8 months ago
8 months ago
September 28th: The Final Day
We had a late departure from Kilyos because our hotel rooms in Istanbul weren't going to be ready till 2 pm. So around 9 am we set off to ride the 11 km to the boat. There was a steady climb out of the valley we were in, very similar to many we'd done at the end of the ride yesterday. I was in no hurry and some of the others passed me. Then it was down and down through some busy streets to our boat that the tour company had hired especially for us. So with bikes on board we set off on a 90 minute ride (without any effort on our part - hurray) through the Bosphorus to Istanbul. It was a chance for lots of picture taking. As the boat made its steady progress, we gazed out at the houses and buildings lining the seashore. Paola and Rick both said it reminded them of the Grand Canal in Venice. It was a great approach to Istanbul as it meant we had a chance really to appreciate it. Once docked we walked our bikes across the bridge and then, through a combination of walking and riding through the busy streets, we arrived at our hotel. It was a great sense of achievement, and we hugged each other. I got out my map of Eastern Europe and put the final cross in - I'd arrived, I'd done it. Before I came on my trip I gave my six-year-old grandson Max a copy of the same map. He's been putting a sticker on the map at the end of each day. Now he will be able to take it to school for show-and-tell time.
I felt tired but happy and excited. I sent a text to John and posted my happy status on Facebook.
We went out for a group lunch as it wasn't 2 yet. My son Tom phoned and said how proud he was of me and how he'd just wanted to hear my voice.That made me feel quite emotional.
Back in the hotel I had a shower and checked my messages and Facebook page - lots of great reactions. Tom's fiancée Debby wrote that she'd clapped when she saw my status. Both Tom and my other son Jon and his fiancée Tracy posted the news on their own FB pages. I feel cherished and loved by my family and friends - thank you everyone.
I went for a walk around and stopped for a Turkish coffee. The waiter explained to me that it was very strong. Another waiter came over and checked I really wanted a Turkish coffee. Finally they went away and made me one. It was too hot to drink immediately but they kept coming back to check. I think they were surprised that I obviously enjoyed it. At the end the waiter turned the cup into the saucer and said, with a twinkle in his eye: "Now I will tell you about your future life." I made encouraging noises and then he said: "Ah, come back tomorrow and I'll tell you then."
I walked on down the busy streets and gazed in a shop window at the baclava. The salesman came out and assured me they were calorie free! I resisted the temptation to buy, as now I'm not riding all those miles every day I need to eat a lot less.
Thinking back about the trip, there are lots of things I didn't include in this blog. So here are just a few.
The silver birch in the Baltics were glorious especially when the sky was overcast and their luminosity shone out.
On one occasion (can't remember which country!!) I was just emerging from a comfort break, when a tractor came past with Joe riding closely behind. I watched as Joe and his bike rapidly became a small red speck in the distance as benefitted from drafting the tractor. He said afterwards that he didn't pedal for nearly 2 km.
I also must mention Ross, who decided to think outside the box. He didn't want to do 152 difficult kilometres yesterday, but neither did he not want to complete all of it. His solution was to ride an extra 40 km the day before and get a friendly cafe owner to look after his bike overnight. He then went back to our hotel by bus. Yesterday morning he got a lift to where he'd left his bike and completed the rest of the day. How's that for ingenuity?
There's lots of other things that have happened that I haven't included, but this blog is not intended as a detailed record of what happened. It's my idiosyncratic account of just some of the events, landscape and people that I met on this amazing adventure.
I have really enjoyed writing my blog. It's a different sort of writing for me - I normally write about health - but it's set me thinking about a new book. Its working title is "Stories On My Bicycle", a book of short stories with biking as its theme - they'll all be personal, but beyond that they'll be funny or philosophical or crazy or sad. Celebrating the joys and tribulations of going around on a bike.
(Short Advertisement: my other books are available in all the usual ways. My health and weight loss tips books are available only via Kindle, but for the others you have a choice of paperback or Kindle. Just search for Jane Thurnell-Read.)
We had a final celebratory dinner and will have breakfast together tomorrow (although Maxwell and Jan are leaving at 4am). Some people are staying on. I have tomorrow to explore Istanbul a little and then fly home on Sunday.
What an adventure this has been. There have been some difficult experiences and real real tiredness, but there's also been fun, a sense of purpose and achievement. I've visited ten countries in quite a unique way.
Before I left home I set myself several goals. The most important one was to stay safe - achieved. The second one was to ride the whole route - achieved. The third one was to enjoy the experience - achieved (mostly). The fourth one was to learn something new and insightful about myself - achieved (but too personal to give details in the blog) and finally not to have a hideous cycling tan mid upper arms - achieved!
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 27th: An Epic Ride
Only nine of the original nineteen decided to ride today, so I set off rather apprehensively, wondering why I was trying to do it when so many people had decided not to.
I rode on my own and at around 9 km had a really nasty encounter with a man. I was so rattled I considered going back to our hotel and giving up any attempt to ride the day. But after thinking about it, I decided I wouldn't let him determine my day in that way.
At around 20 km Joe came along and I told him what had happened. He offered to ride with me for the rest of the day, and I very gratefully accepted.
The wind was stronger than we expected, but the sky was overcast so that was a real bonus. We cycled on and eventually stopped at a cafe that David had found. We had a great time there talking to the owner, the shop manager and his wife - at least thats what we think they were The shop manager spoke some English and we had a great time chatting. I had my first authentic Turkish coffee which I really enjoyed. The lady gave us some local walnuts that were for sale at the front of the shop - breaking the shells before giving them to us.
Rick arrived in the support vehicle and we replenished our supplies. Then we were on our way again. By now the road surface was better - still chip-seal, but older so smoother and fewer loose chippings. The large cement dumper trucks that we'd encountered early on seemed to have thinned out.
A bit later we stopped with David, Alan and Sunny to have lunch. I had a tomato salad and a chick pea stew and bread.
Then Joe and I went on. At around 80 km we had to be really alert as there were road works and uneven surfaces for about 8 km. Then we were on a very new dual carriage way with a wide hard shoulder and very little traffic - my spirits lifted. As we went on we encountered quite a few big dips down and then a whoosh up the other side - except it wasn't quite like that - momentum would take me a third or half way up and then I'd grind away to the top. There was also more lorries, but most were driven we'll- often with a friendly toot of the horn and a cheery wave.
Eventually at around 140 km we came off the dual carriage way. We immediately entered a town and had a steep climb through it. This was the beginning of some tough climbing - Lindy told me later some of the climbs were 14%, particularly hard when you feel so tired. We were now climbing in a wooded area with lots of traffic coming past - it was hard paying attention to the traffic and turning those pedals, but by now I was quite excited - the end was in sight.
There was a thrilling descent and then a stretch along a valley floor. At one point there was a loose horse that the owner was trying to recapture. I realised I was far too close to the horse for safety and that it could whip round and kick me, so I got off my bike and moved back behind one of the waiting cars. Horse recaptured and the road clear again, I went on, completing a final climb to our hotel. As I came in Dianne and Jeff leant out of their bedroom window and cheered me in. Then Paola came and gave me a big hug and congratulated me.
I was dog tired but decided to go to the beach near by and have a short swim. It was so worth it - hot, tired, sweaty body lazily floating in the Black Sea.
Then back to the hotel and a short wait before I could have a shower as they had some temporary problem with the water system.
Today we rode around 152 km (nearly 100 miles). All nine of us completed the day. Tomorrow we have around 15 km and we are in Istanbul. In a way I feel today is the real finish. An epic ride, a job well done.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 26th: A Slow Puncture Day
We left Edirne after our usual getting up and breakfast routine.
It was cool to begin with and the riding was pleasant. Gradually it got warmer but though the sky was generally blue there were a few clouds over the sun, keeping heat levels down. (but later in the afternoon it got much much hotter.)
Initially I rode on my own, but then I teemed up with Paola and Joe. We rode along for a while and gradually I started to drop behind. Joe is used to me doing this - sometimes I ride with other people for a while then drift backwards when I decide to ride on my own. I hadn't made that decision and wasn't sure why I was riding so slowly. After a short time it became clear - my back tyre was soft - there was still air in there but not enough to ride on.
Fortunately Bob, Susan and Ken were not far behind. They willingly stopped to help me in spite of the heat and flies. But there were problems, so eventually Daniele (who was at the back being the sweep) came forward and gave me his back wheel. This allowed me to get on the road while Daniele (rather than me) waited for the van. I was very glad to be back on the bike.
Quite a lot of the road was chip-seal which is slightly bumpy and the road seems to absorb so much of your energy. I stopped at a shop to buy water and drank the first bottle straight down, so had to buy another one to fill my bike bottles. (We often get water and other supplies from the van but at that time I hadn't seen the van for quite a while.)
Once in Vize I had two cherry drinks, then a shower and then went for a walk. I went into a small supermarket and tried to buy one fig ( as you might do in the UK) but the man who served me showed me it didn't register on the scales so he gave me it for nothing!
We had a group briefing about tomorrow. Seems like it's almost 160 km (100 miles) with quite a lot of traffic and a lot of climbing (6000 feet) and a forecast of another very hot day (95 degrees). Quite a few people have decided not to ride tomorrow - there are 9-10 of us who are going to set out tomorrow.
Also this evening Daniele tripped over a grate and ended up with a small fracture of a toe bone.
What an eventful day. We will see what tomorrow brings. Bed now and as much rest as possible before a very tough day.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 25th: Eating Encounters
We are staying in Edirne for our rest day, a bustling city. Our hotel is a sixteenth century caravan stopping place - thick walls, small dark rooms and an even smaller bathroom. I used the air conditioning, something i don't usually do I'm glad we're only here for two nights, but I'm also glad we're staying in such an historic place. I had breakfast in the very large cool courtyard, possibly originally designed as a place to keep camels and horses safe overnight while the merchants slept in the rooms.
Our two new Turkish guides took us on a walking tour and we visited two mosques. Once suitably dressed (for women: heads covered, arms covered, clothing below the knee and no shoes) we went inside one of them. It had a huge domed ceiling supported by eight pillars, which the architect called elephant legs. It was very light for such a huge building with no artificial lights needed to show off it's beauty.
After that it was time for lunch. I had seen a place on our walking tour that looked good, so I went back there. When I opened the menu, it was clear they had very few dishes and nothing substantial for vegetarians. I asked the waiter and when he understood what I wanted he laughed. He turned to the other staff and said something and they all laughed in such a good natured way that I couldn't be offended. I mimed: Can you give me directions to somewhere else? He pointed along the road, so out I went and continued along the rias. I saw a larger place that looked more like a restaurant than a cafe, so I went inside, thinking it might have a bigger menu When I looked at the menu, I realised I had the same problem. The waiter started to direct me back down the road, when the boss(?) came over. He exchanged some words with the waiter and shook his head. Then he beckoned me to follow him and took me to a cafe round the corner and across the street. He explained what ineeded and several of the staff in the new place helped me sort out my lunch. I had a large plate of vegetables, rice and chick pea stew. I sat out on the street but under an umbrella. Then I went inside to look at the desserts on offer. The kind owner put small samples of them all on a plate for me to try, and then was slightly taken aback when I ordered two. The street was busy: school children returning home, business men in suits on cell phones, a gypsy family eating icecream, people shopping or browsing. I'd taken my book to read but just spent the time eating and people watching. The icecream shop next to the cafe was busy, but I decided I had to buy from the man I got talking to yesterday.
Yesterday when I was out and about a man selling icecream called me over. I said "No thank you" in English. He then got really excited and said "Please come here. I want to practice my English." His smile was so open and good-natured, so I went over to talk to him. He asked me where I lived. I told him Penzance in the south west.
"Ah near Newcastle" he said.
" No that's north east"
I drew a map of England in the air and showed him the positions of Newcastle and Penzance.
"Near Liverpool" he said.
"No that's in the north west"
I decided it was time to change the subject.
I asked him if he'd ever been to England, but he hadn't. We talked a bit more and I explained I was with a group of people. I told him I'd ask them to stop by and talk to him. I also said I'd come by today and talk to him.
As I left he shouted "Do you promise?"
"Is this an English or a Turkish promise?"
"An English promise"
"Good" he said, beaming at me and nodding his head with satisfaction.
So this afternoon I went along and bought ice reams for myself and Daniele, who was checking all the bikes in the hotel courtyard. I had a quick chat but there were more customers around, so our chat was much shorter.
We had a group briefing about the next two days - 117km and 153 km. it feels tough right now, but I expect we will all manage. The final day into Istanbul is 11km, then a boat ride and then another 4km. The end is in sight, but there is some heavy riding in the meantime.
8 months ago
September 24th: Border And Currency Chaos
Today we rode into Turkey - our tenth and final country.
I was sad to leave Bulgaria. I'd really enjoyed its scenery, the nonchalant dogs and the yoghurt, but Turkey was calling.
We'd been told it was a flattish day - wrong. Plus for a lot of it there was a head wind.
The first part of the ride in Bulgaria had some rolling hills as well as flat expanses of agricultural fields - huge, often disappearing over the horizon. The main crop seemed to be corn.
Rick estimated the border to be at around 55km, but in fact it was over 70km. There was a long long climb in full sun. Surprisingly there was very little traffic for a road leading to a border crossing, but there was a strong head wind that meant progress was very slow.
I found USA Bob, Susan, Ken and Maxwell at the top of the long climb. Bob had lost the bolt from his seat post - presumably because of the pot holes and patched roads we'd encountered so far. He rode about four miles standing up, but then the support van had to come back and help fix the problem.
Finally when I could see the border buildings I heard a shout from Dianne and Jeff - they were sitting outside a small cafe so I joined them. Joe came along shortly after. I was expecting there to be an ATM at the border, but there wasn't, so Joe lent me some Turkish money.
So, on to the border. Exiting Bulgaria was easy - a flourish of my EU passport and I was on my way across that short stretch of no-man's land to the Turkish side.
It's quite difficult to remember the order in which things happened. We went through several different check points, but after a while it was clear that we needed a stamp, but we couldn't get that till we'd bought a visa. We were expecting to buy a visa but weren't prepared for the difficulty of finding the right place to buy it. We went round and round in circles, but eventually Jeff found the office inside another building hidden by lots of very large trucks. The price varied depending on which country you came from - I was given a choice of 15 euro or 10 pound, but some people had to pay as much as 45 euro. So with my passport now displaying my visa sticker for 10 pounds, we went back almost to the first Turkish entry point. Jeff, Dianne and Joe went through with very little problem; then it was my turn - frowns, sucking of teeth, close examination of the calendar on the wall, suspicious look at me, close examination of visa, then back to the calendar, then to computer screen, back to visa, then words in Turkish with arm flourishing in the air. I decided he was asking me if I'd just got the visa, so I nodded enthusiastically but warily, ready at a moment's notice to start shaking my head if he was actually asking me something that required a different response, but the visa was stamped and I was on my way.
More hot miles, more long climbs, but a beautiful road with a wide hard shoulder. Then finally after 110+ km I reached my destination - Edirne.
After a shower I went out to have a look around. I stopped to buy an icecream and proffered one of the notes Joe had lent me. The seller was emphatic - "no, no- euro". I thought he was trying to catch an unwary tourist out and anyway I didn't have any euro, so I handed the icecream back. I d expected him suddenly to decide he could accept the Turkish note after all, but he didn't.
I walked on and eventually stopped off at a cafe - two chocolate milks and a mineral water later I went to pay my bill. Again my proffered money was rejected, but this time I understood why - Joe had given me Bulgarian money by mistake!! I explained that I needed to go to an ATM to get some money, and they told me where one was. That one was out of order, but eventually I found another one. On the way back I got waylaid by the sights and sounds of this busy city, so that, I think, they'd rather given up on me by the time I got back with the Turkish money.
This evening we had our group dinner, sitting outside on a terrace by the river - tomato salad, lentil soup, Turkish bread, a vast plate of sautéed vegetables, fruit ( including some delicious figs) then fresh halva and ice cream. Fresh halva is so different from the normal halva we buy - moist, sweet and totally yummy.
We have a rest day tomorrow, so no need to set the alarm. What bliss.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 23rd: Last Big Climbing Day
Today's ride was to Yambol, 140+ km (almost 90 miles) away and, perhaps more crucially, a mountain range away. We knew we'd be doing two mountain climbs as well as quite a bit of other climbing through rolling hills.
It was very cold first thing, but we knew it was due to heat up a lot later, so it was a day for layers - merino base layer, sleeveless cycling jersey, arm warmers, my favourite leopard print, gilet, cycling mitts and ear warmers! I also had a lightweight wind jacket, full fingered gloves and my waterproof in my cycle bag. By the end I was down to sleeveless cycling jersey and my cycling mitts on my top half.
Peter and Paola had stopped to have their sandwiches in the shade of some trees by a stream. Joe and I joined them. I initially sat on an ants' nest, so had to get up rather quickly again, but once I'd found a new place to sit it was fine.
The ride was so pretty particularly when we reached the first climb - around 10 km of climbing with a kind gradient and dappled shade about 70 km into the ride. Then a great descent before another climb of around 8 km. This time the road was more open, but I could see the mountains we'd just come through inspiring me to new efforts.
My original impression of Bulgaria having a lot of concrete was changed by today, although, as we went through some towns, we saw run-down or deserted heavy industry buildings - presumably remnants of the industries that fed the Soviet empire.
The last 20km was busy as we rode into Yambol. Unlike many of the places we have stayed, Yambol is not on a hill. My impression is that it is a modern town with lots of tall apartment buildings, quite different to many of the picturesque and historic stops we've had.
So not as hard as expected, thanks to those gentle gradients. I think we are now done with mountains and major climbs - I do hope so. Tomorrow we enter Turkey - our tenth and final country.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 22nd: Causes For Celebration
Rest day - what a wonderful phrase. It's always a cause for celebration - a lie in, a leisurely breakfast, pottering, dozing ...
We're in Veliko Tornovo. It's an enchanting city, set on a hillside. Our hotel with its pretty balconies overlooks the deep gorge of the Yantra river. This morning we went on a walking tour led by our local guide Vasco - the hero of yesterday because of the dire kilometres he managed to cut from our route. We walked through the town and went to the ruined fortress of Tsarevets. Because of the way the river meanders there is only a narrow causeway between the fort and the rest if the town. You can see why in 1186 this was chosen as the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The modern capital is Sofia, but the city here is proud of its illustrious history and tourist gift shops flourish Our visit coincides with Independence Day so we saw a military-political parade too.
Nearly everyone is tired, so most people spent the afternoon dozing, sleeping or having a massage. Some people are still ill or just recovering from the diarrhoea and vomiting that has affected some people. I'm carrying homeopathic Arsenicum in my pocket, ready to take it if I show any signs of succumbing. I avoided the chesty cough at the beginning of the trip and I'd like to avoid this too.
Had a group lunch back at the hotel - really impressed with the vegetarian food - had stuffed peppers. As this is Bulgaria, you'd expect the yoghurt to be good and it is - served at breakfast, as an accompaniment to main dishes and as a dessert.
Had a nap after lunch and got woken up by someone returning my washing. I've been away since mid-August and this is the first time any of my clothes have been washed properly. I'd forgotten how nice clean washing smells - they should make an aftershave based on that and women would be all over any man that used it!
Went into town and got a huge desire to eat, so in quick succession I had three scoops of icecream, a chocolate wafer bar, plus a whole packet of muesli and chocolate biscuits - serious calorie consumption that.
Found an ATM and got some money out - once you've put your card in, the system gives you a choice of four languages - Bulgarian, English, French, German. The top amount it offers (other than entering the amount yourself) is 50 BGN, which is approximately £20. This gives you an idea of how cheap things are here.
I then wondered round town and came across more celebrations for Independence Day. There were so many people, some in special traditional dresses. The music was loud - I don't think it was live but there were massive speakers set up especially for this event all down the road. The crowds were in good spirits, determined to enjoy themselves in the sunshine.
I watched people joining hands and dancing in long lines. The dance didn't seem too difficult so I grabbed the hand of the nearest dancer and joined in. Imagine my horror when I discovered I was at the head of a long line - the lead dancer!! The woman whose hand I'd grabbed clearly knew what she was doing - she kept pushing me forward and dragging me back as the line moved rhythmically, that is apart from me. I decided to abandon the dance and for some reason the woman next to me seemed happy to relinquish my hand.
Feeling less than triumphant I returned to the hotel. I skyped John, read a bit and then had a leisurely dinner at the hotel. Rick, Paola and Vasco came in and joined me. I had a Thracian salad - mixed leaves, yoghurt, walnuts, sweet corn, cucumber and some bread. No room for any dessert. As I was finishing my meal the fireworks started at the fortress - more celebrations of Independence.
Tomorrow we have another tough day - 140 km with a lot of climbing. Then three more cycling days after that. The end is fast approaching, but first more mountains.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 21st: A True Grit Day
We'd been told the forecast for today was rain all night and then all day. I heard the rain falling noisily on the roof as I went to sleep, but when I woke in the middle of the night there was no rain. When I woke to start the day, there was no rain, although the wind was blowing strongly - a south westerly and we were going - you guessed it - south westerly.
Down at breakfast I heard the sad news that several people had diarrhoea and vomiting. Jan and Ken were not in a fit state to ride so were going straight to the next hotel by taxi. Other people decided that they would ride and see how things went.
We didn't know the exact route nor the exact distance. The planned route was 150 km but our Bulgaruan guide had told Rick that he could turn that into a 120 km ride, but that he wasn't sure all the road surfaces were suitable. Last night he phoned various people who might know, and this morning he and Rick went off to reccy the route. We set off because this didn't affect the first part of the route.
After about 9 km of wet riding - it had now started raining - we reached the turn for a monastery. This was about 1 km off the route but we'd been told it was well worth going to. And so it was. The monastery is based around lime stone caves in a gorge. In the 14th century (I think) men had come to live a simple life here and seek God. Over the years walls were painted with icons and later still paintings, some embossed with gold, were completed. We had to pay the monk to go to the caves; the current monks seem to live in more modern buildings, but appear to hold services in the caves.
Then onward in the increasingly heavy rain and the powerful head wind. This is our eighth day of riding and I was feeling very tired. I was riding with Joe and we were both immensely cheered when we met up with the support van and were told that the 120 km ride was on (the chocolate helped too).
The ride went through some beautiful countryside, but it was difficult to appreciate - the wind, the rain and fatigue all taking their toll.
As we struggled on I saw a person (so bundled up by the side of the road that I couldn't determine the sex). He/she was selling about six cabbages and some herbs. She/he was sheltering under an umbrella and the cabbages were on a plastic table. I try to always remember what a privileged life I lead as a citizen of the UK, but incidents like this bring it home to me much more clearly.
We stopped for coffee and struggled on. The wind chill factor was really affecting us - hands and feet were wet and cold and both of us felt we were on the verge of shivering uncontrollably . We had a long, long descent that meant we hardly needed to peddle so we got colder still. At over 110 km we met a big climb. Normally I would have got into a rhythm and gone slowly but surely up the hill. But by now I was so tired I had to stop briefly at least three times to gather my resources. Finally we ride into Veliko Tarnovo and the welcoming smile of the reception people.
I stripped off my clothes - my lower legs were covered with black grit, like the stockings of a Goth teenager. I showered - grit in the bottom of the bath. I washed my clothes - more grit.
Yes, I reflected with satisfaction - a true grit day.
8 months ago
September 20th: Is This The Way To Bulgaria?
I didn't wake up till 7.30 as we had a half day in Bucharest. This felt like real luxury. I decided to go on the optional tour of the Palace of Parliament. Ceausescu started building this in 1984 while he was president and called it the People's Palace He was tried in a military court and executed in 1989 after many of his people rose up against him. A large part of the reason for his unpopularity was that this grandiose building was causing huge economic problems for the people of Romania. Only the Pentagon in the USA is bigger. It has been entirely built from Romanian materials including huge amounts of white, pink, beige, brown and black marble. After his death the Romanian government continued with the work, although even now it is not finished.
I was expecting to be appalled by it, but my peasant heart loved it and was deeply impressed - I guess exactly the reaction Ceausescu would have wanted.
Magnificent enormous rooms with rich carpets and curtains with gold and silver thread; heavily ornamented, gilded and painted walls; glass ceilings embellished with gold leaf and large chandeliers. Of course, when you understand that people suffered poverty and food/fuel shortages because of this, you inderstand that this was an duabolical folly on a grand scale.
For people who really appreciate excellence and have great taste, this mishmash may seem absurd, but to me it spoke of pride and the industry of the 20000 people who worked on it, and I'm not even Romanian.
We went back to the hotel, changed into cycling clothes, and we were quickly on our way again. Getting out of Bucharest demanded close attention - looking for the arrows and avoiding cars and lorries.
The rest of the route was mainly flat and something of a slog. This is our seventh day of riding without a break, and, even though we didn't start till lunch time, we still had 90+ hot kilometres to ride - the weather forecast that had predicted some rain turned out to be wrong. Most of the terrain was very flat and you could see for miles in every direction. There were lots of huge corn fields, some with the plants already harvested. This had been done mechanically rather than by hand as we'd been seeing earlier.
Finally I started to approach the border between Romania and Bulgaria. An arrow showed I needed to turn sharp right. There was a long queue of large lorries. I'd seen this at other borders and knew that lorries proceed very slowly. There was another lane with the odd car in it. I rode along this disturbed that there were so few cars and no other cyclists. Eventually I stopped and asked a lorry driver "Is this the way to Bulgaria?" He smiled, energetically nodded his head and motioned vigorously with his arm for me to go on.
Reassured I rode on, past some feral but amiable dogs, until eventually I came to an area with booths and barriers. I thought at first that this was the border, but then I saw a list of prices and remembered that Rick had said we'd be crossing the Danube on a toll bridge, but that there was no charge for bikes. I got to the front of the queue. "Is this the way to Bulgaria?" I asked. The man in the booth waved me impatiently on. I rode across the bridge, slightly unnerved by the expansion gaps that ran across the bridge at intervals - just wide enough to get a bike tyre stuck - so I went at an angle across them. Then to the border crossing. Karen was already at one of the booths so I drew up behind her. I showed my EU passport to the Romanian and then to the Bulgarian. Then I was on my way again.
My immediate impression was that there is a lot more concrete in Bulgaria than in the other countries we have visited, with the exception of Russia. But it's only a first impression as the hotel was in Ruse only about 10 km from the border. I didn't have much time to explore the town because we left Bucharest so late, but I needed to find an ATM to get our new Bulgarian currency. I walked a few streets into the main square. The architecture is a chaotic mix of old and new, with stuff being built and buildings in disrepair. The central square was beautiful with lots of people enjoying the warm early evening.
So we are now in our ninth country and our eighth currency. Seems totally amazing.
8 months ago
September 19th: To Bucharest
Everyone was tired at breakfast. Conversation was more muted. Some of us compared callouses and swollen hands - hands take a surprising amount of punishment on long rides. We knew we had 140+ km to do to get to Bucharest, the capital city of Romania.
Yesterday we left Transylvania and came into Wallachia. We are not visiting the other region, Moldavia. Wallachia seems more prosperous, more populated, busier than Transylvania.
We had an 8 km climb to do at the beginning. This is always hard as the leg muscles haven't had a chance to warm up properly, but the gradient wasn't too bad and the scenery was interesting - lots of agriculture and farm animals to take my mind off the climbing. I stopped to let some cows across the road. Of course, the things that interest a visitor most are the ways in which Romania is different; many of the differences relate to more traditional things, but Romania has its share of fashionable young men and women who wouldn't look out of place in London's Oxford Street. There are also smooth roads, big utility plants and shining tractors too.
Today we saw lots of orchards with stalls piled high with fruit, in front of the fields or next to houses. Mainly apples, pears and plums, but sometimes other fruit, jars of honey and bottles of fruit syrup.
The roads were very busy with cars travelling at speed, sometimes overtaking each other with dare-devil accuracy; thrilling and time-efficient for them but disconcerting for me feeling vulnerable on my bicycle.
Someone had read in a travel guide that only an idiot would ride a bike in Bucharest. Alex, who normally lives in Bucharest, said he'd ridden a bike here for twenty years without a problem. In fact I found it a lot better than some of the others. Alex had clearly marked a relatively straight route for us, which helped a lot.
Our hotel is right in the centre of Bucharest, so after a shower I went to the old town. I stopped at a pavement cafe and had a mango and fresh orange cocktail, a large dish of icecream and finally an espresso. The staff there spoke flawless English. Then I went into an Orthodox church - they always take my breath away with their gilded icons. There were devout worshippers standing before each icon, praying and then reverentially kissing the glass.
Then back out into the sunshine and the bustle of the city and then back to the hotel.
Before dinner Alan, who's an orthopaedic surgeon, did some adjustments to Tony's plaster cast. We all feel sorry for Tony as he's in the van rather than riding with us.
We had a group dinner in a fantastic restaurant - a warm welcome, perfect English and attentive but unobtrusive service. I had a huge salad, followed by a smokey aubergine (eggplant) dip and a spicy vegetable dip. Then polenta, sour cream and a tasty cabbage mixture. Finally a doughnut/pancake covered in sour cream and cherries. One of the very best meals I've had on this trip. I certainly think Romanian food has a lot going for it. Early on their were whole chillies to eat; some of the men got into a good-natured competition over that. I think the two Bobs took the prize. There was also a slightly risqué conversation about how whole chillies could make you go faster on the bike - started by Rick and amplified by US Bob, but I don't think I'll go into that.
Ricks wife, Paola, arrived today. She's going to ride the rest of the way with us. I sat next to her at dinner and enjoyed talking to someone new. Rick had an extra twinkle in his eye, so I guess he enjoyed having her there too.
Now it's time to post this blog and go to bed. We don't leave tomorrow till noon as we're doing some sightseeing here first.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 18th: Conversation With My Legs
Before I talk about today i want to mention last night's spectacularly calorie-laden dinner. The first course was a large pile of polenta, plus a fried egg plus sour cream and a curd cheese. I tucked in to this and felt relatively full. But there were two more courses - for me deep fried cheese and chips plus an enormous Greek salad. Then a final course of pastry filled with custard. I did my best, that's all I can say.
Now to today. I wrote yesterday about it being downhill to Istanbul. My legs had obviously read my blog and were quite happy for the first 20 km of downhill. Great scenery but lots of braking so my hands and arms got a real workout. It was a problem to keep warm because we were high up and in the shadow of the mountain, so I stopped and put my rain jacket on for extra warmth. I was extremely glad I'd tucked into my luggage a pair of full finger cycling gloves specifically for this day.
Then suddenly I hit a small 100 meter incline going UP. Immediate protest from my legs: "Hey, what's this? You said yesterday was climbing, not today." My legs felt like lead and I was really struggling. I tried to reassure them (and myself) that once they'd warmed up they'd be fine. After all they'd done no work so far (typically they didn't agree with this last bit).
There were a few more of these short uphills and each time I had the same conversation with my recalcitrant legs.
I stopped for coffee. Lindy was also having the same problem with her legs, although she didn't say anything about having a conversation with them (strange that). By now I'd done almost 60 km, most of it downhill and through breath taking mountain scenery with some of the forest trees just beginning to show their autumn colours. I rode beside a picturesque lake for a long time and around the dam. My legs were quiet; I could tell they were feeling OK, enjoying the gentle workout.
We'd been told there'd be some climbs; the numbers 2 and 3 had been mentioned, so when I came to the first climb and it said 8% gradient, I wasn't surprised. Legs dutifully worked, grumbling a little under their breath. Climb two was less well received, so I stopped and ate some of my sandwiches and tried to cool down - the sun was now high in the sky and I'd long ago removed several layers of clothes.
By climb 3 and 4 - each around 8% and lasting for 2-4 km open rebellion was a short step (sic) away. I had to give my legs a talking to and remind them who was in charge.
I think I'll draw a veil over climb 5. To give you a flavour of climb 6 I'll just say that I saw a dog in the road, and I willed it to get up and chase me up the rest of the hill so that I'd get an extra adrenalin-based burst of speed. It didn't, and my legs worked away in sullen silence.
I'd passed Dianne and Jeff on the road - I usually do at some point and we always have a quick, jokey 4 second conversation. Anyway as we neared town I was ahead of them and came to a level crossing just as the barriers were coming down. I waited and waited (legs very happy at this point). After about 5 minutes with still no sign of the train, Dianne and Jeff arrived. There was plenty of room to wheel a bike round the barriers and Dianne suggested we should do this. I said no and explained that I was irritatingly law-abiding and that I just didn't break laws. One minute later I was wheeling my bike round the barriers. "You should stand up for your principles," I said to myself.
"Right now we haven't got the energy to stand up for anything," my legs replied.
Pretty soon we arrived at the hotel in Campulung Muscel, another clean and spacious bedroom.
128 km (80 miles) and we've done 4000 feet of climbing - yesterday we did around 7000 feet. Today felt as hard as yesterday partly because we were tired when we started, partly because it was hot and partly because it was unexpectedly hard.
I went for a walk (note to legs: you always benefit from a gentle walk after a long ride). I went into the local park where men were playing backgammon and another game I didn't recognise. They were playing for money, and both players and onlookers were tense and expectant. Some of the men wore trilbies and were dapperly dressed; all had precise, almost theatrical gestures. They were fun to watch. There were also young children playing, lovers holding hands, a man on a phone, and some middle-aged women talking together. The park was busy, bustling with the early evening change of tempo.
Dinner was excellent - in a large room in the hotel. They'd really gone to town decorating the very wide and long table.
Tomorrow is another long day, our sixth without a break. Today we went over the 2000 mile mark - we're now at 2030 miles. The group mainly work in kilometres but I like to work in miles. Mind you, I'm very happy to celebrate our milestones in kilometres as well as miles, so in a couple of days I'll be able to celebrate 3500 km.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 17th: Chocolate And The big Climb
In spite of what is says in the tour itinerary, today was the day of the big climb not tomorrow.
We were all very attentive at the briefing and were told it would be a129km day (80 miles) with the last bit being a 28 km climb up to the highest mountain pass in Romania -2034 meters (6673 feet). We are in the Fagaras Mountains part of the Carpathians. We met these earlier in Poland but they form a big horseshoe so we go over them twice.
In the briefing last night Rick talked about the role of the support vehicle. He said there would be plenty of water, chocolate and other essentials of life on it. I liked the idea of chocolate being an essential of life. A friend once sent me a quote: Take care of this world - it's the only one with chocolate in it. I often say that chocolate is almost proof that God exists.
So with chocolate rations on board I set off to ride the day. I think just about everyone was anxious about the day - I obviously was as I'd managed to clean my teeth after breakfast with hair remover rather than toothpaste (in my defence the tubes are the same size and in the same bag, and I did notice it tasted differently.)
We had been warned that there was 6km of gravel/dirt road. We had all groaned but Alex said this would save us 30 km on the main road. In the event it wasn't that bad - no deep sand or deep ruts or sharp rocks like we've had sometimes before.
I've learnt Hello in Rumanian and have been shouting it out to people as I go along. They have been replying in Rumanian or shouting Hello.
I was riding along and saw a man coming towards me on a bike. He was wearing a beret (very unusual here) and a black jacket. I thought that he looked like a man from the French countryside. As he came closer towards me, he grinned, waved and said 'Allo. I was very tempted to say 'Allo. 'Allo. If you don't understand this, it means you've never seen the British TV series of the same name - a comedy (yes, really) about the French Resistance in World War Two.
I met two cyclists travelling from Bulgaria to their home in Poland. I asked them if they also got chased by Polish dogs, but they said no. When I asked why I get chased by them, one of them laughed and said that I must smell differently to the dogs .So, I've been thinking of a new dog strategy - hugging a local man every morning before I set out and at frequent intervals during the day. Good idea, eh?
Eventually I got to the bottom of the climb and almost straight away the support vehicle caught me up. So with more electrolyte fuelled water and another large bar of chocolate (naturally) I set off up the climb. By now it was clear that the total mileage was going to be 112 km (70 miles) but the climb was around the 28 km (17miles) they had advised at the briefing meeting.
28 km of climbing seemed daunting, but there was countryside to admire and I made steady but slow progress initially up some switch backs. The weather was ideal - overcast. I'd experienced a little wind just before the start of the climb, and Alex had said we might encounter wind on the climb but we seemed to be sheltered from it. Broad leaf and conifer trees lined the route and after a while I saw 20 KM written on the road. I checked my bike computer and realised that this must be the distance to the top. This information called for some chocolate-eating.
On and on I continued; some people who'd got out of cars to admire the view cheered me on and gave me the thumbs up sign. I stopped briefly occasionally to eat something or ease out my back.
As I got higher, I entered into cloud; a bit higher and the cloud cleared. I realised I was climbing the mountain faster than the cloud! Then higher still and the cloud started to come up from the lower levels arcing high over me, so I was riding through a cloud tunnel. I was awestruck by the experience. Higher still and a guy came by taking a video of the road - he was sitting on the car door and holding his camera over the top of the car. (if you ever see me on a You Tube video climbing this mountain do let me know).
Finally I arrived at Balea Lac - tired with sore knees, but happy that we've banked climbing metres ready to be spent on the descents. Now we are at our highest point on this ride, so it's downward to Istanbul!
We are staying in a nice hotel on the top of the mountain. Tomorrow we descend.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 16th: A Day Of Stairs & Guide Book
Another gentle day, we covered 84 km, around 52 miles. This was so that we would have time to explore Sighisoara. Karen and I rode together. It was overcast and a little cold at the start, so I was back to wearing an Icebreaker 150 merino base layer under my cycling jersey. The Icebreaker range is great - I have two 150s, one 200 and one 260 with me (yes, I know I said I'd pack light, but sometimes I can be very neurotic). I also wore merino arm warmers, so I was very snug till it started raining. Rain jacket for a bit, then off again, then back on later, but we eventually arrived in sunshine.
The villages we went through varied tremendously. Some were neat with people sweeping the piece of ground in front of their property, striving to keep things tidy in spite of the vagaries of local and national government. Some villages consisted of small, ill-kept wooden houses that were huddled together (almost for mutual support in their fight with gravity, the elements, poverty and neglect).
Yesterday as we entered the town I saw some men with large brimmed hats and moustaches - many looking proud and macho - the local clothing for the gypsy men. Today I saw a man with his small son. He agreed that I could take his photo, which I did quickly and slightly nervously. He wasn't quite as macho as the big town men! The local gypsy women wear long brightly coloured dresses and headscarves, both often threaded with metallic shine.
Our problem with the gypsy family made national TV last night, and today we all encountered people who wanted to show how friendly Romanians can be.
Today I got chased twice by dogs- I go so fast when dogs are pursuing me!! The second time was when we'd had to turn off the road unexpectedly because a bridge was down. We had turned on to a gravel track and I was going slowly because I was in in the wrong gear. I was trying to correct that when four dogs started barking. One of them came after me; I shouted "no" in a loud panicky voice (I already know this does not work but this is what I always do). Then I suddenly heard myself give a deep growl - the dog stopped barking immediately and backed off. What a triumph! Since then I've been practicing my growl.
We got to the hotel in the town of Sighisoara, deep in Transylvania The town was established in 12th century by German merchants and craftsmen. You can understand why it's a UNESCO world heritage site. Lots of wonderful buildings, including nine towers, most of which belonged to town guilds. (Can you tell I've had time to read my guide book today?)
Unfortunately my bedroom is on the 4th floor; this normally wouldn't be a problem but after all the riding my thighs really hurt. But in compensation my room is high up with a view of the Clock Tower. Before I went out to explore the town I double and treble checked that I wasn't leaving anything behind. I visited the 13th Century ClockTower - over 100 steps to the top - poor thighs. Then, fortified by an espresso, I climbed the 400 year-old covered wooden staircase to the Church On The Hill - a really interesting church that is more like a museum; originally Catholic it's now owned by the German Evangelical parish. (More from the guide book.)
Romanian hotels are fantastic - helpful staff, clean and large rooms. Such a surprise for me as I thought they might be somewhat "challenging". Food, on the whole, is good too. So I have been pleasantly surprised by much of Romania - not at all as my ignorant mind had envisaged.
This morning I took some homeopathic Arnica - good for physical exertion. I seem to be needing a dose once a week. I have a homeopathic travel kit with me. Other than the Arnica I have only used Ledum for some itchy insect bites early on in the trip. I'm very happy to be carrying the kit and not needing it.
Tomorrow is our big challenging climbing day - 129 km with the last 30 km being a long long climb, but the maximum gradient is around 10%, which should make it somewhat less of an ordeal. We sleep in a hotel at the top of the mountain. There will be limited Internet access so I may not be able to post tomorrow's blog until Tuesday.
So, I wish us all good luck, good speed, the wind on our backs and a great day.
8 months ago
September 15th: An Uneventful Day - Hurray
After the problems of yesterday I was glad to have a totally uneventful day today. 111 km ( 69 miles) to Targu Mures.
I'd agreed to ride with Karen and Joe, so the three of us set off after breakfast. Joe said that Alex had said there were 7 climbs today, but we talked to others on the road and discovered it was 11!
We were riding in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps with mainly smooth roads. Because it was Saturday we didn't have too much traffic either. The descents between the climbs were good with smooth road surfaces - yesterday our descents were slow because the road surface was so bad, but not today. Everything was better!
The scenery was so pretty, hills disappearing into the distance, a patchwork of fields and small villages. It was overcast, a relief after the burning sun of the last week or so. It was a great day.
We tried to count the climbs and had several discussions about whether a climb followed by a flat bit followed by another climb constituted one or two climbs. I was the most pessimistic of our group thinking we'd only done seven climbs, when we met Rick in the support van and he told us the rest of the way was virtually flat.
This was the easiest entry into a city we've experienced yet. A flat, smooth road with some wind on our backs; virtually no traffic as it was Saturday.
The worst problems of the day were bike problems - Sunny had a flat tyre and Maxwell had a broken spoke, but Karen Joe and I had a companionable, and totally uneventful ride Bliss.
The hotel in Targu Mares is extremely nice. A very large, well-appointed bedroom and bathroom. I had a quick look round town but much is closed because it's Saturday. I'd wanted to go to the Palace of Culture to see the Mirror Hall (12 stain-glassed windows), but it was closed. I had a look inside the Orthodox Cathedral, built 1925 to 1934. The walls and ceiling were covered in vibrant paintings of saints, etc. Quite stunning.
In the evening we all went to a Hungarian restaurant. Many of the people in this area are ethnic Hungarian. Rick said we are eating at the edges of the Austro-Hungarian empire! The food was very good - a huge raw salad to start with (my jaws haven't had such a workout since I arrived on this trip). Next we all had mushroom goulash with Hungarian dumplings. Because I'm vegetarian, I usually have a different meal to everyone else - I really appreciated that everyone was eating the same as me for a change. The Hungarian dumplings were very tasty - they're very small and irregular shapes, not at all like English dumplings.
There was a trio playing Hungarian music - a vocalist with an accordion player and a saxophonist. They were very loud but I still enjoyed listening to them.
So an excellent day - such an antidote to the distress of yesterday.
8 months ago
September 14th: A Difficult Day
Today was another long day 143 km to Cluj Napoca. It was very hot and there were road works for the last 10 km or so as we came into Romania's third largest city.
But that is not what made it difficult. A few days ago we were warned that we should not stop to photograph Roma people nor should we give anything to the Roma children. Rick said on one occasion some Roma children had thrown stones. He advised us to ride with others. I often ride on my own - I like it that way - but the day after the warning I rode with Karen and Tony, but all the Roma we saw (physically very distinctive) seemed to be going about their business and had little interest in us. So I started riding alone again - I don't want to live my life fearful of something that might or might not happen.
But today I got a real fright. Canadian Bob and Lindy were ahead but out of sight, and I was riding on my own when I saw ahead of me a group of Roma - children and at least one adult. There was a lot of laughter and excitement but there was an edge to it. I saw two of the older children had a rope between them. I suspected that they were about to put it across the road in front of me. I tried to tell myself I was being fanciful but became more and more alarmed. One of the children crossed the road and so was on my side. I became more and more worried and also uncertain what to do. Then I heard a car behind me. Instantly I knew what I had to do. I slowed my speed and waited till the car was almost level with me and so was between me and everyone except one boy. I crouched down low over the handle bars and rode as fast as I could keeping the car between me and the people. The boy on my side of the road ran after me a bit, but I got clear.
Later I stopped to eat something, and Karen and Tony came along. The Roma had tried to get Karens bike bag from her. Tony had gone to the rescue and had a brick thrown at him. He was in considerable pain and it later turned out he had a broken arm. I texted our two group leaders and Alex, so they could warn other people. Unfortunately three other people were attacked with stones but no one else was hurt like Tony. In fact Alex got the police involved and later Tony and Rick were interviewed by the local TV station.
It all feels very shocking. Joe, Karen and I have agreed to ride together tomorrow.
Initially I hesitated about posting this blog. I don't want you to think that all Romanians or all Roma (gypsies) are like this. We have met with so much genuine kindness here. Alex said he has been a tour guide for six years and this is the first time anything like this has happened. The response of the TV company and the police suggest this is not an every day occurrence.
After Tony started riding in the van I rode with Karen. We got chased by about five dogs - quite frightening too.
So all in all a difficult and stressful and sad day.
I feel very fortunate that the car came by when it did and that I realised how I could use it to protect myself.
To finish on a lighter note I saw some amazing pink autumn flowering crocuses wild by the side of the road. They really lifted my spirits.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 13th: Resting In A Cemetery!
Today is a rest day but a trip on a tour bus had been arranged to see some sites around 60 km away. I was ambivalent about going as I value the rest day and enjoy pottering around and napping, but I decided to go. We left at 9.30 and got back around 5 - a longer day than I would have liked.
The bus took us through a road of rather ostentatious houses. Alex told us that, once communism came to an end, some people went to work in Italy and Spain; the houses had been built with this money. Alex also said that under communism people didn't have a chance to express their individual success but now they did and they'd really gone to town, each house trying to out-do its neighbour.
We visited the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta. In the 1930s a local craftsman Stan Ioan Patras started carving wooden headstones. According to local beliefs death is just another stage in life and so isn't necessarily a cause for sadness or despair The graves are close together - as we've seen elsewhere on our travels but here the similarities end. Here the wooden headstones are picked out in blue with red, yellow, black and green. Each headstone has an image - a soldier, a teacher, a housewife, a weaver, a drunkard and lots more - a likeness of the person interred. Some words were written as though spoken by the dead person - the words are often humerous or ironic insights into the person's life. The cemetery must make a real difference to the economy as there was at least one other tour bus while we were there, and gift shops line either side of the street. It is up in the mountains close to the Ukrainian border, so close in fact that O2 sent me a text saying: Welcome to Ukraine.
After that we went to see the tallest wooden church tower in the world. It was a rebuild of an earlier one.
We stopped for lunch in a courtyard restaurant. Dessert was a dumpling with a plum inside. It seemed to be made of semolina, although Alex said it had cheese in it. It was sitting on a crunchy bed of something. I couldn't work out what it was but I heard Alex talking about walnuts, so may be it was partly that.
We were supposed to be visiting a monastery as well, but many of us were feeling tired and hot, so it was agreed we'd give that a miss and go straight back to the hotel.
Somehow somewhere I've managed to lose my lime green sheet, so I've now bought some white sheeting from a shop in the town square. I hope I can hang on to this slightly longer- it's very hot so a duvet is totally impossible at night.
I've now been in Romania for a day and a half. There's obviously real poverty particularly among some of the Roma or gypsies. In fact yesterday I saw three children begging. One girl was holding a tiny baby in her arms. It's also very hot and dusty. The Romania I've seen so far is often rickety, but the people are by far the most friendly and helpful I've met on the whole ride. In Russia and the Baltic states my smiles were quite often met with blank stares, possibly a residue from when a new face in the neighbourhood could mean that bad things were about to happen. It also helps that many people speak English. Further north people often didn't speak English at all. I really like Romania.
Yesterday we rode mainly east (and for a while even north) in order to get to the border between Hungary and Romania. As a result, we've changed time zones and are now two hours later than the UK. We started at 3 in Russia, went down to 2 in Estonia, then to one and now back up to two again. I understand why this happens but it still always seems a bit peculiar.
Yesterday we biked east towards the mountains in the afternoon. Today we took a bus and went up (and down) some mountains in the north east. Tomorrow we bike southwards towards more mountains - flat in the morning but rolling in the afternoon. We are about to start cycling for 8 days in a row. During this time we go over Romania's highest mountain pass. Gulp!
8 months ago
September 12th: Into Romania
A long day in the hot sun - 147 km (92 miles) to Baia Mare in Romania. Fortunately the terrain was mainly flat.
The border crossing was very simple. There seemed to be lots of buildings and it looked like it was going to be complicated, but in the end it was a simple move from one small wooden office to another. Non EC citizens got their passports stamped, but the Romanian passport lady told me in very good English that I didn't need mine stamping as I came from an EC country.
Once over the border we met our new local guide - Alex. He speaks great English. He has a body type like my John's - so I got a great pang of homesickness.
Anyway onwards. There were a lot of run down houses, but also car show rooms, as we cycled to the first big town, Satu Mare. Coffee was in order, but before that I needed local currency. Karen pointed me in the direction of the Transylvanian Bank. There was a security guard outside. We had a conversation about what I wanted - to change Euros. He told me there was no need to lock my bike as he would look after it. He then followed me into the small branch office and stood with his back to the window talking to me.
"Where have you come from?" he asked.
"St. petersburg - I'm cycling to Istanbul" I replied.
He looked at me and then said:"You speak very good English."
I hesitated and then decided it was too hot to try to unravel that one. "thank you" I said.
New currency firmly in hand I went to the street bar of a hotel and had an espresso and a very cold smoothie and caught up with some of the others.
Back on the bike I began comparing the gardens with the ones in other countries. Here gardens were either dusty earth or totally utilitarian (fruit trees, grape vines and vegetables) rather than full of flowers and garden ornaments. Then I saw it - or did I? Was I hallucinating in the hot sun? A garden with several gnomes and what appeared to be a light house. I still don't know whether I really saw what I think I saw.
Onwards and onwards along the dusty roads - cars, trucks, horse drawn carts, local cyclists and BMWs vying for space along the road. I wilted in the heat, feeling like the sunflowers in the fields - not now in their Van Gogh splendour, but dull brown, heads turned down as they waited to be harvested.
Onwards through the busy streets of Baia Mare till I reached the hotel- clean, cool interior, friendly English-speaking receptionists, luggage already in my room, fruit bowl in my room. I had arrived, dusty and sweaty, but safe and happy.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 11th: A Detour From The Arrows
Joe has a friend in the US whose father comes from Kisvarda. A quick look at today's map showed that a detour could be easily arranged. So with our tour leader's agreement Joe, Peter, David and I set out to go to our destination, Nyjrbator, via this town. In fact our ride of 96 km (60 miles) was no further than that of the main group.
This part of Hungary is flat, really really flat. It was warm and sunny, so the riding wasn't that challenging at all. We took it in turns at the front and bowled along happily together.
For some reason I've always thought of Hungarians as being intellectual. This was borne out when we and across a group of men sitting and lying in a field. They had bikes with them - cast carelessly to one side in the hot sun. Two of them were playing chess. We couldn't really talk to them, but they were obviously amused at our surprise at the chess game. We thought they were probably workmen or farm hands on a break.
On the way into Kisvarda I saw yet another Tesco store - depressing really. This was the third one I'd seen in the last few days. I was even more depressed when i saw that the town map clearly indicated the location of it. Joe took photos for his friend; we drank espresso in a bar. Outside again three pretty Hungarian women asked me my name. I asked them theirs and they hooted with laughter at my pronunciation. I asked if I could take their photo and they agreed. That seemed to be the sum total of our conversational possibilities.
On the road again we stopped to eat our sandwiches in a grassy area beside the road. I was lying on my back, looking at the blue sky, when three planes came over- high enough in the sky to be palely visible and with long white vapour trails. The guys decided these were military planes of some sort.
On our way again I wanted to find an icecream. In the next small town we saw a sign and went to investigate. It was a side window of a house. There were about six different flavours and a bench under the shade of a tree too. Delicious. We stopped once more at a supermarket (not belonging to Tesco) because Joe wanted to buy some bananas. They had no bananas and very little other fruit and vegetables. There was a long cold meat counter with lots of different sausages. Tinned and dry goods in abundance too.
So, on our way again we picked up the arrows and made our way to the hotel. After a shower I walked across the road to a little shop. After buying two bananas and a chocolate bar, I asked if I could take a photo of the shop and the owners. They agreed; I moved the carrier bag with my shopping off the counter, but the owner insisted I gave it back to him. Then he proudly arranged the bag so the name of the shop would show in the photo. Private enterprise is alive and well!
We have now completed over 2500 miles. Everyone is going to bed earlier, but we have certainly turned into hardy long-distance cyclists, even if we weren't before the trip started.
8 months ago
8 months ago
September 10th: Hello Hungary
Today was fairly straight forward. 102 km (62 miles) on a mainly flat road going from Slovakia to Sarospatak in Hungary.The thought of entering a new country doesn't have the frisson it once had for us Expedition cyclists.
We were all much more excited by the ace lunch stop found for us by our local guide, Ondrej. We spent part of the lunch praising him, because we all agreed we wouldn't have found it without his help, It was in a wooden building and we sat on the verandah (so out of the hot sun but not at all stuffy) with a wide menu choice. I had breaded and fried Trappist cheese with French fries and tartar sauce. Yummy. Plus an espresso - I felt ready to conquer the world.
At one point I was telling Sunny about seeing a warthog statue in a Polish garden. She told me that she'd seen a Madonna surrounded by garden gnomes. I rode several kilometres playing around with that delightful image.
Eventually we arrived at the border, even less prepossessing than some of the others- just a sign in the road with
Magyarország on it (the name used by the people of Hungary). At least with the Polish/Slovakia border you were at the top of a mountain. Here it was just an ordinary road with one sign among many signs. It is difficult to believe that these borders have been so heavily contested in the past, when now you can nonchalantly go from one country to another as easily as you can go from one street to another in your home town.
The hotel is clean and central. Hope dinner is good.
I went to the ATM and got out some forints. I had a look round some shops and ended up buying some new shoes. I don't buy new leather shoes now and it's often difficult to buy nice non-leather shoes, so, on the rare occasions I see something I like, I always buy them. From the box I thought they'd been made in Hungary, but our new local guide, Victor, told me they're made in China, but I shall still think of them as my Hungarian shoes.
I showed them to Daniele, our Italian support guy. His response was to start a discussion on women and shoes, but Rick said how great they were, which was all I wanted to hear. Daniele and I had a lively, bantering discussion about his response and my response to his response!
It's been a relatively uneventful day so it's a good opportunity to give you some sense of a typical day, although one of the joys of a trip like this is that there are no typical days. So perhaps I should say the skeleton around which my riding days are built.
I set my alarm for 6.30, although I'm often awake before then. I have a quick, freshening-up shower and then get dressed in my cycling clothes. Down for breakfast around 7.00, I eat as much as I can, although sometimes I find I can't eat a lot at breakfast. I copy the route from the master map onto the map I carry with me on my bike. If needed I make sandwiches for lunch, although some hotels prefer to do this for us.
Then it's back upstairs, clean teeth, pack all my things and bring them down to the lobby anytime between 8.00 and 8.30. I fill my two water bottles either in my room or from the water bottles in the support van. There's usually isotonic powder and I put some in one bottle. There's also usually some energy bars so I take a couple of those as well. Before I leave my room for the final time I check that I have everything, particularly shampoo, recharging plug and washing.
Then I'm on my way. I stop from time to time - to have a pee, take a photo, eat something, for coffee (hurray), for lunch, to admire a view, to talk to someone ...
Once I'm back on my bike I always need to check that I still have my phone and my money in the back pocket of my jersey. This often leads to some frantic clutching at my back pockets to make sure that it's my iPhone I can feel and not a chocolate bar that's also in the pocket.
I arrive at my destination any time after 2 pm. Sometimes it's nearer 5 pm.
What I do next depends on what need is uppermost. If I'm feeling homesick, I want first to make contact with family, friends and England. If I'm hot, I want a shower first. If I'm feeling hungry, I scavenge through my jersey pockets and my bike bag to see if I have anything left to eat.
I also need to sort out my clothes - if I have clothes that are not dry from the previous day, I need to put these out to dry. I also need to start the washing and drying process with that day's clothes.
Eventually all these needs are met, then I either have a rest or explore the town where we are. Sometimes I also start my blog and sometimes I finish it there and then. I really enjoy writing my blog - it gives me such pleasure trying to find the right word or phrase to paint a picture for you.
Then it's dinner, usually with the group. Then I write the blog or finish it off if I haven't already completed it. I potter a bit in my room, and then I'm usually in bed by around ten ready for sleep.
The next day the whole process begins again.
8 months ago
8 months ago
9 months ago
September 9th: Into Slovakia
From reading the trip information I thought this was going to be a hard day - going over the Carpathian Mountains. But it turned out to be a great day.
No rain, not too much wind and steady gradients for the climb. I rode the first 60 km on my own and so reached the border alone. The only way you know it is the border is that there is a sign saying Slovakia. I had a celebratory banana and then descended into the Slovakian countryside.
I stopped for a coffee (NB this is not Poland) and met up with Karen and Tony. We rode on together and stopped at the Andy Warhol museum in Medzilaborce. Although he was born in the USA, his parents were born here. I really enjoyed the museum - there was an excellent documentary about his life and art plus some screen prints of his work and artefacts from his life. After that I cycled on with Karen and Tony to our destination, blissfully mainly downhill and in sunshine.
Once in the hotel after a 118 km (73 mile) ride, I showered and went to explore the town. I'd been told there was an open air museum. I found a rather imposing building, which appeared to be closed - it was quite late now. I went in search of an old wooden church that was part of the museum, but got totally distracted by what was going on in the park. There were people out in the warm sunshine enjoying themselves.
I saw two young women in some sort of traditional costume - heavily embroidered, many layered and with ribbons in their hair. They were running, giggling across the path a bit ahead of me. Eventually they stopped. One started practicing some steps; the other was partially hidden from me. As I drew level, I asked if I could take a photo. Then I glanced at the one behind the tree - she was smoking a cigarette and had her tight bodice unfastened (she had lots of underwear underneath). Of course, this is the pic I would love to have taken, but - not surprisingly - she didn't want to be photographed like that. After I'd taken the photo I went in search of the concert, directed by the sound of lusty singing.
The concert was free and there was lots of singing and dancing, all in traditional-type costume. There was one song where the men hauled on a wooden horse/donkey while singing loudly. Six girls in ornate red and gold headdresses with long red ribbons danced solemnly and sedatedly until six men arrived. Then the music and dancing speeded up and all the women were smiling enthusiastically.
As I left, I spoke to some of the participants. I asked if I could take a photo. They agreed and then insisted that I had my photo taken with them.
We left Poland behind today, but I just want to say something about their gardens. Slovakian gardens so far have been quite drab, but Polish families like marigolds, roses and dahlias. In addition many of them like garden ornaments - deers, windmills, storks, wheelbarrows and even a ground hog!!
I have been trying to remember what languages my first book "Geopathic Stress" was translated into. I know it was translated and published in several Eastern European languages, but I can't remember exactly which ones. I'm pretty certain there was a Polish version - its funny to think I could have cycled past a house or a library that had a copy of my book inside.
Tomorrow we leave Slovakia and go to Hungary, so we're getting a fleeting snapshot of one part of a small country.
This morning Rick told me a friend in Fort Collins, USA, had emailed him to say how much he was enjoying my blog. So greetings and welcome to the ride (metaphorically speaking).
9 months ago
September 8th: Up And Down
I didn't sleep well and woke feeling tired. Looking out of the window it was raining. I found it difficult to feel motivated. But there was a job to do so, after breakfast, suitably kitted up for the rain I set off. It continued to rain for a while, but eventually cleared and turned into a nice day.
The tour description says we are riding through the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, but a clearer way to describe today is Pedal up a mountain, pedal down a mountain, pedal along a valley. Repeat at least four more times. The up sections were interesting and varied - there was straight and steep; there was winding with a dirt road section and another section with concrete slabs; there was up a bit and down a smaller amount repeated several times. And then there was my favourite - a switch- back road perfectly smooth with an easy gradient that just took you up higher and higher into sunshine and a blue sky. I love the climb of Soller in Mallorca and this particular climb so reminded me of it.
Most of the houses were in the valleys forming small to medium sized towns. At one point when I was bowling along one of these valley floors, I could see an arrow ahead going right down a small road. We're in a busy town - hurray, I think, coffee. (Yes, I know, but I'm still looking for that elusive great coffee while on the road in Poland. ) So I followed the arrow, turned the corner only to see a steep climb that went on for several kilometres. What a disappointment.
At one point early on I realised that I had not picked up my packed lunch and that I had only about 15 zloty left - approx GB pounds 3 - we'll be in Slovakia tomorrow. ATMs (or bankomats as they call them here) aren't that common, so I kept an anxious eye open for one. Eventually I saw a sign saying there was one in 2 km. Once I got to the town I tried to find it. I asked a lady who didn't speak much English; she didn't understand ATM but did understand bankomat. She pointed and gave me directions in Polish. Suddenly her plain face lit up and she said "money". I nodded enthusiastically and we both grinned at each other.
I set off to find the bankomat, but just then Joe and Lindy came by. Joe lent me 10 zloty so I'd have money to buy something to eat; he also shared some biscuits he'd bought a short while before, Lindy gave me a protein bar. Then Rick turned up in the van. He had my lunch on board and also gave me some chocolate, so I set off again fully provisioned for the miles ahead.
I was chased by one dog. It was walking across the road as I approached. It took no notice of me and just flopped down on my side of the road. I felt reassured, but then I noticed the dog had a rather smug expression on its face. As I drew level with it, it darted out bearing its teeth and barking madly. I felt ambushed.
Earlier a dog had tore past chasing a man on a scooter. While I was sorry for the man, I was relieved that the dog's attention was elsewhere.
All in all it was quite a tough day but the mountains and forests were beautiful. We cycled 107 km ( approx 66 miles).
We have a better hotel tonight. I have a bedroom with yellow walls and green and red furniture. It's very pretty and clean. Dinner was good; they'd even done me a sort of vegetarian cutlet. Sadly it was really noisy as Saturday nights in these sort of hotels are dance nights. The music was very loud, although it was good to see how much the other hotel visitors were enjoying dancing.
We are in a spa town - Rymanow
Zdroj. This is our last night in Poland.
9 months ago
I arrived home at about 0200 local time today. It is just lovely to know that The journey is over and should get some treatment to my elbow in a couple of days.
9 months ago
9 months ago
September 7th: Cucumbers, Coffee And Cemeteries
Poland has taught me to love cucumber. It's everywhere - breakfast buffet, packed lunches, soup, salads, dinner - may be its even on the national flag. I didn't like cucumber when I came to Poland- I'd painstakingly take it out of sandwiches and avoid dishes were it featured prominently, but gradually I have succumbed. Today I was pleased when I discovered the cucumber in my sandwich. I have come to appreciate its quiet Polish charms.
Today's riding was long - 148 km, 92 miles - and for much of that we had a strong head wind. There were also quite a lot of rolling terrain.
As ever in Poland one of our pre-occupations was getting a good cup of coffee at around 40 km. As ever in Poland by 50 km any coffee would do. So it was that today we ended up in a petrol station eagerly putting 3 zloty into a Nescafé machine. There was some trial and error on this - Joe, for example, discovered after he'd started the process that you had to put a paper cup in place manually rather than expecting the machine to produce one. Someone else discovered it doesn't give change.
We got talking to an oldish man in the store. He was delighted to practice his English - "we get very few tourists in Eastern Poland" he explained, "really just the occasional Ukrainian."
A little before we got to the petrol station we had stopped at what appeared to be a rather unkempt military cemetery - small white crosses in lines rather than the ornate Catholic headstones we had got used to seeing.
The headstones all bore the date 26 September 1939. Some looked like Polish names but others were German and the memorial in the middle seemed to be very Germanic too. There was a diagram with arrows and the word Front. This had an earlier date - 14 September 1939. We decided this might be the site of a battle. While we were wondering a couple came up in a car. When I asked the woman if she spoke English, she said "Nein" The older man said he spoke a little English but seemed unwilling to talk. Joe and I realised that he might be a German man visiting his father's grave, so we didn't press him any further.
I decided to ask the man in the petrol station about the cemetery. He didn't seem to understand the word, so I talked about dead people - soldiers - burying. He looked affronted and told me he had understood what I meant. I apologised and then asked him if he could tell me more about the cemetery and who was buried there. He paused for a moment and then said: "where are you bicycling to now?"
I'm not sure if he didnt understand what I had asked but wasnt prepared to admit it, or if he didnt want to talk about the cemetery
When I got to the hotel I googled the date on the crosses. I found details of a battle on that day about 20 miles, 32km, away when Germany invaded Poland. Germany won. I couldn't find anything for the earlier date except general references to Russia's invasion of Poland I still don't know any more about the actual cemetery - was it really Germans and Poles buried there? Joe thinks it may have been Poles who were fighting for the Germans, as he feels that would explain the uncared for state of the cemetery. Yet another frustration about not being able to speak Polish.
We saw some pretty traditional houses again today but also large imposing modern houses were much more in evidence.
Our hotel tonight is of a less high standard than usual. It is inevitable on a trip like this in an area that doesn't see many tourists that not all hotels will be quite what we expect. But dinner here was good - I had a minestrone type soup, followed by pancakes stuffed with garlic, curd cheese and spinach, with ice cream to finish.
We have now completed over 2100 km, 1300 miles. We are half way through in terms of days, but not quite half way in terms of mileage. Seems amazing to write that.
9 months ago
9 months ago
September 6th: A Dog Day That Wasn't A Dog Day
I came down to breakfast to discover it was raining. Now, on a trip this long you know you're very likely to get rain on some days, but it was still a shock after all the beautiful sunny weather we've been having.
So after breakfast back up to my room and some hasty unpacking to find warmer clothes.
Seco had marked the route out of the city well, but there was a lot of morning traffic and the road surface was very uneven, so there were lots of puddles to negotiate. At one point a van on the other side of the road went through a deep puddle at speed. A wave of very cold rain water was deposited all over my lower body.
After a while we caught Seco - although he's a strong rider, putting arrows down really slows him down. We slowed down but started to get cold. Rick came by in the van and offered us chocolate and other goodies. Then we were on our way again. At this point I was riding with Joe. We came to an unattrative bar and stopped to ask if they did coffee. After getting a blank stare we tried it in French and via mime. Suddenly she nodded her head vigorously and disappeared. Alan and Sunny were just behind is, so I flagged them down and told them about the coffee. We were all so excited even though we expected it to be instant coffee - it would at least be hot. The other customers of the bar - all drinking alcohol at just after ten in the morning - regarded us with a jaundiced eye. I couldn't make up my mind if that was their normal demeanour or one specifically reserved for mad foreigners.
Eventually the bar owner returned with two packets of coffee for us to buy. This had taken a long time, presumably a bottle of vodka would have appeared in a trice. We all felt pathetically warmed by the excitement even if we hadn't got coffee.
We were luckier at our next stop - coffee and not instant. It was a glass with coffee grounds in the bottom and hot water on top. Took us all a while to realise that is what it was.
I went to the toilet there, but couldn't see a lock. I decided to hope for the best, but a Polish man opened the door on me. We were both embarrassed. Afterwards he apologised to me in Polish and I apologised to him in English. Different words but the body language was the same - hand on upper chest and a slight bow. I pantomimed that there was no key; he pointed to the light switch and the glass pane in the outer door. We smiled at each other with full understanding even though we hadn't understood a single word the other had said.
Back on the bike then and on my way riding alone Two dogs suddenly appeared from nowhere and chased me. Amazing how much faster I can ride with two dogs running alongside barking. Another dog in the middle of the road ignored me completely - I felt relieved and affronted - wasn't I worth chasing then?
Then I saw another dog ahead that was barking and chasing a car. I stopped apprehensively and waited for US Bob, Susan and Ken. I rode with them to where the dog had been, but by now the dog had gone. "You're good to go now" Bob said kindly, so I rode on.
I started to ride with Ross and we were chased on two different occasions by by two more dogs.
I started to remember the phrase 'dog days' but couldnt remember exactly what it meant. So I googled it when I got to the hotel. Dog days are the hottest, most sultry days of summer! Well, it did stop raining and we did see a bit of sunshine, but it was definitely not a dog day in this sense. So, we had a dog day that was not a dog day.
The small towns we went through we're extraordinarily pretty - well kept houses, gardens full of flowers and some very impressive buildings that I think must be barns. They had large wooden doors but the walls were built of soft pink-orange brick. There were also white bricks arranged in pretty patterns particularly on the gable ends. Most of them also had a date picked out in the white bricks, mainly 1970's. They reminded me of the cross stitch I used to do.
Ross and I stopped at a cafe by a lake. The staff did not speak English but produced an English menu. I'm vegetarian and know that often soup that by its name should be suitable often isn't. They had wifi so I decided to try out an app I loaded on my smartphone just before I left the UK. It's called Itranslate. So I typed in "i do not eat fish or meat. are any of the soups vegetarian". I pressed the translate button and got this "ja nie jem ryb i mięsa. Czy którykolwiek z zupy wegetariańskie". I handed my iPhone to the waiter and pointed to the screen. He looked puzzled, then started reading. Eventually a big smile came on his face; he nodded his head several times and went off to the kitchen to check. I had an excellent mushroom soup with croutons.
We carried on riding and started to encounter a lot of tobacco fields. Eventually we came across some men loading tobacco onto frames ready to be transported to the drying sheds. We asked if we could take photos and they happily agreed.
Then onwards to Zamosc and a nice hotel. The ride was 107km (approx 66 miles).
Tonight we didn't have a group dinner, so I decided to eat early and on my own. I went round the restaurants around the main square and found one that actually had a vegetarian section. I've had a huge salad with roasted pumpkin seeds followed by pancakes with bananas, chocolate sauce and cream. I feel full and ready for bed even though it's still quite early.
Not sure how well I'll sleep as there's a concert in the main square tonight and I can hear it clearly from my bedroom.
9 months ago
9 months ago
September 5th: Resting In Lublin
I had an excellent breakfast this morning - excellent because there was lots of choice but also excellent because of the leisurely nature of it - no clothes to pack and bike to ride.
After that I went with some others to visit George in hospital. He seemed in remarkably good spirits. George is a doctor and we have two other doctors on the trip - Alan from NZ was riding not far behind us yesterday and thankfully took charge of the situation as soon as he arrived. David from Australia has been helping with the hospital side of things and managed to track down the right sort of sling for George this morning. Apparently in Poland you have to buy most of your medicines etc. in government hospitals. Maxwell took George a doggy bag from the breakfast table, which was greeted with great delight by George as he had only been offered tea and a bread roll for breakfast. Everyone has done their bit to make sure everything has gone as smoothly as possible. George flies home to Australia from Warsaw tomorrow morning.
An hour or so later George came into the hotel lobby. He will spend the day here and leave for Warsaw early tomorrow morning. A friend of Seco, our Polish guide, will take him there. In Australia he will have an operation on his elbow. A sad end to his trip, but the only consolation is that it could have been much worse.
I had a walk round the old town and also bought a sheet in a department store. I often get very hot at night under hotel duvets, and it's likely to get hotter. So I will carry this sheet with me through the rest of Poland and five more countries.
I like Lublin - less tarted up than some other places, a real working town with not that many tourists.
Rest days are always welcome, but I feel particularly homesick on these days for Cornwall and my family and friends.
Some of our group have been to a nearby concentration camp. I decided not to as I have already been to Auschwitz with Tom. Ken had bought some professionally produced photos of the camp and showed them to me. People who'd been there were clearly very moved by the whole experience.
These Eastern European countries are such an interesting mixture - rural farms, young women in unbelievable high heels, Catholic crosses, memorials to dreadful killings and a sense of hope and excitement about the future.
So tomorrow we continue our great adventure - another day, another road - riding south towards Slovakia.
9 months ago
9 months ago
September 4th: To Busy Lublin
Today we had to ride to Lublin, but before I tell you about that let me tell you about last night's dinner - I posted my blog before I experienced that dinner.
Dinner in a Polish motel doesn't immediately whet the appetite, but it was surprisingly good all things considered, although very heavy even for us cyclists - do truck drivers really need all those calories?
The dinner included two regional specialities which have protected EC status, just like Parma ham, champagne, etc. These were lentil pierogi (a sort of ravioli stuffed with brown lentils) and some buns stuffed with poppy seed paste and coated with sugar- we all thought these were doughnuts to begin with (never quite got the official name for these). It was so strange sitting in such an unprepossessing place and eating two bits of culinary, regional and historical tradition.
OK, so now to today. Sadly the day was dominated by George's accident. George, Joe and I were riding along a fairly straight road together. I was in the front, Joe was behind and then George was behind him. I suddenly heard a shout from George and a sound of people and bikes hitting the ground. I thought both George and Joe had gone down - I was amazed to see that Joe was still riding his bike but horrified to see George was on the ground and lying very still. Joe got to him and also flagged down two cars. The first contained a man who didn't speak any English. The second contained three men with guns in holsters at the side of their bodies. They appeared to be policemen. They phoned for an ambulance while I phoned Rick. George was taken to hospital - he's having various precautionary scans; x-rays have shown he has a broken finger, a broken bone in his elbow and a broken collar bone. He doesn't remember what happened. Because Joe and I were ahead of him, we don't know what happened either. We think he probably hit the curb - your wheel can suddenly go from under you then. The tour company staff took charge and were fantastic. George is now in hospital in Lublin and the tour staff are helping him with his arrangements to go home to Australia. A sad ending to George's tour. I shall miss riding with him - we got on well together.
Joe and I rode on together and Ross soon joined us. We were a bit subdued, unsurprising in the circumstances. We discussed what had happened on numerous occasions over the day's ride, trying to make sense of what had happened.
We had a couple of things that lightened our mood. We stopped and talked to some people picking raspberries and, of course, ended up sampling them. They were full of flavour and totally delicious.
We stopped at a shop to buy some food and drink. Ross wanted a cold drink, but the only accessible drinks were all alcoholic. He couldn't make himself understood so the store owner invited Ross round the back of the counter to choose for himself. I'll upload a pic of him behind the counter.
We also had to ride along some dirt road. This time there was hardly any loose sand so it wasn't so difficult. It went through a leafy forest, and we met a woman who was foraging. She let us look inside her basket - several different types of mushroom and (what looked like) some acorns too, although on second thought I'm wondering if they were hazel nuts!
The ride into Lublin was on a very rough road through a lot of residential housing. As we got closer to the town centre, the traffic got thicker and thicker and slower too. Eventually we arrived at the rather upmarket Grand Hotel. I had a double espresso while Joe and Ross had a beer. We all felt we needed it. We had risen 107 km (approx 66 miles).
Then I had a shower and did some clothes washing (now hanging on my un-upmarket travel clothes line in my bathroom). Next I visited the old town and climbed a lot of stairs of the tower of Lublin Castle. It's always interesting to see a new town from as high as possible.
We had a group dinner and met Daniele; he will replace Sara who is leaving. We are all sorry to lose her - she is so cheerful and hard-working. We also met Scott, a company mechanic who has come for a couple of days to give the bikes a thorough check over. It's very reassuring how well the company looks after the bikes.
I has pierogi for dinner again - this time stuffed with buckwheat and herbs - and served with a large bowl of sour cream. Yummy.
Tomorrow it's a rest day in Lublin. I'm ready for that.
9 months ago