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
We checked out of our comfortable airbnb accommodation in Burgas , discovering from our hostess, via her son as translator, that we were their first airbnb guests! Bet they won’t have anyone else arriving by tandem!
The way out of Burgas was quite protracted, since it is quite a big city. Fortunately, most of the way was via an EU funded cyclepath which avoided the busy dual carriageway out of the city. It was fairly well used by local cyclists, but it seems that cyclepaths in Bulgaria are a relatively new phenomenon since we frequently found our way blocked by people repairing cars, setting up stalls or people just parking slap bang in the middle of the path!
We passed the wildfowl reserve we had visited previously, then discovered that the cycle path stopped dead and on the wrong side of a dual carriageway for where we were headed. Fortunately our trusty Orux maps app with our downloaded maps showed us there was a minor road very close to where we were and we found our way onto the road needed, on the correct side of the road.
Our road to Malko Tarnova, although a primary route, had little traffic and the surface was good – and although we were beginning to climb into the hills the gradients were modest.
This was a day of climbs, downhill runs and climbs again… most of the height was between 300 and 400 mtrs, but we started at (Black) Sea level!
Again, we saw notices that the route had been funded by the EU Development Fund, and since we were under pedal power we were glad that the new road had slighter gradients, and the occasional bridge crossing deep valleys.
We could see the old road occasionally, now relegated to a local road, which twisted down valleys and back up again, to meet the new road… phew!
The day was hot and we drank 7 litres of water, one apple juice and a can of beer during our exertions, reaching Malko Tarnova at around 6pm. Having researched possible places to stay whilst we were in Burgas we easily found the Guest House in this small border town. It even had a small swimming pool…. but our shower was enough. You have to experience a sweaty day of exertion to appreciate the cleansing shower at the end of the day!
We saw our first road sign directing us to Istanbul, no kilometers yet. We must be getting near!
Malko Tarnova is around 9km from the Turkish border, which we will cross tomorrow
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!
Sadievo is only 25Km from Burgas so it was only a short ride to the Black Sea coast where we planned to stay a few days before heading on to Turkey.
The road to the coast was quite busy and a dual carriageway to boot, so we were glad that it was a relatively short distance to Burgas. We spied a cycle path once we got into the built up area, so we took the opportunity to join it, only to discover that it was like one or two british cyclepaths in that it suddenly stopped and dumped you into the road again, without the benefit of a dropped kerb.
However we soon reached the seafront safely and found where we had booked our airbnb accommodation.
After a refreshing drink at one of the bars in the “Sea Park” we met up with our hosts and settled in to our temporary home.
Donning swimming gear we then had our first swim in the Black Sea… and very nice it was too, on the sandy beach just a few hundred meters from where we were staying.
We managed to get away early today and were on the on the road for 9.30…..
This next stage essentially followed a river valley through steep hills, the road being mostly level with small ups and downs gradually gaining height as we went up the river valley .
The first village we came to had a mosque, the minaret looking very graceful against the green forest around.
We were able to buy ingredients here for our customary lunch menu …. cheese, tomatos, cucumber accompanied by peanuts….. and fruit, as well as a couple of bananas for our mid-morning ‘banana and water’ stop. Locals tried to ply us with whisky….. we declined, just keeping to a coffee and fruit juice! But again Simon vigorously shaking his head to say no caused some confusion, as the person offering thought he meant yes!
The surface of the road on our way wasn’t brilliant, but with lots of twists and turns, it kept the speed of traffic down. The scenery was very attractive, and we were thankful we were following a watercourse between the hills.
A few kilometers further on we stopped at a roadside restaurant and bar for a beer and mineral water.
We were joined at our table by a british expat who had bought a house nearby, which they used as a holiday home for several months a year. They used to own a property in Greece but moved to Bulgaria having discovered that, although on a similar level economically, the infrastructure (roads, internet access, railways ) were much better. Seems like quite a few Brits have settled in Bulgaria; we have met quite a few now.
Our road to the coast took us on a climb to over 400 mtrs… we negotiated this in stages, gathering our breath at frequent halts uphill till we reached the summitt for a glorious 2 mile downhill stretch where we could cool off…. passing a petrol station a digital sign indicated a temperature of 34 C.
We were glad to reach our hotel at Sadievo, having a refreshing shower and cold beer and fruit juice. We are just 20Km from the coast and Burgas, where we will be staying for a few days to await the delivery of our tough tyres from the UK.
Diana was very pleased to be having the Bulgarian bread dish for dinner. It is a thin bread dough, a little like pizza, with yellow cheese and a feta like cheese melted on top. The little dish in the middle is a condiment with various peppers, salt and possibly fenugreck. We also had a huge plate if mixed grilled vegetables, delicious.
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.
After a very pleasant stay in the family hotel we found in Razgrad we loaded up and set off on a hot and sunny morning. Just down the road we were interested to see our first minaret attached to a small mosque… indicating a muslim presence in the town. The mosque had a very pretty garden beside with its usual washing area for those coming to pray.
Our route out of town was along a newly painted narrow cycle path beside the dual carriageway…. which suddenly stopped with no dropped kerb to the carriageway… we then rejoined the E70 road we were travelling the day before. Decent surface, wide road and not too much traffic, although what there was went fast.
Our ‘banana and water’ stop was at a picnic area beside the road with a nice little seating area under cover from the sun. We took the opportunity to call our friends at JD Tandems in Yorkshire to confirm and pay for our order of our Schwalbe Super Marathon tyres to be sent to where we will be staying in Burgas on the Black Sea coast.
Beside the little shelter there were a couple of workmen cutting the long grass and clearing away rubbish. The fellow using his scythe to cut the grass said (by sign language) driving a car from UK was much better!
Difficult to explain the difference in the journey by riding a tandem through using mime and zero words in Bulgarian!
Our road took us up quite a few hills, with brilliant downhill bits, which, because the road surface was so good, we topped 41 mph at one point.
We have been passing quite a few fields of lavender with a heavenly scent as you pass.
Our lunch stop was at a tiny little village just off the main road and we took advantage of the village well and barbeque spot to have a pleasant picnic under shade.
We managed to find accommodation through Booking.com at a small village called Nevsha. The map showed a small road leading from the main road to the village, but on arriving at said road it turned out to be an overgrown grassy track…. further consultation with the map indicated a similar “white” road about 3km further on, so keeping our fingers crossed we pedalled on up yet another hill to get to it.
Fortunately it was asphalt and it was tree-lined and shady but it was a long uphill road to reach some hills in the distance.
We eventually arrived at the guest house Villa Elma in the small village, having first cycled to where the accommodation was showing on google maps but was in the wrong location. Retracing our route we came upon the attractive home of Dutchman Marten and his Bulgarian wife , Amelia.
Showered, we were able to enjoy their pleasant garden in the company of Marten and an Irish couple who had dropped by to say hello . They had bought a property in the village.
We were treated to a nice meal made out of fresh vegetables accompanied by red wine and then we retired to bed for a well earned restful night following the rigours of the journey.
Today we start travelling away from the Danube, heading southeast across Bulgaria towards the Black Sea. This will mean our route becomes a bit more hilly, so we have planned lower mileages to allow for slower progress up inclines.
We packed our tent up from the lawn of the “English Guest House” in Ruse where we had been staying, taking advantage of the warm and mostly sunny morning to dry the fabric after last night’s torrential rain. We said our goodbyes to Magdelaine and hotel manager, Vaselska both of whom had been very kind and helpful during our stay.
Our route out of Ruse unexpectedly was along a cycle path – a rarity in these parts. It helped us negotiate the busy route out of town avoiding the heavy, fast traffic on the wide main road.
Designated the Euro Route E70 the road was well surfaced, fairly wide with gradients that were not too steep and crawler lanes up hills. Traffic was quite light, mostly cars and vans but tended to be going quite fast with the attendant loud tyre noise. Fortunately, for the most part, people gave us plenty of room as they passed.
The day’s ride was more strenuous than we have been used to, bearing in mind up to now most of our way has been following a river. One place in particular was quite a struggle…. the main route had a diversion due to road works – instead of crossing a valley via a long bridge, the diversion took us all the way down on the original, narrower and poor condition road, and then climbed all the way back up on the other side…phew!
Because the road was a designated Euro Route it tended to bypass the smaller towns and villages, only passing through two settlements of note where we could replenish our water.
We negotiated a long series of rolling hills before we reached the last incline where we met a long distance cyclist from Las Vegas who had been travelling from Istanbul… our brief chat told us to expect some steep climbs along the coast as we head towards the Turkish border.
The last down hill gave us 2.5 miles of free wheeling with a top speed of 37mph.
We arrived at Razgrad, which at first sight from a distance, looked a bit grim and managed to find a nice small family hotel quite easily for our night’s stay.
Having an interesting and delicious vegetarian meal at a restaurant not too far away, recommended to us by the hotel owner by sign language and cartoons we mused that in Bulgaria a lot of the surroundings seem quite run down and overgrown, but when you get inside buildings, whether bars, restaurants, guest houses or hotels, everything was quite well looked after and up to date with decent facilities.
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.