Day 32 (Giurgiu – Russe)

I guess our long break disrupted our routines a bit. Today we didn’t start to cycle until 11.30. Some of the delay has to be blamed on the hotel that had so lousy beds that we felt every spring in the mattress and had to use our own air mattresses on top and they take time to pack and unpack (not more than 3 minutes though 😉 )

It had rained during the night and the street outside was all wet in the morning. The sky was completely grey and it looked like it was going to be a gloomy day. We rolled the 2 km to the border where we intended to spend our last Romanian money at a gas station. We had 4.20 Romanian Lei (approx. 1 €) and got a bag of snacks similar to cheese doodles which concluded the culinary part of our Romanian adventure.

Pointing at the not so fancy border sign.
Pointing at the not so fancy border sign.

When approaching the bridge across the Danube we understood that there was a fee to cross it. We then regretted buying those cheese doodles, but once at the ticket both we were waved through. The fee was only for motorized vehicles 🙂

All other countries we have entered have had fancy signs welcoming us to their country and we have stopped to take our photographs in front of each of them. Bulgaria had no fancy sign, only two simple signs – one with cyrillic letters and one with latin ones – with the name “Bulgaria” printed on them. Despite the signs not being fancy, we still had to take a picture of ourselves in front of the them.

We love gas stations and our first encounter with Bulgaria was a gas station at the end of the bridge. We bought a map and asked for directions into town. The weather improved by the time our wheels rolled on Bulgarian asphalt. We took off our jackets and rode through the suburbs into town.

Colourful Russe - people in red in front of the red opera house
Colourful Russe – people in red in front of the red opera house

When standing at an intersection with our map unfolded a young lady approached us and said:

– “I used to travel like that too, but now I have sold my bike.”

She then told us about her cycling trips from Denmark to Spain and from Spain back to Bulgaria. It is always interesting to meet someone who has the same interests as yourself.

Everytime we enter a new country we have the same routine. First get some local money, then a map and then try to find out the price for food and accomodation.

With fresh money in hand we went to a restaurant at the main square. It looked fancy and we invented a good motivation for eating there. The motivation was ”let’s eat there so we now what the maximum price for food is”. Wej had a bulgarian fresh vegetable salad and I had a traditional bulgarian dish of fried rice with chicken. Although having the same name as a dish in Thailand it was not quite the same, but I really enjoyed it. It was actually the best food I have eaten for many days on this tour.

Having bulgarian deligths :-)
Having bulgarian deligths 🙂

The sunshine was strong and we were getting lazy. When we left the restaurant we saw a sign pointing at the tourist information. We went there to try to get some valuable information and we surely did…. The guy working there was a true professional and told us everthing we needed to know about the town and its vicinity. The tourist information in Russe is just as good as the Tourist Information in Stara Lubovna is lousy…

It was already late in the afternoon and we discussed if we should stop right away or if we should continue to a village with some interesting attractions some 20 km away. The laziness, the sunshine and the desire to walk around town wearing only a T-shirt got the upper hand and we went to a guesthouse and checked in.

Colourful Russe - a purple house
Colourful Russe – a purple house

This was a tough decision to make. After not having cycled for two weeks we feel a strong urge to move forward, but today we were smart….. We do this trip to discover what’s between Sweden and Thailand and why should we then hurry past an area or town that seems to be interesting? We also wanted to enjoy the sunshine after having fought with snowstorms and freezing temperatures for quite a while.

Pointing at the might river Danube
Pointing at the mighty river Danube

Giurgiu on the Romanian side of the border is a lot smaller and more dull town. The reason we stopped there yesterday was that we had just enough Romanian money left for a night at a motel and a dinner and rather than exchange it for Bulgarian money we prefered to use it in Romania for another night. If we had known then how nice Russe was, then we would easily have continued for 45 more minutes to get here already yesterday.

Cycling day 32 statistics

Distance:               15.1 km
Traveling time        4.46 hours
Cycling time           1.14 hours
Average speed     12.1 km/h
Top speed             27.1 km/h
Altitude gained         68 m
Altitude lost              61 m

Day 33 (Russe – Draganovo)

It was a wonderful morning and it was going to be a wonderful day too. We left the guesthouse at 8.30 and slowly navigated out of town. We wanted to avoid the big highway and our map told us that if we went through something that appeared to be a residential area, we would both make a shortcut and avoid the big road. At an intersection we met a bunch of older guys who were chatting to each other beside an old car. They asked where we were going and when we told them the name of the village, they used sign language to indicate that we couldnt’t go that way. The language barrier made it difficult to understand why until one of them said:

”Daroga kaputt”

This mix of Russian and German was enough for us to understand that there was some problems with the road. We have ridden on many ”daroga kaputt” before and after our experience in Tajikistan a few years ago we are still waiting to see the ”daroga” that really is too ”kaputt” to ride on.

Church carved into the cliffs
Church carved into the cliffs

The men pointed at the big highway and tried to indicate that we should go there instead. We were not interested in that and tried to look like we didn’t understand. Then one of them jumped in to an old Lada car and pointed that we should cycle behind him. Game over, the ”daroga kaputt” won this time and we rode out behind the old man in his car. He drove slowly in front of us for about 2,5 km, made a turn to a smaller road, stopped and pointed to show the direction to the village we had told him we were going too.

It is amazing how nice and helpful people are and we felt a bit ashame for pretending not to understand the guys. They just wanted to help us and the couldn’t possibly know that our definition of ”daroga kaputt” is different from many others’.

The mission for the morning was to visit one of the many sites just south of town the guy at the tourist information had recommended. They all seemed to be interesting but we had to choose one of them and we picked the monastery carved into the side of a big cliff. Narrow steps were cut out from the rock and we climbed up to admire the various chambers and the impressive view of the neighbourhood.

Prayer chamber carved into the rock at the monastery
Prayer chamber carved into the rock at the monastery

After visiting the monastery we continued along the small backroad. Not many cars passed us and for once we could enjoy the pleasure of cycling beside each other and talking about things without having to shout. Flowers were blossoming along the road and birds sang in the trees. Could it be any better?

People are busy working on the fields, sometimes in large groups and sometimes alone. At one occasion we saw a horse carriage parked at the roadside but it seemed to be empty. When we got closer we saw a head of a man in the carriage and when we passed he raised and we saw that he was holding a water bottle in one hand and a small vodka bottle in the other. He then raised the vodka bottle in a way that couldn’t be misinterpreted. He simply said ”cheers” to us.

A short while later we noticed that he had turned his carriage around and made his way in the same direction as we were going. We normally ride faster than horse carriages but this time it was upphill and we were slow. The man and his horse approached quickly and soon we could here the sounds of the horse which was galloping at full speed. The guy overtook us with a big smile, waved and left us behind. At the top of the little hill he let his horse walk down, but once we closed in on him and were in position to overtake him he made his horse run at full speed again. This happened a few times before he stopped at the road side and let us pass.

We felt pity for the poor horse and we still wonder if it drunk driving with your horse carriage is a legal offense in Bulgaria.

Some time before lunch it happened….. It got too warm and I had to stop and put on my shorts. When fighting the snowstorms and icy roads 2-3 weeks ago I was dreaming of this moment when I would start cycling wearing only shorts and T-shirt. Now that time has come and we really hope this weather will stay a long time. We have got our fair share of poor weather so we think we are worth some nice cycling weather now.

Not only the weather was good today. We managed to stay away from the big roads and instead the road we travelled on got smaller and smaller and sometimes it took an hour between the cars we met.

We had no definate goal for today. We knew Velik Tarnova would be 130 km from Ruse and after spending time on the sidetrip to the monastery we knew we could make it there but it would be a bit tough in the end. We then decided to prepare for camping and we went in to a small grocery store to buy some food that we could cook.

Camp site 1 on this trip
Camp site 1 on this trip

Only two kilometers beyond the village were we shopped spagetti, tomato sauce and some sausage we found the ideal tent spot. It is along a river with nice flat areas and lots of trees and bushes on its banks. A perfect location, and even better is that a couple of hundred meters away there is a place where there is natural running water and people come to fill big flasks of water. Perfect place for doing the dishes,

We are experienced campers since long ago, but this is the first night on this trip. Although we had gone through our luggage about 10 times before departing were anyway a bit anxious that we had forgotten something. And we sure had….. We had not forgotten the tent or the sleeping bags, but something that is almost as important.

We had forgotten our foldable coffee mugs.

If anyone is going to Istanbul within a few days or knows anyone who is going there, then please send two plastic foldable coffee cups to us….. You will be rewarded with a postcard and eternal gratitude 🙂

Cycling day 33 statistics

Distance:              101.4 km
Traveling time      10.07 hours
Cycling time           6.16 hours
Average speed     16.2 km/h
Top speed             46.5 km/h
Altitude gained       994 m
Altitude lost            993 m

Day 34 (Draganovo – Konare)

When we woke up we found the tent very moisty inside. This tent is a Hilleberg Rogen which is a light weight 3-season tent that Hilleberg released only last spring. Hilleberg is known to make top notch state of the art tents and the Hilleberg Nammatj we have before is designed for expeditions in extreme conditions and I am sure the Apollo project would have used Hilleberg tents had there only been air and rain on the moon…..

Our old tent is a bit large and heavy for this trip that will take us mainly through warm areas and when Hilleberg last year finally went into the market for 3-season tents we decided to buy this one and save 2 kg of weight. However, these 2 kg of weight saving has come with a price, ventilation is not as good, the fabric and poles are not as strong and there are fewer storm strings.

We have only used this tent for 3 nights before so we knew that ventilation was not as good as the old tent, but it can easily be solved by opening the zipper in the door some 20 cm in the top end. Unfortunately we forgot this and had to use our towel to wipe the tent dry inside.

After packing our gear we went to the nearest town to find something to eat for breakfast. We stopped at the main square and I went into a small shop and used my limitied russian vocabulary to ask one of the shop keepers for yoghurt, bread, cheese, sausage and coffee. The 60+ lady smiled and ran around in the shop to pick all things I wanted. When she saw Wej moving our bikes outside she asked if we were cycling and I told her we were on the way to Istanbul. Her immediate reply was ”big muscles….” 🙂

We sat down at a few benches outside the shop to have our breakfast when the lady came out to us. This time she was accompanied by a young man who spoke very good English. Finally she could interview us about our trip and she also gave us a bag of candy and a box of something called ”Turkish delights”, which was some super sweet yelly candy that went perfect with the coffee.

Soon we started to ride again and we went into the beuatiful city of Veliko Tarnovo. It is situated on slooping hills and when approaching it from below one can see a mountain covered by houses in many colours facing the sun. The town seems to be a tourist attraction and we went in to the centre to have something to eat, check our mails and update this blog (we write blog texts in the tent). Pizza seemed to be the cheapest food and we ordered a set with pizza and coke each. Being used to pizzas of smaller size we were surprised that the pizza was so big. We couldn’t eat it all and asked for a doggy bag, which turned out to be a pizza carton box. We strapped it to Wejs bike and started got about 50 meters when I found that my rear brakes were not behaving properly 🙁

I stopped and inspected it and the brake pad on the right hand side were gone…… !!!
Last time I changed it was at a gas station somewhere in central Romania and it was -5 degrees and snowing heavily. I remember my hands were so cold that I couldn’t fit the little lock pin that will keep the pad from falling out if I would ever roll backwards and brake at the sme time. When braking and rolling forward it is no problem. Apparently I have been rolling backwards and braking during our ride up to the city centre – the problem is just that I can’t remember it happening and I should, because I am very bad at cycling backwards….

We quickly changed my brakes by mounting a new pair of brake pads and started to roll down the steep road from the city centre when it happened.

I got my first flat tyre on this tour. I had started to believe we would make it to Istanbul without flats. Of course it was on the back wheel and for the second time in 15 minutes we had to stop and get all our tools and spares out to change my innertube.

When going south from Veliko Tarnova one has to cross a mountain range (Stara Planina). There is one major road across it and some smaller side roads. We stopped and discussed which way to go and since there was very little traffic we took the main road.

We discussed the reasons why there was so little traffic. After a while Wej said:

– “Maybe there are so few trucks because it is Saturday.”

Of course this was the reason and it proved to me that we have finally got away from being caught in the week circle of working Monday-Friday. We have lost count of what day it is and my new year pledge for this year was ”no Monday mornings in 2013”. I seem to have come a far way to reaching that goal.

Wej on the way down from the pass.
Wej on the way down from the pass.

The climb up the mountain range was acutally not so bad, at least until we were on the final climb to the pass which was a climb of 350-400 vertical meters and just below the top it started to rain. Even if it was a light rain we stopped and put on our rain jackets. When we reached the top there were two small restaurants. We needed to fill our water bottles and we went in to one of them. When we sat down the rain started to pour down, just like a monsoon shower. Lucky us to be inside because it wouldn’t have been fun to be outside fighting the hill when that shower started.

The ride down from the pass was wonderful. We didn’t need to pedal for many kilometers. The first town after the mountain ridge is Gurkova. When riding into the town we found a sign telling ”Motel, Restaurant, TIR-parking, 900 m”. We wanted to sleep inside this nigh but couldn’t find the motel. After asking three persons including a police officer, they all said there was no motel in town. We went to the TIR-parking (overnight parking for truck drivers) and there were no rooms there either. Then we went to the restaurant across the street and the owner said we should go to the motel in the centre!! We said we know there is no such motel. He then checked with his staff who confirmed this. The man told us to wait and went in to his restaurant to check with more people. When he came back he told us there is a hotel in a nearby village and made a map for us.

It was getting dark and we cycled the 4 km to the village as fast as we could. When in the village it seemed very small and we saw no sign of any hotel. Wej went in to a cafe to ask and they said there was no hotel in the village. It had never been and will never be, the village is too small….

It was now almost completely dark and since we suspected there might not be any hotel after all we had memorized a few good tent spots on the way in to that village. We hurried back to one of them and started to put up our tent.

We saw flashes on the sky and but the thunder seemed to be far away. It started to rain lightly and blowing. We got up our tent in good order and had just sat down inside when the thunder storm hit us. The thunder was not close (about 2 km by the time difference between flash and sound), but the wind was seriously strong and the rain was heavy. I went out to try to secure the tent better, but once again I ran into the problems of a 3-season tent. If we had used our old tent instead we would have been sitting inside reading a book while letting the wind and the rain pass. Now we were sitting on one side each with rain jackets and pants on prepared to run out to fix things.

The wind pulled out the tent pegs from the ground and I had to go out to put them back a couple of times. We sat like this for about two hours and then it was good to have our remaing pizza slices in a doggy bag 🙂

Finally it stopped to rain, but the wind was still strong and we woke up a couple of times by the wind pressing the entire tent down to our faces. A bit scary, but now we know a bit more about our new tents abilities…

Cycling day 34 statistics

Distance:               95.9 km
Traveling time       11.48 hours
Cycling time           6.31 hours
Average speed     14.7 km/h
Top speed             52.7 km/h
Altitude gained     1313 m
Altitude lost          1004 m

Choice of routes and toothpaste quiz

Two weeks ago we made a post informing that we can’t go to Iran because our presence there coincides with the presidential election and visas won’t be granted during that period. We then investigated alternative routes and had two alternatives, the northern route through Ukraine and Russia and the southern route through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbadjan.

Route alternatives
Route alternatives

We asked for your opinions and we got many good advices which we are grateful for.

Many of you have asked us which route we will choose and we have now decided to go for the southern route. The reasons are:

  • We already planned going to Turkey and Georgia
  • Food is expected to be more interesting in those countries
  • The southern route has more mountains
  • We avoid the hazzle of applying for russian visa
  • The northern route has too much steppe
  • We will see the unpredictable ferry ride as an adventure in itself

Toothpaste quiz

When we arrived Bucharest on April 9 we opened a new tube of toothpaste. When full it contains 160 grams and we now invite all our readers and followers to make a guess where we will be when the tube is empty. We have already used it for a few days and there is still a lot in it… 🙂

As a guide we can tell you that we measured our consumption at home before we left. That tube had 105 grams on Januari 31 and 76 grams remained on February 13. We usually ride 70-120 km depending on hills, headwind and so on. We will also stay for approximately 3-4 days in Istanbul.

We prefer answers in names of towns where we will be when we trash the empty tube.

The winner will rewarded with a postcard from that town…. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Our toothpaste tube with markings of day, place and amount... :-)
Our toothpaste tube with markings of day, place and amount… 🙂

Day 35 (Konare – Elhovo)

This was to be our last full day in Bulgaria. The wind had been strong all night and we had slept badly and waken up a few times when the roof of the tent had been pressed down to our faces by the wind gusts. The good thing with this strong wind was that the ventilation was superb and everything was completely dry.

We had breakfast at a gas station and off we went. We had made an appointment with a host in the Warmshower hospitality network for touring cyclists, but as our route had changed his house were now a bit off our route and we had to send him a mail telling that we couln’t see him. It was a hard decision to make since we really want to meet local people but the detour would have been too long.

Stork in its nest in a Bulgarian village
Stork in its nest in a Bulgarian village

There is not much to say about the cycling itself. We went on a large road to start with and there was very little traffic. After the big road we once again hit a small back country road and rode side by side with each other for several hours only meeting cars occasionally.

Storks are rarely seen in Sweden and the first time I saw one was when we cycled through the Baltic countries a few years ago. I almost fell off my bike by surprise but after a while we understood that they were a very common sight in the Baltics. The storks are very common in Bulgaria too and they seem to be present in every village we have cycled through. The number of them indicates that there must be a lot of babies born in Bulgaria… 🙂

We wanted to stay in a hotel this night after having camped for two nights in a row and where the last night has allowed us very little sleep. In all the villages, small and big, there seem to be very few hotels or motels. We didn’t find one until we arrived in the town of Elhovo and by then we were so tired that we decided to take the following day as a rest day.

In Elhovo we found a nice restaurant that served tasty Bulgarian food and we went to have dinner there both evenings we spent in the town.

Cycling day 35 statistics

Distance:             106.2 km
Traveling time        8.54 hours
Cycling time           6.08 hours
Average speed      17.3 km/h
Top speed             51.7 km/h
Altitude gained       800 m
Altitude lost          1026 m

Day 36