am as we docked in Igoumenitsa for more passengers and lorry trailers to get board. This excitement over, we settled again to a few more hours sleep.
We woke to a cloudy sunrise over the Albanian mountains, with clouds hugging ridges and looking a little like snow.
A few more hours passed with us dozing and watching the sun become clear through the clouds.
We arrived at 10am local time, having gained an hour, Italy is BST +1 compared to Greece which is BST +2.
This time we felt well rested and not bug-eyed like when we arrived in Athens.
Again we took a ferry, this time across the sea to Lesbos, about 2.5 hours ride away from Ayvalik.
As we approached Greece we saw four grey naval boats patrolling the coast line, presumably on the watch for refugees from Syria.
We had a day in Mylitini of finding the places we wanted to visit being closed before we got to them, never mind, we will know for tomorrow….
However, we happened across this tree, a ‘Solidarity tree’ in a small wood near Mylintini Castle. It has messages written on pieces of old dinghy, by refugees and those who have been supporting them.
The following day we had a bit of a cultural morning visiting the Archeological Museum and Mytilini Castle. There were lots of examples of amazing ceramics, some dating from the 5th century BC. Looking at the delicacy of the artwork you can appreciate the level of sophistication of ancient Greek culture.
We also saw mosaics from both Ancient Greek and Roman periods which were rescued from sites near Mylitini.
On the second day on the island we peddled around 25km down the coast to get to a nice little beach surrounded by pine trees, with a little taverna close by. Our ride back to Mylitini as the sun set was lovely, with gorgeous views along the coast.
After two nights on Lesvos we caught the day ferry to Chios, another Greek Island just off the coast of Turkey where we spent a few days exploring this smaller island.
We found accommodation in Karfas, a small town 8km south of the town of Chios and just a few minutes’ walk from a lovely sandy beach with beautifully clear water….
We spent our second day exploring Pyrgi, a small town in the centre of the Mastic producing area of Chios. We caught the bus since the 20km distance was along some seriously hilly terrain. The town was fascinating with lots of buildings decorated in a distinctive style with geometric patterns chisled out of the stonework and picked out in white.
We also visited the Mastic museum near the town, which told the story of the material that is harvested from trees in the surrounding countryside.
Mastic formed the mainstay of the wealth of Chios for hundreds of years. The resin , mastic, is from a particular tree that has been bred to suit the climate of the island and is used medicinally and for food purposes.
The following day we explored an area known as the Campos. This was an area where lots of citrus estates had been developed since the time of the Genoese settlement of Chios in the 15th Century.
Cycling along the narrow lanes between the high walls which surrounded each estate was fascinating … the stonework not only protected the citrus crops from theft, but it also helped to provide the suitable microclimate to allow the successful cultivation of various citrus fruits.
In between our explorations of the island we were also lucky to tale advantage of the lovely sandy beach just 5 minutes’ walk from our apartment. Lovely clear sea (Adriatic) with a comfortable temperature provided a great way to cool off from the hot sunshine of the Aegean Summer.
We’re now en route to Pireaus, the port for Athens, with our tandem safely stowed on the car deck of one of the regular ferries that connect the Greek Islands to the mainland. We plan to spend a couple of days seeing yhe sights before heading west to Corinthos and Patras….
Yesterday’s tail wind turned into today’s side and head wind. At times we even had to pedal down hill to keep going. So progress was slow. More hills, not as high, but with the head wind, hard work.
Diana began to consider sewing all our clothing together to make a sail and try tacking down the road! However sensible Simon pointed out the other traffic might present problems.
There were extensive fields of sunflowers, which were lovely to see.
Our destination for today was to be Saray, but we were passing through another town about 15km away , Vize, when there was a loud BANG, CRACK. On checking the cause of this, we found the rim on the back wheel had split. Thank goodness we were not going at any speed and were in a town.
We unloaded and moved to the pavement to consider what to do. Thankfully the first person Simon asked if he spoke English and where there was a bike shop was able to assist. Off they went with the damaged wheel. But came back with the verdict it was beyond repair.
SO, the tandem was dismantled and put in its bags. Everything loaded into a taxi and we were taken to a local hotel.
Here we have booked a coach to Istanbul and our accommodation. Once again we have contacted our trusty tandem shop in Yorkshire to discuss what to do about that wheel.
So close, yet so far ………Istanbul is just 120Km away….
Malko Tarnova is a small border town, very quiet, and surrounded by forested hills, with a few old timbered buildings here and there.
The road to the border, which was around 9km away was through the hills, gaining height to about 600 metres. Hills covered with trees and we were blessed with a quiet road . So during the (many) stops to catch our breath, we could hear the wind in the trees and sometimes the faint sound of cow and goat bells in the distance.
At the border there is usefully a place to change money, so we gave our remaining Bulgarian Levs in exchange for some Turkish Lira.
Passing through the border into the tenth country of our journey, the checks were straightforward and the electronic visas we had purchased in the UK before we started our trip proved to be valid to earn an entry stamp into our passports.
We noticed large fences going off into the forest on either side of the border crossing, covered with huge rolls of razor wire. Part of the measures taken by Bulgaria to limit the number of refugees crossing the border. Simon took a photo, when we realized we were being watched by an armed border guard – however, he didn’t seem to mind and gave us a friendly wave.
On into Turkey and towards our night’s stop, Kirklarleli, up and down more hills, again with plenty of stops on the ups. The road was wide, decently surfaced and fortunately very lightly used by traffic.
Our lunch spot was next to a roadside water supply which seem to be provided at intervals on this road. The cold water was really very refreshing on hot feet.
The hills we were passing through now were less tree covered and the grass and vegetation was beginning to look rather parched.
Arriving in Kirklaleli we wibbled our way around the town until we found a small hotel where we checked in.
Diana was looking forward to hearing the call to prayer for the first time. It is Ramadan right now, with many people fasting during the day…. fortunately a few restaurants were open to serve food, and we were able to sample Turkish cuisine in Turkey for the first time. By the time Ramadan finishes we will be in Istanbul, although we need to be aware of the effects of the 4 day national holiday on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th July, celebrating the end of the Holy month
On Sunday we decided to take the local bus north to a popular resort called Sunny Beach. It was a bus ride away 30Km north of Burgas. We went to the beach, had a swim and spent a little time lying in the sun, along with many, many other people!
We also visited Nessebur, the old town near Sunny Beach, which pre-dated the tourist development.
Human settlement here goes back some 4,000 years. It has been ruled by a variety of empires, Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet Russia.
There are the remains of several small churches, with interesting brick work and decoration.
However, it was all very busy with tourists and we noticed the prices in both Sunny Beach and Nessebur were considerably higher than elsewhere in Bulgaria.
Monday we visited the tourist information, not open at the weekend, and decided what else we would do whilst here.
The Ethnographic Museum was small, packed with costumes from various parts of Bulgaria. A school group visiting at the same time had a fine time trying out the array of cow / goat bells.
Along the beach in Burgas is an area called the Sea Gardens. A long stretch of park, planted with many trees and with lots of sculptures dotted about. We were greatful for the shade with temperatures over 32C.
We cycled along a new cycle path to the end of a long and narrow isthmus. Here the sand was black and we watched several kite surfers whipping along and jumping into the air. Fun to watch.
At one end of the Sea Gardens is an area for sand sculptures.
Like in Ruse, there is an annual competition. However the work was in progress and not open until the beginning of July. But we could see the artists at work from a distance as the sculptures emerged from the blocks of sand.
Later on, we peddled out in the opposite direction to a bird reserve about 8Km away with a really good observation centre equipped with powerful telescopes and binoculars.
There, a very knowledgeable and helpful guide trained a telescope on birds of interest and gave us binoculars to look through. We saw pelicans, Dalmatian pelicans, cormorants, pygmy cormorants, black winged stilt and Marsh Harrier, as well as some more familiar birds. This area is rich in a very wide variety of birds as they migrate. Following the Black Sea coast and avoiding the mountains, they get channelled through a strip of land about 90 metres wide.
Some 60 years ago the area was badly polluted with oil, but the reeds have filtered the water and it now attracts much wildlife.
Tuesday found us taking a boat trip to Anastasia Island. A small island some 5 Km out in the bay of Burgas. It has been the location of a monastery over the centuries, but in the mid 20th century it was used as a prison.
In the afternoon we took a local bus to Aquae Calidae, the location of ancient hot springs. There were taps outside where people arrived in cars with bottles and collected the water which was very warm. It comes out of the ground at 41 degrees.
The site is still being excavated, but there have been rich findings there, most of which are in the museum in Sofia.
In antiquity, when healed by the waters of the springs, gold rings, jewels and coins would be thrown into the spring in gratitude to the Gods.
It was once the centre of a large city. Over the centuries it had been destroyed during conflict, then rebuilt several times. It was razed to the ground by the Crusaders and then not used for a few hundred years until rebuilt by the Ottomans in the 17th century.
In a reconstruction of a bath house, there was an interesting multimedia show, projected onto the ceiling, telling the story it’s history. Legend has it there were 3 beautiful nymphs that looked after the springs. But they fell in love and were turned to stone by the gods because they were no longer looking after the healing springs.
Eventually the 3 stones were destroyed and turned to dust by the christan Crusaders as they meted out their revenge against the Bulgarian Empire for re-taking their own territory.
On Wednesday and Thursday we really felt we were kicking our heals. Simon visited the local history snd archaelogical museums and we found some cool and quiet in an Armenian and a Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Burgas is lovely, but we really want to be moving on!
We had a very pleasant stay at Guest House Villa Elma run by Dutchman Martin Boer and his Bulgarian wife AmeIia. A pretty garden, comfortable rooms and set in the peaceful village of Nevsha.
Following our hosts’ suggestion we did not continue on to the coast at Varna as we had originally intended, but turned South to cut through the mountains towards Burgas. Whichever way means hills, but we are hoping this way will mean fewer and lower hills and be the lesser of the two evils!
The main hill was a 2.5 mile climb, which we completed with many stops to catch our breath and drink water. At the top there was a truck stop, which provided Simon with two very welcome cold beers.
The run down was about 2.5 miles, but no records broken today. The surface was not as good and there were a few bends. So the brakes were used more today. The countryside was getting more and more hilly, although fortunately our road had decent gradients, both up and down.
Our accommodation for the night was in a small village beside a reservoir , very peaceful and attractive.
We had some difficulty communcating about food, as the lady at the hotel spoke no English and we have no Bulgarian. Also, despite an extensive menu, a lot of items were not available when we asked for various optionsions.
An extra layer of confusion is added by the fact that here in Bulgaria shaking your head means yes and nodding is no.
As we were near water, we were serenaded by frogs all evening.
Ruse is quite a large city so we felt there was a good chance to purchase a decent quality cycle tyre. A trip to the bike shop that we had been recommended provided us with a new tyre, but not as strong as would have liked. It seems it’s not possible to get the Schwalbe Marathon tyres we started out with in this part of the world.
So we have been in touch again with JD Tandems and have been sorting out new tyres to be sent to Burgas, a town on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. We hope to have the timing right, but if we have to wait …. then being by the sea could be worse!
A visit to the tourist information alerted us to some sand sculptures by the river. So we pedaled down to have a look.
We had planned to go to a monastery built in a rocky outcrop about 8 miles away. It dates from the 14th or 15th centuries during the first Bulgarian Empire.
But it rained very heavily, with thunder and lightning so we decided to wait. Once it had stopped, we set out down the rather potholey country road to get there. We were not disappointed by the place. The monks no longer live in the rocks, but there are a series of small chapels carved out of the rock where people leave their prayers.
Every small crevice in the rock has slips of paper pushed into them, with coins. Also pictures left of loved ones.
We set out back towards Ruse with gathering rain clouds and darkening skies. Negotiating the roads was tricky – difficult to tell if the puddle ahead was disguising a pot hole; we found a few were!
We were almost back in Ruse with some rain when the heavens opened, so we sheltered and just watched the rain as the thunder and lightning flashed and crashed around us.
Back at the guest house we found our tent still dry inside and were directed to a restaurant a short walk away.
It was an Italian restaurant, so there was not much in the way of traditional Bulgarian cuisine but it was well prepared and delicious nevertheless. However, pancakes seems to be a popular item for desert, so that was what Diana had.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, we head south and leave the Dunav behind as it turns north to its delta and the Black Sea. It has been our companion for almost 7 weeks, almost 1,100 kilometers and 8 countries.