We have arrived in Istanbul and the first thing we find is a spot to lay our roll mats bags (or, in Ben’s case, car seat cover).
Best Island Hostel confusingly isn’t the best hostel around these parts of the mainland but it has a view which is certainly hard to beat!
The trip totalled 4581km over a period of exactly 50 days. I wish we could say our total showers was close to that figure but I doubt between us we’ve had that many!
We will use this week to re-acclimatise to life among normal members of the public. Start using a knife and fork again, washing clothes occasionally, wearing pants. I could go on. However, one more night out in the open seems only fitting.
There will be more to follow; a more detailed account of the past week, thankyous to those we have met and have helped us along the way, and lots of tips for future London – Istanbulers.
In the mean time, ciao!
Please everyone join the Euro! Not for any political or economic reason, but it makes life so much easier when travelling. Trying to remember the exchange rate for four different currencies before working out how much will be needed for the further 24 hours in whatever country you are in is enough to melt any remaining brain cells. But enough first world problems..
We find ourselves in Plovdiv, the 6th oldest permanently inhabited city in the world. Construction workers are constantly digging up perfectly preserved Roman remains, left after the Ottomans covered them in sand to destroy all traces of the previous civilisations. What did the Romans do for us anyway…
We have spent the past week travelling through some of the most spectacular scenery of the trip to date. Our last few days in Serbia were spent on the cliff-like banks of the Danube, cycling through the Iron Gate. There are two vast hydroelectric power plants along this section of the river which act as the only places to cross into Romania.
The whole region is cycle touring heaven, and although still relatively undiscovered there are plenty of comrades to be found on the roads. We spent a lovely couple of days riding with Phillip, Ula, Anna and Harald from Germany, as well as crossing paths with Alex and Josh who had come all the way from the USA via Finland and Ukraine. We took shelter from an almighty storm together in some lakeside holiday apartments and shared plenty of stories and opinions before going our separate ways. Rumours of even crazier travellers ahead were spreading, and these were confirmed the next day when we met a couple who had walked all the way from Brittany, en route to Jerusalem. Nicer, calmer and more inspiring people you could not hope to meet – I think we’re learning that slow travel is the way to find peace with your surroundings.
We had a quick dash through Bulgaria before entering Romania at Calafat via the most overly engineered bridge imaginable. What was originally a simple 3km road and ferry crossing turned into a 17km time trial on empty roads, unused either because the toll is too high or because of how ridiculously out of your way the road takes you.
However once into Romania we had a taste of what life in “The Wanted” must be like. Everyone seemed glad we came, high fives all round, kids running into the street to say hi and a generally chirpy response from everyone we met. We even had the pleasure of being invited into an older couple’s house for the evening, who, after a tour of their smallholding, called up reinforcements in the shape of a fourteen year old girl to act as translator. Mihaela was a massive One Direction fan and despite having never heard of Switzerland, knew of the city of Bradford as it was the home town of her favourite 1D man, Zane.
An early ferry to Bulgaria the following morning left us disorientated. Ben demonstrated by falling over backwards while standing still on a sloping garage forecourt, becoming tangled inside his bike. I think the owners learnt some colourful English that morning.
The following two days were some of the toughest we have had in the saddle. A climb to 1305m over was followed by a second to around 1100m squeezed into 50km or so. A camping spot at 1000m ensured yesterday was an easy day of flat or downhill riding into Plovdiv.
We are now only 200km from Turkey and hopefully only 5 days easy riding from Istanbul. Mega!
For the past few days Ben has constantly been pestered for autographs as, due to his considerable beard, the Serbian public recognise him as Tom Hanks from the film Castaway. Time for a shave…
We are five weeks in and it’s finally time for the chop. We had originally planned to get a haircut around the halfway mark but ran out of time in Vienna and found more interesting things to do in Budapest. So Belgrade it is and with Kylie Minogue playing on the radio, Ben stepped up…
Next up was Edmund ‘Tintin’ Luke, who like a true cyclist eschewed the scissor cut option and went for a lightweight short back ‘n’ sides.
It’s a late start for us today and a couple of days taking it easy on the bike. We will be back in Belgrade on Monday to speak at a conference organised by YugoCycling Campaign as part of European mobility week.
So our next stop is Bela Cyrka, in the Serbian lake district and just a stone’s throw from the Romanian border. Wild swimming aplenty in store then before we catch our train back to the capital on Sunday afternoon.
Germany and cycling go together like curry powder and sausage.
Nevertheless, we had to leave and pursue our Turkish goal. Since joining the Danube at Vilshofen (Germany), we crossed into Austria just outside Passau and have been winding our way towards Vienna for a couple of days. Both sides of the river have very good, signed cycle track, we have been following the Austrian R1 and we occasionally see a EuroVelo 6 symbol.
We had been warned before leaving for this trip that parts of the Danube had recently flooded. We saw first hand how high the water reached when we stopped for a drink in a cafe in Passau. There was no inside seating, the place having been six feet underwater in June. The owners had done remarkably well to get things up and running in such a short time, the pictures on the door showing how damaging the flood had been.
Moving towards Vienna there were constant signs of destruction. It is a credit to the Austrian cyclist’s organisations and tourist board that so much of the cycle track is back up and open. We have experienced only one large diversion and one short section which is still covered with silt and tree debris in the 300km or so from Germany.
A highlight of the past couple of days was joining a cricket practice in Linz. We had had a nightmare few hours caused by splitting inner tubes and wonky wheels and were pedalling out of town with glum expressions when, on approaching a motorway underpass, we saw a bowler steaming in. He was pretty rapid, though the batsman seemed unperturbed by his pace and gracefully guided the ball through extra cover. We watched for a few moments before asking if we could find a place to field. We were gladly excepted and were soon streaming in ourselves. Slightly less pacy and indeed accurate we held our own – it’s not easy bowling in cleated cyclung shoes! Ed was offered the bat and was thankful for the “you can’t be out on your first ball rule” when the stumps clattered to the ground.
We said our thank yous and were on our way. A short spin later and we found a perfect camping spot on the banks of the river and cooked dinner in the sunset.
The following day we had an unbelievable morning. We had managed 75km by 11:30, helped by a group of Austrian cyclists who were starting a six day tour and allowed two pannier clad Brits to ride their train and catch their draft. Ben, the courteously young man that he is, did his turn at the front of the peleton much to the amusement of the Austrians.
More flat Danube riding through the spectacular Wachau valley was the flavour of the afternoon and we finished our day just outside Krems, sipping on a bottle of Gruner Veltliner bought from a local vineyard.
A short 70km spin into Vienna in the morning where we have enjoyed some indoor camping. On to Bratislava today along our favourite European river.